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

After consensus on the top four players, Thursday’s 2022 NBA draft could go in any direction. If anyone tells you that they know how the rest of the lottery will run, they are lying to you. This year’s row is full of talented young players, but not many clearly separated themselves during the pre-draft process.

With the level of talent for so many potential clients relatively equal outside the top four — Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey — it’s a peak year for defining everyone’s favorite word: sleeper.

And if you’re looking for a potential under-the-radar guy who might make some noise—not necessarily on draft night, but during his rookie year—then maybe you should consider Blake Wesley.

The 6-foot-4 combo goalkeeper averaged 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists as a freshman at Notre Dame, and played most of the season when he was 18. It’s possible that poor filming ratios (40/30/66 splits) prevented him from discussing it as a big lottery pick – most expect to be in their late teens to early twenties – but when you look at his film, pick shots was clearly an issue. It can correct itself and increase efficiency at the NBA level.

One of the common questions you’ll hear about potential clients is, What is their translatable skill? With Wesley it’s very simple. It’s fast. Like, really fast. Like, you hurt yourself, and you try to keep up with it fast.

“You can’t stay in front of him, you can’t teach that… he’s so fast, he’s crazy,” Joe Abu Nassar, founder of Impact Basketball team who has been preparing Wesley for the draft and has coached prospects for 25 years, told CBS Sports. “He exploded with the ball, if you watch some of his breakup in college, he’ll pass the whole team with the ball in his hands – which is very rare for someone to be able to do.”

Sure, if you take a look at the Wesley movie, it’s hard to take your eyes off him, but it’s also hard to keep your eyes on him because of his speed. Watch here as Wesley starts from the opposite baseline, then gets past every NC State defender and hits them over the edge for an easy throw:

It’s a blur with the ball, too, as Abu Nassar testified. Wesley used his 6-9 wingspan to capture 1.2 steals per game at Notre Dame, and once he’s out on the open floor, good luck trying to contain him. If you test it, you could end up with a basketball imprint on your forehead:

That speed also translates to the half-court, where Wesley was instrumental in hitting the basket — and to the free-throw line for more than four attempts per game — thanks to his explosion. Watch here as Wesley gets the Alabama defender leaning toward the screen, then hits him with a quick crosshair and gets straight to the edge in the blink of an eye:

Wesley didn’t finish high around the basket at Notre Dame, which Abu Nassar brings to an 18-year-old to figure out how to play against 22-year-olds at the edge, this was a focus during his training. This is also something that can be addressed by getting into the right NBA development program. For example, as a rookie, Golden State Warriors guard Jordan Poole was 17 percent in shots around the basket, according to Synergy Sports. Last season, he improved to 65 percent after having had an impressive array of finishing techniques over the past two years.

In addition to his final figures, Wesley’s payback pedigree at Notre Dame left much to be desired. You can attribute 40 percent of field goals and 30 percent of 3-pointers to suspect shot selection, but a 66 percent free-throw shot is a red flag in a class with a track record of successfully predicting three-point prowess. Abunassar said he and his team made some minor tweaks to Wesley’s form – making his release quicker and tighter by eliminating the swinging motion as he brought the ball up for a shot – but most of all he was getting more reps.

“We fired a lot,” Wesley told Yahoo Sports in May of his training with Abu Nassar. “So as in the morning, I’d probably shoot like, no lying, like 800 and 900 rounds a day.”

Wesley was a solid 3-point shooter at Notre Dame, at the 47th percentile with 0.965 points per possession, which bodes well for his ability to play on the ball. Minor tweaks to his shape and the spacing of the NBA floor — taking a lot of contested 3s in college — could easily increase efficiency from the depth. Abu Nassar said Wesley hit the ball “very well” in training.

Adding to Wesley’s intrigue is his ability to eventually become a key guard in the NBA. It may not happen right away, but putting the ball in Wesley’s hand in the middle of the field produced strong results during his year at Notre Dame. Wesley finished 73rd in spins including passes, according to Synergy, and while he didn’t execute the most exciting passes, he was instrumental in identifying and doing simple play. Moreover, he showed flashes of the passing type and playmaking that characterize the best lead guards in the NBA.

This is a perfect model. Wesley draws the defense, who has an uncanny talent, and then finds the right exit to get his teammate with three pointers. The pass wasn’t right on goal, but that’s the kind of execution he’ll be working on once he makes it to the league. However, the fact that he has a vision of getting to know his shooter through traffic in the first place, is a promising sign:

“It’s tall and explosive,” Abu Nassar told CBS Sports. “It’s everything the NBA captain does today.” “He can pass, he can score. You can’t stay in front of the kid. He plays hard. He plays very good defense… I think he translates well.”

Speaking on the defense, Abu Nassar said he’s received incredible feedback from NBA teams about Wesley’s ability to protect his periphery players. It’s not always easy to see in a college game due to the tight spacing and different types of zones, but Wesley showed that the tools and engine are a brilliant one-on-one defender.

Take a look at his lateral speed here to cut the drive, then his recovery to prevent the 3-point attempt without fouling. These are the basic defensive skills of an NBA goalkeeper:

“We received comments from some training saying that he is the best defender on the ball they have had in years,” Abu Nassar told CBS Sports. Only he can defend.

No one is saying Wesley will be an All-Star next season. His skill set is clearly present in many aspects of the game – moving, ball handling, scoring and defending – but he needs time and nutrition to develop. That’s why it’s important to remember that rising to a higher level in the draft isn’t always best for the player. Finding the right position and fit is crucial, especially with young players like Wesley.

But the fact that Wesley was one of the 22 players invited to the green hall for Thursday night’s draft seems like a good sign that he will be at least in the first round. Where he starts from is up to him and which team he ends up crafting.

“Anything can happen in the draft. Unless you’re one of the top three or four players, you can move around a bit,” Abu Nassar told CBS Sports. With a young player like [Wesley]What we’ve learned is that it’s about putting him in a good position to grow and develop against the number he picked.”

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