NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/3/09

NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/3/09
Dec 03, 2009, 01:06 pm
Gonzaga's Elias Harris, Washington State's Klay Thompson, Cincinnati's Yancy Gates and Tennessee's Scotty Hopson are the first NBA draft prospects evaluated in our NCAA Weekly Performers series.

Elias Harris, 6’7, SF/PF, Freshman, Gonzaga
12.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 48% FG, 69% FT, 20% 3P

Joseph Treutlein

Very few freshman in the country have had as significant an impact for their teams as Elias Harris has for Gonzaga thus far this season, which isn’t surprising given the 20-year-old freshman’s profile. With high-level international experience under his belt, the 6’7 combo forward with a very well-built body has come in and started all 6 of his team’s games, playing 29 minutes on average, pretty much exclusively at the power forward position.

From a physical standpoint, Harris certainly looks the part of an NBA small forward or combo forward, having great size and good length with a very strong frame, and possessing very good athleticism to go along with it. He’s an explosive player with very good quickness, exceptional coordination and very strong mobility, while also having very good upper body strength. Harris has spent pretty much all of his time playing as a big man for the Bulldogs, but with each passing game, he shows a little more of his perimeter game.

Harris spent the first two games of the season doing a lot of work with his back to the basket, showing a decent arsenal of hook shots and runners going across the lane, doing a good job of drawing contact and getting to the line, but struggling with his touch at times shooting over bigger opponents in the paint. His post game is certainly effective against college 4’s, but it’s hard to envision Harris having consistent success as a back-to-the-basket power forward in the NBA, as doesn’t have the size or brute power to really make much of a living doing that.

Harris provides more intrigue with his face-up game, something that was on display in all three games in Maui, where he showed dribble drive moves from all areas of the court, showing off his impressive coordination and footwork. Harris incorporates a lot of advanced moves into his forays to the rim, namely spin moves and hop steps, which he might rely on a bit too heavily at this point. Harris’ left hand appears pretty weak, and pretty much every time he goes left, he only does so to set up a very effective left-to-right spin move, something opposing teams will pick up on over time if he doesn’t make them respect his left hand. Harris’ athletic abilities are on full display when he’s attacking the basket off the dribble, making very rangy plays with the ball and finishing well in the lane with various finesse and power moves.

Harris’ jump shot is still a work in progress, though he has the foundation of good shooting form in place, and he’s had flashes of success in his few games thus far. One thing that stands out with Harris’ shot is how few jumpers he takes in rhythm, as he rarely readies himself for the catch-and-shoot when the ball is coming to him. He often hesitates with the ball for a good second or so before putting the ball up, and he often looks a bit mechanical in his motions. Other than that, he shows occasional problems with not getting full extension on all his releases. That said, he does have a high release point and the rest of his motion is pretty consistent, so this is an area he should improve on if he puts in the work, and will surely be a very important factor in whether or not he’s able to make the conversion to playing on the wing full time.

Another strong point of Harris’ game is his high motor and basketball IQ, as he makes a lot of hustles plays in the game and usually doesn’t settle for many low-percentage shots. Harris makes a big impact attacking the glass on both ends of the court and diving for loose balls. He’s a competitive guy with great toughness who doesn’t back down from anyone, something that has given Gonzaga (a team typically deemed to be a bit on the soft side) a huge boost this season.

Defensively, Harris has great physical tools with his size, length, and good lateral quickness, while also having a pretty good fundamental base in place for perimeter defense, where he shows a good stance and moves his feet well. He doesn’t get to match up against opposing threes at this level, but he appears as if he has the tools to defend that position. He’s done so in the past, notably this past summer in the European championships playing for the German National Team, where he garnered invaluable experience. In the post, he also shows good fundamentals, and holds his position pretty well with his base strength, but his lack of size poses concerns if you’re projecting him to play the power forward in the NBA, and it’s caused some troubles here already.

Projecting Harris to the next level is not a seamless task at this point, as he’s still getting his feet underneath him in the college game, and some uncertainty about what direction he’ll take his game in. His hustle play and strong foundation of skills definitely bode well for his future, but there are still a lot of question marks about what position he’s best suited to play, and whether or not he’ll be given the opportunity to develop his perimeter game on a team that currently asks him to play the power forward position full time. Either way, Harris’ future looks extremely bright, and in the worst case scenario, he could always take his German passport and cash in on a very lucrative contract in Europe down the road.

Klay Thompson, 6-6, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Sophomore, Washington State
28.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 56.3% FG, 56.8% 3P FG, 34 minutes

Joey Whelan

If the NCAA gave out monthly awards like the NBA, there would be no question who November honors would have went to. The son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson, the 6-6 sophomore has started the season on an absolutely torrid shooting streak and currently leads all NCAA draft prospects in scoring at just over 26 per contest, as well as with his 31 points per-40 minutes adjusted. While some of his early scoring exploits went unnoticed, last Saturday’s record 43-point explosion in a win over San Diego in the Great Alaska Shootout championship game was enough to turn some heads.

We covered Thompson extensively during our preseason rankings and breakdowns and in his initial scouting report there was a great deal of discussion surrounding the potentially positive impact the arrival of head coach Ken Bone could have on the budding star.

Now a couple of weeks into the season, it is clear that this has been a drastic boost to Thompson’s game. Bone has made him the focal point of the offense – something he wasn’t last year – and is running a tremendous number of plays specifically designed to get the ball in his best’s player’s hands, whether it’s isolating him at the top of the key, putting him in pick and roll situations, or particularly running him off of screens. While he is a deadly shooter with his feet set, his ability to catch, square and fire at such a consistent rate is what really makes the youngster appealing as a pro prospect. His release is high, quick and nearly identical every single time regardless of where he is on the floor and how much pressure the defense is exerting. This is a part of his game that should translate over immediately to the professional level, giving him a nice framework to build off.

The increase in overall output from Thompson thus far in the early part of the season has been absolutely staggering. He has nearly doubled his scoring per-40 minutes pace adjusted, increased his shooting numbers from the floor and beyond the arc by 10 percent each, increased his assist numbers and most impressively has gone from attempting 1.1 free throw per-40 minutes, to eight.

While improving his ball-handling skills has certainly allowed Thompson to attack the basket off the bounce more effectively than during his freshman season, much of his increased success seems to stem from a newfound sense of confidence he is exuding. The combination of winning a gold medal with the USA U-19 team this summer and the WSU coaching staff making him the go to option has clearly gone a long way to making him more aggressive with the basketball. Thompson is looking and playing like a guy who is clearly the best player on the floor pretty much every time he steps on the court, and it’s gone a long ways in increasing his assertiveness.

What this confidence on offense has done for Thompson is allow him to show NBA scouts that he is more than simply a one-dimensional shooter. While he is far from being labeled an explosive athlete, his conditioning and strength are definitely improved and he seems to be a half step quicker off the dribble than he was last season. Rather than simply being a player who needs to be run off of screens in order to get his scoring opportunities, Thompson is starting to display the ability to create scoring chances for himself.

Defense has, and will continue to be the sophomores Achilles heel. While his size, frame and excellent intensity level certainly help mask some of his shortcomings in this area as a college player, his average lateral quickness hinders his defensive potential significantly right now. At this point it looks as though he would have to guard the small forward position rather than shooting guards in the NBA, but that isn’t to say he can’t continue to work on his lateral quickness and improve in this area. He does show good instincts and is averaging over two steals per game thanks to his smarts and anticipation skills. Becoming a more solid and consistent defender will make Thompson an essential lock for the pro game, if he isn’t one already.

It might be too much to expect Thompson to continue leading the country in scoring while playing in the Pac-10 Conference, but he has certainly displayed the skills and shooting ability to keep his average comfortably over 20 points per game, especially given how integral a role he has in the Cougars offense. Also working in Thompson’s favor is the fast start for his team as Washington State stands at 6-1 after a close road loss to perennial power Gonzaga on their home floor. It’s only a matter of time now until the rest of the country catches onto how impressive Thompson has been thus far this season.

Yancy Gates, 6’9, Sophomore, Power Forward, Cincinnati
12.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.4 blocks, 2.2 turnovers, 53.1% FG, 61.1% FT

Matt Williams

The last two weeks have been highly productive for Yancy Gates and his Cincinnati Bearcats. Despite losing in the championship game of the Maui Invitational in an overtime brawl against Gonzaga, Mick Cronin’s squad registered two convincing wins over top-25 teams in Vanderbilt and Maryland, and his star sophomore leveraged the big stage to make a strong impression on NBA decision-makers.

Standing 6’9 and weighing in around 260 pounds, Gates already looks the part of an NBA power forward, and has for some time. A workhorse in the weight-room, Gates has always had a chiseled physique, but has lost some weight since last season, allowing him to be more explosive around the rim and quicker in the open floor. Sporting broad shoulders, long arms, and a powerful lower body, the Cincinnati native will get high marks for his physical tools whenever he decides to declare, especially as he develops his ability to impose them more consistently in game-settings.

Through the first five games of the season, Gates has shown flashes of physical dominance on the offensive end, primarily in the form of ferocious dunks in traffic coming off of offensive rebounds or cuts down the lane, but he doesn’t assert himself at the rim consistently enough in one-on-one situations to dominate games. Still showing some of the complacency that caused him to disappear for stretches as a freshman, and the same average decision making ability that has hampered him throughout his career, Gates hasn’t consistently shown the back to the basket game that bruisers like him usually possess.

In high school, Gates got by on facing up and functioned as something as a hybrid forward, two things that have shown in his propensity to take shots from the midrange and turnaround jumpers in the post. Not always thoroughly taking advantage of his imposing strength in the post, Gates doesn’t seem to have the highest basketball IQ, but he’s surprisingly skilled for a player his size. Able to step out and put the ball on the floor for one or two dribbles to get to the rim or knock down the occasional 15-footer, Gates tends to rely on his finesse game quite heavily when posting up, hurting his efficiency. Showing a solid hook over his left shoulder, a decent drop step move going right, and a knack for making timely and decisive moves around the rim, Gates needs to work to develop some counter moves and improve the touch on his jump shot –something that limits the effectiveness of his turnaround jumper and his consistency from the foul line (61%).

During Cincinnati’s Maui Invitational run, Gates’s strengths and weaknesses were on full display, as he was a beast when he asserted himself at the rim against Vanderbilt and Maryland, but had a hard time making an impact by settling for too much on the perimeter against Gonzaga. On top of what Gates showed as a scorer, he proved to be an equally effective rebounder. Eating up space on both ends, Gates is averaging an excellent 12.6 rebounds per-40 minutes pace adjusted.

While Gates shows nice instincts on the glass, his defensive fundamentals still leave a lot to be desired. Willing to bang bodies in the paint, Gates uses his length to contest shots on the ball, but struggles in one-on-one situations at times, not always maintaining ideal position or displaying good timing. Still improving on that end of the floor, Gates’s work ethic should allow him to become an effective defender in time, as his mobility and physical stature still allow him to make some plays as it is.

Based on what he’s shown so far, Yancy Gates certainly has earned the attention of NBA decision-makers. However, he’ll need to continue to impress to maintain the momentum he has if he plans to declare for this summer’s draft. He’s grown as much in the last few weeks as any player in the NCAA, and seems to be on a promising learning-curve, making him an obvious name to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Scotty Hopson, 6-7, Sophomore, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Tennessee, 15.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists (2.4 turnovers), 1.0 steals, 52.6% FG, 54.3% 3FG, 64.7% FT

Kyle Nelson

Scotty Hopson was considered to be one of the best high school basketball players in the country and a serious one-and-done candidate before he ever set foot in Knoxville. During his first season at Tennessee, however, he struggled with inconsistency and confidence, despite showing outstanding potential for the future. If this season is any indication, then Hopson has taken a step forward in his development and has started to resemble the player that many believed he would be from the moment he put on his jersey.

As we wrote last year, Hopson is an elite athlete with great size and length for the perimeter position at any level. While he is still wiry, he looks and plays stronger than he did last season, better utilizing his size advantage on both ends of the floor. Hopson will have little trouble adapting physically to the NBA as there are few players with his combination of size and athleticism.

Offensively, Hopson has improved significantly, even if it is still very early in the season and his ability to consistently dominate against elite competition remains unknown. In seven games, Hopson has raised his shooting percentages considerably from last year, particularly from beyond the arc, where he’s shooting over 50%.

While still relying heavily on his jump-shot, he appears to have developed into a more complete offensive player, able to do more than simply shoot and continually showing flashes of emerging as a prolific scorer in the near future. His jump shot is much improved, sporting a far tighter shooting motion, still with a quick and high release, but far more controlled and consistent. Though he is currently mired in a shooting slump, he is still making an amazing 54.3% of his shots from beyond the arc on over four attempts per game.

While he was primarily a spot-up shooter last season, he is displaying a more versatile offensive game. Most notably, he is attacking the basket more this season, utilizing his quick first step and superior athleticism to get to the rim. He is also turning to his mid-range game more this season, to mixed results. Considering where he was last year, however, it is a positive to see him pulling up from mid-range and diversifying his game.

His most significant obstacle at this point is his ball-handling, which has certainly improved since last year, but is nowhere near good enough for him to be an offensive focal point against elite competition. His mid-range game and slashing game struggle because as has always been his problem, his athleticism is far better than his skill level. Until he improves his ball handling, his offense will suffer and he will have trouble maximizing his offensive potential against elite teams.

Against Purdue, for instance, he faced stifling perimeter defense and he struggled to create space for himself, getting out of rhythm and committing four turnovers in the process. He will face formidable perimeter defenders in conference play, not to mention in games against Kansas, Kentucky, and Memphis, and scouts will be watching to see if he can find ways to score when he is faced with tough defenses and his jump shot is not falling. Making sure he continues to attack the basket in lieu of simply settling from the perimeter should be a priority, as well.

On the defensive end, Hopson is still an underwhelming presence, far less productive and distracting as expected from a player with his size, length, athleticism, and talent. He has good lateral quickness and quick hands, but effort and awareness still are issues. Hopson can be a good defender when he focuses, but he rarely asserts himself on the defensive end. Lackadaisically closing out his man and running around screens is not a good way to convince NBA scouts to invest in his future.

Hopson therefore is a prospect who has improved considerably in areas, while still leaving much to be desired overall. Hopson’s game recalls J.R. Smith in ways that suggest that with continued development, he could emerge as a coveted prospect. That said, he is still young, raw and inconsistent. Scouts will be watching as Hopson faces off against some of the best perimeter players in the NCAA in the coming weeks. He will have plenty of opportunities to prove that he can compete with the best and that he can achieve his massive potential.

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