Kyle Wiltjer entered college basketball as a McDonald's All-American and played a contributing role as a freshman during Kentucky's 2012 National Championship run. After a subpar sophomore season, however, Wiltjer decided to transfer to Gonzaga and he spent his redshirt season attempting to transform his body and skill set
He hit the ground running as a junior, breaking out amidst Gonzaga's 35-3 season and anchoring the nation's sixth most efficient offense in the process. Wiltjer led Gonzaga to a two-seed in the NCAA and a run to the Elite 8, but expectations are even higher on the eve of his senior season. A pre-season All-American Candidate, Wiltjer has the opportunity to take another step forward and prove to scouts that he has what it takes to excel at the next level.
Despite Wiltjer's work in the weight room, his physical profile remains mixed. On the one hand, he has optimal size for the power forward position at 6'10 with a 240-pound frame and decent mobility. On the other, he is a below average athlete, neither particularly quick nor fluid in his movements. He does not have the length or strength to compensate, but he does play within his limitations in a way that does allow him to maximize his physical strengths.
Much of this has to do with his versatile offensive skill set and his outstanding instincts and efficiency. Wiltjer saw nearly two times as many possessions as a junior than he did as a sophomore and he responded by averaging 24 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted, best among collegiate prospects in our top-100
. Wiltjer significantly improved his shooting efficiency, as well, making 56.8% of his shots inside of the arc and 46.5% of his shots from beyond. Despite his offensive prowess, he also proved to be a willing distributor, averaging 2.7 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted against 1.6 turnovers.
Wiltjer is at his best as a shooter, where he showed the ability to make shots in a variety of capacities. Whether trailing in transition, stepping out in pick-and-pop sets, or spotting up on the perimeter in half-court sets, he is simply a lights out shooter with his feet set, making a remarkable 59.2% of his guarded attempts and 43.2% of his open looks. He boasts a quick release, a high release point, and NBA range, which allows him to get his shot off when he pleases, and makes him very difficult to guard at his size.
While Wiltjer excels as a shooter, his post game presents a mixed bag with an eye towards the next level. He had trouble holding his own against more athletic defenders, often getting pushed off of the block and struggling to finish through contact. His 4.2 free throw attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted reflected his perimeter tendencies, as well as his limitations as a finisher. While he lacked standout strength, length, and explosiveness, Wiltjer did make 51.8% of his post-up looks, while showing a solid arsenal of spin moves and jump hooks. He compensates for his subpar athleticism somewhat with a combination of solid footwork, a soft shooting touch, and savvy operating around the basket, more often than not playing within his limitations.
He is also a very good scorer operating off the ball. He made an impressive 67.5% of his non-post-up looks around the basket and demonstrates top notch timing and shooting touch. He was also an outstanding scorer out of the pick-and-roll, demonstrating excellent fundamentals in both pop (72.7% FG) and roll (81.3% FG) capacities.
He is a far less effective scorer off of the dribble, however, making just 29.6% of his shots in this capacity. His average first step, handles and athleticism really limit his pull-up potential, even if does show some promise with his runner in the lane. NBA teams are unlikely to ask Wiltjer to create his own shot very frequently, which is why his ability to score operating off the ball at the frequency and efficiency he does is so intriguing.
On defense, Wiltjer's subpar lateral quickness limits his effectiveness inside and outside, as a man defender and in pick-and-roll situations. He also struggled to guard stronger offensive players, though he also did not appear to display the most consistent effort on the defensive end of the floor either. It is no surprise, therefore, that he is also an average rebounder, grabbing 6.8 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted and 8.7 total.
Wiltjer's body type is a significant concern here, as he struggles to get into a low stance on the perimeter, and is very susceptible to getting beat off the dribble in turn. There are real question marks about whether he will emerge as a liability on this end of the floor, a player that opposing coaching staffs will target and try to put in open space repeatedly to see if he can hold his own.
Though Kyle Wiltjer's defense call his NBA viability into question, his transformation into one of the nation's best and most versatile scorers is intriguing in today's NBA. Whether Wiltjer's physical gains are impressive as reported remains to be seen, but his stock should only improve if he can continue to develop as a senior. His physical profile likely limits his ceiling, but his offensive versatility, particularly in areas that front offices covet, nevertheless makes him a legitimate NBA prospect. In the meantime, expectations are very high in Spokane and Wiltjer should have plenty of opportunities to audition in front of NBA decision makers.