College Road Report: BYU-Wake Forest

College Road Report: BYU-Wake Forest
Jan 05, 2009, 12:40 am
While planning our itinerary for this year’s D-League Showcase in Orem, Utah, we recognized a great opportunity to take in what was sure to be one of the best out of conference games on this week’s college basketball schedule—Wake Forest at BYU. This turned out to be a very wise move, as not only was the game an absolute thriller, but it featured no less than 5 or 6 potential future first round picks, and was attended by 24 NBA scouts representing 20 separate teams.

This game was unique from another aspect too, the seating arrangement. The unexpectedly brutal traffic in Provo forced me to miss the first few minutes of the game, and not knowing anything about the layout of the arena frantically led me to a strange entrance right at the arena’s floor. “Media seating?” I hurriedly asked one of the ushers, flimsy guest credential in hand, right at the under-16 timeout. He looked at me somewhat confused, saw my bag, and replied “are you taking photos?” “Uh yes… I wouldn’t mind…” I pondered, surveying the incredibly packed landscape.”Right over there!” he instructed, pointing to a spot next to a cameraman directly underneath the basket. “Don’t go outside the blue box!”

Not quite believing what had actually just happened, still catching my breath from running through single-digit weather from the distant parking lot, I found myself about as close to a basketball game as you can humanly get—without being arrested that is.

“Surreal” is probably the best to describe the next two hours. Loud, might be another. The atmosphere at BYU’s arena is nothing short of amazing –consisting of a single bowl jammed pack with 23,000 incredibly intense fans that are as vocal and nasty as any I’ve seen anywhere in my travels around the world thus far. European basketball fans talk about “hot” arenas all the time. I finally understand what they mean after spending the entire contest sweating profusely. All kidding aside, the facilities at BYU are truly top-notch.

Everything is amplified when you are that close to the action, which makes for an experience that is entirely different than the one you get sitting in the stands. For one, you see all the little things that players do to gain an advantage in the course of a possession, the jockeying for position under the basket, the brutal screens on the perimeter, the fighting and clawing that goes on for each and every rebound.

In terms of evaluating a player’s pro prospects, you get an entirely different outlook—their true size, length, athleticism, and conditioning—all come into much clearer perspective when they are within arm’s length and sometimes right on top of you during in-bounds plays. You also get a very unique look into their “on-court personalities”—you hear every interaction between teammates, the opposition and referees, and really get to see how the crowd’s momentum affects their play. In terms of evaluating their raw “feel” for making plays on the basketball court, this experience is second to none.

It’s also much easier to understand the influence that a coach can have on the course of a game—Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio and his assistants were constantly giving his players instructions during an in-between possessions—setting up the defense during free throws, making play calls, intercepting play calls, calling out adjustments in the midst of a possession (“watch the back-screen from Tavernari!”) and more.

In addition to seeing the impact of the coaches, it’s hard not to come away with a lot more respect for the work that the referees do—everything happens so fast, the environment is so incredibly distracting, and the fans are absolutely brutal. You would not believe some of the absolute vile things that are shouted at the referees and opposing players sometimes—it’s really hard to see how they would not be intimidated from an environment like that at times.

Focus is another key concept here, or rather, the lack thereof. Trying to actually evaluate the play of a half-dozen prospects in an atmosphere like this is downright impossible, at least for someone who hasn’t experienced something like it before. Signs like “a demon [deacon—Wake’s mascot] is no match for a Mormon” in the crowd, cheerleaders doing backflips right in front of your face during free throws, the ball-boy bawling his eyes out as his team falls behind by four points with just under a minute to go—there are a lot of things going on at once here.

There is no question that you get a very valuable insight into the physical and even psychological makeup of prospects, but really getting a true handle on their skill-set is much more difficult, particularly on the defensive end. It’s almost infinitely easier to evaluate that while watching the game in High-Def on a big-screen TV with the help of TIVO and the incredibly useful six-second rewind button, as well as a collection of 50 individualized possessions cut-up through Synergy Sports Technology. Using all three scouting aspects combined? Now that’s professional.

With that said, let’s combine what we learned from here along with the BYU and Wake Forest games we’ve seen this season and the Synergy clips we watched following the game.

Lee Cummard, 6-7, Senior, SG/SF, BYU
19.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 turnovers, 58% FG, 41% 3P, 80% FT

One of the most efficient players in the country had easily his worst shooting games of the season here against Wake Forest, going a miserable 6 for 20 from the field. The heady senior still managed to make his presence felt –getting to the free throw line 7 times, scoring 17 points, pulling down 8 rebounds and dishing out 3 assists, which is very typical of the type of player he is.

Even after his frustrating night against Wake, Cummard still ranks as one of the most efficient players in college basketball. He continues to lead the nation in true shooting percentage, thanks to the outstanding 58% he shoots from the field, as well as 41% from beyond the arc and 80% from the free throw line.

Cummard has an absolutely beautiful stroke from the perimeter, as well as a lightning quick release, being capable of setting his feet and shoulders instantaneously to get his shot off. He is much more than just a spot-up shooter, looking very comfortable coming off screens, and also doing an excellent job knocking down shots off the dribble after creating space. Cummard is not one-dimensional in the least bit (only 25% of his attempts come from beyond the arc) as he is very effective taking his man down to the post, showing nice footwork, great smarts using his body to create space, and a beautiful turnaround jumper, and also being able to get to the hoop off the dribble using either hand showing above average ball-handling skills. He is very smart moving off the ball, executing impeccably within his team’s half-court offense, and can create opportunities for his teammates as well with his solid court vision and passing skills. All things considered, Cummard might be one of the toughest players to defend in college basketball, given the multitude of ways he can hurt the opposition.

Beyond his excellent skill-level, Cummard is a real competitor, something that we were able to witness up close and personal due to our terrific vantage point in this game. He is extremely tough despite his frail frame, and is much more active looking to make his presence felt than his super-efficient numbers might lead you to believe. He took responsibilities on the court and was the absolute man for BYU in the clutch, being a little bit unlucky in this game to see some very makeable shots not fall for him, which was pretty surprising. Look no further than the excellent rebounding numbers Cummard puts up at the small forward position to see how tough and active a player he is. He’s the type of player who is always around the ball and gets his fingers on pretty much everything in his area, often winning his team extra possessions in the process.

Defensively, Cummard struggled at times matching up with a hyper-athletic combo forward like Al-Farouq Aminu, who was not shy about taking him down to the post. His lack of strength and lateral quickness limits him to a certain extent at the next level, but he is really smart and intense on this end of the floor, knowing how to use his terrific timing and length to contest shots effectively and eventually emerge as a pretty solid defender at the college ranks.

Definitely not the exact prototype for what the NBA is typically looking for in a wing player, Cummard appears to bring enough to the table to compensate for his shortcomings, and should be able to carve out a niche for himself in the league if he manages to land in the right situation. Players with his skill-level and all-around versatility surely do not grow on trees, and there are definitely a number of coaches in the NBA who can figure out a way to utilize him.

Al-Farouq Aminu, 6-9, Freshman, SF/PF, Wake Forest
13 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 1.4 blocks, 55% FG, 66% FT, 13% 3P

In an incredibly disappointing freshman class thus far, Al-Farouq Aminu definitely stands out as one of the more intriguing prospects this group has to offer, at least as far as the long-term is concerned. Having turned 18 just over three months ago, Aminu makes up for his limitations on the offensive end with a superb package of size, length and athleticism—which gives him possibly the most upside of any freshman in college basketball.

Where Aminu stands out the most at the moment is in his ability to crash the offensive glass and operate in transition. He already ranks as one of the best rebounding forwards in the NCAA, at 12-boards per-40 pace adjusted, despite spending heavy minutes at the small forward position. He regularly kicks off Wake Forest’s fast-break by pulling down a rebound and then dribbling the ball up-court himself, something he is very capable of doing. Quick and extremely explosive, he gets to the free throw line 5 times per game, which is an accurate reflection of the havoc he wreaks on the floor when he’s really dialed in.

Where he gets into trouble at times is in the half-court, where his limited skill-set can get exposed. His inability to change directions with the ball limits him as a ball-handler to a certain extent, causing him to barrel his way into the paint and turn the ball over on 22% of his possessions. Like many freshman, he plays too fast and out of control, relying very heavily on his instincts rather than reading the floor and patiently surveying his options. Another part of his game that needs plenty of work is his perimeter shot—he’s just 2/15 (13%) from beyond the arc on the season thus far, typically looking very off-balance on his mostly rushed attempts.

It’s not quite clear why Aminu doesn’t spend more time in the paint—the place where he’s clearly most effective considering his freakish wingspan and athleticism. He is too quick for most college players to stop when he’s operating with his back to the basket, and considering his average ball-handling and perimeter shooting skills, he would probably be best served focusing more on sticking to those strengths as an outstanding mismatch threat at the 4-spot (where he’s more than big enough to compete, even in the NBA). His situation seems a bit similar to Thaddeus Young’s back at Georgia Tech—he famously insisted on playing as a 2/3 in college, which completely exposed his limitations and eventually hurt his draft stock, but then became a terrific weapon at the 4-spot in the NBA.

Defensively, Aminu is doing a very nice job thus far, showing great tools (length, quickness, intensity) to get the job done, despite possessing average fundamentals and experience on the perimeter. He looks a bit flat-footed at times, but is more than athletic enough to compensate and recover back onto his man, being capable of absolutely smothering his matchup with his fantastic wingspan.

All in all, Aminu is clearly a superior talent with a huge upside to continue to improve down the road. He’s nowhere near ready to compete in the NBA right now, and probably won’t be for a few years, but someone would probably gamble on him with a lottery pick regardless if that’s the route he decided to pick. The question is whether he wants to come into the league on the red carpet--ready to play and produce-- or whether he’s just anxious to get his foot into the door. Either way, his future looks bright, as long as he continues to improve.

Jeff Teague, 6-2, Sophomore, PG/SG, Wake Forest
19.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 3.6 turnovers, 2.2 steals, 54% FG, 52% 3P, 84% FT

The clear-cut go-to guy for this very young Wake Forest team, Teague dropped a cool 30 points on BYU, while putting all of his strengths and weaknesses on full display.

Teague is about as aggressive a scorer and shot-creator as you’ll find in the college ranks, being virtually impossible for anyone on BYU to stay in front of in this game. His first step is superb (going left or right) and he takes the ball extremely hard to the basket, changing directions quickly with no hesitation whatsoever. He gets to the free throw line at will thanks to the reckless abandon he plays with, but surprisingly doesn’t finish around the basket quite as well as you might hope, being a bit wild with some of his attempts and lacking some touch and/or strength on others.

Wild is a key word when evaluating Teague’s game, he’s extremely unpredictable, to the point that even he doesn’t quite even know what his next move will be, which leads to quite a few turnovers. He currently ranks as the 5th most turnover prone prospect in our database per-40, and sports a near-even assist to turnover ratio.

Looking at his point guard skills, Teague actually has the ability to create for others, particularly in spectacular fashion. The problem is that he forces the issue badly at times, taking too many risks with the ball, rather than just trying to make simple plays. He’s clearly a 2-guard trying to become a full-time playmaker at the moment, often missing wide open teammates, looking for his shot excessively, and generally playing way too out of control. Part of this has to do with the pace Wake Forest plays at, though, as they currently rank as one of the fastest teams in college basketball.

As a shooter, Teague is hitting his 3-pointers at a pretty incredible rate thus far, making over 50% of his attempts nearly halfway through the regular season. He doesn’t have the prettiest stroke around, with a slow, very much flat-footed release, but it’s incredibly effective, especially when he has the time and space to set his feet. The question is whether he can keep shooting at this pace—as he only takes about 2 ½ attempts per game, which is not a huge sample size. He rarely tries to shoot off the dribble, especially from the mid-range, which is probably something he’ll have to work on considering that it won’t be quite as easy for him to get to the basket at the next level.

Defensively, Teague has all the tools to make an impact (decent size and length, nice lateral quickness) but he doesn’t seem to put much effort into this end of the floor, quickly getting out of his stance, gambling constantly for steals, and regularly being burned by lesser guards. He seems to lack focus here, which could really came back to haunt him as Wake’s schedule toughens up over the next few weeks.

All in all, Teague clearly has the makings of a future NBA player, probably in the mold of a Louis Williams or Aaron Brooks. He still has a lot of work to do, particularly in terms of gaining experience, but definitely looks to be on the right track. It will be very interesting to see how his style of play translates to a post-season setting, and whether his decision making improves as the games become more important.

Jimmer Fredette, 6-2, Sophomore, Point Guard, BYU
14.9 points, 4.8 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 1.7 steals, 52% FG, 41% 3P, 83% FT

The best player on the floor in certain stretches might have been BYU’s sophomore Jimmer Fredette, which isn’t quite as unexpected as you might think if you’ve watched them play a few times this season. The New York state native had career highs in both points and assists against possibly the best team he’s faced thus far, carrying the load early on to keep Wake Forest at bay after they jumped out to a very hot start.

Fredette is not a particularly athletic point guard, but he has a very high skill level and an almost comical ability to make circus-type shots. He has a real old-school game, complete with the pivot moves around the basket, the floaters in the paint, and the under-handed bank shots high off the glass.

He’s versatile in the sense that he can make shots from the perimeter at a very nice clip, but also create his own shot off the dribble or take his man down into the post. His ball-handling skills are excellent and he has great strength and outstanding touch around the hoop, which allows him to finish at a very high rate thanks to the very measured approach he takes to getting his shot off. From beyond the arc he shows a very deliberate, consistent stroke, getting excellent elevation but not showing a particularly fast release. Regardless, he’s hitting 41% of his attempts, which is about all you can ask for.

Despite being a sophomore, Fredette plays with a confidence that belies his age, showing absolutely no hesitation in anything he does, for better or for worse. He can make plays for others, but also turns the ball over at a pretty high rate, something he definitely needs to work on as he gains experience in the Mountain West conference. Still, you have to admire the toughness and poise he displays, and it’s not too much of a stretch to envision him developing into a terrific college player over the next two seasons for BYU. How they managed to get him out of the state of New York doesn’t say too much about the recruiting ability of other schools in that region, as there is no question he could be playing in the Big East right now.

Defensively, Fredette competes, but his lack of lateral quickness is extremely evident when going up against a point guard with above-average athleticism—such as Jeff Teague. Players blow by him with a fair amount of ease, although he is smart enough to get his hands in the passing lanes at a nice rate.

Probably a long shot at this point to stir up much draft interest, Fredette is regardless an excellent college player who will probably only get better over the next two years until he graduates. Don’t be surprised to see him making big shots in a big game sometime in the near future.

-What about James Johnson? He had a great game, but we want to keep watching his progression this season before we draw any definitive conclusions. Besides, 3,200 words is enough for one article...

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