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The axiom goes that an NBA team can’t ever have enough wings. It’s true, and if you don’t think so then watch any 2021-22 Los Angeles Laker game (please don’t actually, I care about you) or how puny the Brooklyn Nets were in their lone playoff series against the Finals-bound Boston Celtics. Wings that are big, long, and versatile defensively will always have a shot at cracking a playoff rotation. If they can hit threes or even make smart reads as a passer, even better. If they can create their own shot then they’re going in the lottery. But a player in the 2022 NBA Draft that likely won’t get selected in the lottery but does hit those benchmarks? Wake Forest’s Jake LaRavia

Cutting

Jake LaRavia is not going to be a guy you ask to create a lot of offense; he averaged just over eight field goal attempts per game over his college career and finished with a usage rate of just 21.9-percent. But LaRavia excels in filling in the gaps as a mover, a cutter, and a floor spacer, the primary ways he was used at college. He’s always vigilant without the ball in his hands. Once he sees an opening to zip through the lane, he hits it. Playing with a true point guard in Alondes Williams helped in finding LaRavia in those circumstances.

LaRavia shot 61.6-percent on two-point shots this past year and it’s easy to see why. He knows who he is and how to get the shots he knows he can make. He’s also more than sneaky athletic so he can punch those down once he gets the ball with that head of steam.

Shooting

LaRavia is also a very solid shooter. He didn’t shoot a ton of threes but he made 37.1-percent of the 132 threes he attempted over his three-year collegiate career. The stroke looks solid.

If Jake LaRavia is going to stay on the floor in high-leverage moments, he’s going to have to make shots like that. Luckily, he proved he can do so at a high level. LaRavia generated 1.5 points per possession on every unguarded catch-and-shoot jumper he shot last season, according to Zach Welch on Twitter. Excelling as a jump shooter as well as a finisher played a large role in LaRavia finishing last season with a 64.9-percent true-shooting percentage and a 60.6-percent effective field goal percentage. That he’s even somewhat close to the efficiency Chet Holmgren (69.1-percent TS; 68.1-percent eFG) posted is incredible and a testament to how well LaRavia excels at being a complementary piece. It isn’t as if LaRavia is only shooting corner threes like PJ Tucker either; he’s got NBA range and can hit shots on the move as well.

 

Playmaking

Another area of offense Jake LaRavia excels at is his passing. He reads the floor very well and especially so on the move, which will be very important in the NBA. Teams are going to force a team’s star players to get rid of the ball and force others to beat them. LaRavia can diagnose those defensive rotations on the fly and make the correct decisions to get his team a great look. This play is a great example. 

Towson traps the ballhandler. As they do, Wake Forest’s center slips to the rim. LaRavia makes himself available in the middle of the floor and sees the defender in the corner tagging Wake Forest’s roller. As he tags LaRavia zips it to the wing to create an open three. LaRavia is a smart and unselfish passer. It’s no wonder why he averaged 3.5 assists per 40 minutes (to 3 turnovers) and an above-average 17.8-percent assist percentage for his career. (For context: Karl-Anthony Towns and Thaddeus Young finished with a 17.7-percent assist percentage last season.) He has no problem manipulating a defense or making the simple extra pass. He keeps the machine humming.

Defense

The same way Jake LaRavia reads the floor offensively he also does so defensively. This side of the floor is where LaRavia’s bread gets buttered. At 6-8 227-pounds and a 6-9.5 wingspan, he can cover a ton of ground defensively. He has no issue disrupting offenses as a free safety. Watch here how he rotates from the weakside to strip the Towson roll man as he’s going up to force a turnover. 

That’s just one example of LaRavia putting out a fire off the ball. Here’s another. He begins the possession on a Towson big man. But as the ball rotates from one side to the other, a Towson guard is open on the left-wing. LaRavia sees it and zips over to make him put it on the deck, redirecting his rotating teammate Alondes Williams back to his original man. LaRavia sticks with the Towson guard and forces a wild shot as a result.

 

LaRavia can clearly defend in the team scheme, but he can put the clamps on people? That answer is also a definite yes. He’s got the quick feet to stick with guards and the size to stand up bruising wings. He didn’t have much of an issue sticking with two dynamic NC State scorers in Terquavion Smith and Dereon Seabron, both of whom fared well in May’s NBA Combine.

I think Jake LaRavia would probably be better deployed in more of a free safety role like a Robert Covington, but he’s definitely capable of being a point-of-attack stopper too, in my opinion. But it’s clear to me he is a plus defender. The numbers back it up too. LaRavia finished with a 12.7-percent rebound percentage, 2.4-percent steal percentage, 3.9-percent block percentage, and 4.6 defensive win shares (this stat continues to accumulate the more games you play. The more games one plays, the bigger the number. Veterans will have a bigger number than freshmen.). That is very similar to or better than a number of wings projected to go ahead of him in this year’s class. Here are how a few others that share LaRavia’s position in this class compare to LaRavia:

Jeremy Sochan, Baylor: 14.7 RB%, 2.9 STL%, 3.2 BLK%, 1.9 DWS

Tari Eason, LSU: 15.2 RB%, 4.5 STL%, 6.2 BLK%, 3.4 DWS

Kendall Brown, Baylor: 10.5 RB%, 2.2 STL%, 1.5 BLK%, 1.8 DWS

EJ Liddell, Ohio State: 13.7 RB%, 1.2 STL%, 6.5 BLK%, 3.8 DWS

Patrick Baldwin Jr., Milwaukee: 11.2 RB%, 1.7 STL%, 3.2 BLK%, 0.4 DWS

Jake LaRavia is just as good or even a better shooter than some of these guys with the defensive impact, but isn’t mocked in the top 20 the way these guys are or have previously been. I think that’s a mistake. LaRavia is right there amongst the most impactful wings in this draft whose game fits the mold of an Aaron Gordon‘s. He may be a junior but he’s still just 20 years. He’s just six months older than freshman Chet Holmgren and 12 days older than freshman TyTy Washington. There’s plenty of room for LaRavia to grow.

Jake LaRavia should be a top 20 pick in my opinion, but any team that sees themselves as a contender picking in the 20s (such as the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, and Golden State Warriors) that is low on wing depth should have no qualms taking LaRavia in the first round. He is a perfect complementary piece on the wing that can step in and help a team immediately. Every team needs players like him to get through the riggers of the playoffs to get that elusive Larry O’Brien Trophy. If you like winning players, then Jake LaRavia is your man.

Every year the NBA has held its scouting combine, and players use that opportunity to their advantage to boost their draft stock. The 2022 combine was no different. After four different scrimmages over the course of two days, here are a few guys that I am a fan of and thought did themselves a service not only competing with their contemporaries but helping their draft stock in the process to get themselves in consideration to be a late first-round pick or potential early-to-mid second-round pick.

Jalen Williams, Santa Clara

Last year, it was Josh Primo who used the NBA Combine to his advantage and skyrocketed his way all the way up to the lottery. He was mostly regarded as a fringe first-round pick, but there he was hearing his name called by the San Antonio Spurs with their 12th overall selection in last year’s draft. This year’s favorite for the Josh Primo bump is Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams. He slaughtered the combine in every which way imaginable. First is the testing aspect. Williams measured in at 6-5.75 with a 7-2.25(!!!) wingspan. He also posted a monstrous 39-inch max vertical jump and a vertical reach greater than the likes of springy big men Rudy Gobert and John Collins. Holy shit. Despite giving a couple of inches, Williams’ overall size and athleticism compares favorably to some of the best wings in the NBA.

But the NBA isn’t just about testing measurements; there have been plenty of workout warriors who get drafted too high but can’t play. Luckily, that isn’t Jalen Williams. He’s got a smooth feel and three-level scoring chops. He can play off the ball and nail catch-and-shoot threes, he can play and finish through contact, and rise for a midrange jumper if the lane gets congested. According to Synergy Sports, Williams finished in the 86th-percentile on plays he was the pick and roll ballhandler and in the 97th-percentile on spot-ups. He laid all of these skills out for everyone to see this week.

Jalen Williams is also a very savvy playmaker. He finished college with a career 2.9-1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio and had a +2 ratio in his final season at Santa Clara. He can make any read out of the pick and roll. This here is a good example. He sees the man defending his teammate on the wing tagging the roller and delivers the ball as his defender is tagging. Once his teammate attacks the open driving lane, Williams finds space along the baseline to get a dump off and finish a dunk. He essentially created a dunk for himself.

Lastly, Williams is a staunch defender. He was defending Christian Braun for much of his first scrimmage and didn’t let him do much. This play was another of many Williams made. Hugo Besson does a good job of maximizing the screen to get the big to commit. Once the big bites and steps out, Williams veers back to the roll man, got a deflection on the ball, and ultimately forces the turnover. You can’t ask for better execution than this. 

Jalen Williams typically found himself in the 40s of mock drafts and big boards. As a Lakers fan who hoped he’d slip through the cracks, this week was devastating for such hope (as was the entire season so what is new). Jalen Williams is undoubtedly a first-round pick and likely a lottery pick now. He’s going to make a fan base extremely happy.

Andrew Nembhard, Gonzaga

The West Coast Conference is getting some love today! Andrew Nembhard was awesome for Gonzaga the past two seasons. He’s as steady a point guard as any in this class. His career assist-to-turnover ratio is just under +3 (2.94); during his two seasons in Spokane, it sat at +3.2. That terrific feel and playmaking were on display from the jump. This one was my favorite from the day. Nembhard runs a pick and roll from the right side of the floor, sees the weakside man tagging the roll man, and then zips the ball all the way to the left corner to create an And-1 corner three.

The concern regarding Andrew Nembhard was whether or not he can create for himself against NBA length and size. Au’Diese Toney of Arkansas totally shut Nembhard down in Gonzaga’s Sweet 16 loss at the hands of the Razorbacks. But Nembhard quelled those concerns. He looked as cool as a cucumber hitting floaters and pulling off the bounce. He only played the second of his team’s scrimmages after sitting the first one with a quad issue. He made up for lost time and then some by finishing with 26 points and 11 assists compared to just two turnovers.

On top of that, Andrew Nembhard finished with one of the best agility times for a guard at the combine. For any team looking for a backup point guard, look no further. Seeing how Tyus Jones and Monte Morris kept their teams afloat after injuries hit their starters this season, it’s not hard to envision Nembhard playing a similar role for whoever selects him. I waivered on Nembhard after his tournament display, but I’m back in after he dominated the combine.

Christian Braun, Kansas

Christian Braun didn’t have much to improve at the combine on the floor, but he competed and showed out between the lines anyway. I loved watching Braun as a Jayhawk and he kept the National Championship momentum in Chicago. Braun is a great secondary playmaker and off-ball player who fills the gaps for whatever a team needs. He runs in transition, he’s a savvy cutter and typically makes the extra and/or right pass. He’s also a pretty damn good shooter. He was just under 38-percent for his career at Kansas from deep and 75-percent from the free-throw line. He didn’t shoot the lights out in Chicago but didn’t have a problem adjusting to NBA range.

I love the pump fake to get his man to bite before stepping up for a more open three. It’s an example of Braun’s feel and composure on the floor. 

Christian Braun also gets after it defensively. At 6-6 218-pounds, Braun can guard multiple positions and did exactly that at Chicago. This play was a great example. He gets switched onto Georgetown’s Aminu Mohammed (who himself had a nice showing at the combine) and holds his ground. More than that, he stands Mohammed’s drive up and packs him in the process, forcing a 24-second violation.

To ice his performance on the court, Christian Braun proved his athleticism was not just sneaky. He lit up the vertical testing, finishing with a 40-inch max vertical and a 33.5-inch standing vertical. He tested as one of the best athletes at the combine period. Braun was on the fringes of the first round but likely solidified himself as one this week.

Ryan Rollins, Toledo

Ryan Rollins is one of my favorite players in this entire draft. Nothing I saw in his lone scrimmage dismayed me from that train of thought. Rollins has a smooth CJ McCollum-esque game (his words, not mine); he loves getting to the elbows and flipping in floaters when he gets to the paint. He also looked very comfortable playmaking out of pick and roll scenarios, frequently making the right play whether that be hitting the roll man or finding shooters in the corners. He put all of his tantalizing offensive skills on display in his scrimmage on Thursday.

My main concern with Ryan Rollins is that he’s not the best athlete and still needs to extend to NBA range as a shooter. He actually tested pretty well and better than other guards in his draft range. But, he had a few open looks beyond the arc and I don’t remember hitting one of them. I don’t view this as a major problem; Rollins has a great touch and shot just under 80-percent from the free-throw line during his career. I believe the three-point shooting will come in due time. Ryan Rollins is a top-20 pick.

Terquavion Smith, North Carolina State

Remember when Bones Hyland lit up the combine last year? Enter Terquavion Smith.

Bones Hyland’s numbers were a bit more efficient than Terquavion Smith’s but similar nonetheless. In Hyland’s sophomore year at VCU, he averaged 19.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 3.1 turnovers, and 7.8 three-point attempts per game on 44.7/37.1/86.2 shooting splits. Smith? He averaged 16.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.7 turnovers, and 8.1 three-point attempts per game on 39.8/36.9/69.8 shooting splits. Similar enough? If you liked Hyland last year (I did), it’s not hard to like Smith. Every team seemingly has or values these roaming three-point chuckers; using a first-round pick on Hyland, Jordan Poole, and Immanuel Quickley has worked out very well over the past three years. Smith is one of them in this class. He was picking up steam before the combine and gained more this week. He likely played himself into the first round.

Dereon Seabron, NC State

If Terquavion Smith at 6-4 160-pounds was the lighting for the NC State Wolfpack this season, the 6-7 180-pound Dereon Seabron was the thunder. It was rare for a defender to stay in front of Seabron, and once he got by his man he roared to the basket and routinely finished through contact. Just watch how many times he bulldozed to the rim here.

Dereon Seabron may be a wrecking ball as a driver, but he also flashed playmaking chops. He has only 14 more assists than turnovers through two seasons at NC State but knew how and when to find his teammates when handling the ball. The biggest hurdle for Seabron to clear is his shooting. In two seasons, he only shot 63 threes, making 16 of them (25.4-percent). He hit just 69.4-percent of his free throws too. Seabron showed well but still seems more like a second-round pick or candidate to return to college than a first-round pick. But he put himself on more radars this week, and that’s all anyone in his shoes could ask for.

Kenneth Lofton Jr., Louisiana Tech

No one, at least from this event, improved their stock more than Kenny Lofton Jr. Everyone knew he was a burly post-up brute who can plow through just about anybody. But, his skill and feel were amongst the best in both the G League Elite Camp (for more from that event, click here). Lofton Jr. shined so much during the G League Elite Camp that he earned an invite to the NBA Combine. More of the same followed in the one NBA Combine scrimmage he participated in. He wasn’t just a low-post threat; he was also a pick and pop weapon. Lofton did not shoot a single three during his freshman season and made just four of 20 last year, but wasn’t afraid to let it fly in Chicago.

A three-ball would unlock so much more to Lofton’s game. This play is a good example. The defense runs him off the three-point line, putting Lofton in a 5v4 advantage. From there, he uses a euro step to get off a floater that he misses. But after getting the offensive rebound and a quick second jump, the ball is in the basket anyway.

Lofton’s bread is buttered in the post but it is important to show he’s got these skills in his toolbox. Teams are not wanting bigs posting up other bigs in today’s NBA, nor should they unless they’re the best of the best. But if he can play bigs off the floor stretching them out to set up his post-game, then he’s going to be an incredible offensive weapon. Because his post-game is awesome.

If he gets a smaller defender on him, then it’s a wrap. He is too powerful and too skilled. That smaller defender is going to get put in the basket.

If he gets a smaller defender on him, then teams are going to need to send help. Luckily, Lofton is a brilliant passer. Double teams don’t phase him; just look at this play. The double comes and immediately Lofton looks to pass. He sees Jules Bernard zoning up in the corner. He looks at him making Bernard think he’s throwing it to the wing, only to gift the guy in the corner a wide-open three.

The NBA is trending away from guys like Kenneth Lofton Jr., but skill is skill no matter where it comes from. Lofton had a paltry three-point percentage and a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in college, but clearly showed he can impact those areas of the game and play in the modern NBA. The defensive end of the floor will absolutely be a challenge for Lofton, especially at his 6-7 275-pound size. But, Lofton dominated every scrimmage he participated in and showed skill and feel that superseded almost, if not, all of his peers. He can start as a scoring weapon against bench units as he gets into better shape. If/when that happens, a team gifts him a strong defensive stretch five to cover for him there, Lofton can be a dynamic offensive big man in the NBA.