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2021 NBA Draft watch: USC and Evan Mobley vs. Arizona State and Josh Christopher

Maybe it wasn’t a clash of titans, but it still was an insightful lesson about some prospects

Washington v USC Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images

This weekend, the Pac 12 presented us with a nice matchup of some of its most interesting prospects as 4-4 Arizona State Sun Devils hosted 7-2 USC Trojans. Since, as Troy Weaver said, “good scouts do their work early,” we decided to give this prospect-heavy game a closer look.

The visiting USC team is led by 7-footer (with 7-4 wingspan) 210-pound specimen Evan Mobley. The freshman’s supporting cast consists of his brother, Isaiah (6-foot-10, 235 pounds), senior 6-foot-2 guard Tahj Eaddy and 6-foot-8 junior wing, Drew Peterson.

Bobby Hurley coached Arizona State team, in turn, is led by 6-foot-5 guard (with 6-foot-9 wingspan) 215 pound Josh Christopher, who is helped by 6-foot-8 forward Marcus Bagley (brother of former No. 2 overall pick, Marvin III), and a bunch of senior smallish guards.

The best prospect on that list is the younger Mobley. The freshman is averaging 15.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. He makes 58% of his shots from the field and 41.7% from beyond the long line on 1.3 attempts. Only his 62.7 FT% is somehow disappointing here. But other than this, Mobley seems to be a great candidate to be next unicorn, a versatile big man who plays on both ends and as such can dominate NBA games.

Second comes Christopher, who’s averaging 16.8 PPG and 5,1 RPG. He’s a scorer who can pick his spots inside the arc with ease. His main weapon is pull-up jumper and he’s efficient jump shooter (44 FG% on two-point jumpers). He can take it to the rack as well, where he’s also above average shooter (73.3 FG% at the rim) or possessor of decent free throw rate (28.6%). Unfortunately, he can’t currently be seen as a complete, three-level scorer for he lacks reliable long gun (22.2 3P%). As such, he reminds former USC Trojan, DerMar DeRozan, but he is also showcasing some potential on defense.

These two are projected for the first round of 2021 Draft, with Mobley having a chance to be in the top three. Other mentioned players might not heard their names called in the draft, but they can still find way into the NBA. So the game promised to be interesting.

The promise was a little broken when USC quite easily build a double-digit lead around the middle of the first half. The lead then grew to 16 points (32-16) with 4:40 remaining. Arizona St. was 5-of-24 (Christopher alone was 2-of-8) from the field at the moment. But then, one of its tiny guards, Holland Woods, sparked the team to a 16-4 run to end the half, scoring 13 points himself, including 7 on those two triples, and assisting on another triple from other smallish guard, Alonzo Verge Jr.

USC was paced in first half by Evan Mobley, who scored 9 points on only three shots.

In the second half, the game went back and forth just as the ball in this play from the first half.

The Sun Devils tied the score at 51 on Bagley’s triple with 9 minutes and change remaining in the game. USC’s offense went stagnant, Evan Mobley didn’t get any touches – which usually creates some advantage (either his own score or double team that leaves his teammate open which amounts to an easy bucket since he’s a great passer) for his team – in couple of possessions,. The home team also tried some unconventional techniques on free throws to distract its opponent… and commentators.

Thus, Arizona St. finally was able to take the lead with this play from Woods.

However, the Trojans pull themselves together in last minutes, get ahead by a few points and won the game with Eaddy sealing the deal with this jumper.

The young Mobley played as advertised. He showed that he can score inside and outside.

What was particularly pleasing was the first of the dives on the film. My first impression of him was Shawn Bradley-esque type of straight line mobility. But on that dive, we can see that he’s much more dynamic. He probably still won’t run in fast breaks as fast as David Robinson, but you can live with that because of the other things he brings to the table. Other than the ability to shoot long ball, those include the ability to play-make.

He can be a force on offensive glass, even if the stats (9,5 ORB%) tell different story.

(Despite him not being too heavyweight, he literally can be a force on glasses as we can see him here knocking down 210 lb Chris Osten to the ground while fighting for a rebound.)

On defensive end, he’s also able to make his presence felt both inside and outside. In the game, Mobley had 6 blocks and, as we can see on those from these clips, he can block players at the rim and on perimeter.

This variety reminds us of Jerami Grant. On the clips, we can also see that he moves his feet well laterally. Here, in turn, we can see that he can execute p&r drop coverage very well.

All this would make him a potentially great anchor of team defense. The imagination of the core consisting of Jerami and him evokes thoughts of great chapters of Pistons D.

Christopher, in turn, played not as advertised. As we mentioned already, his shot was off.

Mobley was too much for him to handle when he attacked the basket.

On the other hand, he also showed something that isn’t captured by the statistical analysis of his game. The story stats tell, describe him as a poor passer for a guard (9,1 AST%). In the game he showed that he can pass.

I think that his poor assists numbers steam from systemic reasons. Hurley schemes his team to play the game he played: lots of guards’ dribble penetrations which, when you play lineups with lots of smallish guards at the same time, doesn’t give lots of opportunities to gain assists. However, as the example of DeRozan teaches us, in the NBA Christopher type of game will generate lots of open passing lanes. Another thing was that despite the poor shooting night (he was 3/11 for the whole match), Christopher showed that he still have a chance to be a solid three point shooter (he was 2-of-4 on triples that game). Finally, he also showed his defensive abilities.

From other prospects, Isaiah Mobley, confirmed my suspicions that his sporadic plays off the dribble from his freshman year are sporadic for a reason. He looks like he has the potential to max out as a solid old-fashion big.

If Marcus Bagley can make this kind of plays his bread and butter, we need to keep an eye on him.

If it’s only catch-and-shoot threes, rebounds and some hustle, I say we rather bring back Bonzie Colson from exile or take a closer look at Rutgers’ Ron Harper Jr. if we need this type of player.

Bagley’s triples

Bagley hustle

The smallish guards can be flashy, but if none of them is next Step Curry or Damian Lillard – and those from the game are not – there are plenty of smallish guards I’d rather have.

It starts with Saben Lee, Frank Jackson, Jordan Bone, Cassius Winston, Frank Mason, Jaylen Adams… Well that’s about enough to say that we won’t have a room to give a try to Woods, Verge Jr, Remy Martin (who didn’t play in he game) or Eaddy.

Similarly, I have Corey Kispert and Christian Braun ahead of Drew Peterson on the list of white, tall wings that can shoot and create some.