“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.

Matas Buzelis is a 19-year-old forward from Chicago who averaged 14.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks for G League Ignite. He is expected to be selected in the middle of the lottery. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 5.

NBA-Specific Skills

When his game is firing on all cylinders, Matas Buzelis has the total package.

Buzelis will have stretches where it seems like the game comes exceptionally easy to him. Watch him rotate for a weakside shot block, tip the ball to a teammate, get it back on a delayed break, cross over his defender and kick it to an open shooter. Watch him flash into a soft spot in the defense and rise for an unblockable midrange jumper. Watch his non-verbal communication with a teammate for a sweet give-and-go – either as the passer or as the cutter.

There is so much to like here from a raw skills standpoint and from the harder-to-quantify “feels the game” standpoint. Buzelis has a relaxed flow and a flair to his game that can remind you of Paul George on the right night. Of course, he will likely never be the go-to scorer or the on-ball defensive menace George is, but some players make it look like basketball is second nature to them. They never seem to be overthinking it or stressing out – they just act and react as if it’s as natural as blinking or breathing.

Some players with that mentality/approach can get unfairly tagged with the “lackadaisical” note in the scout’s notebook, who confuse ease with nonchalance. Buzelis plays with a subtle nasty streak and competes hard, even against players with much more bulk and strength.

He is far from a finished product, but his combination of court savvy, basketball IQ, length, ball skills, and competitiveness are hard to find.

On a scale from 1-10, Buzelis’s well-rounded game rates at an 8.5.

Fatal Flaws

Just imagine if Buzelis could shoot. He might go No. 1 overall.

As it stands, his shooting struggles might place a hard cap on how effective he can be at the NBA level. Perimeter players have a hard time surviving in the league with 44/27/68 shooting splits. He shot it much better than that in high school (senior season shooting splits: 54/42/80), so there is a realistic expectation that he can shoot it much better than he did with G League Ignite. But we have seen savvy perimeter playmakers with Buzelis’s physical profile (Franz Wagner, Josh Giddey) go through shooting swoons and lose confidence as soon as defenses started playing 10 feet away, daring them to shoot.

Although Buzelis projects as a solid secondary playmaker, he posted a negative assist/turnover ratio with Ignite, getting a bit loose with his dribble and trying to make spectacular plays when simple ones will suffice.

Perhaps most important, Buzelis needs to get stronger. He struggles to finish at the rim and de doesn’t get to the line much. Defensively, he is much better off the ball than in one-on-one situations right now, as he isn’t the most laterally quick defender. Smaller players with a low center of gravity can also take advantage of Buzelis in one-on-one matchups.

I expect those issues to smooth themselves out as Buzelis matures and grows into his body. The shooting, however, will be the bellwether on his potential. If Buzelis regains his high school shooting touch, he could be a dynamic offensive weapon and the steal of this draft. But if the shooting struggles that plagued his G League season follow him to the NBA, he might have a hard time carving out a niche.

On a scale from 1 (not a concern) to 10 (serious hindrance), Buzelis’s inconsistent shooting rates at a 9.

Pre-NBA Setting

Buzelis comes from a deep Lithuanian athletic heritage and will continue to represent Lithuania in future international competitions. He grew up in Chicago and starred in multiple sports before turning his focus to basketball (growing to 6-foot-9 will often do that).

He stood out on high school teams in Illinois and New Hampshire before transferring to Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas and exploding onto the national recruiting scene. He was a consensus top-10 recruit and no-brainer choice for the McDonald’s All-American team. He chose G League Ignite over scholarship offers from several high-major programs and played major minutes with the ball in his hands for much of those games. But it’s almost impossible to tell what kind of player Buzelis projects to be from those 26 G League games, as that team no longer exists. It’s not like those games came with a lot of pressure/stakes attached. They were showcases – nothing more.

It has been clear from nearly every stage of his development that Buzelis would be a significant basketball player. He has all the tools in the toolbox – some just need a little bit of extra attention.

On a scale from 1-10, Buzelis’s pre-NBA career rates at an 8.5 – he is obviously a good player, but it would have been helpful to see him play in some games that mattered this past year.

Ideal NBA Ecosystem

Thirty NBA teams need the player Buzelis projects to be – versatile 6-9 wing with emerging ball skills and defensive upside – but not all of them have the infrastructure to bring his game into focus.

My personal favorite landing spot for Buzelis is in San Antonio. He plays a position of significant need for the Spurs and would bring a desperately needed dash of playmaking/ball-moving to a Victor Wembanyama-centric franchise. I also love the idea of Buzelis roaming on the baseline for weakside shotblocking opportunities when teams are already freaked out by Wembanyama. Plus, the Spurs have a decades-long track record of helping players discover/rediscover their jump shots. It’s a win-win.

Houston might snag him at No. 3 befor the Spurs can get him, however. Ime Udoka is the kind of coach who can bring the best out of Buzelis, and the roster would click into place with Buzelis at the small forward, Jabari Smith at power forward, and Alperen Sengun at center. It’s a versatile, high-IQ group that could grow on roughly the same developmental curve.

Elsewhere in the lottery, it’s hard to imagine him falling past No. 7 at Portland. This is a guard-heavy roster that is in desperate need of frontcourt help, particularly if the Blazers ship Jerami Grant to a playoff team at the trade deadline.

On a scale from 1-10, Buzelis’s situational dependence is a 9. He has the potential to be the best player from this draft class if a few things (especially his shooting) round into shape. He needs the right organization/coach to help make that happen.


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