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 breaks down Utah State center Neemias Queta.
Neemias Queta has all kinds of future upside and very little present value, which makes his evaluation extremely difficult through the prism of the 2019 NBA Draft. The difference between the players who fulfill their potential and those who don’t often has very little to do with what one can see watching them on film or looking at advanced statistics. Mentality and defensive IQ will define his leap to the next level after a strong freshman season at Utah State. The physical ability is on full display in every game he played for the Aggies, but how well he can harness that ability toward high-level NBA defense will be what defines his career.
His absolute ceiling involves becoming the all-around defender for whom teams are looking to man the paint for them in the perimeter-oriented NBA. He stands 6’11 and weighs in at 240 pounds, with a reported 7’5 wingspan, giving him the sort of physical tools that defines the modern center position. Length to contest shots at the rim and good feet on the perimeter give him the outline of an elite defender, though his mind will have to catch up with his body in order to fill in that outline. He doesn’t quite have the mind for the defensive end of the court to this point and was able to get away with mistakes due to his sheer athletic advantage. He plays hard but his motor doesn’t necessarily pop off the screen on film; there are too many plays in which he stands around or doesn’t react quickly enough to the action taking place in front of him.
Rebounding is going to be an issue at the outset, as he lacks the proper strength to really bang with NBA-level big men down low. He’ll get thrown around quite a bit in his first year or two in the league, but with a proper training regimen, the necessary bulk should come quickly enough. Bulking up too much will eat into his lateral athleticism, but too little will leave him very vulnerable on the glass. Getting that balance right will be important for the training staff tasked with developing him.
Queta plays with active hands and decent technique in pick-and-roll defense, dropping deep enough to protect the rim while using his length well to contest pull-up jumpers. He keeps his hands up as guards use ball screens and will deter a lot of shots with his technique and athleticism. He’s not necessarily getting his hands into passing lanes to wreak havoc in that way, but the simple fundamentals of having his hands high while he defends in pick-and-roll show that he’s able to internalize coaching and apply it on a possession-by-possession basis.
There’s very little offense to speak of for Queta, who will likely be relegated to a rim runner role as an NBA player. Utah State threw him the ball down low often, but he really wasn’t very good as a post-up threat and possession little in the way of ball skills in those spots. He hasn’t shown much ability as a playmaker out of the post or at the elbows and cannot put the ball through the net outside of the immediate basket area. Still, the athleticism and finishing ability will give him some vertical gravity in pick-and-roll.
The pick-and-roll game projects to be his bread and butter in the NBA, but Queta will need to make massive strides as a screener in order to truly unlock everything he can do in the game’s most common action. At this point, he’s a very poor screen setter and often doesn’t make contact at all on opposing guards. Some of the strength and weight he’ll put on will help him in this regard, but he’ll need to develop a big man’s mentality in order to succeed offensively. The days of him catching on the block and playing one-on-one are likely behind him.
Queta is a long-term project whom a team cannot expect to provide positive value on either end of the court in his rookie year. Should he end up going in the second round, that may lead to him falling through the cracks altogether, as no team would have enough of an investment in him to properly develop his necessary improvement areas. If he can sneak into the bottom of the first round, however, a team would have a four-year commitment at a relatively cheap cost to ensure that he’s brought along correctly.
Other issues that will affect Queta’s draft position have nothing to do with the player himself and everything to do with the league into which he’ll step. Center is the most oversupplied position in the league, with scores of paint-bound centers hunting for minimum contracts every summer. His ceiling would take him out of this group and make him a high-value starting center, but the likelihood of a player with so much to improve upon actually reaching that ceiling is far from a sure thing.
A long, switchy center who can defend the perimeter and protect the rim has immense value, but a player who can’t do both of those things at an above-average level and isn’t elite in either area is no better than a backup center who doesn’t command more than about $5 million a year on the open market. From a draft perspective, it makes a lot more sense to take a wing with upside than it does a center with upside, because hitting on a wing is so much more valuable than hitting on a center in the same draft tier.