NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/25/08-- Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/25/08-- Part Two
Jan 25, 2008, 03:40 am
Brook Lopez, 7’0, PF/C, Sophomore, Stanford
17.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2.1 turnovers, 1.7 blocks, 47% FG, 75% FT

Joseph Treutlein

Following a freshman season where Brook Lopez posted good numbers despite coming off back surgery, many were expecting more big things from him this year. So it was obviously disappointing when Lopez missed the first nine games of the season due to academic ineligibility. To Lopez’s credit, his response to the situation has been as mature as one can expect from a college sophomore. Lopez has publicly blamed himself for Stanford’s early-season loss to Siena, a game in which he was unable to participate. He also called the ineligibility “an embarrassment to me and my family.” Lopez claims the time off has helped him grow, giving him an improved work ethic, which definitely is showing, as his production is up noticeably across the board.

Lopez is listed at 260 pounds this season, up from 240 last season, and it definitely shows. He seems to be holding the added bulk very well, and is probably now at his ideal career playing weight, being very physically mature for his age. Stanford is relying on Lopez to score more this season, especially on the low block, where Lopez’s results have been mixed. Inside five feet, Lopez looks nearly automatic, showing good touch and the strength to finish over pretty much anyone at this level. He shows solid footwork and will use drop-steps, spin moves, and mini-hooks to score. When he wants to, Lopez does an excellent job establishing deep position and sealing his man off down low.

Sometimes, though, he seems content to stay in the five to seven foot range, where his success drops considerably. Lopez is very formulaic in this range when he has his back to the basket, never trying to further back his man down once he has the ball, never putting the ball on the floor for more than one dribble, and almost always going right up into a right-handed hook shot or a turnaround jumper, often rushing his shot. Watching him in this area of the court, you get the idea that he knows exactly what he’s going to do even before he gets the ball, regardless of how the defense is reacting to him. He shows no counter-moves or fakes in this range, and doesn’t adjust to what the defense gives him. Lopez has had very little success with his hook shot from this range so far this season, and while he’s done slightly better with his turnaround jumper, he still isn’t converting on that consistently either. It seems as if Lopez really lacks in comfort level and confidence with his back to the basket in this five to seven foot range, and that’s something he’ll need to work on moving forward.

While Lopez looks very uncomfortable with his back to the basket outside of five feet, the same cannot be said when he faces up. Lopez is at his best facing up from the five to ten foot range, where he seems very comfortable in the triple-threat position, and likes to take jump shots with a hand in his face. He will occasionally put the ball on the floor from here, but struggles when not in space, and it usually will only lead to an ill-advised pull-up jumper. Stanford uses Lopez on the low block the majority of possessions, though in the long-term, he definitely will be better suited switching from the low to high post, where he could make better use of his face-up game and mid-range jumper.

Lopez also has shown a strong knack for finishing on rolls to the basket off pick-and-roll situations, using his size, touch, and good hands to consistently catch and finish at the rim. He also has improved his rebounding this year, showing a good pursuit of the ball and a consistent tendency to box out his man strongly. At the rim, Lopez has the size and strength to often come down with rebounds in a crowd, but unlike someone like a Dwight Howard for example, Lopez doesn’t have the explosiveness to power up through a crowd of defenders for the emphatic dunk.

On the defensive end, Lopez has done a good job this season, showing versatility and a lot of potential as a defender. In man-to-man situations in the post, Lopez plays a strange style of defense, never using a hand or forearm on his opponent, rather keeping his hands outstretched in the air and just using his body to stay in front of his man by moving laterally. This throws many players off, forcing them into travels or offensive fouls, and also allows Lopez to contest anyone who tries to shoot over him, but it also leaves him prone to being backed down when someone with his strength shouldn’t be. Laterally, Lopez is definitely above average for a seven-footer, looking competent when forced out on the perimeter, and also doing a good job defending pick-and-rolls with his mobility. He does show some problems reacting to quick moves by agile forwards in the post, though. As a weakside shot blocker, Lopez is very aware and focused, and is solid contesting and blocking shots in the lane in a very controlled manner, not committing foolish fouls.

Lopez will have a very strong case for declaring for the draft this year, where he should be considered among the top big men available after the initial elite tier of prospects. He is mobile and coordinated for a big man, with good athleticism, though he isn’t overly explosive. He also brings a versatile and developing skill-set to the table, while playing both ends of the floor. Despite his academic ineligibility to start this season, his character can probably be viewed as a plus, as he appears to be a hard worker and shows good intensity on the floor. He projects as more of a center at the next level, though should be able to play power forward at times, depending on matchups.

Pat Calathes, 6-10, Senior, Small Forward, St. Joe’s
17.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks, 44% FG, 45.6% 3P, 78% FT

Jonathan Givony

One of the most well-rounded players in college basketball is long overdue for a spot in this space, as he’s not only one of the best players in the terrific Atlantic-10 conference, but is also garnering legit consideration to be considered one of the most unique prospects in the 2008 draft.

You’d be hard pressed to find many more 6-10 (possibly 6-11 as he’s at times listed) players in college basketball who start every game at the small forward position and play the majority of their minutes there. Pat Calathes (brother of outstanding Florida Gator freshman Nick Calathes) grew up as a point guard, standing “only” 5-10 as a high school freshman. Calathes grew all the way to 6-10 by the time he was ready to attend St. Joe’s, although it wasn’t until this past summer that his body really caught up. He never seemed to lose his ball-handling skills and court vision, though, which has made him one of the most versatile players in the country this year. Calathes leads his team in scoring, rebounding and made 3-pointers, and is second in assists and blocked shots.

Athletically, Calathes is fairly average, possessing average footspeed and not being particularly explosive finishing around the basket in traffic. Offensively, Calathes is a terrific shooter, hitting over 45% from behind the arc on the season, and showing an incredibly quick release that he gets off flat-footed with a speedy and unconventional flick of the wrist. He moves well without the ball, always looking ready to catch and fire away instantaneously, if the situation calls for it. He likes to slither between the defense and find seams where he can get his shot off, being particularly hard to stop considering his size and high release point, combined with his ability to knock down shots while on the move or fading away.

Although his shooting is impressive, Calathes’ most impressive attribute is clearly his overall feel for the game. He’s a calming influence on his somewhat wild guards in his team’s half-court sets, showing an outstanding commitment to creating spacing on the floor and rarely if ever taking a bad shot. He’s an extremely quick decision maker, unselfish to a fault at times, but the type who makes everyone around him better just by being on the court. His court vision is outstanding, and he’s capable of making every type of pass imaginable, moving the ball quickly up the floor in transition, executing smooth drive and dish plays, but being especially good at making crisp post-entry passes, which will serve him well as a pro. He is obviously one of the smartest players you’ll find in all of college basketball.

Calathes also has some versatility to his game from what we can tell. A strong ball-handler driving with either hand, especially in transition, he’s pretty active looking to slash to the basket, despite his average first step, getting to the free throw line over 6 times per game this season. He’s improved this part of his game dramatically as he’s progressed from season to season and grown into his frame—going from 2.7 free throw attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted as a sophomore, to 5.2 as a junior, to 7.6 this season. He still struggles finishing with contact around the basket at times, but clearly looks more comfortable operating on the court. He seems to have developed a nice looking floater he can get off in the lane to help counter this problem. Calathes would benefit from polishing up the mechanics of his mid-range pull-up jumper, as this is a weapon that could be of great use to him in the NBA with the greater spacing he’ll enjoy out on the perimeter. Adding something resembling a post-up game to be able to take advantage of his superior size at the 3-spot would also help him out.

The biggest question Calathes will have to answer through the draft process will revolve around his ability to defend his position at the next level. His lateral quickness is clearly an issue, as it’s not rare at all to see smaller wing players blow by him out on the perimeter, and he struggles chasing them around screens as well. His excellent timing and length do help out in this area, though, and he’s actually coming up with a steady amount of blocks and steals (1.4 each per game) to back that up. He also isn’t a bad rebounder for his position (8.4 per game), leading his team and stacking up fairly well in comparison with other small forward draft prospects. Rarely will he outquick or outjump other players, but his excellent wingspan, hands, timing and reflexes are very helpful in this area, and he seems to have a knack for just sticking his hands in the right places and coming away with the ball. There is no question that he needs to continue to work on his body, though, if he’s to deal with the rigors of the NBA.

Calathes doesn’t look like your prototypical NBA draft pick on first glance, and that’s why it isn’t shocking that he isn’t even being discussed as a prospect by any other outlet besides this site. Once you dig a little deeper and study his game, though, you can really begin to appreciate just how interesting of a player he truly is. It’s definitely not of the question that someone falls in love with him (particularly a head coach), as he brings a unique skill-set to the table that is not very easy to find. He doesn’t really look like a finished product either at this point, as he’s improved noticeably on every part of his game over the past few years, and might not be finished quite yet as he continues to get stronger.

Something we wonder about is just how good of a shooter is he? Calathes knocks down a fair amount of 3-pointers (2.3 per game on a 45% clip), but he doesn’t make quite enough to categorize him as a specialist just yet—something teams will probably want to learn more about in private workouts.

Calathes looks like a classic player to bring to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament to give teams a chance to further evaluate him against stronger competition. If the NBA doesn’t work out for him, he apparently has the possibility to acquire a Greek passport. That would make him an extremely hot commodity this summer at the top level of Europe, where he would have an outstanding future.

Brian Laing, SG/SF, Senior, Seton Hall,
18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 1.7 steals, 46.7% FG, 29% 3P, 82% FT

Kyle Nelson

Brian Laing has turned heads since becoming the second leading scorer in the Big East conference behind Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody. While he is undersized as a perimeter player compared to most NBA wings, Laing is able to use his size, strength, and toughness to be a physical presence at the NCAA level. His ability to adapt to the shooting guard position is largely a mystery and is probably the most significant question that NBA personnel will have to answer during the draft process. While he has a good deal of work to do before he can be considered a sure-fire NBA prospect, Laing has shown a lot of positive improvements during this season.

On the offensive end, Laing can best be described as a power player. He is most effective in one-on-one isolation situations, where he can use his physical strength to bully his defender, and establish himself as a mismatch threat against bigger players at the power forward position. A majority of his offense in these types of situations comes from his evolving mid-range game. His mid-range jumpshot has some problems in terms of form, but there is no denying his quick release. When watching Laing shoot, it is remarkable that he is able to get his shot off at will considering that his mechanics are quite inconsistent at this stage. Sometimes, his form is deliberate and he does not shoot from the apex of his jump. Other times, it seems like he pushes his shot a little too much. All of these problems seem rooted in the fact that his form lacks a fluid singular motion. He shoots the ball well from the field (46.7% FG), considering he gets so much of his offense from mid-range jumpshots, but the inconsistencies in his form are exposed numerically in his 28.8% shooting from the perimeter.

Laing has a pure scoring mentality at this point, so it looks like he could become a very effective scorer from just about anywhere on the floor if he were to put time into improving his jumpshot. However, he must become a better shooter if he is going to attempt shots at such a high volume (15.3). He is not going to get 15 shots per game at the next level, so at this stage in his career, he must learn how to utilize his abilities in order to become a better and more efficient scorer. There is a place at the next level for players like Brian Laing, but he must continue to work on his offensive game so that he can best utilize a more limited amount of opportunities with the ball in his hands.

However, another area where Laing could really stand to improve lies in his ball-handling skills, which really limit his effectiveness. Considering his size and strength, he could be very effective as a slasher, taking his opponents deep into the lane or surprising them by cutting to the hoop and pulling up for a jumper. Nearly 60% of his shots come in the form of jumpers (with another 15% coming in the post), which is another testament to his shaky handle. Right now, he is deliberate with the ball in his hands, something that will be exposed at the next level.

Playing almost 38 minutes/game, he is not at all turnover prone. In fact, his 2.3 turnovers/game ranks him in the bottom half of prospects averaging 30+ minutes/game. For a player that is responsible for 22.4% of his team’s possessions, the fact that his assist/turnover ratio is almost even and he averages only 2.3 turnovers/game shows how effective Laing is already. He still has a good amount of potential in his offensive game; it is up to him to maximize his abilities.

One thing that Laing does very well, however, is rebound the basketball. His 7.1 rebounds per game rank him in the top 10 amongst swingmen prospects, and in the top five in offensive rebounds per game at 2.3. His strength, toughness and technique boxing out opponents has been a big key for Seton Hall this year playing Laing out of position at power forward.

On the defensive end, Laing is solid, but unremarkable. He does a decent job of staying in front of his man, but lacks the quickness to become a lock down defender at any level. He does use his long arms well and does not give his man room to maneuver, but sometimes this results in him reaching too early, either drawing a foul or allowing his man to beat him to the basket. Laing must continue to work on using his physical gifts to his advantage on the defensive end like he utilizes them on the offensive end. He may never become a great defender, but he needs to improve if he wants to play at the next level.

Brian Laing has made some terrific strides over the past year to establish himself as one of the top scorers in the Big East. However, it is going to take much individual effort and improvement in order for him to continue along those lines and reach the NBA. While he is having a spectacular season, and one in which he is getting a lot of exposure, Laing will still need to go through the draft process, starting at Portsmouth, to show that his game can translate.

Mike Green, 6-1, Point Guard, Senior, Butler
15.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.4 spg, 43% FG, 39.6% 3FG

Joey Whelan

Butler owes much of its strong start this season to the play of one of the country’s top backcourt duos in Mike Green and A.J. Graves. Green in particular has stepped up his play this season, leading the Bulldogs in scoring, rebounding and assists, while managing the bulk of the point guard responsibilities. Showing that there is nothing “mid-major” about his game, Green has had a slew of strong showings against high-major teams this season, including 20-point outings against Virginia Tech, Texas Tech and Florida State.

Despite Butler’s offensive efficiency and team oriented style of play, Green gets most of his shots off in isolation situations where he is taking defenders off the dribble, as he is his team’s most creative player. He has a solid first step and pretty good quickness for the collegiate level, which can definitely get him places against the type of competition he usually faces right now. Green is a very crafty player, strong, tough and instinctive, with great timing and ball-handling skills, and relying on an array of moves to break down defenders. The senior has shown a real ability to change speeds effectively while mixing in spin moves and crossover dribble moves. Once in the lane, he shows solid body control and a great ability to shield the ball with his body. Despite his lack of size, Green is surprisingly good at finishing with contact, but his lack of leaping ability doesn’t allow him to elevate against bigger defenders.

Green has improved his perimeter shooting this season. A career 32.9% shooter from beyond the arc in his first three seasons, Green is shooting just a hair under 40% from deep this year, although on a limited amount of attempts (2.5 per game). He has solid shooting form and a fairly quick release, but at this point is solely a catch and shoot threat. Green has shown very little ability to shoot off the dribble and almost never pulls up from mid-range. It seems as though if he isn’t catching and shooting from the outside he is trying to finish around the hoop at all costs. While this aggressive play draws plenty of trips to the foul line, it does result in several offensive fouls and poor shots.

In the transition game, Green has his ups and downs. He doesn’t have blazing open floor speed when handling the basketball and as a result gets his shots blocked or altered from behind on occasion. He lacks that second gear to pull away from pursuing defenders. Green does exhibit good court vision on the break, often able to hit teammates in stride for easy looks around the basket. The transition game is where a good bulk of Green’s nearly five assists per game come from, as he’s extremely smart and savvy here. As a point guard, Green has a tendency to take some excessive risks at times, but he seems to show a pretty solid mix between scoring and playmaking, even if he at times looks for the former more than the latter.

Defense is a cause for concern at the professional level with Green. His height allows taller perimeter players to shoot over him with a fair amount of ease and his struggles to close out quickly makes him a potential liability against sharpshooters. He also has a tendency to lose track of his man when in transition, something that allows for a lot of open spot up looks for opponents. In isolation situations Green might lack a bit of lateral quickness to effectively guard some perimeter players at the professional level on a consistent basis; his quick hands though allow him to come away with over a steal per game. What is impressive about Green’s play is his ability to pull down six rebounds per game, thanks to his hustle, strength, timing and anticipation around the basket.

The biggest strikes against Green from a professional standpoint revolve around his average physical tools. At 6’1” and around 180 pounds, he has a solid build, but is somewhat undersized for the NBA. While other smaller guards can combat their lack of size by being lightning quick, Green is just average in this category compared to NBA point guards. He’s also not terribly explosive, getting into some trouble when trying to finish against bigger players in the paint. He shows a hard-nosed style of play when attacking the rim; often seeking out contact (he averages nearly eight free throw attempts per game), but his inability to elevate over interior players diminishes his productivity in the lane, and leaves some question marks about how his game will translate to the much bigger, longer and more athletic NBA.

All in all, Green is having his best season yet for the Bulldogs, providing a little bit of everything on the offensive end. In his last game against Youngstown State he missed out on a triple-double by two rebounds, which shouldn’t be too shocking when you look at his per 40 pace adjusted statistics (19.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists). At the end of the day, though, Green is going to have to endear himself to scouts through his play in the NCAA and pre-draft camps to have a chance at catching on with a team after this season, as his upside won’t be what does it for them. Green will likely get strong consideration for the Portsmouth Invitational, and could continue to make a name for himself there. He will end up playing professionally somewhere, and will find plenty of success, the only question is where.

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