Updated: Feb 26
In the third volume P.I. Pulse’s recurring column, “The 5-Point Play,” basketball analyst Henry Ward returns with five more things that stood out to him this week in the world of prospects. This week, Henry discusses how Scottie Barnes impacts a team beyond his personal output, why Keon Johnson’s blossoming aggressiveness is so exciting, the general audacity displayed by James Bouknight, and more.
Here’s what’s caught our eye, lately:
Scottie Barnes’ Dominance in a Valuable Archetype
Sports are a copycat business, and the NBA is no different. Every time a team displays sustained success on the court with a relatively untraditional or unseen approach, discourse rightfully turns to this new strategy. Whether it’s based in team-building or scheme, this innovative outlook on how a winning product can be created is then looked to as the “next wave” of basketball, a movement that’s felt throughout all levels of the sport. The most recent and pertinent example is the emergence of the ball-handling, perimeter centric, savvy passing, defensively versatile bigs. Draymond Green is the unquestioned head of this movement, but with Bam Adebayo most recently making himself prominent, we’re beginning to see a shift in teams’ approaches to building efficient systems and how having this type of player — one who can alleviate defensive deficiencies through rim protection and coverage diversity and accentuate offensive strengths with rapid processing and strong passing acumen — can take a team to the next level. In this draft class, no one fits this bill better than Scottie Barnes.
To be clear, expecting Barnes to become Green or Adebayo is unfair, given the latter two are the centerpieces of this movement towards above-the-screen pick-and-roll coverages and five-out offenses. However, this isn’t to say Barnes can’t be similarly effective at unlocking a team’s scheme in the same fashion. Throughout the year, Barnes’ unique archetype has reared its head against ACC teams in a myriad of unconventional ways, with coach Leonard Hamilton making sure to leave no stone unturned when it comes to utilizing Barnes’ otherworldly processing and instincts. Barnes has spent much of the year picking up opposing teams’ point guards up full court, which, considering his 6’9” frame, feels odd — until you see him swallow penetration consistently and use his 7’2” wingspan to poke balls loose like he’s a seasoned guard defender, aptly timing swipes and jabs to keep opponents of all sizes at bay. In Florida State’s switch everything scheme, we also get to see Barnes on bigger players and off the ball quite a bit, where he shines as a rotational maverick, always calling out actions from the bottom of the shell if he’s not interrupting them himself.
Offensively, Barnes is equally enchanting and peculiar. While he isn’t a particularly worthwhile advantage creator or shooter, he displays a passing acumen that is magnificent for someone his size, as evidenced by his assist percentage of 32.8%. However, the impact goes far beyond the numbers. He maps the floor exceptionally well and times decisions better than most to consistently punish rotating defenses as a short roller or coming off screens. His size gives him passing windows that aren’t otherwise available to ball-dominant players, and his technical skill lends itself to well-placed kick-outs and drop-offs to players for easy shots. This part of his passing skill is specifically encouraging: while many players make the first available pass that often leads to fine shots or at least keeps the defense moving, Barnes consistently predicts and executes excellent passes, using probing dribbles and on-ball manipulation to create seams that he perceives before they are realized. At 6’9”, there are few comparable players in this regard who are willing and able to convert such a wide array of passing decisions, whether it be a perfectly placed lob in transition or a wickedly fast skip pass to a corner shooter. We as evaluators tend to use generic labels for the sake of brevity to explain a player’s competency in any one area, but it’s important to realize that Barnes’ processing speed, decisiveness, perception, reactivity, and general awareness are really a unique mix that allow him to create a special level of value in a pertinent way.
Building on that thought, it can be easy to see Barnes for his warts. He’s a rather deficient athlete and shooter, and therefore it may be difficult for some to see how he creates advantages to operate out of, protects the rim, or manages to remain as switchable as he is right now. But, when trying to picture the player Barnes can be at the next level, we also have to consider what that player is adding and in what avenues they’re doing so. Now more than ever, there’s an added benefit of having a big that can process actions quickly with the ball in their hands and manipulate off-ball advantages created through cutting and screening, due to the complexity of offenses and generally expanding space they exist within. On the other side of the ball, the continued reliance on drop coverage as a defensive strategy is becoming less and less viable, with the pendulum presumably swinging in the opposite direction towards coverages that better mitigate the numerous off-the-dribble shooting threats that are now in the league. Barnes is a player who excels in both of these areas, able to act as an offensive highlighter who helps more skilled teammates thrive with his passing, screening and cutting and as a defensive eraser who can cover responsibilities both on and off the ball. While it may take some team-building and schematic creativity to get the most out of Barnes, the rewards are some that would be difficult to find elsewhere.
Davion Mitchell’s disruptive magnetism
In my playing career, there was nothing more frustrating than hearing about how a certain teammate was better suited to play than I was because they consistently produced desirable stats that so often felt like chance occurrences. In college, we went by a clear benchmark as a team: every rotation player needed to average at least one offensive rebound and one steal per game to be worthy of playing time. This was infuriating as someone who didn’t procure these numbers as well as I should have, especially because it felt like some of those who did simply lucked into them rather than producing these opportunities themselves. As I matured a bit and learned a lot more about the game, I realized that these players deserved the credit they received and that ultimately this production was driven by their skill as defensive predictors and pattern recognizers. When watching Davion Mitchell, these flashbacks were brought to mind immediately, for there’s not many players in college who have ostensibly “lucked” into as many steals as he has.
The quotes there are important. Mitchell has not actually “lucked” into any more steals than the average player, even though his steal percentage of 3.8% may lead one to believe that. Instead, Mitchell uses his intricate visual processing to jump into passing lanes before the ball even leaves a players’ hands, breaking on angles he sees before passers acknowledge them. He’s a menace off the ball who’s always looking for someone to exploit, calling switches to get him matched up with lesser shooters so that he’s free to roam and wreak havoc. His desire to get involved in every play is infectious and leads to prolific results, having notched three or more steals in seven of Baylor’s seventeen games this year. He’s a joy to watch as someone whose effort level never waivers and who consistently picks the right spots to present problems, never abandoning responsibilities.
Mitchell is an equally chaotic pest on the ball, where he’s amazing at classic veteran defender tricks such as swiping down on drivers who expose the ball, getting his hand in between crossovers, and poking the ball out from behind of guys who beat him. Typically tasked with matching the opponent’s most proficient creator, Mitchell rises to the challenge and gives them one of their toughest tests of the year with his mix of technique, strength, and powerful burst. He beats drivers to their spots consistently and walls them off, anticipating counters and outmuscling players who try to get him on their back. When taking into account his passing savvy and remarkable shooting improvement that’s taken place this year (shooting 49% from 3 on 79 attempts, versus 32% on 105 last year), it’s easy to picture Mitchell as a classically understood glue guy who connects diversely skilled units with rapidly improving compound skills. A huge part of Baylor’s success this year, Mitchell’s step forward has helped propel not only the Bears, but also his draft stock, into where they each are today.