This week, I went down to Miami to see two Hurricanes stars train for a couple hours, in Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack. For those that have followed me for the last 3 years, you know Isaiah Wong is one of my top sleeper prospects in the NCAA. He tested the draft waters last year, but opted to return to school for his junior year, leading Miami to the Elite 8. As he tests the draft waters this year and kicks off draft workout season this week with workouts at Oklahoma City and Boston, Wong’s stock has only improved.
As for the newcomer, Nijel Pack is also testing the draft waters, but is expected to eventually withdraw from the NBA Draft after getting feedback heading into his junior season. Pack is a transfer from Kansas State, and despite below-average size, Pack has a lightning fast release with great touch and deep range, making him the best shooter in college basketball.
The first player in the gym was Isaiah Wong, who showed up before his scheduled time, which immediately added up to the reputation I had heard of him being a gym rat. He started with some ball-handling drills to get his cardio going, then went into jump shooting. The ball-handling is something I have always considered an elite skill for a collegiate guard, so seeing him successfully do advanced two-ball drills was no surprise. Wong has a ridiculously tight handle with creative space-creating moves, and he continues to further this skill every day.
As a shooter, I was excited to see his improved shot that he went to work on immediately after this season. While the shot doesn’t pop out as drastically changed, the improvements are subtly noticeable. On an ESPN broadcast this year, a broadcaster brought up that the feedback he got from NBA teams was regarding his jump shot, and speeding it up to be able to shoot over closeouts. While his shot didn’t get sped up overnight this season, I saw lots of work going into reducing the dip and keeping it a straight-line shot in this workout setting.
One drill I saw was a no-dip shooting drill, letting him take shots without dipping his shot down to his waist, which will help speed up his jumper. With his good touch, this should be an easy transformation. Even a slight improvement in this department will go a long way in being able to get his shot off against defenders. While he has shown the ability to shoot over defenders off the dribble, due to a high release and good touch, he has struggled as a spot-up shooter against close-outs.
It was promising, however, to see him hitting so many jump shots. In a practice environment, it’s easy for any high-level NCAA first option to look like a superstar, but the scalability of what Wong did in this private setting is realistic. Going 20/25 (80%) from the NBA 3 point shooting drill that every team and every combine event runs, is elite, and would rank among the top shooters in the NBA Draft Combine, should he be invited and repeat this performance.
On top of this, the off-the-dribble shooting drills they ran for him, Wong did well in them as well. The two areas that stood out were his fake spin off of a pick into a jump shot and using a screen to get into a runner or floater. Combined with his career 79% mark from the free throw line, the shooting touch is noticeably there for him. The big question mark for him as a pro is how well he can adapt his spot-up shot and in turn how he can shoot over hard contests. If his jump shot speed can be negated by excellent touch, he will thrive in the NBA.
With a vertical barely under 40 inches, and overall good athleticism, Wong should be able to score in the NBA, especially at the rim. His shooting off the dribble was 8th best in the country last season, so there is evidence of the shooting working. In order to maximize his NBA role, he will have to improve as a spot-up shooter – but there is reason to believe he will get better at doing so with NBA talent surrounding him.
Nijel Pack also stood out to me in the solo workout after Wong’s workout ended. He made over 20 straight threes (only 20 were caught on camera), and was hyper-efficient in his 100 3s around the world. He also did some floater and layup drills, which had an emphasis of high finishes over the invisible big man. He did well in that drill, which was unsurprising due to his floater success last season at Kansas State. Pack’s shooting is a rather simple, short explanation: he gets his shot off lightning fast with both a quick base & high starting point (and a high release), with unlimited range. This led to elite jump shooting numbers: 99th percentile in spot-up shooting, 92nd percentile in off the dribble shooting, and 96th percentile in overall jump shots. He also can finish at the rim, which makes him lethal coming off of closeouts/pump-fakes.
Pack declared for the draft and has had pre-draft workouts, and has more scheduled this week, but I project him to return to school and thrive at Miami as a junior. Despite his size, he is worth investing in as the best shooter in the nation.