I've watched every highlight video of Landers Nolley II on the internet. Every. Single. Second. Mixtapes and post game recaps. High school and AAU. I have a Google Doc full of hot takes, many of which we'll get to shortly. But first, the hottest take of them all: Landers Nolley looks like a shorter version of Kevin Durant and it makes me tingly in all the right places.
A few caveats: Durant was a beast in high school. He was taller, longer, and more athletic than anyone else on his highlight films. Today, we think of him as a freakishly rangy player that stretches the floor better than any other guy in the NBA. But if you watch highlights from his high school days, you'll see a lot more of Durant in the paint than you will beyond the arc. He was jumping passing lanes, blocking shots, putting back bunnies, knifing through defenses and exploding to the rim. He was an effective outside shooter, but effective shooting wasn't sexy in 2005.
Durant's high school career overlapped with a flashier era of basketball, one raised on clips of Hotsauce, Spyda, Skip to My Lou and The Professor embarrassing dudes on AND1 Mixtapes. Pull-up threes aren't nearly as sexy as an up-and-under dunk.
Nolley's highlights are more "of-the-moment", in that they attempt to show how well-rounded of a player he is. Where Durant's highlight reels are more for show, Nolley's serve the modern purpose of getting the kid a scholarship offer from topflight programs. You see most facets of his game: catch-and-shoot situations; pull-up jumpers; driving the lane; floaters in traffic; running the break; and running the point.
Note that I didn't list "playing defense." It's not entirely fair, because there a few clips here-and-there of Nolley catching errant passes and the occasional off-ball interception. But for the most part, we're not treated to Nolley's on-ball defense (which may or may not be an indictment on his defensive talents — remember, much like Durant's highlight videos, certain aspects aren't sexy).
The biggest takeaway is how effortlessly Nolley plays the game. Much like Durant, he's a long strider, bounding up the court with the ball in his hands before gliding through the air for what looks like an easy layup or dunk. He shoots the ball similarly. Whether on the bounce or via pass, Nolley looks like he's taking warm-up shots until you realize he released the ball so quickly that, by the time the hapless defender reacts, the ball is virtually at the rim. His stance is rather narrow, but (again) like Durant, he brings the ball up from his waist, rising tall and extending upward to get good leverage on his shot.
Nolley led the state of Georgia in scoring his senior season, helping Langston Hughes to their second consecutive 6A state title with a 34-point, 10-board, 6-assist display. That's nothing to sneeze at, considering the four players ranked ahead of Nolley in the state's 2018 recruiting class are each SEC commits, including 5-star, Top 12 (nationally) Kentucky signees EJ Montgomery and Ashton Wiggins.
Nolley scored 56 points in a high school game. He also holds the school record for three-pointers in a game, dropping 10 on a helpless opponent. He was the Class 6A North player of the year his senior season. On the AAU circuit, he finished in the Top 50 in scoring in the 2017 Nike EYBL, averaging 13.4 PPG. He shot 50% from both the floor and behind the arc. Oh, and his game high of 29 points tied for the 30th highest single-game talley, despite only appearing in 9 games.
The kid is a scorer, and not just in that "every Division-1 recruit was a scorer in high school" kind of way. His game has depth. He's got range. He can take guys off the dribble. And if the preseason measurables are any indication, he's got the size to compete in the ACC right now.
The one area that I would like to see improvement is the physical side of his game. While Nolley's videos show plenty of dunks, he doesn't look overly explosive or like much of a leaper. He can dunk the ball, no doubt. But when he takes off, he doesn't have the look of a guy that is going to explode out of the gym. Much like the rest of his game, his slams are relatively blue collar.
When driving the lane, he pulls up with little verticality on his jumpers and floaters. It's a trait that looked perfectly fine against high school talent, but could pose a problem against ACC front courts. I'd love to see him engage defenders more when driving into the paint, much like Ahmed Hill does. Floaters are all well and good, but someone who is 6'-7" and 230 lbs should regularly be aggressive when attacking the rim. Leave the soft stuff to the point guards and get yourself to the charity stripe, young fella. With that being said, the kid shows some nifty perimeter moves to get to the rim.
To borrow a television term, let's remove the fourth wall for a second. When I first conceived of this column, I wanted it to be tongue-in-cheek. I would watch all of Nolley's highlight videos and gush over his otherworldliness. The article title would be something along the lines of, "I've Watched Every Landers Nolley Highlight Video and Here's Why He's the Next Great Thing", or "ZION WHO?!" But then again, I did compare him to Kevin Durant, so...
Not to minimize Nolley's talents, but after watching the videos I realized this wouldn't have the intended effect. The truth is, Nolley looks like a really solid player who could do great things in Blacksburg. He's got good size, athleticism and fundamentals. He fills up the score sheet and has proven his ability to put the ball in the basket against all levels of competition. In short, he's got game.
Despite playing in the second most competitive classification in Georgia, Nolley repeatedly looked like a man among boys. It wasn't solely a physical advantage — Nolley's skillset is so far and above his opposition that it's impossible to miss.
At the same time, his game isn't electric. Where Chris Clarke often looks like he's going to explode through your television screen, the effortless appearance of Nolley's game feels more yeoman-like than devastating. He has the look of a guy that laces 'em up and clinically destroys you over the course of 40 minutes.
It will be interesting to see how Buzz integrates Nolley into the current rotation. With the indefinite suspension of Clarke, there is certainly a void to fill on the wing. Nolley's game right now is quite different from Clarke's and more similar to Ty Outlaw's, the most likely candidate to replace Clarke in the starting five to begin the season. He should slot in right behind Hill, Outlaw and Nickeil Alexander-Walker once his eligibility situation is cleared up. Whether or not he's able to displace an early season starter remains to be seen. It certainly won't be for a lack of trying.
During his recruitment, Nolley stated the following:
Wherever I can go in and start immediately. I don't want to go in my freshman year and play behind someone. I feel like I can fit into any system, I've shown that in high school. I can play in the run and gun, play with a slower tempo, pick and roll, coming off screens. I feel like I can do it all, so it doesn't really matter."
Fitting into the offensive system isn't my primary concern. He's a perfect fit for Buzz's offense, providing a capable perimeter scoring threat with great length to boot. In order for the Hokies to succeed this season, they'll also need Nolley to use his size to fill the lane and attack the glass.
Based on the film, he looks more like the young wings Tech fans are accustomed to seeing early in their careers. Guys like Carlos Dixon, A.D. Vassallo, Justin Bibbs and NAW earned minutes as freshmen by consistently shooting the ball well from the perimeter. The confidence gained through that early experience was utilized — in various ways — to develop their skill sets over time and become more than capable spot-up shooters, like a poor man's JJ Reddick.
There's a reason why recruiting services are so flawed. There are far too many variables in accurately projecting talent. Whether it's the physical aspects of playing high-major college basketball, or the mental challenges facing these kids the second they arrive on campus, it's impossible to know exactly how successful any one player will ultimately be.
Landers Nolley II looks to have a high floor and a very high ceiling. Will he become the next Kevin Durant? It's highly unlikely. What is more important is that he not only has the ability to step in right now and become an important contributor on a veteran team, but he has the look of a future leader of this program (assuming he doesn't leave early for the NBA...).