When most NBA mocks and draft analysis went up after the season ended on April 14, not many people had Luke Babbitt as a potential lottery selection. And if you did, you’re either an incredibly informed basketball mind or a liar—no in between.
But Babbitt’s name has been steadily climbing up big boards in the last two months, and some sites have him projected as a top-10 pick. Amazing stuff for a guy who you probably have never heard of until reading his name in bios and profiles.
His overall skill set, silky-smooth jumper, and surprisingly efficient rebounding numbers have piqued the interest of several teams who are looking for an explosive player at the forward spot, either to provide a spark off the bench or add a new dynamic to an offense.
He’s one of the more polarizing figures in the draft, as several GMs love him, and others question his impact. As is often the case in the NBA Draft, the right team at the right spot could make him a significant contributor, while the wrong team could turn him into the next Adam Morrison or Brian Scalabrine.
NBA Position: SF
Weight: 220 lbs.
Babbitt is a prolific scorer and one of the best that Nevada has ever seen. He scored in double-figures every game in his sophomore year, and only put up single-digit scoring games three times in 68 college games. I don’t care who or where you’re playing—if you put up numbers like that, your abilities as a shooter and scorer shouldn’t be questioned.
He can put the ball through the hoop in so many different ways. Many of his touches came in isolation situations, where he can face up and attack off the dribble, use a series of ball and head fakes to create space for his jumper, or settle down in the low post and use a quick-spin, fade-away jumper.
He shot over 40 percent from the three-point line both years at Nevada, but didn’t rely on that shot as much as many other forwards in this class. He’s good at drawing fouls, getting to the line nearly 6.5 times a game last year and connected on over 90 percent of his free throws.
His quick shooting motion and high release makes him very difficult to defend.
Defensively, he busts his rear on every possession, which is all you can ask despite his obvious lack of athletic ability. He’s a very fundamentally sound player that plays with high energy, understands the subtleties of the game, and always plays within himself…something that is rare among younger players in today’s game.
Also, don’t underestimate the fact that he grabbed 7.4 rebounds a game as a freshman and 8.9 as a sophomore. It’s a testament to his relentless activity, especially on the defensive glass, where he boxes out well and puts himself in good position to clean up the boards.
There are many, many questions about Babbitt and whether or not his college success can translate to the NBA.
First, you’ll notice that almost all of his strengths had to do with offense. While he does rotate well in help defense and close out strong to the perimeter, he just doesn’t have the foot-speed or quickness to consistently keep up with opposing players. The small forward position is loaded with talent on the offensive end in the NBA, and he just doesn’t have the ability to keep up.
Even though he’s 6’9”, he doesn’t have the strength to play down at power forward. Putting him in the post would be near suicidal, especially on defense.
Offensively, while he dominated in college, a lot of people speculate whether the lack of competition and talent around him aided him in putting up high numbers. In the NBA, almost every player on the floor will match him in terms of his athleticism and skill set, which begs the question; can he still get the same shots he got at Nevada?
Will he be able to transition from more of an isolation player to a spot-up shooter?
Can he be effective with the ball out of his hands a majority of the time?
Can he improve his handle enough to separate himself from defenders who are sure to play up in his chest when he first enters the league?
The questions surrounding Babbitt seemingly grow by the day, even as he shoots up the draft charts. But it’s not unreasonable to think he can’t make the necessary adjustments.
NBA Comparison: Mike Dunleavy
Draft Projection: Late-lottery to mid-first round