Baylor beat Florida in the NIT Season Tip-Off in late November, winning 95-91. This game featured strong matchups in the backcourt and along the wings. These matchups featured: Riley Kugel vs Ja’kobe Walter, RayJ Dennis vs Zyon Pullin/Walter Clayton, and Jalen Bridges vs Kugel/Will Richard. Here are the long-term takeaways I had of each player:
Langston Love can play and do more than shoot. Looks healthy. Great shooter and looked confident attacking the rim. Finished with 16 points on 4/7 shooting, including 3/6 from 3 with 5/6 from the free throw line. I had pegged him as just a shooter, which at ~6’5 makes him just another shooter, but having a successful catch & go will go a long way, which he flashed abilities of being able to do in this game.
Walter Clayton: Has some bad habits including not moving off-ball after passing and decision-making. Struggled shooting with 3-12 from the field and 4 turnovers. Also had a play where he contested RayJ Dennis’ shot but let him get right back into the play for a putback (below). Jump shot form looks a bit uncomfortable, but all stats suggest the jump shot is real and a lethal weapon for him.
Will Richard: Had some strong shooting flashes early in the game, but dropped off. Struggles to take over games in any facet. Mechanics are somewhat awkward. At this point, Richard checks out as a fringe prospect due to holes in both of his selling points to NBA teams as a shooter and defender: inconsistent mechanics with not enough shooting performance, and often ball-watching to get burned.
Riley Kugel: Shot form regressed, but still has great handles for shot creation. Played great defense and showcased a strong motor. This was the game that got him back on track after a slow start. If the jumper continues to fall again and he improves on his 3P% and FT%, he’s back in the range of a surefire lottery pick. Kugel was able to impact the game positively even when his jumper was not falling, which is a trait every lottery-caliber prospect needs to have.
Jalen Bridges good shooting touch, but will his form allow him to shoot over NBA defenders? Minimal jump, not that high of a release at 6’7. He shoots like he’s smaller than he is, which is something that will be interesting to play out since this is a note I have not yet written before. He plays good defense though with ideal size. Overall, Bridges has a decently ideal build for a modern wing as 3&D, but needs to form a skillset to fully hang his hat on to become a lock to become a draftable prospect.
RayJ Dennis: Strong scoring ability but can he be a point guard and play off-ball? He seems to be too score-first with not great enough height, despite a strong scoring ability, to translate up to the NBA. That being said, he did a good job in this game and had to have impressed NBA scouts in attendance with 24 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 5 turnovers on 10-17 shooting. The turnovers were still a problem, especially when forced to pass out of drives he was looking to score on, but the game was impressive enough that it left a positive taste in scouts’ mouths. Conference play will be big for RayJ, but for now he profiles best as a G League and two-way prospect given the redundancy of his role and size.
Zyon Pullin: Pullin popped with good defense first, then with his aggressive scoring and willingness to take over parts of the game when his stars could not. He ultimately finished with 17 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal on 5-9 shooting and 7-8 from the free throw line. While he could be a tweener at 6’4, he still has enough skills that may make him desirable to NBA teams as a hidden threat that has done well as part of a transfer up from UC Riverside in the Big West. This could make him a hidden gem, as well as a candidate to be a two-way prospect in 2024.
Ja’Kobe Walter: Limited to 17 minutes because of foul trouble, but looked great scoring off of screens. Unlikely to have great efficiency this year due to difficult shots, but his archetype suggests that his low efficiency is something that will improve with time and NBA spacing. Underclassmen that take difficult shots but are inefficient in college have had success in the NBA with high ceilings: Anthony Edwards, Donovan Mitchell, Dejounte Murray, Trae Young, and others. Walter could continue this trend, given his ability to come off of screens well and hit pull-up jumpers.