AJ Reeves – Summer 2020
AJ Reeves is a sophomore wing who has the promising contours of future two-way 3&D impact but needs to continue developing his game to solidify himself as an NBA prospect. Reeves’ combination of jump shooting and size are highly coveted at the next level but he needs to add consistency and functionality to his skill set and physical profile.
Without question, Reeves best skill is his ability to hit threes, especially off movement and off the hop. Few NBA Draft prospects that have his ability to relocate from various angles around the court, catch on the move and go right into quick three-point attempts with a high degree of accuracy. Among the top 65 NCAA prospects in the 2020 draft, Reeves was third in most three-pointers made off-screen per 70 possessions in the last two seasons combined according to Synergy Sports. Reeves is behind Myles Powell and Aaron Nesmith and slightly ahead of highly regarded shooters like Markus Howard and Sam Merrill.
Generally, off-screen or off-“movement” shooting is an extremely difficult play to defend for opponents, due to the futility of the anticipation that the defender may have. No matter how athletic the defender is or how well they have studied the scouting report of their opponent, there is no way for them to consistently predict the timing and direction the player they are guarding will have when running off screens. Shooters like Reeves only require a small window to create the time and space to get off their shot.
Of course, due to the high level of timing, balance, touch and discipline this shot requires, not many players can make these types of shots efficiently, which is why it is not utilized more commonly. However, with great shooters like Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, the Warriors were able to contend for several championships in part by running the shooters off of various screens away from the ball. In short, off-screen shooting is a skill that is extremely difficult to stop when done well. This combination has made shooting off movement one of the more coveted offensive skill sets in the modern NBA.
Reeves gets incredible energy transference and rhythm from his hop going into his dip, wind up, follow through and release. Like most hop shooters, the scripted nature of off-movement shooting allows him to utilize his footwork and get a fluid, well-timed jumper. The ability to hop into his shot and get the right timing is huge for Reeves but when he can execute the footwork, dip and wind-up portion of the jumper in one fluid motion, his high release is tough to contest and he is almost automatic. This makes him incredibly dangerous running off pin downs, floppy sets, flares and other off-screen sets.
Reeves also has excellent touch, shooting an “easy” ball and getting soft bounces on the rim. He does an excellent job of relocating around the arch to set up passing angles for teammates and creating angles for kick-outs and swings around the arch. He is a great floor spacer and draws the constant attention of defenders while on the floor, which allows teammates to operate comfortably without worrying about extra help. Reeves has a confident, quick trigger. He does not take up seconds on the shot clock, dribbling the air out of the ball and does not require offensive play calling to be centered around him.
His talent as a shooter adds something that precious few NBA prospects have – the ability to impact the game on the offensive end without having the ball in their hands. Many NBA teams already have a star in place, they do not need another player who will demand the ball and take up a high number of possessions. Reeves provides the spacing necessary for star players to operate and can potentially act as a dependable release valve if the ball handler needs to be bailed out of a difficult situation. This demonstrates why, again, shooting in general is so highly desired by NBA teams and Reeves, of course, is an extremely talented hop and rhythm shooter.
With quick hands, long arms, solid size and strength, Reeves is more than capable of being an effective defensive player. He has shown the ability to guard several positions, displaying the agility to mirror smaller players and length to contain large wings.
When engaged, Reeves shows the capability to dig down on ball handlers, jump passing lanes and even rotate into the paint to bother opponents on at rim shot attempts and block shots. Providence’s system encourages switching and Reeves has shown the capability to stick with and stifle a variety of player archetypes throughout his two seasons in the NCAA. With quick reflexes, he does a very good job recovering against crossovers and other moves that attempt to create separation against him. At the same time, he can take on contact and play physical against aggressive attackers trying to bump and bully their way to made baskets. However, improvements in focus, discipline and recognition need to be made for Reeves.
He tends to drift off of shooters, while at other times seems slow to recover back after helping inside. His focus on the defensive end generally seems to be inconsistent, especially since his effort, positioning and impact seem to vary from one play to the next. There is also some concern about Reeves’ ability to match up against taller wings and whether he has the height to play in the front court or is more strictly an off guard. In the final clip above, the taller Brendan Bailey can grab an offensive rebounder right over Reeves.
NBA scouts wonder if Reeves is capable of consistently defending NBA sized small forwards. Being a more engaged, energetic and involved defensive player on a possession to possession basis could help Reeves overcome some of these perceptions and have a significant impact on his status as an NBA prospect. His shooting upside is intriguing to scouts but being able to provide two-way value will be a significant asset to his professional potential. A versatile 3&D wing is arguably the player archetype with the most value in today’s league outside primary initiators that can carry an entire offense.
At the next level, it is highly likely Reeves will primarily be asked to spot up on the perimeter and provide competent defense across multiple positions on the other end. However, even in the most strict shooting role, other skills are both encouraged and preferred. Reeves is not an elite creator off the dribble at this stage. However, he is capable of creating shots for both himself and teammates, outside just the catch and shoot jump shots and other similar plays that are his specialties.
Reeves is a very smart cutter, who does a great job of timing his off-ball movement and utilizing his gravity as a shooter to sneak behind defenders and create passing angles for teammates. This further adds to his value as an off-ball offensive wiz, who can make a significant impact as a scorer without requiring a large number of possessions. Reeves is also a capable passer, who is unselfish moving the ball around the arch and does a solid job executing the game plan and recognizing open teammates.
Providence liked to give Reeves the ball in the elbow area, where he could hypothetically try to create one on one but usually used the opportunity to initiate offensive sets and make plays for teammates. Finally, while Reeves dribble-drive game is not one of his greatest strengths at this stage, his touch on the move is very good and he shows the ability to finish with defenders right in front of him and from awkward angles and unusual positions on the floor and in the air. His excellent accuracy and soft shot release make him just enough of a threat when attacking the rim to keep defenders honest and not pressure too much on the perimeter or close out too hard on his catch and shoot attempts.
Reeves certainly has some work to do as a creator off the dribble overall. He is not very comfortable shooting off the 1-2 and therefore struggles with forward momentum on his jump shot. This means many pull up jump shots and step in catch and shoot attempts are not as much of a strength for him as his ability to run off screens and otherwise catch and fire off the hop-step. This is evidenced by Reeves making only 5 of 19 dribble jumper attempts in the half court this past season.
His spot up jump shot and free-throw percentages are better but still a bit disappointing for a player for whom shooting is thought of as a major strength. With his touch, confidence and feel for shot making, Reeves should be able to improve upon those numbers. Practicing shooting jumpers in situations where his body’s momentum is carrying him toward the rim will only help Reeves. Whether that be stepping forward on the catch or taking a dribble or two toward the rim before pulling up and so forth.
While Reeves will not likely be an elite half court creator, nor does he need to be one within his presumed role, working on his handle can help Reeves be more functional attacking against hard closeouts, being comfortable getting all the way to the rim and seeing the entire court while dribbling. Extensive film study is another possible approach to learning reads, improving decision making and understanding different changes of pace and direction that can be utilized in common on-court situations.
While there are certainly some kinks that need to be worked out to further establish Reeves among the top draft prospects in the country next year, there is plenty of room for optimism. Many of these weaknesses are possible to overcome with development and his strengths lay an intriguing and compelling foundation for an NBA prospect in the modern league. Reeves has the stripes of a future 3&D wing, the role that almost every NBA team would be thrilled to add to their roster. His ability to make some of the more difficult but potentially most efficient shots within contemporary offensive sets, makes him almost a sure bet to receive some form of opportunity at the next level. His ability to round out his game across other categories will determine where that opportunity actually takes Reeves.