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Mining Gems, Part 1: Xavier Rathan-Mayes looks to escape teammates’ shadows

Florida State guard hopes to parlay offense, effort into NBA opportunity

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Florida State vs Xavier Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This series examines overlooked players in the NBA Draft who might be available at No. 54 for the Phoenix Suns or be worth signing as undrafted free agents.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes had a very encouraging start to his college career with the Florida State Seminoles. He led the team in scoring (14.9), assists (4.3), and steals (1.1) in 2014-15 as the team’s starting shooting guard and was named a 2015 All-ACC Honorable Mention — joining Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justice Winslow as the only freshman to make an All-ACC team that year.

However, circumstances changed for him the next season.

His sophomore season saw the Seminoles bring aboard Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. With those two talented players in place, the team needed Rathan-Mayes to transition to point guard full time and run the team’s offense rather than be the offense.

“It was a tough transition at first because I was so accustomed to being a scorer,” said Rathan-Mayes in an interview with NoleGameday’s Dustin Lewis. “I never had to be a point guard or really lead a team.”

As he said, the transition was not an easy one. After all, here was a player who the season prior had scored 30 points over the final 4:38 of a game against the Miami Hurricanes to almost single-handedly bring his team back from an 18-point deficit — an exhibition Miami head coach Jay Larrañaga called “one of the greatest shooting performances I have ever seen.

But with Beasley and Bacon in the fold, coach Leonard Hamilton needed Rathan-Mayes to shoulder the sacrifice for the betterment of the team. To a degree it worked, with the Seminoles improving from 17-16 the year before to 20-14 with an NIT birth, but it led to some internal friction and put a damper on Rathan-Mayes’ own numbers. His scoring fell to 11.8 points per game with his assists climbing just a hair to 4.4 despite the talent around him.

The 2016-17 version of Rathan-Mayes as the team’s facilitator was a much different story. More readily embracing the role and flanked by the returning Bacon and freshman Jonathan Isaac, he helped lead FSU to a 26-9 record and its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2012. During the season, Rathan-Mayes averaged a career-low 10.6 points but did so on 45.3-percent shooting from the field, which represented a significant improvement over his first two seasons (41.6 percent, 40.8 percent).

Even better, though, he averaged a career-high 4.8 assists to a career-low 1.9 turnovers for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.58, which ranked third in the ACC and 36th in all of Division I. Not bad for a shooting guard turned point guard.

Also not bad: He was named to the 2017 All-ACC Defensive Team.

Rathan-Mayes is no franchise changer, but that is far from saying he wouldn’t bring value to an NBA franchise. His most NBA-ready skill is his ability to put the ball through the hoop, and that alone should get someone’s attention. His per-game scoring stats might not impress, but he was the first freshman in ACC history to score 30 or more points in 3+ games. And even with him being more of a facilitator for Florida State this season, he still managed to show off his scoring chops, like the 23 points he scored against Wake Forest or the 21 he had against Duke.

He isn’t much of an efficient scorer, as his 2016-17 shooting percentages (45.3 percent from the field, 32.3 percent from 3) were both career highs but hardly head-turning. His free throw shooting this year (53 percent) drew even more concern, but his freshman and sophomore seasons were 69 percent and 77.4 percent respectively, indicating other factors might have been at play. (He missed short on a number of them, a sign of fatigue.)

Rathan-Mayes’ strength isn’t in being a pure shooter — which he isn’t — but in being a streaky shooter who will bury opponents when he catches fire. He couples that threat with a strong ability to knife to the basket and craftiness in his finishes despite lacking elite quickness and athleticism. His 6’4, 208lbs physique helps him absorb contact and compensate for playing below the rim.

Beyond his own offense, his time spent running the point for FSU allowed him to diversify his game, as he is somewhat undersized to be a pure shooting guard at the next level. Rathan-Mayes doesn’t have natural point guard skills, and it showed in his rote execution of the offense. His court vision is average, but he isn’t selfish with the basketball and makes quality passes as evidenced by his assist-to-turnover ratio. His handle could also stand to be tightened to make him more effective not only on his own drives but at probing the defense.

As for his defense, his effort in that facet of the game improved significantly over his time in college, but that doesn’t make him the next great backcourt defender. Rathan-Mayes plays pesky defense on the ball, will shoot into passing lanes when advantageous, and generally works to keep opponents uncomfortable, but he has to do those things because he doesn’t possess great lateral quickness to keep quicker matchups in front of him. He also gives good initial effort but doesn’t always give a second effort once beaten. And when he’s off the ball, he can lose sight of his man, over-help on rotations, or wander into the paint seeking stray rebounds.

His deficiencies on the defensive end fall more into the fundamental and focus categories than effort category, lending credence to the idea that he has room to improve here, and while he doesn’t project to be anything more than an average defender at the next level, the desire he showed in leading the Seminoles’ defense despite being known for his offense is encouraging.

“I took a lot of pride in [defense] this year,” Rathan-Mayes told NoleGameday in the same interview. “I took a lot of pride in not only being our leader offensively and being able to get guys the ball but being the head of our defense and setting the tone for all 13 guys that played. I took a lot of pride in that, and I really wanted to be a guy that guarded the best player every single night.”

Rathan-Mayes has a lot working against him going into June 22. The Canadian-born guard is a 23-year-old junior who spent two seasons playing in the shadows of his teammates, couldn’t get an invite to the NBA Combine last month, and is projected to go undrafted by nearly all mock drafts. Still, there is something about Rathan-Mayes’ game that shouldn’t be overlooked, and that holds true of anyone who can score 30 points in under five minutes.

There is a lot of J.J. Barea in Rathan-Mayes, and Barea did all right for himself in the league. If Rathan-Mayes can become a 6’4 Barea, there are more than a handful of GMs who would take that at the back end of the draft.

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