NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/3/08-- Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/3/08-- Part One
Jan 04, 2008, 03:24 am
Brian Roberts, 6-2, Senior, PG/SG, Dayton
19.3 points, 4.6 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 3.0 rebounds, 50.3% FG, 49.3% 3P, 87% FT

Jonathan Givony

Brian Roberts has proven to be a giant killer, having led his team to huge victories on the road against #11 ranked Louisville and at home against #6 ranked Pitt, scoring 59 points combined in the two games, with 8 assists and just one lone turnover, on spectacularly efficient shooting percentages like he’s provided all season long. Dayton is currently 13-1 and ranked #20 in the latest Associated Press poll, which should help put Roberts at the forefront of NBA draft discussions as well when considering the type of season he’s having.

Standing 6-2, he was considered more of a combo than a point guard up until this year, posting a pedestrian 1.15 assist to turnover ratio as a junior and not contributing very much in other statistical categories beyond the scoring column to make up for his shortcomings. That perception has begun to change this season as Roberts has manned the point guard spot full time running Dayton’s semi-methodical offense, and has posted an impressive 2/1 assist to turnover ratio while upping his scoring averages and shooting the ball with incredible efficiency so far (50% FG, 49% 3P).

Physically, Roberts certainly isn’t the most imposing guard prospect in this draft. He has decent size at 6-2, a solid wingspan and a lanky frame that has gained some much needed weight this past summer, but could probably still get even stronger. Athletically, he probably won’t be testing off the charts at any combines, noticeably lacking a great first step and some explosiveness to finish strong around the basket. He is a smooth player, though, very cerebral in his movements, and very much committed to playing to his strengths.

Speaking of strengths, you have to start off the discussion with his incredible ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. Roberts has terrific fundamentals on his shooting mechanics, including great balance to set his feet in an instant and get his shot off. He can come off screens or pull-up off the dribble equally well, only needing a glimmer of daylight to release his jumper. He loves to operate in the mid-range area, particularly playing the pick and roll, as he’s able to create beautiful separation off the floor to knock down tough shots with the greatest of ease. Stepping back, moving left or right, even spotting up from well beyond NBA range, Roberts is as pure a shooter as you’ll find at the collegiate level, and an incredibly efficient one at that.

Looking beyond his excellent stroke, there are a number of things that Roberts does well. He’s become a very capable ball-handler over the years, extremely mistake free (2.3 turnovers per game) as his calm and cool demeanor might suggest initially. He’s very smart in transition in particular, keeping his head up and making nice reads, while being highly unselfish finding the open man when the defense inevitably collapses on him. He appears to have a very high basketball IQ, although we might be lacking just a degree of vocal leadership skills from him at times.

Roberts’ weaknesses offensively mostly revolve around his ability to create separation from his defender with his first step on his slashing moves. He only gets to the free throw line 3.8 times per game, and looks much more comfortable pulling up off the dribble from mid-range than he is stepping into the lane, although he does possess a really nice floater he likes to get off with his right hand. Roberts’ left hand is noticeably weaker both creating shots for himself and finishing around the hoop, and his average size, strength and explosiveness render him more effective shooting the ball than trying to finish in traffic. That will become far more pronounced at the next level, where the big men are all quicker, longer and much more explosive.

In terms of his point guard skills, Roberts can bring the ball up the floor and get his team into their offense effectively, but is not a floor general type with outstanding court vision. He’s more comfortable creating shots for himself first and foremost, and then looking for others, not out of selfishness, but more because of habit, as he’s always been more of a scorer.

Defensively, Roberts is solid-- fundamentally sound and committed to keeping his man in front of him. He doesn’t have the greatest lateral quickness, but he makes up for that to a certain extent with the effort he puts in on this end of the floor, greatly aided by the fact that Dayton does not overplay him the way many mid-major coaches ride their star players—averaging a manageable 33 minutes per game. He has never shown a particularly noticeable gift for getting in the passing lanes.

All in all, Roberts is a name we’ll surely be hearing plenty more about as the season moves on and we get closer to the NCAA tournament. That will probably be the best place for him to truly make a name for himself, which could propel him from borderline draft status firmly into the second round. High-level European leagues feature plenty of players like him (Virginia’s J.R. Reynolds looked like a similar prospect to us for example), but there are some guards in the NBA (Damon Jones, or David Wesley going slightly farther back) who surely weren’t better prospects than him coming out of college. A lot has to do with timing, and even a certain degree of luck, so it wouldn’t surprise us either way if he made it or not. Regardless, he’s obviously going to make a lot of money at the professional level.

Blake Griffin, 6-10, Freshman, PF/C, Oklahoma
13.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.9 turnovers, 1.0 blocks,57% FG, 60% FT

Jonathan Givony

Quietly having an excellent freshman season so far has been Oklahoma big man Blake Griffin. The McDonald’s All-American has already established himself as one of the more productive low post players in the Big 12 conference, and is fresh off an outstanding game (18 points, 16 rebounds) helping his team beat 10-1 and nationally ranked West Virginia on the road in double overtime.

Griffin is an appealing prospect for the next level for a number of reasons, with the most immediate being because of his physical tools. He has solid size at 6-9 or 6-10 with a nice wingspan and an outstanding frame, already being a mature player physically despite only his age. Griffin is also a fairly athletic big man, looking fluid and coordinated out on the court, being quick to get up off his feet and react to things around him, possessing a nice second bounce, and running the court extremely well for a player his size. He’s not a freakish athlete by any stretch, but his athleticism surely won’t be what holds him back from making it.

Not being an extremely polished player as you might expect from an 18-year old big man, Griffin makes up for any shortcomings he might possess skill wise with the sheer tenacity in which he plays the game. He has a terrific motor, being extremely physical and aggressive with everything that has to do with his inside play. He’s a no-nonsense type who takes contact inside the post and does not let his matchup rest for even a moment, playing with a reckless abandon that is extremely enjoyable to watch.

That tenacity shows up most noticeably in his rebounding skills, where he’s currently ranked 17th in the country amongst draft prospects in rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. Amongst freshman only, he ranks 5th in that category. Griffin has unusually large hands, which helps him out greatly in this area. They are pretty reliable in traffic as well.

Offensively, Griffin gets most of his points as a post-up threat, although he can also make his presence felt by running the floor in transition and crashing the offensive glass. He establishes deep position in the paint thanks to his strength and toughness, and can finish with nice touch and even a little baby hook shot. With that said, his best option offensively is clearly the dunk, which he performs emphatically and appears to enjoy doing, especially in two-handed fashion.

He does not have many moves in his arsenal at this point, lacking some footwork, balance, a reliable left hand and counter-moves, which becomes more obvious when he’s matched up with a more serious post-defender. Sometimes he’ll struggle to get himself going offensively if he can’t just overpower players on his way to the rim, looking out of control and overdoing things at times, just throwing up a shot on the rim from a bad angle hoping it falls. He needs to get smarter and more polished on this end of the floor, and especially improve his decision making, something that will only come with time and experience.

Facing the basket, Griffin is far away from being considered a great threat at this point. He has poor shooting mechanics on his jumper, rushing his shot badly in the handful of times he’s attempted anything outside of 12 feet. His ball-handling skills are very unpolished as well when facing any type of real competition, nullifying what would otherwise be a very nice first step. He has really nice potential here, so it will be interesting to see how he can develop this part of his game over the next few years. It will probably be essential since he won’t be able to make the same type of living in the paint in the NBA at his size that he does at the collegiate level.

Defensively, Griffin has good coordination and quick reaction-time, showing nice lateral quickness, but average fundamentals on this end of the floor. His positioning is poor, giving up too much space defending the post, and relying excessively on his physical tools (strength+athleticism), thinking he’ll be able to simply outquick, outjump or outmuscle the competition, like he usually was able to do in high school. He doesn’t always seem to bring that same passion and energy on the defensive end that he brings to his rebounding and offensive efforts, not always getting back on defense and closing out shooters as well as you might hope, partially due to conditioning issues, which is somewhat normal for a college freshman.

All in all, there is a lot to like early on in Blake Griffin’s career. His physical tools combined with his toughness and tenacity give him a nice platform of which to build off of, and he already has some budding skills that should develop into excellent weapons if he continues to work hard and polish up his all-around game. Griffin is getting some early hype to come out already this year, but that would be a major mistake since he is clearly nowhere near ready to compete skill-wise with NBA-level big men. He’s in a great situation to develop at Oklahoma against solid competition and with plenty of playing time, and should be in no rush to go anywhere just yet.

K.C. Rivers, 6-5, Junior, SG/SF, Clemson
16 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 turnovers, 1.6 steals, 47% FG, 39% 3P, 68% FT

Joseph Treutlein

A recent article by ESPN statistical analyst John Hollinger identified Clemson junior K.C. Rivers as someone draftniks have possibly been sleeping on, and after watching some extensive video on the 12-1 Tigers’ leading scorer, we think he may have been onto something. The 6’5 swingman’s production is up across the board this season, while his efficiency has remained steady.

At 6’5, the left-handed Rivers has adequate size for a shooting guard at the next level, but appears to have a pretty nice wingspan for his height, which helps him play bigger than he really is. He’s also a good athlete with a nice assortment of skills, contributing in virtually all facets of the game.

Rivers has a versatile and effective scoring game, being able to shoot the ball from behind the arc or take the ball to the basket regularly. His outside shot boasts a high and quick release, and he can hit it spotting up or quickly coming off a screen while on the move. He’s shot 39% from behind the arc for the past two seasons, which is especially impressive considering his shot mechanics still have a lot of room for improvement. Rivers has quite a few bad tendencies with his shot, most noticeably that he “pulls the string” on his release on about half of his attempts, not holding his follow through. He also has a tendency to fade away a bit when it’s not necessary, and his body positioning is very inconsistent, sometimes being completely square to the basket, and other times having his left shoulder noticeably ahead of his right shoulder. These critiques are not meant to take away from Rivers, as the fact that he shoots as well as he does with so many inconsistencies in his shot speaks to how good of a natural shooter he is. But with some minor tweaks, he could potentially improve substantially.

Rivers also is pretty good taking the ball to the basket, where he heavily favors his left hand, going left on the majority of his drive attempts. He shows very nice touch around the basket, finishing well with both lay-ups and floaters in the lane, though not showing much ability to finish with his right hand. He uses screens well to get separation going into the lane, where he reads situations well, often taking the best available shot. He doesn’t show any exceptional ability to change directions in the lane with the ball, but makes slight adjustments when necessary.

One area where Rivers has shown outstanding improvement with this season is his ability to rebound, with his per-game numbers up from 4.5 to 7.3, even though his minutes per game haven’t increased. He uses his length, athleticism, and well-built frame to battle for rebounds with players much taller than himself, showing great tenacity on the boards, especially on the offensive end, where 40 of his 95 rebounds have come this season. Rivers is also very impressive with his second and third jump around the basket, looking like a pogo stick at times, while also having the length and touch to make an accurate tip-in even if he doesn’t have inside position.

Rivers’ contributions don’t stop there, though, as he’s a solid passer in the halfcourt, feeding the post well, making use of bounce passes when necessary, and showing solid court vision for a wing player. He’s not one to drive into the lane and create shots for his teammates, but he makes smart passes and doesn’t make many mistakes. Speaking of such, Rivers is only averaging 1.1 turnovers per game, despite taking 12.5 field goal attempts per game and dishing out 2.0 assists per game. You’d be hard-pressed to find many players at any high level of basketball using that many possessions with so few mistakes, and it’s no aberration, as he committed just 1.2 turnovers per game last season.

On the defensive end, Rivers shows good intensity, playing up on his man and being an important part of Clemson’s pressure zone, picking off 1.6 steals per game by using his good hands in the passing lanes. His man-to-man defense is inconsistent, though, with him sometimes doing a good job beating his man to the spot and moving laterally to stay in front, but other times getting beat badly by less-than-impressive offensive moves. His reflexes seem very questionable here, not making the necessary reads quickly enough to recognize where his man is going with the ball.

All in all, K.C. Rivers has quietly developed into a very nice shooting guard prospect over the past three seasons at Clemson, and he should have good reason to test the waters come April. He should warrant an invite to the NBA pre-draft camp, where he could better assess whether he should forego his senior year or not. He should have a very good chance of being drafted whenever he decides to come out, with late first round or early second round not being out of the picture if he keeps up his strong performance. Putting in some side work with a shooting specialist could also do a lot to help his stock.

Stefhon Hannah, 6-1, Senior, Point Guard, Missouri
14 points, 2.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 26.9 minutes, 42.7% FG, 85.7% FT, 40% 3 FG

Joey Whelan

Even though Texas sophomore D.J. Augustine has gotten more press than any other Big 12 guard so far this season, Missouri’s Stefhon Hannah has been right on his tail, racking up impressive numbers in his first 14 games this season. The former transfer from Chipola Community College ranks in the top ten in the conference in five different categories, including leading the Big 12 in free throw percentage. The senior has been a big part of the solid start that the Tigers have had this season.

Physically, Hannah has the tools to make him a solid college point guard, but leave a few things to be desired as far as being a pro prospect is concerned. At 6’1” he isn’t severely undersized, but he will find himself going up against taller opponents almost every night if he were to make it to the next level. He has decent quickness which allows him to get into the lane at this level, but nothing outstanding to allow you to envision him as a great shot-creator in the NBA. He’s much better handling the ball with his right hand, and his efficiency suffers when forced to go left. Despite Missouri’s all-around fast paced game, Hannah does lack phenomenal lateral quickness which hurts him on the defensive end. Hannah’s lack of explosiveness, and his tiny frame hurt him when he finds his shots contested around the basket.

Despite the fact that he is a point guard, the majority of Hannah’s offense comes off of spot up situations. He is a solid perimeter shooter, knocking down just over two three pointers a game, and connecting on 40% of his shots overall from beyond the arc. Hannah has a nice form on his shot, but his release isn’t that quick and he struggles to knock down shots off the dribble, so typically he needs some space to be a consistent threat from the outside. He does show some nice ability to catch and shoot when running off screens, something the Tigers have done a fair amount with him so far this season.

Hannah is probably at his most effective when he can get out and run in transition, as his craftiness and ability to break down defenders off the dribble make him hard to stay in front of on the break. He has shown excellent court vision this season, picking up just over five assists per game, although he does occasionally try to force the issue passing the basketball. Hannah also seems to be more comfortable handling the basketball in the open floor than he does in half court sets. While he will rarely lose control of the ball when on the break, at times he will get stripped while maneuvering on the perimeter or attacking the hoop.

The Mizzou senior struggles quite a bit with his mid-range game. While he is able to beat defenders off the dribble, Hannah has yet to show the ability to pull up and knock down shots from inside the perimeter. When he attacks the rim, there is also a fair amount of inconsistency in Hannah’s game. He typically exhibits solid body control around the basket, but his lack of explosiveness and overall strength makes it tough for him to finish in traffic. Often Hannah will try to float his shots over taller players, but he doesn’t shoot a very high percentage with these attempts.

Defensively, Hannah is a hard worker, but sometimes his overzealousness gets him into trouble. This has a lot to do with the style of play Missouri implements, though. He’s probably not quite as quick as he needs to be to put as much pressure on the ball as Coach Anderson needs him to in their system. While his active hands and anticipation earn him nearly two steals per game, Hannah has a tendency to over commit on help defense, which often leads to him getting burned by his man. His lack of bulk makes it difficult for him to get through (or quickly recover from) screens that are set on him, and his lack of size means that taller perimeter players can shoot over him fairly easily.

As a player, there is a lot to like about Hannah’s game, and he is sure to find success at the professional level in some capacity. He is a solid outside shooter, possesses good court vision and is a steady all-around player. The majority of the issues with Hannah’s game stem from his physical limitations. His 6’1” 183 pound frame hurt him around the basket and in some senses defensively. While he at the moment he looks like a long shot to be drafted, he as a very good chance to get invited to Portsmouth to improve his chances after the season is over, and still has the entire Big 12 slate to draw attention to himself in the meantime. Winning will go a long ways in helping his cause.

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