Updated: Apr 28, 2021
After a brief hiatus throughout the NCAA tournament, P.I. Pulse’s recurring column, The 5-Point Play, returns for volume seven. While past volumes have focused on singular skills or ideas surrounding certain prospects, this week, basketball analyst Henry Ward will instead outline some thoughts on five prospects more generally, with the goal of highlighting some players who stand out as worthwhile gambles beyond the first round. From targeting impactful, experienced players in desired roles like Trey Murphy and Quentin Grimes to taking swings on unique players with outlier skills like Chandler Vaudrin and Vrenz Bleijenbergh, there’s plenty of interesting investments to be had beyond the first 30 picks in this year’s draft.
Here’s what's caught our eye, lately:
Quentin Grimes’ Scalability
While every draft has its fair share of both “busts” and “sleepers,” looking at it holistically, there are trends to be gleaned in terms of what sort of value can be expected from each pick slot. Generally speaking, it’s unlikely that a team finds a star beyond the first 10 picks, so despite the fantastical stories of stars like Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, it’s often best to temper expectations and consider what sort of player is worth hunting for as picks go by. Because we’re focusing primarily on guys who seem able, going off of publicly available information, to plausibly slip to the second round or beyond, it’ll be a decent mix of projectable role players and off the wall swings. Quentin Grimes, who experienced a renaissance this season at Houston, fits the former bill. With his 6’5” frame, hawking on-ball defense, shooting prowess, and ability to put the ball on the floor, he reads as a solid investment for any team looking to bolster their wing rotation with an off-guard who can operate in nearly any lineup.
This draft is not lacking in intriguing wing bets, from the top end of the lottery all the way through pick 60. Due to the value wings bring to a team context, from jumbo initiators all the way down to spot-minute specialists, teams should be excited to dip their toes in and nab some guys with serious value additions to offer from wherever they find themselves picking. This is perhaps the most fun part of this years’ draft — parsing out what makes these wings special amongst each other successfully could mean grabbing a legitimate role player on a rookie deal, and with so many to sort through, it’s an intriguing challenge to take part in. While the baseline for entering contention among this group, give or take a couple candidates, is a requisite level of high-leverage shooting and worthwhile team defense abilities, Grimes submits an interesting case as one who will stick long term due to his ability to attack closeouts with burst and handle creativity, as well as his knack for sticking with several positions at the point of attack defensively.
Offensively, Grimes’ calling card is without a doubt his sniperism, finishing the season hitting 40% of his threes on a shocking 8.2 attempts per game. While Houston’s offense could be a bit disjointed sometimes and often relied on their unique ability to manufacture points on the offensive glass and at the free throw line, Grimes was a reliable knock-down threat for the entirety of the season, both off the catch and off the dribble. With a fluid, notably high, one motion release that he gets off with considerable lift, he was able to shoot over nearly any defender at only 6’5”, making him the ultimate bail-out candidate when things got stagnant. This won’t be his role in the NBA, given his lack of on-ball creation ability from a standstill, but the efficiency on such massive volume and a decent degree of difficulty is more than enough reason to buy the shot going forward as a high-level asset for him.
Where he can separate himself even further, though, is in his exploitation of the aggressive closeouts he’s likely to draw. Even though Grimes currently doesn’t have much in the way of advantage creation with the ball in his hands, he has shown flashes of significant reactivity with his handle and a good amount of burst to go along with it — two skills that lend themselves to the idea of him becoming a multiple-level scoring threat in a way he was not this year. We can see in the clip above that when the opportunity is right, Grimes has the ability to slink through traffic with craft to convert easy looks once run off the line. Combining these microskills with his touch and dense, strong frame makes for a clear scenario in which he’s not just a shooting threat, but one who's able to hurt defenses that overplay him. This very distinction is often the difference between stud college shooters and shooters who make an impact in the NBA, which strengthens Grimes’ case as being a guy that sticks.
Defensively, Grimes took a real step forward this season under the tutelage of Coach Kelvin Sampson and staff. Once viewed as an on ball creator with some defensive tools and instincts, Grimes completely embraced his role throughout Houston’s fantastic season as a defensive menace, first and foremost. As mentioned, it’s essentially a prerequisite for any ancillary wing in the NBA to be able to make an impact as a team defender, but a separator in this arena is often the level to which these players can cause problems on the ball. With active feet, a strong core, quick hands, and instincts to spare, Grimes took pride in making life difficult for opposing guards all year. Excellent at navigating screens due to his proclivity for playing with physicality, Grimes was a handful for his matchups with how eager and able he was to disrupt the simplest of actions, blowing up ball screens and DHO’s with ease.
Having taken an untraditional path through his first few years in college, Grimes has been placed on a somewhat odd, yet largely beneficial developmental track. Switching roles from a scoring guard who could drive Kansas’ offense to then acting as a cog in the Houston machine that could stretch the floor and wreak havoc on defense, he was able to play a variety of characters in his brief college career, that in turn helped him develop his especially scalable skillset he has now. The list of NBA teams that would benefit from adding another high-feel, floor-spacing wing with some secondary playmaking potential and defensive aptitude feels permanently infinite given where the league is headed, making Grimes an intriguing value once the initial set of these guys are off the board.
Trey Murphy’s NBA-Ready Translation
A worthy qualifier to submit alongside all of these candidates is that it is simply too early to tell where exactly all of them will end up come draft month in regards to likely pick ranges. Currently, the best we can do is cobble together publicly available info to estimate who has a chance to be around once Deputy Commissioner Tatum takes over for Adam Silver on draft night. I mentioned this with Grimes, but feel required to repeat when discussing Virginia’s Trey Murphy. This is because it’s entirely possible, given his prolificity as a shooter, that he has a stellar pre-draft session and vaults himself into the first round once it’s all said and done. Yes, Murphy is simply that great at arguably the NBA’s most desirable skill, and manages to combine this ability with an NBA-ready 6’8” frame and stellar defensive instincts off the ball.
Murphy’s remarkable college production from beyond the arc is what will garner him looks initially, but ultimately, shooting alone is a skill that can be found on a budget as long as it’s below a certain threshold, and I don’t quite know if Murphy will be the type of nuclear shooter that comes around once in a blue moon. Instead, his separating skill will be his ability to shoot at his size, which in turn allows him to rack up deflections as an off-ball defender when combined with his savvy. Murphy was a perfect fit in the Cavaliers’ scheme and fit in immediately after arriving from Rice, picking up the pack line principles without problem on his way to his best season yet amongst the strongest competition he’d faced. Often put into situations in which he had to cover multiple responsibilities and guard multiple men at once on the weak side, he was able to get the most out of his positional length to deter passes and swoop in to force turnovers when defenders thought they had a window. Length and instincts go a long way, but Murphy’s reactions and ability to manipulate space are what stand out most.
There are fair concerns about Murphy’s inability to create much off the dribble or convert around the rim, but it may not matter too much for his role if his 40% shooting clip from distance over his college career translates seamlessly alongside the defensive value addition. I’m sure there’s a point where this idea becomes repetitive, but again, the more players you can have on the court that are able to most effectively maximize space offensively and limit it defensively, the better off you are in building comprehensive ecosystems on both ends. To echo the discussion above regarding Grimes and his ability to attack closeouts and contain the ball on defense, another way to separate oneself from the pack of 3-and-D wings in this year’s class is to prove that one’s adeptness in each side of that coin — the shooting and the defense — is simply at a higher level than others. It gets tricky once we move into this range of picks, but there’s an argument to be had that Murphy’s output at his size alone is enough to bank on, and when we begin to look at the intangibles defensively, that picture becomes even clearer.
Vrenz Bleijenbergh’s Out-of-the-Box Contributions
Beyond the discussed hunt for role players that occurs in the latter half of the draft, another angle to be taken is the “home-run swing” approach. Instead of hunting immediate contributors, teams can take advantage of surplus pick capital or lack of pressing needs to pursue unique, difficult-to-forecast projects who, despite major holes, hold the basic framework for very special outcomes. With a handful of intriguing skills, often in some sort of especially odd combination, these types of players aren’t immediately ready to add value in an NBA context, but possess hard to teach traits in generally shallow archetypes, to the point where exploring where they can go within a team’s development plan is worth the investment. At 6’10” with a deep bag of passing deliveries, high feel, and some moments of shot creation, Vrenz Bleijenbergh is well worth examination as someone worthy of one of these gambles from a team with the resources (both draft and development-wise) to see if something special can be extrapolated.
With Vrenz, the package is so off-the-wall and confusing that it’s hard to even project what kind of role he’d have in the NBA, and yet, the skills and tools are so intriguing that it feels as if that doesn’t even matter. Of course, any team planning to draft him would need to have a legitimate vision for him in place, but the lack of an obvious plan for him isn’t due to a dearth of pathways to contribution. In fact, it’s somewhat the opposite. Deciding how to deploy a 6’10” guard with legitimate movement skills, instincts, and exceptionally good passing is challenging for all the right reasons. The variability within lineups such a player would give you, if he hit his expected outcome, would be really unique. Imagine what a team that lined him up next to two offensive engine wings could achieve, specifically defensively. Having such a large player with his level of athleticism and ball skills allows for serious ground coverage defensively without sacrificing all that much on the other end, especially considering what he has to add as a passer.
This argument for Vrenz doesn’t even begin to mention what a higher end outcome could look like. While the growing affinity for European players who show flashes of skill alongside interesting physical profiles has maybe gone a bit far ever since Giannis hit his high-end outcome, it doesn’t mean players like Vrenz don’t warrant their own consideration as unicorn type prospects that can be found later in the draft. It’s likely a bit much to hope that Vrenz ever hits that level of improvement, especially considering he’s already 20, but he does have some low-hanging fruit developmentally. The shooting has only recently begun to come around and the jumper still has some major room to grow, given his good touch and currently inconsistent mechanics. As he continues to get more comfortable shooting off the dribble and adds weight that allows him to take contact around the rim, he’ll be able to develop a scoring repertoire that will further allow him to punish rotating defenses with his manipulative passing — something he does already without much scoring gravity at all. I’m not necessarily sure this is a star player, but it’s without a doubt a uniquely useful one.
All in all, the optimal, yet tempered outcome for Vrenz is one where his guard skills are utilized in an ancillary role while he’s able to guard down positions defensively and make most of his impact felt off the ball. If the shooting comes around and he’s able to add enough functional strength to the point where he can better wear contact on both ends, thereby making him a more potent drive threat and giving him a decent ability to navigate screens to contest shots all over the court, you’re looking at a player who you can comfortably place at nearly any slot in a lineup besides the five. It’s hard to fathom given such a lineup has never really graced the court before, but picture a scenario in which Vrenz lands in a spot with a set of ball-handling wings and a mobile big, where all of a sudden a lineup of five players 6’7” or taller roam the floor defensively while all also being able to handle the ball in spurts and space the floor on offense. Granted, this is a bit utopian, but ultimately serves to illustrate the point that the reality in which Vrenz is able to solidify himself as an NBA player is well worth the likely investment of nothing more than a second round pick.
Chandler Vaudrin’s Elite Passing
The NCAA tournament always brings up a lot of different feelings as a scout. It’s arguably what got me interested in the practice in the first place, with how intoxicating the fun of it can be, but it’s also the time of year that can be most frustrating for those who’ve been tracking these players for multiple years. Yes, March Madness is unfortunately the time in which some in the public sphere opt to discredit a season’s worth of film and stats in favor of their immediate reactions to a 1-5 game sample size in regards to formulating opinions on players. I can empathize with the appeal of the gut reaction and can somewhat understand those who may place more weight into the tournament due to what a prospect’s performance may show in regards to how they handle the bright lights, but in large, I try to avoid these temptations. Perhaps where I most find my personal value in the tournament as a scout, specifically in this year, is by being introduced to stars from smaller schools who make me feel the best embarrassment possible as I wonder how I’d missed them all year. After watching the first 10 minutes of Winthrop’s game against Villanova, I was stunned at Chandler Vaudrin’s passing acumen and realized I needed to watch far more.
Without using much hyperbole, Vaudrin’s well-roundedness as a passer is borderline unbelievable at times. At 6’7”, he’s able to make quite literally every pass in the book — skips with both hands, two-handed overhead deliveries, whip passes around guys’ backs out to shooters, dump-offs, and more. The list goes on. Using spectacular manipulation, terrific floor mapping, and two cannons for arms, Vaudrin never misses an available pass and always finds a way to get it there. He operated as Winthrop’s point guard, bringing the ball up and using his strength and pace to create the slightest advantages before rifling deliveries to players all over the court — highlighted by his 38% assist percentage, good for tops in the nation.
The most impressive part of Vaudrin’s passing is the complete nature of it all. For a lot of prospects, there are multiple pieces of the puzzle present but the full image is yet to be completed. Some are able to see every pass and not execute them yet, some only see the passes presented to them, and some have terrific technical passing skill but not the perception. Vaudrin has it all, aware of where all of his teammates are at any time, where they should be, and maybe more importantly, where the defense’s responsibilities are, all while being able to convert any of these perceived passes at any time with good velocity and accuracy due to his remarkable ambidexterity. In a class with a historic passing prospect in Cade Cunningham, Vaudrin, in a vacuum, may have an argument for the best passer in college basketball.
Looking beyond the passing is where Vaudrin’s evaluation gets a bit more cloudy. While the passing is outlier good, everything else is a bit more average when it comes to projection, which doesn’t bode too well for a prospect who will be 24 years old at the time of the draft. The shooting is coming around, having improved significantly this past year across the board, but isn’t quite a bankable trait for him just yet. However, similarly to Murphy, perhaps the size alone when combined with the passing is enough to buoy him as he brings these other skills up to par. If he embraces the defensive side of the ball, he could make a decently worthwhile impact on this end with his size and special feel for the game. Investing in him is a bit risky given his age and current deficiencies, but any significant developments across the board could be enough to make him an immediately useful role player with such an elite skill already in his pocket. Not to mention, this one skill is uniquely helpful in such a wide range of contexts, whether it be on a team that wants to surround their young core with ancillary playmaking or a contender looking for a unique piece to slot in alongside their stars. It’ll be an uphill battle for Vaudrin to stick, but a team that takes a chance could be rewarded greatly with some of the best distribution that’s come along in a while.
Mojave King’s Athletic Baseline
Beyond odd skill sets, another worthwhile archetype to take a plunge on later in the draft is the elusive combination of youth and physical tools. If these players are around, it’s often due to disappointing seasons in regards to production, and sometimes simply because lofty expectations were not reached. Mojave King’s season suffered from a bit of both. Playing time was often inconsistent for the 18-year-old in the Australian NBL, who struggled to crack the rotation over his elder, more experienced peers and faced some growing pains when he did find the court. Having entered the season as one of the few members of the NBL’s “Rising Stars” program, most notably tied to his compatriot and fellow NBA Global Academy alum Josh Giddey, expectations were painfully high for King in a way that likely hurt him in the short term. Simply not being able to drive a professional offense at the age of 18 like Giddey has done might be seen as a failure, which of course is a horribly unfair heuristic to judge a prospect like King on. In reality, we still saw flashes of what made King intriguing coming out of the NBAGA, and while he may not have made the major jump that Giddey did, he’s without a doubt worthy of consideration in the second round given his set of athletic tools at his age.
During previous Basketball Without Borders camps, King consistently drew attention with his high motor and open court athleticism, moving around defenders with ease in transition and clamping down ball-handlers on defense. He read as a classic overly-athletic prospect who would need to sharpen his technical skills in order to fulfill his potential, but doing so also occurred in front of our eyes. Each camp, he looked more comfortable with the ball in his hands, often using these evaluation periods to experiment with more usage as a handler in pick-and-rolls and at times initiating offense. While the NBAGA is becoming more prominent, churning out an increasing number of high division one and NBA prospects each year, these camps were at times a bit too easy for King in hindsight. Players with his tools hit a steep learning curve once they’re put in situations where they’re no longer head and shoulders above their peers athletically, and this seems to be partially what happened with King this past year.
However, it’s important to outline how King has still made some progress in this regard. As the NBL season has gone on, King has earned his increase in playing time for Cairns and recently put together his best performance of the season against Adelaide this past week. As he gains more experience on the professional stage, as well as more trust from his coaches, while ultimately upping his confidence, I’m sure we will see more and more of what’s to come. He’s found avenues to contribute beyond his traditional ways while he gains his footing, such as on the glass and as a cutter, which has also broadened his overall impact. His jumper hasn’t been falling this year but he continues to shoot with confidence, an encouraging sign that an area of concern for him could soon be a bankable skill. As he rounds out his handle and starts to recognize more of the passing windows his slashing creates, he can begin to contribute as a secondary creator as well, given his current feel for the game and physical tools. All in all, when weighing which guys to take fliers on late, King submits a strong case with his strengths lying in “can’t teach” areas, in conjunction with his age and development arc.
Make sure to check back again soon for the next installment of ‘The 5-Point Play.’
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