Justin James is a 6’6 ½” wing for Wyoming Cowboys. James tested the 2018 NBA Draft waters and earned the chance to work out with the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, and Houston Rockets. Constructive feedback from NBA decision-makers included packing some weight onto his frame and becoming a more viable playmaker for others by reading defensive rotations when he draws help defenders. James opted to return to Laramie for his senior season and, with the departure of multiple key seniors and 65% of the team’s prior year scoring, faced a difficult contextual battle throughout the course of the season. Despite team struggles and some shooting/turnover inefficiencies, James handled the situation quite well and certainly has his share of believers within the NBA prospect scouting community.
Tale of the Tape
Athleticism at the Rim
James has positional length for a guard, standing at nearly 6’7” with a reported ~6’11” wingspan. This length, paired with his athleticism, unlocks promising flashes of dynamic finishes around the rim.
James has made year-over-year improvements as a finisher around the basket in the half-court, increasing his conversion rate from 1.087 PPP (45th percentile) as a junior to 1.171 PPP (59th percentile) as a senior. This uptick in efficiency at the rim is partially driven by having taken the advice of NBA evaluators and packing on almost 15 pounds in the offseason. This has helped him become a bit more willing and able to absorb contact around the rim.
Given the high frequency of double teams and hard help that James has faced on a regular basis as Wyoming’s clear cut primary scoring threat (having scored >33% of Wyoming’s total points on the season), James often faces a clogged lane and is forced to attempt difficult finishing attempts over multiple defenders. While this context has hampered his efficiency, it has also provided a sample of flash plays where James is able to showcase his upside as an offensive prospect, such as splitting ball screen defenders and taking off from distance to hammer home a dunk. While the concept of NBA spacing opening up a given prospect’s game is often over relied upon for projectability’s sake, James has faced particularly striking spacing issues and an off-ball secondary creator role at the next level very well may do wonders for opening up his game and catalyzing an uptick in efficiency.
In the clip below, we highlight James’ ability make functional use of his athleticism to finish at the rim.
James would benefit from supplementing his athleticism as a driver with a bit softer touch as a finisher. When watching his full set of rim finishing attempts, he often rockets the ball off the backboard or doesn’t put enough English on the lay-in attempt to get it to drop. Developing these elements of touch and craft would help turn James into a very dangerous finisher.
James’ threat as an athletic driver, as outlined above, provides him with ample opportunity to counter with pull-up jumpers. Defenders often give James a step to ensure they don’t get blown by or let James gain enough leverage to use his length and athleticism to create a high percentage look at the rim. His length and release point make him capable of rising over backpedaling defenders to get off fairly clean pull-up looks off the bounce. He seems to be a bit more comfortable utilizing rhythm dribbles and flowing into a jump shot that he is putting up open catch-and-shoot looks.
As an off-the-dribble shooter in the half-court, James has increased his conversion rate from 0.701 PPP (35th percentile) as a junior to 0.794 PPP (52nd percentile) as a senior.
Shooting, on the whole, is undoubtedly James’ most critical swing skill as a prospect. James has been a volatile shooter throughout his collegiate career. He reached his three-point shooting efficiency apex during his sophomore season when he shot 41.9% from deep on 3.2 attempts a game. With year-over-year upticks in usage, three-point attempt volume, and defensive attention, James’ shooting percentage from deep has negatively regressed to approximately 30% over his final two seasons.
From a mechanical perspective, James’ shot looks the same from 15 feet as it does from 25 feet. He gets good rise both as an off-the-dribble and spot-up jump shooter. His notably wide stance, in conjunction with the difficult looks he is forced to create in the context of Wyoming’s offense, seems to be the root cause of his shooting inconsistencies. Slightly narrowing the base of his lower body mechanics and cutting down his volume difficult, highly contested could give James a chance to improve as a shooting threat as he transitions to the professional level.
In the clip below, we highlight James’ pull-up acumen.
James is an intriguing prospect that brings a unique blend of size, length, and skill to the table. It is important to contextualize his projectability as a an eventual pro, as his inefficient shooting clips (driven by fewer transition opportunities and his necessity to create and take difficult looks within the context of his team’s offense) and 8-24 team record (driven by eight newcomers and minimal returning other contributors) should not be taken at face value. James is a natural scorer, an underrated passer, and has the baseline athletic foundation to fit in as a theoretical NBA swingman.
James projects to be among the group of 64 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament seniors vying to boost their NBA stock in front of an array of onlooking professional scouts. James will likely earn a good handful of NBA workouts and could very well improve his standing as a prospect if he can prove himself as a shooter in those settings. Ultimately, James’ most likely route entails beginning his professional career in the G League with a chance of earning a two-way contract with a strong pre-draft showing.
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