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  • Boise State discovered Chandler Hutchison's hidden treasures. Which NBA team will be next to unleash his talent?
By Jake Fischer
December 13, 2017

Chandler Hutchison gallops in the open court. He can glide the length of a dining room table with a single bound. The 6’7” Boise State senior’s strides are so long, he only needs three springy dribbles to reach the rim from halfcourt. And that includes the ability to pull off a shifty crossover at the top of the key and explode into a vicious one-handed jam.

Hutchison’s burst to the bucket tallied two of his 20 points—to go along with 10 rebounds and 3 assists—in Boise State’s 73–70 win at Oregon on Dec. 1. He was a racecar zooming past the Ducks’ station wagon defenders. He knocked down open jumpers. He relentlessly attacked the rim, converting 7 of his 10 attempts from the charity stripe. It was a moment, one that Damian Lillard relished.

The Trail Blazers’ superstar chatted with Hutchison after the game, all 210 pounds of him. Hutchison was no longer the gangly sophomore Lillard met two summers prior. An NBA general manager in attendance told Lillard he viewed the Broncos’ centerpiece as a solid second-round draft prospect. Lillard reported back to Boise State associate head coach Phil Beckner, texting a shrug emoji. “And he’s like, ‘Well, Phil, that’s what they said about me,’” Beckner told The Front Office.

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As if Beckner could forget. He first taught Lillard the pick-and-roll intricacies at Weber State he’s now mastered in Portland. The former Wildcats assistant coach ripped an eight-minute DVD during Lillard’s freshman year, showcasing Steve Nash, Tony Parker and Deron Williams each running 10 high ball-screen actions. "That was the beginning of everything," Lillard told SI in 2012. "I wanted to do what those guys were doing." Nearly a decade later, Beckner has helped mold his next bonafide NBA draft sleeper in Hutchison.

“I don’t think he’s a Lillard, because that dude’s a killer,” Beckner said. At the 2012 draft combine, Lillard’s opening day performance was so dominant, his agents advised he skip the following afternoon. Lillard rebuffed, arriving for day two hungrier than the previous outing. “Chandler has that stuff,” Beckner said. It’s a secret ingredient, when mixed with a dose of Beckner, that seems to morph mid-major talents into studs.

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Hutchison didn't start his career that way. He posted two pedestrian seasons at Boise State as an underclassman. Having physically dominated high school competition, he’d never needed to refine a perimeter skillset. Mountain West defenses changed that, and Hutchison maxed out at 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore in 2015–​16, shooting a putrid 23.1% from deep. Yet the Broncos still felt they harbored a star. “Back in one of my own notes about him is, ‘We have to get him to discover his hidden treasures,’” said head coach Leon Rice. He hired Beckner a few weeks after the season concluded, and handed him a shovel. Boise State needed to unearth Hutchison’s talents if it hoped to repeat a 20-win campaign.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Rice said. “We lost James Webb. We lost a lot. He had to get to that level. We had no other choices. It wasn’t like we could slow-play it.” Hutchison had already filled out his brawny fame. He’s added 10 pounds of muscle each offseason, snowballing from a lithe 170-pound freshman to the chiseled specimen of today. “The weight room’s been good to me,” Hutchison said. Beckner started by rebuilding his shot. They moved his release point higher, tightened his elbow and culminated everything into a quicker release. Hutchison’s day wasn’t done until he drained 600 triples, burning the muscle memory of the new mechanics into his brain. Lillard joined the sessions for a week. He trains with Beckner in Boise each summer, and then flies his old coach to Portland and L.A., sometimes coaxing Beckner to join him at the recording studio after a workout.

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Lillard has torched NBA defenses in part with what Beckner has dubbed elite “body-ball movement.” His feet pitter patter synchronously with each yo-yo of the ball. All dynamic scorers slither with a similar craft. “They’re not stiff, they’re not upbright all the time,” Beckner said. “They’re not off balance, their chin’s not over their knees, they’re not falling over all the time.” Hutchison needed that next-level mobility, so Beckner drilled his footwork, compounded with grueling ball handling regimens. Hutchison discovered just how lethal those interminable strides can be. Beckner would often test his pupil, slyly encouraging him to take a day off and play video games or spend a night partying. “No,” Hutchison always replied. “I don’t have a choice.”

Coupled with a jumper, he sank 37.7% of his threes as a junior en route to scoring 17.4 points, grabbing 6.8 rebounds and dishing 2.6 assists per outing. Hutchison unveiled his riches. “He’s always in a stronger, more balanced stance,” Beckner said. “It allows you to change pace, change direction more, to be more explosive, to be quicker, and because of that, he really is becoming an elite-level mover.” The shooting threat allowed Hutchison to blow past closeouts, carving a runway he’s more than happy to clear for takeoff. Rarely does he forfeit an opportunity to punish the rim. “That’s the highest percentage shot, so I’m gonna go in and be aggressive and try to dunk it on somebody,” he said. And when he’s not posterizing an opponent, he can use either hand to flick in scoop shots off the glass.

The metamorphosis is still underway. “He’s on a path to greatness,” Rice said. Hutchison is gobbling 13.4 rebounds and distributing 6.8 assists per 40 minutes this season, both remarkable marks for his size and position. He rips the ball off the rim and initiates the Broncos’ transition game with the glee of a Black Friday shopper bursting into Walmart. “Is it obvious?” Hutchison laughed.

Boise State has thus started 9-1, despite its star logging less minutes. After his breakout campaign, Hutchison declared for the draft without an agent, capitalizing on the NBA’s new early-entry policy. He prepped with Beckner for weeks before working out for the Celtics and Clippers, only to show up sapped of the verve that makes him so attractive to scouts. “The season was a grind. It took a toll on me,” Hutchison said. He’s thriving playing roughly five fewer minutes a night, seemingly showcasing a new wrinkle each game. Beckner once left town for a week, leaving a graduate assistant to guide Hutchison in advanced ball handling work. “The next day he shows up, he’s already good at it,” Beckner said. “The kid’s a freak. He excels at a quicker rate and improves at a quicker rate than any other player I’ve worked with.”

“It doesn’t take pulling teeth for me to pick something up and implement it in the game,” Hutchison explained, rather nonchalantly. All of this development rounds out a player tailor-made for the modern NBA. He has the length and physicality to guard multiple positions and, knocking down 34.8% of his threes this season, is proving to be reliable from distance. He’s a dynamic cutter, a trait he adapted back when foes could completely ignore him on the perimeter. “I had to find a way to get the defense to play me honest,” Hutchison said. He’ll likely find a familiar situation at the next level. “Guys are being paid hundreds of millions of dollars to have the ball in their hands. So I want to be able to show how I can be effective without the ball.”

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That’s an undeniable theme in Hutchison’s words. While he’s entrenched in leading the Broncos to the Mountain West crown, he’s simultaneously transfixed on making the league. Rice has prided himself on making Boise State a “player development program,” whether that’s shaping college contributors or NBA draft picks, and he employs perhaps the premier NCAA development coach. “I know what Chandler’s gonna need to be a first-rounder, so I always kind of have that list in the back of my pocket,” Beckner said. “We better work on this, too, even if he might not use it against San Diego State this year, it’s something we want to start refining.”

Naturally, questions still linger. Hutchison would be a 22-year-old rookie with only a sample size of roughly 200 in-game threes. His defense is only so projectable largely because he's guarded within Boise State’s zone schemes. Yet his remodeling is undeniable, and he’s won over Lillard, the notorious gym rat, the All-Star who chides college kids not even dressing for his alma mater to grind harder than him. “I think he’s even become a bigger Chandler fan, because he’s like, ‘Damn, Phil, he’s pretty good.’ Or, ‘He’s gotten better,’” Beckner said. “He saw Chandler two summers ago when that dude was skinny and just figuring it out and maybe didn’t want to work the whole time and now you just kind of see this.” Boise State has uncovered its hidden gem. Which NBA team is next?

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