Derek BodnerBrandon Ashley
came into Arizona ranked by recruiting services as the 15th best prospect in his high school, something he hasn't been able to quite live up to.
To this point, Ashley has been a key contributor on two very good, and very deep, Arizona teams that have gone a combined 60-13. The 6'8" power forward did see a bigger role last season, as his playing time increased to 27.7 minutes per game, up from 20.5 his freshman season. His offensive output increased as well, as he scored 17.1 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted, an increase from the 14.3 he scored the previous season, while maintaining a high level of efficiency, with a 59.4% true shooting percentage.
Still, Ashley's overall contributions might be considered disappointing to some, as he hasn't been quite as productive much as his talent level would indicate. Whether that was because of Arizona's depth, the passive nature that Ashley displayed at times, or the necessity for further refinement in his skill level, it will be interesting to see how Ashley responds to the changing dynamics of an Arizona team that lost major contributors in Nick Johnson
and Aaron Gordon
to the NBA draft.
As we noted in previous write-ups, a very big part of Ashley's game is based on on his perimeter jump shot, at times too much of his game, perhaps. That is still the case, as jump shots made up an even bigger portion of Ashley's half-court shot distribution, up to 32.1% of his half-court attempts, an increase from 27.9% during his freshman season, according to Synergy Sports Technology. On the positive side, Ashley was far more consistent and effective shooting the ball from the perimeter last year than he had previously been. Ashley made progress extending his range out to the collegiate three point line, seeing his attempts increase from only 3 total during his freshman season to 29 attempts (in 22 games) last season, connecting on an encouraging 37.9% of those. Beyond that, his mid-range game was automatic last year, connecting on an incredible 63.2% of those attempts, generating 1.263 points per possession in those situations, which would be in the top percentile of college basketball.
Sample size, particularly since Ashley was limited to only 22 games after breaking his foot in early February, is obviously worth noting here, as none of these numbers are on a very high amount of attempts. Still, Ashley was a solid shooter during his freshman season, and the fact that he improved his numbers across the board is a good sign, including from the free throw line, where he shot 75.7% on 74 attempts this past season. Over the years he has proven to have a consistent shooting stroke, with a high release point, good follow through, and excellent touch. The jump shot should be a weapon of his going forward, and something that he can hopefully supplement with more production around the basket as well.
Ashley did see more of his offense derive from post-up situations, which now make up 19.3% of his possessions, up from 11.5% during his freshman season, per Synergy Sports. His overall feel and footwork isn't incredibly advanced, but he does have good touch on a jump-hook over either shoulder, and gets enough elevation to get either shot off with consistency. Besides diversifying his post-up game and developing more counter-moves, Ashley could stand to do a better job of establishing deeper post position early in the possession, as he's frequently starting his move further from the hoop than he would optimally be.
In order to spend more time operating on the perimeter, Ashley will need to put in considerable work in his ball handling and ability to create off the dribble. With Ashley being the threat that he is in the pick and pop game, combined with his relative quickness, Ashley has the potential to beat his man off the dribble. He does flash this ability from time to time, as when he is able to attack the basket in a straight drive these attributes of his show their potential.
The problem comes when the second line of defense rotates over, as at this point in his development he does not have the advanced ball handling moves, or the comfort level to make quick decisions, to counteract that. With the perimeter-oriented nature of NBA power forwards, as well as he continued progression as a jump shooter, showing a higher skill level attacking the basket off the dribble would help him diversify his offensive game, and make him less reliant on shooting from the perimeter.
One area where Ashley saw a statistical decline in was on the glass, particularly on the defensive side of the court. He grabbed only 5.8 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted, a pretty big decline from the 7.2 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted he grabbed during his freshman season, and a well below average amount for a power forward. In Ashley's defense, Arizona was one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation last year, and the sheer number of contributors on the defensive glass likely impacted his numbers in this regard. Ashley does a fairly good job of timing his jump and getting the ball at the apex, but he could benefit from doing a better job putting his body on a man and establishing position. While Ashley has a frame that looks like it will fill out in time, he could still stand from getting stronger, something that would help him hold position down low and also allow him to come away with balls that he does get his hands on.
At 6'8" in shoes, with a 7'2.5" wingspan and 9'1" standing reach and a frame that looks like it could fill out, Ashley has the size and length to defend either forward position. He moves his feet relatively well on the perimeter, and does a good job moving his feet and keeping his balance on the defensive end. While not incredibly explosive and not likely much of a shot blocking threat at the next level, Ashley has enough physical tools to not be a liability on the defensive end, if he is able to add some strength to his frame to bang in the NBA. The questions at this end of the court mostly stem from toughness, intensity, and focus. He seemed to make progress on this last year over where he was during his freshman season, but it can still be inconsistent at times. NBA scouts will likely want to see him make additional strides in this area as a junior.
The improvement Ashley made from the perimeter last year was a good step in his development, and continuing to extend his range out to the NBA three point line will be key for him going forward. If Ashley could complement this with a more developed dribble-drive game, as well as add the strength he will need to bang at the next level, he has the makings of someone who could potentially contribute at the NBA level. It will be interesting to see how Ashley's role changes with the loss of Gordon and Johnson, as well as how he bounces back from the broken foot that ended his season prematurely last year.