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Prospect Analysis: Underrated '23s w/ NBA Potential

In the latest edition of ‘P.I. Pulse’, Pro Insight’s Alex Brown dives deep into three intriguing Nike EYBL standouts with NBA potential:

EYBL was routinely one of my favorite stops on the scouting calendar last cycle, consistently providing high quality competition, interesting players, new contexts, connections, and a lot of learning experiences along the way. After being on the ground for three live sessions and spending 80 or so hours in the gym, it was clear that there will be a myriad of prospects that will outperform their relative expectations. I struggled narrowing this list down to three, as there were at least six other guys that were highly considered and believable as NBA prospects. Another time, perhaps…

For now, the three following standouts were the most comfortable evals for me as far as projecting their NBA trajectory and understanding where the development hurdles are. Additionally, these choices were not necessarily who I thought could fill the largest role or be drafted the highest relative to their “ranking,” but more focused on interesting development paths with uniquely elite skills that the NBA values. Without further adieu, here are three standouts who showed intriguing NBA upside throughout this past EYBL season.

*Analytical References: Cerebro’s Glossary

Joseph “JoJo” Tugler | 6’8” | Big | Committed - Houston

55 (ON3) | 77 (ESPN) | 50 (Rivals) | 58 (247)

At a glance, JoJo Tugler might not look like one of the most valuable and impactful players in the country after only averaging 10.8 pts over 24 games at roughly 23 mpg while only shooting ~56% from the field and just 44% from the line. His offensive development track is not an easy case, so, what makes him a potential NBA talent? As a 6’8” big that isn’t a particularly high-level shooter or overly efficient from the field, he has to be a valuable outlier somewhere for it to make sense. Luckily, JoJo absolutely is, and it is no secret to many in the grassroots community that JoJo Tugler is one of the most impactful defenders in the country at the 17U level. JoJo is also still very young for his class (especially during the COVID era), and won’t turn 19 until after his first season of college basketball is completed.

Calling Card: Outlier Defensive Versatility and Impact

JoJo Tugler is an absolute defensive menace who wreaks havoc on opposing offenses. He shines as a small-ball 5 and is incredibly versatile and disruptive with his self-reported 7’5” wingspan (which I’m inclined to believe is close to accurate), massive hands, and relentless motor. Tugler’s combination of elite instincts, physical tools, lateral quickness, effort, feel, and competitiveness allows him to add significant value in both POA and team defense settings while generating events at a very high level.

In POA, Tugler is a multi-positional defender that has the length to defend bigs and the lateral mobility to check wings and guards. Therefore, Tugler is able to switch effectively, punish guards for putting him on an island, and strip opposing handlers with his length and active hands. Very often, there is no advantage gained by generating a switch onto Tugler, and you’ll even see Tugler get the assignment to step out beyond the arc to check the opposing team’s best player. He also has really impressive on-ball microskills, including a very natural understanding of forcing offensive players into disadvantageous angles. JoJo is a solid post defender as well, giving bigs with NBA size trouble with that length and angle game (though bully-ball 5s can still take advantage). Occasionally, Tugler’s non-stop motor, competitiveness, and raw movement style can get him into foul trouble, but it is more of an area to track as his movement skills develop rather than something to worry about at this stage. For his age, Tugler offers versatility on the ball that few bigs can claim.

As an off-ball/team defender, JoJo’s value as a havoc defender truly is exemplified. He is capable of making some of the most elite rotations you’ll see at this level for a big on a possession-to-possession basis, and he is unremittingly bringing disruption to the passing lanes or making a play at the rim. Here, his recognition, timing, ground coverage, and instincts are all at another level for a 2005-born big, and when you pair that with his outlier tools and competitive fire, they become invaluable. Furthermore, JoJo excels at protecting the rim in power play or 2v1 situations, as his length, feel, and positioning allow him to play patiently with his reactions and process while maintaining his effectiveness. Naturally, these tools and skills allow Tugler to cover a myriad of PnR schemes, including show, drop, hard hedge, blitz, and eventually ice when it becomes prevalent in the structure he is in (either as the weakside help or POA defender). Tugler is also an excellent rebounder, constantly making multiple efforts in and out of his area, high-pointing the ball, and keeping it secure with those massive hands. He is certainly a big that will consistently finish plays on the defensive end and win possessions for his team.

Overall, there are a lot of athletic, ‘toolsy’ bigs that just can’t do what Tugler consistently does with his natural instincts and innate understanding of where to position himself to be impactful. I saw some of the better scorers in the nation and bigs with legit NBA size struggle with Tugler, as well. This was not just a game-to-game thing — his impact was consistently felt at one of the highest levels of high school basketball, even during those long, 8+ hour days in the gym where he’d play multiple games per day. Sure, there were moments of fatigue when he plays as hard as he does, but I was very impressed with the consistency of his defensive impact, nonetheless. Furthermore, Tugler stood out analytically on Cerebro’s database. At session 3, JoJo posted a 10.1 C-RAM, which ranked the second-highest overall behind Ohio State commit Devin Royal. Furthermore, he finished at the 10th ranked spot in session 2, posting a 9.1 C-RAM, and consistently excelled in the DSI (defensive statistical impact) category.

Growing into the Modern Game: Reaping the Benefits of Movement Optimization

Offensively, JoJo is rather raw overall, but there are some positives. The general sell for Tugler is that he excels as a multiple-effort offensive rebounder and rim runner and does the dirty work offensively with unlockable upside as a play finisher and advantage maintainer. Furthermore, JoJo flashes the ability to be a very solid vertical threat for his age despite volatile, unoptimized movement, and projects as a solid lob catcher as a roller or from the dunker spot with his massive hands and absurd length. Additionally, Tugler sprints the floor when he sees a lane to fill and loves to finish in space, often firing himself up by throwing down massive transition dunks. He can turn defense into offense by leveraging his defensive energy to generate these opportunities, as well.

Essentially, the idea for his offensive fit in the modern NBA is that he could take on the role of those energy, hustle, glue-guy, hyper-efficient, small ball bigs — an archetype exemplified in Robert Williams III (an ex-Houston Hoops big that Tugler actually measures similarly to). He already has the defensive promise and huge impact to fill that role on the other end, but he will need to make plenty of strides to reach the offensive requirements. This would require JoJo to be adept at play finishing, rim running, offensive rebounding, rolling, and short roll decision-making in big space. There is upside there and some positives to work with, but it clearly has plenty of levels to rise. So, what is currently holding him back from reaching the highest level?

The main issue? He has some very raw offensive movement skills and doesn’t harness his kinetic chain well as a vertical athlete. His shortcomings aren’t from a lack of intention, motor, or physical tools, they are all there, it is from the hindrances he faces in his movement in general. The largest areas to tackle with his movement are balance, coordination, proprioception, and the energy transfer (everywhere). His movement is very far away from being optimized, and it restricts him far too often. The two most important offensive areas where this shows up are in short roll playmaking and finishing situations.

Despite his hindrances, there is genuine promise in JoJo’s potential to grow as a short roll playmaker and advantage maintainer. Tugler has shown a capable process of where to move the ball when he catches on the roll (or in space) and the intention to do so, but doesn’t regularly have the skill/movement needed to fully implement it as a consistent tool. Tugler’s eyes will move in the right direction and you can see the intent on a passing decision, but the body and the mind seem to struggle to consistently coalesce in a way that allows him to maximize the process and execute with accuracy. Additionally, he can struggle with the roll catch and subsequent proprioception with regards to putting himself in the best position to get a clean, balanced pass off, often leading to wild passes or unnecessary dribbles. Obviously, these possessions need to turn into more crisp, decisive, accurate passes for it to work at the highest level. However, since the process and intention seems to be there, I am more optimistic that Tugler will be able to roll into big space and make a sound decision with the basketball more effectively and consistently when additional coordination and balance gains are realized. I see it as more of a question of how far his body can reasonably develop to cater to skills like this rather than a process problem.

As a finisher, JoJo is at his best playing from the dunker spot or in transition with time and space to load, but is far from perfect at this stage. He can struggle on the roll (36th percentile), in the post (48th percentile), or in traffic due to, you guessed it, the movement skills. For example, Tugler tends to lean forward heavily in the loading phase on his one-foot jump (occasionally being a bit flatfooted too) by trying to put too much power into his jump and unintentionally hindering his balance and ability to leverage his entire kinetic chain to go up strong. This causes him to fall victim to playing below the rim too often and struggling to finish through any contact. Consequently, he is a little underdeveloped as a finisher, and his touch is pretty poor around the rim. Of course, there are flashes of highlight finishes that show you just how great he could be, but I am not yet comfortable with him consistently gathering and finishing/passing on the move. For his finishing projection, learning to leverage the energy transfer (ideally off two feet, where it is far better) will be critical. Focusing early on consistently strengthening and harnessing the power of his kinetic chain will be key in correcting the loading phase of his jump, and it should significantly augment his ability to finish in space/through contact. It will also be safer from an injury prevention standpoint.

Often, one foot loading in traffic keeps him notably below the rim, often showing a disconnect between the upper and lower body.

When loading more optimally (spring jumper style), the results are much more effective, but still could be better.

Additionally, his hindrances as a finisher are also the results of lacking fundamental ability to employ advanced gathers (pro hop, jump stop, euro, etc.) that cater to his two-foot leaping and promote balance. His propensity to play away from where he is more capable as an athlete shows that the feel there is very, very raw, and/or that JoJo may not be fully comfortable moving that way with his current balance and coordination. Basically, it needs to transform from a weak, one foot, unbalanced gather that leads to a contested below-the-rim attempt into a strong, two foot, balanced gather, leading to a quality layup, dunk, or pass.

Overall, untapped movement optimization seems to be a primary source of Tugler’s upside, and has the potential to be the key to transforming his flaws. Naturally, as his movement becomes optimized over time he will draw more fouls, finish more often above the rim, and be able to employ his passing more effectively due to the balance and coordination gains.

However, the reality is that scouts (plus Houston and NBA teams) will not get a real chance to truly look past the surface to see how far his movement optimization can go until they perform the proper testing and get him in their facilities. As much as I’d like to have this equation’s solution figured out, attempting to advise a development plan without having him in for testing would be purely speculation and unlikely to be conducive to honing in on his potential value. There are only so many conclusions that can be drawn and observations that can be made at this point. What we can deduce is that there are notable movement flaws restricting him from fully utilizing his skillset and filling the ideal mold he will need to fill to reach the NBA.

Luckily, I am optimistic that in Houston’s S&C program these issues will be tackled head on. Conveniently, Houston’s S&C coach (Alan Bishop) is a specialist in kinetic chain enhancement/optimization, which is (according to a couple of my S&C colleagues I shared this with) exactly what Tugler needs to start using proper loading more consistently and tapping into those athletic tools correctly. Balance/coordination gains are logical here as the kinetic chain becomes more connected throughout.

With what information is available right now, this is how I would build a more efficient, scalable, NBA attack with Tugler:

  1. Heavy focus on improving movement skill flaws, including balance, coordination, and kinetic chain.

  2. Limit self creation, emphasis on choosing efficient spots as a play finisher and rim runner. Develop consistent mental pathways for when to employ advanced footwork and gathers.

  3. Put him in situations where he can make a decision against a broken defense or on the short roll in big space with optimized movement.

Bottom Line

I do not expect Tugler to be a one-and-done type of talent due to how raw he is on multiple fronts and how long it could take to optimize his movement. Depending on how quickly he can hit on his role’s developmental needs, movement skills, and efficiency requirements, he has a chance to find an immediate fit in a coveted NBA role when he is ready. This may not happen until the ‘26 or ‘27 draft cycle, for what it’s worth, as there is no way to know (currently) how long optimizing his movement for NBA competition could take. Currently, I expect him to be a multi-year development project that can go from being a day-one, high impact, high motor havoc defender to a potential all-conference level player that Houston won’t want to take off the floor.

All factors considered, JoJo has the chance to become one of those highly coveted versatile bigs that NBA teams need in their rotation in the playoffs. He might not be traditionally sized, move aesthetically/fundamentally well (yet), or shoot a pretty ball, but what Tugler can and could do is consistently rewarded at the NBA level and drives winning bas