Keyonte George is really, really funny.
At one of his first Utah Jazz practices, where he competed in shooting drills with his new teammate Ochai Agbaji, George missed a shot and fell to the floor, mockingly devastated by his loss and laughing at something Agbaji said. He has a broad smile and is clearly enjoying his time as a new draftee in the NBA.
That joy also comes out in his play on the basketball court – especially on the offensive end. George is a classic modern scoring guard with a silky smooth jump shot that he can pull off after a series of smart dribble moves. Especially when he gets healthy, it’s fun to watch.
By all accounts, the Jazz love him: General manager Justin Zanik said the team rated him as the No. 10-best prospect in the draft and that the team “debated” taking George even with the No. 9 pick. They eventually nabbed him with the 16th overall selection.
“I think he has probably the most diversified and developed offensive set, maybe in the draft,” Zanik said. “Keyonte has been doing it for a long time at a very, very high level, (including) in high school competition. And he has all those shots, shots that some people can never learn.”
It is true. George can get into his shot in so many ways. In isolation, he has the dribble moves to create separation pretty reliably. In the pick and roll, he has the hesitant dribble and body movement to keep his defenders off balance. He hides whether he wants to attack the rim or pull up, as well.
Most of the time, the result of that is a 3-point shot. Among first-round draft picks, only UConn’s Jordan Hawkins took more of his shots from deep; 55% of George’s shots were threes. He’s good at keeping his feet behind the 3-point line, even stepping back for the extra point – big for analytics junkies like me.
That ability to throw his defender off balance is super useful in another way: getting to the free throw line. He leans down, attacks the rim with his whole body and very often makes his defender make a mistake. There aren’t too many players who can shoot a ton of 3s and get to the free throw line a lot at the college level, but George was one of them – and that bodes well for him as a useful player in the NBA if not a star.
But as much as George stood out for these scoring reasons to the Jazz, other evaluators were a little lower on him, seeing him as a late teenager. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie considered him the No. 26 best player in the draft.
As with many scoring combo guards, the questions come with the other elements of the game. Is he effective? Can he pass well enough if and when the defense collapses on him? Can he defend well enough to keep his scoring on the floor?
Last year, frankly, the results were mostly disappointing.
The questions of efficiency are real. As much as we like his ability to shoot 3s and get to the free throw line, George still ended up being an overall ineffective player last year, shooting just 42% from beyond the arc and turning the ball over three times per game. match. It’s just too many iffy mid-range shots – he shot just 29% from mid-range pull-ups – and when he drove the lane all the way to the rim and didn’t get fouled, he wasn’t a great finisher at the rim.
George used 31% of Baylor’s possessions when he was on the floor last year, a super high number; only 11 players did that in the NBA last season, and that’s the best of the best — Giannis, Steph, LeBron, Luka, Embiid and so on. George will use fewer possessions in the NBA than he did in college. The question is: will he be able to eliminate those bad shots as he lowers his shot profile? If he does, he’ll be really good. If he plays like fellow Butler alum Jared Butler, that will be less promising.
As a passer, George showed both impressive plays and then just made way too many mistakes. He can make the simple game, but harder games are harder – he is eg. not good at skipping. They tend to be pretty sloppy and NBA defenses will just pounce on them for “pick-six” runout dunks the other way. And his passes are sometimes not quite on target. He’s only 19 and so I hope he figures it out with reps.
You also hope that a lower offensive usage improves his defense. At times, George can really get after it, get on top of his opponent and cause some havoc.
And sometimes he is so disappointing on the defensive end. See the 11:35 mark at the Box and One scouting report above. In closeouts, he is so off balance that he gives up very easy drives around him. And then in isolation, George will sometimes just take two steps toward a good defense, find out he can’t stay in front, and then kind of give up.
The hope is that he can improve on his worst defensive moments. He battled through an ankle injury at times last year, and told the media at Friday’s practice that he hopes to slim down before playing next year: he said he played around 210 lbs at Baylor but hopes to be closer to 190 in the NBA . That said, he also said that he wants to get stronger as well; it becomes a bit difficult to achieve both goals at once.
I think he has a few different ways to be successful in the NBA. At the top level, if everything goes right, he could become a Jamal Murray-esque scorer thanks to his wide repertoire. If it doesn’t quite work out, he could be out of the NBA relatively quickly, just like Butler was. Not being effective offensively while not contributing defensively is a death knell.
In the middle? He can contribute with his 3-point shooting volume while also developing to be good enough on defense. A Gary Harris or Austin Rivers kind of role player is what I envision.
The high-level potential here is what excited the Jazz, and it will be quite a task for their player development team to get George there. If they can make it work, they’ll be a steal at No. 16.
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