Let me preface this by clarifying that I rarely give out the “generational” stamp to whatever skill from a player I’m watching or writing about. If used too many times, it loses its meaning, so I am very careful with the way and how often I use it. And that’s why I did it with Juan. You can mention all his shortcomings on offense, especially when it comes to shooting and you would be correct, but if there’s anything he’s special at and better than everyone else in his generation, it’s his passing ability. I don’t see anyone in this draft cycle and very few for years to come who can make the reads and some of the passes he makes.

Across all competitions this season, Nuñez has a total of 150 assists (according to InStat), with 9.8 per 100 possessions. That means there is a Juan Nuñez assist approximatley every 10 possessions. Think about that. He has a high usage – 24.1% – which makes sense as the main ball handler off the bench for ratiopharm Ulm. He’s top 20 in assists per game in both the German Bundesliga and Eurocup, while being the player with less minutes per game among all those guys. That’s an incredible achievement for a bench player that is yet to complete 19 years of age (this coming June). And all of that in his first full season as a rotation player at the senior level.

But let’s see how Nuñez really does it. For that, I’ve watched all of his assists this season and created an assist map for a better visualization of his playmaking. The first thing that pops is his passing versatility. He can hit teammates with passes on the move from anywhere on the court, with either hand (although he’s much better with his strong hand, the left, and uses both when he needs to use the right) or off a stationary position, after receiving a pass or stopping his dribble.

There’s a clear NBA-like spacing and offensive philosophy utilized by Ulm, which in turn benefits Nuñez’s candidacy to the Association. A lot of pick and roll plays, with the Spaniard hitting either the roller or the spread out shooter on the wing/corner with the assist. The clear focus for Ulm is giving the best decision makers the ball and space to work and find the best option. In Juan’s case, that’s usually the pass.

Paint Assists

Most of Juan Nuñez’s passes find the teammate in the paint, be it as a roller, on the dunker spot off a drive or as a cutter. There’s a clear preference to throw passes with his left hand (75% of the paint assists), from the middle of the floor and before putting his feet in the paint. Most of his assists with both hands find the colleague near the rim, while his left hand passes tend to be a bit more scattered.

His stationary assists usually come from outside – which makes sense, as he has stopped his dribble in that situation or received a pass – while there’s a bigger effort to get closer to the paint before throwing a pass on the move.

There’s a clear intent from Nuñez to force the defense to help on him while keeping his dribble alive and throw the assist when his teammate is alone and that’s why most of his passes come off movement. When passing from a standstill position, that happens usually after a 2 on 1 situation or when the defense is guarding him deeper and he has more time to scour the floor for the pass (this should happen more in the NBA, due to his lack of shooting).

3-point assists

That’s a lot of cross-court passes, huh? With his advanced vision, Nuñez is not afraid to throw a pass right through 3 or 4 defenders helping a little bit more inside, in an attempt to find shooters on the opposite side. Notice also how rarely he feeds a shooter from the top of the 3-point line, while that was his main spot for paint passes? In this case, he’s usually more on the right or left wings and either finds the shooter a pass away or on the other side of the floor.

Again, there’s a bigger focus on getting closer to the paint when he passes off movement, while there are a lot more long passes off a stationary position. His assists for above the break threes usually come on pick and pops, with a quick drive inside the line and a quick pass out, but that’s not something Ulm uses consistently. Another thing to notice is where he passes the ball to on drive and kicks. Usually when Nuñez gets deeper, he will look to his right, as he’s usually driving more from the left side and that’s way more comfortable for a left-handed player to throw the pass to. His passes to the left corner off movement usually happen earlier and with not as deep of a drive.

Pick and Roll

But what exactly makes Nuñez’s passing special? It’s the way he manipulates defenses, using his virtues but also his shortcomings to get an assist off and also the way he looks for the best assist, not the first one that comes to him. That takes patience and it’s really rare in a player as young as him. Let’s look at two examples in pick and roll situations below.

In the first clip, there’s a show and recover. The screener rolls and usually, there’d be someone on the weak side ready to help. Well, Nuñez’s constant use of his left hand makes the defense predict an outside pass with his strong hand, which leaves the roller open for a right-handed pass.

The second clip brings us that patience mentioned above. There’s a clear passing lane after the screen, but that would force the roller to drive, with the defense staying close on the help side. Instead, Juan sees the opening to drive a little deeper, push the defenders to him and also open up the pocket for a pass to the perimeter a bit more, which attracts the help defenders outside. This leaves the roller with the simple task of receiving and going up after the pass.

Finding cutters

With this heliocentric-type of basketball, there’s a lot of eyes on Nuñez as the ball handler. So it’s important to know how, where and when to cut. He will feed you the ball if you move precisely without the ball. That’s what we’ll check in the next two clips.

First one has Nuñez rejecting the screen and attacking with his right, as the defense was expecting the drive with the left. That brings help from the backside because the guard has beaten two defenders. That backside advances a bit and leaves space behind for the cut from the corner.

Second clip with a pick and roll and an open pass to the roller. But again, there’s a player on the backside ready to help and check the roller. Nuñez waits, gives the defender time to commit to the roller and hits the cutter behind for the easy bucket.

Finding Shooters

We’ve watched some of his passes to the perimeter, but nothing better than reinforcing it with three more clips, showing the way he manipulates defenses to find open passes – and the absolute accuracy of his passing!

In the first play, there’s a mismatch inside and the whole defense is drawn to that, with Nuñez looking at that also. Yet, he knows the help is coming from behind on that pass and he also knows who’s helping. So, he throws the court-cross, one handed pass to the far corner for the open three.

In the second play, we have that situation we talked about before: passing up on a good pass for a better one. There’s an opportunity for the extra pass, but the player closing out is trying to avoid that and the closest helper is ready to rotate. So Nuñez attacks the closeout, forces the help to come and guarantees a better passing window in order to get the ball to his teammate.

The last clip just shows how good and out of the ordinary Juan Nuñez is as a passer. On the 2×1, has the pass to the roller but waits for the last player to commit to the roller before passing to the open corner. It’s a risky pass, but that’s what you look for out of your on-ball creators.

This makes Juan Nuñez an absolute rare find at his age. His passing ability is so ahead of his age that it guarantees him a clear rotation spot in a Eurocup and German Bundesliga side that is known for their player development. There are a lot of things Nuñez has to work on offensively, but he certainly brings great value right now with his playmaking.

The way he manipulates defenses, finds and changes angles to find open teammates or contorts his body to put himself in the best position for the assist make him, in my opinion, a generational passer. At his age, I don’t see anyone else doing this. It’s a rare skill that may bring him an NBA spot in the future, even if it doesn’t happen this summer.