Analysing Matas Buzelis' Fit With The Charlotte Hornets

The G-League Ignite forward is in contention for the 6th pick in the 2024 draft
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Matas Buzelis - Age 19.6 - SF/PF - G-League Ignite - Height 6'10 - Wingspan 6'10 - Weight 197 lb

Although unknown to College basketball fans, Buzelis has been one of the highest rated prospects of the 2024 draft class for the past 12 months. In September 2023, ESPN had Buzelis rated as the 3rd best prospect in the class before the 2023/24 G-League Ignite season.

Despite much anticipation, Buzelis production was mixed this past season. In 34 games, Buzelis averaged 31min 14pts 6.6reb 2ast 0.9stl 1.9blk 2.2to shooting 46% from the field, 26% from three and 70% from the free throw line.

Offensive Strengths

The major selling point of Buzelis is his unique blend of size, fluidity and ball skills. Standing at 6'10, he moves fluidly and is more athletic than his lanky frame would suggest. At the draft combine, he finished top 15 in every part of the athletic testing

Buzelis is a creative and advanced finisher, scoring from awkward angles, using crisp footwork and a patented up and under move which will translate to the next level. Buzelis can take the ball 15ft out and by using a combination of jab steps, spins and hesitation dribbles get to his spot in the half-court. Despite lacking strength, he uses his length and touch well in the post, favoring a baseline fadeaway which helps mitigate his paint scoring. Something Brandon Miller knows all about.

For Buzelis to reach his ceiling, he will need to improve his three point shooting. Despite shooting 45% from three in his final year of high school, he struggled in the G-League (26%). Scouts appear confident that this past year isn't a true reflection of his shooting prowess. His form is good and he shows exceptional touch in other areas of his game, such as floaters and mid-range shots, it appears reasonable to factor in some untapped shooting potential. Expect workouts to be key to indicator for teams on if his shot will translate.

Off the ball, Buzelis is a very good cutter, making smart reads and attacking the rim with both aggression and smoothness. He can rise up for vicious dunks (42 this year) or finish with reverses to protect the ball from shot blockers. For him to show that area as a strength in the poor context that was the G-League ignite with very little playmaking and talent suggests there is even more potential in this area.

Defensive Strengths

Buzelis' shot blocking is his key selling point defensively, finishing at just under 2 per game which ranked 7th in the G-League. Considering he's only 19, plays at a significant strength disadvantage and didn't play on the interior, suggests this is a "Super Skill". However, he only graded out as an "Average" defender at the rim per Synergy, allowing 52% shooting.

Even when beaten off the dribble, Buzelis has a good defensive motor and stays engaged in the play blocking shots from behind and helping from the weak side. Despite looking like a Minecraft gamer and looking soft, he plays with a good motor and a killer mean streak. This helped Buzelis rebound the ball at a high level, finishing with 13 or more rebounds three times this season

On-ball, the tape is mixed. He does show flashes of sliding with guards and wings thanks to his light feet, using his length to block off the rim. However, other times he has people blow through his chest and get moved by older, much stronger opponents. There is still a learning curve for Buzelis who went from guarding high schoolers to 10 year pros at the G-League over the past 12 months.

Offensive Weaknesses

Strength, shotmaking and poor vision headline Buzelis' offensive issues and make for a scarily low floor.

Weighing in at only 197 lb at the combine, he comes in lighter than guard 6'3 guards Jared McCain and Isaiah Collier, although he claims to be at 205 lb now. No matter how tough or skilled you are, that strength disadvantage at 6'10 will significantly impact a player's effectiveness in every aspect of the game. Long term, Buzelis' narrow hips and skinny frame don't fill you with confidence that he will ever fill out as you would hope.

Finishing at the rim on contested attempts was a challenge, shooting only 48% on layups. On his three point shot, he is often short on misses suggesting the NBA 3-point line is going to take some time to adjust.

At this stage, his shooting remains theoretical. If he remains a sub 30% three point shooter, then his path to success is very narrow. If you select Buzelis top five, then you have to believe he will live up to his high school reputation as a shooter.

The playmaking might be the biggest mystery. Billed as a jumbo wing creator in his younger days, Buzelis was a blackhole on offense this season. The Ignite team desperately needed shot creation, but Buzelis settled into a role as a play finisher, recording only 70 assists to 77 turnovers.
He liked to hold and dribble the ball a lot, with his third most frequent play type being isolations. He often missed easy reads such as open corner shooters on the strong side or cutters to the basket, instead forcing difficult shots.

If Buzelis can handle and pass on the wing at the NBA level like he showed in his high school days, then the shooting struggles become slightly more mitigated.

Defensive Weaknesses

Strength, you won't be shocked to read that again. Until he gets stronger he will remain foul prone and a likely target by opposing players licking their lips at a rookie who doesn't look ready for the NBA. On post-ups Buzelis allowed 59% shooting, will opposing strong bodied guards and forwards take him into the post? He will fair better than most think, but it could be difficult early as he is targeted and adjusts.

Off-ball, Buzelis over helps on defense. This has helped prop up his impressive steal and block numbers, but came at the cost for giving shooters too much space on the perimeter. With his below average wingspan for his position, his closeouts don't always impact shooters ranking in the 25th percentile on close-outs according to Synergy.

Finally, Buzelis was caught exposed several times this season switched onto guards who were able to get by him or draw a foul. This is more technique based than slow feet, as Buzelis shows other moments of being fleet of foot for his size. Despite the impressive shot blocking instincts, how do you hide a player who plays at a major strength disadvantage and has poor technique guarding on the perimeter?

Projected Fit With The Hornets,

Buzelis' major two weaknesses of lacking strength and inconsistent shooting make his fit with Charlotte look awkward. Franchise cornerstones LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller both already play at a physical disadvantage, too often Charlotte were bullied on the interior this season and Buzelis could compound the issue.

Both Ball, Miller and Buzelis all struggle finishing at the rim and applying paint pressure, is it wise to have three players who like to pull-up in the mid-range in 2024?

Positionally, the Hornets are in need of a wing/forward to slide next to Brandon Miller and (maybe?) Miles Bridges. His cutting would fit well with LaMelo Ball's passing vision and his skilled mid-post scoring would give the Hornets a potential mismatch option in the halfcourt. If the shooting did turnout to be in the mid 30s on an average volume it would grease the heels of Charlotte's offense.


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James Plowright

JAMES PLOWRIGHT

Twitter: @British_Buzz Linked In: James Plowright Muck Rack: James Plowright About Me Bylines for: Sports Illustrated, Sky Sports NBA, SB Nation, Queen City Hoops Based in Manchester in the United Kingdom, I have covered the Charlotte Hornets since 2008. When I was 16 years old I won a blogging competition on Bobcats.com, this ignited my passion for journalism and since then I went on to write for a variety of blogs; Hornets Planet, Queen City Hoops and At The Hive. In 2022 I took on the role as site content manager for the Charlotte Hornets Fannation site (AllHornets.com).  I am also the founder of the All Hornets Podcast Network, having recorded over 350+ Hornets related podcasts.  Awards - The All Hornets podcast was nominated for "Best Team Podcast" in the 2022 Sports Podcast Awards.  - I was nominated for "Sports Writer of the Year" in 2013 for LSU Media while studying my B.A in History and International Relations at Loughborough University.