Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East (Part Five: #21-25)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East (Part Five: #21-25)
Nov 04, 2008, 08:06 pm
We finish off our analysis of the top NBA draft prospects in the Big East with part five, players 21-25. Cincinnati's Deonta Vaughn leads off, followed by St. John's Justin Burrell, Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku, St. John's Anthony Mason, and Rutgers' JR Inman.

-Top Prospects in the Big East: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four
-Top Prospects in the ACC: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four
-Top Prospects in the Pac-10: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 10: Part One, Part Two
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

#20 Deonta Vaughn, 6-1, Junior, PG/SG, Cincinnati

Jonathan Givony

One of the top scorers in the conference last season at over 17 points per game, Deonta Vaughn played a huge role in the surprising 8-5 start Cincinnati managed to post in the Big East. Riddled by injuries after already lacking any kind of depth, the team ultimately ended up finishing 13-19 overall on the season, but managed to stay competitive in almost every game they played. The tough and aggressive mentality of their go-to guy had everything to do with this.

Vaughn’s physical tools are not going to be what gets him in the NBA. He is an undersized combo guard, listed at 6-1, but possibly an inch shorter. He has a very strong and stocky build, and is a good, but not incredible athlete. Once hampered by weight problems (one of the reasons apparently that Indiana decided to rescind his scholarship offer before he ended up committing to Cincinnati), Vaughn looks to be in good shape, and is fairly quick off the dribble, but not incredibly explosive getting up around the basket.

Skill-wise, Vaughn is one of the more complete guards you’ll find in the Big East, possessing phenomenal instincts for putting the ball in the basket, in a variety of ways. He is first and foremost an outstanding shooter, as evidenced by the near eight 3-pointers he attempts per game, of which he makes a terrific three on average (making him the 8th most prolific shooter amongst all returning college players in our database. 60% of his field goal attempts come from beyond the arc, but considering that he makes 40% of them, it’s hard to argue with that.

Vaughn has a clean, compact stroke featuring NBA range, and is absolutely lights out with his feet set (he makes 44% of his catch and shoot jumpers according to Synergy Sports Tech). He can also make shots off the dribble, but sees his accuracy drop significantly in the process (just 32%--SST). Watching his film and seeing how Cincinnati’s offense operates, it’s hard not to feel that he was forced to shoulder an excessive amount of the offensive load last season, which very likely affected his shooting percentages, since the team had very few options beyond him.

More than just a shooter, though, Vaughn is also fairly effective creating his own shot and getting to the basket as well. He has excellent ball-handling skills with both hands, great strength, solid quickness, and the craftiness needed to get by his man. He gets to the free throw line at a pretty good rate, and converts just under 80% of his attempts once there. Despite standing just 6-1 at best, Vaughn finishes extremely well around the rim—making a superb 66% of his shots in the immediate vicinity of the basket. His stocky frame allows him to take hits in the paint and finish strong regardless, and he seems to have terrific touch using the glass to finish with the utmost craftiness and creativity.

Although there is no question that Vaughn is a terrific scorer at the collegiate level, his point guard skills will be scrutinized heavily due to his average size. Vaughn clearly thinks shoot-first with the way he runs an offense, although he is capable of executing basic half-court sets and getting teammates involved. He looks most comfortable on the pick and roll, which allows him to rack up a decent amount (4.2 per game) of assists finding the open man off the dribble, but also makes him fairly turnover prone (3.2 per game.)

Vaughn’s shot-selection and overall decision making clearly need work, as he has a tendency to dribble with his head down at times and pull-up for some questionable shots. A lot of that has to do with his scoring mentality, but Cincinnati also needed him to be a little selfish in order to stay competitive in games. Finding a healthy mix between the two will be a huge key for him in his quest to show that he can play in the NBA.

The Bearcats were planning on moving Vaughn to the 2-guard spot this season, but will have to ultimately keep him on the ball due to the serious knee injury suffered by highly touted freshman point guard Cashmere Wright. That will probably benefit Vaughn in the short-term, although winning games in the incredibly competitive Big East will be very important for him to catch the eyes of NBA decision makers.

Defensively, Vaughn has some things going for him, but there will be some question marks raised here too. On one hand, he is a very competitive and aggressive player, and this translates to his play on this end of the floor too—he works very hard to stay in front of his man and contest shots (his strength helps out plenty here), and is not afraid to stick his nose in and take a charge. On the other, he is undersized compared to most NBA point guards and can surely only defend that position at the next level.

At the end of the day, Vaughn will get some looks from NBA teams, but there is only so much excitement a 6-1 combo guard can typically generate. If he plays his cards right, and catches a couple of breaks, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him end up on a roster, but it’s just as likely that he ends up being a big-time player in Europe. The fact that he will turn 24 in the summer following his senior year probably won’t work in his favor.

#22 Justin Burrell, 6-9, Sophomore, Power Forward, St. John’s

Scott Nadler

Justin Burrell is coming off a solid, not spectacular freshman season where he averaged 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds in heavy minutes in one of the toughest conferences in the country. Playing for a depleted St. John’s squad, Burrell was forced to play big time starter minutes (32 mpg) – perhaps more than he was ready for. Even though he is older than his class (He played a 5th year of high school at Bridgton Academy Prep) Burrell looked inexperienced and outmatched fairly often. With that said, however, Burrell’s potential is unquestionable as he displays the physical gifts of an NBA power forward. It’s going to be interesting to see if the experience he gained last season will translate to improved production this season.

As mentioned previously, Burrell is blessed with a strong physique. At 6”9 and 225 lbs, he uses his strength well - whether it be establishing position in the post or attacking the boards. Additionally, he has shown willingness to run the floor as he appears to be well conditioned and plays with a good amount of energy. Furthermore, he is a good athlete, but not an incredible one.

On the offensive end, Burrell is fairly raw right now, but has shown signs that he can become effective. Currently, the majority of his offensive game is with his back to the basket (32.14% according to Synergy Sports Technology) where he will have to make major improvements if his stock is going to rise. He has a tendency to force up shots when in the painted area – playing far too rushed, which contributes to him squandering easy opportunities under the basket. He is also unwilling to pass out of the post to re-establish better position. Other times he seems a bit indecisive – almost as if he’s thinking about what move to make instead of reacting to what the defense is giving him.

All these factors contribute to his extremely low shooting percentage (42.9 %), along with his poor footwork as well. He has a propensity to make a move and then get stuck, which consequently forces him off balance and often leads to a turnover. Turnovers are another area which he will need to improve, as he commits nearly three a game. This is due in large part to his lack of hand strength in the post and his poor decision making abilities. When he’s balanced and plays off of his instincts, he can be very efficient and a definite low post presence.

Despite the low shooting percentage, Burrell displays a nice shooting stroke with range that extends to about 15 feet. To improve that range, Burrell will have to get more arc on his shot, which will inevitably raise his percentages, as it’s presently rather flat. He has shown a soft touch and if he can consistently knock down mid range shots, his inside game will open up. Additionally, his lack of a pump fake inside contributes to point blank misses and only 3.3 free throw attempts a game. With patience he’ll be able to draw more fouls and make things easier for himself inside. If he can consistently maintain his balance and play at a pace he’s comfortable with, his shooting percentage will increase considerably.

On the defensive end, Burrell has a lot of room to grow. He doesn’t have terrible lateral quickness, but he does struggle with versatile bigs who can take him away from the basket. He has a long wingspan and that helps with his ability to contest outside shots, but is not enough when he is in close out situations. His post defense must improve as well. He allows his opponent to get good position on him in the post as he is often found behind his man which makes for easier post entries. The physicality that he has shown on offense is yet to be seen on defense. He’s often the one getting muscled around inside and is not a shot blocker either. He must work harder in the post and make his man catch the ball outside of the paint and away from the block.

Even though Burrell is a project right now, there is definite potential in him. With the physical tools and the ability that he has shown, it’s clear that he has upside. It’s going to be up to him as to how good he can be.

#23 Arinze Onuaku, 6’9, Junior, PF/C, Syracuse

Kyle Nelson

After losing his sophomore year to a medical redshirt, Arinze Onuaku returned last season as one of the Big East’s most improved players. In almost four times as many minutes per game, Onuaku responded to the tune of 12.7 points on 62.8% shooting, 8.1 rebounds, 1 steal and 1.3 blocks per game. It was a season of great improvement, but also one that showed how far he has left to go before he can be considered a serious NBA prospect. After a productive summer, expectations are even higher, and he will now have to prove himself against some of the country’s top big men.

At 6’9 and possessing a muscular 258-pound frame, Onuaku is undersized for an NBA power forward, let alone a center. This is problematic, because his skills best translate to the center position at this point in time. He is not very athletic to compensate for his lack of height, either. Though, he runs the court well and shows a good activity level on the blocks, he has limited explosiveness and once he moves away from the basket, his athletic limitations are on full display. Onuaku is a very strong player, however, which may be his principle physical selling point right now, and he is very difficult to get around in the post.

Offensively, little has changed since we last wrote about Onuaku in January. As seen in his 62.8% shooting from the field, 63% effective field goal percentage and 60% true shooting percentage, he is an extremely efficient offensive player and ranks in the top ten of returning big men in each category.

These numbers are partially attributed to fact that he gets an overwhelming majority of his points around the basket. According to Synergy Sports Technology’s database, almost 57% of his offense comes from either post-ups or offensive rebounds. This is an indication of how truly limited his game is right now. Last year, however, he showed some occasional flashes of versatility. His most notable addition was a consistent hook shot through which he shows decent touch, as well as developing footwork.

While his inability to successfully put the ball on the floor is an area in which he absolutely must improve, his shooting form needs the most significant work. His 44.5% from the foul line, good for sixth worst in the country, is indicative of these shooting woes. Similarly, his basketball IQ could stand to improve as he has a tendency to take the ball up to the basket, no matter who is in his way, which leads to turnovers and offensive fouls. He averages 3.1 fouls per game and 1.9 turnovers per game, despite averaging less than one assist per game. If his offensive game does not continue to expand, he absolutely must become a smarter player to better understand his limitations.

One area where Onuaku does excel at the moment, however, is as a rebounder. He averaged 8.1 rebounds per game, 3.3 of which were on the offensive end. His size and strength on the blocks allows him to be a force on the boards, and though he is not going to get many rebounds out of position, he is effective at this level.

Defensively, it is the same story. He does well on the blocks, using his size and strength to intimidate post players, but does little in terms of guarding perimeter oriented power forwards, usually picking up a foul or getting beaten to the basket. As we have stated before, proving he can guard men on the perimeter would definitely help his case to NBA scouts. He is not much of a shot-blocker, either, and does not challenge shots nearly enough considering his size at this level.

Onuaku is somewhat of a long-shot to get drafted in the future, because like most collegiate post players who lack ideal size and athleticism, there are simply too many basketball-related questions left unanswered.

That said, he showed many improvements last season that show that there is potential for him to continue to improve. Diversifying his game is essential at this stage, perhaps in the form of developing a consistent spot-up jumpshot and/or showing better defensive fundamentals. Currently he is too much of a tweener, as he possesses the skill set of a center and the body of a power forward. He will likely play all four years at Syracuse and will have to prove himself against the Big East’s many elite big men before the NBA will come calling.

#24 Anthony Mason Jr, 6-7, Junior, SF/PF, St. John’s

Jonathan Givony

Former New York Knick enforcer Anthony Mason’s son, Anthony Mason Jr, was the leading scorer on St. John’s last season. This is somewhat of a dubious distinction, though, considering that the team has gone 38-49 in his three seasons so far, and finished 14th in the Big East last year.

On paper, we’re talking about a (potentially) fairly interesting NBA prospect. Standing 6-7, with a nice frame, long arms, and terrific athletic ability, Mason Jr fits the ball physically for what scouts look for at the small forward position.

Offensively, Mason Jr is fairly talented as well, showing potential with his ability to hit shots off the dribble and particularly beyond the arc, where he hit 38% of his 3-point attempts. Scoring 14 points per game in the Big East is nothing to sneer at, but unfortunately Mason Jr needed an unbelievable amount of shots each game to get to that number. His 16.8 field goal attempts per-40 minutes ranked him 6th in the Big East last season, of which he converted only a dismal 42%. Add in the fact that he rarely gets to the free throw line (and only converts 67% of his free throw attempts once there), and you realize that we’re talking about an extremely inefficient offensive player.

Mason Jr has two major and very much related issues which he will have to resolve if he’s to have any chance at playing in the NBA—his ball-handling skills and shot-selection. He struggles badly to create shots for himself off the bounce (especially with his left hand), sporting a very high dribble, and looking very limited in his ability to change directions with the ball and get to the rim. For that reason, he relies very heavily on his pull-up jumper from mid-range, not hesitating in the least bit to go one on one and then shoot an incredibly difficult fade-away jumper off his back heel with a hand in his face. According to Synergy Sports Technology, 50% of Mason Jr’s jumpers came off the dribble, which is a very high rate.

Mason Jr’s inability to create high-percentage scoring opportunities makes him extremely predictable in this aspect, and thus very easy to guard—hence the poor shooting numbers, and consequently (at least partially), his team’s record last season. He’s a fairly good passer, but turns the ball over so much that he largely negates that. Despite possessing excellent size for a small forward, he rarely takes advantage of that by posting up smaller players inside.

Defensively, we find mostly a mixed bag as well. He has excellent tools here, a nice frame, good length, and the athleticism needed to make an impact. The problem is that his fundamentals are extremely poor, losing focus easily, not doing a great job containing his man on the perimeter, and gambling excessively in the passing lanes. He’s also a fairly mediocre rebounder considering that his physical tools, which has everything to do with toughness and effort, traits that Mason Jr currently does not stand out in.

There is no question that Mason Jr would have to significantly change his mentality and overall approach to the game if he’s to draw even remote interest from the NBA. Fortunately for him, his athleticism, pedigree and numbers in a strong level of competition such as the Big East will get him a fair amount of looks in the form of workouts and invites to places like Portsmouth and possibly the NBA pre-draft camp, should he fare well there. It’s not too late for him to turn a new leaf, and it’s possible that some of his struggles last season had to do with the eight games he missed due to injury.

#25 JR Inman, 6-9, Senior, Power Forward, Rutgers

Joey Whelan

The Scarlet Knights will be without their best player, at least for the start of the season, as JR Inman was recently suspended for violating team policies. Inman returns to the program for his final season having shown plenty of potential during his time in Piscataway, but has never really put it all together. His numbers last season were nearly identical to the year before, with a slight increase in his field goal percentage, but a big drop off in his free throw shooting.

Physically, Inman has a great build for the modern power forward. He is a little undersized at 6’9”, but has a solid 220 pound frame with a long wingspan. Inman moves very well both in the open floor and the half court set, possessing an above average first step and quickness. While the explosiveness that he shows around the rim is encouraging, his strength is not. Inman severely needs to become stronger in his upper body as he currently doesn’t do well with much contact at all, whether it be in the lane or out on the perimeter.

While capable of getting his points in a lot of ways, Inman’s game is built around spotting up on the perimeter. He likes to put the ball on the floor from this position, showing good ball-handling skills for a frontcourt player (although he prefers going to his right hand), and the ability to take slower defenders off the dribble. The issue for Inman with this part of his game is his shot. His form is awkward, with a long release from almost behind his head that uses a lot of unnecessary movement. Often times he will fade on his shot attempts as well when pressured, despite the fact that he can elevate over most defenders.

While he showed some promise as a freshman from this range, his numbers have gotten progressively worse with time, due in large part to poor shot selection. He shot just 42% from the field last season, which is pretty awful considering that he is a 6-9 power forward. He also made just 61% of his free throws, and turned the ball over more than four times for every assist he garnered.

A good portion of Inman’s looks come inside either on the block or when he moves off the ball. His post up game is far from perfect; again, since he lacks great upper body strength, he often can’t get great position or body up defenders. There are flashes of good footwork from Inman, but generally he tends to go with a turnaround jumper or a baby hook. Neither of these shots falls consistently for him as his touch around the rim waivers. Inman has shown some ability with a nice step through move when he keeps his pivot; from here he is usually capable of elevating for an easy dunk.

What is most surprising about Inman is that he doesn’t go to his mid-range game more often considering how much success he has with it. He appears to be better shooter off the dribble than he is when stationary, able to pull up rather smoothly, albeit he still has the awkward release. Inman’s good first step usually allows him to create some space for himself to get his shot off against bigger defenders.

Defensively, Inman needs to be able to step out and cover smaller, quicker players on a more consistent basis. He has the lateral quickness to cover most big men, but has issues when facing quicker perimeter players, particularly when he tries to hedge out on screens. He does an average job on the glass, pulling down just over seven boards per game, but getting stronger would allow him to box out more effectively against other post players. The added strength would help him fight through screens better as well, something he struggles with when stepping away from the paint. Inman’s rate of collecting blocks, steals and fouls has decreased dramatically every season thus far—which is not a good indication regarding his hustle.

All in all, Inman is not likely to end up in an NBA uniform. He has all the ability and talent to be very good player in the Big East, but he seems to be lacking a significant amount of direction with his game. His recent suspension for off-court issues doesn’t leave a lot of room for optimism either. A lot of the time it appears as though he thinks of himself as more of a three than a four, when clearly his mid-range game has the most potential of any weapon in his arsenal. He also needs to do a better job of protecting the basketball, as he committed turnovers on 20% of his touches last season. Still, there is reason to believe that with a solid final season with Rutgers and some better decision making on and off the court, Inman can make a decent living overseas.

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