Wildly Unnecessarily Lengthy 2014 NBA Draft Board, Part 1: NCAA Centres
June 16th, 2014
There follows the first in a series of posts that breaks down the players eligible, either automatically or by early entry, for the 2014 NBA Draft. This list is for the NCAA centres, or centers if you’d prefer.
As ever, the list is about 35 players longer than it needs to be, because one of these days, the NBA draft will be forty six rounds long. Just like it used to be. On that day, we shall rejoice.
Also as ever, some position assignments are slightly arbitrary, yet, because they matter not on the court, they should matter not in their classifications within this series either. This arbitrariness is particularly relevant to the centres list, because if everyone was listed at the position at which they were likely best, the centres list would have about 12 people and the power forwards list would have about 84. So some slight liberties have been taken. All do, have or could play the centre position enough to get away with it.
And, as ever, players are listed in no particular order other than the order they were thought of.
Joel Embiid – Mitch McGary – Alec Brown – Jordan Bachynski – Aaric Murray – Jordan Heath – Sam Dower – Talib Zanna – Davante Gardner – Chad Posthumus – Daniel Miller – Omar Oraby – Baye Moussa-Keita – Tarik Black – Garrick Sherman – Wally Judge – Rhamel Brown – Ian Chiles – Da’Shonte Riley – D.J. Haley – Chris Otule – Isaiah Austin – Jordan Vandenberg – John Bohannon – Ryan Watkins – Perris Blackwell – Jarred Shaw – Angus Brandt – Asauhn Dixon-Tatum – Alex Kirk – Ben Aird – Sim Bhullar – Majok Majok – Kyle Tresnak – D.J. Cunningham – D.J. Covington – Eugene Teague – Shayne Whittington – Rob Loe
|Long thumbs. #advancedscouting
, Kansas, Freshman, 7’0 250lbs
2013/14 stats: 23.1 mpg, 11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 1.4 apg, 0.9 spg, 3.4 fpg, 2.4 TOpg, 62.6% FG, 68.5% FT
Whenever people talk about Embiid, they like to mention Hakeem Olajuwon. They like to say things to the extent of, “while I’m not saying he’s the next Olajuwon – there will NEVER be another Olajuwon – Joel Embiid reminds me of Hakeem Olajuwon”, or words to that effect. The point is always to state that Embiid reminds us of Olajuwon without ever risking the blasphemy that automatically seems to accompany comparing anybody to a great one. It is pretty grating.
Someone should probably just come out and say that Embiid is going to be the next Olajuwon. There is plenty of reason to think it. Embiid looks to be simply one of the most natural players to have ever played the game. Someone so new to it should not be so good at it.
Obviously, there stands to be more seasoning, hence the foul and turnover numbers. But the skill level Embiid has gained when so young and so new to the sport is incredible. The touch on the hook shot, the positional sense, rotations, already decent jumpshot, discipline so as to not bite on fakes (which could be seen to be improved upon throughout the year), jumpshot form, the whole shaboodle. And his body type was almost designed for the purpose. With the size, frame, speed, footwork, body control, leaping ability, hands and touch, he has the perfect frame for an NBA team of strength and conditioning coaches to hone.
So let’s just go ahead and say it. Unless injuries prevent it, Embiid will pretty much be the next Olajuwon. The comparison doesn’t have to be perfect to be legitimate, and comparisons to the greats are not blasphemous when they have a basis. Hedging when you only have one year of information to go on is understandable, but it’s all we’re getting before the draft, and it’s been enough to show how good he already is. Let’s all hope Embiid’s frame holds up, because if it does, a special player awaits.
If not, then, well. We’re going to gain and lose a great one very quickly.
Note also: While it is acknowledged in the intro that the players in this are not listed in any order of ability, Embiid is, and the gap to the field is a big one.
|You the man now, dog.
, Michigan, Sophomore, 6’10 255lbs
2013/14 stats: 24.6 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 1.5 apg, 1.9 spg, 3.1 fpg, 1.6 TOpg, 54.5% FG, 66.7% FT
McGary’s presence here is odd, and only the case due to a ridiculous set of circumstances. For starters, he should have declared last year, back when his value was high, back when he was a key and stand-out part of a team that made it all the way to the national title game. Then, after missing the majority of this season with a back condition (pretty much the most worrying condition a big man can have), he likely should have stayed in school so as to best prove his health and re-establish his credentials on what will again be a quality Wolverines team. And perhaps he would have done were it not for this really stupid state of affairs. (Part of the development young adults is not villifying them for mistakes. Excessive penalties for minor mistakes is not a means of teaching accountability. It’s a means of looking good. But hey ho, when did the NCAA ever put the man first?)
McGary will enter the NBA, then, with a bit to prove. Save for the eight games of non-conference play this year, the last we saw of McGary, we saw a determined, rugged and skilled player who was plenty effective enough but also had a bit to prove on the court. A tremendous offensive rebounder and opportunity scorer, McGary overcomes a slight size disadvantage with his motor and skill, a great complimentary player to any dynamic backcourt who flashes open, wins possessions and embodies a fighting spirit any team need adopt. He picks and rolls, he shoves on D, he attacks the ball, and he makes things happen. Yet he remains undersized, not a shooter, a wild player prone to rather forcing the issue at times and who projects unfavourably at any position. On the court, there is still a bit to overcome.
Let’s not pretend there are off-the-court issues to overcome, though. That’s just natural haughtiness shining through. Be more worried about the back. McGary’s game is built around his physicality. How can you be physical with a bad back?
|Pulls this face a lot.
, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Senior, 7’1 235lbs
2013/14 stats: 30.3 mpg, 15.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.1 bpg, 1.0 apg, 0.5 spg, 2.2 fpg, 2.2 TOpg, 47.6% FG, 72.7% FT, 42.0% 3PT
A few players on this list either are, could be, will be or should be stretch bigs, but Brown already is one. His stat line is amazingly, captivatingly rare – who blocks three shots a game AND shoots 40%+ from three point range? Raef LaFrentz? Manute Bol in a dream state? Eric Snow on Opposites Day? [The correct answer is indeed LaFrentz; for one season only, in 2001/02.] You just don’t see this, and of course, that makes it worth of further examination.
Said further examination, however, reveals some flaws. Brown is very thin for a big man, perhaps flattered by his listed weight, and for all his height, he has short arms. The jumpshot is his main offensive weapon, and a very good one, but it is also the only plus part of his offensive game. Brown receives quite a few touches down in the post, perhaps somewhat under duress, and can make a right handed hook shot from down there, yet it is somewhere he would rather not be. He struggles to body up, overly favours the right hand, struggles against double teams, and can be pushed off the spot too easily. Brown’s post footwork is fairly solid – he can pivot and spin either way, and also has a turnaround jumpshot from there which is arguably his best weapon in that area – yet he is infinitely more comfortable as a face-up big.
When facing up, Brown has a decent handle for a 7’1 centre, but the same problems apply. Not especially fast, he struggles to finish over or through defenders, is too easily bumped off the spot, and is smothered by length. He uses good awareness to flash to open spots, particularly in pick and pop and pick and roll sets, yet his ability to create shots rather trails his ability to make them. Generally avoiding contact, Brown rarely gets to the line, and struggles badly to push through or create separation when pivoting down low. He has finesse, but also a jarring lack of power and toughness, and demonstrates little passing game while also racking up quite high turnover numbers from someone rarely asked to create (often by losing the ball or his footing).
Nevertheless, the jumpshot is a mighty fine weapon. Brown spots up incredibly well, especially from the right wing, and is a constant pick and pop option for the Phoenix. He shoots off screens and sometimes throws in a pull-up, and with his height is an option for a jumper every trip down. It really is a smooth stroke, and while Brown does not maximise the driving opportunities it opens up for him, it is nonetheless a very good weapon. Indeed, he should probably use it even more than he does. Brown also has his uses offensively on the glass, where height alone is enough of a factor to keep the ball alive, although the continued improvements in his jumpshot see him spending more and more time on the perimeter and thus reducing this part of his game.
On defense, the naturally thin Brown has bulked up slightly over the years. He, of course, makes his mark as a weak side and shotblocker, at which he is very effective with great timing. He reads the situation, both on the interior and the perimeter, where he plays better pick and roll defense than most and can disrupt a shooter with his blocking tendencies. The lack of strength is of course a huge obstacle on this end, however, particularly in man to man post defense where he is just cleared out by opponents. Green Bay tried to employ him as the help defender rather than the man defender as much as possible, and rightly so so as to mask these flaws and tailor to his strengths, yet the man who roams the paint still needs to be able to defend in isolation down there, and Brown struggles with it.
More concerning is his defensive rebounding rate, which is poor and getting poorer with each season. It is fair to point out that Brown provides so much help defense that he is often out of position on the glass, which is by design, but it is also fair to point out that he does not attack the glass enough even when he does have position. Brown has reduced his foul problems over the years, but the by-product of that is it has meant just avoiding more and more contact, opening up an even more exploitable hole in the defense. His defensive calling card remains the help, both on the perimeter and the interior.
And yet, warts and all, it works for him. Just as the stats suggested, Brown is a shooter and a roamer, and it is still an enticing combination. There’s a lot to do, but also two readily identifiable skills that just are not easy to find, and almost impossible to find in combination with each other. Add one inch to his wingspan and take three inches off his height, and this blurb is also a pretty accurate description of what Channing Frye has become. So Brown has every chance of making the NBA.
|Jordan Bachynski, pointing at chests.
, Arizona State, Senior, 7’2 250lbs
2013/14 stats: 30.9 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 4.0 bpg, 0.5 apg, 0.4 spg, 3.0 fpg, 1.5 TOpg, 54.5% FG, 69.3% FT
The first thing to note is that Bachynski led the country in blocks last season, and he did so while playing in a much improved Pac-12 that was certainly no cakewalk.
The second thing to note is that Bachynski turns 25 in September, after two years away on a Mormon mission and one other year largely missed due to ankle surgery. And while that’s not to say that he cannot improve further – if this was true, he wouldn’t have improved like he did as a senior – it tempers the upside and the NBA potential he might otherwise have had.
On the face of it, Bachynski could be an NBA player. He has enough length, speed, skill and productivity to perform there in a limited role. Whilst Bachysnki remains quite small for a 7’2 player (if such a thing is not too ridiculous to say) he nevertheless has timing and interior defensive positioning, rim protecting skills that will translate to any level. Bachynski has great shotblocking instincts and the length to go get them, contesting everything around the paint and doing so with an acceptable if improvable foul rate. Physically, Bachynski has a fairly narrow frame that still doesn’t have as much muscle on it as it could do, with mediocre to reasonable athleticism and mobility rather than extravagant explosiveness. But 7’2 is 7’2, and 7’2 with a 7’4 wingspan and shot blocking instincts is always to be valued. He also does a better job than most of keeping these blocked shots in bounds, which of course is guaranteed to induce Bill Russell references.
The shotblocking is certainly the crux of his game, which is to be valued. However, everything else has significant concerns. Offensively, Bachysnki creates little in the post, rebounds only mediocrely for a man with a constant size advantage (not having the foot speed to rebound out of his area, and without the strength to always hold position), and is slower trying to move laterally than when running in a straight line. A lot of his weaknesses can be attributed to his toughness, or lack of it – too easily stripped in the post, and too easily outmuscled for a positioning, Bachysnki has to rely on his length to overcome his lack of strength. There’s nothing outside of the paint area, almost no jumpshot (although a greatly improved free throw stroke suggests it is still a possibility down the road), and no handle.
That said, Bachysnki is not just a one trick shotblocker of a pony. He works hard to get position, can catch and finish down in the paint, and has developed his footwork and awareness to the point that he has a calmer, more experienced head on him down there. He can throw a slight fake and step under, reposition himself and take his time in reading the defender, finishing with short hook shots with both hands. Indeed, the length often can overcome the strength, and Bachynski’s touch, especially with his left hand, is pretty soft.
However, there are still flaws with Bachysnki’s offensive game. He has shown little in the way of a passing game, be it from the post facing outwards or the midrange looking in, still lacks for creativity and counter moves, and despite his height can still struggle to finish over or through size when challenged at the rim. This, as can most things in his game, can come back to his strength and his toughness, which are very valid and possibly terminal questions from an NBA point of view. Bachynski just isn’t that strong, powerful or fast, and for all his improvement, likely isn’t skilled enough to make up for these things.
Even in the new era NBA, a 7’2 centre is valuable, particularly one with sufficient mobility to keep up with the faster game. Bachynski brings the height and shotblocking found so surprisingly rarely on this list, and even if he is not overly effective in the post, he recognises it as the place to be. This counts for something on the court, and it also counts for something in the sentimental minds of the folks whose job it is to make decisions as to who takes those courts. It would be towards the end of the draft, of course, yet Bachynski has shown enough to merit a late second round flier – if he can improve some combination of his strength, jump shot, post play, toughness and rebounding instincts, he could perhaps stick in the NBA for a little while.
On the flip side, even if you felt he could develop into an NBA player, would an underdeveloped 25 year old ever need drafting? If he’s only a late second round pick calibre talent, couldn’t you use that pick on a long term project and then just sign him afterwards?
|Aaric Murray hugging an invisible fat person.
, Texas Southern, Senior, 6’10 245lbs
2013/14 stats: 32.0 mpg, 21.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg, 1.2 apg, 0.9 spg, 2.6 fpg, 2.6 TOpg, 49.1% FG, 74.1% FT, 33.7% 3PT
The oft-travelled Murray wants badly to be a jumpshooter, a stretch five, a new age stretch big. He has wanted this at all three schools he attended, and played accordingly. He burned his way out of two of them due to off-court issues, but ultimately, that is not his biggest problem. Most people have a past. It is the future that we ought be concerned with.
The single biggest knock on Murray is effort, Put simply, there just isn’t enough. He loafs on the glass – as evidenced by his rebounding numbers, so unnecessarily mediocre from one so physically superior at his level – and he can only really be seen to be working hard when trying to get himself a touch on offense (and looking dejected if he doesn’t get one). Murray won the SWAC Defensive Player of the Year due to his size and shot blocking instincts combination that was unrivalled in the conference, not because he was an incredible or even especially interested defensive player. Murray does not consistently box out, play hard, deny the drive, move his feet enough, rotates quickly, get low enough, or push back onto those fighting him for rebounding or screening position. Essentially, he seems to be interested only in plays that seem to result in statistics. This includes allowing a driver to go past so that he can go for the blocked shot, rather than contest straight up and being content with merely making the shot more difficult. As ever, a shotblocker does not a good defender automatically make.
Offensively, Murray was obliged with a touch on almost every trip at Texas Southern. (Considering the great mismatch he was, why wouldn’t he be?) He has good touch around the basket, a quality finisher against smaller opponents who works hard to get position moreso than he works at any part of the game. Defenders are forced to foul Murray because they cannot contain them (Murray averages nine free throw attempts a game), and even when the double and triple teams came, Murray could finish through them or get to the line, from where he is a good shooter. Murray is a powerful player at times and a finesse player at times, a real mismatch who can run the court, finish with power and athleticism, play the pick and pop, drive the ball to the basket with both hands and drop a nice right handed hook shot. Offensively, with his height, speed and decent athleticism, there is a lot to like.
There are of course problems with his offensive game – most notably, neither his jumpshot nor his handle (responsible for many of his turnovers) are as tight and refined as he treats them as being. He could also stand to gain more strength, do more screening off the ball when not getting a touch (and actually make contact with the defender on those he does set), and not look to score with every touch, something he will have to do as the standard of competition and of his teammates improve. Nevertheless, this season, Murray at least demonstrated a willingness to get inside regularly and dominate the paint, reducing if not eradicating the ambitious jumpshot attempts that still somewhat define him.
If Murray still wants to be a jumpshooter, that’s fine. But he’ll need to get better at them. And his offensive skills do not absolve him of his defensive responsibilities inside the paint. The amount of redemption stories written about him are heartwarming, and may well be true of his knack for off-court dramas, but on the court, Murray must show the same renewed commitment we are told he does off it.
Turning 25 this summer, now is the time. Last year was really the time, but now will do. To be a professional, he’ll have to act like it.
|Jordan Heath is a jumpshooting big man.
, Canisius, Senior, 6’10 245lbs
2013/14 stats: 27.6 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 0.9 apg, 1.0 spg, 3.1 fpg, 1.0 TOpg, 53.4% FG, 48.9% FT, 41.3% 3PT
Similar to the above Aaric Murray, Canisius’s Jordan Heath is also a 6’10 shotblocker and shooter. Differing from the above Aaric Murray, Canisius’s Jordan Heath is a very good shooter. With almost half of his field goal attempts coming from three point range, Heath hits over 40% of his attempts, a mighty reassuring sign for any potential stretch big. He shoots a high volume and hits a high volume – indeed, the three point jumpshot has been the main part of Heath’s offensive game.
Coach Jim Baron wishes it hadn’t been. Heath was asked to post up more, not to float about the mid range and perimeter, because that’s what history dictates your biggest guy is just supposed to do. Heath occasionally would do so and demonstrate decent touch with his right hand, but with little post footwork, no strong left handed counter moves or the core strength to gain and keep position on the block, it is not something he will ever be a natural at. No, instead, Heath is a stretch big, and an effective one. He spots up, plays the pick and pop, runs the court, and can drive from the arc to the rim if presented with an open opportunity to do so. And he does it all efficiently, the bizarrely poor free throw stroke offset by very comfortably low turnover numbers.
Defensively, the stocks numbers are good, but don’t tell the entire story. Heath, put succinctly, is a little soft. His height, length, reasonable athleticism and proclivity for help defense are the source of the numbers and of his effectiveness, but a lack of toughness hampers the rest of his game. Heath has been a deterrent in the paint at the level he has been playing at, a level where 6’10 shotblockers are in short supply and players often avoid going near him, yet he is also a noticeably poor rebounder who does not box out enough. Heath needs to play bigger, tougher and harder, cutting down on the foul rates caused by unhelpful grabs and bumps, knowing when to stay straight and toughening up so as to not be so easy to push off the block. He recovers well when beaten and contests most shots, but also overhelps (perhaps so as to avoid contact) and sometimes rotates completely the wrong way. Heath’s length and effort make for an occasionally disruptive defensive presence, but go at him and he is less useful.
Heath, then, needs to play in a certain way to be successful, a certain way that may offend old schoolers and generally stubborn people alike. His efficiency and mismatch potential should overcome the significant flaws in his game, but coaches tend not to look at things like that. Here’s hoping for a more progressive sort.
|This probably went in.
, Gonzaga, Senior, 6’9 243lbs
2013/14 stats: 27.0 mpg, 14.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 1.1 apg, 0.4 spg, 2.4 fpg, 1.6 TOpg, 57.1% FG, 82.5% FT, 31.6% 3PT
He’s not the highest scorer on it, but Dower is possibly the smoothest offensive player on this list. He is a finisher, pretty much only a finisher, and yet such a good finisher that this is no pejorative. Every mid-range jumper he takes – and there’s a lot of them – feels like it’s going in. He seals and finishes in the post, he drops a nice lefty hook, and, given smart guards and a system which can get him the ball in good positions to score, he finishes remarkably well. Leave him uncontested and he’ll make the shot. Contest him and he’ll probably make it anyway. Foul him, and he’s one of the best foul shooting bigs in the game. Even if he only scores when on the court – he is a player with poor rebounding instincts, and little intent to do anything about them – Dower scores so efficiently and consistently that he’s worth it anyway. He can drive from the mid range and in, loves a baseline jumper, shotfakes well, and is a consistent half court option, something so few big men are.
He is however a limited scorer, and it need not be the case. On a Gonzaga team that runs more pick and roll plays than most college teams, Dower still never got especially good at his end of the play, despite five years of being in a system built around it. With his fluid if not explosive athleticism, combined with his good strength (as an upperclassman, Dower refined his unconditioned body and replaced fat with muscle), you would think Dower would have gotten quite good at the pick and roll game, or at least been more heavily featured as a pick and pop player taking advantage of his quality jumpshot. It never really happened, however. Nor did developing a right hand or fully adding three point range. And while Dower’s strength and 7 foot wingspan translate to some post finishing at the NBA level – as well as his ability to take contact and finish through it, which he started poor at but certainly improved upon – he nevertheless is a rather basic finisher down there. He’s going left, then he’s going left again, and if you take the away the left hand, there’s little chance of him coming back right or passing back out, so that’s all you need to do.
Furthermore, for all the positives that come from his affability and easy going nature, Dower is a weak defensive player and a normally poor rebounder who tops out at mediocre. Dower doesn’t attack the glass, nor seem interested in it, nor have a great instinct for reading the ball off the rim, and nor does he play tough enough in his post defense. Not a rim protector and a mostly below the rim player, Dower projects poorly as a defender at any level, especially the NBA one, where only incredible toughness and effort can counter the size disadvantage. Sam Dower has never demonstrated those things.
Sam Dower has the style of Sam Perkins, has the body type of Sam Perkins, and has the coolness of Sam Perkins. He even plays like Sam Perkins, especially so if he can bring back that straight away three pointer he briefly flashed as a freshman before locking away. I wish I could say Sam Dower would be the next Sam Perkins, and I wish I could say that he will make the NBA, that he could bring his smooth and effortless scoring game to the highest levels, and go on to have the career of Sam Perkins. Sam Perkins, however, was simply a lot better. So I can’t say that about Dower. He’s more likely to be the next Ricardo Marsh. But at 6’9 with those scoring instincts, Dower should have a fine career around the globe, just as Marsh has. And that’s fine.
|Man with basketball watches on as Talib Zanna and Rakeem Christmas visit Jack Rabbit Slims.
, Pittsburgh, Senior, 6’9 230lbs
2013/14 stats 30.3 mpg, 13.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 0.5 apg, 0.6 spg, 2.6 fpg, 1.5 TOpg, 58.6% FG, 66.7% FT
A bit short for the position, Zanna has a long wingspan and plenty of upper body strength, big enough to play the post position that his skill set is all about. His well toned frame certainly looks the part. And he plays a pretty old school centre’s game.
Zanna improved incrementally but consistently over his four seasons, as attested to by his minutes per game and PER. He has rounded into a competent if unspectacular player on both ends of the court, with some power and explosion, a good role player with limitations he understands and plays within. Tough and athletic, Zanna’s powerful frame is enticing, and he has added a modicum of ball skills to it over time.
Offensively, Zanna is not hugely skilled, somewhat limited to a limited right handed hook shot and only about 10 feet of slightly elbowy baseline jumpshot range. He does not create offense, for himself nor anyone else on his team – rather, Zanna relies on his activity and athleticism moreso than his skill, a finisher and opportunity scorer to some decent effectiveness. Zanna scores efficient and on very low usage, finding opportunties to finish powerfully by running the court, crashing the offensive glass extremely well and diving to open spots. He does not have the best hands, almost never passes the ball, turns it over rather a lot for someone doing so little of that, and gets few touches offensively, but he is efficient with those he gets, using a shot fake to open up a short drive, finishing with both hands, and occasionally being a pick and roll threat. None of it is especially fluid or eye catching, but it is effective and efficient, all any role player needs. If all else fails in the halfcourt, Zanna will take it wildly at a shotblocker and split a pair of free throws. Not prudent, maybe, but present.
Zanna plays equally hard defensively, to equally mixed effect. His defensive rebounding is not as good as his offensive rebounding, somewhat bizarrely considering his long arms and good effort level on the glass, and he is not much of a rim protector despite his physical tools. Nevertheless, Zanna has reined in his foul rates over the years, mostly by trying not to be a rim protector. He stays down well and now contests without fouling much more frequently.
It will forever hinder Zanna that he is slightly smaller than optimum for the highest levels of basketball. A lack of range and variety in his offense does not help. But Zanna has developed into a quality role player on both ends of the court. He may stand out at no one thing, but not are there any glaring weaknesses. That plus athleticism equals money, and Zanna should do well for himself in Europe.
|“I’m mad as hell AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE!”
, Marquette, Senior, 6’8 290lbs
2013/14 stats: 26.6 mpg, 14.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 1.3 apg, 0.3 spg, 2.0 fpg, 1.1 TOpg, 52.8% FG, 78.1% FT
Gardner has battled weight and conditioning issues in his entire time with the Golden Eagles. He is every bit the 290lbs he is listed as. Unfortunately, he is also every bit of the 6’8.
Being this zaftig has obvious benefits, particularly on offense. Gardner regularly gets into the paint and finishes with relative ease, a big scorer per minute and an extremely efficient one. With one of the best free throw strokes seen in a big man, Gardner will clatter into the opposing big man and take the contact, strong enough and with deft enough of touch to finish through the hit with either hand. He does so without committing too many turnovers, and uses his feet for step-unders and the like, demostrating good understandings of post finishing and offensive awareness. To complement these things, Gardner also shoots well from mid-range, an important weapon against the long and athletic defenders who can otherwise smother him at the rim. (Davante, it must be noted, does not jump.)
The size, of course, can be a defensive detriment. Gardner’s rebounding rate is quite poor as he hasn’t the mobility to attack the glass outside of his area, and a lot of the time, his defense involves standing in the paint with his hands up, as he has not the length or leap to protect the rim. He is not a complete stiff and does a better than may be expected job of defending the perimeter on switches, yet it is still something the opposition is always going to want to make him do. Gardner will always struggle to stay in front, often give up a foul in the process, and (perhaps most importantly) it tires him out.
As an upper classman, Gardner did in fact rein in these fouls and improved his stamina somewhat, to the point he is now (some inconsistency notwithstanding) a fairly reliable offensive presence. He can score with relative ease around the basket and kick it out from there to shooters, and while he cannot do much to stop the opponent doing the same, Gardner will score and better an offense wherever he chooses to play. That is all you need to make money. He will likely, however, forever be exposable defensively.
|A vexed Chad Posthumus.
, Morehead State, Senior, 6’11 265lbs
2013/14 stats: 25.5 mpg, 9.6 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 0.2 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 3.0 fpg, 1.9 TOpg, 50.7% FG, 60.2% FT
As is obvious from the numbers, Posthumus is a rebounding specialist. As if to reinforce this, here’s a quote from his coach, Sean Woods:
“Nothing comes natural to him from a scoring standpoint. The only thing that comes natural is he can go get the basketball.”
This is not really what you want to hear about a 23 year old senior, and yet that quote is from a mere few months ago. It speaks to an honest truth – outside of his size and rebounding, everything else about Posthumus’s play is underdeveloped.
Nevertheless, Posthumus’s size and rebounding are legitimate. Standing at a well built as-near-as-is 7 foot tall, with a 7’3 wingspan, Posthumus looks every bit the part of the NBA centre. His 10.7 rebounds per game tied for seventh in the country with Ryan Watkins of Boise State (see below), and his 4.1 offensive rebounds per game were third behind only Watkins and Jarnell Stokes. Posthumus put up this totals in only 25.5 minutes per contest – his 16.6 rebounds per 40 minutes was second in the country behind only Ryan Canty of Fordham (who averaged 3.0 points and 6.2 rebounds in 15 minutes a game), and was third behind only Canty and Hofstra’s Stephen Nwaukoni in rebounds per 40 minutes when pace adjusted. You can quite comfortably say, then, that Posthumus was the best rebounder in the country. And with his size and frame that stacks up to any league in the world, this will likely stay true where he goes as a pro.
Posthumus plays hard and is a tireless worker on the glass. With a big wide frame, Posthumus is always fighting for rebounding positioning, and boxing out persistently if not always legally. This of course leads to high foul rates and a jarring numbers of turnovers for one so unskilled offensively (recording 43 of them in the first 16 games of this season) – Posthumus is always active, which means he is always fouling, committing over the back fouls, shoving, reaching in where he shouldn’t be and hitting all shooters and drivers (not always particularly impactfully either). Nevertheless, the activity, size and strength are what make him the rebounder he is. It is a mostly effective means of play, if not for very long. Fouling is a virtue, up to a point.
However, everything outside of the rebounding and fouling is to be questioned. Recording 7 assists alongside 66 turnovers all season is a pretty lamentable start to this list of concerns, but it goes much further than that. Much as he calls for the ball in the post, Posthumus is a very limited offensive player, finishing in the paint when he is uncontested or has a significant size advantage but a creator of very little offense in the post, and absolutely none outside of it. Posthumus is an efficient finisher, but it is not on difficult shots. There is no jumpshot, a poor free throw stroke (the form isn’t actually that bad, save for a little snatching motion, yet it just does not go in), and he leaves the paint only to screen. Posthumus has his uses on offensively as a screener, as a target, as a collector of fouls on the defense and (mostly) as an offensive rebounder, but his individual scoring ability is very limited, and his passing game even more so. He also struggles badly with a double team, although leaving the Ohio Valley Conference is probably putting an end to his double teaming days anyway.
Defensively, Posthumus’s size, strength and competitiveness are once again a virtue. He picks up some blocks, both on his man and on help defense (although he can sometimes be found forgoing challenging a shot in favour of getting rebounding position earlier), and as ever he wins possessions for his team. Here, though, his lack of speed is a bigger concern. Slow to rotate, Posthumus picks up fouls by putting his paws on players rather than beating them to the spot, does not like to come out to defend the perimeter, and is not effective when he does. The work rate is there, but the foot speed is not, and the instincts are not much more advanced than the offensive ones.
On the few occasions he played against better quality opposition, Posthumus has had mixed results. Against the aforementioned Stokes, Posthumus fouled out in 26 minutes with only 4 points and 5 rebounds, and despite a 21 point 18 rebound performance against a UCLA team with good size and a steady 12/12 against Matt Stainbrook and Xavier, three sub-par outings in a year against a small but disciplined Belmont team that should have had no matchup for him attest to how Posthumus’s size is his only major asset right now. He dominated smaller competition, putting up 20 points in 20 rebounds against NAIA school Asbury, yet dropped off notably in conference play.
Posthumus, then, remains highly untested and unproven, and will have to work his way up through the professional ranks, adding to his game as he goes. He looks like Aaron Gray with the eye test, and plays like Franko Kastropil, but he might have to settle for less than both unless his skill level makes noteworthy improvements. The size, the rebounding, the recognition of his limitations and the tireless work ethic are nice. Now he needs more.
|Spontaneous Superman impression.
, Georgia Tech, Senior, 6’11 275lbs
2013/14 stats: 30.8mpg, 10.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 1.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 2.5 fpg, 1.5 TOpg, 57.8% FG, 61.6% FT
Miller has an intriguing mix of size and finesse. Plenty big enough for the centre spot and with a decent wingspan, Miller is a disciplined player who plays within his limits, who plays smart and efficiently, and who contributes on both ends of the court.
On the offensive end, Miller makes useful work of a turnaround jumpshot on which he has a deft touch despite fading heavily sideways. He shoots from the mid range and no further, and inexplicably has a poor free throw stroke that does not readily reconcile with this, yet the mid-range jumpshot is nice and not easily found in one so big. Miller is a finisher, not a creator – he needs everything setting up for him, be it a J or a shot from the paint, as he has little handle and post-up creativity. Nonetheless, Miller can catch and finish down low with good hands and good touch, passes well from down there, utilises a little spin move to get closer, and he is also more than willing to run the court.
Decently athletic, Miller is a rim protector with a nice leap and good timing, and also defends the perimeter well for one so big, demonstrating good footwork and not getting himself crossed up. He occasionally gives up on closeouts, yet he is for the most part a disciplined defender who anticipates well and competes, especially strong in man to man defense. He has not the most toned physique, carrying a little meat on the bones, but centres ought be allowed that when their job is to give and take contact. Miller’s lateral quickness does not match his leap and straight line speed, and he is a fairly poor rebounder for his size, but the rim protection makes up for a lot of this and is certainly the most important and impactful part of his defensive game.
Miller’s main problem is that he excels in no one facet of the game. Perhaps best as a shotblocker, he is nonetheless a mediocre rebounder, which offsets this ideal of post purist somewhat. The jumpshot is nice but not brilliant, and as mentioned above, his offense is opportunistic. Regardless of this, however, he has been a nice role player for Georgia Tech and he will go on to be a nice role player wherever he goes. Not everyone needs to star. Some just don’t work like that.
|Omar Oraby, scared of his own jumpshot.
, USC, Senior, 7’2 270lbs
2013/14 stats: 22.7 mpg, 8.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 0.4 apg, 0.2 spg, 3.3 fpg, 1.5 TOpg, 57.7% FG, 65.8% FT
The tallest player on the list, Oraby is also one of the best shotblockers, and also one of the biggest projects.
Self-evidently rather massive, Oraby sticks to the classic big man template of being a rim protector, rebounder and shotblocker. Slow laterally and with very little leap, Oraby nonetheless stands in the paint and protects the rim just by being in the way of it. As slow as he is, and as difficult as it is for him to get from one place to another – the foul rates are high and are born out of how exposable his lack of mobility is – Oraby is a wall if he happens to be in the right place, and he will contest everything he can on the interior. On the down side, Oraby entirely hangs back in the paint, not bothering to close out on the perimeter knowing that he cannot get there anyway, and being of more use hanging back for the rebound. In ball screen action, then, he is a liability. And should he come out to contest, just run into his hip and he’ll get called for the foul.
Oraby benefitted from USC being as poor as they were by getting an increased level of usage on the offensive end. Usage, though, is not effectiveness. Employed as a screener and finisher, Oraby excelled at neither, nor indeed in any facet of the offensive end. Without a strong frame, Oraby struggles to seal off his man and finish on the interior – he can be pushed off of position on the inside, and although he is always a target for a pass over the top of the defense, he brings the ball down too often and is too easily stripped. He also rarely creates in the post, limited to a fairly rudimentary right handed hook shot off two bounces, looking panicked and rushed in post-up situations and with no counter moves or ability to fight through the contact. Endlessly screening when away from the basket, Oraby does not drive, shoot from range, roll to the basket or indeed handle the ball at all – a poor passer and poor shooter, he is a turnover threat when under any sort of pressure. He scored the points that he did because someone from USC had to try, and Oraby, as the one with the height, was the option. He will make a few shots from around the basket should he get an open look, and very occasionally a jumpshot with reasonable enough form, yet there is a lot of offensive work still to do.
Nevertheless, 7’2 is 7’2. And 7’2 is a defensive deterrent even without much in the way of core strength. Oraby will turn 23 before the start of next season and still looks as though so much of the game is new to him, yet the height is a valuable skill. As long as they don’t mind the frustrations that come with his fouls, his turnovers, and his constantly bringing the ball down, someone has themselves a project to work with. Which is good, in a way.
|Baye can’t catch, but he makes it difficult for the other guy to catch, too.
, Syracuse, Senior, 6’10 220lbs
2013/14 stats: 15.5mpg, 1.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 0.3 apg, 0.4 spg, 2.4 fpg, 0.8 TOpg, 50.0% FG, 55.6% FT
The startled looking man above is Baye Moussa-Keita, and he averaged 1.8 points in only 15.5 minutes per game. It is self-evident then that he contributes nothing offensively. And it is really is pretty much nothing. BMK cannot create in the post, finish in the post, drive at all, shoot, get to the foul line, score from there even when he does, pass with any aplomb or even catch the ball in traffic – even one handed dunks can be a fraught moment. What little touches he does get are off of offensive rebounds, and even at point blank range, he will often times still pass the ball back out. It is frustrating, especially the bad catching, as his physical profile would suggest he could be an effective pick and roll scorer in the Boniface N’Dong style were he actually able to catch the ball when it was thrown at him. Alas, he is not, and thus Keita’s sole offensive purpose is to offensively rebound.
However, Keita is very good at that, grabbing more offensive rebounds than he does defensive ones. Rail thin but athletic, with very long and very thin arms, Keita is active on the glass and can get above defenders to tip the ball and keep it alive. This does not work as well on the defensive glass, where his lack of strength sees him pushed out of position, but it does at least give him a purpose offensively. And while the lack of strength is a problem on both the defensive glass and man to man post defenders, Keita is nevertheless a pest in the middle of the zone, who anticipates and reads well, and uses those same long thin arms to disturb anyone in his way. He is one of the most useful 1.5 points per game players around.
Baye Moussa-Keita never really developed at Syracuse. He arrived as a rail thin raw defensive pest who had big holes in his skillset and made many frustrating errors, and he left four years later as the same player with maybe slightly fewer errors. Nevertheless, being so long, mobile and disruptive is a skill that will always be at a premium. Perhaps he could run some pick and roll on a team that actually employs it into their playbook. And even if Keita was only ever a limited minutes role player at Syracuse, he can still be a limited minutes role player as a professional, too. It is still a tough role to come by.
|Fundamental part of rebounding – looking the right way. Poor technique, Tom Herzog.
, Kansas, Senior, 6’9 260lbs
2013/14 stats: 13.5 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 0.3 apg, 0.3 spg, 2.8 fpg, 0.7 TOpg, 69.2% FG, 60.0% FT
Slightly undersized height wise for the position, Black has added a ton of muscle to his frame and has a 7’3 wingspan, looking very much like the post player that he is. He is however more of a physical specimen than overly skilled player.
In his three years at Memphis, Black was frustratingly inconsistent in both results and effort, and frustratingly foul prone. The latter one never changed – Black fouls EVERYBODY, through clattering into the defender wildly on the offensive end, hitting every driver who comes his way on defense, and shoving everybody who seeks to get position on him at any time. Nevertheless, he improved at the first two things in his time at Kansas, and became an effective backup off the bench. He was no replacement for Embiid, obviously, yet he would have an impact on the game in his limited minutes and use his physicality on both ends.
Black’s exceedingly efficient offensive game comes from his power, explosion and athleticism. He is a finisher not a creator, but he’s a rugged one who will take it at anyone, clumsy or not, and is strong enough to go through them. Rarely asked to create, Black nevertheless has the motor and position awareness to get open off the ball, as well as the tenacity to fight for position. He will also run the court well for his size, always pursuing the ball if not always receiving it, and has improved his footwork to finish in the post with reverses and step throughs.
On both ends, though, Black’s is a rather limited game. Offensively, Black does not handle, take any shot outside of about two feet, pass, drive, defend the perimeter or do much outside of what is availed to him by his physical tools. He is very rarely asked to create in the post and is very predictable when heh does – it is not team needs that restrict him to being a finisher rather than his own limitations. Defensively, he also is still prone to occasionally switching off on the glass and the interior defense, albeit less so than he was. Black’s physicality, strength and athleticism can be disruptive presences inside the paint, a decent rebounder and effective man to man defender when plugged in, a wall you don’t want to run into if not the best help side rim protector. But the fouls offset it a bit.
Despite all of the above, Black might go into football instead of basketball. Couldn’t blame him if he did. Yet if he stays with the roundball game, there’s money to be made.
|Has anyone ever researched why beards are so often ginger, even when head hair isn’t? As a fellow sufferer, I am intrigued.
, Notre Dame, Senior, 6’11 255lbs
2013/14 stats: 28.6 mpg, 13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 0.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 2.8 fpg, 2.6 TOpg, 50.6% FG, 68.9% FT
Sherman transferred to Notre Dame from Michigan State, where he had been barely used and where his offensive responsibilities were as a screener and garbage man, charged with the not-too-difficult task of setting a pick and then getting out of the way. At Notre Dame, he inherited a much greater share of the offensive responsibility, particularly in his senior season on a very depleted Fighting Irish lineup that needed all the scoring help it could get. Because of the team’s lack of scoring options, the Shermanator was both often fed in the post and routinely doubled. He was doubled partly because of the team’s overall inability to punish them, but also because Sherman struggles extremely badly with double teams.
The reason his turnover numbers are so high is precisely because, if Sherman is doubled, he struggles badly to pass the ball back out, and nor does he have the strength and/or explosiveness to go through it. His recognition to shoot only when he has a good look and is suitably open is coincident with, but certainly not coincidental to, an inability to finish through contact and when challenged by long, strong defenders. Sherman is reasonably mobile and has good post footwork, enough to develop into a decent post-up option in one on one coverage – whilst being a below-the-rim player that barely jumps, Sherman has decent touch around the basket with his strong hand and uses fakes well, a right handed short hook shot combined with a solid enough free throw stroke and an ability to hit cutters when not drawing too much defensive attention. But when smothered, he is so readily stripped that he becomes a liability. It seems odd for such an average offensive option to be such a defensive focal point, but the chances of securing a turnover when doing so are so raised that the entire ACC all feasted on it.
Away from the basket, Sherman uses his Spartans screening training to occasionally play some pick and roll, and has a mid-range jumpshot if left alone. He could have stood to attend a little more of that screen training, however, as he has a tendency to set moving ones. Sherman’s rebounding rate picked up as a senior, although this is perhaps partly attributable to the team’s overall rebounding problems. Defensively, he moves his feet and rotates, but mostly plays defense with his hands in the air – without the mobility to change direction, rebound outside of his area, step out well or the leap ability to protect the rim, nor the strength to muscle anyone around on the interior, Sherman relies upon positioning and anticipation more than physical tools on the defensive end just as he does on offense, and thus can be found wanting.
While Sherman has clearly been the beneficiary of an expanded role and a change of scenery, the same enhanced opportunities exposed his limitations. There is money to be made somewhere, and progress has been made, but Sherman still has a ways to go.
|Small eyes may explain passing vision.
, Rutgers, Senior, 6’9 250lbs
2013/14 stats: 22.8 mpg, 7.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 0.7 apg, 0.6 spg, 3.7 fpg, 1.8 TOpg, 48.1% FG, 53.2% FT
Judge’s foul rates are ridiculously high, especially for a fifth year senior. If it wasn’t for the presence of Richard Amardi on the upcoming power forwards list, they would be almost unrivalled by an otherwise capable upper classman. It is, unfortunately, the backbone of his game. And it makes him somewhat unreliable.
The fouls Judge picks up are frustrating. They are just not frustrating because they affect his ability to stay on the court, but they are also frustrating in their nature. You can excuse the ones that come from the strong and physical Judge trying his best to be assertive in the paint, but the touch fouls, the reach-ins, the fouling jumpshooters, the moving screens and the shoves in the back persist. He is careless and ill-disciplined, traits that also manifest themselves in other facets of his game.
Judge’s athleticism and length make him a good weak side shotblocker and rebounder by default. He competes consistently, hustles, and can catch and finish on the interior, albeit scoring more through athleticism and physical tools than his skill. Despite being a dreadful free throw shooter, Judge can take and make the occasional foul line jumpshot, and Rutgers ran some plays that called for him to hit cutters from the foul line, at which he was reasonably capable. Judge moves off the ball enough to get open, and can drop a short righty hook in the paint given the opportunity.
But what he doesn’t do is play smart. And it is not just the fouls – the aforementioned carelessness and lack of discipline come to the fore in all facets. Judge still to this day sometimes looks lost on the court. His instincts are poor, his reads poorer. He has the physical tools and the frame for the game, and his skill level has developed a bit, yet everything he does is riddled with the potential for disaster because he just doesn’t make the best reads. And this part has not gone the way of the skills.
Ultimately, despite five years and two schools, Judge never really developed. He does things which cannot be taught, yet did not seem to learn those that can, and he continues to make the same mistakes he always did. No one ever questioned his commitment – I think – yet nothing seems to come naturally to him. Nevertheless, in a low responsibility, low usage, low minutes role where his foul problems are not so important, Judge has something to contribute on the interior. But the recipient team will need patience.
, Manhattan, Senior, 6’7 230lbs
2013/14 stats: 23.9 mpg, 10.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.6 bpg, 0.7 apg, 0.7 spg, 3.1 fpg, 1.4 TOpg, 55.2% FG, 51.4% FT
Possibly my favourite player on this list, Brown ranked third in the nation in blocked shots last year, behind only Jordan Bachynski (4.1 bpg) and Khem Birch (3.8 bpg), both of whom played considerably more minutes. Per 40 minutes, he led the nation at 6.1 per 40, slightly ahead of UC Irvine’s Mamadou N’Diaye at 6.0. And yet Brown, at 6’7, is almost a foot shorter than the 7’6 N’Diaye. It is pretty immense. And so is Brown.
Brown’s build is extremely unique. With the height of a small forward, Brown nevertheless has a wide frame, a bit of fat, and plenty of muscle. He is huge, a monster of a man, and yet he is also a good athlete and leaper. He would be small for a power forward, and is especially small for a centre, but with the way he plays, it is hard to call him anything else. Brown can be slightly flat footed at times, his lateral quickness not equalling his vertical leap, but he is tough, is aggressive, competes, contests, and fears no one. Conversely, opponents fear him.
A multiple time Defensive Player of the Year award in his conference, Brown’s main virtue are his weak side rotations, which are timely, well timed, and incessant. In the post he can be shot over, and on the perimeter he can be beaten rather easily, yet Brown’s determined style of play sees him always compete and try to recover when this happens. The same story is true of his rebounding – taller players can grab boards over him, and Brown could stand to remember to box out every trip (his offensive rebounding rate is far better than his defensive one), yet his aggressive pursuit of the ball is more aggressive than everyone else’s aggressive pursuit of the ball. And with that upper body strength, he can rip away boards he didn’t get to first.
Offensively, Brown is a bit more limited. He will occasionally play the pick and roll, he will occasionally drive across the lane to a right handed hook, he will occasionally sell a fake to create a bit of space, and he will occasionally spin baseline and finish with a reverse. But it is opportunistic scoring rather than consistent threats. Brown makes no shot outside of five feet, is one of the worst foul shooters going, cannot drive the ball, and has few post moves other than the obvious straight-up-and-finish (which in fairness he does with both hands).
What he does at least do is attack defenders, take contact, throw down powerfully off of set-up passes by team mates, and, with his explosive finishing ability, draw defensive attention and get to the line. If he can develop his pick and roll game and foul stroke to the point that he can punish those who hack him, he could be an effective offensive player in the Brandon Hunter mold.
Hunter never had Brown’s shot block knack, though. Few do. And being a rim protector of this calibre is a valuable commodity, no matter how tall he isn’t.
, Morgan State, Senior, 7’2 260lbs
2013/14 stats: 28.5 mpg, 15.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 bpg, 0.9 apg, 0.5 spg, 3.0 fpg, 1.5 TOpg, 54.9% FG, 66.5% FT
Amongst the leaders in the nation in blocks, and one of the tallest players in the nation, Chiles looks enticing enough on paper. Dig a bit deeper, though, and there are plenty of questions.
The most noticeable question is his rebounding. Chiles’s 6.5 boards per game is only second on the team, behind the 6’8 per game of 6’5 Anthony Hubbard, who also plays 28.5 minutes per game – Chiles rebounds the same per 40 minutes (9.2) as 6’6 Cedric Blossom (9.1), and is only a fraction ahead of 6’9 Shaquille Duncan, the most ideally name big man in basketball history. This is also on a high tempo team – in rebounds per game per 40 minutes pace adjusted, Chiles ranks a lowly 333rd. For all his height, Chiles does not do enough work on the glass.
The biggest problem here is his lack of strength. Chiles is a decent athlete and stiflingly long, but he is thin and slender, far too easy to strip the ball from and move off the spot. He is pushed out the way too easily and cannot push back – moreover, he does not compete enough on the boards. Indeed, in all aspects of his game, Chiles’s effort can be found wanting. He can loaf over halfcourt, does not box out hard or consistently, is extremely reluctant to come out and defend the perimeter, does not close out hard, and can be beaten off the dribble from there even when sagging right off. He ballwatches, reaches lazily, leaves his feet too readily, doesn’t move them fast enough, doesn’t do his work early enough, and fatigues rather easily. Much as Chiles has improved considerably over his four seasons, these concerns remain.
What Chiles does have is two key skills – the ability to protect the rim on help defense, and an unblockable lefty hook shot. This is his weapon every trip down. Through his height alone, he is a target down low, someone the team can always throw the ball over the top to, even if he hasn’t the strength to easily seal off his man or the awareness to create the best angle for an entry pass. Chiles is a bit of a one trick pony down low with no obvious counter to the lefty hook, and little offense away from the basket, no handle or jumpshot and a poor free throw stroke on which he leans back unnecessarily. He doesn’t however really need many counters. However predictable it is, the lefty hook is an efficient weapon and one he can always get off. Chiles struggles when double teamed in the post, yet he has been hampered by being on a team with poor overall floor spacing and no true point guard. He nevertheless can hit a cutter and is a useful tool in a half court offense.
At 7’2 with long limbs, a defensive presence and a consistent offensive weapon, Chiles will draw interest and should play the game for many years. But as ever, shot blocks are not defense alone.
|One of these works as the other’s lookalike. Fact.
, Eastern Michigan, Senior, 7’0 233lbs
2013/14 stats: 25.8 mpg, 4.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 0.7 apg, 0.8 spg, 3.4 fpg, 1.6 TOpg, 48.4% FG, 67.4% FT
Riley left Syracuse, where he was getting little burn and didn’t stand to get much more in light of the recruitments of Fab Melo and Rakeem Christmas, to go all the way down to the Mid-American Conference. In the MAC, he still couldn’t score, couldn’t stop fouling, and couldn’t stand out. He is perhaps therefore an unlikely presence on what (if you’ve made it this far) has long since become a “players who may go on to play professionally rather than actual NBA draft candidates” list.
Nevertheless, Riley has two main skills that potentially make him a good role player at the higher levels, one offense and one defensive. The offensive skill is his passing game. A surprisingly good passer, especially considering his assist numbers above, Eastern Michigan often employed Riley in a high post and/or perimeter role whereby his job was to hand off to a driving wing man, or find cutters. He is effective at the latter, even back to his Syracuse days, and it gives him a purpose on the offensive end that is otherwise lacking. Riley can, on the few occasions he catches it down low, throw a good backdoor pass to a cutter as well. In this respect, while he merits few touches as a scoring threat, he opens up the playbook.
On the defensive end, Riley’s role is clearly that of a shotblocker. The back part of Eastern Michigan’s zone, Riley can be a wall around the basket, a quality rim protector with timing and instincts who also knows when to stay upright and not leave his feet who ranked amongst the best shotblockers in the country per 40 minutes. Adding to that some average rebounding numbers born out of his size advantage, and Riley meets the obligations any 7 footer has.
Everything else is lacking, however. And quite severely lacking in some cases. Riley has big concerns in all other areas of his game, due to both his body type and skillset.
As tall and long as he is, Riley is merely a decent athlete and not an explosive leaper. This would be fine if he was strong or played with energy, yet neither is true. Riley often loafs over halfcourt on offense, and although he is not called to do it much in the zone defense, he is slow to come out and recover when asked to defend the perimeter. He also is not strong or especially tough – his boxouts are ineffective, his attempts to bump off drivers are weak, and he loses rebounds that should otherwise be his. Indeed, Riley avoids contact on either end so much that he slips almost every screen. This makes for a supposed paint anchor who can be pushed out of position, outmuscled for rebounds, and called for touch fouls every time he ineffectively puts his little paws on someone. That’s not an anchor at all.
There is also a lack of offensive skill. Save for easy finishes off of other player’s creativity (lacking a real point guard, Eastern Michigan did not give Riley much help here) and an occasional short range J, Riley touched the ball only to pass it off. He has no shot creation abilities, and, in light of his lack of strength, is not even that good at sealing and finishing. Especially as he hasn’t the best hands for catching in traffic in the first place, nor the offensive assertiveness to seek position. Riley will rather stand around at times, which is entirely believable from a player who never developed, and whose numbers even regressed slightly as a senior.
Mix it in with an injury history, and you have yourself a role player at best. But then, when did the world of basketball ever stop needing 7 foot shot blocking role players? It didn’t. And thus while Riley has a lot to do, he has done enough to get his money somewhere.
|Haley’s wingspan measurement must account for the fact he has three arms.
, USC, Senior, 7’0 250lbs
2013/14 stats: 15.9 mpg, 3.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.6 bpg, 0.2 apg, 0.1 spg, 2.5 fpg, 0.4 TOpg, 60.0% FG, 42.9% FT
As much as USC struggled this year, they did have two seven footers between the aforementioned Omar Oraby and VCU transfer Haley. It was a limited duo, however, especially Haley, whose size is rather undermined by an asthma condition that limits his stamina to the point he operates in about four minute stretches.
In those four minute stretches, Haley’s job is to be big and get in the way. Slow to the point of being largely immobile, unathletic to the point of not even being that sure of a dunker, and with not even all that strong of a base, Haley is nonetheless a very big player whose job it is to get in the way. He is quite good at this, a willing (if not always entirely legal) screener and a player always willing to stop up in the lane to clog it with a little bit of a shotblocking presence to boot. Haley is an obstacle, which is something half of this could stand to emulate.
Haley is also, however, largely unskilled. With bad hands, no range, no passing vision and one of the worst free throw strokes around, Haley contributes little on the offensive end, and, due to inconsistent boxing out, is not even that good of a rebounder either. He keeps turnovers low, but mainly because he never touches it outside of the occasional pick and roll play. When asked to create in the post, Haley is generally an upcoming turnover. And there is no jumpshot range to speak of.
For a few minutes, then, you will get a defensive presence that ultimately isn’t as fearsome as it looks. And yet just like Riley above, this has value.
|Looks like a cross between Bill Cartwright and Horace Grant.
, Marquette, Senior, 6’11 275lbs
2013/14 stats: 17.9 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 0.2 apg, 0.1 spg, 2.0 fpg, 1.2 TOpg, 59.1% FG, 55.0% FT
Otule just completed his sixth season with Marquette, and easily his best. It was a much better season than the basic stats above suggest, too. In a centre tandem with the aforementioned Davante Gardner – the two were never destined to play together for any length of time – Otule would start halves to set a defensive tone before Gardner came in to carry the bench scoring. The duo combined to form a fine offense/defense pairing, the Golden Eagles able to turn to either depending on what the situation called for. And the duo are also pretty much complete opposites.
A rebounder, shotblocker and paint defender, Otule has battled injuries and overcome disabilities to become quite the defensive anchor. Said disability is his vision. Otule is blind in one eye and wears a prosthetic, and also has limited vision in the other. This inevitably hinders his game – sometimes, he just doesn’t see things. Otule struggles to both pass and catch the ball in part due to this, and the lack of depth perception also hinders his shot making talents. In addition to this, Otule has broken both feet and torn an ACL, the very reasons he has been at Marquette since the mid 1990’s. He was slow before, and none of this made him any faster.
Nevertheless, despite missing so much time over his six seasons, Otule still developed as a player. Arriving as a skinny, rather clueless project, Otule has grown much stronger, and improved his footwork and defensive awareness to become a solid post option on both ends. He is exclusively a post option – there is no speed, jumpshot beyond about 8 foot, handle or perimeter defense, leaving the paint only to screen. In the post, though, he has the improved footwork to go to a right handed hook shot, complemented by a very occasional short range jumpshot. Otule’s touch is thoroughly unsure and his catching and passing abilities all poor, hindered as ever by the eyes, yet it is hard to miss to from one foot, and he is tough to keep outside of that range.
Otule is also an improved defensive player, the end of the court on which he performs best. He is a tough and disciplined man to man post defender, who is unafraid of the contact, who boxes out well and often, and who readily steps in to take a charge. He is an effective post defender in limited minutes (the fouls rather condemn him to limited minutes), even stepping out fairly well for one so big. Otule steps up to fill the lane and has much improved his awareness as a help defender. The fouls and the lack of foot speed leave him exposable in certain matchups, yet for a few minutes at a time, Otule is a big hindrance to the opposition in the paint.
To add to that, Otule plays hard, and is fairly consistent. It is easier to be consistent when you only bring about four skills to the table and none of them involve much finesse, yet it is nevertheless a rare enough skill to be notable. Somewhere on this here planet, Otule will get his. It will only ever be in a limited role, and his career is likely on a timer due to the toll injuries have already taken, but Otule has a role to play, and he knows what it is. (It might even be as a jump ball specialist – Otule wins about 90% of the jump balls he is involved in. Fun fact.)
|Isaiah Austin, possibly yawning.
, Baylor, Sophomore, 7’1 225lbs
2013/14 stats: 28.0 mpg, 11.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.1 bpg, 1.4 apg, 0.4 spg, 2.4 fpg, 1.8 TOpg, 44.7% FG, 68.3% FT, 27.7% 3PT
Back to back blind players – like Otule above, Isaiah Austin is blind in one eye. It was a brave thing to admit before being drafted into the NBA (as Austin surely will be), yet seemingly he had little choice. And like Otule above, it inevitably impacts upon his game.
You would think, given that humans have two eyes to aid depth perception, that a blind player would not be a shooter. I am reminded of how the late Eddie Griffin completely lost his shot for a year or two, whereafter it was discovered he needed eye surgery. Nevertheless, Austin seems to want to be a shooter. This in spite of not being a very good one. His three point percentage above is down on his freshman season’s 32%, and is not on a limited number of attempts by any means. It makes for an inefficient player who can occasionally punish you with an unblockable jumpshot, but whom you are always very willing to let try.
The problem for Austin is that, if his eye prevents him from ever being a good shooter, his frame might prevent him from ever being a good post scorer. Austin is tall with long arms and good athleticism, but he is naturally thin and shies away from post play. He has a hook shot with both hands from down low, and the length to always get them off, but he’d simply rather not, preferring to be a jumpshooter as much as possible. To that end, Austin will all too often take a turnaround jumpshot from the post, rather than try to body his way closer to the rim or use his handle (which isi good for his height) to get to the basket and the line. Austin will occasionally utilise a drive to the righty hook or counter with the left, but there are too many turnaround jumpshots and rare is the day he will pass back out. He clearly wants to be a face-up scorer, and by this age players already know what feels the more natural to them, yet with a slow release, imperfect touch, a lack of strength and his eye problem, the skills do not match his desire.
Where Austin shines more is on the defensive side, particularly as his strength and frame have developed. He is a very impactful defender on the interior, with hugely long arms that just seem to get everywhere. His mobility combines with his terrific instincts and timing to make a monster of an interior defender, and as his strength develops, Austin is not as easy to power through as he once was either. Austin is less effective when defending the perimeter on switches, and switches off worryingly easily on the defensive glass, where he lapses and does not fight as hard as he needs to, yet his interior defense is his mainstay and his calling card.
Austin ought be reminded of this. It is going to be the better virtue for him going forward, moreso than his mismatch potential on offense. He has the potential to be a new-era stretch big, but the eye is going to make that almost impossible. And even if he does become Ryan Anderson or something on offense, he must never lose that defensive focus around the rim.
|Jordan Vandenberg is a must see, it seems.
, North Carolina State, Senior, 7’1 245lbs
2013/14 stats: 22.1 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 1.0 apg, 0.3 spg, 3.2 fpg, 0.6 TOpg, 68.0% FG, 52.2% FT
Vandenberg was a useful but frustrating presence in his five years with NC State, a tantalising prospect who never developed and who only ever offered glimpses of what he could be. Never all that dependable, Vandenberg barely played at all for the first four years of his Wolfpack career (including redshirting his true freshman season), and managing only 430 minutes across the four of them. The stats above are as good as it got. That said, as a senior, Vandenberg performed a role.
That role was a defensive one. 7’1, athletic and mobile, Vandenberg is at times a pest at the rim, an intimidating force for opposing guards to take the ball at. Although his man to man defense in the post is less effective given his lack of core strength and penchant for fouling, Vandenberg is springy and mobile, a deterrent around the rim and as a help defender.
Offensively, however, Vandenberg remains highly limited. Aside from a very occasional short lefty jumpshot, everything is taken from a range topping out at one foot, and normally off of the work of others. Vandenberg is not a post up creator at all, and indeed shies away from post play and contact in general. His uses offensively come from occasional offensive rebounds (something he is not actually all that good at), dunks from drop-off passes, the occasional pick-and-roll play, and lob passes. Vandenberg is extremely efficient from the field and keeps turnovers down, but only at the cost of normally being no threat at all on offense. He cannot handle, post, create, shoot with range, shoot from the line, take contact, or even pass that will. He is certainly willing to pass given that it beats taking contact, yet he is more of a willing passer than he is a capable one. His strengths lie on the defensive end, and even they are limited.
Vandenberg, then, remains a project. As an upperclassmen, he shed lots of weight and had some moments as a rebounder, shotblocker and deterrent, yet there remain big holes in the skillset. More worrying are the inconsistencies, injury history and foul rates, which remain like those of a freshman. (And so do the nature of the fouls – the bumping of cutters, the needless grabs, the moving screens, leaving his feet every time.)
It took a long time for Vandenberg to show anything, and when he did, he showed there was still a lot to do. Whoever takes him on is (or should be) taking on a long term commitment. Nevertheless, if he can continue the improvements he did at least start to make, whoever takes him on will be getting that rarest of beasts – an athletic 7 footer.
|“Guys and dooooolllllls……”
, UTEP, Senior, 6’11 210lbs
2013/14 stats: 28.6 mpg, 11.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 2.4 apg, 0.4 spg, 2.4 fpg, 2.3 TOpg, 57.5% FG, 67.3% FT
It took a while for John Bohannon to find his place at UTEP. Historically, he was a poor decision maker who didn’t always play as hard as he needed to, especially since his coach was Tim Floyd. As a senior, however, Bohannon pieced it together and became an effective two-way player.
A good athlete with wiry strength, Bohannon was at one point last season UTEP’s leader in assists, a testament to both his skill level (and, if we’re honest, their season-undermining lack of guard depth). He led them in blocks, rebounds and efficiency, whilst third in points, a rare shining light in a senior season full of turmoil, and perhaps a surprising one given the frustrations and inconsistencies earlier in his career. His length and lateral quickness help him stay in front of guards on switches or on perimeter orientated big men, one of the more agile big men on this list. The trade-off is of course being a bit thin and not having the frame to do much about this, which inevitably leads to him being pushed around at times. Nevertheless, Bohannon’s athleticism is often a mismatch against opposing centres, one he has learnt how to exploit.
Bohannon’s offense is based around the jumpshot, a mid range jumpshot with a decent release that is available to his team every time down. For some reason this is not mirrored in his free throw stroke, which is rather mediocre, yet for Bohannon to shoot the best part of 58% whilst being primarily a jumpshooter speaks to its effectiveness. He is a mismatch, face-up de facto five, much too slight to be a banger but with the fluidity to drive to the rim from the foul line area. Bohannon will also spot up from three if left open, although the 4-25 he shot in his career from there speaks to his lack of consistency from that range, for which he seems to lack the legs. When nearer the perimeter, Bohannon is a good face-up passer that can hit a cutter. And when in the post, Bohannon will take a turnaround pretty much every time, and finishes well in transition and off drop-off passes, an athlete and finesse player rather than a powerful one.
Those same athletic traits benefit Bohannon on the defensive end, where he does a very good job of using his lateral quickness to stay in front of guards on switches or when in a zone. He keeps the ball alive and steps out to defend the perimeter well, whilst also using his length to defend the rim and deflect all around the arc. The downside is that his lack of strength is an eminently attackable problem, and Bohannon just cannot bang back. He will try, yet it means little, and he can be gone through with relative ease. Bohannon does not back down all that often and will try to counter it by flopping, yet by the very nature of his body type, it is always going to be a problem.
Ideally, Bohannon would be the power forward alongside a big strong genuine centre. He was at times last year alongside Vince Hunter and Matt Wilms. However, in a small ball lineup. Bohannon has much to offer as a mismatch five, and hopefully he continues the development he showed as an upper classman. It was not a big statistical improvement, but it was there.
|“Stop running away! SMELL MY WRIST!!”.
, Boise State, Senior, 6’9 242lbs
2013/14 stats 30.2 mpg, 11.9 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 1.0 apg, 0.8 spg, 2.9 fpg, 1.1 TOpg, 57.4% FG, 74.3% FT
One of the best rebounders in the country, as mentioned in the above Chad Posthumus section, Watkins was one of only 14 players in the country to average a points and rebounds double double, and tied for sixth in rebounds per game, doing so in less minutes of all those ahead of him except UNLV’s Roscoe Smith. Rebounding is self-evidently the strongest strength of his game, yet those scoring averages speak to his usefulness as a part time scorer too.
Watkins is an extremely good offensive rebounder, and benefits from the number of putbacks and backtaps this gets him. He gets these boards despite not being athletic, explosive, a leaper, a speedster, or even overly strong – instead, he outworks people, with a nose for the ball and a good motor. He’s a skilled finisher around the basket, with decent hands, a little spin move, step-through and hook shot to go with good touch and solid footwork, and he combines good shot selection with an understanding of his limitations. Watkins also utilises a short to mid range jumpshot with slightly ugly form, and is efficient from both the line and the field, taking only shots he can make and with few mistakes to boot. Defensively, Watkins fronts the post well and has good timing as a weakside shotblocker, curtailing his foul rates significantly as an upper classman.
There are limitations, though. Watkins is not much of a creator in the post, without many counters to the righty hook and without the power or explosiveness to finish through and over defenders, a much less capable finisher when strongly challenged at the rim. His rebounding numbers are benefitted from being basically the only big man on his team, and there is nothing much to offer away from the basket. Watkins only leaves the paint on the offensive end to screen and sometimes roll, being barely able to put the ball on the floor otherwise, and when he needs to leave it on the defensive end, he looks unsure. Probably smaller than his measurements, Watkins can be scored over by bigger defenders and is slow to rotate, relying more on his activity level on that end more than any physical tools.
Despite the lack of ideal size and strength, though, Watkins made himself into a nightly double double player. With no huge holes in his game and a good effort level, he figures to be a professional in decent standard leagues for many seasons to come.
, Washington, Senior, 6’9 275lbs
2013/14 stats: 27.5 mpg, 10.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 0.9 apg, 0.5 spg, 2.8 fpg, 1.3 TOpg, 53.9% FG, 62.6% FT
Blackwell is a big strong guy, a wide body with plenty of muscle and a little fat that makes for a strong if not overly long post player. The post is inevitably where he lives on both the offensive and defensive ends.
A side effect of the strength is that Blackwell is slow, grounded and unathletic, which makes for a foul and turnover prone player who struggles with certain matchups against quicker bigs. He also struggles when asked to provide any perimeter defense, something which he is keen to avoid having to attempt, and he can be slow to rotate. Indeed, he’s slow to do everything. That said, Blackwell has improved that at which his lack of speed makes difficult. He runs the floor fairly well for someone his size, and certainly better than he used to, a story that also translates over to his rebounding. Not replete with the speed to chase down loose balls well, Blackwell nevertheless camps in the paint, uses his strength to gain and maintain position, boxes out and competes.
The same story is true of the offensive end, where Blackwell is a fairly consistent halfcourt option. Lacking the explosiveness and playing below the rim, Blackwell uses good smart footwork to set up right handed hook shots, fighting for position with gusto and being unafraid of taking contact. Slow that he is, Blackwell nevertheless uses his good feet to step through, use the rim as a barrier and the like, with good defensive awareness and knowing how to get separation by using his body and finding angles, in lieu of being able to just raise up and power through. When without the ball, Blackwell dives to the open spots and has good touch from inside the foul line, predominantly with a righty hook shot he will always favour if possible, but also capable of going back to his left. He demonstrates great poise in the paint, not getting flustered, and using spin moves and reverses to good effect. Blackwell hardly handles the ball outside of the paint, and has shown little by way of a jumpshot from there when he has, but when he does, he sets a mean screen and is an option in dribble hand-off situations.
Blackwell is mostly an offensive player, but it is not through a lack of trying. Improvements in his turnovers and free throw shooting saw him become a primary offensive option, and while he will always lack the explosion to just power through like others can, he knows how to get his. Defensive concerns are legitimate – Blackwell can be caught looking, does not rotate well, is not a rim protector as he just cannot get there fast enough, and does not make much attempt to defend the perimeter. He is limited to some positionally fortuitous blocks, the hard foul around the rim, and the occasional taken charge. Nevertheless, go to him on most trips down, and his uses become apparent.
|Not the one on the right. Sadly.
, Utah State, Senior, 6’10 235lbs
2013/14 stats: 27.2 mpg, 14.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 0.9 apg, 0.2 spg, 3.1 fpg, 1.9 TOpg, 48.3% FG, 78.2% FT
Oklahoma State transfer Shaw downgraded in standard of competition for a big upgrade in playing time. As it happens, he probably could have stayed with the Cowboys and played big minutes. Nevertheless, by joining the Aggies as their main big man, Shaw got himself plenty of opportunity, particularly on the offensive end.
The offensive end is his better end. Decently sized but not especially long, fast or strong, Shaw scores his points through a solid contingent of offensive skills. He utilises a mid range jumpshot well and is an option in pick and pop plays, an ability further manifested in his strong free throw shooting numbers. He also can throw a few moves in the post – with the ability to palm the ball, Shaw can throw an up and under to get open or take the turnaround jumpshot, with decent touch around the basket. He very much favours the right hand, however, and is less effective in the post when up against long and athletic defenders, over whom he prefers to take the jumpshot. He also avoids contact in general, rarely getting to the foul line and without three point range, leaving himself as being one of the most inefficient 48% shooters around. Nevertheless, with more than one offensive skill, Shaw’s finesse-based offensive game has its uses. He could probably stand to add range to it pretty quickly.
On the defensive end, things are less certain. Somewhat flat footed, Shaw does not like to defend the perimeter on switches or chase down shooters, much preferring to stay in the paint. In the paint, he has good awareness of when to rotate as a weak side shot blocking, picking up a few in this way without the length or leap of many of the shotblockers above him on this list. But in hnot being all that bulky, Shaw’s man to man post defense is something very attackable, and his foul rates speak to his limitations on that end.
A slight concern is Shaw’s off-court habits, jailed for 10 days earlier this year for possession of a controlled substance; specifically, for having more marijuana than police believed was for personal use. He is a talented player, but only Belgian league sort of standard, so he cannot afford any more black marks against his name. The previous McGary blurb speaks I feel to the slightly overblown nature of the problem here, yet it is a perception issue more than anything, and perception is what will get him employed. So this pretty much cannot happen again.
|Brandt the Redeemer.
, Oregon State, Senior, 6’10 246lbs
2013/14 stats: 25.4 mpg, 12.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.7 bpg, 1.5 apg, 0.4 spg, 3.1 fpg, 1.5 TOpg, 52.1% FG, 76.1% FT, 36.7% 3PT
Brandt is one of the worst rebounding centres you will find, and it is never good when the most noteworthy thing about someone is a negative. It is something perhaps enhanced by playing alongside a good rebounder in Devon Collier and a very good one in Eric Moreland, yet Brandt’s statline is pretty much what you’d hope to see in an athletic three-and-D wing role player. And he is the opposite of that.
Physically, he is definitely the opposite of that. Slow footed, not a leaper, not all that long and not all that athletic, Brandt is big enough for his position and moves well enough to be able to fit into his role as a face-up scorer, yet only slightly. Rather than any physical attributes, he is instead known for his skill level, particularly offensively.
Known for his hook shots with either hand, patented moves around which his game is based, Brandt also has a decent jumpshot he probably underutilises, and three point range he definitely underutilises. An efficient and versatile scorer who should look for his shot more, Brandt scores in a variety of ways, be it when fed in the post, when driving off of the pick and roll, when playing out of the pick and pop, when spotting up, or when moving off the ball to find a seam in the defense. He is also a fine passer, both out of the double team and when facing up the defense, hitting cutters and being much more capable than most big men at passing on the move. The offense is far from perfect – the lack of athleticism inhibits him and makes it difficult for him to create separation, something that hinders him more the higher the standard he plays at. Not especially strong, Brandy rather avoids contact and the foul line, a finesse player who has to score efficiently from the field to be efficient, given his lack of foul shots and reluctance to take as many threes as he ought. And the passiveness he sometimes play with offensively is further frustrating. But in being so skilled, versatile, consistent and ambidextrous, Brandt is a constant halfcourt weapon.
On the defensive end, however, the news is less pretty. With almost as many fouls as rebounds, Brandt is easily categorised as a soft defender, one who would rather slap at the man and/or the ball rather than move his feet or body up his man. Not tough, sprightly or long, Brandt does not compete enough on the glass, competes even less so on the perimeter he quite obviously does not wish to defend, and generally struggles at winning any possessions for his team. Compounded by the fouling, Brandt is a difficult player to hide defensively. His most redeemable defensive trait is the flop, which is probably not a good thing.
This, then, is why Brandt needs to shoot more. He has to, to offset his defensive liabilities. He is sufficiently skilled of an offensive player to do so, but less is not more.
, Auburn, Senior, 7’0 226lbs
2013/14 stats: 22.5 mpg, 6.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 0.4 apg, 0.3 spg, 3.5 fpg, 1.4 TOpg, 57.5% FG, 66.7% FT
Passing largely under the radar after only two years on a poor Auburn team, Dixon-Tatum nevertheless improved enough as a senior to suggest a pro career is a real possibility. One of the better athletes on this list, and certainly one of the longest, Dixon-Tatum’s physical profile is pretty much the crux of his game, moreso than any skillset, yet it is suitably rare of a profile to make this worthwhile.
A very productive shotblocker and rebounder, Dixon-Tatum runs the court well for a big man and can be a disruptive presence in the lane with his length. Tall, long and bouncy, he is a pest in the paint when plugged in, contesting everything and bothering everyone, attacking the glass and keeping the ball alive. He is so long he can block his man in one on one defense, his long thin arms seemingly cropping up everywhere. He is not, however, always plugged in, with a knack for disappearing for stretches during games, or even for stretches of games. Dixon-Tatum nevertheless assuaged this tendency a bit as an upper classman, as well as (fouls and turnover rate increases notwithstanding) making slightly fewer mistakes.
Beyond his athletic profile, many questions remain. Dixon-Tatum rarely gets touches on the ball, and when he does, he looks flustered. He is limited to being a screener and a garbage man on offense, who never handles, creates, posts or plays the pick and roll, limited to putbacks, finishes off dump passes and transition offense. He shows no passing vision, little jumpshot and is too easily stripped, his efficiency coming from his lack of skill more than skill (if that makes sense). There are also questions about his physical profile – being as slender as he is, ADT is pushed around by those with girth, and it need not be the Tarik Black tank types to do it. Against quality oppostion in one on one post defense, he is a foul waiting to happen, pushed through as though he isn’t there and resorted to hacking and grabbing to compensate. It would have helped markedly had Auburn had a rugged post defender to draw these matchups, along with a point guard who could regularly push the ball and any semblance of floor spacing, all of which would have helped Dixon-Tatum markedly in the middle, yet the concerns remain, all tied to his lack of development.
Dixon-Tatum would be very enticing had this been the completion of his freshman season. Unfortunately, he just turned 23, an age at which rawness needs to be pretty much eliminated. Nevertheless, any 7 footer this athletic will stick around for a while, and rightly so – Dixon-Tatum tantalises and at times wows, and he is worth the investment for those moments. He is also unmistakably productive in his small role, and will surely get his.
, New Mexico, Junior, 7’0 250lbs
2013/14 stats: 32.0 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 1.1 apg, 0.4 spg, 2.6 fpg, 1.8 TOpg, 49.0% FG, 66.7% FT, 21.4% 3PT
Kirk was a slightly unexpected early entry candidate, likely to go undrafted or a late second rounder at best. That said, I never begrudge anyone declaring. He is certainly ready to earn some money.
Plenty big enough for the centre position, with long arms and a wide frame, Kirk is a productive player on both ends of the court, relied upon on both. He has the makings of being an inside-outside scorer yet would increasingly rather be an outside one, a decent mid-range jumpshot in the process of developing range beyond that, a player who prefers the spot-up to the post-up. Kirk really does value his jumpshot quite a lot – indeed, too much – yet he at least makes himself an option in pick and pop plays, moves without the ball to get open, and can shoot a fallaway from either the post or the wing. He also is an option in occasional pick and roll plays, something that will serve him well should he head to Europe. Not a consistent post-up option, Kirk can nevertheless finish around the basket with his size and hook shots with both hands (although struggles much more when matched up against players as big as he, likely because this is something he has very rarely actually experienced), and while he struggles with double teams, he can nevertheless finish through contact, and pass both into and out of the post.
Defensively, Kirk has reined in his foul rates over the years, and is a presence in the post with his size and long arms. He can be outmuscled and outfought despite this size, especially on the glass where he somewhat underwhelms, and he is not fast or explosive, which is more of a problem whenever called upon to defend the perimeter. However, Kirk’s timing on shot blocks around the rim is good, and the reduced foul rates brought about by better defensive awareness and patience help him play big minutes in this role, as opposed to infrequent bursts.
Kirk is one of the better players on the list, and could just about sneak into the back end of the NBA one day. If he does not, the European market will certainly accommodate him.
|Really quite amazing dunk face.
, Utah Valley, Senior, 6’9 230lbs-ish
2013/14 stats: 29.6 mpg, 11.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 1.6 apg, 0.8 spg, 3.0 fpg, 1.4 TOpg, 45.5% FG, 71.9% FT, 32.3% 3PT
At 6’9 and an unknown weight that looks to be about 230lbs or so (Utah Valley do not list their player weights for whatever reason), Aird is slightly undersized for a centre, but too unathletic to be anything else. At the right level, he is a centre. And at the right level, he will make money.
Aird has a long wing span, big hands, and plenty of intelligence, all of which are what make him the solid rebounder and shotblocker than he is moreso than any explosiveness. He is not fast nor especially strong, but he uses what little strength and speed he has, playing hard, and playing smart. Not creating in the post all that much, and certainly not when up against those with true centre size, Aird nevertheless has the handle and skill to score around bigger or significantly faster players, an effective offensive role player. Against said bigger or significantly faster players, though, Aird often defends via the foul.
Offensively, Aird has a few moves. As long as it’s with his right hand, and as long as his defender is very slow, Aird can take opposing centres off the dribble, and has a feet-set mid-range jumpshot to open up the drive that occasionally extends to three point range. He is an option in the pick-and-pop, and can get to the rim off curl plays, which is an extremely Utah Valley thing to do. He can also hit other players coming around said screens, a smart passer who operates within a playbook-heavy offensive system. A below-the-rim player on the interior with an occasional righty hook but few counters, Aird is more of a finesse scorer than a powerful one, and while he can drop a hook shot down low, he projects better as a perimeter and/or mid range jumpshooting big man, something at which he will need to further improve. (Barely jumping on his jumpshot perhaps explains why Aird seems to not have the legs for three point range.) Utilising a spin move and with good offensive awareness to know when and where to slip open, Aird needs the improvements in his jumpshot to further open up the driving part of his game.
Defensively, the projection is less fortunate. Whilst not a stiff, Aird is not fast, nor all that strong, not all that big, and often has to foul to stop the opponent’s shot. Aird contests everything, rotates well, demonstrates good awareness and uses what strength he has to do his best to bang, yet without being especially fast or strong, there is no matchup that favours him unless against someone similar to himself. Aird’s foul rates are therefore quite high, sufficiently so that when he is on the court, he has to feature in the offense quite highly so as to offset that which he takes away defensively. His rebounding rate, however, is good.
There is of course a chance that Aird takes a normal life job and does not go pro at all. But still. If he does, there’s a role.
|Probably best to just move.
, New Mexico State, Sophomore, 7’5 355lbs
2013/14 stats: 26.3 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.4 bpg, 1.4 apg, 0.1 spg, 2.8 fpg, 2.1 TOpg, 64.8% FG, 53.8% FT
Bhullar is the biggest player on this list, and it is not especially close. Alex Kirk is probably the closest to him, yet Alex Kirk, as large as he is, is four inches and about 100lbs lighter than Bhullar. Bhullar’s size is spoken about with such inevitability and reverence because it the most noticeable thing about not just him, but about any player he is up against, about quite how small they are in his shadow. And it is also the first and only thing spoken about his game because his size absolutely defines his game, both positively and negatively.
Being so bloody massive automatically brings conditioning concerns, a big concern for Bhullar. He has not helped himself in the past with a supposedly rather unmotivated approach to his conditioning, yet even as a sophomore, when he looked slightly trimmer and received some fluff pieces documenting his better eating and training habits, he still struggled to play big minutes against front courts he should otherwise be dominating. The size also greatly inhibits him when he does play. Bhullar is not completely immobile in the way that other giants – say, Sun Ming Ming – have been in the past, but he cannot jump, struggles to change direction quickly, and fatigues easily. He is not a complete stiff, but he’s pretty stiff. (And to be blunt, he’s fat. Although given that it probably hurts like hell to run, this is understandable.)
This, up to a point, is fine. Dominant size is dominant size, and Bhullar’s size is dominant at every level, even the very highest. He is a defensive wall without needing to be a skilled defender to do it – slashers are afraid to take it at him because they know it will hurt if they do. On offense, size is just as useful – he cannot be pushed away from the rim should he get there. It’s all so very simple, but it’s effective – on one end he seals off position and can always be thrown over the top to, whilst on the other, he need not move to be an obstacle.
What the size does not negate, however, is a lack of skill. There’s a lot of things Bhullar cannot do, and those that he can all need work. Bhullar cannot run the court, shoot jumpers, shoot foul shots, rebound, defend the perimeter even slightly, leave the paint, or stop fouling. He doesn’t even have all that toned of size, still a bit fat and still not as strong in the stance as he need be. The fouling is prolific and often of the needless touch foul variety, and while Bhullar’s size and fatiguing mean he is never going to a big minutes player anyway, he cannot just spend his all time fouling, otherwise he is no help at all. And against perimeter orientated bigs, he is already is no help at all. While Bhullar’s sheer size makes players feel as though they have to shoot jumpshots, there is also nothing he can do to hinder or prevent them.
Moreover, for all his size, Bhullar is not the best rebounder. He cannot rebound outside of his area – his area is big, of course, but he is far too slow to effectively pursue the ball. If it comes his way, he can reach over everyone else, but if it doesn’t, he can only stand there.
This is, however, some offensive effectiveness there, if not a great deal of skill being developed. Bhullar has big and fairly soft hands, and can of course catch and shoot over anyone. If doubled, he is not bad at passing back out to the perimeter, better than would be expected from someone so raw in other areas. He has little in the way of post moves, not creating any space, and pretty much just catching the ball and going up to shoot. It works, though. Bhullar does not bend his knees on foul shots, is not even used all that much in screen action because he takes so long to set them (and cannot exactly set them by surprise), doesn’t read defenses well, and doesn’t even finish through contact especially well, contorting his body awkwardly rather than using the power he so obviously yes. And yet somehow, it works for him. A bit.
As a player, Bhullar isn’t ready. He isn’t especially close to being ready. And he may never be. But he has declared anyway, because time is short. Whoever acquires Bhullar acquires a player needing a lot of long term development but who might not realistically have the time to commit it to him. He needs nurture on both his skills and his body of the highest calibre, and plenty of patience. And yet he is not good enough for the NBA, which would be his best chance of getting such. Time with a D-League franchise with a close affiliation to his parent club makes plenty of sense on paper, but with a shortened career window, can Bhullar afford to ever play for so little?
|Excessive proximity to camera lens may or may not reflect level of in-your-face defensive tenacity.
, Ball State, Senior, 6’9 220lbs
2013/14 stats: 29.8 mpg, 11.2 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 1.1 apg, 0.3 spg, 3.2 fpg, 2.6 TOpg, 54.7% FG, 58.2% FT
Majok Majok is, as the name suggests, Ater Majok’s cousin. That is something they have in common.
Majok Majok was a double double machine last season. That is not something they have in common.
Double Madge was helped in his double doubleness by the quality of his competition and the quality of his team. He was also incredibly hindered by the quality of his team, or the lack of it. Ball State were very poor last year – therefore Majok, as one of the better talents on an untalented team, received a lot more of the ball on offense and a lot more minutes than he may otherwise have merited. He also received a lot more defensive attention, and he did not handle it well. Doubled on most possessions – not because he’s a great offensive creator, but because no one else was either – Majok struggled badly with them, finding it difficult to pass back out, fight through to finish, shoot over the top, or read and react quick enough. He was regularly put in a position he was overmatched in, and the turnover numbers above attest to how well that went. He was planned for specifically by defenses and hugely hindered by the lack of help, with no one able to routinely feed him the ball in good spots or provide any spacing to alleviate the pressure on him.
Nevertheless, you don’t do double double without ability, and Majok has some. He has more of it than he does physical tools, arguably. An out and out paint player, Majok’s measurements aren’t great for the position, nor any position really. Slender and neither fast nor explosive, Majok can be pushed about by bigger players in the paint, hasn’t the food speed to keep up with opposing fours, and yet ideally has the height for that position. His skills, however, are exclusively those of an interior presence.
On offense, Majok scores in subtle ways. He creates little in the post and has little mid range game, but he does slip open and always makes himself available on the interior. Aware and active, Majok found ways to get himself open on a team with no one who could collapse a defense or create in the halfcourt, or without being able to isolate regularly himself. He has little jump shot and a bad free throw stroke (not helped by leaning back unnecessarily), his spindly frame making it difficult to routinely get position in the paint and post, yet he is a decent enough finisher around the basket.
On the down side, Majok does not run the court, and his passing game is limited to the most basic ones. He is at least willing to try and pass the ball, aforementioned problems with double team notwithstanding. He also travels or loses the ball with regularity when asked to put the ball on the floor for more than perhaps one dribble – Majok is effective when asked to catch and finish, not when creating.
Defensively, Majok has some areas or concern. He has not the strength to keep bigger opposing post players out of optimum position, and tends to grab opponents to make up for it. He needs to do his work earlier, get lower in his stance and avoid touch fouls – not laterally fast and too easily pushed around, Majok needs to body up as much as he can, use his decent wing span (long enough to block his man straight up) to contest, and to do so without fouling. Where Majok does the bulk of his work is on the glass; slightly stronger than he was, Majok works hard to get rebounds and pursues the ball, boxing out consistently and fighting for position even when overmatched physically.
Playing where he did got him a double double average, which will get him professional work. It would perhaps have been more beneficial had he had the opportunity to play with a true point guard, yet two straight seasons of double double play make him a useful commodity at the right standard of professional league. There is no way, however, that Majok Majok will play in the NBA. Just one more thing he has in common with Ater.
|Kyle Tresnak picks the wrong moment to be overcome by the healing power of our lord Angus Brandt.
, Weber State, Senior, 6’10 240lbs
2013/14 stats: 27.3 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 2.8 fpg, 1.5 TOpg, 59.4% FG, 70.2% FT
Tresnak was a solid role player and compliment alongside the high scoring and possession-dominant Davion Berry in the backcourt, giving Berry a semi-reliable and extremely efficient post offensive player to ease some of the pressure. A pick and roll player with good footwork, a spin move, and an occasional pick and pop jumpshot, Tre is an effective mid-range-and-in offensive centre with a fun propensity for left handed dunking despite being a right handed player. He posts occasionally, albeit normally to a rather predictable righty hook defenders can stay at home on, and has a good free throw stroke on which he bends his knees like an overenthusiastic newcomer to calisthenics. Tresnak mostly goes right, but has the footwork and body control to occasionally go back left, and the good defensive reads to know when to do so.
In some ways, Tresnak improved in his college career. He improved his passing out of the post to a respectable level (if you were unfunny, you could also call it a passable level), something he was initially poor at doing. His offensive efficiency improved year on year, and his shotblocking numbers went from mediocre to good as his defensive awareness continuously improved. However, in some ways, Tresnak also stagnated or regressed. His jumpshot, described above as ‘occasional’, was once better than this and regressed as an upper classman, partly because he too often shoots them on the way down. And his rebounding rate started poor and ended poor. A liability on the glass, Tres does not always box out, loses rebounds in his area through a lack of strength and toughness, and has not the speed to track down rebounds outside of his area. Tresnak has a decent enough leap for a big man, hence all the dunks, but he hasn’t the best lateral quickness to step out and defend the perimeter, and he continues to struggle with double teams and zone defenses.
Nevertheless, despite the lack of ideal size for a centre, and the big rebounding concern, Tresnak’s offensive skill and help side shotblocking are highly translatable skills. Finesse players who block two shots a game and shoot nearly 60% from the field are most rare.
|D.J. Cunningham’s intimidating defense, seen here intimidating the rarely intimidated Julius “I don’t get intimidated” Randle.
, UNC Asheville, Senior, 6’10 240lbs
2013/14 stats: 25.7 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 3.6 bpg, 1.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 3.0 fpg, 2.1 TOpg, 56.3% FG, 70.3% FT
Cunningham was fourth in the nation in blocks per game, behind only Jordan Bachysnki and Rhamel Brown above, and Khem Birch of the upcoming power forwards list. He was seventh in blocks per 40 minutes, ninth in blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted, twelfth in rebounds per 40 pace adjusted, fifth in rebounds per 40, and seventeenth in rebounds per game. Productive, then.
Perhaps evidently from those numbers, Cunningham is very active in his time on the court. He tips everything, tracks everyone, is a deflections machine, chases down the ball and never quits until his team has gotten the ball back. This of course is a style of play that results in a large number of bump fouls, hence the foul rates and the reason he only played the amount of minutes that he did, yet it also wins his team possessions and makes him one of the best shotblockers in the nation. Not just a shotblocker, Cunningham is also a good man to man post defender with a good motor, who could stand to use a little more discipline on knowing when to leave his feet but who also contests everything and will take a foul to stop a basket. Had he been on a team more capable of stopping dribble penetration, perhaps he would not have fouled so much.
He is not just a hive of activity, though – Cunningham is also skilled and efficient on the offensive end. Selling head fakes and ball fakes with regularity, Cunningham has developed his post footwork and has a very good understanding of what shots to take. He does not so much avoid contact as he does shoot only when open, a finisher and a putback artist if not a creator. Not taking many jumpshots, and shooting with a slow flat-footed release when he does, Cunningham’s good free throw stroke attests to the potential for development in this area, certainly an improvement worth making down the road.
All this is possible due to his decent physical tools. Without having ideal size or high level NBA athleticism, Cunningham is nonetheless a decent athlete with good timing, decent hands, timing and anticipation, a good frame that can be further developed and good body control and agility. There are some bigger and some faster – if he was bigger and more athletic, Cunningham would be Willie Cauley-Stein – but none of this obscures his effectiveness.
At the level he has been playing at, Cunningham is a defensive wall. It is true that his gaudy numbers are accentuated by the level of competition, the faster pace at which his team have played, and their huge reliance upon him in the interior. It is also true that he looked more normal against better opposition. But he was still good. And he still will be going forward.
|These photos are the single best thing about VMI basketball.
, Virginia Military Institute, Senior, 6’9 235lbs
2013/14 stats: 29.7 mpg, 20.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.0 bpg, 0.8 apg, 1.0 spg, 3.1 fpg, 2.1 TOpg, 59.3% FG, 69.7% FT
These are the most ridiculous statistics on the list. And they are not really rivalled. Go beyond this basic stats into slightly more advanced ones, and they get no less ridiculous – eighth in the nation with a ridiculous 31.1 PER (Aaric Murray is second on this centres list at 29.3), third in the nation in efficiency rating at 24.3 (behind only Doug McDermott and Alan Williams of UC-Santa Barbara), and eleventh in points per 40 minutes, Covington appears to be one of the most productive players alive.
But of course, this is a VMI player. And VMI players always have ridiculous statistics, because VMI play ridiculous basketball. Whereas some high tempo systems are not nearly as poor of defensive units as their high points-against totals make them appear on face value, VMI’s really is. They shoot really quickly, let you shoot really quickly, and do not do much to impede you. So while it has long since been known that blocked shot totals do not automatically equate to quality defense, this has rarely been more true of anyone than it is of Covington. The very same system that makes him look good on paper is the one that makes him look bad on film.
To play in VMI’s extremely high paced chucker of a system relies upon good conditioning, which, a history of back complaints notwithstanding, Covington has. Short of ideal centre height, he nevertheless has a good wingspan and decent athleticism, a fluency of motion combined with a decent standing leap, all of which project fairly well for the four position he probably should play rather than the centre position that he does, for which his lack of frame and strength will be a problem. Covington keeps up with VMI’s pace and runs the court well for a de facto big man – it is only the fouls that prevented him from playing more minutes.
Covington also has offensive skill. A finesse player rather than a power player, he runs to the post an calls for the ball on almost every position, where he can shoot over defenders, or turn into a not-especially-controlled-but-somewhat effective right handed hook shot. He compliments this with a mid-range jumpshot, solid free throw stroke on limited attempts, and a decent enough two-dribble handle (especially when going baseline) utilising spin moves that invariably finish in a banked right handed leaner. Somewhat easy to strip and not the greatest reader of the defense, Covington nevertheless makes enough shots and is so efficient in doing so that he is the primary half court option for his team at this level. Indeed, Covington has very solid touch around the rim, as long as it is with his right hand. And as long as he dribbled with his right handed in the first place. (He is extremely right hand dominant.)
Still, it figures that the guy averaging three blocks per game would be better defensively. But this is not the case. His defensive stats are where the real deception lies. Put simply, he is not a good defensive player. Standing straight up, sagging off, ineffective on switches, camping in the paint and being unwilling to come out to the perimeter at all, giving up when beaten, poor reads, poor rotations…….it’s all there. The blocked shots and the crashing of the gamess are the only parts of Covington’s game of which we can speak well, and the only parts he plays for. Covington does not move his feet, body up, take charges, or just impede – he instead only plays defense via the block, and, as is the VMI way, he will let you take a shot he can possibly block rather than preventing the shot in the first place. It is unpleasant, but such is the VMI way.
You could argue that all of those faults are merely a reflection of the team’s style, and that Covington is only doing what he was told to do to stay out of foul trouble and to speed up the game. Perhaps that’s true. Given some incentive to play defense, maybe he could. Yet it reflects badly upon himself, and is all we have to go on. At this point, Covington’s stats are a novelty, and he still has it all to prove.
|Eugene Teague loves what he does.
, Seton Hall, Senior, 6’9 270lbs
2013/14 stats: 26.2 mpg, 11.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 0.6 bpg, 0.9 apg, 0.6 spg, 3.2 fpg, 1.9 TOpg, 59.3% FG, 69.7% FT
Teague’s game is defined by his physique. At 6’9 and 270lbs – and having often been a lot heavier than that – Teague is immensely strong, always powerful, and certainly not fast. It is not necessarily the most conditioned 270lbs, only really getting into semi decent shape as a senior, and on both ends of the court, the size is both a blessing and a curse.
Camping exclusively in the paint, the immensely strong Teague is able to get position and power through people in a way just not often found at this level. He has decent footwork and good touch around the basket, seals off his man and catches and finishes, or posts and turns to a right handed hook shot. He knows how to create and finish in the post, with good defensive reads, patience, and an effective head fake. Whilst limited to two or three dribbles, Teague can also get past his man to the basket if they are as slow of foot as he is, or if they defend him too closely (which, considering Teague’s lack of a jumpshot away from the basket, would be an odd thing to do). Teague is always creating a passing angle for his guards and fighting for position, an extremely efficient option on the interior every trip down who can also dive to the basket after screens and pass well the interior, as long as you don’t mind the occasional. And it is all availed by the size and strength.
This size of course creates problems defensively. With so little of a vertical leap, Teague is not a rim protector around the basket, does not defend the perimeter well, and is a liability against speedy opponents whom he can only foul. He will shove people around in the paint and pursue the ball as best he can for one so slow, yet these too lead to high foul yields – for the most part, his defense is limited to standing in the paint with his hands up. Furthermore, being a below-the-rim player can lead to Teague getting smothered by long and athletic defenders – the fat and strength only works up to a point.
Teague, then, is something of a situational player. But if he is only used as such, he can be effective. And if he is only used as such, the foul rates matter far less.
|So does Shayne Whittington.
, Western Michigan, Senior, 6’11 245lbs
2013/14 stats: 31.8 mpg, 16.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 1.1 apg, 0.8 spg, 2.4 fpg, 1.9 TOpg, 52.7% FG, 77.0% FT, 18.2% 3PT
There is a lot to like about Whittington’s stat-line above, the only blip on it being the 6-33 three point shooting. Nevertheless, despite that blot on the copybook, and despite hitting only two three pointers in his entire collegiate career prior to this season, Whittington has taken his post-draft workouts and the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and used them to demonstrate a white hot outside shooting stroke he managed to pretty much conceal for the entirety of his Broncos career. In doing so, he has earned himself some money.
It was not entirely a mystery that Whittington could shoot. The mid-range jumpshot has long since been a big part of his game, and adding the range is a logical extension of that. It does however do wonders for Whittington’s pro prospects – without extra level athleticism or all that much strength, it was something he needed to do to reform his game, which figures not to translate all that well to the highest levels.
Fluid but not explosive, tall but not long, and hardy without being strong, Whittington is slightly short of ideal centre size and without the physical tools to mask it. He has a good frame, yet it is not all that muscular of one, and as much as he tries to body up, he has not the strength to be a great force in the post on either end. That said, Whittington sports a versatile skillset and high IQ game that, worrying defensive projection notwithstanding, make him a [very] fringe NBA prospect and a definite future pro somewhere.
Offensively, Whittington utilises a mid-range foul line area jumpshot, his new fangled outside range (it seems), and a right handed hook shot from the post. He has few counters in the post and does not use his left hand much, yet he has good offensive awareness and instincts, playing within himself and taking only those shots he can make. Efficient and versatile, and one of the better free throw shooting big men around, Whittington can float open and is an occasional backside lob threat, further combining decent hands with decent passing vision and good right-hand touch around the rim. With little creativity in the post other than an up-fake, limited dribbling and finishing with his left hand and without the strongest core for gaining position, Whittington is more of a finesse player than a powerful player, projecting best as a stretch big even before he demonstrated he could actually shoot from outside consistently.
Defensively, Whittington is tougher to project. He has not the strength to defend the paint, is only an adequate rim protector, and is not laterally fast on the perimeter. Whittington contests everything, plays hard, plays good help defense, bodies up, boxes out and rotates well, yet he projects well neither as a defender or rebounder at higher levels, where, without the mobility or speed to rebound outside of his area nor the explosiveness or length to climb above the crowd, he is always prone to being attacked. If he proves he is able to consistently score from the perimeter as a stretch big, he also needs to prove he can consistently defend other stretch bigs too. Western Michigan needed him on the interior too much for him to get much run at this, yet what signs there were were not all that encouraging yet.
While Whittington has proved a lot in the last month, then, there is still much more to his positional revolution than this. Nevertheless, there is a lot to like in this smart and skilled player. Although the NBA is a longshot – at least, until he shows this three point shooting was not a mere flash in the pan – Whittington will play as a pro somewhere. It might not be for a while, however, as he is recovering from a torn foot ligament and broken fibula suffered in those same workouts that got him noticed. Workouts giveth, workouts taketh away.
|Rob Loe = Dirk. Sort of.
, Saint Louis, Senior, 6’11 245lbs
2013/14 stats: 27.7 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 2.0 apg, 0.9 spg, 2.9 fpg, 1.5 TOpg, 45.3% FG, 75.3% FT, 30.6% 3PT
Best known as a stretch big, Loe is not just a stretch big. He doesn’t just cast up jumpshots out there – indeed, he has never shot better than 35% from three in any of his four seasons. Instead, Loe has learned to use the jumpshot range as a compliment to an overall game he has developed as an upper classman.
In addition to his three point jumpshot, Loe also sports a mid-range J, a turnaround jumpshot from the post, and a good quality high post passer adept at feeding the interior. Standing 6’11, Loe can almost always get the jumpshot off, despite having a slightly low release and not actually living up to the “jump” part of the shot much. He can spot up, even doing so on a fast break, and is always a pick and pop option. Loe can also fake the shot and drive into the paint to decent effect, something he should perhaps do more of. For his size, he is a decent enough athlete to get to the rim on these drives.
None of this is especially efficient, however. A decent but not great shooter, Loe shoots a poor percentage for someone of his size, posts up little (and does so normally to shoot the J) and rarely gets to the line (although he does so a lot more than he used to). Solid option though he is, Loe is merely a complimentary offensive option without the assertiveness or shot creating ability to be much more than this, and has struggled in his otherwise solid Billekins career with his consistency at times. Regardless of that, however, Loe betters any offense he is in with his passing, high IQ play, fluid athleticism, decent outside touch and mismatch potential.
On the defensive end, Loe is a poor defensive rebounder in part due to his below-the-rim nature, and is outmuscled on boxouts despite being normally the biggest player on the court. The measurements belie a lack of core strength that would serve to improve his effectiveness here. Nevertheless, Loe is effective defensively in other ways – an obviously decent shotblocker, Loe also deflects quite a few passes, rotates well, knows when to defend straight up without fouling, and is willing to step in and take a charge. He rather went away from this last part as a senior for whatever reason, and can still be outmuscled and fought through too easily, yet Loe can be a reasonably disruptive presence on this end anyway.
It seems highly logical that Loe, a New Zealander, could take his game back to Australia and/or New Zealand (the New Zealand league, while low quality, mostly takes place during the main Australian NBL’s offseason, and some players play in both; there is also a New Zealand based team, the Breakers, within said NBL). Nevertheless, should he head for Europe, he will do OK for himself.