NBA Draft 2022: Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley could be biggest sleeper of the class with elite speed, potential

Thursday’s 2022 NBA draft could really go either way, according to the consensus of the top four players. If someone tells you they know how the rest of the lottery is going to play out, they are lying to you. This year’s class is packed with talented young players, but not many clearly separated during the pre-draft process.

With the talent levels of so many prospects outside the top four — Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey — being relatively even, it’s a prime year to identify everyone’s favorite word: sleeper.

And if you’re looking for an under-the-radar prospect who could make some noise – not necessarily on draft night, but during his rookie year – you might want to consider Blake Wesley.

The 6-foot-4 combo guard averaged 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists as a freshman at Notre Dame and played most of the season as an 18-year-old. His poor shooting ratings (40/30/66 splits) probably kept him from being discussed as a top lottery pick – most assume he was in his late teens to early 20s – but if you watch his film, see shot selection was clearly a problem that could fix itself and increase efficiency at the NBA level.

A common question you’ll hear about potential clients is: what are their translatable skills? With Wesley, it’s easy. He is fast. Like, really fast. Like hurting yourself by trying to keep up with him quickly.

“You can’t stay in front of him, and you can’t teach that … He’s so fast, it’s crazy,” Impact Basketball founder Joe Abunassar, who drafted Wesley and coached prospects for 25 years, told CBS Sports. “He’s got a lot of touch on the ball, if you look at some of his breakaways in college he passes the whole team with the ball in his hands – which is pretty rare for anyone to be able to do that.”

Sure enough, when watching Wesley’s film, it’s hard to take your eyes off him, but also hard to keep your eye on because of his speed. Watch here as Wesley starts at the opposite baseline, then blasts past each NC State defender and slams them to the rim for an easy layup:

He’s also on the ball, as Abunasar testified. Wesley used his 6-9 span to rack up 1.2 steals per game at Notre Dame, and once he’s on the open floor, good luck trying to contain him. If you test it, all you might get is a basketball imprint on your forehead:

That speed carries over to halfcourt, where Wesley’s burst effectively got to the basket — and to the free-throw line for over four attempts per game. Watch here as Wesley gets the Alabama defender to lean towards the screen, then hits him with a quick crossover, getting right to the edge in the blink of an eye:

Wesley didn’t finish the basket at Notre Dame at a high rate, which Abunassar credits to an 18-year-old figuring out how to play on the fringes against 22-year-olds, and that was a focus during his training. That’s also something that can be fixed by getting into the right NBA development program. For example, Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole was in the 17th percentile for shots around the basket as a freshman, according to Synergy Sports. He improved to the 65th percentile last season after picking up a dazzling array of finishing techniques over the past few years.

In addition to his placement numbers, Wesley’s shooting rates at Notre Dame left a lot to be desired. You can attribute the 40 percent field goals and 30 percent 3-pointers to suspect shot selection, but the 66 percent free-throw shooting is a red flag in a category that has a track record of successfully predicting 3-pointers. Abunassar said he and his team made some minor changes to Wesley’s form – made his release quicker and more compact by eliminating a swinging motion as he got the ball shooting – but most importantly, he got more reps.

“We do a lot of shots,” Wesley told Yahoo Sports in May of his training with Abunasar. “So like in the morning I probably shoot like that, no lie, like 800 and 900 shots a day.”

Wesley was a solid catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter at Notre Dame in the 47th percentile with .965 points per possession, which bodes well for his ability to pass the ball. The slight adjustments to his shape and distance from NBA soil – he took a lot of contested 3s in college – could easily result in an increase in efficiency from deep. Abunassar said Wesley shot the ball “very well” in practice.

Adding to Wesley’s intrigue is his potential to eventually become a lead guard in the NBA. It might not happen right away, but putting the ball in Wesley’s hands yielded strong results during his year at Notre Dame. Wesley ranked in the 73rd percentile for pick-and-rolls including passes, according to Synergy, and while he didn’t make the most spectacular passes, he was effective at spotting and executing simple play. In addition, he showed flashes of the kind of passing and playmaking that distinguish the best lead guards in the NBA.

This is a perfect example. Wesley pulls the defense, which he has an uncanny knack for, then realizes the right valve to give his teammate a 3-pointer. The pass wasn’t spot on but that’s the kind of execution he’ll be working on once he gets into the league. However, the fact that he has the foresight to even recognize his shooter in traffic is a promising sign:

“It’s long and explosive. He’s everything an NBA lead guard is today,” Abunassar told CBS Sports. “He can pass, he can score. You can’t stay in front of the kid. He’s playing hard. He’s playing very good defence. … I think he translates very well.”

Speaking of defense, Abunassar said he’s had incredible feedback from NBA teams about Wesley’s ability to protect perimeter players. It’s not always easy to spot in the collegiate game due to the closer spacing and different types of zones, but Wesley has shown the tools and engine to be a brilliant one-on-one defender.

Check out his lateral quickness here to cut drive and then his recovery to block the 3-point effort with no fouling. These are essential defensive skills for an NBA guard:

“We’ve had comments from some training sessions that say he’s the best defender on the ball in years,” Abunassar told CBS Sports. “He can really defend himself.”

No one says Wesley will be an All-Star next season. His skills are present in many facets of the game – switching, handling, scoring, defending – but he needs time and nurturing to develop. Therefore, it’s important to remember that going up in the draft isn’t always what’s best for the player. Finding the right situation and fit is crucial, especially with a young player like Wesley.

But the fact that Wesley was one of 22 players invited to the Green Room for Thursday night’s draft seems to bode well that he will at least make the first round. It is up to him where to go next and which team will draw him in at the end.

“Anything can happen in design. If you’re not in the top three or four, you can move quite a bit,” Abunassar told CBS Sports. “With a young player like [Wesley]what we’ve learned is that it’s really more about putting him in a good situation to grow and develop than the number he picked.

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