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2021 NBA Draft Watch: James Bouknight of UConn vs. David Duke of Providence

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Two scoring guards with intriguing potential in virtual duel for a place next to Killian Hayes

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After the University of Connecticut rejoined the Big East, you would assume you’d be able to watch a UConn and Providence matchup at least once a week. This season, however, with both teams enlisting exciting hoopers at the same position in James Bouknight and David Duke, they’ll play only once, and that won’t occur for a month. Since “good scouts need to do their work early,” we can’t wait so long. Thus the following virtual comparison of both players from their best performances so far this season.

A Husky, Bouknight, is a 6-foot-5, 190-pound sophomore guard, averaging 20.3 PPG (on shooting splits of 45.1/32.4/80.6), 5.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.5 SPG and 2.8 SPG (all stats as of Jan. 22). Friar Duke, a junior, is the same height but 15 pounds heavier. He’s averaging 19.4 PPG (42.8/45.1/83.6), 5.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.1 SPG and 2.8 TPG. These are two players, the Pistons might be interested in if Detroit is somehow able to secure an additional first-round pick in the 20s.

If the Pistons go with someone other than Jalen Suggs or Jalen Green (though I need to see the latter play some adult basketball to agree that he deserves to be considered) with their potentially high pick in next year’s NBA Draft, they could consider Duke or Bouknight, who I like behind Josh Christopher, whom we discussed in the first post of this series looking at college players. (Christopher apparently took to heart our reprimand about poor shooting and has been sharp since we featured him.)

Bouknight, like Christopher, is a bucket getter. However, while the latter prefers the midrange game, the Husky likes to do his work at the rim. Almost 42% of his shots come from there, and he has decent efficiency on those (63.2%), which should improve even more as he gains weight and plays within a more spread offense. There’s definitely nothing wrong with his skills that should improve as his acceleration, elevation and angles from which he can make shots from the closest distance are simply incredible.

If, despite this, the opponents are able somehow to prevent him from scoring there, it’s very likely by fouling him – thus his elite 39.6 free-throw rate.

Only 20.8% of his makes at the rim are assisted, which means that he doesn’t rely much on cuts. But he definitely can make them.

The midrange is not a huge part of Bouknight’s game. He takes only 20.9% of his all shots as two-point jumpers. And he isn’t good at converting them (31.6 FG% on those shots). But, as you can see on the clips, he has some foundation to build on also in this department.

Beyond the arc, the Husky is a little underwhelming efficiency-wise. But since he has a very good FT%, it’s not what worries me most. What does is the fact that, although having set numerous screens and running a lot off-ball, the defenders frequently stick with him. On the other hand, with his shifty dribble, he still can size up defenders with ease and fire undisrupted long ball topping the whole play with tasty ornament. I don’t know, take a look and judge for yourself. His other triples don’t involve such dilemmas – they’re smooth, plain and simple.

Two other areas where Bouknight contributes significantly to the offense are offensive glass and facilitation. Last year, with 6.7 ORB%, he was 19th in the AAC (where UConn played before rejoining Big East this year). This year, playing against better competition, his ORB% is even higher (7.2). The film shows that he has good instincts crushing the o-board, his elevation and nimbleness do the rest.

Despite having a rather modest AST% of 11.7 compared to a greedy USG% of 31, and being a little careless sometimes, Bouknight shows promise as a creator for others.

His off-ball movement, however we might look at it, absorbs defenses and leaves somebody open. He knows how to take advantage of this.

While playing with the ball, the threat of his drives also deforms the defense, giving him opportunities to hit teammate with a pass.

Bouknight's defense should be productive too … well, if he becomes more disciplined to not bite on pump fakes so easily.

He plays the passing lanes, can navigate through screens, and stay close enough to his man to deny him the ball on handoffs, and he engages in help.

He shows some ability to defend on-ball (though the sample size is small).

And he seems to be able to stop bigger wings on posts ups (Denzel Mahoney is 30 pounds heavier).

Friar Duke, in turn, is a more point-guardy scoring guard. His main weapon is the long gun. 34.1% of his shots are from deep, which is less than he takes at the rim (38.9%), but he struggles mightily near the basket, converting just 46.9% of his shots. He can make all types of threes and many of them already come from NBA range.

At the rim, Duke apparently isn’t as skilled as Bouknight, according to the numbers. He doesn’t show the needed acceleration and elevation, so he relies on more complicated floaters and runners, which just don’t want to fall.

He tries to mitigate his underproduction at the rim with his midrange game. He especially likes to abuse smaller defenders there.

This allows him to have some advantage over Bouknight in this regard (he takes 26.9% of his shots there, making 33.9% of them). But it’s still not enough. The good thing is that he also can draw fouls at very good rate (35.1 FTr) driving to the basket.

What Duke instead brings to the table is creating for others.

His 26.4 AST% looks richly against the background of his more modest 27.5 USG%. However, it’d look better if not those sloppy passes and dribbles as well as drives into traffic.

On the other end, Duke shows to be also able to provide on- and off-ball defense (as we can see, his bigger frame doesn’t prevent him from being as skinny on screens as more skinny Bouknight).

While being a poorer offensive rebounder, he’s better under his own basket, notching a respectable 15.5 DRB%.

And instead of flying around on pump fakes on the perimeter, he can protect the long line.

So how does this matchup go? Well, both players have many complementary features. Nevertheless, having them both in one isn’t possible. So if we have to choose between those two, for now I’d go with the Bouknight. As much as I want Killian to play off-ball occassionally, I don’t want it to be so much that we need to pair him with another pseudo point guard. Of course, the success of the whole plot depends on Hayes’ and Bouknight’s ability to develop a reliable 3-point stroke. Also, it would be a challenge finding the way to distribute the usage between them and other useful players we already have and will add (big, long, athletic and versatile wings, that is). But I don’t think it should be a bigger challenge than getting an additional first-round pick to invite this trouble for ourselves. What do you think of these players, or others the Pistons might want to target as complements to Hayes if they were able to accumulate additional draft assets?