2022 NBA Draft: Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley could be class’s biggest sleeper with terrific speed and potential

After a consensus top-four pick, Thursday’s 2022 NBA draft can really go in any direction. If someone tells you they know what to do with the rest of the lottery, they’re lying to you. This year’s class is packed with talented young players, but not many have clearly separated themselves during the pre-draft process.

Because with the exception of the top four — Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, Paul Banchero and Jaden Ivey — many of the prospects have relatively the same level of talent — it’s certain that everyone Favorite word for the golden years: Sleeper.

If you’re looking for an under-the-radar rookie who might make some noise — not necessarily on draft night, but in his rookie year — maybe you should consider Blake Wesley.

The 6-foot-4 combo guard averaged 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists as a freshman at Notre Dame and has played most of the season at 18. His poor shooting percentage (40/30/66 FG) may have prevented him from being considered a lottery pick — most people think he was in his teens to early twenties — but when you look at him , shot selection is clearly an issue that can correct itself and improve efficiency at the NBA level.

A common question you hear about potential clients is, what are their translatable skills? With Wesley, it’s easy. He is fast. Like, really fast. Like, hurting yourself, trying to keep up with him fast.

“You can’t stand in front of him, you can’t teach him … he’s so fast, so crazy,” Impact Basketball founder Joe Abnasa, who has been preparing for Wesley’s draft, has been in the training foreground. 25 years, told CBS Sports. “He’s got a lot on the ball, and if you look at some of his breakthroughs in college, he’s going to pass the ball to the whole team with the ball in his hands — very few people can do that.”

Sure enough, if you watch a Wesley movie, it’s hard to take your eyes off him, but it’s also hard to take your eyes off him because of his speed. Watch Wesley start from the opposite baseline here, then get past every North Carolina defender in a row and beat them to the rim for an easy layup:

He’s also vague about the ball, as Abunassar testified. Wesley used his 6-foot-9 wingspan to average 1.2 steals per game at Notre Dame, and good luck once he’s out in the open. If you test him, you’ll probably just get a basketball mark on your forehead:

That speed is also reflected in the halfcourt, where Wesley was effective at half-court layups — and attempted more than four free throws per game — thanks to his explosiveness. Watch Wesley let the Alabama guard lean toward the screen here, then hit him with a quick cross and go straight to the rim in the blink of an eye:

Wesley’s not-so-completion rate at the rim at Notre Dame, which Abunassar sees as an 18-year-old figuring out how to play against a 22-year-old at the rim, has always been a focus of the game his training. It can also be compensated for by getting into the right NBA development program. For example, as a rookie, Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole was in the 17th percentile in field goal percentage around the rim, according to Synergy Sports. Last season, he improved to the 65th percentile after accumulating a dizzying array of finishing skills over the past few years.

Aside from his finishing numbers, Wesley’s shooting percentage at Notre Dame leaves a lot to be desired. You can attribute 40 percent of your field goal percentage and 30 percent of your 3-pointers to questionable shot selection, but a 66 percent free throw percentage is a red flag for a track record of successful 3-pointers. Abunassar said he and his team made some small tweaks to Wesley’s form — making his shots quicker and tighter by eliminating the wiggle he dribbles when shooting — but most importantly, he Got more repetitions.

“We pitched a lot,” Wesley told Yahoo Sports in May of his workout with Abunassa. “So just like in the morning, I’ll probably be shooting like 800 and 900 times a day, not lying.”

Wesley was a solid catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter at Notre Dame, ranking 47th in points per possession at 0.965 points, which bodes well for his off-ball offense. Small tweaks to his form and NBA floor spacing — he took a lot of controversial 3-pointers in college — could easily lead to improved 3-point efficiency. Abnasa said Wesley was shooting “very good” in practice.

Adding to Wesley’s intrigue is his potential to eventually become the NBA’s leading guard. It might not happen right away, but handing the ball over to Wesley’s half-court did well in his year at Notre Dame. According to Synergy, Wesley ranks in the 73rd percentile in pick-and-rolls that include passes, and while he doesn’t make the most spectacular passes, he’s effective at recognizing and making simple plays . Most importantly, he showed the passing and playmaking skills of the NBA’s best leading guard.

This is a perfect example. Wesley pulled the defense, he had an uncanny knack, and then found the right way to get his teammates to make 3-pointers. The pass missed the target, but that’s the type of execution he’ll be doing once he’s in the league. However, he has the foresight to recognize his shooter from the traffic, however, it’s a hopeful sign:

“He’s long and explosive. He’s everything the NBA’s lead guard is today,” Abnasa told CBS Sports. “He can pass, he can score. You can’t stand in front of kids. He plays hard. He defends very well…I think his translation is very good.”

Speaking of defense, Abnasa said he’s gotten incredible feedback from NBA teams about Wesley’s ability to guard perimeter players. It’s not always easy to see in college games due to tighter spaces and different types of zones, but Wesley has shown that Tool and Motor are an excellent one-on-one defender.

Look at the lateral speed he cuts off the drive here, and then he stops the 3-pointer from recovering without a foul. These are the essential defensive skills for NBA guards:

“We got comments from some practices that he was the best on-ball defender they’ve had in years,” Abnasa told CBS Sports. “He can really defend.”

No one is saying Wesley will be an All-Star next season. His skills are evident in many aspects of the game — transitions, ball handling, scoring, defense — but he needs time and nourishment to develop. That’s why it’s important to remember that going higher in the draft isn’t always best for a player. Finding the right spot and fit is critical, especially for a player as young as Wesley.

But the fact that Wesley was one of 22 players invited to the Green Room for the draft Thursday night seemed a good sign that he would at least make it to the first round. It’s up to him and the team that ultimately drafts him from there.

“Anything can happen in the draft. Unless you’re one of the top three or top four picks, you can move a lot,” Abnasa told CBS Sports. “Young players like this [Wesley], what we’ve learned is that it’s actually more about putting him in a good environment to grow and develop than the numbers he’s been drafted with. “

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