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Buzzworthy picks 2022: Blake Wesley

Notre Dame’s first ever one-and-done player is among the best attackers in the class.

Notre Dame v Texas Tech Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As pre-draft workouts around the league come to a close, we now know every prospect that the Charlotte Hornets brought in, at least publicly. Blake Wesley was among the group that visited The Hive on June 11 and the Notre Dame guard recently received an invite to attend Thursday’s NBA Draft with his family and sit in the green room, indicating his stock has risen to that of a surefire first-rounder.

Measurements

Height: 6’4.25”

Weight: 187.2 pounds

Wingspan: 6’9.25”

Standing reach: 8’7”

Vertical: 30” standing, 36” max

Pre-draft

Wesley, a native of South Bend, Ind., played all four years of his high school career for his hometown James Whitcomb Riley High School, putting up north of 27 points and 6 rebounds per game as a senior while leading the team to an Indiana sectional title.

Wesley was a consensus four-star recruit when he committed to Notre Dame and was not expected to leave college after one season, but a strong start to his freshman year and continued flashes throughout the Fighting Irish’s ACC and NCAA Tournament runs elevated his draft stock enough to become the first one-and-done in the program’s history.

Strengths: downhill speed/rim pressure, pick-and-roll craft, anticipatory defense

This might be my strongest 2022 draft take; outside of Jaden Ivey, no ball-handler gets downhill when attacking the rim with more ease than Blake Wesley. There’s not an overwhelming amount of explosiveness to his game, but he uses a smoother acceleration to top speed and great positional length along with an array of counter moves to snake his way around rim protectors once he’s beaten his initial defender. The ability to put pressure on the rim and create advantageous scoring situations is mostly natural-born and Wesley has that in bunches.

He can still really explode and dunk on defenders when given space in the halfcourt, too. It’s game over for anybody standing underneath the rim as soon as he plants his back foot on the three-point in the clip below, and he has insane hangtime whenever he leaves his feet.

A ball-handler’s ability to get a foot in the paint at any moment is only maximized when that ball-handler can make effective passing reads against a collapsed defense. Wesley has wide-ranging vision as a passer with impressive pick-and-roll accuracy for a 19-year-old and can lace one-handed passes with either hand off the dribble, specializing in hitting a popping big man or weak-side teammate beyond the arc.

This league is currently ran by offensive initiators with the athleticism and skill to bend defenses and throw them into rotation, but those players reach a whole new level when that skill is coupled with real defensive ability. To me, this is what makes Wesley so intriguing as a prospect; he makes great use of anticipation, pace and length not just offensively, but defensively as well. At 6-foot-4 with over a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Wesley has the tools to be a great help defender that can really get after the ball (with one and two-handed digs), blow up dribble-handoff and screen actions and recover for steals.

The clip below is probably my favorite from this whole profile. Wesley plays good defense for the entirety of the possession, covering the backdoor cut after his teammate got caught on a screen, then walling off his man on a drive to the rim and forcing him to pull it out and finally getting a clean strip before a slick behind-the-back dribble sent him on his way for a nice transition finish.

Areas to improve: consistency in finishing, playmaking and shooting, strength

For as great as the whole package can look as Wesley blows by defenders and soundly loads up and prepares for shots and finishes, the end result was not always positive. In his lone season at Notre Dame, he shot 47.1 percent from inside the arc, 30.3 percent on 5.1 three-point attempts per game and 65.7 percent from the line.

While his mechanics don’t seem to need much work, the shot selection wasn’t always great and the extra attention he got from defenses as the season wore on made him freeze up and look a bit uncomfortable at times, which could be chalked up to him missing valuable development time due to the pandemic restricting the amount of competitive basketball that was played during his final year of high school.

My biggest selling point for Wesley and why it’s so easy for me to buy into his flashes comes from a philosophical standpoint; the highlights of his tape often contain things that cannot be taught, like his downhill driving, or require a high intersection of athleticism and skill, like when he ropes one-handed passes to open teammates off of a live dribble or stops on a dime and hits a pull-up. The positive flashes consist of enough traits that are worthy of lottery selection for me to bet on upside even when efficiency doesn’t always reflect it.

There isn’t one clear answer as to why Wesley struggled with his efficiency; his mechanics are sound, particularly off the dribble as functional strength helps him maintain balance on tough attempts, and while his shot selection isn’t the best, it didn’t strike me as bad for a 19-year-old with a 31.3 percent usage rate on an average ACC team.

The preparation for that free-throw line pull-up in space looks really nice, he stays on-balance, his release point is high and he has a proper follow-through. It doesn’t always look that way, but it’s often caused by a good contest or poor shot selection when it doesn’t.

It’s just so hard for me to believe that a player who can cash fading spin jumpers in the paint with a hand in his face is going to remain inefficient as he gets older, more experienced, and is surrounded by better players on a more spaced-out court.

Wesley weighed in at 187.2 pounds at the NBA Combine and could certainly stand to add some muscle, much like most teenagers that enter the league — that’s not to say he’s “skinny” per se, as he’s got some lean muscle that helps him get by defenders and play defense himself, and he can explode towards the rim and finish through contact in the right spot. However, I’ve gotta start splitting hairs at some point, and extra strength would go a long way towards raising Wesley’s efficiency when finishing at the rim. He doesn’t struggle with length as much as he struggles with contact and sheer size, though there aren’t many bigs in the NBA that will be able to check him if he gets them out in space.

Overview

With James Bouknight coming off of a rookie season in which he played very few meaningful minutes, it would make a lot of sense for the Hornets to take a shot on a player like Wesley if they end up keeping both first-round picks or even if they trade one for a veteran big. LaMelo Ball is already an efficient high-volume floor-spacer, and pairing him with another guard that has elite downhill speed and puts a ton of pressure on the rim would open up a free-flowing, fast-paced offense even further. Combine that with some real two-way potential, and the top of the Hornets guard rotation would be set for years to come if one of Bouknight or Wesley pan out.

Wesley worked out for the Hornets, which indicates at least a moderate level of interest with either the 13th or 15th pick. Making both first-round selections is probably not Plan A for general manager Mitch Kupchak and his staff on draft night, but if they can’t find the right deal, a center and Wesley would be an excellent consolation prize and bolster a strong stable of young players.