Against Charlotte, Stephon Castle showed how he can control the game as a ball-handler, setting up the offense to easily flow off of his passing. His playmaking leads to teammates making easy decisions to keep the ball moving or open shots often, making him one of the 2024 NBA Draft’s best floor generals to go along with good size at 6’6 with a bulky frame. This was my third time watching a full game of Stephon Castle with Newton away from AAU on the Under Armour circuit. Synergy only has 4 of his Newton games available, so for more background this is Castle’s shot chart in AAU last year with the Atlanta Xpress in Under Armour:
A brief overview of this game before the play-by-play film session:
Castle came off the bench for this game and finished with 8 points on 3/10 shooting, including 0/1 from 3, with 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, and 2 turnovers with one trip to the line, resulting in 2 made free throws. From a play style perspective, Castle ran a ton of pick & roll as a ball-handler, showed a glaring area of improvement as jump shooting, and begged the questions of how he can counter mediocre functional athleticism and what his defense will look like in the NBA.
Castle has a good chance to be a premier P&R ball-handler in the 2024 NBA Draft. Castle was a McDonalds All-American, he participated in the Allen Iverson Classic, he’s been part of both the NBPA Top 100 camps, he was a part of the FIBA U18 team in 2022, and he was a participant in the Under Armour Elite 24, making him a decorated high school prospect.
Castle will be joining the reigning champion Connecticut Huskies with a likely fellow first round prospect in Donovan Clingan as a dominant big that can help him create more space off screens and provide a great roll-threat off of screens, which could open up his already strong P&R ability.
Film Deep Dive:
**These plays will be in chronological order by play type, with correlating video above the commentary**
Castle starts his minutes off with a relatively simple P&R read. He has to wait a while for the screen to come as the play sits idle for a moment, but eventually catches the defense off-guard by trapping all of the nearby help defenders and the roll defense, opening up the hole to the corner right within his line of vision for a lightly contested made 3. Something that pops to me in this play is that Castle waited the exact amount of time needed to make this play successful, noticing the corner shooter’s defender still facing Castle and not the shooter, making any contest a late or limited one.
Another slow start to the play, the screener comes on the wrong side and Castle has to correct his screener, which draws 3 defenders to 2 and a half players, leaving the right wing shooter more open with the two ‘corner’ shooters still covered sufficiently. As Castle steps in off the screen, the right wing opens up, and the screener rolls, sending the paint defender back and forcing one of the corners to draw in on help without any communication, which gives the left corner/wing an open 3. The quickness to process and recognize all of this at once emphasizes Castle’s strong decision-making ability with quickness and accuracy.
This P&R opens up a different element of Castle’s game, and arguably the biggest room for improvement: jump shooting. Yet again, this play starts slow with Castle waiting for a screen, then using a fake reject into the screen right. He gets his defender on his hip and immediately goes into the jumper, which may have been the wrong decision, plus it emphasizes mechanical issues on his jumper. On this one play, his constant leaning back motion in his shot paid off being able to separate himself from the contest. However, Castle’s natural leaning motion combined with the fact that he shoots on the way down makes it hard for him to shoot over contests, as future clips will highlight.
In this play, Castle uses a quick screen and gauges how #1 in blue will react to the screen, being the blocker to an open wing shooter (#5). With no movement from #1 on defense, Castle has to throw the pass a bit around him, causing a somewhat inaccurate pass. Ideally, #5 could have moved away (without moving to the inching defender guarding both him and the corner) from the defender with his back to him to make the play smoother. Still, this connected the offense and made the ensuing defender make a decision, which eventually led to a foul on the drive.
While this is a simple play, Castle being the opener off the inbound makes his job easy against a ball-watching defender, being able to manipulate 2 defenders that don’t communicate. Something as simple as getting his feet set made #11 on defense scramble, which led to Castle being able to initiate throwing off a scrambled #11 on defense, which led to an eventual made 3.
Castle gets a quick free throw line screen, and gets a recovering defender who might have gotten this called a foul in the NBA with his hand on Castle as he’s shooting. Castle needs to be able to make this as an NBA prospect, which again highlights the jump shooting need for improvement. The ball comes out of his hands flat, partially because of the contact on his midsection, as well as the fact that Castle shoots on the way down and doesn’t seem to have a controlled base.
Castle gets the screen here, crosses over to steady out, then does another crossover into the nearby defender to bait him into leaving the shooter, making the corner defender make a decision of either leaving his man in the corner for an extra pass with a potential screener, or to let the shot go up and hope the defender who left his man can recover in time to impact the shot. Castle also keeps his head up the entire play, dissecting the defense and seeing the helper out of his peripheral vision to trap the defense.
The defense on this play is a bit unique, almost drawing up a box around the paint, giving Castle a new look that he hadn’t yet seen up until this point in the game. After the screen, Castle uses his body to shield off the defender while also keeping the ball completely on his right side, giving the defender no chance to get the ball until the shot goes up. Castle doesn’t get a lot of lift on this drive, but the use of his body, as well as his sweeping gather motion to shield away the smaller help defense, all the way into the double clutch finish showcases his good touch at the rim and high upside as a slasher.
In this left P&R, Castle uses a light screen (almost a ghost screen) to get to the middle and safely bring in as many defenders as possible to open up multiple open jumpers. The timing of picking up the dribble after the crossover while not giving a tell to the paint defenders with his head allows for two open shooters to coexist and draw a late, ineffective closeout despite the miss. He gives two options with his head up: either a heavily contested shot, or with a slight look at his dump-off option, which seals off #11 from quickly helping defend the 3 point shot. Plays like this should immediately translate up to college basketball, where paint defenders often camp out and trap slashers within 10 feet.
A very straightforward P&R reject into a jumper, this yet again exemplifies Castle’s flat shot. He tries to stop & pop over the defender with decent footwork, but his shaky base and flat overall shot makes it hard to shoot over contests like this, which he will see plenty of in both the NBA and in the Big East.
Stephon Castle completed a difficult feat: find the open man in the paint full of defenders. Using the screen, he drives left, spins right with perfect security through the first help defender, then leaves the ground to bring the dump-off man’s help, which leaves for an open dunker spot finish. To make this difficult of a play for someone his age look so simple, quick, and precise speaks volumes to Castle’s feel and ability to make quick and accurate decisions and reads off the dribble with the ball in his hands.
Castle went for a high-level, difficult assist on this play that led to a same-possession inbound following a needle-threading baseline-to-baseline pass. When met with a double team, Castle uses a nice hesitation dribble to get to the mid-baseline, allowing him to pass to either the top of the key or the corner. While this may not have been the best read, great passers have a tendency to go for advanced reads that most other cannot both recognize and make a possibility of. Another potential area for criticism on this play is that he did not find his roller, but the only way that would have been possible given the lack of defensive space at the rim was a nutmeg opportunity, but even then this could have caused a more dangerous situation than the one that played out with a quick turn from the initial trap on Castle during the hesitation.
This play starts with a give & go heading right, but Castle quickly turned back left, which immediately puts the guard defender at a disadvantage. With only 2 players out of the paint (and both of them are a reach away from being in the paint), Castle recognizes the collapsed defense and finds the shooter through 2 sets of arms. The pass could have been slightly more accurate, but the vision being showcased with a bad catch still makes it a positive play by Castle.
The summary of these P&R plays is quite simple and apparent: outstanding vision and patience, always keeping his head up and constantly tagging teammates with an ability to track where his teammates move to while being able to keep the defense off-balance. With pick & roll being the most commonly run play in the NBA, Castle already being advanced in the P&R with good size puts him in a good spot to be a lottery pick in 2024 if he can improve his jump shooting.
Another passing play, this one is not a P&R read, but rather is him turning defense into intelligence transition offense for an assist. Castle makes a quick read and traps the already bothered ball-handler, using his strong hands to poke the ball free and then leak out. With the errant pass allowing for the defender to catch up to Castle, he uses great footwork on his spin to trap his defender behind him, providing the trailing teammate a drawn foul. However, the pass did take Castle’s momentum away from where he passed from, which allowed for the previously trapped defender to step up and contest the shot, even if it turned into free throws. This is a tough play to criticize though, because he still gave his teammate a good look, and the third teammate in the 3 on 2 should have done a better job allowing for the middle man to get an even more look, even if it does not stop the contest in front.
While this play may not happen much at higher levels, and this entire possession could be charted to the level of competition, Castle still made another good read as a help defender on the trap in the post. Yet again, his strong hands are on display, being able to easily swipe the ball out of the big man’s hands forcing the turnover. How Castle uses his trapping ability in college and the NBA without sacrificing off-ball defense on the perimeter will be an interesting balance as the competition gets stronger.
With the rise of the Kornet contest, this play caught my eye, although this play’s importance feels minimal. The value of this niche reference play, however, is that we see good recognition to cover the first defender to the right of the rim approaching the dunker spot, and then quickly recognizing the open shooter and throwing him off with the Kornet contest. He could have maybe gone closer for the closeout, but ultimately with the miss, the unconventional contest may have been effective.
After a series of almost all positives for the entire breakdown, the last of 17 clips ends on a negative defensively. After initial passable defense in front of a cross-court pass, Castle becomes idle and ball-watches the entire possession from the same spot he contested the pass, leading to a make. While he did cover lots of ground, had he recognized his misplacement, the possession is drastically altered.
Overall, Castle still showed a lot of his game and why he is such a coveted 2024 NBA Draft prospect. His playmaking is advanced, he has strong hands to force turnovers, and a general strong feel for the game with good size. His major swing skills remain with explosiveness and shooting development. If his work ethic maintains, which has been reportedly strong, Currently, Castle sits safely within my early top 10 for 2024, approaching my top 5 because of his floor general abilities with upside to grow as a scorer at his ideal size.