2022 NBA Draft profile: Sixers must consider Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley

The 2022 NBA Draft will be held on Thursday, June 23. Since the Nets decided to defer the pick owed to them as part of the James Harden trade, the Sixers will select 23rd overall. Ahead of the draft, we’ll look at several prospects that could fit the Sixers and be realistic possibilities at No. 23.

More and more signs point to Daryl Morey and Elton Brand trading their 2022 NBA Draft pick. The rumor with the most legs is that they’re shopping Danny Green along with pick no. 23. But if they do opt to keep this one, they might consider taking another very big swing.

And at 6-5, 187 pounds, a 19 year-old guard out of Notre Dame, Blake Wesley just might fit that bill.

The South Bend IN. native appeared in 35 games last season, dropping 14.4 points on 40.4% shooting from the floor, 30.3% from deep, 65.7% from the stripe, to go with 3.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.3 steals per outing. He provided that coveted triple-threat skill set, and showed he’s a talent who can help his team off-ball and as a playmaker too.

Wesley made the 2021-22 All-ACC Second Team, and the 2021-22 All-ACC Freshman Team. Some folks wondered if he might make a lottery leap in 2023 by sticking around one more season, but he’ll be a one-and-done… Notre Dame’s first ever.

Only a select few of your favorite Sixers prospects received Green Room invites (for the projected top 20 picks). Wesley is one of those guys. Tari Eason, Jalen Williams, MarJon Beauchamp and Wesley for example got Green Room invites for Thursday’s draft, while Jaden Hardy, Dalen Terry, Kendall Brown, Kennedy Chandler, EJ Liddell did not.

And you can see some of why, at times he looked like a pro among college players, like that time he drained six triples vs. Wake Forest:

Ratings:

  • ESPN has him ranked 27th overall.
  • The Ringer: 21th
  • The Athletic: 24th
  • CBS: 26th

Strengths

Notre Dame v Texas Tech

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Wesley has some exciting burst, and is comfortable with change of tempo and direction in small spaces. He has put both slithery as well as ferocious finishes on display in just 35 games at Notre Dame. He mixes feline quickness, squeezing through narrow spaces, with raw power utilizing a strong lower body, and has shown enough to paint an abstract portrait of a versatile two-way NBA combo guard in the future.

Watching his film, I’m surprised I haven’t heard his name mentioned more in Sixersville. He’s an impressive prospect.

Among the country’s top ball handlers, Wesley was simply too hard to stay in front of for most defenders, creating valuable paint touches for his team via isolation, and ball screen action, while brandishing raw playmaking chops as well.

As Jake Rosen, who our Jackson Frank recently caught up with, might tell you, paint touches are what it’s all about .

He’s even shown a flare for big moments, drilling some clutch shots for the Irish vs. Georgia Tech, Boston College, University of Kentucky, and most notably, vs. Alabama in the tournament.

Defensively, he’s shown he can stay with his man, has fluid hips, quick feet and good balance. As the year went on, he developed a knack for picking off passes as well (44 total steals) and creating high percentage transition looks for the Blue and Gold.

Wesley is an aggressive, and confident prospect. That can work for and against him. But he was a vital part of the Fighting Irish’s second tournament win over Alabama, finishing 8 of 14 with 18 points and three steals on the big stage.

Wesley excelled in pick-and-roll situations:

He’s a good athlete who’d bring any team some tantalizing agility on the wing.

His plus 6-9 wingspan and 8-7 standing reach help him on both ends of the floor, lending credence to the theory he could one day guard 1-3 in the big leagues and improve his finishing at the rim.

Per ESPN, from Mar. 2022:

“Wesley is a big-time talent who has NBA feet and shift off the dribble, can get a piece of the paint at will and has at least shown enough off the dribble shooting potential to suggest there’s room to improve. With a strong pre-draft process, it’s not out of the question that Wesley gets looks throughout the teens, especially if he shoots the ball well.”

It remains to be seen if Wesley did enough in the pre-draft process to warrant a pick in the teens, but it’s clear that he’s impressed by showing some serious NBA level burst.

Weaknesses

2022 NBA Draft Combine Circuit

Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

Wesley likes to play on ball, his usage rate was 31.3, and there isn’t a glaring need for another ball dominating player on many contending teams selecting in this range. And he’d probably be better served in a secondary, tertiary or off-ball role early in his career. But his catch and shoot game may not be ready for all that.

He was just 32 percent on catch and shoot jumpers, and 33 percent on all jumpers.

As Mike Schmitz wrote, before he left ESPN for the Portland Trailblazers:

“Among the 143 players to take at least 130 shots at the rim in the half court, Wesley ranks 142nd in efficiency. He will also have to prove himself as a perimeter shooter throughout the pre-draft process, as he finished the year at 30.3% from 3.”

So despite the clear upside and talent, there is a rawness to Wesley’s game that leaves scouts wondering when (or if) he can put it all together.

Turnovers and perimeter shooting were certainly issues for him at times last year. He finished just 3 of 14 in the final elimination game vs. Texas Tech with three turnovers. The game looked a little fast for him at that point.

There are the lackluster shooting splits the freshman finished with: 40.4/30.3/65.7.

More recent looks:

His getting ease to his spots, and creating separation, his apparent comfort shooting off dribble tease at some upside as a jump shooter. But the fact remains, his current form isn’t a finished product. And that may be why he settles for contested pull ups too often when his preferred rim attacks get stymied.

His shooting mechanics are compact but there was a hint of catapult action last year, as he pulls the ball towards his face with a bent elbow then fires, lacking optimal arc:

If this jump shot comes along, he’ll likely be a major steal where he’s projected to be picked. But because significant, lasting improvement for shooters is never a sure thing, Wesley slides into the second round of some mocks.

Here, his free throw form shows he’s got most of the principles down, but it still looks a bit Frank Ntilikina stiff:

This exaggerated backwards lean (see his hips out in front of his shoulders) hints at an imbalance:

But he’s worked on it a ton since and it does look a bit smoother lately. The right elbow can finish low, but this is workable.

His shooting arm is too low. He needs to keep it up, elbow eye-level so he gets more arc. Lock out that elbow, and freeze the follow through.

Fit on Sixers

If the Sixers decide to keep this pick, it will be tempting to take one of the highest upside prospects in this range. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor suggests Philadelphia take Wesley because he looks like he can get buckets. KOC sees shades of Tyler Herro, Jamal Crawford, and Bones Hyland in Wesley’s game. Though I’m not sure I’d agree on those comps, given the smoothness of those dudes’ jump shots, I can certainly get behind the idea of ​​drafting BW is they keep this pick.

Do the Sixers feel a sense of confidence they can work with a prospect who is almost but not all the way there yet?

Recall, Tyrese Maxey’s release wasn’t as smooth as it is today:

Maxey had the basic foundation of a good shot. So if Philadelphia’s front office thinks Wesley does too, thinks he’s a tireless worker, thinks they can help him with the rest, then this pick makes plenty of sense.

Speaking of…Krysten Peek caught up with B-Dub, who’s a big Maxey fan (emoji eyes):

KRYSTEN PEEK: What NBA players do you watch and try to emulate your game after?

BLAKE WESLEY: Tyrese Maxey, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

KRYSTEN PEEK: Oh, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?

BLAKE WESLEY: Yeah, him. And Caris LeVert. People remind me Caris LeVert, because I got the movement like him and like the ability to jump like him and like the bounce like him.

But still, the chances that Wesley cannot earn minutes this coming season seem decent. He can overthink and make the wrong read, he can hesitate then settle for difficult midrange shots. That’s certainly not what the Sixers are looking for, and part of why Jaden Springer spent a year with the Blue Coats, as Daryl Morey has hinted. They need someone who can simply let it fly from deep in the corners when open without overthinking it, and D up.

Blake Wesley may not be ready for that. But he would be better offensively than Matisse Thybulle for example. And he’s a far better defender than names like Jaden Hardy. Still, he didn’t draw too many free throws. His decision making was suspicious. So he may not be ready to step on the floor and force a coach as conservative as Doc Rivers to play him right away, the way Maxey once did; especially with James Harden in town.

So if I hear Wesley’s name called on Thursday, I won’t be shocked if it’s for another team in a pending trade. He’s a raw prospect with legit NBA tools and talent so plenty of teams will likely be excited to mold him. Again, market value come into play if you want an asset that figures to appreciate. But if they do stick with him, you can slowly allow yourself to get excited they took one of the bigger swings on the board at pick 23. And I’m pretty optimistic in that jump shot being workable. So if teams started calling about Wesley, I’d be tempted to say “yeah, umm, we’ll get back to you on that.”

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