Does the raw talent of this forward make sense for the Nuggets?
Robert Woodard II, Wing, Mississippi State
Age: 21 (9/22/1999)
Robert Woodard II has a rare combination of size and athleticism that allows him to defend every position. While you certainly wouldn’t want him repeatedly trying to stop a big bruising center in the post, he has the tools to handle smaller fives. Woodard II impressively only allowed 0.67 points-per-possession as the one-on-one defender this past season. In most matchups he possesses the lateral quickness to stay with the offensive player and strength to not be backed down by them. Robert also combines his length and hops to contest shots effectively without fouling.
Even with all these positives, Robert still has some work to do on the defensive end. He occasionally lost focus off-ball, but his explosiveness usually allowed him to recover on mental lapses and late reactions for highlight plays. The Association, however, has an embarrassment of elite athletes, meaning Woodard II will need to hone in and focus to consistently play good team defense.
Robert is a premier athlete in all phases. He can seemingly come out of nowhere for jaw-dropping blocks, steals, or put-back slams. The virtual NBA combine athletic testing scores were released yesterday and it’s safe to say he didn’t disappoint.
Here’s the wings. Robert Woodard II just missed out on the bSPARQ Hall of Fame (95th percentile or higher). pic.twitter.com/32dUNsmJh3
— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) November 11, 2020
Watch out for Woodard II if he has momentum going toward the basket, because he’s always a threat to throw it down. Defenders were forced to make a business decision by avoiding contesting or risk being put on a poster. Villanova knows all about this, just look at what he did against them last season.
Despite shooting 42.9% from three this past season, Robert has his fare share of doubters in his jump-shot. These detractors will be quick to point out his 64.1 free-throw percentage and relatively small sample size on three-point shots. Woodard II only attempted 2.3 of them per game in his sophomore season.
On the other hand, Robert is trending in the right direction as a shooter and overall player. He transitioned from a backup as a freshman to the team leader in minutes played in 2019-2020. As a result, his total shot attempts and efficiency both increased. This improvement was encouraging and so were his performances in the virtual NBA combine three-point shooting drills. Woodard II placed in the top seven of both the “3-Point Star Drill” and “Spot-Up 3s”.
Let’s make one thing clear; Robert Woodard II is a hard worker that routinely makes hustle plays. If there’s a loose ball in his vicinity, you better believe he’s going to do everything he can to come up with it. His motor is definitely consistent and not in question. It’s the long stretches where he seems to disappear on offense that cause concern. In 12 of his 31 games this past season, Woodard II wasn’t able to score in double figures. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a role player that doesn’t take many shots or light-up the scoreboard, many NBA role players were top scoring options before they made it to the league.
His hesitation to be an aggressive offensive player in the NCAA may only escalate in the NBA. If his defender doesn’t have to worry about Woodard II, that just makes Robert’s other four teammates easier to stop. There’s a fine line here between reckless and assertive. He shouldn’t start taking bad shots just to attempt more, but he needs to be confident and involved, even when he’s off-ball. Robert can be a lethal cutting threat if he starts attempting them more often and methodically. Something tells me Jokic wouldn’t miss him on many.
Woodard II did not handle the rock much in Mississippi State’s half-court offense. The majority of his damage came in transition or spot-up shooting. This strategy was likely for the best, as Robert committed more turnovers than assists. I’m not expecting him to suddenly develop the ability to go create and make his own shot off-the-dribble consistently, but Woodard II needs to improve here to unlock his offensive potential. If those aspects of his game do not be improve, however, it would be that much more difficult to become an adequate, complementary offensive player in the association.
Projected Draft Range: Late first, early-to-mid second round
Denver Stiffs Big Board: 23rd overall
Fit with the Nuggets
Why Woodard II makes sense for Denver
Slot him in at SG, SF, or PF because he has the athleticism, size and shooting ability to play any of them. The Nuggets and the rest of the league seem to be moving toward “positionless” basketball and Woodard II fits the trend as someone that can fit into almost any lineup combination. You can never have too much defense and energy, and he brings both of those in spades.
As for offense, he could continue to fill the lower usage role he is already accustomed to. His jump-shot’s release may be a little slow but, free-throw struggles aside, it seems legitimate enough to take the chance. At the very least, Robert’s highlight reel dunk ability would still make him exciting to watch. At the very best, he can become an NBA all-defensive team caliber hooper.
Why Woodard II doesn’t make sense for Denver
The Nuggets currently have a plethora of wing players that would make Robert’s path into the rotation cloudy. Will Barton III, Gary Harris, Michael Porter Jr., and presumably Jerami Grant may take up all of the shooting guard and forward minutes. Even if they don’t, Denver also has PJ Dozier, Bol Bol, Keita Bates-Diop and Vlatko Cancar waiting in the wings. All of the aforementioned players may be better than Woodard II next season.
Additionally, his ability to defend may come at the expense of the Nugget’s offensive success. Don’t get me wrong, The Nuggets need good defenders surrounding their stars, but they can’t afford to have many that are ineffective on the offensive end. “Three-and-D” without the “three”, is not nearly as valuable in the modern NBA. Beyond that, Robert has yet to answer the question of if he is a better pure athlete or basketball player. As of right now, he appears to be a bit more of an elite physical specimen than a baller.
Over the last several months, Robert Woodard II has risen from a projected end of the second round prospect, to a potential first round pick. The pre-draft process has served him well and if he can continue to impress, the momentum could carry him all the way to Denver’s 22nd overall pick.
If the Nuggets don’t see him as a potential future starter and immediate rotation player, it might not be in their best interest to use their current pick on him. If they end up trading back, however, I love the idea of taking a flier on Woodard II for his potential alone. You just can’t teach his elite length, speed, strength, and vertical prowess.