Nico Mannion, Guard, University of Arizona
6’3”, 190 pounds, 19 years old
2019-2020 season (Freshman Year): 32 games played, 32.3 minutes per game, 14 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game, 5.3 assists per game, 1.2 steals per game, 39.2% from the field (32.7% from three), 79.7% from the free throw line.
ADVANCED STATS STRENGTHS: Ast%/Usage Ratio (1.29)
ADVANCED STATS WEAKNESSES: PER (17.2), Offensive Win Shares (0.085), Effective Field Goal Percentage (46.5)
CURRENT BIG BOARD RANKINGS: Tankathon (23), The Athletic (43), ESPN (21), CBS (33), The Ringer (27)
I know what you’re thinking. Why are you writing about a player that’s typically in the first-round for quite a few reliable big boards? Especially the Red Mamba! Have you seen his high school mixtape all across Overtime, House of Highlights, and Ball is Life?
Because this draft is going to be bonkers, in that the actual results may not reflect the mock drafts...like at all. Big boards are going to look vastly different all across each platform, especially in that 20-50 range. And Nico Mannion has emerged as one of those players with varying evaluations.
It’s easy to buy in to his youth and upside, as his playmaking and shot creation can lead people to believe he can be a high-end backup point guard — or a fringe starter — someday. However, others will be spooked by his inefficient shooting, negative wingspan, and his questionable defensive potential.
Nonetheless, if he’s available at the 40th pick, Mannion should be on the short list of players the Memphis Grizzlies can’t pass on.
What he does well
Nico Mannion will make his money in the NBA as a playmaker. In his freshman year he flashed good steadiness and decision-making as a lead guard. His assist-to-turnover ratio was at 2.04, indicating his maturity as a lead ball-handler. At the next level, he’ll likely be a backup point guard. For him to earn that role and truly weather the storm while the starter is out, he’s going to have to continue that carefulness with the ball.
Mannion has 3-level scoring upside. His 3-point percentage doesn’t indicate it, but he has decent mechanics on his jumper and his accuracy could improve with more spacing and a lesser role. He also flashed potential as a pull-up shooter from deep and in the mid range, a skill that’s become essential to succeed as a lead guard in the modern NBA. Mannion also has some bounce, but will his lack of strength and length hurt him at the next level?
Where he needs to improve
Where I’m skeptical with Nico Mannion is, he doesn’t necessarily have a good point of attack as a scorer. In the 4 scoring areas highlighted on NBA.com’s draft profiles — pick & roll, transition, spot up, and off screen — he didn’t crack the top-25 percentile in any of them. He also struggled in the half court, only scoring 1.08 points per catch and shoot jumper (69th percentile) and 0.78 points per shot off the dribble (54th percentile). Unless he becomes an elite back-up distributor and floor general — think Tyus Jones level — his inability to score in the half court would make it difficult to keep him on the floor.
While he possesses nice bounce, it didn’t translate most of the time, as he only scored 1.00 points per shot around the rim in the half court — 29th percentile. He’s not the strongest guard, nor does he have a great wingspan to make up for it. If he doesn’t improve as a finisher, while also not shooting the ball prolifically, he won’t be able to find the floor.
Defensively, he does hustle and corralled over a steal a game last season. However, it’s interesting to see how it translates at the next level. His hustle and feistiness may help him survive on that end of the floor, but a 6’3” guard with a 6’2” wingspan and sub-200 pound frame is a prime candidate to be hunted on defense.
The fit and verdict:
Despite his flaws, Nico Mannion is a can’t-miss prospect for the Memphis Grizzlies at 40, because he has the talent and pedigree worth taking a flier on.
For starters, he’d enter a situation where he’s not expected to contribute right away with Ja Morant and Tyus Jones in the fold. He can get some reps with the Memphis Hustle to catch up to the NBA speed. In addition, if — God forbid — something happened to the Grizzlies’ guard depth, Mannion isn’t exactly the worst option to take minutes as the de facto backup point guard. Even in that scenario, playing next to secondary playmakers like Kyle Anderson, Grayson Allen, Justise Winslow, or (potentially) De’Anthony Melton would alleviate a ton of pressure off him.
Not to mention, he could even develop into a nice trade asset to throw in a trade to bring in a legitimate rotation player, as a good backup point guard can be hard to find.
Honestly, Mannion isn’t the highest on my board. I don’t value him more than older point guards like Malachi Flynn, Payton Pritchard, or Grant Riller. He probably should’ve stayed at Arizona another year or two. Nonetheless though, he has the youth and upside to develop into a nice backup point guard for the next decade.
And that youth and upside is why he may not be there for the Memphis Grizzlies at the 40th pick.
Verdict: Nico Mannion will fall into the second round, but he’ll be selected in the mid-to-late 30’s.