Tyler Haws is really good at scoring the basketball.
If you've watched BYU at any point over the last two years, you don't need me to tell you that. It's self-evident. Haws is a machine of basketball destruction that simply lays waste to almost any defense put in his path. Teams have tried to stop him, contain him, limit him — nearly all have failed. You don't finish as one of the top ten scorers in the country two seasons in a row by having too many "off nights."
Haws has scored the ball in every imaginable way for the Cougars since returning from his mission in the Philippines. No matter how many defenders are thrown at him or how much attention he draws, he still finds a way to put the ball in the bucket in bunches. He brings it every single night. He is the most important driving force behind one of the nation's most prolific offenses. That's a herculean achievement — and one that deserves proper recognition and respect.
Tyler Haws is one of the best basketball players BYU has ever seen. Full stop. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
But despite being widely touted by preview publications as college basketball's premier scoring guard heading into his senior season, Haws hasn't received much NBA hype. In fact, I wasn't able to find a single mock draft from a prominent outlet that projected him being drafted at all. In fact, DraftExpress — the bible of NBA scouting and draft prognostication — rated Haws as the 38th best senior in the country, right behind Gonzaga's talented-but-inconsistent Kevin Pangos. For comparison, only 17 college seniors were drafted in 2014.
(Worth noting: It's probably wise to take all of this with a sizable helping of salt. As good as DraftExpress and their peers are at evaluating talent and ranking prospects, it's an inexact science. It's still very early to be making these kinds of projections, but this is as good a metric as we have to measure a player's stock at this point in a very long process.)
What gives? How can Lindy's rate a player as the best shooting guard in the country and Athlon consider him to be the second best scorer in college basketball, yet he's not even considered a realistic prospect for the next level? How can Tyler Haws be set to likely pass Jimmer Fredette — a lottery selection in his own right just a few years back — as BYU's all-time leading scorer sometime in the next few months, yet he can't generate any real buzz?
As crazy as it might seem that I'm having to ask these questions, the answers are actually pretty straight-forward — and they all come down to the very specific skills that NBA executives are looking for in a prospect like Haws.
It starts with math. Advanced statistics (often referred to simply as "analytics") have revolutionized how professional teams think about basketball in recent years. Thanks to new, sophisticated metrics and cutting-edge technological tools, teams now understand and, thus, play the game differently than they did even a few years ago.
Maybe you noticed the shift as you were following your favorite team: way more threes (especially from the corners) and way fewer mid-range jump shots. This has occurred almost exclusively because advanced statistics tell us the most efficient shots — i.e., the ones that produce the most points per possession — come at the rim (an easier shot that goes in more often) or from behind the arc (a more difficult shot to make, but one that gives you 50 percent more points when you do). Mid-range jump shots — which fall much closer to threes than layups in terms of difficulty but don't provide an additional point when converted — produce less efficient outcomes.
As a result, most teams' strategies are now geared to either produce a scoring opportunity in the paint or an open look from distance and not much in between. Sure, the mid-range jumper still nominally exists — except for analytics-obsessed teams like the Houston Rockets that avoid them religiously — but it's simply not a focal point anymore. It's considered a lesser shot. It's something to be settled for, not strategized toward.
Whether you consider this development to be positive or negative (and the math comes down decidedly on the former), the new normal is clear. In the pro game, the mid-range jump shot has purposely become a lost and unappreciated art — and that creates a huge problem for Tyler Haws.
Haws has proven to be a versatile scorer on the collegiate level. He gets to the rim fairly often for someone who lacks high-level quickness. He's excellent at drawing fouls and converting free throws. And he has shown the ability to make shots from virtually anywhere inside 21 feet.
But even though he possesses many different strengths, Haws has one elite skill — he is an otherworldly mid-range jump shooter. He takes a ton of them, and he almost never misses. All those points he scores have to come from somewhere, right?
It got to the point last season where, if Haws caught the ball in the mid-range after coming off a baseline screen, I actually tuned out for a couple seconds. I didn't need to watch. I already knew the end result. That ball was going in. It was basically automatic. I was actually surprised when he missed.
The numbers help paint a fuller picture: according to Hoop-Math, a whopping 61.8 percent of Haws' 544 field goal attempts last season came on two-point jumpers, as opposed to just 20 percent at the rim and 18.2 percent from beyond the arc. He converted 40.2 percent of those shots — a strong showing, especially considering the amount of defensive pressure he draws on every possession.
So we have established that Tyler Haws is an elite mid-range jump shooter. Likewise, we have also established that the NBA could not be more disinterested in elite mid-range jump shooters at the moment. And now we can start to see the problem plaguing Haws' draft stock a bit more clearly.
It is often said that players need at least one elite skill to stick in the NBA. Not everyone has to be the best at everything — specialists abound in the league. If you can do one valuable thing really well, it will cover for a multitude of weaknesses.
This maxim is why Fredette remains on an NBA roster today. Despite having very little professional success in the first few years of his career, and even with his well-documented defensive deficiencies, the New Orleans Pelicans were willing to give Jimmer a free agent contract because he has one elite skill — he can shoot the lights out from deep. And as we've already discussed above, dead-eye three-point shooters are exceptionally valuable in the analytics-influenced NBA landscape — so as long as teams continue to believe that Fredette can consistently make shots when given the opportunity, he will probably continued to be gainfully employed somewhere.
The problem for Tyler Haws is that he has an elite skill, but his elite skill is not one that is currently valued by front office executives. That, in and of itself, might be a surmountable obstacle if scouts thought he could bring several other dimensions to the table, but Haws is generally considered to possess below-average athleticism and quickness; his ability to successfully defend NBA-caliber shooting guards is highly questionable (a perception that certainly hasn't been helped by Fredette's defensive struggles); and he's not necessarily a top-level creator for himself or others off the dribble.
Let's put it this way: Tyler Haws is a scorer whose primary means for doing so depends on being freed by screens that he likely won't get as an unproven NBA player to take shots that NBA executives and coaches don't want their players to take. For all Haws' collegiate greatness (and he is undoubtedly great), that's not exactly an ideal equation for pro success in the current context.
But all is not lost! Haws isn't a finished product. He still has an entire season to continue growing and expanding his game — to prove to NBA scouts that he can do the things they want to see him to do. There's still plenty of time before any real decisions are made next June.
To his everlasting credit, Tyler fully recognizes this fact and has taken the challenge head on. He told BYU Sports Nation on media day that his top offseason focus, outside of dropping weight to improve his quickness, was to expand the range on his jump shot so that he could take more threes as a senior. He knows the perception. He knows what he needs to improve. He gets it.
To be sure, this focus likely isn't all about Haws' professional aspirations. BYU would undoubtedly be better off as a team if Tyler were to shoot more threes during the upcoming season. The Cougars have struggled from long distance in the past few years, which has resulted in them taking fewer and fewer threes. As analytics have already taught us, that's not an ideal recipe for success. You want those extra points that outside shots can provide — but it only makes sense to keep attempting them in high volumes if you can convert a decent percentage. That should be a primary focus for Dave Rose's squad this year — and Haws can certainly help set that tone,
But even as Haws' improvement as a three-point shooter will likely help his team, it will undoubtedly help boost his draft stock even more. Let's be clear: being as good at shooting mid-range jumpers as Tyler is (even if it's not en vogue at the moment) is still a very, very good thing to be good at — it's just not enough by itself to earn you a spot in the NBA. You need to add other dimensions. You need to bring more to the table.
Haws is working on doing just that. If he can successfully add an even more lethal three-point shot and expanded range to his already elite in-between game — and maybe even throw in some improved defense and quickness to boot, thanks to his newly slimmed-down frame — he should be rocketing up the draft boards in no time.
That kind of movement would be a welcome development in Provo — not only because of what it would mean for an all-time BYU great like Haws on an individual level, but also because of the impending success it could signal for the Cougars as a whole.