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2018 NBA Draft Profile: Dakota Mathias

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The Midwestern Cowboy has made a career out of shedding expectations. Is making the NBA his next feat of improvement?

Iowa State v Purdue Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Dakota Mathias

22 years old

6’4” - 6’6” wingspan - 200 lbs.

Going into Dakota Mathias’ junior year, the 6’4” guard had never averaged more than twenty minutes a game, was something of a defensive liability and despite the moniker of being a shooter out of high school, was only shooting 35% from three in his career.

It’s fitting then that when he played his last game for Purdue in Boston at the TD Garden in the Sweet Sixteen, that he’d finish his career as the all-time leading 3-pt shooter in school history while becoming one of the best perimeter defender in the country while making back to back all-Big Ten defensive teams. Getting better is just what Mathias does.

If Mathias’ career can be boiled down to anything, it’s his incredible work ethic and dedication to his craft. The thing about that is, those are code words. Code words that often mean things like he’s too slow to actually make it in the league or he can’t keep up with the elite athletes. But Mathias has been turning heads at team workouts heading into tonight’s NBA draft. According to Sports Illustrated, he set a team record for points during a workout for the Toronto Raptors that demands skill, speed, and endurance. Mathias who struggled with injuries his first two seasons at Purdue that limited his ability to practice and work out, has altered his body to add quickness and strength. According to the same article, he’s dropped ten more pounds since the end of the season.

Mathias has never been just a shooter. As pretty as that release is, it was his passing that caught the eye of Coach Painter initially. Coach Painter has called Mathias the best passer he’s ever recruited. Mathias has the second best assist to turnover ratio in school history even as his role in the offense has grown each year.

Mathias is one of those rare shooters that can go nova without forcing bad shots. Twice he’s scored 25 points in his career. All the way back on November 22nd, 2017, he put up 25 against Utah St. He only needed ten shots to do it, going 9-10 from the floor and making 6 three-pointers. His other came on February 25th against Minnesota this year, where he scored 25 points on 9 of 11 shooting, making 7 threes, adding four assists, and no turnovers.

But it might be Mathias’ transformation on the defensive end that leads to him finding success and longevity in the NBA. Players that can both defend and knock down shots are at a premium. Teams are more eager than ever to take chances on those two needs than any other skills.

Mathias started out his career a defensive liability, he finished being able to cover and shut down the likes of Alonzo Trier, and Kelan Martin, potential second-round picks from Arizona and Butler. Trier, who Mathias held to 8 points on 3 of 10 shooting in the Battle 4 Atlantis, is the exact kind of athlete that’s supposed to give a player like Mathias trouble. But Mathias didn’t just take on guards. His quick feet, great hands, and film study led him to take the best player on the other team no matter the size disadvantage. Mathias hung tough and made Butler’s Kelan Martin’s first match-up of the year a showcase on how to use leverage and position against someone who had almost five inches and fifty pounds on the Midwestern Cowboy. Ohio State’s 6’8” Big Ten Player of the Year, Keita Bates-Diop, put up 18 in West Lafayette in their upset of Purdue, but Mathias made the mid-range specialist work for those 18 points. He needed 18 shots to get there, and he relied on a lot of difficult, hand in his face jumpers.

We often think of versatility as a mark of size and athleticism. For Mathias, it means fine-tuned skills, smarts, and a gonna get better each day mindset. He’s improved dramatically every year, and the NBA seems to be catching on that that trend won’t be stopping.

Strengths

  • Shooting - no reason to be coy. His .466% mark from 3 his senior season is the second best in the draft. His release is quick, on the move or catch and shoot, and reliable. He’s made some big-time shots and moves around screens well. His footwork allows him to get a shot off from anywhere behind the three-point line.
  • Passing - he threads the line between seeing passes before they’re there and not making bad decisions. A master at making the next pass that opens up the offense. Does a good job using the threat of his shot to pull in defenders and find his teammates with space.
  • Great hands - incredibly good at poking at dribbles, diving in on drives and helping and deflecting just the ball, interrupting a player when he gathers the ball, and getting into his man off the ball.
  • Lateral quickness - has really worked on his body, had one of the best shuttle scores at the combine, stays really low on defensive with hips wide and hands active, and is tenacious at staying attached to his assignment.
  • Steady - does not get too up or down, not bothered by the moment, or caught up in the environment. A head down and quiet worker.
  • Off-Ball Movement - great vision to see where the openings are on the floor, able to get into the open space to both stretch the defense and get open looks. Uses screens well, goes at them really hard, sprints his ass off in sets to get free and able to come under control by the time he has the ball.
  • Puts in work - constantly working on his game, always in the gym, always getting better.

Weaknesses:

  • Athleticism - lacks elite burst that makes it difficult to create separation on offense or contest the best of athletes.
  • Something of a tweener - is somewhere between a wing and a point guard size wise. Will probably struggle against both physically.
  • Playmaking - doesn’t have the kind of handle and creativity with the ball to run an offense consistently, and sometimes has a hard time getting a good look for himself with the ball.
  • Rebounding - when he’s really working to disrupt a bigger match-up he often gets out of position to box out when the shot gets off by challenging the shot.
  • Finishing at the rim - has improved dramatically at the rim, by adding a running hook and expanded his use of the left hand, but just doesn’t have the vertical or length to finish consistently against rim challengers, will struggle to be seen as a threat driving to the hoop at the next level.