2017 NBA Draft Breakdown: Unassisted makes at the rim

Dec 11, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies guard Markelle Fultz (20) calls a play against the Nevada Wolf Pack during the second half at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Nevada defeated Washington, 87-85. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies guard Markelle Fultz (20) calls a play against the Nevada Wolf Pack during the second half at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion. Nevada defeated Washington, 87-85. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

A key component to the analysis process for lead guards in the NBA draft is unassisted offense, and more specifically how often a player gets to the rim off the dribble. With NBA offenses increasingly going pick-and-roll heavy, the ability for lead guards to probe on drives in those settings and get into the teeth of the defense, ultimately causing it to collapse, is of paramount importance.

Outside of the eye test, one useful metric publicly available for consumption is Hoop-Math’s shots at the rim volume data. To get unassisted makes at the rim you take makes at the rim, subtract assisted makes and then subtract putbacks for the total. While an imperfect stat due to no delineation between transition and half-court attempts (at least the free version), that number combined with overall shots at the rim volume can shed light on a player’s implicit handling, burst, and athleticism capabilities to get into the lane. Focusing on lead guard archetypes as well as Malik Monk, who some project to have 3-and-D plus lead guard capabilities, the following chart and list is comprised of the early unassisted at the rim marks of the top lead guard prospects in this class.

For context, Kris Dunn had 54 unassisted makes at the rim last year , or 1.6 unassisted makes on 4.94 rim attempts per game, while Elfrid Payton famously had 114 unassisted makes on 267 total attempts in 35 games his junior year, an insane 3.26 unassisted makes on 7.6 rim attempts per game.

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1. Jawun Evans
(40 unassisted makes at rim, 79 total shots at the rim)

This draft’s pick-and-roll maestro, Evans gets to the rim off the dribble at a historic 7.9 times per game level, averaging four unassisted makes at the rim per game thus far over 10 games played.

Read More: Draft from Duke if you dare — the risks of picking from Coach K’s deep team

Evans isn’t the same caliber athlete as his counterparts here, lacking elite-level burst and more importantly the vertical pop around the rim. Instead, he thrives changing speeds with dribble moves like this crossover.

You can see Evans’ lack of elite burst to turn the corner here, where he has to rely on touch to convert.

This double-high set where Evans splits the defense at the point of attack to convert the floater is perhaps the best example of his athleticism and skill.

Evans has multiple disadvantages as a finisher, mostly his diminutive 6-foot size and lack of length extension with only a 6-foot-4 wingspan, and his lack of vertical pop, but because of his small stature he can sink really low with his dribble which helps him navigate into the lane off the bounce without turning it over. He has a plus handle, can change directions and has some finishing craft around the rim with his floater; paramount to smaller, non-explosive players. It’s reasonable to think Evans will benefit from enhanced spacing in the NBA operating off ball-screens 3-point line extended, where he can utilize a head of steam to get to the basket.

2. De’Aaron Fox
(28 unassisted makes at the rim, 69 total shots at the rim)

Fox takes second here with a very respectable 2.55 unassisted makes at the rim on 6.27 total rim attempts per game through 11 games played.

At 6-foot-3 Fox is taller, faster and more explosive than Evans, though not as explosive as Dennis Smith Jr. off of one foot especially. He’s a legit above-the-rim athlete jumping off two feet in space, but his half-court finishing suffers from a lack of balance and less explosion jumping off one foot in traffic.

Read More: Which Kentucky freshman is the best NBA prospect?

Watching Kentucky you’ll see Fox operate a lot with ball-screens set around the foul line to negate defenders going under on him in pick-and-roll and exploiting his non-shooter status, which helps pave avenues to get around the rim at the college level. Conversely, you can certainly argue Kentucky’s lack of spacing with only one bonafide shooter on the court in Malik Monk inhibits his space to drive.

Fox definitely has NBA burst and speed with the ball, as evidence by the following crossover blow-by move in isolation.

And here off the hesitation dribble where he really explodes towards the basket.

He has a fairly tight handle and decent body control when he doesn’t run into bodies near the rim. Here, you can see the lack of explosion off one foot on the nice in-and-out dribble to freeze the big out of pick-and-roll.

Overall, the speed, burst combination and handling to a lesser degree is evident with Fox, but due to his frame limitations and balance issues, combined with NBA defenders going under on every pick-and-roll, he might struggle more getting into the paint and finishing at the next level than you’d expect from a consensus high-level prospect.

3. Dennis Smith Jr.
(25 unassisted makes at the rim, 57 total shots at the rim)

With 2.27 unassisted makes at the rim on 5.18 rim attempts per game, Smith Jr. is just behind Fox thus far this season. Similar to Fox, Smith Jr. operates with less than ideal spacing, with senior guard Terry Henderson really the only consistent high volume floor-spacer on North Carolina State. The return of Omer Yurtseven’s pick-and-pop game should hopefully help spacing and Smith Jr.’s avenues to the basket.

Read More: Where does Dennis Smith Jr. fit among point guard prospects?

Smith Jr. is the most explosive leaper here, with outlier speed and burst. His athleticism is on par with Eric Bledsoe types in the NBA, but not quite on Russell Westbrook’s and prime Derrick Rose’s level.

He has a dynamic first step allowing him to blow by opponents in isolation at ease.

What really stands out about Smith Jr. is his body control and balance exploding off of one foot in traffic as exemplified above. He has the lift and control to make in-air creative adjustments.

Smith Jr. also has the most compact frame here which enables him to dislodge players with his strength to finish through traffic.

Overall, Smith Jr., along with Markelle Fultz, profiles to be the most efficient high volume finisher at the next level. He has a dynamic first step, can change speeds with the ball and has outlier explosion off of one foot to pair with elite body control around the rim that helps negate his lack of length extension with an average reported 6-foot-5 wingspan. If he can boost his off-the-dribble 3-point shooting he should be a three-level threat and near impossible to keep out of the lane with enhanced NBA spacing.

4. Markelle Fultz
(22 unassisted makes at the rim, 61 total shots at the rim)

The slippery Fultz finishes perhaps a tad lower than you’d expect here, with 2.0 unassisted makes at the rim on 5.55 shots at the rim per game through 11 games.

Washington has two legitimate perimeter shooters surrounding Fultz in David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle, but that spacing is mitigated by playing two conventional big men most of the time, clogging up Fultz’s driving lanes.

Read More: Markelle Fultz is a future star

Fultz is still nearly impossible to keep out of the paint. I’ve written about his unique handling style extensively, and his smooth jitterbug ability to change speeds in any direction at any point in time is just outlier elite.

We haven’t seen a lead guard with Fultz’s handling style and body control finishing around the rim come around in a long time.

Unlike Smith Jr. who wins mostly with body control and explosion around the rim, Fultz has added length extension ability with his 6-foot-10 wingspan, which paired with his superior height allows him to more easily finish over contests.

As if all that wasn’t unfair enough, Fultz also has tremendous craft on non-dunk finishes with truly rare body control and instincts for his age.

Fultz might not be as fast or quite as explosive as Smith Jr., but he’s superior changing speeds with dynamite spins and hesitation moves, and has more craft around the rim. Pair that with his outlier shooting off the dribble and Fultz projects as a three-level scoring monster who will get into the paint at will at the next level with his tremendous shake.

5. Malik Monk
(9 unassisted makes at the rim, 42 total shots at the rim)

As will be seen below, both Monk and Lonzo Ball rarely get to the rim off the dribble in unassisted fashion. Monk averages just 0.82 unassisted makes at the rim on 3.82 shots at the rim per game, far inferior to the four players listed above.

Some of this can be attributed to Kentucky’s lack of spacing, but a good amount just has to do with Monk’s game at this juncture. He has an average handle right now which limits his ability to actually translate his athleticism to the skill game. He mostly operates off one or two dribbles, similar to J.R. Smith, and isn’t an attacking downhill player. He’s been incredibly elite shooting both off the catch with range and in these 1-2 dribble pull-up situations, but driving into the teeth of the defense with any kind of shake hasn’t been his game.

It’s rare to see Monk get all the way to the rim in the half-court, and this is about as close as I’ve seen him attempt a shot in the half-court this year.

Most of his drives are of the transition variety, a distinction a Hoop-Math paid subscription would afford you.

Monk is a fast and explosive leaper in space, armed with a plus first step and initial burst as well as the body coordination to finish around bodies at the rim.

You can see a nice in-and-out dribble in the above clip, which is about as expansive as Monk’s handling game gets. He does have some vision however, and with handling improvements could develop into a situational initiator. In a vacuum Monk is an elite run and jump athlete, but his athleticism doesn’t translate again to the skill game like most of his counterparts listed here. Still, Monk isn’t a non-threat on-ball as a creator, and while he might not have high usage primary handler potential, he has some tools to make him a threat getting into the paint.

6. Lonzo Ball
(9 unassisted makes at the rim, 38 total shots at the rim)

With his triangle lead guard-esque role on UCLA, Ball finishes last here with 0.75 unassisted makes at the rim on 3.17 shots at the rim per game through 12 games this year.

Ball operates with the best supporting cast and spacing of any player here, and it’s hard to say if that’s helped or hurt his NBA profile. On one hand, his efficiency has been insanely elite operating mostly off-ball and under pristine spacing with the shooters to cash in his passes for assists, leading to albatross numbers. On the other hand, we haven’t gotten to see Ball in a conventional pick-and-roll role, the staple of NBA offenses, and thus there isn’t much of a sample to suggest he’s a capable off the dribble shooter (especially factoring in his awkward low release) and more importantly a guy who can get to the basket off the dribble.

READ MORE: An early look at Lonzo Ball, UCLA’s latest stud

Ball can be a dynamic two-foot leaper in space, which we’ve seen on multiple lob-catch finishes, but that sample has spilled over too much into other parts of his game, mainly his leaping ability off one foot in traffic, leading to a misrepresented picture.

Most of Ball’s drives come in the following straight-line variety.

He has non-elite burst and speed with the ball, and lacks the same level of shake as really everyone here not named Monk. He’s also not very explosive jumper off one foot.

Ball does have good size for the lead guard position at 6-foot-6 with a non-official reported 6-foot-9 wingspan, which similar to Fultz gives him an advantage with length extension finishing over contests.

Next: Lauri Markkanen and the game of trade-offs

At this juncture it’s just unclear whether or not Ball is capable of being a modern NBA lead guard who can probe in pick-and-roll and navigate all the way to the rim. We haven’t seen it at UCLA or in high school playing mostly a breakneck pace almost solely in transition. His combination of passing and spot-up shooting is there, and at the very least he’ll bring lead guard vision to a secondary-handler role.