In these frustratingly uncertain of times, writing about something like basketball seems pretty trivial. We all have more questions than there seems to be answers for: questions related to health concerns, distancing concerns, political concerns, economic concerns - you name it. Questions about sports (as in “if/when they are even coming back in the summer, fall, or beyond) in our society are pretty low on the list of important or prioritized concerns at the moment.
But this is a professional basketball blog; I’m not here (because I’m nowhere near equipped nor qualified) to even attempt to try and tackle the unprecedented problems the world currently faces. We’re here for you at Orlando Pinstriped Post to try and provide a short-term getaway/distraction in any way that we can.
For me, that’s talking the NBA Draft. It goes without saying that the process leading up to the NBA Draft this year will be unlike any other players, agents, scouts, and league executives have ever experienced. I would assume the league passes on holding a pre-draft combine (*Editor’s note: The NBA officially announced on April 30th that they are postponing the NBA Draft Lottery and the NBA Draft combine). With travel basically coming to a halt, teams likely won’t have the benefit of bringing prospects in for workouts/interviews. Advanced scouting (through March) and film-study appear to be avenues teams will have to heavily rely upon with this draft.
I mean, at this point, we don’t even know if there will be an NBA Draft in June (could it possibly be postponed, re-scheduled?). There is still so much to be determined regarding the immediate future of the NBA (finishing this season or not, possible abbreviated playoffs, etc.). Without the information or guidance to answer many of these basketball related questions, I’m going to push forward with scouting reports of players in this class that could be available when the Magic pick in the first round of the ‘20 NBA Draft (although, we don’t know at this time when that pick will be made - I assume somewhere in the 15-16 range).
I will be putting these reports together over the next couple of months (and possibly longer), which include loose NBA comparisons for each prospect, film observations, talking points, a case for the Magic needing/drafting the prospect, and more. Up next in the series is a young (but experienced) prospect who has been cutting his teeth professionally in France’s Pro A (LNB) league - guard Theo Maledon.
Probably won’t happen comparison: Tony Parker (low-hanging fruit, I realize that. Although, Parker does own the team Maledon played for in France)
Possibly could happen comparison: Reggie Jackson (but 20 pounds lighter), Jordan Clarkson (with more point guard instincts), Kirk Hinrich (borrowed this one from Kevin O’Connor -mentioned in his ‘Ringer NBA Draft Guide’, really like it)
Eye in the Sky
-Long-strides help him makeup for a lack of burst
-Solid handle, has an advanced feel for when to utilize hesitation dribble
-Vision is there, can become dangerous as a pick-and-roll initiator
-Really like the way he utilizes his frame, starts with his shoulders. Adept at beating his man in pick-and-roll situation off the dribble, squaring his shoulders, putting the defender “in jail (on his back/hip)”, and then makes the read from there
-A “grinder” in the half-court, always under control/always controlling pace
-Shooting will really be a swing-skill for him, a reliable shot will put more pressure on defenders in pick-and-roll situations
-Long-legs that he utilizes to help generate balance/power stepping into his perimeter jump-shot
-Sneaky player in transition. Again, lacks explosion, but makes very sound, fundamental plays
Resume & By the numbers
- Has been playing professional basketball in France at their highest-level (LNB Pro A) since he was 17 years-old
- Named to the LNB All-Star Team (2018)
- French Cup Finals MVP (2019), Pro A “Best Young Player” (2019)
- Led France to a gold medal in the U16 European Championship Games (‘17) and a silver medal in the U17 FIBA World Cup (‘18)
- Shot a combined 39% (41 for 106) from beyond the arc across LNB Pro A and EuroLeague play in ‘18
1) Pick-and-roll ability
Maledon possesses everything a player needs to be highly productive in pick-and-roll situations. A successful pick-and-roll is all about timing, and Maledon already understands the intricacies of the action years ahead of some of the other guards in this draft class.
The young French guard is not blessed with off-the-charts athleticism or burst, but what he lacks in explosion he makes up for in change of pace ability. Maledon is already skilled in the craft of using hesitation dribbles to his favor, often getting his defender off balance (and then using his length/long-stride ability from there). Time and again on film, Maledon is able to get by his defender, square is shoulders to the basket, feel his defender on his butt (or back) by slowing the action down, and then make the correct read in heavy paint-traffic (whether that’s a lob, a bounce pass, floater, or a drive to the rim).
Playing in the paint is something that a lot of young guards are highly uncomfortable with, but not Maledon. He’s able to utilize his above-average height and length to see over smaller defenders, get to the rim in one to two dribbles, and finish over (and sometimes through) length.
Like I mentioned above, the key to completely unlocking his potentially elite pick-and-roll ability will be Maledon developing a consistent outside jump-shot. Many veteran defenders in Europe simply chose to go under screens when Maledon was initiating offense, and that will likely be the case in the NBA for a while as well. I’m pretty high on Maledon’s shooting touch (166-202 on FTA’s in Europe from ‘18-’20, 82 percent); when opponents are eventually forced to stay on his hip defending his shot, that’s when he could potentially become a serious problem initiating offense.
2) Defensive struggles?
If I have a concern about Maledon (and I do), it would be his ability to defend. I think his lack of strength, as well as his lack of elite athleticism, is going to make it difficult for Maledon to be anything near even a net-neutral defender at the NBA level for a while.
He does possess the kind of length and reach at the guard position that will serve him well in the NBA. And I have to keep reminding myself that he was a teenager playing against grown men in one of the top professional leagues in the world over the last couple of years. Any seventeen to eighteen year-old in that situation would struggle providing resistance against stronger and more experienced players. Still, he plays too upright on defense for my liking, and he sometimes comes off on film as a bit disinterested.
But compounding the fact that Maeldon lacks strength (I do believe his frame will fill out) is an even more damning issue - will he ever be able to keep quicker lead guards in front of him? I actually think he will probably be better served guarding shooting guards/secondary ball-handlers for the first few seasons of his NBA career.
Spencer Pearlman of The Stepien put together a fantastic scouting report on Maledon back in January. Pearlman shares many of my concerns about the French point guard’s defensive shortcomings, writing:
“(Maledon has) potential to defend 1’s and some 2’s (if he gets stronger and plays more physically). His length gives him lineup versatility, but he has to add strength and play more physically than he currently does – this would allow him to defend some 2’s. His limited athleticism lowers his defensive ceiling and his footwork needs a lot of work, too – will likely have issues defending quicker PGs and more physical Gs.”
Pearlman also notes that he thinks Maledon plays defense back on his heels too often, probably trying to cheat a step or two to makeup for his lack of lateral quickness.
Making a case for the Magic to draft Theo Maledon in the ‘20 NBA Draft
|With D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams set to hit free agency this summer,
would Maledon provide the Magic with needed depth at the point guard position?
With Evan Fournier's decision to possibly opt out of his contract and become an
unrestricted free agent this summer looming, would Maledon provide the Magic
with needed depth at a wing position?
|The Magic ranked 28th in the league in eFG% last season, 27th in scoring, 27th
in field goal percentage, 25th in three-point field goal percentage, and 24th in
Offensive Rating. Could Maledon potentially help the Magic in any of these areas?
|Does Maledon fit the Jeff Weltman/John Hammond archetype?||Yes and No|
Would selecting Maledon in the middle of the first round be considered a
Through the three drafts that Orlando’s current executive team has been in charge (led by Jeff Weltman: President of Basketball Operations, John Hammond: General Manager), the Magic have been painstakingly predictable with the type of players they’ve targeted. Weltman and Hammond value character first and foremost. They also seem to be infatuated with wingspan/length (Isaac, Iwundu, Bamba, Frazier Jr., Okeke) and defensive positional versatility (maybe not Bamba so much, but holds true for the other guys).
I put together a Magic-specific draft checklist above, and drafting Theo Maledon would help Orlando address a few areas of need. First of all, the Magic will likely need to bring in a point guard (or two) in the off-season due to the fact that both of their current back-up point guards will be free agents at the conclusion of this season. The organization can address this probable need through the draft, or possibly through free agency (mid-level exception). Secondly, the Magic could find themselves a little thin on the wing if potential free agent Evan Fournier decides to opt out of the final year of his current contract.
While I don’t think Maledon will be ready to play back-up point guard minutes in the NBA right away, I do believe drafting him could alleviate some of the pressure the Magic might experience trying to bring both Augustin and Carter-Williams back (or signing a veteran guard for depth). And while Maledon may not be the elite shooter that an Aaron Nesmith or Devin Vassell is, I do think he could potentially provide the Magic with some help creating half-court offense.
Ultimately, I’m somewhat torn when it comes to deciding if Maledon is a Weltman/Hammond-type prospect (or not). With a +4 to +5 wingspan to height ratio, he certainly possesses the length that Orlando’s front office covets. However, I’m not sure he’s going to be able to provide the defensive versatility/switch-ability that the Magic seek in young players. Similar to R.J. Hampton, Maledon is another combo-guard who was once rated much higher in this class by the draft expert consensus (he was starting to play really well to close out this season, played through various injuries at the beginning of ‘19).
There’s a very good possibility that Maledon will still be on the board when it’s Orlando’s turn (assuming the pick is somewhere in the middle of the first round) to make their selection. As of May 30th, ESPN currently ranks Maledon as the 17th “best player available” on their board. Kevin O’Connor (The Ringer) lists the ASVEL guard 20th on his big board (released April 19th), and Sam Vecenie (The Athletic) has Maledon going to the Magic with the 15th pick in his latest mock draft (Version 5.0, updated May 1st).
Pick-and-roll effectiveness is one of the most important skills a guard in today’s NBA can master. For that reason alone, the Magic should give Theo Maledon a long look. He also happens to play a position where the Magic could find themselves lacking some depth. It’s hard to predict whether other players at this point of the draft will be higher on Orlando’s board than Maledon or not (prospects with more upside, better athletes, more defensive versatility), but a few things are certain: he’s already played thousands of minutes against some of the best players in Europe, he has a really nice feel for the game, and he could provide the Magic with skills that you really can’t have too much of in today’s NBA landscape.
Aaron Goldstone has been writing for Orlando Pinstriped Post since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronGoldstone.
You can also find his scouting reports of Kira Lewis Jr., R.J. Hampton, Aaron Nesmith, and Devin Vassell here.