In last week’s overview of the upcoming draft, I mentioned that in my opinion the scouting consensus is underrating or overlooking certain backcourt prospects due to the concentration of high-end talent and depth there. Today I’ll focus on a few such prospects, beginning with Jawun Evans.
Jawun Evans (Oklahoma St) – 20.9 years old, 5’11.5” 185 pounds, 6’5.5” wingspan
Comp: Terrell Brandon
Position: Point Guard
What if I told you there’s a player who led the nation’s toughest conference in both usage and assist%—the latter by a wide margin? And what if I told you that same player, a sophomore, also ran the nation’s most efficient offense? You’d probably think that player must be a heck of a prospect.
That player is Jawun Evans.
This past season Jawun Evans guided Oklahoma State to a 20-win season despite facing the most difficult schedule in the country. He did that by taking on an immense offensive burden, leading the team in scoring while also assisting on more than 4x as many baskets as any one of his teammates. And somehow Oklahoma State’s Evans-centric offense was the nation’s #1 offense adjusting for opponent strength, scoring 126 points per 100 possessions.
Those numbers alone make Evans an intriguing prospect, but we’re just getting started. Evans also averaged 3.3 steals per 100 possessions, giving him the Big 12’s 6th highest steal% (with 3 of the guys ahead of him participating in West Virginia’s stat-padding full court press). Such a high steal rate is an strong indicator that he’ll be a capable NBA defender, as is his unexpectedly long 6’5.5” wingspan compared to his sub-6’ height. That’s a longer wingspan than Malik Monk, Dennis Smith, and even Luke Kennard.
On offense, what sets Evans apart from other prospects is his ability to create both for himself and for others. His combination of shotmaking, craftiness off the dribble, understanding of passing angles, and vision despite his size reminds me strongly of Terrell Brandon, who was one of my favorite players growing up. [For any of you who watched NBA Inside Stuff in the 90s, you may recall that Terrell Brandon was also one of Ahmad Rashad’s favorites—his “main man” so to speak.] Like Brandon, Evans creates space with quick changes of direction, crossovers, step backs, and the ability to stop or speed up without warning. Once he’s found an opening, however small, Evans relies on a varied arsenal of dribble jumpers, floaters, scoops, and double-clutch layups to generate his own offense, as seen in this DraftExpress video:
He lacks a lightning quick first step like De’Aaron Fox or John Wall, but once he’s started dribbling he’s similarly difficult to contain. Even when double teamed or seemingly smothered by bigger defenders, Evans has an uncanny ability to find his way out and sling a pass in any direction to the open man.
In addition to Evans’s improvisational dribbling and passing skills, he’s a prolific pick-and-roll ball handler. More than half of his offense came out of the pick-and-roll this past year, making him better prepared than most Point Guard prospects to run NBA teams’ PnR-heavy offensive sets.
As a scorer, Evans has several positive statistical indicators and one clear negative. Starting with the bad news, Evans did not finish particularly well around the rim in college. According to hoop-math, he made about 50% of his shots at-rim each year; for comparison, Fultz and Fox each converted 60%+ at that range, with Ball exceeding 75%. Obviously this isn’t ideal, but I don’t find it all that worrisome because, as a short Point Guard, Evans shouldn’t be expected to take a large portion of his shots around the rim anyway. When he gets into the lane, he’ll more often be looking to pass or perhaps trying to draw contact and get to the free throw line.
Now for the positives: Evans’s free throw shooting is a big plus, including both his high free throw percentage (over 80% each year) and high free throw attempt rate (8.2 free throws per 40 as a sophomore). His FT% is a good sign with respect to his 3-point shooting at the next level, and with the NBA’s liberal palming, traveling, and freedom-of-movement rules, I’m buying Evans’s continued ability to put defenders in bad positions and draw fouls.
There’s also the extreme degree of difficulty in Evans’s shot-making this past year, as he was one of the least-assisted players in NCAA. The drop in his 3-point percentage from freshman to sophomore year is explained by the fact that over 60% off his 3s came off the dribble this season, along with over 90% of his 2-point jumpers and 95% of his shots at the rim. In the NBA he’s sure to get more assisted field goal attempts, which in the long run are higher percentage shots for just about everyone.
All that being said, I think Evans is a lottery-caliber prospect who could be a great find for some team picking in the late first or possibly even early second round.
Derrick White (Colorado) – 23.0 years old, 6’4.5” 190 pounds, 6’7.5” wingspan
Comp: Jeremy Lin, a bit more above the rim
Position: Combo Guard
After spending his junior year eviscerating Division II opponents to the tune of 25.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 3.2 steals, and 2.1 blocks per game, Derrick White took his talents to Boulder to prove himself on a bigger stage as a senior.
Mission accomplished. [Okay, I admit that’s a hackneyed opening, but the point is he was really good.]
White established himself as one of the top players in the Pac 12, leading the conference in points scored while finishing top 5 in assists, free throw attempts, free throw percentage, PER, BPM, and Win Shares. He also finished top 10 in field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, and, perhaps most astonishingly, 6th in blocks.
So how does Derrick White, an unrecruited and largely unknown player until recently, achieve such tremendous success in the Pac 12? And will it translate to an even higher level—the NBA?
As a partial response, I think White’s game should translate pretty well offensively. White generates good scoring opportunities largely by virtue of his deceptive ball-handling ability and athleticism. More specifically, White isn’t the smoothest or quickest off the dribble, yet he uses ball fakes and his hesitation dribble so well that it’s really difficult to stay in front of him and in a strong defensive position. Just check out the above photo, where White spectacularly faked out Arizona’s top perimeter defender, Kadeem Allen, making him leave his feet as White dribbled by on his way to the rim. And once White forces his man out of position, it’s typically too late to stop him. White’s body control and leaping ability (36.5” max vert) helped him convert nearly 70% of his attempts around the rim, while also earning nearly 1 free throw attempt for every 2 shots (.45 FTr).
Outside shooting is White’s other most notable strength. He shot 40% from 3 on reasonably high volume this year, along with over 80% from the free throw line. And similar to Jawun Evans, White shot more of the comparatively difficult, off-the-dribble 3s than a typical prospect, mostly out of necessity as Colorado’s primary ball handler and #1 scoring option. Those are all positive indicators that his outside shot will translate to the NBA level.
I’m less confident in White’s defense going forward. He doesn’t maintain a proper defensive stance, as he’s often on his heels and fairly upright, so he doesn’t ward off dribble penetration to the extent you would like in a perimeter defender. Though White’s steal rate (2.2%) was above average, it was far from elite. On the other hand, White uses his size, speed, and leaping ability to close ground on ball handlers who get by him and block or alter shots exceedingly well for his position. I suspect that this combination of skills won’t make White a plus defender in the NBA, but he won’t be a liability either.
One last thing that impresses me about White is the fact that his production didn’t decline from Colorado’s relatively soft non-conference schedule to its Pac 12 slate. In many ways he actually improved, with a higher steal rate, higher block rate, better assist-to-turnover ratio, and even a slightly higher usage rate with very little drop off in his scoring efficiency.
Most mocks seem to have White pegged at the very end of the first round or early second round, much like Jordan Bell and Jawun Evans, though I view him as a mid- first rounder.
Donovan Mitchell (Louisville) – 20.8 years old, 6’3” 211 pounds, 6’10” wingspan
Comp: stronger, longer Tyler Johnson
Position: Combo Guard
Three months ago Donovan Mitchell would’ve been first on this list. Here’s what I wrote on another forum back in March, just after Louisville was eliminated from the Tournament:
Much as Jordan Bell has improved his game against tougher opponents late in the season, so too has Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell’s scoring efficiency and decision-making as a ball handler both reached a new level during conference play, and his strong performance extended to the Tournament even though Louisville lost today. In November and December Mitchell seemed to play out of control much of the time, trying to force his offense and struggling to make the right play. More recently he’s looked like a savvy combo guard rather than a slightly undersized SG, getting to the rim off the dribble, taking his jumpers in rhythm, and setting up teammates as well. Mitchell’s AST/TO has ticked up from 1:1 early in the season to nearly 2:1 in ACC play and 10:1 in 2 Tournament games.
Mitchell has been even peskier on defense this season, using his quickness and strength to force turnovers in bunches. He led the ACC in steals this year and also blocked 17 shots, an unusually high number for a 6’3″ guard. I’m not sure what Mitchell’s vertical is, but from the looks of it he can really get up. He finishes alley oops seemingly effortlessly, and according to hoop-math more than 1/4 of his shots have come at the rim for the 2nd year in a row. His shooting percentage around the rim is down from an obscene 68% last year to a merely good 56%, though that’s offset by the fact that so much less of his offense is assisted this year (from 40% Ast’d to 20% Ast’d at the rim; from 100% Ast’d to 80% Ast’d on 3s).
So what changed? Why was Mitchell my most underrated perimeter prospect back then but not anymore?
In sum, my opinion of Mitchell hasn’t changed, but the consensus mock draft has. Back then Mitchell was considered a late first round pick; now he’s projected in the 10-18 range. It’s not nearly as meaningful a deviation from the norm to say he should be a top-10 pick now, when he’s looking like a potential late lottery selection.
So why include Mitchell here at all? Well, for one, if I did a “prospect smackdown” type post comparing Mitchell to the other ACC perimeter prospects expected to go in the 10-18 range—Luke Kennard and Justin Jackson—I’d give Mitchell the clear edge. Kennard profiles as quite possibly the best outside shooter in the draft, but Mitchell shouldn’t be too far behind him, whereas the gap between them defensively is a chasm. Mitchell looks like an above-average defender at multiple positions, while I worry that Kennard won’t be able to defend anyone. Kennard’s combination of short arms, slow feet, and a low steal rate presents some pretty long odds for him ever becoming a competent wing defender. Justin Jackson has the physical tools to be a solid defender, though in my view his upside is significantly lower than Mitchell’s on both sides of the ball. Jackson doesn’t create shots, he’s not a disruptive presence on defense like Mitchell, and his mediocre free throw shooting detracts from his recent 3-point accuracy. According to above-linked models, Jackson actually projects as a worse outside shooter than Mitchell at the NBA level.
For more insight as to why I like Donovan Mitchell, check out my scouting report on Tyler Johnson. I see Mitchell having essentially the same strengths and weaknesses, minus the size limitations defensively. Mitchell’s additional bulk and longer arms should prevent him from being bullied in the post and make him better able to navigate screens, deny dribble penetration, and contest jumpers without leaving his feet.
If you missed Part 1 on my single most underrated prospect in the 2017 Draft, you can find it here.