Data Scouting the Draft for 3-and-D Wings

By Andrew Lawlor

A good introductory step to scouting the NBA Draft is to use data to filter players down to who can play a projected role. This helps give an idea of who each player is, stylistically. Let’s take a look at which draft-eligible players meet criteria to play as three-and-D wings, one of the most valuable commodities in the league.

Every team needs wings who can defend and space the floor. It is a rare combination, but is extremely valuable. To identify players who can play this role, I searched Sports Reference College Basketball’s Play Index for draft-eligible guards and forwards who met or exceeded the following criteria: a defensive rating of 95.0, a 2.5 steal percentage, a 2.5 block percentage, a 70.0 free throw percentage, 500 minutes played, and at least one three-point attempt per game. That left me with the following list, ordered by prospect ranking on CBSSports.com:

NameAgeOverall RankSTL%BLK%FT%3PA Per Game3P%Defensive Rating
Pat Williams1982.55.683.81.732.094.1
Devin Vassell20132.84.173.83.541.593.6
Paul Reed21363.39.773.81.830.888.8
Tyler Bey22393.14.274.31.041.985.7
CJ Elleby20802.92.582.36.833.992.8

Florida State freshman Patrick Williams is the youngest player on this list, having just turned 19 on August 26. At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, he is big enough to hold up defensively against pros. Williams played good team defense this year, but will have to improve his one-on-one defense, as he sometimes struggled to contain perimeter players. He will also have to improve his shooting (32% from three); Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer says Williams has a “low, slow release.” But his 83.8% free throw shooting indicates he has a nice shooting touch. Generally, free-throw shooting in college is a better indicator of shooting ability than college three-point shooting because of a larger sample size and removed distractions. 

Unlike many other players on this list, Williams has a good handle and can make plays off the bounce. He turned the ball over a lot this season (1.7 turnovers per game to only 1.0 assists), so he will have to work on limiting those. But his playmaking chops could allow him to develop into more than just a three-and-D player.

Out of this year’s prospects, Devin Vassell, another Seminole, best fits the profile of a three-and-D wing. He can step into an NBA lineup tomorrow and contribute. Vassell is one of the best defensive prospects in the draft; he knows when to rotate and help, making him a good team defender, and he has the quickness and length to swallow perimeter players on the ball. Florida State held opponents to a 93.6 rating with Vassell on the court this season, and against a tough ACC schedule to boot. At 6-foot-7, 194 pounds with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, he may have to put on some weight to bang with stronger players inside. But his perimeter defense is already excellent.

Vassell is a good shooter (41.5% from three on 3.5 attempts per game, 73.8% from the line), but does not provide much else offensively. He cannot take players off the dribble and lacks burst; thus, he struggles to create his own shot. But his combination of defense and shooting should make him a valuable NBA player from day one.

DePaul forward Paul Reed looks more like a big than the other players on this list. He is 6-foot-9, 220 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, and he was able to leverage his jumping ability to block 2.6 shots per game. Reed is also quick enough to step out onto the perimeter and hang with guards and wings on defense. However, he is still pretty thin, so he is not yet great at post defense. He also needs to develop his outside shooting touch (30.8% on 1.8 attempts per game), but his free throw shooting (73.8%) suggests that that’s an attainable goal.

Colorado Forward Tyler Bey is 6-foot-7, 216 pounds with an impressive 7-foot-1 wingspan. He profiles as an excellent defender who can hang with both perimeter players and bigs. He mostly played inside on offense, and only barely met the one-three-pointer-per-game threshold; he will need to change his game for the NBA, where he is more likely to play outside. Bey’s shooting form needs work, but his solid 74.3% free-throw percentage indicates he has some potential as a shooter. He is already 22 years old, so he likely has less room to grow than the other players on this list, but Bey should be able to step in and help on defense right now, and may be able to provide shooting eventually, too. That is good value in the late-first or early-second round.

Finally, Washington State’s CJ Elleby is the most prolific shooter on the list. He already fires 6.8 threes per game, and his 82.3 free-throw percentage indicates that he has good touch, so he should be able to raise his 33.9% three-point percentage in the pros (though he does have some funky form that he may need to fine-tune). Elleby lacks the athleticism of the other players on this list, and he blocked fewer shots (1.0 per game) than all of them, too. But he led the Pac-12 in steals with 1.8 per game, and, at 6-foot-6, 200 pounds with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, he has the size to guard wings at the next level. He may be a sleeper pick in the second round.

Featured Image By Ryan M. Kelly, Getty Images

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