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Scouting with the Mavericks: SMU vs New Mexico

Zhuric Phelps and Jaelen House were the star attractions in a game with both Dallas and Atlanta scouts

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 15 New Mexico at SMU Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This time of year, there is a lot of basketball every day of the week. Between high school, college, G-League, NBA, and international basketball, trying to cover ground and figure out which players could be future NBA players is hard. NBA teams all have scouting departments of course, but figuring out where and when to send those scouts is a task in itself.

I watch a lot of games and while you can find my analysis of things on Twitter (@MavsDraft) and the Locked on NBA Big Board podcast, I am going to stop by Mavs Moneyball this season any time the Dallas Mavericks are at one of the numerous games I’m scouting, so that I can give you a scouting perspective on what the Mavericks are seeing. I know what you’re thinking, “Richard, the Mavericks don’t have a pick this year”. That’s true! Or at least it’s likely to be true so long as the Mavericks pick outside the top 10. But scouting is not a single year process, it’s something that teams and individual scouts do with players for years. The process is lengthy and it’s as important to see how a player grows and make comparisons as it is to assess a certain set of skills right now. With that in mind let’s get to what I watched earlier this week.

Three NBA teams were in attendance of Tuesday night’s matchup of New Mexico at SMU: Indiana, Dallas, and Atlanta. The game ended up being a blowout in favor of New Mexico, largely due to one prospect’s individual impact. Let’s break down the scouts’ perspective on the Dallas matchup.

Zhuric Phelps was the top listed prospect for the three NBA scouts in attendance, but the man who came out of Moody Coliseum as the best player in this game was actually Jaelen House. House was the main reason New Mexico won the first half 45-32, with nonstop intensity defensively on every single possession he was on the floor. He made it hard for Zhuric Phelps to get any rhythm on offense, starting almost all possessions with full court pressure as he brought the ball up. House was active with his hands, and followed his loose balls he forced with dives for the loose balls, often forcing SMU fouls.

Beyond his defense, House was the engine offensively. His easy penetration towards the rim opened up easy looks for both shooters and his bigs. With an exceptional first step towards the rim and dynamic change of speed, House’s ability to keep his head up as a ball-handler makes his floor general status much more easily achievable.

Despite a somewhat awkward and overly compact shooting form that doesn’t see him get great lift, House has great shooting touch and an ability to hit contested jumpers off the dribble. The worry for House in translating to the NBA is that he is and even six feet tall, even with long arms. His lack of a true standout skill holds him back from climbing scouts’ NBA Draft boards. His best outcome likely lies in getting run in the G League, where he would thrive in the league’s quick offense & high tempo, or going overseas and grooming his point guard skills as a rotational, or even starter, guard.

House’s standout game of 18 points, five assists, and three steals on 57% shooting reminds me of Jonah Mathews against Desmond Bane in 2019. In that game, Jonah Mathews, USC’s point guard standing at 6’3” hounded Bane both off-ball and on-ball, not allowing him to get to any of his spots, which is reminiscent of what House did to Phelps in this early season contest. Like House, Jonah Mathews also had good scoring, going for an efficient 20 points with smothering defense. Mathews now plays overseas and has made a successful career for himself, so House should model his trajectory after Mathews. The difference between Mathews and House, however, is that House’s dynamic scoring ability will allow for him to likely see any branch of the NBA, whether it be Summer League or the G League, for some time.

The other player scouts were excited to see in this game was the aforementioned Zhuric Phelps. This was a rough game for him, not being able to get to his spots or play his game that forces defenses to scramble. A noticeable sign of improvement from this year to last, as Phelps strives for the American Athletic Conference’s Most Improved Player award, is how even though he was having to adjust to the defense (rather than the defense adjusting to him) he still looked for his teammates and was able to score 16 points on 45% shooting. Three turnovers and three assists are still a bit alarming, and tell the story on House’s smothering defense.

Phelps will need a redemption game in front of the same scouts down the road to prove that he can be the alpha that forces defenses to adjust, instead of the other way around.

Some notes on two other minor prospects that are considered fringe prospects, with one from each team:

Zach Nutall

Known for his shooting, Nutall wasn’t much of a shooter against New Mexico, but was instead asked to be a bit of a slasher and playmaker, growing his point guard skills at six foot three. He will make an interesting guard overseas as a combo/hybrid guard being able to play on-ball, while specializing off-ball offensively.

Jamal Mashburn Jr.

Scouts, and myself, do not like Mashburn’s size + lack of rim pressure. Mashburn is almost exclusively a jump shooter at six foot two, and settles for too many difficult, low percentage shots. He is likely to play overseas as his post-college route, but with his name recognition, he will get chances in the United States.