Assessing Dennis Smith, Justin Patton, Maurice Watson Jr., and Others

December 16, 2016

By Alan Lu

So far, NC State’s freshman point guard, Dennis Smith Jr. has been rated as a top 5 draft prospect by numerous draft sites.  I decided to set out to find footage of him playing in a full game against a highly competitive team in college basketball.

Luckily, I was able to watch him play against Creighton in a match that was played on November 20th in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Semifinal, thanks to YouTube via cylonwolf.  In the meantime, I was able to also scout a couple of other NBA draft prospects that had also participated in this contest.  Here are my thoughts on how Dennis Smith as well as some of the other players fared on this day.

The most interesting aspect of Smith’s game is that he is a very good playmaker on the court.  Smith looks to be far more of a pass first point guard than anticipated, as he is a creative player that handles the ball quite well, and he will patiently probe the defenses to set up a wealth of scores for his team.

Smith is a terrific ball handler, as he can split double teams when making a play off the dribble, and he can promptly throw a solid interior pass to notch an assist.  He will keep his dribble alive to maneuver around defenders, and he can suddenly find an open shooter on the floor.  Sometimes, he may dribble in place too much, which can cause the offense to stagnate.   Rather than make a quick move offensively, Smith may tend to scan the defense, pull back and wait awhile before he makes a decision.  But generally, Smith is always a threat to score or find an open teammate by weaving a pass to him, as he generally possesses solid court vision.

He also is a very good scorer off the dribble.  Smith can be very creative with the ball in his hands, as he will use nifty dribble moves, stutter steps, and ball fakes to get around defenders.  He also has a solid first step and a strong ability to accelerate after keeping his dribble alive, as he can also score on strong moves to the basket.

However, he can overdo trying to be too fancy with his dribble moves, which could potentially come at the expense of finding good shots for his team on offense.  Smith may decide to try some curious moves, like high stepping while dribbling up the floor in transition, and he will use a slew of crossovers, but sometimes, he can be prone to rushing his shots, which can lead to wild misses around the basket.

Also, Smith may be a decent shooter.  He can make jumpers on occasion, as he has a step back move that he can use to knock down a pull-up, mid-range shot over a defender.  He also can make an open three off the catch from NBA distance, as well as a three after running off of a screen to get open.  On the other hand, he can be quite streaky with his jumper, and he may tend to force plenty of contested jumpers, which can lead to a lot of low percentage shots.

He also may be a decent rebounder for a player his size.  Smith will look to crash the defensive glass, and sometimes he will look to push the ball up the floor after getting a rebound for his team.  But Smith also appeared to show below average defensive skills in this game against Creighton.  For the positives, he was able to get his hands on a loose ball to help his team get a steal, and he also showed the ability to deflect passes.  Also, he would make a decent effort to contest jumpers.  However, he also displayed a tendency to commit silly reach-in fouls, and he would occasionally be late on his rotations to allow scores.

However, he generally struggled to defend drives consistently.  At times, he would get caught on screens when defending the pick and roll ball handler, but he would not fight through them hard enough or try to make up the ground to try to get back to defending the opposing ball handler.  Other times, he would be too aggressive, which would lead him to get beat off the dribble.   One of his attempts to reach in was especially bad, as the shot clock was almost about to expire, and the opposing ball handler did not appear to be close to getting a good shot off when looking to score off the dribble.

In general, Dennis Smith Jr. may likely end up being the best player to emerge from this game when people look back at this match sometime in the future.  He looks every bit to be a future star player in the NBA.  He is a creative playmaker that may have an endless set of impressive dribble moves, he is a crafty scorer off the dribble, and he is a smart player that can rack up many assists for his team.  On the other hand, he does have his flaws.  He is not a consistent shooter, he tends to dribble in place for too long, and he may tend to have lapses defensively.

But still, Smith may be light years ahead of his teammates in terms of overall talent, and his skill set, athletic ability, and feel for the game is quite high compared to most prospects in this draft.   Right now, he may project to be a likely top 5 pick, as he cold end up being a similar player to former NBA superstar, Stephon Marbury in the league.

Creighton’s 6-11 center, Justin Patton put forth a strong showing, as he played well right from the get-go in his team’s double-digit victory over NC State.  Patton did a terrific job of scoring on hustle plays, as he has excellent hands to catch an assortment of lob passes that are thrown his way.  On the first play of the game, he scored on alley-oop dunk after rolling hard to the rim to catch a lob pass.  Plus, he also excelled as a trailer in transition, as he really excelled at throwing down a wealth of thunderous, alley-oop dunks to help his team.

Patton also rebounded the ball well.  He also was quite active on the glass, as he showed a solid ability to draw fouls after grabbing offensive rebounds.  Plus, he also would leap up to get defensive rebounds, and he also would tip a ball to a teammate to help his team collect one.  But sometimes, he would be caught out of position after forcing misses that would occasionally lead to allowing put back scores.

He also is a very good passer, especially for a player his size.  Patton generally would find open shooters, and he also displayed the ability to accurately throw a long outlet pass.  Also, he was able to show good court vision by hitting a cutter from the high post to notch an assist.

Patton also may be a good defensive player.  He did a very good job of getting his hands on balls to help his team come away with steals, and he would use his length and timing to knock a ball away to collect one.  Generally, he would make solid rotations to help on drives, and Patton generally would hold his ground when defending the post to force misses.  Every once in a while though, he would commit touch fouls when defending inside the paint.

In summary, Justin Patton may be one of the biggest sleepers in the NBA draft.  He may not have much draft stock right now, but he is a tremendously athletic big man that has terrific hands and motor, and he also could project into being an elite rim protector in the league someday.  He has the skills to be a potential first round pick, and skill wise, he may be a similar player to that of current Golden State Warriors’ center, Javale McGee in the league.

Creighton’s 5-10 senior point guard, Maurice Watson Jr. played very well in a 112-94 victory for his team over NC State.   He showed off strong offensive skills, as he really excelled at attacking the basket to garner numerous scores and assists on offense.

Watson has a commanding presence for his team, and he really displayed sharp playmaking skills in this game.  He is a speedy playmaker that can consistently beat his man off the dribble, and he can make an assortment of passes to set up scores for his teammates.  He throws excellent lob passes, and he will keep his dribble alive to find open shooters.

He is a patient playmaker that will keep his dribble alive, and his tremendous passing ability combined with his great speed, quickness, and feel for the game really keeps defenders on their toes.  But sometimes, he can be inaccurate with his passing, which can lead to some turnovers.  Watson has very good speed and quickness, and he has a great first step that can enable him to get numerous scores off the dribble.  He has a very quick crossover move, and he also has the body control to get some scores in traffic.  Plus, he also can score on floaters as well.  However, he also can struggle to finish plays in traffic.  As he is quite undersized to play the point, this can make it difficult for him to score on taller players in games.

In this game, Maurice Watson Jr. did a great job of running the team, and he excelled on the offensive end as he was a master of controlling the tempo, and he would make a lot of solid plays to help Creighton.  He may be one of the best point guards in college basketball, and he has the skills to end up being a solid role player in the NBA.

NC State’s 6-5 senior guard, Terry Henderson had a terrific game in the loss to Creighton.  He did a great job of shooting the basketball, as he showed a tremendous ability to knock down threes.  The most notable aspect was his strong ability to make outside shots after running off of screens, as he is agile, has great footwork, and has a quick release that enables him to easily get his shot off.

He also excels at attacking the basket to garner scores.  Henderson is a good athlete that will run the floor, and on one play, he scored on an emphatic dunk as a trailer on the break.  He also can score on strong moves off the dribble, and he can draw free throws on a pull-up mid-range jumper off of a screen.  But he will still need to improve defensively.  For the positives, he can get his hands on balls to collect steals and deflections.  However, he may tend to give up too much space to shooters to allow scores, and he can tend to pick up quick fouls at times.

Right now, he may not have much draft stock, but Terry Henderson is an intriguing prospect that could be a shooting specialist in the NBA.  He is a very good shooter, and that could be beneficial to teams down the road.

Creighton’s 6-8 senior forward, Cole Huff also had a solid showing in a double-digit win over NC State.  He is a very good spot up shooter that can make plenty of threes off the catch, and he also possesses the ability to make outside shots off of screens.

Plus, he also was quite active on the glass, especially on the defensive end, as he would help his team come away with plenty of rebounds.  But Huff appeared to struggle to consistently create his own shot off the dribble,.  Also, he also would give up too much space to shooters at times, which would lead to allowing scores.

Right now, he may not have much draft stock at the moment, but he is a tall shooter that is also a good athlete, and he could potentially end up being a solid role player in the NBA if things break his way.

Other Notes:

Creighton’s junior combo guard, Marcus Foster generally did not shoot the ball well, but he showed a solid ability to attack the basket to garner scores, as he excelled at doing so off of drives, on fast breaks, as well as off cuts.  He did have some trouble with turnovers and fouls, and he appeared to be more turnover prone when he would start out with the ball in his hands on offense.

NC State’s junior combination forward, Abdul-Malik Abu did not have a great game, as he struggled to score consistently, and he had some wild misses around the basket.  He also had some careless turnovers, he also committed fouls going for rebounds, and he generally struggled to defend shooters in this game.

But he did show a solid first step to get to the hoop off the dribble,  as well as the ability to knock down a mid-range jumper, and he is said to be a very good athlete that has an impressive vertical leap.  He will likely need to improve in the finer points of the game, but he could be a potential second round pick in 2018.

NC State’s senior center, BeeJay Anya had an up and down game, but foul trouble may have prevented him from being able to make a lasting impression on the court.  For the positives, he generally passed the ball well, and he would set good screens for his team.  He also used his size, strength, and shooting touch to score in the post, and he also was able to knock down a mid-range jumper.

Plus, he also showed a solid ability to collect rebounds, as he displayed good motor to haul them in for his team.   In addition, he excelled at blocking shots, as he would use his great length and solid timing to prevent opponents from getting easy shots around the basket.  Anya generally looked to be quite mobile for a player his size, especially on the defensive end.

However, there were times where he would struggle to get up the floor on offense, as he may need to improve his conditioning.  He also would be prone to setting moving picks as well as committing touch fouls on the defensive end.

In general, BeeJay Anya struggled with foul trouble, as he eventually fouled out, but he did do some good things that could help him in the future.  With his skill set, he could potentially be a rotational big man in the NBA if things break his way.

In summary, this game was a fascinating one to watch.  Two of the best point guards squared off in the semifinal of the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Basketball Tournament, and it was my first glimpse into seeing Dennis Smith Jr. play.

Smith could potentially be a future All-Star in the NBA, as he is a very skilled player that can make exciting things happen with the basketball.  Creighton is a really good basketball team that played cohesively on offense, as they are a well-balanced team that can shoot and pass the basketball, and they are a fast-paced team that can really put points on the score board.  This was a very entertaining game to watch, and I may watch more games from these two teams sometime in the near future.