Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC (Part Two: #6-10)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC (Part Two: #6-10)
Sep 20, 2009, 03:30 pm
Our second look at the top NBA draft prospects in the incredibly deep SEC focuses on Vanderbilts Andrew Ogilvy, Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, Arkansas's Michael Washington, Georgia Trey Thompkins, and Tyler Smith 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)

#1 Jeff Taylor
#2 Patrick Patterson
#3 Terrico White
#4 JaMychal Green
#5 Scotty Hopson

#6 Andrew Ogilvy, 7’0, Junior, Center, Vanderbilt

Joseph Treutlein

After making some noise with a very strong freshman season on a highly ranked Vanderbilt squad, Andrew Ogilvy flew under the radar as a sophomore, as Vanderbilt finished a pedestrian 8-8 in conference play and Ogilvy failed to improve on his freshman stat line. That’s not to say Ogilvy’s game hasn’t developed, however, as if you look beyond the stats, there were a few interesting things to note about his 2009 campaign.

Ogilvy’s freshman season was highlighted by his dominant play with his back to the basket, and his sophomore season was no different, as he continued to punish opposing defenses inside. Ogilvy’s footwork, awareness, and understanding of how to use fakes in combination with every move in his arsenal are nothing short of outstanding, and he uses these things very well in combination with his imposing stature. On the downside, however, Ogilvy didn’t alleviate many of the concerns from a year ago in regards to his post game, not showing much ability as a power finisher and lacking the lower body explosiveness that would help his game translate more seemlessly to the next level. Also, while he has great fundamentals and can methodically beat almost any college defender on an island, he does show some problems dealing with double teams, not always showing the quickness to finish before they collapse on him, leading to his high turnover rate for a big man.

While Ogilvy’s post game was mostly par for the course this season, there were some strong signs for his developing face-up game, something he showed little of as a freshman. While he still doesn’t look quite comfortable operating off the dribble, Ogilvy made steady use of straight-line dribble drives this season, translating his great footwork to his perimeter game and doing a good job of finishing around the rim due to his excellent size and ability to shoot over opponents. Ogilvy’s first step and top speed are both below average, however, and this could become a serious problem if he doesn’t improve on his poor outside shooting.

In regards to Ogilvy’s jump shot, he didn’t do anything to change his concerning mechanics this past season, still using the awkward push shot from his chest, which has a low trajectory and poor touch, leading to some bad misses, especially when rushed or contested. Ogilvy needs to work on getting his shot on more of a vertical plane, which would allow him to use more legs than arms, likely improving his touch and giving him a better trajectory and less blockable shot. Doing so would make his transition to the NBA much easier, as it would open up his face-up game and make him a threat in the pick-and-pop, something that virtually always translates to the NBA.

Defensively, Ogilvy still has many of the same problems, giving up position too easily in the post and not having the lateral quickness required to stay in front of his man on the perimeter. Ogilvy’s poor lateral mobility is also concerning defending the pick-and-roll, where he struggles to quickly recover to his man off hedges and struggles even more when switched to small guards. To his credit, Ogilvy did cut down on his fouls slightly this season, which is never a bad thing for a center.

Looking forward, Ogilvy is clearly a very skilled player with great size, both of which bode well for his future success. However, due to some of his athletic limitations, there are questions about how some aspects of his game will translate to the next level, which is why it’s so important that he works on some of his weaker areas, namely his mid-range jumper and lower body explosiveness, both of which could definitely help his game notably. Regardless, whether he comes out this season or next, Ogilvy should be in first round discussions, as players with his size, skill level, and feel for the game don’t grow on trees.

#7 Jarvis Varnado, 6’9, Senior, Power Forward, Mississippi State

Scott Nadler

Jarvis Varnado has had an interesting couple of months to say the least. He ended the 2008-09 season on a high note, leading his underdog Bulldogs to the big dance by winning the SEC conference tournament –a surprising feat that kept MSU's season alive. He then tested the NBA waters by entering his name in the draft but quickly withdrew several weeks’ later, feeling as though he needed one more year of collegiate basketball.

Around the time he declared for the draft, Varnado gave up his scholarship for his senior season in order to give MSU more liberty in their recruiting, allowing them to sign heralded recruit Renardo Sidney. The fact that they had 13 scholarships for 14 players, means that Varnado, who was recently named as a candidate for the John R. Wooden Award recognizing the nation’s top college basketball player, will be paying tuition for his final season in Starkville.

With all of that now behind him, Varnado will need to have a big season on the court for his decision to truly pay off. When we last checked in with him at the USA Junior National Team tryouts in Colorado, Varnado showed much of the same that we’ve seen over the years – dominating on the defensive end and struggling on the offensive end.

To put into perspective just how dominating the two-time SEC Defensive Player of the year has been, his 394 career blocked shots puts him 18 shy of the SEC record held by Shaquille O’neal and within reach of the all-time record held by Wojciech Mydra of Louisiana-Monroe (535). Varnado’s timing, patience, discipline, and quick second jump are among the reasons why he’s so good at blocking and changing shots around the basket.

From a team standpoint, MSU held opponents last season to just 39.8% shooting around the basket and 33.1% on post up opportunities – which has everything to do with Varnado's presence down low. Furthermore, his low foul rate shows his control and attention to what’s going on out on the floor. With all of that said, scouts and NBA personnel will be looking to see if he’s added any strength to his thin frame or improved his lateral quickness to handle versatile 4 men and when hedging the pick and roll.

His rebounding efforts have been solid as well, posting 11.7 rebounds per 40 pace adjusted this past season, giving him 3 consecutive seasons with double figures in that category. These numbers could be increased however, if Varnado plays with a little more bravado and maintains a high level of energy on a more consistent basis.

On the offensive side of things, Varnado has shown improvement over the years but nothing to get too excited about just yet. He still seems a bit uncomfortable and slow in the post – looking rather predictable with his moves. He turns over his left shoulder almost 75% of the time, showing no signs of a left hand.

He doesn’t always catch the ball cleanly either, which delays his moves and makes him easier to defend. As mentioned in previous articles, Varnado gets pushed away from the basket regularly, further limiting his success rate. On a positive note, when he does get the ball around the basket, he’s converting his opportunities at a 65.1% rate, which is rather encouraging.

Varnado has also shown signs of a decent jump shot, albeit on very few attempts. His lack of attempts is probably due in large part to his offensive role, but when watching him shoot he displays nice mechanics and 17 foot range. His free throw shooting also improved tremendously last season, jumping to 65.4% from 50.0% the previous season. While he still has a ton of work to do in that regard, he's at least moving in the right direction. By gaining confidence and adding a shot from the midrange to his arsenal, Varnado’s stock will rise considerably.

Mississippi State’s success this season will rest squarely on the shoulders of Jarvis Varnado. He’ll be called upon to anchor the defense, as usual, but can he deliver on the offensive end in a way that will draw some interest? That will be the question he'll need to answer by next summer to solidy his stock.

#8 Michael Washington, 6’10, Senior, Power Forward, Arkansas

Matthew Williams

One of the most intriguing physical specimens in college basketball, Michael Washington really put things together last season, breaking out in a big way. Though Arkansas’s season proved to be a tale of two halves, Washington showed flashes of brilliance throughout. A year older than his peers, Washington threw his name into the 2009 NBA draft before reconsidering and heading back to school. Considering he almost doubled his per-40 outputs in some areas between his sophomore and junior seasons, one can’t fault Washington for heading back to Fayetteville given the upward trend in his production and the opportunity to improve his resume by leading a Razorback squad that returns essentially all of its contributors to a strong season.

Last time we checked in on Washington in-depth last January, we saw a player blossoming despite a lack of fundamentals in some areas. Washington’s biggest strength has always been his impressive blend of size and athleticism, and last season saw him step out of a much smaller role and diversify his offensive game considerably. His point per-play jumped from 0.79 to 1.00, an incredibly significant gain given his possessions per-game almost tripled to 13.6. While few bigmen make such a jump in productivity, what makes Washington’s development more impressive is how he was scoring those points.

According to Synergy Sports technology, almost 26% of Washington’s touches came in the form of post-ups, a considerable jump from the 8% they accounted for last season. Though he continued to get a large proportion of his touches by virtue of his athleticism and rebounding ability, this upward trend in post-touches will be a key point of interest for NBA-types and an important aspect of Washington’s game to keep an eye on. Receiving nearly three-quarters of his post touches on the left block, Washington uses a quick dribble going right to create enough space to jump stop into scoring position. His aggressiveness with that move and the sheer quantity of touches he gets with defenders draped over him at the rim allow him to get to the line 7.0 times per-40 minutes pace adjusted. If he can merely improve his 60% free throw shooting, he’ll be a much more intimidating offensive threat on the NCAA level.

Though he shows some nice things when he opts to face-up, at this point, Washington’s ability to beat his man in the post has more to do with his aggressiveness turning the corner than anything else. He lacks post moves in a traditional sense, scoring a lot of his points by hustling down the floor and establishing good position on the block. Though his face-up ability is considered an area of strength, it is still something he’ll need to focus on and utilize more consistently to showcase it.

Washington’s lack of fundamentals in the post give him intriguing potential in that aspect of the game, but his ability to shoot the ball from the midrange could be equally important to his long-term success. Displaying solid touch on his shot all the way out to three point range, Washington doesn’t have the prettiest stroke, polished perimeter footwork, or ideal consistency. However, his ability to move away from the block and hit shots is interesting to say the least, though his willingness to take deep jumpers isn’t always a positive thing. With the footspeed to run the pick and pop effectively with little feel for positioning or footwork, Washington’s ability to improve his perimeter repertoire in practice will key to his NBA future, as that part of his game adds another dimension to what he brings to the table offensively. He may never possess the ball-handling ability to fully utilize his athleticism, but if he can polish one of two of the things he does well on the offensive end to go along with what he already can offer an NBA team in terms of hustle plays and rebounding, he’ll have himself well positioned moving into next summer.

Defensively, Washington has a few defining characteristics. First, his size, wingspan, and athleticism help rank him as one of the most proficient all-around rebounders in our database. Second, his 3.1 personal fouls per-game place him highly in that category as well, an indication that his lack of defensive intensity has helped him decrease his fouling just enough to keep him on the floor. Third, Washington is capable of being more productive than his 1.0 steals 1.3 blocks per-game let on. Though his fundamentals leave a lot to be desired and he plays tentatively to stay out of foul trouble, Washington’s raw physical tools could be a much more prominent asset to him defensively. Showing the ability to keep up with much smaller players when switched onto them on the perimeter, Washington has all kinds of defensive potential –having no problem making a play when in the right place at the right time-but has to learn how to go straight up in the post, be more disciplined against fakes, and play as though he’s aware that his defensive presence will have a lot to do with where he’s drafted if his offensive development stagnates.

As a 22 year-old senior, Washington’s raw skills may give him potential, but NBA teams will do their homework on his intangibles and ability to fulfill his promise, as older prospects without polish in some area seldom get a free-pass from talent evaluators. Given what he accomplished last year, Washington stands to gain as much as any player in his class from a marginal improvement. No one expects him to explode up draft boards like he did last season, but the signs of progress he shows will determine whether he is selected in the late-first round or begins to slide further down draft boards.

#9 Trey Thompkins, 6-8, Power Forward, Sophomore, Georgia

Joey Whelan

Believe it or not, this is already the third time we have taken a look at talented big man Trey Thompkins since he broke onto the college scene. We examined the power forward midway through his freshman year at Georgia and most recently observed him briefly at the USA Junior National Team tryouts in June. Having had an opportunity to watch extensive film of the Georgia native during the second half of his 2009 season, we will be further breaking down the development of this intriguing youngster.

Thompkins missed the early part of his freshman season due to an ankle injury and even though it took him some time to work back into playing shape early on, we suspected he was an average athlete at best. His final stretch of games did nothing to change that opinion. He certainly has a solid frame, weight in at 245 pounds and featuring a great wingspan, but his physical attributes tend to fall off a bit from there. We have mentioned his solid mobility and coordination for a frontcourt player at his stage of development as being above average, but he doesn’t possess great quickness or explosiveness which hurts him around the rim in some instances and are a concern for the next level.

In the early part of his freshman season while he was still working himself back into being comfortable on the floor, Thompkins displayed a pretty polished post game that was built mainly around his drop step. As the schedule progressed though, the forward started to rely more and more on a soft turnaround jumper, a shot that he is able to hit spinning over either shoulder. He certainly will still try to power his way to the basket, often going with a soft hook off of moves to the middle of the lane, but overall his lack of leaping ability comes back to hurt Thompkins here as he doesn’t finish over defenders at a high rate as we have mentioned in the past.

We have already talked at length about Thompkins's range, which extends beyond the arc. As the season progresses he attempted a greater number of perimeter shots, so naturally his shooting percentage dropped, but he still finished at a very respectable 38.4 percent on just over three attempts per game. The youngster is a very good catch and shoot player on the perimeter for a big man at his stage of development, although his shot still could use some tweaking. His form for the most part looks pretty good, although he does have a tendency to push the ball sometimes. The biggest knock on Thompkins and his shooting right now is that he gets very little elevation on his shot, often jumping just an inch or two and somewhat line driving his shot attempts. His ability to shoot off the dribble didn’t improve very much as the season progressed as this is still an area he struggles with.

Thompkins ability to handle the ball surprisingly well for a young frontcourt player makes him an intriguing prospect, but again he showed little development in this aspect of his game as the season progressed. He started the year able to attack the rim in a straight line against slower defenders and the year ended with him still exhibiting these limitations as a dribble drive player. Since he isn’t overly quick off the bounce, Thompkins will often try to spin and post up against his defender at the earliest possible juncture if he can’t blow past him.

Defensively we saw some strides from Thompkins after we first looked at him in January. His rebound numbers improved noticeably in the latter part of the season thanks to the increased focus he showed to boxing out and establishing position. He absolutely still has his mental lapses on occasion – a fact that hurts him as a weak side defender and shot blocker – but it was clear that he was progressing at this end of the floor.

As we said was the case at the midway point of his first season, it is still too early to really judge how far Thompkins can go as a prospect. He shows a very high skill level for such a young player, especially one who plays in the frontcourt. With that said, maximizing his athletic abilities will be an absolute must for the rising sophomore if he is to stand any chance of reaching the NBA. He certainly is undersized for a post player in the League, but with his blossoming versatility attracting some attention already, improving his quickness and explosiveness would go a long way in helping his stock. It will be interesting to see how the youngster fairs with a full offseason of strength training under his belt and a fresh bill of health to start the upcoming campaign.

#10 Tyler Smith, 6-7, Small Forward, Senior, Tennessee

Matthew Williams

After entertaining the idea of keeping his name in the draft last season, Tyler Smith returns to Knoxville looking to rehash his draft resume and solidify his stock. Emerging on the national radar after a productive season at Iowa as a true freshman, Smith is largely a known commodity at this point. His 17.4 points and 5.8 rebounds 3.4 assists per-game average last season only reinforced the perception of his ability to produce on the NCAA level. With the Volunteers returning essentially their entire core, Smith is in position to lead Bruce Pearl's squad to a great deal of success. However, he’ll need to show considerable improvement in a number of areas to make his resume more attractive from an NBA perspective.

Before we delve into the things that Smith needs to work on, let’s first look at some of his assets as a player. Sporting a near 6-10 wingspan, Smith possesses very nice size for the three spot, which coupled with good overall athleticism and impressive lateral quickness, give him a great deal of defensive upside on the NBA level. In addition to benefiting from what Trevor Ariza and Mickael Pietrus accomplished in the playoffs last season, Smith is also an efficient offensive threat thanks to his assertiveness at the rim, ability to draw contact, and very solid work ethic. Highly versatile and developing as a perimeter scorer, Smith is much closer to being a legitimate small forward than he once was, but would benefit immensely from improvements in a few key areas.

Nearly doubling the number of jump shots he took per-game from his sophomore year to his junior year, Smith’s desire to expand his scoring range was met with mixed results. His main issues as a shooter are the absence of timing and rhythm in his release, a consistent lack of elevation, a long shooting motion, and only adequate footwork. Coupling those issues with the way Smith approaches scoring from the perimeter and it isn’t hard to see why he shot only 29.2% from three-point range while converting nearly 48% of his shots inside the arc. The best thing Smith could do for his stock this season would be to showcase improved perimeter footwork and shooting mechanics.

Though Smith’s shooting doesn’t look very good on paper, he doesn’t display a terribly poor shot selection. In fact, he seldom takes contested jumpers from the outside. Unfortunately, more than half of Smith’s jump shots, open or otherwise, come from beyond the arc according to Synergy Sports Technology. Additionally, less than 3% of his attempts come from outside of 17-feet but inside the three point line. Smith seems to be pressing, and actively trying to show his range at the expense of his efficiency and midrange game. Even if he’s taking open looks, if he doesn’t improve his perimeter stroke, it will be interesting to see how he responds to his limitations.

Shooting may be Smith’s biggest weakness, but his comfort level on the perimeter leaves quite a bit to be desired in general. A capable passer, he shows nice court vision, but his lack of ball-handling ability hurts him at times, though his physical brand of slashing ranks him in the top-25 players in our database in terms of free throw attempts per-40. Struggling to change directions with the ball once he drives, Smith’s ability to refine the way he attacks off the bounce will cut down on his turnovers and allow him to better utilize his passing ability, since he has little trouble getting into the teeth of the defense with his first step. On the next level, Smith will need to be a low-mistake player unless he can overhaul his shooting, making his ball-handling ability and decision-making another point of interest this season.

A bit older than his peers, Smith’s biggest chore this season will be answering questions about his position at the next level. Functioning as a hybrid forward offensively, but lacking ideal tools to play as a four in the NBA, each game will be another chance for him to convince NBA decision-makers that he has legitimately become a three. Possessing the characteristics necessary to be a defensive specialist, he was considered a bubble first-rounder for periods of last year’s draft season. Considering his age, and the fact that he doesn’t have the highest ceiling in terms of talent, Smith could find himself in a similar position if he shows promise in the right areas. If he appears more natural out on the perimeter and improves his catch and shoot ability, he will certainly be a player that a lot of teams show interest in come next summer. With all of his weaknesses revolving around one aspect of his game, Smith will need to show growth despite there being very little change around him, a tall order, but an interesting situation to watch if nothing else.

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