This article is courtesy of Dillon Dente. He also made some nice videos. Enjoy!
With so many breakout stars emerging from the depths of the second-round dungeon into the NBA limelight, it’s no wonder that there’s a coinciding boom in public interest over incoming second round prospects. In the 2017 All-Star game, three players from the West and two players from the East were selected after the first round, not to mention players like Nikola Jokic, potential Rookie-of-the-year candidate Malcolm Brogdon, and The Knicks’ very own Willy Hernangomez, were all second rounders.
With the Knicks slated to pick 15th and 28th in round 2 of the draft (45th and 58th respectively overall), in addition to their first round pick, they too should have their notepads and pencils handy to evaluate the diverse array of talent entering the 2017 draft.
Speaking of diverse, Wesley Iwundu is a 6’7” senior wing player from Kansas State University—alma mater of Knicks legend Bill (now known as Henry) Walker!—projected to be available right around the time the Knicks make one of their second round selections. (DraftExpress mocked him to the Knicks with the 45th pick last week.)
As a 2nd-round prospect, versatility is a skill in itself, sometimes more important than in first round prospects. Only standing 5’10” tall as a sophomore in high school, Iwundu would reach 6’5” before he left high school and continue to the 6’7” height he stands today. This late bloom enabled Iwundu to develop guard skills, like ball-handling, early into his basketball career. This really bolstered his usefulness as he grew into his NBA-ready frame and played all four years for Coach Bruce Weber at Kansas State, consistently using his mix of guard-like court vision and his height advantage to create offense and pass over small perimeter defenders.
Listed as a shooting guard, Iwundu was Coach Weber’s Swiss army knife, so-to-speak, and Weber used Iwundu at basically every position regularly other than Center.
Iwundu started several games at Power Forward for K-State, and ran the offense as the de facto point guard with some regularity throughout games. Iwundu will not be able to play those two extremes while in the NBA.
While he can do a serviceable job for a possession or two, Iwundu’s lack of consistent defensive discipline or lower body technique make him a liability to guard the lightning-fast point guards of the NBA.
Although Iwundu has a roughly 7’0” wingspan and stands at 6’7”, he is far too weak in his lower body to even consider defending opposing Power Forwards in the NBA. Even some stronger Small Forwards will be trouble for him and his lack of power at the next level until he improves in that area. Iwundu will probably play a mix of Shooting Guard and Small Forward in the NBA, and in those roles, he should fit in pretty well from a physical standpoint.
Wesley Iwundu's strengths on defense occur in short spurts. Below, you can see just how fundamentally sound he can be when he gives maximum effort. This closeout to a potential shooter is an oft-overlooked hustle play that prevents a wide open three, something the Knicks struggled with all season.
The defensive energy that Iwundu displays on the following clip shows that he has the physical tools to be a pesky defender on the wing. This again carries such importance in an NBA game that has seen a steady rise over the last decade in 3-point shots attempted.
The problem, as you may expect of a potential second-rounder, is that this effort and discipline is inconsistent.
At times, Iwundu makes mental errors that compromise not only his defensive work, but the teammates around him. As a 22-year-old senior, you'd like to see fewer of these mental errors, but every player has room to grow. Aside from mental mistakes, Iwundu's aforementioned lack of strength causes him problems any time he's caught in the paint defensively.
While some of his deficiencies can be solved in a weight room or film room, Iwundu possesses a unique set of almost offsetting capabilities that are unobtainable to most players, even through repetition or will. In other words, one thing Iwundu has going for him is his passing ability and court vision, and you can't teach that. This makes his shortcomings easier to cope with for some scouts.
Whether or not this is a player Phil Jackson values higher than other mid-second rounders is unknown. Iwundu's proficiency in the pick-and-roll is pretty special for a player projected to be selected somewhere around picks 42-48. While that doesn't necessarily spell YAHTZEE for the triangle, the success that Iwundu had in finding open corner shooters after attacking a closeout might. Admittedly, seeing Iwundu display his versatility multiple times during any given sequence is something that surely brings me and the Zen master to a similarly euphoric, weird basketball haven where I forget that he's ruining the only thing that I love.
A 22-year-old college prospect has a stigma similar to a 33-year-old point guard. Wesley Iwundu is 22 years old, and even though the Houston native could begin purchasing alcohol (legally) just over a year ago, many scouts will tell you that his ceiling is significantly lower than the average first round prospect because he is "old."
All kidding aside, the age of a college prospect is a very real factor in how teams determine the projected growth of that player. There's precedent for this, sure. Tyler Hansbrough, Shabazz Napier, Pat Connaughton, and so many other players reached their peak in college and could never replicate that success in the NBA. The idea is, if you havent developed, for example, a jump shot, lateral speed, or play-making ability by your senior year, it's not happening in the NBA, where the competition is bigger, faster, and stronger.
More exceptions to the rule have surfaced in recent years. Norman Powell, Malcolm Brogdon, and Jae Crowder were all four-year men who have blossomed in the NBA, and all of which were second round picks.
One vital area that needed work for Iwundu was his shooting, and his transformation in just one year has shown such promise for his NBA aspirations. in 2015-2016, Iwundu shot 20% from deep and 69% from the free-throw line. His form was not unlike lottery prospect Lonzo Ball's. Iwundu has traded in his left-to-right arm motion and inconsistent hip rotation for a simpler, shorter, straight up-and-down hop and a centered release with improved follow through.
Among his improved shooting, Iwundu's strengths also include his stellar 6.3 rebounds per game. For a "Shooting Guard", that's an impressive amount of boards, but his length and reach are to thank for that. Iwundu also averages 1 steal per game, but that doesn't tell the whole story as deflections,tipped passes, and sheer presence account for several turnovers per game for his team.
K-State did make the NCAA tournament this past year via a play-in game (which they won), but Iwundu isn't a player that could score or create his own shot to the point of taking over games. Creating shots for others was a much bigger strength for him. While his turnover rate seemed somewhat high, his usage rate more than explains that metric and from an advanced metrics point of view, Iwundu is vindicated. Iwundu is credited with 4.4 win shares for Kansas State in 2016-2017 and he assisted on 22.9% of their made baskets with an average box plus/minus of 7.6. Iwundu was the best player on his team this season by a mile.
While Iwundu seems smooth on the floor, there are still times where he will let the defense dictate his movements and he will force a bad shot here and there. Iwundu is athletic, but not explosive, and this will likely make his ability to score even more difficult in the NBA.
In general, Iwundu looks like he will be a potential bench player in the NBA. He won't be the next gem find by some genius GM, but he could certainly use his play-making ability to his advantage as it's clearly his biggest strength. That, coupled with his size, should make Iwundu interesting to several teams, including the Knicks with their 45th pick. While he thrives in the pick-and-roll, and taking that aspect of his game away might severely decrease his effectiveness, his defensive potential and pass-first disposition are traits that Phil Jackson has expressed his affinity towards. Don't be surprised if the brass gives this guy several hard looks.