Over the last week, the US stock market has been a news item of sorts. In this space, however, we’re talking about different stocks: steals and blocks (aka stocks). There’s a real good collection of defensive talent in the ACC this season, including several freshman that should feature into the ACC Defensive Player of the Year conversation.
Reece Beekman, Virginia
It took no time for Reece Beekman to announce his presence as one of the better perimeter defenders in the ACC, regardless of class. Beekman is a menace at the point of attack defensively. While on the skinny side (174 pounds), Beekman is rangy and he has quick hands to pair with good balance in his hips. He’s exceptional guarding ball screens; Beekman consistently navigates those waters by gliding over the screen or chasing in rearview pursuit.
If your handle is loose, Beekman will straight up just take the basketball from you. Beekman averages 2.2 steals per 40 minutes — a steal rate of 3.6 percent.
The 6-foot-3 guard is currently one of only 13 Division I players with a 3.5 percent steal rate and a defensive box plus-minus of at least 4.0. Jalen Suggs, Kadary Richmond (more on him in a minute), Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and Chris Duarte also qualify for that list, among others.
Beekman’s defensive instincts and feel are so, so good. He’s an excellent team defender, too. At times, he seems to apparate out of nowhere — intercepting passes that seemed safe a half-second prior.
Most recently, Beekman was given the unenviable task of chasing around go-go movement shooter Jalen Cone during Virginia’s matchup with Virginia Tech. It’s no surprise he drew the assignment; Beekman is a good chase defender. Given Cone’s non-stop motor and the whirring nature of VT’s offense, this meant a night of chasing Cone around an endless loop of screens.
Cone splashed two 3-pointers with Beekman as his primary cover; however, one of those came following a monster screen set by Justyn Mutts. Beekman, for the most part, held steady.
Kadary Richmond, Syracuse
Say hello to Kadary Richmond, advanced metrics darling and (sleeper) draft prospect. The man they call “Kooks” has the benefit of playing in Syracuse’s wonky 2-3 zone, which can be a boost for blocks and steals. (Manipulating the stocks market!) However, the 6-foot-5 point guard has undeniably good defensive instincts and tools. Richmond, who can utilizes his 6-foot-9 wingspan, is an event-creator on defense.
For the season now, Richmond averages 3.3 steals and 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes. Currently, Richmond is one of three players in the country with 4.0 percent block rate and 4.0 percent steal rate. If Richmond is able to keep those numbers where they are — 4.1 percent block, 4.6 percent steal — he’ll join Jeff Allen (VT 2008) and Chris Singleton (FSU 2010) as the only two ACC players since the 2007-08 season to finish with 4.0 percent block rate and 4.0 percent steal rate.
According to Bart Torvik’s site, Richmond leads the ACC in defensive box plus-minus, too: 5.1. Going back to the 07-08 season, only four ACC freshmen have produced seasons with a defensive BPM above 5.0. That short list includes Zion Williamson and Manny Bates.
Syracuse is +76 in 312 minutes of court time for Richmond this season; during those minutes, Syracuse has outscored opponents by more than 14 points per 100 possessions, according to Pivot Analysis.
Working in the zone may slightly inflate Richmond’s stocks numbers, but he’s still an excellent defensive prospect, and that’s before you even get to his offense. As a passer, Richmond has done some really cool things this season. His combination of height and vision is rather appealing.
During the recent win over NC State, though, Richmond lit things up as an isolation scorer in the middle of the floor, too.
Shakeel Moore, NC State
Back in January, I wrote about Shakeel Moore’s defensive acumen. With that in mind, I won’t spend too much time rehashing here, but Moore continues to impress on the defensive side of the floor. At 6-foot-1 (with long arms), Moore has the ability to be an elite point of attack defender; he’s an incredible athlete, especially as a smaller guard.
When Moore sits in a stance, it can be an arduous task to drive against the stocky, pesky freshman from Greensboro. Even with the (theoretical) help of a ball screen, Moore can be impossible to ditch at times.
Bit of advice for opposing ball handlers: If Moore has you in his clutches, it’s probably wise to just pass it to a teammate before he takes the ball away from you — 3.4 steals per 40 minutes.
Even then, with Moore’s defensive processing skills and athleticism, he may still find his way to the basketball and another steal.
According to KenPom, Moore ranks 13th nationally with a 4.8 percent steal rate.
Earl Timberlake, Miami
Drawing a comparison between the physical tools of Zion Williamson and any other athlete seems like a hapless use of one’s time; Zion is a unique talent (no duh) and a complete outlier of an athlete. However, the ways in which Earl Timberlake moves around the court have weird Mini-Zion-like qualities.
A chiseled 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward, Timberlake is plenty imposing in his own way. His talents have flown a little under the radar this season; unfortunately, Timberlake has played in only seven games due to injuries.
When he’s been able to be on the floor, though, Timberlake has flashed real defensive versatility. Timberlake can check a variety of position types, including pick-and-roll guards like Devon Daniels. Timberlake can get in a stance, move laterally and disrupt with quick/strong hand movements.
Moving from a guard like Daniels to a frontcourt playmaker à la Aamir Simms isn’t an easy task; it requires a lot from an assignment perspective (guarding both sides of pick-and-roll, for instance) and as an individual defender. Timberlake, however, has flashed fluency in these concepts.
Plus, he can counter size mismatches with a strong base and, once again, quick hands.
Away from the basketball, Timberlake can be explosive, too. The stocks numbers certainly support that notion: 3.6 percent steal rate and 2.4 percent block rate.
But Timberlake has also shown the ability to get skinny going around screens while working as an off-ball chase defender vs. smaller wing shooters.
Scottie Barnes, Florida State
Scottie Barnes is the second best draft prospect in the ACC — behind only Duke’s Jalen Johnson. There are various offensive limitations for Barnes; his jumper needs works, and Barnes is a little miscast as a lead ball handler. Barnes is an excellent passer, but he’s really a playmaking power forward/hybrid forward as opposed to a true half-court pick-and-roll engine.
Barnes hasn’t been perfect on the defensive side of the ball, either. He doesn’t always get in a stance and slide when in one-on-one situations, which leaves him vulnerable for change-of-direction counter moves. This tendency leads to the occasional driving lane against Florida State’s pressure-packed defense.
This is just way too easy for Florida’s Tre Mann.
To be fair, though, Barnes is asked to do a lot for FSU this season, on both ends of the floor. Barnes is one of Florida State’s primary sources of offensive creation, along with MJ Walker and RaiQuan Gray. Defensively, he’s asked to pressure smaller, twitchy guards at the point of attack, while also switching on every screen and guarding 1-5.
Florida State’s 1-5 switch scheme has allowed Barnes — with his incredible size — to unlock more defensive versatility. There simply aren’t too many college players/prospects that can competently start a possession on the basketball, switch to an old school power forward type like Trayce Jackson-Davis, roam around defensively, then completely blowup a post entry pass.
When Barnes locks in on the basketball, he can be a real problem — one with long arms and well-timed, eager pokes at the basketball.
Barnes has a steal rate of 3.2 percent for the season, which is on the cusp of the top 150 nationally, according to KenPom. In conference play, Barnes has blocked shots at a slightly accelerated pace, too: 2.3 percent block rate.
Some college ball-handlers just aren’t ready to handle a defender this long, especially one that’s been given the green light to attack and go for steals. That even applies to elite point guards like Carlik Jones of Louisville.
Where Barnes can really excel, though, is as a help defender. Barnes sees the floor — not only as an offensive playmaker, but also in team defense. Occasionally, Barnes will sniff a play out before it even happens, and he has the athletic gifts to capitalize.
This may seem like a small, intangible item, too, but it speaks to Barnes and the amazing culture of FSU basketball: Barnes plays with such great spirit. He comes off the bench now for Leonard Hamilton, but he hasn’t let that impact his play. Barnes projects as a lottery pick; his time in Tallahassee will come to a close in a few weeks, but he continues to be team-first in his activity on the floor.
Day’Ron Shape, North Carolina
There’s some debate over how to evaluate Day’Ron Sharpe as a prospect. There’s no question that he’s talented; Sharpe will eventually collect an NBA paycheck for a long time. He’s built like a brick house and plays with a great motor, though he probably needs to improve his conditioning.
Ultimately, though, teams deciding on Sharpe will need to come to some conclusion: Is he a rotation piece or is there something more here? The determining factor for this may come down to how Sharpe is analyzed as a shooter, which we’ve seen very little of at UNC. (The 54.8 FT% isn’t an encouraging indicator, either.)
Shooting may be the swing skill for Sharpe, as it is for plenty of other players; however, if you believe in Sharpe as a prospect, it largely has to do with his defensive event creation and big-man playmaking skills on offense.
He plays with a sharp mind on both ends of the floor; Sharpe’s decision-making is so fluid at times that it’s a little jarring. Sharpe is 6-foot-11, 265 pounds and he can do stuff like this vs. Pitt’s flex action: step out on Justin Champagnie, open up on the cross screen to help against a potential curl and break on the post entry lob pass to Au’Diese Toney.
For the season, Sharpe has a 4.3 percent block rate, 2.6 percent steal rate and a 24.7 percent defensive rebound rate. Sharpe joins Champagnie, Jalen Johnson and Franz Wagner, among others, as high-major conference players with 20 percent defensive rebound rate, 4.0 percent block rate and 2.0 percent steal rate.
There are other possessions, though, when Sharpe gambles too hard and leaves UNC’s defense exposed on the back side.
(If Sharpe is a little lighter on his feet, perhaps he gets to this pass vs. NC Central, but this was a really risky play that led to a layup for the Eagles.)
In terms of pick-and-roll defense, Sharpe is mostly used as a drop defender at UNC, which is likely his role on the next level, though he has some matchup-dependent switch-ability as well.
On some possessions, Sharpe looks really good coming close to the level of the screen. When he gets into a stance, Sharpe can be a pretty intimidating presence — moving laterally at such great size.
Sharpe’s ability disrupt offenses, while offering some rim protection, is valuable. But it’s the consistency with how he defends ball screens that matters most.
Again, on some possessions, Sharpe makes this look easy: defends in a stance, slides for a dribble or two and quickly recovers, while staying alert as a help defender.
However, Sharpe makes mistakes, too, which is to be expected. It’s not easy to come in and be an ace drop pick-and-roll defender right off the jump. Sometimes it’s simple stuff — Day’Ron not coming up enough against a ball screen vs. a pull-up shooter, which Braxton Beverly burned him on during the first NC State game.
On other possessions, his lumbering positioning is a little off, which hinders North Carolina’s ball screen coverages.
Watch this possession vs. Chin pick-and-roll from NC Central: Sharpe does a nice job sinking into the paint on the initial back screen, taking away the first read; he spots the action and adjusts. After the back screen, though, the NCCU big sprints to set a ball screen, which he slips out off. CJ Keyser drives right against Leaky Black, and Sharpe is in No Man’s Land: stuck between helping with the driver or recovering to his initial assignment. Keyser gets to his spot and splashes a pull-up 2-pointer.
As a switch defender, Sharpe is just so big and powerful; if he takes good initial positioning and works hard to slide laterally, there’s no getting around him on the initial handle. College guards can’t overpower this dude.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s ready to consistently defend in space against twitchier guards with some craft, like Pitt’s Xavier Johnson.
According to Pivot Analysis, UNC is +60 in 343 minutes with Sharpe on the floor this season. The Tar Heels have a defensive rating of 101.2 points per 100 possessions in those minutes.
Henry Coleman, Duke
Henry Coleman has played a total of 22 minutes this season in Duke’s crowded frontcourt, but I refuse to give up my stock in Coleman, as a player. (I won’t sell, damnit!)
In very limited bursts this season, Coleman has looked like a strong team defender. With Johnson in foul trouble during the first half of the Georgia Tech win, Coleman was inserted into the lineup. He immediately started bellying up against Moses Wright in the high post and moving his feet in pick-and-roll defense. There’s a player here; we’re just going to have to wait a little bit longer.