Anticipation soared in Knoxville when Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes secured Northern Colorado’s Dalton Knecht in the transfer portal. The Volunteers, consistently renowned for their defensive prowess, were yearning for a little extra offensive firepower. Knecht, a 6-foot-6 sharpshooter who had averaged an impressive 20.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in his final year with the Bears, emerged as the answer. Knecht’s ability to knock down catch-and-shoot threes was evident, as he hit an impressive 38.1% from beyond the arc on 6.3 attempts per game in 2022-23. Yet what caught everyone by surprise this season was Knecht's meteoric rise to stardom and his burgeoning pro potential. Now, Knecht is on the cusp of being a lottery pick in the 2024 NBA Draft.

Knecht is averaging 21.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game this season, and he’s shooting 47.4% from the floor and 40.5% from three. He’s a huge part of the reason that Tennessee is a top-25 team in offensive efficiency for the first time since 2019. What Knecht is doing with the Volunteers isn’t all that different from what he did for the Bears. But that’s what truly makes it impressive. Knecht was the best scorer in the Big West last year. Now, he’s playing against significantly better competition, yet his game hasn’t dropped off a bit.

The SEC is filled with legitimate size and athleticism, so there were reasons to believe Knecht could suffer a dip in efficiency. After all, Knecht isn’t much of an athlete, and he doesn’t move all that well for a perimeter player. However, the 22-year-old has now shown the world that he can compete against anyone. Knecht bet on himself by moving to one of the best conferences in college basketball, and he has performed at such a high level that there aren’t many reasons to believe his offensive game won’t translate to the NBA.

As far as shooting goes, Knecht is a borderline flawless prospect. The senior sports a high release and is able to get his shot off against most guards. Knecht has good height for a shooter and a projected plus wingspan. That alone helps Knecht get the jumper off, and he seems to always have his footwork down. And his ability to find space for himself is flat-out impressive. Knecht tends to slowly drift to the right spots on the court, even as the focal point of the opposing team’s scouting report. The fact that he can do it in the college game is significant. It’s only going to get easier with NBA spacing.

Not only is Knecht shooting 40.5% from three this year, but he’s shooting 45.8% on unguarded catch-and-shoot triples. And overall, he’s in the 89th percentile when it comes to points per possession on catch-and-shoot plays (all ranks from Synergy Sports). Knecht also has deep, deep range. He’s not just out there taking advantage of college basketball’s shorter three-point line. He’ll pull from anywhere and everywhere, and he has hit quite a few shots from logo land this year.

A lot of NBA front offices are leery about drafting upperclassmen early, but it is easier when it’s somebody with an easily projectable skill. Well, Knecht absolutely has that. He has the potential to be an upper echelon shooter in the NBA. That was enough to get older players like Cameron Johnson and Corey Kispert selected in the lottery. And Knecht arguably has more game than both of them did in college.

In addition to being a lights out shooter, Knecht is also a relatively good decision maker. Knecht doesn’t run a ton of pick-and-roll actions, but he’s averaging 0.950 points per possession as a PnR ball handler. That puts him in the 83rd percentile in college basketball, which is an impressive mark for an off-ball player. Knecht is also a very smart cutter, grading in the 95th percentile in points per possession in that play type. Being a good cutter is a very underrated skill for a shooter. Defenses are going to play him really close to try and avoid getting beat from deep. If he can slip by his man for an easy layup or dunk, they’ll have to think twice about getting up on him.

Knecht also happens to be a really good post-up player at the college level. It’ll be interesting to see if that translates to the NBA. He probably won’t get many opportunities to play with his back to the basket. But he does have some muscle on him, and he should be able to bang with other wings and get to his turnaround jumper. Maybe his next team won’t utilize that often, but it’s something to work with in a pinch.

In many ways, Knecht’s game looks like that of Bojan Bogdanovic. The Croatian has a little more height than Knecht, but they’re both snipers with just enough in-between game to make them extremely tough covers. And both provide their teams with a lot of offensive versatility, in addition to spacing.

The defensive end is where there are some concerns about Knecht. He is slower in the foot than you want on the wing, and he could struggle against some of the NBA’s more explosive guards. But the reality is that most players have trouble containing those guys. What’s nice about Knecht is that he is a very smart team defender. And his subpar on-ball defense hasn’t prevented Tennessee from being one of the best defensive teams in the country. That should give NBA front offices some confidence that he can be on the floor for a good defensive team. Knecht’s strength should also serve him well in the NBA, as he’ll at least be able to size up a little when it’s necessary.

There’s simply a lot Knecht can do to help NBA teams right now, and the nuclear three-point shooting makes him an exciting prospect. Some teams might pass on him because of his age, opting to instead draft a player with more upside. That’s completely understandable. But Knecht can be an NBA rotation player immediately. And the quick ascension of a player like Desmond Bane should teach everybody that you never want to put guys in a box. Knecht took an unconventional road to relevancy, but he got better every step along the way. Perhaps there’s a little more to him than we think.