Every draft has that one player who you can immediately point to as a boom or bust selection.
Sometimes, it works out. In 2013, the Bucks got a steal with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Pistons took a shot on Andre Drummond in 2012, and he’s already an All-Star. Sometimes it doesn’t work though. You only have to point to what we’ve seen thus far from Joel Embiid in 2014 and what the Hornets got out of Bismack Biyombo in 2011 before he moved on to see that this isn’t exactly a set formula when it comes to high-upside, low-floor guys.
That’s exactly the conundrum that teams will have to deal with when it comes to Washington forward Marquese Chriss. The 18-year-old is about as raw a prospect as you’ll find in any draft. However, there are few players at his size who can do what he can athletically, and that’s going to make him a sought after prospect in this draft.
What else do you need to know about Chriss? Here’s a quick breakdown.
At 6-9, 225 pounds with something like a 7-0 to 7-1 wingspan (per DraftExpress measurement database), Chriss is a 4 through and through despite some speculation that he could play some 3. The reason that speculation happens is two-fold. First and foremost, Chriss is about as explosive an athlete as you’ll find at his size. He’s a two-foot leaper whose head can get above the rim vertically and who can take off from long distances. The word “bouncy” is the best descriptor you’ll find for the big man.
Chriss is also an explosive even when he’s not already on the move, and also has a quick-twitch second jump. Check out his stand-still leaping ability on this offensive rebound.
I hope Marquese Chriss comes back for soph. year but athletically, he’s ready for NBA. My goodness @kpelton pic.twitter.com/Nv5dyDe1YM
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) January 30, 2016
His mobility is also superb both in regard to his first step and his movement out in transition. Check out this chasedown block against Long Beach State in the NIT where he showed off not only his ability to catch up to a smaller player, but also that ridiculous leaping ability by literally grabbing a block with two hands off the glass.
Tremendous two-handed block in transition as well. Chriss is one of the bounciest athletes in college basketball. pic.twitter.com/3BebI5mK73
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) March 16, 2016
It’s hard to find that kind of athleticism in any player at that size. Chriss also has pretty solid timing when leaping to block shots, as he swatted 2.6 shots per 40 minutes. His block rate of 5.8 was good for seventh in the Pac-12 this season. There’s room for growth overall in his defense as we’ll discuss later, but his potential as a weakside rim protector is solid due to those instincts and athleticism.
The running and leaping ability is great, but what sets Chriss apart on the offensive end is an already-solid jump shot from beyond the NCAA 3-point line. He hit 35 percent of his 60 attempts from beyond the arc in his lone collegiate season, plus ranked in the 76th percentile on catch-and-shoot jumpers by hitting them at a 1.148 point-per-shot clip. Chriss’ mechanics on his shot are strong, as he gets good rotation and arc due to a full follow-through, plus typically does a good job of getting his feet set toward the basket.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Chriss isn’t afraid to put the ball on the deck and utilize his first step when trying to get to the rim. He’s a bit shiftier than you’d expect, and can handle the ball well for a player his size. Overall, Chriss’ skill set is tremendous for a player at his age — especially given that he just started playing organized basketball as a freshman in high school — and it’s going to entice a lot of teams.
For all of those strengths that make Chriss seem like a sure-fire lottery pick, boy are there a lot of weaknesses in his game. Mostly, they revolve around his feel for the game being relatively low at this stage (probably due to, again, the fact that he just started playing organized hoops five years ago). You can see it in his passing — as he’s not really someone who will look to create players for others as his 6.3 assist rate shows — the fact that he’s turnover prone, and also in his defense and rebounding.
While Chriss is a good offensive rebounder due to that athleticism and second-jump ability, he is among the worst defensive rebounders at the power forward position to enter the draft in a while. Chriss only averaged 2.9 defensive rebounds in 25 minutes per game this season, good for only 4.6 per 40 minutes and a rebounding rate of 11.6 on that end.
Simply, Chriss tries too often to rely on his athleticism as opposed to getting a body on someone and boxing out. He also doesn’t seem to read the ball as quickly on the defensive glass as he does on the offensive glass. This is a big reason why, despite having a pair of relatively solid rebounders in Malik Dime and Noah Dickerson, the Huskies finished as one of the 15 worst teams nationally in defensive rebounding rate. Simply put, for this is a place where Chriss must make marked improvement if he wants to carve out an NBA career, as NBA coaches will have teams attack the offensive glass against him otherwise.
Defensively, there are plenty of other problems with Chriss, too. They mostly revolve around his instincts and footwork. The 18-year-old led the NCAA in fouls this season with 138 despite only playing 25 minutes per game, fouling out of 15 different contests. He averaged 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes, in large part due to trying to block everything. It’s not uncommon to see Chriss fully take himself out of position defensively while trying to rotate and leap for a block. It’s part of the reason his and his team’s defensive rebounding rate was so bad, as it was easy for opponents to get him to leave his feet.
He needs to learn to play more disciplined on that end both inside and on the perimeter. While forced to guard in space, it’s clear that Chriss has good lateral quickness for a player his size. However, he doesn’t get down in a defensive stance, plays with his hands and reaches regularly, plus bites on pump fakes. This inability to get down in a stance also often hinders his post defense, as Chriss mostly stands straight up and allows stronger players to establish position easily. Overaggession is something NBA players are quite good at taking advantage of, so it’s hard to see at this moment how Chriss would be able to play in an NBA game on that end of the floor.
Finally, there’s also a bit of a question out there about Chriss’ body language and consistency in regard to his effort level. On many of his foul calls — even the obvious ones — Chriss can get rather demonstrative and sometimes frustrated. That extends to his effort at times, as he can be taken out of the game, It’s entirely possible this is a youth thing, but it’s something worth watching as he heads to the next level.
Overall Stock Report
You can see why Chriss will not only be a boom or bust prospect, but also why he’ll be one of the most polarizing players in this draft. On one hand, there is so much to work with, and he can make the spectacular look relatively easy. Plus, his ability to space the floor is tailor made for today’s NBA. Players like him who have legitimate potential to shoot from distance offensively and protect the rim defensively are rare, and they’re extremely valuable.
The problem is that he just has so many weaknesses in his game, and it’s tough to see how he’s going to contribute within the next two years. Unlike past question marks, Chriss has legitimate bad habits that need to be broken as opposed to simply not having any habits.
However, there’s plenty going in his favor. One thing is that this draft is rather bereft of players like him that could develop into starters, compared to past drafts. Another thing is that there are many teams with multiple first round picks who could afford to take on a project like Chriss in addition to their other first rounders. The final thing worth noting, too, is that while drafting him starts a four-year clock on his development, Chriss is still only 18 years old and won’t turn 19 til July. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft, and still could be growing into both his frame and his skill set.
Pure and simple, he is a lottery ticket. A swing for the fences, so to speak. That’s why he’s sitting as a mid-first round pick to me at No. 17. Maybe he becomes a similar player to Serge Ibaka who can protect the rim and shoot from distance. Or, he could become the next Anthony Randolph, a high-potential, high-ceiling player who just never figured out how to play the game. Or maybe he turns into something in-between. It’s unclear at this point given his performance this season.
One thing is clear though: Chriss will need a good pre-draft process to solidify himself in the late lottery/mid-first round area that his potential states he should land. He needs to prove himself to be coachable and that the habits he displayed as a freshman are fixable. If a staff thinks they can bring him around, he could go in the top-10. If he interviews poorly, it might not be crazy to see him tumble.
Tracking how well he performs throughout the next two months will be one of the big questions of the pre-draft process.