Note: This piece is part two of an ongoing series looking at mid-major prospects. Click this piece if you want to read part one.
Nathan Knight - William & Mary: 20.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.5 blocks on 52% from the field and 30% from 3 on 3 attempts per game
6’10 forward Nathan Knight might stand as the most accomplished NBA Draft prospect that you probably haven’t heard about. After the forward’s time with William & Mary, he collected enough awards and accolades that his family would probably have to purchase another trophy case to hold them.
Just in his senior year, the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) named him as their Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, All-Conference First Team, All-Defensive First Team, and the Lou Henson award which is given out to the mid-major Player of the Year. Knight was no stranger to being praised by the CAA as part of the All-Conference First team during the 2018-19 campaign while being on the All-Defensive squads in the two previous seasons.
Knight’s status as arguably the best mid-major player during this past season comes through dominating on the offensive end, as he averaged more than 20 points per game while maintaining a True Shooting Percentage better than 60% during both his junior and senior season. Versatility is the key behind those great numbers as the 6’10, 245 pound big was able to post-up on both the left and right block, drive to the rim with both hands, snagging offensive rebounds, and even hitting the occasional perimeter jumper.
Among the skills that he’s talented at, Knight is probably most dominant when it comes to working in the low-post. Along with working on both blocks, the forward looks like a veteran with the footwork and touch that he exhibits while successfully using his big frame to overpower the opposition. In addition to those skills, he also utilizes fakes to put his opponent in the air before utilizing those moments to get in the position to hit an open shot around the rim
Although post ups currently stand as Knight’s go-to skill, his work as an on-ball driver is probably more impressive. For a player his size, he’s fantastic through being quick and being a great ball-handler that can drive with both hands and showing a knack of using a smooth spin move to separate himself from the opposition. ‘
One skill that Knight will need to continue trying to improve on would be as a perimeter shooter, as he only shot 30% from beyond the arc on three attempts per game as a senior. While that average isn’t great, it’s an improvement as he only shot 24% from long-range during the previous year. Although those numbers aren’t obviously the best, there’s reason to be hopeful that progression will occur as the 77% that he shot from the charity stripe is a sign that he does have touch as a shooter.
Knight’s well rounded offensive game combined with decent work on the defensive end allows him to sit 96th in ESPN’s top 100 NBA Draft prospects list. Although that leaves him some hope to get selected during the NBA Draft, it appears more likely that he’ll get signed to a two-way if the William and Mary alum decides to stay in the United States.
Jalen Crutcher - Dayton: 15.1 points, 4.9 assists, and 3.2 rebounds on 47% from the field and 42% from 3 on 5.7 attempts per game
Over the course of the 2019-20 season and in the current buildup to the NBA Draft, former Dayton forward Obi Toppin stands as one of the more hyped prospects. That makes sense as the 6’9, 220 pound forward stands as an athletic marvel that can jump to the ceiling while also being able to shoot 39% from beyond the arc. Despite some clear concerns about his defense, his athleticism and work on the other end of the floor allows him to stand as one of the elite prospects in this year’s draft class.
While there’s a lot of deserved attention on Mr. Toppin, there’s another player from Dayton that you need to keep an eye on. That player is 6’1 guard Jalen Crutcher, who shined as a versatile point guard that can work as Obi’s pick-and-roll partner while also being able to make shots fall from deep. Those offensive skills allowed him to possess a 63% True Shooting Percentage while also being named to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference 1st Team.
As a scorer, Crutcher did most of his damage from the perimeter as 49% of his made shots came through three-point shots. The vast majority of those attempts were through catch-and-shoot looks. Within that area, he’s impressive by doing a good job of getting to his spot on the court, receiving the ball, and then using a silky smooth stroke to launch up the shot.
While his role within the offense pushed him to do a lot of catch-and-shoot, the young guard is more than capable of creating his own offense. An example of that is seen in the play below where he messes around with his crossover before hitting a shot from well behind the three-point line with only a few seconds left in the half.
Although perimeter shooting stands as the main part of his offense, the guard has shown himself being capable of taking the ball to the rim with either his left or right hand. Although he isn’t the most explosive player in the world, the guard is good at being able to utilize off-ball screens to create separation from his man before driving to the paint. If he isn’t able to get to the rim, the guard is still able to score through the utilization of a right-handed floater.
Moving on to his work as a facilitator, the guard shined during the 2019-20 campaign by averaging 4.9 assists with a fantastic 2.4 Ast/TO ratio. Those numbers largely come from how well he did as the Steve Nash to Obi Toppin’s Amar’e Stoudemire as he did a great job of throwing up passes that the athletic forward can throw down for successful alley-oops.
Those offensive skills combined with him being solid on the other end of the floor makes me think that Crutcher would be a tremendous for a team looking for depth at the point guard spot to sign to a two-way deal like Charlotte, Toronto, or Washington.
Jake Toolson - BYU: 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.1 steals on 47% from the field and 47% from beyond the arc on 5.6 attempts per game
After a lengthy six-year college career that spent two separate stints with BYU with a two-year run with Utah Valley mixed in, Jake Toolson is finally ready to transition into being a professional basketball player. Although he’s going to enter that new chapter in his life a few years older than his fellow rookies, the 6’5 guard is in a tremendous position to that era started on the right note.
A lot of that confidence comes from how Toolson’s talents as a perimeter shooter fits in so well with how basketball has been for a few years in the NBA, G League, and various international leagues. Along with his fantastic three-point percentage, his intrigue as a reliable perimeter threat is seen from how he can consistently knock down jumpers from beyond the arc no matter if he’s working in catch-and-shoot or off-the-dribble situations.
Besides being one of the best perimeter shooters in college hoops, Toolson is capable of shining inside the paint as a low-post and on-ball driver. In terms of his work as a post-up threat, Able to work on both the left and right block, Toolson shines through good touch, solid footwork, and able to use little fakes to trick his defender. As an on-ball driver, Toolson is currently only able to use his right-hand and usually needs a screener before making the drive to the rim.
Although he’ll be 25-years-old by next March, Toolson’s tremendous perimeter shooting and knack as a facilitator and post-up threat allows him to be a legitimate candidate to sign a two-way deal.
Lesley Varner - UT-Rio Grande Valley: 15.6 points, 6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.5 steals on 43% from the field and 41% from 3 on 3.4 attempts per game
Sticking with older wings that was able to shine in college through his ability as a shooter, Lesley Varner will be entering his professional career after a really solid senior season for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. With the numbers that you see above , Varner was able to be part of the WAC (Western Athletic Conference) All-Conference First Team. That accomplishment was big for Dallas native as he stood as a forgettable role player that struggled from behind the three-point line during his first three years with the team.
While progressing as a perimeter shooter was probably the most significant part of his final year with the team, as his three-point percentage went up from 29% in 2018-19 to 41% in 2019-20, Varner actually did most of his damage as a mid-range threat. That is seem from him shooting 46% from between 17 feet to the NCAA three-point line, according to Synergy Sports. From inside the perimeter, the wing shows his shooting stroke whether he’s working off-the-dribble or catch-and-shoot after maneuvering around an off-ball screen.
Besides shooting from inside and behind the three-point line, Varner is a mixed bag on that end of the floor. Although he has shown an ability to drive to the rim with his right hand, those occasions aren’t frequent and they occur when he’s working at the top of the key against bigs due to him being positioned as a power forward despite being a 6’7, 185 pound player. Although his ability to finish at the rim isn’t totally clear, he does a good job of getting to the charity stripe as he averaged 4.7 free throws per game.
Varner’s stance as a 6’7 forward that is an efficient shooter and does a good job on the defensive end honestly has me comparing him to current Magic two-way player BJ Johnson. The fact that a tremendous G Leaguer like Johnson came to mind when I was watching film of Varner, that’s a good enough reason for him to be included on this list.
ShaMarkus Kennedy - McNeese State: 18.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 2.6 blocks per game on 68% from the field
From Jameel Warney to Devontae Cacok,every year we see an undersized big from a mid-major school that is able to shine as a rebounder or rim protector. Although Cal State Northridge’s Lamine Diane falls into this category a bit, the best example of this is probably the former McNeese State standout. As a senior, the 6’8 big stood through being a double-double that shined as a tremendous rim protector. Those skills allowed him to be named Southland’s Defensive Player of the Year, All-Defensive Team, and their All-Conference First Team.
As might be evident from those numbers or him being named as the conference DPOY, Kennedy’s best skill is probably as a rim protector. At that ability, he’s phenomenal through having the awareness and the quick feet to immediately go to the help side and be in the position to block shots when a guard or forward is driving.
That trait is still there when he’s working against a low-post threat as he can use his 220 pound frame to prevent from being overpowered before blocking the shot when they go for a hook shot. Although those skills are definitely notable, his most impressive trait is how well he’s able to switch on to guards that are driving to the paint, and stick with them before making a stop at the rim.
On the other end of the court, the man born in Tuscaloosa can cause havoc inside the paint as a post-up threat, roll man, and snagging offensive rebounds. Let’s start with the last trait that was mentioned, where Kennedy shined by average a conference-best 3.5 offensive rebounds per game.
Moving on to his work as a post-up threat, he was able to shine on both the left and right block. Although he doesn’t use any drop steps or spins, the forward is still solid in this area through having solid touch on a hook shot. Last but not least, the forward is a solid threat as a roll man through being a bigger target that can move smoothy and use his soft hands to catch passes.
With the skills that I mentioned over the last few paragraphs, Kennedy is a logical pick to receive a two-way contract from one of the thirty NBA teams. However, that may be difficult as the forward was recently signed to a deal by Pallacanestro Cantu of the Italian Serie A league. Obviously, him being signed to that deal likely prevents him from getting signed to a two-way deal. However, the combination of already having watching film and gathering information on the prospect before the deal was made official and him already being a sold player with a great skill set, I felt it was best to keep him on this list as there’s a great chance we’ll be seeing him in the NBA in the near future.
If you aren’t completely satisfied by that answer, I hope the fact that we’ll finish the mid-major section of this series by looking eleven more players that haven’t been signed to a contract will make things better.