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

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part One (#1-5)
Aug 28, 2009, 04:34 am
To get a jump on the rapidly approaching NCAA season, we'll once again be breaking down the top individual NBA prospects in college basketball, going conference by conference. Freshman 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. First we start with the Big Ten, where potential lottery pick Evan Turner is holding down the fort for Ohio State allow with teammate William Buford. Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, Michigan Stae’s Kalin Lucas and Michigan’s Manny Harris round out the top five.

#1 Evan Turner, 6-7, Junior, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Ohio State

Having profiled Turner at the conclusion of his NCAA Tournament campaign, as well as this summer at the USA Basketball tryouts, we will wait until the season kicks off to revisit his scouting report.

#2 William Buford, 6-5, Sophomore, Shooting Guard, Ohio State
11.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.2 turnovers, 45% FG, 36% 3P, 85% FT, 29 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Former McDonald’s All-American William Buford took a little bit of time to hit his stride in his freshman season at Ohio State, but once he did, he displayed some intriguing flashes of potential that hint at some big things that could be in store for Buckeye fans.

Buford’s physical attributes are average for an NBA shooting guard, as he has just adequate size at around 6-5, to go along with a narrow frame, and solid, although not exceptional athleticism. The biggest virtue he brings to the table is his excellent scoring instincts, which currently manifest themselves primarily in the form of his perimeter shooting ability.

38% of Buford’s field goal attempts came from beyond the arc last season, of which he knocked down a very solid 36%. Buford has a beautiful shooting stroke, complete with a pretty follow through and excellent touch. He’s extremely advanced for his age at coming off screens—something Thad Matta liked to take advantage of—and is pretty deadly if he has a moment to set his feet.

Buford is also very capable of knocking down shots off the dribble, even if he could clearly stand to improve on his ability to create separation from his defender with his pull-up jumper, as his release is a bit on the slow side. His shot-selection at times leaves a bit to be desired as well. Watching some of the extremely difficult shots Buford made last season, though, there is no mistaking how talented a scorer he is.

As a slasher, Buford is not all that effective, as he possesses poor ball-handling skills and just an average first step. He rarely gets all the way to the basket (he shot just 53 free throws in 33 games last season, playing heavy minutes), and when he does, he seems to avoid contact, leaving you to wonder whether he may lack a bit of toughness. When he puts the ball on the floor, Buford will either pull-up off the dribble from 17-feet, or shoot a very pretty floater (a very nice weapon) in the lane. In the rare instance that Buford does get to the free throw line, he knocks his shots down at an extremely impressive rate—85%--good for second best amongst all freshman draft prospects last season.

Defensively, Buford puts a decent effort in, but doesn’t appear to have the best natural tools or fundamentals to get the job done. He does a decent job using his length to contest shots, but will get taken off the dribble a fair amount. Although Ohio State’s propensity to play zone almost exclusively makes it difficult to get a great read on Buford’s potential on this end of the floor, it seems safe to say that he has plenty of room to improve here.

At this juncture, Buford is a fairly one-dimensional shooter/scorer, which isn’t a huge shock considering the stage of development he’s currently at. He would be well served to continue to work on his all-around game, be it his ability to create shots for himself and others, his pick and roll game, his passing, and his defense. Although he came into Ohio State with a big-time pedigree, Buford is the type of player who could really benefit from sticking around college for a few seasons to become a more complete player. Right now he projects mostly as a backup, but he’s so young that it’s not out of the question at all to see him improve dramatically over the next few years.

#3 JaJuan Johnson, 6-10, Junior, Power Forward/Center, Purdue

Having profiled Johnson at the conclusion of his NCAA Tournament campaign we will wait until the season kicks off to revisit his scouting report.

#4 Kalin Lucas, 6-0, Junior, Point Guard, Michigan State
14.7 points, 4.6 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 2.2 turnovers, 40% FG, 39% 3PT, 81% FT

Joseph Treutlein

After leading Michigan State to the National Championship Game with his steady point guard play last season, expectations are high for Kalin Lucas and the Spartans this season, with most of their key players returning. Lucas had a strong season overall himself, improving notably from his freshman campaign and making a stronger impression in the eyes of NBA scouts, something he’ll look to build on as a junior.

Looking at Lucas’ game, there is much to be impressed with from what he brings to the table, starting with his floor general abilities. Lucas possesses a sure dribble with good but not great advanced moves, which he uses to manage his team’s offense outstandingly, spreading the ball around the floor in the Spartans’ pass-heavy, team-oriented attack. Lucas is equally comfortable in the halfcourt and in transition, making use of his strong court vision and excellent knack for delivering the ball to spaces where his teammates are most comfortable. He is not one to over-dribble, playing just as much off the ball as on it, while showing a good sense of spacing and being a big part of why his team’s offense operates so well.

In terms of creating shots for his teammates, one way he does so is the pick-and-roll game, where he makes excellent reads to complement his precision passing. Lucas doesn’t create many good shots for himself out of the pick-and-roll, however, due to his lack of size and not great short-distance burst. This places less burden on defenders to contain him, allowing them to better cover the pick man, something that could pose more of a problem at the next level.

Lucas is a good scorer in his own right, possessing a good outside shot, especially spotting up, where he shows good form when he has his feet set and in rhythm, boasting a high release and good quickness. His touch can be a bit questionable at times, as he’s prone to overshoot badly on occasion, and he also has some form inconsistencies pop up when shooting off the dribble. He’s not as good of a shooter pulling up, not having great balance when moving side to side, something he needs to work on, as at his size, being a more deadly outside shooter will definitely help his chances at the next level. He currently shoots under 40% from inside the arc, which is a good indication he still has room to improve in this area.

In terms of attacking the basket, Lucas doesn’t have a blazing first step, but he changes speeds very well, has good shiftiness in the lane, has a good top speed, and picks his spots well, which currently allows him to get to the free throw line at an excellent rate. In the lane, he shows good creativity with the ball, but due to his size, he has trouble finishing in crowds and is prone to having his shot blocked, something that should be an even bigger issue at the next level. He shows flashes of an effective floater and pull-up jumper in the lane, but his consistency needs to improve with both. Lucas does most of his damage attacking the basket catching and driving from the wing area, not excelling as much in pure isolation situations.

Lucas’ offensive versatility is another plus for him, as he can play on or off the ball in the halfcourt, doing an excellent job of moving and maintaining spacing without the ball in his hands. He does sometimes struggle to get separation in these situations, however, due to his size and good, not great, burst. In transition, Lucas really excels, not slowing down with the ball in his hands, doing a good job of adjusting at top speed, and making good decisions with the ball.

Defensively, Lucas does a good job on the perimeter, playing an aggressive style with a high motor. His lateral quickness is solid, losing to a quick first step on occasion, but his reflexes are excellent, at times showing the ability to stay in front of his man through a series of moves, being right in his face the entire time. His size poses a concern, however, as players are able to shoot over him, especially in the lane, and getting through picks can be a problem.

Projecting to the next level, Lucas will be getting plenty of looks come draft time, and he should fit in well as a backup in a team-oriented offense that takes advantage of his game managing skills. Because he’s not a great one-on-one player and is disadvantaged size-wise without elite explosive abilities to make up for it, he may not ever project to a starter in the league, but if he continues to improve his shooting ability and other aspects of his game, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for him to find the right situation and truly excel.

#5 Manny Harris, 6-5, Junior, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Michigan
16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 3.1 turnovers, 1.2 steals, 41.5% FG, 86.3% FT, 32.7% 3PT

Kyle Nelson

Coach John Beilein is in the process of engineering one of the more remarkable turnarounds in college basketball, leading the Michigan Wolverines back to the NCAA Tournament after years of mediocrity. While Beilein is a spectacular coach, he is not doing it alone. Junior swingman Manny Harris emerged as a team leader, improving on a breakout freshman season to the tune of 16.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, and 4.4 apg, and an All-Big 10 First Team selection. This season, Harris has the opportunity to build on his success and NBA scouts will be watching to see if he can lead Michigan back to the top of the Big 10 and to a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Standing 6’5 with a very slight frame and an average wingspan, Harris does not look like the prototypical NBA wing. Watching him play, however, reveals that he is extremely athlete, with solid leaping ability and, as we have said before, “a lightning quick first step.”

Offensively, Harris has improved significantly during his two years at Michigan, but still has some serious work to do before cracking a rotation at the next level. Though he still is responsible for a quarter of his team’s offensive possessions, he has become a more efficient player, improving his two-point percentages considerably, while increasing his assist-rate dramatically and reducing his turnovers. His scoring rate improved, despite the fact that he took less shots, which is impressive for a player who attempts and makes over a fifth of his team’s field goals.

One area where Harris has not improved is his perimeter shooting, which has stayed fairly consistent jumping slightly to 32.7% last season. His shooting form is still a work in progress, though he is a far better set shooter than he was last season. He still shows far too much excess motion, particularly in his lower body, when he is shooting off of the dribble or off balance. Working on his form and getting stronger could help him expand his range, but improving his shot selection certainly would not hurt either.

Watching his film, he does rely far too much on his streaky and inconsistent perimeter jumper, but he has made strides in diversifying his offensive game. He has gotten better at utilizing his athleticism to attack the basket more frequently, though improving his ball handling, particularly with his left hand, would help to establish himself as a slashing threat. As is, Harris already gets to the free throw line at an exceptional rate, which is something NBA scouts probably love to see. On top of that, he converts his free throws at an excellent 86% rate.

Similarly, better ball handling would help him to expand his mid-range game, where he shows potential to eventually develop into a solid shot creator if he improves accordingly. While he is never going to be a point guard, he could also be a solid facilitator from the wing, especially off of the dribble, though he sometimes gets tunnel vision and is still fairly turnover prone. Despite averaging 5.6 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted, which was 25th in our database last season, he was the 13th most turnover prone player per 40 minutes pace adjusted as well.

On the defensive end, Harris is tougher to evaluate considering the fact that he plays small forward in John Beilein’s unorthodox 1-3-1 zone defense. He lacks the size and strength to be a standout defender on this level or the next level, but last season he showed more effort on a consistent basis, harassing jump shooters and getting in passing lanes. He must get better fundamentally, though, if he does not want to be considered a liability at the next level.

Increasing his defensive awareness, doing a better job of closing out perimeter shooters and working on getting in better position, in particular, would help his standing in scouts’ eyes tremendously. One area in which Harris is a true standout, though, is on the defensive rebounds. He is the fifth best rebounding guard in our database, to the tune of 8.6 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted, which, considering his lack of size and length, is truly impressive.

Harris is a legitimate NBA prospect, but that is not to say that he does have his share of question marks. Next season, he must prove to scouts that he has improved as a basketball player, and that he is capable of excelling without an entire offense being built around him, which will not be the case in the NBA. He must show vastly improved shot selection and cut down on his turnovers, which would help prove that he can succeed in a smaller role. On the defensive end, it is essential that he continue to work hard and improve his awareness. His poor frame does not leave a lot of room for optimism in this regard at the next level, so he must do what he can to show that he will not be a liability on this end in the NBA. Being the star of one of the nation’s hottest team’s, Harris is going to have many opportunities to prove himself and convince scouts that he can be a factor at the next level.

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