No sooner did the Miami Heat sign on undrafted point guard Myck Kabongo for the Summer League did interest in the former Texas Longhorns starter spike up tremendously. Hot Hot Hoops was there to get a firsthand look at him at Heat practice last Saturday at the AA Arena, the day before the team left for the Orlando Pro Summer League currently underway. After the first two games, Kabongo has been up-and-down with his play and did not start yesterday in their 93-86 win against the Brooklyn Nets.
But to get a much better understanding of this player, Hot Hot Hoops asked Jeff Haley from SB Nation's Burnt Orange Nation for his thoughts on Kabongo. We've also included an excerpt from Amar Smith's extensive pre-draft scouting report from his SBN Utah Jazz blog SLC Dunk.
But first, here's Haley's report on Kabongo...
A little background on Kabongo, first, and then I will delve into his game. He was born in the Congo, and as a young child moved with his family to Toronto. He grew up there, and by the time he had reached high school was a basketball star. He ended up finishing his high school career at Findlay Prep.
Texas had been recruiting him for a number of years, so by the time he arrived in Austin, there were pretty high expectations. He had a decent enough freshman season, but he did not set the world on fire. I suspect if he would have declared after his freshmen year, he would have been drafted.
His second year got off to a rough start. Kabongo accepted a plane ticket from Tristan Thompson to visit him in Cleveland. He may or may not have talked with an agent at that time, but nothing related to that was ever confirmed. Thompson and Kabongo are childhood friends, growing up playing AAU ball together in Toronto. They also played together at the same prep school in New Jersey for a time.
Kabongo lied to the Texas compliance department about who payed for the ticket. He later he admitted that he had lied, and when NCAA investigators questioned him, he told them the truth.
As a result of this, he had to pay $475 to charity (the value of the ticket) and was suspended for 23 games. So he only played in 11 games his sophomore season.
When he came back, he clearly had improved, but Texas was just awful, so he could only help so much. He did little to help his draft position.
My theory for why he fell out of the draft is because this was actually a fairly deep class for point guards. By my count, there were only 6 PGs selected in the 2012 draft, while this year there were 14 guys who played the point in college who were drafted. Note also that several of the other most prominent underclassmen who went undrafted (B.J. Young, Phil Pressey, Vander Blue) were point guards.
Now onto Myck Kabongo's game. Kabongo has one truly outstanding skill. He can beat his man off the dribble. Using play-by-play stats, as a freshman Kabongo attempted 37 percent of his shots at the rim, and as a sophomore 53 percent of his shot attempts came at the basket. (At the rim/basket means they were logged in the play-by-play files as layups or dunks. These stats come from hoop-math.com, which is my site.) Roughly one out of every three shot attempt in college is at the rim, and it common for guards to take a lower percentage of their shots at the rim than average. Kabongo's ability to get to the rack is outstanding.
Because of his ability to break down the defense, Kabongo also got to the line a lot as a college player. As a freshman, he took 0.73 free throws for every field goal attempt, which was in the top 20 in all of D-I. (From kenpom.com) As a sophomore, he only played 11 games, so he didn't qualify in the kenpom rankings, but he still attempted 0.70 free throws for every field goal.
As a playmaker, his assist stats were just OK, but this is at least partly because no one on Texas could shoot. The Longhorns made 30 percent of their threes on the season, which ranked no. 317 in D-I. This is a factor because around 40 percent of all assists in D-I ball come on made threes. Texas' poor shooting from the perimeter bordered on the absurd at times this season. This artificially suppresses his assist totals a bit, compared with his peers. His playmaking ability is fine, and his assist percentage is respectable.
Kabongo is a good defender, but I doubt he will make his living at the the way that Avery Bradley does. Kabongo's defense won't hold him back.
Here is the problem with Myck Kabongo. He cannot shoot -- or at least he has shown no ability to do so in his short time in college basketball. College guards can survive, and even thrive, without a jump shot, but I don't know how much that will fly in the pros.
Over two seasons, Kabongo is a 31 percent shooter from three point range. With play-by-play statistics, we can see that as a freshman he made 29 percent of his two point jump shots and as a sophomore he made 3-25 two point jump shots (12 percent). Now, there are some sample size concerns with the sophomore year numbers, but still, that isn't very good. Just for context, the average shooting percentage for two point jump shots in D-I is 35 percent.
As a free throw shooter, he seemed to improve. He hit 68 percent from the line as a freshman, and 79 percent as a sophomore. Hitting free throws is important for Kabongo, as his ability to draw fouls is one of his best attributes as a player.
He can be a little careless at times with the ball, but that is par for the course for many young point guards. Really polished guys like Shane Larkin or Trey Burke that don't turn the ball over are unusual for guys at this age. Kabongo's turnover rates support the view that he can be a little out of control, and a little loose with the ball at times. This is the trait that puts Kabongo behind other talented guards with questionable shots like Ray McCallum.
When Kabongo gets to the rim, his ability to finish is just average. His at rim field goal percentage as a freshman was 54 percent, and as a sophomore was 60 percent. D-I average is 61 percent. This is a respectable number for a little guy, but it doesn't jump out at you the way B.J. Young's numbers at the rim do.
I will be very surprised if Kabongo catches on with the Heat. I don't watch a ton of NBA basketball until the college season ends, and know nothing of the Heat roster situation, so take this for what it is worth. The Heat only carried two point guards last season. Both of these guys are better than Kabongo by a significant amount. Kabongo doesn't look ready for the NBA right now.
Amar Smith, editor of SB Nation's SLCDunk.com, is a huge fan of Kabongo and has followed his career for a long time. In this excerpt from his draft scouting report on Kabongo, he details the many reasons why he thinks the young man deserves a shot in the NBA.
It's no secret that I like Myck Kabongo, the point guard for the Texas Longhorns. Actually I think it would be unfair to say that I like him. I admire him, and wish him all the success in the world.
Still, he's the forgotten man in this draft due to overwhelming recency bias. Out of sight / out of mind makes fools of us all. Many people don't know why I'm so enamored with this young man. Simply put, he has the talent to play in the NBA. But he appears to have the positive energy to change lives. So, in a way, I like Kabongo as a basketball player. But I see in him the potential to elevate the lives of others through the medium of being a basketball player. If you spend three minutes talking with him in person you would feel the same way.
Myck Kabongo is mature
He's a very young man who takes care of his body and is 21 years old, but he is very mature. I think part of that is based upon life experience. He knows who he is in this world, and he knows that while basketball is something he is very good at, it's not like he's protecting children from joining the infantry of some warlord. He's refreshingly grounded. I think that helps him to understand and better plan where he wants to go in the world. He has a frame of reference, and he understands where he is. And those are two things you need if you are going to be honest with yourself and your abilities and learn to get better.
Myck Kabongo is a leader
You can lead in many different ways. We like to believe that a guy like John Stockton was quiet all the time, but he was always talking on the court to his team, and helping them, directing time. Talking in time outs. Sure, he didn't flex like Karl Malone -- but he communicated way more than we like to remember. John did let his game do the talking -- to his opponents. But he let his mouth and brain to a lot of talking too during stoppages of plays and during crunch time.
I think Myck Kabongo is a leader, he's a strong communicator. During the NBA Draft Combine during defensive drills for JUST the point guards he was the only guy on the court talking to his team, setting them up, and directing. So when only floor leaders were on the court, he was the only one that looked and sounded like a floor leader. He does this on offense too -- but I'm not worried about his ability to lead an offense. (And it's not like Texas had one last year, so the offensive data we have from last year are almost meaningless)
The other PGs deferred to him in a way on defense, and he orchestrated a great defensive sequence where it ended it by moving quickly enough and TAKING a charge. He didn't draw a charge, or flop. He moved his team mates around so that the offensive player could ONLY go to a place that Myck would beat him to. And a place where Myck said "the only way you are going to beat me is by breaking the rules to do so." And dude took the charge, and not only did scouts and team execs take notice -- but some of the guys running the drills at the combine could do nothing but clap and congratulate him. This is leading with your presence and performance on the court.
It's the communication thing which is a key for Kabongo. If you talk with him he looks in your eyes, he processes information, he even offers up assistance. When I was looking for a word he was listening intently enough to think of the word that was on the tip of my tongue. I think it's his communication skill that would make him excel in any job environment or job interview. Particularly if you want someone to be a "let's go!" type of leader.
Myck Kabongo has a spark
I don't know how to explain this, and everyone I've talked to about it seems to agree (from beat writers to NBA royalty), but Kabongo has this spark about him. There's something electrochemical about him. He makes you better, and makes you happier when he's around. He's confident, he is engaging, he makes you feel like you are the star -- when you are the one interviewing him. And it's not an act either, he's that way all the time. He does it when he's helping a teammate make a funny YouTube video, and he does it during a stoppage of play on the court when he goes out of his way to fist pound a ball boy for doing a good job. He flat out told me that he wants to make peoples' days.
He has this spark and it's a force multiplier when you combine it with his communication and leadership skills. And it's really something you either have or you don't have. It's like height, it's a product of life experience and luck. You can't make yourself taller. You can't make yourself into the guy in the locker room that everyone wants to work harder for. You have it or you don't.
Out of all the point guards I got to interact with (e.g. more than just one interview with), Kabongo scored the highest on this. Does that mean he's the only guy out there that does this? No. But like that study about players who are the best teammates by how much chatter they have and how many times they make physical contact with their team -- the behavior may be strange, but the results speak for themselves. (Steve Nash was ranked #1 when that study came out a few seasons ago, Nash is a bigwig in the Canadian basketball program and one of Kabongo's mentors)
If a point guard is supposed to be a leader, be a coach on the floor, and encourage the team to play together and work harder (all things a boxscore doesn't tell you), then you are in really good hands with Myck. And it's that much more amazing when you factor in how young he is (he's only 21), and all the struggles he has faced -- he's still always going to have that big smile, and not get down. He's a positive ion, in a 6'2 frame.
Myck Kabongo has the physical tools to be a prototypical NBA point guard
He is a legit 6'1.25" without shoes (which rounds up to an NBA 6'2 at the very least) with a 6'6.25" wingspan. His lane agility score was 10.64 seconds. Over all Myck holds his own physically. He does need to improve his upper body strength, but so many young guards need to do that, like Alec Burks who is going into his third year in the league. He's got great length + agility. He's not going to win many track meets, but his speed with the ball is more important -- and for that just re-watch his coast to coast buzzer beater again.
Myck Kabongo already is a great point guard
It's not just his personality or leadership that's at an elite level. Or his solid balance in his size and speed. It's his actual game play. And really, the reason why I liked him in the first place was because of his ability to play the game of basketball. Sure, he's brighter than some medical students I've met, and has this Magic Johnson presence. But more than that it's his game, and the parts of his game that will translate to the NBA that matter to me.
At Texas last year in the games he was allowed to play in, he was the only guy the defense had to worry about. Let's not gloss over that by the time Kabongo was playing in his 5th game of the season his opponents had been playing 25. But at Texas he still managed to be one of the only PGs in this class to average 5 or more rebounds a game.
We know rebounds are a problem for our starting guards and bench guards alike. And we know rebounding is a skill that translates almost 1 : 1 from NCAA or Europe to the NBA.
Kabongo is a great rebounder for a guard. With him on the floor the defense isn't just better because he communicates, is long, and is quick. Or just because he averaged 2.0 steals a game last year. It's better because sometimes he finishes the defensive play by getting the rebound. Period.
Myck is also great at penetrating and finding the right guy to pass to. Myck somehow averaged 5.5 apg on a really bad Texas squad, he wasn't playing with other 1st rounders on his team like some guys. Myck's main role on offense is a guy who breaks defenses down with his ball handling and penetration. Even if his role in the league is a bench guy, that's not a bad set of skills to have.
Steals, rebounds, assists . . . defensive instincts, a knack for where the ball is going, and court vision are three of the things you want from your point guard. He also went to the free throw line 7.0 times a game last year, so you need guys who can draw fouls to be good in this league. You also want a guy who can shoot. Kabongo isn't a great shooter -- but Mo Williams shot 29% from downtown in his NCAA career. For his NBA career he has shot 39%. Right now Kabongo is at 31%. If he works at it, he'll get better. In his first year in college he shot 68 ft%, last season he shot 79 ft%. He does work, and he is getting better. Which is encouraging because...
Myck Kabongo is aware of his flaws
How likely are 20 year olds willing to have people break down how bad they are at things? At that age most 20 year olds think they know it all. Kabongo isn't one of those guys (this goes back to his maturity). He knows his flaws and will freely a) list them, and go farther than that to b) enumerate the steps he's currently taking to improve. Last year when he was the only guy on the court the defense had to worry about he turned the ball over. He's also not as strong as he wants to be and wants to be better at finishing with contact. Lastly, yes, his shot isn't as good as he wants it to be. Well, he watches a lot of gamefilm -- not just his own, but he watches game film of guys like Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Steve Nash, real floor generals who had the ball in their hands a lot but learned when to throw a pass and when to keep their dribble alive. He's also working out all summer long on his body, and if you follow him on instagram you can see that he's a lot stronger than he was when he left high school (essentially where Derrick Schroeder is now). The last thing he told me was that he has hired a full time shot doctor to complete break down his shot. Some guys wait until their second or third year in the league to fix their shot, and only after their front office has basically set the entire thing up. Kabongo is eager to fix his problems BEFORE he's even played one minute of summer league.
And that's no surprise to me. Why?
Myck Kabongo is one of the hardest working players in this draft
He knows where he is in this world, and he knows what he can gain from it through hard work. His life experience showed him that honest effort and a good heart can find you a good life. He's a righteous young man who doesn't find the concept of dedication to be an old fashioned ideal. He lives it daily. (Seriously, who talks about God during a random video of a college kid showing people around his dorm room? Myck does.)
I love his dedication to getting better. In fact the whole NCAA ban was because, effectively, he needed to borrow money to buy a plane ticket to go to a basketball camp. He only needed that money because the NCAA doesn't allow student athletes to get good jobs (beyond selling NCAA tickets and jerseys). How many premed college students want to spend their summer learning organic chemistry, and had to ask a friend for the money to go to Orgo camp? The number is zero. But because he wanted to get better at basketball he had to do exactly that.
And whatever, it's a part of his history that he does not regret. His positivity allows him to incorporate that as another important life experience to help him understand his place in the world, and how lucky he is to be where he is. He learns. And he gets better. If he was a Predator, there would be no human race anymore.
Ultimately, though, Myck Kabongo is a guy who should be a 1st round Draft Pick.
But it's the out of sight / out of mind concept that's keeping him under the radar. Every year a really good player drops to the second round. I've been watching basketball since the early 1980s and been a huge draft geek since the 2000s. I'm wrong sometimes, and right sometimes. But this time I couldn't be more certain that Kabongo is a 1st round talent.
He would excel in any field because of his brightness and dedication. He chose basketball, so that's how I found out about him. And I wish him all the best and success in the future. Myck will delight the fans of the team he ends up with. I just hope that the team he ends up with knows just how lucky they are to have him.