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Korean Klay: How Canberra's NBA Global Academy propelled Hyunjung Lee's NBA aspirations
The Korean sharpshooter joins a growing list of 2022 NBA draft prospects who attended Canberra's NBA Global Academy.
Josh Giddey made history when he became the first NBA Global Academy alum to earn NBA draft selection, and the 2021 lottery pick has opened the floodgates for more to follow. NBA G League recruit Dyson Daniels is Australia’s top prospect for the 2022 NBA draft, followed by the likes of collegiate rookie Taran Armstrong, and Adelaide 36er Mojave King. King is currently a dual national of New Zealand and the United States, but hopes to gain Australian citizenship so he can one day represent the Boomers.
The three aforementioned NBA draft hopefuls all developed their craft at the NBA Global Academy, an elite training setup within Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence. But while the likes of Daniels, King and Armstrong have generated significant buzz among Aussie hoops fans, we mustn’t forget that the NBA Global Academy is a world-class facility, catering to top prospects from all around the world.
Bennedict Mathurin for instance, is a touted 2022 NBA draft prospect who grew up in Canada, but still made the trek to Canberra in pursuit of top tier training opportunities. The 6’6 swingman currently averages over 18 points for collegiate heavyweight Arizona, and is rated the 15th-best player in the 2022 NBA draft class by ESPN.
Similarly, Hyunjung Lee earned an invitation to the NBA Global Academy after emerging as South Korea’s top basketball prospect. The 21 year old is currently in his junior year of NCAA Division I basketball at Davidson College, which was once home to two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry. Lee patterns his game around the other Splash brother, Klay Thompson, as a 6’7 swingman who happens to be one of the premier three-point shooters in college basketball.
“When I came [to the NBA Global Academy] the first time, my goal was just [to keep] getting better, not [necessarily] NCAA,” Lee reflected, after committing to Davidson in 2019. “But I’m going to Davidson. Playing with the coaches who taught Steph Curry - that’s so amazing”.
The Korean sharpshooter was recruited by both Davidson and Washington State, with the latter being Thompson's alma mater. Lee eventually chose Davidson however, as he sensed an opportunity to start and log big minutes from day one. Another factor in Lee’s decision was that Davidson coach Bob McKillop offered a similar style of play to what he learned under Marty Clarke at the NBA Global Academy - spread offence, passing, defensive fundamentals and ball security.
“I had several offers from other higher [ranking] schools,” Lee revealed, in a 2020 interview. “But because I still had many things to work on, I wanted to attend a school where I can be a starter from freshman year. When I visited Davidson before committing and met with the coach, he promised me that I will be guaranteed at least 20 minutes of playing time per game.”
Now in his junior year, Lee is averaging 18.6 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting over 40% from three-point land and over 50% from the field. If he can lift his free throw percentage from 86% to 90%, the Davidson Wildcat may even end up joining the exclusive 50-40-90 club.
“One dribble step back [jump shot], it’s my favourite move. [I’m] very confident about that move. I’m [usually] thinking, ‘yeah, that’s my shot’,” Lee said, in an interview at the NBA Global Academy in 2019.
Lee boasts a quick shot release and textbook form, as he routinely resists the urge to dip the ball, and achieves full elbow extension with a consistent follow through. At Davidson he has done most of his damage in catch and shoot situations, but the NBA Global Academy graduate is more versatile than that, according to the Academy's technical director, Marty Clarke.
“He will shoot it anywhere inside the white lines. He can shoot them on the run, he can shoot them on the trail up, [and] he can shoot them off the dribble,” Clarke said. “He was already a very good shooter [when he came to us]. I think he has put the work in now to become a great shooter. [He’s] one of the best shooters for his age [group], that I’ve had anything to do with.
“He makes shots under pressure, and he makes big shots at the end of games. He’s the guy you want to be taking that gamewinning shot.”
Although Lee is a noted shooter, with seven three-point field goal attempts per game, he is far from a one trick pony. The swingman is also shooting 63% inside the arc, from 5.7 two-point field goal attempts per game, using a variety of midrange jumpers and right-handed drives. Lee’s basketball IQ is evident in his off-ball cutting routes, which routinely set up easy buckets in the paint. The Korean has also shown an increased willingness to take contact this season, increasing his average free throw attempts from 2.3 to 3.2 per game.
For Lee to become a more versatile scorer like his idol Thompson, an improved left hand would be a brilliant start. Although the Korean is skilled in using his right hand even at awkward angles, he is making life difficult for himself when driving to the left of the hoop. This is a weakness which could be exploited at the NBA level by some of the world’s premier rim protectors.
Moreover, Lee has room to improve as a penetrator by honing in on his ball-handling abilities. The 6’7 perimeter shooter often uses his size and off-ball cutting movements to access the paint, but this won’t always work in the NBA. Lee is prone to getting forced into a standstill inside the arc, and although his outlet passing abilities are far from rudimentary, his handles nevertheless aren't his strong suit.
Lee’s growth over the past few years has seen him enter the NBA draft conversation, and the Athletic’s Sam Vecenie ranked him 46th on his most recent 2022 mock draft. ESPN’s writers aren’t as enthusiastic however, ranking Lee 85th on their best available list, while Sports Illustrated and USA Today similarly left him outside their most recent top 60 rankings.
Although Lee currently projects as a fringe second round prospect, there’s no doubt that he has at least one NBA skill, in the form of his three-point marksmanship. The NBA Global Academy alum still has the option to return to Davidson for his senior year, and having spent some time in Australia already, he may consider the NBL upon graduating to the professional arena. Hopefully for the 21 year old however, he can follow in the footsteps of Ha Seung-jin by becoming South Korea’s second NBA player.