NBA Draft

2022 NBA Draft Preview: Vertical Spacers

The simple calculus for the Detroit Pistons is to draft the best player available. The team is still devoid of top-end talent and the end all, be all is to take the best player. But there are often many good players who have a wide array of talent.

The next level of arithmetic is to draft the best player available who fits best next to the one player on the roster who truly matters — Cade Cunningham. Again, you’re sorting through a lot of players — guards, wings and bigs — who do a lot of specific things well and with noticeable holes in their games.

The third way to sort through all the prospects we’ll be chewing over for the next several months is to think about definitive skillsets and talk about how some of the draft’s top-end talents fit into those molds. At the same time, the Pistons aren’t looking to draft a specialist. There are only five spots in a starting lineup and nine in a rotation. They can’t just add a bunch of players to fit specific skills. So we need to identify players who do certain things really well and then consider the other parts of their game.

In the first of a continuing series, we’ll take a look at some archetypal skills, identify some players, and think about what they could do for the Detroit Pistons and their restoration process.

Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Cade Needs a Running Mate Who Forces Defenses to Protect the Rim

“Jumpy-Jump Guy” is a phrase I first heard from our very own Lazarus Jackson when asking for a player on the Detroit Pistons who could catch some lobs and throw down some dunks. I know many Pistons fans have adopted this phrase since we first heard it and have been begging for a jumpy-jump guy ever since. Like Bryce Simon of Motor City Hoops has said time and time again on the podcast, what this current Pistons team needs is someone who can put consistent pressure on the rim.

So as part of our year-round draft analysis here at DBB, I put together a midseason list of jumpy-jump guys in this 2022 NBA Draft cycle. Now, before I go any further, I do want to explain my definition of a jumpy-jump guy. First they have to provide what we call vertical spacing. What does that mean? Well for starters they have to be able to consistently catch lobs above the heads of their defenders that they then also have to consistently finish by putting the ball in the hoop. While great three-point shooters make it so the defense has to account for them horizontally and cover much more ground on the court, vertical spacers make so the defense has to have someone on the court who can cover the air as well to stop the lobs or the finishing at the rim.

Notice I said nothing of dunking in this definition. Yes, I am aware most people refer to guys that catch alley-oops and make highlight reel dunks when they are talking about vertical spacers—but that is not always the case. For me, these jumpy-jump guys have to first be able to open up the air by consistently catching passes over the defense before we even talk about dunking. Bismack Biyombo is a famous example of this because he certainly can dunk fairly easily, but as my man Rafael Barlowe of NBA Draft Junkies once said, “dude couldn’t catch a cold if he was soaking wet outside in the snow.”

So catching overhead passes AND finishing at the rim are the skills for me that qualify someone as a jumpy-jump guy. They do not necessarily need to be dunkers, but they do have to have good hands and finish those overhead passes once they secure the lob. As I list each guy on this list I will give a brief breakdown of their game to this point in the season. I will also give a projection as to where they might in with the Pistons and their current draft position. Now, let’s get into the list.

Honorable Mention: Tari Eason

Tennessee v LSU

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Some may raise an eyebrow at this because there is a ton of the LSU forward dunking this season, but it comes with a caveat. Eason is for sure a highlight dunker this season…in transition. When he gets a full head of steam it is tough to stop this guy.

When it comes to the halfcourt, however, his verticality is less apparent. Also, Eason has been getting a ton of time with the ball in his hands as his usage sits at 29.6% as of this moment so he is not going to be setting screens and rolling or even making cuts anytime soon. So while, yes, Eason is for sure a guy that can get up and dunk, for the purposes of our profile here he remains uncertain when it comes to his fit as a jumpy-jump guy for the Pistons. He certainly has the ability to be someone like Brandon Clarke in the NBA—an undersized big man with strength and hops that allows him to stay in the frontcourt. Will he be developed as big man in the NBA? That remains to be seen and is a question no one yet knows the answer to.

Kendall Brown

Baylor v West Virginia

Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

I start the list proper with Brown because he is what we traditionally think of when talking about vertical spacers or the more technical term around here a jumpy-jump guy. An amazing athlete with rim destroying dunks and the strength to play power forward, the 6-foot-8, 205-pound Brown is a unique prospect.

While I don’t want to say he is totally reliant on his athletic ability when it comes to what he can do on the court, he does have few basketball moves and skills as of this moment other than outrunning and jumping the opposition. He has only taken 13 three-point attempts all season and currently gets to the free-throw line 1.9 times per game. But! He is able to play small ball 5 (as evidence in Baylor’s game against Texas Tech), dish out multiple assist games (something he’s done four times), boxout anyone for a rebound, and even put the ball on the deck some to drive to the hoop and put pressure on the rim.

For the Pistons he is most likely going to be the other forward next to Saddiq, and I would bet he comes off the bench to start his career. He’s drawn comps to other ultra-athletic forwards like Aaron Gordon and Shawn Marion so I envision he will take a season or two to settle into a combo forward role. Saddiq can take care of the craft and spacing while Brown finishes lobs and locks down the opposition’s best forwards. Also, like the Matrix and Gordon, expect Brown to be a top-10 pick as few rival Brown’s potential upside in this draft. If you want a pure alley-oop catcher with actual star upside, then Brown is it for you.

Jaden Ivey

Nebraska v Purdue

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Now let’s talk about dunk-happy guards! Ivey was many peoples’ top returning college basketball player and he has done nothing to prove those people wrong thus far. Drawing comparisons to Russell Westbrook, Bulls-era D Rose and Ja Morant, Ivey is a guard who seemingly only has one speed … GO!

He has always been a blur in transition with incredibly speed and leaping ability to grab a rebound, get past halfcourt before the opposition can react, and then use his awesome leaping ability to get up and jam it down. He also has increased his three-point percentage and assist numbers this year to get many excited enough to draw the aforementioned comparisons. He is currently shooting 43.0% from three on 4.9 attempts per game and dishing out 3.1 assists per game.

Ivey is one of those prospects who, on the surface, seems like he has little flaws and takes some deeper digging to see them. In his last 10 games, Ivey’s assist numbers have come back down to earth as he had 25 assists to 21 turnovers. Personally, I do not buy his shot either—which I know sounds bananas seeing his three-point percentage, but he has had stretches where he shot below 70% from the line. From November 26, 2021 until January 8, 2022, he shot 68.3% from the free-throw line. And while his overall free-throw percentage for the year is currently 75.0% it was 71.4% before his last two games where he went 18 of 21 from the free throw line. Maybe these last two games mark an improvement from the line, but it will be an issue for him if he can’t make defenses pay more when he gets to the line.

I questioned Ivey’s fit next to Cade coming into the year—but that was before he showed this improvement in shooting and passing. He’d definitely be coming in to replace Killian at the other guard spot as he could only play the 1 or the 2. I still remain skeptical of the fit here just for the simple fact that Ivey requires the ball in his hands to be his most effective and I am against taking the ball out of Cade’s hands to develop another guard. The fit is not impossible, but like I said, I remain skeptical. Still if you think Ivey can cut and catch lobs from Cade and his three-point shooting is legit, the pin your hopes that the Pistons remain in that top 5 this summer.

JD Davison

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 25 ESPN Events Invitational - Alabama v Iona

Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Known just as much for his incredible blonde hair as much as his rim-rattling dunks, Davison is a major athlete above all else. One look at Davison’s shot chart pretty much tells you all you need to know.

This guy is looking to FINISH AT THE RIM any way he can whenever he has the ball. He will take you off the dribble and take it to the house. He will make a backdoor cut and catch a lob and throw it down. He will even come in to clean up a miss and almost effortlessly leap to grab a rebound and finish offensive put-back with authority. He makes a lot of dunks that fire up his teammates and get everyone hyped. He is the rare under 6-foot-5 player who defenses have to put a body on at all times because left unchecked he will find a way to get up and drop the hammer. It cannot be understated that his ability to dunk at anytime really makes him a tough cover for any defender at any time—as evidence by his clutch dunk in Alabama’s win against current #11 team in the country Houston.

JD Davison’s Shotchart as of 1/14/2022
Dominic Samangy and his 2022 NBA Draft Shiny App (

Unfortunately, the shot chart really DOES tell the whole story as Davison struggles to do anything consistent on offense outside of dunking. Like Kendall Brown he is a reluctant three-point shooter as he has only taken 37 attempts from distance all season. And, he is barely clearing 70% from the free throw line right now at 70.2%. He does post a spectacular 49.5% Free Throw Attempt Rate, but he has to improve his percentage from the line for that to really hurt defenses. He can also play too sped up at times which leads to careless turnovers on offense and blown assignments on defense.

Whatever team drafts him would keep him at the point guard since he is only 6-foot-3. This one is a tough fit for the Pistons because Davison is most effective attacking the rim with the ball in his hands so the fit next to Cade is not great. Factor in Davison’s 29.7% from downtown and the fit looks even worse in Detroit. But, if they did want to grab him he is most likely somewhere in the teens as he is a freshman and someone will be enticed by that athleticism in the late lottery. If you want a dunk happy guard, then wish for Davison come draft day.

Christian Koloko, Ibou Badji, Jalen Duren, Mark Williams, Ismaël Kamagate

Murray State v Memphis

Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images

I lumped all of these guys together because they all fill the role of vertical spacer at the center position. I am not saying they are very similar players—they all have their own unique skills—but the Pistons would only be drafting ONE of these guys who all have jumpy-jump traits and can only play center.

Koloko is incredibly fluid, an amazing shot blocker and has incredible touch around the rim.

Badji is the best athlete of this bunch and is the one to hope for if you want something close to lob city DeAndre Jordan.

Duren is a brick house with legitimate defense anchor potential who has drawn comparisons to Dwight Howard.

Williams is a legit 7-footer who is a good shot blocker and knows how to use his size and strength to engulf the opposition.

And finally, Kamagate is the most active of these centers who is looking to find a way to the rim or will do whatever he can to contest the opposition’s shot.

Again, I lump all these guys together because they are centers and centers ONLY. Although someone like Badji may be very athletic, he does not posses any kind of a shot outside of 5 feet from the hoop. And the only guy in this list that has flashed any kind of consistent jumpshot is Duren…yet he has shot 36.1% on those two-point jumpers. In addition, Koloko is the only one of these players currently shooting over 70% from the free throw line at 75.4%. These are traditional big men and as such have traditional big men problems.

I honestly think all of these guys would be a great fit in Detroit as the alley-oop catching and dunker’s spot center. If I did have to pick one, however, I think I am coming around more and more on Kamagate as his energy and hustle are just hard for me to ignore. He may be amped up too much at times, but he is not playing out of control and when he does get up to dunk he wants you to feel it. He’s also only averaging 1.56 fouls in 25.0 minutes per game so he is not playing reckless. He’d also most likely cost a 2nd round pick.

Duren is most likely a lottery pick, Williams is all but guaranteed in the first round, Koloko is playing himself into first round consideration, and Badji most likely also joins Kamagate in round 2. MAYBE Kamagate ends up sneaking into the end of round 1 but I highly doubt it with the ever declining value of the pure center and high upside wings like Bryce McGowens and my guy Max Christie still out there. Let me know which of these centers you prefer in the comments.

Yannick Nzosa

FC Barcelona v Unicaja - Basket Liga ACB

Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Nzosa separates himself from the previous group of guys by way of being able to play power forward in addition to center. Nzosa is also far ahead of the centers on this list in terms of switchability and putting the ball on the floor to create his own offense. Rarely do you see Nzosa outmatched either physically or athletically by either a big or a guard as he slides his feet on the perimeter or stays home to block shots down low. And, while the sample size is small, Nzosa has flashed that ability to put the ball on the hardwood and use his long strides to get to the hoop in two steps. He does already show a floater he sinks regularly as a roll man!

Despite being so skinny, Nzosa sets some of the best screens you will see out there and consistently finishes plays as the roll man. He also is a different kind of jumpy-jump guy in that he’s not ferociously dunking on every lob thrown his way—a lot of times he is not dunking at all. What he does do it catch a ton of overhead passes and lobs which he then finishes either with his soft touch, or with a dunk.

What Nzosa is mostly, though, is a project. Look at his stats now and you will most likely question me about why this guy is on the list at all. But as laid out in the NBA Draft Junkies video, this is a guy that just started playing basketball about 4 years ago and is now playing in the 2nd best basketball league in the world. He also got hurt early this season and if you know anything about European basketball, it is tough to find a way back into the rotation after that for a 18 year old kid who is still developing.

Nzosa is a ball of clay at this point who I envision the Pistons would try at either power forward or center. His screen setting and ability to finish in pick and roll makes him a great fit with Cade and the current crop of big men in Kelly Olynyk, Beef Stew, Trey Lyles, and Luka Garza actually have complementary skillsets to have Nzosa screen, finish, and run. The long range shooting of an Olynyk and Garza can give Nzosa space from his front court mate. Beef Stew and Lyles can handle more physical big men to allow Nzosa to run free. And Nzosa is an actual pick and roll finisher in addition to being someone who can consistently catch lobs to open up the offense more. Nzosa’s been mocked as a late first rounder so Weaver will have to do what he does to go get that extra pick and bring Nzosa to Detroit.

Daimion Collins

Ohio v Kentucky

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Raw is the best way to describe Collins at this point in his career. Incredibly athletic and active, Collins hasn’t quite found a go-to skillset or position really coming off the bench for Kentucky. Coach Cal and Kentucky have only played Collins 160 minutes this season so I don’t even have a real scouting breakdown here because that is such a small sample size. To put this in context of just how small a sample size this is, Collins is 8th on Kentucky’s team in total minutes played. He has played in 16 total games and in 9 of those games he has logged 7 or fewer minutes.

What Collins has flashed is that he is a walking dunk contest. Just search “Daimion Collins dunk” on YouTube and you can thank me later. This kid’s hands and vertical are ridiculous and makes you wish he was able to get on the floor more Kentucky. But, he does look lost out there and has a ways to go in many different aspects. At 6-foot-9 and 202 pounds, he HAS TO get bigger as he is clearly a big man as he sets screens and block shots. And if you know anything about Coach Cal, he wants his players to understand how to play defense and this is the thing you can see is keeping Collins off the court right now.

Yet, this is a guy mocked in the second round right now is mocked at all and it is easy to see the Pistons taking a flyer on him. Cade and Killian could easily find Collins for all the alley-oops he could handle and the team could bring him along slowly at center or power forward since the Pistons are not in a hurry to push someone like Collins to figure out his game as soon as possible. There is also the well documented Cal Clamps where a player is not able to show everything they have while playing for Coach Cal so Collins may well be a better pro than Kentucky player like many of his Wildcat brethren before him. If you are looking for a pure lob threat athlete with low risk then Collins is your guy in round 2.

Terrence Shannon Jr.

Kentucky v Texas Tech

Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Sadly Shannon Jr. has been hurt for most of the year, only appearing in six games so far. When healthy, he is an Andre Iguodala-like dunker and wing distributor in addition to improving his jumpshooting every year. Currently, Shannon is posting shooting splits of 59.4% from two-point range, 34.4% from three-point distance, and 85.0% from the free throw line. That three-point percentage is also coming on a career-high 4.6 attempts per game so Shannon is showing to be a legit-three level scorer when he has been on the court. Shannon has always been known as a focused and intense defender who can guard the 1 through the 3 when he is on the court so he is not an offense only player. His ball handling has improved every year as well and profiles as someone who could develop into a secondary or tertiary ball handler at the next level.

Shannon is also dealing with back spasms which can be tricky and a team would need to see this is not going to be a long term thing. People also question if his long range shooting is for real as his percentage was bad his freshman year (25.7%) and tailed off as the year went on last season (33.9% in his final 16 games). Shannon will be sold as a 3-and-D wing so not only will he have to consistently space the floor, but he will also have to prove he can be in a more complementary role as he has been a high-usage on-the-ball player for the most part at Texas Tech.

Listed at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, Shannon is the type of wing/guard I imagine the Pistons want to try and take a chance on. It’s clear Shannon has worked on his jumpshot and is more than just a dunker now in his junior season. And even if he is mainly a dunker in the NBA, the Pistons do need a guy like Shannon who can consistently put pressure on the rim—which is what this list is all about after all. Shannon is a 2nd rounder right now, but could quickly vault himself back into the first round when fully healthy. Many considered him a mid to late first round pick last year, but he opted to come back to Texas Tech after testing the draft waters. If you want another wing that can be a vertical spacer with 3-and-D potential then get Weaver on the horn for another first round pick for Shannon.

Let us know what you think of this list in the comments and if I missed anyone. Be on the lookout for the next in this series when I take a look who is in consideration for the top shooters in this class and whether or not they would fit with the Pistons. If you have an archetype you’d like to see explored among the NBA Draft class, let us know in the comments.

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