Alex Poythress gave the Big Blue Nation a lot to cheer for. Between wearing the blue and white for four seasons, a seemingly Stone Age practice in the Calipari era, throwing down a number of “Top 10” dunks, giving people a motto to live by, and busting out a 3.9 overall GPA, UK fans have every reason to love the big man.
“You could swear, curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.”– Benjamin Button (and UK fans after Alex graduated)
Problem is, NBA scouts aren’t so easily swayed. The Clarksville, TN native was once considered a top-tier lottery prospect, and was even talked about as a potential first overall pick (a story detailed beautifully in March by Tyler and Drew). Now, less than a week away from the 2016 NBA Draft on June 23th, Alex is fighting just to hear his name called on draft night, as many project him to go undrafted.
To make sense of Poythress’s drop, and where he stands as a prospect at this moment, I’d like to pose a number of questions that NBA scouts and GM’s often ask their own offices when they consider a prospect.
What are his tools?
Short answer(s): 6’8.5, near-7-foot wingspan, 37.5-inch standing vertical
Yes. All of the above. You name it, he’s got it
Long answer: of course, this question hinges upon how you define “tools.” For me, and for some smarter folks who get paid to talk about teenage/early 20’s basketball players, tools are ways of contributing on the court that a player has shown from time to time, not necessarily game-in and game-out, which can translate to success at the next level if they become consistent.
That said, Alex has shown us, at least in flashes, that he can do just about anything. He’s driven to the basket, shot the 3 and mid-range, posted up, vacuumed the boards, protected the rim, and, most importantly considering the NBA’s shift toward small ball lineups and versatility, he’s shut down positions 1-5 on defense. Those tools, most of which stem from his outstanding physical gifts, are the reason he was once projected high, and why some were frustrated with his lack of production on the court…
“Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.”- random postgame radio show call-in, circa 2013
Leading us to our next question…
What have you shown me lately?
“Our lives are defined by opportunities; even the ones we miss.”– Benjamin Button
Here’s why teams aren’t so confident in his tools. When a player stays in college for more than a year or two, he’s expected to make some serious leaps forward on the court. Unfortunately, Poythress didn’t show enough improvement for GM’s to bet on him blossoming in the league, and the numbers tell that story:
Whereas senior stars like Buddy Hield, Kris Dunn, and Denzel Valentine have upped their draft stock by increasing their offensive output, Poythress’s numbers have largely stagnated. His Junior season is an outlier, of course, because he only played the first eight games before suffering a devastating ACL Injury.
Sure, Alex was asked to do different things based on the roster surrounding him, which explains why a lot of the career-highs are from his freshman campaign, while many lows were posted the sophomore, near-perfect season. But the statistical similarities between his freshman and senior campaigns are concerning.
This begs the question: would Poythress have developed into a better player had he been asked to carry a heavier load for a team like Vanderbilt or Memphis? My guess is not really. He was given most every opportunity to perform at UK–some of which he capitalized on, and others not so much.
Where does he need to be to contribute?
This question is very subjective, and will vary greatly based on who you ask, so keep that in mind.
To my mind, I can see one path for Poythress’ NBA success: A 3&D power forward ( “3&D” meaning a player who specializes in three-point shooting and defense, a la Patrick Patterson or Andre Iguodala). I haven’t seen his workouts, but just based on what we’ve seen at UK, I don’t think Alex will be able to put the ball on the floor as much as an NBA wing will be asked to. But… IF he can develop a consistent three-pointer and solidify his defensive presence, Poythress could become a prototypical next-generation power forward, given the way the NBA is currently trending.
And the best in the business agrees:
“I think he’s a possible second-round pick because he’s an elite athlete and I think he can defend multiple positions. I actually heard he shot it pretty well in workouts. That’s what he projects: A guy coming off the bench, playing great defense and hitting some spot-up threes. If he can just do that, I think he has a long career in the NBA.”– Chad Ford
Maybe that possibility is enough for one of the last five or ten teams to roll the dice on a 22 year-old who didn’t consistently dominate. We’ll have to find out next Thursday, where the end of the draft could prove as dramatic as the beginning for UK fans.