Thursday, January 28, 2016

Jabari Bird + Jordan Matthews

Most of the publicity surrounding Cal this season has been about Jaylen Brown and Ivan Raab, their two one-and-done freshmen. Whatever's left has been taken up by Tyrone Wallace, their do-everything 6'6 senior PG. You wouldn't expect a team in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12 conference and on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament to have much more individual talent than that, especially one coming off two straight trips to the NIT.

However, they've got two other guys who I've been tracking for awhile who have more of a chance of playing in the NBA than most people realize. Jabari Bird is a former McDonald's All-American who is a plus shooter and a plus athlete at 6'6 while Jordan Matthews is one of the best scorers in the Pac-12. Cal almost has too much talent for its own good, something which I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Jabari Bird is a proven 3-point shooter

His 3P% numbers are a little down this season, but he has a good looking stroke and a long history of knocking down 3's at Cal.

Freshman: 32.3% on 3,0 3PA's
Sophomore: 36.9% on 3.7 3PA's
Junior: 33% on 4,3 3PA's

The ball looks good coming out of his hands:

He's tall enough to where he can shoot over the top of close-outs:

Bird is an elite athlete

At 6'6 200 with a 6'7 wingspan, he has good size for the SG position at the next level, although he doesn't have exceptional reach and he could stand to gain a few pounds. What's intriguing about him is how well he moves for a shooting specialist. Watch him sky for this rebound in traffic:

In this sequence, he moves the ball while in the air in order to create an angle for himself in traffic. Shooters aren't supposed to be able to do stuff like this. He's shooting 52.9% from 2-point range this season despite taking an awful lot of difficult shots.

Watch him get back in transition and prevent the lay-up. When it comes to being able to guard on the perimeter, the biggest thing for me when watching NCAA guys is the eye test and seeing the way they move. That's especially true for 2nd-round picks and UDFA's who have to earn their way into the league because you assume they are willing to be coached up on defense or there won't be too much of a sunk cost when it comes to cutting them losses. Bird definitely moves like an NBA player.

Bird can do multiple things on offense

He's a fairly complete guard who can attack a close-out, put the ball on the floor and move it to find the open man:

Jordan Matthews can score the ball in a number of ways

He's a career 42.7% from 3 on 4,4 3PA's a game. He has a quick release and he doesn't need a lot of space to get his shot off:

At 6'3 205 with a 6'4 wingspan, Matthews is kind of trapped between guard positions at the next level but he's the perfect size for a combo guard off the bench. He has an NBA-ready body and he can get to whatever spots on the floor whenever he wants and score:

He also has the ability to shoot off the dribble, which makes him almost unguardable at the NCAA level:

When he has the green light, he can absolutely wreck NCAA defenses. In Cal's upset of Arizona over the weekend, Matthews had 28 points on 17 shots in 30 minutes off the bench.

The problem is the way Cal's team fits together:

Bird and Matthews have both played better in the last few weeks following Tyrone Wallace breaking his hand. It's not that Wallace is a bad player so much as that it opens up the floor and removes an extra ball-dominant player from the equation. As it stands now, Cal's top three players all need the ball in their hands and shoot 27% from 3 (Brown), 28% from 3 (Wallace) and don't take shots outside of 10+ feet (Raab). Combine those 3 with one of the mammoth but unskilled 7'0 C's that Cuonzo Martin likes to roll out there and there's no space on the floor for anyone to do anything.

Bird and Matthews are the designated floor spacers, which means there's little room for them to create off the dribble when everyone is healthy. In theory, they should benefit from playing with 3 guys who can generate double teams but when all of those guys don't have to be guarded off the ball it's pretty easy for the defense to find the numbers to stick everyone.

The only solution is for Cal to play smaller

This unit would feature as many as 5 NBA-caliber players and it would have a lot more room for Wallace and Brown to drive the ball to the rim and for Raab to post up, which is the strengths of their game:


The problem is that it leaves two inexperienced players playing up a position and it still leaves at least two players who don't have to be guarded off the ball.

I wouldn't be surprised if Cal is better next season

Wallace will graduate and they will almost certainly lose Brown and Raab to the draft and they will be left with a less talented but more experienced team that fits together much better. Their best two players will be senior guards who can shoot 3's off the dribble at a high volume and they will be surrounded by a playmaking PG (Sam Singer), a 6'7 floor spacer upfront (Stephen Domingo) and two 7'0 who won't be asked to do anything but crash the boards and protect the rim (Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh) and whose lack of scoring ability won't be as big a deal when they are playing in more space.

At that point, the key for both Matthews and Bird is whether they can develop into better passers once they have the ball in their hands more often. They both have the tools to where they have the chance to play in the NBA - the problem is they just don't have the chance to put up the type of all-around statistics scouts are looking for. The good news is that scouts will be watching Cal plenty over the next few months so both Bird and Matthews have a chance to make an impression while everyone watches Brown and Raab.

You have to scout a prospect's teammates as much as his own game

No basketball player exists in a vacuum. The types of teammates that someone plays with can make them look better or worse than they really are while their game will determine what type of players make sense around them and what type of team they can be functional parts of. You can see the problem with Jaylen Brown and Ivan Raab at Cal this season.

Brown's lack of shooting from the 3 position means that it's almost impossible to pair him with another ball-dominant player on the perimeter. Raab's lack of shooting from the 4 position means that it's easy for him to disappear for stretches of the game, especially when he's paired with a non-floor spacer at the 5 position who clogs up the lane. You can slide him down a position but that leaves him vulnerable when going up against bigger C's like Jakob Poeltl.

If those guys had consistent perimeter shots, they would be surefire Top 5 picks and Cal would be the best team in the country. Since they don't, it leaves Cuonzo Martin with a lot of difficult decisions and it means their team may actually be better off without them. That's something to think about when you are deciding how high in the draft you want to take either of them.

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