Theo Maledon, PG/SG, Lyon-Villeurbanne
Age: 19 (6/12/2001)
Theo (pronounced Tay-Oh) Maledon is a 19 year old combo guard playing in the French League LNB Pro A. If the Nuggets decide to take a European player they can stash for a year instead of playing in the weaker domestic waters this year, Maledon might be a pick they look into.
So what does he bring to the table?
Smooth Outside Game
Maledon has a nice, compact shot. He’s smooth as a spot-up shooter or with movement. I wouldn’t say his release is blindingly fast, but his mechanics are already good as an 18-at-the-time player against grown men. He can get flustered by hard closeouts, but otherwise he rarely shows pressure as he works for his shot. Here’s an example of his form (Maledon has the high hair here, starting about a minute and a half in):
Pick And Roll Prowess
Maledon is a good ball-handler and can really shine when given someone to work with in the paint. He’s comfortable in the pop or the roll position as well as setting picks. This is a reason to see him working with a Jokic-based offense - having another player who can run the 1-5 (or 2-5) PnR gives Denver redundancy and the ability to maintain their game plan without Murray having to do all the heavy lifting in that main facet of Denver’s offensive attack.
Theo can do a lot of things. His outside shot is good (not great yet, but good). He has great feel around the rim and with his reach and soft hands gets a lot of good bounces. The things he does well as a point guard (finding cutters, getting to open space for shots, running the pick n roll, making plays on dumpoffs) play very well in this offense. He’s also got great length for someone who can play the 1, and will serve him better against 2s. He’s not quite PJ Dozier-sized, but he’s not stuck playing the 1 or always fighting uphill against bigger 2s like some of Denver’s roster is.
Maledon is not the quickest guy. He doesn’t jump out of the gym. His size is good for a point guard but (stop me if you’ve heard this before, maybe about Jamal Murray when he was drafted) his athletic limitations may keep him from driving the hoop as well against better athletes, as well as put a lower ceiling on his defensive upside despite his length. If he can’t get to the hoop he’s going to be a stop-and-pop guard which is fine... but might limit him to a bench player rather than a potential starter.
On defense, that can mean his initial foot speed isn’t great for stopping penetration from little waterbug guards. He makes up for it by using his length and trying to get his fundamental positioning to work for him by sticking to the hip and getting his own hips around quickly, but it’s hard being a step slow on reaction time. Against bigger players, it’s just a matter of being physical as his size plays well and they can’t simply blow by him.
Might not be a full-time point guard
Again, the moniker “combo guard” is both a blessing and a curse. Theo can do multiple things well but can he handle just running a team or just being a knock-down shooter off-ball? In his case I worry that his point guard skills are not as strong as they would need to be to lead a bench unit. In his case it’s more like Will Barton, who was good off the bench because he is a scorer first, not because he has great court vision and gets everyone involved every time down court. Maledon doesn’t have that cutting burst that Barton does, though.
Now, Maledon has shown good vision and can make passes around the perimeter or on drives but hasn’t seemed to create opportunities for offense nearly as much. He makes the open play, or the dump-off pass. He’s not laser-focused on the rim but as far as putting pressure on the defense he isn’t the sort of relentless driver that forces the defense to react. And it’ll be different for him driving against 7 footers than against centers who are 6’8.
Projected Draft Range: Mid-to-late first round
Denver Stiffs Big Board: 36th overall
NBA Comparison: Jordan Clarkson
Why Maledon makes sense for Denver
Denver is looking for players to pair with their offensive trio of Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. going forward. In Theo’s specific case that means guards who can defend but also make open shots and are willing to keep the ball moving if necessary. Can he do that?
I think he can. Maledon is in the weird position of trying to fit in on his European club and do whatever they ask him to do while also show out for the draft. He’s a jack-of-all-trades at the moment; he runs the offense sometimes and spots up other times. He’ll be asked to switch onto bigger players defensively and does what he can. He’s got a well rounded skillset for a young player, but he’ll need some grooming, and as a stashable player he gives them some flexibility in roster construction and deciding when to bring him over.
Maledon can come off the bench to help Denver has he grows. He’s flexible from a guard standpoint which gives Denver a backup at two positions, maybe 3 in a small ball lineup. It gives them another person capable of handling the ball and running an offense, and someone who isn’t intimidated by facing NBA players out of the gate.
Why Maledon doesn’t make sense for Denver
Maledon doesn’t have one skill he can hang his hat on right now. Is he a deadeye-shooter? No. Lock-down defender? No. Can he score at will inside? Nope. Thread needle passes with his amazing court vision? Uh uh.
Maledon is a flier, a chance on someone who isn’t embarrassing himself as a teen in a grown man’s league and has a lot of plusses for someone his age. But there are other players in this draft who are able to do one or two things and do them well. They’ve solidified their future role, while Maledon’s is fluid. When Denver fans were faced with the pre-draft question of Jamal Murray or Buddy Hield - the young guy with a lot of growth left in his game or the senior prospect who was closer to being a finished product - opinions were split, but many preferred Murray as the player who could grow with the team.
The Nuggets don’t necessarily need any more 19 year olds at the moment. They could use some players whose roles are known and who are prepared already for those roles. The Nuggets are competing for a championship now, and Maledon likely is not ready for a big role now. He may not even come over to the NBA this year. He’s a longer-term asset, and without seeing a huge ceiling for him the Nuggets may not want to bite on that prospect.
Denver has to decide whether it’s worth it to take a Euro player in the first round who may just be “a nice player.” He could decide not to come over to the NBA at all if he gets the right contract in Europe. The Nuggets will need a point guard in the future, and having a player who shares a lot of Murray’s skillsets helps in some ways and hurts in others. He hasn’t shown Murray’s penchant for explosive shooting, or that Alpha Dog mentality. He plays very much like a lunchpail player, and that doesn’t make him an exciting add.
But lunchpail guys - players who just go to work with the same mentality every day, who fit into the team concept, who listen to coaches and follow instructions and make the right play - are invaluable when the key star positions are locked up. San Antonio built a dynasty with these players. In a flat draft, should Denver be looking at a stashable player who can be brought in with a cheap contract in a year or so to help a team that will be up against the cap at that point and looking for skilled grinders who can get it done?
Theo Maledon is a player who has not yet grown into his strengths but hasn’t shown critical weaknesses even while playing against men years older than him in a pro league in Europe. Maledon looks to me like a high-floor player who has a shot at standing out in what should be a nice role-player draft for the NBA. As a team looking for good role-players moving forward, the Nuggets should definitely take a look.
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