NBA Global Camp June 2018
Height w/o shoes: 6′ 3.75″
Height w/ shoes: 6′ 5″
Wingspan: 6′ 8.5″
Standing Reach: 8′ 4.5″
Théo Maledon was born to a basketball family in Rouen, France. Both of his parents played at some level while his uncle, Dominique Guéret, was a coach in different men’s levels throughout France.
By the age of 14, he was having enough success on the court to be identified as one of the top young talents in France. Months before his 15th birthday, he moved to Paris to join INSEP, a French Basketball Federation project for youth development which plays in the 3rd division of French men’s basketball when they are not playing international youth basketball tournaments.
Maledon was the only 2001 born player to make the French U16 team in 2016, averaging 25 minutes per game and starting the final five games of the European Championships. In the summer of 2017, he returned to the team, averaging 14.6 points, 3.1 assists and 2.6 steals to help France go 7-0 and win the tournament. He was outshined by emerging 2001 guard Killian Hayes, who was tournament MVP.
For the 2017-2018 season, Maledon joined the Tony Parker-owned club ASVEL, one of the premier basketball clubs in France. In 2018-2019, he left the youth team to play full-time for the pro team at ASVEL. Maledon started more than half of their games and averaged around 17 minutes per game in LNB Pro A and Eurocup. Pro A is a high level of competition with a handful of high level teams but it’s not considered a top-tier domestic league. Maledon was 17, the age of a young high school senior, playing against teams much better than nearly every team in NCAA Division 1.
This past season, ASVEL moved up to Euroleague, the best league outside of the NBA, where he played similar minutes. Maledon has played against better opponents than any prospect in the draft. There is little doubt that he is prepared for the level of the NBA, whether or not he can excel is the question.
Maledon sprained his left shoulder in February 2019 which kept him out for just over a week. He again hurt his shoulder (never released which shoulder) in Men’s National Team camp in August 2019 but he was again able to return shortly. In October 2019, he hurt his right shoulder on a screener and missed a month of time. The number of shoulder injuries before turning 19 is something that probably needs to be looked into and his future NBA team will surely keep an eye on it going forward.
Maledon has a solid frame with great length and the size to play both guard positions. He has muscle already but could definitely get stronger. He has solid upper body strength, especially for his age. His lower body strength is lacking, he struggles to hold position on defense and would benefit greatly from a stronger base on drives to the rim.
Maledon doesn’t have great explosiveness or first-step quickness. He isn’t very quick moving laterally, although he has made improvements in his footwork in the last year that have covered up some of his deficiencies athletically. In space, Maledon has a solid vertical but doesn’t jump well in crowds. As he matures and continues to make tweaks to his movement, he could get to average, or just below average, athleticism on an NBA scale.
Maledon’s shot is compact and repeatable, everything besides a slight hip turn is straight to the rim. He’s a little slow off the ground and has to be more open to shoot as a result. He can shoot going either direction off the dribble or coming off a screen. His footwork is deliberate and balanced shooting on the move. Maledon doesn’t get a lot of movement looks due to his slow release and footwork getting into a shot.
This season, Maledon shot 33.3% from 3 and 78.2% from FT, just below his career numbers and a significant step down from the previous season. It’s possible he wasn’t given the time to fully recover from the October shoulder injury and the time off will help him get back to 100% and continue the upward trend we saw in 2018-2019. On the other side of the same coin, the shooting drop-off could be even more reason to be concerned about Maledon’s frequent shoulder injuries.
Maledon uses his length well to finish around defenders at the rim. He has good touch and puts the ball high off the glass which is useful because he prefers to leave the floor a step or two early when driving to the basket. He’s become proficient at these longer layups, floaters, and runners because he typically avoids going all the way to the rim in crowds.
Maledon is becoming more comfortable attacking defenders around the basket and it’s an area where he must continue to grow to be an efficient scorer at the NBA level. He will see fewer defenders around the rim due to the space that the NBA rules create; he has to use that to his advantage and continue to increase his rim volume.
The big defenders that Maledon has seen camping in the paint for the past two seasons didn’t give him much incentive to go all the way to the rim. I go into more detail about the concerns (and benefits) that playing up has had on his development.— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) September 22, 2020
Trial (and error) by fire: pic.twitter.com/9emKp9whfh
Maledon is a refined playmaker, he doesn’t try to do too much and he’s not much of a creative passer but he runs an offense well and puts teammates in positions to score. His live dribble passing with his right hand is accurate and incisive but he usually only throws it to his right, rarely across his body. Overall, his vision is solid but he isn’t asked to make many reads within ASVEL’s offense. Anything that happened off the script in their offense was usually through another, more experienced guard. Maledon can be prone to careless turnovers when he does get to improvise, such as in transition.
Maledon has high IQ as the ball handler in pick and roll. He reads his defender well and uses his body to attack if he has a chance. He is composed and patient handling different coverages, identifying chances to snake or use a re-screen to create the advantage he needs. Maledon does a good job of keeping his dribble alive and his eyes up on traps and hard hedges.
If the screener pops to open space, he will almost always hit him for a shot, even when the defense is rotating to the screener. He must hit teammates that come open on the weakside more often. As he matures and develops the patience and IQ to read the whole floor that should come. Maledon is going to be a reliable, effective pick and roll playmaker at the NBA level.
While he has an average first step, he does have success going by his man in isolation with change of pace and hesitation. He rarely tries to break down his man with multiple change of direction moves but he has a strong crossover that he goes to when he does need to counter.
When he gets chances to go downhill, he can quickly stop for his manipulative outside the paint finishes or utilize his change of pace handling to get his man on his back to attack the basket or draw defenders to help. Maledon has a lot of functional strength as a ball handler, he uses his body to get to spots and keep defenders on his hip. This allows him to capitalize on advantage situations by using his body to keep his defender on his back when he gets a step.
Théo Maledon report coming… pic.twitter.com/nLQ6cAyNEW— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) September 22, 2020
While he has the size to match up with both guard positions, Maledon doesn’t have the quickness for every matchup. He’s improved in this area somewhat, and it’s something he is still working hard to improve, but his lateral movement will put a ceiling on his future on a defender. On the ball he is very physical, he likes to get right up on his man where he gets burned because he doesn’t give himself enough space to react. He uses his hands a lot to try to cause turnovers but he doesn’t get nearly enough steals to justify the fouls.
Maledon is still too upright when guarding the ball and bounces around more than getting into a stance. He has a slow reaction to a jab step or dribble move and goes for a lot of fakes. When he gives his man a step and tries to recover, he has trouble avoiding fouls. He tries to body up his man from behind or from the side and he doesn’t have the footwork to get to his man quickly and in control.
Pick and Roll Defense
Maledon has major struggles guarding PnR, he has poor screen awareness and reacts far too late to a screen call. When he does identify a screen early and attempts to avoid it, he takes too many steps and gets caught way behind his man. In Euroleague, opponents would make a point of putting Maledon in PnR situations. Playing catch-up is already a weakness of his and it became much easier to break down the defense with him on the ballhandler’s back instead of harassing him on the perimeter. He has to improve here because he’s not strong enough to switch onto any wing or big man that could score in the paint.
Maledon’s understanding of rotations is impressive for his age but he is limited by footwork and slow reactions. Although he struggles with sticking too close to his man when he’s one pass away, there are cases where his whole body is facing the ball and he gives up a cut to the basket. When he’s multiple passes away, Maledon is prone to losing sight of the ball and focusing on his man, especially when he’s involved in an off-ball screen. He does a good job of sticking with his man off the ball despite still being too upright.
Théo Maledon is already playing in Euroleague so there isn’t as much doubt about his path to being able to compete at the NBA level as there is for a typical European prospect at his age. My questions about Maledon’s draft value are centered around his lack of progress in recent years. Maledon was identified very early because of his size and skill at the guard position at just 14 but in the 5 years since that time, he has not improved significantly relative to his peers. Part of this is natural, he didn’t grow much and his positional size did not stand out as much. But I believe the leagues he played, always the highest level his club thought he could handle, played a role in his failure to develop elite skills.
So many of his biggest weaknesses have been addressed in order for him to survive at the pro level he has been at since he turned 17. Since he was 14, Maledon has played almost entirely at the senior level and rarely had chances to run a team apart from one year with Espoirs. This history of playing up could mean that he will be able to come to the NBA and work on building on his strengths right away instead of fixing many of the issues that young players come into the league with. He has been forced to work through a lot of those weaknesses to stay on the court with older players.
The holes he does have in his game, such as defense, he is already working through and has a headstart on fixing. Compared to the typical path a 19-year old takes to the draft (high school and then one year of NCAA Division 1 basketball) Maledon won’t be nearly as overwhelmed by the size and strength of NBA players or the defensive schemes he’s introduced to because of his time in Euroleague. At just 19 for his entire rookie season, Maledon can focus on improving as a shooter and playmaker while still getting stronger and refining his footwork.
However, without the freedom that many NBA prospects get to have growing up, he may have missed important stages of development. Even with a season in the G-league, it may not be possible to try new things and add enough to your bag to replace the years where most young players can experiment, make mistakes, and grow from them. In those formative years, Maledon was playing in pro games where his club placed a priority on winning. His development arc has been relatively disappointing and an NBA team takes him with the risk of that trend continuing. Despite the focus on winning at ASVEL and playing against men’s players with INSEP, they are still places known for great development. That Maledon was unable to develop any elite skill at either spot is concerning.
Defense will always be the weaker end of the floor for Maledon. He still doesn’t have great footwork or quickness despite making good progress to fix his issues there. On the ball, he has to stop taking so many chances to get steals and cut down on dumb fouls. He will have to lock in off the ball to be better at helping with drives and preventing cuts. He doesn’t have the strength to defend anybody but 1s and 2s, even some bigger 2s can give him issues at the moment. Maledon could still turn out to be an average, or slightly above average, perimeter defender at some point in his NBA career. To do that, he must continue to improve his focus and footwork and get strong enough to match up with both guard positions.
On offense, Maledon is a game manager. He’s a good PnR ballhandler, a good shooter, and a good passer. But there isn’t an area where he stands out at the moment, and he definitely will not stand out at the NBA level. He will have to work to separate himself in all those areas but his baseline ability entering the league is promising. He has the handle and passing ability to be a very good PnR playmaker. As he studies the game and gets more comfortable on an NBA court, this should be one of the easier improvements for him to make. His use of hesitation and pace to probe and get to his spots can work in the NBA as well, especially as he gets stronger.
His shooting is solid, he’s a career 36% 3-point shooter and 79% free throw shooter, but it doesn’t stand out as a huge plus for him. While he made jumps to 38.6% and 85% respectively in 2018-2019, he dropped back to 33.3% and 77.6% in 2019-2020 while dealing with the lingering effects of multiple shoulder injuries. Whether or not this will be an ongoing concern or something that will revert back to pre-injury numbers with time off to fully recover is still unknown. If he can continue to build on his shooting from before his shoulder injuries and work on speeding up his shot and having a more consistent release, Maledon could peak as a 40% 3-point shooter in the NBA. It remains to be seen how much the still uncertain process of distributing medical reports will affect his draft stock.
Maledon should be able to hold his own on an NBA court early in his career although it’s in his long-term interests to spend some time in the G-league for a year or two. He needs to have the ball in his hands and be forced to improvise and create extemporaneous offense. He shows flashes finishing at the rim in Euroleague but it will take game reps to really improve. In the G-league, Maledon won’t have to worry about defenders camping in the lane due to the 3 seconds rule and the guard-heavy rosters. His shot creation and defense may limit his ceiling but there is a realistic path for Théo Maledon to develop into a starting point guard in the NBA for many years to come.