“Situational Analysis” is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.
James Bouknight is a soon-to-be 21-year-old scoring guard from Brooklyn who averaged 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game in his sophomore season for the University of Connecticut Huskies. He is expected to be selected in the upper half of the first round and as high as No. 5. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 6.
Each draft has at least one prospect who sees his stock rise so sharply and so quickly that it almost defies gravity. This prospect typically sees his name hovering around the late teens or early 20s in most mock drafts, but then steadily inches upward as scouts break down game tape or the prospect strings together a series of impressive workouts.
As soon as the whisper mill gets rolling (“…you know who I really like?”), the prospect evolves from a “sleeper” to “the draft’s hottest name” to “wait, why couldn’t he go in the top five?”
This year’s fastest riser? James Bouknight.
Why is his stock climbing so rapidly? Put simply, no player in the 2021 draft translates better to YouTube clips or slick highlight packages.
At his best, Bouknight is a walking bucket. He can score from all three levels against any kind of defense. He is an extremely skilled ball handler who can slice through a defense like a hot knife through butter. Much like CJ McCollum, Bouknight possesses a deep bag of tricks in the midrange and near the hoop, but Bouknight’s length (he’s 6-5 with a reported 6-foo-8 plus wingspan) and athleticism are on another level.
One would think Bouknight would get tired occasionally, given the jittery way he plays, but Bouknight’s stamina never seems to flag. In fact, he seems to acquire more energy as the game progresses.
The most eye-opening stat in Bouknight’s hip pocket? His rebounding numbers. He averaged nearly six per game from the guard spot. He’s bouncy, active, and pesky. He plays with a serious edge and unflinching confidence in his abilities.
On a scale from 1-10, Bouknight’s one-on-one scoring ability rates at a 9.
Bouknight is currently a shoot-first, -second, -third, and maybe even -fourth type of player. He never met a shot he didn’t love. His mental dial is set permanently on “shoot.”
Despite handling the ball quite frequently for UConn, Bouknight averaged only 1.8 assists per game as a sophomore and posted a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. He is currently not wired to set up teammates or playmake in any real way.
If he was a highly efficient shooter, that wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but his efficiency craters beyond the 3-point line. Despite solid shooting fundamentals, he converted less than 30% of his 3s on 5 attempts per game. He takes a lot of contested, low-percentage, impossible-degree-of-difficulty shots. If he can purge those from his shot chart, his efficiency stats should improve, but we need to see the change happen.
If he can’t cut down on the turnovers or the bad shots, Bouknight’s ceiling tops out at “frustrating bench scorer who could be so much more.”
On a scale from 1 (not a concern) to 10 (serious hindrance), Bouknight’s recklessness rates at a 9.
Bouknight’s game fits nicely in the lineage of score-first New York City guards. After a decorated high school career at La Salle Academy in Manhattan, Bouknight made his way to Massachusetts to try to catch the eye of more recruiters.
He didn’t light the recruiting world on fire, but he did enough to earn four-star grades and top-100 status. He rated anywhere from 53 (24/7 Sports) to 84 (Rivals) and committed early to the University of Connecticut.
He caught on during the second half of UConn’s up-and-down 2019-2020 season, earning more minutes, starts, and shots as the season went on. He transitioned from spot duty to offensive focal point awfully quickly.
The Huskies were a bit disappointing this past season, but that had little to do with Bouknight. They went 11-4 in the 15 games Bouknight played and 4-4 in the games he missed due to an elbow injury. His limited run still earned him First Team All-Big-East status and he promptly declared for the draft once the season ended.
On a scale from 1-10, Bouknight’s pre-NBA career rates at a 7.5.
Ideal NBA Ecosystem
Bouknight is ready to play right now. Will the pluses outweigh the minuses? That will depend on whether he finds a coach and teammates who can effectively communicate with him.
Guards like Bouknight don’t always end up sticking with the teams that draft them. Look at Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Jordan Crawford – undeniably gifted scorers who bounced around a bit before finding the right situations. Bouknight’s ceiling is a bit higher than any of those players thanks to his length and athleticism, but his approach to offense currently resembles a typical Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
Many mock drafts have Bouknight going to Oklahoma City. I like the fit, and I like how Bouknight could “learn on the job” with the Thunder, but it is starting to seem like he may be unavailable by the time the Thunder pick at 16/18 – and No. 6 might be a bit too high.
Or is it?
The hot rumor right now is the Golden State Warriors are looking at taking Bouknight No. 7 overall and sending him to Splash Brothers camp. Bouknight could be a devastating bench scoring option for a team with title aspirations.
On a scale of 1-10, Bouknight’s situational independence rates at an 8. He’ll be able to get buckets no matter where he goes. Whether he develops into a borderline All-Star with the team that drafts him remains to be seen.