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 edition, we break down the play of Oklahoma forward Kristian Doolittle.
The last time the Atlanta Hawks came away after draft night with a player from the University of Oklahoma, he turned out to be a pretty good player. While Kristian Doolittle was largely a non-factor in his freshman and sophomore seasons, but steadily made some noise as a dirty work, lunch pail-toting type of player over his final two seasons in Norman, Oklahoma.
Doolittle is a 6’7”, 232-pound forward, who averaged 13.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per 36 minutes over his collegiate career. His shooting splits indicates some ability from range at 45.5/37.4/78.0 shooting percentages from two, three and the free throw line.
Despite being below ideal height to be a force on the glass, he proved he could hang with the elite big men in the country. Of those 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes over his career, 2.3 were on the offensive end, creating a host of extra opportunities for Oklahoma’s to restart their possession after a missed shot.
Doolittle began his career as a wing, but was used as a power forward in the post a decent amount later in his college career after gaining some strength under the guidance of college weights and conditioning. As a career 37% shooter from deep, he possesses some ability to stretch the floor like a natural wing, however this performance was on a small sample size (just over one attempt per game).
Doolittle has a pretty solid handle of the ball in space, displaying a range of crossover dribbles and instant change of direction for someone his size. He has a smooth mid range game, wherein he can face up and dribble sidestep to either side, allowing him rise up and fire over just about anyone.
Everything from 18 feet and in is his primary territory of attack. Doolittle finished well around the rim, posting a mark of 1.2 PPP (points per possession) inside the restricted area. He plays well in narrow spaces on both ends of the floor, getting skinny to fight around screens and dribble through tight spaces. Still, he’s generally not one to pound the ball to no avail, rather preferring one dribble off the catch to dive toward the basket or swing the ball with either hand.
Cutting is one way that Doolittle is able to collect easy points when the defense is caught sleeping. At 1.31 PPP in possessions ending in a cut, he picks his spots well and finishes at the rack with authority.
Doolittle grabbed over 20% of all available defensive rebounds and 7% on the offensive end, both strong marks. He doesn’t just go through the motion when a shot goes up, always finding a body to back down before grabbing boards. He has good lower body strength and balance too, which allows him to secure his position while waiting for the ball to come off the rim.
He typically maintains a textbook vertical stance with his hands raised high when defending in the post. This level of verticality is key to avoiding fouling in difficult situations one-on-one against taller guys.
Bigger and stronger men don’t scare Doolittle at all, and he doesn’t shy away from contact when it’s warranted. Here is a good encapsulation of his all-around defensive game. First, he hedges hard against the ball handler in the high pick-and-roll, forcing him to pick up his dribble. Then, he recovers to the post to defend Kansas’ 7-footer Udoka Azubuike. Despite giving up around 40 pounds of weight, Doolittle forces Azubuike into a panic outlet pass.
He can also switch out onto smaller perimeter players with ease and realistically guard 1 through 4 if the situation calls for it. He pulls off an amazing balance of lower body strength to bang in the post but lateral quickness and fluidity to defend out in space.
Kristian is smart to realize when the clock is running low, which gives him the ability to close out harder against a late clock jumper. According to Synergy, he gave up no points on 10 jump shots when defending in this situation this year on a short clock (below 4 seconds). His motor and hustle is eminently noticeable at all times on the defensive end, and he’ll slot in at just about anywhere in an NBA team defensive scheme.
Even in his fourth year, Doolittle is often passive on the offensive end despite being ostensibly a focal point as an upperclassman. He turns down open three pointers to take a dribble inside the arc and shoot a lower percentage two point shot with too high a regularity. In fact, even when he has space and rhythm, he shied away from catching and shooting flat-footed even if it allowed the defense to close him out.
Shot selection is a major worry for Doolittle, as he’s either running hot or cold, and he too often allows an irrational confidence to dictate when and where he lets shots fly. If he takes a few shots early and misses them, he’s much less likely to continue to look for easy shots to find a rhythm. This next clip should be an easy layup but he makes an admittedly unselfish pass out to the corner.
At this point in the game, Doolittle is 0-for-3. He receives a wide open top of the key three in transition after a calm rhythm dribble, and inexplicably double clutches his shot windup. He just needs to pull the trigger here immediately.
Doolittle wasn’t overly efficient in any play type. He only ended 18 possessions with a catch-and-shoot opportunity his senior year in 942 game minutes, for a PPP of exactly 1. Additionally a minus creator for himself, with both his isolation possession and his pull up jumper possession coming in at below 1 PPP.
Similarly, he does very little to playmake for his teammates at under two assists per 36 minutes and an assist-to-turnover ratio below 1. There were a lot of errant passes to the corner and wing outside of the normal receiving pocket when Doolittle tried to swing the ball, leading to a disrupted rhythm for the shooters around him.
Age is definitely a factor here, as he’ll be 23 by draft night. Additionally, Doolittle was suspended for the fall semester of his sophomore year due to academic issues. That’s not a major concern in itself but that season was clearly his worst of his four on campus, possibly taking a period to get adjusted after missing the majority of the Sooners’ out of conference schedule.
Possible fit with the Hawks
There are questions about Doolittle’s offensive efficiency, but many believe he can be a strong defender at the next level. His versatility and polish on that end is the main reason for spending a draft pick on Doolittle. If he can merely break even on the offensive side of things, he may just stick on an NBA roster.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Kristian Doolittle played next to Trae Young for 22 games in 2017-18. Although they didn’t share the court a ton with Doolittle coming off the bench for the majority of the year, there is some familiarity there with how to fit next to such a unique and dynamic lead guard.
Still, I have at least 60 players above Doolittle on my personal draft big board and don’t see him to be anything more than a marginally draftable prospect. He is an easy kid to root for, however, as someone who clearly enjoys the grunt work aspects of the game, so I’d love for him to prove me wrong. But he will struggle to fit into an NBA offense enough that the Hawks would more than likely be better off looking elsewhere with the No. 52 overall pick.