James Bouknight was only the 69th ranked prospect in the 2019 high school class , but substantially raised his status in his two years at Connecticut, averaging 21.5 points per 40 minutes on 55.4% true shooting across 43 appearances.
An elbow injury midway through the season limited him to just 15 appearances as a sophomore, but they turned out plenty enough for the six-foot-five gunner to lead the team in total scoring. With him in the lineup, Connecticut won 11 out of 15. Without him, they lost four out of eight.
Logging a 30.9% usage rate, Bouknight was the focal point of an offense that ranked 27th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency . His average of 23.7 points per 40 minutes is a top 10 mark among all players on ESPN’s top 100.
The 20-year-old is primarily an isolation scorer who seems to feel most comfortable operating one-on-five and out of a dead dribble. He is more naturally inclined to pull-up from range, with 63.9% of his live-ball attempts coming away from the rim , but proved himself capable enough of getting all the way to the basket when supported by proper spacing, excelling at finishing against the rim protectors he competed against in college and earning trips to the foul line in volume.
Off the ball, Bouknight doesn’t have a particularly impressive total of three-point makes for his time in the NCAA, but looks the part of a natural shooter who flashed some versatility to his release and figures to develop into a legit option to take shots on the move eventually.
The concerns are centered on his ability to create for others on the move. He can make basic reads in pick-and-roll and is just about a willing enough passer off drawing two to the ball, but hasn’t yet developed particularly impressive court vision and can’t possibly be considered a reliable enough shot creator for others at this point of his development to project as a lead ballhandler.
His defense is also underdeveloped. The Massachusetts native has a small 190-pound frame in the context of his height and rarely spends much energy in individual defense. He doesn’t seem to have enough tenacity to defend opposing point guards and isn’t big or physical enough to check legit wings. His focus away from the ball is a negative as well.
Bouknight thus projects as someone who will need to be hidden on defense, certainly for the first few years of his career, probably throughout, unless he completely transforms his approach on that end.
He’s currently ranked eighth on ESPN’s top 100, but Jonathan Givony projected him picked sixth in his latest mock draft, mentioning how Oklahoma City has been a fan dating back to his first year at Connecticut and how Bouknight has shot the ball extremely well in pre-draft workouts, which appear to have grown in importance this year, due to the travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
The appeal with Bouknight is as a shotmaker off dribble moves and sleek footwork who can get promising looks in isolation late in the shot clock. While team-oriented offenses have grown in prominence over the past decade, Devin Booker’s rise to superstardom this past postseason helped emphasize once more that a shotmaker who can operate in isolation at league average efficiency remains a coveted failsafe in high leverage situations.
Bouknight is primarily an isolation scorer who does quite a bit of catching-and-holding, feels more comfortable operating one-on-five than against a scrambling defense and is more naturally inclined to operate out of a dead dribble.
He has a so-so first step out of a standstill but a pretty good one out of an in-and-out dribble and can get by his man on a straight line if he feels him getting a little too spacey, though he struggles to maintain his balance through contact due to his lack of core strength at this point of his physical development.
His shot selection is tough to stomach at times, but he has a very smooth pull-up package, including from three-point range, proving himself capable of getting shots off the dribble via crossovers, step-backs, side-steps, hang dribbles and going behind the back in a pinch. His elevation to shoot over contests in mid-range, even off multiple dribbles going to the side of the floor, is exceptional.
Very comfortable operating in the mid-range, with 29.7% of his live-ball attempts on two-pointers away from the rim, Bouknight pulled the trigger on a bunch of overly ambitious jumpers with a hand in his face and over double teams, but shot reasonably well enough to back up his aggressiveness – converting 36.9% on 65 two-point attempts away from the rim, with his average of 1.69 unassisted makes per 40 minutes standing out as a top-10 mark among shooting guards on ESPN’s top 100 who played in college last season.
But Bouknight often drove into crowds and showed he hasn’t yet developed the explosiveness or enough of a deliberate approach to deal with a forest of arms clogging his path to the goal, averaging 3.5 turnovers per 40 minutes. He was also prone to driving straight into rim protectors without much of a plan.
Bouknight is not yet a particularly advanced operator in pick-and-roll but has developed some versatility to his approach for manipulating his man into the ball-screen; in-and-out dribbles to shake him into a false step, playing with pace to put his man in jail and snaking his way around traffic to make it all the way to the basket.
Connecticut played some time with four-out lineups this past season and when there was enough space for him to do so, Bouknight turned the corner decisively from time-to-time and impressed with his knack for maneuvering his way through tight spaces – taking 36.1% of his live-ball attempts at the rim.
He can go up with power off one foot with a head of steam on straight-line drives and off two feet with time and space to load up his leap – averaging 1.01 dunks per 40 minutes .
Bouknight is not an explosive leaper off foot in traffic, generally acting as a below the rim finisher, but can hang and adjust his body in the air and has shown some versatility to his finishing around rim protectors parked between him and the goal; wrong foot-wrong hand finishes, speed layups, reverses, comfort going to his left hand in the air, right-handed finger-rolls, left-handed finger-rolls, off-balance wild attempts with a real shot of going in.
He converted 65.8% of his shots at the rim, at a pace of 3.12 unassisted makes per 40 minutes – the second-best average among shooting guards on ESPN’s top 100 who played in the NCAA last season.
Despite his small 190-pound frame, Bouknight proved capable of finishing through contact on occasion and was also tremendous at getting to the foul line, averaging 6.8 free throws per 40 minutes – a top 15 mark among all players on ESPN’s top 100.
He can hit the roll man over the top when he is doubled at the three-point line and flashed some attention-grabbing two-handed passes threading the needle through a forest of arms, as well as a nifty wraparound pass off getting deep into the lane, but is not naturally inclined to create for others on the move and hasn’t yet developed particularly impressive court vision off a live dribble – assisting on just 11.9% of Connecticut’s scores when he was on the floor over the last two seasons.
He has flashed the dexterity and the touch to launch runners off 1-2 footwork and floaters off a jump-stop from the in-between area but is more often looking to create separation for a pull-up, proving himself a threat to launch them from three-point range as well.
Bouknight is a capable shooter on one-dribble jumpers when the defender goes under or dies on the pick, hiding behind the screen or stepping into the shot, but is more of a volume shot taker than a volume shot maker in these instances for now – nailing just 11 unassisted three-point makes in 15 appearances last season, at a pace of 0.93 such makes per 40 minutes.
Yet, despite his promising work in the two-man game, Bouknight was still more commonly seen looking for the isolation off the ball-screen, either against a switch or attacking his man when he felt him a bit too spacey after having to navigate a pick.
Usually operating on the ball and rarely off the catch, he hit just 47 three-point makes in his 43 appearances at Connecticut, at a 32% clip on 4.9 three-point shots per 40 minutes.
But Bouknight looks like a natural shooter with a clean approach; elevating off 1-2 footwork, needing a quick dip for rhythm, launching the ball from out in front with compact mechanics, and rising with good elevation to be able to get his shot off comfortably against most closeouts. His misses tend to be long or short, not to the side, and he hit 80.2% of his 182 foul shots.
He also flashed some versatility to his release, able to nail some long-range bombs jogging around pindown screens, sprinting to the ball for dribble-handoffs, and running across the floor around staggered screens, though it’s a tad unclear he is able to play in constant motion and truly stress the defense from all over the floor, since that was not his role at Connecticut.
Bouknight is not an especially instinctive cutter but can be a real asset to attack space behind the defense on plays where he has the option to sprint to the ball for a handoff or go backdoor instead, depending on which side his defender overplays.
He can also play above the rim as a target for lobs on wheel routes sprinting around a pindown screen in the elbow area.
His average of 1.27 assisted makes at the rim per 40 minutes stands out as the sixth-best mark among shooting guards on ESPN’s top 100 who played in college last season.
Bouknight gets into more of a soft stance defending on the ball and doesn’t project as any sort of an ace stopper – often too spacey, playing with little physicality or intensity and generally not seeming very capable of containing dribble penetration through contact against opposing small guards, much less true wings.
He puts in the effort to navigate over picks at the point of attack and can get skinny cleanly enough to stay on the ballhandler’s hips but is rarely seen applying his quickness and his eight-foot-five standing reach  to truly make an impact bothering from behind, at most being able to funnel the opponent into the help.
Bouknight switched onto bigger players on occasion and did surprise with some displays of physicality putting up a fight to try holding his ground, using quick hands to steal some post entries or make a play on the ball late on the opponent’s move and guarding with his arms up near the rim to try walling up but generally lacks the strength to be expected to act as a real option to do so at the next level.
He was thus consistently hidden off the ball and his level of engagement executing the scheme was only so-so.
He was active when the defense was in scramble mode and would occasionally join scrums to try assisting the rebounding effort by boxing out bigger players, with only mild success due to his small frame and lack of physicality.
For the most part, Bouknight was rarely in a stance off the ball, often flat-footed and caught ball-watching. He is prone to getting cut backdoor from time-to-time and will try mitigating the issue by face-guarding off the ball, which erases him from being a participant in help defense.
He is not often seen influencing dribble-drivers from the side by executing stunts or clogging driving lanes and was rarely seen making long rotations to assist the rim protection effort in some way.
Bouknight has a below average six-foot-four wingspan for someone his height and doesn’t have much explosiveness out of a standstill, so even when he finds himself well positioned, it’s rare to see him making an impact by creating events.
His average of 1.8 (steals + blocks) per 40 minutes stands out as a below average mark for a wing among those on ESPN’s top 100, though he did pitch in at an average clip on the boards by securing 14.4% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor last season.
Bouknight didn’t impress with his energy and navigation of screens chasing shooters around the floor and his closeouts were generally unimpressive too; there were moments where he managed to contest at the launch point but there were also plenty of flyby closeouts and times where he got blown by off the bounce when he managed to run the shooter off his shot.