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 Ohio State big man Kaleb Wesson.
Kaleb Wesson is not the first Wesson in the family to don the Buckeye scarlet and grey basketball jersey. Kaleb is the younger brother of Andre, a wing who just graduated after a four-year stint, and both are the sons of Keith Wesson, an Ohio State basketball player in the 1980s.
Unlike those two who were mainly role players, Kaleb has been a consistent force on the basketball team during a three year college career. He tested the waters of the NBA draft process a year ago, but returned to Ohio State to one of the team leaders as an upperclassman. For his performance this past season, he was named to the 2019-2020 All Big Ten team.
Kaleb Wesson did a little bit of everything across three seasons in Columbus. Per 36 minutes for his career, he averaged 18.4 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and over one block and one steal. His shooting percentages were fairly promising for an old school, low block big man. With a career 53.0/38.5/72.9 triple slash of shooting from two, three and the free throw line, he can comfortably step out and make the defense respect his range.
Kaleb Wesson has NBA ready measurables. He stands in at 6’9” and 270-pounds with a 7’2 wingspan and a 9’1-1⁄2” standing reach. His physicality on both ends of the floor rivals just about anyone else in this draft class.
Wesson is a throwback big man who loves fighting for space in the post to begin a possession. He’s not a flashy rim runner and won’t face up to take players off the dribble on his mission to the hoop. He would much rather play a high contact mano a mano game with his opponent in the paint and throw his body around for positioning.
He rarely loses those battles as well, with his rugged upper and lower body strength. He has a wide base which gives him a strong center of gravity that is nearly impossible to move. Very few current NBA players could push him off his spot once he carves out his territory.
Wesson added a three point shot over his three seasons, offering up over three attempts per game by his junior year and hitting 42.5% of them. The vast majority of those attempts were in catch-and-shoot situations, where he logged 1.29 PPP — points per possession — per Synergy as a junior.
Wesson is a really good passer, especially out of the post. He usually feels when the double team comes can routinely hit the open outlet man with a crisp pass to the shooting pocket. Even when used in the high post or at the elbows, he can often locate cutters and corner shooters for easy shot attempts. This allows him to be a mini playmaker by pulling the opponent’s big man out of the paint to allow for teammates to get to the rim.
He had a tough year posting up and finishing near the basket, but as a sophomore a season ago, he was one of the best post players in the country, ranking in the 87th percentile in those possessions on an extremely high volume — 217 possessions in 32 games.
He has most of the necessary tools to be a decent rim protector: good anticipation when the shot goes up and consistently contesting with verticality.
A classically good rebounder, Wesson almost always boxes out with textbook technique. Unsurprisingly in a similar vein, he sets bruising screens and can ring the bell of unsuspecting screen defenders with his large frame. This is definitely a player who doesn’t shy away from contact and relishes in performing the ugly grunt work most can’t or won’t do.
Kaleb Wesson reportedly weighed as much as 325-pounds at one point in high school and showed up to Ohio State’s campus at around 290-pounds. Though his weight has settled in at the 255 to 270-pound range, this history is a bit inauspicious toward his chances at maintaining at a high professional level of size and conditioning.
His shooting percentage from inside the arc cratered in year three compared to the first two years in college, shooting just 45.5% there compared to 56.4% over his freshman and sophomore season. This is probably just a fluke incident given his proficiency from there in years’ past but it highlights how iffy his touch around the rim can be at times.
Per Synergy, he finished shots at the rim at just 1.01 PPP — good for just the 33rd percentile — in his junior season, a poor mark for a such a big man. He’ll rush to get his shot up on the rim even after he’s cleared out the defender down low.
While that figure will regress some, I’m not convinced his great catch-and-shoot numbers from this past season are sustainable either. His jumper was shaky at times when trying to stretch beyond his normal range. He generally lacks range on his shot unless he’s taking a wide open three right at the arc line, and rarely looks to test out his jumper in any other situation.
In a new era of versatile big men who possess the skills to face up and beat people off the dribble, Wesson has no real ball handling abilities and too often fails to navigate in traffic with the ball. For a high usage guy in college, a mark of 2.7 turnovers per 36 minutes isn’t too worrying but if an open pass isn’t immediately available, he can kill the momentum of the offense waiting for a teammate to show.
Sometimes he’ll simply dribble into no man’s land when it’s very obvious his role isn’t to create for himself.
Wesson is a passable, but not great, pick-and-roll defender. He can be late to enact a plan of when to show, switch or when to drop. A lot of his slow developing defensive actions are spurred by his than stellar foot speed. He’s a smart roaming defender at recognizing where to recover on ball screens, but those wits can only do so much toward being when and where he needs to be.
His lack of leaping ability relegates him to being a below-the-rim big without the threat of a second jump. Similarly, he picks up fouls too cheaply at 4.3 fouls per 36 minutes over his 96 game career. His size simply hurts him when trying to slide his feet or move laterally on defense. All in all, he was an accomplished defender in college, but there’s worry he can be exposed when matching up with elite athletes in a professional setting.
Possible fit with the Hawks
The Hawks drafted a player in recent years who had a pretty public battle with his weight in his high school and college days. Would they dare trek down that road again? The context is certainly different this time, as it comes as a lesser risk in a weak draft at theoretically the 50th overall selection barring any trades.
If he can continue to hit shots from long range in the pick-and-pop game and stay conditioned at an NBA level, he has a real shot to be the first member of the Wesson family to make one of the 30 rosters.
Still, the Hawks don’t exactly fit the bill as a landing spot for a guy who primarily profiles as a post-up center on offense. There are better fits around the league for who will most likely need to spend some time in the G League to adjust to the speed of the NBA game.