Could Alec Peters be a first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft?

Mar 19, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Valparaiso Crusaders forward Alec Peters speaks during a press conference before the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Valparaiso Crusaders forward Alec Peters speaks during a press conference before the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports /

After a strong start to the season, Valparaiso senior forward Alec Peters has risen into the late first round conversation of the NBA draft. Sitting at 27th on DraftExpress’s latest mock, Peters is averaging a stellar 25.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.

Standing 6-foot-8.5 in shoes with a 6-foot-9.5 wingspan Peters is a classic small-ball 4, albeit with subpar length. As with many small-ball 4s, his biggest strength is his ability to shoot the ball from outside. Peters has started off cold shooting 11-47 from 3 so far this year, but there is little doubt he’s an absolute deadeye. He’s a career 84.5 percent free-throw shooter, shooting 94.4 percent across 72 attempts this season, and was 231-534 on 3-pointers up to his senior year, an elite mark of 43.3 percent.

Peters has a nearly perfect shot for a big man. The ball releases from just above his right shoulder and his ultra quick release allows him to get shots off in many situations where you think he has been closed out on.

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Peters clearly can bring value to an NBA offense through his ability to space the floor. Stick him in the corner while your 5-man rolls down the lane or involve him in pick-and-pop action, either way, he’s going to demand a defender at his side and free up space for his teammates. There are three central questions for a player of Peters’ ilk. What happens if you switch a guard onto or downsize versus him? What happens when you run him off the 3-point line? And does he have a prayer on the defensive end?

The question of dealing with smaller matchups is an interesting one for Peters. At only 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, he simply does not have the size/power combo to abuse teams for switching pick-and-roll action with him or simply going small and matching a small forward up against him. The biggest positive for Peters is that with his high release point and quick trigger he can frequently just shoot over smaller guys, either from beyond the arc or the mid-post area.

Playing a small forward against him is more concerning, since he won’t be able to simply fire away over them. He can still have value as a floor spacer simply by making his defender stay attached, but he lacks the ability to exploit a matchup with the NBA’s plethora of rangy small forwards. NBA coaches will have to be smart with his minutes and try and get him time against slightly more traditional 4’s. Though this makes him a more situational player, it does not prevent him from returning value on a late first-round selection.

Peters offensive game outside of his shooting is solid, but uninspiring. He has the handle to attack in straight lines, and does a good job playing under control in order to make the extra swing pass when the defense collapses. However, he lacks an advanced handle or particularly creative finish, and he doesn’t have the first step to burst by guys unless they really fly at him. There is some savvy in his game that allows him to free-up space in unconventional ways, but generally speaking, teams will be okay with running him off the line and making him beat them in other ways.

The one way in which Peters can definitely contribute offensively outside of spacing the floor is his ability to cut to the basket. His defenders are usually hugged up on him, and he has developed a great awareness for sneaking by his man when the opportunity is right. Once he cuts to the basket, he does not have the leaping ability to consistently finish over NBA rim protectors but his cutting ability can still work to break a defense down.

The biggest question in Peters’ game is still, by far, his defense. With a career steal rate of 1.5 percent and block rate of 1.0 percent, it is clear Peters is bereft of the length and athleticism to be a playmaker defensively. What Peters needs to prove is that he either has the quickness to match up with smaller 3s, or the strength to battle with classical 4s. As things stand, Peters is far from a sure thing in either area.

There are some positive indicators in Peters defensive profile. He clearly tries hard, and he oftentimes displays good instincts in taking charges, which usually translates to overall defensive awareness. Peters is never going to even be an average NBA defender, but if he can be acceptably bad in certain matchups the spacing he provides on the offensive end will be worthwhile.

Peters is not quite the college player Doug McDermott was, but there is an argument to be made that he has a brighter pro-future. McDermott is a tweener between the small and power forward positions, while Peters has a much more clear cut role as a 4-man. This role gives Peters a chance at winning matchups against backup 4’s. If he does a good enough job battling them inside and not getting destroyed guarding pick-and-roll he can torch them on the other end of the court and open up the floor for his teammates.

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From a statistical perspective, if you thought Peters steal and block percentages were bad, they’re nothing in comparison to the atrocities that McDermott posted (0.4 and 0.5 percent respectively). Peters’ court awareness and dedication to working hard give him a slight edge in defensive impact, and that slight edge could be enough to make a difference. Even if Peters turns into a slightly better defensively and slightly worse offensively McDermott, that is a late first round pick many teams would be happy they invested in.

Based on all accounts, Peters has one of the most incredible work ethics in all of college basketball. He needs to continue to improve as a defender and non-shooter on offense, but if he does he has a real chance at a future in the NBA.