As the NCAA Transfer Portal grows ever bigger and more talented, teams like Washington State have to succeed at bringing in talent year in and year out. The portal hits hard and heavy this time of year, but it can absolutely swing both ways. It takes away build-around stars like TJ Bamba, but it can also bring players that swing March Madness runs- as evidenced by this year’s Final Four. The key is player and talent evaluation, and finding diamonds in the rough that can propel this team forward is absolutely possible- even with the limited NIL resources. As the Cougs look to break the seal and get back to the NCAA Tournament, the Portal will need to be a resource that they take advantage of to foster competitive teams.
As the WSU staff scours the portal for interesting names, so will I. This is the first of many Spotlights on portal guys who I think could make a huge impact in Crimson and Grey.
Today’s Subject: Steele Venters
Profile: 6’7 Wing, Eastern Washington, Two Years of Eligibility
Redshirt Junior Year Stats: 15.3 points, 1.5 assists, 2.8 rebounds. 45.7% field goal percentage, 37.1% three-point percentage, 85.5% free throw percentage, 58.3% true shooting, 24.6% usage rate, 1.5% steal rate, and 1.7% block rate.
Venters played about 70 miles north of Pullman in Cheney and Coug fans should be familiar with Venters, as he has played against WSU three times in his career, including an impressive 27-point performance against them in the NIT. Venters won Big Sky Player of the Year this season and he is known as an elite shooter and scorer from the wing spot. He would help fill a rotation role for the Cougs and he could even start depending on how the roster shakes out. It feels like the staff is going all in on wing shooting to put around a guard and big combo to run spread pick-and-roll.
Eastern Washington transfer Steele Venters tells Portal Updates that he’s heard from:— PortalUpdates (@portal_updates) April 2, 2023
The main sell with Venters is absolutely, 100% the jumper. He is a career 40.3% shooter on 425 career attempts while also being an 84.6% free throw shooter on 228 attempts. The jumper is super consistent and he has a lot of gravity to occupy the defense and help clear the lane for drivers.
Shot prep is a key for any outside shooter and Venters’ consistency in that area is impressive. He is usually hopping into his shot, but notice his slight load into that hop before the ball arrives and the smooth energy transfer from his base through his hands. The dip worries some, but the height of the release helps to make up for that and he is comfy hunting outside shots with any amount of space.
It is easy to watch him shoot and just get mesmerized by the pureness of it. The arc is a bit higher than most expect, but he has an elite cadence on most of his shots and his ability to just rise into shots consistently and quickly makes him an elite floor spacer.
Venters’ high-release and quick trigger help make his jumpers really hard to contest, which makes it easy to buy his jumper translating as he moves up levels. It is important to note that he didn’t play with great drive-and-kick players, which led to a lot more of his outside shots being contested. This not only makes his already impressive percentages more impressive, but it also means there is a world where he is an even more efficient shooter when playing with better playmakers.
While he isn’t a major threat off-the-dribble from deep, he can absolutely take a couple of dribbles and reorient himself or punish a deep under when needed. He rarely hunts pull-ups or step-backs from deep, but he can take advantage of bad defense and his ability to self-organize is good enough to hit shots off of some movement and dribble combos.
There is not much to nitpick about Venters’ shot, but he does sometimes struggle when taking shots from beyond the three-point line. The arc on his shot is extreme and he tends to overload on his shots when well beyond the arc, which leads to some long misses.
He is already elite at leveraging his shooting as an off-ball mover and he is consistently finding cracks in the D as a cutter. Part of WSU’s interest in Venters comes from his familiarity with actions that the Cougs like to run and he is great at reading defenders and finding open space away from the ball.
The question for Venters’ offensive game will be what he can do when run off the line at the next level. Can he be consistently trusted to put the ball on the floor and make solid decisions?
Venters is not a bad athlete, which helps make him more viable as a closeout attacker and second-side ball-handler. He is a good leaper off one or two feet with solid bend to turn corners and put some pressure on the rim.
However, he is not a particularly good finisher and that is mostly because he struggles to handle contact down low. He is a good vertical athlete in space, but he struggles if he can’t load up and his touch near the rim is lacking. He rarely got all the way to the rim in the Big Sky and that will get even tougher as he moves up levels.
Venters does have some solid handling chops and he even played a lot as EWU’s primary ball-handler during his redshirt sophomore year. He is not someone who projects as a ball-handler, but his ability to do it in a pinch is useful. He is particularly effective with a head of steam because he is fairly fast in the full-court and he is good at changing paces just enough to keep the defense off-balance.
He is definitely a scorer first and foremost, but he is a solid opportunistic passer. He boasted a 13.4% assist rate in his redshirt sophomore season and he makes obvious reads well enough to scale up to higher levels, especially in a smaller role.
Venters’ main weapon when attacking off-the-bounce is his mid-range jumper. His high-release and elite balance allow him to consistently rise over contests and make tough shots after a couple of dribbles.
His form on fadeaways could be taught in textbooks and he has an innate feel for when he can create that look. His jumper in the mid-range area is incredibly reliable despite most of the shots being contested because he is able to organize himself in tight spaces and hit shots off of a variety of angles and footwork patterns.
Venters doesn’t have a deep bag of tricks as a handler, but he does have an impressive ability to stop on a dime or step-back to create enough space to get his shot off. His comfortability taking and making tough shots would be an excellent asset for teams that struggle to create consistently elite looks and it is nice that he can do something for himself when run off the line.
The biggest worry for Venters as he takes a step-up is his defense. Venters actually boasted respectable defensive numbers in terms of steal and block rate, but the tape leaves a lot to be desired, specifically when guarding on the perimeter. He is upright and jumpy in his lateral movement, which leaves him open to blowbys and off-the-dribble jumpers.
It is hard to say that Venters is slow laterally because his first-step is solid and he can stick in front of straight line drivers, but he is bad at changing directions quickly. His hips are fairly stiff and he leaps instead of sliding far too often. Quick guards and shifty wings can target him consistently to create good looks and hiding him on defense will be even harder in a bigger conference.
Less crafty drivers can struggle with Venters though because the one-way lateral quickness is solid and he is stout. He doesn’t look as strong as someone like Andrej Jakimovski, but he plays strong and that could give him some viability as a four, which makes him easier to fit on a new team.
Venters also has solid help instincts and he executes scheme very well. EWU ran a switch 1-4, hard-hedge the 5 defensive scheme and Venters was great at staying in-tune with both his man and the action. He is not a great playmaker on D, but he makes some good rotations and his effort helps make up for some of his deficiencies on that end.
Overall, Venters is a seamless offensive fit for basically any team. An elite off-ball mover and shooter who can hit the occasional tough mid-range jumper and make solid reads as a passer is an easy sell for most coaches, especially considering his size at 6’7. True wings with that skillset are coveted by high-major teams and there is clear upside for him to play a huge role going forward. The question is whether or not he can hold up defensively. There is definitely some worry that teams with shift guards might target him, but if there is solid rim-protection behind him, that maybe becomes less of a worry.
If WSU lands Venters, he is likely to find his way into the starting lineup even with the crowded wing room in Pullman. Getting a kid from Ellensburg who torched the Cougs in the NIT would be a great story, but it also makes a lot of sense on the court. It feels like WSU’s staff wants to put as many shooters around a high-level pick-and-roll tandem as possible. Jakimovski, DJ Rodman, Justin Powell, and Jabe Mullins all already provide the shooting and the likes of Adrame Diongue, Reuben Chinyelu, and Robert Cluff all project as solid roll-men. Myles Rice or Kymany Houinsou could be the guard to run the show, but there could also be a transfer target that fits the bill there. Venters is an obvious fit in that wing rotation and he would probably be the third best shooter behind the red heads with maybe a little more versatility as a mid-range scorer than Mullins and more athleticism as a driver than Powell.