Three-star recruits rarely show themselves to be lottery prospects in the first dozen games of their college careers, but Michael Weathers of Miami-Ohio has done exactly that in the early going.
In addition to this incredible intersection of USGxAST (an awesome indicator of NBA success on its lonesome), Weathers has the lowest turnover-percentage of all names listed as well.
On the other side of the ball, Weathers is showing to be an even bigger outlier: he is the only player in the sports-reference database under 6'6" to ever average over 1.75 blocks-per-game. While that may not keep up over the season, it shows the upside he presents defensively despite his diminutive stature (listed at 6'2", 161 lbs).
And this screenshot above is of a comprehensive list of every freshman in college basketball history who has ever generated points, assists and steals at the same per-game rate as (or better than) Weathers. (LaDrell Whitehead, for whatever it's worth, was a 5'8" stud who probably would've also been a great NBA player if he didn't suffer a career-altering injury which cut this same season short.)
And Markelle Fultz, if you're somehow blissfully unaware, is the No. 1 player in this class and a near-guarantee to be a star. I'll write many more words about him in the coming six months, lest you worry.
Now, say whatever you will about the differences between the respective competition of Iverson and Weathers - it is still astonishingly impressive that Weathers is statistically producing a somewhat similar line to the former's freshman year, and even scoring at far, far more efficient rates (as well as generating blocked-shots like a maniac, as touched on above).
The turnover numbers are eye-popping too, but become decidedly less so when you consider their usage rates: Iverson only turned it over on 17.2-percent of his possessions as a freshman, and Weathers only turns it over on 18.8-percent of his possessions so far this year. This is right in line with the majority of point-guard prospects, with 12-percent or less being an elite number and over 20-percent being the opposite of such.
As you know, Iverson was also one of the quickest and fastest players to ever touch a basketball, which aided his forward development a great deal. While Weathers is simply not that, it is entirely possible that his functional athleticism - which reveals itself so screamingly in his steals, blocks, offensive rebounds, unassisted field goals-at-the-rim, and free-throw-attempts numbers - is on the super-elite end of the spectrum, especially since he is able to do these things with such little weight on his frame. If that is the case, I have no concerns about his capability to continue developing his game on both ends of the court.
As mentioned above, Weathers stands at 6'2" and weighs somewhere in the 160 to 175 lbs range. There is no listing for his wingspan anywhere, but I would imagine it's in the 6'6" range (though it's always worth restating that wingspan has no bearing on future potential - it already reveals itself in statistics such as steals, blocks and rebounds).
Weathers' tools and his potentially super-elite functional athleticism were covered above. He is not too small for the league, and, raw explosiveness-wise (where the above GIF comes into play), he is easily a few notches above guys like Markelle Fultz, Jawun Evans, Monte Morris, and so on; he is probably below Dennis Smith and De'Aaron Fox in that regard, but that is not remotely a slight against him.
Creating and Penetrating
Beyond his extreme-outlier assist-rate touched on above, Weathers is also producing on the extreme-outlier end of the scale at getting to the rim and drawing fouls there, with 5.9 unassisted makes at-the-rim and 11.2 free-throw attempts per-40-minutes.
He is a special prospect. Even if these numbers drop to 75-percent of their current values over the remaining two-thirds of the schedule, Weathers is a special prospect.
Above, a well-executed but dodgy pick-and-roll which he uses a jump-pass to finish off - there was a man open in the corner which Weathers could have hockey-assisted or tried to get his own pass to, but he got his big man a high-percentage shot in any case. Just a bad miss.
Here, Weathers turns the corner after a pick-and-roll just well enough to get into the paint, at which point he beautifully executes a spin-move to get to the rim and get the bucket.
Above, a very nice hesitation into a crossover which gets him past the defender, where he makes a good read to his man in the corner. Worth noting that there are only three players on Miami-Ohio's roster shooting better than Weathers' 32-percent from 3, and one of them (his brother Marcus) has only attempted 17 on the year.
Weathers' perception - his ability to get a defense on its heels or to catch it napping - is one of his best traits. He sees lanes extremely well, and is an awesome transition player because of it.
A whole lot of the same, simply sensing open lanes - I've seen a whole lot of him finishing with both hands at the rim, and he also has a very capable floater game. When guys like Tacko Fall are in the middle, he knows exactly when to go to it.
A floater kiss off the glass with Fall just out of reach.
Great vision for teammates who are open or soon to be open, and he always has confidence behind his passes. This overhead skip-pass probably should've been a quick bucket at the rim.
Turning the corner just enough to get to the rim around a lagging PnR switch, and good extension finishing with the left hand.
Great off-ball movement coming from one wing to the other via the baseline, splitting defenders with a hop-step and delivering a nice pass to his big man.
Every time Weathers brings the ball up, he is looking to make the quickest, most decisive move he can to get his team closer to a bucket, and, usually, that is a pass. It is no accident that 45-percent of his teammates' field-goals are assists from him when he's on the floor. He's a high-IQ floor-general with NBA-level dribbling, passing and penetrating abilities.
Weathers has shown good potential shooting both off the catch and off the bounce. He is shooting just 32.5-percent from 3 on the season to date, but is supplementing his potential here strongly by shooting 80-percent from the free-throw line.
He's confident shooting even against pressure, which is a great sign. He has made eight assisted threes (34-percent in this situation) on the year compared to five unassisted (30-percent).
Consistently, Weathers steps into his shot with his right foot, which takes more than a split-second, but it lets him confidently take every shot. In order to become a good shooter on a higher volume, he'll probably have to learn to hop into his off-the-catch shots to get his feet set immediately.
(So sorry for unaesthetic GIF size differences in this section, I had to dig hard to get the off-the-dribble shots.) Here, a defender dares him to shoot with a few feet of space, and Weathers confidently steps in, takes it and makes it.
Moving off the ball, Weathers has impressed me for a point-guard prospect; he always makes a pass and keeps going, and he's good at diagnosing where he should be on the perimeter when he receives a pass - has the sense of mind to make small adjustments in order to make a move directly after receiving a pass.
Here, Weathers threatens to turn the corner off of a screen, but instead fakes it and steps back to drain the 3, given a few feet of space.
When he can get his feet set, he confidently takes and makes shots even if a defender is within 3 feet and has a hand up - a nice indicator, I'd like to think, for a guy who's just 6'2".
Weathers gets the defender on his heels, backed up to below the free-throw line with his sprinting momentum, and abruptly stops on a dime with his feet set and gets the 3 off. I wish I had more of the GIF to show that he was going near-full-speed, but you can see it well enough.
As a shooting prospect, he simply clearly shows promise in both facets of shooting. Point prospects who produce across the board like he does very rarely also shoot well in college, so I'm taking 32.5-percent on threes and 80-percent on free-throws from Weathers at age-19 and running pretty happily with it.
As a defender, Weathers is, at worst, a gambler. Any player who is producing over five "stocks" (steals plus blocks) per-40-minutes is going to gamble sometimes.
Five stocks-per-40, by the way, is a feat that has never been accomplished by an NCAA guard over a full season, save for McNeese State's Kevin Hardy, who only did it his senior year and was a total minus offensively (and continues to be one in Europe). And it's likely that Weathers won't sustain it over the course of the season. But it's at the very least incredibly noteworthy that he's doing it, at 6'2", as of now.
But, at best, he can be lockdown. I have seen him harass ball-handlers at the point of attack and move his feet astoundingly well, with capability of switching onto bigger players without batting an eye.
Here is Weathers keeping up with a slasher, leading him into traffic and with enough presence of mind (and timing) to block the floater of the 6'9" A.J. Davis of UCF.
A wonderful thing about Weathers' blocks is that they almost never result in a dead ball, and, often, his team can make it an offensive possession in transition off of the rebound. Blocked-shot numbers of guards are underrated for this reason - they act as live-ball turnovers far more often than centers' do.
While Weathers is superbly attentive to the ball at all times, I would not accuse him of ball-watching. He hardly ever loses his man off of the ball (though navigating screens has been a weak spot for him from what I've seen), yet he can be seen making incredible displays of awareness like this every single game.
As a rebounder, Weathers is also excellent for a point-guard prospect, especially on the defensive end.
All of these things, in addition to his complete outlier penetrating and foul-drawing numbers, come together to form a picture of Weathers being one of the most functionally-athletic players in the whole class. (It is simply hard to gauge how much better or worse players like De'Aaron Fox would be showing at MU - I'd be very willing to bet worse, but it's impossible to know exactly how much worse.)
Look for Weathers to keep up the stocks numbers as the season progresses and to earn a reputation as a defensive stopper, possibly earning the DPOY award in the MAC by season's end.
Despite being just a three-star recruit and playing actual high-school ball as opposed to AAU (and leading his Kansas high school to its first state title in school history), and despite playing in the MAC, Weathers is building a monumentally strong case as one of the best 15 or so NBA prospects currently eligible for the 2017 NBA Draft.
He is an elusive four-skill prospect (defending, passing, penetrating, shooting) with reasons aplenty to be optimistic about every area translating to the next level.
I really can't begin to fathom an NBA comparison for Weathers. Current Portland Trail Blazers (and four-year college players) C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard were both mid-major high-usage point-guards, but both had better shooting profiles and pretty significantly worse passing, penetrating and defending profiles (simply due to Weathers being so extremely productive in those areas thus far). Dame, of course, was also an explosive athlete - McCollum's penetration ability did not translate whatsoever.
And lack of translation is a big risk here, which is why it's so hard to project a comparison for Weathers. Will he be a true four-skill NBA player? Or will just three, two, one or even zero areas of his game translate? That's a very hard question to answer.
To my eyes, Weathers has great feel for the game and plays a winning brand of basketball. He is a quick, decisive passer with great vision, he is a smart and determined slasher, he is a promising shooter off of both the catch and the bounce, and he is a good defender who generates a phenomenal number of events on that end.
Toward projecting his median NBA outcome, I might project a good backup point-guard who has ability in all four major areas of the game, not totally dissimilar to Cory Joseph... but Weathers appears to me to have functional athleticism beyond Joseph's wildest dreams, and just about everything across both of their profiles screams 19-year old Weathers > 19-year old CoJo.
Toward projecting his upside, which I believe he may have an inordinately good shot to reach, I have no idea how to compare to any given NBA player. As his usage is lowered in the NBA, he should become even more selective and have even better chances to score at the rim and from 3.
I may say Kemba Walker with an extra layer of goodness via generating lots of defensive events would be a semi-realistic upside comparison for Weathers. He's not explosive in the same way, but there's logic behind calling his athleticism elite. Kemba, this year, is getting an awesome 35-percent of his shots at the rim, and taking another 37-percent of his shots from behind the arc - this should remain a goal for Weathers, to either get a super-efficient shot or pass out of it.
If Weathers does reach anywhere near his upside at the next level, I imagine his career arc would look similar to Kemba's, too: a plus-0 to plus-2 player for years before progressing his shot to above-average level on high volume and subsequently completely unlocking his offensive game.
I am not sure on Weathers' likelihood of staying in college rather than declaring for the draft; he did withdraw from consideration from some bigger schools just so he could play with his twin brother Marcus at Miami, but I also imagine he would recognize the opportunity before him of playing in the NBA. Perhaps he decides to follow in the footsteps of recent-past's mid-major guards and stay at MU all four years. I do not know. I think the NBA would be better for him, but that's a weighty decision which may not even completely present itself this year (though I have heard from a credible source that NBA teams are very much on to Weathers' trail).
If you read this far, thank you very much for taking the time to do so. I hope, at the very least, that I provoked some critical thought of your own, and let you form a defined opinion on a prospect I personally love. Let me hear anything you have to add or any response you have in the comments below.