I’m starting a mini-series with scouting reports on some of the top returning NBA prospects in college basketball in no particular order. First up, Mr. Bouknight of the Connecticut Huskies.
James Bouknight is one of the top returning guards in all of college basketball, and in my way-too-early opinion, someone I consider a legitimate 1st-round candidate in next year’s NBA Draft. Let’s dive right in to what the bouncy guard brings to the table.
James Bouknight: SG, 6’4″, 6’8″ WS, 175 lbs., UConn, Sophomore (19 years old).
- Offensive role: Athletic multi-level scoring guard. Slasher.
- Defensive role: Disruptive, long guard. Can defend 1’s, 2’s and eventually smaller wings (must add strength).
- NBA projected role: Rotation player, starter/core upside.
- Swing factor: The off-the-dribble jumper.
- ESPN 2021 mock draft: 26th overall.
Additional shooting numbers:
Dunks: 19-20 (95.0%)
Close 2’s: 74-126 (58.7%)
Long 2’s: 29-77 (37.7%)
Synergy profile attached below:
Entering his freshman season at UConn, James was recovering from a torn meniscus that hindered his recruiting stock, yet Dan Hurley and co. ultimately never lost sight in their vision of him as a high-impact star at the college level. An on-campus disciplinary issue hampered the beginning of his freshman year. James rebounded with a strong level of focus and discipline, as evidenced by his strong finish to the 2019/2020 season.
To me it’s extremely impressive for someone his age to fight back from a serious injury and then to make matters worse deal with a disciplinary issue as an 18-year-old kid right off the bat. Many in his shoes would sulk, check out mentally or even potentially quit. James had other plans.
The way in which players respond to adversity early in their career is a great indicator when it comes to measuring the maturity of young prospects. He was frustrated and humbled, but the hunger and passion never wavered.
In his last 11 games played he averaged: 17.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG on 45/36/85 shooting splits. As his confidence grew he regained his swagger and there was no stopping him, as he was one of only two freshmen in the entire country to score 15+ points in 10 straight games.
He finished the 2nd half of the season firing on all cylinders for UConn, and enters this offseason with a ton of momentum and justified hype as a potential 1st-round pick, though there is still plenty to prove.
“Explosive athleticism” is a term that is probably used far too often in the scouting world, but in this case it is undeniably warranted when describing James Bouknight’s game. There aren’t many adjectives that do his freakish leaping ability justice. Every game you watch him play he “pops” in this regard. He’s smooth in transition, and fills the lanes well with long, elusive strides and manipulative hesitations before exploding to the rim off either leg.
He has functional athleticism which is important, because far too often you’ll see younger prospects with impressive athletic tools that don’t quite understand how to harness it in a live setting or in a way to create advantages for themselves or others. Athleticism can be useless as far as true impact goes if you can’t find a way to use it to create leverage, which James does well at this stage and should only improve in going forward as he adds strength and gets more reps.
As The Stepien’s Zach Milner mentions in the tweet below, his ability to leap off his right or left foot (or both) with that level of comfort is unique. The way he glides mid-air reminds me of Zach LaVine’s ridiculous hangtime. Here’s a flash of that absurd athleticism. So effortless.
James Bouknight's athleticism pops every UConn game. He’s comfortable jumping off one (right or left) or two feet. He’s able to get dunks in transition or in the HC. Have mentioned it before, but he’s someone to watch next year. Has also flashed some good passing & shooting pic.twitter.com/Q543TloWwg— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) June 15, 2020
Here is a glimpse of some of that functional athleticism with the mid-air adjustment with his body. Absolutely brilliant body control here off the jump with the contortion mid-air.
Bouknight finish pic.twitter.com/8NVI7PU3Cu— Draft Zone (@NBADraftZone) July 17, 2020
He can score in a variety of ways off the dribble, but he does need to tighten the handle a bit. It can be loose at times and get picked by defenders, but one thing I noticed as the season went on (and watching back) was that he cut down on those types of mistakes that he’d frequently make earlier in the season. The improvement as the year wore on is encouraging and played a major factor as to why he took that mid-to-late season leap.
He loves to attack with side-steps on defenders that are backpedaling and uses that shift of balance to create leverage on his drives and keep defenders guessing. Here’s an example of the slight hesitations in transition mixed with the deceptive long strides.
Bouknight transition finish pic.twitter.com/n2W6LlTtNb— Draft Zone (@NBADraftZone) July 16, 2020
Tremendous slasher that can create for himself both in transition and in the half-court, though the isolation numbers aren’t great just yet, he passes the eye-test for me in this regard. He makes smart cuts/reads most of the time, though at times he can get caught ball watching when he’s off-ball.
When he makes decisive cuts he does a great job of reading the defense and filling the seams of the defense. UConn’s guards would struggle at times to hit him on some of his best cuts which is something I noticed in particular in a handful of games I watched.
Here is an example of how his decisive cuts can be used to create separation. Strong cut. Strong finish.
Bouknight cut and finish pic.twitter.com/Gn3rl7mPDj— Draft Zone (@NBADraftZone) July 17, 2020
This play below isn’t a cut by any means, but here he fills the lane in transition and effortlessly glides to the rim with those long strides I’ve mentioned multiple times now. He catches the ball well beyond the three point line and only uses one dribble to get to the cup. All the glides. All the strides. Just fun stuff.
Bouknight gliding to the rim pic.twitter.com/3XpF5YNLgd— Draft Zone (@NBADraftZone) July 16, 2020
He’s got a plus wingspan and can use it to be disruptive defensively when he’s engaged. He also attacks the glass aggressively at times which I love from guards. Bouk does need to become more consistent on both fronts, but he’s shown when he’s locked in he can be a pesky menace.
He undoubtedly needs to add strength and fill out his frame or he’ll get bullied by stronger athletes in the NBA. I’ll be keeping a close eye on his frame/body this offseason, as I’m sure UConn will have him on a strength program to combat some of his issues.
Shooting- Buy the shot!
There needs to be improvement in his shooting off-the-dribble, but overall I like his release point and form on his jumper. Has shown some promising off-movement shooting and catch and shoot ability from three. The swing skill mentioned earlier was (off-the-dribble) shooting, but the specific function of shooting I’m referring to is his pull-up jumper.
His three point shooting rate (3Pr) also must improve, as it sat at an uninspiring 26.0% on the season. He only averaged 2.6 three point attempts per-game last year which is unacceptable for a guard with 1st round aspirations, so if he can increase that to over 4+ attempts on a slightly improved percentage of his 34.7% shooting from deep a year ago then his stock should skyrocket. Even if he remains around ~35% from deep on increased volume it would do wonders for his draft value. I buy the jumper personally, but it would be nice to see a larger sample size for evaluation purposes next year.
Here’s a brief mixture of his shooting package. Off movement, step-back, pull-up from the elbow, catch and shoot and then another off movement jumper.
Bouknight shooting package pic.twitter.com/4rsLZruhbM— Draft Zone (@NBADraftZone) July 17, 2020
His quick first step allows him to beat the defense in many scenarios and get to the rim when he wants for the most part. He’s a crafty finisher that made some impressive finishes around the rim, but has to get better going through contact. Adding strength to fill out his frame will help him dramatically in those situations where he can be contact averse.
Here he displays his quick first step combined with some subtle manipulation of the defense by looking them off with the ball fake and using the screen man as bait with a simple, quick jab-step. Boom. Blows by not one, not two, but three defenders. Bucket.
Bouknight quick 1st step pic.twitter.com/yD46KllWlQ— Draft Zone (@NBADraftZone) July 16, 2020
Playmaking/vision could use some work, though he has shown some promising passing flashes and is at his best when making snappy decisions. Had a couple rough outings where he was careless with the ball, but overall it isn’t an overlying concern.
He can play on-ball at times, but do not see him ever being relied on as a primary creator so I’m not going to spend too much time harping on this phase of his game, though it’s something to monitor next season without a doubt.
Bouknight passing flashes pic.twitter.com/aqJg4JJNYy— Draft Zone (@NBADraftZone) July 17, 2020
The overall defense was relatively neutral for Bouknight as a freshman in my opinion. While he wasn’t a consistently impactful defender, he also doesn’t kill you on that end, which probably doesn’t sound encouraging on the surface, but he has the tools to improve on that end. I thought he was decent with team defense and made basic reads and rotations, though he did fall asleep at times and get caught ball-watching or get beat backdoor occasionally, just typical freshman mistakes.
He can be disruptive when he’s locked in, but as I’ve mentioned before adding strength will be vital in order for him to guard bigger guards and wings at the next level. Here’s an example of how he can use his long wingspan to jump passing lanes and turn defense into quick offense.
Bouknight defense to offense pic.twitter.com/1aSRNuzwtl— Draft Zone (@NBADraftZone) July 17, 2020
Here he leaps from the weakside help to emphatically send the shot to the stands. The athletic tools to become a defensive playmaker are there, but he’s still extremely raw on that end all-in-all.
Bouknight block at the rim pic.twitter.com/kyMQ1eUWxm— Draft Zone (@NBADraftZone) July 17, 2020
Bouknight is a multifaceted scoring guard that has all the athletic tools to succeed at the next level. He’s my dark-horse candidate for Big East player of the year next season assuming there’s college basketball of course.
UConn should boast an impressive team despite losing their emotional leader in Christian Vital. They’re bringing in a high-quality transfer in R.J. Cole, a pair of highly rated (top 100) freshmen in Andre Jackson and Adama Sanogo while returning Akok Akok (injured), surging big man Isaiah Whaley, and solid role players in Josh Carlton and Jalen Gaffney.
The collective roster upgrades (on paper) should give Bouknight not only a better environment to thrive in, but put him in some meaningful games late into the season.
Bouknight possesses the ability play on and off the ball and contribute in a variety of scenarios, and if there’s a noticeable improvement in his strength and pull-up shooting then I could see him playing his way into the top 20 or maybe even as early as the late lottery depending on how big of a breakout season we are talking.
He won’t be a secret next season at UConn, so it’ll be interesting to see how teams defend him and game-plan for him in general after flying under-the-radar at times last season.
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Here’s a nice little highlight compilation from some training that Bouknight did somewhat recently I’d presume. Showing off that bounce and the shooting stroke looks really impressive here.
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