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Is Romeo Langford a first-round NBA Draft prospect?

Romeo Langford looked like a good 3-and-D prospect in high school but has struggled at both at Indiana. Can he still prove himself to be a valuable prospect in the 2019 NBA Draft?

In the 2018 recruiting cycle, a lot of interest was placed in a shooting guard from New Albany, Indiana with solid shooting touch and good positional size who had delayed his signing decision to the very end. The No. 5 recruit in the country was Romeo Langford, and he ended up picking Indiana over Vanderbilt in a decision between two upstart programs. He was the Hoosiers’ most high-profile recruit since Eric Gordon, and was penciled in as a potential All-American candidate.

While his 2019 NBA Draft stock has lagged behind that recruiting ranking, he still looked like a potential lottery pick. His reputation as a shooter and potential as a defender set him up as that coveted 3-and-D prospect, if his questionable creation ability could progress. It felt like he had a fairly easy translation to the next level.

That was, until Langford spent his first five games at the college level undoing all prior scouting profiles he had coming to Bloomington. So far, Langford’s two biggest struggles have been the things he projected to be best at — 3-point shooting and defense. But he has still looked brilliant for Indiana, averaging 23.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per 40 minutes. Indiana is 4-1 and has the 23rd-rated offense and 21st rated defense per KenPom.

Optics-wise, Langford’s shooting has been the primary issue. It’d be one thing if he was just underwhelming with his early performance, but hitting just 4-of-20 from deep is outside of normal variance. It’s still a small sample that Langford can stabilize, but it’s not a good look for a supposedly solid shooter.

That shooting reputation was well justified during his high school career — especially during the real high school season, where Langford hit 38 percent on over 200 attempts as a senior. He supplemented that with a strong shooting performance on the high school circuit, showing a lot of comfort and poise shooting off the catch and off movement competing with his peers.

Variance is not new for Langford — he shot under 30 percent from 3 in AAU in 2017, and he shot 31 percent as a junior, again on over 200 attempts. But the reason for this variance may be a big concern. Langford’s release still appears to be pretty inconsistent, a surprise for someone with as many attempts under his belt as he has. On some shots, such as the one above, things look fine — a high release point, an efficient gather, and squared feet towards the basket on the move. Then other times, his release point varies, as his elbow buckles in on occasion, and you can see some sway in his body to his left as he releases:

Langford’s footwork coming off screens and moving off-ball is good, which is promising for his transition to the NBA. That is one of the harder aspects to get down in developing as a shooter. And while his shooting motion is somewhat all over the place, that has plenty of time to stabilize. All it will take is a three- or four-game stretch of hot shooting to increase that percentage and make him seem far more appealing. That’s the nature of the college sample.

He’s also helped by decent pull-up shooting, especially inside the 3-point line. So far, he’s 6-of-12 on these jumpers, per Hoop-Math, and he shows a pretty fluid transition off the dribble into his pull-up jumper.

While the shooting hurts the optics of Langford’s potential, his defensive performance has been deeply problematic for his survival at the NBA level. While he’s put up good numbers so far (2.0 steals per 40 minutes, 5.6 Defensive Box Plus-Minus), his tape shows some severe flaws that worry many scouts about his ability to perform at the next level.

The biggest concern is in off-ball defense. Many college players are bad and occasionally lose track of their man off the ball, but Langford’s passiveness on the defensive end is particularly concerning. Like on this play, where he doesn’t once look for his man as he cuts across the baseline:

Or this one, where he doesn’t make any attempt to close out on the shooter after jumping at the pass:

Langford’s issues mostly stem from awareness — he seems to struggle with reading the offense’s developments, and he loses track of his man continually off the ball. He rarely makes rotations when needed, and he seems to avoid situations where he might foul, like this play where there’s an easy double situation and he just hangs out in no-man’s land:

Indiana has had a strong team defense so far, but Langford certainly hasn’t helped. He doesn’t seem to have a good grasp on simple defensive concepts, such as, “pay attention to where your man is when he is in the corner and an obvious threat to cut to the basket.”

This all puts Langford’s 2019 NBA Draft prospects into a little bit of flux. It’s hard to really see him as a 3-and-D prospect with his performance so far, and he hasn’t really shown himself to be elite in any other skill. But he has shown things to build off of, and he’s certainly not dead in the water as a prospect.

The biggest area of surprise has been his finishing, particularly as a cutter. Langford struggled at times with length and contact at the rim in high school, and he hasn’t been a forceful finisher at the rim so far. But he is great at finding open space on cuts, and that allows him to load up off two feet, which creates better finishing situations for him. Running him off curl screens seems like a winning situation at the NBA level:

He also has shown great footwork in the pick-and-roll, carving out space in the paint for open shots. Again, he needs to build on his ability to get directly to the rim, but he shows some good ability to finish despite that with some crafty angles to get there:

Langford is operating in a weird space currently. He clearly has been a successful college player so far thanks to his team performance and his numbers, but he has real impediments towards becoming even a successful role player in the NBA. His consistency on both ends has wavered, and he has real development to make to even become passable on defense. But still, it’s hard to argue against the strengths he’s shown — as a pull-up shooter, as a slasher, and as a rebounder on the defensive end.

Next: The Step Back 2019 NBA Draft Preseason Big Board

Ultimately, Langford’s next ten games are going to go a long way towards determining how his outlook should be taken. If his 3-point percentage stabilizes, and he continues to perform well as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, then he looks a lot better as an offensive prospect — if it doesn’t, then it becomes very difficult to trust him as a shooter long-term. His defense looms over everything, either way, because he has so far to go to even become passable on that end. Langford has shown enough as a creator to maintain interest as a first-round prospect. But if he doesn’t show stabilization of his weaknesses soon, it’s going to be very hard to keep him there.

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