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

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East (Part One: #1-5)
Oct 22, 2008, 01:28 am
#1 Hasheem Thabeet, 7’3, Junior, Center, Connecticut

Rodger Bohn

Thabeet enters the season as the Big East’s top draft prospect after showing outstanding improvement between his freshman and sophomore campaigns. The package of size, athleticism, and increased productivity that he showed in his second season established him as one of the top center prospects in the NCAA, despite his limited offensive game.

The biggest asset that Thabeet offers is a prospect is easily the sheer physical package that he offers. Looking every bit of 7’3, he possesses a huge wingspan and a frame that could easily add another 20 to 30 pounds if so desired. Although appearing quite awkward running the floor, he has shown the ability to beat opposing big men in the Big East up and down the floor on a consistent basis. Equally as impressive is his ability to explode off the ground from a static position, looking to dunk everything he can when he gets the ball around the cup.

The Tanzanian native is still far from a finished product on the offensive end, although he did make strides as the season went on. The problems that he had in terms of catching the ball and playing a bit too upright are still a concern, however there was a considerable amount of improvement in both of these areas last season. Attempting only 5.7 shots per game and not owning a vast repertoire of post moves, it’s clear that he cannot be relied upon as a consistent scoring threat at this point in his career. Thabeet’s raw footwork, inability to read double teams and lack of a consistent go to move hinder his development as a legit scoring threat. Likewise, he has proven to be a very poor passer out of the pivot, making him very vulnerable to being blitzed when he touches the ball down low. However, the big man did show flashes of improvement as the year went on.

Thabeet’s confidence on the offensive end really seemed to skyrocket towards the conclusion of the season, where he showed the ability to finish around the rim with both hands while absorbing contact. He showed flashes of a developing jump hook with either hand, even with the limited touch he possesses on the offensive end. More importantly, he did a much better job of simply catching and finishing around the rim and even improved his free throw percentage by over 18% in between his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Defensively, Thabeet has already shown the ability to completely change the game with his shot blocking presence. He rotates quite well and is able to take up a ton of space in the paint with his mammoth size. Equally as impressive is his ability to swat shots away without committing a large number of fouls, averaging only 2.6 fouls per game as a sophomore. The potential impact that he can have on this end of the floor is unparalleled by any prospect entering the draft since Greg Oden came around in 2007.

While he is a game changing presence as a shot blocker, he is a relatively poor man to man defender. His lack of lower body strength and tendency to play completely upright severely hinder him in this area, where he has proven to be outmuscled by much smaller players. He struggles badly trying to step out and on the perimeter, showing extremely poor lateral quickness that was exposed most noticeably in the repeated pick and pop plays that San Diego ran en route to upsetting UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Thabeet’s lack of core strength also hurts him in terms of rebounding, where he is often pushed under the basket by hard working big men. It will be interesting to see how much work he was willing to put into these areas over the summer, as there were some question marks about his work ethic early on in his career.

Thabeet will have every opportunity to jump to the NBA this season if desires to do so. Improvement offensively and stepping up his man to man defense would only solidify his position as a mid lottery pick, potentially rising even higher depending upon who is slotted towards the top of the draft. The dismissal of Nate Miles will certainly open up more scoring opportunities for Thabeet, who practically controls his own destiny with how hard he’s willing to work on the floor in this third season at the NCAA ranks.

#2 Earl Clark, 6’9, SF/PF, Junior, Louisville

Joseph Treutlein

Earl Clark did a very good job taking the next step forward with his game as a sophomore, upping his production across the board, and it looks like he’s just beginning to tap into his excellent potential. After starting off the season very strong in non-conference play, inconsistency struck Clark’s game once conference play got underway, however he still was a major impact player for Louisville during the season. This season, with David Padgett and Derrick Caracter out of the picture, while Terrence Williams is recovering from injury, Clark will be center stage, with plenty of opportunities to prove himself.

Clark has shown flashes of many things in his time at Louisville, possessing nice versatility to go along with his excellent physical attributes. His offensive game begins with his dribble-drive game, as he takes his man off the dribble with ease going either left or right, using long strides and a very good first step. He doesn’t show much change-of-direction ability, having a controlled, but not flashy handle, however he could take his dribble-drive game to the next level if he incorporated more simple footwork into his game, such as misdirection steps and jump stops, moves that would take full advantage of his explosiveness and length.

While he has a formidable jump shot, Clark has much room for improvement in this area of his game, not hitting consistently with his jumper from anywhere on the floor, and shooting an unimpressive 65% from the free-throw line. While he has an extremely high and moderately quick release, along with the foundation of a good jump shot, he’s prone to a lot of inconsistencies, notably a propensity to fade away often.

Clark’s post-up game is still a work in progress, and it’s something the combo-forward has a lot of potential to improve with. He shows some nice flashes, but doesn’t take advantage of his physical gifts here like he does with his dribble-drive game. He’s not always decisive with his moves, and will often move into his defender, forcing a tough shot, not doing a great job getting separation. He gets separation mostly by turning for fade-away jumpers, but he doesn’t convert on these for a high percentage.

Clark’s best assets at this point are his rebounding and defense, two things he really excels in. On the boards, Clark has a very nice second bounce and shows good timing and anticipation, pulling in over 8 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game. His length and mobility allow him to track down many balls away from the hoop. On the defensive end, Clark shows very nice lateral quickness and pretty good reflexes, capable of guarding small and big players alike. His stance is pretty good, but he can get inconsistent with it at times. He uses his length and athleticism very well on this end of the court, averaging 1 steal and 1.7 blocks per game.

After initially announcing he’ll be entering the draft, only to get cold feet a few days later and decide to stay at Louisville instead, Clark will need to have a breakout season as a junior to justify that decision. There are huge dividends to be reaped if he is able to improve as expected, especially seeing how this class looks to be weaker than your average class, especially at the top. If he can make another leap this season like he did going from freshman to sophomore, he should be firmly in lottery discussions, with a chance to go in the top half, especially if he can improve his jump shot, show some more change-of-direction ability, or add some more strength to his frame.

#3 Jonny Flynn, 6-0, Sophomore, Point Guard, Syracuse

Jonathan Givony

Fresh off a productive freshman season that saw his team yet again miss out on an NCAA tournament bid, former McDonald’s All-American Jonny Flynn looks ready to break onto the national spotlight as a collegiate All-American. Small, but fairly athletic, he is clearly a pass-first playmaker who looks very comfortable executing an offense and does a particularly nice job running the pick and roll.

Fast in the open floor, Flynn has excellent ball-handling skills with either hand that allow him to make very strong moves to the basket. He is very quick and shows excellent ability to change speeds and directions on the fly, pushing the ball up the floor well to get his team in transition, and looking very confident and aggressive in almost everything he does. Flynn gets to the free throw line at a decent rate, but is not much of a finisher around the basket due to his below average size and strength.

Also a capable shooter, Flynn made a decent amount of shots from beyond the arc last season, although not always on a consistent clip. He shot a very respectable 46% from the field last season, but only hit 34% of his 3-pointers, despite attempting over four and a half per game. He gets nice elevation on his jumper, and can definitely make shots off the dribble, but seems to release his shot from an inconsistent vantage point each time, also struggling a bit due to his often poor shot-selection.

Although he shows nice instincts and potential as a playmaker, Flynn has a lot of work to do on his decision making skills. Much of this will come with experience--and Flynn was really thrown straight into the fire last season as a freshman in the Big East with no backup—but it’s imperative that he learns to read defenses better and become more patient with the ball in his hands. He has a tendency to pull-up for tough shots with a hand in his face extremely early in the offense at times, as well as make careless decisions forcing bad passes and turning the ball over excessively.

Defensively, Flynn is always going to be limited to a certain extent due to his poor size and skinny frame. He didn’t do himself any favors last season with what he provided his team on this end of the floor either, though, looking too upright in his stance, showing average intensity and getting pushed off the ball way too easily on this extremely poor defensive team. Flynn had the fourth lowest foul-rate of any player in our database last season, which isn’t exactly a positive when you looked at the way he often stood around on the perimeter just slapping at the ball as players went by him. Syracuse’s outdated matchup zone probably didn’t do help matters much, but this is an area Flynn will need to show a lot more in regardless of the system he plays in.

A rare commodity in the NCAA thanks to his excellent blend of pure playmaking skills, toughness, scoring ability and strong intangibles, Flynn will obviously draw a good deal of interest from the NBA thanks to status he is about to achieve as one of the top point guards in college basketball. How quickly he can get there will depend on the type of season he and especially Syracuse has.

#4 Sam Young, 6-6, Senior, Small Forward, Pitt

Scott Nadler

Sam Young enters the 2008-09 season as a legitimate All-American candidate, as well as a Big East Player of the Year nominee. After beginning his career as a role player, Young broke out of his shell and emerged last season as one of the best players in the Big East (Big East 1st team selection) and the nation (All-American honorable mention). He also earned the Most Improved Player award for the Big East, which is a great testament to his work ethic. Each year he seems to improve a different element of his game which has made him a complete player. If this trend holds true for Young’s senior season, he could be a 1st round pick in the 2009 NBA draft.

Perhaps one of the most impressive things about Young has to do with the physical tools that he was blessed with. At 6”6, Young is extremely well-defined at 210 lbs and exhibits a definite NBA body. He also displays a good deal of athleticism, where he has the ability to change a game with an electrifying dunk, a gravity defying rebound, or a weak side block on a bigger opponent. Although transition opportunities are a bit rarer in the Big East than most conferences, Young has shown the ability to run the floor well when given the chance.

The biggest improvement that Young has made at his time in Pittsburgh has surely been on the offensive end. His mid range jump shot is very effective, as he shoots 50% from the field. He has a high release point and gets good elevation on his shot. He also has a deceptively quick first step, which is due in large part to his adept shooting, which forces defenders to fly out at him. In addition, his very unorthodox pump fake (Young stands straight up on his toes and extends the ball fully above his head on all shot fakes) enables him to get by quicker defenders.

One thing scouts are going to be examining closely is Young’s ball-handling skills. He seems uncomfortable changing directions and dribbling the ball past a defender or in the open court, as the ball certainly decreases his explosion. The other thing that scouts will be looking for is whether or not Young can improve his 3 point range. He’s unquestionably made big strides as he went from shooting only 27% on very few attempts his first two seasons to 43% last season, albeit on just 3 attempts per game. If he can become a more prolific and confident outside shooter, his stock will rise quickly.

Although Young has received much praise regarding his improved offensive skills, he makes his biggest impact on the defensive end. He plays exceptional man to man defense with a certain spirit and energy which is contagious – elevating the defensive efforts of his teammates. His physical attributes don’t hurt him either, as he possesses a long wingspan which he uses to contest every shot and deny passing lanes. His off the ball defense could get better, as he can be late on rotations and gets hung up on pick and rolls. His rebounding however is very good for a player of his size as he averages about 6 a game.

With improved ball-handling skills and increased 3 point range, Young will try to establish himself as a solid first round pick this season, even though his upside won’t be deemed as high as some others due to his advanced age. His physical tools, defensive abilities, and no nonsense attitude will be his strongest selling points.

#5 Terrence Williams, 6’6”, SG/SF, Senior, Louisville

Joey Whelan

The Louisville Cardinals will be without one of their most valuable weapons for the next 4-6 weeks. Terrence Williams underwent surgery on a torn medial meniscus in his right knee, suffered during a pickup game last Tuesday. In the long run, the injury will likely only keep the senior wing out for a handful of non-conference games, but certainly could be worth keeping an eye on initially. Williams saw his scoring numbers drop slightly last season, despite having a career year shooting the basketball (albeit a rather paltry 41% from the field). What was encouraging was an increase in his rebounding and assist numbers, increases that will certainly catch the eyes of some NBA scouts.

Physically, Williams is an NBA player; plain and simple. At 6’6” 215 pounds, he has great size for the two-guard spot and has the strength to handle banging in the paint and posting up smaller guards. He shows excellent speed in the open floor as well as a great first step that allows him to get into the lane on a regular basis against most defenders. What separates Williams from most college players, though, is his tremendous leaping ability. If he gets out into the open floor by himself, it’s a safe bet that Williams will put down some kind of highlight reel quality dunk.

After being a fairly one dimensional offensive player early in his career, Williams has developed into a very versatile player with the basketball, even though he still is very far from being considered a great scorer. He has pretty good form on his shot, but has yet to prove himself to be a good shooter, due to his poor shot-selection and inconsistent release point. He connected on a pedestrian number of his perimeter shots last year, just 34% from deep, but what was most concerning was the fact that 41% of his shot attempts were from beyond the arc. Overall, Williams performs much better from mid-range, able to pull up and shoot on a dime. His athleticism allows him to hang in the air and adjust his shot against defenders; his touch on these plays is very solid.

Williams is much more adept as a slasher than he is a perimeter shooter, even though he often abandons this part of his game for long stretches. He has good ball-handling skills, able to attack the basket with either hand; combined with a great first step, he is a handful to stay in front of as a defender. Once in the lane, Williams can elevate with any player in the country to get a good look at the rim. This ability to hang in the air though can sometimes be a hindrance to the senior, deterring him from creating contact with defenders and trying to shoot around them. For a player with his type of athleticism and with how often he goes to the rim, Williams needs to attempt more than just three free throws per forty minutes.

Defensively, Williams proves to be a headache for a lot of opposing teams. With his quickness and length, he is tough to take to the basket, but more importantly deflects a tremendous number of passes. Many times Williams proves to be a one man fast break, intercepting a pass and taking it the other way for an easy flush. He does a tremendous job rebounding the basketball, averaging eight rebounds per forty minutes, an outstanding number for a wing player. A major part of the high number of rebounds he hauled in last season was the fact that Louisville played a lot of zone defense, with Williams often taking one of the forward spots along the baseline.

There are certainly concerns about Williams’ game from an NBA standpoint. At the end of the day, he is a shooting guard who doesn’t shoot well and isn’t an overall effective scorer. Additionally, he struggles with turnovers, committing one on nearly 25% of the possessions he uses. With that said, he does rebound very well for his position and has proven to be an effective distributor with the ball in his hands. Ultimately, Williams will likely get drafted in large part to his freakish athleticism and upside. If he can become a more effective shooter from the perimeter, and better learns how to use his overall athleticism, he could be a valuable asset to an NBA franchise.

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