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 4. 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: Nigel Burris
Profile: 6’7 Wing, Idaho, 3 Years of Eligibility
Freshman Year Stats: 8.8 points, 5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 52.7% field goal percentage, 44.8% three-point percentage, 87% free throw percentage, 66.6% true shooting, 16.9% usage rate, 3.7% assist rate, 14.2% turnover rate, 1.5% block rate, 1.1% steal rate
Burris is one of the more underrated names in the transfer portal- mostly because he played on a bad Idaho team- but he has real upside thanks to his length, athleticism, and jumper. For once, WSU seems like the top dog amongst teams that have reached out to Burris and he would be a seamless fit in Pullman. It is easy to think of past wing shooters that have had success under Kyle Smith when watching Burris and he brings a lot to the table defensively as well.
Idaho transfer Nigel Burris tells TPR that he has received interest from:— The Portal Report (@ThePortalReport) April 6, 2023
Cal State Fullerton
UC San Diego
San Jose State
The main thing that Burris will bring to any team at the next level is his outside shot. The volume is somewhat limited- only 87 attempts on the year- but he shot 44.8% from outside and he was in the 98th percentile in guarded catch-and-shoot possessions. His release is high and he gets way off the floor, which makes contests trivial and that is potentially vital for teams that can’t consistently create clean looks.
His mechanics are really odd but in a mostly fine and repeatable way. First, his footwork and general cadence is fairly robotic. Much like current Coug wing Andrej Jakimovski, Burris wants to 1-2 step into the shot every time. This means that he is planting his left foot and then bringing his right foot into the shot before rising up. This is generally the way people learn to shoot, but it tends to limit versatility because movement shots require increasingly creative footwork patters.
His off-hand doesn’t sit back but it also doesn’t affect the shot, instead, it flails outwards as it extends. This doesn’t do much, but it does look odd and it probably helped contribute to his high school reputations as more of an in-need of molding athlete rather than the already skilled off-ball shooter that he is. Notice the off-hand in this photo as it is extended out but falling away from the basketball.
He also jumps way off the ground, which is rare for a wing-sized player, and this leads to a lot of forward sway. This should help him get foul calls on jump shots and it also contributes to his complete disregard of defenses when shooting. Finally, it is an old-school two-motion shot in the vein of Tracy McGrady and Ray Allen. He gets all the way to the peak of his release point before starting any arm action. It’s easy to see just how high off the ground he is as he shoots this over a 6’10 big. It is a funky J, but it works and the mechanics might point to some upside for him to be a tough shot-maker in the mid-range with some development.
Burris’ biggest issue as a shooter is that he doesn’t recognize how good of a shooter he is. He is shooting 44.8%. That is an insane number and he should be hunting that shot at all times. However, it is clear that his natural instinct is to drive. He passes up a few too many open shots for someone with his shooting talent and he needs to take them whenever he gets an inch of space.
While not currently a huge facet of his game, Burris projects well as someone who can hit the occasional mid-range jumper if he is run off the line or when coming off of dribble handoffs. His jump-shot mechanics are built to make shots like this viable and it could work to punish drop coverage at times.
His strength is useful for helping him create looks in the mid-range area as well. He struggled to consistently get all the way to the rim, partially because of bad spacing in Moscow and partially because of a lack of handle flexibility, but he can create some space with bumps and the touch is good enough that this can develop into a solid look for him.
The question for Burris is what he can contribute offensively outside of catch-and-shoot shots and the occasional one-dribble jumper. He has some feel for cuts but he is far from an elite vertical athlete. He did shoot 65% at the rim, but most of those attempts were assisted and came from cuts or schemed actions.
Idaho would occasionally draw up isolation sets for him in the mid-post area and the results were mixed. He is a bit stiff and that makes his first-step average at best and his lack of a real handle makes it hard to create many open driving lanes. However, he is strong and he has great touch, so he could play bully ball and flip a finish over a bigger defender.
urris also loves turnaround fadeaway shots. Are these usually good offense? Probably not. Are they super aesthetically pleasing? Absolutely. They are, at least, an option for him and that could be of value to creation needy teams.
Burris is unlikely to ever be a high-volume pick-and-roll player, but he does do some solid things in limited reps. While his bag isn’t deep as a ball-handler, he does play at a comfortable pace and he is good engaging the big defender and taking what they give him. He is a bit too comfy taking bad shots, but being able to operate in these sets every once in a while is a big boost for someone of his archetype.
All the stats point to Burris being a pretty awful passer. A 3.7% assist rate usually means that someone’s only assists are accidental, but the tape tells a slightly different story. Burris is far from a high-level playmaker, but by the end of the year, he was consistently making the right read.
He is definitely a score first player and he struggles to shift from score mode to pass mode. This leads to a lot of really funky looking plays like this, where he reads the help a step late because he is so focused on the rim and he then has to throw this long, looping pass to the corner. The read is technically correct, but it is late and the technique is far away. While he is likely never going to be a great passer, I expect him to develop into a solid decision-maker for his role in his sophomore season.
We’ve talked about what Burris might bring offensively at the wing, but his most exciting upside comes on the other end of the ball. Burris was not an elite playmaker defensively, which is somewhat worrying given that he played in the Big Sky, but he is long, strong, quick, and willing to learn more about rotations as a defender.
Burris was rarely tasked with guarding high-level wings or guards in the Big Sky, but his quickness at his size does stand out. He is already great at sitting low in a stance and his footwork improved dramatically over the course of the season. He spent a lot of his time guarding opposing bigs, but he projects well out onto the wing at higher levels and WSU could absolutely task him with guarding the opponents’ best scorer in certain matchups.
Idaho understood his quickness was an asset and they used him at the head of their press when they went to that look. His middling flexibility is going to limit his ability to guard pick-and-roll in anything other than a switch scheme, but he could absolutely limit opponents’ effectiveness in isolation situations.
His length helps him to guard up as well and it makes him a great recovery defender. He can occasionally get blownby, but he is good at sticking with the play and contesting shots.
The biggest reason that Burris’ defensive playmaking stats were disappointing was because he was consistently late on rotations. Some of this was probably coaching and scheme with the Vandals, but it is also clear that he is still a step slow as a processor. WSU’s staff is great at teaching defensive principles and there is some upside with him as the low-man on D.
His length could help lead to some big jumps for him if he locks in and improves on rotations. He can be a smothering help defender and his quickness is solid enough that he should be able to consistently jump passing lanes and make help rotations at the rim.
Overall, Burris would be a great fit in Pullman and it seems absurd that he has gone so overlooked by programs in the portal. He only averaged 8 points on one of the worst teams in the country, but the skillset is exactly the type that scales up when playing with better players. Having him with three more years of eligibility is also a plus and he could potentially develop into one of the better three-and-D wings in the Pac-12 if all goes right.
WSU taking on as many wing shooters as possible is absolutely a sound strategy. The odds that they can consistently get enough imperfect creators to patchwork quilt an offense together is unlikely, so there is logic to trying to just have a steady stable of shooters on the perimeter with good roll-men and trying to find one guy to run the show. That guy could already be on the roster in Kymany Houinsou or Myles Rice, or they could try to find that guy in the portal. Whoever it is, they are unlikely to be a perfect point guard because the market just doesn’t bring those players to Pullman. Surrounding whichever imperfect creator that is with players like Burris and Jakimovski will help to maximize them by putting them in a perfect scenario.