Archive for the ‘Draft Profiles’ Category

Draft Profile: Darius Miller

Friday, May 25th, 2012

After forcing a steal, Miller gets his reward in transition against Louisville (Photo by Ronald Martinez - Getty Images)

While Doron Lamb waits until next week, I churned out a quick overview of his role-player teammate at Kentucky: Darius Miller.  Currently ESPN rates Miller #42 with draftexpress at #34, so he definitely falls near Cleveland’s second-round picks.

Miller’s strengths are twofold; at 6’ – 7” and 238 pounds with suitable athleticism, he meets the physical expectations of an NBA wing.  Second, on 280 three-point attempts over the past two seasons, he’s drained a prolific 41%.  Having turned 22 in March, he understands his offensive limitations, allowing him to rack up a respectable assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.4.  Confining him to his “role” is a lack of adept shot-creating, which results in nearly half of his shots coming from three and less than two free throw attempts in his 26 minutes a game.  On defense, he’s neither a liability nor a lock-down guy.  Largely non-existent on the boards, his defensive rebounding percentage ranks him 73rd of the 79 SEC players that appeared in more than 24 games.  That’s not good.

Onto some game recaps:

In their Elite Eight tilt versus Baylor, Miller posted 8 points on 52% true shooting; overall a quiet game, as 4 of his points came through off-the-ball fouls.  Oh, and ZERO rebounds in a season-high 35 minutes…that should not happen to a small forward.  He displayed impressive court vision with three assists, while also skipping a nice bounce pass hockey-assist in transition and driving & alley-ooping to Terrence Jones, only to have the play wiped out by a foul against Baylor.  On defense his stance is too vertical, which inhibits his lateral movement, and on a few occassions allowed a quick guard to speed past him.  Otherwise, his defensive performance was solid.  A stealthy post double-team snagged him a steal, and he jumped a passing lane nabbing another.  Battling through screens, he pursued his opponent well and he also made proper rotations to obstruct otherwise open shots at the basket.  One heady play involved trapping out of a mismatch to allow the UK defense to rotate to their proper assignments.  Finally, for a stretch in the second half he played PF, and although he looked overmatched, Baylor scored no points from PJ3 or Quincy Acy when matched against Miller.  Overall, a commendable effort in helping his team win.

In UK’s 69 – 61 Final Four triumph over Louisville, Miller pitched in 13 points and 3 rebounds on 74% true shooting.  Much of his damage offensively was accomplished using what appears to be his favorite move; two righty dribbles, followed by a hop-step left into the paint for a 10 – 12 footer.  Six points on three possessions originated this way.  Combined with another pull-up jumper, his mid-range game looked solid.  Despite only one turnover, two ball-handling miscues narrowly avoided demerits on the box score; once he dribbled off his foot only to watch a diving teammate recover, another time he drove into traffic and got tied up, but was saved by the possession arrow.  Quick hands and feet corralled two steals, and he fought hard through screens, but his non-ideal defensive fundamentals again left him prone to abuse from speedy ball-handlers.

Summary: The team that drafts Miller won’t throw parades about it, but I think his size, shooting, and ability to fit in, keeps him in the league for awhile.  My crystal ball shows…a player similar to the Indiana version of Brandon Rush (not the career year Golden State version).  A jump-shooting wing with an 10 or 11 PER that does enough to keep seeing court time.  There are certainly worse types of players picked at #34, but when all is said and done, I will probably recommend someone else.

Draft Profile: Royce White, Moe Harkless and Draymond Green

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Today’s profile covers two remarkably similar players and also a guy that I wasn’t sure where to fit in otherwise.  All three very much fall within range of Cleveland’s #24 pick; in ESPN’s latest mock draft, Royce White went #22, Moe Harkless #24 and Draymond Green at #27.

Anyone in the market for a point forward? (Photo by Ed Zurga / Getty Images)

Royce White accomplished a rare feat by leading Iowa State in points, rebounds, assists, blocks & steals at 13, 9, 5, 1 and 1 per game.  Most impressive as a distributor and rebounder, his defensive rebounding percentage ranked 2nd in the Big Twelve and his passing placed him fifth; pretty impressive for a 6’ – 8”, 270 pound forward.  Although he turned 21 in April, this season was his first in the NCAA, after originally enrolling at Minnesota as the #30 recruit in his high school class, before transferring due to off-court legal problems.  Given skilled ball-handling and court-vision, he frequently initiated the Cyclone offense, setting up a play and using over 29% of the team’s possessions.  Downsides include relatively poor offensive efficiency.  He lacks three point range and only converted 50% of his free throws; these two flaws resulted in pedestrian 53% true shooting.  Due to frequently wild forays to the basket, his 3.8 turnovers a night waste the 9th most possessions per game in the NCAA.  Defensively, he doesn’t always engage, which combined with his physique, may make effectively solidifying an NBA defense difficult.  Finally, he has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which for more information, I suggest you go here.

Moe Harkless finished his freshman year at St. John’s, averaging over 15 points and 8 rebounds in 36 minutes per game, as the Red Storm endured a difficult season dealing with Coach Steve Lavin’s battle with prostate cancer.  Harkless is a long, 6’ – 8” small forward possessing great athleticism.  Still offensively raw, his most efficient looks occur through transition, off-the-ball movement, and offensive rebounds.  While aggressive with the rock in his hands, his ball-handling skills are a work-in-progress and shooting range is currently non-existent; he netted only 17 of 79 from three-point range this year.  Combined with only making four trips to the foul line a game, in part due to his slender build, his offensive efficiency was poor (50% TS, 100 offensive rating).  On defense, he possesses much promise thanks to his length, speed and jumping ability, which he parlayed into a combined 3 blocks plus steals per game.

You say you've got a primary ball handler? How about a basketball savvy bruiser? (Photo by Jaime Sabau - Getty Images)

Want to hear an amazing stat about Draymond Green?  With 16 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game in 33 minutes, he was the first “major conference” player to post a 15 – 10 – 3 since Tim Duncan.  Tim Duncan!!  Green isn’t embarking on a hall-of-fame career, but does bring a lot to the table.  For a power forward, he exhibits outstanding ball-handling and passing ability.  Launching 134 threes this year, he found net on 39%.  As a defensive rebounder, he ranked as 7th best in the NCAA.  Downsides include his size; standing only 6’ – 6” tall, many question his ability to handle opposing power forwards in the NBA, especially when combining his height with his marginal athleticism.  These flaws resulted in Green only converting 47% of his two point field goals, ranking him 18th of 19 power forwards likely taken in the 2012 draft.  Defensively, he attempts to overcome his non-impressive physical traits with outstanding “motor” and  “basketball IQ”, but larger and faster players can overwhelm in isolation, on switches or on the block.

Game Recaps: In Iowa State’s regular season finale; White recorded a double-double in the Cyclone’s 80 – 72 win over Baylor.  Baylor’s zone didn’t allow White to showcase his best skills, but the game proved interesting in a few ways.  White matched up with likely top-10 pick Perry Jones III and held him to ten points on eleven shots.  His on-ball defense, primarily in the post, appeared to be much stronger than away from the ball, as his commitment to rotations ebbed.  Sometimes loafing back down court, on one transition trip, PJ3 dribbled faster than White ran (admittedly, this is also a testament to Jones’ speed).  On offense, White’s 11 points derived primarily through a unique wrinkle in the Bears defensive scheme; they chose not to guard him.  Allowing White to set up shop at the free throw line in the center of their zone, Baylor dared him to take the 15 footer.  He sometimes did, mostly unsuccessfully, but frequently attacked the big man waiting at the basket, either drawing fouls or attempting to kick to open cutters.  His 5 of 10 from the charity stripe, along with four assists, often came from this setup.  He definitely passes with NBA-level zip on the ball – throwing lasers, although this also helped contribute to his three turnovers.

Oh - Your team needs athletic wings! Then I know a guy! (Photo by Patrick McDermott - Getty Images)

Harkless played all forty minutes in the last game of his collegiate career, totaling 25 points and 9 rebounds on 70% true shooting, as St. John’s lost 59 to 73 against Pittsburg.  As the tallest player on their roster, Harkless actually takes the jump ball for the Red Storm.  He scored through diverse means, but proved most effective in transition and as an offensive rebounder, where his outstanding leaping nabbed five boards this game.  Flashing a crafty finger-roll and a tough reverse layup, he displayed athleticism as a finisher.  He frequently used jab-steps and pump-fakes to settle into pull-up jumpers from isolation.  As ball-handling negatives, he nearly always starts right and lost a possession on a travel & a charge.  On both ends of the court, his movements are laid-back, or “smooth” in the parlance of the announcers.  In this regard, he looked like a younger, taller Jeremy Lamb, without a jump shot.  Defensively, there weren’t a lot of high points; Ashton Gibbs left Harkless flat-footed on several drives, and his strength posed issues when battling screeners.

In leading Michigan State to the Big Ten Championship, Green tallied 12 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists as part of a 68 – 64 win over Ohio State.  Starting with negatives, as part of a 4 of 15 shooting day, his back-to-the-basket work was miserable.  One of five were made, including two blocked shots and two badly missed turnaround jumpers.  Faulty footwork resulted in a travel, one of two turnovers from the low post.  Being slow afoot showed on defense, as Aaron Craft twice blew past him and DeShaun Thomas once left him on the ground, after Green bit on a pump fake.  Positives included draining two of three from deep and exhibiting excellent court vision, both driving & dishing, and on a sweet mid-shot adjustment to hit a wide-open cutter.  Green’s off-the-ball team defense looked superb: setting up for two charges, rotating into a baseline trap & causing a turnover, and offering help on pick-and-rolls to force misses.  For his defensive work, the announcers described him as “one step ahead of everyone else”.

Summary: A preference amongst these three may come down to a team’s draft philosophy.  If they’re looking for a relatively safe bet as an immediate rotation player, Draymond Green is the choice.  His court vision, shooting, rebounding and basketball IQ should provide immediate depth improvement to the team drafting him.  If the team is willing to roll the dice on “upside”, Royce White or Moe Harkless make the grade.

Given that the Cavs won’t contend next year, Moe Harkless appears as a solid pick.  They have the ability to be patient and develop him as part of the re-building process, and if he doesn’t pan out, Cleveland owns plenty of  late 1st rounders over the next few years, where they can draft the “Draymond Green” of 2013 or 2014.  Harkless fits a lot of Cavs needs as a long, athletic wing - the type of player the team is completely void of.  He only turned 19 last week.  Despite my reporting defensive malaise in the game recap; earlier in the season ESPN called him an “athlete who works hard on both ends of the floor” with a “non-stop motor”.  Displaying serious defensive effort would look really good on Harkless.  Surely, this was a tough season for him; he primarily played power forward and sometimes center, and the leadership carousel resulting from his coach’s cancer battle stressed the entire team.  Possibly, by early March, Harkless was just ready to move on, and his defensive effort suffered because of it.

Regarding Royce White, his poor shooting and waning defensive motor cause concern.  For what it’s worth, despite playing nearly 80% of Iowa State’s minutes, the Cyclones were only +133 when he played, compared to a relatively robust +77 with him sitting.  He was electric in two NCAA tourney games, averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds on 71% true shooting, but all things considered, there are other players I prefer the Cavs to target late in the first round.

Draft Profile – Arnett Moultrie, Meyers Leonard, and Fab Melo

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Today’s draft profile covers three NCAA big men likely picked in the latter half of the first round.  If Cleveland wants to make a serious run at any of them, a trade of picks is probably required.  In their latest mock draft, ESPN indicates Arnett Moultrie goes #16, Meyers Leonard at #19 and Fab Melo at #21.

How dare you question my defensive intensity? Do you see the look on my face? (photo by Wesley Hitt / Getty Images)

Moultrie finished his junior year at Mississippi State, after transferring from UTEP following disciplinary issues.  At the start of the next NBA season, he’ll reach 22 years old and is a 6’-11” power forward possessing great running and leaping ability.  This past season, he averaged 16 points, based on high-flying finishing ability and a growing face-up game.  His 61% true shooting benefitted from 78% makes at the foul line, and he even found net on 8 of 18 three point attempts.  Performing admirably on the boards, he rounded out a double-double for the year by posting the SEC’s second best defensive rebounding percentage along with a top-ten offensive board rate.  Unfortunately he struggles to show enthusiasm for team defense, rotating poorly and offering limited help at the rim.  His slight frame, carrying only 220 lbs, can be abused by stronger, more physical post players.  Despite logging 36 minutes per game as a near-seven-foot-tall pogo-stick against only the NCAA’s 89th most difficult schedule, he blocked 0.8 shots a night.

Leonard’s strengths start with his 7 foot height, 240 pound build, and 7’ – 3” wingspan.  In addition, he is coordinated and athletic, and obviously NBA decision-makers love this tool kit.  He used these attributes to rack up 14 points and 8 rebounds on extremely efficient 62% true shooting during his sophomore season at Illinois.  Offensively raw, he primarily scores thanks to his size and agility, with limited post moves and largely unexplored shooting range.  He did make 72% of his free throws.  While acceptable as a defensive rebounder, grabbing only  9% of available offensive rebounds ranks him 8th of 9 centers  in draftexpress’s 2012 database.   Defensively, his length and mobility make things difficult for NCAA players, but his two blocks in 32 minutes per game are definitely average.  The largest knock on Meyers  involves his maturity, confidence and focus.  He disappears, including over one-third of his game’s this season featuring single digit scoring.  These issues manifest themselves frequently on defense, where his understanding lacks.  This will be addressed further in the game recaps.

Fab Melo turns 22 in June and also stands 7-foot tall with a 7’ – 3” wingspan.  Originally from Brazil and recently completing his sophomore year as the center in Syracuse’s zone,  Melo ranked 11th in the NCAA in blocks per game, with 2.9.  This also placed him 11th for percentage of opponent shots blocked.  He scores efficiently at the basket, but is very low usage, as his back-to-the-basket game and jump-shooting are not reliable weapons.  His scoring average was only 8 per game, combined with fewer than 6 rebounds in 25 minutes.  The low rebounding totals present cause for concern, as a propensity to over-pursue blocks & poor fundamentals result in ranking 44th in the Big East for defensive rebound rate.   Although greatly improved from last year, his 4.5 fouls per forty minutes ranks 2nd worst of the nine centers most likely to be drafted in 2012.

Now, onto some game recaps…

Fool! This is the facial expression of a man playing at full effort! (Photo by Chris Chambers / Getty Images)

03/08 Syracuse versus UConn - Fab Melo posted 7 points, 6 rebounds and 1 block in Syracuse’s 58 – 55 Big East tourney win.  One of his three field goals came on a two-handed power finish of a pick-and-roll, and another via a putback.  This is how most of his NBA offense will also be generated.  His court vision looked decent; one assist found a cutter at the basket, while a pass from the post located an open shooter.  A defensive trap resulted in a steal, which Melo promptly outletted for a fast break dunk.  Defensively, he actively patrols the paint, but the Syracuse zone keeps him from experiencing numerous opportunities for post defense or switching on pick-and-rolls.  In limited chances, Alex Oriaki beat him with a drop-step and Andre Drummond sealed Melo on his hip and authoritatively dunked.  On the bright side, Melo moved well to defend a guard off a hand-off and on another possession, slid in for a charge.   One particularly noteable offensive possession occurred late, with the Orangemen protecting a 4 point lead.  After a Syracuse offensive rebound, the ball swung to Melo, who shot & missed an 18 footer with 30+ seconds remaining on the shot clock.  During a subsequent timeout, teammate Carter Williams gave Melo a hard time about the play, and Melo barked back.  Jim Boeheim pulled his big man aside to calm him down.  One other questionable play occurred with 17 seconds remaining, when he fouled a UConn shooter with Syracuse up seven.  There was no business fouling there, and the and-one turned a nearly over game slightly more competitive.  Melo will be 22  in June; these absent-minded miscues need to end.

03/09 Syracuse versus Cincinnati - I have notes on this game, but won’t use most of them.  These profiles get too long with three players and two game recaps each.  Melo had 0 blocks and 2 goal-tends in his last game of the season, before sitting due to non-disclosed eligibilty issues.

Imbeciles! I reign supreme and you will cower in fear at my intense growl! (Photo by Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

03/08 Illinois vs Iowa - Despite tallying a highly efficient 18 points in 35 minutes, Meyers Leonard’s college career ended in this 61 to 64 Big Ten Tourney defeat.  Leonard converted 9 of 11 field goals and never turned the ball over, complimenting his six rebounds, two blocks & two assists.  His size & length immediately jump out, and the announcers described him as “one of the most athletic seven-footers you’ll see”.  He scored twice rolling off a pick, a natural ability given his athleticism, and also scored twice from the block, including a righty hook shot.  His most skilled possession occurred with a three-dribble drive from outside the three point line, that combined with a little shimmy, ended with a soft bank shot.  During the first half, Leonard played very physically at both ends of the court, clearing out space on the defensive boards and establishing deep position on offense.  In the second half though, he visibly wore down and Iowa moved him around at will, as Leonard grabbed only one defensive rebound while Iowa dominated, securing 12 of their 14 offensive boards.  He did not attempt a field goal in the final ten mintues, and on one possession, he bit on a pump fake and fouled the shooter hard, appearing extremely frustrated afterwards.  Throughout the entire game, his help rotations seemed a half-step slow, and Iowa’s bigs netted a few easy transition layups as Leonard trotted down court.

03/13 – Mississippi State vs UMass - In this double-overtime opening game of the NIT, Moultrie tallied 34 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists on 63% true shooting, as his collegiate career ended in a 96 to 101 loss.  The game was played loose and fast, with the announcers discussing the “shirts & skins” feel and how the team’s “can get about any shot they want.”  Offensively, his most effective moments came in transition, including three alley-oop finishes.  He converted two of five from long-distance and displayed strong face-up ability, particularly going right, including a flashy spin move to get to the basket.  His post offense lacked, scoring on only one of four attempts with his back to the basket, relying strictly on drop-steps and left-handed hook shots.  In contrast to his assists, two turnovers resulted from wild passes nowhere within reach of the intended recipient.  Perhaps fault for his non-existent defensive intensity lies with playing 49 minutes, but my notes include the words: lazy, disinterested, non-chalant, sad, half-hearted, etc.

03/08  -Mississippi State vs Georgia - I also have notes on this game, but won’t elaborate.  Moultrie posted 7 points, 8 rebounds and 0 assists on 31% true shooting as his SEC tourney run ended.  Not much worked for him, particularly from the block, where he converted 1 of 5.  Facing the basket is his bread-and-butter.

Summary: My inclination is that the Cavs shouldn’t make an effort to trade up for any of these players, and Festus Ezeli at #33 is supreme value.

Moultrie reminds me of JJ Hickson; an explosively athletic power forward fairly well versed in scoring points and grabbing rebounds, but less accomplished at ummmm…playing winning basketball.   Watching him play defense is not impressive, and it is hard to fathom how he only blocked 23 shots in nearly 1100 minutes against theNCAA’s 273rd most difficult out-of-conference schedule (according to kenpom.com).  For a quick statistical comparison of 19 year old JJ Hickson to 21 year old Arnett Moultrie, here’s a table.  Very similar in alot of ways, and both also carry defensive shortfalls.

At the college level, Meyers Leonard’s size & agility allow him to frequently leave his imprint on a game, but in the NBA, those traits alone won’t be sufficient.  After one defensive rebound bounced off his head in the Iowa game, I noted that his ability to operate within the “flow” of the game - his intrinsic anticipation of “what comes next?” seemed limited.  This will need to improve with time, as will his conditioning and apparently, his confidence & maturity.  As of today, I prefer Leonard of these three big men however.  While not a sure thing; his combo of age, size, athleticism and production makes him the best prospect.

Melo is basically only really exceptional at shot blocking, and it’s not always a skill that translates well to the NBA.  Also, there’s a tendency for him to make bone-headed mistakes.  Best guess as to his place in the NBA is an the starter on a sub-par team or a back-up on a strong one.

Next week, I’ll post profiles including: Royce White, Draymond Green, Moe Harkless, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller.  Who do I like?  Stay tuned…

Draft Profile: Tyler Zeller and John Henson

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Unless the lottery goes horribly awry, today’s profile won’t be terribly applicable to the Cavs. I’m trying to hit the top 40-ish prospects though, so we’ll discuss the University of North Carolina’s lottery-bound front court duo.

Zeller dunks on NC State

Tyler Zeller is a 22 year old senior seven-footer, who showed significant improvement every year of his college career, finally peaking this year as the ACC Player of the Year and a potential top-ten pick. In 28 minutes per game this season, he tallied over 16 points and 9 rebounds, including nearly four at the offensive end. Thanks to soft touch around the basket and a reliable ability to draw fouls, his offensive rating reached an impressive 121 while using nearly one-quarter of the Tar Heels possessions. Along with possessing an expanding back-to-the-basket game, including strong drop-steps and a right handed hook shot, he knocked down 81% of his 225 free throws. Although he largely eschews perimeter looks, that sterling percentage offers a glimpse of hope for growth there. As is typical, UNC played at the NCAA’s tenth fastest pace last season, and Zeller thrives in this environment, running the floor extremely well for a center. According to draftexpress.com, he finished 79% of his transition opportunities. He is a strong team defender, but lacks ideal strength or length for an NBA center. Those non-elite physical attributes cap his NBA ceiling.

John Henson is the Tar Heels’ 21 year old junior power forward: 6’-10” with a huge wingspan and explosive athleticism, but awfully skinny at 220 lbs. Despite his lanky frame, he utilizes his length and hops on offense to aggressively attack the basket. On the block, he goes to work with a left-handed hook shot and a turnaround jumper, while on the perimeter, he shows decent touch on a jump shot. His 14 points per game are not terribly efficient, at 51% true shooting, due to a lack of three point range and horrid free throw shooting. The 51% on freebies is actually a three year high. Where his living will be made is rebounding and defense. This season, he averaged 10 boards and 3 blocks, tallying the ACC’s highest defensive rebound rate and block percentage. His great length and constant energy make him a nuisance at the basket and on the perimeter; his non-muscular frame poses his primary weakness here, as stronger players maneuver him at will occasionally.

For a deeper look, onto some game recaps:

Henson finishes an awesome drive against the Blue Devils

03/03 against Duke - Henson polished off a tidy 13 points, 10 rebounds, 1 block and 0 turnovers as UNC routed their cross-state rivals, 88 – 70. While not pretty offensively, he connected on 2 of 4 mid-range jumpers and 1 of 2 from the block, en route to 60% true shooting. Defensively, he showed well on pick-and-rolls and always made an effort to box-out, but Duke’s Plumlee boys effectively out-muscled the Henson & Zeller frontcourt to post 33 points and 15 rebounds on 14 of 22 from the field.

03/10 against NC State - Zeller paced UNC with 23 points on 79% true shooting and 9 rebounds in this tight 69 to 67 win. Almost all of his offensive damage occurred from the low post, knocking down 6 of 9 from this location, primarily off of ambidextrous hook shots and lengthy drop steps. When he receives a pass, he exhibits great ability to fire quickly, still with a soft touch. NC State’s front line rotation isn’t exactly NBA-sized though, measuring in at 6’ – 8”, 6’ – 8”, and 6’ – 9”. Okay, it’s NBA-sized if you count Cleveland’s dynamic duo of Samardo Samuels and Luke Walton. Further damaging the impressiveness of Zeller’s performance are the six offensive rebounds by NC State’s Richard Howell. Howell’s a big guy at 250 lbs, built like the aforementioned Samuels, and he repeatedly out-worked the UNC center on the boards.

03/25 against Kansas - UNC’s season ended in the Elite Eight, as Henson posted a dismal 10 points, 4 rebounds and 1 block in 25 minutes in his third game after returning from a late season wrist injury. While making 5 of 12 shots, only his post game proved effective, as he connected on a lefty hook and a turnaround. He converted 1 of 5 jumpers, including an errant 18 footer with twenty seconds left on the shot clock, while Zeller posted up an over-matched guard down low. Really, his defense didn’t overwhelm either; Thomas Robinson beat him facing up and down low. TRob and Jeff Withey combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds on 64% true shooting, while Kansas netted an efficient 112 offensive rating.

In 34 minutes, Zeller scored 12 points on 6 of 11 shooting and grabbed 6 rebounds. He drained a long two and scored on hook-shots and drop-steps. Poor ball protection resulted in two turnovers as a double-teaming defender stripped the rock away. On defense, he swatted four shots, including two outstanding pick-and-roll help rotations when he flew to the basket from the perimeter. Generally, he made life difficult at the basket for the Jayhawk guards and also drew a charge. As negatives, Robinson twice blasted past him on face-ups, and there was at least one defensive rebound that should have been his, but a weak box-out allowed a tip-in.

Summary: When I create a “draft board”, it’s likely that Zeller and Henson will show up in the consensus spots, around the second half of the lottery.

Zeller rates as the best senior seven-footer since Roy Hibbert, and with continued commitment to his game and strength, he’s capable of posting similar numbers to the big Pacer as he rounds into his prime. Hibbert averaged 13 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks this year on 54% true shooting, while making his first all-star team. I’ll say 27-year-old Zeller posts 14, 8 and 1.2 on 56% true shooting, if he finds himself in an up-tempo system with a solid point guard. The Cavs could certainly use a 7 footer with shooting range, but it appears that will need to wait another year, as better talent surely presents itself in the draft’s top five.

Henson gained 30 – 40 pounds since he showed up at Chapel Hill. If he can tip the scales a little further, he can be a poor man’s Serge Ibaka; wreaking havoc with his defensive help and knocking down 15 footers. With regards to the Cavs, hopefully the middle-class-man’s Ibaka already wears the wine & gold, in the form of Tristan Thompson. Cleveland can find someone that better fits their needs (although I know one commenter disagrees. Holla KJ!!).

Until next week, when three more big men with first round aspirations will be discussed.

Draft Profile: Jeffery Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Today we’ll focus on three Vanderbilt Commodores that meet Cleveland’s positional needs and will be chosen around their #24, #33 and #34 picks.

John Jenkins may be this draft’s best shooter.  While launching nearly nine three-pointers per game during his junior year, he knocked down 44%.  He fires with his feet set, off screens, pulling up in transition or around a pick.  During one game, I recall the announcers discussing his 0.6 second catch-to-release, and how that bests what is normally considered an elite time of one second.  That’s his only strength though; of his 20 point per game scoring, nearly 12 of those come from deep, and his 1.2 assists, 2.9 rebounds, or 0.8 steals aren’t exactly stuffing the box score.  At 6’4” and as an average athlete, he’ll only be a marginal defender against fast NBA twos.

Jeffery Taylor soars to the basket

Jeffery Taylor stands 6’7” and plays small forward.  He is known as one of the draft’s elite athletes and a lock-down defender.  Finishing his senior year and turning 23 this month, Taylor averaged 16 points per game, aided by 42% shooting from deep.  Aside from his shooting, he is most effective in transition.  Defensively he moves very well and clocks-in for every possession.  His rebounding is mediocre and shot creation marginal; his role in the NBA is basically as a 3-and-D guy.   Currently projected to go off the board around #20, the Cavs likely need to package two picks if they want Taylor.

Festus Ezeli is a senior from Nigeria, a legitimate center at a long-armed 6’11” and 255 pounds, with outstanding athleticism for a man that size.  Offensively, his repertoire lacks.  Most of his “post moves” amount to sealing his man off, and dunking.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that; his 10 points in 23 minutes per game come on 54% from the field and he attempts nearly as many free throws as field goals.  He effectively muscles up on post defense and blocked two shots per game.  Like a lot of young, athletic big men, his rebounding on the offensive end far outpaces his prowess on the defensive boards.  Maybe it’s reasonable to shrug off 18-year-old Andre Drummond grabbing 16% of available defensive rebounds, but Ezeli isn’t much better at three years his elder.  Ezeli tries to block too many shots, frequently leaving him out of position.  As a final note, in 3000 career minutes, Ezeli dished out 18 assists.  Due to his unrefined post footwork and occasional oven-mitt hands, he turned the ball over that many times in one five game stretch this season.

For more details, onto some game recaps:

NCAA tourney against Wisconsin: In Vandy’s NCAA tournament loss against Wisconsin, Taylor finished with 9 points, 1 rebound, 0 assists, 1 steal and 3 turnovers in 30 minutes…kind of uninspiring.  Operating primarily from the perimeter on offense; nine of his twelve shots were jumpers, of which he only connected on three.  Despite not posing a huge threat penetrating to the basket, he showed off really well-practiced footwork and crossover moves to launch into pull-up jumpers, once leaving his man crumpled on the ground as he rose up for an uncontested 18 footer.  He defended Wisconsin’s point guard capably on multiple possessions and understands his rotational responsibilities, even swatting a three-point attempt on one close-out.

Jenkins netted 13 points on 42% True Shooting, along with 2 rebounds and 2 assists.  Of his 13 field goal attempts and 6 free throws, all but two were jumpers.  He was able to find shots, off screens or step-backs & pull-ups, either out of isolation or a pick-and-roll.  In this game, they weren’t going in.  His defense was largely non-noteworthy; a non-attempted box-out allowed a put-back and his man sped by him en route to an and-one.

Festus Ezeli hammers one home

After beginning the game on the bench due to a non-disclosed discipline issue, Ezeli posted one of his season’s best games, with 14 points on 73% True Shooting and 11 rebounds.  His offense is not terribly nuanced; of his five field goals, twice he established deep position, received a pass & dunked and twice he scored on offensive rebounds.  In his three attempts at making post moves – he charged, travelled, and bobbled a pass, resulting in a blocked shot.  This was a really impressive game though.  Playing very physically, he drew four off-the-ball fouls battling underneath.  As the ball swings around Vandy’s perimeter offense, he effectively seals his man off to benefit from an easy dunk.  Defensively, he hedged well & rotated back on a pick-and-roll, and he closed out on a shooter with choppy steps.  In the post, he denied the ball well, including stealing an inlet pass, and he generally made it difficult for Badger big men to get shots off.

SEC tourney against Ole Miss: In 28 minutes, Taylor turned in the most invisible effort I’ve watched while profiling draft picks: 2 points on 1 of 5 shooting, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 0 turnovers and 1 foul.  The Commodores won easily though, and JT rotated and slid his feet well on defense, drawing two offensive fouls.

John Jenkins makes it rain

Jenkins again functioned primarily as a jump shooter, with 13 of his 16 shots coming from behind the arc.  He made five from deep and finished with 23 points on 62% true shooting.  This is subjective, but JJ gets fouled while jump shooting more than any player I’ve seen.  The announcers noted his ownership of the SEC record for career four-point plays.  Again, his non-shooting offense was limited, including one transition layup getting chased-down and one time tripping and losing the ball. It’s pretty simple, shooting is what he does.

Ezeli battled foul trouble and finished with 0 points in only 16 minutes.  He did not foul out of this game, but has been consistently plagued by the issue, fouling out five times in 2011 – 2012.  His physicality works both ways though, as he drew two more fouls battling for deep position.  He exhibited a wide range of defensive skills; rotating as help to block a layup, and forcing tough looks whether faced up against or backed down by a big man, or switching onto the ball handler in a pick-and-roll.  His rebounding was a mixed bag; poor box-out fundamentals resulted in three defensive rebounds, but his aggressive demeanor at the other end netted him four off the offensive glass.  Finally, bad hands resulted in a bobbled pass and negated an opportunity for a dunk.

Summary: Watching these two games shows some of the danger in watching a couple of games and drawing conclusions.  Taylor averaged 16 & 5 this year, but only 5.5 and 1.5 in the games discussed above.  Jenkins drained 45% of his nearly 300 threes in the games I didn’t watch, but only 32% in the two profiled.  Ezeli is occassionally noted as a player that struggles with team defense, but these two games were solid.  Also his 8 defensive rebounds against Wisconsin matched his second highest total of the last two years.

Taylor’s projected role in the NBA as a “3-and-D” player is fairly straightforward; if he can’t consistently drain open looks or impede the opponent’s best, his usefulness will be limited.  Although it is a skill where he has improved every year, prior to this season, he only connected on 30% from downtown.  It may be worthwhile to look closely at his athleticism and shooting performance at the combine, and also see if any “Harrison Barnes and Terrence Ross couldn’t score against him in workouts” stories start coming out.  If they both pan out, Taylor and Alonzo Gee would be duplicative. If sufficient scoring is added through the lottery and free agency though, that’s not a horrible thing.

I think Jenkins can provide valuable bench offense to an NBA team, and Cleveland can certainly use more offense.  With a shot that fast and accurate, for 18 minutes a night, he can run around screens, pop jumpers, and  help maintain a lead while the starters hit the pine.

If the Cavs snagged Ezeli with a 2nd round pick; I could dig it.  I think he’ll be a suitable backup center; a Brendan Haywood to someone’s Tyson Chandler. He possesses appropriate size and athleticism, plays aggressively and flashes defensive skill.  In my “2011 Draft Follow-Up” from last week, I noted the strength of LaVoy Allen’s sophomore and junior years and that was perhaps indicative of his rookie year success.  Ezeli could fit this mold.  Despite a small usage decrease this year, his offensive rating plummeted.  In similar minutes, his scoring, rebounding and shot blocking were down, while his fouls and turnovers were up.  He missed the first ten games of his senior year due to a secondary NCAA violation and a knee sprain; perhaps these issues de-railed a potentially excellent senior year.

2011 Draft Follow-up (Season End Edition)

Friday, May 4th, 2012

This post is self-indulgent more than anything else; how did I do as a 2011 draft expert?  Is there anything to learn after the 2012 season is in the books?  One year removed, I would grade myself at a solid C, and surely there is something to take away from it all.

(Note: Colin wrote a great article on Antawn Jamison yesterday.  If you haven’t read it, skip this, click on the link.)

Last year, up until one month before the draft, my attitude was basically; “Cool, I write for my favorite Cavs blog.”  In the final month leading up to selection day, I buckled down and attempted to make a reasonably educated guess at how the players would fair in the NBA.  My results were mixed.  This year I hope to do better, as much of the season was spent with the frame of mind that I’m a “draft expert” (please note quotation marks.  I’m a father of two with a full time job.  I’m part “draft expert”, part “Phineas and Ferb” expert, and part Engineer).  This post may be helpful towards my prioritization of prospects on draft day (it was probably less helpful in my prioritization of Life).

Anyways, this is barely a Cavs post, other than me casting my (non-counting) vote for Crocodile Kyrie as the Rookie of the Year.  So, lets get on with reviewing select aspects of the 2011 draft.

“Cavs Rookies”

Sorry for the brief recap of the Cavs rookies, but this post is one-million words long without going in-depth into the fact that Kyrie is amazing and Tristan is raw.  Cavs:the Blog will certainly discuss each in detail this off-season.   For a few words on each player right now:

Kyrie Irving – The relatively out-of-this-world offensive stats that Kyrie flashed in 11 games at Duke translated well to the NBA.  I’m horribly biased, but he’s the ROY.

Tristan Thompson – For TT, I settled on 16th best rookie season out of the 2011 class (see table below).  He’ll end up better than many of the players above him though.  How could he not after helping to raise four championship banners at the Q?  Tristan improved as the year went on, and hopefully he ages like a fine wine this off-season.

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Next, we’ll explore players where my vantage point went against the grain last summer.  Who was smarter: me or the world?  It’s a mixed bag.

“Players I was contrarian about on Draft Day 2011″

Kenneth Faried – I’m outing myself here; please don’t chastise me, but instead embrace my bravery.  In summer 2011, I viewed Faried as a high energy, undersized frontcourt player without a jumper.  A player whose college stats were padded thanks to being the center in a zone in a small-conference.  When I thought of similar players, 8th men came to mind.  I ignored the obvious in front of me; rebounding is most likely to translate to the NBA and so many people were calling him a sleeper that he barely counted as such, etc.

Now, Faried is the #2 rookie from this draft class, as a highly efficient scorer and an elite NBA rebounder.       Ultimately, I’m not ready to eat crow on any player based on the results of one shortened, accelerated season though.  According to the numbers and play that I’ve seen, he struggles on defense, plus he’s still 6’8” and only hit nine shots from 10 ft or deeper this season.  I’ll let this one ride a little longer before admitting I’m an idiot.

Who this bodes well for in 2012: Certainly Thomas Robinson, but people really like him, so that doesn’t count.  I’ll go with Drew Gordon of New Mexico.  Gordon is a senior in a mid-major and ranked 5th in the NCAA in defensive rebounding percentage.  He’s a long, high energy player.  Most sources slot him near the back end of the second round, and while he won’t be Kenneth Faried, you may hear his name someday in the NBA.

Klay Thompson & Alec Burks – I liked Alec Burks a lot more than Klay Thompson.  Burks was younger, more athletic, scored more efficiently, rebounded better…shoot, he even owned the longer wingspan.

Having recounted Faried and now this comparison; I’m 0 for 2.  I viewed Thompson as a one-trick pony, but as it turns out, it’s a pretty good trick.  He made 41% of his threes.  Still though, he was not a good distributor, rebounder or defender.

I’m counting on AB to eventually make me look good.  He is 17 months younger than Thompson, held his opponent to a 12.8 PER, and played the 5th most minutes of any 2011 draftee that is still battling in May.  That has to count for something, right?

Who this bodes well for in 2012: With regards to Thompson, let’s say John Jenkins of Vanderbilt.  Jenkins lacks many ideal traits in an NBA shooting guard, but he possesses an extremely fast and accurate shot.  If a team is looking for someone to help fill it up with the second unit for 18 minutes a night, I think he’ll get it done.

Jon Leuer – I was a big Leuer fan and advocated for the Cavs to consider him at #32.  Of the 28 players below that logged enough minutes to qualify for adjusted plus / minus, only 3 were above average in each of three advanced stats I chose.  Leuer was one of them.  He didn’t see tons of minutes, but based on early results, I’ll give myself a pat-on-the-back for this one.

Who this bodes well for in 2012: Mike Scott of Virginia, who’s currently slotted late in the 2nd round by most.  Virginia played at the 7th slowest pace of the 345 Division I teams this year.  This really masked Scott’s effectiveness; while using 30% of Cavalier possessions, his offensive rating held strong at 115, he grabbed 24% of available defensive rebounds, and he made 52% of his jump shots.  Other than being 3” shorter, the comparison to Leuer is  strong.

Iman Shumpert – Prior to draft day, from my television, it’s hard to tell the mental make-up of these guys.  In college, Shumpert exhibited poor shot selection and relatively high turnover rates.  On the plus side, he was a great athlete and a ball-hawking defender.  I envisioned Shumpert in a situation where he was allowed to indulge his wild side on offense, potentially at the expense of locking down his man at the other end.  Really this was a tale of two seasons for I-Shump.  Pre All-Star break, he was shooting nearly 11 times a game and making only 38% of his field goals (25% on threes).   In the second half of the season, in similar minutes, he reduced his shot attempts to 7.5 per game while improving to 43% (35% from deep).  As long as he accepts a limited role on offense while locking-down on defense, Shumpert will be a valuable role player.

Who this bodes well for in 2012: Can Tony Wroten show up at the combine and post the highest vertical jump, then prove to have the mindset to be a lockdown NBA defender?  I’ll say no, but that would be the best comparison.  The nod goes to Dion Waiters instead; he’s not quite Shumpert’s athletic equal, but he’s the offensively aggressive combo-guard with an extremely high steal rate.  For what it’s worth, I certainly like Waiters more this year than I liked Shumpert last year.

Jan Vesely – I’ve beaten this into the ground, but I wasn’t a fan of Vesely as a top 5 pick.  So far, I’ll give myself credit for being right on that.

Who this bodes poorly for in 2012: Dare I say Andre Drummond?  A big, athletic player that doesn’t defensive rebound, bricks free throws at an alarming rate (30%!!!!), and lacks definable offensive skills?   Check, check, check (and no, this is not a veiled dig at TT.  My crystal ball says four championships).

Jimmy Butler – For the Cavs #32 pick in 2011, I was a big Jimmy Butler fan.  Instead the Bulls picked him at #30, where he didn’t see many minutes playing for the NBA’s regular-season-wins leader.  My view on JB was that he played the “right” way and would be a valuable role player on a contender someday.  Playing for Tom Thibideau can’t have hurt; so I’m maintaining high hopes for Jimmy Butler.

Who this bodes well for in 2012: Butler technically didn’t do anything in the NBA this year, so who is the player that may sneak into the end of the 1st round, drafted by one of the NBA’s elite?  My choice is his ex-teammate at Marguette – Jae Crowder.

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“Pleasant Surprises”

In this section, the players that most outperformed their draft position will be briefly expounded upon.  What can we learn from their pre-draft performance that potentially foretold of their first-season NBA success?

Isaiah Thomas – At last year’s draft combine, Thomas rated top ten across the board in the jumping, agility and speed drills.  As a junior in a big conference, his offensive rating was a very respectable 114 on 27 usage.  Of the 16 point guards in the draftexpress database for 2011, he had the 2nd best pure point rating.  Described as an adept pick-and-roll ball handler and a hard-nosed defender; it seems everyone tried too hard to write Thomas off based on his size.

Who this bodes well for: There’s a reason every team doesn’t have a 5’10” starting point guard with a 17 PER.  With hindsight as a guide, it looks pretty reasonable to have expected Thomas to be a sub-six-footer to show that size doesn’t matter.

Chandler Parsons – I’m not sure what to say about Parsons.  He didn’t test as a good athlete, wasn’t a particularly efficient offensive player, rarely got to the free throw line, shot poorly when there, was 23 years old at the start of the season, described as an occasionally indifferent defensive player…even in hindsight, I have trouble talking myself into him.  I know there were commenters who wanted the Cavs to draft him at #32; you’re pretty smart, so remind me why.

Josh Harrellson – Everytime I tuned in for one of Harrellson’s more celebrated teammates, it was easy to be impressed by him, because he played so hard.  Statistically, he was a very efficient low-usage center, with an extremely high offensive rebounding percentage.

Who this bodes well for: With consideration to Ricardo Ratliffe of Missouri, I’ll say Miles Plumlee of Duke.  Both were four-year role players on perennial powerhouses, with excellent “motors” and outstanding offensive rebounding percentages.  In the run-up to the draft, I don’t recall Harrellson being viewed as a draftable player.  Then he was selected 45th.  Maybe Plumlee will impress someone in workouts and interviews enough also, and warrant late second round selection.

Lavoy Allen – Allen peaked during his sophomore and junior years, with high rebounding rates and great offensive efficiency.  His senior year, he was described as coasting and his numbers were down across the board.  Leading up to draft day last year, many draft sites weren’t listing him in the 60 picks.  The 76ers must have heard something in interviews that made them think his prior performance was likely to resume.

Who this bodes well for: I’m stretching here, but I’ll give this to Ohio State Buckeye William Buford.  Buford converted 44% of this three pointers during his junior year, as a very efficient scorer for a top-flight Ohio State team.  This year, that percentage dropped to 36% and he plummeted down many draft boards.

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If you read this far through my dis-jointed 2011 draft follow-up; I’m impressed.  Now you get to see the somewhat arbitrary table where I rank the top 49 players from this year’s class.  Enjoy!!  Hopefully this endeavor has greatly improved my and your “draft expert”-ing.

The table includes Minutes, PER, Win Shares per 48 minutes, and adjusted plus / minus (with standard deviation).  If the player did not play enough minutes to qualify for adjusted plus / minus, I included their unadjusted impact on their team’s 100 possession efficiency.


Draft Profile: Jared Sullinger

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Well, the seasons over.  Time to watch other squads square-off in the NBA playoffs while waiting for the lottery, draft day, and eventually, free agency.  Or if you’re more ambitious than that, you can find a hobby; it’s nice outside this time of year.  I  have allergies though, so I will spend my off-season profiling players whom will go 90% undrafted by the Cavs. 

With a 95% chance at a top five pick, Jared Sullinger probably won’t be on Cleveland’s radar.  I wrote a draft profile anyways, because what’s a series like this, on Cavs:the Blog, without discussing the draft’s highest profile Ohioan.

Sullinger shoots a hook shot against Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship (Jonathan Daniel - Getty Images)

Sullinger just completed his sophomore year, turning 20 in March, and leading Ohio State to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four.  He averaged 17 points and 9 rebounds on 59% true shooting in 30 minutes per game.  At 6’9” and 270 lbs, he possesses impressive strength and sports a wingspan of over 7 feet.  Utilizing his wide frame, he can establish deep post position, where he displays an array of post moves.  Also an effective shooter, Sullinger scores as a pick-and-pop threat, reflected in his 40%  three point shooting (16 of 40 this year).  From the free throw line he shot 77%, while attempting the 18th most freebies in the NCAA this season.  Combined with his size; solid effort & positioning make him excellent on the boards, where his offensive and defensive rebounding percentages ranked 2nd in the Big Ten.  The biggest question marks about his transition to the NBA are his conditioning & below-the-rim style.  He lost twenty pounds between his freshman and sophomore years, but still lacks the speed and explosiveness to score efficiently against long, athletic big men.    His physique also  raises defensive concerns; primarily an inability to operate as a major shot-blocking presence and as a liability obstructing quick NBA power forwards.

For a deeper look…onto some game recaps:

03/10 against Michigan - Against a young & undersized Wolverine squad, Sullinger dominated to the tune of 24 points on 72% true shooting.  He scored 8 of Ohio State’s first 10 points, as the Buckeyes cruised to a 77 – 55 victory.  Flashing lefty and righty hook shots, turnaround jumpers, up & unders; Michigan’s bigs could not contain him on the block.  He hit pick-and-pop and step-back jumpers, grabbed offensive rebounds…every offensive skill you would want to see from a big man was on display.  Defense was a mixed bag.  He botched a couple of pick-and-rolls and his focus appeared to wane at times; losing track of his man in transition or on the boards, and one time, fouling a three point shooter. Surprisingly quick feet and rotations gained him a drawn charge, and he frequently posed a nuisance at the basket, including blocking two shots.

03/11 against Michigan St - Sitting much of the first half due to foul trouble; Sullinger finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds as Ohio State lost the Big Ten championship game.  As part of a trend, Sullinger struggled against a long, athletic opposing big man, this time Spartan sophomore Adrien Payne.  Payne is 6’10” with a 7’ wingspan, was ranked 30th in their high school class, and lead the Big Ten in block percentage this year.  Sullinger’s 7 of 19 from the field largely resulted due to the menacing presence of Payne.  Despite the poor day shooting, the Buckeye big man showcased several post moves: left & right handed hook shots, once as a countermove, and also hitting a turnaround jumper.  The same defensive miscues of the prior day were present; butchered pick-and-rolls and occasional bouts of lost focus.  A personal irritation about Sullinger is that he complains too much about non-calls; he needs to get back on defense.

03/24 against Syracuse - Helping Ohio State reach their first Final Four in five years, he made his presence felt in 26 foul-trouble-reduced minutes (I thought a few whistles were questionable.  The refs called a tight game, with 67 combined free throws). Sullinger tallied 19 points and 7 rebounds on 66% true shooting. Powerful back-downs and drop steps, combined with convincing shot fakes, lead to twelve trips to the charity stripe.  On one deft isolation move, he pulled up for a 14-ft bank shot.  At least four times, he exhibited swift lateral movement, staying with a Syracuse guard on a switch and forcing a miss or a turnover.  Help from him at the rim was largely non-existent however, again a function of his generally floor-bound game.

Summary: Sullinger will be a solid pro, as he possesses offensive skill, defensive & rebounding fundamentals, and fine understanding of the game.  He’ll struggle against the NBA’s more athletic and defensive minded power forwards, but will not exist as option #1 for his team, which should help him.  If his opponent poses problems; he can focus on rebounding, maybe hit a few jumpers, and his team can run their offense through the surely better options they will have.  There will be “good” match-ups; for every Kevin Garnett, there is an Antawn Jamison or 6’-6” Carl Landry. When his weaknesses were exposed at Ohio State, it appeared to be a combination of two things: he played center and the offense relied heavily on him.  If matched up against 7-footer Jeff Withey, the Big Twelve defensive player of the year, as Sullinger was in the Final Four, Ohio State still needed him to shoot nineteen times.  In the NBA, that won’t happen, and Sullinger shouldn’t expect it to happen.

As a parting thought on J-Sull’s defense, according to Ken Pomeroy, Ohio State had the 2nd best schedule-adjusted defensive rating in the NCAA this year (they were top-20 without adjusting for schedule).  Certainly much credit goes to Thad Matta, but unless your starting center capably handles his responsibilities, clearly an elite defense can not be built. While obviously not a good bet to make all-defense teams, Sullinger’s smarts & strength make him a suitable team defender and a non-liability.  He needs to continue improving his jumper & conditioning, and refining his post repertoire.  Focus on the “dirty work” early in his career, quit complaining about perceived missed calls, and develop into an efficient 15 & 9 guy.  That is a totally attainable goal for 25-year-old Mr. Sullinger.

Draft Profile: Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

This draft profile should be short.  It won’t be though, because I’m bad at brevity.  If the Cavs pick first, they select Anthony Davis.  Hopefully Cleveland doesn’t pick low enough to overly think about Terrence Jones, who is typically slotted 8th to 12th on draft boards.

Anthony Davis lives in Thomas Robinson's nightmares (Jeff Gross - Getty Images)

During his freshman year, Davis played the best season of NCAA basketball since at least Kevin Durant.  As the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for the 2012 Champions, following a season when he won every conceivable award, there is no debate over who the first pick in the NBA draft will be.  His accomplishments include:

  • Greatest freshman shot blocker in recent NCAA history at nearly five per game.
  • Thanks to 62% field goal shooting, 71% free throw shooting, and a ridiculously low turnover rate; his offensive rating of 133.6 points per 100 used possessions ranked fourth in the NCAA.
  • Grabbing 24% of available defensive rebounds ranked first in the SEC.

He’s 6’10” with a 7’4” wingspan, athletic and constantly working.  Having just turned 19 in March, even with a limited offensive arsenal, he is an absolute game changer.

Terrence Jones finished his sophomore year averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds per game on 55% true shooting.  He looks like an NBA player: 6’9” tall, 7’2” wingspan, 250 lbs, athletic & strong.  Best utilized as a face-up power forward, he skillfully puts the ball on the floor with his dominant left hand and attacks the paint.  He harnesses his athleticism on defense as an effective weak side shot blocker, rejecting almost two per game.  His biggest downfall is a propensity to disappear, as his effort can wane and maturity questions follow him.  An example of his inconsistency displayed itself during my look at MKG earlier this season; against Indiana in December, Jones finished with 4 points and 1 rebound while being repeatedly benched by John Calipari.  For a very big guy, he can overly rely on a “finesse” game.  His rebounding is average; for pace adjusted, per minute defensive rebounding, he ranks 72nd of 118 PF’s in draftexpress.com’s database.  Finally, he lacks refined back-to-the -basket moves and a reliable jumper (32% from three, 63% on free throws).

Terrence Jones finishes emphatically in UK's NCAA Finals victory (Jeff Gross - Getty Images)

For a deeper look, here are some game notes:

March 4th UK vs Florida – Davis finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks in this 74 – 59 Wildcat victory.  Yawn…

He completely controlled the paint and dominated the game.  Everyone understands that, so I’ll nit-pick.  His jump shot still warrants practice, as he was 1 of 4 on long twos and threes.  For the season, he shot 3 of 20 from outside the arc.  Also, he’ll benefit from trips to the weight room, as Patric Young moved him around pretty easily on a couple of possessions.

Jones scored UK’s first eight points of the game; three times facing up and driving, the other time corralling a putback.  He ended with 19 points on 71% true shooting, with three blocks & two steals, but only four rebounds.  Generating most of his offense off face-up drives, cuts & offensive rebounds; he was 1 of 2 both with his back to the basket and as a jump shooter.  None of his forays to the basket featured his weaker right hand.  Defensively, he blocked shots as a help defender, and also fought through two screens to reject a jump shot.  There were several poor defensive possessions too, though.  Lackadaisically jogging up court, Patric Young zipped by him in transition for an easy dunk.  Standing erect and not boxing out when a UF shot went up resulted in another easy Gator putback.

Finally, this applies to both players, but I don’t like how UK defends the pick-and-roll; their big men stay far from the pick, frequently resulting in both the ball-handler and roll man charging forward with a head of steam.  This was a fairly regular occurrence in both games.

NCAA Championship Game – UK vs Kansas - Davis netted 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 blocks and 3 steals as Kentucky cut down the nets in New Orleans.  Take those numbers in for a minute…

His activity level is great; when an opponent shot went up, he sealed his man off, grabbing rebounds at the top of his jump.  Fighting for position and keeping his arms vertical caused many tough looks for the Jayhawk bigs.  He stole a KU alley-oop and batted away an entry pass, forcing a steal.  As a shot blocker, he is a constant presence, lurking as KU players worked from the post or drove from the perimeter.  Thanks to his long arms and non-stop effort, he had a pivotal non-block, closing at the three point line near the end of regulation and forcing a travel.  Clearly thoughts of Davis worked through Thomas Robinson’s head, as he tossed up some very hasty shots.  Early this season, David Thorpe described Davis as (paraphrased) “a more athletic Marcus Camby with closer to Joakim Noah’s motor”.  Davis is bouncy, long, has great timing, moves well…NBA DPOY awards could loom in his future.  On the downside, he only shot 1 of 10 this game, including a sloppy isolation possession and an awkward post move.  I think people got over that.

Jones scored 9 points on 57% true shooting with 7 rebounds in 29 minutes.  His two blocks included a spectacular chase down, and he made a pivotal play with one minute to go; collecting an errant UK pass just before it went out of bounds, dribbling into the paint from thirty feet, and finding Anthony Davis at the basket.  From there; Kentucky only had to make their freebies to finish the game out.  The biggest downside to Jones’ performance was that Thomas Robinson played remarkably more physically, constantly establishing very deep post position and getting close range shots off.  Jones will need to play tougher, as Anthony Davis won’t have his back in the NBA.

Summary: Davis dominated the NCAA in a rarely exhibited way.  The scary thing is, he can get a lot better.  His shooting range is still unreliable, his back-to-the-basket game is raw, he’s too skinny…if he never improves on any of this; he’ll still be a low-usage, high-efficiency center that dominates one end of the court.   With strides in his offensive game and a little more muscle on his frame; could he win an MVP?

ESPN often compares Terrence Jones to Lamar Odom, describing how valuable he can be when engaged, but “let him roam and he can disappear”.  This is an apt comparison, as my initial take on a career arc for Jones looks similar to Odom.  Jones seems like a player that will bounce around as a good player on forgettable NBA teams.  Then after several years, older and wiser, he will pop up as the fourth best player on an NBA champion.  Finally, for an encore, maybe he’ll marry one of the younger “Kardashians”.

Clearly, I hope that Anthony Davis dons a wine-and-gold hat on June 28th.  When I sleep at night, Sportscenter quality alley-oops from Irving to “the Brow” dance through my head.

Recap: Cavs 84, Magic 100 (or, this is really a Brad Beal draft profile)

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Cleveland scored 30 first half points as their injury depleted offense could not unlock the defensive riddle that is Dwight Howard.

Wait?

What?

Howard didn’t play tonight? Oh, never mind. Well…ummm…Toronto and Sacremento won, so Cleveland again has the fifth worst record in the NBA and is tied for fourth fewest wins.

With that, let’s discuss everyone’s favorite collegiate shooting guard: University of Florida freshman Bradley Beal.

Beal sits in the top five on every draft board.  As one of the youngest players available, turning 19 in June, he tallied 15 points on 57% true shooting, with 7 rebounds & 2 assists per game over his one year with the Gators.  Despite a reputation as an ace marksman, he finished the season converting only 34% from long range.  Scouts love his shooting form though, and he also is a skilled shot creator that is praised for his maturity & coachability.  He reaches the foul line at a reasonable rate, attempting five free throws a game and making 77% while there.  Finally, his rebounding is elite for a shooting guard.  Per minute, pace adjusted, he ranks 4th of 83 shooting guards in the draftexpress.com database.

Game Summaries: According to the box score, Beal struggled in Florida’s March 4th loss to Kentucky.  Scoring five points on ten shots won’t get it done.  His outside shots wouldn’t fall and Anthony Davis gave him headaches at the rim.  Beal exhibited a nuance to his game that can be viewed favorably however.  He showed advanced ball-handling skills with both hands and facilitated the offense well.  He understands a need to feed the post, and in addition to his four assists, dished several on-point passes that were fumbled or resulted in missed shots.  Three of his dimes came in transition, where he frequently creates opportunities by grabbing defensive rebounds and bolting down the court (six d-boards this game).  Defensively he flashed signs of strength against UK’s freshman stars; on one possession staying between Marquis Teague and the basket before blocking his layup, and on another trip down the court, impeding an MKG drive with quick feet prior to stealing the ball with rabbit-fast hands.  Overall, this does not go down as a noteworthy game for Beal, but even on 1 of 10 shooting in a double-digit loss; I was impressed.

In the first game of a relatively unexpected jaunt to the NCAA tournament elite eight (Florida was a 7 seed); Beal totaled 14 points and 11 rebounds on 72% true shooting in a blowout win over Virginia.  It was a relatively nondescript game, as he scored three of his five field goals off offensive rebounds and another from a catch-and-shoot three.  He frequently brought the ball up court and initiated the Gator offense.  As the pick-and-roll ball handler, he showed good decision making; his lone assist lead to a Patric Young dunk as the roll man, and twice he set up Eric Murphy with wide open pick-and-pop eighteen footers, only to watch the shots rim out.  It was a quiet double-double in a 25-point victory; nothing wrong with that.

Summary: Unlike Austin Rivers, Beal closed the year very strongly.  Instead of NCAA coaches figuring him out; he began mastering the college game.  Over the last 10 games, in 35 minutes, he averaged 15.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.7 turnovers, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and shot 47 / 35 / 78 (60% TS and this included the 1 of 10 UK game).  Everything about that looks great, and each number represents an improvement over his first 27 games.

Like everyone else, I am high on Bradley Beal.  He’s extremely skilled for an eighteen-year old and by all accounts, he works hard and possesses excellent “basketball IQ”.  Most comparisons include Ray Allen and Eric Gordon.  I’m going on a quick tangent and saying that it is silly to compare any 18 year old to Ray Allen; he’s a singularly unique player, maybe the greatest shooter of all time, a man that may score 25000 points and drain 3000 three pointers.  It’s a strained comparison, like Bismack Biyombo to Ben Wallace, another once in a generation player.  They’re eighteen years old; unless they blistered the college game for a year like Kevin Durant, no need for hyperbole.

Anyways, rant aside, the Eric Gordon comparison seems apt, to the level of him being considered a great shooter in college while only making 34% of his threes.  Gordon went on to knock down 39% his first year in the league  and was a 38% long distance shooter through three years.  That said though, Beal shows abilities of advanced ball handling, court vision and rebounding compared to Gordon.  Just like last year, if the Cavs number goes past on lottery night with another team’s name in their place; I will jump high enough off of my couch that I could be a lottery pick.  To me; Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist & Brad Beal are all cream-of-the-crop draft day scores.

Draft Profile: Austin Rivers and Dion Waiters

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

This week, we’ll embark on a different style of draft profile; a tale of the tape between similar players.  Austin Rivers and Dion Waiters are highly confident & aggressive shooting guards with sweet handles and deep shooting range.  Both declared for the draft; Rivers currently resides around 17th on most boards, while Waiters sits in the early twenties.  Weighing their strengths and weaknesses will serve as the basis for “who is the better prospect?”

Size: According to draftexpress, Waiters is 6′ 3.5″ with a 6’6.5″ wingspan.  He features a highly muscular physique, tipping the scales at 210 pounds.  Rivers is 6′ 5″ and carries a 6′ 7″ wingspan.  He needs to add strength.  I’m going to call this a tie.  Outcome: Rivers 0.5, Waiters 0.5

Austin Rivers drives & kicks against Lehigh - Picture by Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

Age / Experience: Turning 20 in August, Rivers is an old freshman.  Waiters reached 20 in December though and completed two years of NCAA ball.  In this battle, youth proves advantageous; Outcome: Rivers 1.5, Waiters 0.5

Scoring: In 33 minutes per game, Rivers averaged 15.5 points on 43 / 37 / 66 shooting (53.8% true shooting).  In 24 minutes, Waiters tallied 12.6 points on 48 / 36 / 73 (56.5% TS).  Both can extend the floor and attack the basket; Rivers heads to the free throw line more regularly, but makes fewer while there.  Thanks to higher efficiency, Waiters tallied more points per minute despite Syracuse playing at a a slower pace.  Outcome: Rivers 1.5, Waiters 1.5

Distribution: As a quality pick and roll ball handler; Waiters’ 2.5 assists per game bests Rivers, despite A-Riv playing ten more minutes at a faster pace.  Also committing fewer turnovers, Waiters ranks 8th of 83 shooting guards (draftexpress.com database) for the advanced passing stat of Pure Point Rating, while Rivers lags at 64th.  Outcome: Rivers 1.5, Waiters 2.5

Rebounding: Neither rebounds well.  Fortunately with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Varejao and TT in tow; it won’t matter.

Intangibles: I recall reading or hearing that Waiters butts heads with Jim Boeheim.  Austin Rivers is the son of a 13 year NBA vet and the current coach of the Boston Celtics.  Both play with a bit of an edge, but the point goes to the NBA lifer.  Outcome: Rivers 2.5, Waiters 2.5

Dion Waiters soars for an and-one in the NCAA tournament - Picture by Jim Rogash / Getty Images

Defense: One sentence from draftexpress can summarize Rivers defensively; “he was not an impact player.”  Watching him, I didn’t note a lot good or bad; he gives decent effort and typically stays in front of his man, but doesn’t possess high-end strength, length or athleticism to be a real stopper.  For an informative article on the impact of various players in the Syracuse zone, check out this Sports Illustrated Piece.  Waiters is strong & aggressive, ranking 13th in the NCAA by ending 4.6% of defensive possessions with a steal.  Outcome: River 2.5, Waiters 3.5

Impact on team: Duke struggled during Rivers’ limited time off the court, outscoring opponents by 0.5 points per forty minutes, compared to +11.2 per 40 when he played.  Syracuse played approximately 8 points better per forty minutes with Waiters (+17.7 compared to +9.9), but featured the third most talented roster in the NCAA.  Duke relied on Rivers a lot more than ‘Cuse lived or died by their sixth man; the edge here goes to Rivers.  Outcome: Rivers 3.5, Waiters 3.5

Last 10 games & Game notes: Over the final ten games, Rivers limped into the season’s finish line, converting only 39% of his field goals and 30% of his long distance shots. Duke lost in the semifinals of the ACC tournament and the first round of the NCAA tournament.  Waiters’ shooting improved as the season wore on, connecting on 42% from three down the homestretch.  For more details, let’s look at game recaps:

In Lehigh’s March Madness kick-off victory over Duke, Rivers scored 19 points, on inefficient 49% True Shooting.  He only had 1 assist against 2 turnovers, as Lehigh’s big men effectively hedged on pick-and-roll defense all game (a skill sorely lacking in the college game).  In addition to frequently impeding his forays to the basket, the Mountain Hawk bigs caused defensive problems at the basket, too.  On 9 possessions amongst the trees, Rivers only scored on three, finishing two of seven field goals at the basket.  If a lack of elite athleticism creates finishing problems against a #15 seed in the NCAA tournament; it’s probably something to work on as you head to the NBA .  Occasional over-aggressiveness in the passing lanes resulted in a Lehigh three and a non-existent block-out allowed his six-foot tall counterpart to snag an easy putback.

Against Florida State in Duke’s 59 – 62 ACC tournament loss, Rivers again was a volume scorer, tallying 17 points on 50% true shooting.  He exhibited slick ball handling and got to the basket moving left and right.  He finished better at the rim (4 of 7) & showed skill drawing contact at the basket, but turned the ball over three times while driving; once on a travel and twice trying to collect the ball going up for a shot.  Even when dribbling left handed, he tried to switch to his right hand to finish, losing control of the ball in the process.  His shooting abandoned him, converting only 1 of 5 three point attempts.  Effort and positioning on defense were solid, but another missed boxout resulted in an FSU offensive rebound, which forced Rivers into his 3rd foul.  If Rivers exhibited more physicality when rebounding, maybe he would grab more than 9% of the available defensive boards.

In Cuse’s Big East tourney loss to Cincinnati, Waiters unleashed the highest scoring game of his career.  His 28 points came thanks to seven made three pointers, several of which were behind the NBA line and one that was waaaaay behind it (the game was at MSG).  Three of his four assists were drive-and-kicks for three and the other an alley-oop to Fab Melo.  He scored or assisted on 57% of the Orangmen’s points.  Ultimately they lost though, as the Bearcats carved up the Syracuse zone in the first half.  UC made eight first-half threes, half of which Waiters was at least partially accountable for; either closing out too hard & jumping past a pump fake, making a lazy zone rotation, or simply mis-communicating on a zone assignment.  Not sure this means anything from the perspective of NBA defense; in the second half, he was much more focused and snagged a couple of steals.

Against Ohio State on 03/24, Waiters battled foul trouble, only playing 20 minutes and scoring 9 points of 2 – 8 shooting.  Whereas he flashed deep shooting range against Cincinnati, this day his speedy and elusive driving ability was featured.  In limited time, he put the ball on the floor and got to the basket nine times.  Results were mixed though; twice he shape-shifted for spectacular and-ones, but several times he hoisted out-of-control shots or turned the ball over.  I counted 9 points on his 9 possessions used off of dribble penetration, so overall, not horrible results.  There was also a baseline drive ending with a hanging, wrap-around pass to his big for an open dunk.  His shot selection and poor finishing left something lacking (mainly points), but he showed off an array of ball-handling and body control maneuvers to continually get to the rim.

Watching the two play, there is something dynamic and exciting about Waiters that lacks with Rivers.  Advantage and 4.5 to 3.5 victory to Waiters!

Summary: The combination of Waiters’ efficient scoring and his low turnover rates allow him to best Rivers in offensive rating while also being more used.  D-Wait produced 116 points per 100 possessions and was relied upon for over one-fourth of the Orangmen’s trips down the court.  Despite using 1.5 less possessions per 100; Rivers only tallies an offensive rating of 105.  PER tells a similar story, with the Syracuse sixth man at 26.1, compared to the Duke star at 16.8.  Combining Waiters’ current edge offensively, defensively & as an athlete, at only 8 months older, I think he’s a better prospect and would provide a suitable backup to Kyrie and at the two-guard.  If the Cavs can luck into Anthony Davis or MKG with their first pick, then trade up and nab Waiters; I’ll call that a huge draft day success.