With the draft lottery happening on August 20th, lottery teams finally know their draft position and have begun to target players that may be available at their pick. Here are perfect fits for 5 NBA Prospects.
Jalen Smith, PF/C, Maryland to the Toronto Raptors
The defending champs were expected to regress after losing superstar Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers. The opposite happened as the Raptors finished the regular season 2nd in the Eastern Conference. In addition to that, their opponent’s points per game went down from the year before. Coach Nick Nurse and his coaching staff have done a phenomenal job creating a cohesive and well-disciplined team with the current roster. Adding Smith to that equation could keep them at the top of the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Smith is a 6’10, 225-pound forward from Baltimore. Smith chose to stay close to home when he decided to attend Maryland. After an average freshman year, Smith averaged a double-double with 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He did it on higher efficiency and only marginally more minutes. The part of Smith’s game that has shown real promise is his shooting. From his freshman to sophomore season, Smith significantly improved his shooting abilities. His three-point field goal percentage went up by ten percentage points and his free throw percentage by five points. His shot is very smooth, and he does a great job of getting his feet set on catch and shoot threes.
Smith has also shown he can be a presence on the defensive end. He finished 4th in defensive rating and 2nd in blocks in the Big 10 this past season. However, he needs to develop lower body strength to sustain more powerful players.
Fit with Team
Smith fits perfectly with the roster Toronto already has. With Marc Gasol returning to Spain, Serge Ibaka primarily occupies the Raptor’s frontcourt position. While Ibaka has been very productive and serviceable for the organization, Smith can add another dimension to the team. Smith’s catch and shoot ability are reminiscent of both Gasol and Ibaka to some extent. Smith can help create more space for Fred VanVleet or Pascal Siakam by bringing his man out of the paint.
Smith projects to go in the mid-20s to early 30s. The Raptors should be able to select Smith with their first-round pick currently sitting at 29th overall. Smith’s defensive capabilities and shooting potential make him an exciting name to watch leading up to the draft.
Theo Maledon, PG, France to the Washington Wizards
The Wizards barely made the bubble, and their invitation did not extend past the eight seed-in games. They were edged out in the East by the Orlando Magic. The team was without arguably their three best players. John Wall (out for the year), Bradley Beal, and Davis Bertans both opted-out and left the Wizards shorthanded. However, the team has a lot of promising young talent to build on for the future. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., and Thomas Bryant are just a few players developing into a strong core in Washington. Adding Maledon to this group of players could accelerate the timeline.
Maledon, like his fellow draft prospect Avdija, is an experienced and well-rounded guard from France. He enjoyed a successful season last year at LDLC ASVEL, averaging 7.4 points and 3.1 assists per game. Maledon has experience playing in some of the highest levels of competition offered at the youth level. That includes the FIBA U16 European Championship (2016 and 2017) and the Jordan Brand International Game.
Maledon has a lot of tools that can quickly translate to the next level in the NBA. What immediately stands out on film is defensive potential. At 6’5, Maledon has a 6’8 wingspan, which is an above-average length for a point guard. He plays with efficiency and minimizes mistakes. Those are two invaluable attributes for any player, but they are incredibly crucial to the point guard position. He struggles, though, as the defender on the opposing ball handler in the pick and roll. He frequently gets “put in jail” after the screen and relies too much on his own big man to rotate over and contest the shot.
Promising on Offense
Out of the pick and roll on offense, Maledon demonstrated a lot of improvement from the previous year. He created for others or finished with a runner or floater in the lane if he took it himself. He shot efficiently from the elbow, demonstrating his ability to pull up and knock down the mid-range jumper. On a few occasions, he was one dribble too slow to find his roll man or his weak side shooter on a skip pass. Once he gains the experience and begins making those plays with regularity, he can be a threat to score and create on every possession.
Maledon’s shooting is considered his wildcard attribute at this point. Jonathan Givony of ESPN reported in Maledon’s draft profile that Maledon is a 36% career three-point shooter and a 79% free throw shooter. His form is smooth and yet unconventional. He releases from his right shoulder instead of directly in front of him. He also struggled to hit threes when pulling up out of the pick and roll.
Most of his makes were off catch and shoot opportunities from the wing where he tends to align his feet better before releasing. While his low efficiency out of the pick and roll is concerning, his form has the potential to be effective with a little refinement.
Fit with Team
Maledon’s fit with the Wizards can benefit both parties in the end. If everything goes according to plan, John Wall will be the starting point guard for the Wizards at the beginning of next season. In the last two years, Wall has had two serious, season-ending injuries. In December 2018, Wall opted to have surgery to address recurring heel pain, ending his season. A little more than a year later, Wall underwent surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.
With all of that injury history factored in, Wall will not be the same player when he eventually returns from injury. He will be on the wrong side of the 30 to start next season. For a player that relies on speed as much as he does, his play will suffer because of his medical history. Maledon can ease the number of minutes that Wall will need to play nightly. Maledon will develop chemistry with Bryant, who can be a significant lob threat as the roll man. His partnership with star shooting guard Bradley Beal could form a formidable backcourt duo. He will also be surrounded by shooters who can open up the floor for him.
Maledon’s draft stock has fluctuated throughout the draft process. Some have him solidly in the first round, while others don’t have him a top-30 prospect. The Wizards hold the 8th and 37th overall picks in the draft this year. While 8th may be too high, 37th may be in play, given Maledon’s current stock. If he has a chance of going higher, the Wizards could use other assets to jump up a few spots to grab a potential point guard of the future.
Udoka Azubuike, C, Kansas to the Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks arguably have the best young core in the entire NBA. Led by Trae Young, they have surrounded him with perfect complementary players. Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, Deandre Hunter and John Collins all bring a lot of talent to the team. Adding Azubuike would add a supremely talented player to an already ascending roster.
Azubuike was the best player on arguably the best team in the nation this year. Standing at a massive 7’0 and 270 pounds, he touts a 7’7 wingspan, which has proven to be very useful on the defensive end. A four-year senior with the Jayhawks, he put up substantial numbers apart from his freshman year when he got the least per game minutes of his career.
During his senior year, he averaged a double-double with 13.5 points and 10.5 points per game. The Nigerian native was also named to the Big 12 All-Defense Team and also won the Big 12 Player of the Year this season. Just watching Azubuike shows you why he was such a successful collegiate player. While he lacks elite post moves or skills, more often than not, he is too powerful and dominating that his lack of finesse or refined skill is given a pass.
Fit with Team
The Hawks already have an Azubuike-like player in Clint Capela. Capela was traded midseason from the Rockets and continued as a lob threat out of the pick and roll. Azubuike has that similar sort of potential. There are some serious concerns about Azubuike’s games, so he is likely not considered a first-round pick. Azubuike is one of the worst free-throw shooters the game has ever seen. His career average from the line is an atrocious 41.6%. His form is unconventional as he catapults the ball instead of letting it reach its apex before releasing it.
There is well-documented evidence of Azubuike talking about fixing his shot, but it is unreasonable to think that he will ever be a competent shooter in any form. The concern becomes if he is playable late in games where teams can intentionally foul him and send him to the line knowing there is a good chance he misses both shots. However, his defense and threat as a roll man finishing inside can fit in with a young Hawks team.