Trevon Duval entered his freshman season at Duke as the top point guard recruit in the nation. In fact, Duval was the highest-ranked guard in terms of RSCI — ahead of both Collin Sexton and Trae Young. Back in November, he easily projected as a lottery pick for the 2018 NBA Draft.
However, if you pay attention to college hoops, you know that the last few months weren’t too kind for Duval’s draft stock. Turnover woes and inconsistency with his jump shot created issues for the Blue Devils; at times, Duke’s offense dealt with teams simply ignoring Duval in half-court sets. It is coming back to cost Duval, too.
As the premium placed on shooting goes day by day in the NBA, what do we make of Trevon Duval as a pro prospect: a perimeter player with all kinds of challenges shooting the ball?
For the season, Trevon Duval shot just 29 percent on three-pointers: 31-of-107 — 74 percent of which were assisted. According to Synergy Sports, Duval scored just 0.81 points per possession (41.8 eFG%) on spot-ups this season. In terms of efficiency, that ranks No. 799 out of 866 Division I players that recorded at least 100 spot-up possessions this season, per Synergy.
Shooting off the catch was clearly an issue for Duval this season. His mechanics are shaky, at the moment, and the middle of a pressure-packed college hoops season — under the microscope of Tobacco Road — isn’t exactly the ideal laboratory to suss that out. Duval’s gather is slow, and he frequently releases the ball on the way down.
His shooing motion doesn’t appear natural; the ball can look heavy in his hands. Unsurprisingly, the numbers weren’t great. Duval was just 22-of-84 on catch-and-shoot attempts this season, per Synergy: 0.79 points per possession, 26.2 FG% (39.2 eFG%).
According to Synergy, 61 ACC players this season recorded at least 50 catch-and-shoot attempts; Duval and Virginia’s Isaiah Wilkins (36.3 eFG%), a defensive-minded forward, were the only two to post effective shooting rates under 40 percent. Deepening suspicions, Duval shot under 60 from the free throw line — a key metric in projecting how a player’s shooting ability will translate to the next level.
The jump shot wasn’t the only point of concern, though; Duval struggled to take care of the ball at times, too. Duval carries a 23.4 percent turnover rate, which is steep, and ballooned to 28.3 percent against top-50 opponents.
The freshman point guard, according to Sports Reference, was one of 11 Division I players this season to play 1,000 minutes, shoot under 30 percent from beyond the arc and post a turnover rate above 20 percent.
Location, Location, Location
So, it’s clear: Duval has serious stuff to iron out. The question then becomes: Where’s the best place to work on his craft? Duval could return to Duke for his sophomore season; however, Tre Jones, the No. 1 point guard in the 2018 class, is headed to Durham, too.
Even if Duval could be sold on the idea of returning for his sophomore season, and entering the 2019 draft — with the possibility of clocking in at more guaranteed cash — there’s still risk.
Certainly, Duval and Jones could play together at the same time (practices would be spirited as well); Grayson Allen and Duval split lead guard duties for Duke this season. There’s uncertainty, though, in potentially being the team’s second best point guard, and having to spend more time off-ball, which is where Duval slumped as a rookie.
This isn’t an indictment on Duke’s status as a one-and-done power, but this will be a frequent reality for some players: another blue chip is coming next season, and he may be better than you.
Duke’s motion offense may also not be the best fit for Duval, too. On offense, the Blue Devils rarely spread the floor, and run pick-and-roll action. Duke spaces it, but that’s done to get ball and player movement; the Blue Devils want to get ball reversals, and find shooting coming off down screens and handoffs.
In 2017-18, only 8.2 percent of Duke’s possessions were used by pick-and-roll ball handlers, according to Synergy — the third lowest rate in the ACC.
Schematically, that may not be the best fit for Duval — a ball-dominant guard that wants to create opportunities off the dribble. Everyone is different, but a professional operation and training regime could be better suited for Duval. That alone may be reason for TD to jump.
Trevon Duval, Value Pick?
Similar to Harry Giles a year ago, Trevon Duval can offer value to teams drafting later in the first round. While Duval has fallen outside the top 30 picks — the land of guaranteed dollars — in some mocks, that doesn’t mean he isn’t still being considered in NBA circles.
Front office types could view Duval as a project — with some serious talent. Maybe the guy won’t be ready to contribute next season; perhaps he won’t even be ready to in his season season. That’s fine: teams control at least the first four years of their first round draft choices.
If given the time, Duval could develop into a rotation player — or a starter. That would a be serious find for a team drafting later in the first round — undervalued, discounted lottery talent.
At 6-foot-3, with a wiry wingspan, Duval has plenty of upside. He’s a freaky athlete with ability at the rim, although some of the numbers a shaky here, too. After a hot start, Duval shots just 49 percent on non-post-up attempts around the rim, per Synergy (38 percent of his field goal attempts).
Duval aggressively puts that length to use — contesting passing lanes, lingering in transition sequences to hunt steals. His steal rate ranks in the 86th percentile nationally, which is quite good considering the number of minutes he played. (This number could also be influenced by Duke’s zone defense.)
By definition, Duval is a pass-first point guard; his game is predicated on getting open looks for his teammates. While on the floor this season, Duval assisted on over 30 percent of his teammates’ field goals — which ranks in the 98th percentile of Division I.
Gifted with plus-vision, Duval can sense some plays before the action develops; this makes him especially dangerous in transition with hit-ahead passes.
Tournament Performance: Recency Effect
Trevon Duval entered the 2018 NCAA Tournament with something to hopefully prove, which I detailed before games kicked off. You see it every year: a player balls out during the NCAA Tournament, and watches his draft stock soar.
That didn’t quite happen with Duval, but the freshman did play rather well. Over four tournament games, he averaged 13 points (45.5 FG%), 6.3 assists and shot 7-of-18 on three-point attempts (38.9 3P%). According to Synergy, Duval posted an effective shooting rate of 43.2 percent on spot-up in the tournament. In a small sample, that’s a modest improvement over his season average.
For whatever it’s worth, these are the four most recent outings of Duval’s young career; he was especially solid against Iona and Kansas, a game everyone watched. If these types of postseason performances are prioritized — whether you agree with that selection or not — it could also be a boon for Trevon Duval.
Second Round Slip: Why this could also work
One last thing to consider: a second round selection is not the end of the world. Yes, the guaranteed millions of the first round are highly-coveted (no duh); however, players selected in the second round can still lock in some cash, too.
On top of that, there’s another possible benefit: shorter contracts. As opposed to having the first four seasons of your NBA career controlled by one team, second round picks can hit restricted free agency earlier in their professional arcs. Second round picks aren’t subject to the rookie pay scale; they can negotiate their own contracts. (NBA teams must have cap space to sign second round picks, though.)
Deyonta Davis, another former top-30 recruit, went pro after one season at Michigan State (2015-16). Davis fell out of the first round, and was selected with the first pick of the 2016 second round. The 6-foot-11 Davis signed a three-year, $4 million deal with Memphis — which, in terms of annual pay, is almost identical with what he would’ve made as a late first round pick.
After the 2018-19 season, when he will make $1.54 million, Davis can test restricted free agency. With only three years of service, Davis can sign his second professional contract at the age of only 22. (And after playing pretty well for the tank-tastic Grizzles this season — 61.2 FG%, 22% defensive rebound rate — there’s room for optimism here.)
Just last year, another Duke guard, Frank Jackson, was drafted 31st overall, and signed into New Orleans’ cap space with the mid-level exception.
It’s not apples to apples, but former Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet may become another beneficiary of this. A revelation for the first-place Toronto Raptors this season, the undrafted VanVleet hits free agency this summer, after only two NBA seasons.