Nick Richards - Kentucky: 14 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks on 64% from the field
In the vast majority of cases, being a top-20 prospect in a particular high school class would mean that you would stand out as the centerpiece of the team that you committed to. However, that wasn’t the case for Nick Richards as he struggled to get minutes and opportunities during his few two seasons with the University of Kentucky because of fellow Wildcats prospects Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, Jarred Vanderbilt, and PJ Washington.
Although he started all 37 games, the presence of Knox, Vanderbilt, and Wenyen Gabriel led to him only playing 15 minutes per game. The struggles continued into the following season as Richards fell further down Kentucky’s depth chart by only playing 12 minutes per game as a sophomore.
After two years of struggling on the team’s bench, he finally got his chance to shine during his junior season. Richards did a great job of utilizing those opportunities as he was able to shine on both ends of the court and put up the numbers that you see above. Those statistics allowed him were enough to have both coaches and the Associated Press to name him to their All-SEC First Teams. Alongside that, he joined current Cavaliers rookie Isaac Okoro on the conference’s All-Defense team.
Sticking on the defensive end, that is definitely the most intriguing part of his overall game as he’s more than capable of defending both on the perimeter and inside the paint. From the perspective of the trait, he has shown a nice job of using his quick feet, great defensive stance, and 7’3 wingspan to stick with them on their path from the perimeter to the rim before stopping them at the rim. Those quick feet and wingspan also come in handy when defending the rim as there wasn’t a player that Richards didn’t love to stop at the rim.
Although the 6’11 big shined more on the defensive end during his junior season with Kentucky, the Jamaican-born prospect definitely wasn’t a slouch on the offensive end. From this perspective, he plays like an old school big in that he loves to dash to the rim, grab offensive rebounds (snagged 2.6 offensive boards per game), finding positioning inside the paint, and hitting the occasional mid-range jumper. As a roll man, he had a great connection with Ashton Hagans, as the duo worked had a lot of success working together in pick-and-rolls.
Aside from his ability to slash to the basket, one offensive trait to keep an eye on would be his shooting. As a junior, he shot 41% on 29 attempts from between 17 feet to the 3-point line, according to Synergy Sports, while also hitting 75% on his free-throw attempts. With those two statistics out there, I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses the G League to show the world that he can shoot it from deep.
Although he didn’t show that at Kentucky, that might’ve been due to John Calipari restricting what his players do on the court. If he’s in a more open and free-flowing offensive system that you see at the pro level, don’t be surprised if Richards starts to show a bit of an outside game at the next level.
With these factors in mind, Nick Richards is definitely a prospect that you should keep in mind during his rookie season and beyond.
Ashton Hagans - Kentucky: 11.5 points, 6.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game on 40% from the field
Sticking with the young men that developed their game while playing at Rupp Arena, we go to another player that wasn’t quite able to match the high expectations that were placed on his shoulders. Coming out of high school, 247sports ranked the Covington, Georgia product 12th on their top-100 list. That ranking placed him below EJ Montgomery and ahead of Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyler Herro.
Although he immediately didn’t stand as a draft prospect like Johnson and Hero, Hagans did pretty well during his freshman season. Averaging 7.7 points, 4.23 assists, 1.6 steals, and 2.6 rebounds per game with a 55% True Shooting Percentage, he played well enough on one end of the floor to be the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
After that solid freshman year, it was expected that he’d build on that for his sophomore year. As you can see in the numbers above, he was technically able to do that as his points, assists, rebounds, and steals per game numbers all grew from his freshman to sophomore season. However, his efficiency took a turn in the wrong direction as his True Shooting Percentage fell from 55 to 52%. That significant downturn was due to his struggles from beyond the arc (shot 25% on two attempts per game) and work in transition.
Both of those issues are obviously extremely concerning. In terms of his struggles from beyond the arc, it appears to be something to do with his form as it doesn’t appear that he’s getting enough lift on his jumper as the vast majority of the misses clanged on the front rim. That problem is something that will need to be worked on as he makes the transition to professional hoops.
Moving over to his work in transition, he had a one-track mindset with wanting to be the one to score, even if that means taking a mid-range shot when there’s an open perimeter threat close to him or forcing himself to finish through traffic. An example of that first weakness is seen in the clip below, where he settled for a low-efficiency mid-range shot when Immanuel Quickley was wide open on the wing.
That selfishness in transition is surprising as the young prospect is a very good facilitator when he’s working within half-court sets. As we mentioned in the segment on Richards, Hagans did a good job of working with the big in pick-and-rolls and feeding him alley-oop lobs. Along with throwing lobs to Richards, he has the touch to work the ball inside when they’re heavily guarded, work drive-and-dish, and find cutters when he’s standing on the perimeter.
Alongside that knack as a facilitator, Hagans also stands as a solid defender that is capable of getting into passing lanes and maneuvering around off-ball screens. However, his immense struggles with transition decision making and as a shooter should have him be a mainstay in the G League in 2020-21 and beyond.
Mamadi Diakite - Virginia: 13.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks on 48% from the field and 36% from 3 on 1.9 attempts per game
In terms of sheer entertainment value, Diakite stood as one of my favorite players to watch. The reason behind that deals with how he’s like a 2008 cell phone with how he continues to roam around the court. That hustle is most evident on the defensive end of the court as he’s constantly hedging on pick-and-rolls, maneuvering off-ball, and closing out on shooters. Those tools are due to his incredible mobility as he can move around very quickly for a prospect that is 6’9, 229 pounds.
He does a great job once he gets on to his man, as his long frame and quick feet allow him to stick to wings and bigs when they’re trying to drive towards the rim. An example of that is seen in the clip below as he switches onto the James Madison guard when they’re stationed on the perimeter and is able to stick with them from perimeter to paint. All of those keys allowed him to be a part of the ACC’s All-Defensive Team for the 2019-20 season.
Moving onto the defensive end of the floor, Diakite is still a work in progress as there are skills that he shows promise in but doesn’t really excel at. For example, his quickness and great hands allow him to be a good target for rolls to the rim. Meanwhile, he was more than capable of hitting the mid-range jumper, as he shot 42% on shots from between 17 feet to the NCAA three-point line, according to Synergy Sports. All of these factors put together gives him some solid upside as a short roll option.
Despite the potential of him being a short roll threat, solid offensive rebounder, and versatile defender, Diakite is still a work-in-progress when it comes to his overall game. Although he can definitely try to improve on the G League level, the fact that he’s 24-years-old might be concerning to teams about his potential to keep growing as a player.
Breein Tyree - Ole Miss: 19.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 steals on 43% from the field and 36% from 3 on 5.7 attempts per game
Transitioning back to the back-court and the SEC, we go to a guard that was able to shine as the brightest star on a below-average team that went 15-17 for the season and 6-12 during conference play. That rough play definitely can’t be blamed on the 6’2 guard as he finished 2nd in the SEC in scoring during the 2019-20 season, only trailing Arkansas wing Mason Jones. That status as an elite scorer allowed him to join Richards, Reggie Perry, Skylar Mays, and Jones on the First Team All-SEC team.
Tyree’s status as an elite scorer largely comes from his tremendous work as a ball-handler. Honestly, it was an absolute joy to watch him play through how he can quickly maneuver around screens and use his incredibly tight handles to immediately create separation. That knack of creating spacing allowed the guard to shine as a solid perimeter threat and also hit 44% on 73 total perimeter attempts, according to Synergy Sports.
That ability to uses his handles to create separation from his defender in association with a solid burst helped him to be able to drive to the rim with both his left and right hand. After beating his man, Tyree is incredibly crafty as he’s able to go low on the dribble while also being able to change speed on a dime, which makes him an incredibly difficult player for opposing bigs or forwards to switch onto.
While the less than spectacular roster that he was surrounded by at Ole Miss allowed him to be the team’s main scoring option, as he had a 30.1 USG%, the prospect definitely wasn’t a slouch as a facilitator. In fact, he has real upside in that area through being an unselfish player that can quickly spot cutters. In addition to that, he can use the gifts that I’ve mentioned in this piece to probe towards the paint before moving the ball to the teammate. A few examples of that are seen in the video that you see below.
Tyree’s ability to create his own offense off-the-dribble from both behind and in front of the three-point line and facilitate, he definitely has the makings of a player that would shine in the G League, whether that’s on a two-way deal or an exhibit 10 contract.
Dwayne Sutton - Louisville: 9.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.7 assists on 50% from the field and 35% from 3 on 2.6 attempts per game
Do you know the old phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, if you don’t, it essentially means that you should judge someone or something by how they appear before you get a chance to know it or them. I feel like you can do the same thing with basketball and simply deciding to overlook them based solely on box score or per-game numbers.
Dwayne Sutton is a prime example of why you shouldn’t do that. Because based on the numbers that you saw before deciding to read this part, you probably wonder why I was writing about a player that wasn’t a great scorer, dominating rebounder, or absolutely light it up from beyond the arc. Well, if you’re the person to ponder that, the answer would be that the Louisville standout is a player worth talking about due to his knack as an athletic 6’5 wing with a swiss army knife skill set and unlimited energy.
When it comes to that versatility, he’s one of those players who are solid at a lot of different areas, which include: catch-and-shoot, facilitating, snagging offensive rebounds, and being a tremendous perimeter defender that can really switch. When it comes to all of those, I was probably most impressed with his work as an offensive rebounder as Sutton mixes an ability to recognize where to go inside the paint with the strength and drive needed to outwork bigger opponents that he’s fighting for a rebound against. A clear example of that is seen in the clip below where he comes out of nowhere to go between three Miami defenders to grab the rebound before quickly finishing around the rim.
Now moving away from the rim, the wing has real upside as a perimeter threat. That potential is due to him absolutely excelling as a catch-and-shoot threat. It’s especially the case when he doesn’t have a man on him as he shot 45% on 29 total unguarded attempts, according to Synergy Sports. Although you’d definitely like to see a larger sample size, that shooting percentage plus him shooting at least 70% from the charity stripe during the last two seasons makes me feel comfortable that he can possibly transfer that to the next level.
Although he’s not a slouch on the offensive end, Sutton is on this list due to his work on defense. Despite the fact that his block (.7) and steal (.8) numbers aren’t great, I was impressed with his work due to his ability to stay on to switch, stick with guards and wings as they’re driving to the rim, and maneuvering around off-ball screens. All of those traits are mixed together to allow him to be a great on-ball defender that can use his quick feet and athletic 6’5, 220-pound frame to remain in front of his man or even play help defense.