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Scouting with the Mavs: Wake Forest at Miami

Scouting through the all star break to find sleepers hiding in plain sight

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Miami (FL) Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Following my trip in the pre-draft process to Miami last year, I attended Wake Forest versus Miami during All-Star weekend. All-Star weekend made finding out who was in attendance tricky, since so many NBA personnel were in Utah for the All-Star Game. However, NBA scouts are almost always in attendance at not only every ACC game, but also a matchup in a big market featuring a top 15 team. It can be assumed that there were NBA personnel at this matchup, just no specifications of which teams.

Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack had arguably their best combined game as backcourt-mates against Wake Forest: 51 points, seven assists, five rebounds, and five steals on 18-33 shooting (54.5%) and 11 free throws. Wake Forest has been emerging as a bubble team lately, and with this win by Miami, they have almost guaranteed themselves to be at worst a five seed for the NCAA Tournament.

As a background for those who don’t know, a big part of my recent MavsDraft “brand” has been promoting Isaiah Wong as an underrated prospect at Miami. Just search “MavsDraft Wong” (I did it for you in case you are lazy) and you’ll see an endless pour of my tweets over the last four years. This was my first live-action game of seeing Isaiah Wong in person, so I was excited to see how different the film looked against what I saw in warmups and in game-action.

When I went to Miami last summer to see Isaiah Wong in a private workout setting, NBA teams wanted to see him improve his jump shooting (especially three point shooting) and to be able to shoot over length and in general to have better consistency as a jump shooter. Wong has met, or even exceeded, those expectations. If Wong chooses to declare this year, or use his extra year of eligibility next year, he will find out how much weight these improvements have carried. For the year (stats following this weekend’s game) Wong is shooting 45% from the field overall, 38% from three, and 83.3% from the free throw line. Statistically, the shooting might actually be a non-existent concern. Free throw percentage above 80% is considered in the ‘excellent’ range, 38% from three is also well above average, and he is scoring within the three point line well.

Wong profiles as a three level scorer if the jump shooting can translate. His hesitation move and overall space creation are elite tools that defenders in college have had no answer for in all four years at Miami. The questions for Wong being able to translate still heavily rely on shooting: can he consistently play off-ball at a high-level, and can he shoot over defenders as a self-creator every game? Additionally, can he become a true point guard? At roughly six foot three, Wong is already undersized as a point guard, and will be classified as even more undersized as a combo guard.

To play devil’s advocate, college basketball’s assist numbers and overall play style hide point guard abilities for many guards, and often can do the opposite as well in overstating point guard abilities. In the NBA, with more possessions, better spacing, and more surrounding talent, Wong’s playmaking may pop more. He is efficient in the pick & roll and finds shooters well, which are key traits for NBA point guards. If he can go from ‘good’ to near ‘great’ in the pick & roll as a playmaker for others, he should stick as an NBA playmaker.

Nijel Pack also had a great game, recording 24 points, three rebounds, four assists, and four steals on 53% shooting. Pack has often been around mock drafts because of his elite shooting ability, even at just six feet tall. He is a good passer, he finishes well around bigs with a great scoop layup & floater, and he can play both off-ball and on-ball with unlimited range. As the NBA continues to get taller on average, Pack fights an uphill battle in sticking in the league.

Wake Forest punished Pack at times by switching him off-ball actively and often, and forcing him down towards the rim, which often resulted in easy shots within five feet of the rim. Pack will have to not only get stronger, but also be more willing to fight back defensively and prove that he can hold his own on that end. If he cannot, his elite shooting gets negated, thus limiting his NBA prospects.

Wake Forest only had one prospect of note in Bobi Klintman, a freshman stretch big man out of Sweden via Sunrise Christian Academy. At six foot nine, his jump shot form is pure, and he is able to shoot over closeouts with ease. Any scouts that have been to a Wake Forest game are sure to have had their eye gravitate towards him, as a big freshman shooter that could become a late bloomer is someone to keep an eye on long-term.

Look for Miami to have a big March Madness. If they can repeat their success last year, when they made the Elite Eight, both Wong & Pack should see their draft stock and reputation rise.