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 06, 2010, 11:49 am
Continuing to evaluate the top returning NBA prospects in college basketball, we move onto the SEC. UConn's Kemba Walker leads the pack, followed by Villanova's Mouphtaou Yarou, Syracuse's Kris Joseph, Villanova's Maalik Wayns and UConn's Alex Oriakhi.

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.

-Top 20 NBA Prospects in the Big Ten
-Top 15 NBA Prospects in the Big 12
-Top 10 NBA Prospects in the Pac-10
-Top 15 NBA Prospects in the SEC

#1 Kemba Walker, 6-1, Junior, Point Guard, UConn
14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.9 turnovers, 2.1 steals, 40% FG, 77% FT, 34% 3P

Having profiled Walker 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.

#2 Mouphtaou Yarou, 6-10, Sophomore, Center, Villanova
15 minutes, 4.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 1.1 turnovers, 1.0 blocks, 58% FG, 71% FT

Jonathan Givony

Playing just 315 minutes after being forced to sit out much of the early part of the season once diagnosed with Hepatitis B, Mouphtaou Yarou's freshman campaign was not very conclusive, but did feature some extremely intriguing moments.

Standing 6-10, with a terrific wingspan and an outstanding frame, Yarou looks the part of an NBA center, and moves like one too. He has good hands, is very fluid relative to his size, and is just now beginning to tap into his immense potential after only starting to play basketball at age 14. With a fascinating background story under his belt, Yarou is reportedly an extremely intelligent, hard-worker who speaks five languages, and shows many of the characteristics you look for in a top-shelf big man prospect.

Yarou's offensive role as a freshman was extremely limited, as he ranked 9th on Villanova's squad in field goal attempts per minute at just 7.6 per-40. Nevertheless, he was able to drop some extremely interesting flashes of potential both with his back to the basket and even facing it, leaving plenty of room for optimism regarding how he might develop down the road.

Most of Yarou's shot-opportunities came by simply crashing the offensive glass or cutting to the basket last season, but it's clear that he has both the tools and budding skills to do more. He has the strength and girth to establish position in the paint, and can carve out even more space by backing his man down and then spinning off either shoulder impressively. He needs to be more aggressive looking for his own shot, though, as he was often too indecisive with the ball in his hands last year, which rendered him fairly turnover prone. At his size, he must take advantage of opportunities he has to assert himself against smaller players, and not be as deferential to his older teammates as he was last season.

Not just strictly an inside presence, Yarou even has a bit of a mid-range jumper in his arsenal, showing good mechanics, a high release point, and interestingly knocking down 71% of his free throw attempts last season. Yarou's feel for the game is pretty advanced relative to the stage of development he theoretically should be at, as he shows solid passing ability, has nice fundamentals, and can finish with either hand around the basket, which is certainly a plus.

Defensively, Yarou is a massive presence inside the paint with his chiseled frame and outstanding wingspan, and already was able to establish himself as a solid shot-blocking presence in his limited playing time, averaging 2.5 blocks per-40 minutes pace adjusted. Yarou has good instincts and moves his feet well, being able to contest shots impressively at times with his length and effort-level. His lack of experience definitely shows up here on occasion, though, especially on the perimeter, where he tends to struggle. He's very foul prone for that reason, one of the reasons he wasn't able to see extended minutes in certain games last year.

Yarou still has room to improve as a defensive rebounder, where he's not quite as productive as you might hope. He tends to go after loose balls with one hand at times and doesn't always do a great job of boxing out his opponents.

More than anything, Yarou is in need of plenty of playing time in order to continue to garner experience and increase his comfort level on the basketball court. With a good part of Villanova's frontcourt returning and a McDonald's All-American power forward coming in, Yarou's time to breakout might be a little longer in the waiting, but it should come sooner rather than later. There's a case to be made for him as the best long-term prospect in the Big East, but it will be up to him to prove that first.

#3 Kris Joseph, 6-7, Junior, Small Forward, Syracuse
10.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 49% FG, 22% 3FG, 75% FT

Kyle Nelson

Syracuse small forward Kris Joseph blossomed in a supporting role during his sophomore season and showed legitimate NBA potential alongside All-American and eventual top-5 draft pick Wesley Johnson. Unfortunately, for as good as Joseph looked at times last season, he was inconsistent just as often. Now that Johnson has moved on to the NBA, scouts will be watching to see if Joseph solidify his standing as a prospect while playing a leading role in Syracuse's offense.

Standing 6'7 with a solid frame that will certainly fill out in time, Joseph more than looks the part of an NBA small forward. He is also an outstanding athlete with excellent explosiveness and quickness that will serve him well at the next level.

While Joseph has excellent size and athleticism for his position, his skill set is a work in progress. During his sophomore season, his offensive output consisted primarily of spot-up opportunities and scoring in transition. Joseph made just 22% of his three point field goal attempts, but he strung together enough solid shooting nights, particularly against Georgetown and North Carolina, that suggest he has the potential to improve.

Joseph must work on his shooting mechanics, however, focusing on releasing the ball at the top of his shooting motion while eliminating excess lower body motion. Joseph converted just 18 of his 74 overall jump-shots (24%) last season inside and outside the arc, which is surely the thing he must improve the most on if he's to make his case as a top NBA draft prospect.

Joseph showed some flashes from mid-range, as well, even though many of his shots drew front iron. Joseph is not a particularly deft shot creator, but he has a quick first step and he looked more comfortable creating space for himself off the dribble as his sophomore season went on. Whether or not he develops further in this area determines largely on how much he improves his ball handling skills, particularly tightening his high dribble and working on changing directions more effectively.

Even as he has improved in other areas, Joseph is still at his best in transition where his speed and explosiveness allow him to be an excellent finisher. As a junior, however, he must focus on playing under control on a consistent basis while limiting turnovers around the basket.

Joseph's defensive ability is difficult to evaluate on account of Syracuse's zone defense, but he looked merely average last season. Joseph's athleticism, size, and lateral quickness are assets and suggest that he has the potential to develop into a solid defender, but his awareness looks underdeveloped and his fundamentals need significant work. Improving his focus, particularly getting better at closing out shooters and staying in front of his man is essential at this stage.

When evaluating Johnson's strengths and weaknesses, it is important to remember that he emerged from relative obscurity last season and quickly adapted to his role as Syracuse's sixth man. His potential far outweighs his ability at this point, but he should continue to improve throughout his time at Syracuse if his development curve thus far is any indication. While his lack of experience and raw skill-set held him back at times last season, the flashes he showed indicate that increased expectations for his junior season could very well be reasonable.

#4 Maalik Wayns, 6-1, Sophomore, Point Guard, Villanova
6.8 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.4 turnovers, .6 steals, 43% FG, 81% FT, 32% 3P

Walker Beeken

It may come as a surprise for some that the top NBA guard prospect for Villanova last season was not senior Scottie Reynolds, or his backcourt mate Corey Fisher, but rather freshman Maalik Wayns, who played only 15 minutes per game. With the departure of Reynolds, an opportunity opens up for Wayns in his sophomore season to showcase his game in a larger role and prove to scouts that he is indeed a future NBA point guard.

From a physical standpoint, Wayns is probably slightly above average in terms of what scouts like to see in an NBA point guard prospect. Though at 6'1” he is a bit on the smaller side, he does have a strong build, especially when you consider that he is just 19 years old. Staying lean to maximize his explosiveness should probably be a priority for him going forward, as his frame already has plenty of bulk. As an athlete, Wayns has a nice combination of speed and quickness to go along with strength and power for a player his size.

When making plays and attacking off the dribble, Wayns has a good top speed and a quick burst that enables him to get by his defender and into the lane. He has a tight handle and does a good job changing speeds, but he's much more comfortable driving to his left. When he gets into the paint off penetration, his lack of size and just average elevation often prevents him from finishing at the rim, as shown by the fact that he converted just 40% of his attempts around the basket last season. A focus for him moving forward should be developing a reliable floater to shoot up and over the defenders at the basket, and doing a better job using his strong body to finish through contact amongst the trees.

Wayns is at his best in transition. He is a jet with the ball in the open court, and his ball-handling skills, shiftiness, and attacking mentality allow him to get to the basket at will. And while he struggles some finishing in more crowded half-court situations, he does better job in transition, displaying good body control and using his strength to help him finish at the rim.

Though Wayns' shooting numbers last season weren't spectacular, he looks to have the potential to develop into a good shooter down the oad. He has a nice stroke and deep range, and he shot a very solid 81% from the free throw line last season, which all bode well for him going forward. He is very fluid shooting the ball off the dribble, and with better shot selection as well as time and repetition, he should see his shooting percentages improve from the field and behind the 3-point arc, where he made just 31.5% of his attempts last season.

An area of concern when looking at Wayns' freshman season was his overall floor game. Though he came out of high school with a reputation as a pure point guard, he struggled as a facilitator. While he showed flashes of good passing ability, his negative assist to turnover ratio and pure point rating were disappointing. He will still likely share much of the ball-handling responsibilities this season with Fisher, but it will be interesting to see how he runs the team's offense when he gets the chance. Coach Jay Wright loves his guards to be in attack mode at all times, but Wayns will need to find a balance between the attacking mentality and staying under control to see the floor and find the open man.

Defensively, Wayns has the tools to defend the point guard position well at the NBA level. He has good lateral quickness to contain dribble penetration, and although he doesn't have great length, he can compensate for some of that with his strength, toughness, and energy.

This season will be an important one for Wayns and his draft stock. Right now there is quite a bit of intrigue about him as a prospect, but with increased minutes this season he'll need to be more productive and display a better overall floor game and point guard instincts. He certainly has the potential for a breakout season and could possibly generate some buzz for the 2011 draft, but if he doesn't make some of the major strides he needs to in certain areas, he'll likely be back at Villanova for at least another year.

#5 Alex Oriakhi, 6'9, Sophomore, Power Forward, Connecticut
5.0 Points, 6.6 Rebounds, 1.6 Blocks, 1.0 Turnovers, 46.3% FG, 53.8% FT

Matthew Williams

Looking back at what we wrote about Alex Oriakhi at the 2009 McDonald's All-American game, it is hard to say that the Connecticut native surprised in his first season at UConn in a limited offensive role. Blessed with tremendous physical tools, Oriakhi's skill level is very much a work in progress, and it showed. He flashed intriguing potential in some areas, averaging more than 10 rebounds per-40 minutes pace-adjusted and was productive in his touches around the rim, but still has a long way to go to become a complete package offensively. After a trip to the NIT last season, UConn needs Oriakhi to take a big step forward to help them return to the top of the Big East.

A highly touted prep player, Oriakhi's calling card has always been his mature frame. Standing 6'9 with long arms, a strong frame, and a lot of room for growth, Oriakhi looks the part of a NBA power forward. Couple that with his explosiveness off of two feet, ability to run the floor, and improving hands, and it is clear how a player as raw as Oriakhi could have been such a dominant high school player and why with a few years of seasoning he's capable of becoming a NBA player.

There are a handful of things Oriakhi already does well, namely, crash the glass and convert catch and finish opportunities at the rim. With offensive rebounds and cuts accounting for nearly half of his total offense, the New Hampshire native did a nice job looking to dunk the ball with two hands when given a chance around the basket, and could be more effective next season if he gets into the habit of keeping the ball high in traffic. Oriakhi's physical tools allow him to make his fair share of impressive plays around the rim, but that will only mean so much to his NBA future.

For now, NBA scouts will be in wait-and-see mode with Oriakhi, as his game is something of a blank slate at this point. He's most comfortable making hustle plays at this point, lacking a great feel for scoring away from the rim or with his back to the basket and not receiving enough opportunities to showcase his midrange game.

Oriakhi would be best served to spend his time developing his post-game. Comprising nearly a quarter of his offensive possessions last season according to Synergy Sports Technology, Oriakhi scored on just 20.6% of his 34 field goal attempts. On the limited touches Oriakhi received with his back to the basket, he showed a very basic back-to-the-basket arsenal, clearly took his time before making moves, didn't look comfortable working over his left shoulder despite being right handed, and failed to convert the easy shots he did create for himself. Primarily relying on a methodical drop step to create enough space for his developing lefty-hook, Oriakhi has a world of work to do to become a more capable back to the basket threat.

Even if Oriakhi simply adds polish to his drop step moves, becomes more adept at recognizing what his defender is giving him, and looks to be more aggressive with his body, it will afford him substantially more success next season. He'll see more post touches as he figures prominently into Connecticut's attack in coming season, making his progress in that area something worth keeping an eye on.

Away from the rim, Oriakhi knocked 5 of the 11 jump shots he attempted last season, flashing promising mechanics that proved inconsistent, even in such a small sample size. If his 53.8% free throw shooting is any indication, Oriakhi still has a lot of work to do to become a threat from the midrange. Improving his touch on the whole would go a long way towards expediting his development.

While he still has a lot of work to do on the offensive end to emerge as an NBA-caliber offensive player, Oriakhi already has some impressive defensive tools. His excellent wingspan allowed him to block shots at a high rate last season, both on and off the ball. Though he isn't easily backed down once his man has the ball, Oriakhi could stand to fight harder for position down the low and needs to learn not to reach over the top when he is beat. As Oriakhi matures physically, he'll have the chance to be a great defender, as he has the mobility to recover quickly from hedging the pick and roll, the strength to defend the paint, and the length to be a factor contesting shots and rebounding around the basket.

Looking back on his freshman year, Alex Oriakhi wasn't productive in the least bit on the offensive end in substantial minutes, but rebounded the ball at a very good rate and finished effectively. While those two things alone won't guarantee him a spot in the NBA draft, they are a good start for a player with excellent physical potential who could explode next season with more polish. With three years of eligibility left, Oriakhi is a player we'll inevitably re-evaluate down the road to check in on his progress.

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