In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this installment, we break down Florida State wing Devin Vassell.
In the modern NBA, you typically want your best player to be able to create for himself and others since these skills are paramount within a playoff context. Once you have such a player in place, how do you go about building around him? What other players are you looking for? Of course, you need secondary creators and players who can defend. But broadly speaking, a general quality you’re seeking in players to place around a foundational star is scalability.
That refers to players who can enhance lineups by providing additive skills without compromising the best players’ abilities to function at their best. A good example of a scalable player is someone like Danny Green, who has been a starter on multiple championship teams and one of the most valuable role players for about a decade now. Having a lower usage offensive package based around shooting, Green is able to fit in basically any lineup and make teammates better.
While there are plenty of players “better” than Green, plenty of those players also lose value in the playoffs, where decision making, filling in gaps appropriately, among other things, can limit the effectiveness of players who are otherwise good in the regular season. Some players simply don’t scale to the level needed to stay on the floor for a contender in the postseason.
The point of this is to introduce the appeal of Florida State’s Devin Vassell, who is arguably the most scalable player in the entire draft. An elite team defender, he projects as a plug-and-play NBA wing. Although rookies are typically bad, I think Vassell has a terrific chance to at least provide rotation value in his first season.
As the league continues to prize the “3&D” role, it’s worth pointing out that the actual number of wings who are both genuinely positives on defense as well as good shooters is small. Thus, these players tend to command high prices on the free agent market and it’s no surprise that you often find them on contenders.
If you can get such a player relatively cheaply in the draft, it’s often a wise investment of a pick. Comparing favorably in several respects to Mikal Bridges — himself an underrated component of Phoenix’s improved fortunes — Vassell projects as one of the higher floor prospects in the class. Although unlikely to become a star, Vassell is one of the most readymade 3&D prospects to enter the draft in recent years.
Wings drafted since 08 with at least 3.5% BLK%, 2.5% STL%, >100 3PA, >3 DBPM. Idea is wings who are stock collectors, floor spacers, high defensive impact metrics. No surprise to find Mikal Bridges here. Vassell hits these thresholds. Also, I missed on Jacob Evans that year. pic.twitter.com/HBrNtYLbgm— AKelly (@andlankell) August 26, 2020
No matter how much time you spend scouting, drafting is hard. Even executives who are good at it have misses. Chasing upside is generally my preferred strategy, but when the draft presents you with a prime example of one of the most valuable archetypes at a reasonable price, it’s hard to pass up.
- A career shooter of 41.7 percent from three-point range, Vassell has a safe shooting projection at the next level. He gets the ball high over his head and should be a strong catch-and-shoot weapon in the NBA. He ranked 80th percentile from spot-up situations per Synergy, and 87th percentile in catch-and-shoot.
- He finished 68th percentile in half court jumpers off the dribble over 81 possessions, a big improvement from the season prior. An upside case for Vassell rests on him expanding this aspect of his game, similar to how Khris Middleton developed. Not just a catch-and-shoot guy, Vassell is a legitimate shot-maker. His NBA team should push him to stay aggressive because he can get very hot.
- Had a paltry .221 free throw rate in his final season, something that you would like to see improve. Is he just a jump shooter? He needs to get better at drawing contact on drives to unlock more scoring upside.
- A superb team defender, Vassell is a force in passing lanes, creating extra possessions via steals. He’s a true defensive playmaker, wreaking havoc on offenses. Possesses very good feel for when to gamble and has the ability to get back into position if the gamble doesn’t succeed. He should immediately provide defensive value at the next level.
- Somewhat between the 2 and the 3 positionally. He’s a lanky player who will need to add weight in order to hold up on-ball against bigger forwards. He’s not the athlete that Mikal Bridges is, so he will need to rely more on anticipation and instincts. Adding the necessary strength will be key in determining how far he can go as a defender.
Fit with the Hawks
In my assessment, few prospects fit better with what Atlanta wants to do than Devin Vassell. Given the Hawks’ dire need of defensive impact, adding a player like Vassell would do wonders. Alongside Reddish, the Hawks would possess two promising young team defenders should they add Vassell to the fold.
On the offensive end, Vassell fits well in Atlanta’s “heliocentric” model based on heavy Trae Young usage in pick-and-roll. After a season in which Atlanta left a ton of points on the floor due to poor shooting, adding a 40 percent long-range shooter like Vassell has much appeal.
In general, surrounding Young with capable shooters is a sound strategy, since he’s one of the best creators in the league and needs players who can finish. Vassell is such a player. For these reasons, I believe him to be one of the top options for the Hawks at #6.
While the upside of a player like Killian Hayes would be hard for me to turn down, if the Hawks simply want to pursue building around Young by providing a cast of complementary players, Vassell makes a lot of sense. His defensive playmaking in conjunction with his shooting and shot-making upside would help the Hawks. Whether Travis Schlenk is as high on him as I am is, of course, another question, but Vassell represents, for me, an easy par in a draft class containing so many uninspiring options.