For the first time in what feels like forever, a UConn Husky is generating some serious NBA Draft buzz.
James Bouknight, the 6’4 Brooklyn, N.Y. native has long been considered a likely first-rounder and potential lottery pick, even as UConn’s season ended with a whimper in March. But in the last week, mock draft projections that once ranged from pick #10-15 have crept into the top 10, with many big names taking notice.
An eye-popping NBA Combine is propelling Bouknight up draft boards, it appears.
Bouknight measured in at 6 feet 4½ with shoes on with a 6 foot 8¼ wingspan, offering solid size for a shooting guard. But it was the workout performance — part of the Combine — that sent Bouknight’s stock to the moon. While some outlets such as The Ringer’s mock draft have him going at #19 to the Knicks, Jonathan Givony of ESPN has Bouk going to the Magic at #8. NBA.com sees Bouknight and Franz Wagner as the two players with the most board volatility.
UConn's James Bouknight put on an absolutely incredible shooting display at his NBA Combine Pro Day workout today. Shot the cover off the ball, showing phenomenal footwork, touch and body control. pic.twitter.com/XzHdjwLpRK— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 26, 2021
That’s the clip that’s turning heads. Giveny has Bouk going to the Magic at #8, the highest he’s climbed among most mock drafts.
Here’s another in slow motion so slow it would make Dave Chappelle proud:
Here’s a slow-motion look at James Bouknight’s shooting mechanics. pic.twitter.com/yahvleCAlN— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) June 27, 2021
Workout videos should of course be taken with a massive grain of salt. It’s one thing to be First-Team Open Gym, it's another to translate those reps into game situations. But consider that Bouknight’s shooting numbers were down last year (29.3% from 3-point range) in comparison to his freshman season (34.7%). That was his only real weakness in his two years at UConn; the one flaw preventing him from being a complete scoring package.
A lot of that can be chalked up to Big East defenses keying in on him, and teammates that often struggled with playmaking. When you consider Bouk had the highest usage rate in the Big East (30.4%) while also the highest offensive rating in the conference (106.2), his breakthrough ability is apparent.
In the NBA, Bouknight can seamlessly slide into most rosters and score in bunches without having to navigate double-teams or serve as a team’s only source of offense, something he was burdened with often for the Huskies. Let’s not forget it was also just a very weird season.
An elbow injury robbed Bouknight of more than half the season, and all reports indicate he rushed back to push his team into the NCAA tournament conversation. In addition to what that says about the kid’s character, it means the James Bouknight college basketball fans saw the last two years could be a drastically different player in the NBA. The league is littered with players who had to fill too many roles in college, only for their elite skillset to truly thrive in the professional ranks.
There’s still a month left until the draft. Bouknight’s stock could take a hit, or the buzz could be overshadowed by another player’s workouts. And there’s certainly a lot of volatility to Bouknight’s profile, per Rob Dauster:
James Bouknight shot 29 percent from three and just 21 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers this season.— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) June 30, 2021
He also finished with 63 assists and 92 turnovers in 45 college games.
How worried should we be about this? Why is he still projected in the top ten? https://t.co/YLPTOxJVHS pic.twitter.com/3tdSsxdiSr
Whatever camp you’re in, all you need is one team to fall in love with you. And if the buzz is any indicator, UConn could be looking at its highest draft pick since Hasheem Thabeet in 2009. Let’s hope that’s not a jinx.
James Bouknight of @UConnMBB is a high-flying bucket getter who has some serious offensive tools that will translate to the NBA. Given an improvement in playmaking/creation & consistent off-ball shooting, he has real upside as a lottery pick.— Dominic Samangy (@DSamangy) June 27, 2021
(Video breakdown below ⬇️‼️) pic.twitter.com/qIJwqr8poO