Tyler Kolek is an undersized point guard, but he’s got the feel, the fire, and the shooting to stick in the NBA.

During a podcast session with Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart gained some chuckles and viral replays when he described Pacers guard T.J. McConnell as someone you can’t just beat in a prospective street fight, but rather, “you can’t just win, you have to kill him. He’s not going to stop.”

In a few years, chances are someone will be describing Marquette product Tyler Kolek the same way. A fiery player with unwavering confidence, Kolek plays with tenacity and a large chip on his shoulder.

An unranked prospect coming out of high school, Kolek first attended George Mason, where he garnered Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year honors, before transferring and spending the next three years at Marquette.

He was relatively unknown at a national level until his junior season, and his teammates didn’t receive much hype either. They were projected to finish ninth in the 2022-23 Big East preseason coaches poll, and when asked about how he felt, Kolek said, “F–k ’em.”

Since that moment, Kolek quickly established himself as one of the top floor generals in the country. He led the Golden Eagles to the Big East Tournament title later that year, proving naysayers and coaches wrong, and he was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Kolek finished left Marquette as a two-time All-American and two-time All-Big East first team selection. This past season, Kolek led the NCAA in assists. He averaged 15.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He shot 49.6% overall and 38.8% from deep. Kolek appeared in 31 games and was hampered by an oblique injury, but returned just in time for the NCAA Tournament, where he dropped three straight double-doubles en route to the Sweet 16.

While his ability at the college level is unquestioned, how does Kolek project as a pro prospect?

Strengths

Playmaking: Kolek is a true floor general. His ability to see the floor and set up his teammates is unparalleled. He is dangerous in transition and in pick-and-rolls. He reads defenses and the court well and can connect on flashy passes to get the crowd going.

He has a solid handle and rarely seems flustered or pressured on the court. He has great patience and awareness at all times, and his drive-and-kick ability will be a great asset in the NBA. At the collegiate level, Kolek demonstrated an ability to see and make advanced reads, which dazzled spectators with his ability to see openings and sometimes resulted in turnovers simply because his teammates weren’t anticipating receiving the ball.

According to KenPom, Kolek was ranked No. 4 in the country for assist rate in each of the last two years. As a junior, he had a 39.8% assist rate, and he had a 42.1% assist rate as a senior.

He also finished with a 2.69 assist-to-turnover ratio this past season, which was among the top 40 in the country. Kolek broke the Marquette single-game record for assists, when he dished out 18 assists in a 105-71 win over DePaul.

Basketball IQ/leadership: His confidence and swagger are infectious, making him a player that teammates can rally around. Kolek loves the big moments and marquee matchups and doesn’t shy away from clutch opportunities.

He wants the ball in his hands, and he makes his teammates better with his overall presence and ability to distribute.

Although he might not be the flashiest or most explosive athlete, Kolek is great at exploiting angles, positioning, and using his craftiness and basketball smarts to call his own number or dish out a pass. He has a solid touch around the basket, and he plays within himself. Kolek rarely forces the action or makes bad decisions, and he’s someone who can be counted on to not make any mental mistakes.

An ultra-competitive player, he plays with a bulldog mentality at all times. Even while he has defensive limitations at the NBA level, there was never a lack of effort on that end of the court. His ability to read the floor also translated onto the defensive end, as he was able to interfere inside passing lanes and get 1.6 steals per game this past season.

Improved shooting: At first he was a pass-first point guard in his first season at Marquette, but Kolek has really improved on the offensive end to become a more dynamic, all-around player.

During the 2021-22 season, his first with the Golden Eagles, Kolek averaged 6.7 points and 5.9 assists, while shooting just 32.0% overall and an ugly 28.1% from three-point range.

He worked hard on his shot during the offseason and it paid dividends for the following year. Kolek nearly doubled his scoring output as a junior, averaging 12.9 points, while shooting 47.1% overall and 39.8% from deep.

This past season, he was one of Marquette’s primary scorers, averaging 15.3 points on 49.6% shooting and consistent 38.8% from long range.

The next step in his development would be to add a mid-range shot, but Kolek is solid from the three-point line and can be crafty around the basket.

Weaknesses

Limited athleticism/physical profile: Measured at 6’1.25 inches without shoes at the NBA Draft Combine, and a wingspan a shade under 6’3, Kolek doesn’t have eye-popping measurables or a standout build.

He’s not going to blow by defenders or break ankles, either. Kolek is a smart player who uses positioning and angles to be in the right spot, but he doesn’t have an elite first step or quick-twitch explosive rapid-fire movements, nor does he come close to having a Donte DiVincenzo-like leaping ability.

At the NBA Draft Combine, Kolek measured below the median in several categories. He was measured at the 33rd percentile for max vertical leap (34.0 inches), 16th percentile for standing vertical leap (27.0 inches), 22nd percentile for standing reach (7’11), 25th percentile for the three-quarter sprint, and 17th percentile for wingspan.

Defensive limitations: In a similar vein to his limited size and build, Kolek could pose issues whenever he has to switch assignments. He doesn’t provide much defensive flexibility or versatility.

His lateral movement and footspeed were serviceable at the college level, but he’ll need to improve both to keep up with quicker and more athletic guards in the NBA.

Although both can be worked on, it won’t be an overnight process. He could potentially be a defensive liability early on.

Outlook

Kolek is currently projected to go somewhere between the late first and second rounds. Most mock drafts have Kolek going at the tail end of the first round, including recent ones from The Athletic (No. 24) or Bleacher Report (No. 25) that project him being chosen by the Knicks.

It would be interesting to see if the Knicks will draft him and how a defensive-minded coach like Tom Thibodeau would develop and deploy Kolek, as he would be a project on the defensive end of the court, while they push to contend in the short term. His approach to the game and mentality would be a good match for the Knicks, though.

While his physical tools and athleticism may be questioned by NBA scouts, Kolek has proven doubters wrong at every level of basketball he’s played in so far. The NBA is a steep jump, but his playmaking, pick-and-roll ability, and toughness will make him a desired commodity as a player off the bench or a reliable backup. Who knows where he can take it from there?

Players like T.J. McConnell and Payton Pritchard have paved the way for players like Kolek, and his swagger and never-back-down attitude could make him a fan-favorite in a similar way, as he aims to provide a boost off the bench.

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