J.J. Redick tops this edition after a sizzling 41 point performance in a huge win against Texas. Gabe Pruitt is not far behind him in terms of point production but rightfully receiving nowhere near the same exposure. Paul Millsap returns for his 3rd appearance in the past year after a huge outburst in a terrific road win against Texas Tech. C.J. Giles makes his debut thanks to an extremely impressive performance against Leon Powe and Cal, Thomas Gardner tries to prove that he is doing anything but putting up monster numbers on a terrible team, Taquan Dean shows why Louisville is his team this year, and Maurice Ager returns thanks to his newfound passing skills and extreme consistency.
J.J. Redick, 6-4, shooting guard, senior, Duke
41 points, 4 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 turnover, 3 steals, 37 minutes, 13-24 FG, 9-16 3P, 6-6 FT
Replacing Morrison here in this column this week is his main rival so far for player of the year honors. In his own unique way, Redick put on one of the most impressive scoring displays we'll see all season long, nailing 9 of 16 shots from behind the arc with the greatest of ease, some of which came from well beyond the NBA three point line. The fact that he did it on the biggest stage he'll be on this season until Duke reaches the tournament makes it all the more impressive.
There really isn't much more to say about Redick beyond what's already been said many times. His off the ball movement is incredibly effective, his footwork is excellent, his release is lightning quick, he's easily one of the toughest players to guard in the nation, and he appears to be able to have mastered the art of freeing himself up enough to make you think that he should be able to translate most of his scoring potential to the NBA quite well. What was ironic here was that Redick probably saw more open looks in this one game (against the #2 team in the country mind you) then hell probably see all season long.
The swagger or arrogance in which he carries himself just makes his performances all the more impressive considering the way he is leading and carrying one of the two best teams in the country so far this season. As Redick continues to set the NCAA on fire, his draft stock rises accordingly. Even though there aren't many teams in the NBA (or anywhere for that matter) that guard the pick and roll as poorly as Texas did in the Meadowlands, he seems to be able to get his shot off against any type of defender in almost any type of situation. Redick understands his limitations as a player and will continue to adapt his style of play to fit the team that decides to draft him. Looking at the rosters of the various NBA teams, there are likely a dozen teams or more who could use his services tomorrow if he was available.
The 0 assists in Redick's boxscore against Texas looks a bit suspicious considering his position on the floor, but from watching him play on Saturday, there wasn't a shot he took that you wouldn't want him taking every time he can.
Gabe Pruitt, 6-4, PG/SG, sophomore, USC
36 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 38 minutes, 13-19 FG, 5-10 3P, 5-7 FT
USC is certainly one of the most interesting teams to track this season. Tim Floyd has little experience, no returning production in the frontcourt, and opened the season with losses to Cal State Northridge and Oral Roberts. However, the Trojans are clearly one the more talented teams in the Pac-10. Newcomers to the frontcourt Abdoulaye Ndiaye and RouSean Cromwell are stunning athletic specimens, and freshman point guard Ryan Francis has shown basketball IQ well beyond his years. Of course, sophomores Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young are the two to really keep an eye on.
Last week, it was Pruitt that made the difference in the Trojans' hard-fought wins over BYU and at Loyola-Marymount. The sophomore combo guard started the season worse than his team did, with a 3-20 (0-10 3-pt) shooting performance against CS Northridge. However, he followed up a 17 point, 10 rebound performance in the win over BYU with a 36 point explosion against the Lions on Saturday. Pruitt was all over the floor, adding 7 rebounds, two assists, 2 blocks, and 3 steals.
Pruitt isn't a natural floor general, and isn't even Tim Floyd's full-time point guard, but has all the tools to play the position in the NBA. Pruitt stands a legit 6'3-6'4, but doesn't give up anything in the quickness or athleticism. Loyola Marymount's rabid fans were on their feet the entire game, except for the moments directly following Pruitt's shocking open court flush in the face of a Lion defender. Pruitt is best on the fast break at this point, creating opportunities for himself on the defensive end with his athleticism, long arms, quick hands, and ability to anticipate. He also features a textbook shooting stroke. Pruitt shot 45% from beyond the arc as a freshman, and has hit at a 46% clip this season after a 1-16 start.
Pruitt will never be a pass-first creator at the point guard slot, but doesn't look out of place running an offense. This is the area that he will have to firm up the most over the next two seasons. Pruitt doesn't look to attack as much as he should in the half-court, and would rather let his teammates set him up for 3-point looks. Nonetheless, when Loyola-Marymount was mounting a late comeback, Pruitt took his man to the basket off the dribble - and looked good doing it.
Gabe Pruitt still has a lot to learn about playing the point guard position, but showed Saturday night why he is one of the more exciting lead guard prospects in the nation. His wiry frame, superior body control, and smooth stroke may remind you a bit of former lottery pick Devin Harris. As Tim Floyd rebuilds the Trojan program from the ground up, it will be fascinating to watch Gabe Pruitt develop.
Paul Millsap, 6-8, power forward/center, junior, Louisiana Tech
29 points, 14 rebounds, 1 assist, 6 turnovers, 2 steals, 1 block, 13-19 FG, 3-3 FT, 0-1 3P
A player that has been mentioned many times in this space because of the sheer numbers he puts up on a nightly basis, Millsap is continuing right where he left off last year as the catalyst behind a huge road win earlier this week at Texas Tech.
Millsap has an NBA body, minus an inch or two, including a good wingspan, massive hands and one of the strongest lower bodies in the entire country. Millsap didn't lead the country in rebounding in his first two years in the NCAA for nothing. He is absolutely relentless on the glass, amazingly never pulling down less than 10 rebounds in a single game in his entire college career. Offensively he is limited mostly to playing in the paint, where he establishes deep position, makes great catches and finishes automatically around the basket. He has been stepping out a bit more this year apparently, though, but from what we saw earlier in the week still has a long ways to go in this area.
In terms of his NBA potential, he will likely make a living playing a Mike Sweetney/Malik Rose garbage type role in the pros. The biggest question for Millsap will be whether he has the talent, staying power and all-around skills needed to make up for his lack of height (at 6-8 max), as he possesses the type of Jason Maxiell type bulk that will never allow him to play any position but power forward in the NBA. Winning some more games with La Tech this year and possibly making the tournament would probably give his stock a nice boost as he could surely use the exposure of a matchup with another marquee big man. Millsap has already stated that he will certainly be declaring for the draft this summer.
CJ Giles, 6-11, center, sophomore, Kansas
17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 steals, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 32 minutes, 8-14 FG, 1-1 FT
CJ Giles has been one of the toughest prospects to get a good feel for in the early days of this new season. Despite having an NBA frame and downright spectacular athleticism, Giles had shown little true basketball skill over his short career. On Saturday, Giles and the Jayhawks took on California and their formidable frontcourt led by sophomore Leon Powe. Given perhaps his toughest assignment of the season, Giles turned in the best peformance of his career - to the tune of 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 blocks.
The difference in Saturday's game was Giles' defense. Powe had been bulling his way to a 25 ppg average against undersized opponents, but really struggled to score over the long arms of Giles. Giles displayed enough strength to keep from being completely bulled over by Powe, and altered many of his shots as his bouncy legs allowed a quick recovery from the burly big man's physical assaults. When looking solely at Giles' physical attributes - size, explosiveness, strength, and a frame clearly capable of adding more bulk - he has to rank as one of the more promising frontcourt prospects in the nation.
Unfortunately, as good as Giles' raw tools look, his basketball IQ is just as far behind the curve. His back to the basket arsenal had been nonexistent before he displayed the beginnings of a jump hook against the Bears, and his touch around the rim will make you groan. Giles bobbles passes on a regular basis, and even the most rudimentary put backs are a task. He has a midrange jumper in his arsenal, but will likely never be standout post scoring option. That being said, Giles was much more effective around the basket against Cal. As he develops more of an understanding of how to effectively score in the paint, his stock is only going to rise.
Watching Giles absolutely explode down the floor, emphatically block shots, and convert on alleyoop dunks with ease may remind many of a young Marcus Camby. While this oft-mentioned comparison gives Giles way too much credit at the moment, it is easy to see how Giles fits into that mold. Bill Self has an absurd amount of young talent on his roster, and CJ Giles has as much upside as any of the Jayhawk youngsters. Sitting on an NBA bench is probably an option for the potential laden Giles if he really feels the need to cash in this June, but he truly might be cheating himself out of becoming something special should he choose to take the easy route rather than leave as a polished pro.
Thomas Gardner, 6-5, shooting guard, junior, Missouri
30 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, 1 turnover, 11-22 FG, 5-9 3P, 3-7 FT
The lone bright spot on what appears to be yet another extremely long and disappointing season for Missouri fans has been the play of junior shooting guard Thomas Gardner.
Gardner is built like a linebacker but has plenty of skill and athletic ability to compliment his strength. He's scored in double figures every single game for Mizzou so far, is averaging over 21 points per game on the season, and is doing so shooting an excellent percentage from both the field (48%) and behind the arc (47.5%). On top of that, his defense has been possibly the best part of his game, usually being asked to guard the opponent's best player (Ronnie Brewer for example last week against Arkansas).
Despite the many shortcomings of his underachieving coach and teammates this season so far, Garnder has maintained a positive attitude and has played unselfish basketball throughout. Most players in his position would have the tendency to force the issue and try to win games on their own and boost their draft stock in the process, but Gardner has done none of that, only coming up with 2 turnover in the last 3 games. He went as far as to call out himself in the newspaper earlier this week, taking responsibility for the team's poor start despite scoring 30 points in the game just minutes earlier.
To prove that his early start is more than just a fluke and to really put himself in a situation to work himself into the draft as early as this year, Gardner must continue to work on his ball-handling skills and in-between game. Leading up to this season he had a tendency to shy away from attacking the basket at times and instead relied on his very streaky perimeter shot. Now that he is shooting close to 50% from behind the arc, he has a great chance to make himself a more complete player by putting the ball on the floor more and getting to the free throw line. Being the best player on what appears to be the bottom feeders of the Big 12 has to be extremely tough, but just like ex-teammate and first round draft pick Linas Kleiza last season, Gardner can make the most of this season if he continues to play the way he has so far.
Taquan Dean, 6-3, PG/SG, senior, Louisville
22 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 7-17 FG, 4-10 3P, 4-5 FT
One team we haven't seen much of yet on the national stage is Louisville. Rick Pitino's roster is practically overflowing with young talent, yet senior Taquan Dean might be the Cardinal with the best shot of getting into the first round in 2006. Dean had played more of a complementary role up to this point in his career, and has been slowed by a slew of strange injury/health problems. However, this is now Taquan Dean's team. While Louisville has yet to play any serious competition, Dean has been on a tear over his last three games, averaging 25 points and 6 rebounds while knocking down 17 3-pointers. His clutch shooting saved Cardinals against a feisty Richmond team, making up somewhat for dishing out only 1 assist compared with his 7 turnovers.
While Dean won't always jump out at you, it doesn't take a long time to warm up to his game. Where many players are overeager to make an impact on the game, Dean will take his time and make the right decision. While not a true point guard, Dean is a very efficient ball-handler and distributor. He is a volume 3-point shooter, capable of burying a team with a barrage of long-range bombs, but almost never forcing a poor shot. Dean will attack off the dribble when given the opportunity, usually pulling up for a midrange jumper or floater. To top it all off, he is a first-rate, fundamental defender.
Obviously there are going to be plenty of players available in 2006 draft with a lot more upside that Dean. However, many teams picking late in the first round aren't looking for a project that will simply waste away on the bench. These teams want a player that can help immediately, even if that player is nothing more than a sub. As long as health issues don't creep back into the picture, Dean's superb all-around ability and efficient style of play are sure to catch the eye of a team looking for a nice role-player that can contribute right away. Shooting 38% from the field as he has so far this season against paltry competition probably isnt going to cut it, but Dean appears to be hitting his stride lately and Cardinal fans can only hope that continues next week against arch-rival Kentucky.
Maurice Ager, 6-5, shooting guard, senior, Michigan State
2 games combined: 43 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 5 turnovers, 17-25 FG, 4-10 3P, 5-7 FT
Following a 0 point, 8 turnover game against Arizona that capped off an otherwise fantastic tournament for Maurice Ager in Maui, one of the main things we focused in on in regards to improvement he must show was in his passing game and ability to recognize defenses better. Ager has answered that criticism and then some since, racking up 21 assists in the last 4 games, shooting over 62% from the field, and averaging 2.75 turnovers per game in that stretch, a clear improvement for a player who is as aggressive as him.
Possibly more impressive is the consistency Ager is displaying in his senior year, scoring 15 points or more in every game this season so far and reaching 20+ in all but two. This has been a major issue for Ager so far in his career, and he has stepped up accordingly in all of Michigan State's major games this year, as has fellow senior teammate Paul Davis.
Now that Michigan States deep crop of senior wings is finally out of the way, Ager is establishing himself as one of the best swingmen in the nation while becoming a regular fixture on highlight reels with his fantastic athletic ability and all-around game. He still has a long road ahead of himself to work himself into a firm lottery candidate this June, but hell have every opportunity to do so under one of the premier coaches in America in Tom Izzo. Two huge in-conference matchups on the road against Wisconsin and Illinois are right around the corner to kick off the Big 10 slate.