Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10 (Part One: #1-5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10 (Part One: #1-5)
Sep 24, 2008, 01:27 am
Not quite at the level it was last year, the Pac-10 is regardless still fairly strong as far as high-level NBA prospects go, although it clearly doesn't have the depth it did last season. Arizona State's James Harden leads the way in terms of returning draft prospects, followed by Arizona products Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger, as well as UCLA's Darren Collison and Arizona State's Jeff Pendergraph.

-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

#1 James Harden, 6’5, Shooting Guard, Sophomore, Arizona State

Joseph Treutlein

While the amount of media attention he got may not have matched the likes of Kevin Love or O.J. Mayo last season, James Harden sure made a comparable first-year resume, becoming Arizona State’s go-to player and leading scorer practically as soon as the season started, and earning All-Pac-10 First Team honors for it. Harden didn’t just score 17.8 points per game; he did it very efficiently, shooting 53% from the field and 41% from three, while putting up a very strong 63% TS%.

Someone we covered twice during the 2007-08 season, there really isn’t much new to say about Harden since we last spoke of him in January. The biggest thing to take note of is how his level of play didn’t fall off against conference competition, as he showed little trouble consistently performing against the tougher foes night in and night out. We also noticed at the adidas Nations tournament in Dallas that he appears to have improved his physique over the summer, standing a solid 6-5 with a very sturdy and now slimmer frame.

As has been mentioned before, not being the greatest athlete in the world, Harden’s exceptional play level is due mostly to his fundamentals and excellent know-how on the court. Not a flashy ball-handler, Harden is very controlled with the ball, and rarely will use many highly advanced moves other than his effective crossover.

That’s not to say he’s a straight-line dribbler at all, though, as he constantly uses excellent craftiness to adjust with the ball in the lane, utilizing jump stops, stop-and-pivot moves, misdirection steps, and hesitation dribbles to change directions in the lane, getting his defender off balance and weaving his way to high percentage shot attempts. He’s definitely capable of making more adjustments when using his dominant left dribble, but still does a good job on right-handed drives.

Around the basket, Harden’s level of craftiness continues to impress, as he goes to a variety of floaters, finger rolls, and lay-ups to get the job done, making good use of the openings the defense provides for him. It’s very impressive he’s able to finish with such effectiveness around the rim despite rarely using his right hand or using explosive strength to score with power.

As a jump shooter, Harden is very effective spotting up, with range to the NBA three-point line, but his effectiveness falls off when pulling up, as he lacks a certain degree of fluidity or comfort when transitioning from dribble to shot with a defender on him. He has a tendency to fade away on these pull-up shots from deep, and his accuracy is not very good when pulling up from mid-range. Improving this ripple of his game, while making him more of a threat from the mid-range, would make him that much more dangerous a player.

For all his scoring prowess, and partially due to the system he plays in, it’s easy to overlook his phenomenal passing game. He clearly excels there as well, showing the same terrific understanding of the game in this area and frequently creating good shot attempts for teammates. Not flashy in this segment of his game either, Harden does most of his damage on quick, simple drive-and-kicks or good post entry/pick-and-roll passes.

His excellent fundamentals and basketball IQ really stand out when you consider that he was one of the youngest players in all of college basketball last season, having only turned 19 a month ago. In Dallas at the adidas Nations tournament, he arrived a day later than most but wasted no time at all asserting his will against anyone he matched up with, largely with his ability to create both for himself and especially for others.

It’s tough to get a great feel for Harden on the defensive end, as he is rarely put in isolation situations in ASU’s zone defense, but on the few we saw over the course of the year, his lateral quickness seemed adequate, as did his reflexes and instincts. As a team defender, Harden is very strong, as he uses his length and hands to constantly disrupt the opposing team’s offense, making 2.1 steals per game and contesting many outside shots.

With the 2009 draft class not looking very deep in elite talent, Harden looks like he’s going to be in a great situation come June, as if he picks up where he left off as a freshman, and makes a few improvements to his game, he could easily see himself in discussions for the lottery. He’s not your typical lottery shooting guard prospect due to his just adequate athleticism and a style that doesn’t net him nearly any highlight reel plays, but with his build, length, and excellent feel for the game, if he can improve on last season’s performance, he’ll definitely be someone scouts and executives will be talking about.

#2 Jordan Hill, 6-9, Junior, Power Forward, Arizona

Jonathan Givony

Still largely flying underneath the radar as far as the national media is concerned, this could very well be the year that Jordan Hill emerges as a college basketball star, in this, his junior season. We saw the potential in him last summer despite only averaging 4.7 points per game as a freshman, causing us to name him one of the top five returning NBA draft prospects in the loaded Pac-10.

He backed that up by upping his scoring to over 13 points per game in 29 minutes, shooting a scintillating 62% from the field (tops amongst all players on our 2009 mock draft) , while pulling down an excellent 11.1 rebounds per-40 minutes (4th in our 09 mock), and improving his free throw percentage by an astounding 24%, to bring him to a much more respectable 68% from the charity stripe. He also passed the ball considerably better, while still maintaining his solid 2.3 blocks per-40 averages, although his turnover rate increased and he still struggled at times with foul trouble.

All in all, there is no question that Hill did an excellent job showing that he is more than just an excellent prospect—he was extremely productive for Arizona. A late bloomer who hasn’t been playing organized basketball as long as most, he obviously still has quite a bit of room to grow as a player.

Despite standing somewhere around 6-9 and being somewhat skinny, Hill was used mostly as a back to basket inside threat for Arizona last year. His repertoire is mostly limited here to posting up on the left block and spinning to his left shoulder for a very effective right-handed jump-hook shot. He is quick enough to get this shot fairly easy against the average college defender, although he seemed to struggle when trying to use this move against bigger, stronger and more athletic big men—the type he’ll see much more frequently in the NBA.

Hill is a bit predictable offensively at times, he has a tendency to spin right into double teams and isn’t great when forced to improvise or go out of his comfort zone. His post moves and footwork in general looks a bit unpolished, and he’s not what you would call a great passer either, struggling to see anything besides the rim once he makes up his mind regarding what he wants to do, and not always reading the floor particularly well. His left hand is virtually non-existent in the post, and most smart defenders know that, making him fairly easy to neutralize with effective advanced scouting. Expanding his repertoire of post moves could do wonders for his production.

What Hill is excellent at is finishing around the basket, to the tune of making 71% of his attempts around the rim according to Synergy Sports Technology’s quantified report. His terrific hands make him a great target in the paint for his guards to drop off passes to (typically off a pick and roll), and he does an excellent job rising up above the defense and finishing with authority. If unable to finish the play with a dunk, he seems to have the touch and wherewithal to use the glass fairly well too, which leaves a lot of room for optimism. Hill also gets a few baskets every game simply by crashing the offensive glass or running the floor, which helps keep his field goal percentages sky-high.

It’s no fluke that Hill’s free throw percentages went from 44% to 68% between his freshman and sophomore seasons—his shooting range expanded dramatically in that time as well. Hill has solid mechanics from 16-18 feet and nice touch as well from this range. He isn’t incredibly consistent at this point, but this is a part of his game that shows a lot of potential, and he should clearly continue to work to improve on.

Although not a great ball-handler, Hill’s first step is absolutely terrific, allowing him to leave most opposing big men in the dust if he can get an initial step on them. This is yet another part of his game that he can build off in the future, although it’s not really a consistent part of his repertoire just yet.

A pretty poor defender due to his average awareness and fundamentals, it’s on this end of the floor that Hill looks furthest away from competing at the NBA level just yet. His lack of experience really gets exposed, as he does not do a good job at all of hedging screens or staying in front of his man on the perimeter or inside the paint. He uses his hands excessively and is fairly foul prone in turn, the reason why he wasn’t always able to stay on the court in some stretches when his team needed him. Gaining strength looks like a major priority for him here, but his nice length and athleticism already allows him to establish himself as somewhat of a shot-blocking threat, as well as an excellent rebounder.

Clearly a superior athlete with a skill-set that is rapidly improving and an aggressive mentality that bodes very well for his future development, Hill is certainly someone to keep an eye on this upcoming season, as it’s quite possible that he breaks out and has a spectacular year. He’s nowhere near a finished product at this point, but that’s part of the reason he’s so interesting, as most of his flaws look highly correctable, and his strengths are the type that can’t be taught. The next step is to become much more consistent from game to game and improve on his polish and all-around feel for the game.

#3 Chase Budinger, 6-7, Junior, SG/SF, Arizona

Kyle Nelson

We’ve already written extensively about Chase Budinger, but as one of the PAC-10’s better, if not its best, NBA prospect, all eyes will be on the Arizona junior next year. Last season, Budinger’s role increased to the tune of 23% of his team’s possessions, and he responded by increasing his scoring average to 17.1 ppg, albeit on less efficient shooting from the field. The difference, however, between freshman and sophomore Budinger, however, was fairly pronounced, especially by the end of the season: Budinger showed the potential to develop into the first option that he was expected to be since the first day he stepped onto campus. This year, likely his last in Tucson, he must prove to scouts that he can amount to more than merely a role-player in the NBA. Becoming an elite college scorer on a depth-depleted team isn’t a bad place to start.

Physically, Budinger has a lot of athletic tools to work with, namely his explosiveness and 40-plus inch vertical jump. While he does not move incredibly well laterally, must gain more strength and possesses an average first step, it is hard to ignore a 6’7 guard with a solid basketball IQ who is a highlight reel waiting to happen in the open court. At the collegiate level, he is a tremendous mismatch on the perimeter, and should be able to translate that into dominance next season.

On the offensive end last year, Budinger became more assertive as the season went on, showing an improved offensive repertoire. His shooting stroke, particularly from the perimeter, looked much better. He showed the same quick release and good elevation, but his form looked more fluid, and he showed the ability to knock down shots off of the dribble as well as while spotting up. Moving inwards, he does a good job of scoring in a majority of ways, mostly due to his ability to use the backboard and his solid body control. One area in which Budinger should look to improve next season is his ball-handling ability. He is competent now, but he could increase his offensive versatility, particularly his mid-range game and quickness with the ball in hands if he were to improve this part of his game. Also, at times last season, he was overambitious with the ball, costing his team bad turnovers. He will likely be a second offensive facilitator from the wing next season, and it is essential that he play within his strengths and not try to force the issue.

Defensively, Budinger is still quite lacking. Despite his athleticism, size, and length, his lateral quickness is poor, which does not allow him to be a very effective perimeter defender at this stage. Likewise, his defensive awareness is not great either, failing to close out his man on the perimeter, not running above screens, and not looking focused for stretches of games. Considering his basketball IQ and athleticism, Budinger should be able to develop into a decent defender in the future, but it is up to him to show scouts that he will not be a liability at the next level.

Budinger is almost a lock to declare for the NBA Draft after next season and should be in good shape as far as the first round is concerned. Right now, he is being viewed as a role-player at the next level, but scouting Budinger only reveals how much more potential he still has left to realize. Should he continue to expand his game and emerge as one of the top scorers in the NCAA, don’t be surprised to see him projected higher come March. Much of that for him is mental, and we’ll plenty about that this upcoming season.

#4 Darren Collison, 6-1, Senior, Point Guard, UCLA

Joey Whelan

Even with a stellar recruiting class that includes blue chip point guard Jrue Holiday, UCLA coach Ben Howland has to be thrilled with the return of Darren Collison for his senior year. The California native can lay claim to being the best returning college floor general in the country, and will be all over pre season All-American lists.

The biggest knock against Collison throughout his career has been his size. Generously listed at 6’1” and 165 pounds, he is undersized even by college standards. Early off season reports have said that Collison has added a little weight and gotten stronger, although apparently it isn’t very visibly noticeable. While he will always be criticized for his smaller stature, his speed and smarts make him a constant threat on both ends of the floor. There are few players at the college level who are as poised in the open floor with the basketball as Collison is.

Collison was a very efficient scorer last season, averaging 14.5 points on 48.1% shooting, but as the only returning player to average double figures, he will likely need to step his scoring numbers up this season. His ball-handling skills are outstanding and he has a great understanding of how to break defenders down in isolation situations or using screens. Towards the end of last season he really came on in his mid-range game, able to pull up on a dime or knock down tough runners on taller opponents. Collison was a tremendous threat from beyond the arc, connecting on an absurd 52.5% of his shot attempts from the outside, though the sample size still leaves something to be desired. Despite being one of the most deadly outside shooters around, Collison only attempted 3 shots per game from the perimeter and almost never if he was contested at all.

Certainly Collison’s intangibles need to be considered when discussing him as well. He has shown a real knack for hitting big shots in his time at UCLA, making him a real asset as a backcourt leader. He has a strong skill set for a point guard, and reports are saying over the summer he has improved his ability to anticipate where teammates will be on the floor. He is an absolute nuisance as a one-on-one defender, using his speed and quick hands to emerge as a steals leader in the Pac-10.

Despite his physical stature, which will always give pro scouts pause, there are quite a few reasons to be high on Collison. Everything about his game, particularly the fact that he does everything against top notch competition, says that he could be on his way to a solid NBA career if he gets the necessary time to develop. He appears to be a solid first round prospect, although there are still some question marks regarding whether he projects as a backup or as a starter.

#5 Jeff Pendergraph, 6’9, Power Forward, Senior, Arizona State

Rodger Bohn

Pendergraph has been on the NBA radar now for several years, gradually progressing during each of his three seasons in Tempe. He is a player who certainly had the opportunity to test the waters last season as a junior, but opted to focus on his development at Arizona State instead.

Much has been written already about Pendergraph’s physical gifts and there is little not to like. He has nice size and length for a power forward, to go with a frame capable of putting on size and solid athleticism. The senior can certainly pass the look test of a power forward prospect as far as the NBA is concerned.

Pendergraph’s offensive game is still more of that of a traditional back to the basket player, rather than that of today’s hybrid power forward. He favors turning towards his left shoulder the majority of the time, showing off a good right hand jump hook with soft touch and nice extension. Pendergraph is still incredibly raw going towards his right shoulder, tending to put up an uncomfortable looking left hand hook shot. Either way, he is an incredibly efficient player in the post, as seen by his 59% field goal percentages.

There has been some nice improvement in the California native’s face-up game, however. He appears to be much more comfortable facing the basket, capable of drilling a quick release jumper out to about 14 feet. Pendergraph will obviously have to extend his range if he hopes to play the four position full time in the NBA, but his progress in this area leaves some room for optimism.

Obviously there are still some major holes in Pendergraph’s game offensively. He is more of a center then a power forward at the moment and still isn’t very comfortable putting the ball on the floor. Pendergraph also doesn’t read the double team exceptionally well (something he will be facing quite a bit this year), and could use some improvement in terms of finding the open man.

Arizona State’s tendency to run zone defense makes it hard for players to box out and often allows a number of offensive rebounds, which might explain why ASU was the second worst rebounding squad in the conference. Pendergraph was worse on the boards this season (11.9 per-40 as a sophomore, compared to 9.7 as a junior), but things were a little more difficult for him given the lackluster job Sun Devil guards did of boxing out.

Given ASU’s desire to run zone, there were few situations to evaluate Pendergraph’s actual man-to-man defense. In the few instances we did see, we were able to gather that he is a tough defender on the low blocks who does a very nice job of holding his own position. Pendergraph did a good job of rotating and displayed decent timing in terms of blocking shots. Overall, he appears to be a very solid defender from what we have seen.

Currently projected as a second round pick, Pendergraph is a player who has a chance to earn a spot in the first round with a strong senior season. He will surely have the chance to play at the NBA pre-Draft Camp if he desires to do so at the conclusion of the season. The rate of development throughout his senior campaign as well as the success his team finds will determine how attractive of a prospect he is deemed to be come June.

Recent articles

16.9 Points
5.1 Rebounds
8.5 Assists
18.7 PER
1.7 Points
2.0 Rebounds
0.0 Assists
5.6 PER
7.5 Points
4.9 Rebounds
1.0 Assists
14.9 PER
1.3 Points
1.3 Rebounds
0.7 Assists
-0.2 PER
8.7 Points
4.6 Rebounds
1.6 Assists
20.3 PER
8.4 Points
5.8 Rebounds
1.9 Assists
18.8 PER
7.6 Points
2.3 Rebounds
0.6 Assists
12.3 PER
11.0 Points
5.0 Rebounds
4.0 Assists
29.5 PER

Twitter @DraftExpress

DraftExpress Shop