The college basketball scene knows Romeo Langford well. The No. 5 overall recruit from the 2018 high school class in ESPN’s top 100, Langford walked into Bloomington as the de facto man on campus. After all, Indiana is a basketball school and Romeo was Archie Miller’s crown jewel.
Touted as an athletic, long shot-making wing, many “draft experts” slotted Langford into the top five of their mock drafts and big boards. The mainstream media and most casual draft fans, especially at the time, were astronomically high on the kid from New Albany.
However, many smart people predicted Romeo’s slide down many big boards before the season even started.
So what happened to Romeo’s stock? When watching his tape, it’s easy to feel averse to Langford’s game. He doesn’t possess any of the qualities we look for in scoring wings such as quick-twitch athleticism or pull-up shooting. It’s easy to note Langford’s severe lack of first-step quickness:
Or some of his nauseating misses from 3.
In my initial analysis, I fell victim to this trap as well. These magnitudinous blunders can often plaster all of the things Romeo does so well — which, in fact, are auspicious signs pointing towards an effective modern NBA wing.
Although not a player with the highest upside, Langford fits the mold of an ideal modern NBA wing. He possesses so many traits NBA teams love, from passing to handling to his elite touch. He has his gaffes on defense as all freshman do, but his reported 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame with a 6-foot-11 wingspan give him the flexibility to guard multiple positions and project him to be highly switchable.
The lowest Romeo has fallen on my board is the mid 20’s, but have, predictably, moved up on him considerably. At the moment, he ranks 11th on my board, which is much higher than I expected to rank him before diving into his tape and his numbers.
This draft class is not a good one, it’s certainly worth mentioning. Zion Williamson might be the best prospect we’ve seen in over a decade and R.J. Barrett is probably going to be good. Outside of that, there isn’t much certainty. Romeo wouldn’t have sniffed the lottery last year, but 11 feels like a good spot to me this 2019, given the puddle-esque depth of elite talent in this class.
Enough rambling, let’s get to the main course and I’ll try to convince you to move Romeo a few spots up your board. Unless, of course, you are this poor, fallacious soul.
Elite Offensive Skill: Driving
Seeing his utter lack of a first step earlier in this piece, it’s easy to question how Romeo’s driving ability can be one I would call elite. At a young age, Romeo already has expertise in getting to the rim on and off of the ball and creating high-quality shot opportunities. His combination of length, functional strength, craft, handle, and fantastic tough make him a difficult cover going to the rim. Romeo wins with a subtle combination of brute force and graceful finesse, a package which isn’t as eye-catching as the quickness of a Darius Garland or the raw power of a Zion Williamson.
Langford’s handle isn’t elite, but it is functional enough to allow him to get to the spots where he can unleash his finishing package. He’s patient in the pick and roll, waiting for the big to open up in drop coverage to a point where Romeo can take two long strides, finishing with touch off of the window with the left:
Here we can see some of the great functional strength in action. Romeo excels at using his shoulder to leverage himself, creating space to get his shots off. He has strong legs, allowing his strides to force space and finish with touch high off of the glass:
This is probably the best indicator of just how special Romeo’s touch is. Once again using his lower body to create a quality driving lane, Romeo whips out the finger roll from five feet away. This shot would be tough in an open gym, let alone with a defender draped all over:
At the rim, Romeo is shooting 44-65, 67.69%, per The Stepien’s, shot chart tool. Driving to his left, Langford is bumped significantly here but still is able to hit the righty bank floater with considerable grace, despite all of the blows he’s endured:
Romeo’s cutting instincts are sharp and he has the ability to work his way into space well. He knocks over the defender with ease, finishing with the left hand, exhibiting nice touch and extension:
He wastes no time attacking this closeout, putting his defender on the floor with a succinct left to right cross. Langford usually remains under control attacking the rim, making masterful use of his length and touch to mitigate his lack of vertical and lateral explosion.
Langford’s driving acumen opens up the floor for his teammates and he is more than capable of finding them in open space. His playmaking isn’t special and he did miss a few tough reads but he made most of the ones he should make. In the four games I charted for this piece, Romeo struggled most to make this pass. When the defense hedged him hard, Romeo often missed the open roll man. This pass can be exceedingly difficult at times, nevertheless, it is doable.
The first clip is a pass Romeo needs to execute, compounded by the fact the player he passes to makes the same read seconds later. The second clip shows Romeo missing a much tougher read but in the same fashion:
While Langford is not yet developed as a passer out of the pick and roll, he is advanced as a drive and kick player. Using his driving gravity, Langford bends the defense and knows how to locate open teammates. Romeo shows more of the same here in functional handling and driving craft, drawing the corner defender and finding an open shooter:
A simple read that many similar prospects fail to execute, hitting the open corner shooter is a pass that players with driving gravity need to make:
While that pass looks rudimentary enough, compare the above clip to this drive from R.J. Barrett, a prospect often lauded for his driving ability. In actuality, Romeo Langford is actually a better driver in the half court whereas Barrett is unstoppable in transition.
R.J. fails to display the body control, passing awareness, and touch ala Romeo here, missing an easy corner pass, drawing a charge, and missing the floater:
Although those are skills that Barrett can develop under good coaching, it is encouraging that Langford has these abilities at a young age.
Driving baseline, Langford draws a help defender and wraps the ball around to Juwan Morgan for the and-1. Notice the excellent balance, body control, and agility at the tail end of Langford’s drive, as he floats around the help defender, avoiding a charge:
I don’t mean to pick on the Duke prospects, but compare the above clip to this drive by Cam Reddish. Reddish is a good passer as displayed in this clip but lacks the awareness and body control to avoid this offensive foul:
Making another basic pass here, Langford catches two defenders floating to him in the pick and roll and passes back to the corner shooter:
Entering the ball into the post, Langford’s great touch here allows him to lob the ball over to Morgan where only he can catch it, like a great quarterback throwing a back-shoulder fade:
Langford is proof of the fact when studying players, it’s important to look past the aesthetically pleasing when evaluating driving creation ability. Langford, while he does lack arguably the two most important elements of driving, has the whole package. His handling, passing, and craftiness around the rim help him avoid the trap of being a ‘3-D’ prospect without enough offense, like Admiral Schofield.
Whether he will have the ‘3’ part, well, I’ll dive into that shortly. Also, some players rely too much on strength or quickness an, therefore do not translate to the next level. Romeo’s significant touch and craft project him to be a capable-at-worst driver at the NBA level.
On the defensive side of the ball, I was decidedly impressed with Romeo Langford’s performance. He was solid in all four games and made some fantastic plays. I was impressed with his consistency: he did make mistakes as all freshmen do but he was good on and off of the ball for the most part. His stocks (1.9) aren’t spectacular and his 3.5 DBPM and 1.5 fouls per game are encouraging. We’ll start with team defense, where Romeo had his blunders.
Getting back in transition, Langford wistfully wanders into the paint, forgetting to pick up a man and conceding a wide open three:
Romeo rotates correctly to Jordan Nwora after his teammates double the corner, but I am not sure why he chose to position himself behind the ball, forcing him to reach and yielding an open driving lane. If he had positioned himself between the ball and the basket, he would have had a better chance to force a ball reversal:
Langford gives up a step and half on this curl screen, which is all the offense needs to generate a wide open three:
Despite these mistakes, Langford was mostly good off of the ball. He has an advanced instinct for weak-side rotations and he understands angles and spacing better than most freshman defenders. On his closeouts, Langford exhibits good technique. He understands how to make the most of his frame to alter shots without fouling and without giving up an open driving lane:
Langford is disciplined defending handoffs, getting skinny around the big to take away any advantage the handoff can create:
Langford has a pension for blowing up plays off of the ball, a great indicator of future defensive success. His timing, length, and awareness are all impressive for a freshman. When two Northwestern players saunter too close together, Romeo takes advantage, poking the ball free and igniting a fast break.
Romeo doesn’t get caught on the back screen, blowing up this back-door cut play:
Let’s shift to Romeo’s on-ball defense, which may be his biggest strength. I was tremendously impressed with Langford’s defense at the point of attack. His 6’6″, 215-pound frame with a 6’11 wingspan should allow him to defend twos and threes at the next level, along with some ones and fours. His great strength, balance, and toughness should have him being a versatile NBA defender, a key to any competitive team in this modern era where switching has become quotidian. Notice how Langford sits low in his stance and slides his feet, forcing the ball handler into the help defense, forcing a tough shot and contesting with length:
Langford rotates to the shooter, where he doesn’t over-commit on a closeout. He walls off this drive, forcing a pass out:
Against Northwestern, Romeo Langford locked Vic Law down. Many consider Law a prospect in this upcoming draft but Romeo made him look like a bonafide scrub. Law failed to create any significant advantage against Romeo all night and his frustration was blatant at many points.
After blowing up this ATO, Langford leeches onto Law’s hip careening across the paint, before swatting his ill-advised fade away:
As the last clip and the next few shows, Law’s frustration seeped through into his shot selection and Romeo took full advantage. Romeo easily navigates the traffic of the handoff, recovering in time to contest with his length:
Again, Romeo smartly contests this post fade away. As a post defender, his core strength helps him not cede deep post position often:
Sliding his feet, Langford stymies the Law drive, cutting off any angle he has to get to the rim. Law takes an incredibly difficult shot and Langford again provides a great contest:
Romeo falls asleep and gets beat on the offensive glass but does not give up on the play. When Law goes up for the putback, he elevates for the block, fully extending to get his hand on the ball:
Langford’s only real mistake of the game was here, where he got out of position and fouled to stop this drive:
Still, this game provides significant evidence for Romeo’s ability as an individual defender. Romeo’s defensive talent will be vastly important when the playoffs come around. His lack of burst could hurt his ability to defend lightning quick players in isolation but his lateral agility combined with his long strides and strength should be good enough for most players.
Swing Skill: Shooting Creation
Coming into the college season, scouts pinned Romeo Langford as a smooth shooter who can get his shot from anywhere on the floor. But through the first stretch of the season, that has been far from the case. The statistical indicators are not propitious for a good shooter, especially a pull-up shooter, which is at the zenith of NBA skills. On the surface, Langford’s 21.3% from three is not encouraging.
Enlarging the problem, Romeo is shooting 8/35 on NBA threes, good for 22.86%. Among prospects in my top 60 that have taken at least one NBA three, his percentage is the sixth worst. Among prospects that have taken at least 30 NBA shots from distance, he is dead last. On all pullups, Langford is shooting 13-34, four of them being threes.
Most of Langford’s pull-up threes look like the clip I showed at the beginning of this article, bad misses with mechanical errors. I am no shot doctor but Langford’s shot has some notable mechanical flaws. On his release, Romeo does not follow through and looks to short-arm his release, not achieving full extension:
It also looks like he brings the ball across his face a bit here and it looks like his left hand is a bit too involved as well:
Langford is shooting 69.1% on free throws with a solid .503 free throw rate. His motion is smooth and consistent but there is a bit of a pause when the ball hits its peak, negating some of the energy created by his lower body:
From mid-range, Langford shoots far better than he does from three. He is 15-25 (60%) on short mid-ranges, which includes some floaters, and is 12-24 (50%) on long mid-ranges. Most of these are of the pull-up variety, as only 8.0% of short mid-range shots and only 16.67% of long mid-range shots are assisted.
He looks far more comfortable on these pull-ups, with more rhythmic mechanics and a smoother shot:
In spite of all of the previously mentioned discouraging shooting indicators, some of Langford’s flashes are highly impressive. His contested, step-back threes provide hope for what his future shooting spectrum could look like:
I am a stark believer in Romeo’s shot. It is surprisingly easy to teach an NBA level player how to shoot a consistent set shot under good coaching. Langford’s already advanced touch around the rim and from mid-range suggest good three-point shooting in the future. At the moment, Langford is a lonely soul offensively; the pull-up three is his Juliet. But if the pull-up could ever come consistently from beyond the arc, Langford could become a truly dangerous scorer.
There is so much to like about Langford’s game. He does so many little things well, many things that most freshmen do not. If anything, this is an indicator of his natural talent and his work ethic. As the season progresses, I expect Romeo’s shooting to improve.
His baseline of skills for a modern NBA wing is too tantalizing for me to ignore and I would be hard pressed to find 14 prospects with more upside than Langford given the nature of this class. Hopefully, this article can improve the perception of Langford for many people. Whichever NBA team eventually drafts Romeo Langford may not be getting a star, but they will be drafting a good NBA player for many years to come.
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