Scouting with the Mavericks: SMU vs. New Mexico

There is a lot of basketball every day of the week this time of year. Between high school, college, G-League, NBA, and international basketball, it’s difficult to cover the ground and figure out which players could be future NBA players. Of course, all NBA teams have scouting departments, but figuring out where and when to send those scouts is a task in itself.

I watch a lot of games and while you can find my analysis of things on twitter (@MavsDraft) and the Locked on NBA Big Board podcast, I’ll be stopping by Mavs Moneyball this season whenever the Dallas Mavericks is at one of the many games I’m scouting so I can give you a scouting perspective on what the Mavericks are doing are see. I know what you’re thinking: “Richard, the Mavericks don’t have a choice this year.” That’s right! Or at least it’s probably true as long as the Mavericks vote outside of the top 10. But scouting isn’t a one-year process, it’s something that teams and individual scouts work with players for Years. The process is lengthy and it’s just as important to see how a player is developing and making comparisons as it is to rate a specific set of skills now. With that in mind, let’s move on to what I saw earlier this week.

Three NBA teams were present at SMU’s New Mexico matchup Tuesday night: Indiana, Dallas and Atlanta. The game ended in a blowout in New Mexico’s favour, largely due to individual impact from a prospect. Let’s break down the Scouts’ perspective on the Dallas matchup.

Zhuric Phelps was the top pick of the three NBA scouts in attendance, but the man who emerged from Moody Coliseum as the top player in that game was actually Jaelen House. House was the main reason New Mexico won the first half 45-32, with uninterrupted intensity defensively on every single possession he had on the floor. He made it difficult for Zhuric Phelps to find a rhythm on offense and started almost all possessions with full pressure when bringing the ball up. House was active with his hands and following his loose balls, which he enforced with loose ball jumps, often forcing SMU fouls.

Aside from his defense, House was the engine of the offense. Its easy penetration towards the edge opened up easy looks for both Sagittarius and its big ones. With an exceptional first step towards the edge and dynamic speed change, House’s ability to keep his head up as a ball handler makes his overall status on the ground much easier to match.

Despite a slightly awkward and overly compact shot form that doesn’t give him much of a boost, House has great shot feel and the ability to beat contested jumpers from dribbles. The concern for House in translating to the NBA is that he’s even six feet tall, even with long arms. His lack of a truly standout ability is keeping him from climbing the scouts’ NBA draft boards. His best result is probably being listed in the G League, where he would thrive in the league’s fast offense and high pace, or going overseas and honing his point guard skills as a rotational or even starter guard care for.

House’s outstanding game with 18 points, five assists and three steals on 57% shooting reminds me of Jonah Mathews against Desmond Bane in 2019. In that game, USC point guard Jonah Mathews, who was standing at 6ft 3in, chased both Bane outside of the ball and on the ball, which did not allow him to get to any of his points, reminiscent of what House Phelps did in that competition earlier in the season. Like House, Jonah Mathews had a good score, putting in an efficient 20 points with a smothering defense. Mathews is now playing overseas and has carved out a successful career for himself so House should post Mathews as his career. The difference between Mathews and House, however, is that House’s dynamic goal-scoring ability will allow him to likely see every branch of the NBA, be it the Summer League or the G League, for some time to come.

The other player scouts were excited to see the aforementioned Zhuric Phelps in this game. This was a tough game for him as he was unable to get to his seats or play his game which is forcing the defense into a mess. One noticeable sign of improvement from this year into last year as Phelps seeks the award for the American Athletic Conference’s Most Improved Player is that despite having to adjust to defense (and not defense to him ), still looking for his teammates, and was able to score 16 points at 45% shooting. Still a bit alarming, three turnovers and three assists tell the story of House’s suffocating defense.

Phelps will need a redemption play in front of those same scouts to prove he can be the alpha, forcing defenses to adapt instead of the other way around.

A few notes on two other smaller prospects that are considered fringe prospects, with one from each team:

Zach Nutall

Known for his shooting, Nutall wasn’t a great marksman against New Mexico, instead being asked to be a bit of a slasher and playmaker and improve his point guard skills to two foot three. He will be an interesting guard abroad as a combo/hybrid guard, able to play on ball while focusing offensively on off-ball.

Jamal Mashburn Jr.

Scouts and I don’t like Mashburn’s size + lack of rim pressure. Mashburn is almost exclusively a six-foot jump shooter, settling for too many difficult low-percentage shots. He’ll likely play abroad as a post-college way, but with his notoriety, he’ll get opportunities in the United States.