In advance of the 2018-2019 NBA season, the Peachtree Hoops crew will preview each player on the current roster. The sixth installment breaks down rookie big man Omari Spellman.
With all of the changes the Atlanta Hawks made during the summer of 2018, fans are certainly looking forward to seeing all three of the team’s first round draft selections in action in this season. Though he was the third of those three first round picks, selected with the 30th and final pick of the first round, Omari Spellman brings a profile and skill set that translates well to the style of game played in the NBA today.
After a redshirt freshman season, Spellman played an integral role on a Villanova team that won 36 games en route to yet another national championship for the Wildcats. He started 39 games at center, led the team in rebounding and blocked shots while scoring 10.9 points per game and shooting 43.3% from the three point line. While there are question marks about some aspects of his game, Spellman is a a prototype NBA stretch big with the size to play the four and five spots while being a natural perimeter shooter.
Offense - Shooting
At Villanova, Spellman played in an NBA-style offense, sharing the court with three other players who were selected in the NBA draft, two of whom were selected in the first round. While Spellman will have a learning curve, he should be immediately comfortable in the Hawks’ offense working as a pick-and-pop big who can punish opponents who double-team the ball handler working off a Spellman screen.
He also should be very effective spotting up in the corner ready to help punish a defender who leaves to play help defense near the basket. In summer league play, Spellman looked very comfortable in these two roles.
Spellman executes the “pick and pop” and knocks down the open three-point shot.
Spellman spots up for the easy corner three.
While there is little question Spellman’s shooting will translate to the NBA level, it is not guaranteed that he will be a prolific three-point shooter. The college three-point line is the equivalent of a long NBA two point shot. Long jumpers by big men can produce effective scoring but does not provide as much floor spacing as is preferred in today’s NBA game.
One other question about his shooting that should be revealed during his rookie season is whether the fatigue that comes from playing the pace and physical play of the NBA game, especially for a big man, will affect his ability to be a consistent shooter. During summer league games, Spellman’s shooting ability was on display, but was, at times, inconsistent. And when he missed, his shot tended to miss short and flat, perhaps an indication of tired legs.
Offense — Ball Handling
On the offensive end of the floor, Spellman’s skill set is not limited to shooting. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor, most often to beat strong close outs from defenders. He can use his dribble to get to the rim or attract a second defender and find the open teammate.
At Villanova, Spellman played in a share-the-ball offense that expected all five players to be skilled at putting the ball on the floor while also demonstrating excellent pass skills finding teammates for open looks. Spellman appears to be very comfortable with the ball in his hands and plays with his eyes up. His passes are usually on time, hitting teammates in rhythm showing that he is a very good passer for a player of his size.
Spellman punishes the hard close out by the defender by putting the ball on the floor then getting the ball to an open teammate for the easy dunk.
Spellman again punishes the close out, this time getting to the rim for a dunk.
Though the skills are present, again there are question marks. In the NBA, he will be facing bigger, faster, longer and stronger defenders. Closeouts will come faster.
Spellman will see defenders that can close out and still recover to get back in defending position. He will also see more digs coming from guards on the weak side. Opponents will provide help and recover at pace faster than Spellman has seen on the court.
Decision-making and judgment will be critical for Spellman. At times, he we will be matched up against defenders he cannot beat off the dribble. But there will also be times when he is matched up with players he can beat.
He’ll need to discern when he should try to make plays with the ball in his hands and when he should defer to his teammates. He has been a very smart player at other levels of basketball. It may take time, but his basketball intelligence should help him adapt to the NBA game.
Even when the shots aren’t falling and when circumstances dictate he play more of a complimentary role on offense, Spellman can make plays with energy and effort. This is an existing facet of his game that translates to basketball at any level. Especially if he is working in limited minutes off the bench, Spellman can bring energy to the court.
Players who make an impact coming off the bench playing with energy tend to be players who rely less on skill and more hustle. But Spellman can do both. For a player his size, Spellman is a good athlete. He can get up and down the court and can make athletic basketball plays. He can make plays in transition and is effective working on the offensive glass. He has good instincts and finds the ball.
Spellman shows that he can finish in transition even when taking the contact from the defender.
Spellman crashes the offensive glass and gets the easy put-back dunk.
While Spellman brings a reasonably robust offensive skill set, there are more question marks on the defensive end of the court. Spellman does not profile as strongly on defense as he does on offense. While he has a good wingspan (7-2) for a player his size, he was not a standout defender at the college level. Though athletic, his lateral foot quickness, or lack thereof, could create challenges when matching up against quick, explosive offensive players.
Spellman may initially get caught as a bit of a “tweener” on the defensive end. He is perhaps too small to play the biggest of NBA centers and not quite quick enough to stay with smaller but faster power forwards. Further, in the switch heavy defensive schemes that most NBA teams deploy, Spellman could struggle to stay with players on the perimeter, especially when switching on to a smaller player.
If Spellman is to carve out regular minutes as a rotational player, he will have to prove he can hold is own on the defensive end, at least against league average players. He can help himself there by being vigilant, anticipating plays before they happen. Further, even if he struggles at times as an on the ball defender, he can be a good team defender, giving help, rotating and communicating. He can thrive as part of a team defensive unit even if he not the strongest of one on one defenders.
The one aspect of Spellman’s defensive game that is natural and intuitive is his ability to block shots. He has the length to defend shots at the rim. He has the athleticism to get to the rim in time to block shots and he has excellent timing when he gets there. He doesn’t necessarily have the profile to be a rim protector, possession after possession, but he should be able to make occasional impacts as a rotating help defender meeting the ball at the rim.
Spellman’s role could be very limited, especially in the early part of the season. But, there are minutes to be had. Dewayne Dedmon, John Collins and newcomer Alex Len should be entrenched at the top of the rotation for the four and five spots. After those three players, the picture is muddy. Miles Plumlee is likely not to challenge for regular minutes unless one of those top three players suffers an injury.
Spellman may have a path to the role of a fourth rotational big, at least unless head coach Lloyd Pierce chooses to play Taurean Prince up to the four spot for substantial minutes. In that respect, Spellman may very well be competing with the Hawks’ bench wings for playing time, though they play a different position than Spellman.
The most likely scenario is that Spellman gets inconsistent minutes throughout the first half of the season with an opportunity for an expanded role after the trade deadline when some veteran players could be moved off the roster by trade or buy-out. But early in the season, his playing will likely be driven by how consistently he is shooting the ball, how he is handling himself on the defensive end of the floor and match-ups. But always, in Spellman’s corner, is the opportunity to make an impact through energy and effort, two things that could keep him on the floor even if other aspects of his game aren’t completely in rhythm.