Take a broad look at Devin Vassell’s game and you’re staring at a traditional 3-and-D wing, one who fits the the high-floor, low-ceiling mold. Take a more in-depth look at the Florida State forward and you have someone who can have a significantly positive impact on both ends of the court, making him a top-10 prospect on my board.
As a sophomore, Vassell was one of the country’s best wings, ranking 16th nationwide in BPM (9.7) and helping lead the Seminoles to a 26-5 record and ACC regular-season crown. He averaged 12.7 points on 58.5 percent true shooting (.490/.415/.738 split), 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals, and a block per game. His most alluring broad skill is his team defense, which consistently popped on film and is underscored by his stock production.
Vassell constantly coordinates switches, quarterbacks defensive movements and identifies offensive actions. Operating with his head on a swivel, he can deny his man the ball while still readying himself for help responsibilities. By denying off the ball, he extends the offense farther from the basket and slows possessions from opponents, eliminating their margin for error and ability to soundly run their primary action.
Playing around the nail (elbow extend from the free-throw line), Vassell relies on high-level instincts, his ability to diagnose plays, and strong, swift hands to excel at stunting against drives, sparking steals, deflections, or loose balls. Deterrence is a valuable skill for defenders — the act of preventing the offense from reaching its preferred spots — and he is particularly adept at that. He’ll shut down penetration, envelop primary initiators off the ball, and generally forces teams to resort to plan B.
There has been no official ruling on his wingspan (roughly 6’10) but Vassell’s length is impressively functional. He cuts off passing outlets, frequents the passing lanes, provides secondary rim protection thanks to his springy two-foot leaping, and wreaks havoc in a way most draft prospects do not. His penchant for creating distinct plays gives him NBA-ready skills as an impactful disruptor on both the perimeter and interior.
While his 6’7, 195-pound frame means he’s hardly the strongest prospect in this draft, Vassell leverages a low center of gravity to dislodge big men from the post. His feisty hands and length often prohibit entry passes from being executed on switches. This is a skill with nuanced utility, but it’s another example of him maximizing his IQ and physical tools to stamp his mark on the game.
6-foot-7, 195-pound Devin Vassell denying 6-foot-10, 270-pound Vernon Carey post position pic.twitter.com/diwigBESS6
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) February 11, 2020
As an on-ball defender, his lack of strength and lateral burst breed for inconsistent results. Instead of sliding in a stance, he tends to cross his feet and remain upright when moving laterally, leaving him susceptible to being burned by shifty guards and drivers. Other times, his length flusters ball-handlers or enables him to alter shots from an array of zones on the floor.
But off-ball defense is more valuable than on-ball defense because it allows you to affect collective plays rather than individual players. This is where Vassell shines. So, while I don’t project him to be anything more than an average on-ball stopper, I deem his other defensive strengths far more important. He’ll regularly influence plays at the rim, throwing a wrench into offensive sets and inducing turnovers on the exterior.
Assuming a more diverse offensive role in his second year, Vassell’s three-point rate declined from .521 to .361. I’m confident he can return to the former clip in the NBA with less creation responsibilities, but it’s necessary to note he only attempted 119 field goals as a freshman, so emerging as a high-volume shooter will require some growth and adjustment. Working against Vassell is his career 72 percent mark at the free throw line, suggesting he may not be a legitimate 42 percent long-range as he was at Florida State. If he hovers closer to 37 or 38 percent and is unable to rediscover a three-point rate above .500 — opting for lower-value propositions instead — some of his offensive upside is diminished, because defenses won’t concern themselves as prominently with his outside shooting threat.
Regardless, Vassell projects as a versatile shooter after converting 41.7 percent of his triples in two collegiate seasons. As an ancillary player, his intelligence proves resourceful. He’s sharp to relocate off the ball, both as a cutter and as someone who properly fills the lanes on the break, which opens passing windows. While it didn’t occur in spades, he flashed off-movement shooting, further expanding his scoring potential. As a floor-spacer who’s comfortable shooting against closeouts or tight contests, Vassell recognizes when to move into open spots to make passes easier and can fire away on the move or potentially off screens.
But what really drives Vassell’s allure as a scorer is his off-the-dribble shooting (68th percentile, 81 attempts this season). He’s able to fire away over the top of defenders and flashes tough shot-making prowess with thanks to his high release point. He shot 42.6 percent (49-for-115) on two-point jumpers this year — a relatively strong mark — and only 22.4 percent of those were assisted.
Whether it’s running a pick-and-roll and drilling a jumper in space, attacking closeouts and converting off the bounce, or generating separation for open looks, Vassell sports aptitude as a pull-up shooter, which appears translatable to the next level.
The important observation to recognize here is Vassell’s release point, helping alleviate some of the creation roadblocks stemming from his subpar burst. Defenders struggle to alter or deter his jumper because of the release point and it gives him on-ball equity. Jayson Tatum also boasts a similarly high release point off the bounce and it’s why he was one of the NBA’s best pull-up three-point bombers this season. That distinction, compared to other players with similar handle, strength and burst problems to Vassell, is necessary and helps set him apart. Even more, Vassell enjoys adept balance and body control as a shooter. He can knock down shots from funky angles or release points because he’s generally aligned from head to toe, punctuated by precise footwork.
As a result of these various components, Vassell owns some malleable shot diversity. You can deploy him off pindowns, floppy actions, flare screens, the occasional pick-and-roll, or merely station him on the wing, giving him the chance to drill catch-and-shoot threes or capitalize upon irresponsible closeouts. His balance, footwork, and release point ensure he’ll deliver a healthy return on investment.
Vassell’s lack of burst is troubling as it pertains to his dribble-drive forays and ability to get to the free throw line. Only 16.5 percent of his shots in the half-court occurred at the rim and he finished in the 48th percentile in efficiency (21-for-38, 55.2 percent). He yielded a free-throw rate of .221 this year and registered 65 total foul shots. There’s certainly some ball-handling potential, but an inefficacy to apply pressure at the basket or populate the charity stripe caps his self-creation ceiling.
Another reason for optimism regarding Vassell’s on-ball faculty is the playmaking he’s flashed at times this season. He must improve his ability to hit the roll man consistently and isn’t a particularly dynamic facilitator, but he’s not necessarily plagued by tunnel vision.
Draw up pick-and-rolls for him and his blend of passing foundation and live-dribble shooting will manifest; his pull-up gravity also simplifies reads at times, particularly in pick-and-pops, and he’s has shown he can feed the big in those situations. A 19-year-old prospect whose primary attractions reside as a shooter and defender executing passes like these is merely an added bonus and emphasizes his offensive possibilities.
There were few prospects more enjoyable to watch this season than Vassell. His wide-ranging talents as a team defender who understands how to pester opponents in various off-ball duties and ignite turnovers are a bankable skill in the Association. He’s going to prompt people to hesitate when driving toward whichever wing he’s inhabiting. He’s going to alter shots around the basket as a helper. He’s going to instruct teammates how to make necessary rotations, identify certain sets the offense is running and sniff them out. He’ll deny his man the ball and remain prepared to fulfill help tasks. All of these traits fall under one overarching umbrella: limiting the number of opportunities players have to score at the rim, the most efficient shots in basketball.
Offensively, he looks poised to assume both an on- and off-ball scoring role, founded upon his high release point, balance, and wherewithal to fill open spaces on the court. He can handle pick-and-rolls from time to time, run off screens, and blend in as a natural floor-spacer who knows how to ease the burden on his primary initiators. Simply put, a player who can be molded to meet the needs of whichever team selects him, blossoms in highly resourceful areas, and does not infringe upon the core pieces already in place while also presenting some on-ball upside is someone who should be drafted in the top-10.