NBA draft steals like Kyle Kuzma (picked 27th in 2017) create motivation to identify the next one. And more scouts could be looking in the Mountain West, where Boise State's Chandler Hutchison continues to draw attention.
Multiple scouts have been hesitant to even comment on the senior wing because of his sleeper status. Many are also still processing this run that he's on, which has seen Hutchison average 24.4 points per game since Dec. 1, record a triple-double against Portland, go for 32 points in a win over UNLV and explode for 44 points in a victory against San Diego State.
Hutchison also has a 34-point game on his resume against Kuzma from last year's upset NIT tournament win over Utah, which helped further fuel breakout-senior predictions.
The 44-point effort last week is still what could wind up being the needle-mover. He drained seven threes, a potential indicator that he's turning the corner as a shooter after entering the 2017-18 season viewed as a fringe prospect, mostly because of concerns over his jumper.
"All of the evaluations were very encouraging," Hutchison said last May when he tested the NBA draft waters before eventually withdrawing, per B.J. Rains of the Idaho Press-Tribune. "I'll continue to work on extending my shooting range and adding strength while keeping my mobility."
Through 19 games, Hutchison is registering career-high shooting numbers: 1.4 three-point makes per game, 38.2 percent from deep and 71.1 percent from the line. And though the stats aren't overwhelmingly convincing, particularly for a 21-year-old, he wouldn't be the first to bloom late as a shooter.
At Utah, Kuzma never averaged more than 0.9 three-pointers per game or shot better than 66.9 percent from the line—likely reasons why teams passed 26 times on one of 2017's biggest steals in the draft. He's already made 90 triples with the Los Angeles Lakers, 39 more than he hit during his three-year college career.
Given Hutchison's age, his limited experience against quality opponents and his questionable shooting credibility, his draft ceiling only goes so high. Even after this breakout year, the mid-first round sounds like a best-case outcome.
Could Hutchison be 2018's Kuzma for a non-lottery team?
Key Synergy Sports Numbers
Along with his improved shooting, he continues to establish himself as one of the nation's better slashers. And at 6'7" with impressive agility and the athleticism to soar above the rim, his attacking ability has stood out under the scouting lens.
Difficult to stop when driving downhill, Hutchison also demonstrates advanced footwork off the dribble with stutter and Eurosteps to avoid and freeze defenders. He has terrific body control on the move when getting into his layups and finishes, which he can convert using either hand (60.9 percent FG around the basket).
Isolation drives to the basket left (non-jumpers): 1.118 PPP, 88th percentile (excellent)
Pick-and-roll drives to the basket: 1.321 PPP, 87th percentile (excellent)
Transition ball-handler: 1.088 PPP, 74th percentile (very good)
Spot-up drives to basket: 1.179 PPP, 65th percentile (very good)
Hutchison has also been notably more efficient working out of isolation this season. On tape, it appears some of his improvement can be traced (again) to his footwork. He's using it to create separation, both off his first step and his last step before rising into his shot.
2016-17 Isolation: .778 PPP, 40.6 percent FG (average)
2017-18 Isolation: 1.00 PPP, 57.9 percent FG (very good)
On the weakness side of his scouting report, Hutchison struggles to convert when defenses force him to pull up early.
He's just 6-of-25 on runners and 8-of-36 on total jump shots off the dribble.
And despite his success scoring off ball screens, his pick-and-roll passing numbers have been below-average (.828 PPP).
Hutchison will be valued for his scoring, but he's checking other boxes this year as well. One scout mentioned he originally thought Hutchison may be best used as a point wing or guard. He has finished with at least five assists in five games in 2017-18.
He's the only player in the country averaging 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game this season, per Sports Reference. And since 1992-93, just 14 others have matched those numbers. In that group, 11 have spent time in the NBA: Ben Simmons, Tim Duncan, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, David West, Evan Turner, Jared Dudley, Reggie Williams, Adrian Griffin, Ryan Gomes and Mike Smith.
It's getting easier to buy Hutchinson as an NBA player, and the idea of gambling on his floater and jump-shot development is becoming more tempting.
But he may never receive serious consideration from lottery teams looking at the one-and-done freshmen with higher perceived upside. Early predictions still point to the No. 20-50 range for Hutchison, who'll be on steal watch that late.
Advanced stats courtesy of Synergy Sports.