Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 10 (Part One: #1-#5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 10 (Part One: #1-#5)
Oct 16, 2007, 02:06 am
Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10:

Part One, Two, Three

Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC:

Part One, Two, Three

Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC:

Part One, Two

Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three

#1: D.J. White, 6-9, Senior, Power Forward, Indiana

Jonathan Givony

The fact that D.J. White is ranked #1 on our list of top returning NBA prospects in the Big 10 probably serves as more of a statement regarding how weak this conference is, rather than any grandiose assertion of his pro potential. While he is undoubtedly an excellent college player, White might not have cracked the top 10 on some of the other top returning prospect lists--for example the Pac-10 or ACC.

Starting with what he does well, there is a lot to like about White as a collegiate player. He’s a strong and extremely tough big man with outstanding length, great hands, and the aggressiveness needed to take advantage of his skills inside the post. Indiana counted on him excessively last year to help carry their stagnant offense, being responsible for 1/5th of their scoring and nearly 1/4th of their free throw attempts. Many of their possessions ended up with the ball in White’s hand, digging in the trenches trying to carve out space in the paint to get his shot off. Indeed, 49% of White’s offense came on post-ups (according to Synergy Sports Technology’s quantified stats), of which he only converted at a 42% clip from the field.

It’s pretty clear from watching his film that White is fairly limited as far as finesse offensively skills go, possessing fairly mechanical footwork and limited touch on his more advanced moves (such as turnaround jumpers). Most of his damage comes from taking advantage of his superior length and strength against inferior opponents, while also showing the aggressive mentality needed to do so. When forced to finish against big men who are just as physically gifted as him, though, he struggles, as he’s not an incredibly explosive athlete. Against a one-handed Greg Oden last year for example, he shot 3-14 from the field (with two of those baskets coming with Oden on the bench), while the eventual #1 pick scored 21 points. He is unable to create offense particularly well for himself facing the basket either, showing average ball-handling skills and an unspectacular first step.

To be able to carve out a niche for himself at the next level, and prove that he’s not an offensive liability, White will have to show that he’s able to space the floor with his perimeter jump-shot. His range currently only extends to about 15 feet, and he rarely attempts to show that unless he’s completely wide open. Only 13% (SST-quantified stats) of his shots come in the form of jumpers, from any range. He possesses a very deliberate release on his follow through, pushing the ball at the basket at times more than he shoots it. He seems to be able to knock down jumpers from 15 feet with solid consistency, but his accuracy seems to waver any further out, which is not a great sign.

Defensively, White is very solid, despite possessing average size at 6-8 or 6-9-- looking particularly promising with his shot-blocking ability. He has terrific timing to compliment his excellent wingspan, allowing him to cover considerable ground and be a real disruptive threat in the paint both from the weak-side and in on-ball situations. At times he’ll give up too much space in the post, knowing he’ll be able to compensate with his length, but this is a typical habit we find amongst collegiate big men with similar shot-blocking ability. His lateral quickness is just average when forced away from the basket, though, making him less effective than desired defending the pick and roll.

All in all, White would be well served to study the career paths of similar sized NBA power forwards such as Udonis Haslem, Donyell Marshall, or Malik Rose. To make it, and stick, he will probably need to show that he can be a consistent threat from mid-range, an excellent rebounder, and a capable defender willing to do the dirty work for his team. He’ll also need to find a good situation where his skill-set is appreciated.

#2: Drew Neitzel, 6-0, Senior, PG/SG, Michigan State

Rodger Bohn

Michigan State senior Drew Neitzel enters the 07-08 season as The Big Ten’s leading returning scorer, after posting an 18.1 point per game average as a junior. His drastic improvement in the scoring column was remarkable, given that the only scored 8.3 points per game as a sophomore. With the early departure of Ohio State’s Mike Conley Jr. to the NBA and Indiana freshman Eric Gordon playing more of a combo guard role, Neitzel comes into the season as the top guard in the conference, as well as the catalyst to the Spartans success.

The biggest asset that Neitzel brings to the floor is easily his ability to shoot the ball. Shooting nearly 42% from the 3-point line as a junior, he scored over half his 18 points per game from behind the arc. The Michigan native is remarkable at coming off of screens at full speed, setting his feet, and getting the ball off quickly with accuracy. He is equally adept shooting the ball of off pick and rolls, comfortable going to both his left and his right. Despite his marginal athleticism, he is outstanding creating space for himself to get his shot, a testament to the excellent basketball IQ he possesses. There is no question that Neitzel will enter his senior season as one of the elite perimeter shooting point guards in the country.

3-point shooting aside, the next biggest asset that Neitzel provides is easily the intelligence he displays. He has never posted less than a 1.84:1 assist to turnover ratio throughout his tenure in East Lansing, evidence of the impeccable decision making that the senior possesses. His basketball smarts don’t stop there, however, as they are also on full display with the way he comes off screens when moving off the ball, and the way he uses picks when he has the ball in his hands as well. He is equally comfortable shooting the ball from the free throw line, where he shot an excellent 88% last season. All in all, the senior does an excellent job making up for his physical deficiencies through his witty play on the floor.

With nearly half of his points coming off of screens of some sort, Neitzel does not do a whole lot when it comes to creating shots for himself. Although his handle is very tight and crisp, he struggles a bit in terms of beating his man off of the dribble in isolation situations. The Spartan guard is not very efficient from midrange off of the dribble, and especially has problems getting all the way to the rim. His lack of size and speed is a hindrance in terms of converting in the paint against players who are taller and more athletic than him.

Listed at only 6’0, Neitzel’s size becomes a problem for him on the defensive end. Opposing guards showed throughout last season that they had no problem shooting over the diminutive guard at every available opportunity. The relatively average strength and lateral quickness that he possesses gets exploited on a regular basis, with most opposing coaches isolating whomever Neitzel is guarding somewhere on the floor. Although Neitzel has proven to be a tough kid on the offensive end, it hasn’t helped him make up for his defensive deficiencies unfortunately.

Lacking the ideal physical gifts that most NBA teams desire in a point guard prospect, Neitzel will have to make up for his lack of athletic prowess through outstanding play in his senior season. Given that this draft has the potential to be absolutely loaded at the point guard position, he will need to have an outstanding senior season in help his cause of being drafted in late June. Either way, Neitzel is a player who will certainly be invited to the pre-draft camps and will end up making a very nice living playing basketball somewhere in the fall of 2008, whether it be in Europe or the NBA.

#3: David Lighty, 6’5, Sophomore, SG/SF, Ohio State

Joseph Treutlein

David Lighty didn’t put up a very impressive stat-line in his freshman year on the very deep NCAA championship game bound Ohio State team, averaging just 3.7 points and 2.3 rebounds on 37.4% field-goal shooting in 16.3 minutes per game, but he showed flashes of nice things and should be poised to take on a larger role as a sophomore this season.

Lighty started off the season well against non-conference opponents, but failed to reach double-digit scoring at all once the conference season began, as he was relegated to being purely a role player for the Buckeyes. At this stage of his development, Lighty isn’t quite ready to be more than that yet, primarily due to a very loose handle, an inability to create off the dribble, and a lack of a mid-range game.

Lighty’s greatest strength on the offensive end is probably his ability to cut and score at the rim, doing most of his damage that way for the Buckeyes last season. Lighty does a good job of catching the ball on the perimeter and quickly getting to the rim with his long strides. Lighty looks very smooth going to the basket when not having to put the ball down for more than one or two dribbles, and he finishes very well at the basket with his athleticism and length. He has good touch around the rim, can score over opponents, and takes contact well also. He is very composed on his way to the basket, showing good footwork and making good use of hop-steps and ball fakes while doing a good job using his body to protect the ball from defenders. The biggest thing Lighty needs to work on with his slashing is developing a consistent floater or pull-up jumper to complement his ability to finish at the rim, something he didn’t do a good job with last season.

Lighty also shows some potential as a spot-up shooter from outside, even though he shot an unimpressive 20% on 40 attempts from behind the arc last season. Lighty has decent form, though he occasionally lets his hand drift right on his shot release and he can be a bit too deliberate with his motion at times. Working on his accuracy and quickness getting his shot off should be among his priorities, but his shot should improve with time and practice regardless. Lighty also makes contributions on the offensive end attacking the offensive boards, using his exceptional leaping ability and body control to pull down boards in a crowd, and being aggressive in doing so.

On the defensive end, Lighty is a very good defender with the potential to be great, showing good poise, understanding, and pure ability. Lighty doesn’t look like your typical freshman, sporting a chiseled frame that is reportedly up to around 220 pounds already. He shows good lateral quickness and fundamentals on the perimeter, moving his feet to stay in front of his man while being able to frustrate the opposition, forcing travels or drawing charges. He also doesn’t lunge at the ball, playing composed and not trying too hard for the steal. Lighty does do a good job using his athleticism and length on the weak-side, though, disrupting the passing lanes in that manner. Lighty also shows good versatility on the defensive end, not being afraid to defend in the post when necessary.

This will be a very important season for Lighty, to see if he can make the transition from bench role player to somewhat of an offensive focal point. He has room to improve in virtually all areas of the game, though he has a long way to go if he ever wants to become the type of player to create his own offense. Even if he can’t, Lighty still may find a place in the NBA as a role player sometime down the line, as his physical tools coupled with the ability to defend, score at the rim, and knock down the outside shot could find himself a niche in the league, assuming he can at the very least improve his outside shooting. NBA teams will take a good look at his knee, as he suffered an ACL tear in his junior year of high school.

#4: Raymar Morgan, 6-7, Sophomore, SF/PF, Michigan State

Kyle Nelson

Despite being just a freshman, Raymar Morgan was an essential piece of Michigan State’s NCAA tournament last year. He’ll be looked upon even more as the Spartans attempt an even deeper run this season, possibly to the Final Four. On the individual side, Morgan possesses an interesting skill-set and shows the potential to develop into an effective player at the next level.

Morgan already possesses a versatile offensive repertoire at his stage of development. An efficient scorer, Morgan averaged 11.6 points per game shooting 49% percent from the field and 31% from beyond the arc. His field goal percentage is impressive because of the way he gets a good amount of his points: from mid-range. Very few freshmen (or upperclassmen) forwards have the type of mid-range game that Morgan possesses. With a refined instinct for moving off the ball and coming off screens (particularly flex cuts) to find an open shot, he can catch and shoot on the move from anywhere inside the arc due to his quick release and elevation. However, his form could use some work, especially the further he moves. He has a tendency to cock the ball from behind his head, as well as kick his legs out on his shooting motion, which results in wasted movement and particularly an inconsistent release point. It is most evident in his 3-point shooting. He often ends up pushing the ball and overshooting because he is not comfortable yet in his shooting motion. A guy who has the ability and tools that Morgan possesses should be a far better 3-point shooter, but he will struggle from this area until he improves his mechanics.

Morgan loves to push the ball on fast breaks and, though he is not incredibly explosive, is a good finisher with either hand. He does a good job of drawing contact as well, and when he gets fouled, he makes his foul shots at 69%: not a great number, but a percentage he is certainly able to improve.

Morgan has a nose for finding open spots in unbalanced defenses to get to the rim, using the baselines in particular to attack the basket. Possessing solid athleticism, and good body control, he is able to get points in a variety of ways around the basket. In fact, it would be nice to see him use his physical ability more often because there aren’t many players that can compete with him at the NCAA level. He doesn’t spend much time in the post, though when he does, he has questionable touch, but undeniable potential. At 6’7”, 220 lbs, he certainly has the size to log minutes in the post, but with Michigan State’s front line, it might not be entirely necessary.

Though his numbers don’t suggest it (5.2 rebounds/game), he is also a good rebounder on both ends of the floor. He is constantly in the mix for rebounds and utilizes his athleticism to really be a force under the basket. In fact, Morgan really moves well on both sides of the floor. He rarely looks lost on the floor and this is another intriguing element of his game thus far. He is a scrappy player at this point in his development and his effort is usually high on both sides of the court.

This is not to say that Morgan is a finished prospect. He has a long way to go. His ball-handling skills in particular could use plenty of work. When he’s slashing to the basket, he often looks out of control, and thus hardly pays attention to anything besides himself and the basket. This also makes it tough for him to pull up off the dribble from mid-range amongst traffic, as he does not currently possess the ball control to do so. Combined with a bad handle, this results in turnovers as he dribbles into traps, often while teammates are also cutting towards the basket. He has a bad habit of moving before he dribbles as well, resulting in far too many unnecessary travels.

Morgan’s passing ability is similarly flawed. He does not make crisp passes and when he passes the ball, he has a tendency to have his passes intercepted by opposing backcourt players. He averaged 2.5 turnovers per game last season compared to 0.8 assists. His overall court awareness, shot selection, and basketball IQ must improve if he is going to be able to achieve his potential.

His defense also needs some work. He has nice length, fundamentals, toughness and strength, but he needs to do a significant amount of work to become a good perimeter defender—having mostly guarded power forwards for most of his career. Last season, he gave his man too much room and sometimes was out of position on the perimeter. He reached in a lot, as well, resulting in unnecessary fouls. Another testament to his youth is how easy savvy scorers got him to bite on fakes. This will improve with maturity, though. He really does look like he could evolve into a solid defensive player at the next level because of his physical tools and awareness. After all, as said before, he is already a scrappy player and plays all over the floor with high energy.

A big season is expected out of Michigan State and Morgan’s improvements are essential in order for the Spartan’s to succeed. This season will be considered a test to see if Morgan’s intriguing combination of skills, toughness, and potential will translate to an NBA atmosphere.

#5: Ekpe Udoh, 6-10, Center, Sophomore, Michigan

Mike Schmidt

A raw, but intriguing big man, Ekpe Udoh was the third post player in the lineup for Michigan during his freshman season, and showed nice flashes of potential against Big Ten competition. This season, he will be more heavily relied on by new head coach John Beilein, on a Michigan team that will look much different from last season. Udoh can be labeled as a project for the time being, but has the raw tools to attract attention from scouts at the next level.

Udoh’s intrigue as a prospect starts with his promising shot-blocking ability. During his freshman campaign he averaged 4 blocks per 40 minutes (pace adjusted), ranking him 10th in the country amongst returning draft prospects. The sophomore big has a monster wing-span, and shows good anticipation both on the ball and coming from the weak-side. The talented big man can block shots with either hand, and avoids foul trouble surprisingly well for a young shot-blocker.

Offensively, Udoh remains raw, but can step out and hit the mid-range jumper with decent consistency. He lost confidence with his jumper during some portions of his freshman season, but shot the ball more accurately as he adjusted to more playing time later in the season. From the low block, Udoh has yet to become a scoring threat due to his lack of strength. In addition, better footwork will be a necessity for him to develop a back to the basket game. Udoh did show a little potential shooting a hook shot last season with both hands. Unfortunately, he really lacked touch on this shot, and sometimes resorted to turning and wildly releasing it, without gaining the proper position first.

Udoh must really focus on increasing his strength over the next couple of seasons. The lack of strength hurts him badly on the defensive glass, where he often loses the inside position to stronger players. He does rebound the ball effectively on the offensive end, showing good hands to compliment his terrific wingspan. A better body will allow Udoh to finish strong inside, rather than shying away from contact like he did last season.

Ekpe Udoh has the tools to make it to the NBA down the road, but he still remains a raw prospect at this point. Over the next couple of seasons, he must focus on becoming stronger while further developing his offensive game. It will be interesting to gauge the progress he makes this season playing against Big Ten competition, though it is likely that Udoh will have to stay at least a few more years at Michigan, depending on how long it takes him to add bulk and polish up his skill-set.

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