Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Taurean Prince vs. Danuel House

The intriguing match-up from a draft perspective from the Baylor vs. Texas A&M game earlier in December was the one on the perimeter between Taurean Prince (Baylor) and Danuel House (A&M). The two seniors aren't huge names in the draft world - Prince is at #26 on the latest DraftExpress mock while House is at #51 - but they both have the 3-and-D skill-sets that are becoming increasingly en vogue around the NBA. This game was a great chance to see the two of them match wits against another NBA-caliber player and to see what they could do when they wouldn't just be able to overwhelm their competition with size and athleticism.

3p% (3PA)
38.8% (4.5)
32.5% (7.3)
43.7% (12.9)
39.4% (12.5)
Assists (TO’s)
2.8 (3.2)
2.4 (1.6)

A&M dominated Baylor in College Station, winning 80-61, and the story of the game was the way that House erased Prince on defense. House isn't just the Aggies primary option on offense - he's also their main perimeter defender and he relished the challenge of going 1-on-1 against Baylor's star. House used his quickness to hound Prince all over the floor and prevented him from getting many clean looks at the basket. Prince could barely even touch the ball - House was ball-denying him for most of the game and Baylor was never able to get him open. 

That was how it went all night for Prince, who was never able to get into any kind of rhythm. He mostly stood off the ball and allowed House to guard him - he didn't back cut all that often or work to get open and Baylor never ran any sets to create open looks for him. It was very frustrating to watch and it was a good example of what people (read: me) talk about when they talk about Scott Drew's struggles with game-planning and maximizing the skills of his best players. To be sure, though, you have to give a lot of credit to House, who had one of the best defensive performances I've ever seen from him:

House started the game with a lay-up off a back-cut and that fast-break dunk off the steal, which seemed to fuel his confidence. Baylor tried to play a lot of 1-3-1 zone and House promptly shot them out of it. Check out the range on this 3-point shot:

When he makes plays like this, it's hard not to envision him as an NBA player. This is a 6'7 guy stroking 3's off the dribble - House definitely passes the eye test:

The concern with House is his FG% (39.4%) which is terrible for a 22-year old senior and that's primarily because he takes a lot of bad shots. He can make shots like this but he has to learn that just because he can make them doesn't mean he should take them. Shot selection is a big deal for any young guard and he's going to have a hard time earning minutes in the NBA if he's throwing up garbage instead of moving the ball:

What I would like to see more from him going forward is learning to play more within himself and hunting for shots not just for himself but for his teammates. What a lot of young scorers don't realize is that not forcing the issue and making the right play actually makes it easier to score because it opens up the game and forces the defense to play you honest. 

While Prince and House have a lot of things in common, they are fairly different players. House is a pure perimeter player - a 2/3 whose really comfortable handling the ball and running the offense 25+ feet from the basket. Prince is more of a combo forward - a 3/4 who can guard bigger players and who scores a lot of points off the mismatch, whether it's taking slower guys off the dribble or posting up smaller guys on the block. The problem for him against A&M was that House is just as fast and just about as big so there was no obvious way for him to create offense besides make difficult shots off the dribble and that's not really the strength of his game. 

Despite his gaudy scoring averages, Price isn't super comfortable being the hub of the offense and trying to read the double team:

The other difference between Prince and House is that Prince can impact the game without the ball in his hands. He's a big and aggressive athlete who knows how to use his physicality to attack the glass and he has a nose for the ball:

What's really intriguing about him is that he can hold up in the post against bigger players. He kind of reminds me of Harrison Barnes in that he's not going to be a high-level shot-creator and playmaker against other NBA 3's but he's capable of playing as a small-ball 4 and opening up the floor for everyone else because he's a guard who can defend big men:

Even though House thoroughly whipped Prince in the match-up, Prince still has a few advantages when it comes to evaluating his NBA draft prospects. 

1) He's younger (born in August 1994 as opposed to June 1993) so there's more room for him to grow as a player

2) He has more defensive versatility - given the way the game is going in the NBA, he should be able to guard 2-4 and he might even be able to switch screens and stick with 1's for stretches

3) He's more comfortable as a role player - he doesn't take a lot of bad shots and he can more easily impact the game without the ball in his hands

That said, House did show a lot in this game and I suspect that he's undervalued when it comes to the draft despite his relatively poor statistics.

1) He's a much better shot-creator off the dribble than Prince - he's a smooth 6'7 wing who can shoot off the dribble and get a look against almost anyone

2) He's a better perimeter defender. I would say that House has an edge in terms of pure athleticism and hes more comfortable playing in man than Prince, who has spent a lot of time playing zone at Baylor. That's why I don't put much stock in his huge steal numbers, which are as much a product of the zone as anything.

In a best-case scenario, House can rein in his shot selection at the next level and improve his percentages when he's playing off better players and not forcing up bad shots against defenses designed to stop him. In a worst-case scenario, he can't be a consistent enough shooter to stay on the floor as a role player, he doesn't get the time to develop his defense at the NBA level (very few rookies are going to come into the league as stoppers regardless of their tools and it usually takes them a few years to adjust to the mental demands that playing defense against the best players in the world requires) and he slips through the cracks and winds up in Europe.

Even though they are older than most prospects, NBA teams should be watching Prince and House very closely over the next few months because there are very few potential 3-and-D wings in this year's draft. Here are the American wings currently projected to go in the first round by DX:

Brandon Ingram
Jaylen Brown (shooting 25.6% from 3)
Denzel Valentine (not going to be a defensive player at the next level - an average athlete at best)
Caris LeVert (super skinny at 6'7 200 and needs to put on a lot of weight)
Justin Jackson (shooting 26.2% from 3)
Devin Robinson (shooting 28.2% from 3)

There just aren't a lot of guys out there with the size and athleticism to be able to play NBA defense on the perimeter and the skill to be able to shoot and handle the ball. Any 6'7+ player with those combination of skills has a chance at the next level, regardless of where they end up being drafted.

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