Why drafting Kobe Bufkin would give Spurs perfect running mate for Wembanyama

Kobe Bufkin - Michigan v Illinois
Kobe Bufkin - Michigan v Illinois / Michael Hickey/GettyImages
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Kobe Bufkin possesses lottery-worthy upside

Despite having two potential lottery players on the roster in Bufkin and Jett Howard, the Michigan Wolverines didn't quite have the season they hoped for. Having missed the NCAA Tournament and made an early exit in the NIT against Vanderbilt, this marked their least successful season since they last missed the NCAA Tournament in 2015. But that shouldn't take away from the NBA potential that Bufkin (and Howard, for that matter) possesses.


Feel for the game

Many describe Bufkin as a player that's good at a lot of basketball skills but that doesn't have an elite skill to hang his hat on at the moment, but I think his feel for the game on both ends of the floor qualifies as that elite trait. While this tends to show itself on offense through his pick-and-roll playmaking, I think it's easiest to see on the defensive end of the floor for the time being, where he can be seen applying pressure before screeners reach the ballhandler, reading passes and creating turnovers from a pass away, knowing when to help and when to keep pressure on his man, and more.

For a player that's still on the smaller side, being listed at only about 187 pounds, and being a good but not great athlete, his understanding of basketball and how to make winning plays without relying on sheer athleticism and physicality will be what keeps him on the floor early in his career, even if some of his other strengths don't translate to the next level immediately.


Thankfully, I have a hard time believing that at least one or two of Bufkin's strengths won't translate to the NBA sooner rather than later, including his shooting. Having ended his season on roughly 48/35/85 shooting splits, the numbers won't exactly jump off the page, but several signs indicate that he has immense potential as a shooter in a variety of situations.

Bufkin's efficiency from the charity stripe may be the strongest indicator--despite the low volume of shots--that he'll be an effective three-point shooter at the next level, but his touch in the midrange and around the rim only amplifies that potential. His shot mechanics are compact, he doesn't have any noticeable hitch in his shot, and he has a high release point that makes his shots difficult to defend given his plus wingspan.


If there's any other elite trait that Bufkin already possesses coming into his first day as an NBA player, it's his at-rim finishing. He shot an insane 71.1% at the rim overall and 66.7% in the half-court, which is on par with the finishing numbers of many frontcourt players. Bufkin is shifty enough and is good enough of a ball-handler to make his way to the rim with relative ease despite only average burst. And when he got to the rim, he used impressive craft and physicality to finish, as he's able to use both hands with impressive touch from a variety of angles.

While Bufkin is very clearly an elite finisher at the college level, this could take a bit of time to translate to the NBA. Bufkin will be facing bigger and more athletic frontcourt players at the rim, and even before then, will be forced to face better defenders on the perimeter. Bufkin's shiftiness, ball-handling, and change of pace should be enough over time to get him to the rim with similar frequency as in college, but it could take a bit of time and development.

Point of attack defense

We already discussed a few impressive aspects of Bufkin's defense in describing his feel for the game, but I think his point-of-attack defense deserves a special shout out. He could be constantly seen putting pressure on ball-handlers during his time at Michigan and is very good with his hands when opposing players gave him any daylight, leading to many of his steals and transition opportunities. While Bufkin won't necessarily be drafted for his defensive aptitude, he'll be able to guard both backcourt positions at the next level and potentially even some SFs after bulking.