NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/28/09

NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/28/09
Feb 28, 2009, 12:14 pm
Stephen Curry, 6-3, Junior, Point Guard, Davidson
28.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 3.6 turnovers, 2.6 steals, 45% FG, 87% FT, 38% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Staying in school might become all the rage soon, based on the experiences of collegiate stars like Blake Griffin, Jordan Hill, James Harden, Hasheem Thabeet and Stephen Curry. The junior combo became a household name last March with a series of heroic performances in the NCAA tournament, and has clearly upped his draft stock by deciding to return for another year.

Curry isn’t scoring quite as efficiently as last season, but he’s become even more prolific—currently ranking as the #1 scorer in college basketball any way you slice it. His 3-point percentages are down by almost 6%, but he is getting to the free throw line at a much better rate to compensate, and shoots 87% once there. Best of all, Curry’s assist numbers are through the roof now that he’s taken over the point guard duties full time from Jason Richards (who graduated), dishing out twice as many this season while only increasing his turnovers marginally. He’s also become one of the best ball-thieves in college basketball, at over 3 steals per game.

There isn’t a player in the country who receives as much scrutiny from opposing defenses as Curry does. The entire game-plan of every team he faces revolves solely around shutting him down, which makes it a little bit difficult to accurately evaluate him. The problem is that his teammates just aren’t good enough to punish the opposition for the way they ignore them, as they rely so incredibly heavily on his ability to generate offense for them. Curry shoulders an unbelievable share of the offensive load for Davidson, ranking #1 in the NCAA in usage rate, and #2 in field goal attempts per-40. He’s one of the few players in the NCAA that you can actually say that the game will likely become easier for once he’s in the NBA, playing alongside better players and getting far more easy looks.

The biggest revelation of this season is the relative ease in which Curry has converted to the point guard position. Still obviously possessing a shoot-first mentality, Curry has looked fairly unselfish running his team’s offense, displaying excellent court vision and a real knack for getting teammates involved (relative to the team’s situation). He does a good job on the pick and roll, and is a much more creative passer than we were previously able to see, capable of handling the ball with either hand and being very adept at playing at different speeds. Although he’s probably never going to be a pure playmaker in the Steve Nash or Chris Paul mold, he plays the game at an excellent pace, looks extremely poised at all times, and appears to show a good enough feel for the game to at least develop into a capable facilitator, ala Mike Bibby or Mo Williams.

The best part of Curry’s game clearly remains his perimeter shooting ability. Automatic with his feet set, he is very adept at coming off screens as well, being capable of setting his feet in an instant and getting his shot off incredibly quickly, already possessing NBA range on his jump-shot. Because of how few open looks he gets, he’s had to become a prolific off the dribble shooter as well, especially going left after creating his own shot, and particularly in transition, where he excels.

Because of the incredibly high difficulty of shots he’s capable of converting, Curry has a tendency to settle for a couple of truly awful attempts every game, showing absolutely no conscious. It’s difficult to gauge whether this has more to do with his role on the team, or if he just really overestimates his shooting ability at times. As cool and composed as he looks on the court at all times, he may even be a little too nonchalant on occasion, making some careless plays that lead to turnovers. He does rank 14th in the NCAA in turnovers per-40 after all.

One of the bigger concerns about Curry’s offensive game is that he does not project to become a prolific slasher at the NBA level. His first step is average at best, and considering his skinny frame and poor explosiveness around the basket in traffic, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to get to the free throw line anywhere near as much in the NBA as he does in college. While he is a good ball-handler and is excellent at using change of speeds, fakes and hesitation moves to get by defenders, he usually prefers to settle for a pull-up jumper rather than take the way all the way to the rim. For that reason he’ll probably need to have some other shot-creators playing alongside him, especially in order to take full advantage of his perimeter shooting ability. He is extremely crafty about getting to the basket, really knowing how to exaggerate contact (some would say flopping) in order to draw fouls, which currently gets him to the line at a very nice rate.

Defensively, Curry puts a solid effort in, but is extremely limited by his poor physical tools on this end of the floor. He lacks great height, length or strength, and possesses below average lateral quickness, making him a potential defensive liability when being matched up with some of the more explosive guards the NBA is known for. He is a fairly tough kid, willing to stick his nose in and take a charge, and also seems to have a terrific knack for getting in the passing lanes (ranking amongst the top ball-thieves in the NCAA in steals), being extremely intelligent about following the scouting report. His lack of strength makes him susceptible to being posted up, though, and also makes it difficult for him to fight through screens. Although offensively it appears that he can play both guard spots, on the defensive end he would likely struggle badly guarding NBA shooting guards.

All in all, Curry has had a tougher time than he did last season with all the added attention that has been thrown his way, but he still projects as a very solid pro. In the right situation, alongside the right teammates, he could be a very effective NBA player, and his excellent intangibles and winning mentality lead you to believe that he’ll find a way to carve out a successful niche. The real question is whether he indeed decides to come out this year—so far he’s given little indication of that, as all signs point to him being extremely happy at Davidson. From a business standpoint, it makes little sense not to declare for the draft, though, as there is almost nothing left for him to prove at the collegiate level, and quite a bit to lose if things go wrong. It wouldn’t shock us to see the decision go either way.

Jonny Flynn, 6-0, Sophomore, Point Guard, Syracuse
17.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 3.2 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 46% FG, 77% FT, 34% 3PT

Kyle Nelson

Jonny Flynn established himself as one of the top point guards in the country last year, in addition to being one of the nation’s best freshmen. This season, scouts have been looking for him to take his game to the next show and show that he can be a capable scorer and distributor at the next level.

Standing at what looks to be a legitimate 6’0 with a skinny frame, Flynn is much shorter than the prototypical NBA point guard. He makes up for his lack of size, however, with very good quickness and explosiveness. While the odds are somewhat against Flynn based on his lack of ideal size, the recent NBA trend of successful smaller point guards, combined with his athleticism, certainly helps his cause.

In terms of his actual point guard ability, Flynn has made some improvements this season, but shows on a constant basis that he still has a good deal to learn about the position. This season in particular, however, he looks more comfortable running the offense, playing the pick and roll well, finding his teammates at a good rate, and even working better in drive and dish situations. He has increased his assist average slightly, putting him in the middle of the pack statistically compared with other point guard prospects in the various metrics.

The problem still seems to be that he does not know his limitations, especially while slashing to the rim. While his quickness off the dribble and excellent first step allow him to get by his defender, he tends to have tunnel vision, looking to pass only if he is in the air and there is no chance to get a shot off. Most of the time, however, situations like this end in a blocked shot or a turnover, most of the 3.2 he averages per game, which situates him below some of the better point guards in the draft. If he slows down and lets the game come to him, rather than forcing decisions constantly, then he could develop into a quality point guard at the next level. With this in mind, scouts will be looking for him to finish the season strong, looking to see improvement in his decision-making abilities finding his teammates and scoring the basketball, particularly in the big games he’ll be playing in March.

His shot selection, actually, may be the most important improvement he needs to make before he can consider himself a first round lock. He has a fairly prolific mid-range game and attacks the basket regularly, but seems to lack the size and the bulk to project as a good finisher at the next level. He does have a lightening quick first step and can drive with either hand, which, if his decision-making improves, should allow him to be extremely effective in drive and dish situations. Even at this level, he is prone to getting his shot blocked or find himself in a situation whether the only option is to throw up a prayer or commit a turnover.

With that said, his perimeter jumper is likely the area in his offensive game in most need of improvement. The subpar 34.3% he shoots on 3.8 attempts her game has more to do with bad shot selection than with his form, which actually looks quite good. He displays a quick release, but needs to make sure his shooting motion is consistent. Sometimes he will shoot straight up with little extra movement, but other times he will kick his leg out or fade to the side. Consistency combined with better shot selection should allow Flynn to get his shot off and be an efficient perimeter shooter at the next level.

Defensively, Flynn looks like he may be physically limited on the ball at the next level. He still does not look incredibly enthusiastic on the defensive end of the floor, though in such a restrictive system it is difficult to project how good of a man defender he is. It is needless to say that, should he declare this summer, he will have to show scouts that he is capable of working hard on the defensive end of the floor, despite the disadvantages that his size provides.

At the end of the day, Flynn looks like a solid point guard prospect, capable of working his way into the late first round and potentially even higher if he can lead Syracuse on a deep run and show scouts that his decision making is improving. There aren’t many pure point guards who display Flynn’s combination of athleticism and scoring instincts, particularly from mid-range. With Syracuse’s season winding to a close and very few left chances to prove himself at a high level before the conference tournament rolls around, Flynn should have the season finale, a match up at Marquette, circled on his calendar. He’ll face one of the NCAA’s premier perimeter defenders in Jerel McNeal, providing scouts the opportunity to evaluate him against an NBA caliber defensive player. It is moments like these in which Flynn must excel and prove to scouts that he has the maturity and skill to man the point at the next level.

Jeremy Pargo, 6’2, Point Guard, Senior, Gonzaga
9.6 points, 5.2 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 2.7 turnovers, 46% FG, 67% FT, 30% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

After a mixed showing in the Orlando pre-draft camp last year, Jeremy Pargo decided to return to school for his senior year, and the results thus far have also been fairly disappointing. While Pargo has raised his A:T ratio for the fourth time in four years, his scoring, assists and scoring efficiency are all down, while he’s struggled in virtually all the big games Gonzaga has played this year.

Looking at his scoring game, there’s a disturbing trend with Pargo over the past three seasons, as his efficiency has declined (TS% from 57% to 56% to 52%), which is likely a direct result of his slashing game becoming less of a priority. Pargo’s FTA/FGA ratio in 2007 was a very strong 0.49, but it’s dropped all the way to 0.27 this season, as Pargo is taking less advantage of his outstanding explosiveness and ability to go strong to the basket.

Pargo is still very much the same outstanding athlete with excellent ball-handling skills, capable of exploding off screens or quickly kicking it to fourth gear in transition, but we’re seeing this aspect of his game less and less. On the positive side, while Pargo has drawn contact less frequently, he has improved his finesse game in the lane, having a very nice right-handed floater and excellent body control, while also finally showing flashes of a left hand at times.

Pargo’s shooting has always been a cause for concern, and that remains the case this season, as he’s still shooting troubling numbers from both the free-throw line and the three-point line. It is worth noting that according to Synergy Sports Technology’s quantified statistics, Pargo takes more than twice as many jumpers off the dribble than spotting up, while he scores 1 PPP on the spot up shots and just 0.65 PPP on the pull up shots, so he’s capable of being a better shooter than the numbers indicate. Still, Pargo’s form is pretty loose with an unnecessary fade-away on most of his shots, with these problems being especially apparent when contested.

As a point guard, it’s very encouraging to see the trajectory of Pargo’s four year arc at Gonzaga, as all of his point guard metrics have steadily risen from nothing, when he averaged just 2 assists in 17 minutes as a freshman. Pargo’s improvement in A:T ratio can be attributed both to better decision-making in not forcing so many tough passes, but also in improving his ability to make those tough passes. His assists are down slightly this season, but it mostly stems from a slight decrease in minutes and less of a reliance on the pick-and-roll in Gonzaga’s offense.

Pargo’s decision-making is still a major area of concern at times, particularly in big-game situations, where he’s repeatedly come up flat this season. Pargo’s worst games have mostly been against the best competition he’s faced, particularly at the end of games where he has shown very little in the ways of the senior leadership his team desperately needed, often forcing bad shots or turning the ball over repeatedly. The biggest issue here is that that Gonzaga competes in the WCC, with one and a half of their games against the conference’s best team, St. Mary’s, coming without their star player Patrick Mills on the floor—meaning Pargo’s stats need to be taken with a grain of salt considering the level of competition.

Defensively, Pargo is still the same quick, strong, and aggressive point guard, playing in-your-face defense, never letting up, and sticking his hands in the passing lanes when the opportunity arises. He can be slow to react on direction changes at times, but overall, defense is definitely among his strengths.

Looking forward, Pargo will have the opportunity to play at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament if he so chooses, where he could look to recover from his below expectations performance at Orlando last year as well as his underwhelming senior season. Pargo will be viewed as a potential second round pick, as his defense, athletic ability, and prowess with the pick-and-roll game projects him as a possible back-up point guard at the next level. The fact that he still isn’t much of a shooter or scorer and struggles with poor decision making and a low basketball IQ against noteworthy competition may render him undrafted, though.

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