Top NBA Draft Prospects in the AAC, Part One: Prospects #1-5
|by: Jacob Eisenberg, Jonathan Givony - President, Matt Kamalsky - Director of Operations, Kyle Nelson - College Basketball Scout
|October 5, 2015
|Beginning our coverage of the American Athletic Conference, we hone in on the AAC's top five NBA prospects, Amida Brimah, Jalen Adams, Troy Caupain, Daniel Hamilton and Octavius Ellis.
More DX Conference Preseason Previews:
-The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-12
-The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East
-The Top 15 NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12
-The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC
#1, Amida Brimah, 7-0, Center, Junior, Connecticut
Coming off a national championship in 2013-2014, the Connecticut Huskies took an expected step back in 2014-2015. They finished the season fifth in the American Athletic Conference with a 10-8 conference record and received a bid to the NIT, where they lost in the first round to Arizona State. One bright spot for UConn in an otherwise down year was the continued emergence of Amida Brimah, a junior center from Ghana who emerged as one of the best defensive players in the nation.
At 7'0 and with a reported 7'6 wingspan, Brimah is as long and imposing a defensive force as you'll find at the collegiate level. However, at just 230 pounds, he'll need to continue to add strength in order to competently defend big men at the NBA level, the extent to which he'll be able to do so will play a major role in his evaluation. Still, having only played basketball for about five years, Brimah has made significant strides – showing encouraging progress as a sophomore on both ends.
Brimah is a highly efficient – albeit limited – offensive player. Of his 184 field goal attempts last season, 176 came inside the paint. Still, his consistency makes him a valuable weapon: he shot 77.5% on 102 field goal attempts around the basket last season. He is quick off his feet, and when able to corral a pass (not always a give-in), is a terrific finisher around the basket thanks to his length when spoon-fed in open spaces.
Brimah's post game is a work in progress. While he actually made more post ups as a sophomore than he even attempted as a freshman, Brimah still converted at a meager 25-of-59 rate from the post (42.4%), and looks unlikely to ever emerge as much of a consistent threat here against higher level competition.
Brimah also got to the free throw line at a decent rate (4.5 attempts per 40 minutes), relative to his low usage. He's passable at the line, converting on 67-of-103 free throw attempts last season (65%), though he'll need to work to improve in that area this season.
Brimah has shown some minor sparks of potential as a mid-range shooter in his two years at UConn, and the improvement he made from the free throw line as a sophomore (up from 57%) leaves some room for optimism that he'll be able to develop this part of his game in time. He showed some flashes in this area at the adidas Nations camp this summer, which could be a nice tool he can continue to develop to improve his role-player status as a pro.
Brimah runs the floor exceptionally well for a player of his size, making him an elite transition player on offense (he shot 14-for-15 in transition possessions last year). He takes massive strides, covering ground at a fast rate for a seven-footer.
Brimah's height, length, timing and mobility make him is one of the best defenders at the college level. Brimah led all draft prospects with 5.3 blocks per 40 minutes and led the country with a 15.0% block percentage. He moves fairly well but his lateral movement outside of the paint is still a work in progress.
Brimah's biggest weakness early in his college career was his inability to defend without fouling. As a freshman, Brimah committed 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes. His weak base makes him susceptible to giving up deep seals to opposing big men in the paint. Regardless, as a sophomore, Brimah compensated for lack of lower body strength with smarter hand positioning and better timing. His foul rate dropped to a reasonable 4.3 fouls per 40 as a sophomore, while his rim protection remained elite.
While he has the potential to become a strong pick-and-roll defender, he needs to improve on his angles when guarding after switches – as he gets beat off the dribble too often for a player with his length. His wingspan makes him a capable defender on close outs, though he's still poor at getting out to defend perimeter shooters.
Overall, Brimah will catch NBA radars because of his length and shot blocking abilities. He will need to expand his offensive game somewhat and continue to develop his strength to comfortably bang with physical centers in the NBA. Still, considering his encouraging development from freshman to sophomore year, it's fair to assume Brimah is still evolving. According to him, he's only been playing basketball for five years. With his enormous defensive potential, he should remain an intriguing prospect to watch all season.
#2, Jalen Adams, 6-2, Freshman, Point Guard, UConn
Without the benefit of extensive high school footage, we prefer to wait and see how Adams performs as a freshman before adding to his DraftExpress profile.
#3, Troy Caupain, 6'4, Junior, Point Guard, Cincinnati
Not a very highly regarded prospects coming out of high school, New York native Troy Caupain emerged as a versatile contributor for Cincinnati already as a freshman, playing behind and alongside then-senior Sean Kilpatrick, averaging 12.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 5 assists per-40 minutes pace-adjusted over 18.8 minutes per-game.
Seeing his role expand as a 19 year old sophomore, Caupain proved once again to be a well-rounded contributor, averaging nearly identical numbers per-40 minutes pace adjusted, only this time over 31.4 minutes per game. He earned All-Conference Honorable Mention honors in the AAC as the Bearcats bear Purdue in the NCAA Tournament before their season came to an end at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats.
Standing 6'4 with a 200-pound frame, Caupain's physical profile matches his game. He's a well-rounded athlete who possesses nice speed and strength, even if he lacks elite explosiveness. What makes Caupain intriguing from a physical perspective is the amount of time he spends handling the ball as a de facto point guard for the Bearcats, as he has great size for the position.
Playing both on and off the ball for stretches, Caupain's role offensively revolved around his ability to make spot up shots, push the ball in transition, and create on the pick and roll in the half court. Without a double-figure scorer on its roster and a dearth of shooters to space the floor, Cincinnati relied heavily on Caupain to create offense in their deliberate half court offense. A high energy player, Caupain doesn't have a ton of flash to his game, but displays nice potential in a number of areas.
As a primary ball-handler and distributor, the Cosby HS (VA) product ranked among the top-25 or so assist-men in the country among big guards, averaging 5 assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted. He is not an overwhelmingly dynamic ball handler, nor does he have a lightning quick first step, but he does a nice job using his strength to his advantage and changing speeds to get where he wants to on the floor. A fairly steady decision-maker who proves adept at making the simple play in transition and on the pick and roll, Caupain is an unselfish passer with good vision who gets himself into a bit of trouble at times when he plays too fast or tries to get too creative getting into the paint.
As a scorer, Caupain is a fairly balanced threat, showing the ability to find lanes to the rim while also proving to be a pretty consistent threat from the perimeter. An improved shooter, making 39% of his jump shots this year up from 32% last year, around half of Caupain's field goal attempts in the half court come from the outside according to Synergy Sports Technology. Attempting only 2.2 3-pointers per game, but making 41% this season, Caupain isn't a particularly smooth jump shooter, but he's a threat both off the catch and the dribble who won't hesitate to pull-up from the midrange when given space.
Adept at attacking closeouts and aggressively taking the ball to the rim when given a lane, Caupain is an average finisher due to his lack of great explosiveness, but does flash a relatively reliable floater, has a decent left hand, and doesn't shy away from contact. Making 44% of attempts inside but 40% of his floaters and 79% of his 3.1 free throw attempts per game, Caupain isn't overwhelmingly efficient scoring the ball when he ventures into the paint, but he seems to have some potential to continue to improve down the line, particularly with better spacing around him.
Like so many of the prospects out of Cincinnati that have come before him, one of the biggest positives of Caupain's game is what he offers defensively. Pressing full court and mixing in plenty of zone, Cincinnati was one of the best defensive teams in the country a year ago, and Caupain played a role in that, doing a nice job staying active with his feet and being quick to pursue loose balls or get into the passing lanes. He's also a scrappy rebounder for a guard, not simply getting into position to receive outlet passes, but instead mixing it up inside and looking to dig for the ball when opposing big men corral it outside of their comfort zone. A step slow when rotating to contest shots at and getting caught on ball screens at times in the half court, Caupain still has room to grow defensively, but is already a nice fit in a demanding system and flashes enough lateral quickness when playing man to man to leave room for optimism in projecting him to the next level.
Even with what he's shown to this point, it's a bit early to draw too many long-term conclusions about Caupain's upside. His size, versatility, and ability to do a variety of things well are appealing, and the fact that he's the youngest player in our junior rankings (he doesn't turn 20 until late November, making him younger than some freshmen) is a huge plus. Considering the growth he showed as a sophomore, it will be fascinating to see if he continues to blossom as a junior or if his third year holds much of the same as Cincinnati returns most of its contributors. The Bearcats would relish his development into a go-to scorer if that's the direction his game heads, but he figures to be one of the AAC's more valuable guards and a player to watch down the road either way.
#4, Daniel Hamilton, 6-8, Sophomore, SG/SF, UConn
One of four brothers to play Division I basketball, including a former NBA first round pick (Jordan, currently playing in Russia), Daniel Hamilton had a fairly successful freshman season for UConn, winning AAC Rookie of the Year honors.
Still, on a team level, it was somewhat of a disappointing year, as the defending NCAA champions lost in the first round of the NIT, despite starting the season ranked in everyone's preseason Top-20.
Hamilton started every game for the Huskies and ranked second in usage rate behind now-departed Ryan Boatright. He played a variety of roles in Kevin Ollie's offense, sliding between the wing and the power forward spot, doing a significant amount of ball-handling and playmaking, and gaining significant experience in advance of what is likely to be a telling season for the former #17 ranked high school recruit.
Hamilton has excellent size for the wing at 6-8, but does not possess a very strong frame, has a poor wingspan measured at just 6-8, and is just an average athlete overall. He's added 20 pounds to his frame since the first measurement we have on him from the summer of 2013, weighing in at a still lanky 198 pounds at the Nike Academy this past June.
Hamilton's best attribute as a pro prospect revolves around his ability to handle the basketball and make plays for both himself and others at his size. Including passes, just under 40% of his offense came in pick and roll, isolation or transition situations according to Synergy Sports Technology, which is a significant number for a freshman wing player. He can grab a rebound and take the ball coast to coast, is capable of taking opponents off the dribble in the half-court, and is a terrific passer as evidenced by the 4.9 assist per-40 minutes he averaged last season.
Hamilton has a knack for finding the open man, showing really nice instincts moving the ball ahead in transition, feeding his big men with lobs, driving and dishing, or simply making the extra pass along the perimeter. His ability to facilitate and fuel his team's ball-movement is one of his most intriguing aspects as a draft prospect and something that leaves room for optimism regarding his future development.
Hamilton also showed some potential as a shooter last season, both off the dribble and with his feet set, making 34% of his 3-point attempts. Right now he's more of a shot-maker than anything, as he was wildly inconsistent with his jumper over the course of the season, being absolutely on fire in some games, and ice cold in others.
Poor shot-selection played a major role in Hamilton's inconsistency as a freshman, but he also has room to improve his mechanics, particularly from the waist down, where he can be sloppy at times with his footwork and tends to contort his body sideways unnecessarily. Becoming a more consistent threat from beyond the arc will be very important in Hamilton's development as a pro prospect.
Inside the arc, Hamilton is very much a mixed bag at the moment, as evidenced by his very poor 40% 2-point percentage, and significant struggles getting to the free throw line (3.2 per-40) despite the amount of ball-handling he does. This played a major part in his paltry 47% true shooting percentage, which is the fourth worst mark among collegiate DX Top-100 prospects.
Hamilton's issues here are two-fold. For one, he takes quite a few off the dribble jumpers in the mid-range area, about 2.5 per game, and only hits 34% of them (.709 PPP), which is not a very attractive proposition.
Secondly, he is a very poor finisher when he does venture closer to the basket, hitting just 46% of his “inside the paint” attempts last season. Hamilton is one of only handful of players in college basketball to attempt more floaters than lay-ups in the half-court according to Synergy Sports Technology, which tells you something about his struggles getting all the way to the basket. His combination of an average first step, a significant lack of upper and lower body strength, and poor explosiveness make it very difficult for him to convert plays in traffic at a high rate, and help explain why he gets to the free throw line so infrequently.
Hamilton's struggles also translate to the open court, where his raw decision making skills are reflected in his gigantic 30% turnover rate and overall mediocre 0.7 points per possession in transition, one of the lowest rates in all of college basketball.
Defensively, Hamilton was similarly inconsistent last season. On one hand his combination of size, anticipation skills and instincts give him a very nice framework to build off, which would translate to some very impressive possessions from time to time when he was fully engaged. He already ranked as one of the best defensive rebounders in the country among wing players (8.8 per-40), and got in the passing lanes at a fairly nice rate (1.3 steals per-40) as well.
On the other hand, Hamilton's narrow frame, poor length and inconsistent effort level made him somewhat of a target at times for opposing coaching staffs to pick at, particularly when he was tasked with guarding power forwards in the post. He tends to ball-watch and fall asleep in his stance off the ball, displays lackluster urgency fighting through screens and contesting shots on the perimeter, and gambles wildly for steals too frequently.
Very highly regarded by the recruiting services coming out of high school, and considered a lottery pick even now by the likes of analysts such as Jeff Goodman and others going into this season, Daniel Hamilton undoubtedly has his fans in certain circles. His freshman year was somewhat of a roller coaster ride, but there's no questioning the fact that he shows talent as a 6-8 playmaker and shot-maker, which will make him a very interesting prospect to follow as a sophomore.
#5, Octavius Ellis, 6'10, PF/C, Cincinnati, Senior
Many believed that Octavius Ellis's time in Cincinnati had come to an end amidst a tumultuous freshman campaign which culminated in a violent off-court incident. Yet, after Coach Mick Cronin watched Ellis mature both on and off of the court during a brief stint at Trinity Valley College, he decided to give the athletic big man a second chance. As a junior, Ellis took full advantage, earning 2015 All-Conference Second Team honors, while playing a key role in Cincinnati's NCAA Tournament run, emerging as an NBA prospect in the process.
At 6'10 with impressive length and an improving 235-pound frame, Ellis looks the part of a prototypical NBA big man. He has the athleticism to match, as he possesses excellent quickness, agility and explosiveness for a big man at the next level. He must continue to add bulk to his wiry frame, but Ellis nevertheless has the physical tools to hold his own at the pro level.
As a junior, Ellis averaged 14.9 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted while seeing 20% of Cincinnati's possessions on the offensive end and spending most of his time operating in the vicinity of the basket. On tape, it is clear that the senior big man is raw in terms of his skill-level and feel for the game, though this is likely a reflection of his relative lack of coaching and experience despite the fact that he's already 22 years old.
Ellis thrives scoring in a variety of capacities around the basket, whether running in transition, cutting to the basket, or cleaning up his teammates' misses, to the tune of 4.2 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted (11 overall). Here, Ellis is able to use his physical tools and instincts to his advantage, putting himself in the position to score without necessarily being featured in Cincinnati's offense. He is a scrappy player and can find ways to make his presence felt, even despite his relatively limited skill set at this stage.
While Ellis finished a terrific 70.2% of his looks around the basket, he made just 36.8% of his post-up attempts. Ellis has the agility to make quick moves around slower post players at this point, but his footwork and ball-handling ability are quite raw at this point. This visibly limits his creativity with his back to the basket. So, too, does his lack of strength, which often resulted in him often fading away from contact or getting blocked at the rim. His struggles against Kentucky's army of NBA big men in the NCAA Tournament made this abundantly clear.
Intriguing, however, is Ellis's potential operating out of the pick-and-roll. He must continue to refine his instincts, but Ellis was featured and looked promising in both pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop capacities. His combination of quickness, length and explosiveness suggest that he can develop further in this area with more refinement.
To cement his status as a NBA candidate, either now or in the coming years, Ellis would be well served to improve as a jump shooter. He made 14/30 of his overall jump shots last year, and 69% of his free throw attempts. On film, his range appears limited to inside of 20 feet, but his mechanics actually look decent when he has time and space to shoot. Scouts will be particularly interested in whether he continues to develop in this area, as his shooting touch looked far better than expected in a small number of attempts.
Ellis also looked impressive on the defensive end of the floor, where he proved capable of guarding either post position. His 3.0 blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted rank amongst the top shot blockers in our database and, when combined with his 1.2 steals per 40 minutes pace adjusted, hint at the versatility to he brings on the table defensively. Ellis is not the most fundamental defender and he must get stronger in order to be more effective around the basket. He compensates, however, with his length, timing, and lateral quickness, which allow him to guard players inside and outside and disrupt shots all over the floor.
While Ellis is not without his limitations (see his unfortunate ejection in last year's NCAA Tournament), he proved to be a difference maker on both ends of the floor during his junior season, and NBA teams will be monitoring his progress as a senior. Scouts tend to close the book at times on raw 22-year-olds, but Ellis' strange journey combined with his progress as a junior suggest that he still has room to improve. Therefore, while Octavius Ellis may be on the fringes as a prospect at the moment, expect that to change in a big way if he can take another step forward as a senior.
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