Fabric Mold: Chris Paul / Kenny Anderson / Ty Lawson
Sharife Cooper was one of the NCAA’s most dynamic offensive players last year. The late second-round pick of the Atlanta Hawks became the second freshman in the past 25 seasons to average at least 20 points and eight assists. (Trae Young, Oklahoma, 2016) The Atlanta native was an engine of offense for the Auburn Tigers last year. Cooper was also one of three players since 2010 to average 20/4/8 a game as well (Ja Morant, Murray State, 2018-19 & Kay Felder, Oakland, 2015-16). Cooper will be one of the NBA’s dynamic playmakers once he gets up to speed with the NBA pace and playstyle but that’s the type of ceiling he has as a player. Cooper will find open teammates for years to come whether it’s on lobs, bounce passes, in transition, or in the half-court. His quarterback and floor general type awareness will only make his teammates adore playing alongside him.
The dual-threat point guard will be sharing duties with star Hawk Trae Young. It’ll be interesting to see how the pairing unfolds because Trae is also one of the NBA’s high usage dynamic playmakers himself. Cooper’s playstyle is a lot similar to Young’s and his career trajectory is a superstar point guard that can create for himself and others. Cooper will be a terror when he decides to score. He has a great first step and is lighting quick. His package of floaters, leaners, and overall superb touch around the rim is what makes him such a special offensive talent. Due to height and size worries (both listed at 6’1 180 pounds) on the defensive end, Young and Cooper aren’t likely to become the most competent defensive backcourt pairing even with their sky’s the limit type offensive ceilings. Most of the “smaller” star point guards we’ve seen the past couple of generations such as Steph Curry, Allen Iverson, and Isaiah Thomas have all been well known for their scoring ability. But at the same time at some point in their career, they were at their best alongside a backcourt mate capable of slowing down their opponent’s primary scorer. (Klay Thompson, Eric Snow, Avery Bradley). Cooper can take immense pressure off of Trae Young whether he fits better off the bench or evolves into a starter alongside Young. He certainly can create scoring opportunities for guys like Clint Capela, John Collins, and others. Cooper will impact the Hawks immensely as soon as he steps foot on the court as they look to build off of what was their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2015.
Fabric Mold: Paul George
The second overall pick from Ignite G-League’s team is heading to Houston to join a really young Rockets team led by Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. Jalen Green is an outstanding jump out of the gym score-first guard. At 6’6, Green is constantly a head down driver that’s always wreaking havoc at the rim. Green came into the G-League as a raw product but improved as the season progressed, making major strides in other areas of his game while polishing his offensive arsenal. He shot 36% from the three-point line on a solid sample size of five attempts a night. Facing hungry professionals in the G-League did wonders for Green. His progression as a playmaker and defender over the course of the season had GMs re-evaluating if he was indeed the best NBA-ready prospect on the board. When Jalen indeed translates into the starting spot alongside Porter Jr., they’ll be forming one of the more athletic, young, energetic back-court tandems in the league.
Porter Jr certainly has the talent and ability to evolve into one of the next high-volume offensive stars in the league but with the addition of Green, he won’t have as much pressure to deal with such a burden especially at this point of his career. The plethora of youth legs will be a handful to keep up with in transition as well. Inside out scoring big man Christian Wood, who’s still 25 years old, will get plenty of easier scoring opportunities on dump-offs in the paint, lobs, pick and roll/pop situations with both Porter Jr. and Green creating offense. He’ll be one of the focal points of a well-rounded youth foundation in Houston. Green has already expanded his offensive versatility in the G-League but once his above-the-rim play adjusts to the pace of the association and his body fills out he’ll become one of the more complete, all-around players in this draft class.
Fabric Mold: Luka Doncic / Tyreke Evans / Kyle Anderson
The first overall pick of this year’s draft; Detroit Piston Mr. Cunningham out of Oklahoma State, is arguably the most gifted offensive player in this years’ class. Cade paced the Cowboys with 20.1 points, six rebounds, and three assists a night to go along with .40 3P% and .84 FT % as well. Cade uses his body and pace very well to score in an array of ways. He can shoot from the perimeter whether off the dribble or catch and shoot. Cade is also a pick and roll maestro, a very willing passer, and playmaker. Dimes will come easier for him especially with his big guard frame and surrounding NBA talent. Cade will be very dangerous on the block against much smaller opposing guards. At 6’8 220 opponents will have a very difficult time trying to game plan for him. Also at that frame, Cade definitely can translate into a valuable defender as we saw flashes of last year. He can initiate offense for himself and others and shoot’s the deep ball very efficiently.
Cade was just what Detroit needed as they haven’t possessed an offensive talent like him since Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton were in their starting backcourt. He’ll be handed the keys to the offense as soon as he gets acclimated in the summer league and more so in training camp. Especially with young promising players like Saddiq Bey who had one of the best shooting seasons in recent time for a rookie. Jerami Grant climbed a level as a player last year no matter how much you want to look at the volume (career-high 22.3 ppg in 2021). Isaiah Stewart had a great stretch to end the season and eventually was invited to be on the USA National Select Team to help prep the Olympic team. Cade will without a doubt be a front runner Rookie of the Year candidate as he looks to help the Pistons return to postseason play for the first time since 2019.
Fabric Mold: Nick Young / Joe Johnson / Demar DeRozan
Probably the deadliest isolation and dynamically skilled scorer in this class, Josh Christopher or better known as “JayGup” was taken with the 24th pick to the Houston Rockets. At Arizona State Gup averaged 14.3 points and five rebounds a night during his lone freshmen season. Gup actually has zero weaknesses in his offensive arsenal and is one of the best athletes in this class. He has great body control on his way to the rim using his core mass to bump off smaller guards and slender big men in the paint. He’s also an underrated high flyer that is great in transition. Gup can shoot the three off the dribble and the catch, he utilizes his intermediate game as well as any prospect. He uses a surplus of scoring tactics inside the arc to put the ball in the hoop whether it’s dribble pull-ups, floaters, or using his athleticism when attacking the rim. Off the ball, Christopher can operate off pin downs around the elbow similar to Devin Booker, and come off down screens at the three-point line for perimeter shots. Gup is a very instinctual scorer that’s why he’s very difficult to game plan for. He can be a pick and roll ball handler, drive with either hand, and his impressive handle keeps opponents on their toes as he’s very good at getting to his spots. Christopher also averaged 1.5 steals a game and he uses his fearless leaping ability to contest shots all over the court. Gup will be a spark every night for the Rockets as he looks to be a go-to guy whether he’s a regular off the bench or starter.
Fabric Mold: Dwayne Wade / Zach Lavine
James Bouknight out of UConn was one of the late sought-out risers in this draft class. Taken by the Charlotte Hornets with the 11th pick in the first round, they took one of the class’ purest scorers. Bouknight posted averages of 18 points and five boards a game. A very athletic and lightly paced scorer, he gets into the paint with ease. Bouknight uses his wingspan and core in the paint very well when driving at opposing guards, wings, and big men. He is very dangerous off of screens just like other UConn greats Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon. It feels like he hasn’t even scratched the surface as a scorer. His three-point averages don’t tell the whole story about his potential as a shooter. Definitely not someone you want to go under a pick on because he’ll let it fly. Played plenty off-ball in Storrs holding his own on back door slashes towards the rim while becoming a reliable decision-maker off those slashes to make the extra pass to a big man in the paint. Bouknight should ease into a green light scoring role off the bench for the Hornets. After Malik Monk was left to walk, Bouknight should be able to find shots especially with Terry Rozier, LaMelo Ball, and Gordon Hayward taking a lot of attention in the starting rotation. Bouknight may be a sleeper ROY pick this upcoming year and will be a joy to watch with these Hornets.
Fabric Mold: Michael Porter Jr / Mikal Bridges / Marcus Morris
The product from Stanford is a 6’8 wing with a beautiful touch from the perimeter that was taken with the 10th overall pick. Ziaire is a great catch and shooter from the three-point line and is very comfortable creating off the dribble into a pull-up anywhere in the midrange. Definitely a tricky wing to deal with because his shot is practically impossible to block with his height and wingspan. You have to respect his jump shot so closeouts will be tough because he’s athletic and agile enough to pump fake into a higher percentage jumper or attacks into the paint to make a play for someone else. Williams is going to have plenty of open looks with the Grizzlies franchise cornerstone point guard Ja Morant who’s one of the league’s best passers and playmakers. Williams complements Jaren Jackson Jr. beautifully too. Whenever the Grizzlies want to go small or focus on switches on defense he’ll be a great stretch four that’ll really space out the floor when Jaren Jackson (career .347 3P%) goes and plays center. Ziaire Williams joins a fun young Memphis Grizzlies squad that loves to get up and down. The floor spacing shooting that the Grizzlies continue to build around Morant with Grayson Allen, Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Wade should fit in just smoothly.
Why Not the Lakeshow?
The NBA free agency came and went and once again all the moves and acquisitions left and right have us waiting impatiently for next season to arrive. The biggest off-season splash thus far was the Lakers’ landing of Wizards future first-ballot point guard Russell Westbrook. The Wizards in return received Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and a 2021 first-round pick. Bringing in Westbrook keeps the Lakers right in the middle of any title contention in the association after a disastrous and banged up first-round exit to the Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns this past year. The Lakers aimed to add more firepower to the offense by inking shooters Wayne Ellington and Malik Monk to one-year deals. They re-signed Dwight Howard to add some much-needed big men depth which they possessed on their way to bringing home the Larry O’Brien back in 2020. Veteran 3-D guys Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore also signed one-year minimum deals in pursuit of a championship. They also signed 10x All-Star Carmelo Anthony. Young offensive creator Talen Horton-Tucker signed a 3 year/$32 million contract extension to instill that the Lakers will have secondary sources of offense off the bench. Lastly, the Lakers signed Kendrick Nunn to a 2 year/$10 million dollar to fill out the rest of the backcourt depth.
When the Westbrook trade first hit the surface as a rumor, murmurs of “they can’t shoot” and “they have zero spacing” were repeated narratives. Is the fit of Westbrook on this Lakers roster really ideal? Probably not, but the catch of the trade is Russell Westbrook was brought in by the Lakers to take some of the physical burden and toll off of both Lebron James and Anthony Davis in the regular season. They’re asking a former MVP and someone that has normalized the triple-double to somewhat be meaningless in today’s game to be a third option. Westbrook is the only player in NBA history to win numerous scoring titles and assists. Lebron has never had any teammate bring all the tools Westbrooks brings to the table. Yes Westbrook is not a great shooter from the three-point line but the Lakers don’t need him to be 2016/2017 Russ, he just has to continue being a menacing attacker towards the rim, post up smaller opponents, pick his spots especially utilizing his infamous cotton shot. The reports of the new Lakers Big 3 meeting at Lebron James’ house to discuss fitting and sacrificing for the betterment of the team is very optimistic and what you want to hear from your superstar players but it’ll take a sec for everyone to adjust to each other’s playing style, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
Lebron James and Russell Westbrook, two of the most athletically gifted players the NBA has ever seen will practically be unstoppable in transition as well. Offensive iso-specialist player developmental trainer Phil Handy, who has worked with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving, and Kawhi Leonard will finally get his chance to work with Westbrook and may unleash an aspect of his intermediate game that we haven’t seen. Westbrook’s ability to enhance the offensive ceilings of his big men forever goes unnoticed. Westbrook’s nuclear athleticism on attacks towards the rim has drawn attention from opposing defenders for years and he’s done a remarkable job of finding his big men easier looks right under the rim on dumps and alley-oops. It feels as if Steven Adams has become an afterthought big man since he and Westbrook parted ways. Westbrook had just begun to build solid chemistry with new Wizards center Daniel Gafford. Since 2016, Westbrook leads all players in total assists by a margin over 500. You can’t stat pad yourself into a room all by yourself like that. Whether Lebron is on the court or not it’s going to be quite interesting how dangerous Anthony Davis becomes in pick and roll/pop situations when Russ is running the offense. Russell running the offense and having both Lebron and AD at the four and the five allows them to play bully ball and someone out of the three will be getting great open looks every night, that’s just how overwhelming they’ll just be as scorers.
Russell Westbrook is always at his best when you surround him with shooters. That’s what made that 2016 Thunder team so special. And we saw how efficient he was in Houston under D’Antoni. Wayne Ellington shot 42% from deep last year. Malik Monk also shot 40% while also hitting at least three 3s in 14 out of the 42 games he played. Westbrook may not be your first choice as a floor general to orchestrate offense in the half-court or someone you count on to make the best team play, especially in big moments. (He led the NBA in clutch FG% of those who attempted 50 or more clutch shot attempts). But he’s arguably the greatest dual-threat point guard to ever play the game and he still keeps defenses on their toes when he has the ball in his hands. The combination of that, his relentless tank and energy, and the fact that Westbrook is the last star the NBA would want to see light a fire under Lebron James and Anthony Davis makes them undoubtedly titles favorites.
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