Prospect Calibration: Patrick McCaw, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, Pascal Siakam and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports   Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports   Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports   Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

There are multiple ways to assess and convey prospect analysis. There are rookie power rankings, the “rookie ladder”, top players under-23, and stock up/stock down formats. I find all of these too divisive and frankly absurd at this current juncture of the season, with such a limited sample. My goal here every week is to convey to you what I see from prospects 23-or-younger on film, which I’ll do tracking down clips and statistics to corroborate my in-game notes

The intention is for this to read as an in-depth skill breakdown and kind of an observation overview. If you’d like to see a specific player covered, let me know at @colezwicker.

Patrick McCaw fitting in

When McCaw fell to 38th in the draft and the Golden State Warriors bought the pick from the Milwaukee Bucks for a cool $2.4 million, NBA Draft Twitter bemoaned how the rich could still keep getting richer. McCaw’s two-way game was such a hand in glove fit anywhere, but his skill-set is truly optimized in the Warriors’ motion scheme that absolves McCaw of any responsibility of trying to create offense this early in his career. Fast forward six months, and McCaw is already getting crunch-time minutes in big games like against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.

Read More: The evolution of Julius Randle

McCaw’s weaknesses coming out of his nightmare college situation at UNLV was his one-on-one creation acumen, as he doesn’t have the tightest handle nor the frame to absorb contact finishing around the rim. He was also an outlier poor off the dribble shooter in two years at UNLV. In an Andre Iguodala type secondary playmaking role however, McCaw’s versatility shines.

McCaw has only taken 21 shots in six games played this season, but he’s made 5 of 11 3s and is a shooting threat off the catch despite not having an ultra-quick release or the most fluid mechanics:

McCaw is a big space player for the Warriors because he’s surrounded by stars who garner the full attention of defenses, allowing him to shoot open perimeter shots and pick his spots in transition. His handle and burst combination is good enough to excel in this setting, as seen in the following clip where McCaw eats up space in transition with his speed getting all the way to the basket with nobody stopping the ball:

The biggest appeal for draft nerds like myself who had him graded as a top-10 pick was his combination of passing and defense. McCaw has some lead guard vision, and secondary handlers who can read the floor on the move and diagnose plays quickly have immense value. Here, McCaw comes off the pin-down curl in an advantage situation, and he diagnoses it quickly leading to an on-point lob pass to JaVale McGee:

McCaw is already privy to the Warriors’ bread and butter play: the transition pass to Stephen Curry behind the arc. Similar to Draymond Green, Iguodala etc, McCaw is always looking for Curry on the break.

McCaw has a good feel for when to move the ball quickly and when to hold, and doesn’t make rookie mistakes like stopping the ball in advantage situations. Here, the Dallas Mavericks trap Curry on one side, leaving Justin Anderson to check both Kevon Looney and McCaw on the weak side. McCaw understands this and quickly executes the give-and-go back to Looney before Quincy Acy can recover. If McCaw holds this, he gives away the advantage situation, but he makes the right read resulting in an and-1 opportunity:

The other standout appeal of McCaw coming into the draft was his lightning quick and active hands swiping at balls, his quick twitch reactionary athleticism and speed to guard at the point of attack on defense. When someone commits four minutes to outline every strip you make in a season, you know you have something in the steals department. McCaw is averaging 2 steals per 36 minutes thus far, and his hyper-active help defense on dig downs swiping at balls are impeccably timed.

McCaw’s elite overall athleticism by way of speed and quickness render him capable of guarding the point of attack in plus fashion, one of the two ways one can contribute elite wing defense along with ability to check taller scoring wings. Watch him sink and with quick, choppy steps easily navigate around Kenneth Faried’s dribble hand-off here:

Jamal Murray makes a tough shot over the contest and isn’t the most dynamic athlete, but this is an impressive contest all the same. McCaw’s off-ball defense has also been solid thus far. He can drift a bit at times and sometimes his hyper-aggressive steal-seeking approach can lead to getting burned, but he excels at digging down and making the necessary rotations:

Overall, McCaw excels not only in the physical game with dynamic speed and quickness, but in the mental game as well with cerebral team-first play, rendering him an ideal fit for the Warriors. He’s already closed a big game against Toronto in a variation of the Death Lineup, and was even tasked with checking Kyle Lowry at the point of attack on multiple occasions. McCaw has already supplanted Ian Clark in the rotation, and he’s just getting started. The Warriors might not be light years ahead, but they are incredibly proficient at identifying young talent that works in their scheme. McCaw is the latest testament to that.

Domantas Sabonis’ stretch four potential

Sabonis was the hardest player for me personally to rank in the draft last year. Armed with high skill-level, a sturdy frame and an elite motor, there was clearly an avenue for him to succeed in the league. However, his alligator arms (6-foot-10 wingspan) and lack of vertical athleticism combined with a limited sample shooting 3s made for a dicey fit. He looked like a 5 on offense but a 4 on defense, which is code for situational big, and a minus defender to boot. The defense is still very much a question-mark, but the range shooting so early in his career has been a head-turner.

Sabonis has finished 31 possessions as a spot up shooter this year per Synergy Sports, good for about 35 percent of his total offense. His efficiency isn’t outstanding at only 0.87 points per possession, in the 36th percentile, but he is 15 of 33 on 3s and his mechanics look solid:

He doesn’t get much elevation on his shot (or any element of his game for that matter), but he gets good rotation on the ball and has a nice wrist action, follow-through combination. Most impressive for Sabonis’ shooting prospects is that he’s not a one-dimensional spot-up shooter. He can shoot quickly off a pick-and-pops with his higher release point, and although he hasn’t been efficient doing so to start the season, the ability is there:

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan has also designed plays on numerous occasions to get Sabonis corner 3s, like this down-screen action against the Miami Heat:

Any kind of pin-down or down-screen action for a big is going to be a high percentage shot if the player can shoot, because big man defenders aren’t used to navigating around picks in this manner. Josh McRoberts is fairly mobile but has no chance to get out on Sabonis in the above clip.

If Sabonis’ range shooting is legitimate it opens so many doors for him and might even allow him to be a long-term starter at the four spot. We already knew he was tremendously skilled in the post, allowing him to exploit players on switches and smaller fours like McRoberts here:

He’s also a deft passer, capable of firing darts on the move out of pick-and-roll:

If his shooting holds somewhat to form offensively, he’s a versatile contributor who can impact a game multiple ways. While his interior defense and rim protection will always be a minus, the arrow is pointing up for the Sabonis, who has exceeded expectations being cast into the fire for the Thunder so quickly.

Malcolm Brogdon, situational lead guard

Brogdon’s limitations as a prospect are encapsulated in the following clip:

He makes the touch shot on the move, an impressive conversion, but immediately multiple negatives jump out. He gets no separation here because he doesn’t have NBA burst or the vertical athleticism to gain advantages on-ball. Due to his incredibl strength and tenacity he looked like a versatile defender with good instincts, he still lacks reactionary athleticism and plus foot-speed. Basically, Brogdon had to shoot well to carve out a rotation spot on a normal team, as he wasn’t athletic enough on-ball to thrive. As it turns out, he landed in an abnormal situation.

The Milwaukee Bucks differ from most teams in the league in that their star wing Giannis Antetokounmpo is the team’s primary initiator on offense, which is atypical of standard lead guard setups. Antetokounmpo is charged with almost all the playmaking burden, especially initially, which relieves players like Brogdon from that task. Instead, Brogdon has been mostly a 3-and-D guard presence on the court who situationally initiates, an archetype I like to call “3-and-D Plus”. Teammate Matthew Dellavedova is cut from similar stock, but his awareness of where every one of his teammates are in the pick-and-roll is a bit better. The takeaway however is that this fit has done wonders for Brogdon.

Brogdon needs a screen to gain even a half-step advantage, and he can usually only excel in this fashion against reserve talent. But the early results of pick-and-roll play are surprising. On 29 possessions finished as the pick-and-roll handler Brogdon is at a modest 0.79 points per possession, good for the 47th percentile. This doesn’t account for passing however, and a deeper tape dive reveals some positives here.

Brogdon has underrated vision on the move, and this bounce pass skip to the corner to Michael Beasley on the baseline after rejecting the Greg Monroe screen looks LeBron James esque:

That’s just a really high level play, though it is perhaps outdone by the following no-look back-handed wraparound pass to Monroe:

The following clip is a simpler read, but making the right read still counts just the same:

Brogdon is averaging 5.1 assists per 36 minutes, and his decision-making via assist to turnover ratio is solid. His situational playmaking for others has been a nice contribution to a struggling Bucks team.

Brogdon has also shown the ability to make pull-up shots out of pick-and-roll, in some instances where the big drops back zoning up like Omer Asik does here:

He has also flashed the ability to shoot a range pull-up 3 off the bounce when defenders go under, a scheme-changing shot:

Brogdon is still only shooting 27.8 percent from 3 on the season, going 5-18 thus far, and at that clip he is more of a borderline situational player than a legit rotation player. Being mostly an off-ball player, especially when Khris Middleton returns, he needs to make this shot around league average to be a high-level rotation piece:

However, Brogdon’s dose of situational creation in pick-and-roll has been a quiet success story in the first few weeks of the NBA season, and it looks like the Bucks might have something here.

Pascal Siakam’s mobility and defense

If you’re looking for trends in this piece, a main one is that the 2016 NBA Draft was deep with rotation player talent who are able to contribute to teams immediately. No one has channeled this sentiment more than Siakam, who is starting and playing 18 minutes per game for the runaway second best team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors.

Siakam is in a perfect situation for his skill-set, which is an athletic garbage-man. The Raptors have two incredibly high-usage perimeter players in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, as well as an interior on-ball post threat in Jonas Valanciunus to man the shot-creation duties. This frees up Siakam to do what he does: sprint the floor, relentlessly attack the glass, be incredibly mobile and switch some on the perimeter defensively and largely just go 110 percent all the time.

Siakam is a situational big due his lack of on-ball handle and range shooting, and that type of player is a backup five and usually an automatic second rounder to me. On this specific Raptors team, I can understand spending a first rounder on him with the needed athleticism jolt.

Even though Siakam is a clean up guy, his finishing acumen via explosive leaping ability gives him offensive value around the rim:

Almost 20 percent of his offensive finishing possessions come in transition on rim-runs, where he sports an elite 1.42 points per possession mark efficiency mark, good for the 92nd percentile, due to his elite combination of speed to sprint the floor and finishing.

In the half court he’s mostly a possession-extender who attacks the offensive glass with quick second jumps and high activity.

If Siakam could hit threes then we’d really have something here, but at least he’s flashed the ability to make a fluid enough mid-range jumpers to help mitigate nobody guarding him:

Where Siakam’s value really lies is defensively. His front-court counterpart Valanciunus sorely lacks athleticism and mobility, and if paired with a player like Jared Sullinger that athleticism minus is exacerbated. Siakam compliments Valanciunus perfectly in this regard, filling in the mobility and vertical athleticism gaps.

Siakam’s mobility and ability to change direction quickly is his single best trait. Watch how he stays attached to Kevin Durant here coming around the pin-down and quickly changes direction to mirror Durant on the spin move to contest the shot.

Durant makes an insanely difficult shot because he is Kevin Durant, but that play jumped off the screen when I watched the game live on Wednesday.

Not to be outdone, we see Siakam on Durant again in the following clip, this time in space trying to contain the drive.

Notice how quickly Siakam flips his hips and stance to react to Duran’t left to right crossover. His stance is so textbook that when paired with his lateral quickness he actually walls Durant off and is able to contest with his length at the apex of the shot. Durant again makes a contested floater because he’s arguably the best scorer of all time, but Siakam’s quickness and mobility is really special.

I got the pleasure of seeing Siakam play in person against Seattle University last year. He mostly played in a zone setting on the interior and his perimeter defense wasn’t really showcased. I see the allure now.

There is still hope for Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot 

It’s been a rough go for Luwawu-Cabarrot seemingly ever since the Cabarrot part of his last name was revealed. He looked sped up and mentally overwhelmed in Summer League, and is only drawing situational playing time because the Philadelphia 76ers are getting boat-raced so frequently. But things are starting to slow down for him a little bit now.

Luwawu-Cabarrot has played so sparingly that analyzing stats is pretty pointless, but he’s put some flashes on tape, attacking the rim more aggressively than he did in preseason. If you watched him on Mega Leks last season, this is the kind of speed to vertical explosion conversion you would recognize:

Luwawu-Cabarrot is a big space player whose handle looks exponentially more shaky than it did in Adriatic league play, and it already looked shaky. He also gets easily dislodged when trying to finish through contact due to his frail frame, and this is I believe the only example of him actually converting in that situation:

Where Luwawu-Cabarrot has to make his money offensively is shooting and attacking closeouts. He has very sound mechanics off the catch, showing good preparatory footwork catching on the hop and a fluid release:

He has a plus first step and solid burst in straight lines to blow by defenders closing out too hard on his shot to compliment his shooting:

Overall, it’s going to take Luwawu-Cabarrot time to adjust to the speed of the NBA game and to acquire strength. He’s farther away than I thought coming into the draft, but he’s starting to show signs of why people liked his 3-and-D potential so much.