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Suns Draft Prospect: Belmont’s Ben Sheppard is an offensive diamond in the rough

The senior Belmont wing is one of the most efficient scorers in the class. And James Jones loves seniors.

Syndication: Evansville Courier and Press DENNY SIMMONS / COURIER & PRESS / USA TODAY NETWORK

With the 2023 NBA Draft less than a week away, it feels like a mad scramble to the finish line, like I’m back in college trying to cram for a final exam. One of the players I’m cramming for, senior Belmont wing Ben Sheppard, proves to be a dangerous scorer with and without the ball in his hands.

While the Phoenix Suns may be prioritizing defense in this draft, they should remember to consider how depleted their offense looked as soon as it couldn’t rely on their top two options.

Sheppard was top five in his conference — the Missouri Valley Conference — in points per game (18.8), field goal percentage (47.5%), and three-point percentage (41.5%), all of which steadily improved over his four years at Belmont, giving him an impressive raw resume of quite literally being his team’s most efficient avenue for offense.

The shooting is even more staggering when you take a closer look, especially at his off-the-dribble numbers.

Pull-ups are generally the most difficult shots a player can take, but someone forgot to tell Sheppard that. He hit 42.9% of his 1.8 2P pull-up attempts per game and 48.7% of his 1.2 3P pull-ups, totaling out for 1.11 points per shot on pull-ups, good enough for 93rd percentile in NCAA.

Assuredly not a one-trick pony, Sheppard also was elite off the catch, hitting 40.4% of his catch-and-shoot 3P, including 49.2% when open. Overall, he ranks in the 80th percentile in just spot-up offense. He also hit 45.8% of his 24 3PA out of his pick-and-roll actions.

Inside the arc, he’s effective as well, hitting 57.3% of his at-rim attempts with respectable 37.9% on runners. Sheppard put the vast offensive package on display at the NBA Combine in Chicago with a 25-point outing in his final scrimmage:

During that combine, Sheppard measured in at 6’5.25 without shoes, 194.6 pounds with a 6’7.75 wingspan. That decent positional size helps him be serviceable on the defensive end, though I use that term delicately, because it’s really not the reason a team is drafting him at all.

He’s still smart enough at reading the game that he can be an alright team defender, especially when his NBA role will likely cap him to bench rotations, not having to deal with opposing star options on the perimeter like a defensive stopper like Jordan Walsh might have to worry about from day one.

Sheppard is one of several prospects in the late-first-early-second-round range that make a lot of sense as a fit on the Suns given the right trade opportunity, even in the wake of a Brad Beal trade. Cash considerations could be the lifeline to a pick like that now that #52 is likely included in the Beal deal.

ESPN currently mocks Sheppard to Indiana at #29, a pick that the Suns have already been linked to. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie ranks Sheppard one spot higher at #28 in his draft guide. I’m not quite as high on him as either outlet; he comes in at #39 today, though I continue making changes to my board right up to draft day.

It’s pretty rare in this new age of NIL and the transfer portal to see an NBA-level prospect stay with one school — especially a mid-major program — for four whole years. Sheppard made good use of that time, improving steadily across the board each year.

He remains relatively young for a senior, turning 22 nearly a month after the draft. A lot of teams still get turned off by older prospects, but we know that James Jones doesn’t mind, and neither do I. These players are usually more instant impact, and that’s exactly what Sheppard’s offense would be in Phoenix.

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