Orlando Magic 2022 NBA Draft Preview: Bryce McGowens needs to do more than score

Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Bryce McGowens put up some gaudy numbers. But there are still questions about how he will translate to the NBA. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Bryce McGowens put up some gaudy numbers. But there are still questions about how he will translate to the NBA. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

There is always a difficult transition for a lot of college players when they make their way to the league. It is perhaps the one, most essential question NBA decision-makers have to make as they evaluate and assess players in the draft.

It is a point we have come across plenty already in draft discussions. Team context and the roles a lot of players have played in college will be vastly different than in the NBA.

Most of the players entering the draft were the stars of their teams. They had the ball in their hands and the ability and the necessity to score. Only a few of those players will be doing that when they get to the league. And oftentimes it is the ones who successfully make this transition that find success.

Plenty of really gifted players and scorers slip through the cracks because they get put on the wrong team or they are unable to make this adjustment. These are among the best 450 players in the world, not everyone is going to make the cut.

And not everyone is going to have the ball.

The transition from college star to NBA role player can be a tough one. And it is the biggest challenge facing promising guard Bryce McGowens.

Nebraska guard Bryce McGowens is very much at the center of this kind of transition for young players in the league.

He is an undoubtedly talented player with a knack for scoring. But there are a lot of parts of his game that need to fill in to be successful in the NBA. He might have done well to stay another year in college — like Jaden Ivey, a likely top-five pick, or Keegan Murray did — to show off the improvement in his skills.

Still, McGowens is an impressive scorer with Lottery-level talent who will likely go late in the first round.

McGowens averaged 16.8 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game with shooting splits of 40.3/27.4/83.1. In Big Ten play, McGowens averaged 17.3 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game with shooting splits of 39.5/28.9/85.8. That free throw percentage would suggest there is a lot more of his shooting to unlock.

McGowens just had a lot of field goals — 12.8 per game for the whole season (4.7 3-point attempts per game) and 13.3 per game in conference play (4.7 3-point attempts per game). His usage rate hung at 27.2-percent and he was able to get to the line for a little more than six free throw attempts per game.

Nebraska was not a great team — 10-22, 4-16 in the Big Ten. That is a reflection of how much the Cornhuskers had to rely on McGowens and the fact that McGowens is not going to be able to lift a team into contention on his own.

This is the perfect definition of a player who was just a pure scorer and did whatever he had to do to help his team win and was probably asked to do too much. The question is how does that translate to the NBA?

McGowens entered Nebraska as the No. 25 prospect in the class of 2021. There is no doubt there is talent there and someone who can be an impact player. The Cornhuskers handed their entire offense to him and he did all he could to keep that team afloat.

At 6-foot-6.5 with a 6-foot-8.75 wing span, McGowens certainly has the size NBA scouts like for a wing. The question will truly be what translates from his college game into a likely smaller role in the NBA.

He is tall and lanky enough and is a smart enough attacker that when he gets to the basket he will burst through and finish at the rim with force or slow down and absorb contact to finish at the rim. That part is encouraging.

He has enough on-ball sense to know when and how to attack and the size to finish when he gets there. That driving ability is his biggest selling point.

But this driving knack might account for some of his inefficiencies. He was largely getting to the rim or bust throughout his college career. He was not doing much to shoot mid-range jumpers and he does not have much of a game off the dribble outside of those finishes at the rim. He routinely missed opportunities for assists with all the attraction he gained in the paint.

His eyes were zeroing in on the basket.

But that trait though suggests McGowens knows how to get to the line. He had a free throw rate of 49.1-percent (47.4-percent in Big Ten). That essentially means, he was shooting one free throw for every two field goal attempts.

James Harden, perhaps the most prolific wing player at getting to the foul line, had a free throw rate of 54.0-percent last year. McGowens is hovering around that territory as a prolific foul drawer and free throw shooter.

The Orlando Magic have obviously struggled to get to the line for the last decade. It is a major thing holding their offense back. Having a player who can simply get in the lane and get to the foul line would be a huge boost to the team.

The biggest concern is obviously his shooting. If he is going to be playing more off the ball, something he largely did not do at Nebraska, then he is going to have to be a better shooter. Certainly better than his sub-30-percent 3-point shooting in college.

His free throw percentage being better than 80-percent suggests he has the form to get there. With some work, he could be a good spot-up option.

He had very few of these spot-up possessions, but there is at least some evidence that if teams leave him open he can space the floor as a catch-and-shoot option.

There are certainly solid clips of him getting catch and shoot opportunities and making them with ease — he has a bit of a slow wind up so thoughts of putting him in motion or having him shoot threes off the dribble will need further development.

That is very promising for McGowens as he potentially transitions to the NBA and a likely smaller role.

This is the kind of player who has a scorer’s knack to have a big burst game coming off the bench. But also has the tools to transition into being a better role player.

The question NBA teams will ask themselves is how much they believe in his jumper and his shooting development. McGowens has to be more than a primary scorer to make it in the NBA.

McGowens is not known as a good defender. That may well be a condition of his having to carry so much of the offensive load that his attention to detail was not there defensively. But if he showed himself to be a good defender at the college level, we would not be talking about him as a late-first or early-second-round option.

This is a player with clear Lottery talent. He can get to the basket and is good at drawing contact. Those are two of the three shots NBA offenses are looking for in this modern age.

But it is the rest of the game he has to fill out. He has to prove he can do more than that and fill a role, especially when the ball is not in his hands.

That will start with proving himself with his shooting. The league likely will not ask him to be the playmaker Nebraska needed him to be. But McGowens has to prove he can give more value than just what he does with the ball.

This is a question a lot of prospects entering the NBA Draft have to answer. And the best executives are the ones who are able to mine good role players from players who were stars at the college level.

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McGowens has the potential to be this kind of a player. There are a lot of areas of his game he needs to round into form to get there. Accepting that he is not the main guy and playing a role will perhaps be the biggest.