NBA Draft

2020 Draft Prospect Lesley Varner II Fits Perfectly in Today’s NBA

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It’s no secret that the NBA is changing. Beyond the obvious challenges of playing the sport in a worldwide pandemic, the overall style and strategy of basketball has been challenged, reconsidered and actualized. Gone is an emphasis on slow, methodical offense with multiple big men hovering down low. Today’s game features multi-dimensional, versatile athletes who can guard multiple positions. Everyone must be able to handle the ball, and it is vital to be a solid three-point shooter.

Due to this, a newly coined type of player has taken the attention of NBA front offices: the 3-D wing. Having a player who combines three-point shooting with strong defense and athleticism is the prototypical role player on an NBA roster. Furthermore, teams without one of these players lack an integral role for their team. In fact, of the 47 players to shoot at least 35% from three and average one steal per game, only nine of them played on the eight teams not invited to the bubble. This shows that having players who can knock down the three and play defense not only make bad teams better, but they also make good teams great.

Down south, approximately 25 miles from the Mexican border in Edinburg, Texas, a prototypical 3-D wing has been developing, and now he has his eyes set on the NBA.

 

Lesley Varner II, 6’7 G/F, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

If you’re scrolling through NBA Big Boards, you may not find the name Lesley Varner II. However, his measurables, skillset, and style of play all align with the modern NBA. He is in a unique position to surprise scouts leading up to the draft process, and he knows it too.

“I see myself being a great two-way player, being great on the defensive end and the offensive end,” said Varner in a phone interview with The Lead Sports Media. “Just go out there, play hard and give it my all day in and day out.”

Not only does Varner embrace his role, but he seeks to improve on it. He upped his scoring all four years in college, but his efficiency didn’t waver with more attempts. In fact, Varner posted his highest shooting clips from three-point range and the free throw line as a senior. A career 28.1% three-point shooter coming into this season, he shot a tremendous 41% this year. From the line, he improved his career 66% to a sparkling 87% as a senior. Varner emphasized his shooting to improve his draft prospects, and his training paid off.

“I consistently stayed in the gym putting up more shots and making more shots,” said Varner, “I would make 300 shots before and 300 shots after practice.”

Beyond the shooting splits, Varner led his team in scoring at 15.6 points per game, and in steals, at 1.5 per game. Put those statistics together, and the combination of scoring, defense and efficiency has NBA potential. Not only that, but it puts him in very elite company. In the past 13 years, only six players have put up those scoring, steals and shooting numbers in a season. That list includes Stephen Curry and Lesley Varner II. Swapping his free throw numbers for his impressive six rebounds per game, and Varner is on a short list of 20 players. That list includes nine NBAers and one of Varner’s idols, Kevin Durant.

“It’s great company to be in, and when I found that out I knew it was something special,” said Varner, “I want to use that as a starting point to keep on working from here on out.”

It is undeniable that Varner put up some incredible numbers in his senior season. Still, he knows he has improvements to make as the time comes for him to begin his professional career.

“I’m trying to keep my shot pretty consistent,” said Varner, “Also competing to get stronger, and finish above the rim.”

The journey to the NBA will be an uphill battle for Varner, given the fact that he isn’t on many draft boards. Still, he knows he remains steps away from his goal of playing in the Association. Perhaps playing at a higher level will improve his chances of reaching his potential. After all, Raptors star Pascal Siakam is the only current NBA player from Varner’s conference, the WAC. Proving his value against better competition will surely help his case.

At the end of the day, as long as Varner can keep his shooting numbers up, the intrigue will always be there. The role of a 3-D wing figures to remain prominent for years to come, and Varner fits the prototype. Even better, he seems to look forward to potentially filling this role in the NBA.

“I don’t think it limits me as a player because I can knock it down from three, and also get at it on the defensive end,” said Varner of the 3-D label, “So I always feel like it would be a pretty good role to fill.”

Hiding away at UTRGV, Lesley Varner II had one of the best seasons in all of college basketball last year. His production, efficiency and ability to fill a vital role remain major positives. His weak competition and need to get stronger mark some of his only negatives. In a professional setting, Varner may prove lots of NBA scouts wrong for not having him higher on their board.

Remember the name Lesley Varner II, because in a few years, he may be balling out on an NBA roster.

Follow us on Twitter @Draft_Lead for the latest NBA Draft news and insight.

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About Matthew Winick

Matthew Winick is an avid basketball fan both from the NBA side, as well as NCAA hoops. A native of Toronto, Ontario, he is a lifetime Raptors fan and is just now reaping the benefits. He is currently studying Sport Media at Ryerson University in Toronto, and hopes to be talking sports with the best of them in his future. You can reach him on any social media @matthewwinick.

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