“Shoot the J! Shoot it!”
— Prince — who, yes, really was a pretty good basketball player at 5-foot-2 back in his day, in the seminal “Chappelle’s Show” skit about Prince, Charlie Murphy (Eddie’s brother), Micki Free, pancakes and ‘Game, Blouses’ — during the Revolution’s game against Charlie Murphy and his buddies at Prince’s home in the ‘80s. (Yes, this really did sort of happen.).
That is the NBA game now. Let it fly. If you don’t have a two guard who can catch and release like Klay Thompson, or Bradley Beal, or J.J. Redick, you’re behind. (No, seriously; look at the scoreboard. You’re behind.) And those guys don’t usually get loose via free agency; Portland gave C.J. McCollum $108 million before he could even think about seeing what was out there.
So teams without have to look to the Draft to find those shooters and scorers that help fill up the stat sheet. Unfortunately for them, the 2017 class of shooting guard prospects is not filled with sure things. There’s talent, but there are also significant questions about many of the players who are at the top of the pack.
ICYMI, here are the other evaluations:
And so you can mark your calendars, the NBA’s Draft Lottery is on May 16.
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A note on the rankings:
This is not a predictor of when these players will be taken. These rankings, based on discussions with dozens of NBA and college coaches, and NBA college scouts and team executives, address the question of how ready players are to play the position which they are assigned: In other words, if there was a game tonight, who would play better at that position tonight, not in three years.
We include underclassmen that are expected to declare for the Draft, or are at least thinking strongly about it. No one who hasn’t thought about declaring is going to be swayed by seeing his name on a Draft board. So we include everyone.
Players are listed at the position at which NBA people believe they’ll play as pros.
For example: when I originally did the small forward Big Board, I thought that Syracuse forward Tyler Lydon was more likely to play the three in the pros. But most scouts and team execs with whom I’ve subsequently spoken have strongly said they believe that Lydon will, at least for now, have to play more power forward than small forward. So I took him off of the small forward Big Board (with everyone originally behind him moving up a spot, and Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu moving into the number 10 spot) and put Lydon on the power forward Big Board.
Players who declare for the Draft have until May 24 — 10 days of the end of the NBA Combine, which was from May 9-14 in Chicago — to pull out of the Draft as long as they don’t sign with an agent. This rule was instituted last year to give players more time to make a more informed decision about their potential Draft status after talking with and working out for NBA teams at the Combine.
Again: This is not a mock Draft (though one of those is, sadly, coming). No one has any idea what will happen between now and June 24; we don’t know if there will be a major injury that will impact what a team wants or needs. What follows is a rough consensus of what NBA personnel people, GMs and coaches, and college coaches that I trust — and that, obviously, can’t be quoted by name — believe is the pro potential for this year’s crop of college and international players.
• “Sleepers” are players almost certain to go in the second round, or may go undrafted, but who could nonetheless make a roster or otherwise have an impact on the teams that select them if they overcome perceived shortcomings.
• “Some Scouts Like” will refer to players whose intentions are not yet known for certain, but who are viewed as potentially draftable if they do. Emphasis on “potentially.”
• If a player was not invited to the Combine, his height and weight is his listed one from his school and/or his pro team if he’s an international prospect.
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David Aldridge’s Big Board 2017: Shooting Guards
Rank | Name | School/Team | Class/Age | HT | WT > Projected
1. Malik Monk | Kentucky | Freshman | 6-3 | 200 > High lottery
2. Luke Kennard | Duke | Sophomore | 6-5 | 196 > Late lottery/Mid-first round
3. Donovan Mitchell | Louisville | Sophomore | 6-3 | 211 > Late lottery/Mid-first round
4. Justin Jackson | North Carolina | Junior | 6-8 | 200 > Mid-first round
5. Terrance Ferguson | Adelaide 36ers | 18 | 6-7 | 184 > Mid/Late First
6. Derrick White | Colorado | Senior | 6-5 | 200 | Late First/Early Second
7. Frank Jackson | Duke | Freshman | 6-3 | 205 | Second round
8. Josh Hart | Villanova | Senior | 6-5 | 209 > Second round
9. Sindarius Thornwell | South Carolina | Senior | 6-4 | 211 > Second round
10. Dwyane Bacon | Florida State | Sophomore | 6-6 | 221 > Second round
SLEEPERS: Tyler Dorsey (SO), 6-4, 195, Oregon; Andrew White, 6-7, 210, Syracuse; Jamel Artis, 6-6, 213, Pittsburgh; Marcus Marshall, 6-3, 190, Nevada
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Monk can fill it up at NBA rate
Come on: how can a guy named Malik Monk not be a great shooter?
Don’t fret. He is.
The SEC Freshman of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection, Monk filled it up from everywhere, shooting almost 40 percent on threes, and showing particular skill at the catch-and-shoot corner three (h/t Fansided), which is the bread and butter of modern NBA perimeter shooting.
Monk’s 47-point game against North Carolina in Kentucky’s non-conference win over the Tar Heels in December — which included eight 3-pointers — obviously turned a lot of heads.
But he followed that game up with more big scoring nights in SEC play — 34 points against Mississippi in late December, 37 against Georgia in January and 33 against Florida in February. His shooting numbers dropped both in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, but in his last two games, he had huge moments — 21 points in the Wildcats’ win over UCLA in the Sweet 16, and an incredible deep three that tied Kentucky with North Carolina in the final seconds of their rematch in the Elite Eight — a basket that was only overshadowed by Luke Maye’s game-winner for the Tar Heels at the other end.
So, Monk has lots of fans.
“I would say you’d like him a little bit taller,” a Southwest Division executive said of Monk. “He’s a little undersized. He may be a little on the streaky side, but I tell you what, the last minute of that (second Carolina) game, when he had to make a shot, and he throws (in) two 3-pointers, boom, boom, that showed me a lot of guts. And great shooters keep shooting. I’ve seen him enough where he puts points on the board, and he’s not afraid, and he’s got a good stroke. I have no issues with that kid. If you’re sitting there (drafting) six, seven or eight, and he comes to you, I think that GM is going to have a smile on his face.”
“I think he’ll be all right even though he’s 6-3. I think what’s going to hurt him is not necessarily his size, but he’s awful thin. He might get bumped around defensively more so than offensively.”
Northwest Division scout, on Malik Monk
Smaller guys have to figure out a way to get their shots off against taller guys from the time they’re kids. Monk is no different.
“He’s got a unique NBA release,” a Pacific Division scouting man said. “If he’s going against a taller guy, he’s still going to be able to lean back and get the shot off. Not every player can do that. I think as he becomes stronger, gets his legs stronger, he’s going to be an even better player. I think he’s got a chance to be noticeably better. He’s got the pedigree. He’s obviously played in a big-time program, with the spotlight primarily on him a lot. I thought he handled it well…at the beginning of the year I thought he’d be the best prospect on his team, and I don’t think that’s changed for most people.”
Monk had to do a lot for Kentucky, but if he gets to a team with more talent, he’ll get more open looks — and that’s a wrap.
There have been two guards in recent years of similar size to Monk who’ve done well in the NBA. Sleepy Floyd played 12 NBA seasons and made an All-Star team for Golden State. Cuttino Mobley played a decade, mostly on good teams in Houston and with the LA Clippers. And Monta Ellis is still going strong a dozen years into his career, including monster scoring seasons with the Warriors (a 25.5 points per game clip in 2009-10 being the highlight).
But at 6-foot-3, and far less than the 200 pounds at which he’s listed by Kentucky, Monk’s build as a potential pro causes some concerns, even in a league that’s downsizing at almost every position. He was on the ball some at Kentucky but no one expects him to make a living in the NBA as a point guard.
“I would be nervous if I drafted Monk in the top four,” said a Northwest Division scout. “If you draft a guy up there, top seven, top eight, you kind of think you want to start him. And he’s that type of talent. (But) I don’t think he can start. He’s too small. I would be really concerned if he was my starting two guard—ever. I think he’s like a Monta Ellis type guy, which is really good—Monta had a lot of years where he played well. But his team never won when he started at the two. I’d rather have him be my Jamal Crawford (off the bench). You could still get him 30 minutes.”
And at the other end, Monk would, many nights, likely have to defend the other team’s point guard in cross-matches, which could present a problem if his team’s point guard is also small.
“I think he’ll be all right even though he’s 6-3,” a Northwest Division personnel man said. “I think what’s going to hurt him is not necessarily his size, but he’s awful thin. He might get bumped around defensively more so than offensively. I think coaches like him because of his ability to catch and shoot it coming off of screens, his ability space the floor and knock down long NBA jumper. He’s going to find his way and coaches are going to like him because of his offensive skills.”
And, it’s the NBA. Almost everybody gets torched on D.
“If the kid is a good person, wants to be a good player, and has the attitude, defense in this league, it’s really hard,” the Southwest executive said. “It’s almost impossible to stop another guy if he’s talented enough. But if the kid has a good attitude and puts the work in, I think he’ll definitely be acceptable, and then they’ll have to give him help, like every team has someone they have to help.”
Ferguson’s overseas stint intrigues NBA types
Eighteen-year-old Terrance Ferguson opted not to participate in the NCAAs, even after a star turn at the 2016 Nike Hoop Summit in Portland. A five-star recruit who played in several prep programs, the last in Dallas, Ferguson decommitted twice — first from Alabama, then from Arizona — and decided to play abroad this season, in Australia, for the Adelaide 36ers. It’s the same move that Emmanuel Mudiay made two years ago when he turned down a scholarship at SMU to play for guaranteed money in China. Ferguson won’t go as high as Mudiay, who was taken seventh overall in the 2015 Draft by Denver. But he’s a mid-first round prospect.
Ferguson’s endorsement deal with Under Armour likely helped make his decision to play thousands of miles away from home — and, his mother came across the Pacific with him for his year abroad. The stats don’t really matter, though. What NBA types like is seeing what a kid does playing against grown men. So far, according to those who’ve made the trip to scout him, Ferguson has held up fine.
“He’s a very mature kid who’s an athletic, jump-out-of-the-gym player,” a Southwest Division personnel man said. “He’s a lane-runner who wants to play in transition. Nice release jumper as he’s streaky with shot – [he] has learned to play a slower pace with a purpose being in Australia. He learned to bang and get hit with mature pros as league and is solid.”
At 6-foot-7, Ferguson has more than enough size to play the position. And while he’s not the shooter Monk is, he’s very, very good. He’s also impressed scouts who’ve seen him pass better than they expected. Unlike other prospects who play abroad, Adelaide’s coaches have allowed Ferguson to display his abilities in NBA sets and pick and roll opportunities. And unlike, say, Dante Exum, who went fifth in the 2014 Draft to the Utah Jazz after coming out of Australian prep basketball, Ferguson can play without the ball as well.
“He’s thin,” another Southwest executive says. “His body’s going to take some time. He’s never going to be big and bulky; he’s got to be wiry strong. It’s going to take him some time to physically mature. But he’s really athletic. He can play way above the rim. But he can’t put the ball on the floor real well. It’s mostly lobs and things like that where you see the athleticism, not him creating his own shot.
“He’s mostly a spot-up shooter. You can play him off of screens a little bit. And surprisingly, he posted a little bit in Australia, which is surprising for a guy who’s light in the (rear) like that. But he wasn’t bad. He’s a project because he’s young — not a project like you’d think of a big. It’s just going to take some time.”
Scouts say Ferguson will have to continue to work on consistency in his shot mechanics, even though he has the ability to make shots. Younger players have a tendency to be off balance when they first come into the league because of the subtle nudges and other tricks that veterans have defensively.
And some will have to see more from Ferguson before they’re truly convinced.
“He has great bounce, he’s skinny as hell, but he’s playing in (bleeping) Australia,” a Southeast Division executive said. “I heard Dante Exum was a point guard. No, he’s not. He has no left hand. He’s not a great shooter by any stretch of the imagination, and he’s not a creative player as a point guard. He was a perfect concoction of the trends of the day — he was young, he was long, he had some athleticism, and he was the mystery man that nobody wanted to miss on. And now, he’s a backup on a team (Utah) that’s good. And they’re good. But they’re not good because of him.”
Clutch shooting a hallmark of Kennard’s game
Duke’s Luke Kennard is much closer geographically, and had a great season to boot for the Blue Devils as a sophomore. He was a unanimous first-team all-ACC selection, who helped lead Duke past injuries, suspensions and a subpar (for them) regular season to the conference tournament.
In the ACC quarterfinals, Kennard posted a double-double (24 points, 10 rebounds) in a win over Louisville. In the semis, he went for 20, including a perfect 10 of 10 from the line, in Duke’s win against rival North Carolina.
“In that ACC tournament, he made every big bucket, it seemed like, to keep them in the game,” an admiring Western Conference executive said.
Kennard dramatically increased his scoring (19.5 points this season, up from 11.8 as a freshman) and shooting (49 percent versus 42 percent, including almost 44 percent on 3-pointers this season). Per sports-reference.com, Kennard was third in the nation in Offensive Win Shares (5.5) and tied for 15th in the country in Offensive Rating (130.6).
Of all the two guard prospects, Kennard is the most universally liked as a player.
“All year long, he’s been their best player, and it hasn’t been close,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “(Freshman forward Jayson) Tatum took over in the last month, but for the first three months he wasn’t anywhere close to it.”
He has impressed not only with his ability to score, but to do so in multiple ways. He can catch and shoot, he can come off of screens, and he has step-backs and floaters in his arsenal, along with the ability to score off the dribble. Scouts like his footwork, especially in the paint. The result was a player who was comfortable taking, and making, any number of clutch shots.
“He has a handle,” the Eastern Conference exec said. “He’s not a straight line guy. He can go to spots. He’s got size. His feet are pretty good. He’s not a jet, but he’s quick enough to get where he wants to go.”
One college coach whose team played Duke this season was equally effusive in his praise.
“I love Kennard. Love him,” the coach said. “He’s interesting. He’s not really Kyle Korver per se, but he’s very good. He’s very good, tough. He’s like a throwback — a big, tough, physical, strong guy that can make shots and has some (stuff) to his game. He’s good. He’s a difficult cover. He’s got a lot tricks, can get in the lane, he’s shots in the lane, he’s got threes, he’s long and he’s got size. I don’t think he’s a speed demon, though, and that would be the issue.”
Indeed, Kennard will have to work to stay in front of people at the defensive end.
“He’s got deficiencies obviously at the defensive end,” one Western Conference scout said. “He’s going to really struggle. But he won’t, because he’s going to be a second-line guy. He can’t guard the starters, but he’s not (going to be) a starter.”
Jackson steps up at right time for UNC
North Carolina’s Justin Jackson has probably come as far in the eyes of NBA scouts as anyone in the last year. The 6-foot-8 junior was ACC Player of the Year, setting a school record for 3-pointers in a single season — 105 entering tonight’s national championship game against Gonzaga, beating the 95 makes by Shammond Williams in 1996-97.
Last year, playing alongside seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige (both of whom were selected in the 2016 Draft), Jackson deferred — a lot. But this season, he played like a made guy, more than doubling his 3-point attempts and tripling the number of makes, shooting 39 percent behind the arc. He managed to get the shot off most of the time even though he’s light for an NBA two at 210 pounds.
“The knock on him was that he wasn’t aggressive; he was too passive,” a Pacific Division man said. “But right from the get go in November out in Maui, it was clear that either the coaches or whoever was advising him clearly made a priority of basically coming right out and dispelling with that tag on him. I saw the three games out in Maui and I thought, h’ey, where’s this been? Why hasn’t he shown this?’
“But I’m always leery of that, when you’ve looked at a kid for a couple of years and he hasn’t shown something, and then all of a sudden he does it. It’s almost like, can he really do that over and over? But for the most part, he was pretty consistent all season.”
Other scouts share that “show me again” feeling about Jackson.
“He shot it better this year,” another scout said. “I’m not convinced the league believes that’s real, although his mechanics are pretty good. He can really pass. He’s really slight. He looks the same to me that he did three years ago — scrawny. I don’t think he’ll put on a lot of weight, but if he commits to get in the weight room he can get that kind of Will Barton wiry strength.”
But Jackson’s size and competitiveness this season have him safely in the middle of the first round at worst, with a chance to go higher.
Defense could be Mitchell’s forte in NBA
Louisville sophomore Donovan Mitchell, by contrast, is a little undersized (6-foot-3) for the prototypical NBA two. But he gets after it at the defensive end — he led the ACC in steals and steals per game, and was on the conference’s all-Defensive team as well as earning first-team all-ACC honors — and though he led the Cardinals in scoring at 15.6 per game, defense is likely his potential niche in the NBA. Mitchell has declared for the Draft but has not yet hired an agent as he decides whether to stay in or return to Louisville.
“He’s probably a better shooter-scorer than Jackson,” one veteran scout said. “But, again, he’s a guy who’s coming from a pedigreed program. He’s been taught well. He’s been pushed hard. He’s been pushed to play defense. And he’s accepted all of that and he’s thrived in it. And he’s had a really good year this year? Does he become along the lines of — and I don’t know if he’s there yet, or if he’ll ever be there — of an Avery Bradley-type shooting guard, who’s more of a defender than he is a shooter? Does Donovan become that? I don’t know.”
A player like Mitchell could be — could be — the kind of guy that’s taken late in the first round by a team that doesn’t need him right away, and could send him to the NBA Development League to work on his ballhandling and decision-making skills in games, while getting coaching in practices from the NBA team and staff. That would make him more valuable to the parent team and more marketable personally down the line when free agency comes. Potentially, it’s a win-win, and at his size, it’s also a potential career extender if he develops more point guard skills.
“I’d be interested in knowing exactly how tall he is and if they’re trying to market him as a point guard,” said a college coach whose team played Louisville this season. “Obviously he did not play the point, but he’s more point guard size than two guard size in the league. He’s a world class athlete. Very good shooter. Very good pullup jump shooter, three-point shooter. He’s got some layups, some floaters. He is an NBA athlete. The question would be his size.”
Mitchell averaged 2.7 assists per game for Louisville. In an NBA two-guard front, for example, a lead guard like Mitchell wouldn’t have to break people down off the dribble. He’d just have to make an initial pass to start the offense and move through. But that’s not all a point guard has to do these days, obviously.
“What he really needs to work on is his decision making,” the veteran scout said, “and how he’s going to be able to run a pick-and-roll, screen-and-roll, screen-pop, that sort of thing. Can he make the pocket pass? Can he make the correct pass off the pick and roll to the guy in the far corner, or kicking it back to the guy in the near corner? Can he make that correct read? That’s what he needs to work on.”
Allen’s incidents may overshadow his game
Another Duke two guard, Grayson Allen, has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons during the last year, and it’s left NBA types uncertain whether the junior is worth all the potential trouble.
On three separate occasions since February, 2016 — against Louisville’s Ray Spalding, Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes and in December of last year against Elon’s Steven Santa Ana — Allen kicked or tripped his opponent during play. It’s the kind of thing that, had it happened once, could be dismissed as a bad decision made in the heat of competition. Twice, it’s a bad trend. Three times … what is your (bleeping) problem?
On top of that, after the third incident, involving Santa Ana, Allen flew into a rage on the Duke sideline, taking several minutes before being able to calm himself down.
After that incident, Duke suspended Allen for what it said would be an “indefinite” period, but while it lasted nearly two weeks on the calendar, it only covered one actual game, played over the Christmas holiday period.
The tripping — hysterically justified by some because Allen was a former soccer player — was bad enough, but that’s something that players can take care of themselves at the next level. In other words, let him try that mess against, say, Russell Westbrook. The emotional outburst, though, is something that can take a whole team down with the player. And that’s what NBA teams are going to look at seriously before deciding whether to take Allen in the Draft.
“Everyone’s going to have to really get into researching what the whole issue is,” an NBA general manager said. “It’s not going to be easy getting that out of Duke. People are going to have to really research it to see if it’s a major (problem). The kid definitely gets upset, but he’s a hell of a competitor. This kid competes all the time. Can make plays for his teammates. Can shoot the ball. He didn’t have the year everybody expected, but he can be a guy sitting there who can help your team — but you’re afraid of him because of all the BS.
“He’s going to have to get over that, and the team’s going to have to get over that. I don’t think you can deny his basketball talents … the dirty stuff, you get over. But the other stuff, he can’t relax. That was really telling. I mean, can he not move onto the next play? You know, in this league, there’s going to be guys that torch you at times. You better just turn the page and move on.”
No one question’s Allen’s skills or heart, which he displayed as a freshman at Duke, scoring 16 points in the national championship game victory over Wisconsin in 2015. He is a tough, tough kid, with big hands and strength, with significant verticality. He’s a willing passer, averaging 3.5 assists in each of his last two seasons. He shot it better from deep as a sophomore (41.7 percent) than as a junior (36.5), though.
“… I do believe he’s hurt himself in terms of the Draft. And it’s not because he hasn’t shot the ball as well or that he’s made mistakes; it’s because of the stuff he’s done on the court.”
Veteran NBA scout, on Duke’s Grayson Allen
Allen can score, but NBA types think he’s more effective when asked to do a little less. Allen was great in that 2015 title game, but he was also playing with Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow — all of whom wound up being first-round picks. With younger teammates this season, on a Duke team that wasn’t as deep as previous squads have been, Allen may have put too much on himself. That doesn’t explain the tripping, but it may explain the statistical drop off.
“Even with the down year, you look at his numbers, his numbers aren’t awful — they’re just not at the level at which he played last year,” one Western Conference executive said. “He’s more explosive vertically, but he’s smaller than Kennard. Both are going to have defensive struggles at times. But that’s truly based on your team. One is more of a pure shooter (Kennard); one is more of an attack guard that can get into the paint and make a play.”
Allen is still likely a first-round pick. But his pre-Draft interviews with NBA teams and their psychologists will be crucial; he has to be apologetic but not seem programmed to spout clichés.
“Teams are going to love the athleticism, the competiveness, how hard the kid plays at all times,” one veteran scout said. “And they’re going to love the fact that he can knock down shots. But I do believe he’s hurt himself in terms of the Draft. And it’s not because he hasn’t shot the ball as well or that he’s made mistakes; it’s because of the stuff he’s done on the court.”
Hart’s intangibles, success get attention of NBA types
By contrast, Villanova’s Josh Hart is as highly thought of in terms of character as any prospect in the Draft.
The senior was Big East Player of the Year, a unanimous Big East First Team selection and the tri-Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Sports-reference.com has him tied for second in the country in Win Shares (7.7). He was a leader of a national championship team that returned this season and was ranked number one most of the year before falling in the second round of the NCAAs. But the Wildcats’ early exit does not reflect badly on the 6-foot-5 Hart. NBA types love how he seems to come up with every 50-50 ball, and Villanova’s 129-17 record in his four seasons on the Main Line.
“Josh will make it,” one scout said. “He’ll play in the league 15 years. Because you win with guys like Josh Hart.”
Hart may be a “2-and-D” player at the next level, capable of knocking down open shots (he shot 40 percent from threes this season) and defending on the wings. He’s never likely to be a go-to guy on an NBA team, but guys like Wesley Matthews, Bruce Bowen and Danny Green have made a lot of loot staying ready to catch and shoot at one end and get in their stance at the other. There is a template for Hart to follow.
“As far as character level, it’s top notch, as good as it gets,” said a college coach whose team played Villanova this season. “Actually, I heard he’s kind of a nerd. He can only dribble with his left hand, but has to finish with his right hand. Crow hops to get back. Reminds me of (Timberwolves rookie guard) Kris Dunn, a one directional driver … but he’s a phenomenal step into 3-point shooter.
“It’s strange; on the swing-swing, he’s terrible. But he’s good in the corners. He can post up. Doesn’t mind playing on the block. He shoots a lot of fadeaways. A phenomenal offensive rebounder. I think there’s a lot more bottled up in him that we haven’t seen. Their system doesn’t really allow for it.”
Can Thornwell’s game translate to NBA?
South Carolina’s senior guard Sindarius Thornwell checks almost all the terrestrial and advanced boxes. The 6-foot-5 guard was the SEC’s Player of the Year, showing up at both ends of the floor — he finished 14th in the country in scoring (21.6 ppg) while also placing in the top 20 nationally in steals per game (2.2). Per stats guru Ken Pomeroy, Thornwell was fourth in the country in Offensive Rating, at 118.2 points per 100 possession; meanwhile, sports-reference.com ranked Thornwell sixth in the country in Defensive Rating (88.2 points allowed/100) and tied for sixth nationally in Defensive Win Shares (2.8).
In leading the Gamecocks to the Final Four, Thornwell showed that staying in college for four years shouldn’t always be viewed by NBA types as a bad thing.
“He’s one that’s really improved his game over his four years in college,” a Northwest Division birddog said. “I kind of wrote him off two years ago. And I thought this year, of course, being Player of the Year in the SEC while only playing basically half a year (Thornwell was suspended by South Carolina for six games during the non-conference schedule for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy), I thought he really, really improved his game.”
Thornwell’s numbers did get better, sometimes dramatically. He improved from shooting just 26.8 percent on threes as a sophomore to 39.5 percent as a senior. His True Shooting Percentage increased from .504 last year to .591 this year. And his PER shot through the roof, from 17 last season to 30.3 this season.
Those numbers may well have been impacted by a change in position. South Carolina coach Frank Martin downsized this season, having Thornwell played more power forward this year than two guard, allowing guards like P.J. Dozier to get more run — and for the Gamecocks, it worked. But Thornwell won’t be able to operate from the elbows and down low in the pros; he’ll have to be able to score and defend much quicker twos.
“The concern is, is he going to be athletic enough to play the position he’s got to play at our level?,” the Northwest man says. “Can he increase his shooting range enough to be able to make the NBA, and how long is that going to take him? Will he be able to guard more athletic players?”
You can’t just dismiss an SEC Player of the Year. But Thornwell has to improve even more than he has.
“I think highly of him,” one Southeast Division executive said, “but the fact that he’s gone on a hot run in the NCAAs, the whole body of work is what he is — not a five-game hotspot. He’s given us four years of work. Let’s look at the whole four years.”
Blueitt boasts consistency, steady shooting touch
Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett stayed for his junior season after contemplating an NBA run after his sophomore campaign — and, like Thornwell, was served well by that decision. Blueitt was a first-team all-Big East selection, averaging 18.4 points per game, and after Xavier’s starting point guard Edmund Sumner was lost for the season with a torn ACL in late January, Blueitt picked up the slack, going for 20 or more points in eight of the Musketeers’ last 14 games — including 25 against Arizona in Xavier’s upset win in the Sweet 16.
Blueitt gets high marks from NBA people for improving himself physically over three seasons — “as a freshman, he was pudgy,” one scout said. Consistency from long range will also get him a look at the next level.
“The skill that’s going to transfer no matter where he plays at is he can shoot,” said one college coach whose team played Xavier this season. “It’s a little unorthodox, kind of a little push shot. But he’s got a high basketball IQ. On pindowns (a staple play in the NBA for shooting guards), he knew how to fade, he knew how to tight curl. And at the elbows, he’s very good in iso situations.
“I think the way he scored in college is that he gets you on his hip and then he could elevate over the defender and score. He got to have a slower footed defender guard him in uncomfortable situations. Where I question him (in the NBA) is his ability to get open, because he’s not a great athlete … but his greatest strength is going to be able to shoot. I’ve never seen him have a really bad full game. He might have a bad half where he can’t make anything, but he’ll have 20 in the second half.”
Bacon’s decision-making must improve in NBA
Florida State’s Dwyane Bacon could be the third recent player under former NBA coach and current Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton to make the pros, joining the Denver Nuggets’ Malik Beasley and the Miami Heat’s Okaro White. (Or, depending on your point of view, Bacon could be the fourth recent FSU player to make it; freshman big man Jonathan Isaac is a likely Lottery pick if he comes out.)
A sophomore, Bacon earned second team all-ACC honors, leading Florida State in scoring (17.2 ppg). He shot it okay from deep, 33 percent — though that was a significant improvement over the 28 percent he shot as a freshman. And that’s the rub; can he shoot it consistently enough from deep to be a legit threat? NBA scouts aren’t sure. And if he can’t get defenders to honor the three, the rest of his game becomes moot.
“He doesn’t do anything that stands out,” one scout said. “If I were working with him I’d say ‘you’re a good offensive player, but you don’t do anything great … but what you could be is an elite defender.’ A lot of guys don’t want to hear it because it’s not sexy. But when your options in two years are ‘I’m going to play in Fort Wayne,’ or you’re going to be a (demon) on defense and play in the league, you’re going to have to figure it out.”
Bacon probably had to do more than he was ready to this season, with Beasley gone to the pros. Those decisions with the ball — when to shoot, when to pass, how to pass, and to whom to pass — will have to improve in the NBA.
Said one college coach whose team played Florida State this season: “he’s got prototypical two guard size for the NBA. Long arms, strong body. I thought he had a good year. He’s very, very right handed. Strong and physical guy that’s maybe a little bit of a volume guy. That would be my question, his efficiency. He’s got great length to be able a good defender. Don’t know if he had the polish that Beasley has, just in terms of the efficiency, the effortlessness. He’s more a guy who’s high volume, hunting it, trying to get his. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. But he is big, strong, athletic, can get to his right hand. He can really score. And he’s got a lot of tools.
And some notes on the others …
• Pittsburgh senior Jamel Artis improved his numbers each season, finishing with an 18.2 points per game scoring average to go with 4.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists. The 6-7 guard was an honorable mention all-ACC, playing alongside forward Michael Young, also an NBA prospect
“Artis is an NBA player,” a Southeast Division talent evaluator said. “Because he’s 24 (he played a couple of postgraduate years before going to Pittsburgh), and he scored 18 and 5 this year, you might be able to play him earlier (than other rookies) because he’s older and more mature. He shot 40 percent from three and he averaged 19 points a game in the best college conference all year long.”
Artis was an okay perimeter shooter, and therein lies the rub: where do you play him if his shooting doesn’t translate? He played point forward for Pitt, but that’s going to be much harder to do in the NBA if you can’t spread the floor with your shooting.
One college coach whose team played Pitt said the Panthers put the ball in Artis’ hands a lot.
“He’s a big, barrel-chested guy who could take contact, get fouled,” the coach said. ”He was a unique and difficult matchup because you can’t guard him with guys who are six foot. You’re guarding him with wing players and then those guys have to defend differently than they normally do, because it’s not like he’s just spotting up. They moved him around. He’s pretty versatile offensively. My question is what kind of defender he’ll be.”
• Nevada’s Marcus Marshall played more off the ball for the Wolfpack this season, but the 6-foot-3 transfer from Missouri State probably has a combo guard future if he wants to make money playing professionally. In one season at Nevada he was a first-team all-Mountain West selection and was named Conference Newcomer of the Year.
“He’s a point,” said Nevada’s coach, former NBA head coach Eric Musselman. “When we needed a basket, he had the ball in his hands. There was probably one two games when I brought him off of screens. We ran him with a lot of pick and rolls. He has a real high basketball IQ.”
Musselman said Marshall improved significantly as a defender this season.
“His sit-out year he did everything we asked as far as defensive footwork and taking angles, and digging in the post with one hand,” Musselman said. “He was so self-conscious about it. Maybe more than anyone we had, he changed his body of work. When we told him to get lower, he got lower. You know, windshield wipers on the ball. He does it all. Anybody that puts film on him, you’ll see him doing it. And he’s really tough. Defensively, he got better and better and better, and by midseason we weren’t hiding him … he’s got a real dog in him, a real toughness.”
• If Arizona sophomore Allonzo Trier decides to come into the Draft, he’ll have to explain why he missed half of the season following a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug last fall. Trier appealed and won, and was cleared by the NCAA to return to the court in January. He still made second-team all-Pac 12 despite the limited playing time this season, and NBA scouts aren’t writing him off, given how productive he was (17.2 points, 5.3 rebounds) for the Wildcats during their run to the Sweet Sixteen.
“I like him,” one scouting director said. “I think he’s going to fit in the league. I think he’s got a lot of meat on the bone. As far as potential and development, I think he handled his adversity pretty damn well. Defensively, he’s got to get way better. I think Sean (Miller, Arizona’s coach) yelled at him enough about that that it’s a concern. But I value him a lot higher than a lot of people do. I think he’s got a nice game, and it seems like Sean’s defensively oriented and works on fundamentals. The kid came in at a disadvantage because he wasn’t able to play, and then (when he could) the season’s in full swing, and that’s tough. I think people underestimate how hard that is playing on a top-10 team.”
• South Carolina sophomore P.J. Dozier teamed with Thornwell to take the Gamecocks to the Final Four. He said after USC’s loss to Gonzaga Saturday that he wasn’t sure if he was going to come back or declare. He had 17 points with nine rebounds in Saturday’s loss, finishing a strong season. Right now, Dozier — the nephew of Terry Dozier, who also played at South Carolina and had a cup of coffee with Charlotte in 1989, and the son of Perry Dozier, Sr., who played at USC with his brother — is listed by most as a possible second-round pick.
“He has a chance,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “I believe he sees himself as a point guard, and if he is, he’s a 6-7 point guard, and that’s unique. But he’s a 6-7 point guard who can’t shoot. So he should really stay until he fixes that. If you have a hole in your three-point game, your midrange game has to be slamming. Because you’re not going to get to the rim all the time. And if guys are going underneath you all the time, you’re messing up our spacing. But I think he passes the ball well. And I like that he’s got some basketball DNA because of the previous Doziers.”
Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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