Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences (Part Three:#16-20)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences (Part Three:#16-20)
Nov 17, 2008, 01:57 am
We continue our analysis of the top NBA draft prospects in the non-BCS conferences, looking at players 6-15. Stefon Jackson leads this group, followed by Ryan Thompson, Antonio Anderson, Marqus Blakely and Dior Lowhorn.

-Top Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences: Part One, Part Two
-Top Prospects in the Big East: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four,
Part Five
-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

#16 Stefon Jackson, 6-5, Senior, Shooting Guard, UTEP

Joey Whelan

When we last took a look at Stefon Jackson midway through his junior season, we said he was one of the premiere mid-major players in the country. If anything, the second half of that season only further improved his reputation as a big time offensive weapon. The senior is back at UTEP as the third leading returning scorer in the country from a year ago and has all the physical weapons and skills to put even bigger numbers this season.

From an NBA standpoint, there are few things not to like about Jackson’s physical makeup. He may be a little undersized for the two-guard spot, but he has great length that allows him to play bigger than his listed 6’5” 185. Jackson has nice athleticism too, being able to beat most defenders off the dribble with his quickness. He elevates surprisingly well, and with his extended reach is able to do damage around the rim in traffic.

Jackson’s ability to create his own shot is what separates him from most of the 2-guards in the NCAA, and one part of his game that looks very solid to translate to the next level is his excellent mid-range jumper. He has all the necessary skills to dominate this facet of the game: great handles, a high, quick release, and the ability to stop and pull up on a dime. Jackson shows a solid basketball IQ and knows how to break down defenders, using a series of hesitation moves and ball fakes to beat his man.

He is still just as dangerous going to the basket as well, showing no fear of shooting in a crowd. Jackson has excellent body control and does a tremendous job of drawing contact. Few players in college basketball get to the free throw line as well as Jackson does, ranking fourth in that category last season. His 9.2 attempts per game ranked just a notch below Tyler Hansbrough in fact. Improving on the 73% he shot from the charity stripe would rank him even higher on the list of top scorers in college basketball. Despite the excessive amount of ball-handling he’s forced to do in UTEP’s fast paced, high-octane offense, Jackson does not turn the ball over at a very high rate.

While he has one of the more complete offensive games out there, Jackson still continues to struggle mightily with his perimeter shooting. His numbers from beyond the arc improved somewhat from the last time we checked in, but he still isn’t a major threat from here. Despite his proficiency from mid-range, Jackson has very inconsistent form when shooting from deep, making just 33% of his 3.3 attempts per game last season.

The one thing he has going for him at this point are the flashes of ability he has shown to connect from NBA range, and considering the nice form he possesses, it’s likely that his shot-selection has a lot to do with the poor numbers he posts from beyond the arc. Like a lot of great mid-major scorers, Jackson has a tendency to get a bit too trigger happy at times. Improving his decision making would go a long ways in convincing scouts that he can find a niche in the NBA.

Jackson is a solid enough defender when he puts his mind to it, but unfortunately that does not happen often enough. He has good lateral quickness and equally quick and active hands; but his intensity tends to waver at times on this end of the floor. What scouts will love the most about Jackson though is his hustle and toughness. He isn’t afraid to mix it up inside with bigger players, able to pull down nearly six rebounds per game. Considering how heavy a role he plays offensively for UTEP, he might not be able to show everything he can on the other end of the floor.

To date, Jackson has had a terrific career, one that will certainly continue to get more and more recognition as his senior year progresses. There is no questioning his scoring prowess and his ability to get his points in a variety of ways, but there will be questions when it comes to his competition level. The 27 points he posted on both Memphis and Texas A&M shows that he has the ability, but we may not get a real sense for his ability against stiffer defenders until after the season is over. If Jackson can come out and continue to play at the same level at events like Portsmouth and Orlando, there is no reason to think he won’t at least get some serious looks from the NBA. The fact that he will be 24 by the time the draft rolls around is not working in his favor, nor was being arrested last year—even though charges were eventually dropped—but there are a lot of other things working in his favor.

#17 Ryan Thompson, 6-6, Junior, Shooting Guard, Rider

Jonathan Givony

Being the little brother of one of the best rookies in the NBA (Jason Thompson) at the moment certainly has its perks, as lil’ bro Ryan is likely to get even more attention this upcoming season. From what we can tell based off his film from last season, he’s not likely to let down the scouts that decide to continue to make the trek to South Jersey to watch him play.

Standing 6-6, with a nice frame and long arms, Thompson definitely has the look of an NBA shooting guard. He is a pretty average athlete by NBA standards, but brings all kinds of versatility to the table to make up for that.

Thompson is a true do-it-all type swingman, posting a very well rounded 15 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.7 steals and .6 blocks in 34 minutes per game last season, as just a sophomore. He shot a very impressive 54% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc as well, making him a highly efficient player on top of that. He made a huge jump from his freshman to sophomore seasons, and it will be very interesting to see if he can make a similar leap in ability in his junior year as well, particularly now that his brother (who drew a huge amount of defensive attention) is out of the picture now.

Offensively, Thompson tends to let things come to him, and is not a terribly prolific scorer at this point. He has a very high basketball IQ. Though, and really knows how to pick his spots and find open seams in defenses. Whether it’s spotting up for open looks from the perimeter, driving the ball to the basket going left or right, getting to the free throw line or even posting up at times, Thompson does a little bit of everything.

Just 25% of his Thompson’s field goal attempts came from beyond the arc last season, despite (and likely because of…) the terrific percentage (44%) he shot. He sports somewhat of an ugly, flat-footed stroke with a fairly slow release and a bit of side-spin action. He is extremely reliable with his feet set, but tends to lose accuracy when rushed, which is something to keep an eye on now that he no longer has his extremely unselfish brother drawing double teams in the post and creating open looks. If he manages to shoot 40+% from 3-point range this season once again, he would really open up some eyes.

Thompson can put the ball on the floor as well and create his own shot with either hand, even if his ball-handling skills look somewhat improvable and he at times lacks the explosiveness to get by defenders off the dribble and finish. He is very tough, smart and aggressive looking to make things happen, though, which at the Metro Atlantic conference level is often more than enough to get the job done. He does a fair share of ball-handling in Rider’s offense, and displays excellent court vision, as evidenced by his 3.4 assists per game. He is a little bit turnover prone, though—something he can likely improve on by working on his ball-handling skills.

Thompson is a very lively and active defender as well, exerting a good amount of effort on this end of the floor. His terrific size and length at his position are a huge plus, and help him out considerably in coming up with a nice amount of steals, blocks and rebounds. One of the best attributes that Thompson displays is his willingness to mix things up and do the little things for his team. He crashes the glass ferociously, and plays with a controlled style of reckless abandon that is very enjoyable to watch.

Rider plays a good bit of zone, making it a bit difficult to evaluate Thompson’s precise defensive potential, but it appears that he sports somewhat average lateral quickness and tends to get beat off the dribble a fair share—things we need to look a little closer at this season.

Despite the graduation of his brother Jason, Rider will probably still be a tough out in the MAAC. With two more seasons left to improve and become an even more polished all-around player, it’s certainly not of the question that Ryan joins him in the NBA after he’s done there.

#18 Antonio Anderson, 6-6, Senior, Shooting Guard, Memphis

Scott Nadler

Antonio Anderson is coming off a solid junior season where he was a key contributor on a Memphis team that made it all the way to the national championship game. For his whole career, he has been a reliable role-player for the Tigers, where he has led the team in minutes played for three straight seasons– a great testament to his stamina and the high regard that Coach John Calipari has for him. To play nearly 30 minutes a game on a deep team that stresses pressure defense and a free flowing up tempo offense is rather impressive.

At 23 years old (will be 24 before next June’s draft, a bit of a red flag) he is the most experienced player on the team and a lot will be demanded of him to get the Tigers back to the National Championship game.

Anderson’s strongest asset is certainly on the defensive end. At 6-6 and 214 lbs, he has the ability to guard three positions and is always matched up against the oppositions best perimeter player. He has a very long wingspan and combining that with his great lateral quickness, he’s extremely difficult to score on. His work ethic and energy is also a factor as he gives everything he has and never gives up on contesting a shot or chasing down a loose ball. Anderson is as physical as you can be at the guard spot as he often fights through screens and does a good job denying passing lanes.

The improvements that Anderson will need to make are on the offensive end, particularly with his shooting and ball-handling skills. Anderson lacks the ball-handling skills needed to create shots for himself off the dribble, as he struggles changing directions with the ball and does not have much of a left hand to speak of. He also does not possess any type of mid-range either. Many teams chose to double off him and Joey Dorsey last season, as he is not much of a threat to score in the half-court. 28% of his offense comes in transition according to Synergy Sports Technology, where he is absolutely outstanding thanks to his terrific speed and explosiveness in the open court.

Beyond his ability to score off leak-outs in transition, Anderson is almost exclusively a spot-up shooter offensively due to his inability to create. 51.63% of his offense comes in this fashion, something opposing teams do not mind in the least bit. Anderson shot just 40% from the field, and 33% from beyond the arc.

He has shown no improvement in this area over his 3 years as his FG% has virtually stayed the same while his free throw shooting has dropped from 63% his first 2 seasons to 57% last year – very low for any perimeter player. His 3 point shooting has fluctuated from 36.5% his freshman season, down to 24.5% his sophomore year and 33.3% last season. All of these numbers will have to increase if he’ll ever get serious prospect consideration. Considering the fact that he shoots the ball on his way down after elevating off the floor, it seems somewhat unlikely that he’ll be able to expand his range to the NBA 3-point line.

One aspect of his offensive game this is outstanding is his ability to take care of the ball. Last year he had an incredible 2.62 assist/TO ratio, which was good for 5th in the country. He was 15th in fewest turnovers with 1.7 a game for his statistics per 40 pace adjusted, something that was likely influenced in part by his very small role offensively. Anderson was a point guard in high school and clearly has nice court vision, even if his ball-handling skills do not appear to have progressed much since then.

This will be an interesting year for Anderson. With the departure of Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts to the NBA, will Anderson’s role expand? Or will he continue his steady play as a role player? Whatever the case may be, there is no question that his defensive abilities, versatility, selfless attitude, and the amount of experience he’s garnered at the highest level of college basketball make him intriguing.

#19 Marqus Blakely, 6-5, Junior, Power Forward, Vermont

Rodger Bohn

Blakely is likely the best power forward statistically that you've never heard of, exhibited by his being named the America East Player of the Year as just a sophomore. A secret no more, he has already been voted as the preseason favorite to hold that title for 08-09.

What stands out the most about Blakely is his remarkable productivity. Averaging 19 points, 11 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.7 blocks while shooting 55% from the field, he put up the best number across the board of any returning post player not named Tyler Hansbrough or Luke Harangody last season. In his lone game this season (a one point loss to George Mason), he kept it up with a 24 point, 8 rebound, 4 block, 4 steal performance. Simply put, there are few players in the nation that can match his output statistically.

The obvious physical limitations surrounding Blakely center around the fact that he is a 6'5 post player. He appears to have an above average wingspan, but nothing freakish by any means. A very good run-jump athlete, the junior's leaping ability helps him against taller foes at his level, but is likely not enough to compensate for his lack of height against legit draft prospects.

The bulk of Blakely's scoring comes from within 8 feet of the basket, where he does his damage via a number of nifty finishes around the rim. Understanding how to use his body, the junior draws a huge number of fouls as seen by the ridiculous 9.3 free throws per game he attempted last year. Given his athleticism, he often beats less mobile big men with a number of quick post moves and even occasionally will step out and show off his nice first step off of the dribble. Blakely also gets his fair share of points via stickbacks from offensive rebounds, where he averaged an impressive 3.8 per game as a sophomore. Equally as impressive as his ability to crash the glass is his court vision, which looks outstanding for a player playing in the pivot.

Ball handling and shooting are two areas that Marqus will desperately need to improve upon if he hopes of having a chance of making the NBA at his size. Looking uncomfortable handling the ball, he rarely put the ball on the floor more than two times in a straight line going to the basket last season. His shooting is even more of a concern, given that he hasn't even shown a reliable jumpshot from 15 feet yet at this point. Blakely's improvement on the perimeter over the next two years will be crucial in the amount of interest he receives as a prospect when the time comes.

There is a bit of intrigue with Marqus on the defensive end. Although he has the offensive game of a four man, he is perfectly capable of guarding both forward positions in his conference. Granted that we have not had the chance to evaluate him against any high major prospects, he appears to have the lateral quickness to keep up at this point. The aforementioned quickness also translates into the New Jersey native's leaping ability, where he swatted almost three shots per game at only 6'5. Combine that with his tendency to get out in the passing lanes, and you have yourself a pretty interesting defender.

Blakely has a motor that is non-stop, as shown by his talents in regards to rebounding the basketball. He runs the floor well on both ends and is not afraid to mix it up with bigger foes. As far as work ethic and desire are concerned, we seem to be looking at a player who gives his all every time he steps on the court.

While undersized power forwards such as Jason Maxiell, Leon Powe, and Craig Smith have all proved to be very productive NBA players over the last few years, Blakely is smaller and nowhere near as strong as the three aforementioned brutes. We're looking at a player who will likely receive an invite to Portsmouth when it's all said and done, and is already looking like he could be a successful European player if the NBA doesn't work out for him. If he can find a way to develop a reliable jump-shot with his feet set and begin knocking down 3-pointers at a decent rate, there may be more to talk about regarding the NBA down the road.

#20 Dior Lowhorn, 6’7, PF, San Francisco, Junior

Kyle Nelson

After a solid freshman campaign at Texas Tech, 6’7 power forward Dior Lowhorn transferred to the University of San Francisco. Two years later, in the midst of one of the most bizarre coaching situations in the NCAA, Lowhorn emerged as one of the top 20 scorers in the country, averaging 20.5 ppg on 51.3% shooting from the field. Next season, Lowhorn must show scouts that he is not a tweener and can make the transition to the perimeter full time at the next level. At this stage, however, it seems as though the odds are firmly against him, as he still looks very much like a power forward prospect with a face-up game.

Physically, Lowhorn’s tweener status is obvious. Standing at what might be a shade under 6’7, with a 230 pound frame and an average wingspan, he is short for a power forward in the NCAA, let alone the NBA. Similarly, he lacks the explosiveness and overall athleticism of a prototypical NBA wing player. This does not help his prospects play on the perimeter at the next level, and will likely hinder his transition at this level.

Offensively, Lowhorn is a much more effective basketball player when he plays in the post. Possessing solid quickness and footwork, he is able to create space for himself to operate. Once he is open, he has a variety of different scoring moves, from a solid turnaround jumpshot to a baby hook. He also shows nice touch from the field, possessing a streaky spot up jumper with range out to the three point line.

As evidenced by 51.3% field goal percentage and his 25.7% three point field goal percentage, he gets less accurate the farther he gets from the basket. That being said, however, he shows nice potential with his perimeter jumpshot, with a fluid, albeit slow and deliberate release. The problem seems to be that he does not show the greatest shot selection from the perimeter and rarely gets open looks. This hinders his ability to get into his motion, and his form and percentages suffer as a result.

Lowhorn’s shortcomings as a prospect largely revolve around his lack of a perimeter game. He has some moves facing the basket, but because his ball-handling skills are very much a work in progress, he has trouble consistently putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket. His first step is not the greatest either, but considering his size and strength, he is effective once he gets into the lane. Similarly, before he can call himself a combo-forward at this level and a potential small forward at the next level, he must develop a mid-range game. These are significant improvements, however, and there are very few combo-forward prospects who actually expand their offensive repertoires accordingly.

Defensively, he also seems face a difficult transition to the wing. He lacks the footspeed and lateral quickness to stick with wings and guards, and lacks the wingspan to compensate for his lack of elite athleticism and timing. Another area in which he must improve is his focus. He often loses his man around screens and is late on rotations.

One area in which Lowhorn excels at this level is as a rebounder. Whether or not his skill will translate to the next level is questionable, even though he has above average quickness in the post, has some nice fundamentals, and uses his size and strength accordingly. Without NBA caliber size and athleticism, however, he might struggle at the next level.

Dior Lowhorn is one of the top mid-major scorers in the country and certainly had one of the better sophomore campaigns in the NCAA. His potential at the next level hinges solely on his ability to transition to the perimeter, which at this point is very much up in the air. Thus, the ball is in Lowhorn’s court. Last season he finished in the top 10 in the country in offensive touches, responsible for over 27.4% of his team’s possessions. With a coaching situation that is likely more stable than last year’s, it is up to Lowhorn to continue to expand his offensive game out onto the perimeter and develop into a more versatile scorer.

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