This is part two of the prospect watch series that takes a look at some of the top prospects as we head into draft season full speed ahead. You can read about Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball in part one here.
Fox has been shooting up most unofficially official draft big boards across NBA Twitter because of his outburst against Lonzo Ball in their Sweet 16 matchup of the NCAA Tournament. That game didn’t really teach us anything that we didn’t already know: Fox can get to the basket almost whenever he pleases, but the stakes of the moment unquestionably added some gravitas to his draft stock.
The springboard of Kentucky figures to play well for Fox moving forward -- the track record of prospects playing under Coach Cal is hard to argue with, and the exposure he was allotted has already made him a near household name for most casual fans. Each of those details could matter when things come down to the nitty-gritty for teams.
Screw it, if we are going to take a chance on a player, we might as well go with a Kentucky guard.
Perhaps the biggest question mark of Fox’s game is whether or not he will be able to shoot well enough to fit seamlessly into a modern NBA offense. As peak Rajon Rondo showed us, you can compensate for not being a sniper on the outside by getting to the basket at will with craftiness and elite athleticism. (However, Fox would need to have the ball in his hands constantly and be surrounded by shooters to be fully maximized in this scenario.)
The fit for that type of point guard is hairier with elite shooting almost being an afterthought nowadays, but it isn’t impossible. Fox shot 24% only nearly two attempts per game from three-point land this season, but it’s not like his shot looks all that broken:
Balance figures to play a big role in the outcome of any Fox jump shot, and each of those sequences are examples where he was able to collect himself and load up in in rhythm. There is a difference between shooting a bad percentage and possessing a broken shot — I would bet on more of the former in Fox’s case than the latter. His ability to morph into even a semi-respectable shooter off the ball will either expand his ceiling or stifle it all together.
The reason why a consistent outside shot is such a must for point guards is because of all of the goodies that one attribute can unlock. An outside threat poses one more thing for a defender to be cognizant of, and a player with Fox’s cat-like quicks only needs a split second to pounce:
Playing against Alabama isn’t exactly the same as going against the army of elite NBA point guards, but it is easy to see a framework of what Fox could be in a pick-and-roll setting. Getting defenders to teeter one way while you totter the other is made ten times easier when you have the ability to uncork a holy jumper on a moment’s notice. Fox may never reach that level, but there is a path to improving his percentage fairly quickly. That will likely be enough.
In terms of the Suns, it is difficult to envision a fit with Fox’s game unless Eric Bledsoe is shipped away and Tyler Ulis is not deemed to be a main cog of the future. I personally would rather have Ulis than Fox at this point because of the nuance and comfort that he plays the position with.
Dennis Smith Jr.
Of the video I have seen of top prospects thus far, there has been nothing more enjoyable than watching Smith Jr. embark on a one-on-three fastbreak:
Smith Jr. treats fastbreaks with the same kind of ferocity as Russell Westbrook, and the way that he coaxes his dribble in and out without compromising speed is something that could separate him from the rest of the pack. The best part about that attribute is that as a fan, you have no idea how the hell he is able to finagle his way to the rim for the finish — he just grabs the ball, sprints to the rim like a mad man, and figures out the finish once he gets there.
If Smith Jr. can parlay that tenacity on the break and make those finishes on a consistent basis, look out.
Seemingly this year’s divisive prospect, Smith Jr. will have one faction championing his skill set this summer, while another faction will holler that he was too inconsistent to garner a top ten pick. In all honesty, both of those points have some truth to them. But then you roll back the tape and see plays like this and begin to wonder how a team in the top ten can say no:
This dude has some jets on him to the say the least, and from what I have seen, he knows how to use them to his advantage. As I was saying earlier with Fox, ball-handlers that possess unique speed and have a consistent shot can essentially control the game by keeping their defenders off balance. Smith Jr. shot a much better percentage from three than Fox (36%) on nearly five attempts.
The percentage holds up nice, but teams may still have some concern over the speed of his release. This is what draft workouts are for.
An underrated part of Smith Jr.’s game -- at least based off of what I have read -- is his passing ability. Maneuvering within the pick-and-roll is his strong-suit, and he shows a good ability to both get his own shot while keeping his head up if a better opportunity presents itself:
Not every young player in Smith Jr’s situation (the best player on an eh team) would have made that pass. Smith Jr. averaged 6.2 assists per game, and it is difficult to fall backwards into more than five assists per game unless your name is Russell Westbrook. (I’M KIDDING.)
Again, it is hard to pinpoint a fit for Smith Jr. on the Suns as currently constructed, but there is certainly a lot to like when you go on a YouTube highlight binge. Some team could strike gold if he slips.
Shout to Frankie Vision for the highlights. You can view his YouTube channel here.