College basketball is back and I couldn’t be more excited to hit the road and get eyes on potential future pros. To kick off my 2021-22 scouting schedule, I made the quick trek up from Chicago to Milwaukee (shout out to Jeremy Woo for driving) to scout the 2021 Gavitt Tipoff Games tilt between Illinois and Marquette at Fiserv Forum.
There was palpable energy in the arena for Shaka Smart’s first game at the helm against a ranked high-major program and, despite Kofi Cockburn’s absence and quite a bit of sloppy play, there was a fair bit to be taken away from a scouting perspective by observing this intense, nail-biter of a game up close and in person.
So. | Forward | 6’7” | 245 lbs. | 4/12/2002
17 PTS, 0 OREB, 4 DREB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 4 PF
5/7 2P (71.4 2P%), 0/3 3P (0.0 3P%), 7/8 FT (87.5 FT%), 62.9 TS%
Lewis, who currently ranks 86th on the Rookie Scale weighted consensus board, is the player I was most looking forward to getting eyes on in person coming into this game. He popped in my rising sophomore breakout analysis by checking a lot of boxes as an under-the-radar underclassman with the potential to see his draft stock rise this season. After averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds in the two games prior to this matchup, I was certainly intrigued to see how he fared in his new featured role as a starter against stiffer competition.
I got to the arena early to watch warm-ups and it became apparent that Lewis is getting more comfortable as a shooter.
This manifested itself in the game where Lewis confidently knocked down three smooth midrange pull-up jumpers.
Lewis was also 7-for-8 from the free throw line, now up to 18-for-22 (81.8%) on the season. This is certainly an encouraging early shooting improvement indicator for a prospect who shot only 57.7% from the stripe on 52 attempts as a freshman.
This comfortability as a shooter, however, did not extend to three-point range throughout this game. Lewis, who went 0-for-3 from deep and is now 1-for-10 in the early season, had several opportunities at the top of the key where he unnecessarily pumpfaked and passed on open three-point looks.
Lewis was also a bit clunky, lacking fluidity and quick-twitch explosive pop once he got into the paint when attacking closeouts.
Lewis’ jumper mechanics look translatable out to NBA range, but he didn’t really show it in this game. He’ll need to become a more viable pick-and-pop stretch forward/big who doesn’t hesitate from deep and is both sudden and purposeful on drives to realize his ceiling as a prospect.
In a game that was wildly sloppy and racked up 40 total turnovers, Lewis deserves credit for taking care of the ball. His only turnover on the night was a highly questionable charge call.
Defensively, Lewis matched up with Coleman Hawkins for the majority of the game (when Marquette wasn’t in zone-press-and-scramble mode) and held up solidly. Hawkins did most of his damage when switched off of Lewis or crashing the glass following Marquette rotations.
Bottom Line: Lewis’ consensus ranking outside of the top 60 seems fair for the time being, but there is a clear path for him to boost his stock throughout his sophomore campaign.
While his freshman season was statistically similar to sophomore draftees of the past decade and he’s shown early increases in volume statistics with more opportunity, there remains a bit of uncertainty as to what NBA archetypal mold he fits. While the NBA has been trending more positionless and a 6’7” forward with strength and length seems perfect for the modern game, Lewis has yet to show the requisite ball skills, fluidity, and feel to function as an NBA three or four. Can he function as a small ball five? Perhaps, given his strength and nearly 7’2″ wingspan. I anticipate this becoming more clear as the season progresses.
I like Lewis as a prospect. He’s certainly worth continuing to monitor closely and, if he can show steady improvement throughout the season, very well could build a legitimate case for 2022 NBA Draft consideration.
Sr. (5Y) | Combo Guard | 6’5” | 205 lbs. | 2/18/1999
21 PTS, 0 OREB, 5 DREB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 0 BLK, 3 TOV, 0 PF
4/8 2P (50.0 2P%), 3/4 3P (75.0 3P%), 4/9 FT (44.4 FT%), 65.8 TS%
Morsell was tough as nails throughout the duration of the game; a consummate leader and a true embodiment of Shaka’s “havoc” team identity. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year spearheaded Marquette’s press efforts and, while only credited with one steal, played an instrumental part in forcing turnovers and keeping Illinois in a perpetual state of uncomfortability and chaos. When settled back into half-court defense, Morsell is sturdy, physical, and more than capable of switching 1 through 3. While this three-plus position switchability is unlikely to translate to the next level, Morsell has the prerequisite strength, lateral quickness, and discipline (zero fouls in this game context was quite remarkable) to check a fair amount of 1’s and 2’s at the next level.
What really jumped out was the incredible offensive leap that Morsell has taken. Morsell averaged between 8.5 and 9.0 points in each of his four seasons at Maryland with a USG% hovering below 20.0%. There was no upward development curve to speak of and he actually shot it a bit worse from three and the foul line his senior year than the prior two seasons. I was, admittedly, skeptical of Morsell’s 23.5 PPG on a 77.6 TS% through the two games prior. While this combination of volume and efficiency is clearly unsustainable for anyone, Morsell came out and showed that the offensive improvements are legitimate and that he’s much more than simply a defensive ace.
On a team lacking talent and in dire need of an offensive jolt, Morsell stepped up to the plate, leading the Golden Eagles with 21 points, his third straight 20+ point performance to begin the season. Morsell may not be the most creative handler or have the most explosive first step, but was quite effective at patiently and methodically getting to his spots. In a game shrouded in disarray, Morsell provided a calming offensive presence that never seemed rushed and was leaned on to create when Marquette needed buckets down double digits in the second half.
Bottom Line: Morsell is really helping himself in the early portion of his new team’s non-conference schedule. It seemed like his game had somewhat stagnated at Maryland, but a change of scenery and player/system/coach synergies have set him up nicely to accrue more interest from scouts this season. While I’d expect his offensive output and shooting splits to come back down to earth a bit, Morsell looks the part of a Portsmouth Invitational shoe-in, a potential Tampa Bay Pro Combine invitee, and an Exhibit-10 contract candidate with two-way conversion upside.
Sr. (5Y-RS) | Big | 6’10” | 215 lbs. | 8/12/1998
7 PTS, 1 OREB, 4 DREB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 5 BLK, 1 TOV, 1 PF
2/5 2P (40.0 2P%), 0/0 3P (0.0 3P%), 3/6 FT (50.0 FT%), 52.3 TS%
Kuath caught my eye on a few occasions as a complementary contributor for the Oklahoma Sooners last season. The length immediately jumps out, and was even more apparent scouting him in person.
The JUCO product (attended Salt Lake Community College prior to Oklahoma) was an absolute force as a defensive paint presence. Most impressively, he wasn’t just a stationary tree setting up camp in the paint, but was quite fluid and mobile hedging on picks, dropping back to the paint, making crisp helpside rotations, etc.
Kuath racked up 5 blocks (felt like 10) over the course of the contest, including two on back-to-back possessions with just under five minutes left in the game.
Illinois didn’t convert a single field goal attempt in the final 5 ½ minutes of game time with Kuath being the primary reason as to why.
While he isn’t particularly effective or asked to do all that much offensively, he’ll catch you with one of these every now and again:
Bottom Line: Kuath’s physical tools are undeniable and he makes functional use of his frame as a rim-protector. A back injury caused him to medically redshirt his 2018-19 season and he has yet to play more than 28 minutes in a game since, which is a bit worrisome. As a 23 year-old specialist with one truly high-level skill, he is unlikely to garner any draft momentum but will likely find a fit in the G League or a respectable league overseas.
So. | Forward | 6’10” | 215 lbs. | 12/10/2001
13 PTS, 2 OREB, 6 DREB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 5 TOV, 3 PF
5/8 2P (62.5 2P%), 1/4 3P (0.0 3P%), 0/1 FT (0.0 FT%), 52.3 TS%
Despite ranking just outside of the RSCI Top 200, Hawkins built up some underground buzz as a long-term pro prospect flanking Jalen Green and Nimari Burnett at Prolific Prep and on the Adidas Gauntlet with Dream Vision. Much this optimism was based more so on his combination of size/skill and theoretical archetype projection than actual production. He was always going to be a bit of a project and take some time to come into his own, as was evident by his barely seeing the floor as a freshman last season.
This season, Hawkins burst out of the gates in a featured role. Hawkins accumulated 30 PTS, 20 REB, 7 AST, 5 STL, and 5 BLK with a 1.000 FTr and 61.3 TS% in the two games prior to Marquette. Consider my interest piqued.
I’ve got to say, I was a bit disappointed at how Hawkins looked in the first half. He shot 3/9 from the field, including a badly airballed corner three, and turned it over four times, including multiple travels and an errant dribble off his leg in transition.
Hawkins played more within himself and was a bit more buttoned up in the second half and played a key role in extending the lead to 12, but sort of disappeared down the stretch. He didn’t record a single block or steal on the defensive end while tallying a handful of costly unforced errors offensively.
Despite all of this, the talent was still evident in brief flashes:
Bottom Line: I left with the impression that Hawkins still has a way to go before he’s a viable draft candidate. The ingredients are there for him to develop into an rangy stretch four defensive playmaker, but he’ll likely need this year to cut his teeth and work through some kinks. I’d anticipate an up-and-down sophomore campaign from Hawkins with the potential to work his way into the 2023 NBA Draft mix.
So. | Lead Guard | 6’1” | 175 lbs. | 10/13/2001
11 PTS, 3 OREB, 5 DREB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 7 TOV, 4 PF
4/15 2P (26.7 2P%), 0/3 3P (0.0 3P%), 3/4 FT (75.0 FT%), 27.8 TS%
Curbelo was the highest ranked prospect taking the court in this matchup, ranking 52nd on the Rookie Scale weighted consensus board. I quite enjoyed his game, aesthetically, as a freshman last season. He was smart, savvy, shifty, and seemed to have an infectious presence as a bench spark plug facilitator who catalyzed the Illini offense throughout their Big Ten title run.
While I found him to be a fun watch, I was a bit skeptical of how his game will translate to the next level in light of his small stature and lack of a real jump shot. These worries only worsened after scouting this game and getting eyes on Curbelo in person.
Curbelo had a really, really rough night. Not only was he uncharacteristically sloppy with his handle and erratic with his decision-making, but he seemed to be very much playing outside of himself. Every time he forced the issue, he further exposed that he’s not well-equipped to take on a high usage advantage creation role. We’ve seen in the past that Curbelo can make everyone around him better in the right context, but without viable paint sealers and pick-and-roll partners in the half-court or a high volume of odd man breaks in transition, Curbelo begins to fall apart. Cockburn’s absence in conjunction with Marquette’s “havoc” defense turned out to be the perfect cocktail to send Curbelo into a tailspin.
Curbelo struggled to create separation and gain any semblance of leverage or advantage on drives. In the few instances that he did, his lack size and explosiveness resulted in his drives being thwarted by helpside rim protection. Kur Kuath was like a heat seeking missile obliterating any chance of easy paint points for Curbelo. He ended up countering his inability to finish at the rim by forcing up some tough, off-balanced leaners and over-dribbling.
These struggles certainly weren’t due to lack of effort. Curbelo is fiery as all hell and really gets after it.
Bottom Line: I found great value in seeing Curbelo face such ravenous backcourt defense in a Cockburn-less context. While he may have a chance to stick as a backup NBA point guard down the line, he doesn’t seem to be very portable from scheme to scheme or team to team. He’ll likely need a primary creator with size beside him in the backcourt and unless he makes a significant, unforeseeable leap as a shooter, he’ll need to be insulated by shooting gravity throughout the rest of the lineup to be effective.
There are certainly things to like and it’s likely he’ll right the ship upon Cockburn’s return, but I find myself struggling to conceptualize the case for selecting Curbelo in the 2022 NBA Draft at this point.
Sr. (5Y) | Wing | 6’2” | 175 lbs. | 9/8/1998
23 PTS, 0 OREB, 5 DREB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 0 BLK, 3 TOV, 3 PF
1/5 2P (20.0 2P%), 6/10 3P (60.0 3P%), 3/3 FT (100.0 FT%), 70.5 TS%
I’m going to keep this short and sweet with Frazier. He’s got over 100 starts under his belt and brings tremendous value to Illinois as an experienced, reliable floor-spacer and knockdown lefty sniper. 4 of his 6 triples in this game were quick-trigger catch-and-shoots from the corner and he even showed some confidence pulling up off-the-bounce. He is also really smart and tactical with his off-ball movement and relocations. 13 of his 15 shot attempts were jumpers. He’s a one-trick pony, of sorts, but quite an effective one.
Bottom Line: Frazier was an absolute flamethrower from deep tonight and will probably have a fair share of games like this throughout the season. He’s a really nice player in the Big Ten, but as a skinny 6’2” guard who lacks true point guard chops, it’s difficult to see his game translating to the NBA. Frazier will likely go on to have a long, solid career in the G League and/or overseas.