Nate Hinton - Houston: 10.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.4 steals on 41% from the field and 39% from 3 on 3.8 attempts per game
Just based on the base stats that you see above, the former Houston wing may not seem like a remarkable player. Just based on the American Athletic Conference (AAC) alone, you’d have to scroll down a bit to see Hinton’s name on the points per game leaderboard as he stood 30th.
While he wasn’t the team’s leading scorer, the 6’5 wing was still able to make the biggest impact for a Houston Cougars team that finished the year with a 23-8 record and were ranked 22nd in the final AP Poll. Hinton was able to do that through being a hard-working player that works his ass off on both ends of the floor. In addition to that, he used his two years at Houston to show the world that he can help a team win in a variety of different ways.
In terms of his on-court work ethic, it’s most evident when he’s working on the offensive and defensive glass. No matter which side of the ball he’s on, Hinton seems to have this hunger to snag the deflection off the rim as he charges towards the paint, quickly gets in position, and skies for the rock. That determination allowed him to be one of the best rebounding wings as his 8.7 rebounds per game average placed Hinton in the country among shooting guards and small forwards. A visual example of his determination is seen in the clip below as the Gastonia, North Carolina native, comes out of nowhere to sky for the offensive rebound before dishing it off to a teammate who took it to the rim only to get fouled.
Aside from allowing him to be one of the best rebounding wings in college hoops, Hinton’s mix of tremendous work ethic and athleticism also helped him out on the defensive end of the floor. Those two traits were best shown when he was working as an on-ball defender by showing this great ability to stick on to his man like glue, even if that means having to maneuver around off-ball screens set by opposing bigs. In addition to being a great on-ball defender, Hinton is also great with working on the help side as he has the awareness on when to work away from his man and go to the ball-handler.
While he wasn’t exactly James Harden or Luka Doncic with a great offensive arsenal, Hinton definitely isn’t a slouch on the offensive end. During his sophomore season, the 6’5 wing showed himself to be a capable catch-and-shoot threat, as he hit 39% on catch-and-shoots, according to Synergy Sports. Along with that, the Houston alum is an unselfish player that that does a good job of spotting open shooters or cutters. Although his arsenal as a passer isn’t as complex as other players that we’ve covered in the series, you can definitely trust him to make a good decision when he has the rock in his hands.
The biggest weakness that Hinton that he’s going to have to improve would be as an on-ball driver. Despite his athleticism, he wasn’t really capable of blowing by his man one-and-one. In addition to that, Houston’s offense didn’t exactly put him in situations where he can learn how to utilize screens to get to the rim.
Despite his strengths as a player, that singular weakness as an on-ball driver should be enough to have him be a likely 2nd round prospect/undrafted free agent. While that might not seem like the best-case scenario for Hinton, it could be a great way for him to mend that weakness and grow into the do-it-all role player that he has the potential to become.
Ty-Shon Alexander - Creighton: 16.9 points, 5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals on 43% from the field and 40% from 3 on 6.5 attempts per game
While on the topic of guards/wings that shine on the defensive end, let’s go to Omaha, Nebraska, to take a look at the former Creighton standout. After playing limited minutes during his freshman season in 2017-18, Alexander quickly progressed into being one of the best young talents in the Big East as he was stood alongside forthcoming subject Naji Marshall as the only underclassmen to be named to an All-Big East Team, as the Xavier prospect was named to the Second Team while our current topic was named as one of the honorable mentions.
His progression as a player reached its zenith during the 2019-20 college season, where he averaged the numbers that you see above you while maintaining a 59% True Shooting Percentage. That mix of scoring volume and efficiency was enough for the conference to name him to their All-Big East First Team, where he joined Markus Howard and Marshall, who will both be discussed later in this piece.
The Charlotte, North Carolina-born standout was able to play at that level as a junior through being able to stand out as a fantastic shooter that was able to be efficient whether he was working off the dribble or catch. As a catch-and-shoot threat, Alexander is as smooth as the Rob Thomas/Santana collaboration through being quick with the shot once he captures the pass. Meanwhile, the Creighton alum showed himself to be more than capable as he knew how to effectively use screens to get open. Even if there’s nobody there to set screens, the young guard is still able to get open looks through utilizing fakes to get his defender up in the air.
Although his assist numbers were low throughout his college career due to the presence of Michell Ballock and Marcus Zegarowski, Alexander isn’t exactly a selfish player. It’s actually the opposite of that as he does a great job of moving the ball around to open shooters. In addition to that, he has the touch needed to throw up lobs or throw entry passes to players stationed inside the paint.
While Alexander stood as one of the best offensive players in the Big East, his work on the other end of the floor might be more impressive. After going through his defensive film from his junior season, I was continuously impressed with how he works on this end of the floor through his ability to quickly maneuver around screens and stick on to his man as they drive to the film.
An example of that is seen in the clip below where he’s defending former Seton Hall guard Quincy McKnight. After getting onto his man and recognizing that the screen is coming, he makes the quick decision to go under, which was a risky move considering that McKnight shot 37% from 3 in Big East play. However, that decision worked out as it allowed him to stay onto the Pirate as he made the decision to drive directly to the paint. Through staying on his hip during the drive and using verticality once McKnight decided to put up a floater, Alexander was able to do his part to make sure that the shot didn’t get close to going through the nylon.
Although Alexander is a smaller 6’4 shooting guard that struggles with being able to finish around the rim, the Creighton alum still stands as a really solid young talent. Honestly, I feel like he might be getting overlooked by sites like ESPN that currently have him 81st on their 2020 NBA Draft big board. As an unselfish guard that can play great defense and be able to shine as an off-the-dribble and catch-and-shoot threat, he stands as the type of player that can be an asset for a team’s 2nd unit. If a team doesn’t recognize that during the NBA Draft, the young guard could definitely shine as one of the best players in the G League if he’s there as a two-way prospect.
Naji Marshall - Xavier: 16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1.3 steals on 44% from the field and 29% from 3 on 5 attempts per game
Sticking in Big East country, let’s take the journey from Omaha, Nebraska to Cincinnati, Ohio, to examine the game of one of the best forwards in college basketball. Like Alexander, Marshall did his best work as a junior where standing as the fourth-highest scorer in the conference and shining as a great defensive player allowed him to be named to the All-Big East First Team.
While he did shine as one of the conference’s elite scorers, let’s actually start this overview of his play with the defensive end of the court. As an athletic 6’7, 220 pound forward, Marshall does a great job of utilizing his frame and natural traits to have success as both an on-ball and help defender. When it comes to his on-ball work, he does a great job of staying in front of his man to prevent them from an open jumper or clean path to the rim. The pressure that he’s able to put on opposing players occasionally leads to them turn the ball over, which allowed him to finish 11th in the Big East in steals per game.
Moving back to the offense, Marshall stood as a solid weapon for Xavier through his ability to drive downhill towards the rim with both hands, facilitator, post-up, and push the ball up the court in transition. Among those skills, he’s definitely best as an on-ball driver as the forward does a great job of using off-ball screens and handles to maneuver his way around the original perimeter defender. While he isn’t exactly explosive, he’s still able to use his muscular frame and different folks to create an edge on his man to get a better look at the rim.
Now when it comes to facilitating, it’s a complex issue that has both positives and negatives. When it comes to positives, his skills as an actual passer is clear as he has the touch need to throw soft entry passes to bigs that are fighting inside the paint. In addition to that, the Xavier alum is capable of probing towards the paint and kicking it out to a shooter or a teammate that’s stationed near him. A great example of that is seen in the clip below as he moves towards the paint before throwing a bounce pass to a teammate.
While his actual skill as a facilitator allowed him to lead the conference in assists among small forwards, it’s a trait that he doesn’t use enough. That’s through him having a bad case of awful shot selection, which was a key behind him only shooting 29% from beyond the arc as a junior. Honestly, it was irritating to watch him play at times because you can see teammates that are clearly open, but he still decides to throw up a contested shot with 18 seconds left on the clock.
Despite that significant flaw and genuine inconsistency as a shooter, Marshall is still an intriguing prospect that has the traits to be a solid role player at the NBA level after spending time in the G League to become a more disciplined offensive player.
Reggie Perry - Mississippi State: 17.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.2 blocks on 50% from the field and 32% from 3 on 2.3 attempts per game
In all sports, there are players whose games shine bright but ultimately get overlooked either through them playing for a fledgling team or simply not having the flashiest game. One example of that would be Reggie Perry, who will be turning pro after just two years with Mississippi State. During his sophomore year, he stood out as an imposing 6’10 forward that was able to get anything he wanted inside the rim against SEC competition. Those marvelous numbers led to him getting named to the All-SEC First Team and shared SEC Player of the Year honors with former Arkansas guard and future subject of this series Mason Jones.
Despite that tremendous production as a 19-year-old forward, there might be doubts about whether he’ll be drafted or not. Currently, SI’s Jeremy Woo has him 55th in his mock from mid-September while the Athletic’s Sam Vecenie recently put the 6’10 forward at the 60th spot in his October 2nd update. Those reputable outlets placing him at that level makes it seem like a legitimate possibility that the SEC Player of the Year won’t be selected in next month’s NBA Draft. Within Mr. Woo’s segment on him, he stated the following about the Mississippi State alum:
After watching Perry play a handful of games, that description definitely makes. That’s especially the case when it comes to defense as he struggles immensely when he’s working further away from the paint. When the Thomasville, Georgia was working around the perimeter, the 6’10 forward really becomes prone to ball watching or stepping towards the player that has the rock.
While that can sometimes lead to steals, that lack of attention from the SEC Player of the Year allows a player to quickly get open which obviously leads an opportunity for an open look. The most glaring example of his lack of attention is seen in the clip below where he takes a stroll towards the Auburn big that’s posting up on the left block. Those few steps gives Daniel Purifoy an open look from beyond the arc.
Those types of plays and his genuine struggles with getting in a good defensive position to try to stop on-ball drivers honestly leaves a lot of concern in my eyes about his defensive potential at the NBA or G League level where bigs and forwards are asked to go to the perimeter to hedge and switch.
Although the last two paragraphs were filled with negativity regarding his defense, it doesn’t mean that yours truly is low on Mr. Perry. That’s actually the opposite as he used his sophomore season to prove himself as a well-rounded offensive weapon that can shine as a facilitator, catch-and-shoot threat, offensive rebounder, and post-up weapon.
Just in terms of production, Perry did his most damage as an offensive rebounder as he snagged 3.1 boards per game, which placed him 3rd in the SEC. Once he snags the deflection off the rim, the young forward does a great job of using his strong frame to maintain his spot in the paint and put the ball through the net.
Sticking with ways that he’s able to dominate inside the paint, Perry was outstanding in the low-post no matter if he was working on the left or right block. On either end, he shows poise through being able to use a drop step to get a better look at the rim or being able to use the left and right shoulder before using his soft touch on hook shots. Although he doesn’t have a toolbox full of skills, the 6’10 forward still shot 57% on post-up attempts, according to Synergy Sports.
While a lot of the damage that he did on the college level came from inside the paint, this writer is more excited about his potential as a perimeter threat. Now, that might not make sense when you just look at his three-point percentage as it’s definitely low at 32% on low volume. However, his progression as a free-throw shooter (71% as a freshman and 76% as a sophomore) combined with solid work as a catch-and-shoot threat, shot 38% on 79 total shots, according to Synergy Sports, leaves me excited to follow his progress.
Despite Perry’s status as one of the best players in the SEC during his sophomore season, his current status as a late 2nd round to potential undrafted free agent does make sense when you factor in his defensive struggles and the progression he still has to make as an outside threat.
Markus Howard - Marquette: 27.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and .9 steals on 42% from the field and 41% from 3 on 10.1 attempts per game
For the third time in this piece, we go to the Big East to talk about a player that was part of the All-Conference First Team. That wasn’t the only accolade that the 5’11 guard received during his senior season as he was a consensus first-team All-American. In addition to that, the high points per game average that you see above you allowed him to lead the NCAA in scoring. The only real award or accolade that he didn’t receive during the 2019-20 season would be Big East Player of the Year, as that was won by Seton Hall’s Myles Powell, who you’ll be reading about in a future piece.
Based on those numbers, even a bat could see that Howard was a marvelous offensive player during his senior year with Marquette, with a lot of that coming from beyond the arc. The trifecta of that volume, efficiency, and him being able to make it rain, no matter if he’s working off the catch or dribble, makes it a legitimate argument about whether or not he’s the best shooter in this year’s draft class.
Honestly, the odds may be in his favor as the fact Howard shot better than 38% on both catch-and-shoot (46% on 99 attempts, according to Synergy) and off-the-dribble (39% on 198 total attempts, according to Synergy). That level of efficiency shouldn’t come as a surprise when you watch him play as it looks like he can do his catch-and-shoot routine in his sleep. Meanwhile, he’s smooth with the dribble as the ball is basically on the string while also step-backs to immediately create separation from his defender.
Along with helping create separation from his defenders, Howard’s quickness and ability to work around opponents helped him out in another area: facilitating. While his assist numbers may be low and .97 Ast/TO is definitely below-average, the 21-year-old guard is still able to show some level of promise in this end. That’s largely due to his work as a probe-and-pass facilitator through using his speed and handles to get around his man to get to the paint before dishing it off to an open shooter or teammate stationed inside the paint. An example of that is seen in the clip below as he does a brilliant job splitting the pick-and-roll, slashes towards the paint, and works the ball out to a teammate stationed on the corner.
Although the young guard does a great job of using his quickness to get to the paint before working the ball to a teammate, those skills don’t necessarily help him out when he gets to the rim. According to Synergy, Howard shot an abysmal 43% from around the basket on 92 possessions. While that’s depressing to see from a #1 threat, it isn’t surprising considering that he is a smaller 5’11, 175 pound guard. That small frame would make it difficult for anyone to finish at the rim against bigger players within the conference like Paul Reed, Tyrique Jones, or Omer Yurtseven. If he doesn’t become stronger, that weakness will look even worse at an NBA or G League level where the defenders are older, and thus bigger and stronger.
While that smaller frame may be considered as something that would hurt him on the defensive end, that actually wasn’t the case during his time at Marquette. In the film that I watched, he did a really good job as an on-ball defender through using quick feet, focus, and a good stance to stay in front of his man. That was even the case with defending drivers as he knew when to stay on his man’s hip on the drive and get in position to affect the path of the shot.
An example of Howard’s focus as a defender is seen in the clip as he does a great job of covering the USC guard no matter if he’s trying to drive to the rim or getting in position to launch up a catch-and-shoot attempt.
Despite the negative effects that his smaller frame and struggles as an on-ball driver, the fact that he could possibly be the best shooter in this year’s class that also works hard on defense should be enough for a team to use a 2nd round pick on him to see if he can become the next version of Patty Mills. If not, he’ll definitely get signed to a two-way deal in a blink of an eye, and then just absolutely wreck shop in the wide-open nature of the G League.