- There's a premium in today's NBA on guards who can both shoot and defend. Here are six sleepers in the 2017 NBA draft who fit that fold.
By the grace of Kevin Durant, the playoffs are over, which means it’s officially draft season. We’re about a week away from the big night, and the picture in terms of players’ draft ranges has essentially crystallized. It’s a good opportunity to finish up our sleeper series. We’ve covered bigs and wings, today we’re examining guards.
If the Finals hammered home one point about player personnel trends, it’s that there should be a premium on versatile defenders and shooters, and especially those that can do both. This has been the case for a few years now, really, and perhaps as a result, there’s been a ton of value to be found in under-the-radar players who possess these skills. Teams like to take upside swings and make economical stash plays with later draft picks, which often leaves quality college backcourt players available at good value, or undrafted entirely. That’s where today’s conversation begins.
For a lot of these guys, it's not about where they're picked, it's where they land. The right organization can make all the difference. Matthew Dellavedova. Tyler Johnson. Kent Bazemore. Malcolm Brogdon. Norman Powell. The list of sneaky, experienced college guards who’ve gone onto carve out real playing time and big contracts is long.
Here are six players to watch in this year’s class who could fit that mold.
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
Williams-Goss benefited from added big-game exposure as one of the leaders of Gonzaga’s run to the NCAA title game. He was the engine behind the Bulldogs’ offense and was impressive running the team in his lone season there after transferring from Washington. It was a strong enough breakout to justify his move to the pros, where he’s not quite a sure thing, but brings a complete, mature game that will give him a chance to make a roster. He averaged 16.8 points, six rebounds and 4.7 assists and fared well in pick–and–roll opportunities (0.989 points per possession including assists). Williams-Goss has always been impressive when it comes to on-court intelligence, and it coalesced statistically last season.
At 6’3” in shoes with a 6’7” wingspan, Williams-Goss has the size to be an adequate defender. His smarts and handle have generally helped compensate for the lack of elite burst. Although he’s an able jump shooter, teams will look for continued consistency in that area—he was very efficient scoring in spot-up situations last season and showed major improvement from his time at Washington. Williams-Goss has the skills to help an NBA team and he’s a potential second-rounder.
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
A strong sophomore season helped reinforce Dorsey’s status as a prospect, and he performed nicely at the draft combine in front of high-level NBA personnel, showcasing his scoring chops. He’s a shifty player who can put the ball in the basket in a wide variety of situations, and profiles as a rotational ball-handler and shooter who can provide some instant offense when needed. Dorsey has demonstrated comfort making set shots as well as tougher ones off the bounce, and managed to improve his shooting percentages last season with increased volume on an already-crowded Oregon roster. His individual offensive efficiency was outstanding (1.072 points per possession on whole).
The question is what Dorsey does when he isn’t scoring: he doesn’t have the sort of length to project as a strong defender, and though he’s a smart player and can make the right pass, he was never a statistically profound playmaker at Oregon. He’s old for a sophomore (already 21) and will need to add strength in order to finish consistently at the rim. It helps that he’s displayed the level of craft to create space for himself attacking the basket. Dorsey will have to prove he’s able to defend at the NBA level and become more of a willing passer to take full advantage of his talent. He’s receiving looks in the second round.
L.J. Peak, Georgetown
Peak’s still more athlete than guard at this stage, but successfully transitioned from bouncy forward to legitimate wing player at Georgetown and presents some upside later in the draft thanks to his impressive physical tools. He turned 21 in February. As a key player for an underwhelming Hoyas team, Peak averaged 16 points, nearly four rebounds and three assists last season and chose to turn pro rather than return for his senior year. Peak has shown the ability to convert difficult finishes around the basket along with some shooting touch, and shot nearly 80% from the foul line last year, leaving a little room for optimism. He’s also a rangy defender, at 6’4” with a 6’9” wingspan, which gives him some potential to help on both sides of the ball with added discipline.
More quick and strong than vertically explosive, Peak will face a big adjustment at the NBA level, where he’ll need to lean on and improve his skill level and rely less on his natural gifts. His shooting percentages took a step backward with increased volume as a junior. Becoming a threat from distance is pivotal given how much he’ll have to function off the ball, where he’s active and can get himself open underneath, but won’t draw serious attention in spot-up situations at present. Peak can also make plays on the ball, where he’s displayed the ability to make intelligent passes. He doesn’t yet have the one skill to qualify him as a specialist, per se, which makes him harder to project. Peak is a potential late second–round selection.
Damyean Dotson, Houston
After shooting the ball well from three at the combine (and 44.3% during the season on seven attempts per game), Dotson emerged as a player who could provide a cheap source of floor-spacing and keep defenses honest. He measured well at 6’5” in shoes with a 6’9” wingspan and also registered a 38” max vertical. Although he’s already 23, the mix of physical traits and long-distance comfort give him instant appeal given the demand for shooters around the league. His athletic ability helps him thrive in transition, and his scoring efficiency was impressive across the board, particularly in spot-up situations (1.279 points per possession, per Synergy). He defends the ball actively and is a willing rebounder (6.9 per game).
Dotson will be pushed to expand his offensive game at the next level, where he appears to be an improving passer and must improve attacking the basket in the halfcourt. He’ll be asked to attack a lot of closeouts and make reads. He could also use some additional muscle to help his case, but there’s definite three-and-D upside in his best case scenario. Teams will do their diligence on Dotson’s background: he was kicked off the team at Oregon after a promising freshman year following a sexual assault investigation that also involved two other teammates and was later dropped due to insufficient evidence. He finished his career at Houston. If things check out, expect him to draw significant interest on the free agent market should he go undrafted.
TJ Williams, Northeastern
A mostly quiet career at Northeastern culminated in Williams’s surprising emergence as one of the top mid-major guards in the country as a senior. His appeal stems largely from his facility as a passer, particularly in the pick and roll, where he situationally averaged 0.939 points per possession last season. His penchant for making the correct reads and finding shooters could play at the next level, where there’s a place for intelligent, skilled guards. He averaged 21.4 points, 5.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds last season and measured at 6’3” in shoes with a nice 6’8” wingspan at Portsmouth.
Williams is a functional shooter but struggled with consistency at times and finished out at 33% from three on the year, a number that can and will need to improve for him to stick at the next level. He’s already 22 and not an especially explosive athlete, which reduces his margin for error. He had some trouble getting to the interior and turning the corner on defenders at times, which will limit his ability as a scorer and playmaker. He’ll also need to prove he can cut it defensively, where he wasn’t asked to do a ton last season. Some teams may see his senior year statistical breakthrough as an outlier. All that said, Williams is a crafty player who has continued to surprise, and will get a chance to prove himself again in Summer League.
London Perrantes, Virginia
With a breakout performance at Portsmouth, where he led the tourney with 8.7 assists per game, Perrantes effectively kicked off his campaign to be taken seriously at the next level after an extremely solid career at UVA. He’s not especially tall or long and measures in a hair under 6’2”, but his biggest selling point is his all-around acuity, which points to sneaky role player potential. Perrantes can point to the small but tangible roles Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet played as undrafted rookies, and hope to follow a similar route to becoming a contributor.
Perrantes played in Virginia’s relatively rigid system for four years, so the PIT performance was a good first step as he re-proves himself in other environments. His NBA niche rests on his ability to defend, take care of the ball and make threes, and he’ll need all three things to translate. Efficiency-wise he really struggled situationally off screens, per Synergy, but did well in spot-up and pick and roll situations. Some of that may have had to do with increased volume after Malcolm Brogdon’s departure. Whatever the case, Perrantes has a chance to break camp somewhere with his intangibles, experience and solid array of potential strengths.