Is Patrick McCaw the best 3-and-D prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft?

Dec 22, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; South Dakota Coyotes guard Trey Norris (1) dribbles the ball against UNLV

Playing for a 18-15 UNLV team that didn’t make the tournament and averaging an unspectacular 14.7 points per game meant there wasn’t much of a chance for people to watch Patrick McCaw this year. If someone was watching a UNLV game, they were probably focusing on his more highly touted teammate, Stephen Zimmerman. UNLV absolutely had the talent to be a good tournament team this year, but bad coaching (head coach Dave Rice was fired mid-year) and a roster that never seemed very cohesive on the floor prevented them from playing to their potential.

McCaw is exactly the type of player to fly under the radar in such a situation. He’s got some ball skills and creation ability, but the strengths of his game are his defense and his ability to fit a role on the wing. Those type of players are supremely valuable in the NBA but don’t necessarily light the NCAA world on fire. However, for those who watched McCaw closely, you see a guy who has all the tools to be an NBA player.

Shooting

McCaw isn’t an elite shooter like many of the other two-guard prospects in this year’s class, but he isn’t a non-threat from outside either. Across 341 attempts in his freshman and sophomore years, he’s shot a solid 36.7 percent from 3-point range and 75.3 percent on 162 free throws. 36-37 percent from deep isn’t great for the college level, but there are a few other factors that make me optimistic about McCaw maintaining or improving his rate from the perimeter even with the deeper NBA line.

For starters, McCaw showed a fair amount of proficiency shooting off the dribble from 3 and in mid-range spots. According to Hoop-Math, he shot a very solid 40.0 percent on 2-point jumpers, most of which came off the bounce. UNLV was a team full of score first players, so McCaw didn’t get the diet of open spot-up 3-pointers he can expect as an NBA wing. Additionally, he flashed the footwork to confidently knock down 3s coming off screens — suggestive of higher level shooting.

He gets great elevation on his outside shot and has a quick and compact release. As you can see on the above play, he does have the habit of swaying his body more than one typically would, but he still does a good job of getting his shoulders and hips square to the basket on his release. Taking into account all external factors — free throw shooting, off the dribble shooting, UNLV team situation, quality of mechanics — it seems 36.7 percent undersells McCaw’s ability to shoot from deep. He’s not going to be a high-gravity guy commanding huge amounts of defensive attention, but he can definitely fill a role as a spot-up shooter on the weak-side.

Creating

McCaw isn’t the most explosive athlete above the rim, but is a plus athlete in every other respect. He’s got great speed in the open court and very good quickness and first step in short areas. As a ball handler, McCaw can get a little loose and high with his dribble at times — his 14.2 TOV% is mostly the result of losing his handle in crowded areas. That being said, McCaw has a lot of natural shake to his frame and handle, and at times can execute some really nice crossover and in-and-out moves.

Shake and quickness allow McCaw to gain a step on most wing defenders, but he’s not always able to turn the corner due to his very skinny and weak frame. If he does get to the basket, he has a good floater game and extends well to create angles to finish but struggles with taking contact or rising up over opponents.

Here, you see him make a nice move in pick-and-roll and finish with touch and extension over a future NBA big in Thomas Bryant.

McCaw’s inconsistent handle, weak frame, and mediocre bounce are the biggest factors that prevented him from shouldering a heavy scoring load at the college level. Despite his low usage rate (20.3 percent), McCaw was able to show a lot as a facilitator. McCaw’s decision making in pick-and-roll situations isn’t completely refined, but his raw vision is promising. His 22.7 AST% from this past season is what you would expect from a point guard, not a primarily off-ball wing.

Here is an example of both McCaw’s ability to lose his man and his instinctive passing vision.

McCaw isn’t going to be a primary creator at the NBA level, but his vision as a passer and ability to run secondary pick-and-roll action is a great skill set for a complementary player at the NBA level. He’s got enough versatility on offense that he can be involved in practically any off-ball or on-ball action you would want from a wing player.

Defense

The most appealing part of McCaw’s game is his ability on the defensive end. He’s never been formally measured in a combine setting, but he appears to have good size at 6-7 for a wing with long arms. The glaring issue in his frame is his strength, as he is currently listed at only 185 pounds. McCaw reportedly grew “7 inches between 8th grade and his final year of high school” and certainly appears to have a frame he’s still only just growing into. In some ways this gives him a lot more athletic upside — similarly to Brandon Ingram, he might gain some explosion as his body naturally matures.

Weak frame or not, McCaw has already shown a lot of promise on the defensive end. He averaged a stellar 2.5 steals per game this year, and his 3.9 percent steal rate is tops among the potential first round wings in this class. He gets his steals from all over the place on defense, shooting passing lanes, tipping his man’s passes, and straight up ripping ball handlers with his extremely quick hands. The fact that there is a four minute long YouTube video titled “Every Patrick McCaw strip and score” tells you all you need to know about his ball-hawking prowess.

Importantly, McCaw isn’t just a wild gambler on the defensive end. He does a good job sticking in a low and athletic stance, and has the lateral quickness to contain both point guards and wings. For someone as slight as he is, he does a great job fighting through screens — he uses his long legs to step over and maintains the compactness of his stance. He also does a great job closing out and contesting shooters with his length.

That’s not to say he’s a perfect defensive player by any means. He sometimes takes bad angles that open up driving lanes for opponents when guarding the ball and he can also get overpowered by particularly strong opponents. Off-the-ball he’s pretty good for a sophomore on a team notorious for bad defensive fundamentals, but he can still get a bit lost every now and then.

Looking at team level numbers, you can see the overall impact McCaw makes on the defensive end. His 95.9 defensive rating was second best among rotation players on the team, and best of all the non-bigs. Defensive rating is obviously a flawed stat with a fair amount of noise, but it is just another positive data point that matches the eye test on McCaw.

McCaw isn’t an elite defensive prospect like a Justise Winslow or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson from last year, but he’s firmly in the next tier as a very good college defender who projects to be solid to above-average at the NBA level after some seasoning.

Conclusion

McCaw isn’t as sexy a prospect as the more highly touted shooting guards in this class. Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield, Grayson Allen, Denzel Valentine, Caris LeVert, and Furkan Korkmaz are all much better shooters and scorers than McCaw. However, basketball is a two-way game, and it is fair to wonder if too much emphasis is placed on the offensive strengths of the guys ranked above him. McCaw is still a capable shooter in his own right and is actually much better as a passer than the pure scorers Murray and Hield. In terms of defense, McCaw is clearly the best of the two-guard bunch and is more on the level of more traditional small forwards Jaylen Brown and Timothe Luwawu.

I think it is fair to posit that the gap between McCaw’s defense and the other two-guards is bigger than the gap between what their NBA offense will be like and McCaw’s. None of them project to be elite ball-dominant scorers, so how much more offensive value can they really provide if they’re playing a similar off-ball role? Defensive value is much less dependent on role, the gap between what McCaw provides a team defensively and what Murray gives up exists in any situation.

DraftExpress currently mocks McCaw at 35th, but I expect to see him rise up boards as he gets to match up against his fellow wings in workout settings. Basketball is played on both ends of the court and the current draft consensus on shooting guards does not reflect that reality. I think there’s a real argument to be made that McCaw is the best of the two-guard bunch and at the very least deserving of top-20 pick consideration.