This is my first real forray into draft writing; I’ve been floating towards the further reaches of draft twitter as I finally got to scouting the second round of the 2020 Draft cycle. I’m hooked now! I very quickly realized in my scouting endeavors, that waiting until a month and a half before the draft is not great, so I I started setting some time aside this year to immerse myself in the wonders of the 2021 Draft.
I very quickly stumbled onto the University of Illinois Fighting Illini, and my god do I have thoughts. The 2021 Illinois team has a chance to be the best since Deron Williams, Luther Head, and Dee Brown were roaming Champagne in the early 2000’s.
I legitimately knew nothing about this team prior to watching film today; watching prospects I’d never seen before unfold as players and develop in my mind over each possession was one of the coolest memories I have with basketball. I owe that largely to the enamoring presence of the Illini’s pro prospects. Ayo Dosunmu, Adam Miller, Kofi Cockburn, and Andre Curbelo all stand out for numerous reasons that i’ll get into shortly, but I want to rattle off a few thoughts first.
Disclaimer: I had to watch games on DVR through cable so I couldn’t create my own clips unfortunately, but luckily there are some great ones on Twitter. Thank you to the rad people who put those clips up.
Mark Vital is Good at Basketball
I hadn’t gotten around to watching Baylor much last year; watching Baylor is worth every minute just for the sake of watching Mark Vital rotate on defense. I’ll struggle to find anyone this season who had a worse time on the defensive end or on the glass than when Da’Monte Williams was tasked with guarding Vital. It was like Stalingrad on the basketball court; Da’Monte did not start off with a rifle I’ll tell you that much.
Vital’s listed at 6’5 230, yet somehow plays even larger than that. His wingspan per scouting reports from last year is 6’9, although that almost seems too small. I’d bank on that being correct and I’m just overgauging his length due to his exceptional quickness and positioning. While Baylor has a number of talented wing defenders, Mark Vital routinely gave Ayo Dosunmu difficulty when switched onto him. He’s certainly not a rim protector, but much like current Houston Rocket, P.J. Tucker, he’s a stout post defender who can guard much larger players.
However, that’s where that comparison ends for me. On the offensive end, Tucker was much more prolific of a scorer in college. While he took and made less threes than Vital has during during his tenure at Texas, he was a career 71.1% FT shooter and improved by a significant margin each year. Vital doesn’t have the greatest touch (Career 49.7% FT shooter) and he’s only attempted 49 threes in 99 career games at Baylor. If he had the ability to hit corner threes or was even marginally close to average from the line, I don’t think I’d hesitate to offer him a shot in the G-League. I think he’ll end up having a really nice nice pro career overseas, barring a huge turnaround in free throw shooting or 3-point shooting willingness. I’m just not sure how he could stay on-court offensively.
Regardless, I will watch Baylor anytime I can this season to get in some Mark Vital defensive possessions. Such a fun player.
I remember learning about Kinetic and Potential energy in AP Physics during high school and every single example used a pinball or a cannon. If I were a physics teacher, I would simply air film of Ayo in transition on repeat. Dosunmu plays with a frenetic energy that’s completely infectious and drives so much of what Illinois does.
His NBA prospects are incredibly intriguing to me. Ayo has shown significant improvements this year in the areas of his game that I’d have questions about, but it’s only been five games. That being said, I think his growth track is encouraging. He shot sub-70% at the line his freshman year, North of 75% last year, and is currently shooting 82.1% on free throws on his highest free throw rate of his career.
Dosunmu is taking pull-ups this season, but I have been pretty iffy on them when watching and going through synergy: Ayo is 7/19 on off-dribble shots which is in the 40th percentile. That’s of course small sample size, but thus far, his pull-up has left me wanting and it’s not incredibly fluid. I’m not a shot doctor, but it feels like he certainly needs some tweaking on that shot.
That leads me to my next point; Ayo’s handle. I don’t think his handle is good enough to be a primary initiator, but his growth as a playmaker, specifically out of pick and roll, has been extremely encouraging.
At this stage, I feel as though he’s more athletic than his handle can handle (hahaha). That’s not to say his handle is terrible, but it feels like it’s just not quite good enough yet to let him use his full burst and acceleration. That’s where the PnR playmaking comes in. Ayo was roughly a 1:1 Assist to TO guy his first two years. However, this season his playmaking has burgeoned greatly due to his gravity attacking the rim. When including the passes he makes out if the defense commits, and boy do they, Ayo is generating 1.19 points per possession (63 total PnR possessions), which puts him among the very best in college basketball (92nd %ile). I’m not sure this development is legit yet, but there’s something there undoubtedly!
While I haven’t been in love with Ayo’s pull-up jumper, I have liked his three so far. It at least appears more fluid and natural than his pull-up.
I don’t buy him as a 42% shooter from distance, but I also think he’s better than the sub-30% performance he put together last season. We’ll have a better feel for where his shot is at as the season goes on.
As for his defense, I haven’t seen anything to dislike so far. He’s active, engaged off-ball, and he’s athletic with definitely a plus wingspan.
His drive game will be his calling card, but his developments in the rest of his game are worth noting and could jet him up draftboards if he flashes and maintains these looks throughout the year! Ayo Dosunmu is basketball joy.
I like Adam Miller quite a bit so far. I’ve seen a little bit of his EYBL stuff and know that he’s capable of on-ball creation, however, his shooting has been the main focal point of his offense in Champagne. Miller has run a total of six pick and rolls through five games with the Illini. At the time of writing this, Miller has taken the 8th most threes in the Big Ten and made the 4th most, hitting at 42.3% clip.
His shot is legit. From what I’ve seen, his mechanics are pretty regular for him; his shot looks about the same everytime which is huge. His release point is high and he gets it off fairly quick. Another thing I would point out, right now he’s not a dynamic shooter which I hope to see expanded this season. Just about every three he’s tgaken are standstill on not off of actions. While he’s awesome as a catch and shoot player, improving the verstility of his shot will be huge.
Miller has also shown some ability so far this year to pull-up from mid-range.
I’m really interested to see how he progresses throughout his freshman year. Will he find more on-ball reps? I’d definitely like to see it just to find out whether or not he can grow more there.
Defensively, Miller competes and I’ve enjoyed watching him there. This Illinois team, even with all their offensive talent, plays quality defense. Especially against Duke, he stood out for his ability to chase over screens and not get completely taken out of the play. He’s got a very strong frame and has adequately held up on ball.
So what kind of player is he and what kind of player will he be? I don’t now enough about him as a passer yet, but from what I’ve seen with his handle thus far, he projects as more of a combo guard. But, he’s 6’3, can he play the two? I think if his handle develops and he’s at least an average passer, he could become a George Hill type player, playing strong positional defense while being a lights out spacer and a smart decsion-maker on the floor next to a wing initiator.
Andre Curbelo is 6’1 175 and I think he’s the only person on the court at any given time who doesn’t have a clue that he’s that small. He’s not some crazy bouncy athlete, but dear god Curbelo seeks out contact like prime Brandon Jacobs.
If Ayo is the wind stream that propels the Illini, Curbelo is a tornado thrusting all players involved on the court into basketball chaos. It’s awesome.
Curbelo makes passes and reads that are just absurd. His feel and overall court vision is truly remarkable. Curbelo’s confidence, almost arrogance with the ball, is something to behold.
Curbelo is freaking special. He doesn’t mind making mistakes, I’m actually at the point where I think he’d be disappointed in himself if he didn’t try to thread a pass with 93% turnover probability.
- Currently averaging a 2.6:3.2 Assist to TO ratio
- 30% TO percentage
I’m sure he’ll start to curb down on some of his more tumultuos passes. Although I won’t get to laugh in awe at his sheer graishness as often, it’ll be good for his game and development of course.
In watching games, I wasn’t sure how to view Curbelo in tgerms of his viability as a prospect. But, when I thought about it more in-depth, if you put Andre Curbelo on the Indiana Pacers, he may be the most creative passer and ball-handler on the team and I don’t say that as an exaggeration. He’s that good. I need to see a lot more on him during his freshman year, but Curbelo is going to be something.
Kofi Cockburn is really interesting to me, not because I think he’s about to be Shaq, but due to the way he’s talked about and discussed. I feel as though often times, we see a guy who does a lot of things well, we get accustomed to that and expect them to be this even bigger/better/faster/stronger/etc. version. I’m not sure that’s going to happen with Kofi and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Let me explain.
In watching him, I actually was a little surprised by his mobility. He’s not someone who should ever be used in a switching scheme, but against bigger forwards and bigs, there were a few times where he didn’t get torched on the perimeter in one on one against Baylor and specifically Duke. Kofi’s not Rudy Gobert, but he is most definitely not Isaac Haas on the perimeter either.
He’s of course going to struggle guarding in pick and roll, but I think that’s largely due to his leaping ability, or lack thereof. He is incredibly ground bound. I mean, he’s 285 pounds that should not be a shock. I actually kind of like his defensive footwork and think he’s decent as a shot alterer, but in terms of pure shot-blocking, I’m not sure he’ll ever be great at that because of that lack of verticality. That being said, he’s still a good defender! You can’t post him at all, because he has the strongest base in someoen I’ve seen his size.
On the offensive end is where Kofi sees the most issues with his game on a prospect level. As a guy playing D1, he’s such a big player that his threat from the dunker’s spot is enough to drastically impact a defense. He’s a very good offensive rebounder. But, his second jump is pretty lackluster (again, due to his size), and his touch is pretty tough. At 7 feet, he struggles on offensive putbacks, and will have the ball stripped, stuffed, or miss the attempt.
His upper body is so massive and compact, I’m just not sure how he can improve his touch. I’m not a physio guy, but know from my experiences with weight cutting that dropping meaningful muscle mass can hurt your overall athleticism. As big as Kofi is, I’m not sure he really has much weight he can shed to try and improve his bounce.
Kofi is a really really good High-Major college starting center. That’s not a slight. I just think it’s important for people to temper expectations and realize that Kofi has very real limitations that are largely out of his control. I think he’ll end up getting a shot at the league whenever he enters the draft due to his size,. There may be an avenue for him to become an end of bench big, but I’m not sure that happens without his touch really improving. regardless, enjoy Kofi whenever he plays because he plays hard and it’s kinda awesome to watch someone his size run the floor with a four guard lineup.