NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/3/10

NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/3/10
Feb 03, 2010, 02:44 am
Updated scouting reports on Texas' Avery Bradley, Nevada's Luke Babbitt, Michigan's Manny Harris and Oakland's Keith Benson.

Avery Bradley, 6-2, Freshman, Shooting Guard, Texas
12.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 47% FG, 48% FT, 39% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Considered by some to be the top freshman in the 2009 high school class, it’s been an up and down season for the extremely talented Avery Bradley thus far. Looking a bit tentative early on, but being far more assertive as the year has moved on, Bradley has shown enough of both the strengths and weaknesses of his game to get a decent read on how he stacks up as an NBA draft prospect.

Bradley’s physical tools will never be considered ideal, as he’s undersized for an NBA shooting guard, and does not have a great frame to compensate. His wingspan is solid and he is an above average athlete, though, being extremely quick and fluid in the open floor.

Offensively, Bradley is mostly a role-player for this deep and experienced Texas squad, something he appears to have no issues with. He gets most of his production spotting up on the wings, operating in transition, and creating his own shot from time to time, looking far more efficient and disciplined than your typical freshman guard.

Bradley’s biggest strengths on this end of the floor revolve around his terrific stroke, whether it’s pulling up off the dribble or knocking down jumpers in catch and shoot situations. He gets good elevation and sports very nice mechanics, being able to create separation effectively from his defender, which helps compensate somewhat for his lack of size. Bradley is making 39% of his shots from beyond the arc at the moment (albeit on a fairly limited sample size), but shows even better potential with his mid-range jumper, a part of his game which should translate nicely to the NBA level.

Playing mostly off the ball, Bradley looks much more like a pure shooting guard than he does an actual point guard or even combo at the moment, playing the pick and roll looking strictly for his own shot, while not showing great court vision at this stage. He does a very good job executing his team’s offense and minimizing mistakes, though, having no problem giving up the ball and turning it over at a pretty low rate thanks to the conservative approach he usually takes.

Bradley is not a great shot-creator at this point, either for himself or others, as he struggles to get to the rim in half-court situations and has an even more difficult time finishing at the basket due to his average physical tools. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Bradley converts just 37% of his field goal attempts around the rim in half-court situations, as opposed to the 47% he converts on jump-shots.

He avoids goes left at all costs, and doesn’t get to the free throw line much at all—drawing just over 2 attempts per game—and only making 48% of them once there. Barring some dramatic changes that occur over the next few years, Bradley will likely live and die off his (pretty solid) jump-shot in the NBA half-court.

Defensively, Bradley is a bull dog, absolutely smothering his opponents with intense pressure and terrific lateral quickness. He really takes pride in his work on this end of the floor, although his lack of size and strength is a bit of a concern when projecting him at the shooting guard position. He’ll likely have to be placed in the same backcourt with a bigger ball-handler, an O.J. Mayo/Dwayne Wade type, who can more easily create scoring opportunities for the team.

He’ll need to do a much better job on the glass, though, as his 3.5 rebounds per-40p ranks as the worst at his position amongst shooting guards in our 2010 or 2011 mock drafts.

Bradley will need to decide if he wants to stay in school for another season, where he’s again unlikely to see any time at the point guard position, or elect to test the NBA draft waters. Only recently having turned 19 a few months ago (in November), time is clearly on his side. His stock is still very much an unknown until the NCAA tournament, where his team is expected to make a deep run and his play will obviously have a huge effect on how he’s perceived by high-level decision makers. If he can show better shot-creating ability, rebound the ball a little better and continue to make big plays on both ends of the floor, he will help himself.

Luke Babbitt, 6’8, SF/PF, Sophomore, Nevada
21.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 1.2 steals, 53% FG, 41% 3PT, 89% FT

Joseph Treutlein

One of the highest impact freshman in the country last season, Luke Babbitt has picked up right where he left off as a sophomore, upping his numbers across the board and just playing outstanding basketball for the Wolf Pack.

On the offensive end, Babbitt possesses an extremely high skill level to go along with an outstanding feel for the game, assets which allow him to score easily and efficiently from all over the floor. The smooth left-handed shooter is hitting with deadeye accuracy from the free-throw (89%) and three-point lines (41%), while also showing strong ability off the dribble, namely with his mid-range jumper.

Using a combination of ball fakes and jab steps along with rangy strides with the ball and excellent footwork, Babbitt does a very good job getting separation for his jumper in spite of his limited athletic ability. Getting open inside the arc, he shows very good ability to hit jumpers on the move, going left and right, with a hand in his face, and fading away from the basket.

Babbitt’s shot has consistent mechanics and a high release point, while he also has NBA three-point range. His ability to hit shots in a variety of situations if very impressive for a player his age, though there are concerns about how his off-the-dribble shots will translate to the next level against longer, more athletic defenders.

Attacking off the dribble, Babbitt has an underwhelming first step and not much of a second gear, but he makes up for it at this level with craftiness, long strides, and a good understanding of angles and floor spacing, knowing when to pick his spots. His handle is more than adequate in space and isolation situations, but he definitely struggles a bit in crowds, not really having the low-to-the-ground, tight handle needed for those instances.

In the lane, Babbitt does a good job recognizing openings, knowing when to go all the way to the rim and when to pull up for the floater, both of which he is capable of doing. At the rim he is aggressive in finishing while doing a good job using his body to create space and angles, allowing him to finish at a high rate in spite of his physical limitations. He definitely shows trouble when matched head to head with a weakside shot blocker, which will make his floater more important projecting to the next level.

Babbitt also has somewhat of a unique mid-post and high-post game, not playing like a conventional power forward but more so relying on finesse from the 10-15 foot range, where he is very accurate with turnaround jumpers off either shoulder. This aspect of his game is not a given to translate to the next level, however, as it’s questionable whether he’ll have the size and athleticism to consistently separate against high level athletes.

On the defensive end, Babbitt works hard and shows excellent focus, running out to contest shots and doing all he can to stay with his man, but his lateral quickness on the perimeter just isn’t up to par and it doesn’t help that he just looks uncomfortable in his perimeter stance, not getting his center of gravity down and looking awkward moving his feet.

In the post, he actually shows very good fundamentals and a good understanding of how to use his length to bother shots, but he is severely lacking in lower body strength, allowing him to be backed down at will. Babbitt’s real redeeming quality on defense is his ability to attack the boards, a real testament to his hustle and high motor, as he pulls in an impressive (for his size) 10 boards per game, most of which come on the defensive end.

Looking forward, Babbitt is a tough player to project to the next level, as there are many aspects of his game that have question marks in terms of how they’ll translate, while there also isn’t an ideal position for him to defend. That said, with his incredibly high skill level, excellent feel for the game, and considering the way he keeps improving, it’d be foolish to count him out, as many other small forwards with similar physical profiles have achieved success in the NBA.

Manny Harris, 6-5, Junior, Shooting Guard, Michigan
19.0 Points, 6.6 Rebounds, 4.3 Assists, 2.6 Turnovers, 1.9 Steals, 44% FG, , 28% 3P, 80% FT

Matthew Williams

After two very solid seasons in Ann Arbor, Manny Harris has continued to progress as a scorer as a junior. While Harris has been highly productive, the Wolverines have been a major disappointment. Sporting an 11-10 record after starting the season in the top-15, Jim Beilein’s team needs strong play out of Harris down the stretch to salvage their bleak tournament outlook. After a recent (and brief) suspension for “unsportsmanlike conduct,” Harris could certainly use a string of strong performances to bolster his draft stock moving into this summer.

A known commodity at this point, Harris still displays very good quickness and leaping ability but lacks a degree of physical strength. Considering how capably he gets to the line, that lack of bulk doesn’t manifest itself very thoroughly in his offensive game on the college level. Harris isn’t afraid to throw himself into traffic, and proves more than capable of finishing at the basket. A gifted scorer, Harris has the athletic tools of an NBA player, but will need to continue to add strength to his skinny frame to translate his slashing game to NBA caliber defenses.

Just as Harris’s athleticism has been thoroughly analyzed on this site over the years, so too has his lack of jump shooting ability. Despite averaging over 4 three-point attempts per-game, Harris is having his worst season from beyond the arc, connecting on a meager 27.8% of his tries from deep.

Long considered an NBA caliber talent, Harris’s struggles from the outside continue to limit perceptions of his NBA potential. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Harris is connecting on just 31.5% of his jump shots this season. Considering that 58% of Harris’s shots are jumpers, it is fairly obvious that perimeter scoring is his biggest weakness. Though he’s improved his shooting off the dribble to an extent, he is still too inconsistent with his footwork, and subsequently, struggles with his effectiveness from the outside.

Though he isn’t an efficient jump shooter, Harris proves to be an outstanding finisher in transition and is effective when given the opportunity to impose his athleticism on his matchup off the dribble. A creative one-on-one player, Harris remains a bit limited going left, but he’s incredibly difficult for most college defenders to stay in front of when he rips through and lowers his shoulder.

Capable of stopping on a dime an elevating over defenders on the college level, one of the biggest questions Harris will have to answer whenever he declares is whether or not he is athletic enough to make comparable plays on the NBA level, without having the ball in his hands anywhere near as much. His limited jump shooting ability makes that an integral aspect of his NBA potential.

Defensively, Harris has continued to show the improved effort level that he did last season, but is still not the most fundamentally sound defender. He gets caught watching the ball at times and doesn’t always make crisp rotations to recover, staying a bit too high and getting beat off the dribble because of it. On the next level, Harris will need to improve his ability to close out shooters and learn to exploit his lateral quickness on the defensive end, as his slight frame will make him a target for teams looking to create mismatches in the post.

Harris has proven to be one of the more talented guards in the Big 10; his blend of passing ability, slashing, and pure scoring ability makes him a difficult matchup. However, his role in the NBA isn’t quite as clear. Against longer, more athletic defenders, Harris’s lack of shooting ability will be more problematic, making this summer a very important one for the Detroit native. Whether he’s preparing for the draft or polishing his game for another year in Ann Arbor, he needs to finish the season off strong.

Keith Benson, 6-11, Power Forward/Center, Junior, Oakland
17.1 points, 10 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 0.8 assists, 53% FG, 76% FT, 31 minutes

Joey Whelan

When we included Keith Benson in our list of top NBA prospects from non-BCS conferences back in November, it was with both great intrigue and caution. The Oakland junior is a tantalizing combination of size, length and athleticism, but is sorely lacking in the physical strength necessary for him to utilize his natural talents. Nearly three months after we first examined his game, very little of our initial assessment of Benson has changed now well into the second half of the regular season.

While there is no doubt his near 7-foot frame and good athleticism are keeping his name familiar to pro scouts, Benson’s lack of bulk and strength are hindering him a great deal, even against collegiate competition. He continues to score at a nice rate, with the bulk of his shot attempts once again coming in the post, but his field goal percentage has taken a noticeable dive from over 62% last season to 53% this year, while taking 2.5 more shots per game than he did as a sophomore.

We’ve praised the big man in the past for his solid footwork in the post, something he continues to display regularly, but this skill is often rendered useless given the soft nature that Benson operates on the block. He continues to display a soft touch and the ability to finish with either hand, but had a noticeably harder time scoring with his back to the basket when facing elite frontcourt players.

In matchups with Kansas and Michigan State earlier in the season, Benson managed to post lines of 20 points, 6 rebounds and 21 points, 11 rebounds respectively, but did so while scoring away from the block, and his team was defeated by a combined 61 points between the two. He has drawn attention for his ability to step away from the basket and connect with consistency from as far as 15 feet, which he was able to do against slower big men such as the Jayhawk’s Cole Aldrich.

Often though, when faced with stronger defenders, Benson has no choice but to face up because he is unable to prevent himself from being forced away from the lane. Working on his jumper has definitely been a priority for the junior, as he has seen a nearly 10 percent increase in his free throw shooting this season and is showing a greater comfort level facing up and firing from mid-range.

Benson continues to be a relatively productive rebounder, seeing his per-40 numbers increase for the second straight year, primarily thanks to his work on the defensive glass. Obviously his length and athleticism serve him very well here against college sized big men, but for all of the effort that he shows in this particular facet of his game, he could be even more of a force on the glass with as little as 10-15 pounds added to his frame. At this point, it is still too easy for opposing bigs to muscle him out of position for rebounds.

Defense continues to be Benson’s kryptonite, as he was very poor at this end of the floor to begin and may have even regressed somewhat this season. He has managed to cut down on the number of fouls he commits, but appears to be giving close to no effort as a defender save for his abilities to provide help side defense with his massive wingspan. He continues to be hampered by his lack of toughness, giving up position inside against average competition, showing poor fundamentals and giving no indication that he can defend at the pro level. Benson has nowhere near the strength or bulk necessary to defend true centers in the NBA, nor does he exhibit the effort or basketball IQ needed to cover power forwards.

The book is still very much out on Benson, but it’s safe to say that this hasn’t been the breakthrough season some were hoping for going in. We must be patient though, as he’s a late bloomer, and gaining weight and strength would allow him to operate more consistently in the post and greatly improve him as a defender. His frame, though it will never be bulky, can certainly add a good amount of weight without losing any of the athleticism that makes it so intriguing.

The decrease in scoring efficiency is cause for concern, even though it’s clear at times that he’s showing off for the NBA scouts in attendance. It is no doubt going to be an uphill battle for this forward, one predicated largely on his ability to become physically tougher on the defensive end, but as a late bloomer with one year of college left to play, Benson still has time to improve to the point that he hears his name called on draft night in 2011.

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