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2020 NBA Draft Profiles: Elijah Hughes

Elijah Hughes has the skillset of an impactful NBA wing.

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NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Elijah Hughes, Wing, Syracuse

  • 6’6”, 215 pounds, 22 years old, Beacon, NY
  • 2019-20 AVERAGES: 19 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.2 steals, shooting line of 42.7/34.2/81.3, 36.7 minutes in 32 games
  • CAREER AVERAGES (3 seasons): 13.9 points, 4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, shooting line of 41.1/34.2/76.3
  • ACCOLADES: 2019-20 All-ACC (1st team)
  • ADVANCED STATS STRENGTHS (per Tankathon): Fouls (1.8), FT% (81.3), Projected NBA 3PT% (37.4%)
  • ADVANCED STATS WEAKNESSES (per Tankathon): Draft Age (22.6), Defensive Win Shares per 40 Min (0.044), Effective FG% (51.1%)
  • CURRENT BIG BOARD RANKINGS: Tankathon (45), Ringer (47), ESPN (43), CBS (40), The Athletic (33)

Elijah Hughes will fall victim to the same fate as many upperclassmen before him: being too old. He’ll be close to 23 years old when the 2020-21 season starts, whenever that be. Despite the “concerns” about his youth, look past it.

Hughes can hoop.

At 6’6” and 215 pounds, Hughes possesses great size for the wing, as he can play positions 2 and 3. He also demonstrates great prowess as an on-ball creator, both scoring and playmaking. And the difficulty and distance on his 3-point shot indicate that he can be a strong NBA 3-point shooter.

Can Elijah Hughes follow in the footsteps of upperclassmen before him by becoming a draft-night steal and an impactful NBA player?

What He Does Well

Elijah Hughes’ calling card was scoring. At Syracuse, he proved to be a reliable 3-level scorer. He’s one of the few players in this draft that shot 34% from 3 and >70% on drives, a strong indicator of his scoring potential in the NBA, as the league is trending more towards getting shot attempts solely from deep or in the paint — as opposed to mid-range jumpers.

Though his 3-point percentage isn’t encouraging, his shot chart is. This past season, he shot a blistering 47% from the right corner and 36% in the left corner. His role in the NBA will likely be a 3-and-D wing, and most of them feast on corner triples within the half-court or in transition.

The league is also getting faster, which means more looks in transition. Hughes thrived there last season, scoring 1.25 points per possession in transition offense, ranking in the 85th percentile. For the Grizzlies in particular, this bodes well for Hughes’ fit in Memphis given that Ja Morant and Tyus Jones both loving pushing the tempo.

These two characteristics are vital for projected 3-and-D wings to survive in the NBA, and Hughes is already proficient in those areas. If his isolation skills (0.88 PPP, 70th percentile) and shot-creating prowess hold up too, he may be able to become much more than a 3-and-D wing off the bench.

Where He Needs to Improve

Hughes has the size and prototype to be a multi-dimensional defender, but there’s still questions revolving around his defensive upside. Obviously, he didn’t get to show off his skillset in a NBA-like defensive system, as Syracuse traditionally deploys zone defenses. In addition, his advanced defensive metrics don’t do any favors either, as he finished with a DBPM of 1.2 and with 0.044 win shares per 40 minutes. For context, Immanuel Quickly and Skylar Mays — two less physically-gifted players within Hughes’ archetype and draft range — have better defensive metrics.

Though I previously mentioned his 3-point game is a potential plus in Hughes’ game, his percentage draws little concern. Granted, college 3-point percentage isn’t everything — Kawhi Leonard was a putrid 3-point shooter in college, and Wade Baldwin IV was an elite one. However, if Hughes doesn’t find a rhythm from deep at the next level, most people will point to his low percentages on the wings — where he’s 34% and 26% on each side.

Even though his shooting percentages were quite low in college, I expect them to rise in the NBA, as he takes on fewer responsibilities on the offensive end.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tournament-Syracuse vs North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Fit and Verdict

Elijah Hughes, like several others in this draft, is one of those second-round players that could wind up having a successful NBA career. The tools are there: he’s a big wing that can cover multiple positions on both ends of the floor, shoot the 3, thrive in transition, and create off the dribble. If he was coming into this draft at 19 or 20, you could make a case for him to be a fringe lottery prospect.

But ageism will exist once again!

Hughes would be a good fit on the Grizzlies, and there is some upside for him to find a role in his first season, particularly because Coach Taylor Jenkins loves rolling with 11 players in the regular season rotation. He could compete for the 11th spot in the rotation, depending on what happens with De’Anthony Melton and the mid-level exception. Passing on a potential fat offer sheet for Melton by opting for a bigger wing instead could make things more difficult for Hughes. However, the Grizzlies are in a good spot where their G-League team is 35 minutes away from the FedEx Forum. So Hughes could float back and forth between the 2 clubs.

If the Grizzlies select Hughes, they’d surely welcome his size, athleticism, and two-way upside, even if he would be an older rookie.

Verdict: Elijah Hughes will fall to 40, and they may pass on him for either a more raw prospect to stash in the G-League, or for a 3rd point guard. I expect him to be high on Memphis’ board though.

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