Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This edition focuses on Arizona State forward Zylan Cheatham.
In most drafts, there are players available with intriguing skill sets that happen to have one or two glaring weaknesses. For some, it is simply a product of age-related concern, with the difficulty of attempting to compare 23-year-old players with 19-year-old players in the same pool. For others, there are specific skills that could hold a prospect back and, when combined with age-related questions, it can be difficult to peg a true landing spot.
Say hello to Arizona State forward Zylan Cheatham.
The versatile and talented 6’8 senior spent two seasons at San Diego State before transferring to Arizona State and the results in his one season in the Pac-12 were encouraging. Cheatham averaged 12.1 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game with 58 percent true shooting and, in general, was a positive force for the Sun Devils.
Beyond that, Cheatham has drawn reviews from a character standpoint, with Sam Vecenie of The Athletic saying that “Cheatham is just a guy I’m willing to bet on” and describing him as a “crazy hard worker” and “a great kid.” To put an exclamation point on that particular evaluation, Vecenie also notes that “a lot of the battle when trying to hit on late draft picks is being willing to bet on the human involved. I’ll bet on Cheatham.”
If you’re ready to run through a wall, that is the appropriate response and there is a lot to like about Cheatham’s on-court profile, including an intriguing skill set on the defensive set. However, there are two major questions.
Cheatham turned 23 years old in November and he will be 24 just one month after his rookie season begins. That isn’t completely prohibitive, of course, as many prospects in this age range have carved out quality careers at the next level, but it is simply something to note with Cheatham’s game, particularly when attempting to project to the future.
On the floor, Cheatham’s glaring question mark is his jump shot. With a peripheral glance, one would see that Cheatham made 44 percent of his three-point attempts this season at Arizona State and, in turn, the assumption could be made that shooting isn’t a weakness at all. However, he attempted only 25 for the season (making 11) and Cheatham has yet to establish a reliable mid-range jump shot, much less one from beyond the arc.
It has to be noted that Cheatham will have an uphill battle to find NBA minutes if he does not improve as a jump shooter but, in the same breath, it would be silly to foreclose on that idea. A lot of that projection comes down to mechanics and player development when he arrives in the NBA, which is something that is (very) difficult to analyze from an outsider’s perspective.
On the more encouraging side, Cheatham is a tremendous athlete and that opens many doors. He is an effective and versatile defender against multiple positions, with strong characteristics as a rebounder. Cheatham isn’t insanely long but he brings enough activity to the table to make up for that and, from an acumen perspective, there is a lot to like with Cheatham consistently being where he needs to be defensively.
On the offensive side, Cheatham is an underrated passer and that shined during his time at Arizona State. He does have a bit of a turnover issue, with essentially a dead-even heat between assists and turnovers last season, but floor vision isn’t an issue and he would function well as a ball-mover in a professional offense.
While his jumper remains the concern, Cheatham attacks close-outs well and that would theoretically open up even more if his long-distance shooting developed. He can create his own shot on the interior when asked to do so and, if nothing else, that is a helpful ability.
With most experts pegging Cheatham for a late second round (or undrafted) landing spot, there isn’t much risk for an NBA team and that would be true of the Atlanta Hawks. On the surface, he isn’t a typical Travis Schlenk player because, well, shooting is something the organization values at a high level. He does fill in a lot of gaps, however, and that could make things interesting if Cheatham excels during the pre-draft process.