Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part 6: Prospects #6-9|
November 4, 2014
Averaging 11.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per-game as a sophomore at Wichita State last season, Fred VanVleet's played a key role in the Shocker's 35-0 start as the steady hand steering one of the nation's elite offensive units. Invited to the Nike Point Guard Skills Academy and CP3 Elite Guard Camp this summer, the 3rd team All-American was nothing short of tremendous last season, emerging from relative obscurity after backing up Malcolm Armstead as a freshman to solidify himself as one of the top point guards in college basketball, planting himself firmly on the radar of NBA scouts in the process.
At 6'0 with a 6'1.5 wingspan, VanVleet's lacks great size, length, and explosiveness for a point guard, but he is a strong, fluid athlete with good ball-handling ability who can keep defenders off balance with his crossover and knack for changing speeds off the bounce. Despite being ranked late as a Top-100 player the high school class of 2012 by Dave Telep at ESPN (but not by anyone else), VanVleet was largely under-recruited out of Auburn HS (IL) for most of his high school career. He isn't the type of player who stands out on first glance, and will face questions about his size and athleticism when he looks to make the jump to the NBA, but it became impossible to ignore the pre-season All-American's ability to play brutally efficient, low-mistake basketball at the point guard position last season.
Averaging 16.2 minutes per-game as a freshman, The Rockford native stepped into a feature role from the start of his sophomore year as the primary ball-handler, and thrived when asked to be the main facilitator for the deep, versatile, and talented group Wichita State put on the floor in 2014.
Ranking second in assist per-40 minutes pace adjusted and first in pure point rating among top-100 prospects, VanVleet is one of the top distributors in college basketball. Posting a 6.6 assist-to-turnover ratio in transition, VanVleet combines excellent ball-handling ability with terrific pace, patience and vision. Seemingly never forcing the issue and possessing an excellent command of Gregg Marshall's offense, the 20 year old plays with a unique maturity and poise considering this was just his first season playing significant minutes at the college level.
More than just a passer, VanVleet also emerged as an efficient scorer last season as well. That efficiency starts with his terrific perimeter jumper. Shooting the ball with a smooth, compact release that looks effortless at times, VanVleet knocked down a tremendous 44% of his catch and shoot jump shots and 46% of his pull up jumpers a year. Though he only attempted 90 three-pointers in 35 games, VanVleet appears to have the ability to keep defenders honest out on the perimeter and also make them pay when he finds space in the midrange.
Though the junior ranks 1st among point guards in our top-100 in points per-play, he isn't without his flaws as a scorer. He does a nice job probing the defense with his dribble and absorbs contact well thanks to his near 200-pound frame, but his 57% shooting around the rim is only above average, as he struggles to finish among the trees when they take away his angle to the glass. Possessing just average explosiveness, VanVleet is not the type of point guard who will come down the lane and put anyone on a poster, and while he isn't a bad finisher by any means, he'll face a challenge when he makes the jump to the next level where the length and leaping ability of the big men he'll find will dwarf what he saw on a nightly basis in the MVC last year.
Averaging only 15 points per-40 minutes pace adjusted a year ago, VanVleet's lack of prolificacy as a scorer could be looked at as a weakness relative to his peer group, but it is more a reflection of his unselfishness and the tremendous balance Wichita State found offensively a year ago. With the team's leading scorer, Cleanthony Early, making the jump to the NBA, it will be interesting to see just how much of the scoring load VanVleet shoulders this season and what if any toll it takes on his efficiency.
One of the most unique attributes of VanVleet's game is his rebounding ability for a player his height. Pulling down 4.9 boards per-40 minutes paces adjusted, VanVleet is not a game-changing rebounder, which isn't a slight considering the minor contributions most players his size tend to make in that area, but he isn't afraid to mix it up inside, will try to box out big men from time to time, and will compete for the ball in traffic.
VanVleet has terrific defensive fundamentals on the whole, doing a nice job closing out shooters, keeping his feet active, and playing with consistent intensity. Though the small guard isn't a freak athlete, he does possess impressive quickness and can be a pest when opposing guards are loose with their handle away from the rim. His height limits his ability to contest shots, especially in the paint, but he won't give up on plays when his man gets a step on him and is aggressive with his hands going after the ball before his man can get into his shooting motion around the rim.
One of the most interesting stories among prospects in the junior class given his year-long rise to national prominence, Fred VanVleet has established himself as a viable draft prospect. The track record for guards his size at the NBA level is not great, but VanVleet's exceptional maturity and efficiency as both a scorer and a passer certainly puts him on strong footing in the eyes of scouts. He'll be a player to watch closely this season as he'll have the opportunity to grow his reputation on the heels of the national attention Wichita State will receive after what they accomplished last year, as he aims to help fill Cleanthony Early's shoes and fuel the Shockers to another successful season.
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