Haanif Cheatham: Evaluation

There's a lot to admire about the game of Haanif Cheatham, who has improved steadily and in both physical and mental terms.


Introduction

In the beginning, versatile and cerebral Haanif Cheatham bore the look of a jumbo point guard. Standing 6-5, he clearly possessed clear eyes and a sharp mind for the game.

And although he has transitioned into a natural wing, the fact that he ever was considered a potential point guard illustrates one of his best qualities. Cheatham is the kind of player who has won over scouts and coaches the more they watch him. He earns your trust over a long season, not necessarily game to game.

I first watched Cheatham at last fall's Nike Team Florida Workout, where he clearly was one of the most talented prospects in attendance.

He told me there that Alabama, Georgia, Miami, UCF, USF, FIU and Murray State were his favorites and that he may decide soon, but things didn't pan out that way.

Cheatham competed on the EYBL circuit with NTF this past spring and summer and posted a 17-point scoring average in 16 total games. His recruitment expanded and he ultimately landed on six finalists heading into fall: Marquette, Florida State, Baylor, Georgia, Georgetown and California, before ultimately choosing the Golden Eagles.

Assets

The southpaw wing is a scorer who nevertheless also fashions a complete game. His 17 points per game with NTF became all the more impressive considering that he achieved that production on 52 percent shooting from the field. For a guard, that's unusual on EYBL.

He shot a so-so 34 percent on threes, but he didn't attempt too many of them and thus is overall efficiency remained high. Along with that he averaged three rebounds and three assists per game, plus a steal and a half.

Cheatham's smooth driving should pay off early

Cheatham's offense includes a quick first step. He likes to attack and draw trips to the free throw line, and he also uses nimble feet well to elude shotblockers in traffic. He has a jump shot and gliding one-hand finishes to become an outstanding finisher on the move, hence the high accuracy mark from two-point range.

He specializes at getting ahead on the break and creating plays for himself and others in the fullcourt. His passing is very good off the ball and his 6-5 height enables him to enter the ball over defenders into the post without issue.

And while he needs to improve his threes a bit, clearly he possesses the range. His stroke from deep looks fine, so it's a matter of perfecting his form.

Defensively, Cheatham makes very nice plays jumping the passing lanes and creating offense going the other way. While not a truly explosive finisher, he has good speed to race ahead of the pack.

More broadly, he understands the team game, how to interact positively with teammates, how to absorb and execute coaching, the importance of smart plays in key stretches and, bottom line, helps his team win.

Deficits

In addition to lacking strength (easily correctable), an inconsistent jump shot and good, not great quickness, Cheatham does have a tendency to overdribble in the halfcourt. That leads to some turnover problems, and his A-TO ratio with NTF actually was upside down through 16 games.

He's better when he's able to move without the ball, because though plenty quick he can get a little loose with his dribble.

Outlook

Cheatham doesn't project as an alpha scorer right off the bat but should enjoy a meaningful freshman campaign. He needs time to develop his body and sharpen his ballhandling and three-point shot, but in my view he projects as an outstanding four-year player.

His game doesn't require him to be a star, as he's able to blend in and fill diverse roles seamlessly. It's entirely possible he could become a primary scorer as he matures, but even if not he's almost a sure thing as a multi-year starter and fine program representative on and off the court.


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