NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/26/08-- Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/26/08-- Part One
Feb 27, 2008, 04:02 am
Richard Hendrix, 6-9, Junior, Power Forward, Alabama
18.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 2.1 blocks, 62% FG, 53% FT

Jonathan Givony

With his season and possibly college career probably about 10 days away from being over (Alabama is 14-13 and currently looks unlikely to play in the postseason), this is as good a time as any to review Richard Hendrix’s credentials for this upcoming NBA Draft. Reading between the lines on a recent local article, it seems very likely that this will indeed be the last we’ve seen of Hendrix at the collegiate level, and no one will reasonably be able to fault him for that considering the three excellent seasons he gave the unlucky, underachieving Crimson Tide.

After a terrific sophomore season, which earned him 2nd team All-SEC honors, Hendrix did not let the success go to his head and instead spent the summer working on his body and refining his skill set. Two cardio workouts a day helped him shed 20 pounds from his massive frame, which has noticeably helped him become more agile getting up and down the floor and especially elevating off his feet.

Hendrix’s numbers are up across the board, both per game, and per-40 minutes, regardless of the extra playing time he is seeing. His points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, free throw attempts, and minutes are all up, while his turnovers, free throw shooting, fouls and assists are down. He ranks 5th in NCAA PER, 5th in WIN Score, 8th in EFF, 15th in field goal percentage, 36th in scoring per-40 minutes pace adjusted, 17th in rebounding, and 29th in blocks.

The bulk of Hendrix’s points still come in the post, where he possesses a fundamentally sound, no-frills type game. He has a very nice right-handed jump-hook shot, and is extremely smart and crafty establishing position in the paint and finishing around the basket, doing a notable job brushing off contact thanks to his outstanding strength. He’s even hitting some shots with his left hand this year, doing a better job in general showing off some more advanced finesse post moves (even beating players in the post with his quickness) to go along with the brute force he can use to bully players around inside. The 62% he shoots from the field is very impressive when you consider how much of the offensive load his team expects him to shoulder, but he’s also a very good passer out of double teams, which is to be expected considering his high basketball IQ. He also gets to the free throw line at an excellent rate, but only hits a dismal 53% of his shots here, which is down from the 65 and 63% he shot from there as a freshman and sophomore respectively. We can only wonder what kind of numbers he would be putting up if he were playing with a real point guard next to him, but Ronald Steele’s unfortunate injuries derailed any hopes of that.

Hendrix also seems to be showing more of an ability to step away from the basket this season. He’s hit a couple of 3-pointers, and looked very good nailing a couple of 17 or 18 foot jumpers in the film we observed throughout the season, even pulling up off the dribble on one occasion. His bread and butter is clearly his inside game, but it’s nice to see some glimpses of potential in his jump-shot, which will play a very important role in his success in the NBA.

Hendrix’s biggest appeal as an NBA prospect has to be his rebounding ability, though. Having a body like He-Man, he boxes out as well as any player in the country, and goes after every ball with terrific timing, hands, length and tenacity. Defensively, Hendrix looks more effective now that he’s shed the excess weight he was carrying, competing extremely hard as always, and showing good timing and decent bounce getting off his feet to block shots. He’s not someone who can be backed down in the post due to his incredible strength, and thus is very effective playing man to man defense in the paint. The fact that he’s only 6-9 does put him at somewhat of a disadvantage at times, though.

Where Hendrix struggles the most is when forced to step out onto the perimeter, especially attempting to guard quicker power forwards who like to face the basket and put the ball on the floor. His lateral quickness here is fairly poor, which will hurt him especially when matched up with NBA teams who like to play a lot of pick and roll, as he can’t hedge screens the way many NBA coaches expect their big men to.

Although we won’t know for sure until the list of early-entry candidates is revealed and it’s decided who is drafting where, Hendrix looks like a pretty safe bet to be drafted somewhere in the first round this year. He’s the type of player who could help virtually any team in the NBA considering what he brings to the table at the position he plays, and may even have a chance to crack the late lottery with favorable measurements (6-9 or up) and some solid workouts. He’s not going to wow anyone with his upside or win any championships single-handedly, but can be similar to a Paul Millsap type player who does a lot of dirty work, understands his role and will do whatever it takes to help win games.

Brandon Rush, 6’6, SG/SF, Junior, Kansas
12.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 1.0 steal, 42% FG, 77% FT, 40% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

After an unfortunate ACL tear forced Brandon Rush to withdraw his name from the NBA draft this past summer, Rush was left with no option other than to come back to school. He’s now back at Kansas, doing much of the same he did his first two years in college. Playing much of the season with a large brace on his knee, Rush took some time getting back up to game speed, and has improved as the season has gone on, posting better numbers in conference play, to the tune of 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds on 45% from the field and 43% from three, slightly better than his overall yearly numbers. The knee injury may have taken away some vertical explosiveness, and Rush does look a half-step slower laterally on the defensive end, but for the most part, his recovery has been strong, as he’s retained most of his athleticism in the few months since he’s started playing basketball again.

As mentioned above, it’s much of the same from Brandon Rush this season, as his production has mostly remained stagnant in his three years at Kansas. There are some subtle differences with his game, though, most notably how his control of his dribble has improved to the point where he looks very comfortable in space and going to the rim on straight-line drives. He keeps the ball close to him and low to the ground, and he’s only turning the ball over 1.6 times per game this season. Rush doesn’t possess many advanced dribble moves, but it’s not necessary for him to get past his man, as he does that fine with his very quick first step and long strides with the ball.

Once he takes the ball into the lane, though, Rush gets into trouble, as he really lacks creativity and finishing moves in traffic, and this season he’s mostly just resorted to throwing up right-handed floaters and high lay-ups off the glass, which he doesn’t have consistent success with. With his length, athleticism, and body control, Rush doesn’t even need complex series’ of moves to get the job done; a simple hop-step in combination with his physical tools would be enough to get by defenders in many cases, but you’ll rarely see him utilize such a move. Rush’s inability to take the ball all the way to the basket in traffic is a concern, and it could be attributed to multiple things, ranging from his injury, to not being very tough, to just not having the moves in his repertoire to get there.

Looking at the rest of his offensive game, it’s clear that Rush’s greatest strength is his jump shot, which has very good form, boasting a high and extremely quick release, which he shows great confidence in. When he’s catching and shooting, Rush is extremely accurate with the ball, and he doesn’t need much space to get off his shot. His high and quick release in combination with his controlled dribble also allows him to pull-up off the bounce well, not needing much separation to get off his shot. Rush’s accuracy goes down noticeably when shooting on the move, though, as he doesn’t always have the greatest balance and struggles with his accuracy when his feet aren’t set. In his three years at Kansas, Rush has consistently increased his three-point attempts per game, turning into more of an outside shooter and less of a slasher, which has predictably caused his field goal percentages to drop every single season.

Without the ball, Rush does a good job of getting open, showing a good understanding of floor spacing, often getting open from behind the arc with a good passing angle for his teammate to get him the ball. Rush also does a good job getting ahead in transition, where he finishes well, though has looked hesitant to dunk the ball at times this season. In terms of passing the ball, Rush reads the floor well and is an unselfish player, to a fault at times, finding open teammates cutting to the basket, and doing an especially good job in pick-and-rolls.

On the defensive end, Rush uses his length and hands well in man-to-man defense, picking at the ball and contesting shots from the perimeter or at the rim. Laterally, he doesn’t seem to be moving as well this season, but still does a pretty good job staying in front of his man, and has the length to recover from behind when he gets beat. He’s also shown some trouble chasing through screens off the ball, though not anymore than your average college draft prospect.

Rush will likely enter the draft this season, where he should once again be in first round discussions, even though he hasn’t met the expectations many had for him over the past few years. While his production hasn’t improved in college, and he seems to lack aggressiveness at times on the court, he still has some NBA skills and NBA physical tools, along with the makings of a solid role player, even if he never quite takes his game to the next level.

Jamont Gordon, 6-4, PG/SG, Junior, Mississippi State
17.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 4 turnovers, 1.2 steals, .7 blocks, 43% FG, 33% 3P, 70% FT

Jonathan Givony

After bursting onto the NBA Draft scene as a sophomore as one of the most unique and versatile players in the country, playing four positions for Mississippi State, Jamont Gordon has continued to put up excellent numbers this year while leading his team to a likely NCAA tournament berth--their first in three seasons.

While Gordon’s scoring and field goal percentage are up, most of his other numbers are down, including his rebounding, assists, and 3-point shooting percentage. He’s turning the ball over more, his assist to turnover ratio has gone down from 1.52 to 1.19, he’s getting to the free throw line less, and he’s taking substantially more 3-pointers, even if he’s hitting them at a worse clip.

Gordon remains one of the best shot-creating guards in all of college basketball, capable of making something out of nothing on a regular basis thanks to his phenomenal scoring instincts. Left-handed, he shows tremendous wiggle facing up his opponent and keeping him on his heels, combined with terrific ball-handling skills and hesitation moves, excellent strength, outstanding body control, and an extremely aggressive mentality putting pressure on the defense. He’s very creative getting into the paint and finishing at the rim, drawing a fair amount of fouls in the process. Not a freakishly explosive athlete, he’s nevertheless strong and skilled enough to bounce off opponents like a bowling ball in the lane and then just hang in the air, often finishing off the glass with tremendous touch. Having someone who can create offense the way he does at the end of a shot clock on your roster is a big plus as far as many coaches are concerned, at any level of basketball.

As far as perimeter shooting is concerned, though, Gordon still has a long ways to go. His mechanics prevent him from being anything more than average at best here, as he elevates off the floor with a little hop and then releases the ball on the way down, which prevents him from getting any type of consistent release point. He can get hot at times and knock down a few 3-pointers in a row, even from NBA range at times, due to his terrific touch and natural scoring instincts-- but the 33% he shoots from behind the arc on a high volume of attempts (5.5 per game) tells you all you need to know about his accuracy here. He has a fairly slow release, especially on his mid-range jumper, and is not immune to some extremely bad misses, with air-balls and such not being an uncommon sight. He also only hits 70% of his attempts from the free throw line.

The fact that Gordon takes so many 3-pointers despite clearly not being a very good shooter begins to tell the story about his shortcomings as a prospect for the next level. His shot-selection and overall decision making can be very poor at times, looking fairly selfish with his dominant style of ball-handling, freezing teammates out, and clearly hurting his team when his shot is not falling. He does not value possessions the way you would hope considering that he will probably have to see some minutes at the point guard position in the NBA down the road, being extremely turnover prone (he ranks 4th in this category amongst all players in our database), looking very out of control, and showing a slightly questionable basketball IQ with some of the passes he makes. He gets a little predictable at times, as at some point you figure out that when he’s driving with his (better) left-hand, he’s usually going all the way to the rim, while when he drives right, he’s probably going to pull up at some point.

Defensively, Gordon is very solid, clearly playing a big part in Mississippi State rating as one of the best defensive teams in the NCAA this season. He has very good tools to compete on this end of the floor—showing excellent size, strength, length, and a wide frame, while also putting a good amount of effort into his work here. At 6-4, 225, and with his wingspan, he can really overwhelm opposing guards physically with his smothering style of defense.

Despite being their main facilitator offensively (responsible for a very substantial 25% of their offensive possessions), Gordon is often the one responsible for guarding the opposing team’s primary ball-handler—putting very good pressure on the ball, contesting shots, and generally doing a nice job slowing his matchup down. Gordon might lack a degree of lateral quickness to be considered an elite defender against quicker guards at the next level, but it’s nothing flagrant and shouldn’t hurt him too much from being able to guard both guard spots coming off the bench in the NBA. He’s also a terrific rebounder, indeed one of the best at his position in the NCAA, pulling down an excellent 6.3 boards per game.

Gordon’s success at the next level will largely hinge on how open he is to changing his game to suit his future role over the next few years. His shot will probably have to be taken apart and reconstructed if he’s going to be considered an adequate threat to hit NBA 3-pointers, something that is extremely difficult to do unless the player is fully committed to the fact that it needs to be done. He’ll also have to be much more willing to defer to his teammates than he currently shows, especially in late-game situations where he often goes wild and seems to take everything as a personal challenge, rather than as a team effort. His scoring tools and the aggressiveness he brings on both ends of the floor makes him an ideal candidate for a sparkplug role off the bench in the NBA, in the mold of a Flip Murray, Keyon Dooling or Rodney Stuckey, and if he shows the right mentality, he could stick in the NBA for a long time.

James Anderson, 6-6, Freshman, SG/SF, Oklahoma State
14.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 2.2 turnovers, .8 steals, 44% FG, 39% 3P, 72% FT, 32 minutes

Kyle Nelson

Despite being named a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, Oklahoma State freshman James Anderson is still somewhat flying under the radar as far as the national media is concerned. However, with averages of 14 points per game on 39% shooting from the perimeter, he has surely solidified his billing as an instant impact player. With that said, he is still only beginning to establish himself as a future NBA wing player.

Anderson certainly passes the eye test in terms of an NBA shooting guard. He is a lanky 6’6” with a nice wingspan and frame, but could still afford to put on some weight. In terms of athleticism, Anderson has a nice first step and solid leaping ability, but does not look quite like the elite athlete he was billed as by some recruiting services out of high school. That being said, he still clearly possesses the physical tools to play in the NBA down the road.

Anderson is an offensive player and a threat to score just about any time the ball is in his hands. His perimeter game is the most polished skill in his offensive repertoire. Simply put, Anderson can shoot the basketball. While his overall form has proven to be quite inconsistent at times, when Anderson shoots the ball properly, getting good elevation, displaying a high and quick release, and most importantly, jumping straight into the air, his shot is beautiful.

Another interesting aspect of his perimeter game is his adaptability and creativity. Anderson can hit shots from just about anywhere and in just about any position. Watching him drain fade away three-point jumpshots from well beyond the three-point line is impressive. His streakiness from game to game looks to be a product of his youth and inconsistent shooting motion, and likely will improve over time. Simply put, Anderson has the potential to be an absolute sniper at the next level if he works on refining his jump-shot.

Elsewhere on the offensive end, Anderson also shows a good deal of potential. While he is averaging only 3.5 free-throw attempts per game, Anderson occasionally shows some aggressiveness attacking the basket. One aspect of his slashing game is his ability and skillfulness at drawing contact in the lane. Using his good body control, Anderson frequently adjusts his shot to include arm or body contact with his defender. This is evident in his developing mid-range game, as well. Anderson does a good job of recognizing and anticipating his defender’s movement and shows the ability to pull up for jumpshots, which, like his perimeter shot, display inconsistent form to the tune of a passable 44% field goal percentage. Anderson’s basketball IQ looks to be still developing, but a more recent development in his offensive game has been in the post, where he occasionally backs down his man into the post and uses his size and strength to score on a strong move.

While Anderson’s offensive potential and versatility is tantalizing, there is one significant problem: his ball-handling skills are very poor. According to Synergy Sports Technology, he drives left 83.3% of the time and that, combined with his loose and high handle, severely limit his offensive game. When watching him play, there are points in which his handle stunts his decision making ability, because he is too nervous and uncomfortable dribbling the ball. Dribbling the ball towards the rim, he is often out of control by the time he reaches the basket, which does not allow him to get off a clean shot. For him to blossom into an elite wing player at the collegiate level, he must continue to develop his handle and work on becoming comfortable using either hand and advanced moves to create his own shot.

Another aspect of his game that he must improve is defense. Though he has the physical and athletic potential, combined with good lateral quickness that suggest he could become a solid defender at this, as well as the next, level, his focus too often wanes and he is often a non-factor. This is evidenced in his extremely poor 3.4 rebounds per game in 31 minutes. He certainly has the athleticism and size to be a factor on the boards, but the effort and focus just is not there yet. This is another area in which improvement is essential if Anderson wants to maximize his potential.

While James Anderson has a long way to go, his physical tools and scorer’s mentality speak volumes about his potential. He has definitely cemented a reputation as one of the most productive freshmen in the country, and must break out of his recent shooting slump to finish his freshman campaign strong. Right now, he looks to be a three-year prospect, and with the Oklahoma State Cowboys looking like they have the potential to challenge next year in the Big 12, Anderson’s improvement is all but necessary for his team to win, but also essential if he wants to maximize his high potential to be a scoring threat at the next level.

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