Ponds fits into the category of undersized two guard who can play in a point guard role. Similar to the last guard prospect we broke down, Carsen Edwards, Ponds’ key skill is his ability get buckets in a hurry. The Brooklyn native has a slick handle and leverages it into comfortable, in-rhythm shot opportunities at all three-levels (3-point range, midrange, at the rim).
His defense will struggle if he is tasked with guarding NBA 2-guards with significant size and/or post game, but Ponds is a gamer on that end of the floor and will at least put up a solid fight. Overall, Ponds’ three-year sample-size has given NBA scouts enough to understand what he is at the pro level. Even if he does not develop much, the player he is right now as a 20-year old is skilled enough to be a near net-positive player in the right system.
Ponds has a style that can be compared favorably to guards like Dennis Smith or Walt Lemon, meaning he likes (Boylen-ism alert) to get downhill, i.e. using his ball handling ability to get into the lane and make plays for himself and his teammates.
Though scoring is his specialty, Ponds became a better passer each season he spent at St. John’s.
In the 2018-19 season, Ponds averaged a career-best 5.8 assists per 40 minutes. His best trait as a passer is just how quickly he can identify and hit the open shooter in the corner when the opposition's pick-and-roll defense collapses on the roll man. And as a counter to that, Ponds is adept at hitting cutters when the defense applies heavy perimeter pressure to deny passes.
But almost all of Ponds’ assists are set up by the fact the opponent expects him to shoot. And shot he does. Ponds has maintained a usage rate above 27 percent for his college career and does not turn the ball over a ton despite that fact. He only averaged 2.2 turnovers per 40 minutes last season.
When it comes to scoring from all three levels of the floor, Ponds is awesome. He shot over 50 percent on 2-point shots despite midrange jumpers accounting for about a quarter of his field goal attempts.
Shamorie Ponds is feeling it in the first half. Eight points on 3-of-6 shooting with two assists, two rebounds and two steals. #SJUBB leads Georgetown, 21-19, with 7:59 remaining in the period. pic.twitter.com/NbQ8DSQ6T3— St. John's BBall (@StJohnsBBall) January 10, 2018
Ponds would immediately succeed in Chicago due to two primary factors. The first being the fact that he knows how to play with pace, and would be able to successfully get the Bulls into their sets quickly. And the second factor is that Lauri Markkanen draws heavy attention as a pick-and-pop threat. If defenses go under the screen on Ponds, he has shown the ability to comfortably pull up for a 3-pointer.
His college numbers stack up pretty favorably next to the college stats of Patty Mills, a player I see Ponds’ career likely mirroring closely. While some may react negatively to that, Mills is one of the better backup guards in the league. He has a career 39.1 percent 3-point percentage and an NBA championship to his name. I see Ponds as a natural evolution of Mills, with more size and more craftiness when it comes to finishing around the basket.
In the 2018-19 season, Ponds shot 59 percent at the rim with over 36 percent of his field goal attempts coming from that range. That is comparable to Ja Morant—shot 61 percent at the rim, 53.1 percent of his attempts—except what Ponds lacks in quick-twitch burst, he makes up with off the dribble scoring. Switching defenses shouldn’t provide too much of a problem for Ponds, as he has enough wiggle to get past bigger defenders.
His skill level on offense will help him get into the league, bit his attitude on defense is what will keep him in it. Ponds averaged an impressive 2.3 steals per game for his career and that culminated in a career-high 2.6 steals per game in his junior season.
Ponds has extremely quick hands and can generate steals and deflections at a high rate.
Despite not having the size to hold up in switches, he would hold up well in Boylen’s defense. Boylen wants his guards to fight over screens hard in pursuit of the ball handler to make sure his big men can stay positioned near the basket for rim protection and rebounding opportunities. Ponds will fight through screens and that sustained effort level is what makes him a player who will likely succeed with any type of lineup in terms of playing style.
Ponds is an awesome offensive player and although he shows signs of being a player who can function well off-ball, most of his success in college came with him dominating possession of the ball. Despite being a three-year college player, playing with a guard as talented and commanding of possessions as Zach LaVine will be a huge adjustment for Ponds. He is a good floor spacer, but he did have an abysmal shooting season (25.3 percent from 3-point range) sandwiched between two seasons shooting over 35 percent from 3. That doesn’t raise a ton of concerns, but it does indicate that Ponds will likely be a very streaky shooter over an 82 game season.
He is adept at getting to the free throw line and that has made up a large part of his offense over his college career. But at the NBA level Ponds is going to deal with extremely long defenders on a game-to-game basis. His best chance of getting to the basket at the NBA level will likely be exclusively attacking closeouts.
Ponds has the skill level and enough speed to make that work, but it will be yet another big adjustment that means he will likely be an offball guard in the league rather than a pure point, and that greatly limits his upside.
Long term outlook:
Ponds has all the makings of a solid NBA backup point guard. He can make plays with the ball in his hands, is an adequate 3-point shooter of the dribble or off the catch, and has a large number of crafty finishes he can apply with a high success rate at the rim. His lack of elite size/wingspan combination will make him a one position defender (point guards) at the pro level, but he generates enough turnovers to hold up on that end of the floor.
His shortcomings physically will lead to him being a second round pick, even if he was to absolutely shoot the lights out in pre-draft workouts. With the Bulls not only needing point guard depth, but also solid scoring for a team that was 24th in the league in bench points, Ponds would be a seamless fit into what they are trying to create culture-wise and on the court.