Way back in February, just before the NBA went on hiatus and the NCAA tournament was cancelled, BYU forward Yoeli Childs — a potential second-round pick on the outskirts of most NBA draft boards — spearheaded an upset victory over No. 2 Gonzaga on his senior night, scoring 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. As a 6-foot-8, 225-pound versatile big man with strong shoulders and a barrel-shaped chest, Childs had his way against stiffer competition in that game just as he did for most of the season: Going to work inside, outside, and nowhere in-between while deriving the lion’s share of his offense from around the basket and the three-point line.
“Paul Millsap has always been my guy,” Childs said in a Zoom interview with BYUtv Sports. “When teams ask who I try to model my game after, it’s always him.”
“We’re very similar builds, similar sizes, and I really just admire the way he was able to come in and carve out a role,” he continued. “I really want to follow that blueprint. He came in and was a hustle guy — high energy, played hard, rebounded the ball at a high level, (and) cut. I want to be able to do all of those things and just kind of add to my game in the ways that he did, with continuing to improve his handles, shooting abilities, and switch abilities.”
Per Synergy, Childs was most often used as a post player during his senior season, yielding an impressive 1.038 points per possession (88th percentile); however, in keeping with the stretch-four archetype, he also finished the year as the second-most efficient pick-and-pop scorer in the nation among all Division I players, minimum 30 possessions. Though he battled through some adversity; first, with a nine-game suspension as a result of a paper work issue and later due to a finger injury that held him out for an additional four games, the mature 22-year-old averaged 22 points and nine rebounds for the year while shooting an eye-popping 22-of-45 (48 percent) from three — an almost stunning mark given his low conversion rate at the charity stripe, both as a senior (53.8 percent) and for his four-year collegiate career (63.6 percent).
While that disparity certainly seems difficult to reconcile, even when tacking on his junior year for extra volume, he still knocked down 37.5 percent of his triples over his final two seasons, going 54-of-144 while demonstrating consistency in his shot. Tellingly, whether popping out to three as the screener or being used as an off-ball floor spacer, Childs almost always steps into his release, first with his left and then with his right — a regimented routine which, not unlike a programmable machine, speaks well of his trained habits in terms of practice making permanent, but might also offer some insight into why his steady improvement as a set shooter has yet to carry over to the free throw line, where he stands still.
Either way, look at this reel of some of his three-point attempts from different spots on the floor and against various opponents this season. Deliberately spliced to remove the outcome bias in terms of makes and misses, notice how his shot looks the same every time.
Granted, Childs still has to prove his ability to let the ball fly against NBA-caliber closeouts, but at least the league’s longer distance doesn’t seem to bother him, as can clearly be seen here at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
Plus, in a rare departure from his normal footwork pattern, he even flashed the ability to create space for himself with a step-back against Gonzaga.
That said, in addition to his potential as a floor spacer, he also has a keen understanding of space, whether as a scorer, passer, or rebounder.
Here, for instance, with his man prepared to jump out above the level of the screen, notice how he slips the pick and in a split-second makes the correct read to dive into open space before using his strong shoulders to finish at the rim.
He also isn’t a stranger to the fake hand-off actions that the Pacers ran last season under Nate McMillan. Admittedly, Childs isn’t going to connect on a 10-foot pitch like Sabonis, but he doesn’t panic when plays break down. On this possession, rather than record-scratching with the ball in his hands, notice how he calmly dribbles out of the post into a subsequent dribble hand-off before screening his teammate open for three.
Overall, Childs doesn’t do a lot of passing on the move; however, with the benefit of the occasional cut assist, his feel for finding the open man out of the post, whether at an angle or in the opposite corner, could perhaps translate to the next level if he were to draw a double-team against a switch.
On the downside, though his assist percentage and turnover rate both improved with each passing season he was at Brigham Young, he had a tendency to get pushed off the block in spite of his footwork and body control, and when forced to use a negative dribble, he wasn’t able to throw those cross-court darts with quite the same accuracy. Moreover, while his high-IQ for how to attack a defense is generally sound, his functional strength and lack of high-flying athleticism occasionally gives way to his reliance on elevating over defenders with soft touch as opposed to powering through them, especially when surprised by a late double.
On the glass, with the top defensive rebounding rate in the West Coast Conference (27.9 percent), Childs seeks out contact against bigger bodies and has a sharpened sense for finding angles on second-chance opportunities, intuitively moving to the weak-side while wedging his man under the basket.
Defensively, he has a few more question marks. Given that BYU emphasized the ball handler when defending side pick-and-roll actions, Childs was surprisingly nimble moving laterally — even to the point of showcasing his ability to hedge, recover, and switch all on the same possession.
Of course, that’s against college-level speed, and while he doesn’t necessarily go wrong-footed in space, his closeouts aren’t quite as quick coming out of drop coverage, and he occasionally plays too high against roll-men. Conversely, when he isn’t recovering east-west to shooters with high hands out of a hedge, he can sometimes be a beat too slow releasing from his show to retreat toward the basket to his original assignment. Plus, in what could be a potential inhibitor for his high-energy rebounding, he also has a penchant for battling, and playing tentative with, early foul trouble, averaging 5.1 fouls per 100 possessions.
Still, for a team lacking in prototypical depth at stretch-four, with Justin Holiday giving up too much heft and the combination of Alize Johnson and TJ Leaf either lacking in polish or wanting for crystallized skills, the former Cougar at least seems to have the chalk outline of a low-risk forward who could develop within the team’s pipeline and possibly transition his all-around game into a five-out style of play, all while demonstrating high character.
As of now, Childs is projected to go at No. 60 by NBA Draft Net — dead-last overall and six spots below where Indiana selects at No. 54. And yet, he’s among the 60 prospects participating in the NBA’s Virtual Combine, and while opinions are certainly subject to change during that process as players go through physical testing and participate in league interviews, know this: Per a source, in a draft that could prove to favor intangibles, Childs is someone the Pacers have circled in the second round.