NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/26/10

NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/26/10
Feb 26, 2010, 01:47 pm
Updated scouting reports on Willie Warren, Jerome Jordan, Kemba Walker and Malcolm Lee.

Willie Warren, 6-3, Sophomore, Shooting Guard, Oklahoma
16.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 3.8 turnovers, 1 steal, 44% FG, 80% FT, 31% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Few players in recent memory have seen their NBA draft stock and overall reputation take as big of a hit as Willie Warren’s has this past season. Considered a likely top-10 pick had he elected to declare a year ago, Warren decided to stick around for another season and has seen his stock plummet to the point that it’s anyone’s guess where he might be picked at this point.

Some terrible losses early in the season, being benched in one game for undisclosed reasons, getting called out by his head coach in the national media at one point for his immature behavior, a nagging ankle injury that seemingly won’t heal, an untimely bout of mononucleosis–it’s tough to see how this season could have possibly gone any worse for the super talented sophomore.

It’s been a disaster for Oklahoma as well, as they’ve gone from being ranked in the top-10 in some preseason polls to sporting a 13-14 overall record and a disappointing 4-9 in the Big 12. His head coach Jeff Capel has pointed the finger directly at the player he convinced to return to school, repeatedly discussing agendas, a failure to buy in and showing off for NBA scouts as some of the reasons his incredibly talented team has underachieved so badly.

Warren’s on-court production has taken a significant hit in virtually every category. His 2-point percentage is down 5%, his 3-point percentage is down 6%, his turnover rate has nearly doubled and his assists and scoring are only up slightly in turn. Clearly playing alongside the best player in college basketball last year in Blake Griffin was far easier than the two hot-shot freshmen McDonald’s All-Americans that replaced him--Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin--who obviously have their own agendas and difficulties in regards to playing winning team basketball.

Warren’s role in Oklahoma’s offense has changed significantly in turn from last year to this, as he’s gone from being a complimentary spot-up shooter, transition finisher and occasional pick and roll player to a guy expected to shoulder a significant amount of the team’s half-court offense, often through his one on one play.

The place where Warren is struggling the most is with his jump-shot, as he just can’t seem to knock down catch and shoot jumpers at the same rate as he did last season. Much of this obviously has to do with the quality of looks he’s getting, as feeding off the double-teams Blake Griffin garnered on a regular basis is a lot easier than having to create all of his open looks himself. Losing a pass-first point guard in senior Austin Johnson and seeing him replaced with a wild, ball-dominant freshman in Tommy Mason-Griffin obviously hasn’t helped either.

Warren’s shot-selection isn’t doing him any favors, though, as you regularly see him spotting up for jumpers a good 3-5 feet beyond the NCAA 3-point line. Although he’s shown the ability to make this shot, there is simply no good reason for him to be taking such difficult attempts.

While Warren is surely a better shooter than the 31% he’s making from beyond the arc this season, he needs to do a better job of understanding his limitations and not rushing as many contested look as he does each game. Still, it’s surprising to see him convert on just 30% of his wide-open spot-up jumpers (according to Synergy Sports Tech) considering his consistent, compact form and excellent touch.

Warren has improved his ability to make shots off the dribble, something he’s been forced to do in his newly featured role. He’s converting an excellent 44% of his pull-up jumpers, again showing that outstanding knack for throwing the ball in the basket that had NBA types so excited about his prodigious scoring instincts this time last year.

As a shot-creator is exactly where Warren continues to show the most potential as an NBA player. Despite all of his shortcomings this season, his terrific talent is always looming in the background, reminding you how good he could become down the road if he’s ever able to put it all together.

Warren has a great first step and is extremely strong with the ball, being capable of simply overpowering his man on the way to the basket, but also possessing the body control and agility to contort himself and get his shot off in a variety of ways. He takes contact extremely well around the rim, drawing fouls at a solid rate, and finishes acrobatically with terrific touch and instincts, showing a variety of floaters, runners, scoop-shots and all kinds of other elegant moves. His skill-level is, once again, obviously incredibly high, but he just doesn’t always know how to harness it on a consistent basis, eventually getting out of control.

Warren has a tendency to dribble the air out of the ball, freezing out his teammates and looking quite selfish at times. He doesn’t seem to trust the other players on his team that much, and tends to get frustrated easily if things aren’t going his way, which leads to terrible body language and even worse decision making. His turnover rate is sky-high this season, 4.6 turnovers per-40 minutes pace adjusted, as he coughs the ball up on 24% of his possessions, which is simply an unacceptable rate.

The unfortunate thing is that Warren actually knows how to create shots for others, even if he’s always going to be more comfortable creating shots for himself first and foremost. He shows outstanding ability to drive and dish, particularly on the pick and roll, and will make some very creative passes from time to time that has led some scouts to believe that he may actually have a future at the point guard position at some point in time. Right now he’s far too much of a ball-stopper to be a team’s primary ball-handler, but with good coaching and added experience, that’s not something you can rule out down the road in a Rodney Stuckey or Tyreke Evans-style role.

Defensively, Warren is unimpressive, as is Oklahoma’s entire squad, which ranks a dismal 182nd in the country in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy. He puts very little effort in for the most part, getting beat off the dribble on a regular basis, possessing neither the size, length or fundamentals to come up with many stops, and often just resorting to reaching for steals. He’s going to have to improve significantly on this end of the floor if he wants to see minutes for most NBA coaches, but does appear to have the quickness and instincts to become at least decent here if he is willing to put the time and effort in.

The season Warren is having obviously doesn’t bode well for his NBA draft stock considering the reputation he had coming out of high school, that of a selfish player and malcontent. Certain NBA teams would be willing to put up with that when dealing with a superior talent and clear-cut difference maker, but now that Warren’s flaws as a player have been put under the microscope in the absence of Blake Griffin, his NBA draft standing is now a lot murkier.

Considering the clear-cut rift that appears to exist between him and Jeff Capel, it seems very unlikely that Warren will be back at Oklahoma next season.

The question now becomes—how far does he drop? At some point in the draft Warren’s talent as a shot-creator and overall scorer (things which are in demand like never before in today’s NBA) have to outweigh his negatives, and being picked up by a strong organization and reputable coach later on in the first round may actually be the best thing possible for him. The incredibly thorough background research NBA teams conduct will play a crucial role in where he gets picked.

Warren is the kind of guy that could quickly fade into oblivion if he’s not willing to adapt his game to playing alongside better players than him (and accept that fact), but he could also end up making many GMs look quite foolish if he matures and lands in a good situation. He’s one of the most talented guards in this draft any way you slice it, and it’s tough not to feel like the more wide-open and up-tempo NBA is far better suited for his style of play.

Jerome Jordan, 7-0, Senior, Center, Tulsa
15.2 Points, 8.6 Rebounds, 1.2 Assists, 2.3 Turnovers, 2.6 Blocks, 55% FG, 71% FT

Matthew Williams

A player who emerged on the draft radar as an extremely raw sophomore, Jerome Jordan entered his senior year (after surprisingly electing not to even test the waters) as one of the top centers in his class from a NBA draft perspective. His final season in Tulsa has put his strengths and weaknesses on full display, and while he’s shown some positive developments this season on the offensive end, he’s shown some concerning limitations as well.

Regardless of what Jordan brings to the table in terms of skills, his physical profile makes him a prospect. Possessing outstanding size, a huge wingspan, and a slowly improving frame, Jordan has adequate athleticism and ample size for an NBA center. Though he could stand to add some weight to his frame and lacks a degree of fluidity in his movements, Jordan passes the look test and qualifies as an extremely rare commodity on the college basketball landscape. On top of that, he’s improved considerably from his freshman year.

Perhaps the biggest strides Jordan has made lie in his offensive game. He continues to flash an array of drop-step moves, hooks, and even an occasional turnaround jump shot. Given his tremendous wingspan, Jordan has little trouble getting off shot from the post –something he’s had to do frequently this season since he doesn’t have a true point guard to create easy looks for him, and is often able to do so in impressive fashion. His awareness appears much better than it did in the past, though, as he’s doing a better job of passing out of double teams and is significantly less turnover prone than he was earlier on in his career.

While he has had his share of quality games, he struggles with the consistency of his post repertoire, looking extremely smooth on one play and largely uncoordinated on the next. Displaying only adequate hands, the fact that Jordan converts roughly half of his post possessions, which account for 66% of his total offensive according to Synergy Sports Technology, is a testament to his imposing size and improved skill set.

When he’s not taking advantage of his size with his back to the basket, Jordan’s physical stature makes him a very solid finisher right at the rim. His touch has continued to improve, and he’s done a better job drawing contact and getting to the line. Not the most physical player down low, but not shying away from contact, Jordan ranks amongst the top players in our database in free throw attempts per-40 minutes pace adjusted. Not the most natural or instinctive player, Jordan’s offensive game isn’t as predicated on his size as it once was, but still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of polish.

While Jordan has some endearing qualities offensively, his defensive ability remains highly problematic at this point, especially when you consider his tools. Though he blocks shots at an extremely respectable rate, Jordan is often slow to react defensively, even when defending the ball. Allowing offensive players to get into his body when defending one-on-one, and showing very concerning lateral quickness, Jordan does a decent job staying out of foul trouble, but simply isn’t the stopper that his physical tools afford him the opportunity to be. He must improve his agility and timing as a weak-side defender rotating into the paint and somehow become more adept at stepping out onto the perimeter against the pick and roll.

Still not going straight up on shooters consistently and looking a bit upright and apathetic, Jordan’s lack of fire is never more apparent than it is when he’s defending. This is a major concern when projecting him to today’s ultra-fast and guard oriented NBA, as he surely isn’t talented enough on the offensive end to compensate for being a defensive liability.

Able to get by on his tools at this level, Jordan will have ample opportunities to prove himself in the draft process against the other centers in this class. At the end of the day, 7-footers don’t grow on trees, and the expansion of his offensive game is promising to say the least, especially considering how little experience (virtually nil) he had coming into the college ranks. However, until Jordan improves his intensity level and is able to defend his position in the NBA in a respectable way, he’s unlikely to see much playing time and thus may have a problem sticking around for very long.

Kemba Walker, 6’0, Point Guard, Sophomore, Connecticut
14.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.1 steals, 3.1 turnovers, 42% FG, 36% 3PT, 78% FT

Joseph Treutlein

After a solid but unspectacular freshman season, Kemba Walker has definitely taken his game to the next level as a sophomore, even if there have been a few hiccups along the way. The 6’0 point guard has increased his production across the board, and also improved on his outside shooting, which is no longer as much of a weakness as it once was. Arguably the fastest guard in college basketball getting from one end of the court to another, Walker’s Ty Lawson-esqe quickness will make him a coveted NBA prospect whenever he decides to enter the draft.

On the offensive end, Walker has really become a much more reliable outside shooter this season, namely spotting up from behind the three-point arc. Walker has great mechanics, boasting a high and quick release with a smooth, consistent motion. He’s very effective with his shot both catching and shooting and pulling up in space, while he uses his excellent quickness and craftiness with the ball to create separation pretty consistently. He’s only making about one three per game, but he’s doing a lot of damage pulling up from inside the arc, while he’s also shown proficiency with pull-up jumpers and runners in the painted area.

While Walker shows excellent ability to hit his jumper in space, things become problematic when he has a hand in his face, as his mechanics fall apart and he’s prone to forcing up some ill-advised shots at times. Given the ease with which he’s able to create space for his shot, it’s definitely in his best interest to tighten up his shot selection, as he’s capable of consistently getting himself high percentage shots from the perimeter if he makes a conscious effort to. Considering his size, it’s essential that Walker continues to make strides with this part of his game down the road.

While Walker did a very good finishing around the basket last season (1.2 points per shot, according to Synergy Sports Technology), he’s having a much harder time this year (0.81 points per shot). Walker does a great job getting past his man, having an excellent first step and nice change of direction ability, and though he has good vertical explosiveness at the rim, it doesn’t seem to be enough to compensate for his diminutive stature, as he’s getting his shot blocked frequently and having trouble with help side defenders in general. This is another area where shot selection is an issue for Walker, as he’s very much prone to forcing the issue when attacking the basket, throwing up some low percentage shots in the lane. Still, his relentless, attacking style certainly has some benefits, namely the high rate in which he gets to the free throw line.

As a point guard, Walker has a lot of good tools, excelling in the pick-and-roll game and showing good court vision in general, capable of making tough passes to cutters in the lane. He does a pretty good job of moving the ball around the floor and finding open shooters, keeping his head up for the most part when initiating the offense. That said, Walker definitely shows some tunnel vision when he decides to attack the basket, usually being dead set on scoring in those situations. He doesn’t show much prowess in the drive-and-dish game, and his decision-making in general has been erratic at times this season, being pretty turnover prone with the ball, both in forcing passes into tough situations and forcing his dribble-drive game.

Defensively, Walker plays aggressive, focused perimeter defense, getting into a good stance and moving his feet well to stay in front of his man. He sticks with his man well off the ball and doesn’t give up on plays, while also doing a good job in the passing lanes, pulling in 2.1 steals per game. Walker’s size is certainly an issue on this end of the court, however, as opponents can shoot over him and he doesn’t have the greatest strength, something that is problematic when getting through screens.

Looking forward, Walker clearly has a lot of attractive qualities from an NBA perspective, namely his outstanding first step and overall quickness, his ability to get separation, his improving outside shot, and his prowess in the pick-and-roll game. His decision-making remains inconsistent, though, and that’s something he’ll likely need to work on to become a starting point guard in the NBA. At times he tends to defer to senior Jerome Dyson a lot more than you would hope, as UConn’s offense definitely flows better when the ball is in Walker’s hands as opposed to the ball-dominant and often stubborn senior.

With the point guard strength of this draft class being fairly weak outside of John Wall, Walker could be tempted to put his name in, where it’d be hard to see him falling out of the first round given the lack of other great options. With that said, it’d probably be best for his long term development if he came back to school for another year and gathered even more high-level experience, as he clearly still has some things to work on. That appears to be the direction he’s reportedly leaning, but a strong NCAA tournament showing could definitely change things.

Malcolm Lee, 6-5, Sophomore, Point Guard/Shooting Guard, UCLA
12.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.9 turnovers, 1.2 steals, 43% FG, 27% 3FG, 68% FT

Kyle Nelson

Malcolm Lee saw few minutes last season but was thrust into a featured role this year regardless, following the departures of Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday. While Lee has always had a tremendous amount of potential, and certainly still does, this season has largely been a mixed bag. For one, Lee is now UCLA’s starting point guard, as Jerime Anderson’s incredibly disappointing play forced Ben Howland to make Lee his primary ball-handler. As the lead facilitator in Ben Howland’s offense, Lee has shown much promise and an impressive learning curve, even if it has been an extremely rough season in Westwood to say the least.

From a purely physical perspective, Lee fits the profile of a modern day NBA combo guard. He has good size at 6’5 and length, but his frame, though developing, is still slight and he must continue to work on adding muscle and bulk. Lee has a spectacular first step and superior quickness—two things that bode extremely well for his NBA future. His athleticism is on full display in the open court in particular, even if continuing to get stronger and working on fundamentals is essential.

Offensively, Lee is still very much a mixed bag. He looks more comfortable with his jump shot, but his shot selection leaves much to be desired. Over 36% of his shots are from beyond the arc and he shoots just 26.7%, which is occasionally a result of receiving the ball late in the shot clock, but largely an indictment of shooting ability.

His form needs serious work, as he sports a quick, albeit truncated release. Though he gets good arc on his shot, he rarely holds his follow through and therefore, comes up short on a lot of his shots. He also wastes motion in his lower body and kicks his legs in rhythm. Working on his upper body strength would help matters, as well, as oftentimes he seems to push the ball in order to compensate. His dismal perimeter shooting percentages are largely indicative of his inconsistent shooting mechanics, which he must improve before seeing minutes at the next level.

Elsewhere on the offensive end, Lee’s outstanding first step allows him to beat his man off of the dribble, but his lack of strength and just average touch around the basket inhibits his effectiveness as a slasher. Furthermore, improving his handle certainly would help, as well, and while he is a good straight-line dribbler, he struggles with more complex movements.

Lee does not show a tremendous amount of variation in his mid-range game at the present moment, but he has been effective pulling up on occasions this season and should only continue to improve with better ball handling and increased confidence. Scouts should look for him to improve in this area, however, as he has struggled to create his shot at times this season, often looking like a fish out of water in Ben Howland’s conservative and methodical offense.

As a point guard, Lee is still learning, but has shown some positive improvements throughout the season. He shows good vision, particularly in transition, but his half court instincts look undeveloped. His decision-making is not refined either, and oftentimes, he picks up his dribble without knowing what to do next. Sometimes he struggles between roles as a scorer and as a distributor, though his leadership abilities should only improve with time.

In the half court, Lee looks far from comfortable and is very turnover prone, though he shows a tremendous amount of potential in drive-and-kick situations. Improving his handle would certainly help him here, in addition to working on making quick and crisp passes. Lee is still young and has the support of his team and coaching staff, which are positive indicators of future improvement.

Like Russell Westbrook before him, his performance as a point guard in the collegiate ranks has left much to be desired, but there is no doubt that the potential is there and it is still worth noting the unfortunate circumstances that thrust him into the starting point guard position. Though NBA scouts rightly project him as a combo-guard at the next level, with continued work, it seems as though he can develop into an effective distributor at this level.

As we have mentioned before, Lee is a spectacular defender and has the chance to develop into a lockdown player at the next level. His length and lateral quickness help him in man-to-man situations, where he is both relentless and intense. While he gambles quite a bit and his team defense is an open book considering UCLA’s inability to execute Ben Howland’s defense, Lee is an outstanding perimeter defender who has the potential to guard multiple positions at the next level, especially as he gets stronger and adds bulk to his slight frame.

Malcolm Lee possibly has more responsibility than any sophomore in the NCAA, as he’s expected to be UCLA’s best scorer, facilitator, and defender on any given night. The unfortunate thing is that he’s being forced to do so in a system that probably couldn’t be any less-suited for his strengths.

Though he has had his fair share of trouble adjusting, his performance this season has been very promising at times, and suggests that in a more complimentary role, at UCLA next season or in the NBA, he should be a far more efficient and effective basketball player.

Returning to school for another season would normally benefit Lee tremendously, as he could improve his handle, decision-making instincts, and shooting form, while filling out his frame. Lee has a tough decision to make this summer, though, as there are persistent rumors that his patience has run thin and he’s strongly considering entering the draft. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

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