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Stiffs NBA Draft Series: Tyler Ulis

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After finishing up a stellar sophomore season at Kentucky, Ulis is aspiring to make a big name for himself in the NBA. Can he do it at just 5'9?

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Stiffs will be covering all of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA Draft in our Stiffs NBA draft series. Check back daily for video, stats, and analysis of all the projected first round prospects.

Tyler Ulis

Stats

Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Field Goal % Three Point % Free Throw %
17.3 3.0 7.0 1.5 0.1 2.0 43.4 34.4 85.6

Strengths

Basketball I.Q. - Ulis is a pure point guard in every sense of the word. He knows when it's time for him to set up his teammates versus time for him to score. There will never be an issue regarding Ulis being too selfish, and he simply understands the flow of the game very well.

Passing - From pocket passes, to transition passing, to reading the entire floor on the pick and roll, Ulis does everything necessary to be successful at the NBA level. He cannot make over the top passes as he is unable to see the top of many of the defenders he's around, so he will have to continue to be creative. That being said, he can make the simple pass and the difficult one.

Shooting - While his field goal and three point percentages don't reflect it perfectly, he has a lot of potential to improve from the outside. His free throw percentage was stellar this past season, and it reflects that he still has a lot of potential from outside. If I had to project his top end perimeter shooting, it would be about 40-42% in his best years.

Intangibles - In Jeff Morton's video at the bottom of the screen, Ulis made a great impression on me. He sounded very similar to the way Devin Booker carried himself, with a clear conscience and a desire to simply work and get better. He's hailed by teammates and others as a strong leader, which is necessary in a floor general. He directs traffic, leads by example, and never has his effort questioned on either end. He's a high character guy who would add to the culture of any organization.

Weaknesses

Size - I know this has been rehashed a million times, but that's simply because the success rate of smaller players is very, very low. It's not so much the height that is the concern for me, especially as just a backup, but the weight. He stepped on the scale at a feather light 149.2 pounds. By comparison, Nate Robinson weighed 181 pounds in his rookie season, and Isaiah Thomas weighed 186 pounds. Ulis must add weight if he's going to be successful, and not sustain too many injuries, at the next level.

Defensive Ceiling - Ulis was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He is quick, pesky, has great instincts, and was very successful at the college level. That said, the NBA is filled with much bigger and more skilled players. I have nightmares of Shaun Livingston taking Ulis into the post and other players simply rising up over Ulis in a layup line. Obviously, this is one of the factors of being so small, and it is a major factor. Robinson and Thomas have never been confused for positive players on the defensive end either.

Pro Comparisons (Best to Worst)

more skilled Isaiah Thomas - Yes, that's right. A high water mark of course, but if Ulis learned to deal with his deficiencies, he has the same ability level to score as Thomas to go with better vision. Thomas has proven to be an all-star, and while it took him awhile to put everything together on a successful team, he has done so and lifted Boston to new heights. Ulis could potentially do the same thing in Denver, and while Emmanuel Mudiay is in tow, the best player should play, especially in five years when both should hit their respective ceilings.

more skilled Earl Boykins - More likely than not, Ulis will establish himself to be a competent backup point guard in the league for many years. Boykins had a 13 year career as primarily a backup point guard, and while he never truly made the leap, he made some key contributions, especially for the Nuggets, throughout his career. He used his size to his advantage, running under the basket many times looking for new passing lanes and openings that larger players just don't have.

Jonny Flynn - This would be considered a flameout. Flynn was also a point guard who was successful at the college level for two years. he had a small stature, but was considered a skilled player until he had to undergo hip surgery after his rookie year. Beyond that, his height hurt him more than anything. His defense suffered from a lack of strength, and he was then traded around the league before most recently landing in Europe. he was always skilled enough to play, just as Ulis is, but his height truly brought him away from what could have been a great career.

Fit with the Nuggets

The Nuggets have their point guard of the future in Emmanuel Mudiay, but that hasn't stopped them from bringing Ulis in for a workout, and it shouldn't stop them from drafting him either. The guy is skilled on both ends, possessing possibly the best skill level of anyone in the draft. The only issue is his height and weight.

That wouldn't be nearly the issue on the Nuggets that it is on other teams. With Mudiay coming in at a solid 6'5, Ulis makes for a great change of pace coming off the bench. Will he need to defend Russell Westbrook? John Wall? Shaun Livingston? Probably not. We have Mudiay for that.

Both players bring different styles, but both players work best with the ball in their hands. Imagining the Nuggets offense transitioning from the starting unit to the bench unit wouldn't be as painful with Ulis at the helm. Much more so than D.J. Augustin or Jameer Nelson, Ulis is just a floor general. His brain for the game allows him to run the offense and distribute for others at a much higher level than the aforementioned veterans...if he hits his ceiling.

Maybe he begins as the third point guard and is forced to earn his spot in the rotation, but he certainly looks like he can do just that.

Projected draft spot

SB Nation - 24 (76ers)

Draft Express - 24 (76ers)

CBS Sports (Vecenie) - 18 (Pistons)

Bleacher Report - 14 (Bulls)

NBADraft.net - 36 (Bucks)

Sports Illustrated - 24 (76ers)

Final Thoughts

I like Ulis. I think he's a very skilled player with the brain and the athleticism to make up for his small stature. There is no guarantee that he does this, but with a few diminutive guards having success because of their knowledge of their game, it makes sense that the Kentucky product is next in line.

With three first round picks, the Nuggets may not keep the 15th or the 19th pick, where Ulis is projected to be available. I don't take much stock in one of the draft sites, so my guess is that his draft range is 14-24. This absolutely undersells his skill level, but due to his size, he projects to be a high quality backup at his peak.

Take this into perspective, Isaiah Thomas was an all-star guard this year for the Boston Celtics. They have Marcus Smart waiting in the wings, and many Boston fans believe the likely course of action to transition over the next couple of years is to move Thomas back to a sixth man role and make room for Smart in the starting lineup. That sounds ludicrous to me, but it makes me think twice that Thomas may be killing the Celtics on defense at times. They have the best perimeter defender in the NBA in Avery Bradley starting next to him, and moving Thomas to the bench is still a possibility.

We saw this in Denver with Ty Lawson. He was obviously a very skilled point guard offensively for a three to five year stretch, but with his defensive issues, the ceiling of the Nuggets was brought down just a hair.

Can Ulis make it work? There are a lot of parallels between the diminutive Lawson and the even smaller Ulis. Lawson went 18th in the 2009 draft. Maybe Ulis can go 15th or 19th and become what we needed Lawson to be, a skilled backup who can change the pace of the game with his offensive skills while being pesky defensively.

Anyway, here's the Jeff Morton CSG interview with Mr. Tyler Ulis from his workout in Denver on June 8th.