Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC (Part Three: #11-15)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC (Part Three: #11-15)
Sep 23, 2009, 06:51 am
Our third look at the top NBA draft prospects in the incredibly deep SEC focuses on Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli, LSU's Tasmin Mitchell, Arkansas' Courtney Fortson, Florida's Kenny Kadji, and Wayne Chism from Tennessee.

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

#1 Jeff Taylor
#2 Patrick Patterson
#3 Terrico White
#4 JaMychal Green
#5 Scotty Hopson
#6 Andrew Ogilvy
#7 Jarvis Varnado
#8 Michael Washington
#9 Howard Thompkins
#10 Tyler Smith

#11 Festus Ezeli, 6-11, Redshirt Sophomore, Center, Vanderbilt

Jonathan Givony

Festus Ezeli had never played a minute of organized basketball before committing to play at Vanderbilt and eventually redshirting his freshman season, but that did not stop the Nigerian native from quietly stringing together a promising rookie campaign under Kevin Stallings. Ezeli didn’t play a huge role for the Commodores as evidenced by the 3.8 points in 12.4 minutes he averaged, but that’s to be expected considering the stage of development he’s currently at, and the fact that he plays the same position as the extremely productive Andrew Ogilvy.

Ezeli looks the part of an NBA prospect and then some, standing 6-11, with a chiseled frame, long arms and excellent athleticism. He runs the court well, can get off the floor to contest shots and is extremely mobile.

There is not much to speak of offensively at this point, as Ezeli is pretty much as raw a big man as you’ll find on a list like this. He lacks coordination and feel in a serious way, looking pretty much lost when forced to do anything beyond catching and finishing around the basket. Ezeli has average touch and no post moves to speak of, often just throwing the ball up at the basket in hope that it will somehow fall through. He dished out a shocking lone assist all season long compared to 43 turnovers, which would have been the second worst rate in all of college basketball had he played enough minutes to qualify. He committed a turnover on 33% of his used possessions, which would place him in the top-5 nationally in that dubious category.

Regardless, Ezeli shows moderate potential on the offensive end, as he has decent hands and the work ethic and aggressiveness to make use of his excellent physical tools, leaving at least some room for optimism in terms of the future. He appeared to improve as the season went on, which is always a good sign. He gets to the free throw line at a very nice per-minute rate, but only converts 51% of his attempts once there.

Defensively, Ezeli is far more useful at this point, managing to emerge as a pretty effective player for Vanderbilt in stretches last year both as a man to man and team defender. He works extremely hard on this end, competing aggressively to deny his man position, and using his length to contest shots around the paint. Ezeli blocked a decent amount of shots last year, and should be able to improve even more in this area as he continues to grow into his frame and develops his feel for how to operate on the court. He already shows good timing, toughness and lateral quickness, even if he needs to improve his lower body strength and ability to step out and defend on the perimeter.

It probably won’t be at least another year until we get a better read on just how good Ezeli can become down the road, as he’s still playing catch-up due to his late start and will be stuck behind one of the best centers in college basketball in A.J. Ogilvy. If he continues to make strides with his all-around game, though, it’s pretty likely that we’ll be talking about him again.

#12 Tasmin Mitchell, 6-7, Senior, Small Forward/Power Forward, LSU

Kyle Nelson

One year ago, we predicted that a strong season would help put Tasmin Mitchell back onto the NBA radar. Mitchell definitely met our expectations, posting career highs in points and rebounds while boosting his efficiency and shooting percentages in the process. He declared for the NBA draft, but withdrew his name from consideration, solidifying his status as the unmistakable leader of the young LSU Tigers. As a senior, Mitchell must continue to prove to scouts that he can further expand his game to the perimeter, while still playing efficient basketball.

From a physical standpoint, Mitchell is a mixed bag. Standing 6’7, he has good size for an NBA small forward, even if last season he proved himself to be more of a face-up power forward, in the mold of a DeMarre Carroll or James Johnson. As we have said before, he has a very good frame and solid quickness, but overcoming his lack of standout athleticism and length will be obstacles for him at the next level. He is a very intelligent player, however, and very well aware of his athletic limitations, both of which help his standing in the eyes of NBA scouts.

Offensively, Mitchell has a combo-forward’s skill-set and was consistently a very efficient scorer. Boasting career high field goal and three-point field goal percentages (52.2% and 52.6%, respectively), not to mention a True Shooting Percentage of 57%, Mitchell showed that he could score effectively and efficiently in a variety of different ways. He hits open jump shots consistently, showing a somewhat stifled shooting motion while almost always fading away from the basket. Nonetheless, he manages to put very good arc on his shots and he maintained his shooting form even when his shot was contested, a skill which will prove valuable at the next level.

While he has displayed solid range from beyond the arc, he only attempted 19 three-point field goals last season, which is significantly less than the 109 he attempted as a sophomore. It would be unlike Mitchell to sacrifice team play for personal statistics, but it certainly would not hurt if he could more often prove his perimeter shooting abilities to scouts.

While he showed proficiency as a spot-up shooter, Mitchell continued to show flashes of a mid-range game, though at this point he is more comfortable operating out of the post with a barrage of turnaround jumpers and cuts to the basket, rather than a more traditional perimeter game. Considering his size, skill, and athleticism for his position at the collegiate level, Mitchell should really attack the basket more often and exploit the constant mismatches he sees on the offensive end of the floor. One of the reasons it seems as though he does not utilize his slashing game is that his ball-handling skills are still fairly crude at this point. A better handle with both hands, though particularly with his left hand, would allow him to open his game up tremendously and is vital if he transitions to the perimeter at the next level.

In the post, he has superior quickness and footwork in addition to his already high skill level, which allows him to score in a variety of different ways at this level. He plays with a high degree of aggressiveness and intensity, as well, and always seems to be a factor on any play, whether it be diving for loose balls or on the offensive boards. His scrappy play will be yet another valuable skill at the next level, particularly considering the ways that most combo-forwards are utilized in the NBA.

Mitchell is a very active defender, incredibly aggressive and smart, which are attributes that combine to make him quite a presence at the collegiate level. Though he has average lateral quickness—which certainly calls into question his most effective NBA position—he can guard both perimeter and post players relatively well at the collegiate level. Perhaps his most impressive intangible on the defensive end, however, is his ability to communicate. He is a great team defender and is constantly talking to his teammates, making sure they are in the right place at the right time. Whether or not his abilities and intangibles translate to the next level, however, is unknown and complicate his NBA potential considerably.

Tasmin Mitchell has improved since his freshman year at LSU, but there are still many questions surrounding his NBA potential, as he may not be deemed to posses the upside to compensate for his average skill-set and athleticism. Next season will be telling in terms of Mitchell’s future. He will once again be the top option on offense as well as Louisiana State’s defensive anchor. Opportunities for him to show scouts what he can offer at the next level will be plentiful and, after entering the draft last summer, he has a good idea of what aspects of his game need improvement.

#13 Courtney Fortson 5’10, Sophomore, Point Guard, Arkansas

Scott Nadler

It would be difficult to find a player with more energy and a better motor than Arkansas point guard Courtney Fortson. As one of the more exciting players in the country, Fortson plays an attacking style of basketball, while displaying a never back down attitude. With that said, his biggest strength could be his biggest weakness as he tends to play out of control as a result of his blazing speed – failing to recognize good vs. bad opportunities from time to time. That immaturity, coupled with poor decision making skills are expected of most freshmen, which means this season, Razorback nation will be anticipating a more polished and seasoned point guard leading their squad.

In order to be that player, Fortson will have to learn how to pick his spots while staying true to his aggressive nature. He plays tough and feisty, going every possession at 100%. At only 5’10, Fortson is a very good athlete with tremendous upper body strength.

His reactionary skills are rather impressive as well, routinely tracking down loose balls or getting into passing lanes which often results in him getting to the basket by leading a one man fast break. The southpaw uses hesitation moves, head and shoulder fakes off the bounce, and changes direction at the drop of a dime. He does a good job at keeping his dribble alive, but does get into trouble when he over dribbles, resulting in stagnant offensive possessions.

Getting to the basket for Fortson was one thing, but converting on those chances was another story. On one side, Fortson could be electric in the open court, showing a flare for the spectacular, making shots from impossible angles against players a foot taller than him. Unfortunately for Fortson though, shots like that were hardly the norm, as he had a tendency to over commit himself – forcing up tough looks on a nightly basis. Consequently, Fortson shot a modest 49.2% on shots at the basket last season. In order to increase that percentage, he’ll have to learn how to be more comfortable operating from 5 to 10 feet out – shooting runners and tear drops to counter interior defenses. This issue will only be compounded at the professional level, as his severe lack of size will be exposed far more often against the higher quality big men he’s bound to face.

The lack of perimeter help last season may have contributed to his questionable shot selection, as playing for a team that struggled so badly after a great start must have been frustrating for the freshman. Despite the limited support, Fortson managed to fill up the stat sheet, averaging 14.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists (7th in the country) – impressive numbers for any player let alone one in his first season. The one statistical category however which was not all that impressive was that of his turnovers.

Fortson was number one in the country last season in turnovers per game, coughing it up 4.4 times every night he took the court. Those numbers are consistent with his go-go style of play and out of control fashion. He handled the ball often and was responsible for nearly a quarter of his team’s possessions, but turning it over on 26% of his possessions is inexcusable. Due to his high assist numbers, Fortson still managed to have a decent 1.34 assist to turnover ratio. That ratio will surely rise with a greater emphasis on valuing the ball.

Fortson’s shooting is another area that can use some improvement. His adjusted FG% on catch and shoot opportunities was only 36% last season, showing a slow release, a flat arc and an inconsistency in his elevation. Off the dribble, he appeared to be a bit more comfortable, but his efficiency was still average, shooting an adjusted FG% of 36.2%. It’s not out of the question to see him improve his percentages as he has a nice stroke and the confidence to go with it, but his shot selection and few quirks must get better.

On the defensive end, Fortson uses his never ending energy to harass the opposing point guards. He puts a lot of pressure on the ball and has great lateral speed along with a strong frame, making him a difficult player to beat off the dribble. Off the ball, he’s very bouncy and aware of what’s going on, showing good anticipation skills and active hands, almost always making his presence felt. He does gamble on occasion which puts him out of position, but you can almost live with that because of how hard he plays and his great knack for getting the ball, coming up with over a steal a game.

Hi 5.5 rebounds a game are worth mentioning again, considering the fact that he was 8th in the nation in that category amongst all point guards. He’s great at chasing down long boards and is not afraid to mix it up inside with the bigger players.

Fortson is quite a bit older than your typical college sophomore, turning 22 in June, which puts him at the same age as many seniors. His off court actions are something to keep an eye on, as he was suspended indefinitely last season for reportedly being somewhat of a malcontent. Nonetheless, Fortson will hopefully be making more news this year for his on the court actions with hopes of building off his superb freshman season while making Arkansas competitive in the SEC.

#14 Kenny Kadji, 6-11, Sophomore, PF/C, Florida

Jonathan Givony

Kenny Kadji played a fairly small role on an underachieving Florida team in his first season of college basketball. The highly touted freshman of Nigerian descent saw his minutes fluctuate dramatically throughout the year, but will be expected to step up his game in a major way competing in a very shallow Gator frontcourt.

Kadji’s productivity as a freshman did not match his placement on this list, he only averaged 4.4 points in 12.5 minutes. Still, there are some things to like about his potential moving forward. Kadji’s main appeal lies in his physical attributes, as he has a rare (for the NCAA) combination of size, bulk and length. He stands somewhere around 6-10 or 6-11, with an excellent wingspan, and a body that is already extremely developed and should be able to be toned impressively. While he’s clearly made strides with his conditioning since arriving on campus in Gainesville, he could still stand to put even more work in in the weight room to continue to maximize his physical potential.

Offensively, Kadji was used almost entirely as an off the ball threat due to his below average feel and skill level. He’s capable of establishing deep post position thanks to his wide frame, but does not really know what to do with the ball once he receives it in a position to make a strong move and score. Kadji struggles badly to finish around the basket in traffic, lacking a bit of coordination and a degree of toughness and explosiveness. Like a lot of young big men, the college game seemed to move just a bit too fast for him at times as a freshman, which made him fairly turnover prone relative to his limited role. Kadji garnered just 4 assists in 34 games last year, committing 7 turnovers for every one assist he dished out. He does have good hands and nice touch, though, to go along with his strong physical attributes, which leaves plenty of room for optimism regarding his future development.

He already showed some very nice flashes as an offensive rebounder last year. This is a part of his game he can really develop even further with better activity level and a better feel that will come with added experience and playing time. In high school Kadji was known as being able to step out on occasion and knock down perimeter jumpers, something that we really didn’t see much of in his freshman season, despite his decent shooting mechanics. Kadji only converted 51% of his free throws last season, a pretty good indication that he still has plenty of work to do in this area.

Defensively, Kadji has potential, but also has a long ways to go before he can be considered more than just average at best on this end of the floor. His big body and excellent length give him a good framework to build off, and already allowed him to emerge as a decent shot-blocking threat at times, but his poor fundamentals and inconsistent motor likely played a big role in the lack of playing time he received in some of Florida’s most crucial games last season. Kadji loses his focus easily and tends to give up deep post position without putting up enough of a fight. He needs to get tougher, smarter and more active if he’s to take the next step in his development and earn the confidence of his coaching staff. One place where he can show that immediately is on the defensive glass, where his presence wasn’t felt often enough in his freshman year.

Despite the fact that Kadji is the same age as many college seniors (he turns 22 in May), it’s still way too early to be drawing any long-term conclusions about his pro potential. He undoubtedly has the tools to develop into an NBA player, but will have to continue to put the work in over the next few years to reach his full potential.

#15 Wayne Chism, 6-9, Power Forward, Senior, Tennessee

Joey Whelan

The Tennessee Volunteers are primed for a big season, just one year removed from winning 21 games, Bruce Pearl’s squad returns nearly everyone and will have a couple of key additions as well. There will be no shortage of perimeter athletes for the Vols, but the state of the frontcourt will rest largely on the shoulders of senior forward Wayne Chism. The Jackson native is coming off a career year where he averaged 13.7 points and 8 rebounds as a junior, but saw his field goal and perimeter shooting percentages take a slight dip – likely due to an increased number of touches. Regardless, Chism is going to need a big year in order to help Tennessee make a late run into the month of March and help raise his stock as a pro prospect in the process.

When we last examined Chism before his junior season began, a major strike against him was the need to add more strength to his 6-9 frame. Now packing over 240 pounds, it appears as though he has certainly spent some considerable time in the weight room, proving to be much stronger inside than he had been previously. He shows moderate quickness in the post, but as we have mentioned in the past, the upperclassman is never going to garner significant looks based on his physical tools alone, as he simply doesn’t possess anything more than average athleticism for a big man.

Even as a face up forward who likes to roam the perimeter, Chism gets the bulk of his touches in the post. He does an excellent job of establishing position thanks to his added strength, and exhibits pretty soft hands as well. Despite these attributes, Chism leaves a lot to be desired offensively on the block, connecting on less than 40 percent of his shot attempts down low. His back to the basket game, despite showing promise earlier in his career hasn’t really developed much in the last year, still relying mainly on the basic principle of trying to back his man down and lofting a quick jump hook over him. While this may work with moderate consistency at the college level, Chism’s lack of leaping ability will make it almost impossible for him to be successful with this move against pro defenders. While he does show a soft touch from time to time, he tends to rush his moves against tougher defenders, often line driving his attempts at the rim. He has shown an improvement in recognizing oncoming double teams in the post, but his decision making skills as a passer still have a ways to go, as the majority of his turnovers come from ill advised passes from the block.

As we have talked about in the past, Chism’s ability to shoot in spurts it what has drawn the most attention to his game. By no means a consistent perimeter threat, the senior can go for short stretches where is a legitimate threat to connect on three-point tries. However, he did shoot a career low 32 percent on these shot attempts last season, albeit on a career high 128 attempts. In the past we have criticized his shooting form and lack of a consistent release point, while praising his quick release. Last season things seemed to reverse somewhat as his form started to show more signs of fluidity while he release slowed significantly. Chism still has a high release point on his shot though he tends to push his shot quite a bit, meaning he needs room to operate. He has yet to show much of an ability to shoot off the dribble and rarely if ever will attempt a jump shot that isn’t a three-point try.

What has been encouraging to see from the senior is a continued improvement in his abilities to finish the looks he gets around the basket. Chism shot 55 percent of better on attempts he got in transition, as a result of offensive rebounds or on moving without the ball in the paint. The added bulk he put on during the offseason allows him to finish with contact, though he still gets a number of shots altered as a result of his poor vertical. He doesn’t run the floor exceptionally well, but has a good sense of where to position himself on the floor, getting a fair number of his points on the break as a trail man spotting up for perimeter jumpers. He also gets to the free throw line at a solid rate, and improved his shooting from the charity stride significantly this past season, from 56% to 72%.

Not much has changed for Chism in regards to his play on the defensive end of the floor. He is still very foul prone, still struggles when forced to step away from the basket, and still gets beaten off the dribble by quicker players on a regular basis. He has improved in regards to holding his position better on the block, but taller post players can still shoot over him fairly easy. At the very least, Chism is going to need to do a better job of hedging on the pick and roll and contesting mid-range jumpers this season. On the positive side, he is a very solid defensive rebounder.

Chism continues to improve himself as a player, slowly but surely. He saw significant increases in his production across the board last year despite seeing just a three minute increase in playing time. He is a strong finisher inside who does an excellent job on the glass thanks to his work ethic and hustle – qualities that are sure to endear him to at least some NBA scouts. The fact remains though, that he has yet to prove himself as a consistent scorer in really any area on the floor and he very much looks like he would be a defensive liability at the next level. There is no denying the senior has some talent and ability, but he needs to show some significant improvements in his skill level to make up for his lack of explosive athleticism if he is to have a real shot at sticking in the League.

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