The Providence men’s basketball team is off to a 14-3 start, a pleasant surprise for a team returning only 25.5 percent of its total minutes played a season ago. Creeping up to 19th in the most recent AP Poll, the Friars’ early season run has been punctuated by an undefeated stretch to open Big East play, which includes wins over ranked UConn and Marquette squads.
The play of sophomore forward Bryce Hopkins has propelled the team, as he leads them in points, rebounds, and minutes played. Hopkins, a transfer from Kentucky, has burst onto the scene in a sort of rebirth as a prospect after struggling to crack the regular rotation in Lexington last season. When he did play, there were flashes that reminded onlookers that Hopkins was such a highly regarded recruit.
But this season, those glimpses have been put on full display in a featured role on a new squad. Standing at 6’7 with a sturdy 220 pound frame, Hopkins possesses an incredibly intriguing blend of size, power, and skill. While this is not the case for every a high-volume wing scorer, it’s common for those sorts of players to thrive while running spread pick-and-roll. What makes Hopkins interesting instead is how and where he gets the ball.
As you can see in the above clips, Hopkins often starts without the ball and operates as a screener and mover within Providence’s offense before getting segmented scoring opportunities in the flow. It’s a rarity to see Hopkins start off possessions with a slot pick-and-roll or early ball screen. That’s not a bad thing — this team runs good stuff, and without a player who routinely generates an advantage out of initial ball screens, the Friars use ball movement and side-to-side actions to open up driving lanes.
While professional spacing could have more room for maneuverability, it stands out that Hopkins is not the shiftiest driver. He has a good handle for his size with some shake, but he lacks much burst with the ball in his hands. Having said that, Hopkins has a reliable spin move and is adept at using his shoulders and chest to create separation.
That’s empowered him to get to the line nearly seven times a game. He sits at 13th in total free throws attempted in Division 1 and is in first in the Big East. On one hand, the foul drawing craft is legitimate and sustainable. While his numbers are swelled by a few high variance games, it’s been a reliable boon to his scoring since the start of the season.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that this is a hard mold to translate to the NBA. Against bigger, stronger, longer defenders, it’s generally more difficult to thrive with an offensive skillset predicated on strength. Hopkins has the benefit of being larger, which adds an extra level of difficulty for defenders. But when accounting for Hopkins’ finishing without dunks, some of the deficiencies are already notable.
He’s shooting 41.3 percent on layups, per InStat Scouting, which is a bit underwhelming considering his size. For reference, Kris Murray of Iowa, a likely first round pick, is shooting 56 percent on lay-ups this year on a near identical volume to Hopkins. Maxwell Lewis of Pepperdine, another potential first round pick with similar size, is shooting 48 percent on layups. Hopkins has, however, shown some really impressive driving ability with good footwork in the lane.
Hopkins is a very sound cutter, with agile change of direction ability at his size. He has a real knack for creating opportunities by how he moves in the offense. He sets himself up well with head and shoulder fakes and operates well attacking the lane from there. Having routine, easy ways to score via his cutting and how effective he is as an offensive rebounder shouldn’t go undiscussed.
While cutting and putbacks cannot comprise the entirety of a player’s scoring arsenal, having a baked in ability to generate offense without needing a play directly ran for you is a skill. This is something Keegan Murray was awesome at during his time at Iowa and that’s translated already for Sacramento.
Continuing to develop out that footwork, touch, and pacing on the in-between aspect of his game is an effective counter for not being an above the rim athlete. It just takes more time and a higher threshold to be as repeatable.
As noted already, pro spacing could be a difference maker for Hopkins, but one area for growth over the backend of the season is in his shot. He’s shooting 37.5 percent from deep, although it’s coming on a touch under two attempts per game. His shot overall is fine mechanically, albeit a little stiff.
He has a high release, but doesn’t typically get a ton of lift underneath him. It would be really interesting to see him attempt some movement threes as well, even if it’s just on relocation triples, as he doesn’t have many of those reps on film this year. Providence doesn’t run a ton of NBA-type movement sets, so the opportunities aren’t always there. But he has a tendency to pass out of some clean looks or drive a contested one due to a slower release and general shot preparation. Cleaning those up and making snappier decisions could be huge in helping improve his volume as a shooter.
Getting up more attempts, in general, would be a boon for opening up his ability to attack closeouts, which would allow him to leverage more of what makes him so exciting as a prospect: his playmaking potential.
Hopkins has good feel on delivering interior passes, finding cutters or roaming bigs with accurate dump-offs when he draws help on drives. His kick ahead passing in transition is timely. He has an acute sense for knowing when help has overcommitted, and is incredibly aware of his own scoring gravity.
He’s often deployed in the post after a clearout of some sort to get him one-on-one with space, a situation where we get to see him toy with drawing two to the ball.
This possession really stands out as he patiently feels out help, protects himself from it, attacks the middle of the floor to occupy another defender, and hits the open shooter above the break after the slot player cuts. The mold of a 6’7 player who can shoot, attack closeouts, and punish the defense with some potential secondary creativity as a live dribble playmaker is incredibly enticing. Every team in the NBA is looking for player that can develop into a multi-tooled forward.
Hopkins’ defense and how it’s perceived will play a key part in whether or not he rises up Draft boards. He’s in an odd mold of being caught between positions as a defender. He’s strong and can hold his own in the post. He shows good moments of verticality, although he shouldn’t be considered as a true help-side rim deterrent. He is capable of using his length and feet to ride out drives into rim protection/help.
Like any young prospect, he can be caught ball watching or get back cut, but neither are substantial problems. His overall feel as a defender just leaves you a little wanting. There are a lot of moments where he’s caught between doing something and not doing something, and is fine at doing his job, but you’d like to see him be more assertive as a help presence.
Who Hopkins can routinely defend and how well he executes schemes are imperative for opening up more pathways for playing time — if you can guard multiple positions, you get the opportunity to play offense at multiple positions. Unless you’re on a team that goes all-in on developing youngsters, there’s generally less leeway to figure yourself out on both sides of the ball when you’re on a rookie scale contract, especially as a role player.
With his ability to attack the basket with strength, crash the glass, rip and run in transition, and the potential for some secondary creation, Bryce Hopkins is a player to put on your radar. As he and the Friars look to continue their nine-game winning streak that started the first week of December, his continued growth and development is absolutely worth tracking.