College basketball is a unique scene. The passion and overall level of unpredictability is a massive part of what makes the sport so special. Take Virginia Tech for example, who was widely considered the second-worst ACC team entering this season. There were obvious question marks surrounding this team, including a first-year coach and roster with a lot of departures. Any team that loses two guys to the NBA (Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson) and another All-ACC second-teamer to transfer (Kerry Blackshear) is expected to see some type of decline.
Well, Mike Young came in and brought a winning culture with him. This team simply refuses to lose and, although they have a variety of impressive prospects, Landers Nolley has clearly been their unquestioned leader throughout that process. He showed flashes of potential superstardom in high school, but has turned himself into a likely NBA prospect in a hurry. The sample size has been somewhat small, but all signs point to Nolley destroying everyone in college basketball if he’s able to sustain these types of numbers. Just looking at raw numbers, he’s posting a nightly average of 20.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 1.5 SPG with 48/48/78 shooting splits. Add in his advanced numbers and physical gifts and Nolley simply becomes unfair.
It’s easy to get blown away by a six-game sample size, but what Nolley is doing isn’t really out of the ordinary by his standards. Between his junior and senior seasons in high school (62 games), the 6-foot-7 scoring dynamo averaged 27.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 2.8 SPG while shooting over 50% from the floor and 40% from beyond the arc. For those paying attention, Nolley already possessed special qualities but just needed a bigger stage to present them. We, at Phenom Hoops, had the pleasure of seeing him multiple times in the summer prior to his senior season, where he was a dominant two-way piece for Team Loaded NC. Our own Jeff Bendel and Jamie Shaw both walked away raving about Nolley. Here’s what was said immediately after the event:
“It is easy to see why Nolley’s name is so hot. His game is similar to Devin Booker’s at the same stage. He has great size and length, but he is able to score the ball at all 3 levels off the bounce or the catch. Nolley II says that he watches a lot of Kevin Durant, as he is the best scorer in the league.It would not surprise us to watch Nolley II continue to rise through the rankings. He has a great skill set to go along with his great frame for his position. As we mentioned above, Nolley carries some similarities to Devin Booker at the same stage. He is a great shooter, and that is a skill that does translate well to the next level.”
The memory of Nolley lasted throughout the summer and made it onto our top guards of the 2017 AAU season, where we stated:
“…He’s so smooth with the ball and has the ability to create for others or play as the lead ball handler in a pinch. Though Nolley is a quality distributor, scoring is truly his calling card, as he can dominate a game from all three levels without breaking a sweat. He’s long and poses huge problems for opponents because they have no clue what type of defender to throw his way, considering guys with Nolley’s height and perimeter skills don’t grow on trees. Nolley shreds teams with his three-point shooting and post-ups on smaller guards, which are both guaranteed avenues to points.”
Everything written in 2017 still remains true today; Nolley still loves to expose the opposition with his three-point shooting and ability to take advantage of smaller guards with his length. He epitomizes what modern-day basketball is trying to highlight, guys with size andtremendous skill. In taking a closer look, one can also appreciate Nolley’s advanced statistics and the company that he keeps in that department. In terms of freshmen who have posted an average of 20 PPG with a PER of 27 or higher, Nolley joins Trae Young, Marvin Bagley, Deandre Ayton, Zion Williamson, Markelle Fultz, and Bol Bol. Each listed player was drafted in the top five (except Bol, who still had top-five type of talent) and it would be difficult to imagine Nolley going much lower than that.
Right now, Nolley’s usage rate is extremely high but it would be impossible to remove the ball from his hands if he continues to lead and score the ball at this high of a level. Assuming his three-point consistency translates to an NBA level, at his size, he would be Kyle Korver-esque from beyond the arc. As strange as it sounds, that’s a big part of what makes him so unique. He’s also crafty, skilled, and athletic, which are all traits that knockdown shooters, like Korver, do not possess. So, how does he project going forward? Well, calling him something between Paul George and Devin Booker feels appropriate. That ideology might raise some eyebrows, but he’s already much more productive at the same stage in his development. Additionally, entering the draft very few people thought that George or Booker would ever be this dominant. Although Nolley is likely to be projected as a late-lottery/mid-to-late first round pick, it wouldn’t be surprising if he vaulted his way into the lottery or even the top ten over the next few months.