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

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12, Part One (#1-5)
Sep 13, 2010, 07:47 pm
After profiling the Big Ten, we move onto the Big 12, which lost quite a bit of talent to the NBA last year. Kansas' Marcus Morris leads the pack here, followed by Colorado's Alec Burks, Kansas State's Wally Judge, Texas' Jordan Hamilton and Kansas' Elijah Johnson.

Freshmen have been excluded from these previews, as we'd like to wait and see what they have to offer on the NCAA circuit before we come to any long-term conclusions.

#1 Marcus Morris, 6-9, Junior, Power Forward, Kansas
12.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.3 turnovers, 57% FG, 66% FT, 38% 3P, 24.7 minutes

Jonathan Givony

One of the most polished big men in all of college basketball, Marcus Morris took somewhat of a back seat to Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry last year, but looks like a prime candidate for a breakout season in 2010-2011.

Showing nice tools for the power forward position, including solid height, a strong frame, and good, but not great athleticism, Morris' production stems mainly from his unique versatility and extremely high skill-level.

While not looking terribly explosive on first glance, he's an incredibly fluid and coordinated athlete who can do a little bit of everything on the basketball court.

Offensively, Morris displays an almost complete game, being capable of scoring effectively and efficiently both on the perimeter and in the post, along with the aggressiveness needed to take advantage of his skill-set, always looking to make his presence felt when given the opportunity to do so. He shot an outstanding 59% inside the arc last season, and an intriguing 37.5% from 3-point range.

Despite attempting just 32 3-pointers last season, Morris is clearly a very capable shooter with his feet set, the type of player who opposing defenses need to respect, which helps create great spacing for his teammates to benefit from.

Very much a threat to do damage from the perimeter with the ball in his hands as well, Morris has an excellent first step and the ability to penetrate driving either left or right, which puts plenty of pressure on the defense.

If the paint appears overly congested, Morris shows the unique ability for a power forward to stop and pull-up for a smooth off the dribble jumper, or even change directions and maneuver his way stealthy around opponents, thanks to his polished footwork and excellent ball-handling skills.

As Morris matures and continues to improve his skill-level even further over the next few years, he will develop into quite a shot-creating mismatch threat at the power forward position, particularly in one on one situations.

Not one to be content just hanging around the perimeter, the biggest share of Morris' offense actually comes in the post, where his aggressive nature, terrific touch (particularly using the glass) and smooth footwork come in extremely handy at the college level.

A very good finisher around the basket for these exact reasons, there are some question marks regarding whether Morris' average leaping ability will make it difficult for him to score at quite the same rate around the rim in the NBA.

Quite a versatile offensive player as noted, Morris gets production by running the floor extremely well, crashing the offensive glass and finishing around the basket, looking very aggressive and opportunistic with his scoring attempts, which he clearly needed to be with players like Collins, Henry and Aldrich playing alongside him.

Defensively, Morris does not have the height, length or explosiveness to act as a real game changing presence in the paint, but he still puts a very good effort in and sees excellent results at the college level for that reason.

His lateral quickness and excellent fluidity give Bill Self the ability to switch on the pick and roll, where Morris does a good job moving his feet and staying in front of smaller players, something that gives Kansas a big advantage in the half-court.

As a rebounder, Morris' production was just average last season, particularly on the defensive end. It's not quite clear how much playing alongside a terrific rebounder in Cole Aldrich had to do with that, which is something to keep an eye on this season.

Morris received little to no attention last year from most NBA draft outlets, but there's a good chance that will change as soon as this season kicks off. His performance at the adidas Nations Experience in August was truly eye opening. Rarely do you find prospects who are as skilled and versatile standing 6-foot 9, and considering that he's only going into his junior season, there's no reason why he can't continue to improve down the road.

#2 Alec Burks, 6-5, Sophomore, Shooting Guard, Colorado

Having profiled Burks fairly late in the season with a comprehensive scouting report, we've elected to wait and see what type of progress he's made with a fresh perspective in a few months, rather than rehashing many of the same comments made last year based off his 2009-2010 game footage.

#3 Wally Judge, 6'8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Kansas State
3.3 Points, 3.0 Rebounds, 0.5 Blocks, 2.6 Fouls, 44% FG, 58% FT

Matt Williams

Former McDonald's All-American Wally Judge saw consistent minutes as a spot player last season for Frank Martin's Wildcats, struggling to stay on the floor because of his tendency to commit fouls and looking quite raw, but proving to be simply too athletic not to make a small impact in what time he did receive. With a year of experience under his belt, Judge is a potential x-factor for the Wildcats this season despite recently undergoing precautionary surgery on his neck to relieve pressure from his spine. The former Arlington Country Day School standout needs to make some adjustments to his game, but will produce if he sees his role expand and has the potential to blossom into a great prospect.

Judge's NBA potential, much like his production was as a freshman, is tied to his jaw-dropping athleticism. Blessed with outstanding leaping ability, long arms, and solid quickness, Judge is an NBA caliber athlete, and then some. The weight he's added to his frame over the past few years has only added to his ability to make an impact around the rim, and he has the body-type to support more bulk down the road. After hurting himself over a year ago around the McDonald's All-American game, his recent surgery should alleviate the pain that slowed him for stretches last season and play to his full athletic potential.

The name of the game for Judge next season will be allowing his athleticism to impact the game by finding a way to stay on the floor. He is a competitive defender, and will fight for position with much bigger players on the block, but he's plagued by a lack of discipline around the rim. Though he seldom gives up an easy look down low, he almost never goes straight up and his physical assertiveness ranks him as one of the most foul prone players per-40 minutes in our database. Considering his physical gifts, upside, and knack for pulling down rebounds in traffic, Frank Martin will want to play Judge liberally next season, but it will be up to the Washington DC native to give him that opportunity.

Judge's ability to stay on the floor will play a key role in his offensive development, as he is a few subtle adjustments away from being a highly efficient complementary player. As a freshman, he used his athleticism to finish at the rim with authority, did a great job following his own misses, and showed a solid activity level. However, he looked out of control at times, forcing shots from bad angles and seeming to be in a hurry with the ball when pressured. Judge by no means struggled at the rim last season, shooting 52.8% from in close according to Synergy Sports Technology, but he's capable of much more. Most of the mistakes he made as a freshman are correctable, and with some minor adjustments, he could become an excellent finisher.

While Judge already has the makings of a great catch-and-finish threat, he has substantially more work to do if he's going to become a reliable one-on-one scorer on the college level. Whether it is from the post, or the midrange, Judge looks to use a few go-to-moves to score, namely, a baby-hook over his left shoulder and a spinning turnaround jumper over his right. Neither move was terribly polished last season, as Judge struggled with the consistency of his footwork and release point, but he was able to get either off fairly easily in traffic.

On the whole, Judge has a great deal of work to do on his mid-to-short-range arsenal, as he needs to overhaul his shooting mechanics. He showed questionable form in limited attempts last season, lacking much in the way of rhythm and balance, looking a bit too loose with his follow through, and shooting the ball differently nearly every time he elevated. Judge doesn't seem to have great touch naturally, but he's been working on his mechanics when he wasn't in a neck brace this summer, and it will be interesting to see if he has developed the range and consistency to allow him to use his quick first step and ball handling ability to attack slower players off the dribble.

While Judge still has some apparent gaps and weaknesses in his game, he's a fantastic athlete and plays with energy –two things that make him intriguing from a long-term NBA perspective. With a few more years to hone his game and become more well-rounded offensively, he is a player we'll inevitably evaluate again down the road.

#4 Jordan Hamilton, 6-6, Sophomore, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Texas

Having profiled Hamilton fairly late in the season with a comprehensive scouting report, we've elected to wait and see what type of progress he's made with a fresh perspective in a few months, rather than rehashing many of the same comments made last year based off his 2009-2010 game footage.

#5 Elijah Johnson, 6-2, Sophomore, Point Guard, Kansas
6.6 minutes, 2.4 points, 1.3 assists, .7 turnovers, 55% FG, 67% FT, 29% 3P

Jonathan Givony

A former top-30 high school recruit with ideal physical attributes and a world of talent at his disposal, Freshman Elijah Johnson showed flashes of phenomenal potential in the very limited opportunities he had last season, playing just 6.6 minutes per game. The third string point guard for Kansas behind Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor, Johnson will surely be contributing significantly more sooner rather than later.

Johnson has nice size for the point guard position at around 6-2, to go along with an excellent frame and excellent athleticism. He is very fast in the open court, and shows great potential with his ability to convert around the basket, not being afraid to use his strong body to bully his way to the rim and finish aggressively amongst the trees.

Johnson's perimeter shooting ability also looks promising, as he has a very nice looking stroke with fundamentally sound mechanics and an excellent follow through. He looks like a very capable threat with his feet set, but appears to have some work to do with his ability to shoot off the dribble.

Defensively, Johnson has excellent tools with his size, length, frame and lateral quickness, but appeared to be lacking somewhat in the experience and fundamentals department in the very little we were able to see from the minutes he was on the court.

As a point guard, Johnson appears to have good playmaking instincts, as he did not seem to have too many issues running Kansas' half-court offense in his limited time on the court last season, and posted a strong 7.4 assists per-40 minutes in a very small sample size of 151 minutes. Regardless, he shows very nice court vision of film and excellent anticipation skills at times, being able to not only make the simple pass but also surprising you at times with the swagger to go out and improvise on the fly with some extremely creative assists.

Clearly lacking experience as all freshmen point guards do, Johnson looks like an improvable ball-handler who still has plenty of work to do on his advanced shot-creating ability and pick and roll skills. Cutting down on unforced errors and continuing to improve on his mid-range game will be important for him moving forward.

With that said, the flashes of potential that Johnson dropped last season were hard to ignore, and when bunched together lead you to believe that he could be on his way to a breakout year as a sophomore. He was criticized at the high school level for being somewhat of an underachiever at times and not always playing up to his potential, so it will be interesting to see how that manifests itself in a larger role this season.

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