Sulaimon A Step Ahead

If you want to see the key to Rasheed Sulaimon's game, don't look at the perfect form on his jumper or the way he attacks the basket.

Instead, look at his feet.

Two years ago Sulaimon came to Houston's Strake Jesuit Academy a talented but limited basketball player. He could shoot from beyond the arc and get to the rim but something was missing.

Strake Jesuit coach Wayne Jones challenged Sulaimon to explore the dead zone in his game -- the mid-range. Growing up a Kobe Bryant fan, Sulaimon worked on his pull-up jumper and -- most importantly -- started paying attention to footwork.

The pivot, the pump fake, the step through Bryant uses, all became part of Sulaimon's game. Suddenly he wasn't just a shooter or a slasher, he was a scorer.

"When he attacks the defender, he knows how to attack with his lead foot or his back foot -- whatever the situation may be at the time," Jones said. "He's really bought into it and he's been really good. To me that's what separates him from guys."

Once a liability, his mid-range game has become a strength for Sulaimon. Jones said the pull up jumper is now Sulaimon's go-to shot in the half court.

"Most kids today are in the love with the three-point shot and the dunk and what we call the ESPN game," Jones said. "He scored the majority of his points for us in what we call a pro game -- in that 12 to 15 feet area."

Houston Hoops coach Marland Lowe said the space Sulaimon creates with his footwork makes his elite offensive skill even more dangerous. Not only is he a good athlete and exceptional outside shooter, he knows how to find and create lanes for his offense.

"He gets his shot off better than just about anybody we've had in the program," Lowe said. "He comes off screens really well. He knows how to read defenses really well and he can catch and shoot.

"He can score from anywhere."

Considering his 3.7 GPA, it's not surprising Sulaimon does so much damage with his head. Sulaimon excels at reading and reacting to defenses. As a result, he stays under control and has a smooth finish to his game. He makes the game look easy offensively because he's often looking a step ahead of the defense.

"He thinks the game as good as any high school player I've ever coached," Jones said. "It's not the person in front of him, it's the next guy that he's always looking at, contemplating and trying to get around."

The development in Sulaimon's mid-range game is a product of the amount of work he's put in during practice. Lowe said Sulaimon is one of the hardest workers he has and the junior's next target is a developing fade-away jumper.

"He can post up and fade really hard off the box. He can get it off the dribble and fade really hard that way," Lowe said. "Kobe shoots fade-aways and he's worked on it for years so he's become very good at it."

On the defensive end, Sulaimon has a jump start on his idol, according to his coaches. While Bryant made defense a priority after a few years in the NBA, Sulaimon is already on his way to becoming a lockdown defender.

"He wants to guard the best player," Lowe said. "He's very good at sealing guys off and pushing them to one side of the court. He's going to do his best and he can play the passing lane also."

Jones agreed.

"(He's a) great on ball and off ball defender, very long and active when playing on the ball and is always in correct position when off the ball," Jones said. "He knows when to be chancy but will rotate and take the necessary charges. He's also an outstanding rebounder."

Both coaches considered Sulaimon a high level athlete but said he still has some maturing to do physically. Jones said Sulaimon will become even more dynamic as he fills out.

"I think he has all the tools for greatness," Jones said. "I think as his body continues to change and gets to the place that it is, I think the sky is the limit."

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