Tennessee freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler is a small yet super quick lead guard, possibly the best in a weak NBA Draft class at his position.
One of the biggest talking points with the 2022 NBA Draft class is the lack of lead guards on the board. Jaden Ivey will be the clear first guard taken, but calling him a true point guard is quite the stretch. After that you have a string of combo guards filling out the late lottery and mid-first projections. There is only one clear-cut point guard available, and he is expected to be later on in the first round, so let’s talk about Kennedy Chandler.
Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler is the “truest” pure point guard in the class, but does that make him the best? There are many things to like about the Volunteer point guard, but he is not without his concerns. There are reasons that most big boards have him projected in the late first or early second. A six-foot-flat guard is always going to be behind the eight-ball when it comes to NBA projection, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Not only are there general size concerns, but those issues are compounded by questions about Chandler’s jump shot.
So you may be asking yourself what a prospect needs to have to be a potential first-round pick with physical limitations as well as a questionable jumper. However, when that prospect is Kennedy Chandler, it does not matter because what he has is everything else. That may sound hyperbolic for a player that is not even a guaranteed first-round pick, but KC is an incredibly complete player that does so much well it is hard to imagine him not being a backup point guard at the absolute worst.
It is really hard to talk about the young floor general without immediately mentioning his incredibly high basketball I.Q. It is so important to start the conversation with his general on-court knowledge and headiness because that allows him to compensate for his lack of size. You are rarely going to see a guard prospect of his size (just 6’0″, 170 pounds) that does a better job of attacking the basket. He understands his role at an extremely high level and can read situations to allow himself to be successful in various contexts.
The explosive first step is going to be the selling point for Chandler as draft season continues because his quickness pops off the screen in every possession. However, his athleticism is much more than just straight-line speed and the twitchiness he shows with the ball in his hands, his ability to accelerate as well as decelerate to throw off the defense is an elite skill that will translate to the next level.
Kennedy Chandler's deceleration is so nice. Going from full sprint to a one leg stop into a euro floater is just so clean. Playing in more space in the league would make plays like this looks even better pic.twitter.com/BxDnvGxlvW
— Bryce Hendricks (@BryceHendrick14) April 11, 2022
Crafty is a word that will be used to describe the Tennessee native, but that craftiness is driven by the patience he uses to probe defense and figure out how to get past bigger defenders. His size is going to prevent him from rising up or going straight at defenders, so instead, he has an arsenal of incredibly difficult at-rim finishes in his layup package. He goes to inside hand finishes consistently where he uses the basket and his body to shield himself from defenders. When looking at his transition to the next level, it is a positive thing considering Chandler is not going to have to adjust to attacking against bigger defenders and will already be comfortable amongst the trees. His timing and precision will allow that transition to be smooth, especially since he will immediately be one of the faster players in the NBA.
Where his speed is most effective outside of transition is at attacking closeouts. Chandler had opportunities to play off-ball at Tennessee in Rick Barnes’ offense where he was the bigger guard in the backcourt next to the 5’9″ Zakai Zeigler. That was important for Chandler’s development in showing that even as a smaller guard, he is comfortable playing an off-ball or secondary creator role. That was allowed by his jump shooting, but even more so by his ability to attack the basket and beat defenders off the dribble. His shooting ability requires you to close out but his speed makes that a nearly impossible task.
— Caleb (@VolsAndDraft) February 23, 2022
That is an extremely important aspect of the Vol guard’s evaluation due to his propensity to attack the basket. You are not always going to see smaller guards as comfortable as going to the basket as he is, but his first step gets him there at will, which puts him in good positions going downhill. He still needs to improve on his mid-tier decision making such as how to finish and is still working on improving his floater, which is a shot that he could get easily with the space he creates going to the basket. While he does not always make the right decision, his rim pressure can collapse a defense allowing him easy passing opportunities if a basket is not there for him.
His decision-making was something that was questioned throughout the season but his court vision never was. He shows an elite passing ability based on his vision and precision passing with elite timing. His use of angles in his passing is something that looks like it should translate to The Association. This was something that he showed and improved throughout the season culminating in the NCAA tournament where he was able to completely command the court offensively. Even in the loss to Michigan, he had an impressive 19 points and nine assists and had the long Wolverines defense completely on their toes.
His cutting was a part of the skill set he developed more as a freshman but the bigger improvement throughout the season was the off-ball relocation for open shots. That benefited his shooting as that was a question going into the year. Evaluating the small guard’s jump shot is fairly divisive amongst the scouting community. One of the biggest reasons for that is the disparity in success between his three-point shooting and free-throw shooting in his freshman year at Tennessee. Where you stand on Chandler as a shooting prospect depends on what you value in scouting.
If you are just looking at the numbers from deep, you will likely be impressed by KC’s 38.3% shooting from nearly four attempts a game. However, if you are looking at general indicators such as free-throw shooting, you may be concerned by the 60.6% from the stripe. While individual opinions may vary: the jump shot is a very fluid motion and a good-looking stroke with a consistent ability to get it off. That is a very positive note from a projection standpoint and is enough to convince you that he will be able to continue his shooting at the next level. The size is a potential concern for getting the shot off, but the threat of the blow-by will garner some respect from defenses that should allow for him to get the jump shot off easier.
While the shooting was inconsistent for Chandler, he hit a really solid rhythm towards the end of conference play as well as the postseason. In the last two games of the season, where Tennessee was one of the best teams in the country, Chandler shot 47% from three and was an anchor to their success on both sides of the ball. The SEC tournament MVP showed high-level flashes of self-creation in the mid-range and pull-up jumpers late, which makes it clear he has a healthy bag of dribble moves to get off his jump shot. Another benefit from being a smaller prospect means, he has gotten used to creating that shot against bigger defenders and it shows with the offensive creativity.
Kennedy Chandler caps his performance off with a beauty. Behind the back step back middy in iso.
He really impressed me today. Showed a lot in regards to self creation. 29 Points on 13-20 shooting. pic.twitter.com/Bus6avEgsR
— Itamar (@Itamar_17_10) December 4, 2021
One would expect the biggest issue with a smaller guard would be the defense, but that is one of the more surprising strengths that Chandler showed throughout the year. When the Volunteers started their run this season and put it all together, it was built around their defense and their pint-sized backcourt was the reason for that. Chandler is only listed at 6’0″ but has a 6’5″ wingspan, which, along with his quickness, makes him an extremely pesky and effective defender. All of the things that make the point guard effective on offense, benefit him defensively.
He does have physical limitations that will be highlighted more in the more plus-sized backcourts of the NBA, and his point-of-attack defense still has room for improvement specifically with the risks he takes, which results in him being out of position. It is not necessarily a concern, however, because his lateral quickness and length not only allow him to stay in front of defenders but to disrupt ball-handlers and bother offenses. He will have to tone down some of those risks defensively to prevent himself from overplaying and creating easy blow-bys but still translates to being a good POA defender.
What makes him a plus defender however is that he probably has the best hands of any prospect in the draft defensively and is an absolute menace on defense because of his timing and accuracy. He is lightning quick, but his hands may be even faster, which allows him to be a wildly impactful defender. The high basketball I.Q. he possesses helps him to interrupt defenses by jumping passing lanes and predicting offensive movements. He is an absurdly attentive defender and rarely misses an opportunity that is presented to him.
His defensive prowess typically manifests itself by creating turnovers and garnering steals. He was third in college basketball amongst players from power five schools this year in steals averaging 2.2 per game. This is especially important given his physical limitations because he can disrupt switches and can get his hand on balls from odd angles due to his length and quickness.
Kennedy Chandler, quick hands for the steal and finish. pic.twitter.com/VBum3xdp5T
— Derek Murray (@DMurrayHoops) March 19, 2022
What should instill confidence in Chandler as a defensive prospect alongside his steal numbers is his activity. Just like on the offensive side of the ball, the six-foot guard never stops moving and is absurdly active and noticeable on every possession. Defensively that allows him to create a lot of easy turnovers to create fast breaks but also it means that he can disrupt transition opportunities and prevent fast breaks with active hands and heads-up defense.
Kennedy Chandler is not a perfect prospect by any means and I am sure every team wished he was a couple of inches taller. However, given the physical limitations that he possesses, there is little more you could hope for from a prospect. How much weight you put on size in the NBA and what you think of small guards will likely guide how you feel about Chandler as a prospect.
You will see boards with him as high as the end of the lottery as well as lists with him closer to the 40s. That sort of variability is one of the things that makes Chandler an interesting prospect. He averaged 15 points and five assists at Tennessee as a freshman, but more importantly, showed the ability to take over a game and control the pace. That is something that speaks to him as a mature player and a floor general. That sort of ability and high basketball I.Q. that KC possesses gives him a higher floor as a backup point guard even despite his size limitations, and if you believe in the shooting and the finishing at the NBA level, you could be looking at a steal towards the end of the first or the second round.