In the words of general manager Mitch Kupchak, the Charlotte Hornets “scrambled” to trade the 45th pick with a newly acquired prospective second and move on to select Nebraska guard Bryce McGowens 40th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft.
McGowens was 25th in the 2021 RSCI Rankings high school class and spent a year in Nebraska before turning pro. Playing alongside his older brother, Trey, he led the Cornhuskers in scoring 16.8 points per game while shooting 5.2 rebounds, although the team was light on supporting talent and finished 13th in the Big Ten with a 10-22 record (4-16 in conference).
Ahead of his summer league debut tonight, which Jon previewed, we’ll highlight McGowens’ chat to film of the Jan. 29 Rutgers-Nebraska game in which he shot 14-18 from the line and 3-7 deep on the way to 29 points.
Even as a slim, 179-pound rookie in a major conference, McGowens lived on the free-throw line. Frequently using his length and pace-changing speed as a ball handler as well as smooth gathering steps and footwork while navigating traffic in the paint, McGowens ranked 15th in the nation with 162 shots francs (second in the Big Ten). He attempted 7.6 of 40 free throws and converted 83.1% of his 195 total attempts. That’s an impressive level of insight and aggression for a teenager and it’s resulted in plenty of easy looks or bailout free throws following bad offensive possessions.
Acceleration and deceleration are the athletic traits that make McGowens’ game stand out, but he is still quite explosive and is very coordinated as a ball handler and finisher, showing the ability to adapt to competitions at the last moment and to complete layups on and around defenders. Standing 6-foot-7 with a wingspan of nearly 6-foot-9, McGowens has an intriguing set of size, athleticism, rim pressure, and contact finishing to back an NBA scorer.
McGowens uses that stop-and-go speed well when rising above second-tier competitions, but the finishing efficiency wasn’t there in college. He shot 32.6% from two-point jumpers and 27.4% from three-point jumpers, but the silver lining is that his mechanics don’t need to work on the surface. The jumper has a solid base even after the bounce, and he looks balanced and straight on release. There is, however, a kind of disconnect between his jumper and his set pieces like free throws and catch-and-shoot open threes, as he shot a high percentage off the line and the deep threes look pretty clean when he has space.
It’s hard not to believe that a finisher, free throw thrower and shot maker of his caliber won’t become at least a middle spacer in due time. To go with the solid mechanics, the space it creates on mid-range pull-ups is promising.
The team context in which McGowens played at Nebraska was among the worst of consensus first-round prospects in this class, which exacerbated his underwhelming passing ability. He had 43 assists and 65 turnovers in 31 games, although the Cornhuskers had little shooting around him with just two teammates shooting above 36% from downtown this season. To boot, there wasn’t really a real point guard on the roster, and McGowens topped the scouting report every night. The defenses focused on him and he was unable to punish them with scoring or effective play. Summer league could be a great way to let him work with more reps on the ball.
Defense is an issue right now for McGowens, but it’s not often skinny teenagers are consistently good defenders in the Big Ten these days. He has the size, verticality and lateral mobility to become a more positional defender once he adds strength with the potential to drop and trap smaller guards with his long arms.
The engine was a bit inconsistent throughout the year and even in the game we use for the film, but as it started to heat up in the second half, the defensive effort intensified. Some scorers’ defense is heating up with the pace of their offense, and I think McGowens has a bit of that in him right now. It will be interesting to watch his performance as a defender this season given that he is still slim and not generating a ton of steals or blocks. The NBA and G League greats are going to be able to crush him with hard screens early on.
Wanted to save this take for last in case anyone reads any further, but McGowens passed James Bouknight in the Hornets prospect rankings for me. If both were in the 2022 draft class, McGowens would have ranked higher on my big board for several reasons. As prospects, they have many of the same pros and cons – clear NBA athleticism, cutting and finishing potential that are held back by an ineffective jumper despite solid form, below-average play and inconsistent defense. . But McGowens has a noticeable height advantage, and if his frame fills up, he’ll be more versatile than his backcourt mate. It’s hard to believe in either player as a shooter outside of flashes, and however they develop as playmakers, their role in that regard will be diminished when they will be next to LaMelo Ball. Bouknight will be 22 after a disappointing rookie season (though not entirely his fault) on opening night while McGowens will not have turned 20 yet. If he strings together some impressive Summer Championship games, it wouldn’t surprise me to see McGowens quickly exit the two-way deal and earn one of the currently open spots on the roster.
It’s going to be crucial to pair Ball with a guard who can pressure the rim and open pockets in the defense for him to attack with his jumper or his generational passing ability, and McGowens has that in droves, with equal potential. to shoot or defend like Charlotte’s other young guard. If development continues to be a priority, young players get their act together, and the front office can plug holes on the wing in drafts and upcoming offseasons, McGowens is the best candidate for the backcourt of the future.