If you know James Bouknight, you instantly think pure scorer. The All Big-East First Team Selection was the guy to put points on the board for the UConn Huskies in 2020-2021, leading the team in points per game (18.7 PPG) and field goals made (98 FGM). He also impacted the game in other areas as well, including 5.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
A three-level scorer, Bouknight can attack and break down defenders in a variety of ways. In the regular season, he dropped a career-high 40 pts against a talented Creighton team. Not only can Bouknight blow by his defenders for layups and dunks, but he also can smoothly pull up for jumpers when defenders sag off, or step back for three-pointers.
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Bouknight plays with a New York City swag and fearlessness; he is lightning fast and features excellent body control. The sophomore from Brooklyn uses his speed to blaze through defenders in the open floor to get to the rim; he made 54 percent of his attempts on the fastbreak this past season. His burst is also apparent in the half court (made 47% of his attempts when operating in the half court this past season). Bouknight has an explosive jab step, especially when going right, which allows him to get to his spot and finish strong. He is ultra efficient in these situations; his field-goal percentage shooting two-pointers when going right was 67 percent on the year. When he drives, he also knows how to get to the free-throw line and convert; he led UConn in free-throw percentage this season (78%) and attempted them at a high rate (5.4 FTA).
While Bouknight has many ways to score, his one weakness limiting him from doing more is his lack of a left hand. He can finish with either hand, but he barely uses his left around the rim. Most of the time, he opts to go for a right-hand reverse layup or a right-handed floater on the left side instead of making a simple left-hand layup. In his two seasons at UConn, he was clearly more effective going right in the half-court (FG% of 56) than left (FG% of 30), though he actually drove left slightly more often. It will be tougher for Bouknight to score this way in the pros if he is unable to be efficient going in either direction.
Bouknight’s jump shooting is also inconsistent. After making 35 percent from deep as a freshman, he dropped to 29 percent as a sophomore. He did this on higher volume, nearly doubling his 3-point attempts (2.6 to 5.0 as a sophomore). His catch-and-shoot numbers suffered the most, as he ranked at the 11th percentile for points per possession (PPP) this season, a year after ranking at the 89th percentile. At the same time, he slightly improved as a shooter off the bounce, ranking at the 59th percentile (43rd percentile as a freshman). Drawing additional defensive attention was undoubtedly a big reason for Bouknight’s shooting struggles, but given his shot elevation, smooth mechanics, shot-creating abilities, and prowess from the free-throw line, there are plenty of reasons to believe that he will be a solid shooter at the next level.
While Bouknight’s assist numbers were one of the best on the team, his 1.8 assists per game (APG) should be higher for a guard. He does show some signs of being a good bounce passer on the pick-and-roll, but frequently in the half court, he makes too many bad passes, leading to an overall assist-to-turnover ratio (A/T ratio) of 0.64. Looking at his pick-and-roll numbers, only 37 percent of his possessions resulted in scores, while 20 percent were turnovers.
When receiving extra defensive attention, Bouknight tends to dribble with his head down. This was noticeable in UConn’s rematch against Creighton in the Big East semifinals. The Blue Jays did not want to get torched by Bouknight again, so they smartly looked to provide additional help defense with double teams, forcing someone else to beat them. Keeping his head down limited his vision to find open teammates off doubles, leading him to shoot 28 percent from the field in that game. This theme of keeping his head down was not a new habit. As a sophomore, he only passed the ball one time out of an isolation, meaning that he was looking to score the ball instead of pass 97 percent of the time in these situations.
On defense, Bouknight may surprise you with his ability to guard shooters. He has speed, athleticism and active hands, and he can stay in front of many players and contest their shots. His stats prove this to be true; he limited opposing jump shooters to just 36.7 percent from the field in the half-court. Though not a shot blocker, he did even better around the basket, limiting opponents to 42.1 percent and 0.842 PPP, which ranked at the 69th percentile.
His rebounding numbers were also very solid for a guard. Averaging 5.7 rebounds per game this season (RPG) was third best on the roster, and best of all their guards. Not only does Bouknight pull down a sizable number of defensive rebounds per game (4.1), but he also is not afraid to bang down low and fight for extra possessions for his team on offense, averaging 1.5 offensive rebounds per game. One memorable example of his work on the boards came from an offensive putback against the Providence Friars in the regular season. Bouknight ran all the way from the three-point line to catch the ball with one hand and throw down an electrifying putback slam.
The major question surrounding Bouknight’s stock asks how his body can handle the NBA? Before coming to Connecticut, he tore a meniscus in his left knee back in 2018, which delayed the start of his college career. In his sophomore year, he played in just 15 games because of an elbow injury. In the same game with his putback slam against Providence, he bumped his knee into a Friar player, and came up limping from the contact. While this did not affect him long term, he did have to leave the game early in the second half. Additionally, there were other times when it appeared that he barely escaped a significant injury.
Bouknight plays with reckless abandon, despite his injury history. He is not afraid to hustle hard and put his body on the line. In the game against Creighton in the semifinals when he was not scoring well, he recognized he needed to be effective in other ways, saving balls from going out of bounds and even running all the way up from the baseline to half court to dive on the floor for a loose ball. While coaches love to see the extra effort, his aggressiveness combined with a slight frame may make it harder for him to stay on the floor.
- A natural and dynamic scorer, who is adept from all three levels; this season, averaged 18.7 points per game and ranked at the 84th percentile for PPP in isolation
- Great quickness and speed in transition allows him to get out fast in the open floor and finish strong at the rim (prime John Wall esque)
- Has a variety of dribble moves that he can use to score, such as hesitation, crossover and stepback moves.
- Features excellent body control and has a variety of ways he can finish at the rim, including floaters and reverse layups; made an impressive 61 percent of his shots around the basket in the half court this season, including runners
- Draws fouls and makes his shots; averaged 5.4 FTA and made a team-high 78 percent of his foul shots this year
- Moves well without the ball and highly effective via cuts and handoffs.
- Ranked at the 98th percentile for PPP when cutting, making 78% of these shots
- Ranked at the 82nd percentile for PPP on handoffs, making 45% of these shots
- Hustles and dives for loose balls, isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body, despite his injury history
- A solid perimeter defender, limiting jumper shooters to a field-goal percentage of 37 in half-court situations
- Shows active hands on defense and stays low
- Good rebounding guard, ranking third on the team with 5.7 RPG, best among UConn guards
- Low assist and higher turnover numbers (0.64 A/T ratio) reveal that he isn’t the best facilitator on the court
- Not efficient as a pick-and-roll handler, ranking at the 26th percentile for PPP (including passes), with a turnover rate of 20 percent
- Not an elite three-point shooter; career percentage of 32.0 at UConn
- Does not like to finish with his off hand, and not efficient driving left, making just 33 percent of his shots going that direction this season
- Has yet to prove that he can play well in big moments:
- 28 FG% against Creighton (Big East Tournament)
- 37 FG% against Maryland (NCAA Tournament First Round)
- 36 FG% against Depaul (Big East Tournament Quarterfinals)
- His aggressiveness plus a slight frame raise injury concerns; was limited to just 43 games in his two years at UConn due to injuries
Bouknight’s dynamic scoring ability screams great NBA potential. His ceiling could be at an All-Star level if he works on his weaknesses, which mainly are passing and shooting consistency. At his worst, the UConn star could still be a solid scorer off the bench, similar to Jordan Clarkson with his ability to produce points in bunches when he checks into the game. Durability remains an important question, leaving scouts wondering just how long Bouknight can last. If injuries are outside of the equation, then he is a solid pick for any team in the lottery looking for a scorer that can produce on both ends of the floor.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements
Stats used in our scouting reports come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.