Mario Hezonja, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, and Kelly Oubre: Can they be more than 3-and-D wings?

Mario Hezonja, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, and Kelly Oubre: Can they be more than 3-and-D wings?

In some ways the wing position in today’s NBA has less variation than any other position. Wings can essentially be measured based on three categories, shooting, creating, and defense. Boiling each of those categories down to one simple measure is gross oversimplification, but on some level wings do have the “simplest” of skill sets.

In this year’s lottery four wing prospects stand out with the potential to be above average in all three of those categories. Draft Express has Justise Winslow 5th, Mario Hezonja 7th, Stanley Johnson 9th, and Kelly Oubre 12th in their rankings while Chad Ford has Winslow 6th, Hezonja 7th, Johnson 10th, and Oubre 18th.

Debate between Hezonja and Winslow rages on, but the rest of the order between them seems mostly unanimous. Nonetheless, it is valuable to look into these prospects further on the basis of those three categories.

Shooting:

(Hezonja’s stats are taken from his play with Barcelona this year only)

 Player  3PA  3PT%  2PT Jumper FGA  2PT J FG%  Combined Jumpers % FT%
 Justise Winslow  110  41.8  93  26.9  35.0  64.1
 Mario Hezonja  161  39.1  N/A  N/A  N/A  76.7
 Stanley Johnson  116  37.1  162  44.4  41.4  74.2
 Kelly Oubre  95  35.8  74  39.2  38.0  71.8

Winslow came into college with a reputation as a poor shooter, and after one year of college things have only become more confusing. Shooting 41.8% from three on a solid 110 attempts is, quite frankly, elite for a college player, but there are also justifiable reasons for pessimism. His low FT% and 2PTJ% are both red flags, and suggest his three-point shooting this season might not have been representative of his true shooting ability.

Some have posited that Winslow’s high 3P% was due to him getting unusually good looks from 3 because of the defensive attention Jahlil Okafor drew inside and the way Duke spaced the floor. I’m not quite sure how much truth that explanation holds. He certainly got good looks at Duke, but his looks weren’t so overwhelmingly better than most 3pt shooters that it would really affect his percentage.

There is no clear right answer, but I’m of the opinion that Winslow will be a good three-point shooter at the NBA level. His 2pt% suffered because his fluidity shooting off the bounce is really poor at this point. When he shoots free throws he slows his release down too much, making his shot stiff and more awkward.

His catch-and-shoot mechanics aren’t perfect, but when he shoots it with confidence it looks smooth and consistent. The questions about Winslow’s shooting at the next level are definitely a legitimate concern. I’m on the optimistic side, but I have more questions with him than the rest of this group.

Hezonja is the most dangerous shooter of the bunch by a decent amount to me. Taking into account his number of attempts and the degree of difficulty his shooting stats are the most impressive. Many of his threes were of the off-the-dribble variety, and others were like this:
Hezonja had plays off-screens like that drawn up for him because of his shooting ability. None of Winslow, Johnson, or Oubre have close to that level of footwork and shooting to where they would even attempt a shot like that. Hezonja isn’t quite an elite shooter yet, but I think he can be. He’s got a high and quick release that he can get off the catch, off screens, or pulling up.

Hezonja also stands at 6’8, there just aren’t many guys in the NBA right now his size with that type of shooting ability. He’ll probably be a tier below, but over time I wouldn’t be shocked if he developed into a Klay Thompson or Wes Matthews level of shooter.

Stanley Johnson, like Winslow, came into college with shooting considered a weakness. He has a low release and short arms the ball somewhat, making for a flat shot, but the numbers speak for themselves. He had confidence shooting both off the catch and the dribble from 2 or 3, and aside from a 3-point shooting slump near the end of the season he was very effective doing both.

One reason he’s so effective is he does a great job of stabilizing his core so he is always square to the basket no matter where he is shooting from. The low release point isn’t ideal if he ever hopes to be a true marksman from outside, but he looks like a very solid NBA shooter.

Oubre isn’t the most consistent shooter yet, but like Hezonja he has a nice compact and high release. He’s been known as a streaky shooter throughout his career, so it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be more than a ~36% shooter from beyond the arc, but I doubt it’s going to be a weakness for him.

Hezonja, Johnson, Oubre, Winslow is how I would rank them as shooters. Winslow’s flaggy numbers give him the most risk of being a poor shooter, but I’d bet all of these guys become at least solid outside shooters.

Creating Offense:

Here comparing stats can be useful in some areas, but a lot more context goes into each players numbers. Winslow played many of his minutes as a small-ball 4, but the surrounding talent on his team also caused him to accept a reduced role. Oubre also played on a talented team with other primary scoring options, and Bill Self’s offense isn’t conductive to wing creating success (cough Ben Mclemore/Andrew Wiggins).

Hezonja’s situation is most unusual of all, playing as mostly a 4th or 5th option on Barcelona’s incredibly talented roster. Hezonja’s role shouldn’t be held against him; Barcelona is chock full of NBA-level talent and at his age it would be unrealistic to expect him to have carried much more of an offensive burden. Johnson was the only of these guys to serve as his team’s primary scorer, and even he played on a very balanced Arizona team.

Right now Winslow has all the physical skills and natural ability to turn into a strong creator, but lacks much of the advanced skill. Attacking close-outs and playing in transition shouldn’t be a problem for him as he’s got a great first step, the speed to get all the way to the rim, and the strength and athleticism to either finish or draw fouls once he gets to the rim. Winslow also displays strong passing instincts when driving the ball as evidenced by his solid 13.2 AST%.

Isolation and pick-and-roll situations is where he needs to improve. If he wasn’t able to get a step on his defender, Winslow often relied on his strength to overpower college defenders and get to the rim. In the NBA he is going to need to improve his ball-handling and pull-up game so he can get defenders off-balance and create more space for himself when he can’t just bully them.

Winslow’s path to being a Jimmy Butler like offensive threat isn’t hard to envision if he improves his ball-handling and patience in pick-and-roll type situations. If his development isn’t so rosy he can still be a good complementary creator due to his athleticism and instincts for attacking and scoring in space.

Hezonja might offer the most potential as a creator of the group. He’s got similar elite athleticism as Winslow or Oubre, but a higher skill-level than either of them at this stage. He can pull-up to shoot the ball very effectively, and his vision as a passer out of the pick-and-roll is really impressive.  However, Hezonja has only a so-so handle at this point, and is very right hand dominant. He can execute complex dribble moves occasionally, but he isn’t very fluid doing it and doesn’t seem to have great “shake” to free himself from defenders.

Fluidity is my biggest concern with Hezonja, both in ball handling and finishing around the basket. Despite his elite athleticism he often looked awkward around the basket and seems to lack the coordination and footwork needed to get good looks for oneself.

There are also concerns with Hezonja’s decision-making as he is both turnover prone and tends to settle for very difficult shots. Watching him I think those issues can and will be resolved, but it’s not a given that they will be.

Johnson is the most developed as a creator at this point. He’s got a pretty good handle and solid feel for attacking from the pick-and-roll to create space for himself. His passing vision is merely average, but he’s got a great midrange game, and has a good floater in the lane. Johnson also has a good first step and does a good job drawing fouls in the lane.

Unfortunately, he also has one glaring flaw in his creation ability. In non-transition situations at the rim he shot a putrid 40.3%, a number that really makes no sense. Johnson lacks elite athleticism, but he is undoubtedly a good athlete at the college level and his incredibly developed physical strength should have made him a very good college finisher. I’ve watched a lot of his finishes to try to find an adequate explanation, and still am not quite sure.

Johnson often had to deal with a crowded paint due to Arizona’s poor shooting as a team, and settled for tough little floaters surrounded by defenders when he couldn’t explode to the rim. The finishing is definitely a concern for him, but he’s got decent touch and the necessary physical tools so I don’t think finishing will be a huge weakness for him in the NBA.

Oubre is pretty clearly the farthest behind as a creator at this stage. Like Johnson, Oubre often tries to finish by going over defenders instead of finding ways to navigate by them, but he does a good job repositioning the ball in those situations to go along with a soft touch. Oubre is a pretty good side-to-side ball-handler, but he is too loose with it when attacking the paint.

A loose handle combined with a weak frame and an only average first step make it hard for Oubre to get to the rim, the most important skill for any creator. Oubre also falls behind as a passer where his 8.1 AST% is the worst of the group by a sizable margin.

None of these guys project as true primary creators at the NBA level, but Winslow, Hezonja, and Johnson all have a chance at being high-level secondary ones. Johnson is the most developed at this stage, but his reliance on scoring in the midrange means he might actually be the least efficient of the group. I have Winslow, Hezonja, and Johnson all in a very similar tier as potential creators, with Oubre lagging behind.

Defense:

One thing to like about this group is that they all have the physical tools to be above-average NBA defenders, but they’re also all at different levels in applying those tools.

Winslow is not only the best defender of these 4 right now, but also offers the most long-term upside. Winslow’s wingspan of 6’10.5 is only average for a wing defender, but he is really good in every other defensive category.

Winslow has quick feet side-to-side, elite strength, a great motor, and great instincts that allow him to make plays in the passing lanes and at the rim. The compilation of highlight chase down blocks Winslow had this year speaks to his combination of athleticism, hustle, and instincts that make him a great defensive prospect.

Winslow also is ahead of the curve as an off-ball defender, and his team best DRTG even as a wing player at Duke is very impressive. At the NBA level, Winslow is going to be a versatile and impactful defender. He will be able to guard 1-3, and even some less skilled or undersized 4’s. The ability to be versatile and switch is becoming coveted in the NBA, and Winslow is ready-made for modern NBA defense.

Hezonja possesses one of the more disturbing defensive archetypes. He has great size for a wing defender, super quick feet, and the vertical explosion to make plays at the rim, but he still struggles mightily on the defensive end. It’s always hard to separate between poor instincts and laziness when it comes to scouting defense, and Hezonja treads the line.

He usually does fine in isolation due to his physical tools, but he struggles everywhere else. His timing and rotations off-the-ball are poor, he takes long and circuitous routes around screens, and his footwork on close-outs is sloppy and poor.

Being forced to play against the level of competition he has certainly highlighted Hezonja’s flaws more than most. All of his issues on the defensive end are things that almost all young players naturally struggle with. Hezonja isn’t necessarily behind the curve as a defender, but he’s also not ahead of it. Hezonja is extremely competitive and moody which affects him negatively at times, but in the long run I’d bet his fiery demeanor helps turn him into a good defender.

Stanley Johnson is a mixed bag as a defensive prospect. He’s got a fantastic frame at 240 pounds that should allow him to compete both on the wing, and even inside as a small ball four. He also has good instincts shooting passing lanes off-the-ball, and does a good job navigating on and off ball screens. There was some noise about his coach Sean Miller being upset with his defense during the year, but from what I saw he seemed to be a generally very positive college defender.

The one area where Johnson lacks defensively is his quickness. He’s got great straight line speed, but in short area isolation and on close-outs he doesn’t move his feet as well as one would hope. Having a 240 pound frame for a wing defender combined with solid instincts makes for an exciting prospect, but I think his lack of great quicks will prevent him from ever being the true impact defender some hoped he would be coming into college.

When looking at Kelly Oubre’s defense the first thing that jumps out is his 7’2 wingspan that allows him to tip and disrupt passes all over the court. Oubre combines his length with fantastic short area quickness to be a very dangerous defender on close-outs and rotations. His instincts at this stage seem middling, but that he was able to post a 3.3 STL% despite his only so-so instincts speaks to his upside on the defensive end.

The biggest weakness for Oubre is his strength, or lack thereof. His skinny 200 pound frame means that even when he does a great job cutting opponents off, they can sometimes bully their way to the rim.

Oubre also plays with a slightly high defensive stance in isolation, and if he is more committed to getting lower he can do a better job of masking his strength deficiency. Even if he doesn’t add much weight Oubre can be a good NBA defender, and if he does add to his frame he has the potential to be a very high level defender.

Draft Models:

As always, I think it’s important to see what analytic models have to say. I’ve written about it before and I’ll write about it again, but I really think it’s foolish to not take models into account even if you’ve watched hour upon hours of a prospect. For more information on specifics go read the “other stuff” section of my post on Wood, Portis, Looney, and Lyles, but here again I will be using my average ranking across different draft models that I compiled.

Johnson is the winner here, he’s got a very well-rounded statistical portfolio and ranks 4th in the consensus model rankings. It’s worth noting that while he does rank 4th, he is actually closer to ranking 12th than he is too 3rd.

Winslow is next at 11th, but it’s important to remember his numbers took a huge uptick around the midway point of the season. Winslow’s switch to the small-ball 4 role inflated his rebounding numbers, but he also had been playing hurt for much of the first of the season. If anything, I think his numbers underrate him due to the injury.

Next up is Oubre at 14th, but Andrew Wiggins and Ben Mclemore also didn’t look great in models, so Self’s system might be depressing his numbers a bit. Finally, Hezonja only ranks 23rd in the average rank, but due to his extremely unique role on what might be the most talented non-NBA team in the world his numbers should be given significantly less weight.

Conclusion:

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t really differ much from the consensus here. Winslow strikes me as clearly the best defensive prospect and not to far behind Hezonja and Johnson on the offensive end, so I have him first among the group. Hezonja meanwhile is the best offensive prospect due to his combination of shooting and creation, and is only a little behind Johnson and Oubre on the defensive end so I have him next.

Johnson’s lack of elite athleticism or an elite skill hinders his upside on both ends, but he’s pretty clearly better than Oubre on offense, and pretty similar on the defensive end. I have Oubre last because I don’t think he will ever be much more than a spot-up guy on offense, but he is still an awesome 3-and-D prospect.

I’ve divided my total big board into tiers, and currently I have Hezonja and Winslow in one tier while Oubre and Johnson are in the next one. Hezonja and Winslow combine athleticism with great skills (Hezonja) and great instincts (Winslow) so I think they have ceiling as true all-star level guys Johnson and Oubre don’t quite have. It’s probably stupid to say that all of these guys will be successful, but I think these are 4 of the safest picks in this year’s lottery and I have confidence they all will at least be solid NBA players.

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7 thoughts on “Mario Hezonja, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, and Kelly Oubre: Can they be more than 3-and-D wings?

    • Well golden state also plays great D, DET would be in good shape with any of these guys I think honestly, Hezonja or Johnson probably most likely who they would take

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  1. I just don’t understand. Why do you consider Stanley Johnson less than Winslow and Mario? lack of elite athleticism and skills, what? like you said he’s the most skilled wing in the draft. he doesn’t have a reliance on his jumper, he has the ability to hit a jumper. his bad finishing ability was because of what you said, Arizona didn’t have any shooters, and teams could just pack the paint. In addition there is no proof that Stanley doesn’t have “elite athleticism”, he’s just as good as Winslow and Mario. there’s no real reason to put him in a class under Winslow and Mario. you can say he is a low release Point, but that’s not enough to put him under players I think will be busts.

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    • well I’m not sure why you think Winslow and Mario will be busts, but I do agree I might be underrating Stanley. Compared to Winslow I think he’s worse defensively and less powerful attacking the basket. Compared to Mario his shooting and passing aren’t at the same level, but I agree it’s really close, especially between him and Mario.

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