#1: Josh McRoberts
6-11, PF/C, Sophomore, Duke
Considering the tools he has at his disposal, the natural talent he shows every time he steps out on the floor, and his likely go-to role in Dukes offense; there is little reason to believe he wont be able to deliver on an All-American type season. Potential can only get you so far when youve been on the NBA radar since age 16, so it wouldnt be a stretch to say that its put up or shut up time for McRoberts.
Were talking about a prototypical power forward as far as NBA scouts are concerned, blessed with excellent quickness, outstanding leaping ability, and some of the surest hands youll find around. McRoberts is a graceful player with the way he gets around out on the floor, moving intelligently off the ball and presenting himself well to his partner in crime Greg Paulus, with whom hes formed terrific chemistry already. He understands the game extremely well and was outstanding scoring off cuts to the basket (92/114 or 81% in the 30 games we tracked) last season. He can go after a long rebound out of his area, bring the ball up the floor himself, and then finish the play himself with a spectacular one-handed dunk.
McRoberts also looks comfortable shooting the ball from the perimeter thanks to his good-looking flat-footed stroke, and is smart enough to quickly find the open man making a move to the basket. He has some solid potential as a shot-blocker and rebounder, but needs to get tougher and stronger to fully maximize this part of his game.
McRoberts was too often an afterthought in Dukes offense last season, although he seemed plenty content with this role for the most part and didnt show enough focus or consistency to warrant a bigger load. His intensity wavered last year, as did his assertiveness, and he will certainly have to show more of a willingness to take responsibilities if hes to keep his critics at bay.
The problem here is that McRoberts still hasnt found a consistent way to create offense for himself, as his back to the basket game is weak, his shot-creating skills from the perimeter unreliable, and his jumper untested outside of the wide open looks hes see playing off J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. He lived off scraps as a freshmangetting a large majority of his points from offensive rebounds, in transition, and specifically off cuts to the basket for a drive and dish play from Paulus or a spectacular alley-lob from Sean Dockery. Going up and finishing stronger around the paint, developing a go-to move offensively, and specifically adding strength to his outstanding frame are all priorities for McRoberts over the next 9 months leading up to the draft. Assuming all is well with his lower back after the surgery he had to relieve pressure on nerves in his spine this past summer (he was just recently cleared to practice again after sitting out for an extensive time), a spot in the Top 10 of the lottery is his to lose.
#2: Tyler Hansbrough
6-9, PF/C, Sophomore, North Carolina
Hansbroughs greatest asset as a player is his highly developed post game, which possesses pretty much every move in the book, and also the knowledge and wherewithal to know when to use them. He can drop-step proficiently going to his left or right, he has an excellent hook in the lane, he can turn into his defender and shoot the jumper in his face, can use fakes and spins to get openings for his shot, can take contact, isnt afraid to go strong into his man, and just flat out knows how to create high-percentage shots. With his strength, he gets good position down low, but he doesnt completely rely on it to score, possessing finesse moves as well. The biggest question is how this post game will translate to the NBA against bigger, more athletic defenders night in and night out. Hansbroughs 27 points against Shelden Williams, the #5 pick in this past draft, is a good start for him in answering that question.
Hansbroughs diverse post game is only part of what makes him who he is, and equally as important is his constant tenacity and effort on the basketball court, specifically when attacking the glass. Hansbrough has fantastic hands and is therefore an excellent rebounder, especially on the offensive end, where he goes for pretty much every one of his own missed shot attempts. Oftentimes when youre watching him, you start to wonder if he ever doesnt get his own rebound. On both ends of the court, especially defense, Hansbrough is adept at getting position on the block and effectively boxing out his man, keeping him away from the ball. Hansbrough never lets up on the boards, and by the time alls said and done, the ball is usually in his hands.
The vast, vast majority of Hansbroughs offensive shot attempts come in the paint, but he does have a semblance of a mid-range game, showing some proficiency shooting the ball from 10-15 feet. In a 23-game sample from his 31 games this year, Hansbrough completed 19 of 45 mid-range, spot-up jumpers for a 42% field goal percentage. Given Hansbroughs intelligence and work ethic, its almost a certainty that this is something he works on this season, as it will greatly facilitate his transition to the NBA. Id expect his range to start to increase to about 18 feet, and for him to improve his efficiency from inside 15 as well. His form is pretty solid, but one thing he should look to work on before stepping into the NBA is not pushing forward with his shot. Its something he has a tendency to do at times, and with him lacking an incredibly high release point for a PF/C, this could lead to a lot of blocked shots in the NBA if not addressed.
Hansbrough also has shown brief flashes of a dribble-drive game, mostly by using the threat of his shot, as his first step is nothing spectacular. Improving this could only help his game, but given his physical attributes, its not something Id expect to become a consistent staple of his game. His game will likely be a versatile back-to-the-basket game complemented with a spot-up jumper hopefully going up to 18 feet in time.
Its tough to say how Hansbrough will translate to the NBA. His intangibles are a coachs dream, hes going to be a good rebounder in the NBA, and hes probably going to have a solid mid-range shot. Whether hell be able to score in the post with the same proficiency he does now, or anything close to it, is still up in the air. He may have trouble with the bigger, more athletic frontcourt players in the NBA. Hell especially have this problem going up against centers, and against power forwards, an even greater concern could amount with his perimeter defense, which will definitely be in question if he plays most of his time at PF as expected. He is a pretty good weakside defender, though, which should help his case some. Turning 21 in just a few weeks, hes also a bit older than your typical college sophomore. Regardless of all his doubts, he has so many positives that its hard to see him not being a lottery pick if he picks up where he left off last season.
#3: Al Thornton
6-8, SF/PF, Senior, Florida State
Thornton was Florida States go-to guy last season, scoring 16.1 points and grabbing 6.9 rebounds per game, and his role expects to expand even more this season, as he will hopefully continue to show more skills scouts look for in a potential small forward. Thornton, at 68 and 208 pounds without broad shoulders, is unlikely to play much power forward in the NBA, unless its in a Shawn Marion or Boris Diaw type role. Developing a full perimeter skill-set will be very important to where he is drafted and how successful he is in the NBA.
The good thing about Thorntons game is that he may be further along than many think. Beyond his freakish athleticism, he very rarely plays with his back to the basket, and if he does, its often on the baseline, not in the low-post. The majority of his scoring comes off of offensive rebounding and attacking the rim, two things he does well enough for a small forward in the NBA. In terms of rebounding, Thornton is relentless attacking the glass, as he has excellent quickness to react to loose balls, gets off the floor vertically in the blink of an eye, and possesses the length to jump over his opponents and snag rebounds out of his area. He can get to rebounds from out of position, coming off of a second bounce, and very often going after his own missed shot attempts. Hes very persistent and anticipates well.
Thorntons slashing game is pretty versatile, though has room for improvement in nearly all areas. He can pull up or take it to the basket, drive left or right, and has shown flashes of spin moves and up-and-unders to get open for a shot. He tends to pull up more often than take it all the way to the hole, and his results in doing so are inconsistent. At times he can shoot it over the defender with his long arms and high release point or just get open for the shot, but he could still work to make this strength even more consistent, and really take his dribble-drive game to the next level. One thing that is imperative to him is protecting his dribble better by keeping his dribble lower to the ground and learning to use his body to better shield the ball from defenders. Decision-making also plays a role here, as Thornton has shown tendencies to force it head-first into multiple defenders.
Thornton is excellent getting into the lane without the ball, recognizing space well, understanding how to get open, and always calling for the ball when he does. He has hands and a pretty good touch around the basket.
The main area many will look for more consistent production from Thornton in is his outside shot. Thornton shot a very impressive .476 from behind the arc last season, though on a limited sample of 42 shot attempts. If Thornton can up his number of attempts a bit and keep his shooting percentage from behind the arc around 40%, it will bode very well for his potential as a small forward in the NBA. That, along with his slashing game and offensive rebounding should give him more than enough to get by as a small forward in the NBA, especially if he improves his dribble protection as alluded to above. It will be tough for Thornton to fulfill all of these goals while spending most of his time playing the 4 in college, but its something he should be working on even if he cant consistently show it due to his team role. Thornton will also need to prove he can consistently show the lateral quickness to match with perimeter players in the NBA, but given his role at FSU, it will be tough for him to show this during the college season. This may be something that wont be fully determined until he works out for NBA teams. In the meantime, winning games and getting his team to the NCAA tournament should be considered a big priority for him, as hes still yet to make it there during his college career. As we saw in last years draft, the overwhelming majority of college players drafted in the first round did make the tournament in their last year of eligibility, so this is something that is very important for him.
Thornton, who will be 23 years old in December, is older than your typical college senior. He was a late bloomer in basketball, though, so his age shouldnt mean much in terms of projecting future development. He reminds of a cross between James Posey at Xavier and Hakim Warrick in his Syracuse days.
#4: Reyshawn Terry
6-8, SF/PF, Senior, North Carolina
The word quickly got out to NBA Scouts that the cupboard is hardly bare in Chapel Hill, and Terry established himself as a legit NBA small forward prospect with the excellent tools he showed.
In terms of physical attributes, Terry looks the part and then some. He has great size at 6-8 complimented by an excellent wingspan and a chiseled 232 pound frame. He is extremely mobile considering his strength and is very quick off his feet to initiate contact and make his presence felt. This makes him a strong rebounder on both ends of the floor, and he is not shy about going up in traffic to finish a play, often plus the foul. These same physical attributes (length, strength, size, quickness) also established him as a defensive stopper when he stayed focused on locking down his matchup.
On top of that Terry shot a very nice percentage from behind the arc last season38.1%-- looking particularly good shooting it with his feet set or coming off screens. He gets good elevation on his jumper and knocks it down at an acceptable clip, but his mechanics are still in need of serious polish considering the amount of time he needs to get his shot off. All too often Terry will contort his body elevating off the ground, sometimes with a slight fadeaway, depriving himself of a consistent point of release and making himself lose serious accuracy when shooting the ball off the dribble.
Terry can put the ball on the floor and make his way to the basket thanks to his excellent combination of strength and explosiveness, but he lacks a certain soft touch to finish the job at times. The fact that his ball-handling skills are fairly weakparticularly with his left handonly compounds this problem by the time he makes it inside the paint. Pulling up off the dribble from mid-range is simply not an option for Terry at this stage in his development, while keeping his head up in traffic and finding the open man is often just as much of a challenge.
Generally speaking, Terry is a very poor passer for his position, committing twice as many turnovers as assists last season. It wouldnt be a stretch to say that his feel for the game is average at best, showing shaky decision making skills, bad shot selection at times, poor awareness on both ends of the floor, and a tendency to force the issue and go out of his element. As a junior hed make one or two boneheaded plays a game almost regularly, although much of this could be chalked up to the fact that he barely played in his first two seasons at UNC. Still, the Radio nickname he earned dating back to high school did not come for nothing.
If Terry can find a way to continue to improve on his very good junior campaign in spite of the highly touted freshman class UNC brings in as well as the terrific sophomores they return--many of whom will compete with him for minuteshe has a shot to land himself a spot in the first round in 2007. Early comparisons weve come up with from watching him play range from Jawad Williams to James Posey.
#5: Sean Williams
6-10, Center, Junior, Boston College
On the other hand, Williams is indolent when it comes to running the court, and passive on the floor when hes not directly involved in the play. He could be a great rebounder due to his body and athleticism, but he only averaged 3 rebounds per game last year. This is partially due to the fact that he shows very little knowledge of how to use his body, and partially because his shot blocking often takes him out of position to get rebounds. He relies far too much of his athleticism, and thus is very much behind the curve in everything that has to do with his basic fundamentals. In addition to that, he could still stand to improve his hands and reaction time, as too many times he is simply not ready or not able to haul in airborne passes or loose balls. Offensively, Williams does very little besides the occasional dunk off of a cut to the hoop. He has the raw ability at times to create separation in the post, but lacks any type of touch inside. In addition, he barely shoots above 50% from the free throw line.
NBA scouts love to find players who possess what Williams does in terms of physical attributes, but at the same time, he seriously lacks basketball IQ. Its hard to decide if hes closer to a Steven Hunter or a Samuel Dalembert in terms of his potential, as we really dont have enough to go on at the moment to come to any definitive conclusions. To improve his NBA stock, he needs to start by playing with a lot more intensity on both ends of the floor. For a player like Williams, this will lead to more easy garbage baskets and rebounds. He could be a much more effective offensive player if he focused on setting good screens, and cutting to the hoop immediately to receive the ball and finish strong. This would be really effective in the NBA if he was playing with a high post power forward that could draw double teams, because Williams would often be open for an easy dunk on the weak side. He also needs to absorb the contact and finish when he gets fouled on dunk attempts, something that most good NBA big guys can do. Though he has a long ways to go when it comes to understanding the game, he will get a chance in the NBA regardless, due to his size and athleticism.
Questions also surround the character of Sean Williams. He was a big name player all the way back to high school, but a lot of colleges backed off in recruiting him due to perceived off the court issues. As a freshman he was suspended twice by Al Skinner for a total of three games. There was an incident last year in which Williams was kicked out of school for the first semester after being arrested for marijuana possession, and he was forced to go home to Houston to improve his grades before he was allowed back on the team. He did complete this task, and started playing for Boston College again late in December of 2005. Problems like this are red-flags for NBA scouts dealing with raw players who will have to work incredibly hard to reach their full potential, and when you combine the off the court issues with his already underdeveloped skills in many key areas, it might make it hard for teams to justify spending a high pick on Williams. On the other hand, you cant teach the incredible physical tools that Williams brings to the table, so it really wont take that much on Williams end to make them forget about these issues.
With second team All-American Craig Smith moving on to the NBA, Williams will be expected to be a presence up front for the Eagles this season. If he has worked on his game in the off season (he reportedly spent extensive time in Houston with trainer John Lucas), and shows some semblance of improvement, it would greatly help his draft stock just by showing that hes willing to put in the time off the court. It is amazing sometimes to watch how his shot blocking can change the flow of a game despite how raw he is. It will be an interesting two years for Williams, who could catapult himself into the lottery, or just as well get drafted in the 2nd round and leave people wondering if he will ever get it.