SMU beat Temple in a thriller Wednesday night, ending Temple’s road undefeated record in conference play with a 72-71 victory at Moody Coliseum. There weren’t any listed NBA scouts in attendance, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any in the building. In such a crowded game for SMU, there were likely some members of the scouting department in attendance, even during the peak of the trade deadline (just hours before Kevin Durant was traded to Phoenix).
Zhuric Phelps had one of his strongest games of the year in an intense battle with fellow star guard Khalif Battle. Phelps finished the game with 19 points, five assists, three rebounds, and four steals with four turnovers on 54.5% shooting. He also hit the game winning free throw, but struggled at the line (four of nine shooting).
Zhuric Phelps had a good game vs Temple last night, going for 19 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals on 6-11 shooting. His stealing ability is borderline elite IMO. In this clip you'll see 3 level scoring and impressive off the dribble shot creation pic.twitter.com/Du8t5ENQNk— Mavs/Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) February 10, 2023
Phelps’ ball-handling was on display better than any other home game this season. He took advantage of switches, he cleanly split a pick & roll, and he fought through contact well in a game full of foul calls. While Phelps is likely a long-term prospect (meaning he is likely to be drafted as an upperclassman), the flashes now are good indicators of what he can potentially do consistently in the future.
One trait that Phelps has that could be a strong statistical indicator of his defense translating is his high steal rate. With four steals, he reads passing lanes at a high level, and can be a defensive playmaker that teams love seeing out of guards in the NBA.
On the other end, Khalif Battle recorded his fourth consecutive game with 20+ points. Over that span, he is averaging 25.5 PPG on 50% shooting, 48% from three, and 96% from the free throw line on seven attempts per game. Battle’s offensive explosion ability any given night is going to get him an automatic ticket to the G League. Last year, Battle averaged 21 points per game, and this year he is down to 18.4 PPG with a 10% drop in field goal percentage. Battle’s recent hot stretch may be convincing scouts that while last year may have been somewhat of a fluke (21 points per game on 54% shooting in just seven games), he still has the ability to be a microwave scorer that any team can use off the bench.
Khalif Battle is someone that hasn't gotten much, if any, traction on Draft Twitter. I think he's going to latch on with a two-way, and be one of the top scorers in the G League one day. Over the last 4 games he's averaging 25.5 PPG on 50/48/96. Some clips from last night vs SMU: pic.twitter.com/jSwWW48NLg— Mavs/Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) February 10, 2023
Battle lived up to his last name at times; he was intensely wanting to guard SMU star Zhuric Phelps on the other end every time after scoring, and he tried getting into his head. However, Battle still has defensive shortcomings, being a bit late to react at times, and getting lost off-ball. He will have to improve and learn positive defensive traits in the pros to fully hit his upside, as well as becoming a more willing playmaker. Playing for former NBA veteran Aaron McKie, Battle has likely picked up several pointers ahead of turning pro.
The likely outcome for Battle, the younger brother of former Syracuse star Tyus Battle, is the G League. With the G League being a ridiculously high-scoring league, Battle should fit right in and be able to work on some tendencies to maybe earn an NBA contract. If he cannot earn an NBA deal within three years, look for him to go overseas and get opportunities as a first option scorer.