Can Paul Reed refine his game to become an NBA star?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 11: Paul Reed #4 of the DePaul Blue Demons is defended by Josh Roberts #1 of the St. John's Red Storm at Madison Square Garden on January 11, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 11: Paul Reed #4 of the DePaul Blue Demons is defended by Josh Roberts #1 of the St. John's Red Storm at Madison Square Garden on January 11, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

Paul Reed’s skills are impressive, and he’s an interesting option in the middle of the draft. But can he continue to refine his game, or will he be an energy guy off the bench?

Paul Reed is one of the more interesting players to watch in the 2020 NBA Draft class. For a second, strip out our typical conversations about fit in the league, potential development and translation, and just appreciate how fun it is to watch the DePaul junior cook. The 6-foot-9 junior is a tangle of limbs, whirring from the perimeter towards the basket with herky-jerky movements and an unorthodox handle, combined with the ability to just glide through the air around contact.

He combines this with very good activity on the defensive end. It’s no surprise that any player who is as agile and long as Reed would be a useful defensive force at the college level, and Reed has been a good disruptor, posting a good 3.1 steal rate and an excellent 10.5 block rate. He’s not always in the right place, but he also makes that not really matter, and he can turn a game with his presence in the middle of a defense.

The upper tier of Reed’s potential outcomes is pretty exciting. He does a little bit of everything well, and his athletic indicators portend some exciting defensive upside. While he’s probably not a true rim protector thanks to his thinner frame, Reed projects as an imposing pick-and-roll defender thanks to his length and agility combination. He’s shown some good discipline in this area as well, and does well in DePaul’s hedge and recover system, covering a lot of ground even though he shows some hesitation with his reactions to plays developing.

This should hint at a good level of versatility for Reed, able to defend within a wide variety of schemes and contexts, both as a backline defender and at the point of attack. He’s also good rotating on a string, with good closeout technique and discipline contesting spot-up shots. Reed has a good baseline of value on defense, which will allow him to really flesh out his offensive game.

Offensively, Reed’s dribble-drive game is prime for development, as he has shown a good arsenal of dribble moves and finishing styles. A 68.2 percent finisher at the rim, per Hoop-Math, Reed has good hands in traffic off the catch, and he’s competent running pick-and-roll and getting a seal in the post.

The development hope for Reed is that his pull-up jumper continues to develop — he shows willingness to take these shots off the dribble, and already looks to be comfortable pulling from 3 when open, so there’s reason for optimism with his spot-up shooting, too. This will allow him to get the ball in his hands more, and be able to make use of his passing, one of his more underrated skills. While 1.8 assists per 40 minutes isn’t anything special, his technique as a passer is very promising.

Reed doesn’t have many obvious flaws and has continual flashes suggesting he can be a very complete player at the NBA level. However, his biggest issue isn’t any one major weakness — it’s that at this point, he is a player who is mostly flashes. For Reed to really reach his billing as a top-20 pick, which is where we currently rank him, consistency will need to be where he improves.

Defensively, that means more of the positional discipline we discussed earlier and less block-chasing. Reed will often drift when he’s defending on the weak side, and many of his blocks come when he is out of position to contest the shot or react to a kick-out pass.

Being more selective with his weakside rotations would limit his fouling and put him in better position to read and react to the more drive-and-kick offenses in the league, and would also help him become a more effective rebounder, as he struggles at this point to consistently put himself in position for contested rebound opportunities.

Offensively, Reed needs much more consistency to succeed. He has his moments of brilliance, like his 25-point effort against Iowa, but many of his higher-end skills are few and far between, and the good comes almost as frequently as the bad. His shooting is priority number one. He has moments of good mechanical shots, interspersed with shots where he needlessly propels himself forward and arches his back, creating a line drive shot that doesn’t create predictable rebound paths when it misses:

Reed also has issues with feel for the game and body control as a driver. He is over-reliant on his ability to snake through the defense at times, and he will struggle with creating a lane when help rotates over to cut off his drives. This can lead to charges and flailing shots against contact.

These are symptoms of an overarching theme with Reed, one which will ultimately decide his NBA destiny. As it stands right now, Reed projects as a bench contributor, someone who can come in and give short spurts of quality defensive impact and energy, and every once in a while can provide a Marreese Speights or Trey Lyles-style flurry of points and playmaking. But if he doesn’t settle down his offensive control issues, and he doesn’t become a more consistent team defender off-ball, then it’s hard to see him being much more than that. There is a path to him becoming a Thaddeus Young type complimentary starter if he can become a more consistent dribbler and turn his playmaking ability into something useful, but that leans heavily on him understanding his limitations as a creator, and improving his shooting to the point of at least being a threat from beyond the arc as a pick-and-pop big.

There’s a lot to like about Reed’s game, and he could be a really effective two-way forward for a team to pick up in the back half of the first round. But he has been part of the reason that DePaul has fallen apart after a hot start, and he is far from the plug-and-play role player he might seem to be by watching his highlights. He’s certainly a unique talent thanks to his physical tools and raw skill, but it’s going to take some time and focus to get him to the point where he can be an effective NBA rotation player.

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