2022 NBA Draft: Could Bulls take upside swing on Wesley? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Chicago Bulls own the 18th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Their options with that selection, should they keep it, are plentiful.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, NBC Sports Chicago will examine a handful of prospects that could be in play for the Bulls in their expected range. Next up: Notre Dame guard Blake Wesley.
Name: Blake Wesley
School: Notre Dame
Position: Shooting Guard (combo)
Height: 6-4 ¼
Wingspan: 6-9 ¼
2021-22 Stats: 14.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.3 spg | 40.4% FG, 30.3% 3P, 65.7% FT
Three Things to Know
He was a hometown story in college: Born and raised in South Bend, Wesley was a fan favorite during his lone season at Notre Dame, even if he didn't come out of high school with the typical recruiting profile of a future high NBA Draft pick: Four stars, ranked 121st nationally by 247 Sports and unlisted on ESPN's Top 100. But he dramatically elevated his stature with an impressive freshman campaign.
He is poised to become the first "one-and-done" in Notre Dame history: Wesley started the year coming off the bench for Mike Brey's squad, but was quickly promoted to the starting lineup after averaging 13 points in his first six games, including a 21-point debut and 24-point outburst in a loss to Illinois. He went on to lead Notre Dame in scoring for the season - averaging 14.4 points - and earned All-SEC honors.
The decision to enter the draft doesn't sound like it was a cut-and-dry one for Wesley. He said at May's combine he had originally intended to spend two years at school. But his stock rising and the risk of injury if he returned to Notre Dame combined to make the jump a logical one - and one supported by his family and Brey.
His offensive game requires refinement: Wesley has the tools to, in theory, be an effective three-level shot-creator and disruptive defender at the NBA level. He's long for his position, a plus athlete and blends craft and speed in his off-the-bounce game while running pick-and-roll, slashing to the basket and pulling up from the midrange. In his high moments, there's a lot to be intrigued by.
The trouble is, those flashes need to manifest consistently. On a largely self-created offensive diet, Wesley shot 40.4 percent from the field at Notre Dame, including just 53.8 percent at the rim and 36.9 percent on 2-point jumpshots, per Hoop Math. His 65.7 percent conversion rate from the free-throw line is concerning as well.
"Being honest, they're telling me I need to get my shot right," Wesley said when asked about the feedback he's received from NBA teams. He later attributed his poor finishing numbers to playing "too fast" on drives and stressed a need to build strength.
The good news? Wesley's 20th birthday isn't until March 2023, a dynamic which will surely appeal to NBA teams weighing a bet on his physical traits and work ethic. But it underscores the fact that he might be a prospect that requires patience to develop.
Welsey may not be as clean or immediate "fit" on the Bulls' current roster as some of the other frontcourt or wing players projected in their range. He'd enter a crowded guard room that, as of now, already features Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu and, the Bulls hope, Zach LaVine. And there's no guarantee Wesley will be able to shoulder rotation minutes at the pro level right away.
That said, Artūras Karnišovas has long been a proponent of the "best player available" approach in the draft. So if he and his staff view Wesley's two-way upside as worth investing in, don't expect the team's 2022-23 depth chart to dissuade them. From injuries to unforeseen transactional opportunities, the NBA is too unpredictable to make such decisions with only a short-term lens.
And, for what it's worth, Wesley's upside - while theoretical - embodies much of what teams covet in the modern NBA: A long, athletic wing who can create for himself and others and guard multiple positions at the other end.
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