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Ray Spalding is a long, athletic four, who excels on the defensive end of the floor, and is slowly evolving into a reliable scorer as well. He produces where you would expect a mobile, 6-foot-10 player with a 7-foot-5 wingspan to produce – around the basket. He rebounds and blocks shots. He is a terrific target on cuts to the basket, finishes impressively above the rim, and has a post game that is shaping up nicely.
While his game is somewhat limited at this time, it is very encouraging that Spalding continues to progress, improving his body, developing his perimeter skills, and changing his mental approach. After adding at least ten pounds of muscle in the offseason, Spalding displayed newfound confidence and aggressiveness in his junior year with the Cardinals. The end result was that he finished the season by improving his numbers nearly across the board, averaging 12.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game. His 3.1 offensive rebounds per game ranked fourth in the ACC and 38th in the country. At this point, Spalding is still a finesse player, relying on his athleticism and length far more than his strength on both ends of the court, but he is moving in the right direction.
This past season on the offensive end, Spalding took more than 80 percent of his shots around the basket (+/- 10 feet), making 60.2% of those attempts. In the half court, 38% percent of his shot attempts came from post-up opportunities. Another 49% came on other types of shots around the basket (on lobs, putbacks, and so on), and he made 64.3% of those attempts, averaging 1.3 points (82nd percentile).
In the post this season, Spalding averaged a solid .9 points per possession (68th percentile). He makes quick, decisive moves in the post. He is capable of facing up and playing with his back to the basket. He can score with a hook shot with either hand, though he heavily favors going over the left shoulder. On his hooks, he gets nice lift off the floor and has good extension with his arms, and he can make these shots off 360-degree spins. He also likes to spin on face-up drives, and he often uses drop steps, turning in either direction.
As Spalding moves farther away from the basket, he begins to struggle. He made just 31 percent of his jumpers inside the 3-point line this past season, and defenders often dare him to shoot. He has better success driving, rather than shooting jumpers, outside of the post, but he can get his pocket picked because he doesn’t have the tightest handle and tries to be too tricky at times.
As you might expect, Spalding doesn’t shoot a high percentage beyond the arc or at the free-throw line, but it has to be noted that he has steadily improved in both areas during his three years at Louisville, setting career-high marks this season, making 26% of his threes and 64% of his free throws. His stroke looks smooth when shooting both jumpers and free throws, so I believe that there is a good chance that he will continue to improve in these areas.
This past season, Spalding was very effective as a scorer off the pick and roll, averaging 1.1 points per possession (70th percentile). He was especially deadly rolling to the basket, averaging better than 1.7 points (97 percentile) and making 88% of his shots. Due to his struggles away from the basket, he was not overly productive in pick-and-pop situations, averaging just .7 points per possession.
Spalding shows promise as a passer, but he throws his share of sloppy passes. He has good vision, and is capable of making plays for others from anywhere on the floor. In the post, he doesn’t panic when doubled, and finds creative ways to get the ball to open shooters and cutters for easy baskets. Overall, his numbers were not stellar this past season (1.3 assist per game and an assist-turnover ratio of .75), and this is an area where he can improve.
This season on the defensive end of the court, Spalding averaged a combined 3.2 steals and blocks per game. On the ball, he held his opponents to less 36% shooting from the floor, and forced turnovers 14% of the time. And according to RealGM, he ranked 51st in the nation for defensive rating (adjusted for pace).
Spalding is a versatile defender. He has the foot speed to guard on the perimeter, and combined with his length and shot-blocking skills, has the ability to guard multiple positions, both inside and out. He generally displays good defensive awareness when rotating, switching, and helping. He can cover a lot of ground, and is always a threat to block shots from the weakside. He is disruptive in the passing lanes, using his length to get his hands on a lot of balls. He runs the floor very well, and is able to chase down the ball in transition.
Spalding is not flawless on the defensive end. For the most part, he is dialed in and gives good effort, but he does take a few plays off, here and there. Still on the thin side, he can get bullied down low when defending in the post or fighting for rebounds. He doesn’t always stay vertical when contesting shots, and picks up some unnecessary fouls. In general, he tends to be foul prone, averaging three fouls per game this season.
Spalding so much looks the part of an NBA player – the height, the length, and the agility. Not only does he pass the eye test, but he also ranks near the top in the overall metrics (PER, Plus-Minus, Win Shares, and Floor Impact). He is trending up in nearly all areas, but is not yet a force on the offensive end. To be an impact player in the NBA, he will need to continue to play with intensity, add muscle, and improve his outside shooting. At worst, NBA teams would be getting a solid defender, rebounder, and inside scorer, and I think that Spalding is a fairly safe bet to be taken in the second round.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports mainly come from Synergy Sports and RealGM, and occasionally from Hoop-Math.com. The photos were courtesy of the University of Louisville Athletics.