Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis popped in my preseason Rising Sophomore Breakout Analysis, but I’d be lying if I told you I was anticipating THIS.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Davis, who has gone from not even being considered a top 100 recruit to a Naismith Player of the Year front-runner on the precipice of being a top ten NBA Draft selection.
This past week I was able to scout two Wisconsin games – one on the road, one at home – both of which included other draftable prospects and provided insightful context as to Davis’ translatability to the NBA.
Here are my takeaways.
Johnny Davis | Wisconsin
So. | Combo Guard | 6’5” | 196 lbs. | 2/27/2002
NW: 27 PTS, 1 OREB, 7 DREB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 0 BLK, 3 TOV, 0 PF, 69.6 TS%
MSU: 25 PTS, 2 OREB, 3 DREB, 4 AST, 1 STL,1 BLK, 3 TOV, 1 PF, 53.2 TS%
I was eager to get an in-person look at the sharpest rising prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft class, so I got to Welsh-Ryan Arena early to watch Davis go through his pregame warm-up routine.
Some scouts have noted Davis’ shooting to be a recurring question mark. I get it. Watching him shoot around, there’s a little bit of an elbow flare and he doesn’t absolutely light the net on fire in catch-and-shoot non-game situations. If that’s all I got to see, I would’ve walked away scratching my head about his shot projectability. But once you get eyes on how confidently he shoots it during the course of a game in spite of all the defensive attention he warrants, those worries fade away.
Okay, that last one was silly. He was clearly banking on drawing a foul. But it goes to show that Davis is one of those guys who can get hot and pour it on once he gets going. He’s a tough shot-maker and gets into a groove/rhythm once the competitive juices get flowing. I’ll take that every single day over a guy with smooth mechanics who doesn’t miss in warm-ups but disappears under pressure.
A quick glance at his 36.0 3P% on the season doesn’t do justice to Davis’ dynamism as a shooter and a shot-creator and fails to account for team/situational context. One third of Davis’ three-point attempts and 86% of his two-point jumpers are unassisted. He has taken over 100 off-the-dribble pull-up jumpers this season. Wisconsin’s lack of ancillary talent forces Davis into this difficult shot diet and he’s been more than up to the challenge.
It also became apparent that Davis may be a bit underrated as a passer and playmaker. This, again, requires sifting through some context to truly appreciate. Not to disparage the Badgers, but the talent surrounding him doesn’t exactly set him up for playmaking success. After Brad Davison and Davis, the only other Badgers to attempt 1.5+ threes per game are Chucky Hepburn and Stephen Crowl, who are shooting a collective 32.7% from deep. This makes it easier for opponents to double Johnny in the post or dig in on him at the nail without much risk of recourse from perimeter shooting threats.
The big men aren’t exactly above-the-rim play finishers, either. Davis has more dunks on the season than their two seven-footers combined. This lack of big man athleticism limits Davis’ assist opportunity conversion rate when he gets downhill and draws help from opposing bigs.
In the NBA, these are easy assists for Davis either via lobs or these dump-offs to the dunker spot.
Defensively, Davis maintains an impressive level of engagement, focus, and physicality for how much energy he’s forced to spend on the offensive end. He’s strong, seems to have decent length (wingspan still unconfirmed, guessing 6’9”ish?), has a good instinctual knack for picking and choosing his spots to take risks, and makes impact plays (STL% and BLK% both 2.0+ on the season).
What most stood out about Davis throughout the course of these two games was his laser-focused, hyper-competitive make-up. Davis’ early season breakout has led to Big Ten teams adjusting their game plans to pack the help line and play him very physically at the point of attack. He took an absolute beating throughout the course of both of these games. He even got his nose bloodied up on a botched no-call down the stretch against Northwestern.
While you could tell that Davis was getting frustrated at points, he didn’t lash out, retaliate, pout, or make irrational/emotional decisions, but rather channeled his anger into purposeful aggression, physicality, and assertiveness. That’s what makes Davis special. Nothing matters more to him than winning and he has a mindset/drive on par with many of the NBA’s all-time greats.
My only real concern with Davis’ game after scouting him twice is that he struggles to gain significant advantages in blowing by his primary defender off the bounce. Easy buckets are few and far between. While the context of teams loading up with heavy help and occasional doubles is an important consideration, it’s pretty infrequent that Davis blows by on-ball defenders at the point of attack.
Take this scenario, for instance:
Davis’ eyes should light up when he gets Joey Hauser switched onto him. He should be able to absolutely cook Hauser off the bounce and get an easy layup, free throws, or a wide open kick-out by forcing help defense to collapse. Instead, Davis settles for an awkward, inefficient floater because he’s not able to gain a significant advantage.
It’d serve Davis well to continue working on his first step burst to help add some easy looks and playmaking opportunities as a means to balance out his offensive load/efficiency.
Bottom Line: Davis is making his case as the best guard prospect in this year’s draft class. It’s really Ivey/Davis (who currently sit 4th and 5th on our Consensus Big Board) then everyone else. While Ivey may have more perceived upside with his hyper-elite, fluid athleticism, Davis got the best of him in their first matchup this season (which was, perhaps, the best single-game performance of any draft prospect this season). It’s really a matter of preference, fit, and draft philosophy between the two. But I’ll tell you one thing… I would never bet against Davis. His combination of talent, self-awareness, maturity, will, and confidence are a perfect recipe for a long, successful NBA career.
Pete Nance | Northwestern
Sr. | Forward | 6’10” | 225 lbs. | 2/19/2000
10 PTS, 1 OREB, 5 DREB, 5 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 0 PF, 50.0 TS%
Nance is a prospect I’ve been fascinated with dating back to last season. His lack of buzz was a bit dumbfounding given the combination of size, skill, and NBA bloodlines. He’s finally starting to gain a bit more traction as a draftable prospect this season as a senior, and rightfully so. In his third season as a starter for the Wildcats, Nance is averaging 16.0 PTS, 7.2 REB, 2.9 AST, 0.4 STL, and 1.3 BLK on a 59.1 TS%.
Nance was a gametime decision against Wisconsin after missing the previous contest with an ankle injury. He decided to suit up and give it a go despite being clearly hobbled and in pain. While the ankle injury warped the context of this single game scouting evaluation, especially on defense where he was clearly most limited in his mobility, I still came away impressed with Nance’s apparent skill set and willingness to battle through pain for his teammates.
While he was 0-for-3 from deep and the ball came out a bit flat (potentially, in part, due to lack of lift off the injured ankle), Nance showed encouraging touch from midrange.
Nance also notched five assists. He’s comfortable acting as a DHO hub, hitting cutters, and kicking out to open shooters. Perhaps his most impressive pass of the evening actually went down in the box score as his sole turnover.
That’s a really creative, aggressive pass that you don’t see all that often from college four/five and is an encouraging sign of potential continued passing success at the next level.
Bottom Line: Nance has made significant strides across the board each passing season. There aren’t too many 6’10” prospects out there who can play both the four and the five, stick pick-and-pop threes, facilitate from the elbows and via short roll, and protect the rim. Nance checks a lot of boxes as a modern forward that can gel with a variety of team schemes and lineup constructions. While it may have taken him a while to get there, he’s very much on scouts’ radars now and has a chance to be an impactful, valuable NBA rotation player.
I hope to catch another live Northwestern game or two in the coming months when Nance’s ankle is healed up to get a better feel for him on the defensive end.
Max Christie | Michigan State
Fr. | Wing | 6’6 ¼” | 190 lbs. | 2/10/2003
12 PTS, 2 OREB, 1 DREB, 0 AST, 0 STL,0 BLK, 0 TOV, 1 PF, 85.7 TS%
Having just scouted Max Christie’s brother, Cameron, a week prior, I was looking forward to getting eyes on the older, more highly touted of the two brothers in a high profile top 15 matchup. It’s apparent that shooting runs in the family.
Slow-mo look at Max Christie’s shot mechanics from warm-ups last night.— Jon Chepkevich (@JonChep) January 22, 2022
Perhaps the smoothest, most picturesque shooting stroke of any prospect I’ve scouted this season.
Very much looked the part of a first rounder in a huge top-10 road win. pic.twitter.com/rTk36C9HRF
Christie’s pure pre-game shooting stroke translated into an efficient offensive performance in a hostile environment on the road. He got going in the first half with a couple of catch-and-shoot threes and a really crisp jab to one dribble midrange pull-up in transition.
Christie came out attacking the rim on the first possession of the second half. He may have even caught himself off guard going for a two-handed baseline dunk after attacking a closeout. He missed, but the assertiveness set the tone for Michigan State maintaining their lead down the stretch. Christie continued to be run off the line throughout the remainder of the game, but was able to get downhill to a soft-touch runner and flushed through a tip slam on the offensive glass.
Defensively, Christie took on the tough task of guarding Johnny Davis for significant stretches. While Christie botched a defensive read and let Davis get wide open off of a flare screen in the early going, he settled in and did a nice job of making things difficult for Davis throughout.
Davis certainly still hit his share of tough shots, but I was impressed with the extent with which Christie used his length to impactfully contest jumpers, moved his feet well in space on the perimeter, and funneled Davis to where he knew he had help waiting. Christie’s frame seems conducive to adding a bit more strength, which would go a long way to prevent physical matchups like Davis from bumping him off his spot to create separation.
Bottom Line: Christie is generally considered one of the preeminent stay-or-go 2022 NBA Draft decisions. After a relatively slow start to the season, Christie has really been coming into his own as of late and very much looked the part of a first round pick against Wisconsin.
Considering his age, shooting prowess, positional archetype, feel, and frame, he’s a guy I’d be comfortable betting on in the latter half of the first round.
Gabe Brown | Michigan State
Sr. | Wing | 6’8” | 215 lbs. | 3/5/2000
3 PTS, 2 OREB, 2 DREB, 0 AST, 0 STL,1 BLK, 2 TOV, 1 PF, 20.2 TS%
Brown’s career shooting numbers (37.4 3P% on 326 attempts, 89.8 FT% on 118 attempts) are really impressive for a prospect with his size on the wing.
As can be seen in this slow-mo video, the form is kind of funky… not because he’s left-handed, but because of what he does with his off-hand. As opposed to the traditional off-hand mechanics of softly guiding his shooting motion on the side of the ball, Brown cups the front side of the ball highly and tightly with his right hand as he begins his shooting motion. He then fully removes his guide hand earlier in his shooting motion that is conventional.
All of that being said, the aforementioned results have been consistently positive. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it?
Brown had a tough shooting night offensively but, like Christie, was tasked with making things hard on Davis and did just that.
Brown’s defensive mobility on the perimeter at his size/length is a real asset for Michigan State and part of what will appeal to NBA teams.
Perhaps Brown’s most apparent weakness was his complete lack of juice off the bounce.
His handle is loose, he doesn’t get downhill to the rim with much frequency, and his aforementioned quirky shooting mechanics become a bit more troublesome off-the-dribble.
This very much limits his offensive upside and makes his projection more so that of a four man that stands in the corner for catch-and-shoots than that of an offensively versatile wing.
Bottom Line: Brown should warrant NBA looks given his size, mobility, and shooting pedigree. He feels more like a priority UDFA that gets swiftly two-wayed post-draft as opposed to someone who is actually selected… but I wouldn’t rule it out.
Marcus Bingham | Michigan State
Sr. | Big | 7’0” | 230 lbs. | 7/14/2000
9 PTS, 1 OREB, 4 DREB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 3 PF, 61.5 TS%
Bingham is the defensive anchor in the paint for the Spartans, currently leading the Big Ten in BLK% and D-BPM while ranking third in REB%.
The Badgers were very perimeter-oriented throughout the course of this matchup and Michigan State matched with small personnel down the stretch. This schematic chess match, in conjunction with Bingham picking up his third foul less than a minute into the second half, limited him to 13 minutes with limited chances to show his rim-protection prowess.
He did, however, show a couple of encouraging offensive flashes during the course of his limited playing time. Wisconsin got out to an 8-0 lead and Bingham was able to stop the bleeding by confidently stepping into a trailing three.
He also had a nice moment running the floor off of a Wisconsin miss and beating all five Badgers down the court for a momentous and-one.
While his role was limited in this particular game, Bingham was still fairly productive and had some impressive moments.
Bottom Line: Bingham feels like a solid Exhibit-10 big for a team to bring into training camp and get into their G League system. If he opts to make the jump overseas, he has the game to be an impactful import in a solid league from the get-go.