Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12 (Part One: #1-#5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12 (Part One: #1-#5)
Oct 26, 2006, 12:57 am
DraftExpress continues to evaluate the top prospects in the NCAA on a conference by conference basis, this time with the Big 12. Julian Wright, Brandon Rush, Acie Law, Richard Roby and CJ Giles highlight this crop. For the sake of consistency, freshman have been left out of the equation.

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

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Two: #6-#10)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Three: #11-#15)

#1 Julian Wright
6-8, SF/PF, Sophomore, Kansas


Jonathan Givony

Topping our list might be one of the least productive players you’ll find in this series in terms of what he did last year. So while he didn’t quite have the type of freshman season that legends are made out of, watching extensive tape on him, studying his physical attributes and knowing what we know about the type of work ethic he has off the court, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he has about as much NBA upside as any returning player in the NCAA.

Standing 6-8 or possibly 6-9 with a gigantic wingspan, a perfect frame and outstanding athletic ability, Wright is a prototype for the “matchup from hell” combo forward that has become so popular these days, a la Boris Diaw or Andrei Kirilenko. He has a fantastic first step, is quick off his feet, possesses superb body control, and has the type of instinctive basketball reflexes that just cannot be taught. Unlike many athletic marvels, he does not seem to be afraid of using his physical tools either, showing great toughness and the awareness and determination to put himself in the right spots to make a big play. To complete an already superb package, we’re talking about a very smart player who works for the team and looks fully committed to doing all the little things.

Offensively, Wright shows great sparks of potential, but really hasn’t developed a consistent way to put points on the board. Most of his points came from cuts to the basket, where he utilizes his athleticism and phenomenal hands to catch virtually everything that is thrown his way and usually finish strong. He moves off the ball intelligently and presents himself well around the basket for easy finishes.

He looks fairly comfortable operating on the perimeter as well, where he likes to bait the bigger power forward matchups he typically draws to defend his inconsistent jump-shot before utilizing an excellent first step to just blow by his man. His ball-handling skills could still use some polish, but he’s surprisingly adept at freelancing off the dribble and showed some fancy stuff in terms of creating his own shot from time to time last season. He usually creates in order to get to the basket and finish from close range thanks to his excellent body control, but he also shows signs of a mid-range pull-up game. He didn’t get too many chances to show off his ball-handling skills, but when he did, he usually looked pretty good when he was being aggressive and wasn’t trying to get too flashy with no-look passes and such. As a freshman, his passing skills were not quite as evident as they were in high school where he was considered a Scottie Pippen point forward type, but he did show some really nice sparks from time to time in this area, particularly towards the end of the season.

Wright has some finesse to his game, but he also doesn’t have a problem getting down and dirty when the situation calls for it. As a rebounder, he shows nice timing and lets his terrific hands and physical tools do the rest, particularly on the offensive glass. Defensively, he has the length, smarts and quickness to really bother his opponents, coming up with a fair share of blocks and steals in the process.

His jump-shot might be considered one of his biggest weaknesses at the moment, besides his overall lack of polish. He lacks serious range on his jumper even though his mechanics are not bad. Working on getting his shot off quicker and utilizing his athleticism better to elevate off the floor will certainly make him a more versatile offensive threat. Like some of the NBA players we compared him to earlier, Wright is somewhat of a “3 and a half” at the moment, not having the strength any of the post skills you’d expect from a power forward, but not being a consistent enough perimeter threat to be considered a true small forward either. The biggest question is whether he’ll actually be allowed to play that position this season at Kansas, as their top returning scorer Brandon Rush can’t really play any other position and they might need Wright’s help in the post now that CJ Giles has been dismissed. On top of that, Wright isn’t the most aggressive or naturally talented offensive player you’ll find, so it’s not a give in that he puts up the type of numbers you’d typically expect from a top 10 pick on such a stacked Kansas team.

From what Wright says, though, none of that matters in the short-term anyway. He stated on multiple occasions over the summer that he will be staying at least three years at Kansas in order to leave the school with his degree, meaning he wouldn’t be in the draft till 2008. It’s hard not to be a bit skeptical when a top prospect makes that kind of decision this early, but it wouldn’t be unheard of, a la the 2006 Florida Gators.

#2 Brandon Rush
6-7, Small Forward, Sophomore, Kansas


Mike Schmidt

In terms of talent and athleticism, few players at the college level possess the combination Brandon Rush does. His best attributes as a player come on the offensive end, where his game is very smooth. Rush’s jump shot has a high release point, and is a quick motion. He usually only takes three pointers when he’s open, but he uses the long range threat as a tool to get into the lane. In his most successful games last season, Rush did the majority of his damage from mid-range, where he is able to take a few dribbles in either direction and separate from the defender effortlessly. He also has a runner from about 10 feet that is very hard for a defender to stop. Rush has a quick first step, and is able to create off of 3 or 4 dribbles on many occasions. Though he rarely goes left, he has a quick crossover back to his right hand that usually gives him all the space he needs to create something. When things are working for him, Rush is very active off the ball, constantly moving around and trying to get open.

Rush’s main weaknesses right now involve his lack of ball-handling skills, and a nonchalant on-court demeanor. When dribbling, Rush almost always loses the ball when attempting to go left, and can’t go more than 3 or 4 dribbles without losing control of the ball. This, coupled with the fact that he sometimes forces passes in the half court offense lead him to be turnover prone at times. His lack of a handle also keeps him from getting to the hoop more often, and a player of Rush’s caliber athletically should certainly be attempting more than 2 free throws per game. He has good games where he does everything well, but when not scoring, he gets lost within the flow of the game, which hurts him all-around. His lack of intensity on the court really leaves a lot of people wondering if he’ll ever be capable of taking advantage of his natural talents and become a true go-to guy.

This season at Kansas, Rush is expected to be that guy on offense. He was up and down in that role last season, and on a young Kansas team loaded with talent, they will need a consistent perimeter threat who can get and make shots when they need them. The Jayhawks have all the pieces to win a national championship, but it will come down to consistency and chemistry, two areas in which Rush needs to attempt to lead by example. Rush will play the small forward position, and he is surrounded by a lot of guys who can penetrate to the basket, so his shooting will compliment the team nicely. Despite this, he can’t get too caught up in trying to be a shooter exclusively, because that led to many of his poor games last season.

To best improve his draft stock, Rush will need to show that he can take the team on his back and be a consistent first option. Improved intensity will facilitate this improvement on the court. Improved handles and better effort on defense will also be necessary if Rush wants to work himself into the top 10 in the draft. Few players come along who have the natural talent Brandon Rush does on the basketball court, but his ability to apply all his talents on a consistent basis will determine his success at the NBA level.

#3 Acie Law
6-3, Point Guard, Senior, Texas A&M


Jonathan Givony

After starting off with two players from the team projected to be the best in the Big 12 this year, we move our attention to the best player from the consensus second best team in the conference, Acie Law.

Law made a name for himself by almost singlehandedly taking Texas A&M to the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament with the way he played down the stretch, a feat that most considered impossible after the team played a cupcake schedule in the out of conference slate and then started off quite slow once they reached Big 12 play. He produced clutch shot after clutch shot, dismantling Gerry McNamara in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, and then taking eventual Final Four participants LSU down to the wire as an unlikely #12 seed.

As a prospect, Law has quite a bit to offer at the NCAA level. At 6-3, he has great size for the point guard position, aided even further by a nice wingspan. He has a lanky frame that could certainly use some weight, and despite the fact that he isn’t terribly explosive, he is smooth and fluid enough to get to where he needs to on the court without too much difficulty. What he lacks slightly in freakish athleticism he more than makes up for with his craftiness with the ball in his hands. Wright has an excellent crossover, great body control and a wide array of fakes and hesitation moves to keep his man off balance. There might not be a more gifted player in the country in terms of getting players to bite on his pump-fakes, and this helps him mix up his shooting with his slashing extremely well.

Despite his aggressive style of play, Wright did a pretty nice job keeping turnovers to a minimum last year, even against the best opponents the Aggies went up against. The biggest reason for that would be his ball-handling skills, which are very advanced. He can slash to the basket using either hand, and will finish creatively with a floater or spin move if the situation calls for it. Wright is an instinctive scorer who knows how to use the angles presented to him, and has no problem taking the ball strong all the way to the basket to draw contact and get to the free throw line. On top of that he has a legit mid-range game and the smarts to know how to use it, being able to stop on a dime smoothly and elevate when the situation calls for it. He gets his shot off in many different ways, and seems to be more effective shooting off the dribble than spotting up with his feet set. That’s part of the reason he is so dangerous in clutch-time situations, beyond the fact that he loves having the ball in his hands in pressure packed situations.

Looking at his numbers as a whole, though, you immediately notice that Law is not the most prolific 3-point shooter you’ll find. From studying his tape you immediately notice that his shooting mechanics need some work once he gets past 18 feet, as his release point is not consistent at all, which is what makes him so streaky. He’s a rhythm shooter through and through who seems better at hitting tough shots than he is at knocking down open ones. Considering his touch and offensive instincts, though, this seems to be something that he should be able to improve on if he puts the work in.

Another aspect of his game that scouts will be monitoring closely is his playmaking ability. Law is a scoring point guard first and foremost, and it would be foolish to expect him to change that since that will be his role in the NBA. He seems to have plenty of freedom at Texas A&M and his teammates seem to really look to get him the ball and work for him. Coach Gillespie does not ask him to play as a dominant ball-handling distributing type, which means slowing the tempo of the game down and utilizing plenty of ball movement. When he does get the ball it’s usually to look for his own shot, and at times he’ll have to force the issue a bit with the clock running down. It would be unfair to call him a bad passer, though, since he generally has a good feel for the game and can and will find the open man, particularly in drive and dish situations.

Defensively, Law doesn’t seem to put nearly the same effort he does on the offensive end. He floats around a bit on the perimeter, gambling at times and showing fairly average lateral quickness.

As an NCAA senior point guard who is easily the leading player on his team, Law will be judged as a draft prospect by his success individually, but more importantly the success he has with his team. He has a role as a backup point guard in the NBA, but he’ll have to get as far as possible in the NCAA tournament and show that to as many decision makers as he can this year.

#4 Richard Roby
6’5, Shooting Guard, Junior, Colorado


Joseph Treutlein

Richard Roby possesses all the length and athleticism you’d want from an NBA shooting guard, but he’s a little below average in size. Generously listed at 6’6 and 200 pounds, Roby doesn’t have ideal height and could certainly use some added strength to his frame.

Roby had a pretty strong sophomore season, being the main option for Colorado on the offensive end. Roby’s production was inconsistent, though, and he really struggled towards the end of the Big 12 season, when teams were specifically game-planning for him.

Including Roby, Colorado will have only five returning players this upcoming season. Aside from Roby, none of them were starters, and none of them averaged more than 15 minutes per game. Roby will be the focal point of the team this season even more so than last, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the added attention.

At times, Roby is a deadly outside shooter, though he’s very inconsistent, especially when his shot is contested. Roby’s shooting form is not ideal, as he pushes the ball forward on what is basically a 45 degree angle, making his shot highly susceptible to being blocked. Even when it isn’t blocked, Roby’s shot is frequently altered by defensive pressure. Roby also has a tendency for his arm to drift to the right when he’s rushing his shot, decreasing his accuracy.

To Roby's credit, he dealt with many double teams last year, and with his very quick release, he was often able to get off some very tough shots in a crowd. And in spite of his non-textbook form, he did shoot 42% from the field and 36% from behind the arc, which is not bad considering the offensive burden he had to take on, often being forced to take a heavy load of tough shots.

When Roby’s open, and has time to get his feet set, he is a very good shooter from behind the arc. When he’s moving, he does do a good job of keeping his body upright and balanced, but his accuracy suffers due to his inconsistent release point, and possibly a lack of strength. He has a lot of shots fall short, especially when fading away, leading one to believe some more lower body strength would definitely help improve his shooting accuracy.

Roby does a good job moving without the ball, usually staying in motion and gravitating towards the open spaces on the floor. He uses screens well to get spacing, and gets his shot off quickly coming off them.

Roby has a decent dribble-drive game to complement his outside shooting, being proficient handling the ball with either hand, and occasionally employing the use of crossovers and spin moves to get past his defender. He has a pretty quick first step, and usually can get a step on his defender. Once in the lane, Roby has a lot of trouble, often forcing up contested pull-up jumpers, being unable to create a good shot attempt for himself. When he does take it to the basket, he doesn’t finish well, and doesn’t take contact well at all. If he doesn’t get fouled, his drives usually result in him just throwing the ball in the general direction of the basket.

Roby does finish well in transition, though, using his athleticism and speed to get ahead of the defense and usually emphatically dunking the ball. He also likes to pull-up for a spot-up three when on the break.

Roby possesses pretty good court vision in the half court, usually making his best passes to the post from the perimeter. He recognizes seams in the defense and keeps his head up when he has the ball, occasionally letting him find an open teammate near the basket. Roby does have a tendency to make some lazy passes, though, leading him to commit unnecessary turnovers.

Defensively, Roby possesses good enough lateral quickness to play in the NBA, though his mentality could use some work. He is inconsistent in his effort to play fundamental man-to-man defense and stay in front of his man. He also has a tendency to drift from his man without the ball, often gambling in the passing lanes. With his length and quickness, Roby is excellent at picking off passes, and he anticipates them well, though he could work on gambling a little less. He also possesses good hands, allowing him to pick opponents’ pockets often.

Roby has the tools to play in the NBA, but his game could use some fine-tuning before he enters the draft once again. Adding some strength, committing more consistently to defense, working on a more consistent shot release, and working on finishing around the basket should be among his priorities. It’s also very questionable whether he’ll be able to consistently get off his shot in the NBA with his forward motion, as he has already some trouble at this level of play. Roby has shown plenty of flashes of NBA abilities, and even plays at that level for stretches of games, but he needs to become a more consistent player on both ends of the court. That will be a tough task for him this season, especially considering the state of his team will require him to take on an even larger offensive burden than he had last season. Making things even tougher on him is the fact that he already burned his lone draft card, meaning there will be no more testing the water for him. Next time he decides to enter, there will be no looking back.
One person who will certainly not be back following this season is his head coach Ricardo Patton, who announced he will be leaving Colorado when his contract is up in July.

#5 C.J. Giles
6’10, Power Forward, Junior, Free Agent


Rodger Bohn

C.J. Giles is easily one of the most frustrating players in the country to scout due to numerous reasons. On one hand, we see a player who has all the natural tools you would look for in definite first round pick, with the potential to even rise to a mid first round pick. Then on the other hand, we see a player who is extremely limited in many areas of the game, and has countless off the court issues that lead you to believe that he will never come close to becoming the player he has the chance to be.

In terms of raw athleticism, there is little more to be asked for then what Giles offers you. For starters, he is a legit 6’10 and possesses a monstrous 7’4 wingspan, which he actually utilizes unlike so many of today’s big men. The Kansas junior has a nice frame to be built upon, although both his upper and lower body are undeveloped at the moment. He does however run the floor incredibly well, which often results in tip-ins and/or inside buckets on the fast break as the trail man down the floor. As long as C.J. is motivated and runs the floor like this (and as he did in his 17 point performance against emerging big man Devon Hardin and the rest of the Cal Bears), it will be a lot easier for him to put points on the board than if he were to have to create moves for himself out of the post.

In terms of offensive skill, it’s clear to all that this (former?) Jayhawk big man has a lot of work to do. He does have a really smooth looking right handed jump hook with his back to the basket, but that is his lone move out of the post. Giles’ shooting ability extends to around 17 feet, where he is a constant threat to knock down open jump shots. That is about where his offensive skill set ends however, as he has shown very little in terms of low post moves (aside from the aforementioned right hook), and has shown very little ability to put the ball on the floor.

C.J. needs tons of work on his hands and footwork, which are both crucial to big men in today’s game. He constantly bobbles and/or drops passes that could result in open layups/dunks, which has a lot to do with why he only averaged 6.4 points per game this past season as a sophomore.

Defensively, the Seattle native is slightly above average, with the potential to be excellent if he wanted to be. He does not box out very often on the defensive end, instead opting to rely strictly on his size and leaping ability for rebounds. C.J.’s timing and reaction for blocked shots is good, but his number of swats could improve drastically if he were to improve upon his defensive rotation, which always seems to be a second too slow.

Giles biggest problems however seem to be off the court issues. He was most recently been suspended from the Kansas Jayhawk team indefinitely following apparent academic issues, and then further hurt his cause by failing to pay child support. Many question if he will be allowed to play at all this season, and even if he is, what type of role he will play considering the loaded Kansas frontcourt of Julian Wright, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, and super freshman Darrell Arthur. It will be interesting to see how the C.J. Giles saga pans out, since it is clear to scouts and basketball fans alike that we are looking at a player who has all of the tools to be in the NBA one day. It seems that Giles himself is the one hindering himself from ever reaching his full potential.

Fortunately for him, it won’t be too tough for him to find an NBA trainer like Joe Abunassar or David Thorpe to whip him into the shape of his life and get him ready to blow NBA people away in a few private workouts. Considering his tools and upside, that’s really all it will take to get him into the first round, as long as he shows some added maturity off the court in the process.

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