Two Things About Julian Strawther
How are Austin Reaves, Chris Duarte, and Julian Strawther Connected?
The Gonzaga Bulldogs had a lot of preseason hype since Chet Holmgren joined the roster, but it wasn’t Chet or Drew Timme’s return season that I found interesting. It was second year player, Julian Strawther.
Strawther completed his second year at Gonzaga, and I couldn’t help but thing of some developmental linearity in terms of his development and say, Austin Reaves. Remember, that Austin played for two seasons at Wichita State before taking on more offensive load at Oklahoma.
I even made a little Twitter thread about it.
But there was also another thing I noticed when I glimpsed his shooting profile. It has some similarities to another player that was profiled last year, Chris Duarte.
I knew I recognized the FG% at the rim and FG% for 2-point jumpers, but I didn’t realize there would be that much similarity between both players’ shot profiles. I’m not even deterred one bit about the 6% difference in accuracy of Chris Duarte’s 3-point ability vs. Strawther’s, or the FT% difference. The big difference here really, is the percent of assisted 3s. Duarte did quite a bit of self creation from that distance (63.9% of his 3-point shots were assisted), while Strawther was basically a catch-and-shoot wing (98.1% of his 3-point shots were assisted) almost all of the time. Now, keep in mind, that Duarte had a USG rate 23.9%, which is very low considering he was the #1 scoring option for Oregon. Strawther, on the other hand, had a usage rate of 20.6 during his freshman year, and “shared” some of that usage last season with Chet, down to 18.7%.
Reaves had his usage rate jump from 17.3% during his last season at Wichita St., to 27.7 at his last season in Oklahoma.
Now, I prefer to watch the clips and video before having Hoop Math and Synergy verify my eye test, but for people who want to know, this is what it looks like.
A Handful of Major Skill
Now that I’ve compared him to two NBA players, both I have given first-round rankings to, let’s take a closer look at his game.
The first 30 seconds shows five skills I look for out of wings and guards. If there are bigs with these kind of skills to a high degree, they are automatic lottery players.
Strawther, pick and roll - basic read and kick out (misses Timme), three straight lower-difficulty movement 3-point shots, and one pull-up 3-point shot in transition.
Every team would kill for this base level of skillset from their 3rd, 4th, or 5th option players. These kinds of plays and shots add that much more shot variation and aren’t as easily shutdown defensively.
Watching The Eyes
One thing I’ve noticed when it comes to guys showing playmaking talent, is for them, the game slows down and they’re able to act, calmly, and not be rushed into anything.
One snippet glimpse of that is shown at the 1:45 mark:
Most guys see the gap and try to overtake (I had to use one Formula 1 reference here), but Strawther slows himself just a touch to do a pass-fake mid-drive to an open teammate, and then extend for the And-1.
While he may not have the most explosive vertical leap, he is able to hang in the air a bit and withstand contact on a series of finishes at the rim.
Back-to-back clips here:
Floating With Ease
There’s still more room for him to improve shooting. While his shooting profile isn’t on par with Duarte’s 3-point self creation and accuracy, he has unique floater touch, an indicator that accuracy may improve down the line.
Starting at 2:50, these are NBA level distance floaters, followed by a series of off-ball, dunker-spot finishes:
Where The Upside Is
Remember that flash of playmaking I pointed out earlier? Strawther has been the lead ball-handler in a series of pick-and-roll plays. Now, while these aren’t special plays in terms of timing and defensive manipulation, they are repeated examples of his comfort as an initiator, and it shows a solid foundation to improve upon as a primary ball-handler. He’s not an entirely selfish shot creator, and does have some awareness of the open teammate.
Starting at 4:45 to the end:
Where Should Julian Be Drafted?
While this isn’t a complete player profile, it is a fair look at a player that is repeatedly projected in the mid-2nd round to undrafted. Why is he ranked there? I don’t understand personally. Strawther is listed as a 6’7” 210lb. player that played at one of the top basketball universities that repeatedly played against quality competition. If we just looked at his shooting profile, we may think he’s an automatic first round player, in the way that Duarte was. Fortunately, Chris Duarte climbed up his draft.
Julian showed a degree of playmaking with his limited usage, his shooting accuracy, some ability to play off-ball, and some unique and special shooting touch with his floater.
What else would I need to see in order to solidify his status as a 1st rounder? Not much. Drafting him this early means projecting him as a 1st rounder down the line anyway, and we’ve seen enough triple threat skills with the results to back it up. Sure, I’d like to see better manipulation of the defense out of pick-and-roll. I wish he rejected screens more. I wish he used his left hand off the dribble. I wish he changed direction on drives and utilized more patience to draw defensive gravity and give his teammates more open looks. I wish he was more of a defensive playmaker. However, all of these qualities are more advanced skills I expect out of point guards, not so much out of role-playing triple-threat wings.
Simply put, I think he’s a 1st round player playing a 2nd rounder role. His skillset is what it looks like as a tertiary option offensively. Gonzaga is a great team, but imagine if he went to a smaller school where he was the #1 option. Chances are, you’d see him with the usage rate and offensive responsibility that Austin Reaves had at Oklahoma.
Some people get caught in the idea of projection, upside, and what his full upside can be. I don’t necessarily look at that. I look for the foundation of where that projection begins and how he can expand his role and responsibility, but for now, he’s a triple-threat tertiary option.
How is that any different from how Austin Reaves began his rookie year in the NBA? Austin was a straight up 3-and-D player to start the season, not the lead initiator he was at Oklahoma. I would expect a similar role for Strawther, assuming he earned the playing time.
Do I expect him to be NBA ready? No. Then again, I don’t expect NBA readiness out of most of the draft. I didn’t even expect it for Reaves. It’s an unfair expectation when the professional game moves at a much faster pace mentally. Rookies are just trying to catch up to those nuances, let alone the physicality. Fortunately for Reaves and Strawther, they have some of that physicality in 6’5” 200lb.+ frames. They’re not 6’. They’re not 170lbs. Even then, it’s still a tough transition.
The bottom line is, if players like Julian Strawther don’t find ways to climb up draft boards, he’s easily a guy I would look into buying a 2nd round pick for, or, fall out of the draft altogether and then sign him to an Undrafted Free Agent contract.