New York City breeds basketball players, and St. John’s sophomore Shamorie Ponds is in line to be the next up.
While being a generous 6-1 and barely weighing 175 pounds, St. John’s star guard Shamorie Ponds has been giving out buckets in the Big East for the last two seasons. His last four games are some of the best basketball he’s played during his short career, and those notable outbursts have come against the likes of Xavier, Duke, Villanova and Marquette. In those games, the Red Storm is 3-1, and those wins against the Blue Devils and Wildcats were upsets of tremendous proportions. That stretch has helped even out their record at 13-13. Unfortunately, conference play hasn’t been kind to them.
Ponds does not seem to care about what the standings read. His game hasn’t wavered. In those four contests, the sophomore’s scoring average has ballooned to 33.5 points a night, and his shooting splits are just as impressive: 59.3 percent from two, 48.1 percent from three and 86.2 percent from the foul line. Additionally, he’s been a pest on defense and has come away with 13 total steals in that time. Against Duke, he had 33 points, seven rebounds, four steals and a clutch triple over Gary Trent to put the Johnnies up 77-73 with 40 seconds left. He followed that performance with a 26-piece against Villanova, which was the worst showing he’s had in the last two weeks.
With these recent displays, Shamorie Ponds has been building the case to be a potential first-round pick. Recency bias is an incredible thing. Because he’s playing at an outstanding level, the narrative on him is beginning to look tremendously different.
In 2016, Ponds was the third-ranked player in New York state according to 247Sports, trailing Virginia’s Ty Jerome and Arizona’s Rawle Alkins. Overall, Ponds was a four-star prospect ranked 45th in the nation. The silky smooth lefty garnered national attention while at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn and got selected as a Jordan Brand All-American while leading the school to its first PSAL AA title in 62 years.
As a freshman, Ponds showcased his craftiness on a nightly basis. There’s something about lefties where they make everything look effortless, and the Brooklyn native carved up Big East defenses and finished fifth in scoring at 17.4 points per game. Oddly enough, Creighton’s Justin Patton (12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds) beat out Ponds for Big East Rookie of the Year. As with most freshmen, of course, Ponds had aspects of his game that needed time to develop, and he looked like someone who could benefit from spending at least one more season in college. His shot selection wasn’t the best, and his decision-making was lacking for a player that’s going to be a point guard at the next level. Some of those are still present now.
What immediately jumps off the page are Ponds’ unflattering shooting percentages. Overall, he’s hitting fewer shots this year compared to last (41.8 percent this season, 43.9 percent last) and his stroke from the perimeter has been non-existent. Even with his four most recent games, Ponds is still just a 25.2 percent shooter from the outside.
There are NBA players who thrive while missing a significant portion of their field goals, and what’s puzzling is that Ponds is already adept at utilizing his strengths and getting shots inside the paint. According to Hoop-Math.com, he’s connecting on 57.9 percent of his attempts at the rim, an impressive feat for someone with Ponds’ makeup. Defenses know he can’t shoot and he’s not a supreme athlete, so that allows them to sag off and cut off his drives to the rim. The counter to that is the dexterity with which he dribbles, allowing him to slice through lanes that most players can’t create.
Ponds has an array of tricks in his bag, ranging from quick in-n-outs to through-the-leg moves that leave opponents hips twisted. He can also create space using stepbacks or spins, depending on who’s guarding him. Ponds caps off his drives to the rim with a variety of underhanded layups and floaters, leaving the big just a second shy of swatting his shot against the backboard. When you’ve got a scoring knack that’s amplified by your ability to dribble, the only thing that stops you from getting a bucket is yourself.
We’ve seen Shamorie Ponds light up the scoreboard earlier this season, but these last four games are the first time he’s done it with extended consistency. Earlier in the year, he had 31 points against Missouri but followed it up with just six points on an awful 1-of-11 shooting against UCF. Not long after that, he dropped 28 on St. Joe’s but proceeded to shoot only 35.3 percent from the floor in the four subsequent contests. Then, Ponds blew up on Villanova for the first time and tallied 37.
His offensive brilliance is what is making his future in the NBA possible, but Ponds has developed nicely on the defensive end. He’s not lockdown like a prime Chris Paul or healthy Avery Bradley, but quick hands and futuristic anticipation make him the ideal ballhawk. No one in the Big East averages more steals than Ponds. And his playmaking on that end creates more opportunities on offense. At the next level, he’ll be fine as long as adequate defenders are flanking him.
Players with the skill set of Shamorie Ponds will always intrigue NBA coaches. He’s undersized and doesn’t possess elite athleticism, but his ability to create something out of nothing makes him the ideal spark plug. The only question is where will he fall in the upcoming draft. The detractors aren’t grand, but they are noticeable. His inconsistency from three-point land is the most glaring one, but St. John’s has a collective lack of spacing, thus not leaving Ponds as the only below-average marksman. When he gets hot, though, he’s someone who can’t be left alone on the perimeter.
A first-round selection isn’t likely unless Ponds remains consistent through the end of the campaign. He doesn’t have to keep up a clip of 53 percent, but around 45 would be just fine considering his usage and his score-first role. Finding his stroke from three would also be tremendous. If he’s able to combine everything, we’re looking at a Lou Williams-type player who’s even craftier and can create shots from anywhere on the floor.
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