The New York Knicks have numerous needs. Florida State guard Devin Vassell is a stout defender and talented shooter with lottery potential.
Devin Vassell has the talent to be one of the steals of the 2020 NBA Draft.
The Florida State six-foot-six guard with Georgia roots fits the mold of the prototypical “three and D” athlete. The New York Knicks are in desperate need of shooting and players who complement rookies RJ Barrett and second-year center Mitchell Robinson.
On the surface, Vassell may be a reach for the Knicks, dependent on their draft position, but similar to other analytics darlings in the past, Vassell’s draft stock may rise. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie had Vassell going as high as the 11th selection in his most recent mock draft.
Vassell has been reported everywhere from a late first-round pick to the lottery, but the sophomore guard’s skillset and tailor-made NBA game make it easy to see why Vecenie has him so high.
“And the whole idea of Vassell is that he’s a tailor-made role player because of his elite-level shooting ability, as Vassell hit 41.5 percent of his 3s last season. And beyond that, he’s an absolutely terrific wing defender with strong lateral quickness,” Vecenie wrote.
The words “role-player” may give Knicks fans pause, but one has to wonder how many projects the orange and blue are willing to invest in whilst trying to put a team together that fits.
In 2018, the Knicks drafted a lanky, young, athletic forward with tons of potential named Kevin Knox. Mikal Bridges was another name associated with the Knicks but they decided to opt for the sports car instead of the Honda Civic.
The comparison is not meant as a slight towards Knox, who still may turn out to be a good player. However, Vassell, much like Bridges, projects to be a player who can make a positive impact, on both sides of the court without having a high usage rate.
Bridges is by no means a star, but in his second year as a pro, he has a true shooting percentage of .623 and a positive box-plus-minus (.8). Having players like Bridges helps the Devin Bookers and DeAndre Aytons of the world, and the Knicks might feel they’re in the same position.
Vassell’s production took a major jump during his sophomore year. After averaging just over eight points per game during his freshmen year, Vassell scored over 12 points per game and more than five rebounds per game, while shooting over 40% from three-point range.
Back in January, ESPN’s Jay Bilas called Vassell, “the most underrated star in the (ACC).” When you watch his film, it’s easy to see why. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor is also high on Vassell, ranking him as his sixth-best overall prospect.
Devin Vassell is my 6th-ranked prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft. He’s an elite defender, good shooter & flashes off the dribble scoring skill. He hit one dribble jumper as a freshman then 39 as a sophomore after improving his handle.
— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) April 18, 2020
Sites like The Stepien highlight Vassell’s high-release shot which makes it difficult for defenders to block him. Initially, I also felt that there were some cautionary Zach LaVine-like pre-NBA mechanics, however, it doesn’t affect his efficiency. According to Synergy, Vassell ranks within the 87th percentile in catch-and-shoot situations.
Furthermore, according to Synergy, Vassell’s overall offensive profile ranks him within the 95th percentile in point per possession in transition and within the 94th percentile in PPP in the half-court. Efficient mid-to-low usage players are extremely valuable, and Vassell’s skill-set can fit in seamlessly with players like Barrett and Robinson.
Back in February, as pointed out by college basketball analytics guru Bart Torvik, Vassell ranked 19th in box-plus-minus since 2008. And while his BPM dropped towards the end of the season, the Florida State guard’s activity, I.Q. , and length create the ideal prototypical wing-defender who can succeed at the next level.
UPDATE: pretty bad error in my code has been rectified. pic.twitter.com/uoHSpHZJi3
— Bart T🏀rvik (@totally_t_bomb) February 18, 2020
Just for a second, think about how unique a player would have to be to essentially lead their team in three-pointers made, blocked shots, and total rebounds. Vassell was just one block behind teammate Patrick Williams, and he was one rebound behind Malik Osborne for the team lead in both categories. Florida State’s reputation as a stout defensive squad makes this accomplishment all the more impressive.
On the defensive end, Vassell’s activity is the first thing that jumps out on his tape. You have to love his high motor and active hands, making him a consistent disruptor for opposing offenses. Vassell is also a terrific communicator, help defender, and possesses the athleticism to make highlight blocks.
In this montage from The Basketball Writers’ Adam Spinella, you can see Vassell’s court awareness as he understands when to help across the baseline and how quickly he recovers back to his man in the game against Duke. Furthermore, when he closes out, Vassell covers major ground, quickly, and without fouling. It doesn’t take long to see how Vassell could be an immediate contributor in the NBA.
For Valentine's Day, I wrote on four #NBADraft prospects I'm crushing on
Perhaps none I love more than Devin Vassell, one of the best all-around defenders I've seen at the college level. Here's a mix of his best plays @ Duke. Read more for @bballwriters https://t.co/6MoLkoyUV2 pic.twitter.com/htcQplNtS3
— Adam Spinella (@Spinella14) February 14, 2020
For me, Vassell’s weaknesses are not super concerning unless you expect him to be a star. He’s not a tier-one athlete but has more than enough spring in his step to block shots and rise above the defense for the occasional slam. Additionally, Vassell is not a strong shot creator and his handle definitely needs improvement as he transitions to the pros.
Sites like The Stepien also state that Vassell’s lack of a face-up to the basket game limits his offense to coming off pin-downs, dribble-hand-offs, and similar sets. But even if that remains true in the NBA, Vassell still can bring so much value from his shooting and defense alone. Players like Robert Covington and Otto Porter (both taller than Vassell) are so valuable because they complement high-usage players.
For the Knicks, it all depends on who is on the board, but at some point, they need to look at players who are going to help make the game easier for others. Vassell projects as a day-one contributor, with a long, solid, and consistent career ahead of him. My gut tells me he will be drafted somewhere between the 11-15 range, however, Vassell could easily be a prospect that teams regret passing on for years to come.