College Basketball Preview: Hidden Gems and Thoughts on Top Returners

 

This is Houston transfer Taze Moore – one of the most jaw-dropping all-around athletes I’ve ever seen step foot on a basketball court. He’s also one of the most under-discussed NBA Draft prospects in the entire nation. As a matter of fact, he basically isn’t discussed at all. 

There are legitimate reasons why the 6’5″ wing has received little buzz. For starters, he’ll be a 24-year old rookie if he winds up cracking an NBA roster a year from now. He’s only six days younger than Deandre Ayton. 

Why is he such an old prospect? Moore missed the entire 2017-18 season with a severe lower leg injury that required five separate surgeries.

And then there’s the Cal State Bakersfield factor. The only player from CSU Bakersfield to have ever made the NBA was Kebu Stewart, who suited up for just 15 games with the Sixers in 1998. 

Old guy with a serious injury history who plays for a tiny school? Sure, it makes sense that teams aren’t bending over backwards. 

From a basketball standpoint, there are some pretty noteworthy concerns as well, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. He’s erratic, constantly throwing wild passes or missing point-blank lay-ups. And though he shot a blazing 51.4% from three this year, he only got up 35 total attempts from range (4.5 3PA/100). 

Most of Moore’s appeal lies on the defensive end. He has consistently put up elite stock numbers (4.2 block% and 3.5 steal%) during his time at CSU Bakersfield. Off-the-ball, Moore is a menace who mucks up actions with stunts and digs, and devours space on closeouts in the blink of an eye. There aren’t too many prospects that cover ground as efficiently as him. He puts his remarkable vertical pop to use as a help-side rim protector, and his quick hands help him wreak havoc in the passing lanes. 

Moore’s lack of strength will likely prevent him from being a special on-ball defender, but he still boasts excellent lateral agility and does a great job staying in a stance.

In spite of his aforementioned offensive short-comings, Moore actually carried a hefty load for the Roadrunners. He posted a 24.9% usage rate in 2019-20 and a 29.8% usage rate last season. His offensive role will certainly decrease as he moves out of the Big West, but he still has some ball-in-hand equity.

Moore’s first step is incredible, and he has the ability to sharply change directions while driving downhill. My main gripe with his slashing-game is that he doesn’t generate enough easy lay-up or free throws opportunities. Moore has a habit of settling for close-range jumpers. Rather than embracing contact, he’ll often come to a jump stop or start backing down his defender just short of the basket. This leads to a high number of contested jumpers and uncomfortable-to-watch finishes. Having a .312 Free Throw rate and a 54.3 Field Goal% at the rim isn’t a great look for a player as physically gifted as he is. 

Moore seems to be on a positive development trajectory as a shooter. In his Freshman and Sophomore seasons, he shot a combined 23.2% from three (13/56) and 62% from the foul line (31/50). Adding up his last two seasons, Moore has drilled 40.4% of his threes (42/104) and 71.4% of his free throws (105/147). I’d like to see him up his volume this year, but he seems fairly comfortable shooting off the catch and has even flashed some movement shooting capabilities from both mid-range and beyond the arc. 

I was impressed by Moore’s passing on film. While he doesn’t have the pinpoint precision of someone like Sharife Cooper, he’s still capable of making some advanced reads. He can use his driving gravity to find teammates on kick-out and lay-down passes, make skip passes in pick-and-roll, and manipulate defenders with his eyes. Yes, he’ll overthrow a teammate on a lob or miss a cutter every now and again, but 25.8% is still a fantastic assist rate. 

This probably qualifies as a hot take, but I believe that Moore is one of the six or seven most interesting returners in college basketball this year. This is a potential plus-NBA defender with a pathway to providing offensive value.

How many turnover-forcing machines at the college level have had real passing chops and at least some shooting aptitude?

College players since ‘08 with steal and block rates both greater than 3%, assist rates higher than 20% that meet a few baseline shooting thresholds (3 3PA/100, 25 3P%, 65 FT%):

Name School Height Year BPM STL% BLK% AST% TO% FTr 3PA/100 3P% FT%
Delon Wright Utah 6’5″ 2015 14.7 3.9 3.2 32.8 15.4 57.1 4.1 35.6 83.5
Draymond Green Michigan St. 6’7″ 2011 11.0 3.5 4.1 31.1 18.0 40.9 6.0 36.4 69.6
Gary Payton III Oregon St. 6’3″ 2015 10.2 5.5 4.4 22.7 15.2 29.5 5.4 29.3 66.3
Denzel Livingston Incarnate Word 6’4″ 2014 9.5 4.5 3.8 22.9 16.3 61.2 7.8 40.3 79.4
Kent Bazemore Old Dominion 6’5″ 2011 9.3 4.8 3.5 20.9 22.2 42.9 4.8 40.8 66.2
Jeremy Lin Harvard 6’3″ 2010 8.8 4.4 3.4 30.8 21.3 69.1 5.6 34.9 74.7
Chris Udofia Denver 6’6″ 2013 8.7 3.5 9.0 26.0 14.8 36.9 4.5 34.3 66.4
John Konchar Fort Wayne 6’5″ 2019 8.2 3.3 3.0 30.0 16.6 43.3 6.7 34.9 73.7
Taze Moore CSU Bakersfield 6’5″ 2021 7.9 3.7 3.4 25.8 22.8 31.2 4.5 51.4 82.3
Herb Jones Alabama 6’8″ 2021 7.7 3.4 4.0 21.7 22.9 45.0 3.4 35.1 71.5
Terry Tarpey William & Mary 6’5″ 2015 7.4 3.7 4.2 21.0 16.1 43.3 4.3 35.8 82.5
Paul George Fresno St. 6’8″ 2010 6.7 3.9 3.0 22.6 20.8 34.8 10.4 35.6 90.2
De’Anthony Melton USC 6’4″ 2017 6.3 4.1 3.9 22.5 19.7 47.2 4.4 28.4 70.6
Alex Caruso Texas A&M 6’5″ 2014 6.3 4.3 3.3 36.7 24.4 49.6 4.4 33.3 68.5
Ty Flowers LIU Brooklyn 6’9″ 2021 5.9 3.1 3.6 23.1 15.1 24.1 8.2 29.3 66.7
Michael Weathers Texas Southern 6’2″ 2021 5.5 3.7 3.6 23.0 21.3 44.2 4.3 30.0 80.0
Tyren Johnson Lousiana Lafayette 6’8″ 2010 5.5 3.2 4.4 21.8 20.2 33.0 4.8 35.4 67.2
Tim Bond Eastern Michigan 6’7″ 2018 4.8 4.2 3.7 20.1 18.6 22.9 4.5 35.1 69.1
Jamall Gregory Jacksonville St. 6’3″ 2018 2.3 3.6 5.2 24.9 26.2 31.0 5.7 29.5 65.8
Tim Bond Eastern Michigan 6’7″ 2017 2.1 3.4 3.0 23.3 18.3 25.5 4.6 30.6 73.3
Justin Cerasoli Loyola Chicago 6’5′ 2009 1.9 4.4 3.1 25.0 23.8 14.2 8.2 33.9 94.0

A whole bunch of intelligent wings and stud off-ball defenders, many of whom have carved out (or are on their way to carving out) long professional careers.

And now he’s going to be under Kelvin Sampson? Count me in. 

While we’re on the topic of Houston, I want to give a brief shout-out to Ramon Walker, the incoming Freshman from Shadow Creek. Walker is a 6’5” 210 lbs. wing that doesn’t have too many holes in his game. He couldn’t be more perfect for the Cougars. He has a clean-looking jumper that he can get off the bounce or off of movement. Walker is an active rebounder and a long, sturdy defender. He may not find minutes immediately on a loaded Houston squad, but I think it’s going to be hard for Sampson to leave him out of the rotation for too long. 


Some thoughts on a few more returning NCAA prospects…

Kadary Richmond was incredibly disruptive in Syracuse’s infamous 2-3 zone last season, putting up some gaudy stock numbers (4.5% steal rate, 2.8% block rate). We’ll have to wait and see how he looks outside of the zone at Seton Hall this year, but I’m optimistic that he can be similarly suffocating with his elite length and anticipation ability.

Offensively, Richmond is oozing with upside as a downhill creator, capable of using his shifty handle to get by his man and draw contact at the rim. Though he could tone it down on the jump-passes, Richmond’s playmaking while inside the teeth of defenses is solid. Kadary has the potential to be one of the better off-guards in this class (and dare I say a top 20 pick), but he’ll need to shoot a lot more than 0.8 threes per game this season to reach his offensive ceiling. 

Colorado State’s David Roddy fits into the “bowling ball with skills” archetype that is becoming more and more common. And when I say bowling ball, I really mean bowling ball. We’re talking former High School shot-put star-type of bowling ball. He stands at 6’5” 252 lbs., finished 66% of his 164 rim attempts last year, and posted a 46.7% free throw rate.

The jumper is a question mark, but his career 76.1% free throw percentage and soft touch around the basket both give me optimism about his future as a shooter. I also question how effectively he’ll be able to cover ground on defense at his weight. Still, a slasher at his size with ball skills and passing smarts should draw fans. 

LSU transfer Tari Eason is one of the players I’m most interested in watching this season. He’s the definition of a stocks monster, posting absurd block and steal rates of 7.0% and 3.4%. His movement skills are fantastic and he attacks the glass with tenacity. I think it’s reasonable to expect him to at least be a Paul Reed-type player at the college level. But Eason might be something more.

There were moments last year where he looked like someone capable of handling the ball and making decisions in short-roll situations. Though his turnover rate was high, 14.3% is a pretty darn good assist rate for a Freshman Forward/Center. He only shot 26.7% from three last year, but it’s far too soon to make a definitive statement on the quality of his jumper after just 30 attempts. If Eason can build on last season’s skill flashes, I can see him rising into the first-round conversation. 

Chad Baker’s stat profile belongs in a museum. 41.7% from three on nearly 10 attempts per 100 with a 2.4% steal rate and a 4.2% block rate is exactly what you want to see from a 3-and-D prospect. Baker’s biggest obstacle is his frame. At a slim 190 lbs., his potential as an inside-the-arc scorer is capped, and he’s prone to getting bumped off his spots defensively. Still, Baker deserves much more attention than he’s received. Lengthy wings with solid defensive instincts and smooth jumpers should not be left off of pre-season watch-lists. Look out for him at San Diego State this year.  

Keegan Murray was the only Iowa player who played a lick of defense last season. He’s a rangy 6’8” Forward whose length and movement skills pop off the screen. With some added strength, he looks tailor-made to play the 4 in the NBA. Offensively, Murray had a productive season on low usage, doing damage with his cutting and offensive rebounding, while sticking the occasional spot-up three or hook shot from the post. On the flip side, he’s shown little as a passer and his jump shot is still a work in progress (29.6 3P%, 5.5 3PA/100). It’ll be interesting to see how much his offensive role expands with Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp both gone. 

For teams in need of shooting, three of my favorite options are UNC’s Kerwin Walton, Davidson’s Hyunjung Lee, and Virginia Tech’s Hunter Cattoor. All three players shot 40+% from deep last year on over 11 attempts/100 possessions. Lee is the tallest of the bunch at 6’7”. He nailed a staggering 46.1% of his threes, 89.8% of his free throws, and 48.5% of his mid-range attempts. Unfortunately, I have no idea where he fits onto the floor defensively in the NBA. Cattoor (6’3”) and Walton (6’5”) are slightly smaller but are each more reliable as team defenders.  

Jalen Bridges popped in the back half of last season, playing 23 minutes per game in conference play. The 6’7” Forward from West Virginia finished the year shooting over 70% at the rim and 40% from three. He only carried a 13.6% usage rate and racked up just 9(!) total assists on the year, but he was hyper-efficient in his role. Defensively, Bridges’ focus tends to wax and wane, but he covers ground exceptionally well and has solid off-ball instincts. There’s nothing wrong with the player that Bridges is now, but he’ll have to prove he can carry a larger offensive load next year if he wants to establish himself as a serious prospect. 

Jaden Ivey is electric. The 6’4” Purdue guard broke out last February and hasn’t looked back since. He averaged 15.8 points, 1.1 steals, and 1.3 blocks a night over the final ten games of last season. This summer, he starred for Team USA’s FIBA U-19 squad, averaging 12.3 points and 1.6 steals in just 16 minutes per game. 

Ivey is a fantastic creator who generates paint touches at will. Had he entered last year’s class, his 3.02 unassisted rim makes/40 would have ranked only behind Sharife Cooper amongst guard-sized prospects. He makes opposing defenders look silly with his overwhelming burst and shifty handle. Ivey also takes full advantage of his athleticism on the defensive end, where he has a knack for jumping passing lanes and coming out of nowhere to stuff opponents at the rim. 

Two things will determine how high Jaden Ivey can rise. The first is his passing. Ivey is capable of using his rim gravity to find open teammates in the dunker spot or on the perimeter, but I’ll be looking for him execute more advanced reads this year.

The second is his jump shot. Ivey got up a remarkable 10.5 threes/100 possessions last season. The problem is that only 25.8% of them went through the net. Ivey is already able to create an immense amount of space for his jumper. If he starts knocking down pull-ups with greater consistency, he could hear his name called very early on draft day. 


Follow Will on Twitter: @w_a_morris



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