Category Archives: NBA Draft

Collins’ vision and calm stand out

St. Louis Billikens point guard Yuri Collins -the nation’s assist leader through five games- has improved his assist-to-turnover ration in his third year on campus. His best performance came against Memphis earlier this month, when he produced 22 points and nine assists in the team’s home upset of the Tigers.

He has been nearly automatic from the stripe (81-percent), but has surprisingly taken a step back shooting from long range (27-percent). Collins, a first-team All-Atlantic-10 performer in 2021-22, led the NCAA in assists per game as a sophomore.

So how does he get it done?

Generally, it starts with allowing the game to come to him. Rarely out of control on the floor, he changes speeds as a ball handler to draw defenders. In many of these instances, Collins already has an outlet in mind.

His entry passes (particularly bounce passes) are accurate and offer his low post options to catch the ball in rhythm on the way up to the cup.

People are beginning to take notice of his multi-faceted skill-set, but none one is more grateful his own head coach, former Kentucky point guard Travis Ford to have him back in the mix.

“(It was) an incredible phone call. It was a great feeling,” Ford said about talking to Collins after he had made the decision to return. “We talked, and when I hung up there was a celebration in the office, no question. We’re so excited that he’s going to be running our team, as he should be.” (https://www.ksdk.com/article/sports/college/slu/slu-point-guard-yuri-collins-returns/63-244b5ce3-5937-4aa5-8690-9352cad281e9).

Many remember Ford from his time at Kentucky as a starting point guard in the early 1990s after transferring from Missouri. At the time, he set a single-season record for three-point field goals at Kentucky on his way to All-SEC honors.

As for Collins, he can be posted up by taller personnel on the low block (see McCadden, 1st half, Memphis ’22) if caught with an unfavorable switch during half court possessions.

Yuri Collins PG-St. Louis shooting a free throw vs. Memphis
St. Louis point guard Yuri Collins is currently hitting 81% of his free throws in 2022-23.

The 6-foot frame could become a problem for him defensively in certain matchups, although he does compete favorably on that end of the floor.

His range does not allow him to shoot with a quick trigger release, so the team often sets ball screens for him to attempt some of those shots from the wing (2nd half, left wing, Memphis ’22).

The postseason will be huge for the senior point guard if he decides to enter the NBA Draft. If he can prove capable of hitting consistently from outside to extend defenses, then his NBA prospects would increase three-fold.

If not, then he may be regulated to playing overseas, but the floor general plays with a calm that definitely creates some future possibilities.

In fact, he went through the NBA evaluation process a year ago before deciding to come back for the 2022-23 campaign.

Bates progresses…but how much?

Early against Michigan on November 11th, former Memphis and current Eastern Michigan star guard Emoni Bates worked without the ball. On one out of bounds play in particular, he re-set and hit a jumper from the corner. His long range stroke has continued to improve or at least remain intact.

Bates is more of a quick than high-riser. This aids above average foot speed in the open floor (1st Half/17:42, UM ’22). That burst actually enabled him to finish a follow dunk in the lane (1st Half/6:48, UM ’22) and cut to the basket (one-hand dunk) in the second half. His overall width can make up for any deficiencies in terms of true bounce.

Dating back to his prep level playing days, the range has always gone well beyond the arc. He hit a 25-footer from the wing against Michigan.

During the first half of this contest, Bates actually was part of an Eastern Michigan squad that led the 22nd-ranked Wolverines at one point. There were fallaway jumpers off one foot, step back three-pointers from 28 feet and drives to the basket through contact.

A strong suit in his game revolves around handle. It is more reminiscent of a 6-foot-1 guard than 6-foot-10 wing player.

Emoni Bates dribbling the ball during the 2021 Nike EBYL
Months after starring in the 2021 Nike EBYL, Bates reclassified to the 2021 recruiting cycle before enrolling at Memphis.

There have been more stretches this season where Bates has played within the scope of the offense. It is important to remember that he skipped his senior year of high school. The inaugural season at Memphis basically represented his senior year after re-classifying to the 2021 recruiting cycle.

After a tumultuous 2022 offseason that featured a number of off the court headlines, Bates has settled down.

Playing with one of his old teammates from the Bates Fundamentals AAU squad could be part of the positive acclimation to the MAC.

Orlando Lovejoy -a 6-foot-2 freshman guard- is currently averaging nearly nine points per game for the team.

But starting a season fast isn’t anything new for Bates. As a freshman at Memphis in 2021-22, he began the year by making 50-percent of his first 18 three-point attempts (three games).

And the rest of the season?

Bates connected on just 27.5-percent of the remaining 58 three-point attempts.

He was marginally effective as a free throw shooter, did not distribute the ball efficiently and turned the ball over too often in his minutes on the floor. Increasingly, he relied on low percentage shots.

In the four games since the breakout Michigan performance, some of those trends have reappeared. The three-point shooting has not slowed down at all, as Bates continues to connect at nearly a 45-percent clip. Prior to his collegiate years, Bates was at least a competent distributor. Increasingly, the Eagles (1-5) use him as both an on or off the ball performer.

Emoni Bates G-Bates Fundamentals
Eastern Michigan small forward Emoni Bates has connected on 44-percent of his three-point field goals through the team’s first five games in 2022-23.

The results have not always yielded succinct ball distribution.

In fact, he has a nearly a one-to-three turnover-to-assist ratio (1:2.8) through five games.

The most notable regression has been the shots inside of the three-point stripe. If you strip away the nine two-point field goals against Michigan, Bates has hit just 30.4-percent of the two-point field goal attempts in his last four games.

Defensively, he continues to be a work in progress. Getting stronger will be a key for Bates as he transitions to the next level. Injuries were a major part of the inconsistent freshman season at Memphis.

Overall, the first five games of the year for Bates has shown notable strides, but there is still work to be done.

But the most important part of the progress may very well be defined by how those around him have accepted him.

“He wanted to come here because he felt at home, he felt comfortable, he felt connected to his teammates,” Eastern Michigan head coach Stan Heath said. “All those things matter. Fit matters. When players choose schools, they should go where they fit.

“He fits here and he feels real comfortable.” (https://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/college/2022/11/12/he-fits-here-comfortable-back-home-emoni-bates-puts-on-a-show-at-lca/69640228007/)

Paolo Banchero PF-Orlando Magic: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st overall pick

Banchero, the 2022 ACC Rookie of the Year, stood out as a versatile chess piece for the Blue Devils. He comes from athletic bloodlines and his basketball intelligence shines on the court. At 250 pounds, his strength has been evident since his playing days for the Seattle Rotary AAU in the Nike EBYL.

The consensus second-team All-American registered 12 double-doubles for the team this past season. Banchero, a former high school quarterback and Washington Gatorade Player of the Year in basketball, led the team in rebounding and finished second in assists.

Banchero finished his freshman season at Duke shooting nearly 48-percent from the field.

Duke had a number of players from its national runner-up squad selected in the draft. Three of Banchero’s teammates (Wendell Moore, Jr., Mark Williams, A.J. Griffin) went in the first round and a fourth, Trevor Keels, was selected with the 42nd pick in the second round. It marked the school’s most draft picks since the 2018 NBA Draft, when it had four players selected in the first 37 picks.

Jabari Smith PF-Houston Rockets: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 3rd overall

Former Auburn Tigers second-team All-American Jabari Smith was arguably the top prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft. It ranked as a minor surprise that he was still on the board with the third overall pick. In 2021-22, the 6-foot-10-inch power forward shot 42% from three-point range while averaging over seven rebounds per game.

Jabari Smith PF-Houston Rockets
Smith’s ability to shoot over the top of defenders makes him a tough matchup for the opposition.

His silky smooth mid-range game complements deep shooting capability. In addition, his defensive skill allows him to switch on that end of the floor. Smith, the 2022 SEC Freshman of the Year, joins fellow All-SEC performers Tari Eason and TyTy Washington as three Rockets first-rounders who could pay dividends for years to come.

Shaedon Sharpe G-Portland Trail Blazers: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 7th overall

Sharpe’s eye-opening athleticism is subsidized by fine size for a shooting guard. The former Kentucky guard never played a minute for the ‘Cats, but maintained his reputation prior to entering the 2022 NBA Draft.

The former No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2021 averaged nearly 22 points per game for UPlay Canada in the 2021 Nike EBYL last summer. Sharpe reclassified from the 2022 recruiting class prior to signing and then redshirting with the Wildcats in 2021.

The Trail Blazers recently re-signed Anfernee Simons to a four-year deal and this makes the drafting of Sharpe more significant. If he can work his way into the backcourt rotation for the team, then it only adds to the team’s scoring capability in its second rotation. Scoring will be important after losing SF-SF Joe Ingles in free agency to the Milwaukee Bucks this offseason. Ingles never played for the Trail Blazers after injuring his knee last season.

Will Sharpe have a transition to the league that mirrors Simons’ or former 2013 seventh overall pick Ben McClemore? McClemore averaged just over 10 points per game for the team in 2021-22 and is currently an unrestricted free agent. The Trail Blazers recently signed former Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II, so playing time will not come easy in the team’s backcourt.

Jalen Duren C-Detroit Pistons (via Charlotte): 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 13th overall

Duren was involved in a draft night trade that sent him from the Charlotte Hornets to the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons young roster brings plenty of opportunity for Duren, once considered the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2022 before reclassifying to play for head coach Anfernee Hardaway at Memphis. The excitement of Cade Cunningham as a former number one overall pick could signal the start of a Pistons resurgence.

Last summer, Duren was competing for the No. 1 spot in the 2022 recruiting cycle with his soon-to-be teammate at Memphis, Emoni Bates, now heading to play at Eastern Michigan. Duren led Team Final to a 2021 Peach Jam title while averaging 23 points and eight rebounds per game. The Philadelphia native then reclassified to the 2021 class. Fast forward a year later and the AAC Freshman of the Year could become a starting center in the NBA.

Duren averaged over 12 points per game for the Memphis Tigers in 2021-22.

The Hornets traded his draft rights to the Detroit Pistons after taking him 13th overall. Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, whom the team took fifth overall, could pave a driveway for the team’s foundation through this draft. Duren’s NBA-ready frame may be put to the test early, where his rare length (7’5″ wingspan) should be relied upon to protect the rim for teammates.

Ochai Agbaji SG/SF-Cleveland Cavaliers: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 14th overall

Agbaji, yet another Mokan Elite AAU product to star at Kansas, earned 2022 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. The 2022 Big 12 Player of the Year improved his three-point percentage each season while on campus, finishing at a 41-percent clip from behind the arc this past year. His 6-foot-10-inch wingspan complements a 6-foot-6-inch, 217-pound frame.

Agbaji heads to an improving Cavaliers roster that already sports quality personnel on the wing. He could share minutes with Isaac Okoro, who we spotlighted prior to the 2020 NBA Draft. Okoro produced four straight double-digit scoring games in December 2021 and had two 20-point efforts this March. In addition, he improved his shooting from behind the arc by nearly six percentage points from his NBA all-rookie campaign. The pairing provides insurance in case they are unable to retain the services of 2023 free agent Caris LeVert, who was picked up in a midseason trade this past season.

Tari Eason F-Houston Rockets: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 17th overall

After transferring from Cincinnati, Tari Eason made the most of his 24 minutes per night at LSU, earning 2022 SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors. Along the way, he averaged nearly 17 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

His 7-foot-1-inch wingspan did him wonders on the defensive side of the floor, as he finished fourth in the conference in steals per game (1.9). No place better exhibited the growth in his game than the free throw line, where he improved by nearly .23 percentage points (80%) from his Freshman All-AAC campaign at Cincinnati (57%).

Christian Braun SG-Denver Nuggets: 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 21st overall

Former Kansas shooting guard Christian Braun starred for the Mokan Elite AAU basketball squad before becoming a second-team All-Big 12 guard. Over the course of his career, Braun was active on both ends of the floor.

He stood out during athletic testing of the 2022 NBA Combine, posting a 40-inch maximum vertical jump and 3.13-second time in the NBA shuttle. His athletic prowess should come as no surprise. Braun -who hails from Kansas and was named the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2019- has had an entire family play college basketball. His brother, Parker, is currently a 6-foot-10-inch forward for Santa Clara.

Walker Kessler C-Utah Jazz (via Minnesota Timberwolves through Memphis): 2022 NBA Draft, 1st Round, 22nd overall

Walker Kessler, the 2022 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, blocked nearly five shots per game for the Tigers in 2021-22. A serviceable contributor while at UNC, the former five-star recruit reached new heights in his lone year at Auburn.

Blessed with a 9-foot-4-inch standing reach, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and third-team All-American also tallied 11.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game this past season.

Walker Kessler C-Minnesota Timberwolves
Aside from averaging 4.6 blocks per game, Kessler put up 11 points and eight rebounds per game.

Kessler, the 2020 Georgia Boys Gatorade Player of the Year, should compete for immediate playing time in the Timberwolves rotation.

UPDATE: In an unrelated move, Kessler was traded to the Utah Jazz along with four first round picks between 2023 and 2029, Patrick Beverly, Leandro Bolmaro, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley on July 1, 2022.