NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/18/09

NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/18/09
Dec 18, 2009, 02:25 pm
Cincinnati's Lance Stephenson, Harvard's Jeremy Lin, Washington State's Reggie Moore and Arizona's Derrick Williams take the spotlight in our NCAA Weekly Performers series.

Lance Stephenson, 6'5, Freshman, Shooting Guard, Cincinnati
11.6 Points, 5.9 Rebounds, 2.7 Assists, 2.3 Turnovers, 1.1 Steals, 43% FG, 15% 3P, 67% FT

Matt Williams

A lot has transpired in the Lance Stephenson saga since we last checked in on him at the McDonald's All-American Game last April. At that time, the question marks surrounding his attitude and off the court issues had soured much of the elite prep talent's recruiting interest, and his prospects for college basketball, let alone the NBA, seemed murky.

Appearing overweight, reinforcing the perceptions of his detractors with his play on the court, and facing sexual assault charges off it, the enigmatic young guard seemed positioned for failure. Enter the Cincinnati Bearcats and Mick Cronin. After committing to the school in late June, the all-time leading scorer in New York high school basketball history brought his cloud of controversy to southern Ohio.

Fast-forward six months, and it is hard to question Cronin's decision in the last bit. Cleared to play in early November, Stephenson has brought the Bearcat's a national notoriety that the program has severely lacked, without even having the opportunity to speak to the media. Looking substantially leaner than he was on the All-Star circuit, Stephenson has made his presence felt for the 6-3 Bearcats, showing off the talent level that made him a consensus top-10 recruit in his class, while playing far better team basketball than most expected. Though Cincinnati's Lance Stephenson experiment certainly has had its benefits, from an NBA draft perspective, many of the questions about his game persist.

Imposing his strong frame on weaker players to the tune of almost 30 point per-game on the high school level, Stephenson has had moments of brilliance this season when putting the ball on the floor, but has had a hard time making adjustments to improve his efficiency. Permanently in attack mode on the offensive end, Stephenson's ball handling ability and solid frame allow him to make some impressive plays off the dribble, but many of the forced drives that he still converted in high school have turned into off balance floaters and blocked shots in the NCAA.

According to the data we have at our disposal, Isolation situations account for more than 30% of Stephenson's total possessions this season, and while he'll shake his man with a fancy array of hesitations and crossovers to create an occasional open lay-up, he only converts 37% of his field goal attempts in this fashion, with many of those forays to the rim coming at the expense of the flow of his team's offense.

Stephenson will occasionally turn his offensive creativity into terrific opportunities for his teammates—he has very nice court vision after all--but he still tends to force the issue excessively looking for his own shot. A key to Stephenson's long term development lies in his ability to move away from the tunnel vision that often leads to him dribbling the air out of the ball on the perimeter and missing the open man on the weakside when he gets into the lane.

On top of his tendency to want to play one-on-one, Stephenson has also been extremely eager to pull the trigger from the outside this season. Stephenson's Shot Attempt Breakdown certainly doesn't depict him as the power guard that he is, indicating that 59% of his total field goal attempts are jumpers, which he converts at a modest 28.3% clip. His 2.9 three-point attempts per-game and 15% conversion rate paint a similar picture. Extremely aggressive with his shot selection off the dribble and more than willing to take a shot early in the shot clock when the opportunities presents itself, Stephenson's shot selection remains problematic, especially when one considers that his lack of elite athleticism makes it hard for him to create separation for his pull-up game.

While both his polarizing presence in Cincinnati's offense and shot selection hurt his efficiency, there are certain virtues of Stephenson's game that are undeniable. He shows off NBA caliber scoring tools, looking comfortable taking his man off the dribble in either direction, making plays in transition, and effectively finishing around the rim in half court sets. Though his strength doesn't always help him as much when he's looking to go one-on-one as it used to, it remains an asset to him when he crashes the offensive glass –something he's done very effectively this season, especially for a guard.

In addition to his offensive rebounding, Stephenson has also been a willing defender, applying token pressure at the very least, and appearing extremely capable defending the ball on occasion. Lacking a degree of lateral quickness and always too eager to use his hands, Stephenson does do a decent job getting a hand up when his man looks to shoot and makes an effort to recover once he's beat. Prone to focusing on his man rather than positioning himself to help his teammates, Stephenson would benefit greatly from taking things a bit more personally on the defensive end on a consistent basis, something that can probably be said about all freshmen.

Based on the humbled expectations he came into this season with after so many colleges shied away from recruiting him, Stephenson has certainly had a positive freshman year. He'll continue to face some criticism for his style of play, but for a player that accounted for essentially all of his teams possessions on the prep level, it wouldn't reasonable to expect a polar shift in his tendencies immediately.

A tremendously instinctive and natural scorer, Stephenson has proven that he can put points on the board in bunches, and if he can improves aspects of his game in the coming months, notably his jump shot and decision making skills, some teams may be willing to overlook his lack of athleticism and ball-dominant ways and select him as a high-risk, high-reward opportunity. Clearly an NBA-level talent and a likely one-and-done player, all of the strides Stephenson makes come with a big caveat, as his off-court behavior and attitude will be put under the microscope by NBA franchises before he's even placed on their boards. Depending on what those queries turn up, Stephenson clearly has the talent to land in the first round, but if no college (except Cincinnati) was willing to let him come play for them for free this summer, then there are no probably guarantees either that an NBA team will be willing to pay him to play for them.

Jeremy Lin, 6-3, Senior, PG/SG, Harvard
18.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 3.3 turnovers, 2.1 steals, 1.2 blocks, 52% FG, 74% FT, 37% 3P

Jonathan Givony

It's not often that a player from the Ivy League conference is able to break through and establish himself as a legitimate NBA draft prospect, but that's exactly what Jeremy Lin has done this season. Strong performances against UConn (in a narrow loss) and Boston College (a road win) have propelled him directly into the national spotlight, culminating in a feature story on last week.

Lin's physical tools are less than ideal when compared with most NBA guard prospects, as he's a 6-3 combo guard with a narrow, but strong frame that he's absolutely made the most of, and a wingspan that appears to be below average. He has good, but not great athleticism, showing very nice quickness in the open floor and some solid leaping ability, but clearly isn't the most explosive player around.

Offensively, Lin is an exceptionally efficient player, shooting 60% from inside the arc and 37% from outside it, while getting to the free throw line at a terrific rate—almost 10 times per-40 minutes pace adjusted. He is not what you would call a stellar ball-handler, but is excellent on the pick and roll and is very aggressive looking to get to the basket.

Although he plays mostly off the ball for Harvard, he is pretty much their main facilitator and clearly the player his teammates look to early and often. He executes his team's plays extremely well and is highly unselfish, showing very nice court vision whipping crisp passes around the court confidently, always looking to make the simple, fundamental play. It would be nice to see Lin get a little more time at the point guard spot for Harvard, but based on what we can tell he seems to have very good instincts as a playmaker.

Lin's biggest weakness would clearly be his propensity for turnovers, he tends to get called an awful lot for traveling violations, and seems to struggle finishing around the rim in traffic. Lin's left-hand is noticeably weaker, both creating shots and finishing them, and he generally has trouble in the half-court if he can't beat his man initially with his very quick (and very long) first step.

As a shooter, Lin sports somewhat unorthodox mechanics, kicking his legs out violently and often fading away excessively on his pull-up jumpers, but is able to make up for that and then some with his innate shot-making ability. He doesn't take all that many shots from behind the arc—a little over 3.5 per game over the past three years—but he makes the ones he takes at a pretty solid rate, even if there is clearly room for improvement.

One thing that Lin does do exceptionally well is fill up the stat-sheet in every way possible. Besides being a terrific (and extremely efficient) scorer, he generates a large amount of rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, and beyond the numbers seems to have nice toughness and a very good feel for anticipating plays and being around the ball.

Defensively, Lin is a pretty serious guy (as he is in all aspects of the game), but there may be some question marks about his potential here at the NBA level, as he lacks great size or length, and isn't the strongest or most athletic guy in the world. This is something he will have to really work to dispel in private NBA workouts as he's matched up with other top guard prospects in one on one, two on two and three on three situations.

Lin has a number of things going for him, and is clearly a prospect teams should take note of. His gaudy stats, strong intangibles and excellent basketball IQ will all work in his favor, but he still has plenty of work ahead of him if he's to be drafted and/or make an NBA team. Strong showings against the likes of Georgetown, Seattle University and George Washington would surely help his cause, as would making the NCAA tournament, and accepting his invite to play at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a place where he could really help his stock.

Reggie Moore, 6'1, Point Guard, Freshman, Washington State
13.5 points, 4.5 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 2.3 turnovers, 50% FG, 87% FT, 36% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

A completely unheralded recruit in the 2008 class (34th ranked Point Guard on, Unranked by Rivals, ESPN), Reggie Moore spent last season in prep school honing his skills before coming to Washington State, where he has made a substantial impact for the Cougars already, ranking second on the team in scoring and minutes, along with first in assists. The fact that he's a 20 year old freshman has certainly helped his quick acclimation, but it's still impressive regardless to see a non-top 150 ranked freshman come in and have such a huge impact from day one at a school like Washington State.

Listed at a generous 6'2, Moore appears closer to 6'1 with a decent frame and just average length. Athletically, he has a very good first step and pretty good elevation, while also possessing excellent body control and coordination, traits that play a large role in his all-around game.

On the offensive end, Moore brings pretty close to a complete package of skills to the table, being able to get to the basket and score from both mid and long range. Off the dribble, Moore combines a quick first step with the savvy of a much older player, utilizing subtle hesitation moves and changes of speed to get the step on his man. In the lane, he handles well with both his left and right hand, and shows good ability to make subtle changes of direction with the ball, capable of making some creative moves to get off shots around the basket.

Moore ranks first among all point guards in our database in FTA/FGA (0.97), as he gets to the line at an absolutely stellar rate, which is somewhat surprising when watching him play on first glance, as due to his size, he's not a great finisher around the rim, specifically when going against helpside defenders. Moore does show a pretty good right-handed floater, however, which is something he may have to utilize more often in conference play if he continues to struggle scoring over the opposition in the lane.

On the perimeter, Moore shows pretty consistent form with his jump shot, showing good form and having good results early in the season, albeit on a somewhat limited sample size. He looks very good spotting up from three-point range, and also shows great touch when pulling up from mid-range, showing excellent balance on his shot and good awareness of his limitations, not trying to take many shots moving side to side, something he hasn't shown much propensity for.

All in all, Moore seems to be a very heady player in regards to his scoring game, not taking many ill-advised shots and showing good recognition of his strengths and weakness as a player. Due to teammate Klay Thompson's scoring prowess and the guard-oriented lineups the Cougars often trot out, there's a good chance Moore is already capable of being a much more prominent scorer than he's shown, and that's something that will be interesting to watch develop as the season goes on.

As a point guard, Moore likewise plays a smart and balanced game, showing very good court vision and playing with a noticeable maturity. He passes well on the move and does a good job keeping his head up when going to the basket, leading to some nice drive-and-dishes in the lane. Again, due to the many guards the Cougars play, Moore spends a pretty good chunk of time off the ball, limiting his opportunities to rack up assists. Still, he ranks 14th in our database in Assists/FGA (0.56), as he appears to be an unselfish player willing to do whatever the team needs from him.

On the defensive end, Moore has some troubles, as while he shows a pretty active stance and has good hands, leading to a decent amount of steals, he tends to play off his man a bit too much in isolation situations on the perimeter, leading opponents to shoot over him. At his size and given his just average length, he will need to play a more pesky style of defense to be effective, otherwise he will easily be taken advantage of in this way. His fundamentals appear to be decent, and he seems to have at least adequate lateral quickness, so this is definitely something he should be able to improve on. Moore also shows major troubles running through screens off the ball, getting caught, lost, taking bad routes, or just not consistently putting in the effort to stick with his man, leading to a good deal of open shots.

Looking forward, Moore appears to have a very good package of skills and pretty good physical tools, while already showing a great maturity with his offensive game. If he keeps playing this way, he will certainly be on the radar of the NBA in the future, but it's probably best to hold off on making any finite conclusions beyond pointing out how impressive a freshman he's been thus far.

Derrick Williams, 6-7, Freshman, Power Forward, Arizona
14 points, 6.1 rebounds, .9 blocks, .6 steals, .7 assists, 57.5% FG, 65.1% FT, 25.2 minutes

Joey Whelan

It hasn't been an easy start to the season for Arizona fans, but one of the lone bright spots has been the quicker than expected contribution of freshman forward Derrick Williams. A nationally ranked prospect as a senior at La Mirada High School in California, the newest member of the Wildcats definitely had talent when he arrived on campus in the fall, but wasn't getting nearly as much attention as other Pac-10 rookies such as Abdul Gaddy and Tyler Honeycutt. So far though, Williams has been the cream of the crop out west, along with the aforementioned Reggie Moore.

A sturdy 6-8, 235-pound frame leaves Williams with adequate size and strength to operate inside at the college level, but his future as a pro may depend on his ability to develop the ability to operate more consistently as a perimeter presence. The forward is a good athlete, possessing solid quickness and leaping ability, and has excellent timing and body control around the basket. At this early stage in his development he spends the bulk of his time in the paint where he is obviously most comfortable, but he shows enough flashes of talent and smarts to indicate he can transition his game to the perimeter as well as he his continues to polish his skills.

The center position is where Williams spends most of his time at the moment. According to the data we have, nearly two-thirds of Williams' shot attempts come in the immediate vicinity of the rim, be it in the post, cutting without the basketball or crashing the offensive glass. His back to the basket game isn't particularly polished right now, but he is able to get by with his strength (relative to the opposition) and above average footwork. He likes to spin baseline a great deal, using his quick feet to get past his defender, often finishing with a smooth reverse lay in on the other side of the rim. When he does attempt to operate with more of a traditional post game, he doesn't exhibit any amazing post moves, but still finishes at a high rate of efficiency thanks to the excellent touch he displays. He gets to the free throw line at a very nice rate, converting 63% of his attempts.

Williams displays a good basketball IQ moving without the basketball, often creating easy shot attempts for himself by finding open spaces in the defense. Again, his ability to finish with contact helps him in this area.

These same issues manifest themselves on the offensive glass, where he is not particularly prolific (2.3 offensive rebounds per-40 minutes) and has plenty of issues converting opportunities using his second bounce. His less than ideal size for a frontcourt player often leaves him attempting difficult shots over taller and longer defenders, which is likely to become more of an issue at the next level.

As a perimeter player, Williams has a long ways to go in his stage of his development. He has a quick enough first step to take most power forwards (or centers) off the dribble, but needs to improve his ball-handling skills in order to continue to polish his shot-creating ability. The freshman shows the ability to put the ball on the floor and make his way to the basket, but can mostly only attack in a straight line right now. Adding the ability to change directions will make him a much more effective scoring option.

Developing a more effective mid-range game later on in his career will benefit him as well, particularly since he won't be jumping over many people in the NBA. Williams doesn't attempt many jumpers at all at this point, and has taken just two shots from beyond the arc all season, showing a long, slow release. The strides he is able to make as a shooter will likely play a big role in the type of prospect he can become down the road.

Defensively, Williams is a classic tweener. His size leaves him at a distinct disadvantage in the post, where bigger frontcourt players are able to back him down and shoot over him without a tremendous amount of difficulty. On the perimeter he is somewhat of a liability right now, as he possesses below average lateral quickness, and is forced to sag off his man quite a bit. While this prevents him from getting beaten off the dribble too often, it does leave him in a position where he is often late to close out on jumpers. Improving his ability to cover athletic forwards on the perimeter will benefit him.

It is definitely early in the evaluation process for Williams and it surely will be a couple of years before he can start contemplating the NBA as a possible option for the future. Still, the early returns for the Arizona freshman are promising, although somewhat inconsistent. In a couple of games he has been almost non-existent, but outings of 28 and 25 points against UNLV and Wisconsin are certainly nothing to sneer at. We'll have to wait and see how he develops his skill-set under Sean Miller in the next few seasons.

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