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2021 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: James Bouknight

Will the Grizzlies trade up to get Ja Morant a new running mate?

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NCAA Basketball: Central CT State at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next month, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies may target in the 2021 NBA Draft. This year we will be breaking it up in to three sections - five to likely trade up for, five potentially available right around pick #17 where Memphis is slotted to pick, and five that surely will be there or perhaps the Grizzlies could even trade back and still select.

Next in our trade-up draft targets is the “Brooklyn Dodger” James Bouknight from the University of Connecticut.

James Bouknight, Guard, UCONN

  • 6’5”, 190 lbs (6’8.25” wingspan), 20 years old from Brooklyn, New York
  • Two seasons at UCONN: 27.9 minutes per game, 15 points per game, 46 FG% (32% from three, 80% from the line), 4,7 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks
  • ADVANCED STATS OF STRENGTH (per Tankathon) : Usage rate (31.6%)
  • ADVANCED STATS TO IMPROVE: Ast/TO ratio (0.64), Ast%/Usage (.41), Off Rating (108.7), Effective field goal% (49.8%), True Shooting % (54.6%)
  • AWARDS AND ACCOLADES: 2020-21 First Team All Big East, 2019-20 Third Team All-AAC, 2020 AAC All-Freshman Team
  • CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENTS: 13th overall (Tankathon), 21st overall (Ringer), 8th overall (ESPN), 8th overall (CBS Sports), 9th overall (The Athletic)

The Memphis Grizzlies are coming off an injury-riddled second season of a rebuild that saw them exceed expectations by winning the NBA play-in and making the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2017. As great as the playoff performances were from the likes of Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks, it was not enough to outlast Donovan Mitchell and the plethora of shooters that supplied the Utah Jazz’s offensive fire power. As deep as the Grizzlies were from a talent and productivity stand point last season, the Jazz series highlighted one thing that the Grizzlies need moving forward: someone not named Ja Morant who can consistently put the ball in the hoop. James Bouknight can be that guy — at a cost. As draft season started, Bouknight looked like a potential steal for teams in the 10-20 range, but now he is rising rapidly up NBA Draft boards as he flashes his potential to be a star in the league.

Bouknight will not be there at pick #17. Honestly, he probably won’t make it past the 8th overall pick. That being said, if the Grizzlies become enamored with the prospect being compared to Donovan Mitchell and long-desired trade target Zach LaVine, I won’t blame them for trying to make a move up into the lottery. Bouknight is not an analytical darling by any means but checks a lot of boxes in the Grizzlies formula that Shawn Coleman highlighted last season.

What He Does Well

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Maryland at Connecticut IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

A key element of this current era of Grizzlies basketball has been getting more explosive and modern compared to the “Grit ‘n’ Grind” Grizzlies of years’ past. They don’t get much more explosive than Bouknight in this year’s draft, and much to the Grizzlies blueprint, it translates to both ends.

Offensively, there’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Bouknight is one of those guys that every team wants — an aggressive three-level scorer who can not only make shots, but create the separation to create his own as well. Similar to Mitchell and LaVine, he uses an explosive first step to get to the rim for acrobatic layups and highlight reel dunks. In the same mold of Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant and many other young guards, he is a patient ball handler who can draw fouls with deceptive moves as well as use hesitations and step backs to create space and get to their spots and get their shots off. As his highlight reel above shows, he’s comfortable playing off the ball cutting to the rim as a lob threat.

Defensively, Bouknight has all of the tools to be a more than capable defender at the NBA level. He took a leap on that end his sophomore season, impacting the game by using his athleticism to jump into passing lanes and flash at driving opponents using his wingspan and quick hands to strip opposing ball handlers. As is the case with every young guard, there’s room for improvement — especially in on-ball, point of attack situations — but the established floor is already really good for a 20 year old.

An underrated aspect of his game that ticks another box for the Memphis Grizzlies’ draft formula is Bouknight’s instincts on the glass. While Bouknight may be the smallest of the top-5 shooting guards in the 2021 class, he leads the group in rebounding, averaging 6.4 rebounds per game. This ability only increases his value on both ends and the likelihood of him being a draft night target for Memphis in a trade up situation.

If his play from college translates, he has the chance to be a star in this league that is more than serviceable on the defensive end of the floor thanks to his athleticism.

Where He Can Improve

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

There are two things that analytics will point to for James Bouknight to improve as he moves to the next level. One is his shot making from deep — as he only shot 32% from three over the course of two seasons at UCONN — and his playmaking. Bouknight, in a self-aware answer during the NBA Draft combine, acknowledged that his role as the “go-to guy” in college could lead to “ill advised” and “tough” shots but also stated his three-point shooting is “underrated.”

As shown above, James Bouknight put on a shooting display at the NBA Combine Pro Day. This shooting capability may become more of the norm at an NBA level, with the offense less centered around him and his ability to create space.

The college numbers say one thing about his shooting ability but as Elite Media Group’s Reese Holliday points out, his ability to shoot 80% from the free throw line over two college seasons shows the potential to improve into being an efficient three-level scorer on the NBA level.

In college, Bouknight was “the guy,” as all eyes were on him to make plays for offense — which could lead to over dribbling and tunnel vision, a problem a lot of young guards have in similar situations. This is something that can be worked on at the next level. With an improved supporting cast, it is a lot easier to pass out of situations instead of forcing bad shots and turning the ball over.

The Fit

There’s been a lot of discussion about the Grizzlies consolidating at the shooting guard and small forward positions moving into next season. The pipe dream of these scenarios have been Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine. With Bouknight, the Grizzlies could potentially consolidate at a smaller sell than what would be required for the established All-Stars and members of Team USA.

With the addition of Bouknight, there’s a lifted pressure for everyone. Ja Morant has a new lob threat in the starting lineup who isn’t afraid to takeover if he has to. The scoring load for Dillon Brooks lightens, allowing more catch-and-shoot opportunities as the 3rd or 4th option in most lineups. Jaren Jackson Jr. has someone else on the perimeter drawing attention away from him. Bouknight would also add a capable perimeter defender to whoever remains from the trade that would have to happen to get him in Beale Street Blue. Taylor Jenkins would have another two-way asset that can be deployed in a variety of ways in small ball lineups due to Bouknight’s versatility as a defender.

This would be a win for everyone involved.

The Verdict

Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals Photo by Porter Binks

The Grizzlies lucked out twice last year thanks to teams using age as a negative and opting for one and done’s over more experienced players. This will not be the case for the second year guard out of UCONN as his rise up big boards has nearly locked him within the top ten.

The tools he possesses on both ends are too valuable for him to slide far, regardless of him being “older” than the one-and-done prospects in this year’s draft. If the Memphis Grizzlies want to pair Bouknight with Ja Morant, it’s going to cost them something, but the front office moves over the last few years have prepared them for a scenario like this. And if they become the team many think they can become, the picks will lose their value after so long anyway, so strike while the iron is hot and go get a guy that fits the newly established standard here in Memphis and can fill it up as a member of the young core for years to come.

Will it happen though? Only time will tell.

James Bouknight will most likely fall in the 4-8 range on Draft night. The more he falls the more the Grizzlies should entertain trading up to pair him up with a young core fresh off a playoff run.

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