NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/18/10

NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/18/10
Mar 18, 2010, 12:07 pm
Updated scouting reports on Greg Monroe, Larry Sanders, Kawhi Leonard and Jeff Taylor.

Greg Monroe, 6’11, PF/C, Sophomore, Georgetown
15.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 blocks, 1.3 steals, 3.4 turnovers, 51% FG, 25% 3PT, 66% FT

Joseph Treutlein

Over the course of the season, Greg Monroe has slowly but surely risen up the draft boards of scouts and executives across the country, as he’s played excellent all-around basketball for the Hoyas, showing a level of assertiveness in all areas of the game so many felt was absent last season.

On the offensive end, Monroe frequently calls for the ball in the low and high post, while fighting consistently for position and moving off the ball to get open. With the ball, Monroe can hurt the defense in a variety of ways, but his best skill is undoubtedly his passing ability. Showing excellent court vision and instincts with the ball in his hands, Monroe makes a variety of outstanding passes from the perimeter, high post, and low post, finding open shooters and slashers alike. From the first day he steps onto the court in the NBA, there’s little doubt that he’ll already be among the league’s elite passing big men.

Beyond his passing, Monroe has a variety of effective tools at the college level, starting with his back-to-the-basket game. In the post, he shows excellent coordination and footwork, along with strong finishing ability with his left hand. He mixes in a good variety of power and finesse while using fakes and counter-moves pretty well to get his man off balance.

That said, there are a few notable problems with Monroe’s post game, most importantly his complete and utter lack of a right hand, along with any finesse moves off his left shoulder in general. When defenders force him to turn left shoulder, Monroe is incredibly inefficient, relying mainly on an inaccurate right-handed hook shot, but more often than not forcing his moves to the right shoulder instead, leading to more low percentage attempts. This has been a problem since he walked onto campus at Georgetown, and despite his improved overall play this season, this still remains a significant weakness.

Aside from his problems with his right hand, Monroe’s post game has other problems projecting to the pros, as he’s not an especially explosive player, while having a low release point on the majority of his shots out of the post. He lacks anything even resembling a turnaround jumper off either shoulder, and the rest of his moves don’t generate much separation in the post, which could lead to major problems against longer, more athletic defenders in the pros.

On the bright side, Monroe has become a much tougher player in the painted area this season, getting to the line at a high rate and not shying away from contact much, but he doesn’t finish through contact especially well, and it’s questionable how often bigs will need to foul him in the pros, given his other limitations.

Monroe also spends a good number of his possessions attacking off the dribble, showing very good body control and coordination in this regard, flashing impressive moves fairly often, showing himself capable of finishing on high difficulty spin drives for example. That said, Monroe is incredibly inefficient in these situations, showing average ball-handling skills going in either direction, though his problems are certainly magnified when going right.

According to Synergy, Monroe is scoring at a dreadful rate of 0.39 PPP going right out of isolations, and not much better at 0.57 PPP going left. The biggest problem here is in the turnover department, as he’s frequently called for travels or just outright loses the ball with his shaky control. Going right, he turns the ball over on 33% of his possessions, while that decreases to a still high 21% when going left. While increased spacing in the pros could help Monroe’s face-up game some, it will probably be offset when you consider the type of athletes he’ll be going up against at the power forward position on a nightly basis.

Beyond that, another highly concerning area for Monroe is his complete lack of a perimeter shot, not being reliable at all from the mid or long range spotting up. He’s converted just 11 of his 45 jump-shot attempts (24%) this season according to Synergy, struggling in both catch and shoot and off the dribble situations. While he occasionally will show mechanics that look decent or better, he too often doesn’t hold his follow through, doesn’t square his body to the basket, and just doesn’t show good control in general. Given the question marks surrounding the rest of his scoring game, developing this should be critical for Monroe moving forward, and it should be among his main priorities this summer.

Defensively is an area where Monroe has made significant strides this season, showing a much higher level of rotational awareness, even directing his teammates at times. He does a good job of rotating himself, however his lack of explosiveness hinders his ability to do much contesting around the rim, and he’s probably not as assertive as he could be in this regard either.

In the post, Monroe has done a very good job developing his fundamental base and using his physical tools well, getting up into his man, extending his length overhead, and forcing the opposition into tough shots while not surrendering position easily. On the perimeter, however, Monroe looks awfully out of sorts, getting beat laterally very frequently, and not showing much effort moving his feet in general. His mobility does lend itself well to pick and rolls, however, where he hedges very well and recovers adequately also, and there’s probably good reason to believe he can be a much better man-to-man perimeter defender than he currently is, if he puts in the work on his fundamentals and lateral ability.

Monroe came into this season very out of shape, and thus took time to shed some of the extra weight he was carrying and get himself into optimal condition. For a player who already struggles with heavy feet and a general lack of athleticism, he cannot afford to give NBA scouts the impression that he’s not working that hard in the summer.

Looking forward, while there are major concerns about projecting multiple aspects of Monroe’s game to the pros, his very high skill level, the learning curve from his freshman to sophomore year, his overall feel for the game, and his passing ability are all things teams will find very attractive. It’s not a stretch to say that less athletic big men have certainly gone on to have great success in the pros, especially players like Monroe who have the size to play the center position. How Monroe adjusts his game to the higher level of competition in the pros will be critical, but his skill level has moved him up to the lottery on most people’s boards.

Larry Sanders, 6-11, Junior, VCU
14.5 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1.6 turnovers, .5 steals, 2.5 blocks, 54% FG, 64% FT

Jonathan Givony

We’ve watched the development of big man Larry Sanders from project to productive player with great interest since he first stepped foot on campus at VCU three years ago. While there is still quite a bit of work left to, it’s tough not to feel like Sanders has made huge strides comparing where he started from.

Sanders has become a more prolific and efficient scorer this season, upping his per-40 averages by nearly 5 points, while increasing his 2-point percentages from 51 to 57%. His assist rate has nearly tripled, while his turnovers have fallen dramatically. He’s also fouling less, rebounding similarly and has improved his free throw percentage from 56 to 64%. As someone who only started playing organized basketball five years ago (in the 10th grade), it’s notable to see him constantly continuing to improve.

Sanders’ main intrigue continues to revolve around his extremely rare physical tools, as he is an excellent athlete with a freakishly long wingspan. His frame continues to fill out, but there is still plenty more he can do to continue to add strength, which is a big key for his development.

Running the floor is where Sanders might be able to contribute the most to an NBA team right off the bat. He has amazing speed in the open floor and is thus a terrific target for his guards to throw long outlet passes to in transition, regularly beating opponents down the court. Sanders is also an excellent finisher around the basket thanks to his length and quick leaping ability, ranking amongst the top players in the NCAA in this category according to Synergy Sports Technology.

Sanders is also fairly effective in the post at the Colonial conference level, although this part of his game looks a bit less likely to translate to the NBA at this point. He lacks the strength to establish and hold position deep in the paint, struggling to back his man down, and does not have the footwork or coordination to consistently take advantage of his superior quickness.

With that said, Sanders looks quite a bit more comfortable with the ball in his hands than he did a few years ago, at which point he simply wasn’t able to anything but catch and dunk, and even that was a struggle at times. He’s starting to finish plays with his left hand a bit, pass out of double teams more effectively, and even pull off some rangy moves utilizing the amazing extension he gets around the rim to get his shot off. He obviously has a long ways to go, particularly with his ability to put the ball on the floor, but it’s interesting to see these small, new flashes of ability, as its clear that the game has slowed down for him significantly.

Sanders went through a period of the season where he appeared to try and reinvent himself as somewhat of a perimeter shooter, something that didn’t last very long. The results weren’t very pretty, as he knocked down just 7 of his 38 jump-shots attempts on the year, often looking very rushed and off-balance and coming up with some very bad misses. The improvement he made as a free throw shooter this season may indicate that there is room to grow with this part of his game, though, which would be very beneficial to him long-term.

One place where Sanders doesn’t seem to have made great strides this season is on the defensive end. His lack of strength (particularly in the lower body) makes it difficult for him to hold his ground in the post, and he’s gotten pushed around quite a bit by the top big men in the CAA, such as Gerald Lee and Denzel Bowles.

His awareness and fundamentals leave something to be desired, as does his intensity level, as he isn’t always as physical as he needs to be, not really using his body very well and appearing to lack a degree of toughness in his play. His shot-blocking production has fallen off each season, from 7.4 per-40p to 4.2 to 3.7 this year as well.

Sanders probably isn’t strong enough to hold his own at the center position in the NBA at this point in time, but he’s not skilled enough offensively or as reliable a perimeter defender as he would need to be to play the power forward position effectively, as he seems to struggle when being attacked off the dribble. That’s why it may take him some time to adjust to the much higher level of competition he’ll find amongst big men in the NBA, as despite the improvements he made this season, it not like he really dominated the CAA.

With that said, his tools on this end of the floor are simply amazing, and should allow him to develop into a solid defender if he gets the proper coaching and is willing to put the effort in.

Big men with Sanders’ physical tools are not easy to come by these days, which is why some NBA team will likely be more than happy to work to develop him. It’s likely that he still has quite a bit of upside left to tap into when considering his late start and the fact that his body is a long ways from filling out.

Sanders looks like a good bet for a playoff team drafting outside the lottery that can afford to wait and isn’t expecting immediate results, as he could develop into a solid rotation player down the road. He’ll have to be willing to put the work in, though, as he’s still quite a ways away from being a finished product. His measurements should be interesting, as he came into VCU listed at 6-9, but is now listed at 6-11.

Kawhi Leonard, 6-7, Freshman, Forward, San Diego State
12.4 Points, 9.7 Rebounds, 1.8 Assists, 2.1 Turnovers, 1.2 Steals, 45.8% FG, 17.7% 3FG, 71.6% FT

Matthew Williams

After a slow start, Kawhi Leonard has emerged as a legitimate draft prospect as of late–an impressive accomplishment for an 18-year old who came to San Diego without a defined position. Garnering the MWC’s Freshman of the Year Award before earning MVP honors as the Aztecs won the MWC tournament, Leonard has caught the attention of the national media and NBA decision-makers alike with his inspired play late in the year.

A consensus top-60 recruit according to RSCI, Leonard is a unique talent benefitting from a situation that has given him the opportunity to expand his game, maximize his current skill set, and play a key role on a team bound for a NCAA tournament matchup with Tennessee this Thursday. Reaping the benefits of opting for a mid-major over a perennial powerhouse, Leonard has been one of the most productive freshmen in the country.

A great deal of Leonard’s success, and much of the attention he’s receiving from the next level, can be attributed to his impressive physical profile and high energy level. Standing 6’7 with a huge wingspan and adequate physical strength for a wing, Leonard is not the most fluid player around, but there’s an effortlessness with which he moves in the open floor that is impressive to say the least.

Showing impressive leaping ability when he can gather himself or has a head of steam in transition, Leonard will need to continue to develop his polish and overall strength to add a degree of explosiveness to his offensive repertoire.

Assertive and extremely active in half-court sets, Leonard’s athleticism manifests itself most frequently on dribble drives to the mid-post and cuts to the basket. The California native likes to attack defenders off the dribble, using his solid first step and long strides to create short-range scoring opportunities.

He also shows a knack for being in the right place at the right time on his cuts, showing a good understanding of when to go backdoor and how to create angles for his teammates to hit him for easy looks. Though Leonard converts from the paint at a very respectable rate thanks to his ability to get his shot off over defenders, he’s capable of being more effective.

Often opting for difficult floaters from the mid-post instead of creating contact and getting to the line, Leonard is able to get by on his explosiveness and length on the college level. His lack of advanced ball handling ability makes it difficult for him to create clean looks for himself at the rim, despite his aptitude for protecting the ball, lowering his shoulder, and positioning himself effectively for his runner.

More than capable of getting creative to finish and able to hit contested, off-balance jumpers, Leonard needs to improve his ball-handling skills and hone his ability to stop-and-pop off of one or more dribbles, as his current repertoire won’t be as efficient against NBA caliber help defenders.

Although Leonard’s habit of attempting difficult shots around the rim may be problematic at times, he compensates for it by regularly rebounding his own missed shots. Ranking amongst the top-20 pace adjusted offensive rebounders in our database, his length and ability to create shots within eight feet of the rim allow him to use his impressive second bounce to clean up his own misses.

Though much of his offense comes in or around the key, Leonard will also step out to the perimeter for some spot up opportunities, flashing his biggest weakness in the process. Able to make an impact with his pull-up jumper by virtue of his ability to get deep into the lane and elevate, Leonard’s mechanics are exposed when he opts to catch and shoot.

Showing a very slow, methodical release that lacks elevation, Leonard connects on roughly 25% of his catch and shoot opportunities according to Synergy Sports Technology. On film, it is clear that he struggles when he does have ample time and space, as his sub-20% three point percentage indicates.

Overall, Leonard’s offensive game remains a big work in progress. Leading his team in scoring, his natural ability to get inside with his dribble is intriguing, but he’ll need to make some adjustments to be as effective on the next level.

One of those adjustments will be developing his jumper, as his lack of perimeter polish and impact make him look much more like an undersized four at the moment than a legit small forward prospect. Wherever Leonard is next season, it will be important for him to take the time to become a reliable outside threat, as that will compliment the other things he already does well.

On the defensive end, Leonard uses his length and athleticism to actively pursue the ball off the rim. Prone to leaving his man to chase both rebounds and blocked shots, Leonard could stand to improve his fundamentals, though his current mentality will definitely serve him well in the long-run.

His length allows him to contest shots from the perimeter effectively, but he doesn’t do a great job leaving a cushion to deny dribble penetration and is prone to over-committing when defending off the ball, showing a lack of focus at times in the process. Leonard has some brilliant defensive possessions, but needs the right coach to correct his mistakes and motivate him to reach his potential as a stopper.

Looking at his body of work this season, Leonard is one of the most interesting players in the freshman class. He’ll test out as a great athlete and physical specimen whenever he declares, but his athleticism didn’t translate as completely this season as it could down the road.

With some good offensive and defensive habits, Leonard is stuck between positions in terms of the tools he currently possesses, but is the type of project that could pay off for a team able to dedicate significant time and resources to his development. Regardless, Leonard is a developing player who is worth keeping tabs on as he continues to grow.

Jeff Taylor, 6-7, Sophomore, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Vanderbilt, 13.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 1.2 steals, 51.3% FG, 9.1% 3FG, 74.9% FT

Kyle Nelson

Jeff Taylor had a very promising and productive freshman season, which raised expectations significantly for his sophomore campaign. The results have been somewhat underwhelming, however, indicative of both his need to improve and his very high ceiling. There is no denying his success in the Vanderbilt system, however, and with his team set to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, scouts and fans alike will be watching to see if he can break out of his late season slump and continue to help his team win games.

As we have stated before, Taylor should have no trouble adapting to the NBA from a physical standpoint. He looks the part of a prototypical NBA small forward with excellent size at 6’7, a solid frame, and good length. He is a very smooth athlete, as well, with the ability to explode at the rim and run in transition.

On the offensive end, however, the outlook is more complicated, and, while he is improved in many areas, he has regressed in some as well. He was more of a combo-forward during his freshman season, and while he still has the game of a “power wing,” it has been encouraging to see him get more touches on the perimeter. It is clear however that he has a long way to go in this area.

For one, he is still not a very good jump shooter. Though his shooting motion does not look bad, he could definitely stand to get more elevation on his shot and work to make his release less deliberate with less excess motion in his lower body. He lacks confidence, as well, making just one perimeter shot on eleven attempts this season for a miserable 9.1%. He draws front iron on most of his shots from distance, showing that he just does not have good range at this point in his career, though it doesn’t appear to be out of the question for him to develop a solid perimeter jump shot down the road.

In a more positive development, he has worked to add a mid-range game into his offensive repertoire. This season, though his ball handling is still in need of serious work, he has become more comfortable taking a few dribbles and attempting pull-up jump shots. If he can continue to improve his handles and shooting mechanics, his solid first step and explosiveness could help him develop into a solid mid-range option at the next level.

His shaky handle also limits him as a slasher. He is a fantastic athlete with good footwork, and agility, but his dribbling abilities do not allow him to play as fast as he is capable of playing. His touch around the rim is also somewhat suspect, but his size, strength, and body control allow him to adjust into better scoring positions around the basket.

He is still a very good defender, showing the strength and lateral quickness to guard almost every single position on the floor. He also remains a good rebounder for a wing, even if his numbers are down this season to 7.4 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. His reputation as a defender is earned and it is important for his draft stock that he continues to assert himself on this end of the floor.

There is already some buzz around Taylor’s NBA potential, although that will probably have to be put on hold for another season. A strong NCAA tournament showing could help establish him as an early 2011 prospect.

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