In the weeks prior to and following the 2023 NBA Draft, fans and analysts ripped the Charlotte Hornets for selecting Brandon Miller (wing) over Scoot Henderson (guard).

Yes, the Hornets already had LaMelo Ball in the backcourt, but many experts lauded Henderson as one of the best prospects of the last couple of years. And our NBA Draft Model projected Henderson to be the second-best long-term prospect in the class behind Victor Wembanyama.

So, you can forgive folks for being upset that Charlotte missed out on another potentially dynamic playmaker.

But wait just a second, what if Henderson actually isn’t turning out to be the best rookie guard of the 2023 class? What if that player went 16th overall to the Utah Jazz?

What if that player is Keyonte George?

The Good

As we’ve discussed before, rookies are inherently volatile – consistency generally comes with age. So, when evaluating rookies, don’t worry about consistency. Focus on their flashes – because, eventually, those flashes will become a regularity.

In a recent study, I tried to find a proxy for “flashes” (using Basketball Reference’s Game Score), I found that George tied for the fourth-most flashes of the 34 rookies that have appeared in at least 30 games this season (tied with GG Jackson of the Memphis Grizzlies).

The flashes that Game Score is picking up on has a lot to do with George’s supreme skill. His percentages (more on this later) may not be pretty. But catch the right possessions, and you’ll see George unleash his smooth drive game, ambidexterity as a finisher and passer, feathery midrange touch, and burgeoning jumper.

George can drive and finish with either hand (first and second clip in the montage below), pass with either hand too (third and fourth clip), execute difficult floaters with ease (fifth), and flow into smooth-looking pull-up jumpers (sixth).

Along with flashes, another thing we often analyze is whether or not said prospect will ever develop into a credible shooter. George is converting on only 33.9% of his triples this year, but his overall indicators are promising.

Since he was 15, George has attempted 919 3s in high school tournaments/college/NBA, and during that time, he’s converted on 38.7% of his triples. George is also hitting 38.3% of his 2.3 wide-open attempts (per and 84.2% of his free throws this year (two context-independent measures of shooting).

All this is to say that the odds of George being a good NBA shooter are favorable (at least if you are his employer).

Another underrated part of George’s rookie year is that he’s already proven he can contribute to winning. Before they egregiously gutted their team, the Jazz were looking like a playoff team – going 19-10 from Dec. 12-Feb. 6.  

During that stretch, George appeared in 23 games (the Jazz were 15-8 in those contests) and put up averages of 11.3 points, 3.2 assists and 2.7 rebounds on 58.1% true shooting and a 21.5% usage rate (with a plus/minus of plus-1.2). Those aren’t Victor Wembanyama marks, but it shows that George can fit in as a role player if need be.

And while the team has taken a dive since the trade deadline, George ranks fifth among all rookies in points per game (16.2) and third in assists per game (4.8) since Jan. 29.

rookie scoring leaders

(Sidebar: While George can be a good passer, it’s hard to imagine him developing into a great one. From watching his tape, most of his assists come from simple passes in which the scorer does the bulk of the work. A good chunk of his turnovers also come from attempting these types of low-level deliveries. What you normally want to see from a great passer in the making is that their turnovers are primarily a result of them attempting high-value passes, like the skip pass.)

The Bad

Do you notice how we haven’t talked about his defense? Well, it’s because, as it stands, there’s not much good to say about it. Watching him play defense feels a little like watching Jordan Poole play defense, and considering Poole is in the eight percentile in defensive DRIP (D-DRIP), that is not a very good feeling.

George lacks physicality, has a stiff stance, uses his hands too much when defending the ball (which leads to a lot of ticky-tack fouls), and doesn’t have that high of a motor. This combination makes him a prime-time candidate for hunting from opposing teams.

Now, rookies tend to be pretty bad at defense right out of the gate. Improvement is definitely possible for George. But given the factors we highlighted above, it’s fair to question whether he’ll ever be a positive defender at his position. Plus, he’s only at the seventh percentile in steal rate.  

If he’s doesn’t develop into a good defender, it puts a lot more pressure on his offensive game. And yes, we talked about the value of not worrying about consistency and focusing on flashes. But George does have some concerning overall numbers – eighth percentile in true shooting and fifth in turnover percentage – and while those marks will likely improve with time, if they don’t improve drastically, it’ll be really hard for him to carve out a consistent role on an NBA roster.

The Bottom Line

Back to the Henderson reference and the flashes study we cited earlier, despite George being taken 13 picks later than Henderson, he still finished higher on the rookie flashes leaderboard than Henderson (George was tied for fourth while Henderson was ninth). That means that George’s highs have been higher than Henderson’s highs this year.

When you look at some of their overall numbers for the season, you also see a similar pattern take form.

Henderson and George Chart

Now, these data points don’t guarantee that George is on his way to the better career. But it does make you think – maybe George is the better prospect after all?

As for his long-term potential, George’s statistical footprint is similar to that of Darius Garland in 2019-20 (his rookie year with the Cleveland Cavaliers). That’s not a perfect comparison (George is bigger, and Garland has better passing vision), but I would say that it’s a pretty instructive one.

In 2021-22, Garland reached All-Star status by being a high-end offensive creator and subpar defender. If George can fully harness the flashes we’ve outlined, I could see him reaching similar heights during his prime.

But even if that developmental outcome doesn’t come to fruition, I think George has shown us enough offensively that the worst-case scenario I outlined in “The Bad” section won’t unfold. A more realistic floor for him is akin to the role that Poole played for the Golden State Warriors during their championship run (a supercharged combo guard off the bench).

Regardless, George’s flashes of ball skill and shooting touch are reasons to be excited about what the future holds. And it’d be easy to argue that he should be the choice over Henderson moving forward.

Check out our MLBNBA and NFL coverage, as well as our college basketball picks. Follow us on X and Instagram for more!