Tyler Ulis NBA Draft Scouting Report

Over the next couple of days I’ll be breaking down the scouting report for guys entering the NBA Draft. We’ll avoid guys like Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram since we know who they are. If there’s someone specific you want let me know @barstoolreags. All video clips are courtesy of Synergy and/or YouTube. There will be a lot of analytical stats, so yeah I know, nerd.

Previous Breakdowns:

Marquese Chriss

Henry Ellenson 

Today we’ll look at:

Tyler Ulis – Kentucky

5’10”, 150 lbs, 20 years old

Projected: No. 24 (DraftExpress) No. 36 (NBADraft)

Compared to: Tyus Edney/Travis Best (NBA Draft)

Background: When Tyler Ulis was recruited to Kentucky, many thought he’d be a four-year player and typically a backup point guard. However, Ulis turned into the best point guard in college basketball as a sophomore, earning All-American honors. A year after platooning, he averaged 37 minutes a game and put up 17 ppg, 7.0 apg and 1.5 steals per game.

Strengths: This is the first guard we’ll be breaking down, so his game is obviously different than Ellenson and Chriss. Ulis’ biggest strength is his offensive game, where he doesn’t really have a huge weakness. He grades out as a good to very good on all sets on Synergy including pick-and-roll, iso, spot up, transition and hand offs. With the NBA game loving high pick-and-rolls, this is big for Ulis, who is one of the smarter players in the draft. He knows when to attack vs when to pass. Two examples here, first with Ulis looking to score off the pick.

Kentucky starts the set running horns, bringing two bigs up to the top. This is a designed play as the ball is passed around before Ulis cuts to the post and sets a backscreen. He is then brought back up through an elevator screen and with the shot clock running down he calls Skal over to set a screen – again, very much like the NBA likes to run. Ulis drops his shoulder and looks to attack Ben Simmons at the top of the key. What Ulis excels at here is seeing the situation, taking a quick outside dribble, notices Quarterman still behind him, tucks the ball away and goes for a runner from 12 feet out. This is a shot that he needs to continue to make to negate the size disadvantage.

Where he grades out well in though is passing out of the pick-and-roll. He’s graded as excellent with a 1.01 points per possession when passing out of this situation. Ulis has all the passes in his arsenal, we’ve seen him throw a ton of lobs, but also knows when to throw a bounce pass vs a chest pass. On this play it shows why Ulis can play in the NBA. Again he has Skal up above the 3-point line for a high pick-and-roll, running the typical NBA offense. Ulis runs off the screen, set up Skal for another screen. When Ulis comes off the second screen he draws both defenders by going right at the rim on the right side. With the help from Skal’s guy coming, trying to block the shot, Ulis gets in the air to draw his attention more. Ulis splits the defender on the pass, letting Skal dunk. Again, this is the play that will keep Ulis in the pros.

 

What you can’t show on video is Ulis’ awareness and leadership on the court. He excels in knowing when to push the ball and uses his crossover effectively. He ranks 1st in the top-100 prospects in assists to turnover ratio (3.57:1) and second in pure point ratio behind just Denzel Valentine. Ulis does a great job at keeping the ball on a string, which helps negate the size disadvantage. By keeping the ball like that, it doesn’t allow the defender to reach and use his length to poke it loose, Ulis keeps the ball low and close to his hip.

He’s also a good defender, as he won SEC Defensive Player of the Year. What helps him here is his quickness and the fact he has a decent reach for his height. He likes to pick up his opponent about ¾ of the way up the court, making him change direction. While the NBA doesn’t typically run presses like you see in college, having a player that can come in and just work the opposing point guard to wear him out will go a long way (i.e. Delly).

Weaknesses: It’s going to be said over and over again, but the biggest weakness for Ulis is his size. While that is starting to get diminished thanks to Isaiah Thomas the move to small-ball in the NBA, he’s still just 5’10” in shoes. Where his size hurts him the most though is in two different spots.

First is his lack of ability to finish at the rim over length. Here he drives against Antonio Blakeney who is 6’4” and would be about the size of a guy guarding Ulis in the NBA. As you can see he tries to elevate and use his runner here, but Blakeney is able to get up and challenge the shot, forcing Ulis to adjust. This happens too often for Ulis, which will make him become more reliant on the midrange game and jumpers.

The other place Ulis’ size will hurt him is on the defensive side, especially in the half court game. We’ve seen guards like Andre Miller use the back to the basket approach and NBA coaches are starting to post up guards more often. Teams would try to do this to Ulis. While he is a strong defender, that’s on the perimeter and against ball handlers. He will need to work on forcing his opponent into a rushed shot as they can still shoot over him.

For how well Ulis shoots from the midrange, he needs to improve his outside shooting. He’s great off the pick-and-roll, but actually graded as a below average to average shooter off the catch and spot ups from 3.  According to shotanalytics.com he shot 13% from the left corner and 0% from the right corner. The left wing is his best shooting area, shooting 51%, but shot a combined 34% from the top of the key and right wing. There’s not reason for him to shoot under 40% considering he has great shot form and can create his own shot.

Draft Stock:  Ulis is in a unique situation with his draft stock here. Some mock drafts have him going as high as late in the lottery and some have him falling to the end of the first round. It all depends if you view him as a starting or backup point guard in the NBA. A team like Detroit or Chicago could really use a guy like Ulis so the question is do they prefer him to a Wade Baldwin or Demetrius Jackson. I have Ulis ranked as the No. 3 point guard in the draft behind Kris Dunn and Demetrius Jackson and see him as a guy who can step in and play 20 minutes per game right away.

Projection: As I said I think he’s the third best point guard in this draft and would be thought of as the No. 1 point guard if he was 6’2”. However, his size will scare people away, though it’s not as much as a deterrent as it used to be. He showed that he can still excel despite being 5’10” and can create his own shot.

His game compared to Chris Paul – obviously Paul is much, much better and they won’t have the same career arc, but both players are great in the midrange out of the pick-and-roll. Paul invented Lob City, because of his ability to read the defense and throw it up to the athletic guys (see: Griffin, Blake and Jordan, DeAndre). That’s exactly what Ulis does. Both players are smaller, pesky defenders and are ‘coaches on the floor.’ Again, they won’t have the career arc, but that’s the type of game Ulis has.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ulis ends up on a playoff-type team like Detroit or Chicago and can bump them up a couple spots on the seed line. Chicago would be the team to watch here as Ulis is from Chicago and the defensive backcourt he can create with Jimmy Butler would be tough to break. They still have some size to protect the rim and make up for Ulis, but allowing a true point guard to either backup Rose or play when he gets hurt would make them a playoff team again.