NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/31/07-- Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/31/07-- Part Two
Feb 01, 2007, 03:09 am
Brook Lopez of Stanford, Aaron Brooks of Oregon, Zabian Dowdell of Virginia and Brandon Rush of Kansas are our four feature players for the second installment of our NCAA weekly performers series.

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/31/07-- Part One

Brook Lopez, 7-0, Freshman, Center, Stanford
Vs. USC: 18 points, 11 rebounds, 12 blocks, 3 assists, 4 turnovers, 9-17 FG, 0-0 FT


Jonathan Watters

If you are still trying to nail down which Lopez twin is which, don't feel too bad. It took the DX staff a while also. But Stanford's highly-touted 7-footers aren't just those two freshmen putting up decent numbers out on the west coast anymore. The Cardinal's national profile has increased substantially over the course of the season, capped off by a pair of impressive victories over USC and of course UCLA. While it is probably unfair to single out either twin over the other, since they are both excellent NBA prospects, it is the increased role and productivity of Brook Lopez that has really made the difference for Trent Johnson. His breakout performance came in the victory over USC, where he gave fellow freshman standout Taj Gibson fits and came away with an 18 point, 11 rebound, 12 block triple double.

While Lopez may not have the unmistakable power of Greg Oden, the freakish skill of Kevin Durant, or the explosive athleticism of Brandan Wright, he does pass the initial look test with flying colors. Checking in at a chiseled 7'0, 240 pounds, Lopez is filling out his frame quite nicely. He already has the strength to control the paint against virtually any big man in the Pac-10, and it looks like he could gain quite a bit more weight without slowing down much. Lopez doesn't fly up and down the court, but he does move very well for his size, exhibiting excellent body control and balance - especially as an individual post defender and weakside shot blocker. His first leap isn't explosive, but Lopez is a phenomenal anticipator and understands how to contest shots without picking up silly fouls.

There is also a lot to like about Brook Lopez on the offensive end. He isn't exactly a natural back to the basket scorer, but has a passable repertoire of scoring moves on the low block. He sometimes has a tendency to get pushed away from the basket and then go to low-percentage post moves instead of kicking the ball back out to a guard, but the basics are there. Lopez is very comfortable facing the basket in the high post or on the perimeter and is already showing range out past the college 3-point line. He forces opposing big men to come out and guard him on the perimeter, as his 15-18 foot jumper is very smooth and extremely accurate. Lopez finishes very well around the basket, showing off plenty of power and explosiveness when he has a clear path to the rim. Over time, expect to see more fireworks on this side of the ball.

While it isn't clear when Brook Lopez would be comfortable with exploring his draft options, it is becoming more and more clear that the shorter-haired twin is a lottery-caliber talent whenever he wants to be. His emergence was slowed because of a preseason injury, but it isn't going to be long before that 10-5-2 line reads 15-12-4. Under normal circumstances, 7-footers this good don't last very long at the college level. The scary thing for Stanford opponents is that we haven't even started talking about Robin yet...

Aaron Brooks, 6-0, Senior, Point Guard, Oregon
Vs. Washington State 31 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 9-18 FG, 8-10 FT, 5-10 3PT


Rodger Bohn

Oregon’s Aaron Brooks has improved his draft stock just as much, if not more than any 2007 draft prospect so far. The diminutive point guard has gone from an underachieving McDonald’s All American to a potential candidate for College Player of the Year, all in the span of one exhilarating half-season at Oregon. After leading his team to a 13-0 start and beating then #1 UCLA on a dramatic game-winning shot, that was probably the point where we should have started talking about Brooks in hindsight.

The energetic Brooks has proven this year that despite having a reputation as a selfish player, one can turn it around if placed in the right situation. The numbers back this claim up as well, as he has averaged 19.1 points, 4.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.7 steals while shooting nearly 49% from the field, 86% from the line, and 41% from three point territory. It has truly been a dream year for a player who prematurely ended his season last year by despicably elbowing Washington’s Ryan Appleby in the face during the PAC-10 Tournament.

Brooks has established himself as the creator in a perimeter oriented Ducks lineup that consists of guards Bryce Taylor, Tajuan Porter, Malik Hairston, and forward Marty Leunen. He is easily one of the five quickest players on the college level, allowing him to penetrate against just about any guard he is matched up with. He combines his incredible quickness with shooting range that extends well beyond the NBA three point line, and he shows no hesitance whatsoever to pull the trigger if he feels disrespected by the daylight he is seeing. A lightning bug guard who can shoot the hell out of the ball is always going to be a tough player to defend, to say the least.

While Aaron’s point guard skills are not what we would call outstanding by any means, they have consistently improved over his tenure at Oregon to the point that he is now able to lead a team into elite status while distributing the ball enough to keep everyone marginally happy. His vision and ability to find the open man is also above average, although his natural point guard instincts and ability to run a team are not quite what you would hope for.

Although Brooks has improved as a point guard throughout the years, he still constantly pounds the ball for entire possessions, takes bad shots and looks to shoot first before passing the ball to his teammates, leaving the question in mind if he will be able to conform to the role of set up man in the NBA. His lack of ideal size (surely somewhere around 5’11) is also a concern, as he struggles a bit defensively against some of the bigger guards in the PAC-10. While he has the quickness to defend opposing point men, they are simply able to outmuscle him with the slightest nudge or out jump him and get shots up over him with ease.

If Oregon is able to continue their magical season deep into March, it is surely not out of the question to see Brooks find himself somewhere in the second round come draft time, possibly even higher depending on just how far they go. His play is the primary factor of the Ducks’ success, so we will see how far he is able to carry him as the season goes on. While Aaron is not a sure-fire draftee by any means at the moment, he is certainly a solid prospect due to his combination of blazing quickness and explosive scoring ability.

Zabian Dowdell, 6-3, Senior, Point Guard, Virginia Tech
23 points, 8 assists, 1 turnover, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 7-13 FG, 1-3 3P, 8-8 FT


Jonathan Givony

A four year starter in the ACC, this season has marked yet another step in the slow, but steady progression Zabian Dowdell has made into becoming one of the best guards in one of the top conferences in America.

Going on the road to a young, but extremely talented Georgia Tech team, Dowdell carried his team on his back yet again to make another solid step towards securing a berth in the NCAA tournament. Dowdell is Virginia Tech’s go-to guy, a player whose maturity and experience has been absolutely essential in bringing his team tantalizingly close to securing their first tournament appearance since the 1995-1996 season. That goal hit a bit of a setback on Wednesday night after falling at home to a much less talented NC State team, but Virginia Tech is still very much in the picture regardless for making the big dance, largely thanks to two huge wins against Duke and North Carolina, where Dowdell scored 20 and 23 points respectively.

In terms of his NBA prospects, Dowdell has quite a few things going for him. For one, he’s got excellent size, standing 6-3 with a chiseled 200 pound frame. He’s a solid defender, a much improved shooter, and has made some serious strides this year in his overall decision making, evidenced by his excellent 2.3/1 assist to turnover ratio.

Dowdell has gone from a mediocre shooter early in his college career to a very dangerous one if left open, knocking down 47.7% of his shots from the field (compared with 41.7% last year) and 41.5% of his 3-point attempts (compared with 35.8% last year). He does not have a consistent release point on his shot, but is capable of hitting jumpers in many different ways, whether coming off screens, catching and shooting, or pulling up off the dribble from mid-range or behind the arc. He’s also a capable ball-handler, not terribly explosive, especially in terms of getting off the floor, but still very much able to get into the paint and use his strength to finish or draw contact, getting to the free throw line almost 6 times a game. He has some basic hesitation moves he can go-to to overcome his lack of a lightning quick first step, and the fact that he’s improved his shooting so much this year means that defenders have to play him closer than they normally would have in the past. The fact that he’s left-handed also gives him a slight advantage.

In transition is where Dowdell is at his absolute best, as he loves to push the tempo of the game and is extremely reliable with the ball in his hands, averaging just 1.6 turnovers per game in 33 minutes. He does a good job of running his team and has cut back dramatically on many of the foolish mistakes that characterized his play early on in his career, making quick and efficient decisions and often passing up good shots for better ones to get all of his teammates involved. He’s not a pure point guard in the classic sense, but he has a nice variety of passes in his arsenal that he can utilize, particularly in terms of feeding cutters in the paint. Sharing some ball-handling duties with fellow senior combo guard Jamon Gordon (who is having an excellent season in his own right), he does a nice job moving off the ball looking for open spaces to get his shot off as well.

Defensively, Dowdell is committed to keeping his man in front of him and can be a real nuisance in the passing lanes, averaging a league-leading 2.5 steals per game, tied with backcourt mate Jamon Gordon. In the Georgia Tech game in particular he did an outstanding job on Javaris Crittenton, bodying him up all day long and pestering him into a 5-19 shooting outing. His strength and experience really come into play in this area, and he leaves a solid impression with the way he plays angles and forces matchups into positions they are not comfortable in.

All in all, Dowdell has improved enough over the past few years that he deserves be mentioned as a legit NBA draft prospect. He doesn’t overly excel in any one part of the game, but also doesn’t have any considerable weaknesses that can’t be overcome with hard work. Starting in arguably the best conference in America over the past four years makes him one of the most experienced guard prospects in this draft, and if he’s able to continue his strong play into the months of February and March, he will surely draw even more attention to himself. The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, right down the road from his college, could be a place where he can really make a name for himself. If the NBA isn’t in the cards for him right away, he can rest assure that high-level European teams will welcome him with open arms, as he is basically the prototype for what they are usually looking for out of American players in their backcourt.

Brandon Rush, 6-7, Sophomore, Small Forward, Kansas
Last 2 Games combined: 41 points, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 turnovers, 15-26 FG, 6-11 3P, 5-6 FT


Joseph Treutlein

After a promising freshman season, Brandon Rush returned to Kansas as a sophomore this year, where many expected him to take on a more assertive role in Kansas’ offense. Rush, a very gifted athlete at 6’7 with a wingspan around 6’11, hasn’t quite met all the expectations yet this season, but he has made some noticeable progress on his game. Rush has admitted he hadn’t received much coaching in high school, so his polish is certainly not up to par with his athleticism and natural talent just yet. But in some areas where he struggled last season, specifically his commitment to defense, his willingness to take the ball to the basket, and his ability to create off the dribble, he has made noticeable strides this season.

Initially looking at his statlines, it may not appear to most that Rush has improved at all, but the basic stats only tell part of the story. Rush’s field-goal percentage is down from 47% to 43%, and his three-point percentage down from 47% to 41%, but on the positive side, Rush has attempted 76 free throws this season in comparison to his 257 field goals. Rush only attempted 71 free throws in all of last season, along with 359 field goals. This clearly shows he’s attacking the rim more, and in analyzing his game, he also is showing a more versatile off-the-dribble attack. In the past, Rush has struggled mightily creating with his left hand, often losing control of the ball or not getting off a fluid shot attempt. While not yet perfected, Rush has much improved his left hand this season, making it a viable threat defenders now much respect. He can take the ball off the dribble with either hand, and can finish using pull-up jumpers from mid-range, floaters in the lane, or by getting to the rim where he finishes well with his great creativity and touch around the rim.

Rush doesn’t possess a great arsenal of moves to get past his man, and many of his drives comes on swing passes where his defender doesn’t have his feet set, but Rush has shown some very impressive moves at times, including variations of ball fakes and crossovers. One of Rush’s favorite moves is a double crossover where he crosses the ball from right to left, followed by a hesitation at the ball’s peak before he quickly crosses back over to his right hand to start his pursuit towards the basket. Since now Rush actually poses a threat going left off his crossover, which he does do at times, it makes the double crossover that much more deadly.

Rush is also a good shooter from outside, as many of his shots are of the spot-up variety from behind the arc. He doesn’t get much lift on his shot, but with his long arms and high shooting motion, he gets his shot off easily and hits it fairly consistently. Rush has improved on his mid-range game a bit this year, showing the ability to hit spot-up jumpers and floaters off the dribble, but he still lacks consistency in this area.

The biggest problem with Rush at this stage would be his lack of assertiveness on the offensive end, though it’s up to interpretation how much of that is his doing and how much of that is a result of his environment, being on a very talented Kansas team with many players capable of scoring the ball. It also must be taken into consideration here that this is still a player with less than two years of good coaching to absorb, and he has made noticeable strides in skill level during that time, even though his efficiency has dipped this year. Rush has scored 18, 21, and 20 points in his last three games respectively, though, so maybe he is now starting to turn that proverbial corner.

Rush also makes consistent contributions in ways other than scoring, pulling down six rebounds per game thanks mostly due his athleticism and length, and making an improved contribution on the defensive end in comparison with last season. Rush has shown improvements on this end in both fundamentals and commitment, getting up closer on his man while moving his feet and getting his center of gravity down more consistently. When a player of his length commits on perimeter defense, it can be very tough for the opposition to get off a high-percentage shot. For a player of his length, one would expect more than 0.4 steals per game, and using his length better in the passing lanes is something he could work on in the future.

There is a good chance Rush will enter the NBA draft this year, and he will likely be a mid-to-late first round pick if he continues at his current production. Even though he hasn’t put up outstanding statistics or proven himself in the go-to role, it’d be tough to see a player with his physical gifts fall any farther than that, especially given the fact that he hasn’t had much coaching to this point. If he continues on his recent scoring spree and consistently plays more assertively on the offensive end, he could certainly climb in to the single-digits of this draft, as if he puts his mind to it, he has the abilities to beat out any swingman in this draft class not named Kevin Durant. Rush still possesses many noticeable flaws in his game, but most of them are mentally-based, and if he can overcome those, he can be a very special player.

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