Although its certainly too early to begin talking about Greg Paulus as an surefire NBA player, there is no question in anyones mind that hes in the perfect situation to develop into one by the time hes done at Duke. Taking the reigns as the starting point guard for one of the top programs in the country almost from day one, there wont be a more experienced player in big time situations than Paulus should he decide to stay all four years.
In terms of the type of college point guard you want recruited onto your team, you couldnt draw up a better prototype. Smart and skilled enough to run an offense effectively in one of the most pressure packed environments in the NCAA from the moment he become eligible, hes just small and unathletic enough to ensure that he most likely wont be leaving before that eligibility actually expires. In the meantime, though, he is going to rack up enough wins and enough assists to challenge all the great point guards in Dukes storied history of terrific playmakers.
Were talking about an old-school pass-first point guard with an outstanding sense for running an offense and finding the open man. His ball-handling skills are terrific with either hand, allowing him to use a nice array of speed changes and hesitation moves to get his man off balance and drive the lane effectively. His court vision is superb and his decision making instantaneous, which results in at least one or two highlight reel passes every game; whether its threading the needle through multiple defenders, throwing a beautiful lob to a cutting big man, or finding the open man spotting up on the wing off a one handed no-look pass. Paulus has almost every pass you would want a point guard to have down pat in his arsenal, and he tries to use most of them every time he steps out on the floor.
On top of that, hes a natural born leader with a great flair for the game, combining outstanding instincts with the type of physical and mental toughness you just cannot teach. Its not rare to see him stick his nose in for a charge or hit the deck for a loose ball, and youre just as likely to see him rile up the crowd, his teammates, and himself with his sheer desire to make plays.
On the downside, his flair for the spectacular often led to a fair share of freshman mistakes, many of them unprovoked. Hell often opt for the crowd-dazzling highlight reel assist rather than stick to the fundamental bounce pass for the easy two points. He was quite turnover prone (3.3 per game) in his first year at Duke, and hell have to do a much better job of avoiding mental lapses with no seniors in J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and Sean Dockery to cover for him.
With no true backup point guard behind him this year, his job will be that much harder. Chalk on the recent reports from this weekend on a foot injury that could keep him out for as much as two months, and youre talking about a huge setback both for him personally but even more so for his team.
As far as his NBA potential goes, the jury is still very much out. Whats certain is that hell have to rely on his yet-to-be-built resume rather than on a promise of potential to come later. Paulus is an average athlete at best, showing a mediocre first step and little to no explosiveness once he reaches the paint and attempts to finishes. Its not rare to see him getting his shot blocked, as he just does not get off the floor quick or high enough to compete with the type of athletes the ACC had to throw at him as a freshman. How that will translate to the NBA is not a simple equation. Hell have to become even smarter and craftier at driving the lane and finishing, a la Steve Nash, or he really doesnt stand a chance.
Defensively, he is smart, tough and active enough to be above average as a college player, but there will again be questions about his lateral quickness at the next level.
His outside shot will also have to improve by leaps and bounds, as 37% from the field and 31% from the 3-point line probably wont give a sniff from the NBA if he doesnt improve. On the positive side, his mechanics look solid, even if his release is a bit on the slow side. He seems to have plenty of potential in this area though, as his touch actually looks quite good.
All in all, Paulus will be a very interesting prospect to evaluate when its all said and done, as you can count the number of true pass-first playmaking point guards coming out of college every year on one hand at best. Racking up as many accolades as he can over the next three years will be in his best interest, and then the battle will only begin for him once the pre-draft camps roll around. He absolutely cannot be ruled out, but hes got his work cut out for him for sure.