Former University of Kentucky standout Alex Poythress has signed a partially guaranteed deal with the Indiana Pacers. Once projected as high as number one overall by Chad Ford, the former five-star prospect now has a chance to prove what he can do following a tumultuous career at Kentucky.
When Poythress first committed to play for John Calipari in 2012, he looked like the next great Kentucky superstar. After starting out hot as a freshman, his game cooled to the point where he was used as a role player towards the end of his sophomore season. Tragedy struck after tearing his ACL in practice during the preseason, losing his junior year. However, Poythress rebounded to become the only player to ever be recruited by coach Calipari to graduate as a senior, averaging 10 points and six rebounds per game during his Kentucky career.
With a partially guaranteed deal in hand, Poythress will most likely be a non-roster player, meaning that he will be spending most of the season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Despite his up and down career, Poythress brings a lot to the table.
In college, he was known for his ability to guard multiple positions, his supreme athleticism, and his feel for the pick and roll. Standing at 6’8” and coming in at 238 pounds, Poythress is exactly what teams are looking for from a physical standpoint on defense. His quickness and speed allow him to cover most guards and his seven foot wingspan and strength let him hold his own against most forwards.
There isn’t a lot that Poythress does well on offense, but there is hope for him. He is dangerous in the pick and roll due to his show-stopping athleticism. Much like Blake Griffin dunking so hard in college he hit his head on the backboard, Poythress once dunked so hard his tooth got caught on the net.
Aside from energy plays, he struggles to make an impact on offense. The fact that he is a tweener makes him an asset on defense but a liability on offense. He isn't skilled enough to play on perimeter and isn't big enough to consistently play in the post.
Poythress simply isn't a threat with the ball in his hands. He isn't a threat to drive the lane due to his poor handles, he isn't a threat behind the three point line because of his lack of a consistent jumper, and he isn't a threat in the post because he is too little and has no post moves. If it isn't from the free throw line, a put-back dunk, or an alley-oop finish, chances are Poythress isn't finishing it.
Luckily for him, these are all things that can be honed with proper coaching. At 22, teams view him as a finished product, but he can prove all of them wrong this year with the Mad Ants.
Former Kentucky standouts Dakari Johnson and Andrew Harrison have both used the D-League to their advantage. After very good careers in college, both went under the radar on draft night and both vastly improved their game in the D-League. If Poythress puts in the work, he could absolutely thrive in Fort Wayne.
His best case scenario is also a very realistic one: he comes into camp and works hard, goes to Fort Wayne and improves his game steadily, gets a few call ups during the year, and finishes the year as a roster player with the Pacers or any other team (much like Rakeem Christmas last season, except his deal was guaranteed).
Poythress has a unique opportunity to prove he belongs in the NBA after it looked like everyone had written him off. He’s one consistent jumper away from being a very good basketball player, hopefully he can put the pieces together in Fort Wayne.