Written by Ben Pfiefer
If the New Orleans Pelicans hope to draft a dynamic shooter at 14, there likely won’t be a better option than Baylor freshman guard Keyonte George. In the glut of combo-off guards that comprise the late lottery range of the 2023 draft, George’s elite shooting projection and play finishing tools render him the strongest offensive option of a bunch, a trait New Orleans could value given their strong defensive foundation in the backcourt.
On the surface, George may not seem like an elite shooter as 33.8% from three and 79.3% from the line are pedestrian. Raw, single season efficiency are weak indicators of shooting prowess given the small sample. Shot volume, versatility and touch are all stronger predictors and George excels here; 6’4, athletic freshmen taking over 14 threes per 100 possessions on an extremely difficult, NBA-star level shot diet from three and mid range are rare and are almost always excellent shooters if they have the tools to supplement that shooting.
Baylor asked George to command offense as a star without much help from his scheme or teammates at times, nearing a 30 usage rate, a staggering figure for a college freshman. Keyonte pulls up from well beyond NBA range off of the dribble and off of movement, slithering into tough mid-range jumpers when defenses run him off of the line.
Baylor’s offensive system miscast George as an on-ball engine when his off-ball game is where he shines; a lower average shot difficulty should see his efficiency rise quickly in the pros. Insertion into an offense with motion and other downhill threats will mitigate George’s advantage creation limits, his most significant offensive flaw. Average burst and stride length and an often rigid handle means most of the shots George generates are difficult, though he has the tools to make those tough shots.
George shines curling off of a screen, attacking a closeout or cutting into space, where he can float in 15 footers and finish at the rim with his excellent strength, touch and body control in midair to shrug off contests. Developing more counters and craft in the close mid range area could help his scoring there as Keyonte relies on his sheer shotmaking ability for better or worse at this stage. His passing shines off-ball and in transition where he locates defenders quickly with snappy processing. He struggles as a passer on the ball as his vision diminishes as he has to make live-dribble reads on the move.
Defense brings more questions, as George doesn’t seem to be a natural playmaker coupled with his issues staying attentive and moving around the floor. George occasionally jumps passing lanes and reads plays multiple steps ahead and his strength could allow him to pressure stockier ballhandlers and discard screens as his technique improves.
His footspeed and lack of verticality limit his off-ball defensive utility especially; George rarely blocks shots given his meager rotational instincts and troubles elevating quickly. Covering large areas of the court is a major weakness, as George’s stiff hips and general footspeed issues make closeouts and long rotations a challenge and defensive actions such as those have never been more important.
The Pelicans should have the perimeter defense to insulate George as he learns how to defend pros; Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones, etc., will be critical in helping George stay on the floor early in his career.
Offensively, though, George would add an element to the New Orleans offense that they fully lack. Nobody on the roster possesses George’s combination of shot making, passing and finishing skill, allowing him to feast off of the gravity and help defensive attention Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum command. Unearthing legitimate offensive stars is one of the NBA draft’s main purposes and Keyonte could be just that for New Orleans, raising the ceiling of their already strong offensive foundation.
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