NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/12/2007 -- Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/12/2007 -- Part One
Dec 12, 2007, 07:00 am
D.J. Augustin, 6’0, Point Guard, Sophomore, Texas
19.0 points, 7.0 assists, 2.2 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 3.7 turnovers, 55% FG, 84% FT, 49% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

D.J. Augustin finished last season with a very poor performance in Texas’ second round elimination game against USC in the NCAA tournament, but it clearly has had no lingering effect on the promising sophomore. Augustin has returned to Texas as the Longhorns’ new focal point, leading them to an early #4 ranking in the polls, without Kevin Durant to help him.

Augustin’s numbers are up across the board, most notably in the scoring columns, where he’s scoring 4.6 more points per game, shooting 10% higher from the field, and 5% higher from behind the arc. Usually when a player is forced to take on a larger scoring burden for his team, his shooting percentages will go down, as he’s likely taking more tough shots, which makes Augustin’s improvements across the board even more impressive. He’s showing a killer scoring mentality that wasn’t consistently seen last season, when he could easily defer to Kevin Durant for that.

The most noticeable stride in Augustin’s scoring game has to be his mid-range game, where he’s showing off a more consistent and versatile repertoire, making him a threat to score from anywhere on the floor at any time. He’s taken a page out of Steve Nash’s playbook with a fadeaway 10-foot jumper heading towards the baseline, and has made more effective use of a floater in the lane. He gets separation for these moves easily, using a low dribble with both hands, effective crossovers, and a good ability to change speed and directions frequently.

Augustin is undergoing somewhat of an adjustment expanding his offensive role, as he does take some questionable shots at times, specifically from the mid-range, but those are things that he should improve on with time, as he shows a very high basketball IQ. The fact that Augustin is managing to shoot 55% even while taking some of these questionable shots is a huge testament to his outstanding ability to score the ball effectively in many different ways.

The rest of Augustin’s scoring game still looks as good as ever, as he’s using his craftiness in combination with high screens to consistently take his man off the dribble, after which he does a good job accelerating through creases in the defense to get to the basket. He’s been as good as ever from behind the arc as well, knocking down shots with his quick release, either spotting up or nonchalantly pulling up off his own dribble when his defender foolishly gives him the space to do so.

In terms of his point guard game, Augustin also looks as good as ever running his team’s offense and managing the tempo, dishing out assists every which way, whether it be feeding the post, pushing the ball in transition, drive-and-dishing, or just finding open shooters on the perimeter. He gets the tendency to hold on to the ball at times, but it’s often due to lack of movement from his teammates, while he waits for something to develop. Augustin’s looked really good in transition thus far, keeping his head up and making accurate long passes to get easy baskets for his teammates. He’s also looked very good adjusting with the ball in mid-air in the halfcourt, being able to find an open man if he gets caught in a tough position.

If Augustin can keep up his current production, he should be all but a lock for the first round in the draft this year, with the lottery definitely not out of the picture. If he can maintain his 7.0 assists per game average, he’ll out-produce what Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, Deron Williams, and Mike Conley put up in their draft years, though he’ll need to bring his turnovers down a bit to be mentioned with them in A:T ratio. Augustin may not quite be on the Deron Williams or Chris Paul level as a prospect, but no one should be surprised if Augustin becomes a good starting NBA point guard not far down the road. He has a very complete game with a nice balance of scoring and passing, with the only thing really holding him back being his size, which is somewhere between 5’11 and 6’0, though his strong build somewhat compensates for that, and he wouldn’t be the first 6’0 point guard starting in the league.

Wayne Ellington, 6’4, Sophomore, Shooting Guard, North Carolina
17.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 turnovers, 49.5% FG, 47.4% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Evaluating his progress from last year to the early portion of this season so far, it’s hard not to be impressed by the way Wayne Ellington has started out. He’s putting up outstanding stats in a very efficient manner playing for the #1 ranked team in the country, and is doing so against fairly strong competition as far as out of conference schedules go.

Looking at the player Ellington was as a freshman, there were a number of areas we hoped to see progress in going into his sophomore season. His shot selection is probably the one that has improved the most, as his sparkling 49.5% average from the field and 47.4% from behind the 3-point line would indicate. It’s not just his numbers that stand out, though, it’s the way he’s getting them, looking more and more like an NBA 2-guard with every day that passes seemingly.

Ellington has been super aggressive looking for his own shot, without showing much of the impatience offensively that plagued him last year. He turns the ball over less than once per game in nearly 30 minutes, a real testament to his basketball IQ and under control nature. His work in the mid-range area has been nothing short of spectacular, showing impressive offensive skills and terrific fluidity utilizing jukes and fakes to keep his man off balance, before creating sharp separation from his man with a beautiful pull-up jumper. He only needs a glimpse of daylight in order to get his shot off, and once he gets into a rhythm he becomes incredibly difficult to contain, even able to knock down these pull-up jumpers with range extending past the NCAA 3-point line.

He both creates for himself and is a deadly target running off screens in North Carolina’s set offense, sprinting extremely hard and never giving his match-up any idea whether he will elevate immediately after the catch or put the ball on the floor fluidly and then go up for his shot. He’s stolen quite a few moves from some of the all-time greats in this part of the game, for example the classic Michael Jordan crossover plus step-back, or Kobe’s off balance fade-away after leaning in with his body to first create space from his defender.

On the downside, Ellington is still very much a work in progress in some key parts of his game that were previously evaluated as weaknesses. His lack of strength hurts him both in terms of finishing at the rim, and getting through ball-screens on the defensive end. Ellington still doesn’t get to the free throw line at a very high rate—taking one attempt from the charity stripe every 15 minutes last season, and every 11 minutes in this current campaign. Improving his left hand and his all-around ball-handling skills will clearly help him here, since he has a pretty nice first step from what we can see taking advantage of off balance defenses. Rarely will you see him create his own shot from the wing and take his man all the way to the hole for a strong finish, something that is a staple in the games of most high-level NBA 2-guards.

Defensively, we’ve seen a clear lack of focus fairly often from him, getting beat off the dribble by players he has no business being beat by, and losing track of where his man is and thus busting up his team’s entire half-court defense. This is an area he must improve on if he wants to establish himself as a top-tier shooting guard prospect by the time he decides he’s ready to leave school.

So far, Ellington’s game seems to be coming around nicely, and there is a lot to like here as far as the NBA is concerned. We’ll continue to monitor his play leading into the ACC season, and it will likely ultimately be his play in March that ends up deciding what his plans are for next season.

Raymar Morgan, 6’7, Sophomore, Small Forward, Michigan State
17.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 61% FG, 75% FT

Mike Schmidt

After a solid freshman season for the Spartans, people had big expectations for Michigan State entering this season. Along with the lofty expectations for the team, the same can be said for small forward Raymar Morgan. The sophomore has responded thus far this season, proving to be one of the more efficient scorers in college basketball, while showing improvement in other aspects of his game. Though there is a long way to go before the end of the college season, Morgan could really make some noise if he continues this level of production.

Physically, the Spartan forward has a body that can be described as NBA-ready. He carries 225 pounds on a well-developed frame, and has clearly spent a good deal of time in the weight room. Morgan also possesses ideal length, with long arms that assist him on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, the numbers have been off the charts across the board so far this season. A shooting percentage of more than 60% and 1.72 points per shot are just two of the statistics that describe the way Morgan has played this year. The sophomore scores a number of his points off the dribble, and he effectively pulls up off the dribble from mid-range. He has only taken nine three pointers so far this season, but his aggression going to the basket off the dribble and in transition has led to nearly seven free throw attempts per game. Morgan loves to run the court in transition, and shows crafty finishing ability inside, thanks to his body and very effective footwork. The sophomore also uses the pump-fake well to get his defender out of position.

Morgan posted low assist numbers last season, averaging less than one per game. This season, he has displayed an improved feel for finding the open man, and has even made the extra pass a few times in transition. He still turns the ball over fairly often, usually due to poor half-court reads and drives into traffic.

To really improve his stock the rest of the year, the second year forward will need to prove he can hit the three-pointer with consistency. The range on his shot didn’t extend consistently past 20 feet last season, and his awkward mechanics may limit his ability to shoot the long ball. Many scouts have questioned his ball-handling ability as well. It seems that Morgan needs a good deal of space to get to the basket, but rarely accelerates past the defense off the dribble in isolation situations.

Morgan has started well this season, but a run into the NCAA Tournament will go a long way in helping his draft stock. He has a great feel for how to put the ball in the hoop, and his body can already be described as NBA ready. The sophomore will look to land in the first round when he declares, but how high he can go has yet to be determined.

Sam Young, 6’6, Small Forward, Junior, Pittsburgh
18.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.2 turnovers, 1.4 blocks, 60% FG, 76% FT, 54% 3PT

Kyle Nelson

In the past three games, Sam Young has shown both how far he has come since last season and how much he has begun to capitalize on the potential. Not only does Young seem to be a successfully converted perimeter player, but he is excelling in his role as Pitt’s go-to-guy. Against the likes of Toledo, Washington, and the upstart Duquesne Dukes, he has shown his versatility, improvement, and maturity, all reasons why the name Sam Young could be creeping into NBA draft conversations sooner than later.

On the offensive end of the court, Young is really starting to become a consistent offensive threat, and even at this point of the season, is established as the primary offensive option for the undefeated Panthers. Superficially and statistically, he is having a breakout year, more than doubling his sophomore average with 18.1 points per game. However, he is just as impressive when you take a look at actual game tape. Young is a very good spot-up shooter, possessing range out to the NBA three-point line. If he catches the ball with his feet set, he shows good elevation and nice mechanics. One of the most promising aspects of his jump shot, however, is his release, which is consistent every time he shoots the ball. It’s not perfect, but the fact that he’s clearly worked on refining his jump shot is good for his potential at the next level.

While his shot off the dribble is nothing to write home about yet, you can tell that he has been working on it by watching him. He has a loose handle that at this point is a little high, but his motions look fluid enough to suggest that with practice, he should develop a nice mid-range game. This is a relatively new addition this year and certainly something to watch. He is currently shooting almost 60% from the field and over 50% from beyond the arc on the season; those percentages are not inflated either because in nine games, he has already taken half of the attempts he took last season. Such numbers are also impressive because Young is usually guarded by opposing post players (shot blocking extraordinaire Shawn James included) in order to compensate for the three-guard perimeter offense that Pitt usually throws at teams.

Another place where Young is impressive is his work on the offensive boards where he is constantly fighting for offensive rebounds and getting putbacks on the offensive glass. He is a small guy, but it is encouraging to see him converted into a perimeter player while still not afraid to bang on the offensive glass. He is also getting to the foul line and making free throws, improving to 77% after shooting 60% last year. Young excels in fast-break situations as well, doing a great job of finishing or passing it off under pressure. Also impressive is his ability to find offense with Pitt’s guards shooting as many ill-advised jump shots as they did against Washington and Duquesne. This is good for his potential at the next level because he’s not going to be a first option in the NBA, and will have to be patient to find his opportunities; this is what he has been doing this year.

However, the most impressive improvement for Young has been his successful transition to small forward. Often times during his freshman and sophomore campaign, he would use his bulk to play inside rather than the perimeter. However, now he is a completely different player, not only capable of hitting jump shots, but also knowledgeable about where to be and to play on the perimeter. It seems as though he is experiencing a relatively smooth transition from the low block to the wing.

Judging his defense is difficult at this point because when Pitt is not playing a zone, Young is often stuck guarding big men. That being said, his post defense is pretty lackluster. He is playing defense against some pretty undersized big men and, while he is giving a noble effort, it’s clear that he can hardly stand his ground in the post at this level let alone at the next. However, he shows good timing, athleticism, and decent foot speed, which suggests that he has the potential to be a good defender at the next level. He uses this athleticism to get rebounds and can be described as aggressive and relentless on the defensive boards as well as on the offensive boards.

It doesn’t seem like Young is not going to be an impact player at the next level, but there is no reason to think that he can’t be good. If this year, this past week especially, has shown us anything, it is that Sam Young is a prospect that could shoot up draft boards for this year and next year if he continues to improve at this rate. With Pitt looking to make a run in the Big East and NCAA Tournament, anything is possible.

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