The Runner Sports

VJ Beachem The NBA Prospect

Earlier this season, I argued that VJ Beachem would have to take on a bigger ballhandling/playmaking role this season for the Irish to reach their peak as a team. He is carrying a bigger load as a scorer and has improved slightly in several statistical categories, averaging career highs in shots per game (12), points per game (14.5), minutes per game (33.4), rebounds per game (4), assists per game (1.1), free throw % (79.6%), blocks per game (1) and steals per game (.9).

Still, the 6’8 senior hasn’t exactly taken on much additional “ballhandling/playmaking responsibility.” His main role in the offense is spotting up for threes and driving to the basket when defenders try to contest his jump shots. He only occasionally creates offense for himself off the dribble.

The fact that Beachem hasn’t taken on this added responsibility hasn’t actually been a bad thing for the Irish. When I wrote the original article, I underestimated how well Matt Farrell would fill the playmaking void left by Demetrius Jackson. And additionally, Beachem just isn’t really cut out to have “point guard duties.” He’s at his best when he’s playing off the ball and making defenses pay with his jumper.

This has worked well for Beachem and the Irish this season, but how does the senior project as an NBA prospect? He considered entering the draft after last season but decided to return for his senior campaign. He’s currently being projected as a second-round pick in the upcoming draft. Does this sound right?

Transition to NBA

Beachem hasn’t been given much opportunity to showcase the requisite playmaking skills of a lottery pick. But again, I don’t think those playmaking skills are in Beachem’s game. And that’s okay.

What makes VJ Beachem interesting as a prospect is that he’s playing essentially the same role with the Irish that he would be expected to play from the get-go in the NBA. This is pretty rare when you think about it. NBA draft picks tend to have huge, ball-dominant roles with their college teams and are usually forced to scale back these roles (at least initially) when they enter the league. If they’re good enough to see many minutes at all in their rookie seasons, these guys almost always find themselves as complimentary players.

Adjusting to new roles in the transition from college to the NBA can be very challenging for draft picks, but this won’t be much of a problem for Beachem. His role as a primarily a spot-up shooter for the Irish is the same role teams would want him to play in the NBA, and it is a role he can be successful in.

But what makes Beachem special? A lot of college guys can spot-up and shoot, right?

Beachem’s Shooting

First off, Beachem has proven himself to be a very good shooter. He made 41.6% of his threes as a sophomore, 44.4% as junior, and is making 38.3% this season.

I’m not too concerned about the slight drop-off to 38.3%, as Beachem’s slightly larger scoring load this season has contributed to him taking some tough shots that have hurt his shooting percentages a bit.

Overall, I think Beachem is a solid shooter and has the range to be a solid spot-up shooter at the next level. I’m not as sure about his ability to hit shots coming off screens in the NBA; this is an important skill for some offenses, and Beachem hasn’t been asked to do this much at Notre Dame.

Although 38.3% overall, it’s true that Beachem has been very hot and cold from game-to-game. Just recently, he followed up a 30-point performance against Syracuse in which he shot 12-22 from the field (6-10 from 3) with a three-point showing against Virginia (1-10 from field, 0-5 from 3). Even so, I’d bet on him being able to knock down shots in the NBA.

Offensive Versatility?

His ability to hit shots might be the biggest factor in his success at the next level, but it will also be important for him to develop some versatility offensively. He doesn’t have to handle the ball all the time, but he will have to be able to make some plays when defenses close out his jump shots.

He’s gotten pretty good at this and has the athleticism to finish above the rim. I’d like to see him make more passes to open teammates on these drives, but at least at the college level, taking it himself has been pretty successful. The Irish run a very unselfish offense, so I’m confident Beachem can make the simple pass. I’m just not sure one can expect much more out of him in terms of making plays for others (at least right now).

When Beachem tries to create offense, he usually uses this move below, taking a few dribbles with his left and then shooting a midrange jumper. He can make these shots, but he’s pretty predictable with this move. I’d like to see him try and get all the way to the rim more and drive/dish to teammates.

Defense

Beyond his shooting, what makes Beachem intriguing as an NBA prospect is that he can shoot and he’s 6’8. The way the NBA is emphasizing three-point shooting and the ability to switch on defense, every team is looking for guys around 6’8 who can stretch the floor and defend multiple positions (“3-and-D guys”). Can Beachem be this guy? He hasn’t developed the reputation as a great defender at Notre Dame, but he’s got a chance.

Interestingly, Beachem is 6th in the nation in fouls per 40 minutes, meaning he fouls at the 6th lowest rate of anyone (per KenPom). Mike Brey’s teams tend not to foul much, a trait I generally consider an indicator of good defense. But although this stat probably speaks well of Beachem as a defender, it could also indicate that he shies away from contact a bit (some scouts have suggested this).

The other thing that might make defense difficult for him is that he has a skinny frame (only listed at 201 lbs). Players at the next level will likely be able to bully him a bit on drives and in the paint. Beachem can get stronger and put on weight, but this will likely always be an obstacle for him.

Beachem has the height and length to be a good defender. He doesn’t seem to have elite lateral quickness, but his height/length help him contest shots well.

Still, I’m unsure how his defense will translate to the NBA level. Conveniently, some basketball analysts I respect voiced their opinions on this topic when the Irish took on Duke Monday night.

beachem 2

beachem

Voicing these opinions were Sam Vecenie, basketball writer for Sporting News; Doug Gottlieb, CBS college basketball analyst; and Mike Schmitz, scout for DraftExpress and The Vertical. Although there’s no reason to take their opinions as gospel, Beachem’s ability to defend in the NBA appears questionable at the very least. The consensus seems to be that he has defensive potential but has definitely not lived up to it yet.

NBA Comparision

I thought it’d be fun to find an NBA comparison for VJ Beachem. Out of convenience, I focused in on the 45 current players in the NBA who are 6’8 (same height).

6-8

To get a better comparison, I then filtered out players that were not attempting at least two threes a game and not making at least 35% of them. If Beachem is going to have success in the NBA, he will almost surely have to meet this statistical baseline. Here’s who was left.

6-8 (2)

I then filtered out players that are averaging >=15 points per game, weigh >= 230 lbs, and have an assist % >=10%. Beachem projects as just a complimentary scorer, he’ll never have the frame of guys like Melo or LeBron (weighs 201 currently), and he’s only assisting on 6% of teammates baskets when he’s on the floor this season (per KenPom). I wouldn’t expect his assist rate to take a significant jump in the NBA.

Now who’s left?

6-8 (3)

The Thaddeus Young comparison doesn’t really fit. It’s his 12th season, and this is the first time he’s really shot well from beyond the arc. He’s made a living as an interior scorer throughout his career.

Otto Porter’s shooting a blistering 46.8% from three this season and will be due for a big payday. What separates him from Beachem is that as the third pick in the 2013 draft, he’s more skilled and a superior athlete (higher upside).

McDermott, a prolific college scorer, can score in more ways than Beachem, and he’s also better coming off screens. Both will have to work hard to play good defense.

Maybe the best comparison for Beachem is Trevor Ariza of the Houston Rockets. Ariza is taking 10 shots per game, 7 of them threes (5.7 catch and shoot threes per game). He has an 8.7% assist rate (comparable to Beachem’s) and weighs 215 lbs, a weight Beachem could probably get to. Ariza was the 43rd pick in the second round of the 2004 draft, around where Beachem is projected to go.

Coming out of UCLA after his freshman season, Ariza was more athletic than Beachem but not yet a good shooter. As his career progressed, his shot improved (36.5% from 3 this season).  His athleticism has slightly declined (age 31 now) but he remains a very solid player (30th best real plus-minus in NBA this season).

Offensively, I think the comparison really works, but where it may very well fail is on the defensive end. Ariza has been a really good defender in the NBA, and as discussed, it’s very questionable whether Beachem can get to that point. Still, if Beachem does end up having a solid NBA career, it will probably look similar to Ariza’s.

Bottom Line

If Beachem can make shots, he has a chance to be a good NBA player. If he can make shots, hopefully a team will be patient and give him a chance to get stronger/work on other parts of his game, particularly the defensive end. If he can’t make shots, Beachem probably doesn’t bring enough other stuff to the table to justify too much patience. His height and athleticism will attract the attention of teams, however, so I suspect he’ll get a fair shot at finding success in the league.

Jacob Zinkula

Jacob Zinkula

Notre Dame Writer at The Runner Sports
I'm from Northbrook, IL and am a student at the University of Notre Dame. I think this gives me an interesting perspective on ND sports. You might think this would make me biased, but I'd say I'm only biased about the teams I've grown up rooting for. So if I write something about the Packers, Cubs, or whatever team LeBron's on, definitely take it with a grain of salt. Otherwise, you should be okay. 🙂
Jacob Zinkula
  • Peggy Flynn

    All in all, Vasturia is a much better all round NBA prospect. He is a much better passer, at least as good a defender, a better ball handler and just as good a shooter.

    I find it hard to believe that, if Beachem really is 6’8″, that Vasturia is only 6’5″. He definitely looks taller than the supposedly 6’5″ Colson.