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In a draft filled with guards and wings, it might be easy to overlook UConn’s James Bouknight.
He wasn’t a top ten recruit (or top 20, 30, 40, 50; he was 69th), he doesn’t have gaudy three-point numbers, and he only played 15 total games last season.
But what Bouknight does have though, is an impressive ability to score the basketball by exploiting mismatches and being able to create offence for himself one-on-one.
Bouknight grew up in the Crown Heights neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York. In his senior year of high school, Bouknight averaged over 19 points, five rebounds, and two assists per game. He was a consensus four-star recruit being ranked as high as 53rd by 247Sports and as low as 84 by Rivals.
He committed to UConn where he started 16 games in his freshman year for a Huskies team that went 19-12 and was their second-leading scorer at 13 points per game.
This past season, his scoring numbers rose with his usage, but his efficiency suffered. Bouknight scored 18.7 points per game with a usage rate over 31 percent. His true shooting, however, fell to 54.6 percent which was down from 56 percent the year prior.
There’s a lot of positives in Bouknight’s game that could translate to the next level, but there are also a couple of red flags that need some context.
Bouknight probably isn’t an option for the Toronto Raptors at number four but hey, there’s always that Pascal Siakam trade rumour!
As I said earlier, there aren’t many players in this draft with the one-on-one scoring ability that James Bouknight possesses.
If you want the best example of this, look no further than his career-high 40 point explosion against a top ten opponent in the Creighton Blue Jays.
If you’re a Bouknight fan, this is the game you point to as “look at what this guy can do.”
He’s a very good mismatch hunter and exploiter which we’ve seen become a much more valuable commodity in this year’s NBA Playoffs.
He is your prototypical “get-you-a-bucket” type of player. Something the Raptors could actually use with their lackluster half court offence the last couple of seasons after Kawhi Leonard’s departure.
He has a very tight, solid handle to help him create off the bounce. He’s not an elite space creator on his jumpers but he’s a tough shot maker.
Bouknight is also a very good athlete which becomes very evident on his drives. He has the explosiveness to get by his defender and then the leaping and finishing ability around the rim to either post a highlight reel dunk or a tough layup.
I mean, good heavens.
The athleticism is particularly remarkable considering he tore his meniscus in high school and has still been able to maintain a high level of explosion on drives and finishes.
It would be easy to label Bouknight as a pure scorer and move on.
But what he can potentially do at the defensive end is very intriguing.
In Bouknight’s two years at UConn, he wasn’t an elite defender by any stretch, but there’s context needed.
He carried a 31 percent as the primary offensive engine for a Huskies team that were an incredibly average at that end.
He made some plays, though!
I’m not going to sit here and say Bouknight can develop into a First Team All-Defence player, because that would be unfair.
But at six-foot-five, 190 pounds and a wingspan of six-foot-eight, he has the body to develop into a solid to above average defensive player.
It’s a tough balance though, as he is known for his offence and if drafted into the wrong situation, can develop some bad habits at that end.
Any time you have a player with a sky high usage rate like Bouknight, but they only post a 12.8 percent assist rate? There’s going to be some questions.
Bouknight has never been a great passer or playmaker for others. He only averaged two assists in high school and just missed that mark in his sophomore season.
Like I said, he’s a scorer.
I think there’s some context that can be given, like that he may not have trusted his teammates as much but he didn’t flash a ton of advanced passing instincts either.
I don’t think this is a huge flaw, since no one should be asking Bouknight to be a facilitator at the next level. But he does miss some easy passes in favour of taking a contested jumper or layup that could get him into trouble at the next level.
There are reasons to believe that he can develop a bit more as a passer, but his vision will never be a strength.
He wasn’t a good passer by any means, but you hope that it was just the role he was given at UConn. He makes the easy and right passes, but it’s not consistent.
I wouldn’t say this is a huge worry, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
He shot under 30 percent in his last season as a Husky from three, and that’s a worry for an offence-first player.
Even in his first season, shooting just under 35 percent from three is not ideal.
However, there is (once again) context needed.
He took a total of nine uncontested jumpers per Synergy. That’s tough! He also had an elbow injury which impacted his shooting percentages greatly.
That being said, I don’t think he’ll develop into an elite, 40-plus percent shooter from three. His bread and butter is the midrange and at the rim, but it’s not as big of a concern as the numbers suggest.
And hey, he did stuff at his pro day so take that for whatever you deem it to be worth!
I’m not going to give a direct player comparison because I think they’re unfair for the prospect and there’s never a direct one-to-one player comparison.
I think he profiles as a secondary offensive option at the NBA-level who can provide solid defence.
At his peak, I don’t think he should be the go-to guy for an offence. We’ve seen him in a high usage role and it impacted his passing, defence, and even three-point shooting.
If he can get a usage in the low-to-mid 20’s then we’ll be able to see the full complement of what Bouknight can do when he’s not being asked to provide all of the offence.
Draft range and fit:
Pretty much everyone would be flat out stunned if the Raptors took Bouknight at number four. That’s out of the question, in my opinion.
I think the only way he becomes a Raptor is if they acquire another mid-to-late lottery pick (aka the Siakam trade).
But that is his range, most likely. I think he would fit in well with a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder and their coach, Mark Daigneault, would be able to maximize his defensive potential. Being able to pair him with a primary offensive option like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would also alleviate some of the offensive burden he was tasked with in college.
All in all, Bouknight is a very good, athletic offensive creator who has defensive upside but isn’t a facilitator and can work on his outside shot. He’ll have success in an environment where he’s not asked to do a lot right away and can grow into his role.