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 examines St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds.
Shamorie Ponds might be one of the very best offensive prospects in the 2019 NBA draft class. At both the high school and collegiate levels, he operated as a preternatural scorer. From Brooklyn, he was a consensus top-50 recruit and decided to stay home to play at St. John’s University.
Ponds had three successful seasons of college play; he was named to the Big East All-Freshman team in 2017 and named to the First Team All-Big East squad in each of the last two seasons.
He played reasonably well during May’s NBA Draft Combine scrimmages and has positioned himself to potentially be taken in the latter part of the first round of the draft.
Ponds can score the basketball. There is little, if any, doubt about that. There is nothing really indicative about his game that suggests that he will have much difficulty getting it to translate at the NBA level apart from one thing... will he able to adjust to what his role is likely to be?
Having been a high-usage, score-first point guard at all levels to date, Ponds will certainly need to adjust to not having that role as a starter, at least at the beginning of his professional career. It’s not impossible that he could eventually be a starting point guard in the league, but it’s unlikely that he begins his first NBA season as even a team’s primary backup point guard.
As such, he will need to learn how to function with fewer minutes, if not outright inconsistent playing opportunities. He will also need to learn how to add value off the basketball offensively. He has good instincts and great feel as a player, so he should be able to develop as a cutter in the halfcourt offense, but he will need to overcome a strong instinct to shoot after a dribble when he is asked to play off the ball.
The greatest strength of Ponds is one that is still growing in value as the league continues to evolve. He is excellent creating his own perimeter shot off the dribble. At the collegiate level, not even traps and double teams had much impact on him as a shooter. That skill, if the rest of his game comes around, is the one that could lead to a potential role as a starter one day.
Last season, Ponds posted 19.1 points and 5.1 assists per game with a low turnover rate. He is secure with the basketball and when opposing defenses overplay him as a shooter, he is good at getting downhill towards the rim. He is a good finisher (for his size) at the rim with either hand.
He improved finishing through contact during each of his three seasons at St. John’s.
He did not rack up massive assists number as a collegian, but he has demonstrated that he can make any pass he will be asked to make at the next level. He can be a trusted decision maker.
Ponds is about an average athlete, but he graded out very well both in pick-and-roll action and in isolation opportunities last season.
Ponds instincts show up on the defensive end of the court as well. Unlike on offensive, he has more value playing off the ball as a defender. He led the Big East in steals during his freshman and junior seasons and finished second during his sophomore season.
He is excellent jumping passing lanes. Even better, he is one of those types of defenders that knows that good things likely happen when one can just get a finger on the basketball.
The best value he has defensively is using his ability to generate turnovers to create easy points for his team in transition.
NBA coaches will likely love Ponds defensive game because he’s not just looking to make the flashy play. He does all of the little things. For example, when his teammate is getting screened by Ponds’ man, he will ensure there is enough contact from himself to give his teammate an opportunity to recover back.
He is an excellent help defender despite his lack of size (6’0, 180 pounds) and he works hard closing out on shooters. He is also willing to crash the paint and put a second body on an opposing player that is a challenge to keep off of the offensive glass.
While most mock drafts have him in the 35-45 range as of now, Ponds is as likely as any player in that range to move significantly upward between now and draft night. The ceiling he has as a scorer is rare and shot creation is perhaps the most valuable single skill in the NBA right now. He will need to refine some areas of his offensive game, but he is about as good as it gets as offensive prospect, in that he can score efficiently at all three levels and he has a unique ability to generate his own shot.