NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/31/08-- Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/31/08-- Part Two
Feb 01, 2008, 03:55 am
Hasheem Thabeet, 7-3, Sophomore, Center, UConn
11.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, .4 assists, 1.5 turnovers, 3.8 blocks, 63% FG, 70.5% FT, 29.4 minutes

Jonathan Givony

It’s been an up and down season for UConn sophomore Hasheem Thabeet so far, with plenty of highs and lows individually, mixed in with a good amount of success his team has enjoyed lately.

Thabeet has noticeably improved on the offensive end, pushing his points per-40 minute pace adjusted averages from a dismal 9.8 to 14.2 currently. That still puts him just 77th amongst the 84 NCAA players ranked on our 2008 or 2009 mock drafts, but it’s a clear improvement over last year, when he was second to last. He’s also shooting the ball at a better clip from the field, 63% compared to 55% last year. Unfortunately, Thabeet’s rebounding, assists, and blocked-shots have all decreased per-40 minutes when taking his extra playing time into account so far, although he is turning the ball over less and committing fewer fouls. Very notable has been the significant improvement he’s shown from the free throw line, from 51 to 70.5%. The points he’s no longer leaving at the charity stripe in fact account for nearly half of his added scoring output this year.

Regardless of his statistical output, any intrigue around Thabeet as an NBA draft prospect starts and ends for the most part with his physical tools, which are nothing short of amazing considering how rare of a class he’s in. Standing 7-3, with a phenomenal frame that should be able to carry significantly more weight, a terrific wingspan, huge hands, and excellent mobility relative to his size, Thabeet looks the part of future defensive stopper and then some on first glance. He gets up and down the floor awkwardly (almost with a strange limp), but clearly has solid mobility (especially getting out in transition), and is especially impressive getting off his feet to finish plays or challenge shots in the lane.

Offensively, Thabeet is for the most part limited to within five feet of the basket. He can really overpower smaller opponents by establishing deep position in the paint and using his size and length to make his presence felt from close range, sometimes with a ferocious dunk. His hands look better than they were last year, but he’ll still fumble the occasional pass or just have balls deflect right off his palm after not being able to react in time. He’s getting out and running with his guards fairly impressive on fast-breaks on occasion, and has been on the receiving end of a couple of highlight reel caliber alleyoop plays.

Once taken out of his comfort zone offensively, (meaning catching and finishing for the most part), Thabeet’s inexperience as a basketball player really comes out. His footwork is poor, and he’s fairly slow and mechanical trying to create any type of offense for himself if he needs to make a real move. He also lacks a left hand or any type of counter moves, often just throwing the ball up on the rim with poor touch, hoping it drops. He clearly lacks core strength and especially balance here, falling over on the floor quite easily and looking somewhat fragile in general if forced to react to something unexpected out on the court. He’s also an extremely poor passer, currently tied for having the second worst assist rate in the country amongst all players in our database, and also ranking near the bottom in assist to turnover ratio. Considering the lack of polish he shows on the offensive end, it’s not a stretch to say that he’s probably never going to be much of an option here in the NBA.

Defensively, though, Thabeet’s potential as a game-changer inside the paint is hard to ignore. He has excellent timing for blocked shots, and has started get better at keeping the ball in-bounds after a block. His mere presence in the paint is a huge deterrence for opposing teams at this level, as he’s not only 7-3, but also exceptionally long, and capable of getting off his feet. He makes a big impact in the paint as far as team defense goes, ranking 7th in the country in blocks per-40 minutes pace adjusted.

As a man to man defender, Thabeet leaves something to be desired still. Skilled back to the basket centers (a rare commodity in the NCAA) have proven to be very effective against him, as he gets pushed around and posted up quite easily, not looking to fight back that much, standing too upright, giving up excessive space, and not moving his feet very well to stay with them. He does a very poor job in particular of stepping out onto the perimeter to hedge a screen or defend a big man who is capable of facing the basket, showing poor awareness in space and looking fairly lost in the process. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Georgetown game a few weeks ago, where Thabeet lost his man Roy Hibbert completely and thus gave him a great deal of time to set his feet and knock down the game winning 3-pointer from behind the arc. Big matchups in general have been a problem for Thabeet over the last two years, as every time he faces a team with anything even resembling an NBA caliber big man, he struggles badly.

Rebounding-wise, you’d probably expect Thabeet to make more of an impact than he currently does considering his awesome physical tools. He in fact ranks just 47th of the 56 NCAA centers that are in our database in this category per 40 minutes pace adjusted, despite standing 7-3. His poor hands are most evident in this part of his game, as are his lack of fundamentals--boxing out his man lackadaisically, and going after rebounds with just one hand. He’ll often take himself out of position for rebounds by chasing blocked shots excessively, which further hurts him in this category.

Another problem here is that Thabeet doesn’t seem to be the most active player in the world, rarely going out of his area for rebounds, and not really showing the type of fire and passion you see out of players who just want the ball more than their opponents. At times you get the feeling that Thabeet is not going 100%, as he’ll look sleepy, distant, and not involved in what’s going on on the floor. There have been question marks raised constantly regarding his motor, work ethic and love for the game, which is a huge concern considering how far off he is at the moment from reaching his full potential, and how much individual work he’ll have to put in to get there.

With that said, Thabeet seems to be making some clear strides as a player this year, and obviously has a lot more room to grow. He’ll be tempted to enter the draft this year already and possibly cash in on being selected somewhere in the first round, but would clearly benefit long-term from being patient and spending another year in college under Coach Calhoun, who has a sparkling reputation for developing NBA big men.

Kyle Singler, 6’9, Small Forward, Freshman, Duke
12.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 49% FG, 80% FT, 33% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

Kyle Singler may not be generating headlines like some of his fellow freshman, but he’s been an instant contributor for the 18-1 Blue Devils, playing 20 minutes in all but one game for his team, while finding ways to contribute all over the floor. Singler is a slim 6’9, with decent length, and his game likely projects him as a small forward at the next level, even though he’s spent most of his minutes at power forward and even center for Duke, which obviously is lacking top-flight inside players. Singler is a below average athlete by NBA standards in terms of quickness and explosiveness, but he has very good coordination and fluidity, and also runs the floor well.

Singler has a very crafty offensive game, and coming into college, most expected him to do most of his damage from the mid-range, but that really hasn’t been the case thus far. While we at DraftExpress saw him create and finish on some high-difficulty mid-range shots at various high school all-star games this summer, his mid-range game hasn’t been a consistent staple of his offense at Duke, and when he does use it, it’s mostly in the form of spot-up jumpers or fade-aways from the mid post.

Singler seems to be focusing on expanding his range, with 63 of his 165 field-goal attempts coming from behind the three-point arc, where he’s shooting just 33% thus far. This might be viewed as concerning by just looking at the stats, but digging deeper, we see that his jump-shot is pretty much perfect textbook form, boasting a quick, consistent, and very high release. He does a great job finding open space for his jumper on the floor, and most of his attempts have been of the catch-and-shoot variety in open space. Given the lack of issues with his mechanics, his shooting percentages will likely improve as he continues to adjust to the added range and puts in more and more repetition practicing his shot.

Singler also has looked very strong making cuts to the basket off the ball, showing excellent court awareness and a nice ability to catch-and-finish at the rim with excellent touch. With the ball in his hands, Singler will also make some isolation drives, usually off a ball-fake or shot-fake to start, which he sells well and needs to sell well, as he doesn’t have an explosive first step. He can drive left and right with the ball, and has solid ball-handling in space. In the lane, aside from some spin moves, Singler doesn’t show the greatest change of direction ability with the ball, which leads to some charges. What Singler is very good with is his footwork, which is evident in some of his crafty moves at the rim, where he uses his pivot foot especially well.

Playing as a power forward or center for Duke, Singler gets posted up a decent amount, though he has struggled there thus far this season. While he shows good footwork and craftiness here, his lack of explosiveness has really hurt him, as he’s very prone to getting his shot blocked on moves going towards the rim (anything but fade-away jumpers essentially).

Aside from his scoring game, Singler finds many other ways to contribute, showing excellent hustle while being willing to do anything and everything his team asks for. Even with his slim build, he is always active fighting for position down low for rebounds. He hustles after loose balls, gets out in transition, is always moving without the ball in the half-court set, and also shows nice flashes of passing ability, hitting cutters, feeding the post, or making post-to-post passes.

On the defensive end, Singler shows a good fundamental base and clearly puts in the effort when defending the post, but with his lack of strength, he is very easily backed down by formidable post players. To his credit, he does a good job using his length to front the post at times, but for the most part struggles in this area. On the perimeter, while showing nice reflexes and fundamentals, Singler’s lateral quickness is suspect.

Singler has a lot of skills and definitely has the potential to play in the NBA down the road, but he’ll likely need another year or two in college to improve upon his game. Adding some strength would be helpful, and he’ll need to continue to develop his outside shot, something that should just come with time given his outstanding mechanics. As of now, Singler is a player that very rarely strays outside his team’s offensive system to score his points, which leads to some inconsistent production, as he doesn’t always get the necessary field-goal attempts to make a substantial impact in the scoring column. To reach his potential, at some point Singler will need to show off some of the creative mid-range game we saw in the summer, and put in more of an effort to create his own offense.

Raymar Morgan, 6’7, Sophomore, Small Forward, Michigan State
16.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.5 turnovers, .9 steals, 57% FG, 69.9% FT, 25% 3PT

Rodger Bohn

After a fine debut season in college, Morgan has bumped his play up with his expanded role in the Spartan offense. Now in his second year, he has become the focal point in Michigan State’s offense, leading his squad to a 19-2 record, while posting impressive numbers individually as well. While he is nowhere near a finished product, Morgan has continued to make strides in adjusting to the small forward slot from his natural position of power forward.

Since we last wrote about Morgan, not a whole lot has changed in terms of his progress as a prospect. Like many young players, his consistency has been up and down. The 31 and 23 point performances he posted against Minnesota and Northwestern were paired with two single digit performances, along with a 10 point outing in MSU’s lowly 36 point game against Iowa.

Showing the ability to beat his matchup inside with his strength and athleticism, Morgan has no problem sliding down to the power forward spot when needed for MSU. He can turn to either shoulder and overpower most small forwards when in the pivot. The Ohio native’s non-stop motor and hustle make him a very tough guard for most forwards.

Raymar has continued to show improvement on his mid-range jumpshot this year, proving to be capable of converting both coming off of screens and off the bounce. He gets a very good release on his mid-range shot making it tough to defend, and it is beginning to emerge as his go to scoring move from the perimeter. With so many NBA teams doubling down in the post today, Morgan’s promising ability to hit the 18 footer will help him greatly in the eyes of NBA scouts.

Morgan has been equally as versatile on the defensive end, where he has shown promise guarding both perimeter players and post players. Equally as impressive has been the potential that Morgan has shown at times as a rebounder, where he ranks well amongst the top small forwards in rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. Boxing out is especially key for Raymar in this area however, given that he could easily average one or two rebounds per game if he checked his man out on a more consistent basis.

While he is impressive in so many areas of the game, we are not ready to call him a true small forward for the NBA level just yet. Much like Danny Granger a few years back at New Mexico (after his transfer from Bradley), Morgan is still developing the skill of breaking people down from the perimeter and is expanding the range on his outside jumper. He still struggles handling the ball when forced to put the ball on the floor more than two or three times in a straight line, lacking any creativity off of the bounce. His three point shot is still not quite there, with Morgan making only 5 three-pointers thus far this season, on 25% accuracy.

While this has been a very promising year for Morgan so far, and Michigan State has established itself as the team to beat in the Big Ten, he could certainly use at least another year on the collegiate level to shore up his perimeter skills. The arrival of top 15 recruit (and former AAU teammate) Delvon Roe will allow Morgan to play the small forward position on more of a full time basis next season, giving him an opportunity to further cement his name in the minds of NBA scouts, after getting off to a great start in his first two years as a Spartan.

Jarvis Varnado, 6-9, Sophomore, Power Forward, Mississippi State
7.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.1 blocks, .5 assists, 1.2 turnovers, 61.5% FG, 43.6% FT, 26 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Mississippi State sophomore Jarvis Varnado is having somewhat of a breakthrough season this year. Individually, he’s establishing himself as one of the best shot-blockers in the country this year, ranking 2nd in the country in that category per-40 minutes pace adjusted. He’s blocked 10 shots in a single game on three separate occasions this year, and already has one triple-double (against Kentucky) under his belt. On a team level, Mississippi State is 5-1 in their conference, good for first place in the SEC West. With all that in mind, Varnado is clearly looking like someone to keep an eye on over the next few seasons.

Standing 6-9 with freakishly long arms, Varnado is an extremely skinny power forward, with very narrow shoulders to boot. He came into Starkville listed at just 195 pounds, and is supposedly up to 210 this season. Athletically, Varnado is a quick player who is extremely explosive off his feet, although his lack of strength is a major hindrance for him in many different facets of his game.

Offensively, Varnado is barely an option in Mississippi State’s offense, as his teammates just don’t look to pass him the ball at all, likely out of a lack of trust. Amongst all NCAA players in our database averaging over 25 minutes of more per game, Varnado has the 3rd lowest usage rate. Most of the points he gets come from offensive rebounds, running the floor in transition, and cutting off the ball for a simple catch and high-percentage finish. When he does get the ball, he is largely unable to hold his spot on the block against any type of real big man, being hampered by his lack of footwork, touch, ball-handling ability and strength finishing through contact when he isn’t being pushed around mercilessly. His hands might be a little suspect as well. He does show glimpses of developing a decent looking 15-foot jump-shot, although the fact that he shoots just 43.6% from the free throw line can’t be considered a feather in his cap regarding his shooting touch either.

Varnado makes up for most of that to a certain extent with the work he does on the defensive end, at least inside the paint. His timing going after blocks is nothing short of incredible, being able to swat away shots with both hands equally effectively, but also keeping most of the blocks he gets in-bounds. He’s incredibly patient waiting for his man to go up with his shot (not being too trigger happy leaving his feet like many of his shot-blocking counterparts), and is so long that he’ll often be able to compensate for biting on a pump-fake by still swatting his opponent’s shot away on the way down. It’s not rare to see him block multiple shots away on a single possession actually, as he has superb quickness getting off his feet again and again.

Beyond his shot-blocking skills, though, Varnado leaves something to be desired with the rest of his defense. He’s surprisingly not a very active player, running the floor lackadaisically, hedging screens with little enthusiasm, and doing a very poor with his footwork out on the perimeter. He shows very little emotion in anything he does, looking very laid back, even somewhat lazy at times.

He does get the job done fairly well as a rebounder, though, currently ranking 14th amongst all prospects in our database in rebounding per 40 minutes pace adjusted.

All in all, Varnado is a player to keep an eye on considering the few very interesting tools he has at his disposal, but unless he gains a significant amount of strength, he is likely a 4-year collegiate prospect for now.

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