Why Teams Should Eye Olivier Hanlan In The NBA Draft

“[I’m] as confident [in him] as I can be in anyone in the country.”

After Boston College defeated Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament, coach Jim Christian lauded Olivier Hanlan’s ability and the trust he had in his superstar. Hanlan’s confidence in his own abilities appears to be equally as high. Earlier this month, he declared for 2015 NBA Draft, despite no guarantees of a selection. The choice wasn’t unanimously approved by NBA Draft pundits, who questioned his decision to leave without that guarantee.

Though confident in his own abilities, Hanlan will need to come to terms with the fact that he isn’t a highly coveted draft selection and needs to further hone his craft. Here are the key challenges Hanlan will encounter in his transition to professional basketball, which are also central to projecting his draft stock.

Challenge 1: Can Hanlan Transition From Featured Scorer to Role Player?
In all likelihood, Hanlan won’t be the focal point of his team’s offense in the NBA. He doesn’t have the size or athleticism to be a featured perimeter scorer and will be unable to consistently beat elite NBA defenders off the dribble. While this isn’t necessarily something that will doom his chances at success, it means that he will have to adapt to being an ancillary player, likely coming off the bench. The most difficult component of this task will be operating without the ball constantly in his hands.

After a season in Christian’s motion-based offense, Hanlan shouldn’t take issue with that. He has shown the ability to use screens to free himself for catch and shoot jumpers. In the NBA, where such plays are growing in popularity, Hanlan cannot only get himself open but also has the “ability to make shots with his feet set,” as observed by Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.com. The ability to catch and shoot—setting your feet and squaring your shoulders towards the basket while running around the screen at full speed—is coveted among NBA general managers as an essential skill for a perimeter player.

Hanlan has also shown promise as a cutter off the ball, adept at reading his defender’s positioning. The only lingering question regarding Hanlan’s off-ball transition will be his effectiveness as a spot-up shooter. Due to the burden he assumed at BC, virtually none of Hanlan’s buckets were of the spot up variety—most came off the bounce. As an NBA role player, he will need to develop the ability to shoot spot-up threes at a high percentage when teammates bend defenses away from him. While shooting just over 35 percent from downtown the last two seasons, Hanlan possesses fluid shooting mechanics and a quick release. With the more spacious NBA floor and without the defensive attention given to a primary option, Hanlan should acclimate to the task, solidifying his NBA role player tool kit.

Challenge 2: What Position Will Hanlan Play in the NBA?
The most divisive issue regarding Hanlan is projecting his NBA position. According to ESPN draft expert Chad Ford, “He’s an undersized shooting guard without the elite athleticism that could make up the difference.” Ford’s categorization isn’t entirely accurate. In his first two seasons at BC under former head coach Steve Donahue, Hanlan primarily played shooting guard, with assist to turnover ratios of 1.03 and 1.20. Under Christian, Hanlan made the transition to the point, averaging a career-high 4.2 assists per game and an assist to turnover ratio of 1.59.

Per Jacob Stallard of NBAdraft.net, Hanlan proved that he could “make a quick pass right into the hands of an open big man, or kick the ball outside to an open shooter.” More importantly, he showed that he could utilize his quickness to exploit openings in the defense and find teammates amidst the resulting defensive breakdowns. While he must become more consistent in his passing, he shows good natural ability that he should continue to harness, especially given that he has played just one full season at the point.

Ford’s analysis also depends on rigid positional definitions, something that the NBA appears to be moving away from. The league places a premium on shooting and passing from all positions, de-emphasizing the need to have a single player initiate the offense every play. Particularly with bench players, being a pure point guard isn’t as important. Hanlan has the passing acumen to run the pick and roll, the staple of the modern NBA offense. He also has the ability to score on jumpers and in the paint, finishing 68.1 percent of his shots at the rim, per Synergy Sports Technology.

According to Matt Kamalsky of DraftExpress.com, Hanlan is “a solid ball-handler with a knack for changing speeds and turning the corner.” If he can maintain patience off the dribble, he will prop up bench units with both his passing and scoring. On the right team, one with several capable passers, his lack of “pure” point guard skills wouldn’t be a detriment. His ideal role would be as a scoring combo guard on a motion-heavy team, one that would allow him to escape the burden of having to create offense every time down the floor.

Challenge 3: Can Hanlan Survive Defensively in the NBA?
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing Hanlan is his transition to playing NBA defense. For Hanlan, the challenge is largely technical. To compensate for a slight frame that sometimes leaves him vulnerable to being screened or posted up, Hanlan will need to improve his defensive technique. Stallard was particularly blunt, saying that Hanlan is a “fundamentally poor perimeter defender, doesn’t always fight through screens and his defensive intensity drops when he’s guarding off the ball.”

His defense definitely improved under Christian, as he stayed mentally engaged and kept a defensive stance much more than in prior years. He still needs to improve on his team defense, particularly in helping down in the paint before recovering out to a shooter. Hanlan would do well to see how Steph Curry has become a functional NBA defender without elite athleticism and a slight frame, compensating with intelligence and quickness. In the NBA, freed from his hefty offensive burden, Hanlan should have more time and energy to devote to the less glamorous side of the ball. He needs to hope that NBA teams view his situation this way and don’t dismiss him as a player who will not improve. Otherwise, coupled with his positional ambiguity, he could fall out of the draft altogether.

Projection: Mid-to-Late Second Round (45-60): Hanlan has all the tools to compete for an NBA roster spot and is deserving of a late selection. His age, 22 on draft night, works against him, as he doesn’t have the alluring potential of a 19-year-old. On the other hand, his proven abilities should hold the attention of teams, with the promise of a mature player who will work hard and fit into a system. While going undrafted wouldn’t be a shock, expect Hanlan’s name to be called in New York this June.

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor