Top NBA Prospects In the Rest of the NCAA, Part Four: Prospects 4-7November 8, 2016
Named Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama as a high school senior, William Lee committed to UAB over a handful of SEC schools (and Wichita State), making him one of the most highly touted recruits to sign at the school in some time. He made an instant impact, starting almost every game as a freshman and memorably making the eventual go-ahead basket in UAB's upset of #3 seed Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, catapulting him into NBA scouts' and the national consciousness.
Lee made incremental progress as a sophomore, named to Conference USA's All-Conference Third team, while being awarded Defensive Player of the Year honors. His scoring and shot-blocking improved, but his efficiency dropped, particularly as a 3-point shooter, where he was unable to sustain the blistering 45% he converted in a small sample size as a freshman, making a still respectable 35% of his attempts. UAB went 16-2 in conference play, but lost in the semi-finals of the Conference USA Tournament, which relegated them to the NIT, where they lost in the first round to BYU.
Listed at 6'9, and 209 pounds by UAB, Lee has a long lanky frame that is somewhat narrow, particularly in the lower body, which hampers him at times on both ends of the floor. He does not possess exceptional length, measured with approximately a 6'11 wingspan, although his narrow shoulders belie what appears to be a fairly good standing reach. Lee is a very good athlete, running the floor well, very light on his feet, and quick to get off the ground for dunks and blocks. There may still be some room for him to improve his athleticism even more as his frame fills out, which has been somewhat of a slow process considering he turns 22 in January.
Lee's most interesting attribute from a NBA standpoint revolves around his jump-shot, an increasingly valuable quality for a 6'9 player to possess in today's style of play. He has good shooting mechanics, complete with a smooth and high release point, making him a fairly consistent option in pick and pop situations with range out past the 3-point line.
Lee's confidence as a shooter (and as a whole in fact) comes and goes at times, as he converted just 65% of his free throw attempts last year, and will look very off-balance in his lower body on some of his 3-point attempts. Nevertheless, his touch and ability to throw the ball in the hoop is unmistakable, and represents a significant part of the equation in his NBA evaluation.
Not someone who is going to create a huge amount of offense on his own, for himself or others, Lee rarely emerges as a volume shot creator, either facing, or with his back to the basket. He flashes some ability to attack a closeout in a straight line, showing a quick first step and long strides, but doesn't really have the advanced ball-handling ability to do much more than that at this stage. NBA teams may also want to see him improve his just-average passing ability.
Capable of playing above the rim with his ability to elevate quickly and smoothly off the ground, but often preferring to toss up a floater (which he possesses very soft touch on), Lee lacks a degree of strength and toughness with his finishes. He gets knocked off his spot easily, and tends to avoid contact at times, not getting to the free throw line at a very high rate. Getting stronger will help him here, as will improving his level of physicality and aggressiveness.
Defensively, Lee has excellent tools, and is already somewhat of a difference maker at the Conference USA level utilizing his ability to cover ground, big standing reach, and quickness getting off the floor as a weak-side shot-blocker. His 4.4 blocks per-40 last season tied for the third best rate among all returning collegiate prospects in our Top-100 rankings. He shows impressive timing and pursuit as a rim-protector, often recovering from great vantage points to make plays at the rim.
With that said, outside his shot-blocking prowess, Lee still has a ways to go to be able to translate his defensive prowess to higher levels of competition, as his fundamentals, technique and overall feel for the game are still a work in progress. He falls asleep frequently in his stance operating off the ball, losing his focus and being a split-second late to react to things that are occurring on the floor. He doesn't always take the best angles guarding the pick and roll, and can be very jumpy in one on one situations, gambling for steals and blocks and getting caught out of position on the defensive glass in turn.
The NBA is increasingly focused on multi-positional defenders, and it remains to be seen if Lee has the discipline to guard much quicker forwards and wings on the perimeter, or bigger, longer and stronger big men in the post. In the short term, NBA teams will want to see him improve on his rebounding prowess, as he's under 10 rebounds per-40 for his career thus far.
Lee ticks a number of boxes NBA teams are looking for in power forward prospects with his ability to play above the rim, shoot 3-pointers and block shots, so he will certainly be monitored closely during his junior season. Despite turning 22 in January, he has quite a bit of room for growth still physically and skill-wise, and a more consistent season (and possibly a return to the NCAA Tournament) could put him firmly on NBA radars.
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