Evaluating Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Nick Ward

May 8, 2019

by Alan Lu

I decided to take the time to watch UCLA’s trio of prospects, Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Moses Brown play in an early season basketball game against Michigan State that was played on November 22nd, as I was able to see this contest with thanks to YouTube via American sports.  This was an opportunity to gauge their skill sets and see how well they matched against a very good team in college basketball.  In this contest though, Michigan State jumped on UCLA early and breezed to a double-digit victory, and Cassius Winston and Nick Ward were the standout performers on this day.  Here are my thoughts on how the UCLA’s prospects fared, as well as how their games may translate to the NBA.

UCLA’s 6-8 sophomore forward, Kris Wilkes had a decent showing in his team’s loss to Michigan State.  He is a good athlete that showed off versatile scoring skills, and he also made some solid defensive plays at times in this contest.  Wilkes showed a good ability to shoot the basketball, as he excelled at making open spot-up threes to space the floor for his team on offense.  He also was able to dribble to his left to knock down a pull-up, mid-range jumper another time.  However, he struggled more to make mid-range shots, though.

He also did a decent job of scoring on aggressive drives to the hoop.  He can score using either hand.  In this game, he was able to go to his right after dribbling off of a screen to score on a runner.  Another time, he used a quick crossover to his left and split a double team to score on a smooth layup.  However, he does not possess an elite first step off the dribble as he would have trouble getting his man at times, and he also had his shot blocked once despite using a pump fake move.  Plus, Wilkes can also draw free throws after getting the ball on quick cuts to the hoop, and he would take advantage when defenders would be caught napping on those possessions.  However, he had trouble scoring in the post, and he also missed a contested shot after attempting to score on a give and go in transition.

Also, he showed off decent playmaking skills in this game.  Wilkes is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man, and he also has good court vision.  On one play, he ran off of a curl cut and managed to throw a nice drop off pass on the move to set up a scoring chance for a teammate around the basket.  He also handles the ball fairly well, and he was able to use a behind the back dribble move early on.  He did commit a couple of turnovers, as he ended up committing two charging fouls when trying to drive to the hoop.  Though he did show off some ball handling skills, he didn’t seem to be particularly crafty when trying to score off the dribble most times, and he also had trouble getting past defenders on a consistent basis.

He also did not grab many rebounds in this game.  Wilkes was able to leap up to get one defensive board, and he managed to push the ball up the floor to create early offense for his team.  However, he also was called for committing a foul another time, as he was called for holding an opponent in his attempt to prevent him from getting an offensive rebound.  Defensively, he looked to be fairly average.  For the positives, Wilkes is an active help defender who can roam to make plays on the ball.  He was able to rotate to block a shot off of a cut to a teammate, and he also ran back to intercept a loopy pass to get a steal another time.  He also managed to hold his ground when defending in the post to force a miss, and he also showed off good footwork on a separate play to successfully challenge a floater to get another stop for his team.

However, he generally had trouble guarding shooters in this game, as he tended to be unfocused as a position defender.  He would tend to be caught ball watching, as he would be too far off his man, or he would rotate off his man completely, which would lead him to be too late to rotate back, and it also allowed opponents to score on a slew of three-point shots.  Wilkes also had some trouble guarding opponents on drives in transition, as he kept backpedaling once, and he also bit on a pump fake another time, which would cause him to allow scores to opponents on fast breaks.

In general, Kris Wilkes is an athletic, skilled basketball player that can shoot and pass the basketball, but he will need to improve his ability to create his own shot, rebound, and defend on the floor.  He tended to be far too unfocused on the defensive end, as his tendency to have lapses on roam would cause him to allow opponents to score on jumpers.  Still, Wilkes’ blend of offensive skills, athleticism, and size to play multiple positions could allow him to end up being a second round pick in this year’s draft, as he could end up being an effective role player for an NBA team off the bench.

UCLA’s 6-3 sophomore point guard, Jaylen Hands put forth an adequate performance in his team’s loss to Michigan State.  He showed that he can shoot and pass the basketball, and he also defended fairly well in this game.  Hands did a fairly good job of making jumpers to help his team on offense.  He excelled at making open threes, as he would often take advantage of defenders that would give him ample space to shoot the basketball, and Hands can make three-point shots off the catch as well as off the dribble.  However, he struggled to make pull-up mid-range jumpers, and sometimes he may not always be able to get all the way to the rim.

He also showed a decent ability to score on quick drives to the basket.  Hands particularly excelled at going to his left before scoring with his right hand.  On one play, he managed to score on a floater while getting an extra free throw once.  On another, he ran off of a screen to get the ball, and he used a pump fake prior to driving to his left before scoring quickly with his right hand off the glass.  On the other hand, he can tend to miss shots wildly around the basket, and he also had his shot blocked another time as he can struggle to score in traffic.

He also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  Hands can make a variety of passes to find the open man, and he can pass off the dribble to set up scoring chances for his teammates, but sometimes, he can be inaccurate on his passes, and early on, he threw a really inaccurate inbounds pass that sailed out of bounds.  Hands also did a fairly good job of rebounding the basketball.  He would often run in to leap up to get defensive boards, and sometimes he would push the ball quickly up the floor.  However, there was one play where he was called for a foul, as he had collided into an opponent after his man collected a defensive rebound.

He also showed off adequate defensive skills.  Hands was able to run in to poke a ball away from an opposing ball handler to get a steal, and he also would contest threes to force misses.  He also leapt up to tip a ball to nearly force another turnover, and he can get his hands on balls to get deflections.  He didn’t have many defensive miscues, but there was one play early on where he gave up a bit too much space to his man, which led him to allow a three-point basket.  Later on, he got beat off the dribble, as he froze in his tracks, as his team allowed a score at the rim.

In summary, Jaylen Hands is an agile, skilled playmaker that can shoot and pass the basketball, and he also looked to be an above average defender in this game.  He doesn’t seem to be elite in any one skill, but he showed that he can do a lot of things fairly well on the basketball court.  Right now, he may project to be a second round prospect for the upcoming draft, as he could end up being a reliable backup point guard in the NBA.

Michigan State’s 6-8 junior forward, Nick Ward played very well in his team’s win over UCLA.  He dominated early and often, as he excelled as an inside scorer and defender in this game, and he also has a very good motor which would allow him to make hustle plays on both ends of the floor.  Ward did an adequate job of scoring in the post.  He would tend to score on turnaround jump hooks, and he possesses good strength, balance, and shooting touch around the basket.  He also would tend to draw fouls off the ball, but sometimes, he would miss on jump hooks, as he can occasionally struggle to score in traffic when defended by taller defenders.  Also, Ward was able to score on a strong, patient left-handed drive to the hoop once.  He also took a fadeaway mid-range jumper, but he ended up missing the shot that time.

He also did a great job of scoring on hustle plays.  Ward ran the floor hard, as he would tend to score on fast breaks, and he also managed to score on a powerful dunk early on.  He also would often draw fouls after getting offensive rebounds, as he showed a relentless, non-stop motor to help his team score and get rebounds around the basket.  Ward also excelled as a ball mover on offense, and he showed a solid ability to find the open man to set up scoring chances for his teammates.  He also was able to get his fair share of rebounds in this match, and he was able to haul in multiple boards on both ends of the floor.

He also played solid defense.  Ward was able to rotate to block a shot ferociously off of a drive to a teammate, and he would actively contest shots off of drives and in the post to force plenty of misses.  Ward has great strength to hold his ground when defending in the post, and opponents would have trouble getting deep position when trying to score from the block.  His lone miscue on the defensive end seemed to be when he was called for fouling his man on an awkward fadeaway jumper in the post, as he had his hands on his opponent that time.

In summary, Nick Ward had a strong showing in his team’s win over UCLA, as he made a lot of hustle plays to help get Michigan State the victory.  Though he may lack ideal size or perimeter skills to play either forward position in the NBA, Nick Ward is a mobile big man that plays very hard, and he tends to make sound decisions when he is on the floor.  Right now, he could be a potential second round pick for the upcoming draft if he decides to keep his name in the pool, as he could end up being a similar player to Miami Heat’s veteran forward, Udonis Haslem in the league.

This game also was an opportunity for me to watch UCLA’s 7-1 freshman center, Moses Brown.  Early this season, he had gained some traction as a prospect as he had played very well in his first four games of the year against teams that would not make the NCAA Tournament.  However, he ended up really struggling against Michigan State, as his effort on defense tended to languish in the first half, and he was unable to consistently score throughout this contest.  Though he had a disappointing game overall, he did make a couple of solid plays in the second half that suggest that he may have considerable upside as a prospect for the NBA in the future.  Brown did not take many shots in this match, but for whatever reason, his team kept trying to feed him the basketball in the post, as they tried feverishly to have him operate as a scorer in the low post rather than have him score on rolls and energy plays around the basket. 

He actually did an adequate job as he started to find his rhythm in the second half, and he can score on some basic moves down low.  He doesn’t seem to have an advanced repertoire, but he can get deep position when matched up against smaller defenders, and he can score on basic moves.  He was able to score on a turnaround jumper, and he also went up to score off the glass another time.  Brown will also draw fouls upon his opponents, even if he he appeared to take some questionable shots, but he is not a very good free throw shooter, so he was often unable to capitalize on opportunities when he would get to the foul line.  It’s kind of baffling that he is such a porous free throw shooter, as he ended up making just 35% of his free throws for the entire season, because his stroke actually didn’t look that bad, except he would sometimes swing his arm down too forcefully on the follow-through.

For an athletic specimen, he also did not do a very good job of scoring on hustle plays.  Moses Brown didn’t roll very hard to the rim, so he would not be open on off-ball motion plays because he would be covered on those plays.  He runs the floor well, but he doesn’t always run the floor hard on either end, so he was often unable to get opportunities to score on fast breaks.  He did grab a couple of offensive rebounds, but he would play too out of control, as he missed a make-able put back in traffic over smaller defender, and he then missed on a wild tip-in attempt shortly afterwards.  Also, he did not take a single jumper outside of the paint, so it’s uncertain if he may have much of a face-up game right now.

He will also need to improve his playmaking skills.  He didn’t look to pass often, but sometimes he will find the open man on offense.  However, he also can be quite turnover prone at times.  He was called for a traveling violation shortly after using a pivot move in the post, as he showed very clumsy footwork on the block.  Brown also had trouble catching basketballs, as he did not show great hands in this game.  On one play, he dropped a ball after trying to come down with an offensive rebound, as he ended up stepping out of bounds.  Brown also dropped a catchable pass after rolling to the post, as he bobbled the ball before his team ended up committing a shot clock violation.

He did do a good job of rebounding the basketball in this game.  Brown would often leap up to get defensive boards, as he was very active on the glass, and he also boxed out once to get an offensive rebound, but he did show shaky hands as he lost a ball out of bounds after trying to chase down an offensive board once in the first half, and he also tended to commit fouls after opponents would get rebounds.

Also, he will need to improve his defense.  For the positives, Brown started to play better in the second half, and when he plays hard, he can be a rangy defender that can be a shot blocking presence on the defensive end.  On the plays where he would get back on defense, he showed that he can make chase down blocks effortlessly on drives in transition due to possessing good length, athleticism, and timing to do so.  He also will contest shots in the post to force misses.

However, he tended to be late on his rotations, and he would be late to contest shots, as opponents would get scores around the basket.  Brown also would fail to communicate to his teammates when opponents would set screens, as his teammates would run into screeners, which would cause scrambling situations on the defensive end.  He also tended to sag too far off his man, which would allow opponents to get scores off the dribble.  Other times, he would not hustle back on defense, as he would merely jog back, as his team would allow scores to opponents in transition.  For a player who projects to be a defensive specialist, it was frustrating that he showed a clear lack of motor in the first half, and he often had trouble guarding Nick Ward as he really struggled defensively for most of this game.

Overall, Moses Brown just did not play well against Michigan State, and his effort seemed to be lackadaisical and lackluster for most of the way.  He will need to show that he can consistently score on off-ball motion plays, and he will need to be a more focused and disciplined defender in games.  Right now, Brown may be a borderline second round candidate, as he may be far from being ready to contribute in the NBA, but he also may have the most upside amongst UCLA’s trio of prospects.  If he can play like he did in the second half, he could perhaps end up being an athletic rim protector at the next level.  But that is a big if, however.  He will need to improve in the finer points of the game, but if he can make significant strides to develop as an overall player, Brown could end up thriving as a role player in the NBA, as he may project to be a similar player to current Portland Trail Blazers’ big man, Skal Labissiere in the association.

Other Notes:

Michigan State’s 6-0 junior point guard, Cassius Winston had a dominant first half performance in his team’s blowout victory over UCLA, and he had a strong showing as he made shots and passed the ball very well in this game.  Winston showed a knack for scoring on quick threes from beyond the arc, as well as on floaters off the dribble.  He also used a pump fake to score on a drive in transition, and he also was able to draw an extra free throw after making a three-point shot early in this contest, but sometimes, he would miss shots off of drives as he can occasionally struggle to score in traffic.

He also displayed solid playmaking skills.  Winston is an unselfish player that passes and handles the ball well, and he has good court vision, as he can throw sharp long interior passes to set up scores for his teammates.  Defensively, he looked to be average at best.  For the positives, he managed to contest three-point shots to force some misses.  But sometimes, he can tend to be late on his rotations, and other times he may get beat off the dribble, which would cause him to commit fouls and allow scores.

Overall, Cassius Winston is a smart, skilled playmaker that has a good feel for the game, and he did a good job of shooting and passing the basketball to help his team get the win.  Barring an upset, he will most likely help Michigan State make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament next season, and Winston could end up going in the late first to the second round range in 2020.

Michigan State’s 6-8 sophomore big man, Xavier Tillman seemed to play better than the box score indicated, as he is a very good screen setter on offense, and he also was active as a help defender in the paint.  He didn’t score in this game, but he was able to contribute in other ways to help his team on this day.  He didn’t look to score much on offense, but he can draw fouls on hustle plays around the basket to get to the free throw line.  Sometimes, he would miss shots at the rim though, as he missed on a roll once, and he also had his shot blocked in transition another time.

Tillman generally did a good job of passing the basketball, as he would patiently look to find the open man to set up scoring chances for his teammates.  He especially excelled as a screen setter, as he has a wide frame as well as great strength that makes it difficult for his opponents to get around, and his terrific screen setting abilities often allowed his teammates to score on jumpers and drives to the basket.  He was a bit turnover prone, though.  He threw an inaccurate interior pass that skipped out of bounds once, and he also was called for setting a moving screen late in this contest.

He didn’t grab many rebounds, but he was able to get a couple of defensive boards against UCLA.  Defensively, he looked to be about average.  Tillman did a good job of blocking shots around the basket to help his team protect the paint, and he would contest and alter shots in the post as well as off of a drive in transition to get stops for his team.  However, he had trouble defending opponents off of drives and in the post at times, as he would get beat moves to the hoop, and he occasionally struggled to guard quicker players.  He also would sag too far in the paint, as his opponents were able to score on mid-range jumpers on him in this game.

Overall, Xavier Tillman didn’t have his best game, but he showed a tremendous ability to set screens, as well as a good ability to block shots, which help make him a solid role player at the collegiate level.  It will be interesting to see if he can take his game to a whole another level next year, as he decided to stay to team up with Cassius Winston to help Michigan State go for another shot at the title.  Right now, Tillman may be a borderline second round prospect, but he could quickly ascend up draft boards with a strong junior season, and he could project to be a high-motor big man that may have the skills to succeed as a role player in the NBA someday.

Michigan State’s senior forward, Kenny Goins seemed to play better than the box score indicated in this game.  He did not score often, but he excelled as a passer, rebounder, and shot blocker in this game, as he made solid hustle plays to help his team on the glass as well as on the defensive end.  He would sometimes commit fouls after rotating to help cover for his teammates.   He did not take or make many shots, but he was able to score on a strong put back after using a pump fake, and he also made an open long two-point shot.  Right now, Goins is a high motor combo forward that could make an NBA team’s summer league roster, and if he plays well there, he could compete for a roster spot in the association.

Matt McQuaid shot the ball well, as he excelled at knocking down spot-up threes, and he also calmly made an open pull-up three on the break late in this game.  He also did a very good job of drawing charges on drives to get stops for his team.  Plus, he also used a quick hesitation move to score on a strong, left-handed drive as he finished the shot with his right hand.  He was inaccurate with his passes at times though, and he occasionally struggled to defend out on the perimeter, but he made shots and defended well when his team needed him to do so.  Overall, McQuaid is a crafty player that shoots the ball well from beyond the arc, and while he may not have ideal size or physical tools to play out on the wing, his jump shot and solid decision making ability could allow him to make an NBA team’s summer league roster.

Joshua Langford had his ups and downs, but he generally excelled as a shooter and scorer on offense.  He would knock down spot-up threes, and score on strong drives to the hoop, but he also was very turnover prone.  He tended to commit turnovers when taking the ball to the basket, and he would sometimes play too carelessly on offense.  He was able to jump on a loose ball to get a steal, but he also tended to have lapses defensively, which would cause him to commit fouls and allow scores.  Overall, Langford is an athletic swingman that has versatile scoring skills, but he will need to improve his ball handling and position defense.  Right now, he may be a second round prospect for the 2020 draft.

UCLA’s sophomore forward, Chris Smith played well against Michigan State, and even though he had a lackluster season this year, he showed some interesting skills in this particular game.  He is an athletic, agile player that runs the floor well, as he can get scores and free throws on fast breaks.  He was able to score on an emphatic dunk in transition, and he also weaved past defenders to draw free throws another time in the open floor.  Smith also was able to knock down a pull-up, mid-range jumper from the baseline, and he also scored on a nifty reverse layup off of a quick baseline drive.  However, he had trouble knocking down threes, as he was unable to make them when attempting them from beyond the arc.  He also was an active help defender, as he managed to rotate to block a shot off of a floater to a teammate, and he also deflected a pass another time.  But sometimes, he can be late on his rotations, and he can forget to box his opponents out, which can cause him to allow scores to his opponents.

Overall, Chris Smith is an athletic combo forward that can excel at the college level if he can continue to play with the level of focus he showed in this game against Michigan State.  He will still need to improve his jump shot significantly, and he will need to be a more focused defender, but if he can put his skills altogether to have a good junior season, he could end up being a second round pick either in 2020 or sometime down the road, as he may be a similar player to former Los Angeles Lakers’ forward, Devin Ebanks in the NBA.

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