Marquee Matchup: Spencer Hawes vs. Aaron Gray

Marquee Matchup: Spencer Hawes vs. Aaron Gray
Feb 25, 2007, 12:40 am
In front of 20 NBA scouts, arguably the top two center prospects in the collegiate game not named Greg Oden matched up against one and another in Pittsburgh. Washington freshman Spencer Hawes and Pitt senior Aaron Gray had the most highly touted matchup of two center prospects the college game has had to offer us thus far this season. While neither player was outstanding in the game, one prospect did clearly win the matchup in Pitt’s narrow 65-61 victory at home.

The Setting:

12,508 people sold out the Peterson Events Center in Pittsburgh, with many in attendance to see this glorified matchup of potential first round draftees in Hawes and Gray. Pitt came into the game as one of the nation’s strongest defensive teams with great fan support and gritty play. Washington came into the game coming off of a close loss to rival Washington State, with plenty to prove. The game was nationally televised on ESPN and loaded with NBA personnel, so every player involved in the game knew not only how important this game was to their team, but how important it might be in terms of playing professionally at the next level down the road as well.

The Participants:

In Pitt, you had one of the most dominant defensive teams in the country, led by their star 7’0 Aaron Gray. The Preseason choice for Big East player of the year has not disappointing on the year, at least before he went down with an ankle injury, averaging 14.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game while shooting an excellent 57% from the field. He has led his Panther team to a #5 national ranking, while improving his draft stock after a sub-par workout in Orlando last June.

Washington came into the game led by their own outstanding center, freshman Spencer Hawes. The Huskies have been one of the nation’s bigger disappointments this year, picked by many to finish third in the loaded Pac-10, but maintaining a meager 7th place spot going into this game. Hawes however has lived up to most expectations, averaging 15.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.1% from the field. Hawes has established himself as the second best draft prospect from the center position that the college game has to offer, and is practically a sure-fire lottery pick whenever he decides to come out.

The Outcome:

The game started off a bit shockingly, as Washington jumped out to an 20-13 lead early on in the game. Jon Brockman’s bullish play inside and Ryan Appleby’s outside shooting stroke were allowed the Huskies to stun fans in Peterson Events Center. Neither Hawes nor Gray established themselves as dominant players within the first ten minutes of the game, although each did show flashes. Hawes showed great timing on the defensive end, blocking a pair of shots. He also made an outstanding interior post pass that 90% of seven footers in the NBA cannot make. Gray on the other hand primarily made his presence felt on the glass, boxing out whomever he was guarding, allowing his teammates to snag whatever rebounds he was unable to bring in himself. He was not able to establish himself as a presence on the offensive end at all, though.

Then the Panthers decided they were going to turn it on and show everyone why they are a top five team in the country, responding with an 11-3 run to take a 24-23 lead. Pitt guards Levance Fields and Mike Cook did the bulk of the scoring to take their team on this run. Their star big man Aaron Gray was still practically a non-factor on the offensive end, although he was able to get points via offensive rebounds late in the half. Spencer Hawes on the other hand showed off his outside shooting stroke and post moves, but was unable to convert on his scoring attempts from the low blocks. When it was all said and done, neither of the star big men had a memorable half, and Pitt took a 31-28 lead into the intermission.


The second half resembled the first half in terms of both teams battling in the trenches. Luckily for the massive amount of scouts in attendance, both Spencer Hawes and Aaron Gray had far more productive outings in half two then they did in the first stanza. The game remained hard fought all throughout, with Hawes having far more of an impact then Gray as the game went on. This was quite odd, considering that Aaron Gray has always been considered the primary reason that Pitt has went as far as they have, but for some reason, his Panther teammates decided not to give their seven footer touches in the low post.

Washington went to their star freshman much more in the final ten minutes of the game then they did the first 30, largely in part because they realized that he had the potential to do damage to the less mobile Gray out on the perimeter. Hawes hit numerous contested 18 foot jump shots and primarily played the role of power forward throughout the second half. His high low passing skills were on display throughout the latter part of the game, and he really showed an adept ability to find the open man when double teamed yet again. Unfortunately for Hawes however, his shots were not falling as frequently as they needed to as the game went on and the Huskies needed a consistent scoring threat more than anything else.

Aaron Gray on the other hand was a complete non-factor on the offensive end in the second half. He was unable to establish himself as a scoring presence at all, primarily due to the lack of touches that he received in the post. He struggled quite a bit defensively against the more mobile Hawes, but was able to continue his excellent team defense via his boxing out efforts. Late in the game, Gray turned his ankle with his team holding on to a miniscule lead. He was able to draw a foul, but was unable to shoot the free throws due to the injury. Luckily for him however, his team was able to pull out a 65-61 victory in regulation, because the Panthers surely did not want to go into overtime without their star seven footer.


Final Stats:

Spencer Hawes: 12 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 2 turnovers, 6-16 FG

Aaron Gray: 5 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, 2-7 FG, 1-2 FT

Preliminary Conclusions:

While neither player “wowed” anyone with their performance, clearly Hawes got the better end of the duel of seven footers. The freshman displayed more upside and a higher skill level, although was clearly outmatched physically by the girth of Pitt center Aaron Gray. His combination of excellent footwork, outside shooting stroke, and post moves that even many NBA veterans lack are what separate him from any other center prospect in the 2007 NBA Draft not named Greg Oden.

Offensively, we have not seen a more polished center at the collegiate level in recent memory. He has every single post move in the book, along with the ability to go to those moves with either hand. He is awfully hard to predict since he goes to both his left and right shoulders equally well, with no problems shooting a turnaround jumper or jump hook regardless of what direction he goes. Hawes' soft touch with either hand is awfully rare for a big man prospect (evidenced by his 54.1% field goal percentage), and makes him an absolute nightmare for bigger, less mobile centers such as Gray.

What really sets Hawes apart from other center prospects, aside from his gorgeous post moves, is his ability to play the high post and pass the ball for a seven footer. He showed countless times throughout the game that he had no problem knocking down contested jump shots all the way out to the collegiate three point line. He also showed no problems whatsoever playing the high post as the game went on, letting fellow Huskies Jon Brockman and Artem Wallace do the majority of their damage on the low blocks.

The 2006 McDonald’s All American displayed his outstanding court vision throughout the game, whether it be from the perimeter or down on the low blocks. He had no problem throwing lob passes into Brockman throughout the game, allowing his former AAU teammate to convert easy lay-ups inside. What NBA scouts find more valuable however, was his ability to recognize double teams and consistently make the right pass out of them. His vision, ability to throw skip passes, and interior passing skills easily rank amongst the top two or three centers in the college game, and only make him that much more attractive to NBA teams.


Defensively, Hawes brings quite a bit to the table for a seven footer despite his relatively small frame. His 7’1 wingspan (as measured at the 2006 Nike Hoop Summit) and excellent timing allow him to be a shot blocking presence, although he doesn’t have the explosive leaping ability of a Greg Oden or Sean Williams. His position defense is generally solid, as he uses his heady play to guard each man differently and make up for his lack of bulk inside. However, as shown with this matchup with Gray, he does seem to struggle a bit once bigger post players get him on their back and seal him, as evidenced by the two successful buckets that Gray did convert in the game. Spencer has lost quite a bit of weight over the last few months due to an illness, and should look to bulk up to around 240 lbs. for pre-draft workouts in order to compete physically with stronger center prospects such as Greg Oden, Aaron Gray, and Roy Hibbert.

The most major concern about Spencer, however, has been his lack of rebounding, and perceived lack of toughness. Averaging only 6.0 rebounds per game, he is amongst the worst rebounding center prospects in this draft. This is puzzling however, as the Seattle native was a proven rebounder on the high school and AAU levels before his arrival at UW. Many have accredited this to his a perceived lack of toughness and strength on the defensive end, but fail to realize that he is playing alongside Jon Brockman, who is an absolute monster on the glass. Either way though, it would help Hawes’ draft stock mightily and eliminate plenty of concerns amongst NBA scouts if he is able to finish out his freshman season on a strong note in the rebounding column.

Senior center Aaron Gray burst onto the scene last season as one of the nation’s most surprising players. He went from averaging a meager 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds as a sophomore to 13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds as a junior. After entering the NBA Draft last season and realizing that he still had quite a ways to go after a lackluster workout in Orlando, as well as wanting to enjoy his final season of college basketball and potentially make a run to the final four, he decided to return to Pitt for his senior season.

The biggest asset that Gray brings to the table as a prospect is easily his massive size, and ability to eat up space inside. He is able to obtain excellent position in the low post, often allowing him to literally just turn at shoot right at the rim. He is a bear for opposing defenders to defend if they are trying to front or three quarter front him, which you can ask Spencer Hawes about after this past game. The massive center just makes things incredibly easy for teammates to get him on the low blocks with his excellent position and soft hands.

Once he receives the ball in the post, Aaron uses his soft touch to generally score off of drop step moves or right handed jump hooks. He will also often go to a turnaround jumper to either shoulder, which he has shown no problem hitting consistently out to around 8 feet away from the basket. Aside from that however, the Emmaus, PA native does the majority of his scoring off of his ability to coral offensive rebounds. He is one of those rare players who actually box out on the offensive end, and often finds the ball just falling into his paws where he is able to score from 5 feet and in.

The aforementioned rebounding ability would have to be what most consider the strongest strait in the Pitt senior’s game. While he is not incredibly explosive, he does a fantastic job of boxing out and going to get the ball once it comes off the rim. He does this on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor, which has allowed him to become one of the nation’s most consistent rebounders in one of the nation’s strongest conferences, the Big East.

On the defensive end, Aaron does a pretty decent job of using heady play to make up for his lack of explosive leaping ability and lateral quickness, making him a pretty solid defender on in the low post. He will never block five shots a game or make opponents think twice the way Greg Oden or Sean Williams will, but does an excellent job of using his body to force opposing big mean to catch the ball at least 8 feet away when they post up. He has pretty nice timing and completely utilizes his length and bulk to it’s fullest, allowing him to be a pretty decent shot blocker at the collegiate level.

Many question how Gray will be able to defend quicker, face the basket players in the NBA. He struggled guarding Spencer Hawes when Hawes took him out to the perimeter, so what will he do if forced to guard big men with an explosive first step such as Amare Stoudemire or Chris Bosh, who both play center for long stretches of time for their respective teams. Aaron will surely need to improve his body even more in pre-draft training so he is able to improve his quickness enough to where he can at least be a formidable defender outside of 10 feet from the basket.

While we are on the subject of weaknesses, Gray’s limited shooting ability will surely hinder him once pre-draft workouts roll around in the eyes of scouts, considering that he does not have the most polished post moves in the book. His shooting ability currently extends to 10-12 feet maximum, and that is a bit unacceptable for the NBA nowadays with so many teams running pick and pop sets. Aaron’s lack of left hand could also be a concern, as he seemingly relies on his size a bit too much, which he will not be able to do when matched up against athletic marvels just as big as himself on a nightly basis in the NBA.

As it stands, Spencer Hawes is currently sitting ahead of Aaron Gray on the large majority, if not all of the NBA teams’ draft boards. Hawes should find himself picked somewhere in the lottery, if he does decide to come out this year. Gray on the other hand, has greatly improved his draft stock since his early entrant last year. We currently have him pegged as a mid first round pick, but he surely has the potential to rise into the late lottery with a strong NCAA tournament and pre-draft workouts.

Spencer Hawes Interview

DraftExpress: How did you feel you fared in your hyped matchup with Aaron Gray?

Hawes: I though I did alright. I was a little disappointed in how I did from the field. I thought I should of put a couple of more of those shots in, but everyone has those kind of nights where your shots aren’t always falling. Coach is always talking about making a difference in the game no matter in other areas of the game if your shot isn’t falling. I had one of my better rebounding games and had a few blocks and assists. My shot wasn’t falling, so I was trying to contribute in other ways and help my team.

DraftExpress: Speaking of your rebounding, you were a proven rebounder on the high school and AAU levels. You averaged 10 or 11 rebounds a game consistently then, but now that you’re at Washington you’re only averaging 5 rebounds per game. Can you tell me a little about why there’s been such a big drop off?

Hawes: I think I have been more aggressive with it recently, and I’ve been getting better numbers. I’ve been looking to get rebounds that are out of my area versus settling for those that come close. Also, playing with Jon…you sometimes take that for granted. He just gets so many balls that come off, you almost just take a side of relief and rely on him too much. I think it’s a combination of things, but I think being more aggressive and perusing the ball better has helped me more recently.

DraftExpress: Now did the importance personally of your matchup with Aaron Gray cross your mind at all going into this game? I mean, there were 20 NBA scouts in attendance looking at two players who are sure fire mid first round picks, at the very worst case scenario.

Hawes: I think a little bit. It’s probably one of the biggest matchups that I’ve faced this year. I struggled the first time I played against the Lopez twins, and that was a big one. Luckily, I had a chance to redeem myself though. I knew that it was a big stage both individually and for our team to go out there and prove something. It definitely did cross my mind.

DraftExpress: What was the one thing that kind of surprised you about Gray? Was there anything that you took for granted?

Hawes: Man, just how big he is and how hard he is to move out of the way and has position. That was a big adjustment.

DraftExpress: You’ve been playing much better as of late and you did touch on your matchup with the Lopez twins that you didn’t fare so well in…Are there any adjustments that you’ve made to your game that have resulted in your improved play?

Hawes: I think it’s been a combination of things. Getting healthy helped out a lot, and putting on a little bit more weight definitely helped out a lot. Just being aggressive…In the first game, I got a bit discouraged when Robin blocked a couple of my shots. Then in the second game, my coaches were telling me to just “go at their chins and go right at them”, so I wouldn’t give them space to block my shot. I did that, and I think that helped me a lot.

DraftExpress: Great Spencer, thanks for your time and best of luck on the rest of the season.

Hawes: Thank you.

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