Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part Two

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part Two
Nov 04, 2009, 12:33 pm
We continue our evaluation of the top NBA draft prospects in the non-BCS conferences with part two, featuring Kenneth Faried, Artsiom Parakhouski, Luke Babbit, Matt Howard and Wesley Witherspoon.

As a reminder, incoming freshmen have been excluded from this series.

-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten: Part One (#1-5), Part Two (#6-10), Part Three (#11-15)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12: Part One (#1-5), Part Two (#6-10), Part Three (#11-15)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10: Part One (#1-5), Part Two (#5-10)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC: Part One (#1-5), Part Two (#5-10), Part Three (#11-15),
Part Four
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East: Part One (#1-5), Part Two (#6-10),—3327
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC: Part One(#1-5), Part Two (#6-10),—3330,—3331
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences: Part One (#1-5)

#6 Kenneth Faried, 6-8, Junior, Power Forward, Morehead State

Jonathan Givony

Featuring some of the most eye popping numbers in college basketball and a style of play that is bound to endear him to NBA scouts, Kenneth Faried has been overdue for a mention on this site for quite some time now. Only a junior, and a young one at that, Faried’s per-minute production has jumped off the page since the moment he stepped foot on an NCAA court.

Not particularly big at around 6-8, and showing a narrow frame that could definitely use some extra bulk, Faried’s physical attributes don’t overwhelm you on first glance. He’s a good athlete—quick, reactive, agile and showing a terrific second bounce—but it’s his intensity and aggressiveness that makes him the player he is.

Faried is the top-returning rebounder in college basketball, grabbing an outrageous 17.1 rebounds per-40 minutes pace adjusted, which ranked right below DeJuan Blair last season. He displays all of the characteristics that most of the great rebounders do—showing outstanding hands, instincts, timing and reflexes pursuing loose balls ferociously, relishing contact and not having any problem sacrificing his body to help his team come up with an extra possession.

Offensively, Faried has made big strides over the past few years, but still projects as a role-player at best against higher level competition. He does an excellent job finishing around the basket thanks to his toughness, aggressiveness and solid explosiveness, usually finishing above the rim in emphatic fashion. His face-up game has improved quite a bit, being capable of taking his man off the dribble with nice footwork and hitting a decent amount of mid-range jumpers last season. While certainly prone to trying to do too much at times (leading to some questionable shots and turnovers), Faried appears to have an above average basketball IQ, being a solid passer who seems to understand the game fairly well. He gets to the free throw line at a terrific rate, but only converts 58% of his attempts once there.

On the downside, Faried’s skill-level is not extraordinarily high, as most of his production still comes from sheer will and tenacity. His ball-handling skills are improvable, his jump-shot still way too streaky, and his post game underdeveloped. Faried will need to continue to bulk up and polish his all-around skill-set if he’s to prove to scouts that his OVC numbers can translate to a much higher level of competition than he’s accustomed to.

Defensively, Faried is somewhat of a mixed bag. If projected as a power forward at the next level, he could have all kinds of issues guarding some of the more traditional big men he’ll find in the NBA, as he lacks both size and strength. It’s doubtful that he has any experience at all guarding perimeter players, though, as he spends most of his time at the 5-spot for Morehead State.

On the other hand, you can’t teach the type of hustle and aggressiveness that Faried brings to the table, and you surely can’t ignore his propensity for making big plays on the defensive end. Beyond his rebounding skills, he does a terrific job at getting steals and blocks, averaging 2.5 per-40 pace adjusted in both categories. Players with comparable characteristics, such as DeMarre Carroll and Renaldo Balkman, were drafted in the first round regardless of their tweener status, and Faried could make a similar case.

The NBA has shied away less and less as of late from players with less than ideal physical attributes, granted they can bring a team something extra in the toughness and activity level category. Faried will likely get his fair share of looks from teams this season, and still has another year of NCAA eligibility at his disposal if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing about his draft stock this spring.

#7 Artsiom Parakhouski, 6’11, Senior, Center, Radford

Matt Williams

Born in Belarus and having only a handful of seasons of organized basketball and English lessons under his belt, Artsiom Parakhouski made a splash in his first season in the NCAA. After leading Radford to a Big South title and the NCAA tournament in 2009, Artsiom Parakhouski returns to the small Virginia-based University for his senior season with the attention of NBA scouts.

Standing almost 7-feet tall and possessing a solid frame, the reigning Big South Player of the Year has an exceptional physical profile for a center, let alone one playing in a small NCAA conference. On top of his sheer size, Parakhouski possesses decent end to end mobility and some leaping ability, reminiscent of a less explosive Kyrylo Fesenko, as he lacks a degree of lateral speed and the quick leaping ability that would help him translate his size to the next level. Often the tallest player on the floor by a wide margin in conference play, Parakhouski’s averages of 16.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks are all representative of his ability to impose his size on lesser competition.

While it is easy to write off some true centers posting good numbers in small conferences, Parakhouski is an interesting case due to his lack of playing experience, physical maturity, and his production against top competition. After two seasons at Junior College juggernaut Southern Idaho College where he proved to be a productive contributor, but not a first option, Parakhouski carried the load for Radford on most nights last season. Though he didn’t have the best game of his career against Tyler Hansbrough and UNC in the first round of the NCAA tournament, scoring 10 points on 3-15 shooting with 10 rebounds, he held his own against both Wake Forest and Virginia, going for a double-double in both contests.

Parakhouski’s ability to show well against top competition will have a considerable impact on where he’s slated moving into next year’s draft season. In the Big South, he proves incredibly difficult to stop, as the big target he provides underneath, his solid hands, and his ability to maneuver around the paint for offensive rebounds and dump passes earn him a lot of easy shots right at the basket. Showing good finishing ability, keeping the ball high and dunking it whenever possible, Parakhouski has his way with interior defenders in the Big South, though he is prone to have his shot blocked against players with comparable physical gifts.

In addition to finishing at a high rate, Parakhouski does some damage in post up situations at as well. Preferring to operate over his right shoulder, Parakhouski displays a nice turnaround jumper turning in either direction, and flashes a hook shot on occasion. Having little trouble turning and elevating over his defender, Parakhouski’s short range touch appears solid, and he’s even able to step out and knock down an occasional midrange jumper. Only average from the foul line, shooting only 65.5%, Parakhouski’s improvements from the high post will only augment the things that he already does well on the college level.

Much like the instincts he displays in his basic back to the basket game, Parakhouski shows some good things on the defensive end. Disciplined and not overly foul prone, Parakhouski lacks the quickness to effectively defend the perimeter and the awareness to be a very good weakside defender. However, he plays solid defense when defending his man one-on-one in the post. One of the NCAA's top returning rebounders, as Parakhouski gains experience, his ability to be more physical defensively and react more quickly on the weakside will be essential to his defensive success regardless of where he’s playing next season.

With only six years of organized basketball under his belt, Parakhouski has made a seamless transition to the NCAA. In position to repeat as Big South Player of the Year, if Parakhouski can lead his team to the NCAA tournament, he’ll have every opportunity to boost his stock and eventually get drafted. Considering his current level of competition, Parakhouski could be a candidate for the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament next spring, and is likely to see a lot of interest when teams begin scheduling private workouts. If Parakhouski can add some polish to his game, pack on some muscle, and continue on the learning curve that he appears to be on, he seems like a strong candidate to land in the second round given the premium put on size.

#8 Luke Babbitt, 6’8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Nevada

Matt Williams

A left-handed forward holding the rare distinction of being a former McDonald’s All-American opting to play in a small conference, Luke Babbitt didn’t disappoint in his first season at Nevada. Averaging almost 17 points per-game, Babbitt showed the savvy of a much older player. Not sharing the upside that the other comparably hyped players from his class enjoy, Babbitt solidified himself as a top player in the WAC, and has three more years if needed to legitimize his NBA draft stock.

The limiting factor on Babbitt’s NBA potential will always be his physical profile. Not enjoying great size or strength at the power forward position, Babbitt isn’t an imposing physical specimen, and his lack of great quickness and explosiveness only compound concerns about his ability to translate his game to the next level. While both of those concerns will hurt him moving forward, Babbitt was arguably the most polished freshman in the NCAA last season, and possesses the skill-level and smarts to play in the NBA.

A smooth offensive player with an outstanding feel for putting the ball in the basket, and though he doesn't make his teammates better, Babbitt has a number of very promising tools, the most polished of which proved to be his jump shot last season. Displaying a high release point, and a fluid release with his feet set, Babbitt is an exceptional catch and shoot option. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Babbitt makes 70% of his open catch and shoot looks, making teams pay for giving his space. However, Babbitt’s percentages plummet when he’s defended to under 25%. Compare those two numbers with Babbitt’s outstanding 42.9% shooting from beyond the arc, and it seems entirely plausible that Babbitt could improve on his efficiency from deep if he can step away from the block and find more space on the perimeter –quite a feat for a player already ranked in the top-10 in our database in terms of three point percentage.

Though Babbitt’s struggles shooting over defenders translates into his midrange game to an extent, he proves capable of scoring from almost anywhere on the floor, though he's prone to forcing some fadeaway jumpers from inside the arc. Able to put the ball on the floor to get into the lane, Babbitt is a smart player who moves well without the ball, picking and choosing his spots inside the arc, using his body well, and turning the ball over at an extremely low rate for a young first option. Preferring to drive left when facing up from the midrange and tending to turn over his left shoulder in the post, Babbitt can score with a turnaround jumper over either shoulder and flashes a hook shot when he can spin into the middle of the lane. A threat to score whenever he receives the ball, Babbitt gets to the line at a good rate, and isn’t afraid to take the ball aggressively to the rim off the bounce. An excellent free throw shooter, if Babbitt can improve his pull up jumper and add some counter moves to his post repertoire, he’ll be a nightmare to defend in the WAC next season.

A versatile threat that could possibly play either forward position on the next level offensively, Babbitt doesn’t enjoy the same potential defensively. Possessing average lateral quickness and leaping ability at the college level, Babbitt likely lacks the physical tools to defend NBA small forwards. Though his length affords him some success defending the post and rebounding the ball on the college level, Babbitt’s lack of physicality and athleticism are definitely a concern, and a characteristic that limits his ability to accumulate blocks, steals, and rebounds. He doesn't appear very quick to react when his man makes a move, nor does he appear to have the type of intensity that would help him be a solid defender.

At this juncture, Babbitt reminds us of Austin Croshere, and has the potential to be a Steve Novak type shooter down the road. Potentially a four year player, Babbitt’s lack of physical tools will always limit him defensively, but if he can diversify his offensive game, he could propel himself into the draft conversation. Improved polish in some aspects of the game and improved productivity will no doubt afford him a shot at the NBA whenever he declares.

#9 Matt Howard, 6-8, Junior, Power Forward, Butler

Joey Whelan

Matt Howard doesn’t look like a great basketball player – not one who would likely garner attention from pro scouts anyway. Despite the oversized t-shirt and the occasional lack athletic fluidity, the forward has managed to establish himself as one of the more sound players outside of the major conferences at the college level. After a sophomore season in which he averaged nearly 15 points and seven rebounds for one of the best teams in the country, the Indiana native is primed for a big year that will go a long way to determining his professional future.

Physically there are definitely some issues of concern for Howard when projecting him as an NBA power forward. At 6-8, 230-pounds he has a sizeable enough frame to play a physical brand of basketball in the paint, but he is severely lacking in athleticism. Despite his size, the junior plays below the rim at both ends of the floor and doesn’t have the quickness necessary to be a true threat off the dribble in most situations. What he lacks in physical gifts though, Howard more than makes up for with hustle and fundamentals, particularly on the offensive end.

It’s not surprising that a player with Howard’s physical makeup gets the overwhelming majority of his touches in the immediate vicinity of the basket – in fact 76 percent of his shots come in the post, from offensive rebounds or cuts around the rim, according to Synergy Sports Technology. He connected on 55 percent of his shot attempts last season largely due to his back-to-the-basket game, which is about as fundamental as you will find at the college level. Howard has a good strong frame and does a nice job of establishing position low on the block and shows good hands as well. His go-to move at this point is a baby hook which he can execute with either hand, though he seems more comfortable when going towards the baseline. When he is able to establish inside position on his defender with a drop step, Howard is an excellent finisher, however when he is forced to shoot over taller players he struggles due to his lack of leaping ability.

Another tendency that Howard shows at this point in his game is pump faking with the basketball around the basket. This has proven to be both a positive and a negative for the junior during different points in his career. He ranked number one overall in our database in free throw attempts per-40 minutes pace adjusted last season at 11 per game, made even more appealing by the fact that he hit 77 percent of these attempts. This is due in large part to the effective manner in which Howard uses ball fakes and his fantastic hustle in the paint. Problems arise when he starts to over use the pump fake, often eliminating scoring opportunities for himself by hesitating rather than going straight up with the basketball.

The rest of Howard’s offensive arsenal is very limited at this point, restricted almost exclusively to the paint. In a few situations last year he was able to attack the basket off the dribble when he caught the ball at the elbow. He can only drive in a straight line and when given a good deal of space by defenders, but he is strong enough to bully his way to the rim if given a head start. We haven’t seen too much of a mid-range jump shot displayed by Howard yet, but his soft touch in the post and solid free throw shooting numbers are some indication that he could develop this part of his game.

Defensively, as one would expect, Howard has his struggles. While he does a nice job of holding his position and staying on his feet, more athletic frontcourt players are often able to elevate over him or utilize their quickness to create easy scoring opportunities. While these shortcomings aren’t always exploited in the Horizon League, they have been apparent in some of Butler’s more high profile match ups. At this point in his development Howard is a defensive liability when forced to defend outside of the lane due to his subpar lateral quickness. Improving his footwork and getting quicker to defend the pick and roll and more versatile forwards will be paramount to his chances of playing at the NBA level.

Howard is likely a four-year player at the college level who still has time to develop his game to appeal to scouts. His work ethic, toughness, hustle and fundamentally sound game will certainly endear him to NBA teams, but his lack of versatility and athleticism will be major strikes against him in the long run. As long as Butler stays in the national spotlight his chances certainly remain higher than they would otherwise, but there will always be question marks regarding his ability to translate his production to the NBA.

#10 Wesley Witherspoon, 6-8, Sophomore, Small Forward, Memphis

Scott Nadler

After a tumultuous off season for the Memphis Tigers which was highlighted by John Calipari’s move to Lexington and the ongoing allegations regarding Derrick Rose’s faulty SAT scores, the Memphis faithful can finally look forward to on court issues with the start of the season upon us. One player that has the fans hopeful for a return to the NCAA tournament is the highly talented and versatile forward Wesley Witherspoon.

Despite seeing limited action last season (13.7 mpg), Witherspoon earned 6th man of the year honors in Conference USA and will certainly be expected to carry more of a load this year. He’s bouncy, sinewy and plays with high energy on both ends of the court. His rare combination of size and athleticism coupled with a wide skill set make him an intriguing prospect. He can already play 3 positions, showing the ability to pass, handle the ball, rebound, and defend on the perimeter, all impressive skills for someone who’s 6-8. Even with the high praise, Witherspoon is hardly a finished product and still has a lot of room to grow.

As a shooter, Witherspoon’s shot is still a work in progress (to say the least), as he continues to shoot on his way down, as mentioned in a previous article, resulting in a flat arc. He has a nice looking follow through to compensate for this, but in order to become a more effective shooter he’ll have to correct the flaw. He shot 52.3% on 2 point shots on only three attempts per game last season and was a non factor from 3 point range – an area he must improve upon to truly create more buzz around him. He can pull-up off the dribble, preferring to go left most of the time, and with his long wingspan is able to get his shot off against the outstretched arms of bigger players.

Witherspoon averaged a paltry 11.3 points per-40 pace adjusted last season, which illustrates his struggles as a scorer, although there is reason to believe he can improve these numbers. He only shot 51.3% last season from the charity stripe and got there at a decent rate of 4.3 times a game per 40 pace adjusted. With a few adjustments made to his shot and a growing confidence to continue to get to the basket, he may be able to score with more regularity this season.

Although his responsibilities as a ball handler were limited last season, the few opportunities we were able to see showed a player who was comfortable handling the ball against pressure in the dribble drive motion offense. He can dribble with either hand and can get into the paint on a regular basis. Getting by his man wasn’t the problem for Witherspoon, but his indecisiveness when met by the help forced him into turnovers where he often left his feet to make a pass – a cardinal sin in basketball. He turned the ball over on an astounding 23% of his limited offensive possessions (4.3 per game) and had a negative assist to turnover ratio (0.83), which is common of most freshmen. Those numbers must improve substantially if he is going to handle the ball as much as he’s expected to.

The area in which he really excelled last season was on the defensive end. He did an excellent job at contesting shots – utilizing his long wingspan to get a hand up and close out on shooters. He rarely conceded open shots, which speaks volumes about his effort on this end of the floor. He has very good lateral speed and is not afraid to extend his pressure beyond the three point line. He averaged 2.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per 40 pace adjusted last season, further emphasizing his commitment to defense. What’s more is his knack for rebounding, pulling down 6.1 rebounds per 40 pace adjusted despite his slight build. His frame however does affect his interior defense, often being pushed around under the hoop or bumped on a dribble drive to shed him away. Spending more time in the weight room would serve him well in terms of eliminating those shortcomings.

With rookie coach Josh Pastner leading the helm and Tyreke Evans running the show for the Sacramento Kings, Witherspoon has been given a grand opportunity become a key fixture in the new era of Memphis basketball. He doesn’t do one thing great, but has a great deal of upside still left to tap into. Witherspoon is good at a lot of things and improvements with his shot and strength could quickly make him a hot name amongst scouts sometime down the road.

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