This week we take a trip into Doncic’s off-the-ball approach in Dallas. Next, how Matisse Thybulle helped to spark a miraculous Sixers win in Indiana. Finally, who is Greg Brown, and what makes him the draft’s biggest boom or bust prospect.

‘WE NEED MORE ENERGY, MORE EFFORT, … EVERYTHING’ – LUKA DONCIC

Rarely will you get an argument from me against Luka Doncic. Doncic is transformative, and his impact on the ball elevates Dallas from a mediocre to a very good team. But we also need to call it like it is to have a fully transparent conversation around Luka. The Mavericks point guard has not evolved as a shooter. Not even close. With Dallas collecting early-season losses Doncic decided to dig into the team’s energy level, and well, I’ll let you decide who is playing at half speed here.

and here … 

For one, you are not James Harden, Luka. So pick up that same energy level before going to the press. But where this all ties in is quite simple. How do you enable your growth as a shooter and maximize your team’s offense as a bystander? Doncic’s off-ball limitations trace back to his rookie year, and it appears that head coach Rick Carlisle has accepted this fate. Well, should he? 

HERE IS WHERE DOES LUKA DONCIC RANKS IN CATCH AND SHOOT FIELD GOAL FREQUENCY AMONG OTHER NBA LEAD GUARDS
Doncic Catch & Shoot stats *per NBA.con
Doncic Catch & Shoot stats *per NBA.con

Listen, there are very obvious ‘win now’ reasons as to why Carlisle wants to prioritize Doncic’s on-ball playmaking. But Dallas is not a title contender, and there is a sound argument to be made around building Doncic’s entire offensive arsenal. Thru the Mavericks first 22 games, Luka is shooting a league-low 24% on catch and shoot opportunities among starting guards. His 29% three-point percentage is also at its lowest since breaking into the league in 2018. The game film tells the story. Luka has not been willing to engage as an off-ball contributor, often leaving his teammates without an additional passing outlet in the half-court. For a team with limited shot creation that is a problem, as possessions often become stagnant with players like Josh Richardson running the show. 

For now, Dallas appears content to let Docic create on most possessions and watch the offense for the remaining ones. Is that the recipe for long term success? Perhaps. But the Mavericks have not met expectations this year. Part of it falls on roster turnover and injuries. However, the one constant remains. Doncic has not evolved as a shooter. And his commitment off the ball may be the difference between elevating a team to playoff contention to one competing for championships. 

MATISSE AND THE ART OF THE ZONE

Down 13 points going into the 4th quarter against Indiana, Doc Rivers called on an old friend. With Thybulle in the lineup Rivers flipped the script by flipping the Sixers defense upsidedown. Out, man-to-man defense. In, the 2-3 zone. Matisse’s 11-minute run in the final frame was ELECTRIC. The Sixers defensive stopper recorded an astounding 4 steals and 2 blocks in a late-game performance that was very reminiscent of his zone days back at Washington. Think you have time and space to set-up your move? Think again 

Thybulle’s feel for when and how to attack defenders is truly remarkable. But it is in that zone where his instincts take over. Matisse is not shy to put his 6’11” wingspan to use, and playing alongside another long-limbed defender in Ben Simmons funnels the play into Thybulle’s wheelhouse. A split second and timely poke later the Sixers are off and running in the other direction.

Much of Philadelphia’s comeback was grounded on very similar ideas. Let the two tarantulas poke and prod until the ball pops out loose. But what was even more impressive was how Thybulle navigated Indiana’s attempt to slow him down.

Like a fine painter, Thybulle circles around the screen and remains locked to TJ McConnell’s back hip. What looks to be a simple bounce pass is immediately gobbled up by Matisse’s claws. Thybulle’s anticipation is not only elite, but it is also the main source of the historic defensive start to his season. His 4.6% steal rate thru the win at Indiana puts him in the category of a few remarkable defenders.

HERE IS A LIST OF EVERY PLAYER TO FINISH THE SEASON WITH A 3.9%+ STEAL RATE IN OVER 1000 REGULAR SEASON MINUTES (SINCE 2000)
STL% Leaders by season (min 1000 minutes) *per Basketball-Reference
STL% Leaders by season (min 1000 minutes) *per Basketball-Reference

It is not far-fetched to envision an All-NBA defender in Thybulle. The Sixers continue to deploy him in high leverage matchups, and an uptick in minutes could lead him into future awards. Whether his offensive game develops, Philadelphia knows that it has one of the NBA’s most unique defenders. A defensive artist who can function under multiple environments and against a multitude of players. 

YOUR COLLEGE BASKETBALL PROSPECT: WING – GREG BROWN

THE RESUME

  • 11.4 points per game (14 games)
  • 7.5 rebounds per game (3rd in Big 12)
  • 5.6 block percentage (3rd in Big 12)
  • 2 assists and 32 turnovers 

WHAT I LIKE

  • Intriguing length and athletic profile. 6’10 wingspan. Good footwork. Moves well when isolated on the perimeter and uses length to close in on shooters.
  • Fast. Covers ground quickly using his long strides. Loves to get out on the break. High-level athlete coming downhill. 
  • Fluid off the dribble, especially when turning left. Attacks closeouts off the bounce. Tight handle. Penetrates the defense and identifies passing outlets off the live dribble. 
  • Great catch radius and lob potential. Explosive vertical athlete. Projects as a multi-position defender with a good feel for protecting the rim. 
  • High energy player near the basket. Attacks the glass with authority. Uses size for easy put-back opportunities. 

WHAT I DO NOT LIKE

  • Little playmaking responsibilities in Texas’ guard centric system. Not asked to process the game beyond a primary catch and shoot role. 
  • Low basketball feel on the ball. Wins on energy over fundamentals. Attacks to score and misses easy passing reads.
  • Struggles to anchor against power. Long but thin frame. Skinny lower body. Allows easy inside positioning against stronger players.
  • Inconsistent shooter. Flat arc. Limited path to NBA minutes if neither the shot (nor the body) develops.
  • Low floor as a developmental prospect. Requires patience in an environment that promotes it. Could be out of the league fast under different circumstances. 

PROJECTION

Few prospects carry Greg Brown’s boom or bust potential. His athletic profile screams off the page, and Brown has flashed many jaw-dropping moments early in his collegiate career. Brown is your classic unmolded ball of clay. At Texas, he is rarely asked to compute the game at a high level. While there are short term benefits to the team, it does leave you wondering what he could be at the next level. Brown has an advanced handle, and his activity near the rim is the perfect fit for a space and pace offense. Throw it up, and he’ll bring it down.

But for a guy projected to go early in the mid lottery that is simply not enough. This investment is going to take time, and quite frankly, may never get there. The gap today to a playable NBA player is wide a one. Brown has shown limited consistency as a scorer, and when you factor his thin frame, it does leave you questioning his path to NBA minutes. I am a fan of Brown’s upside and hope that he can get into an NBA development program as soon as possible. The right one may just unlock a future superstar.