NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/30/08-- Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/30/08-- Part One
Jan 31, 2008, 02:54 am
Marreese Speights, 6-10, Sophomore, Center, Florida
14.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, .9 assists, 1.7 turnovers, 1.5 blocks, 64% FG, 69% FT, 22 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Over the summer, we took a slight leap of faith discussing the outrageous per-40 minute production freshman Marreese Speights (28 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks, 68% FG) put up playing limited minutes behind the NBA-bound trio of Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Chris Richard. Many questioned how we could go as far as to call him the #1 NBA draft prospect in the SEC after playing only 6 minutes per game. What they didn’t realize was that beyond the numbers, the video we could see of the minutes he did play was that impressive.

Fast-forward to his sophomore year, and Speights is playing quite a bit more, up to 22 minutes per game, and his per-40 production has not dropped as much as you might think. 25.5 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and 64% shooting from the field is what he’s currently averaging per-40, while his assist-rate has quadrupled, and his turnovers are down by about 15%. He’s also fouling quite a bit less. More importantly, Florida is far exceeding expectations this season in the win-loss column, sitting at 18-3 overall, and 5-1 in the SEC.

Physically, it’s not hard to tell why Speights has terrific NBA potential. He has good size at 6-10, an NBA caliber frame, super long arms, and impressive athleticism. He runs the court well, has good quickness, is extremely quick off his feet, and is notably explosive finishing around the basket. He’s a very mobile big man, fluid and coordinated, and has excellent hands to boot. Our good friend David Thorpe of ESPN’s Scout’s Inc recently told us that Speights reminds him somewhat of Al Jefferson, and this seems to be a pretty good best-case scenario comparison.

Offensively, Speights is a back to the basket center all the way, looking most comfortable playing in the paint, but also showing some small sparks of potential with his jump-shot as well. Speights doesn’t have the most diverse post-game you’ll find in the NCAA, but he does a few things extremely well. He is strong enough to establish position fairly well deep inside the paint, and has a terrific jump-hook he can hit with either hand and range out to about 5-7 feet. If closer than that, he likes to finish impressively with a powerful one-handed dunk, aided greatly by his terrific wingspan and the quickness in which he gets off his feet.

Speights can also spin-away from his matchup and knock down a turnaround jump-shot, having the talent to just throw the ball in the basket from tough angles and even under duress. He has absolutely outstanding touch around the basket, and seems to have the potential to even be a legit option in the paint in the NBA as he continues to develop his all-around game. What he lacks in fundamentals, he makes up for with outstanding natural instincts, coming up with plays at times that hint at great things that might come down the road. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the game comes pretty easy for him. His 64% shooting average from the field ranks 4th amongst all NCAA players in our 2008 or 2009 mock drafts.

As talented as Speights is around the basket, there are still quite a few things he needs to work on. For one, he doesn’t always do a very good job establishing position for himself to receive the ball in the paint, not looking quite as motivated as you’d hope to dominate his matchup on this end of the floor, and at times, just floating up and down the court aimlessly. You don’t always know what you’re going to get from him on a nightly basis in terms of his activity level. His ability to read defenses and react to his matchup also leaves something to be desired, as he does not have many real counter-moves in his arsenal, and often seems to decide what he is going to do before he even gets the ball.

Although he’s shown some sparks of being able to finish with his left hand, he still doesn’t fully trust himself here, preferring to go to his right at times even when he’s forced to go against his body to do so. He’s not immune to throwing up bad shots as you’d expect a young, somewhat late-blooming big man to (he was not the most highly touted recruit coming out of high school), not always knowing his limitations, and clearly still lacking an incredibly diverse arsenal of post-moves at his disposal at this point.

Facing the basket, we find somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, Speights appears to be developing a pretty nice jump-shot from 15-17 feet out, and possesses a pretty soft touch from the free throw line as well. His ball-handling skills are poor, though, meaning he’s not yet able to take advantage of his superior athleticism as much as he should when facing up against slower big men. While no one will confuse him with Vlade Divac anytime soon, he does a pretty nice job passing out of double-teams, and generally seems to be a fairly unselfish player who is able to make quick decisions with the ball in his hands—all relative to the fairly limited experience he possesses at this point.

Defensively, Speights still has a long ways to go until he’d be considered “trust-worthy” enough by an NBA head coach to see significant minutes at the next level. His fundamentals here are extremely poor, showing very little in terms of a real defensive stance, giving up excessive space in the paint, biting excessively for pump-fakes, not being very effective rotating over to help out on team defense, and doing an extremely poor job hedging the pick and roll. His commitment here leaves a lot to be desired, as he’s often fairly lazy closing out on shooters, and generally doesn’t seem to put in the greatest effort on this end of the floor. A lot of that has to do with his overall focus-level, which just isn’t always there.

Speights can block shots at this level, even if he’s not freakishly explosive, but his excellent timing, hands and wingspan really make him a factor. He has a knack for sticking his hands in the right place at the right time, and can even swat away some shots with his left hand. This same knack/timing and terrific tools show up in his rebounding too, where he can be dominant at times when he really puts his mind to it, especially on the offensive end. He’s especially impressive with his ability to tip-in the missed shots of his teammates with terrific touch, and go after his own field goal attempts with a put-back dunk. He’s already the 8th best rebounder per-40 minutes pace adjusted in the country amongst players in our database, and that’s despite the fact that he forgets to box out occasionally, and has a tendency to coast from time to time.

As you can probably guess from this write-up, Speights has some extremely unique tools at his disposal that can really get you excited if you catch him on the right night. We actually don’t have that many question marks about his combination of physical tools and skill-set (if he continues to develop his game)-- it’s more about his mental approach to the game that leaves you wondering at times. He’s been criticized by Florida’s coaching staff for some of the things we’ve outlined here, and these issues (effort, commitment, focus, etc) may extend off the court as well depending on who’s being asked. That may be a product of his youth, and could certainly improve in time depending on the type of people that are around him. We’ve already seen him make big strides in this area as the season moves on (he seems to be getting a lot of tough love from Billy Donovan and co.), and that’s why another year in college could be just what the doctor ordered, also in order to further develop his promising skill-set.

Richard Roby, 6’6, Senior, Shooting Guard, Colorado
16.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steal, 1.0 block, 3.0 turnovers, 50% FG, 78% FT, 39% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

Richard Roby’s journey as a prospect the past three years is about as strange as you’ll ever see in college basketball. Following his sophomore season, Roby was viewed as a borderline first round pick, but chose to go back to school and further develop his game. Unfortunately, his development seemed to regress, as his shooting percentage dropped from 42% to 38%, while his three-point shooting percentage dropped from 36% to 27%, even though his offensive burden didn’t significantly increase. Now, a senior, Roby has posted career highs in every shooting category, and by significant margins, too.

When looking at Roby’s game, it’s important to first mention Colorado’s new coach, Jeff Bzdelik, who has drastically changed the team’s style of play, bringing in a Princeton offense and slowing the team’s pace from 73 to 63 possessions per game. The team as a whole is taking much better shots, with their shooting percentage up from 42% to 45%, and three-point shooting up from 31% to 34%. Roby is obviously leading the charge here, as his shot selection is greatly improved, forcing far fewer bad shots, and benefiting from the offense’s ball movement with more open looks.

Looking at Roby’s actual game, his shooting mechanics have cleaned up some, with him being more consistent than he was last year, but still showing a few problems. Most notably, he rarely holds his follow through on his shot, and at times appears to be rushed, which leads to some bad misses. He also has a tendency to push forward on his shot at times, which offsets the advantage he has with his superior length, leaving him prone to being blocked on the perimeter at times. Despite these problems, Roby is still shooting a solid 39% from behind the arc as Colorado’s go-to scorer, which is a testament to how much natural ability Roby has as a shooter. At times, Roby’s quick-release is a thing of beauty, most often when he has space and gets his feet set, where his shooting motion is much more consistent and his success is more frequent. If he ever got to work with a shooting coach and really hammered out some of the inconsistencies in his shot, he could be an outstanding shooter, but these are criticisms that have been aimed at Roby as long as he’s been a draft prospect.

Roby has also done a very good job utilizing shot fakes from the perimeter this year, faking the three and taking one or two dribbles forward for a pull-up jumper, which he hits fairly well in space. The rest of his mid-range game is pretty inconsistent and unreliable, and to his credit, he’s really cut down on using it this year, not taking many off-balanced, contested shots off the dribble, something that hurt him in the past.

In terms of attacking the basket, Roby shows a decent dribble with both hands, though it can be sloppy at times, and he doesn’t show much proficiency with it in a crowd. On his dribble-drive moves, he over-relies on his spin move, but does a solid job getting to the basket when in single coverage. Roby isn’t especially quick with the ball, and doesn’t have an explosive first step, so he probably won’t be very good in isolation drives at the next level, though he does do a good job making off-ball cuts. At the rim, he struggles to finish through contact, not possessing the greatest strength, but doesn’t really shy away from it, getting to the line a fair share. When he isn’t dealing with a weakside defender, Roby shows nice touch off the glass, showing a nice proficiency for using reverse lay-ups, and he can finish with either hand.

On the defensive end, Roby has played well this year, using his hands and length very well to pick off passes even block some shots, while playing fairly aggressive defense in general, showing a solid stance and often contesting shots on the perimeter. Laterally, he is just average, and he’s definitely lacking in strength, getting pushed around whenever he’s forced to defend the post. Roby’s rebounding has been much improved this year as well, where he uses his length to come from out of position for boards.

Roby, while just an average athlete, has very good length, and clearly has a lot of natural talent, which makes his potential at the next level intriguing. While he’s been a very good college player this season, there’s question about how some of his abilities will translate, and if he stands out enough in one area to earn himself a role in the NBA. Roby definitely has the potential to be a stand-out spot-up shooter, but will likely need to work with a shooting coach to fix some of the kinks that lead to his inconsistency in that area. Other than that, he needs to continue to improve his decision-making, something he’s already made nice strides with this season. Roby could be a second round pick this year, and will have both pre-draft camps (starting with Portsmouth) and private workouts to attempt to distinguish himself for NBA scouts and executives.

Marcus Dove, 6-9, Senior, SF/PF, Oklahoma State
10.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 2.3 spg, 1.1 bpg, 45.5% FG, 30.6% 3FG, 33.7 mpg

Joey Whelan

We last looked at Marcus Dove back in October, when we had an opportunity to analyze the entirety of his junior season. Two things were very apparent about the senior at that point: he was one of the best overall defensive players in the country, and he was a non-existent offensive factor. With a little more than half of his senior campaign under his belt, not much has changed defensively, Dove is still a force; but we have begun to see some decent progress on the offensive side of the ball.

The biggest change in Dove’s play this year has been his level of aggressiveness with the basketball. Previously he was resigned to screen for teammates and to serve as a safety valve if the offense became stagnant, as a result, Dove attempted just over three shots a game and he was very predictable with the ball. The senior has become much more of a scoring threat this year, though, thanks to the work he put in in the offseason, and his increased inclination to attack with the ball. Dove has more than doubled his scoring average from 4.7 a year ago to 10.4 this season, and while his shooting percentage has dropped from 58% to 45%, this is directly related to the senior now taking over eight shots per game.

Perhaps the biggest knock against Dove throughout his career has been his poor ball-handling skills. While he shows great quickness for a player his size, he rarely can beat defenders off the dribble due to the lack of comfort he has handling the basketball. Once in a while, he will be able to take a slower frontcourt player to the basket, but only if he has a straight line to the hoop. Dove certainly hasn’t shown a drastic improvement in his dribbling skills this season (his turnovers have actually increased slightly), but he has added a spin move to his arsenal when attacking the basket that allows him to get closer to the rim while on the move. In the past, he was often forced to pull up and elevate over defenders for very difficult, off balance shots, but now through hard work Dove has added this spin move and a jump hook which he finishes with a fair amount of consistency. With his length and pretty good leaping ability, this is a tough move for most defenders to stop either because of a size or quickness mismatch for Dove.

Dove has also improved his touch around the basket. He seems to have spent a decent amount of time in the off-season working on his mid-range game, and while he hasn’t shown a lot of ability to pull up and shoot off the dribble, Dove is now able to elevate and finish the occasional runner in the lane when he can’t get his spin move off. He is also showing an improvement in his body control when he gets into the lane. While in the past, Dove would merely throw up an awkward shot when heavily contested by defenders, from time to time now he shows the ability to maneuver around opponents to get a better shot off.

While there have been some gradual and subtle improvements to Dove’s game, there is still a tremendous amount to be desired from an NBA scout’s standpoint. Dove is not a perimeter shooting threat, while his percentage has improved this year, he still lacks ideal mechanics. His release is long and slow, and as a result his release point isn’t consistent. This also means he needs a fair amount of room to get his shot off, and since he is solely a catch and shoot player beyond the arc, he doesn’t get a lot of looks. Dove also still needs to improve his ability to create shot opportunities for himself. He still isn’t a threat to pull up off the dribble, and when he does put the ball on the floor it almost a guarantee he is driving right to the basket. Dove has a pretty good back to the basket game for a player primarily out on the perimeter, but at this point his only real move is his jump hook, which he hasn’t even perfected yet. At the next level where he often might have the opportunity to take smaller players into the paint with his back to the hoop, Dove will need to further develop this part of his game to be an inside and outside threat.

Defensively, Dove is still a standout. He is able to guard both small forwards and power forwards, proving to be effective against both kinds of players. His length combined with his quickness and aggressiveness makes him a headache for perimeter players; his great anticipation and quick hands have also led to more than two steals per game for Dove. Where he has made some improvements on the defensive side of the ball have been with his physical abilities. At just 215, Dove is fairly thin, and while he hasn’t bulked up much since last season, it is apparent that he has gotten stronger. Bigger post players in the past have been able to back him down with a fair amount of ease, forcing Dove to rely on his timing to alter or block shots. From what we’ve seen this season, though, he is able to hold his ground a little better against stronger players. While bigger bodies (like Blake Griffin on Monday night) will still be able to push Dove around, he is making it harder on opponents than in seasons past.

The increased offensive output this season can only help Dove. He was already considered an intriguing prospect simply because of his athletic frame and strong defensive abilities. At the next level, he will likely be asked to guard small forwards and hybrid power forwards (ala Travis Outlaw, Tyrus Thomas, Shawn Marion), a task he should be able to handle. While he by no means at this point shows the ability to be a consistent scoring option in the NBA, the strides he is making this season are certainly encouraging. Adding a consistent spot-up jumper from the corner (think Bruce Bowen) might be all that it takes now to keep him in the league for years to come. While Oklahoma State’s play so far will likely keep Dove from showcasing his abilities in the NCAA Tournament, he will get the opportunity to do so at events like the Portsmouth Invitational and the NBA Pre-Draft camp in May.

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