Quite possibly #1 on the Weaver Guy board many of us have talked about Yves Pons is a physical specimen who plays all out. He is a unique player and one that I feel is incredibly underrated due to not being the flashiest player nor possessing skills that acclimate tons of stats. Let's break him down
22 years old
8.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.7 spg, 1.8 bpg
55.7% from two, 27.4% from three, 78.9% from the free throw line
53.8% True Shooting, 5.0% Assist Percentage, 11.3% Turnover Rate, 16.2% Usage
He is a five-position defender. Pons has been in a power forward/center role for the French national team for some time now and the past 4 years at Tennessee he has been terrorizing SEC players. In his four years he has been named all SEC conference in 2021, all-SEC defense in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 season, and was the SEC defensive player of the year in 2019-20. And let me just take this moment as an aside to say how incredibly rare this draft is because it has THREE prospects who are legitimate five-position defenders: Scottie Barnes, Usman Garuba, and Yves Pons.
Pons is a great athlete (more on that in a minute) who is fluid and has almost perfect defensive technique when in pick-and-roll coverage, as a rim protector, or chasing down blocks in transition. Really there is nothing he cannot do on the defensive end of the ball. And while his rebounding numbers have never been tops on his teams, that is more do to the unfortunate situation of playing with Grant Williams his first two years and then inexplicable Rick Barnes favorite John Fulkerson his final two.
Although he seems wing sized at 6'6" and 206.4 pounds, I reiterate that Pons is a physical specimen. His body fat percentage was the lowest at the NBA combine at 4.00%. He also has a 7'0.75" wingspan, a 36.0" standing vertical, a 42.5" Max Vertical, ran 10.89 seconds in the lane agility drill, and 3.05 in the shuttle run. All of those tests and measurements ranked him in the top 10 of all participants at the combine. His standing vertical and max vertical were both good for third.
Pons is not JUST an athlete, though, and does have two very reliable skills on offense. First being his ability to finish. Per hoop-math he shot 77.8% percent at the rim. While this is stellar and I am including in his strengths, I keep it real and this only accounted for 23.3% of his total offense. This was the shot he took the least last season (again Barnes' inexplicable love for Fulkerson rears its ugly head), but when he did he was one of the top finishers in all of college basketball. His athleticism also made Pons a reliable vertical threat to catch a lob and bring the hammer down even in traffic.
But his finishing also falls into the strengths category when you combine it with Pons' second reliable skill on offense: his midrange jumper. Probably not the first thing you will hear about with Pons, but again, per hoop-math Pons hit 44.2% of his midrange jumpers. This was the shot Pons took the most as it accounted for 44.6% of his offense.
To put this in context, Pons was the best on his team with this shot. Better than John Fulkerson. Better than Victor Bailey. Better than Santiago Vescovi. Even better than both Springer and Keon! And of all these guys, only Springer and Fulkerson took this shot more as it accounted for 45.4% of Springer's offense and 45.0% of Fulkerson. There were a lot of times this season Pons' midrange bailed out this team late in the shot clock. If you don't believe me, check the film.
While we live in a basketball world that is somewhat averse to the midrange J, not only have this year's playoffs showed the importance of this shot type, but Pons form in the midrange gives hope for his jumper from distance. Not only is he able to get good extension and release to hit this shot over just about anyone, but he keeps his follow through and keeps his off hand steady throughout the shot.
I noticed watching his film that when he shot from deep this year, his off hand came down way too early to the point that sometimes he even let it go before the ball came out of his hands. In the midrange, however, he is able to keep his off hand up and steady while holding his follow through. I imagine a coach will catch this and is most likely already working with him on it.
Not saying this will immediately fix all his shooting, but the fact his midrange shot fell at a good rate and his form was better with that shot at least indicates there is one thing Pons can do to help his 3-point shot.
Areas for Improvement
Speaking of that 3-point shot, Pons first knock for most evaluators will probably be that he never became a reliable three-point shooter at Tennessee. His first two years in Knoxville he took a total of 28 threes and only hit 9 of them. Then his third year rolled around and he was 30 of 86, 34.9% which indicated maybe he could expand his game.
Unfortunately this past season he took less threes and hit them at a lower percentage: 17 of 62 for the aforementioned 27.4%. In addition to this, his form needs tweaking. As I mentioned with his midrange shot, he will drop his off hand as he is shooting the ball from deep but he keeps it steady in the midrange. I am NO shot coach, but it is an easy spot on film and would be a reason why his shot does not stay on target from long range.
The more damaging knock on Pons' game in my opinion is his lack of playmaking. Now I am not saying he needs to be Nikola Jokic, but his numbers are really lacking for someone who does not shoot and does not create their own shot much. He had some nice moments of bailing out his teammates late in the shot clock with his midrange game, but I am not sure I can tell you I saw him find open teammates much in any of these situations.
It's tough because while I would not call Pons a ball stopper in the vein of someone like Greg Brown or Charles Bassey, he still needs to develop some vision in live dribble situations. Tennessee had him camp out at the top of the arc or in the corners a lot of times in their sets and here he was good at moving the ball and getting things moving even when the play broke down. Other than that he drove in and put up shots or backed down and pulled out his midrange jumper. He cannot keep doing this in the NBA as not only will his teammates stop giving him the ball, but the defense will have an easy time backing off him and just letting him hoist up contested shots.
Both his lack of shooting and his lack of passing could sink Pons and it is why I cannot bump him up a tier or two in my rankings. His shooting might not be that big of an issue as it is clear he can play center, the fact he is an almost non-passer is a bigger deal to me.
Other second round bigs like Neemias Queta, Sandro Mamukelashvili, and Trendon Watford had more assists in a single season last year than Pons did in his entire 4 year career. That. Is. Bad. Even backup bigs in the NBA like Nerlens Noel, Brandon Clarke, Xavier Tillman Sr., and Khem Birch come into the league already knowing how to pass and at least getting close to breaking even in the assist to TO ratio.
Pons is going to have to commit to learning his system and cutting down on his turnovers if he is going to stick around more than a few seasons in the Association.
Comp and Fit on the Pistons
I think Pons plays like and will have a development trajectory similar to current Cleveland Cavalier Larry Nance Jr. Both have small forward size and tried to be placed into that role, but their rare athleticism and finishing ability make it so they are better suited at power forward and can even play center.
Just go back and watch this breakdown of Larry Nance Jr. on the Lakers by BBall Breakdown and you can see Pons doing all those same little things early on in his career. And also like Larry Nance Jr., I think he can develop a three-point shot over time and I feel confident it will not take until year 6 like it did for Nance Jr.
He also is a great dunker and rebounder like Nance Jr. to create momentum changing dunks and grab the rebound and go on the break sparking his teammates. I don't know if he will eventually be able to run the break the way Nance Jr. does now in Cleveland, but Pons certainly can become a one man fast break.
And last but not least, Larry Nance Jr. is one of the best defenders in the league single handedly making a terrible Cleveland unit respectable on that end of the court. Just take a look at our friends over at Fear The Sword and their season review of Larry Nance Jr. to see just how impactful of a defender he is—and see how he is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Pons can harness his athleticism and defensive IQ to become a similar defensive anchor.
On the Pistons not only will Pons be a defensive specialist and form a nightmare unit for the opposition with Beef Stew, I think they can use him more as a screener and direct handoff option (DHO). Tennessee did not do enough of these DHOs in my opinion with he and the guards to get easy shots. You see Bam Adebayo do this a lot with Duncan Robinson on the Heat and Pons would do well to be in that type of role no matter the team he is on.
Whether it was Saddiq running off pin downs and taking a DHO from Pons or Cade taking a high ball screen from Yves and then throwing it up for the alley oop, Pons can do a ton of damage as a screener with how jacked he is and with all that athleticism.
Personally, I have Yves up there with Sandro in terms of second round bigs I would be insistent the Pistons draft. I know he appears in my final tier in my draft rankings, but I do very much believe in him as a person and that the development systems he has gone through prepared him to do all the little things that contribute to winning in the NBA.