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 12, 2011, 07:07 pm
Beginning our coverage of the top prospects in the always deep Big East Conference, we take a look the top prospects in the conference. Jeremy Lamb, Mouphtaou Yarou, Darius Johnson-Odom, Alex Oriakhi, and Kris Joseph make up our top-5.

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

-Top 20 Prospects in the Big Ten
-Top 25 Prospects in the ACC
-Top 15 Prospects in the Big 12
-Top 15 Prospects in the Pac-12

#1 Jeremy Lamb, 6'5, Sophomore, Shooting Guard, Connecticut

Having profiled Jeremy Lamb just a month ago following his performance at the U-19 World Championships, we will wait until we've seen him adjust to life without Kemba Walker before adding to his already comprehensive scouting report.

#2 Mouphtaou Yarou, 6'9, Junior, Center, Villanova

Matt Williams

Last time we checked in on Mouphtaou Yarou, he was coming off a solid, yet entirely unspectacular freshman season that saw him miss significant action after being diagnosed with Hepatitis B. Yarou's second year with the Wildcats was an improvement on his first, as the young post showed some progress across the board while seeing his minutes and offensive role expand. With three of their top-5 scorers moving into the pro ranks, Villanova will be looking for answers to start the season, giving Yarou a chance to step up to showcase his talents and legitimize his NBA draft stock.

As we've noted in the past, Yarou has a nice physical profile for a NBA center, which is certainly still one of his biggest strengths as a prospect. He lacks great straight line speed, and appears a little stiff moving in the open floor, but looks like a different player at times swiftly rotating over from the weakside to block shots and making fluid moves around the basket. He does not play above the rim on the offensive end unless he has time and space, but uses his strength well and makes the most of his long wingspan. It will be interesting to see how Yarou's fares around the rim at the next level and what a NBA strength and conditioning program does for his already solid physique as he still seems to have some untapped physical potential.

As far as the Benin native's skill set is concerned, the majority of the observations we've made in our previous reports remain true. Though was more productive a year ago than he was as a freshman, his skill-level didn't undergo any groundbreaking changes. His best asset continues to be his high energy level and ability to make his presence felt on the offensive glass. He still flashes a budding back to the basket game, embraces contact, shows intriguing touch from the midrange in a very limited sample, and finishes the easy shots his teammates create for him at a terrific rate. Though Yarou didn't take any steps back, he is still trying to reach the next stage in his development. His skill set may have changed only subtly, but the center's role in Villanova's offense did shift radically from his freshman to his sophomore year.

After functioning as more of a hustle player as a freshman, Yarou became Villanova's primary post threat in his second year on campus. While he was certainly not the Wildcat's first, second, or even third option overall, the young big man saw almost half of his touches operating in the post according to Synergy Sports Technology. While his post arsenal is far from refined, Yarou does a great job establishing position and can make simple moves over both shoulders to create his own shot at this level. Converting 42.7% of his shots in the post, he gets the job done on the offense end, but will need to develop a more refined post repertoire to improve his consistency, decisiveness, and confidence as a one-on-one interior scorer. He should see ample opportunities to do just that since he'll likely see his role expand once again this coming season.

On the defensive end, the former top-25 recruit showed marked improvement in a number of areas last year. While he didn't block shots at quite the rate he did as a freshman, Yarou made some outstanding plays rotating over from the weakside, continued to show a promising work ethic, and most importantly, cut down on the number of fouls he was committing. Though Yarou is still clearly learning how to defend the midrange and makes the same occasional mistakes he's always been prone to make, he does a better job boxing out and is no longer limiting his own minutes on this end of the floor.

With two seasons of collegiate experience under his belt, Yarou has a golden opportunity to have a breakout season. Slow and steady have been the themes of his development in the Big East to this point, but he should see extensive playing time and more touches on the offensive end in 2012, giving him the chance to take a significant step forward as a player and prospect.

#3 Darius Johnson-Odom, 6-2, Shooting Guard, Senior, Marquette

Joseph Treutlein

After an impressive sophomore debut season with Marquette where he averaged 13.0 points per game, Darius Johnson-Odom saw a slight uptick as a junior, scoring 15.8 points per game even though his minutes didn't increase. Johnson-Odom made some slight strides in some areas, but also fell off in others, and how he responds in his senior year will have a significant impact on his stock.

Johnson-Odom's biggest selling point in his first year on campus was his deadeye shooting ability from behind the arc, but his percentages regressed severely last season, down from 47.4% to 36.4% from three-point range despite the fact that he didn't attempt too many more shots from distance. Given the small sample size in college seasons, combined with Johnson-Odom's lackluster free-throw shooting (70.8% last year), there is a decent chance Johnson-Odom's lights out shooting as a sophomore was a fluke, and is something evaluators will really key on this season.

Looking on the positive side, Johnson-Odom still possesses all of the attributes that allowed him to succeed as a sophomore. He has excellent ability to create separation through his advanced ball-handling and quickness along with the ability to knock down shots both spotting up and pulling up, having good shooting mechanics and clear cut NBA three-point range.

His success pulling up off the dribble took a bigger hit last year than did his spot-up shooting, as he still scored an impressive 1.2 points per shot on catch-and-shoot opportunities according to Synergy. Becoming more selective and more focused on quality attempts in off-the-dribble situations could improve his overall efficiency. In projecting him to the NBA where he'd likely play a more off-the-ball role, that problem may in part solve itself.

While Johnson-Odom's shooting ability took a step back as a junior, he did make some slight improvements to his ability to score inside the arc, upping his two-point FG% from 43.9% to 48.4% and increasing his free-throw attempts per game from 2.8 to 4.6 per game. Johnson-Odom has grown more comfortable throwing his broad-shouldered, well-built frame into contact in the lane as he's spent more time in the NCAA, and is also doing a slightly better job using his creativity to finish around the rim.

Despite Johnson-Odom's strides, his 0.99 points per shot on attempts around the basket in the halfcourt according to Synergy is still pretty poor, and may always be somewhat of an issue in the halfcourt given his diminutive size. That said, with his high levels of speed and bounciness, he may actually benefit in this area from the more spaced out NBA despite the higher quality defenders he'd face.

Johnson-Odom's excellent speed and highly refined and advanced ball-handling abilities are likewise skills better suited for the NBA style of play, and he possesses the strong feel and decision-making abilities to likely translate them to the next level. While his finishing ability in the lane is still developing, he has no problem consistently breaking down his man against collegiate competition, showing a great first step, rangy moves, and very strong change of direction ability with the ball.

In terms of his point guard skills, Johnson-Odom remains predominantly the same player he was as a sophomore, having a solid feel and good ability in the passing area, but still being clearly a shoot-first player and not one to consistently run any kind of team offense.

Johnson-Odom similarly remains mostly the same player on the defensive end, where his aggressive style, strong fundamentals, and excellent physical tools are all good points in his favor, but questions still remain about his size, something that shows up most occasionally in his ability to fight around screens.

Looking forward, Johnson-Odom has an intriguing set of abilities along with an aggressive mentality on both sides of the floor, but as an undersized pure shooting guard, rediscovering the deadeye shooting ability he lost as a junior will be very important for his stock. With teammate Jimmy Butler graduated and moving onto the pros this year, Johnson-Odom will likely see an even more expanded offensive role, and will have NBA decision-makers watching him all season long.

#4, Alex Oriakhi, 6-9, Power Forward/Center, Junior, Connecticut

Walker Beeken

Alex Oriakhi was an integral piece to Connecticut's national championship run last season, showing some positive improvements in his game from his freshman to sophomore year. Scouts will be looking for continued development from Oriakhi in his junior season, as the Huskies come into 2011-2012 as one of the preseason favorites to make another deep run in March.

Oriakhi led Connecticut in rebounds and blocked shots last season as the team's main enforcer in the paint, in what was a thin frontcourt. As a junior, Oriakhi will team up with freshman Andre Drummond to form what should be an intimidating combination at the four and five spots. This could make for a bit of a role change for Oriakhi, as will the departure of All-American Kemba Walker, who carried the Huskies offensively last season.

As we noted before, Oriakhi has an excellent body and solid athleticism for an NBA big man prospect, and although his offensive game still lacks polish, he did show some positive signs of development as a sophomore, getting more opportunities with the lack of other options for the Huskies down low.

After scoring an atrocious .41 points per possession on his post up opportunities in his freshman season, Oriakhi nearly doubled that, scoring .77 points per possession as a sophomore. He is still far from efficient and lacks feel and fluidity with his moves on the block, but his improvement is encouraging.

As a shooter, Oriakhi still has a way to go, but also made some small strides. He improved his free throw percentage from 54% as a freshman to 63% as a sophomore, and started to show flashes of being able to knock down jumpers with his feet set out to about fifteen feet or so, which will be important for him to continue working on. He will likely never be skilled enough to be a featured option in the post, so being able to make himself a threat to hit short, open jump shots will at least keep defenses honest.

Oriakhi's biggest asset offensively is his ability to crash the offensive glass and earn extra possessions. He used his strong body, log arms, and aggressiveness to grab 5.2 offensive rebounds per forty minutes pace adjusted last season, placing him in the top 10 of all players in our database.

Oriakhi was the anchor of UConn's stingy defense last season, as his physical tools and toughness make him an extremely valuable presence in the paint. He does an excellent job of utilizing his body and fighting for position on the block, while also having the ability to challenge shots as a help defender.His combination of size and mobility should allow him to be able to defend both big positions at the NBA level.

It will be interesting to see Oriakhi pair up with Drummond inside this season and see if Coach Jim Calhoun will be able to use them effectively on the floor together. Most teams in the NCAA today don't play with two true big men like those two, so Oriakhi may find himself playing some different matchups defensively, giving NBA teams a look at how he might be able to defend some of the more versatile big men in today's NBA.

Overall, Oriakhi obviously has some attributes that will be very attractive to NBA teams with his physical tools, rebounding, and defensive abilities, but his upside will likely be determined by how much progress he can make with his skill level and feel for the game offensively. Playing on a very talented UConn team with season will give him plenty more exposure to showcase how his game is developing.

#5 Kris Joseph, 6'7, Senior, Small Forward, Syracuse

Having profiled Kris Joseph late in the 2011 season, we'll wait until he takes the floor this fall rather than rehashing many of the same thoughts we had about him last season.

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