Quincy Pondexter Proves Staying Four Years Can Pay Off
A consistent scorer on the wing who can finish through contact, Pondexter is well deserving of a first-round draft choice come Thursday night.
In a critical late-season stretch against California and Stanford, he averaged 26 points on 61 percent shooting, showing he had morphed into a brand new type of player, a guy who has used the four-year college system to his utmost advantage. He looked like a senior, like a leader, and for the first time over a two-game period, like he was by far the best player on the floor.
In scoring 21 points in the first half alone against Cal, what jumped out most was how calm he was with the ball. In year's past, Pondexter was always in a race to score. But now, much more mature, he evaluates the defense, reads his defender, and then goes to work. This makes all the difference.
Pondexter is superb on the block posting up, using his 6-7 (now filled out frame) and 7-0 wingspan to abuse smaller defenders, and his quick feet to blow by slower ones. While he often slashes to the cup, Pondexter also makes the correct decision when help comes by pulling up, countering with the other hand, making a spin move, or dishing off to an open teammate.
Defensively, I think he may be the best wing defender on the West Coast, in that he uses his length very well both on the ball, when he harasses the opposition, as well as in the passing lanes, where many of his open-court steals lead to easy baskets. His ability to guard up to three NBA positions boosts his value. It is a rare blend of tools for a 6-7 wing laterally fluid enough to guard twos and threes, yet strong and athletic enough to defend fours. It is perhaps even more relevant than his improved offensive repertoire.
A big knock on Pondexter is his lack of a pure shooting stroke. While he proved capable hitting the college three in rhythm (35.3 percent), he's not yet a guy who can come off screens from 24 feet (say, James Anderson), which is fine.
He hasn't developed the range on his NBA three yet, but given his vast mid-range improvements since his freshman season, teams should see he is willing to put in the work. At this juncture, his scoring prowess (19.3 points) is best served from the 18-foot mark and in, where he mixes his pull-ups with dribble-drive and posting.
Even with his shooting and scoring improvements (more than seven points per game from his junior year), his best selling point to scouts is his improved commitment to rebounding. I'd always wondered why Pondexter, always an excellent leaper, didn't hit the glass harder. No longer is this a question mark. During his senior season, he averaged 7.3 rebounds per game, ranking among the best in the Pac-10. All of this comes despite playing on the wing, and not being in traditional rebounding position. This serves him extremely well at the next level. His high energy play and non-stop motor will supplant the typical doubts teams have about one-year wonders such as Pondexter.
Given his aptitude to defend and create mismatches on the block, Pondexter has become one of the premier small forwards in June's draft. And in a year where quality, ready-to-go wing players aren't plentiful, the 22-year-old Pondexter should be a valued commodity.
As an NBA player, there are two main aspects of his game that he must improve immediately -- the first being his overall handle. In the college half-court set, he was able to jab and use one or two dribbles to get to the rim because his first step was simply that much better than the defender's recovery. This won't always be the case in the league. An improved handle will allow him the opportunity to effectively run pick-and-rolls (a staple of the NBA offensive diet), as well as aid in certain situations when his team goes big and he's forced to assume more of a set-up role in the offense. Versatility always wins out in this league.
Furthermore, in the open floor when he's forced to handle the ball and make decisions in transition, his current skillset isn't there. Right now, Pondexter is a great finisher but not a great decision maker. If he adds the latter to his game as well, he will earn consistent minutes as a pro even as a rookie.
As the three-point line has become more integrated into NBA offenses, it becomes imperative for him to increase his range out to the NBA three either by spotting up, creating, or running off screens. At this stage, his jumpers come from either beating his man off the bounce, or using a slight in-and-out dribble or step-back to create space and rise up. In essence, doing so makes his athleticism that much more dynamic and dangerous. The more defenders respect him as a shooting threat, the more Pondexter is able to drive and make plays, which he's already apt at doing.
All in all, I believe Pondexter will become a very effective NBA starter. Between his natural gifts and tenacious nature, he possesses too many intangibles to keep out of the line-up. Potential All-Star? That's a stretch, but if he lands in a quality organization where he can learn early on how to play at this level, I think he'll have a really nice career. His best-case scenario is to go to an established, veteran team where ultimately, he doesn't have to be a go-to guy, but rather a reliable third or fourth scorer who can guard the opposition's best wing. Think Corey Brewer or James Posey -- a productive starter or first guy off the bench who can guard multiple positions. The kind of guy every successful team needs, and the kind of guy who belongs somewhere in the first round Thursday night.