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Shaedon Sharpe, and the history of selecting a player straight out of high school

Taking a look at the 2022 NBA Draft’s official Mystery Man

Kentucky v Auburn Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

As we continue to look at potential players the Pistons could draft at pick number 5 in the 2022 NBA Draft, I want to make a case for the player many believe has the highest upside of anyone available when the Pistons select on June 23, 2022.

Shaedon Sharpe is the mystery box of this draft. The RSCI and ESPN #1 High School recruit was set to play for Kentucky next season, but graduated early from high school and was able to enter his name into this 2022 NBA Draft. If you follow the draft, you know by now the narrative around Sharpe has been something to the effect of, “He’s a major risk because he only went up against high school guys.” The implied thesis here being the jump from high school to the NBA is so incredibly difficult that Sharpe could bust if thrown into action right away.

Well, I am here not just to do my usual breakdown of a player’s game, but also to push back against this narrative of Sharpe not “being ready enough.” Buckle up ladies and gentleman, because we need to take a trip back in time and look at the history of NBA players who were drafted straight out of high school to see if this can tell us anything about the possibility that this kind of a jump is indeed too difficult to overcome for guys that did it before.

The list of players that came straight out of high school into the NBA is as follows:

Darryl Dawkins, Bill Willoughby, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Al Harrington, Rashard Lewis, Korleone Young, Jonathan Bender, Leon Smith, Darius Miles, DeShawn Stevenson, Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, DeSagana Diop, Ousmane Cisse, Amar’e Stoudemire, LeBron James, Travis Outlaw, Ndudi Ebi, Kendrick Perkins, James Lang, Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston, Robert Swift, Sebastian Telfair, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Dorell Wright, Martell Webster, Andrew Bynum, Gerald Green, C.J. Miles, Ricky Sanchez, Monta Ellis, Lou Williams, Andray Blatche, and Amir Johnson.

This is 41 players. Of these 41 players, only Korleone Young, Jonathan Bender, Leon Smith, Ousmane Cisse, Ndudi Ebi, James Lang, Robert Swift, and Ricky Sanchez failed to make any kind of an impact. Take these eight players out and what you will find is that the remaining 33 became successful NBA players.

And YES I STAND WITH JALEN ROSE ON THIS, you CANNOT call Kwame Brown a bust. Even if they didn’t end up first-ballot hall of famers like Garnett and Kobe, the remaining guys on the list played AT LEAST 7 years in the league. Many of them, like DeShawn Stevenson, Al Harrington, and Pistons draft pick Amir Johnson, logged in over 10 full seasons of NBA action. And there are two guys who injuries took out far too early in Darius Miles and Andrew Bynum who could have made this list even greater. So, these 33 guys equals a 80.5% success rate for all the high school prospects that ever came into the NBA.

Remove the role players and solid starters, and JUST focus on the guys that were at one point among the top players at their position, and we get KG, Kobe, Jermaine O’Neal. TMac, Rashard Lewis, Tyson Chandler, Amar’e, LeBron, Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston (when you help a team win THREE titles and shoot a total of SEVEN three point attempts across your entire 7 year playoff appearances you are a different animal) and Al Jefferson. This equates to a 26.8% success rate for getting a top-level player. And if you wanted to just look at the superstars and Hall of Famers then we get seven guys who fill that criteria, 17.1%.

My point with all this when it comes to Shaedon Sharpe is: STOP SAYING HE’S A MAJOR RISK BECAUSE HE’S A HIGH SCHOOL PLAYER. If this history lesson teaches us anything, it’s that the guys that come straight out of high school actually might be more ready, since the reason they can make the jump straight out of high school is because of advanced skill, athleticism, basketball IQ, approach to the game, or a mix of all the above.

This is not to say Shaedon Sharpe has a distinct advantage over the field in this class because of this, but I wanted to take this detour to show that trying to factor in his jump from high school as NEGATIVE in his scouting report is unfounded. Is it a risk? Of course it is. But so is projecting Jaden Ivey as a point guard. Or buying into Chet developing an off the dribble game in the halfcourt. Or even (for me personally) to buy into Johnny Davis as someone who can still succeed without the ball in his hands.

To me, it is all about two things when it comes to any prospect coming straight out of high school: Time, and Patience. Most, if not all of the guys I listed took a season or two before blowing up into starters or superstars. And with a few exceptions, the teams that drafted them understood this, and were willing to invest in their development and get accustomed to the speed of the NBA. (Except for LeBron, who I continue to believe is actual a robot or alien with advanced physiology).

The last time I checked, the Pistons have both the time not to rush the number five pick in this draft into being productive immediately, and an incredibly patient coaching staff, led by Dwane Casey, to allow Sharpe to find himself on the court.

Breaking Down Shaedon Sharpe’s Game

But what about Shaedon Sharpe’s game? What can we take away from the film that those of us in the general public can see?

One of the things I try to do in the first few weeks of looking at a player’s game film is to find a game where, statistically, they were terrible. For me, this helps me to see what else a player brings to the table even if they are not stuffing the box score. Do they keep focus on defense? Do they send an extra pass to a teammate when their shots aren’t falling? Is the lack of production a result of them doing dumb things, or just having an off night? And, most importantly, are they still giving consistent effort level even in the face of struggles?

Here’s Sharpe’s Bad Stats Game:

In this game against Prolific Prep, Sharpe’s Dream City Christian squad matches up with top High School recruits: guard Dior Johnson, forward MJ Rice, and center Adem Bona. As you can tell from this synopsis of the game, Sharpe struggles to get going on offense, shooting 4/13 from the field and an abysmal 1/6 from three. He also turned the ball over twice.

But look at the stats further, and you see he got to the free throw line 12 times, and had two assists, one block, three steals, and 10 rebounds with ZERO fouls. And when you analyze the game film in its entirety (something you can do yourself if you have ESPN+), you can see Sharpe contributes in a variety of ways even when he is not scoring. His cutting is what impressed me most, as he used that as another action on the opposite side of the action to make the defense have to account for him as a vertical spacer in addition to his on-ball scoring. I also found it encouraging the level of effort he gives even as the team gets punched in the mouth. He fights back to get his team within two and does dirty work like rebounding and drawing more contact as well as continuing to be a shot blocker as well.

Unfortunately, Sharpe does get put on a few posters here, but to me this is another positive indicator of both him using his athleticism for more than just dunking and not shying away from failure. There are plenty of guys who get dunked on once and then say no thank you the rest of the way. In this game, Sharpe does keep trying to affect shots at the rim and shakes off when it does not go his way. And even in something like the rebounding, you see him actually box out big men and get up there for rebounds, which is huge, because this is one of those little things that can be the difference in close game situations.

BUT THIS IS ONE GAME. So no overreaction please…I might be saying this to myself right now…All joking aside, Sharpe was dinged at this event for not always giving this kind of effort. With the other “he didn’t practice at Kentucky all the time” reports out there, this would be something that any scouting department is likely to dive into.

But there is still a ton of positive indicators out there when you look at any of Sharpe’s game film. Let’s contrast the bad game with a good one:

In this game Sharpe drops 32 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals, and just one turnover. It’s useful to note here the bad game is from his high school team, which plays more as an entire team as he shared the court with fellow five-star big man Yohan Traore, and the good game is on Sharpe’s EYBL UPlay Canadian team, which is built around him. So, you get a good idea of what he looks like more in a team concept and also what it looks like when he is the man. And what you see here as the man in this game does still have some major areas for improvement.

Sharpe does go 1/8 from three-point range and he falls in love with the step-back three, so he will have to cut down on doing this. Also, I don’t want to say his shooting is a major concern as he shot 28/77 (36.4%) in 12 games in this EYBL Circuit, but it is still a question mark as he shot just 33/52 (63.5%) from the free throw line in this same event.

So now we have two games with different types of team construction to give us an idea that Sharpe’s profile is: an athlete, a scorer, and willing to get physical on both ends of the court. Again, this is just two games, and this is just to give us an IDEA of what Sharpe’s game is like. I also selected these two from about 15 games I was able to watch in their entirety—so definitely take this with a grain of salt, as this is a smaller sample size than the rest of the guys on my big board. Still, it is clear to see why Sharpe is ranked so highly coming out of high school, and no one can deny his upside.

Should you want to be entertained and go down the rabbit hole of publicly available Shaedon Sharpe games too, however, there are a handful to see. As I mentioned before, the Geico Top Flight Invite tournament aired on ESPN, and you can view it through ESPN+. The fantastic YouTube channel The Scouting Rapport has a five video playlist on Sharpe. Finally, another YouTube channel named Intuition Hoops: A Basketball Platform did a great job of putting together bits of film from Sharpe’s Peach Jam ’21 that focus on specific skills he flashed consistently there.

Thinking About NBA Comp and Fit on the Pistons

If we are using our past high school prospects as a scale from Ousmane Cisse and Ricky Sanchez (who never played an NBA game) to KG and Kobe, I would place Shaedon Sharpe somewhere around the J.R. Smith part of the scale. I am NOT saying their games are similar, but I would buy into Sharpe being a player that had career per-game averages of 12.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals and shooting splits of 46.3/37.3/73.3, all while being an above-average NBA athlete.

The one thing both JR and Sharpe seem to share is the knack for scoring and being a walking heat-check. In the good game Sharpe had, I think it is pretty easy to see the ability to just take over and fire away, for better or worse. I do think Sharpe seems to care more about the defensive side of the ball than JR did, but that is only my projection and only time will tell.

After racking my brain and watching a bunch of other wings, Sharpe’s NBA comp, for me, lands close to current Golden State Warrior Andrew Wiggins. Both guys are wings hyped up mainly for their scoring ability. Both are plus athletes with nasty highlight dunks on their resumes. And like Wiggins, I think if Sharpe is just given free reign and asked to be the primary scorer from day one, he is more than likely going to be an inefficient bucket getter who does little else, like Wiggins was in Minnesota. Wiggins still got to the line quite a bit in Minnesota, but his three-point shot never came around.

Once he got to Golden State, however, he moved into a supporting role. Now, we see him being more efficient and using his athleticism in ways other than trying to dunk on dudes. Wiggins is occasionally asked to create, and still capable of dropping 30-40 when Steph and Klay need a rest, but his main contribution is wing defense, as well as both vertical and horizontal spacing the Warriors lack with running Draymond at the 5.

Something as simple as spot up driving into a dunk driving from the corner to cutting in for an offensive rebound slam, is what I envision Sharpe can do for the MotorCade while he rounds out his jumper. We saw how much of difference Hamidou Diallo and Marvin Bagley made as an alley-oop threat with Cade, coupling that with the ability to space the floor is very enticing. And Sharpe has shot creation ability as well!

In Detroit, I see Sharpe as having the potential to be a great athlete that uses it to make up for his teammates lack of athleticism. Sharpe can be a supreme cutter and lob threat between the primary Cade, floor spacing Saddiq, and the more ground-bound Isaiah Stewart. He can use his suddenness to draw contact and get to the line, which everyone outside of Jerami Grant has not shown the ability to do at a high level. And I do also believe Sharpe’s jumper will be solid.

I think year one for Sharpe would be pretty basic; something like Paul George’s rookie year where he doesn’t start many games, but his athleticism, physicality, and budding skills get him at least 20 minutes per game while he works on his jumper. Like I mentioned, Detroit has the time and patience to nurture Sharpe’s game to maturity.