Kobe Bufkin wasn’t the only rookie Hawks fans were excited to see in the NBA Summer League. Atlanta also had second-round pick Mouhamed Gueye.
The center-sized forward from Washington State had a lot of memorable moments in Las Vegas, including some that received “top play” consideration. Those plays sent some into a frenzy, eagerly declaring that Gueye is now ready for NBA rotation minutes.
Gueye undoubtedly flashed his potential, but like Bufkin, there’s a lot for him to work on before he’s NBA-caliber, and he probably won’t get there this year and maybe not next year, either. And that’s okay.
Again, Summer League performances shouldn’t be taken so seriously, but some factors make it a good evaluation space. If you want to hear the whole spiel on that or check out Bufkin’s breakdown, you can find it here. Let’s begin.
Unlike Bufkin, who played out of position over the summer to work on his playmaking and facilitating, Gueye played most of his minutes as a perimeter-based four alongside center Mfiondu Kabengele. He put up respectable numbers in that role, averaging 9.6 points per game on 43/38/75 shooting splits. A promising sight was his ability to knock down 3-pointers, something he only did 27% of the time in college. It’s also a good sign that his perimeter marksmanship came in catch-and-shoot situations, which is how he will get the bulk of his shots in a Trae Young-led offense.
The exciting part about Gueye’s summer was his athleticism, where the dunks he almost made were more electric than the dunks he did make. When he does finish, he finishes aggressively, and he also isn’t afraid to attack the basket and use his size in mismatches.
As great as that sounds, a couple of issues indicate that Gueye isn’t ready for consistent NBA action — one of them being his size.
Even though the Hawks plan to use him more as a forward than a true center, he needs more strength to finish inside consistently. Too often did he struggle to score around the rim with relatively light pressure and contact. On certain plays, he showed his ability to stay with it and convert second-chance points, which is good, but the initial defense was far from the pressure of an NBA defender.
The second issue is the need for more experience in that role. Gueye was forced to play center in college due to injuries, so he didn’t get as many reps as he could or should. He showed flashes of ball handling and shooting off the bounce in Vegas, but he was inconsistent. The argument would be more valid if he showed some consistency with his perimeter skills.
Visualize Gueye in the Hawks rotation in that role and the matchups he’ll likely draw: Aaron Gordon, Rui Hachimura, Herb Jones, Dorian Finney-Smith, or even someone who isn’t great defensively like Paolo Banchero. Is he ready to go against that level of defense nightly?
More importantly, is he ready to defend that caliber of player nightly? All players mentioned above vary in offensive skillset but have all shown the ability to score. That led to Gueye’s defensive performance, which included some highlight plays like his offense.
But he did not do well against perimeter players, and he didn’t rebound well either. It’s concerning when Gueye, who played 120 minutes over five games (second behind Bufkin) was outrebounded 30-26 by Tyrese Martin in 106 minutes and only slightly ahead of Kabengele and Seth Lundy (22 each) who didn’t eclipse 100 minutes.
On a positive note, however, you must like Gueye’s lateral movement and quickness. His defensive struggles against guards weren’t because of speed. And his vertical allows him to contest with anyone at the rim or provide weakside protection. It’ll come down to him filling out his body and adding strength.
Overall, the fans’ excitement about Mouhamed Gueye is warranted. He has the size and intangibles to be a versatile NBA forward. But Landry Fields and the Atlanta front office drafted him with the long game in mind. You can have some faith in his shooting because even though the windows are smaller and guys are more athletic in the NBA, the catch-and-shoot 3-pointers will translate, especially playing with one of the best passers and playmakers in the league.
If he plays significant rotation minutes this year, it will be for one of two reasons: either injuries have forced him onto the court, or Quin Snyder and Co. have decided to live with the growing pains and play him behind Saddiq Bey and Jalen Johnson. The door isn’t closed on an AJ Griffin-esque rookie season either, where Griffin’s play and injuries practically forced Nate McMillan’s hand. But the latter is extremely unlikely.
It’s all there for Gueye, from the small-ball center potential to bringing the ball up the floor to being a legitimate shooter — but don’t count on it happening this season. He’ll also spend time in College Park and probably be back on the summer league roster next season. But if he develops and the organization is patient, he will be a key piece for years.