NCAA Weekly Performers (12/4/2006)--Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers (12/4/2006)--Part Two
Dec 06, 2006, 12:45 am

NCAA Weekly Performers (12/4/2006)--Part One

Al Thornton, 6-7, Senior, Power Forward, Florida State
28 points, 9 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 block, 10-16 FG, 1-2 3P, 7-9 FT


Jonathan Givony

Breaking out of what has so far been a somewhat ho-hum season, Al Thornton had by far his best game of the year in what could very well be the signature win that puts his team in the NCAA Tournament. To sweeten the pot, it came on national TV, against his team’s biggest rivals--the national champions--and also with yours truly watching the game in person alongside at least a dozen representatives of NBA teams—some being key decision makers—for example Sam Presti of the San Antonio Spurs or Dave Griffin of the Phoenix Suns.

About 10 ½ months ago, we featured Thornton for the first time on this site, talking about his fantastic physical tools—then compared to Hakim Warrick--but also about the long road he had in front of him before being able to be considered a full-time perimeter player. Nearly a year later, Thornton seems to have made some terrific strides in that area and is looking more fluid and confident on the wing than we’ve ever remembered him. He did almost all of his damage in this game off the bounce—using his awesome first step to take his man off the dribble and then letting his fantastic legs guide him through the lane to soar for some incredibly athletic finishes. His mid-range game was on full display throughout, coming off a screen to elevate high off the ground for a jumper, utilizing pump-fakes like a pro, pulling up off one bounce confidently and smoothly, or even showing the capacity to execute more complicated plays—for example a fade-away pull-up off two dribbles after a lightning quick spin move. All these moves look a lot more polished than they ever did in the past, as if he’s been working on them non-stop since his team was snubbed out of the NCAA Tournament—which is reportedly exactly the case.

Thornton might be considered a position-less player at the NCAA level considering the way he’s used, but in his case, and with the direction the NBA seems to be heading in—we’re not so sure that’s as much of a negative as once thought. Thornton—playing the power forward position alongside the 3 combo guards FSU likes to run with at the same time--was defended by a very ill Joakim Noah for most of the game. Regardless of his matchup’s health problems, there usually isn’t much his defenders can do to stop him at this level since we’re talking about arguably the quickest power forward in the NCAA. Thornton is just too slithery to keep a body on, and when you consider his toughness, freakish wingspan and relentless motor, it’s no surprise at all to see him end the game with 6 offensive rebounds. He just beats players to the spot on a consistent basis and seems to want the ball much more than anyone else.

We’re not talking with a player with a terribly high basketball IQ, nor the best fundamentals in the world, but despite turning 23 years old in just two days, he doesn’t look anywhere near a finished product either. His general skill-level could still stand to improve in the half-court, particularly his ability to execute sets, along with working on his shooting range and passing skills. He has a tendency to drive through the lane with his head down, and doesn’t have the most polished footwork or body control to stop and finish complicated plays in sophisticated ways, with a pivot-move or up and under for example. Based off what we saw last night, there was really no indication either way on how good of a perimeter defender he is because of the matchups he had. Considering his terrific tools, though, and the fact that he’s clearly improving on a regular basis, Thornton will have plenty of opportunities to show scouts his value and solidify his place in the 1st round. Winning games and especially making the NCAA Tournament will be key.

J.R. Giddens, 6-5, Junior, Shooting Guard, New Mexico
16 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 4 steals, 1 block, 6-18 FG, 2-9 3P, 2-4 FT


Jonathan Watters

It seems like ages since J.R. Giddens was considered by pretty much everyone to be a future first round draft pick and potential NBA standout. Giddens' exit out of Kansas was anything but quiet, but his transfer year was, and that is most certainly a good thing. The only sound coming out of New Mexico over the summer was a quiet but steady buzz that Richie McCay might have landed himself one spectacular player.

This review is primarily based off of Giddens' play in New Mexico's loss to UTEP on Sunday, so any conclusions drawn here should be considered hasty at best. Nonetheless, it was still easy to come away with a decent feel for the type of player the former McDonald's All-American has become since he flamed out with the Jayhawks.

First things first, a quick recap of the player Giddens was at the time of his transfer:

The 6'5 high flyer was highly regarded out of high school by most because of his length, explosiveness and unconventional, but deadly outside jumper. A promising freshman season seemed to confirm this train of thought, but Giddens took a major step in the wrong direction as a sophomore. His game became almost entirely one-dimensional and he rarely contributed much of anything if he wasn't hitting from the outside. Despite his immense natural tools, he got to the line just 52 times in two years as a Jayhawk, and his efficiency as a shooter really diminished late in his sophomore year.

With this somewhat bearish evaluation in mind, it is clear that Giddens has worked hard not only on his scoring tools but also his approach to the game. At the same, it is still very early in the season and a few of Giddens' less appealing traits still remain.

The most noticeable difference in Giddens compared to where he was at Kansas is in his offensive mentality. Instead of playing tentatively and rarely venturing inside the 3-point arc, he displayed an attacking mentality. Where he wasn't able to take on more significant scoring duties as a sophomore in the Big XII, it is clear that he realizes the Lobos are his team and that he is attempting to emerge as an all around go-to scorer in the MWC. On several occasions he connected on impressive-looking midrange fadeaways that can only be described as NBA-caliber, and he was very aggressive flying to the basket in the open court. He appeared to be much more involved with his teammates as well, though the Lobos did fall decisively to a very young UTEP squad. Simply put, these are the types of things he didn't do under the bright lights in Lawrence.

This newfound mentality is easy to pick out in the box score, where in just six games Giddens has already set a new career high for free throw attempts in a season. He only got there four times against UTEP and somehow managed to score 25 points on 11-19 shooting against Richard Roby and Colorado without attempting a single free throw, but it is clear that he has improved this number by diversifying his game a bit.

At the same time, Giddens still showed room for improvement in these areas. He didn't really attempt to get all the way to the basket against UTEP, and started to force the 3-ball again after a dazzling stretch of play to open the second half. For all the intensity he appeared to be showing, it still isn't clear how much of a factor he is going to be on the defensive end this year.

Taking into account that Giddens struggled in the first half wearing a mask after breaking his nose earlier in the week and the fact that this was his worst performance of the year so far, one has to be at least somewhat encouraged by his early productiveness. The MWC has proven to be a great place for prospects to display their individual talents, and just two years ago Danny Granger took a similar path to a guaranteed contract in the NBA as the #17 overall pick.

It would be hasty to even speculate about how much of a future Giddens has at the NBA level, but he is certainly a player who has worked to improve his game, is playing in a situation that should allow him to grow and display his progress, and was talented enough to keep an eye on in the first place.

Ron Lewis, 6’5, Senior, SG/SF, Ohio State
30 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 4 turnovers, 11-16 FG, 2-4 3PT, 6-8 FT


Rodger Bohn

In quite possibly the biggest game of the college season thus far, Ron Lewis carried his team on his back, narrowly losing to the ultra-talented North Carolina Tar Heels last week. He had the best individual performance of any player from either team, which is quite an impressive feat considering that we were at least 6 likely future NBA players participating in this game. Lewis’ dynamic scoring ability from the wing kept Ohio State close late into the game, but eventually their lack of an inside presence caught up to them, as Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright were able to bring the “W” in for UNC.

Despite the losing effort, Lewis proved yet again that he has the ability to score against anyone in the country, no matter what the level may be. Many insiders were skeptical if he would be able to carry over the scoring prowess that he displayed in the MAC (17.0 points per game as a sophomore at Bowling Green) in the Big 10, but he has answered all doubters with his play thus far this season.

Ron is a tough matchup on the perimeter, due to his combination of quickness, body control, and outside shooting ability. His one on one skills allow him to get into the lane on virtually anyone, where he is able to finish with his nice athleticism and outstanding body control. The Columbus native has shown the ability to consistently finish despite drawing contact, with either hand around the rim. His dribble drives are often set up by his outstanding outside shooting ability, evidenced by his 47.7% 3PT field goal percentage this season. While the form on his shot is a bit awkward, he has no problem getting it off in a hurry, whether it be from a spot up position or off of the dribble creating for himself.

On the down side, Lewis is not a very good defender at the moment, although his he has the potential to become one down the road due to his raw athletic ability. He seems to lose focus at times on the defensive end, and does not exert the same effort as he does on the offensive side of things. Against UNC, Lewis lost focus of both Wayne Ellington and Marcus Ginyard at various times, resulting in open looks for both of the Carolina swingmen.

Offensively, Lewis has displayed very little in terms of a mid range jumpshot, scoring the vast majority of his points right at the rim, or from deep bombs from the land of three. Big 10 teams with solid defensive rotation will key in on this, and will surely make him put the ball on the floor when he touches it, knowing that he’s going to attack the rim, and will have a big man waiting for him in the paint. Lewis is also a pretty marginal ball handler and creator for others, as he looks a bit shaky at times handling the ball, and does not get the ball to open shooters often once he drives into the paint.

Lewis will be a player that scouts will surely follow as the season goes on. It will be interesting to see how his style of play adjusts with the addition of Greg Oden, as he will surely not have as many isolation opportunities for himself on the wing. Lewis is a much more interesting prospect than recent Ohio State stars Je’kel Foster and Terrance Dials were, and has a shot of being drafted if he is able to continue his outstanding of play of late, while becoming a more complete player. As it stands now however, Ron is on the outside looking in, but has the potential of landing somewhere in the second round when it is all said and done. He’ll almost certainly have his chance to impress at Portsmouth and possibly the NBA pre-draft camp.

JamesOn Curry, 6-3 Guard, Junior, Oklahoma State

Last 2 games: 59 total points (29.5 avg.), 22-37 FG, 5-13 3P, 10-10 FT, 12 assists (6.0 avg.)


Eric G. Satterwhite

The Oklahoma State University men’s basketball team is currently 9-0, due primarily to the exceptional play of Cowboy junior guard JamesOn Curry. Curry, who had a career high 35 points against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi followed by a 24-point performance against Pepperdine, is serving notice to NBA scouts that he possesses specific talents to play in the Association. Scouts who forecasted Curry as just a blip on their talent evaluation surveillance system must now hone in JamesOn who has been getting his “game on”.

JamesOn Curry’s game is defined by his offensive skills. Curry plays in the competitive Big 12, and even there, very few players can stay in front of him as he breaks down defenders. Curry has that NBA offensive skill gift…he can create his own shot and has proven that in every game he has played. Offensively, Curry is capable of scoring from most spots on the floor supported by his NBA range 3 point perimeter shooting, slashing ability, and shot creating skill. Curry’s in between game is tailored made for the NBA.

Curry is equally adept at moving without the basketball and is virtually a physical clone of the Detroit Piston’s 2-guard Richard Hamilton. He runs the floor exceptionally well in transition and due to his lithe frame is able to attain separation from his defender when he maximizes his finesse. Equally impressive about Curry is his ability to pull up from behind the arc going both left and right off the dribble with accuracy.

It is well documented that Curry is adept at “swishing,” yet he is no slouch when it comes to “dishing”. Last season Curry lead the Cowboys in assists with 132, which was the 3rd most by a Cowboy sophomore in school history. This ability to share the rock is also best reflected in the night Curry scored 35 points, supporting that with 9 assists and zero turnovers. Very few players with a reputation as a scorer have ball-sharing abilities equal to Curry. He also had 2 games last season where he compiled 10 assists with one of those games against national power Gonzaga.

Curry in prior seasons can play down to the level of competition. He seems to elevate his game in post-season tournament play and coast in what may be perceived as lesser competition. The competitive fire needs to ruminate for JamesOn more consistently since Curry is best served hot and spicy.

Curry also needs to become more assertive defensively. He has a wingspan of a player 5 inches taller than his 6-3 and is a natural for steals and deflection when denying the passing lanes. Without much effort, Curry has averaged a steal a game and with more effort would be an ideal close out defender for opponents due to his reach and length. Shot selection and decision making have also been issues for Curry in the past, he has a tendency to overestimate his own offensive ability at times, and will settle for very difficult shots with a hand in his face. Despite his gaudy assist numbers, he is still not a true point guard, and indeed he is asked to share ball-handling duties on this team with 5-11 Byron Eaton. Oklahoma State needs this insurance at times because of how streaky Curry can be, both in his shooting and playmaking ability. So far this year this hasn’t been much of an issue.

All in all, JamesOn Curry looks much improved over his fairly disappointing sophomore season. He has a high basketball IQ for offensive basketball coupled with distinguished court awareness that is drenched with NBA instincts. Curry also does not cower in the face of adversity and plays his best basketball when the stakes are highest. Curry this season is now utilizing his prodigious skills more consistently regardless of competition exemplified by his last 2 games. Since a multitude of NBA teams are playing fast break basketball, Curry has the opportunity as he keeps improving to find an NBA home. Curry’s physique is reminiscent of the aforementioned Detroit Piston Rip Hamilton, Sacramento King guard Kevin Martin, and New York Knick guard Jamal Crawford.

Curry, who while in high school had his scholarship rescinded by North Carolina coach Roy Williams due to an arrest for marijuana possession with the intent to sell, has made the most out of his second chance with OSU. He has been a model student/athlete and has reflected next level mental toughness by not cowering to past mistakes. Finally when you’re the all time prep leading scorer for the state of North Carolina where 2 of the top ten scorers in NBA history prepped Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, Curry’s basketball body of work must be open mindedly evaluated.

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