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Shaedon Sharpe is the NBA Draft mystery box with all of the tools and none of the tape

Shaedon Sharpe has the tools to be a star. He just needs to learn how to use them.

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Shaedon Sharpe was still waiting for his first DI scholarship offer two years ago. Now he’s about to be selected in the lottery in the 2022 NBA Draft despite not playing a second of basketball beyond high school. Sharpe’s meteoric rise into a top prospect and bizarre path to the draft is critical to both his league-wide perception and the long-term development of his game. However he eventually pans out in the league, he’ll likely be used to further an agenda for whichever side feels more validated.

Sharpe is the sort of player who could be stamped as a top prospect simply by messing around in an empty gym. He has an ideal frame for a shooting guard at 6’5 with a 7-foot wingspan, broad shoulders, and huge hands. His leaping ability is so stunning it makes rumors of a 49-inch vertical leap (which would be the highest in combine history) feel possible despite being wholly unsubstantiated. Sharpe also shoots the ball effortlessly from three-point range, capable of draining shots off complicated stepbacks from beyond the NBA line.

Of course, Sharpe did not become earmarked as a top prospect by competing against ghosts. He skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings and onto NBA radars after dominating the best peer-aged competition he could face on Nike’s EYBL circuit, be it for only 12 games. The numbers he posted around this time last year confirm the shooting touch present on the tape, and lends credence to the thought this can be a big-time scoring guard in the NBA.

Sharpe committed to Kentucky and enrolled midseason as next year’s No. 1 recruit. He decided not to play for the Wildcats, but is entering the draft anyway after being ruled eligible by the league office. Having another potentially elite talent in the draft should be thrilling for franchises, but instead Sharpe’s pre-draft process has been full of leaks from teams criticizing his path. When David Aldridge interviewed anonymous executives about Sharpe earlier this month, their response showed how uncomfortable the league is selecting someone who hasn’t faced competition beyond high school.

Western Conference Executive No. 3: How the (expletive) can you be the fifth pick in the draft if you haven’t played in a year and a half? It’s not like it’s (James) Wiseman and the guy is 7 feet tall. Show me where the five (-star) shit is. Show me.

NBA teams want all the data they can get before making a massive investment with a top-10 pick at the top of the draft. They want to dissuade the next player in Sharpe’s position from trying to enter the league without any college or pro reps, because those players feel inherently riskier in the draft. The issue with Sharpe, of course, is that passing on a player with his talent is just as much of a gamble as selecting him.

Sharpe is the mystery man in this year’s draft, an ascendant talent with superlative physical tools who will go a full year without playing a competitive game when he makes his NBA debut. How did Sharpe put himself in this position, and why will a team ultimately select him in the lottery? This is what you need to know about the draft’s biggest enigma.

Sharpe’s rise into a top recruit happened rapidly

Sharpe was always considered to have elite athletic talent growing up in London, Ontario two hours outside of Toronto. After playing for his local school as a freshman, Sharpe was selected for Canada’s U16 team in the 2019 FIBA Americas Championship in Brazil. There, he played with Caleb Houstan, Leonard Miller, and Ryan Nembhard on a team that finished with a silver medal after losing to a Team USA squad that featured 2022 lottery picks Jabari Smith Jr., AJ Griffin, and Jalen Duren. For the tournament, Sharpe averaged 13 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game on 30-of-38 shooting on two-pointers and 4-of-12 shooting on three-pointers.

Sharpe came to the U.S. when he transferred by Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas for his sophomore year, but he played sparingly in a bench role. When the pandemic hit and wiped out the ensuing grassroots season, Sharpe huddled up with Dwayne Washington, the director of Nike EYBL club UPLAY, and honed his individual skill development. At the time, he was unranked in most recruiting services.

Then he transferred again, this time to Dream City Christian near Phoenix. That’s when Sharpe started to make his leap in more of an on-ball role. His first college offers starting coming in soon after, with Alabama and Oregon among the initial wave of schools to extend him a scholarship in Oct. 2020, and Kentucky and Kansas following suit in Dec.

Sharpe had five-star status heading into his rising senior year on the EYBL, but it was his performance on the Nike circuit with UPLAY that vaulted him to the No. 1 recruit in the country. In 12 games, Sharpe averaged 22.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on 56.9 percent true shooting, according to data from Cerebro Sports. He knocked down 36.1 percent of his threes on 83 attempts, and finished with a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. Those are fantastic numbers any way you look at them, but it was how Sharpe got his buckets that cemented his status as a top NBA prospect today.

Shaedon Sharpe can jump out of the gym

Sharpe’s explosiveness as a leaper can be seen all over his limited tape on a variety of different play types. The ideal version of Sharpe long-term is as an on-ball primary creator with three-level scoring ability — but that vision could be years away from materializing. In the meantime, Sharpe has flashed the ability to leverage his bounce to get easy off-ball scoring opportunities around the basket.

Here are two clips that show Sharpe’s explosiveness.

In the first clip, Sharpe recognizes the open space in front of him and cuts into it before finishing with a ferocious slam. He’s stationed in the dunkers spot in the second clip, and launches into a powerful dunk from a standstill over a challenger at the rim. To slam the ball against a contest like that with no forward momentum is incredibly difficult, but that’s the type of athlete Sharpe is.

Sharpe is also going to be a lob threat on offense. Typically we only think of bigs as having utility on alley-oops, but Sharpe’s length and leaping ability gives him such a big catch radius that his NBA team shouldn’t be afraid to tap into it. Here are two different lob slams:

In the first clip, UPLAY pushes the ball up the court so fast they get a transition look off a made basket. Sharpe is flying down the left side of the court and leaps off two feet to hammer home the lob. The second clip is a set play to get Sharpe a lob in the halfcourt. He runs off the screen, takes flight off one foot, and catches the ball near the top of the backcourt box before finishing with a ridiculous dunk.

Sharpe’s athleticism can also pay dividends in allowing for crafty finishes when he’s not dunking, whether he’s on-ball or off it. Here are three non-dunk finishes from Sharpe that show off his body control and agility.

The first clip is one of Sharpe’s more impressive drives from EYBL. With the defense taking away the middle, Sharpe hits a behind-the-back dribble to shake free along the sideline, avoids the low man defender, and finishes with the right. The second clip shows Sharpe’s bounce and body control with a fantastic up-and-under. He simply puts his head down and gets to the rim in the third clip, which teams would love to see more often.

Shaedon Sharpe has impressive shot-making touch with range

Sharpe’s 36.1 percent shooting from three on 2.5 makes per game in the EYBL is more impressive than it looks at first blush. For one, EYBL shooting percentages tend to be a bit lower than what you see in college or the NBA, which is understandable for high schoolers. More importantly, Sharpe did his shooting largely on self-created looks.

Here’s a compilation of some of Sharpe’s best three-point makes:

A few things jump out:

  • The shot-making touch is real. Sharpe shoots an easy ball and often hits nothing but net on his makes. For an inherently ‘risky’ prospect given the lack of film, it feels safe to project him as a plus shooter moving forward.
  • Sharpe’s space creation on stepbacks and side-steps is advanced beyond his years. This is the fruit of his focus on individual skill development instead of playing in competitive games. Given his size and athleticism, he should be able to create space for his shot even against NBA players.
  • A lot of these makes are incredibly difficult. For as impressive as that is, it would be nice to see such an electric athlete rely less on difficult stepbacks to get his buckets against high schoolers.
  • There’s a lot of ball holding throughout Sharpe’s tape. He seems a little too willing to slowly work into his stepback rather than just attacking the basket.

While these are mostly self-created clips, Sharpe did show shooting versatility on the EYBL, as well. He has the ability to hit hanging midrange shots thanks to his vertical hang time. He also works well off the ball, showing the ability to run off screens and rise and fire into his shot quickly. Here’s one example:

Shaedon Sharpe can be anything he wants if he’s developed the right way

Sharpe’s status as a top recruit and now likely lottery pick is based mostly on his tools. He has an ideal frame for a pro shooting guard with elite leaping ability, great open floor speed, and soft shooting touch with range. The other half of the evaluation is Sharpe’s impressive numbers on the EYBL. Granted, it came in only a 12-game sample.

For all the highlights on the the high school tape, Sharpe still leaves evaluators with questions that can’t be answered definitively until he faces better competition. Sharpe too often feels like he settles for difficult shots instead of working for easier ones or moving the ball.

He has a tendency to “catch and hold” the ball during a time when NBA players are asked to either dribble, pass, or shoot in 0.5 seconds. For someone so dynamic athletically, Sharpe should be dominant as a north-south driver. That hasn’t always been the case. A loose handle and occasional lack of flexibility has made his drives sloppier and more complicated than they need to be.

Defense will likely be where the biggest learning curve is for Sharpe. His attention on that end comes and goes, particularly off the ball, where he can compromise an entire team structure by getting back cut or making a poor gamble for a steal. At the same time, it would be foolish to write him off on that end. If Sharpe wasn’t such a gifted scoring prospect, it would be easy to see a coach try to make him a wing stopper on defense with those tools. While many believe being a good defender starts with effort and attention, having tools — size, speed, quickness, length, and leaping ability — is what gives an NBA defender a chance to compete in the first place.

The tools are there for Sharpe even if the technique isn’t pro-ready just yet.

That’s the hitch with Sharpe: he enters the draft as a ball of clay waiting to molded into a winning player. It’s going to take patience, preparation, and organizational investment from the team that drafts him to give him the best chance to succeed. The tools give Sharpe multiple outs: he could develop into a great on-ball scorer in the NBA, but there are other paths to success if he doesn’t. Maybe he’ll become a dynamic movement shooter, or a transition killer, or a switchable wing defender. He can be anything at this stage just based on his physical gifts.

The sample of Sharpe as an elite prospect really is incredibly small — one year of EYBL because of the pandemic, and a little over a year of producing at a top level with Dream City. Any amount of additional film would have been appreciated by teams, but there’s a reason Sharpe didn’t play at Kentucky and even turned down an invitation to play for Canada’s U19 team last summer. Sharpe’s advisors know he has a relatively high draft floor based off nothing but tools and the EYBL tape.

Now Sharpe actually has to prove his talent to translate on the court. That’s the step everyone is waiting to see.