Where does the nation’s top defender stack up in the draft?
Former Utah State center Neemis Queta was selected by the Sacramento Kings with the No. 39th pick.
— USU Men's Hoops (@USUBasketball) July 30, 2021
The Portugal born 7-footer enjoyed three spectacular seasons in Logan for the Aggies, being an integral part of two Mountain West championship winning teams, and two NCAA Tournament teams. Neemias Queta’s numbers improved all three of his college seasons, including a near All-American campaign in 2020-21, where he averaged 14.9 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.3 blocks en route to a tournament bid. So what does all that mean from an NBA Draft perspective? I’ll break down what NBA Teams have to enjoy about Queta’s skillset, and reasons why he’s not a definitive top-30 pick. The Aggies had Sam Merrill drafted last season, can they get a second draftee in the same amount of years?
Queta as expected, nailed the measurement aspect of the combine, coming as the tallest player (6’11), longest wingspan (7’4), which are all important in terms of improving Queta’s draft stock. Being that big, with the ability to move the way Queta can has to have NBA front office salivating with the obvious potential.
Queta ranked as the top defensive player in ALL of College Hoops last season (per sports-reference), Queta led the country in defensive box-plus-minus (6.9), defensive win shares (2.9), and finished third in blocks-per-game only behind Saint Peter’s KC Ndefo, Hampton’s Dajour Dickens. Queta’s ability to time up when to block shots is a vital skill for a guy his size, often times players try using only their size to block shots, but miss the anticipatory part of swatting away shots. His mix of both should be a plus heading into the Association making him a potential force on the defensive end.
I’ll say this is a “pro” loosely, because 70 percent is great by any means, but compared to how rough Queta’s foul shooting looked his first two college seasons many didn’t imagine him being an average foul-shooter. The main pro in this aspect is the strides he made throughout his career from the line. When you key in on his final five games of the season, the former Utah State standout shot 26-30 from the free-throw line, equating to 84 percent. His overall percentage is flattened by a few duds early in the season, but the process is clear.
One thing Queta never displayed during his college days was a three-point jumper, which isn’t a nessecity, but in today’s NBA being capable of making a wide-open three is important. Teams will drop Queta on their boards because he never shot the ball, but as I pointed out earlier, his immense improvement from the free-throw line could show there’s room to add a passable jumper. A good indicator in determing whether a player will ever be able to shoot the ball from deep is if they’re a dreadful foul shooter, or not, for Queta, he’s not.
Queta turned the ball over far too often for a big-man, a 2.4 per-game clip won’t cut it at the next level. Finding ways to not panic when doubled is a must for a player like Queta, he’ll be spending most of his time within 15-feet of the basket, being able to not give away the ball is important when that’s your role.
Fit in the modern NBA
If you’re an Utah Jazz fan reading this, you know what I’m talking about. In the postseason Rudy Gobert was a liability in the final few games against the Clippers once they pivoted to a smaller-lineup. In today’s NBA many teams deploy small lineups with five shooters that can spread the floor out. Against a guy like PJ Tucker, who’s known as one of the better small ball five’s in the NBA, can Queta defend him on the perimeter? Another big question is can Queta keep up with speedy guards once he’s switched onto them? Despite his overwhelming size, smaller guards could drive right past Queta from the perimeter if he’s the main defender. If that’s a noticeable problem his time in the league could be shorter than expected.
Queta’s a mystery when it comes to his draft projection, ranging anywhere from a late first-round pick at 30 (according to CBSSports’s Matt Norlander), all the way into to the final pick in the draft to the Pacers (according to Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman.)
It’s a tough class for the nation’s best post-defender to standout because of the big-man depth there is, looking at a high-upside prospect like Charles Bassey from Western Kentucky, who’s a bit more polished than Queta on the offensive end. Then you have a guy like Jericho Sims, a crazy athlete that’ll be able to defend guards on the perimeter. You also have a wildcard Makur Maker from Howard, former top-10 recruit that barely played in College Basketball, but if you’re picking at 50, do you go with more upside?
I’d suspect Queta does indeed get drafted in the 45-60 range of picks, and likely gets him a two-way contract, meaning he’ll spend his time between the G-League, and occasionally the NBA next season. It won’t be easy to find an easy way into the NBA, but Queta’s work-ethic is relentless.