What a week of basketball. With the Battle 4 Atlantis, Maui Invitational, Continental Tire Challenge, ESPN Events Invitational, NIT Season Tip-Off, etc. pitting high-level teams against each other for early season litmus tests, the NCAA season and 2022 NBA Draft season now feel in full swing.
I made my way down to the Sunshine State for Thanksgiving week and caught the last day of the Fort Myers Tip-Off, which was a really well-run event chalk full of intriguing match-ups, many of which came down to the wire.
Milwaukee’s Patrick Baldwin Jr. headlined the event as a consensus lottery prospect, but tweaked his ankle the day prior to my arrival and did not play in the early morning tilt against Yale. This, unfortunately, turned that game into a bit of a rock fight and a snoozer, but the remaining three matchups of the day featured some highly competitive basketball and a good handful of pro prospects with futures in the NBA, G League, and at varying levels overseas.
Let’s dive into some prospects who caught my eye.
Palms Division Championship
John Knight III | Southern Utah
5Y-Sr. | Combo Guard | 6’3” | 205 lbs. | 5/12/1999
19 PTS, 1 OREB, 6 DREB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 0 BLK, 5 TOV, 3 PF, 71.2 TS%
I had been tipped off about Knight’s athletic prowess toward the end of last season and looked into him a bit as he tested the 2021 NBA Draft waters, but seeing him in person was really illuminating as to how much explosive pop he has.
Given his strong build (looks like an NFL safety), bounce, and the statistical profile outlined in the tweet above, I was intrigued to see how Knight would apply these tools on the court in the Palms Division championship tilt against a feisty Bowling Green team.
Knight was a bit sloppy early on. His handle was loose, he was a bit careless with the ball, and he lacked situational awareness in the midst of Bowling Green’s trapping press. Knight had three turnovers, only one made shot, and had several notable instances throughout the first half where he was clearly out of sorts. All-in-all, it was a fairly forgettable, if not disappointing first half for Knight.
Fortunately, Knight came on like gangbusters for the second half. He converted a dunk and an and one in the early going, which knickstarted an efficient, consistent, impressive second half.
Knight ripped off three powerful drives in just over a one minute span to expand the Thunderbirds lead to 16, and consistently made impactful, positive plays down the stretch to help maintain a comfortable lead en route to a 15 point victory.
Bottom Line: Knight was extremely effective despite early struggles and was rightfully named the Palms Division MVP. While he was certainly impressive on several fronts, his biggest bugaboo reared its ugly head.
Knight is, generally, an unwilling jump shooter and when he does hoist one up, it isn’t pretty. He has attempted only 37 threes in 70 career games played. The form is mechanically inconsistent and there’s not much to be optimistic about on this front. Knight is unlikely to ever become a viable shooter.
While a powerful, explosive finisher, Knight is a bit over reliant on bully ball. His loose handle makes it difficult for him to capitalize on his explosive burst in creating advantages and getting downhill.
When you consider these warts and the fact that Knight will be 23 years old on draft day, he’s unlikely to drum up meaningful interest as a 2022 NBA Draft candidate. He should, however, get serious G League looks.
Tevian Jones | Southern Utah
Sr. | Wing | 6’7” | 197 lbs. | 6/29/2000
16 PTS, 3 OREB, 1 DREB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 0 TOV, 2 PF, 42.9 TS%
Jones, who began his career at Illinois before joining the Thunderbirds last season, was tabbed as the 2021-22 Preseason Big Sky Player of the Year after averaging nearly 17 points on 51/35/86 splits for the 2021 Big Sky regular season champions.
Given his prior year production, high-major pedigree, and the fact that he very much looked the part (lean, cut frame with what seems to be a notably plus-wingspan) while observing him in warm-ups, I was interested to get an in-person look at what projectable skills Jones brings to the table.
Jones ended up accumulating 16 points in a winning effort, but it was a pretty ugly showing. He went just 4-of-16 from the field and didn’t notch a single assist, steal, or block. While the jumper looked pretty smooth coming out of his hands, Jones’ misses were quite erratic. He missed left, right, long, short, and could never get a rhythm going. When he did knock down a couple of shots, his reactions were a bit off putting. He even picked up a technical foul for poking at a defender’s face after knocking down a contested three.
To Jones’ credit, he did look consistently engaged throughout the game defensively. As an off-ball defender, he was locked in and swift in his help line and ball denial movements as the ball moved around and he shifted between two passes and one pass away.
Bottom Line: Jones has desirable physical attributes for a wing at the next level, but there seem to be some question marks and red flags that may curtail his path to achieving his full potential. Jones was suspended multiple times before transferring out of Illinois and it seems that maturity issues may still be lingering based on what I saw throughout this game. Couple this with being a high volume / low efficiency shooter, limited passing chops, and an inability to consistently make functional use of his physical tools and it’s tough to see Tevian getting a real crack at the NBA. It’s possible that he gets Summer League looks, but Jones is likely bound for bouncing between overseas and the G League as he matures both on and off the court.
Daedae Plowden | Bowling Green
5Y-Sr. | Forward | 6’6” | 215 lbs. | 8/29/1998
18 PTS, 3 OREB, 3 DREB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 2 TOV, 0 PF, 54.5 TS%
Plowden is a pretty funky player, in a good way. While he’s only 6’6”, Plowden has the strength and athleticism to function as a small ball five in spurts, boasting a 6.7 BLK% in the early season.
He also battles on the offensive glass and is able to throw his body around to create space as a paint finisher.
While the jumper may not be elite, there’s enough of a foundation there to believe he’ll be able to knock down open looks when called upon in pick-and-pops and as a catch-and-shoot threat in the corner.
Bottom Line: The 2x All-MAC honoree looks to be physical and tough enough to potentially function as a small ball five in Europe. He could add a lot of value in switching schemes as a multipositional defender. While Plowden is unlikely to receive any NBA looks, I anticipate he’ll carve out a nice role early in his career abroad.
Beach Division Bronze Game
Dre Kelly | California
Sr. | Big | 6’9” | 255 lbs. | 11/22/1999
23 PTS, 1 OREB, 10 DREB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 1 PF, 96.2 TS%
Kelly’s game is old school. He doesn’t check any boxes as a modern rim-running, shot-blocking big or floor-spacing stretch five, but he certainly put on a show against Seton Hall and nearly willed his team to pulling off the upset.
Kelly was pitching a perfect game, 7-of-7 from the field until 2:41 left in the second half when he couldn’t convert a tough putback. He was picking apart the Seton Hall front court with over-the-shoulder hook shots, a soft-touch floater, and some confident midrange knockdowns when the opposing big stayed entrenched in the paint and gave him space.
Kelly was also money from the stripe, knocking down all nine attempts.
Defensively, he added value using his wide body to carve out space one the defensive glass and wall up against opposing bigs, but didn’t contribute much as a help defender or rim-protector.
Bottom Line: Kelly looks like he’ll be one of the most productive big men in the Pac-12 this season. His skills don’t remotely translate to the modern NBA, but he likely has a nice career ahead of him in low-to-mid-level Europe.
Grant Anticevich | California
5Y-Sr. | Forward | 6’9” | 230 lbs. | 4/14/1998
15 PTS, 0 OREB, 7 DREB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 2 TOV, 3 PF, 58.2 TS%
Anticevich caught fire for a crucial stretch of the second half, scoring ten straight points for the Golden Bears.
He has a quick trigger and fluid pre-shot footwork for someone his size, enabling him as a dynamic off-movement shooter and pick-and-pop stretch forward.
Bottom Line: It feels all but inevitable that Anticevich will return home to Australia, make use of his passport to sign as a domestic player, and carve out a career as a solid role player in the NBL.
Jared Rhoden | Seton Hall
Sr. | Wing | 6’6” | 210 lbs. | 8/27/1999
21 PTS, 0 OREB, 7 DREB, 1 AST, 3 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 0 PF, 53.6 TS%
Coming into this event, I had Rhoden tabbed as one of the most interesting senior prospects ranked outside of the consensus top 100. I keyed in on Rhoden in shoot-around and warm-ups prior to the game.
I came away impressed with Rhoden’s frame (impressive build, broad shoulders), his shot mechanics (see above), and his natural leadership acumen.
Rhoden got to the line about 20 seconds into the game, a sign of things to come. Cal was throwing aggressive defenders at Rhoden and his jumper wasn’t falling, so Rhoden really steered into countering by attacking off the bounce, seeking contact, and getting to the stripe (12 of his 21 points came from the free throw line).
Defensively, Rhoden was active, used his length effectively to force a few turnovers, and was relatively mistake free. Cal’s guards couldn’t get going at all, and Rhoden was certainly a part of holding them in check.
Bottom Line: Rhoden feels like he’ll be a top Portsmouth Invitational Tournament invitee, should be considered for the G League Elite Camp, will likely warrant two-way contract consideration, and could even sneak his way into the tail end of the second round depending on how early entrant withdrawals shake out.
Kooks Richmond | Seton Hall
So. | Combo Guard | 6’6” | 200 lbs. | 8/25/2001
12 PTS, 0 OREB, 3 DREB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 2 TOV, 3 PF, 65.2 TS%
Richmond is a really odd player, and certainly an acquired taste. Some scouts are high on him and see tantalizing first round upside, while others remain perplexed as to what he does well and how it remotely translates to the NBA.
While he popped in my rising sophomore breakout analysis this preseason, I remained a bit on the fence as to how Richmond projects to the next level. Some of his defensive analytical indicators were very strong as a freshman, but the context can be a bit murky when making sense of a prospect’s defensive performance within Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. It was refreshing and enlightening to see how Richmond fares defensively in a scheme that more closely resembles that which he’d eventually play in the NBA.
Richmond had a slow start to the season leading up to this game and actually came off the bench for the first time, which ultimately paid dividends. He provided an immediate jolt and added value on both ends throughout the course of the game, including his patented defensive playmaking.
Sophomore defensive agent of chaos, Kadary Richmond, is bringing a spark off the bench for Seton Hall.— Jon Chepkevich (@JonChep) November 24, 2021
Battled through an impending seal for a deflection + kickstarted a fast break opportunity w/ a slick behind the back save/pass.
Quirky, unorthodox, polarizing draft prospect. pic.twitter.com/MpxuCc2YWn
What was most impressive to me relative to expectation was that Richmond found ways to leverage his physical tools into effectiveness as a scorer. Kadary looks HUGE in person. He was able to use this size to his advantage in displacing smaller guards en route to the basket, which will be a key to him reaching any semblance of effectiveness as a half court offensive threat moving forward.
He even confidently stepped into a catch-and-shoot three.
It may not be pretty with that pronounced hitch in his release, but it was encouraging to see Richmond not hesitate and knock down his lone attempt from deep.
Richmond may have ended up with zero assists in the box score, but this isn’t reflective of the passing flashes he showed throughout. He has good instincts and is able to leverage his size into seeing and executing on passing angles that are unavailable to smaller guards.
Bottom Line: Richmond remains flawed in several regards, but it feels likely that a team with a strong player development track record will take a chance on him. It remains to be seen whether that’s in the 2022 NBA Draft or if he needs another year of seasoning, but Richmond has a combination of natural playmaking instincts on both ends and positional size/strength that will drum up NBA interest.
In light of the recent success of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso as physical point-of-attack defenders preventing dribble drive opportunities in fueling Chicago’s defensive success, NBA evaluators may find Richmond as an intriguing facsimile who projects to add value in a similar way.
Beach Division Championship
E.J. Liddell | Ohio State
Jr. | Forward | 6’7” | 240 lbs. | 12/18/2000
23 PTS, 1 OREB, 4 DREB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 5 BLK, 5 TOV, 3 PF, 70.6 TS%
Liddell was the most highly regarded prospect to play throughout the day (due to Patrick Baldwin Jr.’s injury absence), ranking as a top sixty consensus prospect.
Was good getting an in-person look at Ohio State forward, E.J. Liddell.— Jon Chepkevich (@JonChep) November 25, 2021
The 2021 G League Elite Camp invitee returns as one of the best players in the nation.
23 PTS, 5 REB, 5 BLK in a tightly contested loss to a tough Florida squad.
Very much on the 2022 NBA Draft radar. pic.twitter.com/UppCiNPP7Z
Liddell was already quite good last season and seems to have made tangible improvements to his game. He was really impressive up close and in person. His body looked great – Liddell weighed in at nearly 243 lbs. at the 2021 G League Elite Camp, and while he’s listed similarly at 240 lbs. this season, he seems lighter on his feet. He ran the court well, looked more viable as a face-up threat, and, most notably, showcased himself as a significantly improved rim-protector (13.5 BLK% this season vs. 4.1 BLK% last season).
Offensively, much of Liddell’s scoring still came via post-fades, push shots, mid-post pull-ups, etc. While his jumper carries a fairly low arc, Liddell has good touch and seems to be growing into a more confident shooter.
Bottom Line: Liddell is solidly in the second round mix (may have late RD1 upside) as a multifaceted forward with blossoming rim-protection acumen and the requisite strength to function as a small ball five. It was a wise decision to withdraw from last year’s draft pool, but if he sustains this level of performance this season, he may warrant guaranteed contract consideration and be best served to stay in the 2022 NBA Draft to kick-start his pro career.
Zed Key | Ohio State
So. | Big | 6’8” | 245 lbs. | 4/4/2002
7 PTS, 0 OREB, 5 DREB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1 BLK, 0 TOV, 4 PF, 65.8 TS%
While Key’s stats don’t jump off the page, he adds a ton of value for the Buckeyes on both ends. He was tasked with bodying up with Colin Castleton, which is no walk in the park. The two bashed into each other in the paint all game long and Key never backed down, freeing up EJ Liddell to roam as a helpside rim-protector and saving some of his energy for the offensive end. He also proved to be sneakily quick off the floor for his size and consistently put his body on the line as a defensive rebounder.
I came away impressed with Key’s knack for making momentum shifting plays and his willingness to both battle in the trenches and do the little things that don’t always show up in the box score.
Bottom Line: Key isn’t on the draft radar this year and feels like a four year player, but seems likely to earn Summer League interest down the line and has the build, physicality, and game to thrive in the right situation overseas.
Colin Castleton | Florida
Sr. | Big | 6’11” | 240 lbs. | 5/25/2000
11 PTS, 5 OREB, 8 DREB, 3 AST, 0 STL, 1 BLK, 2 TOV, 3 PF, 43.9 TS%
Castleton had a breakout season last year after transferring from Michigan to Florida for his junior season. After testing the 2021 NBA Draft waters, Castleton has returned for his senior season and been among the most dominant front court performers in the nation in the early season.
Looking forward to getting a better feel for 6’11” Florida big man, Colin Castleton, tonight in the @FTMyersTipOff Beach Division championship game.— Jon Chepkevich (@JonChep) November 25, 2021
Really productive so far this season.
17.0 PTS, 9.8 REB, 3.5 BLK, 2.3 AST, 1.3 STL through 4 games. pic.twitter.com/dEmGHcdC4G
While he’s not the most fluid athlete and leans more toward the traditional than modern big man mold, Castleton brings a lot to the table on both ends.
He is physical, plays with fire and intensity, protects the rim, crashes the glass on both ends, and is difficult to stop on the low block. But there are plenty of college bigs who are relative non-shooters, check these boxes, and never sniff the NBA. Why does Castleton deserve our attention?
The answer is his passing. Castleton has made monumental leaps as a post facilitator, which could be the key to giving himself a chance of earning a crack at the NBA.
Think Isaiah Hartenstein as a realistic development path that Castleton should strive for.
Castleton led Florida to their fifth straight win to start the season and took home well-deserved honors as the Beach Division MVP.
Bottom Line: Castleton brings a bit more to the table than I anticipated. He plays hard every second he’s on the court and his passing chops make him a good bit more interesting that your traditional back-to-the-basket shot-blocking big. He’s blossoming into one of the better seniors in the country and, while still unlikely to be drafted, seems like he’ll be one of the best bigs at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and poised to earn an Exhibit-10 contract.
Phlandrous Fleming Jr. | Florida
5Y-Sr. | Wing | 6’5” | 205 lbs. | 12/5/1998
19 PTS, 2 OREB, 0 DREB, 1 AST, 4 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TOV, 4 PF, 61.7 TS%
Fleming was a 2x Big South Defensive Player of the Year at Charleston Southern and averaged 20+ PPG his senior season before grad-transferring to Florida this season.
While he struggled finding his footing out of the gate this season, he seems to be getting more acclimated to his sixth man role and was awesome in this Beach Division championship tilt. Florida doesn’t win this game without him.
Fleming chipped in 19 points, got to the line ten times, and was absolute dynamite defensively.
While Castleton brought home MVP for the tournament, Fleming played just as critical of a role in taking down the Buckeyes.
Bottom Line: Fleming deserves a lot of credit for taking on the challenge of transferring up, coming off the bench, adjusting to a new role, and coming through when it matters most. While he hasn’t been particularly efficient outside of this game to start the year, he has enough of a track record of being a defensive game changer and spot offensive contributor to field G League looks and opportunities at solid entry-level gigs overseas.
Anthony Duruji | Florida
Sr. (RS) | Forward | 6’7” | 209 lbs. | 7/22/1998
8 PTS, 3 OREB, 0 DREB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 0 BLK, 4 TOV, 1 PF, 40.5 TS%
Duriji is the keystone to Florida’s ravenous frontline defense. He’s capable of playing alongside Castleton at the four and unlocking switch-heavy lineups as an athletic small ball five when Castleton subs out.
Duriji has a high motor, can guard multiple positions, isn’t a total non-shooter (though could use some work), and is an explosive pogostick athlete.
Duruji made the (non-buzzer-beater) play of the game on that crunchtime lob, crashed the offensive boards with reckless abandon, and was a game-changer on the defensive end throughout the entirety of the game.
Bottom Line: While Duruji is not on the draft radar, defensive-minded, energy forwards of his mold are highly valued in leagues around the world. Duruji seems likely to find a landing spot overseas where he’ll have a chance to add defensive value from day one.