There was a moment, right before Milwaukee’s selection, when I was dumbfounded that at least one of Lonnie Walker or Zhaire Smith were going to be available to the Bucks. I know it’s shortsighted to zero in on guys when we’re all basically fumbling around in the dark on draft picks, but I was elated thinking Milwaukee could land one of these electric athletes. Sure, there are questions about their shooting ability, but I thought that could get ironed out with Bud’s help and they had the type of upside to grow comfortably alongside Giannis’ brilliance. Instead, when I saw the selection of Donte DiVincenzo come across Twitter, I coolly slipped my phone back into my pocket and felt an intense sense of serenity come over me. Some things don’t change, and as I let brief elation of what could’ve been at that pick slip away, I fell back into the comforting sense of mediocrity that accompanies Bucks fandom.
Now, neither I, you or even the finest draft experts truly know whether Donte will be good in the NBA. Maybe he’ll turn out to be a spicy off-ball player whose shooting ability lands and his athleticism turns him a dangerous finisher and defensive menace. Maybe the fact he was a bench player and 21 year old with a somewhat iffy free throw percentage means he’ll wash out of the league like a mudslide. What I do know, is that the draft has too much variance for me to feel comfortable calling any pick “safe.” Anyone can be a bust, so I’d rather Milwaukee hadn’t chosen a flash-in-the-pan scorer who entered this process as a fringe first rounder before individual workouts.
Yes, DiVincenzo has athleticism, but it reminds me of the kind that pops more in an empty gym than on the court. His combine-best standing leap could come in handy when he’s jumping into the fray on the offensive boards for potential tip-ins, but pure leaping ability isn’t all that functional for a guard defensively. He’s a powerful two-footed leaper on offense, but he didn’t show as much hops off one foot while driving to the rim. I also can’t see the weakside blocks that pepper his highlight videos translating to the NBA. Most NBA guards won’t find themselves hesitating beneath the bucket looking for a sliver of space to finish. Unless he finds himself pickpocketed in the backcourt and able to slap home a chasedown block, that kind of athleticism doesn’t interest me.
For me, it’s side-to-side and recovery speed that are more applicable. DiVincenzo is quick, but in the combine’s speed drills he routinely finished a click behind his National Player of the Year teammate, Jalen Brunson. The fact he was near the top is promising, but calling him an “elite athlete” as his scouting reports suggest seems a smidge disingenuous. That’s more of a systematic issue with draft prospect evaluation, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is an elite athlete. Donte DiVincenzo is just a an athlete. I can’t see him being able to stick with the quick-footed, sure-handed guards in the NBA, nor do I see his size translating to let him guard larger wings consistently. Possessing only a 6’6” wingspan to go along with his 6’5” height, there’s not a lot of translatable size for shifting positions.
With the advent of these larger playmaking wings in the NBA, DiVincenzo almost seems like a new kind of tweener. Too big to be a pure point guard, too small to be a playmaking wing, his sole contribution to the team may be shooting. Of course, that’s a necessity for any team, particularly the Bucks who are likely done trotting Jason Terry out after last year. DiVincenzo’s willingness to move the ball side-to-side, as he did at Nova, would also be a helpful replacement for Terry’s pass-first mentality. My fear for DiVincenzo is that shooting may be his only ability. In a league where multi-faceted players are becoming more and more essential, that’s concerning. His 37.8% from 3-point land on nearly 350 attempts in college is promising, although his 70.5% from the free throw line is a little troubling, but that also came on just 190 attempts. Still, one would hope a knockdown shooter like DiVincenzo had a slightly higher percentage where most analysts say is the best predictor of shooting ability translating. For example, Mikal Bridges boasted an 84.5% free throw percentage to go with his 40.0% from deep.
Now, there are several statistics that point towards someone who may offer Milwaukee a more dynamic scorer than just a catch-and-shoot chucker. Only 76.5% of DiVincenzo’s 3-pointers were assisted, meaning he’s taking a decent amount of his shots off the dribble, a trait Milwaukee sorely lacks. In a lot of the clips I watched, DiVincenzo looked very confident taking a couple dribbles to his left around a screen and pulling up with a hand in his face. His 45.7% on 2-point jumpers, only 15.6% of which were assisted, also points to someone who’s willing, and more importantly able, to get a competent shot off in traffic. Whether he’ll feel comfortable doing that in the pros against better athletes will be an interesting development to monitor.
The more important development for me was his uptick in assists. Vaulting up from 2.7 per 40 the season prior to 4.8 his final year, DiVincenzo was a key cog in Villanova’s pro-style offense with plenty of curls, cutters and extra passes around the perimeter. His vision from the top of the key to find guys swooping beneath the bucket seems decent. Villanova’s offense carves up college competition, so there are occasionally obvious openings, but DiVincenzo notching that many more assists also points to a skill development curve one hopes hasn’t already reached its conclusion.
What might’ve impressed me most though were some of his passes in transition. Many a Bucks fan knows Milwaukee’s transition game seemed off last year. For a team with a transition terror like Giannis, there were far too many gaffes. DiVincenzo’s hops often allowed him to sky for a rebound and then scream down the court, but he also displayed a keen ability to slip bounce passes to the right man. If not that, then he quickly found another player spaced out on the perimeter. If Bud actually wants to play faster, as he and every other coach espouses, then DiVincenzo could be an excellent distributor if he avoids falling into selfish pull-ups. I recommend watching his highlights vs. Xavier for an example of what I’m talking about.
DiVincenzo worked as an off-ball player for Villanova, letting Brunson run the show. That role was assuredly attractive to Milwaukee, who have the luxury of finding guards that don’t always need to be primary playmakers. DiVincenzo doesn’t display much ability off the bounce though; he could occasionally get by his defenders but I don’t think he’ll have enough speed to slip by guys often in the NBA. He didn’t display a rapid rip-through or first step, generally relying on his craftiness around the rim to pop in his finishes. In the small highlights I saw, he did have a certain shiftiness to his scoop shot around the rim. I’m dubious that shot translates, but I found it more promising than someone fearful of going to the rack and settling for floaters instead. His numbers around the rim provide some hope too, shooting 65.1% on 109 field goal attempts at the rim, per Hoop Math. One should also note though that 43.7% of those shots assisted, pointing to a savvy player who could find gaps in coverage and explode quickly off two feet for a dunk.
I confess to not knowing much about his defensive ability. ESPN profiles him as an aggressive defender who likes to pick guys up full court. That’s basically a useless skill in the NBA unless you’re an elite perimeter defender like Patrick Beverley. He plays passing lanes fairly well, there are a number of tips he had that turned into easy transition buckets on the other end. I think switchability is going to be an issue though and despite his size, he’s generally more comfortable guarding point guards. That slots in well with Milwaukee’s jumbo-sized lineups, but optimists would hope Bud could carve him into someone that can at least match up against threes. Even if they isolate and try to drive, he does have the ability to pounce up and contest.
In terms of ball handling, he’ll likely eschew most of those duties, preferring to work as an off-ball shooter on second units. It’s also one of his weakest traits, and one of the most frustrating aspects of the selection. While everyone understands it makes sense to get an off-ball guy to work next to Giannis, I think some draft folks are overrating fit in this instance. There were still plenty of times last year where Milwaukee’s offense looked stagnant. Whether that was due to its non-optimized design or a lack of individual creators is a question that Bud can hopefully answer, but I don’t think any team can have too many off-the-dribble creators. DiVincenzo can create an occasional shot for himself, but will it be an efficient look? Let’s hope he doesn’t start trying to create his own hot hand.
At the end of the day, DiVincenzo is someone who does seem to slot into Bud’s idea of offense. A quick-trigger 3-point shooter who knows how to share the ball and find the open man. He’s also a limited creator with questionable measurables and not nearly as many moldable skills with upside as other players available. For me, he’s a bench player at best with skills I’m not sure will translate into production at the NBA level. Eric Nehm summed it up astutely when hearkening back to Jon Horst’s pre-draft presser.
"You want to be able to pass, handle, and shoot at every position." - Jon Horst earlier this week.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) June 22, 2018
DiVincenzo does a little bit of all those things.
At Villanova, DiVincenzo certainly was a jack-of-all-trades guy. The optimum word I took from Eric here is “little.” I want players who have at least one elite, translatable skill to the next level. People that mess around with all these different ingredients sometimes turn into a wondrous dish. Other times they never turn out harmonious. Sometimes, you would’ve been better off just seasoning that steak with a dash of pepper, an elite condiment. Some would argue that analogy also translates to DiVincenzo, characterized as a “solid, safe” pick. I don’t know if that solidity will hold up in the NBA.
My final recommendation is to watch this full game highlights against weaker competition, La Salle. It shows a little of the good (transition passing, leaping ability, driving and shotmaking) and the bad (errant shots, turnovers and struggling to drive past sub-par collegiate competition). If he can somehow meet in the middle between this and his breakout national championship performance, I’d consider that a massive victory. I just don’t expect it.