Taran Armstrong, Cal Baptist’s rising freshman point guard, is already turning heads among NBA Draft scouts.
Cal Baptist basketball is only in its fourth season as a D-1 program. While the Lancers posted a 50-35 (23-21 WAC) record over their first three seasons, they have been ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to the NCAA’s D-1 transition rules. As a result, Cal Baptist has had limited opportunities on the national stage and is yet to truly land on the map.
That could change this season, though. While Cal Baptist remains ineligible for the Big Dance, head coach Rick Croy has a freshman on his roster turning heads among NBA scouts in Tasmania native Taran Armstrong.
Armstrong instantly stands out among his peers as a 6-5 point guard, and his combination of size and playmaking vision is impossible to teach. Prior to impressing in his first eight college games in Riverside (12.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 8.0 assists per game), he was an overseas standout.
Armstrong’s international experience includes playing on the U17 Australian National Team and winning a gold medal at the 2019 FIBA Oceania Tournament. He also notched 25.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game at the Basketball Australia U20 National Championships in 2020.
Armstrong is not afraid of the big lights and has put up superb numbers to begin his college career. The overarching statistics only tell part of Armstrong’s story, though. To truly analyze his potential, let’s dive deeper into the analytics and his game film.
What the numbers say…
Armstrong’s per-game statistics through eight games only scratch the surface of his impressive pedigree. He is, however, the only player in the country averaging at least 12 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists. If he is able to maintain these averages for the entire season, he would be the first freshman and just the fifth player to post such numbers in the Sports-Reference era, dating back to 1992-93.
Impact statistics also paint a pretty picture of Armstrong’s start. He is a member of Cal Baptist’s best two, three, four, and five-man lineup combinations. Armstrong is on the court a ton, playing 33.4 minutes per game, and he statistically makes every player around him better:
Cal Baptist, 7-1, performs 85.0 points per 100 possessions better with Armstrong on the floor than without. Even though the Lancers haven’t played many games and Armstrong has been on the court for most of the minutes, his absence is felt greatly when he hits the bench.
Of course, it’s important to note that Armstrong’s numbers are generally coming against poor competition. Cal Baptist has played just the 355th-toughest schedule (out of 358) in the country, per KenPom, through its first eight games. Armstrong also struggled in his lone game against high-major competition, posting only six points, seven rebounds, and one assist (to seven turnovers) on the road against Texas. However, that performance was better than his box score indicates.
Let’s go to the tape.
Taran Armstrong “passes” the eye test
Armstrong is dishing 8.0 assists per game and exhibiting the nation’s best assist rate at 48.3 percent. He is elite as a playmaker. Armstrong deploys stellar vision, plays with shifty tempo, has tremendous ability, and — perhaps most importantly — is extremely creative. To fit the metaphor of his playmaking wizardry, he has an undetectable extension charm on his bag of tricks.
Live-dribble passing is one of the most coveted skills among modern playmakers and Armstrong makes it look easy. While defenses collapse on him and his roll man in the pick-and-roll, Armstrong is deadly with his ability to make cross-court dishes on the move to the open man. These types of high-level live-dribble and skip passes are what have NBA scouts so intrigued about his potential:
Armstrong appears to boast all of the necessary requirements to be an elite passer. He sees the floor extremely well with his head on a swivel, is a strong ball-handler, plays with excellent pace and rarely rushes the offense, and has the ability to make the complex passes. There is a focus and poise about the freshman that is well beyond his years. He is also hyper-competitive and that drive is evident in how he plays. “Feel for the game” is often an overused phrase, but Armstrong’s feel is tremendous.
Cal Baptist is not a team that makes headlines all that often, but Armstrong is re-writing that script.
Looking for more clips from Armstrong’s first few games? I recommend diving into No Ceilings’ article on his tremendous playmaking, complete with 70 clips!
Breaking down the potential of Taran Armstrong
With basketball trending more and more to heavy ball-screen oriented offenses, the value for a player like Armstrong has never been higher. He is a maestro in the pick-and-roll and makes advanced reads that take advantage of defensive lapses. His assist numbers are not simply buoyed by making the easy dishes against low-level competition; he makes highlight-reel quality skip and whip passes that make scouts drool.
Even in an “off” game against Texas, Armstrong impressed with his vision. The turnovers were an issue in that contest, but the advanced nature of his playmaking was still on display. He could have easily recorded more than one assist:
Armstrong’s playmaking is easily his best skill — and it is often on display — but it takes more than just quality passing to emerge as a legitimate NBA prospect. That’s where his physical attributes and ancillary skills come into play.
First, his size is a major plus. We’ve seen elite-level passers like Sharife Cooper fall to the second round as recently as last season due in large part to a lack of size. Wondering what highlights No. 6 overall pick Josh Giddey could have made if he played in college last year? Armstrong’s film is a good place to start.
There is more to Armstrong’s game than just his passing. He is currently finishing on 62.5 percent of his at-the-rim attempts, which make up over half of his total field-goal attempts.
He hasn’t yet found the range from three in his college career (6-for-19, 31.6 percent), but there are reasons to believe that he has shooting potential. His form is crisp and numbers in pre-college events are more complimentary of his 3-point ability. At the very least, his 76.9 percent free-throw shooting welcomes optimism. Still, it’s an area for improvement for the young guard. If he can start to connect with more efficiency from deep, his draft stock will only continue to climb.
Taran Armstrong is not your traditional NBA Draft prospect. He is not playing at a powerhouse school nor did he have a highly publicized recruitment. Still, he is turning plenty of heads in the early portion of his career at Cal Baptist. The NBA buzz is only starting to develop and should continue to do so in the coming months. His combination of size, poise and tremendous playmaking ability at 19 years old is impossible to overlook.
Australia has produced notable passers in recent years, including the likes of Ben Simmons and Josh Giddey. Armstrong doesn’t quite boast the elite size of these individuals, but he is uniquely skilled with plus height for a point guard. He has made his mark on the opening month of this season and is a must-watch talent. Make the time to see Taran Armstrong at CBU now, because he might not be playing college basketball for long.
Header image courtesy of Cal Baptist Athletics.