2021 Draft Watch: Evaluating D.J. Steward and Adam Miller

September 19th, 2020

By Alan Lu

As we are getting close to the college basketball season, I decided that it was finally time to watch D.J. Steward play, as he had played for Whitney Young, he will be going to Duke, and he’s projected to be a potential first round pick for the 2021 draft.  Luckily for me, I was able to see him play for Whitney Young against Adam Miller and Morgan Park in a November 25th, 2019 game, with thanks to YouTube via Ballislife.  This was not at all a well-played game, and it was a sloppy, low-scoring affair that was rife with missed shots and frequent turnovers. It was very close all the way to the end as Adam Miller’s team held on to win by two points, and Morgan Park ended winning a championship belt in the process.  I took the time to watch Steward and Miller play to assess their skills, and to see how their games may stack up as prospects for the NBA.

Duke’s incoming 6-2 freshman guard, D.J. Steward is a high-flyer that excels at attacking the basket, but he was way too turnover prone and rarely shot threes in Whitney Young’s loss to Morgan Park in this game.
(Photo:
Allen Cunningham/Chicago Sun-Times)

D.J. Steward had some good moments in his team’s loss to Morgan Park.  He is an athletic, energetic combo guard that can get to the rim and score in a variety of ways, and he is also actively go get rebounds and steals in games.  He will need to play more under control though, as he is way too turnover prone, and there would be times where he would try to force the issue too much on offense.

He generally excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  Steward runs the floor very well, and he was able to score on a high-flying dunk as well as on a quick layup in transition.  Plus, he also managed to score on a quick put back off of an offensive rebound, and after catching the ball in the high post, he scored on a give and go layup around the basket.  Steward also will drive hard to the basket in the open court to draw fouls to get to the free throw line.  Sometimes though, he will try to force up tough, rushed shots that would lead to misses.

Also, he showed a decent ability to score off the dribble.  Steward can finish plays using either hand, and he has a solid crossover move that he can use to get past his man.  He also was able to score on a tough floater, but he struggled to make floaters consistently, and he also had his shot blocked once.  He also showed an adequate ability to knock down jumpers.  Steward made a pull-up three, and he also ran off of a ball screen to make a quick mid-range shot another time.  However, he struggled to make pull-up jumpers consistently, especially from the mid-range.

On the downside, Steward was very turnover prone on offense.  He had a tendency to try to rush plays on this side of the ball.  He would tend to throw hasty, inaccurate passes that would tend to get intercepted, and he also had a couple of balls ripped away from him while handling it to lose it to his opponents.  He also dribbled too close to the sideline early on, as he dribbled right into a trap, and he ended up stepping out of bounds.  For the positives though, he can throw solid passes off the dribble when he plays under control, and he also threw a lob pass to set up a score for a teammate on the break.  However, with his unfortunate penchant for turning the ball over, he may have a long way to go before being able to show that he can effectively run the point at the collegiate level.

He also rebounded the ball very well in this game.  Steward would frequently leap up to get defensive boards, and he would tend to push the ball up the court to start fast breaks.  He also managed to get an offensive board once, and he would actively crash the glass to help his team get rebounds.

Plus, Steward also played fairly good defense.   He is an active, rangy defender that can make numerous plays on the ball to help his team get steals and blocks.  He ran in to back-tap an opposing ball handler to get a steal midway through this match, and he also hustled back on defense to intercept a pass another time.  He also rotated to block a shot off of a drive to himself due to good positioning and timing on the play.  He also has good instincts to poke balls away from his opponents to make it difficult for them to handle the basketball, and he would use his length to actively contest jumpers to force misses. 

Sometimes though, he would have lapses on the defensive end.  Early on, he didn’t tell his teammate where the screener was, which led his teammate to get caught on a screen and his team allowed an opponent to score on a mid-range jumper.  Another time, he and a teammate tried to trap an opposing ball handler, but they forgot about the third opponent that was the roll man on the play, and their team allowed the roll man to get the ball to score on a dunk.  Another time, he went for a ball fake, but was out of position down low, which led to a score around the basket.  Other times, he may struggle to get back or to stay in front of his man, which can lead him to get beat on plays to allow scores.

Overall, D.J. Steward is a very athletic combo guard that generally excelled at attacking the hoop to score the basketball, and he can finish plays above the rim.  However, he will need to improve his decision making when the ball is in his hands, and he will have to be a more disciplined and focused defender on the other side of the ball.  Right now, he may project to go in the late first to the second round range for the 2021 draft, and if things break his way, he could end up being an effective role player similar to former Los Angeles Lakers’ guard, Shannon Brown in the NBA.

Illinois’ incoming 6-3 freshman point guard, Adam Miller struggled to make shots and was very turnover prone, but he did show some solid offensive skills at times to help Morgan Park get a tough win over Whitney Young.
(Photo:
Allen Cunningham/Chicago Sun-Times)

Though he showed glimpses of solid playmaking skills and made a few crafty baskets on occasion, Adam Miller put forth an underwhelming performance overall.  He had some good moments at times, as he was able to make a nice pass or get a quick score on occasion, and he played solid defense in this game.  However, he shot the ball poorly and he also was quite turnover prone, as this game was riddled with turnovers overall.

He took a lot of shots in this game, but he didn’t make many of them.  Miller’s best score came early on.  He used a quick crossover on an aggressive, right-handed drive, then he quickly spun left, and he proceeded to score on a crafty floater.  He showed off a tremendous crossover move and deft handles to get separation to eventually score that time.  Unfortunately, he didn’t often score off the dribble, as he doesn’t have elite foot speed to consistently score at the rim.  He tended to miss shots in traffic, and he ended up having his shots blocked several times.  He would sometimes miss on off-balanced, rushed layups.

In transition, he ran the floor to score late in this game.  However, on another play, he couldn’t quite score on an alley-oop dunk attempt after catching a lob pass, which led him to miss it short as he didn’t jump high enough to be able to successfully throw it down.

Also, Miller showed the potential to develop as a shooter, but unfortunately, he still missed far too many shots.  Early on, he made a quick, contested long two.  He also ran off of a ball screen to make a spot-up three off the catch late in this game.  However, he tended to miss on both mid-range jumpers and three-point shots, and he especially struggled to shoot off the dribble.  He often would try to pull up from downtown, but he often would miss long-range shots from beyond the arc.

He did make some good passes in this game and at times, he showed a real feel for the point guard position, but like Steward, Miller was also too turnover prone on offense in this game.  He displayed adequate playmaking skills overall, and he was able to throw some solid passes.  He excels at finding teammates on the break, and he can drive in to throw drop-off passes, and he also threw a nifty no-look, behind the back pass to find a teammate in transition to set up a score for him.  Miller also can weave through traffic and has the court sense to find open shooters to get them the ball.  However, sometimes he would over-dribble or hold the ball for too long, which can lead him to get it poked away or to lose it to the opposition.  He also would sometimes throw passes into traffic that would get intercepted, and he also dropped a couple of passes out of bounds.  He also was called for committing a charging foul right after helping his team get a steal, but to me it seemed as if the defender ran up to him to flop on that play. Also, Miller did a fairly good job of rebounding the basketball.  He was quite active at crashing the boards, and he would leap up to get rebounds on both sides of the ball.

He also played decent defense.  Miller has active hands, and he would frequently get steals in this game.  He would play passing lanes to do so, and he did a great job of intercepting and deflecting passes.  He also poked a ball away off of a drive to a teammate to force another turnover, and he would jump on loose balls after his teammates would poke and deflect balls away from their opponents.   However, he will need to improve his position defense.   He struggled to defend opponents off the dribble, as he would struggle to move his feet, and it would lead him to commit fouls and allow scores.  Other times, he wouldn’t get back to his man on time, as he would be late on his rotations or to get back.  He also made a bad gamble for a steal once as he missed on a swipe when defending an opposing ball handler, and it led him to get beat off the dribble, which forced his teammate to rotate to commit the foul.

In summary, Adam Miller is an athletic, skilled combo guard that shows the potential to develop as a well-rounded point guard at the NBA level, but he will need to refine his overall game right now.  He will need to improve his jump shot and take smarter shots in games, as he has a tendency to force up difficult shots in traffic that lead to misses.  He also has to play more under control, and work on his position defense.  He will be playing with a talented backcourt, as Ayo Dosunmu will be returning to Illinois, so it will be imperative that he finds a way to fit into his role to help him both get onto the floor right away, and to help Illinois for the upcoming college basketball season.  For Miller, he may have a long way to go before developing into a bonafide prospect for the NBA, but if he can continue to hone his game, Miller could end up being an effective role player similar to former Boston Celtics’ guard, Delonte West in the association.

Other Notes:

Morgan Park’s 6-5 high school junior guard, Brandon Weston had a solid showing for his team to help them get a narrow win over Whitney Young.  Even though this game featured Steward and Miller as the top prospects of the match, I felt that Weston actually had the played the best among all of the players that participated in this contest. Weston excelled at attacking the hoop to score the basketball, and he also rebounded and defended well in this game.  He is a rangy defender that can play shut-down defense, and he was the most consistently solid performer in this game.

Weston excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  He was able to score off of a cut and a put back, and he will take the ball strong to the hoop to score around the basket.  He also ran the floor to score on a layup while getting an extra free throw in transition, and he will absorb the contact to draw fouls upon his defenders.  He also would finish plays around the basket, but sometimes he would miss on contested layups in traffic.

He also showed an adequate ability to score off the dribble.  Weston would drive aggressively to the hoop to draw fouls that would enable him to get to the foul line.  However, he would sometimes force up tough shots that would lead to misses. 

Also, he flashed the ability to knock down jumpers in this game.  Weston elevated to make a pull-up jumper from the mid-range, and he also made a contested three from well beyond the arc.  However, he struggled to consistently make pull-up, mid-range jumpers or spot-up threes, and he will need to improve his ability to make jump shots from further out.

He also displayed fairly average playmaking skills.  Weston can throw outlet passes to find teammates on the break to set up scoring chances for them, and he also can find cutters on the move.  However, sometimes he doesn’t always catch passes that are thrown his way, and he also tended to throw inaccurate passes that would go astray that would lead him to commit turnovers.

Plus, he did a great job of rebounding the basketball.  He would chase down balls to get tough boards amidst crowds, and he also ran down a ball to get an impressive, one-handed defensive board.  Sure, there were a lot of misses in this game, but Weston really excelled at collecting rebounds in this game.

He also played very good defense.  Weston is a rangy defender that would rotate to make impressive shot blocks off of drives, and on one play, he swatted a ball and then jumped up to make a nice, one-handed defensive board early on.  He can cover a lot of ground defensively, as he would run in to intercept passes to get steals, and he also would contest shots off of drives to force misses.  Sometimes though, his aggressiveness in trying to make plays defensively would occasionally lead him to pick up fouls on this side of the ball.

Overall, Brandon Weston is an athletic, energetic swingman that can make solid hustle plays on both ends of the floor.  He has the ability to develop into being a shutdown defender, but he will also need to improve his jump shot and passing ability.  He is a player that may possess considerable upside as a prospect for the NBA, and if he can continue to hone his game, he could develop into being a solid defensive specialist in the association.

Georgetown’s 6-1 incoming freshman guard, Tyler Beard played for Whitney Young in this game, and although he struggled in his team’s loss, he made some highlight-reel worthy plays, showed off some impressive athletic abilities, and he also excelled as a defender on the court.

Beard is a very athletic combo guard that runs the floor well, and he was able to score on thunderous dunks on the break.  He also made a quick, open corner three off the catch late in this game.  However, he didn’t take nearly enough three-point shots, and he tended to miss shots off the dribble, as he would often miss layups wildly, and he generally struggled to make pull-up jumpers from the mid-range.

He also was quite turnover prone on offense.  For the positives, Beard can throw long outlet passes to set up scoring chances for his teammates on the break, and he can hit the cutter to notch the occasional assist.  However, he also would play too wildly on offense, as he would over-dribble into traffic and get the ball poked away, and he would also throw hasty passes that would get intercepted.

Though he didn’t grab many rebounds in this game, he was able to haul in boards on both sides of the ball.  Beard also played solid defense.  He excelled at blocking shots off of drives due to possessing good athleticism, as well as solid length and timing, and Beard also managed to intercept a pass to get a steal.  He also jumped on a loose ball that a teammate deflected to him, and he also stayed in front of a man and actively contested a shot off the dribble to force a miss.  Sometimes though, he would take bad gambles and end up being out of position, which can lead him to occasionally allow scores.

Overall, Tyler Beard had his ups and downs in his team’s loss to Morgan Park.  He didn’t shoot the ball very efficiently, but he showed that he can certainly finish plays above the rim, and he also showed that he can knock down three-point shots.  He also is a solid defender that plays taller than his listed size.  He will need to trust his outside shot more and improve his decision-making skills on offense.  He has the potential to develop into being a reliable role player in the NBA, and it will be interesting to see how his game progresses over time.

Whitney Young’s 6-6 high school junior forward, Sangolay Njie played terrific defense in his team’s loss to Morgan Park, and he is an outstanding shot blocker that did a tremendous job of helping his team protect the paint.  He also excelled at grabbing rebounds, but it’s clear that his defense is far ahead of his offense, as he rarely took shots, and he didn’t score often in this game.

Njie is a terrific shot blocker, and if he ends up making it to the NBA someday, defense would be his future calling card.  He would often rotate to block shots off of drives and around the basket due to possessing good athleticism, timing, and instincts, and he would also deflect passes as well.  Njie can aptly defend opponents out on the perimeter, and he would actively contest jump shots to force misses.  However, he would sometimes play too aggressively on occasion, which would lead him to be out of position.

He also did a very good job of rebounding the basketball.  Njie would often leap up to haul in boards on both sides of the ball, and he was able to leap up to get an impressive, one-handed powerful defensive board once.  There also would be times where he would bring the ball up to show off his handles after he would defensive rebounds for his team.

Plus, he also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  Njie is an unselfish player that can throw quick passes to find teammates on the move, and he is a good passer out of the post.  He will look to find the open man, and he will make the extra pass to keep the ball moving.

However, he didn’t take many shots nor make many of them in this game.  On one good play, Njie made a quick backdoor cut to the hoop to score on a high-flying dunk, as he showed that he can score on hustle plays and also play above the rim.

In addition, he would draw free throws when he would look to score in the post and in transition.  On the downside, Njie missed all of his free throws, and he was not able to convert when he was at the foul line.  In addition, he also missed on a rushed, off-balanced pull-up jumper from the mid-range.

Overall, Sangolay Njie is a very athletic, high-motor combo forward that is an outstanding defender at the high school level, but his defense is miles ahead of his offense.  His offense remains a work in progress, and his lack of skill level on the offensive end might be holding him back from being able to reach his full potential.  He will need to be more assertive on offense, and he will need to significantly improve his ability to shoot and score the basketball.  I do think he has the talent to be an NCAA, division 1 college basketball player.  If he can develop his offense to be at least passable, he could find a way to project into a defensive specialist role at the NBA level someday.

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