NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/12/09

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/12/09
Jan 13, 2009, 12:08 am
Michael Washington, 6-10, Junior, PF/C, Arkansas
17.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, .9 assists, 1.9 turnovers, 1.1 blocks, 60% FG, 61% FT, 23% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Despite losing their second game of the season on the road this weekend against Mississippi State (bringing their record to 12-2), there is no question that the Arkansas Razorbacks have been one of the most pleasant surprises of this NCAA season thus far. A large part of that has to do with the play of their late-blooming big man, Michael Washington, who was terrific in home wins over top-10 ranked Oklahoma and Texas.

It may have seemed strange for us to mention Washington as one of the top NBA draft prospects in the SEC following his freshman season, after averaging just 8.5 minutes per game. One quick look at the physical tools and upside he possesses, though, shows you exactly why we pegged him so early as someone to keep an eye on.

Showing a great frame, an outstanding wingspan, freakish athleticism and all kinds of intriguing skills, Washington fits the (raw) mold and then some of your modern day NBA power forward. He runs the floor extremely well, possesses an excellent first step, is very explosive around the rim, has good hands, and is quite a presence finishing around the basket.

Much more of a face the basket type big man, Washington shows nice potential as a pick and pop threat. He has good touch and is capable of making shots with range out to the college 3-point line, and can also put the ball on the floor in a straight line with an excellent first step and finish with an explosive two-handed dunk.

His ball-handling skills need work and he’s still extremely streaky with his shot-selection and overall decision making (as evidenced by the 23% he shoots from beyond the arc), but there is no question that he shows great potential in this area. His quickness beating defenders off the dribble in the mid and high-post allows him to get to the free throw line at a very nice rate (8.8 attempts per-40 pace adjusted) but the fact that he only converts 61% of his shots there tells you all you need to know about his lack of polish. His below average basketball IQ is underlined by the very poor assist to turnover ratio he currently posts, averaging more than twice as many turnovers as assists.

Still extremely raw with his back to the basket, Washington does not look comfortable at all operating in the low post, showing poor footwork and almost no moves even against mediocre college defenders. He’s able to produce down low mostly through his terrific work on the offensive glass, as well as his ability to cut nicely to the rim and finish with authority thanks to his excellent length and explosiveness.

Defensively, Washington had an extremely tough time staying on the floor his first two years in college due to foul trouble, and seems to have solved that problem mostly by not playing any defense this season at all. He gives up position way too easily in the post, and shows very little in the ways of fundamentals trying to stop his man. He lacks intensity here in a very serious way, and does not appear to possess great awareness either on this side of the floor. Still, his size, length and athleticism allow him to be somewhat of a presence at the collegiate level just by being out on the court, and it’s not out of the question that with good coaching and plenty of hard work, he is able to become at least adequate here thanks to his terrific tools. He is already an outstanding rebounder, averaging well over 10 per game in just 30 minutes.

A year older than his class due to the unusual route he took to the NCAA (his Mississippi based prep school, Genesis One, came under scrutiny from the NCAA for potentially being a diploma mill) Washington is about the same age as most seniors, and will likely see NBA teams take a close look at his background when draft-time rolls around. He regardless shows great upside and is the type of player that could really rise up the boards with a strong NCAA tournament showing or some excellent private workouts, as there are not that many big men in college basketball who display his combination of physical attributes and raw perimeter skills. Before we get too excited, though, we’ll have to see how he fares as Arkansas enters the significantly tougher portion of their schedule in the SEC.

Patrick Patterson, 6-8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Kentucky
18.9 ppg (70.9% FG, 78.7% FT), 9.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, and 2.1 bpg

Kyle Nelson

It has been an up and down year for Kentucky, as they are a handful of tough losses out of the top 25, but for Patrick Patterson, it has been a breakout season. Last year as a freshman, Patterson showed that he was one of the country’s best post players, though with much room to develop. This season, he has proven himself the most efficient post scorer in all of college basketball, not to mention, one of the nation’s most efficient players. The story behind the numbers, however, is somewhat more complex, which by no means invalidates Patterson as a prospect, but certainly calls into question various concerns that are still presented in his game.

For one, Patterson is only 6’8, which is an inch or two shorter than the prototypical NBA power forward. His reported 7’2 wingspan, good athleticism, and solid lateral quickness in the post help him compensate, as do the successes of undersized big men such as Paul Millsap, Carl Landry, and Leon Powe. This being said, his lack of ideal height is certainly worth noting. Otherwise, his physical profile is outstanding, as his frame is filling out nicely and he is using his body more effectively this year on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, Patterson is, by the numbers, the most efficient post scorer in all of college basketball, scoring 18.9 points per game and shooting an outlandish 70.9% from the field on 10.8 attempts per game. In fact, despite playing 3.9 less minutes per game this season, he is averaging 3 more points, 2 more rebounds, 1 more assist, and 0.4 less turnovers per game.

On film, Patterson looks quite good as well, showing better ball handling abilities, which have made his post moves look all the more impressive and allow him to move quicker on the blocks with the ball in his hands. He has proven to be an absolute force in the post on offense largely because of how hard he fights for position. Despite the athleticism or size of his defender, Patterson has had no problem getting the ball in the post and, once he receives the ball, he can rely on a variety of moves, most notably a jump hook, a turnaround jumper that he kisses off the glass, or a drop step that often results in an emphatic dunk in order to score.

His court sense has improved as well, and he moves much better without the ball. This allows him to catch lob passes and, without bringing the ball down, elevate for the easy basket. Similarly, he is passing the ball out of the post better and is a much better facilitator than he was a year ago, though he still sometimes tries to go one on three to the basket. He also is also improved on the offensive boards, showing the ability to sneak around his man to the basket to grab the rebound or slam the ball home.

The problem, still, is that Patterson almost exclusively drives right or uses his right hand, 90% of the time according to Synergy. His touch around the rim is superb, his footwork has improved, and he has started to develop an arsenal of solid and consistent offense on the blocks, but he absolutely must work on incorporating his left hand into his game.

Another area in which he must continue to improve is in diversifying his offensive game, namely proving that he can consistently knock down spot-up jumpers from mid-range. He has a quick and relatively fluid release and, though his release point should probably be higher, there is no reason why Patterson is not shooting the ball more often from mid-range. Considering his lack of size and the ways in which undersized power forwards have succeeded in the NBA, this is one of the most important improvements Patterson must make before taking the step to the next level.

Though he has made some improvements on the defensive end this season, Patterson still leaves something to be desired on this side of the floor. His awareness is not stellar, oftentimes falling behind on defensive rotations and losing his mark. He still has trouble closing out on perimeter oriented big men, which is a concern considering the nature of the power forward position at the next level. He has improved, however, as a shot blocker, not just statistically, but in terms of patience, as he bites for pump fakes less this year than he did one year ago. He is also very good defensive rebounder, showing solid fundamentals by boxing out on most possessions, which alongside his outstanding hands, bodes well for his rebounding at the next level.

Despite the fact that Patrick Patterson is one of the best post prospects in the collegiate ranks, he still has some improvements to make before he can consider himself a lock for success at the next level. Assuming he can develop accordingly, however, there is no reason to think that Patterson cannot successfully make the transition to the NBA and flourish. That is a somewhat significant assumption, however, and scouts will be focused on Patterson’s development throughout the rest of the season, particularly to see if he can continue his unbelievably efficient offensive onslaught and continue to improve his game on both ends of the floor. The early results look very promising thus far.

Jarvis Varnado, 6’9, PF/C, Junior, Mississippi State
13.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.7 turnovers, 5.4 blocks, 61% FG, 65% FT

Joseph Treutlein

Arguably the best shot blocker in the country as a sophomore, Jarvis Varnado’s improvement as a junior leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind about that title this time around, with the margin being quite substantial statistically. With 7.5 blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted, Varnado leads every other player in our database by 2+ blocks, while he’s comfortably ahead in blocks per game as well despite playing under 28 minutes per game.

Aside from shot-blocking, Varnado’s stats are increased across the board, despite actually seeing a slight decrease in minutes, and his improvements clearly show in watching him play. His points (+5), rebounds (+2), and blocks (+.8) are substantially up, his fouls (-.8) noticeably down, and even with a significant increase in possessions per game (+5), his efficiency has remained the same with a 62% TS%. The most impressive part about that is looking at some deeper stats, as according to Synergy Sports Technology, he’s getting 6.4 possessions per game posting up this season, up dramatically from 1.3 post up possessions last season, showing you just how noticeably his role has changed.

In analyzing Varnado’s game, the first thing to take notice of has to be his improvement on the offensive end, where he looks like a different player in the post, showing some pretty nice promise. Despite his slight frame and still apparent lack of strength (he’s bulked up a bit and gotten stronger, but still has a ways to go), Varnado has developed a nice go-to move in the post: a right-handed hook shot that he hits with decent regularity out to 8 feet. He shows pretty good touch and accuracy on his shot, has no problems getting it off with his length, and converts fairly consistently despite not having the frame to take much contact, forcing him to dramatically fade away from the basket on most occasions.

In addition to his right-handed hook shot, Varnado shows flashes of other moves, namely a drop step, but it’s still very much a work in progress. His post game in general is still very raw, relying mostly on his one move in combination with his physical attributes and touch, not having much polish otherwise. He struggles to get good position, isn’t very good at finishing through contact, struggles powering up from awkward angles, looks extremely awkward when going to his right shoulder, has no left hand, and doesn’t show great footwork. The fact that Mississippi State has played just the 234th toughest strength of schedule in college basketball also leaves something to be desired.

Still, there’s much to be impressed with, namely his solid composure in the post without those tools, his increased rate of getting to the free-throw line, his pretty good balance and coordination despite a lack of base strength, and the flashes of excellent range he shows on his moves at times.

Other than his post game, Varnado is limited in what he can contribute offensively, but he’s improved in some little areas off the ball as well. With his size, athletic abilities, and very good hands, he’s becoming more of a threat in the pick-and-roll game, and as a cutter in general, doing a good job of catching and finishing, even occasionally in traffic. His jump shot is still not a reliable weapon at all, but his improvement from the free-throw line (up to 65% from 50% last season) is a very encouraging sign for the future.

Varnado’s greatest asset is still on the defensive end, where his shot-blocking ability is nothing short of excellent, as we’ve highlighted in his scouting reports in the past. He’s actually managed to increase his block rate this season while lowering the rate at which he fouls, which is very impressive for someone who was already arguably the country’s best shot blocker. His timing and anticipation are superb, while he shows good composure in not biting for pump fakes, while his overall awareness seems improved this season as well.

As a man-to-man defender, Varnado still leaves much to be desired, showing very little in terms of fundamentals-- like stance or leverage in the post. His post defense can best be described as easily giving up position and basically just daring his opponents to shoot over him, which works against most opponents at this level, but has shown signs of problems against bigger, stronger opponents, such as Washington State’s Aron Baynes, who torched Varnado for 17 points on 10 shot attempts in an 11-point win for the Cougars.

Looking forward, there’s much to be optimistic about with Varnado, but he’s still a raw player in many ways, while having a lot of flaws he can work on. His post game is coming along nicely, but is still incomplete, and it’s tough to see him having much success with it at the next level in its current form.

The same can be said for his man-to-man defense, which relies too much on his physical tools. Almost every facet of his game could improve with some more strength and bulk added to both his lower and upper body, as well as continued work with the basic fundamentals of the game. He may be tempted to declare for the draft this season due to his potential, but given the way he improved this season, it would likely be in his best interest to spend another year in college honing his game.

Jodie Meeks, 6’4, Junior, Shooting Guard, Kentucky
24.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.9 turnovers, 1.6 steals, 46% FG, 42% 3P, 90% FT

Rodger Bohn

After being plagued by injuries throughout his sophomore season, Jodie Meeks is having an absolutely outstanding junior year. Going from averaging a meager 8.8 points per game last season, he has nearly tripled his scoring average to 24.2 points per contest. Equally as impressive is the substantial improvement that he has shown across the board in the areas of field goal percentage (+15%), three point percentage (+10%), and free throw percentage (+11%).

Meeks is a bit on the small side for a shooting guard at only 6’4, and is not an exceptionally long player. Powerfully built, he owns very nice strength for a guard, but is not an elite athlete by any stretch. His lack of size, length, and athleticism will likely hurt him when evaluating how his physical tools may translate to the next level as an NBA draft prospect.

The bread and butter of the junior’s game is unquestionably his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. He is comfortable both coming off of screens and shooting from a standstill, getting the ball off with relative ease and doing a nice job of reading what the defense gives him. Meeks’ shot is fluid with a nice release, also having legit range beyond the NBA three point arc. He has established himself as arguably the top shooter in the SEC (along with Arkansas sniper Rotnei Clarke) and one of the elite shooters in the entire NCAA with his performance thus far this season. He currently ranks 3rd amongst all prospects in our database in 3-pointers made, and is the 12th best shooting guard in true shooting percentage.

Aside from Jodie’s ability to shoot the ball, his offensive game is fairly limited. He struggles to create separation off of the dribble, only possessing an average first step. Not coincidentally, he settles for a number of tough pull-up jumpers, though he very often makes them. The swingman’s limited ball-handling skills don’t particularly help him in this area either, as you will rarely see him get all the way to the rim in half court situations.

On the defensive end, there is a considerable amount of improvement that needs to be made if he’s to see minutes in the NBA. He is not incredibly quick laterally, and often finds himself completely out of position on this end of the hardwood. Meeks does a very nice job of getting in the passing lanes and creating deflections, although this is primarily due to his tendency to gamble so much defensively. This is an area of his game that he will need to work on considerably before he takes his game to the next level.

Meeks statistical production at the highest level of college basketball and perimeter shooting ability are two things that immediately make him a player to keep an eye on. Though he isn’t an elite draft prospect, he is certainly a player who will certainly be scrutinized by NBA teams. Should the NBA not work out, he is likely to have a very successful career in Europe, where his skills might be better appreciated.

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