Finding a Niche for: Tyler Honeycutt

Finding a Niche for: Tyler Honeycutt
May 13, 2011, 10:47 am
Tyler Honeycutt surprised some people by deciding to enter the draft at a very early stage, despite coming off a fairly inconsistent season. How ready is he to play in the NBA, and what does he need to do to reach his very high upside?

Scouting report by Derek Bodner, Video breakdown by Sebastian Pruiti

With the decision to hire an agent, Tyler Honeycutt put a cap on an intriguing, albeit somewhat disappointing, college career. The UCLA sophomore failed to make the drastic jump in production that was widely expected going into this season, but still continued to show the skills that makes him such a tantalizing prospect down the road.

Tyler Honeycutt (#23) Strengths/Weaknesses Video

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From an athletic standpoint, there's a lot to like about Honeycutt, despite his slender (188 pounds) frame. Honeycutt stands 6'8” with long arms, which he uses extremely well on the defensive end, as evidenced by him being the leading shot blocker in the Pac-10. He moves his feet well laterally, which combined with his length, overall good effort level on that end of the court and strong second jump creates an intriguing defensive prospect on the perimeter. Playing in Ben Howland's system, Honeycutt has experience playing largely man to man defense, and played significant minutes both in the post and on the perimeter, something that should help when evaluating his ability to defend at the next level.

On the offensive end things become a little murky, both on what you can expect from him right out of the gate as he begins his professional career and on what you can reasonably expect him to develop into down the line. Taking a quick look at just the numbers, what jumps out is his drop in efficiency (40.6% from the field, down from 49.6% as a freshman) and his negative assist to turnover ratio (2.8 assists to 3.0 turnovers).

Taking a deeper look, the efficiency drop off was largely due to a change in shot distribution. Honeycutt attempted 1.6 three pointers per 40 minutes pace adjusted last year, and that shot all the way up to 5.2 attempts this year. That, along with his improved free throw percentage (73.6%, from 60%), caused his overall drop in efficiency to not actually be as drastic as it appeared on first glance. His true shooting percentage only fell from 55% to 52%, and that was primarily due to a drop in effectiveness in transition. According to Synergy Sports Technology, his half court effectiveness increased from 0.756 points per possession to 0.840.

As we noted before the season began, Honeycutt has excellent form on his jumper, with good elevation and nice touch, and this still holds true. It appears he put in work in the offseason as his consistency, and thus his effectiveness, improved substantially. Besides the aforementioned increase in three point attempts (and effectiveness, up to 36.2%), Honeycutt increased his frequency and efficiency across the board, now taking over 70% of his half court attempts as jumpers, yielding a very good 0.976 points per shot (up from 38.3% of his half court offense last year at 0.761 points per shot).

Easing Honeycutt's transition to the NBA is his ability to play off the ball, both in a standstill catch and shoot role and as a shooter coming off of screens, moving extremely well off the ball and using screens to gain separation, something which now has become a very prominent part of his game.

Off the dribble, Honeycutt has a nice first step and an improving off hand, but his ball-handling ability overall is still a limiting factor in his usefulness as an isolation player. He doesn't possess much in terms of advanced ball-handling moves or change of directions, and will likely, at least initially, be relegated to forays into the lane as a result of defenders closing out on him. Once he gets into the lane he has good touch around the hoop, he struggles to draw fouls (his 3.6 free throw attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted ranks towards the bottom of players in our top 100 rankings) and finish through contact.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of his game, and the part that may not translate immediately to the NBA level, is his passing ability. Honeycutt shows very good court vision for a player of his size, and a willingness – perhaps to a fault – to setup his teammates. The problem is he often forces the issue, making high risk passes that may not be the best option. He'll need to improve his decision making and ball-handling ability to fully utilize his passing ability at the next level, which may limit a team's desire to use him in a point forward role initially.

The biggest concern watching Honeycutt over the course of the season is possibly his aggressiveness and consistency. UCLA overall suffered from inconsistent play at the point guard position, and Howland's system through the years hasn't always been kind to off the ball perimeter players as it can have a steep learning curve. That being said, Honeycutt often times passed up opportunities and was far too often not aggressive enough for someone of his skill level. He has a reputation amongst scouts for not being particularly tough either mentally or physically, and his passivity clearly doesn't help in this regard.

Honeycutt did play through a lot of nagging injuries as the year went on, something that could have contributed to his inconsistent play. He averaged 14.9 points per game on 45.9% from the field and 38.5% from three, to go along with 8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.7 blocks in his first 11 games of the season before spraining his right shouder. He sat out only one game from the shoulder injury, but may not have been 100% for some of the season. He followed that up with a sprained elbow, which may hampered him throughout the year. After injuring his shoulder in late December he averaged just 11.7 points on 37.4% from the field and 6.8 rebounds per game for the rest of the season, a marked decline in productivity.

Injuries have been a regular problem during his brief collegiate career, as a spinal stress fracture and a stress reaction in his right tibia caused him to miss time his freshman year. With his body type, there are some question marks about how he'll be able to handle the rigors of an 82 game season, particularly considering the huge jump in physicality he'll endure against older and stronger players.

Adding strength will help Honeycutt tremendously in terms of translating his defensive prowess from college to the NBA. If he can prove he has the toughness and lateral quickness to defend the perimeter full time, he'll be able to earn minutes early in his career while his decision making catches up to his overall talent level.

Honeycutt's initial role will likely be playing off the ball, as he could fit in well as a catch and shoot player either as a spot-up shooter in isolation or pick and roll heavy offenses, or coming off screens and moving without the ball. He has a good feel for the game and excellent court vision, which down the line could see time facilitating more of the offense if his ball handling and decision-making improves.

While clearly a raw player, Honeycutt has the size, skill-level and basketball IQ NBA teams covet at the wing position, which could make him a very solid value pick later in the first round sometime down the road. In the meantime, Honeycutt will have to continue to add strength to his frame and polish up his all-around game to realize his very high upside.

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