Scouting Report & Film Review: James Bouknight

James Bouknight is the best off-ball mover in this class and has All-Star scoring upside despite his defensive and playmaking inconsistencies.

Strengths: Off-ball movement, scoring, off-ball defense upside, rebounding, ball-handling

Weaknesses: Lateral quickness, playmaking, defensive consistency, screen navigation

Consensus Expected Draft Range: Mid to late lottery

Where I'd Draft Him: Mid to late lottery

Shades Of: Devin Booker-lite, Richard Hamilton, Tyler Herro

Best Team Fits: Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic, New Orleans Pelicans, Indiana Pacers

After a promising end to his Freshman season, James Bouknight exploded onto the 2021 NBA Draft scene with early-season scoring dominance. Bouknight dazzled with his electric scoring displays, off-ball movement, and reincarnation of the old school shooting guard. Unfortunately, Bouknight succumbed to mid-season elbow surgery before ending the season on a colder note.

Despite his late-season struggles, Bouknight still remains a lottery talent in many eyes, including mine. He is the best off-ball mover in this class and can go off for significant scoring outbursts any night. When most players run off screens, it is to create space to shoot off the catch. Bouknight, however, was run off screens to create space for him to attack. We see players like CJ McCollum and Devin Booker used in this fashion a lot. It allows Bouknight to attack a rotating defense and find the proper advantage to exploit.

Bouknight's off-ball scoring is his selling point, but his on-ball creation is the upside. Bouknight is a strong ball-handler who uses his athleticism to create space. Unfortunately, Bouknight made little to no playmaking impact throughout the season, which will limit his on-ball upside in the NBA.

As a defender, Bouknight has a lot to prove. He has shown promise as a team defender, but his lack of lateral quickness will hold him back as an on-ball defender. Bouknight feels like a shooting guard from a previous era, but his scoring upside and ability to pick his spots make him useful in nearly any rotation.

Off-Ball Offense

Calling Bouknight one of the best off-ball scorers in the country seems counterintuitive when you look at his numbers. This season, Bouknight scored 0.618 points per possession (PPP) when spotting-up (14th percentile), 0.821 PPP when running off screens (36th percentile), and 0.622 PPP when shooting off the catch (11th percentile), per Synergy. I freely admit that these numbers are concerning. However, I also think that they are misleading.

Bouknight wasn't used as a traditional off-ball scorer where he was put in motion and purely shooting off the catch. Instead, Bouknight was put in these actions to set up a dribble handoff (DHO), pick-and-roll, or isolation. Bouknight's off-ball movement was used as an asset to change the balance of the floor and create advantages from a new set. His movement wasn't used purely to set up an immediate score.

One of Bouknight's most efficient play types was the DHO, where he scored 1.083 PPP (82nd percentile). These actions allowed Bouknight to pull up when the defense went under or get downhill to score or create for others.

The DHO is a standard NBA action that helps create space for high-level scorers, and Bouknight will be proficient from day one when running it. Here, Bouknight tightly runs off the screen and eliminates his defender from the play. Bouknight immediately attacks the drop defender. As Bouknight approaches the free-throw line, he plants his right foot hard to simulate him attacking the rim. This move sends the drop defender towards the rim, but Bouknight instead pulls up for a mid-range jumper in a zone he scored 0.783 PPP in (52nd percentile).

Bouknight is far from a high-level playmaker, but he has moments where he makes the proper read when he attracts the defense. Here, we see Bouknight do just that. Initially, Bouknight is put in floppy action, and we see how quickly and tightly he runs off screens. Bouknight's man does well to stay tight, so Bouknight waits for his center to come for the DHO. Bouknight runs tight off the handoff, which his defender struggles to get through. By doing this, Bouknight forces the help defender to collapse to the nail to not give up a drive. Bouknight reads the rotation and makes the simple read for the open three.

Bouknight's activity off screens and success in the DHO also makes him a deadly cutter. This season, Bouknight scored 1.682 PPP on cuts (98th percentile). He does an excellent job of changing pace, setting his defenders up, and then using elite body control to finish at the rim.

Here, Bouknight goes to receive the handoff but notices his defender is eager to get over the screen. Bouknight explodes to the baseline, where he gets a lovely bounce pass. The defense rotates well, but Bouknight has the athleticism and body control to elevate, hang, and finish with a reverse.

Again, Bouknight looks like he will receive the handoff and punishes his defender for too aggressively denying the ball. The pass gets tipped, but Bouknight rips the ball away and uses his athleticism for a lightning-quick second jump to finish the play. 

Bouknight doesn't exclusively cut when his defender is overplaying him, though. So much of Bouknight's offense is derived from his off-ball movement, and he has an exquisite understanding of the floor spacing and how to exploit open pockets.

Here, Bouknight goes to set an off-ball screen but notices the rim is entirely unoccupied. Bouknight slips the screen and cuts to the opposite block. His defender is a half-step late to react, giving Bouknight the ability to shield him from the ball. Once in the post, Bouknight doesn't rush, but instead, he leverages his position, gets into the defender's body to negate any shot-blocking ability, and finishes through the contact.

Bouknight was an excellent at-rim scorer because of his athletic finishes and his experienced moves like that. Scoring 1.373 PPP around the rim, Bouknight ranked in the 86th percentile. His sense of angle manipulation, body control, and patience are evident in his off-ball movement and at-rim finishing.

The comfort level and ease in which Bouknight runs off screens to create space are highly encouraging for projecting him into an NBA rotation. His off-screen scoring numbers aren't eye-popping because he uses these situations to set up better ways to attack.

Here, Bouknight curls off the pin-down screen and gets his defender on his hip. Bouknight sees the drop defender giving him space to attack. Bouknight doesn't see the pocket pass to his teammate (we'll dive more into that later), but he elevates, splits the defenders, and finishes with an acrobatic layup.

Like we saw with the DHO, Bouknight also has moments of creating for teammates when he runs off screens. Here, the defense miscommunicates a switch on the baseline, forcing them to scramble as Bouknight comes off the screen. As Bouknight dribbles to the top of the arc, he attracts the double. Bouknight makes a simple read and finds his open teammate for what should be a knockdown three.

On-Ball Scoring

Whether a prospect projects as a primary initiator or an off-ball scorer, having self-creation ability is vital for NBA guards. Bouknight should never be slotted as a primary initiator, but the jump he took with his self-creation this season was impressive. Bouknight scored an impressive 0.825 PPP when shooting off the dribble (59th percentile), 1.00 PPP in isolation (84th percentile), and 0.689 PPP as the pick-and-roll ball-handler (42nd percentile). Bouknight proved that he is a legitimate on-ball scoring threat through his shooting and space creation.

Bouknight saw a slight drop off this season in efficiency when running the pick-and-roll, but he saw a significant uptick in volume. Even though the efficiency slightly dropped, his comfort level and creativity were encouraging, specifically when he dribbled off the screen. When Bouknight dribbled off the screen, he scored 0.978 PPP overall (69th percentile) and 1.4 PPP when he took it to the rim (95th percentile).

Here, Bouknight immediately gets doubled as he comes off the screen but uses a hesitation dribble and quick burst to beat it. Bouknight then accelerates to the empty lane, where he uses his explosiveness and body control to draw the foul and finish through contact.

Despite being a solid shooter off the dribble this season, Bouknight struggled when shooting out of the pick-and-roll as he scored 0.731 PPP (31st percentile). Most of Bouknight's struggles stemmed from inconsistent footwork and questionable shot selection. While there were struggles, Bouknight proved that he had no issues punishing defenders who went under the screen. As we can see below, Bouknight doesn't hesitate once the defender goes under and confidently steps into his shot with great mechanics.

Even though Bouknight saw a lot of success when shooting off the dribble, there are some signs of concern. First, Bouknight did not have an ideal shot selection. He took a lot of heavily contested pull-ups that hurt his shooting efficiency. A cause of this shot selection is that Bouknight was head and shoulders above the rest of the roster when it came to scoring, so he was asked to do a lot. I don't think it is a long-term problem but something to keep an eye on. Finally, and more critically, Bouknight had very inconsistent lower body mechanics on his pull-ups. His footwork was erratic and significantly altered his form. Sometimes Bouknight's right foot would be behind his left foot, which is the wrong order for right-handed shooters, and other times his feet would be extremely narrow, giving him an unstable base. These aren't damning mechanical issues, but if they aren't fixed, Bouknight will fail to become the off-the-dribble threat he has the potential to be.

Earlier, we covered how Bouknight uses his off-ball movement to set up different advantages. Bouknight did this by forcing switches when running off-screens and then abusing those mismatches in isolation. This season, Bouknight scored 1.00 PPP in isolation (84th percentile). He was excellent at using his ball-handling, athleticism, and change of pace to attack mismatches and get to the rim.

Here, Bouknight gets a favorable matchup on the perimeter. Bouknight uses a series of stationary crossovers before exploding to his right and quickly turning the corner. Once Bouknight gets the edge, he is tough to stop. He swiftly gets to the opposite side of the rim, making life difficult for the help defender, and finishes through the contact.

Again, Bouknight gets the switch after a ghost screen and immediately attacks. Bouknight looks to initiate contact before spinning back to his right. Instead, Bouknight gets tripped up but keeps his dribble and has the balance and athleticism to recover and finish at the rim.

Passing

Bouknight's lack of passing is what will keep him from being a consistent on-ball initiator. Earlier, we saw Bouknight make a few simple reads that led to open scoring chances. While Bouknight rarely creates for others, there are some flashes of passing that at least spark some optimism that he won't be a ball-stopper.

The most encouraging aspect of Bouknight's playmaking is his passing to the roller out of the pick-and-roll. In these situations, UConn scored 1.00 PPP (52nd percentile). That isn't an elite number, but it is good enough. Here, Bouknight dribbles off a screen and immediately gets doubled similarly as we saw before. Instead of beating the double off the dribble, though, Bouknight kills his dribble and quickly hits the roller for the easy score.

Unfortunately, that was the peak of Bouknight's playmaking ability. Bouknight's overall passes out of the pick-and-roll led to 0.795 PPP (24th percentile), and he only passed out of isolation once. Bouknight constantly gets tunnel vision, and while he can produce some stunning finishes, he often makes life more difficult by missing an open teammate.

Here, Bouknight receives a screen but never looks to move the ball. As the screen is set, Creighton hedges, and the roller slips to the lane. Neither the wing defender nor the low post defender on the block moves an inch to tag the roller. A simple over-the-head pass should lead the roller to the rim, but Bouknight never looks for it.

Again, Bouknight completely misreads the defense and puts blinders on. As the ball is kicked out to Bouknight, only one defender on the perimeter fully commits to closing out on Bouknight, leaving the wing shooter wide-open. Bouknight even fakes a pass but decides to keep it and loses the clear advantage.

Even in transition, Bouknight struggles to read the floor. As Bouknight crosses half-court, he attracts four defenders. We see one teammate covered on the wing and another trailing on the bottom of the video. The other two teammates must still be in the backcourt, right? Despite the extraordinary defensive attention Bouknight attracts, he uses a gorgeous hesitation to get the easy dunk. Bouknight gets the two points, so what's the issue?

In the end, this is a positive play because Bouknight does get the score. However, did you notice his teammate sitting wide-open under the hoop for that entire clip? He had enough time to set up an entire campsite and roast some marshmallows. 

Bouknight doesn't need to be a high-level playmaker, but he desperately needs to improve his passing vision and willingness. He too frequently keeps the ball when he has a wide-open teammate. For the good of the offensive flow, Bouknight must improve his passing.

Off-Ball Defense

Bouknight's off-ball defense is incredibly frustrating because of how inconsistent it is. There will be possessions where he perfectly rotates, tags, and navigates screens, but the next possession, he'll die on a screen or have a sloppy closeout which surrenders an easy score.

Here, we see Bouknight run off these screens as if he's on offense. He closely tails his man and avoids screens for nearly ten seconds. Bouknight then stays tight and pressures his man to force the pass out, killing the possession. It is perfect defense, and he does an excellent job of denying a superb shooter.

Again, we see Bouknight perfectly deny his man the ball. Bouknight's man goes to receive the DHO, but Bouknight plays him high. Like we saw Bouknight do multiple times earlier, the offensive player tries to back cut. However, Bouknight stays locked in and perfectly moves his feet to force the ball in the opposite direction.

Even when Bouknight isn't directly involved in the play, he has shown competency with his rotations. As the roller receives the pass after the slip screen, Bouknight's teammate makes the proper rotation to cut off the drive. Seeing his path blocked, the roller looks to the corner to pass to the space that was just vacated by the rotating defender. Unfortunately for him, Bouknight has dropped into this passing lane and causes the roller to hesitate. This hesitation gives Bouknight's teammate enough time to recover and poke the ball loose.

Unfortunately, for every impressive off-ball defensive possession, there is an equally bad counter. The inconsistency in which Bouknight navigates screens is perplexing, especially considering how skilled he is at running off them on offense. He will take wide routes, miscommunicate switches, expose himself to cuts, or flat out die on them. 

On-Ball Defense

While Bouknight's off-ball defense is erratic, his on-ball defense is a mess, and it isn't due to a lack of effort. Unfortunately, Bouknight's issues can't be corrected through sheer effort. Bouknight still struggles with screen navigation like he does off-ball, but his most significant issue is his lateral quickness. Bouknight has plodding feet and incredibly sloppy footwork.

As we can see below, Bouknight is engaged and appropriately reacting. However, he constantly crosses his feet, turns his hips, and stays too high in his stance. Bouknight could improve his footwork to some extent but improving his foot speed, and lateral agility will be incredibly difficult. 

Outlook

James Bouknight is one of the most intriguing shooting guards in this class. He has legitimate scoring upside and is the best off-ball mover in this class. The way he hunts his shots and moves off-ball has shades of Devin Booker and Richard Hamilton. If Bouknight can improve his shot selection and footwork on pull-ups, his shooting effectiveness should improve.

Unfortunately, Bouknight has proven to be limited with his passing and defense. He doesn't need to average six assists per game, but the willingness to make the extra pass will do wonders for his offensive upside. Defensively, Bouknight must improve his screen navigation. His footwork and lateral quickness will be challenging to improve, but he can at least be a non-negative on that end if he can improve his off-ball consistency.

In the 2021 NBA Draft, James Bouknight will likely go in the lottery. He has top-six upside in this draft and is incredibly easy to picture in a multitude of rotations. Don't be surprised if we see James Bouknight during All-Star Weekend in a few years.

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