Final Scouting Report: J.P. Tokoto

After a thorough evaluation - from high school and AAU through the senior all-star games - Rob Harrington authors the final version of his in-depth scouting report on incoming Tar Heel freshman J.P. Tokoto ...

    J.P. Tokoto
    6-6, 195
    Wing Forward
    Menomonee Falls (Wis.) High
    Class of 2012

    Narrative

    Tokoto emerged as Roy Williams's first priority in the 2012 class the summer after his sophomore season. He vaulted himself early into the national consciousness thanks largely to his elite leaping ability. He committed to North Carolina late in his junior season, disappointing home-state Wisconsin and others.

    Beginning during the spring of 2010 the first real critics emerged, citing his lack of production against national competition on the travel circuit. He upgraded his play during the 2011 travel season but never shed the label as an underachiever, resulting in a rankings plummet outside the national top 75.

    He played far more aggressively and confidently during his senior year, however, and now he warrants consideration for the national top 50 — and it won't shock if he outperforms even that lofty status.

    Assets

    A sensational ability to rise from the ground is the hallmark of Tokoto's game. He catches lobs and skies for tip-slams arguably better than any other wing in the class. Not only does he finish on top of defenders, he has outstanding body control to move the ball around mid-air and finish easily at the rim or pick up traditional and-one buckets.

    His floor game also is impressive. He handles plenty well for a wing forward and possesses surprising dribble moves in the open court, propelling him with speed toward the rim — where, of course, he's an elite finisher. Tokoto's passing is a widely overlooked aspect of his game, as he snaps chest passes with excellent fundamentals and makes an occasional dish through traffic as well. His errors are relatively infrequent, another facet of his play that's likely to earn him the admiration of the UNC coaching staff.

    To his credit, Tokoto has improved the form of both his jump shot and free throw at least marginally. He no longer has as pronounced a hitch in his release, a difficult problem to iron out at a relatively late stage in a prospect's high school career. The fact that he has done so successfully indicates how hard he has worked to address the weaknesses of his game.

    In rhythm and typically within the 15-17 foot range, Tokoto's jumper is smooth — and no one is going to block his shot due to his outrageous elevation. His jumper flattens out from the three-point stripe, but he now knocks down more of those longer attempts.

    On defense, Tokoto uses his length and athleticism to get steals and elevate for crowd-pleasing blocks. He's better as a helpside defender than a lockdown man — similar to former UNC wing Danny Green — due to a pigeon-toed stance, which occasionally does give him problems in one-on-one situations. Even so, he has more overall defensive potential than Green. In time I suspect that a large portion of his court identity will reside on the defensive end of the floor.

    The scouting report thus far ignores a primary factor as to why Tokoto received an early offer from Roy Williams: his intangibles. Tokoto not only is an outstanding young person off the court, his unselfish style makes him a desirable and valuable teammate. Of course, everyone would like to see him be meaner between the lines (more on that below), but it's difficult to be too critical of a young person whose primary shortcoming as a player is too much perspective.

    Deficits

    My surface criticism of Tokoto's game mostly is a matter of quantity, not quality. The reason his stock tumbled nationally pertains to two areas: 1) lack of consistent production; and 2) a suspect jump shot.

    There have been too many games when Tokoto has failed to put a stamp on the competition. At times, he appears to be playing within himself so much that he isn't fully engaged in the outcome of the contest. The extent to which he is able to transform that approach into something more immediate and ferocious is under hot dispute, but his senior year returns proved encouraging.

    As for his jumper, he has improved his mechanics to the point that I no longer consider this a complete liability. He may not ever become an ace three-point shooter, but by comparison, he appears more comfortable from medium-range than Marcus Ginyard did at the same stage. Still, unless something changes drastically, he's far from a player you'd project as a primary scoring weapon in college.

    He must continue to work on his erratic free throws as well, and like most high school players he needs to gain strength.

    College Projection

    In the interest of full disclosure, I view Tokoto as a top-50 player in the senior class. Some rankings — including those at Scout.com — place him substantially lower, so obviously I'm higher on his potential than most.

    It's a leap of faith, but my prediction is that the displacement from home to college, in an adult environment, will cause Tokoto to take stock of where he is as a player and adjust accordingly. No one who practices against players as tough and physical as P.J. Hairston will be able to coast by on natural talent; in order to play, Tokoto will have to compete with the intensity demanded both by Roy Williams and his teammates. And I do believe he wants to be a good player, so after perhaps a year behind the returnees on the roster in 2012-13, he should be much better prepared to take on an important role as a sophomore.

    I also think the fact that he is regarded as an underachiever has created something of a snowball effect in terms of rankings. Tokoto's initial reception was that of an elite prospect, creating an early consensus opinion, and when his play fell short of that mark, a new consensus formed with such speed that his stock bottomed out perhaps more than his play justified.

    Of course, that's only one opinion, but here's a UNC-related example: In the spring and summer of 2006, Tywon Lawson's play eclipsed that of D.J. Augustin. And because Augustin had been considered an elite for so long, his travel circuit slump caused many of us — myself definitely included — to drop him way too far. Roy Williams said that summer that he regarded Lawson and Augustin as equivalent, something I found difficult to believe.

    Well, through the two seasons they both were on college campuses (Augustin at Texas), it's probably fair to say that D.J. was the superior player. So while the peanut gallery of scouts has its say, the head coach has his — and in that case he was entirely correct. The hand-wringing about Tokoto's lack of production and subpar shooting is justified when taken at face value, yet it's doubtful Roy Williams himself feels compelled to share that anxiety along with the scouting community.

    The counterpoint to that scenario is the historical record of what championship-type things have occurred when Williams and the rankings have shared the same opinion — Lawson obviously included — but I do think that story is worth keeping in mind.

    Moving on, I also believe Tokoto will be better for UNC than he would be elsewhere. His three-point and free throw shooting must improve for him to unlock all of his athletic gifts, of course, but his ability and determination to make intelligent passes to open men works with UNC's offense. He won't be asked to create a lot of offense off the dribble. And if his best offense occurs in transition, an up-tempo system such as the one utilized by the Tar Heels plays to his greatest strength. He's a better finisher than any of the UNC alumni frequently compared to him — most notably including Jackie Manuel and Ginyard — and thus may more closely resemble the 2007 version (less effective shooter) of Reyshawn Terry.

    I don't project stardom for him at UNC, but it will surprise me a great deal if he doesn't develop into an important piece for a nationally elite team. Moreover, his improved comfort level on the court and with the media suggest clear development. He played one of his best games as a senior versus big-time Michigan signee Glenn Robinson III, arguably the strongest indicator yet that he'll be able to carve a valuable niche for himself in Chapel Hill.

Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly and writes a freelance column for USAToday.com. He is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and votes in the McDonald's All-American Game.


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