It might not have been the Northwestern men’s basketball season that many hoped for a few months ago, but one shining light through it all was the breakout of senior forward Pete Nance, who played so well in 2022 that he earned an All-Big Ten honorable mention and now has a legitimate shot at hearing his name called during the upcoming NBA Draft should he choose to forgo his final year of college eligibility. To prepare you for this very rare potential Northwestern-NBA crossover, I talked to NBA Draft expert Ben Pfeifer, who has written about the draft for years, formerly hosted the excellent Prep2Pro Podcast and continues to tweet out insightful thoughts about basketball at large to this day. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @bjpf_.
Inside NU: First, let’s just let the readers know who you are and your experience with scouting draft prospects over the years.
Pfiefer: I’m not really one to plug these days, but once upon a time I created basketball content for multiple outlets and did a bit of scouting/consulting in the private sphere as well. These days, I’m posting clips occasionally and do have a cleverly named Substack where I’ll occasionally make content when I get the itch.
INU: While he obviously was a decently rated high school prospect and has a well-known last name, it didn’t seem like anyone had Nance on their radar before this season. Was he a guy that you thought would be a “real” prospect going into this season, and what was the game/performance of his that really did it for you in terms of wanting to scout him more in depth?
Pfiefer: I hadn’t actually heard of Nance before this season, but a few of my pals (you included) tweeted and talked about him and he popped in a few stat queries, so I decided to check him out for the piece on connective bigs I did. I think it was the at Michigan game I watched that impressed me most. The passing, shot-making and all round skill at the size made me realize there was something there.
INU: My general read on Nance has been that he’s “jack of all trades, master on none” type of prospect. A good defender at his position, though not a cornerstone. A talented passing big, but not one that can fully operate a great offense. A capable athlete and finisher at the rim, but not a special one. Really only his catch and shoot threes as a 4/5 have breached “special” territory this year. Would you agree with that assessment, and how do you value those types of players at the next level?
Pfeifer: I think that’s a fair assessment mostly, but I do think Nance’s passing popped as a bit above-average for me, as his passing to cutters from the high post area into tight windows felt quite impressive to me. But generally, jack of all trades, master or none prospects tend to worry me. The NBA level is far more taxing, and the amount of skill required goes up tremendously, so a player who is average at everything likely will shift down to below average at everything. I do think there are some players who can excel with a combination of size and skill, though, and can find their way onto a roster.
INU: Just how valuable are players who can operate a DHO (dribble hand-off) as the screener/handler like Nance can in the NBA? How does he open up a team’s offense even in a limited role off the bench as he’d be likely to find himself in?
Pfeifer: Most people probably think of the ideal bench player as a microwave scorer type, one to get a high volume of buckets in a short amount of time. But a connective big that orchestrates the flow of an offense and creates good shots can be just as valuable. Great NBA offenses routinely create great looks via DHOs, off ball screens and cuts and there’s no reason that can’t extend to bench units aside from teams lacking the personnel to do so. Scoring will be Nance’s weak point, so he’ll need other players to carry that load around him. I think a player like Nance could really open the possibilities for a bench unit, his passing, dribbling and screening creating good shots for players that otherwise may not be able to get them.
INU: You’re going to hate me for this one, but I have to ask it — water gun to your head, who is Pete Nance’s NBA player comp and why?
Pfeifer: I think the idea of Nance can be similar to a player like Wendell Carter Jr., a big who plays on the perimeter by way of handoffs, short jumper and the occasional three. I don’t think he’ll reach the level of WCJ, but the mold could be similar.
INU: How do you as an evaluator take Nance’s context into consideration? Obviously Northwestern is not the best team in the world, nor have they been ripe with NBA talent as of late, so there’s a case to be made that Nance is in the far from optimal place for him.
Pfeifer: Those subpar contexts can deflate the numbers of a player like Nance, whose assist numbers may not reflect their actual passing aptitude. I do think the Northwestern context does ask Nance to do quite a bit of NBA-style action, largely in his passing and DHO operating. However, much of his scoring comes in the low post, which likely won’t be a large part of his NBA role.
INU: Where do you have Pete Nance ranked on your current big board (a range of possible positions works too) and what NBA teams do you think he would fit best with as a good second round pick?
Pfeifer: I don’t have a firm board at the moment, but he’ll likely fall in the 45-60ish range for me. Teams that run motion heavy offenses or have similar players like Utah or Chicago likely would benefit most from a player like Nance.