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 installment breaks down Michigan forward Ignas Brazdeikis.
The Michigan men’s basketball program will be undergoing major changes beginning with the 2019-20 campaign, as long-time head coach John Beilein is now employed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. In addition to that serious overhaul, the Wolverines also project to lose a trio of early entries to the 2019 NBA Draft, with Charles Matthews, Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis currently in the pool of draftees. While Matthews is an older prospect and Poole has a clear path to upside a backcourt scorer, Brazdeikis made perhaps the most intriguing decision to declare for the 2019 draft after his freshman season, and there is some uncertainty about his status as a prospect.
On the positive side, Brazdeikis is a polished and productive scorer, even after just one collegiate season. He takes advantage of mismatches with precision, has a comfortable mid-range game and finishes effectively near the rim and in floater range. In addition, the 20-year-old converted 39 percent of his three-point attempts as a freshman and, even if that number may not prove to be “true” in the future, he certainly has appeal as a long-distance shooter.
Brazdeikis also brings a high basketball IQ and a certain level of toughness to the table, with the established ability to overcome his perceived (and actual) weaknesses. His passing needs work on the whole but, in general, he was a positive offensive force at Michigan, with only the tendency to press as a scorer serving as a deterrent to his overall impact.
Defensively, it is much more of a mixed bag for Brazdeikis and that is where the questions most notably arise. He was an older freshman (he’ll be 21 in January) and, even with that relative advantage over some of his competition, athleticism is not a strength. As noted previously, he is strong and physical, but he faces questions about his ability to stay in front of wings athletically and his potential to defend bigger players from a pure size standpoint.
He is listed at 6’7 but Brazdeikis isn’t especially long and, simply put, he’ll never be an explosive athlete by NBA standards. On the offensive end, there is enough skill to project the ability to overcome that sub-optimal athleticism but, defensively, it was often an adventure for him and that is why he has seemingly settled in to a second-round projection.
On one hand, the positionless nature of the modern NBA should help Brazdeikis, as he sees the game well and plays with an impressive level of overall skill. On the flip side, it would be bold to suggest he could hold up defensively at the absolute highest levels (i.e. playoff basketball) and that takes the wind out of his sails in terms of overall evaluation.
It is (very) easy to see a scenario in which Brazdeikis is evaluated as a first-round talent on the offensive end, particularly if a team buys in to his potential as a high-30’s three-point shooter. Even if that rosy picture comes into view, however, it would be difficult to see anything better than league-average production arriving on the defensive end and, at this stage, that is likely kind.
For the Atlanta Hawks, Brazdeikis seemingly checks the boxes that the front office looks for in his ability to space the floor, operate with a live dribble and play within the confines of a scheme offensively. Whether that is enough to warrant a top-45 landing spot in the 2019 class is up for debate, though, and it might just come down to how much a team trusts his three-point marksmanship and, more importantly, his defensive floor.