NBA

Devin Vassell, the 2020 NBA Draft’s relative safe option

The 2020 NBA Draft is full of uncertainty but Florida State’s Devin Vassell doesn’t have much mystery to him.

Devin Vassell has been one of the draft’s biggest risers throughout this season. Starting on most boards in the late first or early second round at the beginning of the year, Vassell projected early on as one of the class’s possible 3-and-D wings. There wasn’t much that was special about Vassell’s freshman year — 4.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 10.7 minutes per game, with good shooting splits — but he looked poised to take over Terrence Mann’s role for Florida State, and his game and athletic tools projected well to the NBA.

As the year has gone on and the draft class has taken shape, the class still looks murky. The lack of top-tier talent became readily apparent early on in the year. Atypical circumstances surrounding several projected lottery picks, including James Wiseman and LaMelo Ball, helped to make the order of the top five undecided as we head into May. And if the top of the draft isn’t set, the middle definitely isn’t either. But one constant has been present on most boards throughout the year — and that’s been Vassell moving up. He’s now firmly a lottery prospect, and expecting him to go in the top-10 on draft night isn’t crazy.

Vassell probably isn’t a future NBA star or even All-Star. But his major rise throughout the process has been predicated on something sorely lacking from the class as a whole — ease of evaluation. While there’s always room to be proven wrong, Vassell passes two major tests — he has a clearly defined role at the next level, and he figures to be pretty good at it. Vassell is one of the best 3-and-D options in the draft, and his potential fit in an NBA rotation is one you can feel good about projecting.

Vassell checks a lot of positive boxes in terms of the basic package. He’s approximately 6-foot-8 with shoes, with a good 6-foot-9.5 wingspan, and he combines that size with an impressive vertical leap as well. He’s not overly physical, but he does have good size, and there’s potential that in certain lineups he can play some 4 at the next level, especially if his post-game develops. He’s also one of the younger sophomores in the class — while he’s no Kira Lewis, he won’t turn 20 until late August, which is a nice plus.

He’s also an incredibly efficient finisher, hitting 69.4 percent in the restricted area, per Hoop-Math.  He will probably use this most as a slasher at the NBA level, attacking closeouts and getting to the rim in advantage situations. He doesn’t have the burst or ball-handling ability to be able to win off the dribble on designed looks, but his touch and craft for finding openings against rotating bigs should make him a threatening rim option from an off-ball role.

That off-ball role will exist because of his shooting profile, which is the best in the draft class. Vassell hit 41.7 percent from 3 on 168 attempts over his two years at Florida State, and it came on a wide array of looks. Vassell was an effective stationary shooter, but he is the best player in the class at relocating off-ball and shooting on the move. Few prospects can gather their feet and maintain momentum under the gun in the way that Vassell can.

His mechanics are not perfect, and he can be a bit rigid and procedural in getting the ball up off the catch. Tightening the process is going to be an important step for his NBA transition, although his comfort shooting against closeouts is promising. He may have more utility running off screens early on, as his body control in squaring to the rim is elite, and he does show the ability to get the ball out more quickly in these looks.

There is little doubt that Vassell should be able to be a useful spot-up weapon at the next level. His statistical indicators are good, and while his form isn’t aesthetically pleasing, it’s consistent, both off the catch and on pull-ups. Vassell took on a bigger creation load for Florida State as the year went on, and a lot of his new possessions helped us visualize how his pull-up game might translate well to the next level. Vassell’s high release point is the key here, allowing him to get the ball up and out against tight defense, and helping to compensate for his relatively basic handle.

Most of these pull-up looks came off screens that had him attacking downhill out of secondary pick-and-rolls, and he’ll likely find use for this skill in similar NBA situations — attacking closeouts, running simple side pick-and-roll, and isolating against mismatches. It’s a good tool to have, especially since he’s not the most explosive driver, and is a nice bail-out option in isolation and against help. Add his footwork to the mix, and there’s enough to suggest he might have some creation value eventually.

Projecting that will take some major work, though, because he isn’t a noteworthy passer =- the vast majority of his assists come off ball movement within the offense — and his handle really needs work before he’s given any dedicated on-ball role.

But what we see here is a pretty well fleshed-out low-volume role for Vassell on offense, predicated on finding and hitting open shots, keeping the offense flowing, and finding cracks in the defense, and maintaining a high efficiency in doing those things. And unlike, say, Josh Green, another player in this class with the same offensive projection, Vassell has already demonstrated that he should be able to complete those tasks efficiently from the jump due to his comfort level at Florida State.

Defensively, Vassell has a similar story. He’s not an all-encompassing defensive prospect like Mikal Bridges or Brandon Clarke, but the things he is good at portend to success in an NBA role fairly well. He’s not a threatening on-ball defender in a traditional sense. While he is certainly not bad defending one-on-one, his thinner build will get pushed around defending big wings, and quick and shifty guards like Kemba Walker will be able to get him off balance fairly easily. But individual defense isn’t as important as how he defends in a team context, and Vassell might be the best team defender in the class.

Watching Vassell diagnose plays off-ball is a treat. Here, he diagnoses an open path to the rim and snuffs it out despite being responsible for the relocating initiator across the court:

Here, he slides in from the opposite wing to cut off the driver and get another weakside block. If you watch closely, you can see Vassell get a jump on the rotation before the pass even happens:

Vassell’s reaction time is his biggest asset on defense, and he processes the game very quickly. Combine this with his quickness in sliding laterally, and you get 3-4 instances a game where he makes a play-altering rotation to cut off an otherwise open look. He’s particularly adept as a weakside rim protector, where his vertical and body control allow him to affect shots without being a true deterrent due to size. His ball denial skills are also superb, as he does a great job of stunting off-ball to clog driving lanes, denying post players a seal, and recovering for defenders taken out of position. He’ll give up physical mismatches in the NBA, but he won’t give up effort and IQ plays.

In a year where so many top prospects have major red flags or question marks about their roles in the league, Vassell stands out for just being a simple projection. He’s going to be an off-movement shooter with some secondary creation potential on offense. He’s going to be a good team defender who creates steals and blocks and can handle some minutes at the four on defense. His skill set will allow him to do those things fairly easily, and do them at a high level.

There are other players in this class who figure to be destined for more valuable roles — Anthony Edwards should be a much better shot creator, and Tyrese Maxey figures to be a much better point-of-attack defender — but it remains to be seen if those players can get their other skills to the point where their elite skills actually matter. There’s no mystery to whether Vassell can occupy the role he’s pegged for. No draft pick is safe, and even players who look as plug-and-play as Vassell can fail. But if you just want to come out of the 2020 NBA Draft with a rotation piece, it’s hard to argue that there’s a better bet than him on the board.