In a year marred with ups and downs, I feel Arizona star-studded freshman Nico Mannion isn’t quite ready for the NBA, and I break down why.
After playing three years at Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, AZ; Nico Mannion was named an All-American, a Gatorade Player of the Year after just his sophomore season, however, after a year in Tucson, he has found himself in uncharted waters.
Despite the solid numbers, overall I feel Nico has struggled to get off consistent, high percentage shots in coach Sean Miller’s motion offense and he doesn’t seem to ‘quarterback and command’ the offense like we all thought he would.
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After watching numerous games, there would be time he wouldn’t really call any plays for his star players.
We all witnessed how he likes to get out in transition and run a high tempo, fast-paced offense, as he is a smaller player, and it is hard for him to create his own shot while being defended by taller players.
Many factors go into Nico not playing quite like a future Top 10 NBA lottery pick (which is where he is projected by many draft scouts) such as him not having enough shooting around him, as well as being the only reliable ball handler on the floor.
For Nico to succeed, the offense needs to be designed for him to be the main scorer; getting him more pull up jump shots and picks to create space getting to the basket or getting the ball to open shooters.
Mannion has always put up high scoring totals in his basketball career, as he averaged over 20 points per game all three years of his high school career, including his senior season in which he averaged over 30 points per game.
Playing against better competition at the collegiate level has been a hard adjustment for him as he looks very passive at times when deciding to get a shot off or when running the offense.
I believe that Miller needed to start running more pick and rolls for Nico with star big man Zeke Nnaji in the half court, in order to play to the teams’ strengths and to stop forcing bad three-point jump shots while being heavily guarded.
Running a mainly motion offense does not showcase his stars nearly enough, and he needs to set up some more ISO’s for Nico, to let him shoot off the dribble more.
Going into his freshman year, there was a lot of hype around Nico , which was well deserved as he played at a very high-level in High School, winning state championships and hitting big shots for his team. Watching him play, it seems like he doesn’t have that killer instinct that he showed in the past.
Also, on the defensive end, he needs to have more energy and to do a better job at closing out the offensive player to the best of his ability. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem as though Coach Miller had a lot of confidence in his point guard, as he likes to move the ball around on offense and has often taken the ball out of Nico’s hands, moving him to shooting guard to play along side Jemarl Baker.
After the season being cut short due to the Corona virus, I feel it would help Nico immensely to return to the University of Arizona for another season and hopefully gain more experience in the Pac-12 and March Madness Tournaments.
While he did finish the season averaging 14 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists, while shooting 39 percent from the field and 33 percent from long range, as highlighted previously, I feel there’s many areas for him to improve.
For a former five-star recruit and lead guard on a team which had high hopes at the beginning of the season to make a potential Final Four push, his performance was sub-par at times and he needed to make better decisions late in games for Coach Miller and Arizona to consistently win games.
Coming back to the U of A for a second season could strongly benefit Nico if he wants to continue to improve his game while still competing at a very high level. If he enters the draft this summer (which he is projected to do), teams will most likely view him as a project, sending him to play in the G-league where he would have to work himself up to the main roster.
Mannion could very well succeed in the G-league, but they do not have many practices there and in a sense, it is every man for themselves looking to shine and get a shot in the NBA.
In the NBA, it is a more physical game where a smaller point guard like Mannion will struggle to find his spots on the court when being heavily covered by bigger, veteran players who could be upwards of 30 years old.
Before he played his first college game at Arizona, scouts ranked him as high as number eight overall in this years draft. Now mock drafts have Nico in the 14-18 range, after an inconsistent and trying first year as a Wildcat.
If Nico decides to return to the Arizona Wildcats for his sophomore season next year, he would be in store for a run at the Final Four, gaining very important big game experience. As always, Bear Down Arizona!