I spent the last few days on the scouting trail, catching Saturday’s high-profile nonconference game between Arkansas and Baylor and sticking around for Monday’s tilt between Baylor and Texas. It’s a busy scouting week for me, packing in a stretch of seven games in eight days, but by this time next week I will have seen pretty much every noteworthy prospect in action over the past few months of the season.
Here’s the latest on what I’m seeing and hearing on the road.
Anthony Black continues to rise
In all honesty, I didn’t enter this season expecting Black to emerge as one of the draft’s elite prospects, and I’m not sure that was a commonly held opinion anywhere, primarily due to concerns surrounding his individual scoring ability. He was an easy prospect to project in the first round, as a 6'7" potential lead guard with an excellent frame, good physical tools, an unselfish approach, a feel for playmaking and what would likely be a versatile defensive role. But I wasn’t wowed with what I saw from Black on tape over the summer at the FIBA U19 Americas and wasn’t exactly sure how he’d fit in at Arkansas alongside two other blue-chip recruits in Nick Smith and Jordan Walsh.
What’s happened since has been noteworthy. Not only has Black’s more-touted teammate Smith missed time with injury (with his return unclear), but Black broke out in November at the Maui Invitational (“he should have just shut it down then,” as one scout suggested to me). He’s continued on a steady trajectory since, working his way into top-five pick discussions around the league, as was reflected in January’s mock draft update. Not everyone is that high on him, but point being, there is an argument: If we do a quick look at which young players have enjoyed immediate success in the last few years, the size-skill-feel combination Black possesses offers a pretty decent (though imperfect) throughline to lottery picks like Franz Wagner, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, all of whom have exceeded early expectations. There aren’t that many perimeter players just lying around who fit that mold. Black has legitimate point guard skills and vision, and has helped drive winning while playing in a situation that doesn’t totally optimize his strengths.
To argue it both ways, there are definitely holes you can poke in Black’s case high in the draft, where a handful of imperfect but quite intriguing prospects are in the mix to come off the board once Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson hear their names called. While Black has scored the ball overall much better than expected, he’s not a great three-point shooter and shouldn’t be expected to serve as a reliable catch-and-shoot threat from NBA range as a rookie. He’s been good at the rim and finds ways to finish driving to his strong hand, but also hasn’t scored particularly well in in-between areas. There’s a perceptible lack of scoring polish, but in Black’s defense, Arkansas’s system doesn’t totally optimize him, either—the Razorbacks have been running a lot of side-to-side offense and don’t feature enough quality shooting to spread teams out and let Black play in ball screens all the time in the halfcourt. His top lob target, Trevon Brazile, also went down with injury early in the season. Black is a good athlete and sneaky-quick leaper with some untapped physical potential as he gains strength, so it’s possible a lot of his offense bears out in a passable sense long term. The jumper, however, is a fair question.
Ultimately, I’m bullish here, as Black fits a prospect mold I personally tend to view in a favorable light: He has clear NBA-caliber physical traits with room to add strength and power to his movements; he has the passing and handling ability to run a team; he’s already a pretty good defender; he’s competitive; and the late-blooming nature of his trajectory leaves room for a ton of improvement in the areas where he’s still somewhat raw. I don’t think anyone is drafting Black under the assumption he’ll score 20 points a night. His ability to make pretty much every pass, his feel for playing halfcourt basketball and his ability to use his size in various facets of the game were all on display in Waco on Saturday. He knows where to get teammates the ball and makes the game easier for everyone else. Despite the fact he scored only seven points in a close loss, I was pretty enthused by the mettle he showed. Black is a pretty obvious top-10 prospect, and will likely wind up in my top five, potentially as high as third on my list.
What to make of Keyonte George?
I’ve admittedly been a little bit down on George since catching Baylor at Marquette in late November, but to be fair, that wound up being such an off night for George and his entire team that overreacting to that game would have been a mistake. Catching the Bears twice on this quick trip wound up being much more instructive. George played quite well in the second half Saturday and helped lead Baylor to a win over Arkansas. Monday night, he struggled for most of the first half against Texas, then picked it up a little bit late, making a big and-one bucket to keep his team in it, then rushing an ill-advised shot late in the game that essentially shot them out of it. He’s a first-round pick, but there’s good and bad to unpack here.
Based on what I’ve heard around the NBA at this point in the season, there's a degree of sensible trepidation around George simply due to the mold of player he fits: He’s an undersized shooting guard who relies heavily on holding the ball and making shots to help his team win. When that isn’t happening, at this stage in his career, George isn’t adding much. He’s a net-neutral defender at absolute best, and he plays a position where smaller guys who don’t love to guard and can’t physically impose their will can often be taken advantage of and targeted in the NBA. As a result, even the most talented scoring combo guards can get confined into useful but arguably nonessential sixth-man roles.
Baylor has given George freedom to hunt shots and score, and his actual efficiency has been adequate, if not stellar. He is pretty good around the rim, draws a lot of fouls, has been making enough threes on heavy volume, and has enough of an in-between game to think that everything could feasibly trend up. On the flip side, George is not exceptionally strong or quick, which in the case of college volume scorers generally means that operating will become markedly more difficult in the NBA, compared to players who can wield speed and size as an instant separator. And there are often pretty fine margins for players like that to succeed.
George is still refining his game, but it’s fair to say his identity at this point is tied to his ability to go get a bucket. So the next question—which will have a lot to do with how early a team decides to draft him—has to do with how front offices view his potential to play on the ball, hopefully make teammates better and fashion himself into someone who can shoulder a heavy playmaking load. The good thing is that George regularly flashes enough ability in ball screens and in transition situations that you can see a world where that happens—he just has to want to do it. I’d argue there’s a stronger likelihood George winds up playing some point guard and succeeding at it than there is that he becomes a plus defender. But that will require him to pick his spots a lot better, freelance less and, frankly, start to pass first. Will George truly want to do these things? At a certain point in the first round, it’s worth finding out. But there’s a wide range of opinions around the NBA right now as to where one might actually want to try it.
Reassessing Dillon Mitchell
Frankly, Mitchell hasn’t been very good very often this season—the lottery shine wore off Texas’s much-hyped freshman forward a while ago. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t hold some degree of appeal to teams as a reclamation project, and scouts continue to do their diligence. Players with his caliber of tools and frame as well as his high school pedigree typically get multiple chances to find a role as pros. He had five points and seven rebounds against Baylor, which, unfortunately, was one of his better lines this season.
Despite Mitchell’s significant physical gifts—he’s powerfully built with big shoulders, he’s pretty agile for 6'8" and he’s an excellent vertical athlete—it often feels like he just doesn’t read the game all that fast. For players in his mold, some of that can be mitigated with energy and good habits, and we saw some of that Monday night. Mitchell was a bit more active as a cutter, crashed the glass more consistently and put himself in better positions to allow good things to happen for him in the run of play. This can be as simple as trying to tip wayward balls to himself and control possession, rather than simply batting it away from the basket. Mitchell had some good moments Monday where playing hard and using his tools led to positive things, which give at least some reason for optimism, even if he’s occasionally out of place on defense. But he’s far too often out of sight and out of mind, without a demonstrable way to consistently create offense other than being available for teammates to find him.
The shooting projection here isn’t great—Mitchell badly air-balled a free throw Monday night, and he hasn’t attempted a three all year—so there’s probably not going to be a whole lot of optimism on that front, either. There’s probably a confidence element going on here, perhaps even more so than a mechanical one. After watching Mitchell play in high school, I don’t know that I expected him to be a total nonshooter, but that’s more or less what the situation is right now. Typically, that means a lot will hang on how he shoots in private spring workouts and whether he can convince teams that there’s more there. If he can consistently space the floor, defend and make energy plays, that’s a player that can work in the NBA. But right now, it’s unclear whether any of those things are going to click, let alone all at once.
While Mitchell has been splitting minutes all season with an array of more experienced bigs, it’s going to be crucial both for Texas and for his draft stock down the stretch run that he produces, no matter what his role is. That conclusion admittedly feels obvious to state, but if it were that basic and easy, more players would probably do it, right? Trying to guess where he gets picked right now is a fool’s errand, but at this rate, it probably will not be the first round. If I could guarantee he’d play better, I’d say going back to school makes some sense, but that doesn’t feel like a given considering how minimal his impact can be.
Notes on other prospects
Ricky Council is having an impressive season for Arkansas, winning scouts over with his consistent effort level, powerful first step and success in a volume-heavy role. Council is shooting 70% on close two-pointers, per Barttorvik, and while his three-point shooting hasn’t been great, it does seem somewhat workable. He doesn’t have elite size for a wing, but has enough floor game and know-how overall that he should deserve a spot somewhere on draft night. He’s legitimized himself in a real way. … Council’s teammate Jordan Walsh likely remains on a multiyear track to draftability, with terrific length but a very nascent feel to play that raises questions, along with an iffy jump shot. … Baylor guards Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer both should warrant interest as potential undrafted guys, with Flagler a candidate for a two-way contract in the spring, and Cryer still a junior with more room to grow as a scorer. … I still don’t quite know what to make of Bears wing Jalen Bridges, who has an excellent frame and has been fairly efficient overall this season, but struggles to read and impact the game consistently. He has been playing better of late, though, and may be worth an undrafted flier. … I’m still bullish long term on Longhorns guard Tyrese Hunter, who may not be quite ready for the NBA leap this year, but has quite a bit to offer from an intangibles standpoint and isn’t a great fit with the personnel at Texas.