Trending Prospects (12/23/2010)

Trending Prospects (12/23/2010)
Dec 23, 2010, 12:42 pm
Khris Middleton, 6-7, Small Forward, Sophomore, Texas A&M
15.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.6 turnovers, 49% FG, 36% 3PT, 89% FT

Joseph Treutlein

After a solid freshman campaign where he averaged just over seven points in 20.9 minutes per game, Khris Middleton has more than doubled his scoring output as a sophomore despite playing just seven more minutes per game. Simultaneously he's bolstered his efficiency across the board, which all adds up to the fact that he's having quite the breakout year.

Possessing a very intriguing combination of physical attributes, versatility and feel for the game, Middleton looks like the type of prospect that could really catch someone's eye, especially when you consider that he's a year younger than most of his sophomore class.

Standing 6'7 with solid length and a wiry strong frame, Khris Middleton isn't the most explosive player around, but he makes up for it and then some with a certain smooth athleticism, while also bringing an interesting package of skills to the table for a developing small forward. His youth and late-blooming status leads us to believe that he may still have room to grow from an athletic standpoint as he continues to mature physically in the next few years.

On the offensive end, Middleton has an unorthodox mid-range game that is the bread and butter of his offense, doing a lot of damage in the 5-15 foot range on a variety of floaters, runners, and pull-up jumpers. His ability to transition from dribble into shot is great, while he boasts good touch on his shots and is crafty enough to use the glass when he needs to. He needs very little separation to get off his attempts, and maintains good balance while creating a lot of high percentage shots in areas most players can't.

In addition to his mid-range game, Middleton also brings respectable three-point shooting to the table, at times looking outstanding knocking down spot-up jumpers from behind the arc. His form isn't textbook, with a very pronounced pushing motion in front of his face, but he has a lightning quick release and is always ready to shoot it when the ball comes to him, whether he's standing still or coming around a screen. He's knocking down 36% of his shots on 3.5 attempts per game from three so far this year, and increasing those numbers over the remainder of his college career could definitely help his stock, while he appears to have the pure shooting ability to do it.

As for the rest of his offensive game, Middleton is also somewhat unorthodox with his ball-handling, vastly preferring to drive left despite being a right-handed shooter. He has a very strong right to left spin move in his arsenal, and will occasionally pull off other impressive advanced moves going to the rim, but his basic control of the ball is pretty shaky, not having the tightest dribble around and struggling against double teams. He turns the ball over on 27% of his possessions at the moment, which is an extremely high rate.

As for attacking the basket, he doesn't do a great job finishing around the rim, lacking a degree of strength and explosiveness that could very well come later on in his career, and struggling to transition his dribble into power moves, giving him a problem with elevating around the basket in the half-court. When he is getting shots at the rim, it's usually in transition or off half-court cuts, as opposed to creating out of isolation, something he does very little of. Tightening up his handle and developing some shot-fake moves to take advantage of the attention defenses must pay his perimeter game could improve this area for him.

One thing Middleton does show a pension for in the halfcourt, however, is making passes on the move, showing impressive court vision for a forward off the dribble, making some nice dump off assists in the lane on a few occasions this season. He clearly has an excellent feel for finding teammates, and appears to have a great deal of creativity as well.

On the defensive end, Middleton has trouble overcoming a high center of gravity and stiff hips that hinder his lateral movement, looking pretty awkward in his stance and struggling to stick with quick changes of direction. To his credit, the effort seems to be there and he does a good job staying with his man off the ball and closing out on perimeter shots with his length, but he'll need a lot of work to shape up his on-ball defense, something he looks very uncomfortable with thus far.

Looking forward, Middleton's one-year improvement is clearly very impressive, and he has a nice foundation to work with in his three-point shot and mid-range game. Maximizing his strength/athleticism, tightening up his handle, taking his three-point shooting to the next level, and working on his defense should all be among his priorities, and the likelihood of him doing so is definitely looking better given the learning curve he's already shown.

In short, Middleton is a prospect we'll need to revisit down the road, likely sooner rather than later.

Markieff Morris, 6-10, Junior, Power Forward, Kansas, 12.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 1.1 blocks, 51.2% FG, 31.3% 3FG, 72.5% FT

Kyle Nelson

Though his twin brother Marcus commands more attention from both the press and opposing defenses, Markieff Morris has quietly developed into a legitimate NBA prospect and certainly one of the more intriguing post players in the Big 12 this season.

Morris is still impressive from a physical perspective, as covered at length in past reports, but he is slowly learning how to better utilize his size and athleticism on both ends of the floor. He must continue to get stronger, however, in order to hold his own inside against big men at both the collegiate and professional levels, something that will surely come considering his excellent frame.

On the offensive end, Morris is gradually proving himself as a power forward with an expanding skill set. Morris is averaging 13 points per game in just 23 minutes per game, but 21.6 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted. He has continued to score the ball efficiently as well, to the tune of 56.1% from inside of the arc.

While Morris has added some to his offensive repertoire, his post game still remains limited. His footwork has improved, but he still is far from comfortable operating in the post. For one, he still struggles to carve out great position for himself on either block and, even once he has, he often doesn't have the skill-level at this point to create good looks for himself at the basket. He settles instead for off balance fade away runners and jump shots. He still has a reliable jump hook, but he is limited, even here, by his inability to consistently use his left hand.

As he demonstrated as a sophomore, Morris has shooting range out to the NCAA three-point line. Though his percentages have dropped a bit this year as he's taken three times as many attempts per game, his mechanics are solid and his release is quick. His issues appear to revolve more around shot selection, as it is common to see him shooting perimeter jump shots out of the offensive rhythm, oftentimes with a man in his face. He shows tantalizing potential as a pick-and-pop threat, something well worth monitoring in the future.

Morris is at his best scoring around the basket, however, where he can use his size and athleticism to finish in transition, cutting to the basket, and through his work on the offensive glass. He has increased his production despite ranking fourth on his own team in possessions, finding shots despite rarely being the focal point of the offense. Also impressive are the 6.9 free throws that he attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted, which is a testament to his energy level under the basket. He is still just an average offensive rebounder, however, due more to fundamentals and awareness than energy level, which suggests that there is room for improvement here.

On the defensive end, Morris remains a solid piece for Kansas, with excellent potential to improve down the road due to his size and athleticism at the power forward position. Most impressive, however, are his improvements on the defensive boards. He is currently the third best defensive rebounder in our database, grabbing 11.3 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. He is still foul prone, at 5.4 fouls per-40p, yet another example of what might be a questionable basketball IQ and one reason he averages just 22.1 minutes per game.

Morris is progressing as a NBA prospect, and is looking more and more the part of a solid role-playing power forward. His ability to defend his position energetically and rebound at a high rate are two very good things to build off, and if he can continue to improve his jump-shot, he could emerge as very solid rotation player for a team to bring off the bench. He'll need to keep improving his knowledge of the game and polish up his many rough edges, but players with his tools aren't very easy to come by.

Keith Clanton, 6-8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Central Florida
16.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.1 turnovers, 1.3 steals, 1.7 blocks, 60% FG, 68% FT, 59% 3P

Walker Beeken

Sophomore forward Keith Clanton has led the UCF Knights to a surprising 10-0 record, with wins against Florida, South Florida, and Miami, while establishing himself as one of the best players in college basketball that most people have likely never heard much about. A player we liked a great deal when we saw him in high school, despite not being on the recruiting radar at all at that stage, the versatile power forward had a solid freshman season for the Knights in 2009-2010, but he obviously made some major improvements to his game in the offseason, as his numbers have risen in nearly every statistical category as a sophomore.

Standing at 6'8” with a nice frame for a player his age, Clanton is matchup nightmare at the college level as a power forward because of his versatility and high skill. His athleticism is only about average by NBA standards as he isn't the most explosive player, but he is a very fluid athlete, and he moves well for a guy his size.

Through ten games this season, Clanton's been one of the more efficient players in the country, highlighted by an excellent 32.58 PER. The biggest difference from his freshman to sophomore season appears to be how well he is shooting the basketball. He's increased his true shooting percentage from 52% up to an outstanding 67% this season, as he's converting more of his attempts in the basket area, and also has added the 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal, which he's knocking down at 59% so far on 1.7 attempts per game. He shoots a set-shot and has a bit of a slow release, but his form is solid, and his improvement over the past year is very encouraging, making it a legit possibility that he'll eventually be a player who can consistently knock down shots with his feet set from NBA 3-point range.

Clanton plays primarily as a face-up power forward for UCF, as he's very comfortable catching the ball on the perimeter and taking advantage of mismatches against some of the slower players who he often finds defending him. Coach Donnie Jones likes to use Clanton as the screener on high ball screens, where he's able to pop back out and catch the ball behind the 3-point line. He's shown that he's capable of putting the ball on the floor and pulling up off the dribble or taking the ball all the way to the basket, and he operates with a smoothness to his game for a player his size. His biggest weakness right now in his dribble game is his lack of passing instincts, which often leads to poor decision-making and turnovers.

About 20 % of Clanton's possessions in the half-court have come in the post, and he's shown a wide variety of moves for a sophomore, and has scored extremely efficiently through the his first ten games this season, at 1.3 points per possession. And while he still has a ways to go in developing in left hand to become a more well-rounded weapon on post up opportunities, he has displayed a nice feel and skill level with his back to the basket, utilizing ball fakes and good footwork, and showing some counter moves to go along with his jump hook and fall-away jump shot.

Defensively, Clanton still has quite a bit of work to do. He often stands too upright in his defensive stance, which limits his lateral quickness and makes him vulnerable against dribble penetration. On the interior, Clanton sometimes lacks the understanding of positioning, but he does block shots and rebound very well at the college level. Going forward, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to guarding the perimeter. His game on the offensive end could develop to where he could see some time playing small forward, but he'll have to prove that he's not a liability defensively guarding that position.

Overall, Clanton's early season success should at least garner some buzz amongst NBA scouts and get some more eyes on him as UCF goes through conference play. His numbers so far are likely a bit inflated at this stage, but he possesses an intriguing skill set as a versatile, face-up four man who can affect the game in a number of ways. It's still a bit premature to jump to too many conclusions about his pro potential only ten games through his sophomore season, especially because he's been so under the radar virtually his entire career. However, he is certainly a player to keep an eye on going forward, and if his impressive play continues throughout this season, he's a player we'll likely be talking much more about in the future.

Orlando Johnson, 6'5, Junior, Shooting Guard, UC Santa Barbara
18.7 Points, 6.3 Rebounds, 2.7 Assists, 2.8 Turnovers, 1 Steal, 48% FG, 43% 3P, 81% FT

Matt Williams

The returning Big West Player of the Year Award winner, Orlando Johnson has continued to build on his strong play from last season. After spending his freshman year setting first-year records for scoring and rebounding at Loyola Marymount, the transfer made an immediate impact for the Gauchos as a redshirt sophomore. A great scorer at the mid-major level, Johnson has put up some tremendous individual performances this season including a 35-point outburst against Fresno State and a 15-rebound double-double in an upset win over UNLV. While Johnson will need to continue to play at a high-level to create some draft buzz, he's an incredibly diligent worker and one of the most interesting small-school players on the West Coast.

What makes Johnson intriguing as a player is his blend of shooting ability and nice physical tools. Standing 6'5 with the frame of a NFL receiver, Johnson is a deceptive athlete who proves capable of using his speed to make an impact in transition, imposing his strength to mix it up on the glass, and exploiting his adequate quickness to create separation for his jump shot against low-major defenders. He certainly wouldn't be a standout on the NBA level in terms of his leaping ability or quickness, but he wouldn't appear entirely out of place either.

Offensively, Johnson is a bit of a mixed bag, as he is highly efficient in some areas and not so consistent in others. According to Synergy Sports Technology, a little more than a quarter of Johnson's offensive possessions come in one-on-one situations out on the perimeter, where he aims to utilize his first step and strength to create looks for himself from the midrange and around the rim. Johnson is scoring just 31% of those touches because he's connecting on just 28.6% of his jump shots off the dribble, is prone to forcing shots from awkward angles, looks mechanical off the dribble, and doesn't create too many clean looks for himself from the midrange due to his lack of great ball-handling ability.

Despite those struggles, Johnson has been lights-out with his feet set this season, and his jump shot features a high release point and fine touch. Though he struggles to convert shots with a hand in his face off the dribble, he has knocked down 12 of his 21 catch and shoot jumpers this season according to Synergy Sports Technology, 15 of which were contested. An extremely confident and aggressive shooter who ranks in the top-5 in our database in field goal attempts per-40 minutes pace adjusted, some 60% of Johnson's shots have been jumpers, and while he's shooting over 40% from three point range, his shot selection leaves a lot to be desired.

Watching Johnson operate in transition gives you an excellent feel for the type of player he is. The junior runs the wings with purpose, and hunts the first available opportunity to shoot the ball, whether it be an off balance three pointer on the break or a less than ideal drive into traffic. He can play above the rim when he has space, but he struggles to finish at times in a crowd, even if he flashes excellent body-control and is able to convert some circus shots around the rim. Pressing at times to get the ball into the lane and turning it over as a result, Johnson is a good passer when he wants to be, and needs to continue developing his decision-making and pull-up jumper to maximize his scoring potential at the college level.

Defensively, it isn't easy to get a feel for what Johnson would bring to the table in the NBA, as Santa Barbara likes to throw a series of difference zone looks at opponents. Always lurking when he's on the weak-side of the play, Johnson is a terrific rebounder for a wing, and the reckless abandon that makes him inconsistent when driving to the rim allows him to pull down boards at a good rate. Johnson's ability to prove he can defend effectively one-on-one in workouts down the road will be a key component to his success.

A person who has dealt with great personal hardship off the floor in his youth, Johnson is a tireless worker who is easy to pull for considering what he's been through. He is getting the job done on the offensive end this season, but he needs to shore up his ball-handling ability and develop the instincts to use his tools on both ends of the floor to improve his NBA potential. A strong candidate for the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament next season, Johnson has well-defined weaknesses that won't prevent him from carving out a successful career overseas.

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