Mathurin brings size, athleticism, 3-point shooting as Pistons draft candidate

(Editor’s note: With the Pistons holding the No. 5 pick in the June 23 draft, Pistons.com today continues its series of previews of potential targets with the built-in assumption that the consensus top-three prospects – Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith and Paolo Banchero – will be off the board. Today: Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin.)

You could have gotten long odds on Bennedict Mathurin evolving into an NBA player when he was at an age that most lottery-picks-to-be begin emerging on the premier grass-roots circuits. Not many of those players grow up in Montreal. The Venn diagram of Montreal players of Haitian descent who turn into globally elite basketball prospects is one without intersecting arcs.

Throw in the at-risk nature of Mathurin’s upbringing – a hardscrabble district and a single mother scrapping to make ends meet to keep a roof over the heads of three children, a role model of a big brother tragically killed in an automobile-bike crash – and the odds grow impossibly long.

But Mathurin’s life raft came in the form of a chance encounter that ended with him being whisked off to Mexico City as a 16-year-old to help get the NBA Academy there established. With every available resource suddenly at hand and distractions limited, Mathurin flowered into a Division I prospect who wound up at Arizona as an 18-year-old amid the pandemic-limited world of summer 2020. He put himself on NBA radars as a freshman and rocketed to lottery status as a sophomore. Here’s a look at Mathurin:

FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: BENNEDICT MATHURIN

ID Card: 6-foot-6 guard/wing, Arizona, 19 years old

DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 6th by The Athletic, 10th by The Ringer, 8th by ESPN.com, 10th by Bleacher Report, 10th by SI.com

SCOUTS LOVE: Mathurin looks at least like a 3-and-D player and potentially more than that. He turns 20 the week of the draft but already has two years of college productivity under his belt. Mathurin flirted with the draft process after his freshman season at Arizona, where he was projected to be a likely second-round pick, and made the decision to return to college pay off by taking a big jump and winning Pac-12 Player of the Year honors. Mathurin averaged 17.7 points and 5.6 rebounds. He shot 37 percent from the 3-point line, down slightly from the 42 percent he shot as a freshman, but on the type of volume (6.1 attempts per game, 46.5 percent of his shots) that moves the needle in providing floor spacing. Mathurin’s athleticism is most notable in transition, where he thrived at Arizona. Mathurin was pretty much a catch-and-shoot player as a freshman, but he expanded his repertoire as a sophomore. There’s optimism he can be an effective shooter off of movement and also shows the tools to be a good secondary playmaker with sometimes surprising vision showing itself. Mathurin got to the line 4.8 times a game as a sophomore and had games of 15 attempts (against UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament) and 13 (in the NCAA tournament) late in the season as he became more comfortable attacking. He gets his shot off quickly, too, so the adjustment to NBA length and quickness might come more readily for him.

SCOUTS WONDER: The defense has some catching up to do for Mathurin to really be ready to qualify as a 3-and-D prospect as a rookie. The physical tools are there – Mathurin measured with a 6-foot-9 wingspan at the NBA draft combine, though he didn’t test athletically – but the focus comes and goes, not all that atypically for someone used to getting by on his size /athleticism combo. Mathurin gets a little loose with the ball at times, too, and there are doubts about his ability to thrive in half-court settings. After a dynamic 30-point, eight-rebound, four-assist outing to lead Arizona past a scrappy TCU team in the NCAA second round, Mathurin was slowed by Houston’s hyperaggressive defense in the second round, bowing out with a 15-point showing on 4 of 14 shooting.

NUMBER TO NOTE: 4 – The number of languages ​​Mathurin speaks: French, Spanish, Creole and English.

MONEY QUOTE: “He can really shoot the ball. He’s got size and athleticism. He’s a great offensive rebounder and he’s a high-level shooter, so you don’t want to let him catch fire from behind the line. You could see last year that he had it. It was just going to be a matter of experience with him. Guys that play hard, you can tell. A guy like him, you don’t have to tell him to go after the ball. You watch the film – if you don’t block him out, he’s going to get it.” – UCLA coach Mike Cronin as the Bruins prepared to play Arizona late in the season

PISTONS FIT: Size, athleticism and 3-point shooting will fit well on any team and especially for a young roster building around Cade Cunningham. Mathurin’s 3-point shooting, transition scoring and athleticism would all be drawn out by Cunningham’s vision, playmaking and ability to draw defenses toward him. His size would allow the Pistons tremendous lineup flexibility in going big with a Cunningham-Mathurin backcourt or playing smaller with another true guard or two in the lineup and Cunningham and Mathurin on the wings. Mathurin comes in battle tested with two years of power five college basketball on his resume, yet still at just 19 with easily projectable improvement ahead of him on a team with plenty of time to wait on his development.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s considered highly likely that Mathurin will still be on the board with the fifth pick and it seems reasonable that he’d be on a short list of players given strong consideration by Troy Weaver and his inner circle. Mathurin evokes images of a young Caris LeVert in his shooting, athleticism and potential off the dribble. Some have drawn comparisons to a young Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Victor Oladipo. Dwane Casey said the most important ingredient the Pistons need to add around Cunningham to give their young playmaker the room he needs to create as he does best is 3-point shooting. Mathurin has arguably the best combination of size, athleticism and 3-point shooting – and a track record of production – among lottery candidates. Mathurin was a consistently good player as a sophomore and got better as the season unfolded, a player clearly on an upward trajectory.

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