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DNHQ Draft Tourney Bonus Group A: Ben Sheppard, Kobe Bufkin, James Nnaji, Maxwell Lewis
fast rising shooter vs Poole-ish vs rim-running shot blocker vs 3-and-D
Our Draft Tournament
Yes, we are still having our FOURTH annual DNHQ Draft Tournament, where Dub Nation gets to vote on whom the Warriors should draft via head to head showdowns.
The draft will happen on Jun 22 2023, 5pm.
If the Warriors end up trading the pick, I’ll end the draft tournament early.
The tournament is designed for people who are not draft experts to catch up on prospects in the Warriors range at a casual pace. This is the reason it is sliced up into one on one votes instead of a massive 16 person scouting report.
The ultimate goal is for you to develop opinions and attachments about the different prospects, so you can argue with others, dream about the future, enjoy the draft with more suspense and emotional investment, and then in the future tell everyone how you had it right and the drafters were a bunch of idiots.
And yes yes everyone wants to trade the pick for someone ready to contribute. You can add to conversation with specific players to target, or even better, specific trades.
This means the field is set about a month ahead of time. In that month, prospect reputations go up and down. It would be difficult to adjust the tournament field as you go, and that would also be taking too seriously what is a super unscientific process.
This bonus round will be its own separate mini-tournament to allow us to scout and vote on some key prospects who didn’t make it into our tournament.
For Bonus Group A: in our roundup of 20 mock drafts, most of the mock picks were already in our tournament field, with these exceptions:
Ben Sheppard. Wasserman, B/R (2023.06.02). Holy crap, Sheppard has been shooting upwards on the mock drafts.
James Nnaji. Givony and Woo, ESPN DraftExpress. (2023.06.05)
Kobe Bufkin. Krysten Peek, Yahoo! Sports. (2023.06.05)
When setting the field, Bufkin was considered out of our range. His rank has been drifting downwards ever since.
Kobe Bufkin. Givony and Woo, ESPN DraftExpress. (2023.06.05)
Also, I re-computed the Tourney field with the latest Mocks, and the four top players that would have made the Tourney today are
Kobe Bufkin (16.5)
Maxwell Lewis (26.3)
Ben Sheppard (28)
Actually worked out for GSW on June 6.
Jaime Jaquez (30.3)
Actually worked out for GSW on May 30
Thus I will add Lewis to Bonus Group A and put Jaquez in Bonus Round 2.
For Bonus Group B, we know many of the players that have actually worked out with the Warriors. I am keeping a list. I’m not going to scout 32 players, but I think it’s worthwhile to scout some of them. Here are the top 8 invitees so far, ranked by Sam Vecenie:
Dereck Lively II 14 (he cancelled)
Colby Jones 28
Jaime Jaquez 31
Jalen Wilson 33
Julian Strawther 35
Trayce Jackson-Davis 40
Terquavion Smith 45
Brandin Podziemski 47
We have the 4 players not in the Tourney in Bonus Group B.
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Ben Sheppard | 6-foot-6 wing | Belmont
SHADES OF Quentin Grimes, Alec Burks
Feel for the Game
Developed into a dominant shooter, making 40.4 percent of catch-and-shoot 3s as a senior, with many of them contested. He’s also excelled at coming off screens or sprinting in transition.
If a defender effectively closes out on him, he’s a capable pull-up shooter from both midrange and 3.
Grew up playing point guard until a late growth spurt, and he retains his playmaking feel, making beautiful bounce passes to rollers in the half-court and teammates running up the floor on the break. He can be trusted to make the right decision and quick “good to great” reads, though he also has the creativity for crosscourt dishes and interior wraparounds.
Solid on-ball defender who always plays hard. He looked effective fighting over screens at the NBA draft combine, sticking to his opponents to challenge them.
Active off-ball defender who is usually in the right when he tries to jump passing lanes for steals and deflections.
What level is he really on as a shooter? Sheppard made 69.6 percent of his free throws in four years at Belmont and only 34.6 percent of his 3s his first three seasons. Sheppard looked like a knockdown guy this season and then carried it over to the combine, but it’s still not a long track record of success.
Below-the-rim finisher who struggled against length in traffic.
Even with everything I said earlier, it’s worth noting the combine is more important for some players than for others. Typically, the ones it matters most for are the guys who haven’t exactly been seen a ton by high-level decision-makers throughout the season. I would bet just about every team got eyes on Sheppard at Belmont this past season, but I’d also bet that precious few important front-office personnel did.
Sheppard was really good in the first game, scoring 10 points and playing incredibly fundamentally sound basketball. He cut at the right times and was a step ahead of his opponents in terms of his decision-making. He knocked down a couple of 3s, important for a player who profiles as a 3-and-D guy. But Sheppard was superb in the second game, scoring 25 points on just 10 field goal attempts and clearly looking like a standout.
Teams don’t always look for the same things the public does in a setting like this. The points are nice, but with how first-round picks have started to sit out the event in recent years, evaluators are looking for skills that translate more into a role player capacity. Do you make the right decision? Do you profile to make life easier for the stars around you? Can you defend? Can you cut and pass? Do you have feel for the game?
Even if Sheppard hadn’t scored 25 points in the best performance of the event in the second game, I thought his first game actually poised him to be a winner. But then, he blew the second game out of the water and was the best on-court. The issue for Sheppard is that he didn’t measure particularly well, coming in at 6-5 with a 6-7 wingspan and an 8-4 standing reach that makes him more of a two guard size than a true wing. Still, it wouldn’t stun me if teams late in the first round gave Sheppard a genuine look. At the very least, he is poised to strongly be in the mix to get a guaranteed contract, whereas coming into the event he was seen by scouts more as a curiosity in terms of how his game would translate to a higher level. First impressions matter, and Sheppard aced his for those who hadn’t seen him in-person previously.
Spinella (much longer analysis at the link):
So many of the boxes that I look for are checked by Sheppard. He’s a long, lanky 6’6” with decent positional size. He’s got a terrific feel for the game from growing up as a point guard; he’s posted a positive assist-to-turnover ratio each of the last three years. He’s also an exceptional shooter with a buttery stroke and insanely impressive metrics.
From a skill perspective, Sheppard has enough to hang. We love the fact that he has a signature skill as a 3-point shooter who can provide floor spacing off-ball. He’s tall enough at 6’6” to be an NBA wing, and good enough as a passer with his background to do more than just stand on the 3-point line. Of course, he’s excellent there… he knocked down a whopping 49.1% of his unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts, according to Synergy.
Where I have some worries is on the defensive end. At first glance, Sheppard has some length (though we cannot verify his wingspan at this time) and a solid steal rate. He was named to the All-MVC Defensive Team as a senior, clearly showing he’s respected by the coaches in the league.
We’re still not sure what to make of Sheppard. Despite those observations and worries, he was a fairly productive college defender. He has length and tools. We wouldn’t want to cross-match him against quicker guys or high-volume PNR threats to limit his exposure.
The question with the uncertainty around his defense moves to whether the offense is worth it. Sheppard will turn 22 right after the draft; he’s no spring chicken. But he comes in with a track record of gradual improvement, and checks so many of those boxes we mentioned at the top that we love.
In the early second round [or, for the right team, in the late first], Sheppard strikes me as the ideal bet. He’s a scalable role player on offense who, in the right system and surrounded by length and athleticism, can be passable on defense.
The reason I did the Sheppard scouting report now is because of a tremendous segment I heard on the Game Theory Podcast with Sam Vecenie this week. He and Oklahoma City Thunder reporter Andrew Schlect dissected why the Thunder have been nailing their rebuild, and it centered around their love for high-character, high-feel guys:
This got me thinking more about Sheppard. He’s the quintessential, bargain-bin version of this archetype. Sure, he’s older and not a great athlete in the ways some of the other guys that Sam Presti has drafted are. But he’s a smart, quick processor, has real length, and is a very mature and polished guy who will come in and contribute positively to the culture in Oklahoma City.
Those are the guys I’m putting on my roster. The Thunder are slated to have picks 37 and 52 right now. Sheppard would be an ideal fit there as an Isaiah Joe insurance policy. Truthfully, guys like him fit everywhere and anywhere. In a draft class really thin on quality wings, Sheppard stands out.
So many other teams looking for floor-spacing with a low-maintenance personality should closely look at this kid. To me, his archetype and tools are too important to winning today for him to be undrafted — or even slip out of the top-40.
Tyrese Maxey and Immanuel Quickley fused together
Feel for the Game
Versatile half-court talent who can thrive with or without the ball. Michigan used him in pick-and-rolls and handoffs, and he showed potential for improvising as a cutter and relocator. Pairing him with an offensive hub would be ideal.
Excellent, ambidextrous at-rim finisher who can hit flip shots without even leaving his feet. But when he does elevate, he glides through the air for acrobatic at-rim touch finishes, and he doesn’t need a ton of space to get above the rim for dunks.
Dramatically improved his efficiency as a shooter during his sophomore season, showcasing reliable ability off the catch and smooth, consistent mechanics.
Flashes upside as a dribble-jumper scorer who can get super hot from midrange. He has pull-ups, side steps, and stepbacks all in his bag. He looks especially comfortable dribbling laterally to get into his shots, a valuable tool when facing pressure.
As a playmaker capable of making both simple reads and complex feeds even when under duress, he offers more on offense than just his scoring.
Blends excellent fundamentals with playmaking skill as a defender. He sits in a stance and keeps his arms wide and high when sliding man-to-man, but he also loves to jab at the ball to force turnovers or bother the opponent.
Hustles with intensity when away from the ball. He helps on drives, flies in to contest at the rim, sprints up the floor for chase-down blocks, and rebounds well for a smaller guy.
Gets out of control at times as a ball handler and commits too many careless turnovers, throwing the ball into traffic when searching for the roller.
Unproven shooter off the dribble: He made 37.5 percent and 34.3 percent of his 3s, per Synergy. But he took barely any attempts at all as a freshman, so that’s at least an improvement.
Weighed in at only 195 pounds as a sophomore, so he will get picked on defensively at the next level. Improving at defending without fouling will be a priority.
Spinella (much longer scouting report at the link)
Thanks to an explosive final five weeks of the season, Kobe Bufkin is no longer hiding. He broke out as a true draft candidate half-way through his sophomore season. From February 1st onward, he averaged 17.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists on 52-45-89 splits.
Now, Bufkin is firmly involved in first-round discussions and might even be the best prospect on the Michigan team. He helps his team in so many different ways, both in terms of usage and impact. For a 6’4” combo guard, he was impactful across the board and in any metric you’d use to measure him.
So how high can Bufkin really soar? Can he sneak into the lottery as a do-it-all guard despite the multitude of scoring combos available in that lottery range? Can he become the best pro of the group and keep that upward trajectory up from the end of the season? Can he find a signature skill to hang his hat on as a scorer?
Right now, Bufkin is more of the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ guard. He’s got good size and athletic traits, a really projectable shot off the bounce or the catch, efficient finishing with both hands, and the quick hands and instincts to be a plus defender. Even while he’s been statistically impactful and flashed all those skills as positives, he doesn’t really have a signature skill or area where he impacts the game.
He’s not a proven high-volume creator for himself or others. He’s great around the rim, but the role he plays to get him there consistently isn’t defined. He’s shown good defense on most possessions but doesn’t scream ‘lockdown guy’.
More than anything, Bufkin is just a damn good basketball player. He’s a young sophomore who has played different roles in college and adapted well to them all. As he came into his own with the Wolverines over the final six weeks of the season, we saw a great deal of potential for who Bufkin can become if he consistently puts all those traits together. And that version of him is pretty damn good at basketball.
He’s had the talent along, he just needed the switch to flip in his head and to take control on the floor. The Jett Howard injury helped provide that opportunity, but it was how mentally ready he was for that adjustment and leading role to take place.
Bufkin is super well-rounded with very few holes in his game. He needs more improvement and consistency in some key areas to be able to play that role on an NBA floor. But the growth over the last few months should have teams really excited that if he keeps his confidence up, he can be a really impactful player for years to come.
Bufkin fits well on teams who want more balance with how they score and are okay with playing two guards (as opposed to one guard and multiple big wings). I’m not sure if the top-20 is a sure thing, but if he gets drafted there, we won’t have much objection. His steady, well-rounded production over that final month has earned Bufkin a first-round grade in my book.
Call it anecdotal, but I feel like I’ve seen this upward trajectory up close and personal before. I’d want to get in on a guy like Bufkin now before he explodes.
Kobe Bufkin (Michigan, 5.8 BPM)
Of anyone on this list, Bufkin feels like could belong on the Whiteboard prospect list. His dynamic trait is his driving ability, with long stride lengths and finishing craft. He is particularly adept at finishing from oblique angles while extending past his defender, shooting past and pushing or finger rolling the ball to land gently above the rim. That is an NBA level skill.
I would feel much better about that selling point if it were paired with a complete game as Bufkin’s presence on this list suggests. He’s close, an adept connective passer and generally active across the court. But his lack of any physical presence on the interior presents an obvious point of weakness that could be a risk in high leverage matchups.
Bufkin only weighs 187 pounds, unable to hold space with a lanky frame or catch up after being screened. That makes the sell tougher for a combo guard who can likely only guard true point guards. But Bufkin is still a three level scoring threat, efficient on solid volume everywhere, and perhaps just good enough of a shooter and passer to be that difficult to cover.
Players with the ability to score from three, midrange pull-ups or drives to the rim are always coveted. It may also be possible for Bufkin to add the strength needed to not be targeted by an offense, or use his anticipatory abilities to compensate. I currently have Bufkin slated as a mid-to-late first prospect, though perhaps is the last on my board with true top 3 potential for a good team if things break the right way.
SHADES OF Clint Capela
Defensively alters everything around the basket. He can thrive as a drop defender, and his skills translate into help situations. He’s aware when defending off the ball and does a great job of timing blocks using either hand. It’s not uncommon for him to rocket off the floor for swats.
Plays as strong as he looks. He battles on the post and fights relentlessly for rebounds, whether he boxes out or repositions himself to follow the trajectory of the ball.
Good defender in space. He can slide his feet laterally to stick with guards coming off screens or handoffs. If he needs to switch, he’s more than capable.
Sets strong fundamental screens with a wide frame, making it hard for opponents to fight through. He rolls hard and can handle lobs.
Excellent interior finisher who can dunk through contact but also shows natural instincts, making himself available with relocations and basket cuts. He can put the ball on the floor once or twice to score. Or he’ll use pump fakes to draw defenders before elevating.
With his adequate straight-line handle and ability to make high-low passes, he could have untapped upside in dribble handoffs.
He hasn’t played heavy minutes for Barcelona since he’s a teenager playing in the EuroLeague and Spanish league.
Commits avoidable mistakes, whether it’s making off-target passes or being called for moving screens.
Hackable free throw shooter who shoots around 50 percent. He also hasn’t shown the touch to hit shots outside the paint.
Nnaji was originally scheduled to travel to Chicago and scrimmage at the draft combine, before Barcelona opted to have him remain with the team headed into the EuroLeague Final Four. That decision reflected the growth of his role but also meant a missed opportunity for Nnaji to showcase himself in the combine setting, where his physical tools likely would have set him apart in a thin class of centers. As Barcelona enters the ACB playoffs this week, Nnaji will have more time to showcase himself, but he remains more of a long-term bet who will benefit from the lack of quality bigs on the board in this draft. -- Woo
A little over a year ago, I first watched Nnaji play. I was so impressed with his aptitude on defense at a young age. He was smart and disciplined in drop coverage, athletic when placed in space, and constantly giving maximum effort.
His minutes have been slim with the Barcelona top team, one that features the likes of former NBAers like Nikola Mirotic, Jan Vesely, Tomas Satoransky, Nic Laprovittola, and Alex Abrines. In some regard, I was hoping to see more development and consistent minutes from Nnaji this season. But when you look at how loaded their group is, it’s pretty understandable why his role is so limited.
Nnaji got into the game very late in life. The Nigerian big man didn’t start playing until 2016, so it’s easy to understand why his skill level is as far behind other players his age as it is.
Still, Nnaji is rather underdeveloped on offense. He’s long and bouncy, so lob sets are always there for him, as are pick-and-roll dives to the tin. But a player this raw who hasn’t gotten a ton of playing time this year smells like a ‘draft and stash’ pick.
Just where Nnaji will go on draft night depends a lot on the evaluation of how he fits on the impact vs. versatility scale. He’s not quite as rigidly tied to one type of pick-and-roll coverage, but there are some questions to how effectively he can play in anything other than Drop coverage.
Nnaji is really raw, through no fault of his own. The reps haven’t been there consistently enough to play against great competition, and he started playing basketball late in his life. I have a hard time seeing a guy as inflexible as him positionally being a first-round pick while knowing it’ll be several years before I’d trust him to be a defensive anchor as a big.
Combine that with the lack of conversion on offense other than with dunks and I’m just a little too worried about Nnaji. The tools are there and impressive. But feel wins in today’s NBA. I don’t know if I’ll have a top-45 grade on the Nigerian big man.
SHADES OF Devin Vassell
Feel for the Game
Knockdown 3-point shooter off the catch with flawless mechanics. He’s not a dynamic threat off screens or handoffs, but he is excellent at one-dribble or two-dribble pull-ups and stepbacks. He loves using pump fakes to get defenders in the air, which gives him space to attack with jumpers or drives.
Deceptive ball handler with a deep bag of wide crossovers and hesitations.
Skilled back-to-the-basket scorer who can overpower smaller defenders to get close to the rim for hook shots. If he’s too far away, he can pivot into a post fadeaway jumper.
Aware cutter with a natural feel for finding open space, whether he’s relocating for a 3 or going to the basket. He uses subtle stop-and-go moves to keep defenders off balance.
He’s not a lead guard, but he has the playmaking skill and vision for dishing to bigs in the dunker spot or throwing darts to spot-up shooters. When involved in two-man games, his combo of shooting, passing, and perception make him a constant threat.
High-effort defender with a large frame and good length. Has the upside to become a super versatile defender if his quickness and focus improves.
Isolation scoring isn’t part of his game yet because of a lack of burst off the dribble. He has moves but they aren’t quick enough to create consistent separation. He doesn’t draw many fouls either.
Athleticism is good but not great. He occasionally gets exposed when defending quicker guards on the perimeter. Teams target him. In college he makes up for it with consistent effort, but in the NBA he’ll need a strength and conditioning program to improve his lateral mobility.
Ball watches at times on defense, which might be part of his responsibilities as a roaming defensive playmaker. But it’s a habit he’ll need to change in the NBA.
Regressed as a defender his sophomore season, possibly due to his increased offensive load. He brought better effort as a freshman. He doesn’t stay in his stance and often gets blown by on simple moves.
Lewis is 6’7” with long arms, a beautiful jumper, self-creation ability, explosive athleticism, and all the tools to be an impactful defender for the modern NBA.
What if I told you that you could get Lewis in the mid-to-late first round? Is that something you might be interested in?
Who wouldn’t be?! The NBA is a wing-based league now, where athleticism, switchability, and positional size are all valued. He can knock down spot-up jumpers to play off the ball, create his own with some impressive step-backs, and use his length to stifle players in isolation. It’s a winning formula in today’s game.
Coming into the season, Lewis was a rising sophomore at Pepperdine with a lot of raw tools and upside. There were flashes from his freshman season, and plenty of scouts who were already turned onto his upside. After all, the WCC did produce two lottery picks a year ago in Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren. It was plausible that Lewis could be next in line to make the leap.
A hot start to the season only propelled those musings. We wrote about Lewis this January in the midst of a tremendous 18-game stretch. Even then, we were somewhat skeptical about how raw he was on defense and the path that would lie ahead to harness his offensive skills in a translatable fashion.
Since writing that article, Lewis’ production cratered. Over his final twelve games, Lewis averaged 13.1 points on 37/23/72 splits, posted a 46.6% TS%, and had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio (2.9 assists, 3.6 turnovers). The Waves lost 16 of their final 18 games, and Max really struggled to adjust to the extra attention he received as Pepperdine’s top option.
To be fair, there were some small gains to his portfolio over the stretch run of the season that assuaged some of the worries we had in January. But the up-and-down nature of his season underscores just how far away he is and how much the inconsistency could catch up to him.
Lewis is burgeoning with potential. But there's still a long road to harnessing that upside, complicating his draft stock and where he’ll end up in the eyes of NBA decision-makers.
Lewis will be a fantastic case study in so many facets. He’s a raw, underdeveloped prospect, and there will be a challenge in valuing him against more reliable and proven role players. He’s in the dichotomy of being best as a top option but likely needs to scale down his play for the next level. He’ll either be seen as a high-upside defender because of his tools or a low-upside one because of how far behind he is on that end of the floor.
Lewis lands himself into every fascinating philosophical debate around modern player evaluation. He is too good of a prospect to just be siphoned off as a ‘not my cup of tea’ kind of guy and forces scouts to grapple with these questions and their own philosophies. His archetype is too important, and he’s shown too many positive shooting flashes, athletic highlights, and too much growth over the past twelve months to be ignored.
Vote in this poll and/or by posting a comment (worth ten votes) with a single hashtag #BEN or #KOBE or #JAMES or #MAX.
The DNHQ Big Board…
Super commenter void has made (again) a web app where you can record your Big Board for our limited pool of Draft Tourney participants.
void’s DNHQ Big Board Vote Site
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