Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12 (Part Two: #6-#10)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12 (Part Two: #6-#10)
Oct 10, 2007, 04:55 pm
Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10:

Part One, Two, Three

Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC:

Part One, Two, Three

Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC:

Part One, Two

Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12:

Part One

#6: Leo Lyons, 6-9, Junior, Power Forward, Missouri

Jonathan Givony

More likely than any player ranked highly on our “top prospects” series to draw a blank stare would sure be Missouri big man Leo Lyons. Having played less than 18 minutes per game on a team that did not even make the NIT last season, that’s really not a surprise. But once you sift through his stats (extrapolated per 40 minutes), and more importantly watch the possessions he played on video (thanks to the invaluable Synergy Sports Technology) you begin to realize that we might potentially have an extremely interesting prospect on our hands.

Lyons is, first and foremost, an extremely gifted physical specimen. Standing 6-9, with a nice frame, an outstanding wingspan, and excellent athletic ability, he reminds on first glance of players like Tyrus Thomas or Wilson Chandler. He moves a little bit like them too, showing the type of fluidity you typically don’t find in a player that size-- looking effortless in his movements with great quickness and excellent explosiveness around the basket.

Examining his skill level, he seems to be in a pretty unique class as well, appearing extremely comfortable facing the basket and being capable of creating his own shot with surprising ease. Lyons has beautiful shooting mechanics, either from standstill positions, coming off screens or pulling up off the dribble, particularly moving left. He elevates off the floor and creates separation the way you’d expect a wing player to, looking very smooth and fluid in the process. The fact of the matter is, there just aren’t that many athletic 6-9 players you can say that about. Lyons can also put the ball on the floor fairly well with a lightning quick first step, especially when allowed to go his stronger hand—his left. He can handle the ball in the open floor, but still can’t be considered a polished ball-handler at this point in time, especially since he struggles when forced to switch hands and dribble with his right.

Lyons can do a little bit of damage in the post, mostly by facing up and using his quickness to blow by his man. Here his nice touch and excellent leaping ability come in very handy around the hoop—although he’s never a sure thing to finish in traffic because of his narrow frame. Lyons is not a threat to do much with his back to the basket, as he doesn’t have great footwork and regardless isn’t going to be backing anyone down considering his lack of girth. A smart defender who forces him to finish with his right hand will quickly find himself rewarded for doing so.

Considering his obvious talent, you still have to wonder why Lyons didn’t play more minutes as a sophomore. The main reason would be because he simply struggled to stay on the floor. Lyons averaged 6.1 fouls per-40 minutes, which obviously wasn’t going to get him very far. He played heavy minutes at center last year on this very undersized Missouri team, and often got outmuscled matching up in the post. To compensate, he fronted his man quite a bit, used his hands excessively, and was forced to gamble for blocks and steals once he was already beat in the paint. He does have the length and quickness to be a fairly disruptive presence, as his 2.5 steals per 40 minutes (ranking him 2nd in the country amongst power forwards) would indicate, but as of right now, he was often overmatched playing out of position. Getting stronger (he’s reportedly bulked up from 225 to 240 pounds this offseason), tougher, and improving his defensive fundamentals will help him out greatly in this area.

Lyons has a natural development process he must go through as well, as he’s still a raw player in many facets who gets by largely on his talent and athleticism. He’s a bit wild, not very polished, and clearly lacks some toughness and maturity at this stage. Still, his coaching staff at Missouri speaks very highly of him, and they will clearly be expecting a lot from him this season, especially now that starting center and leading rebounder Kalen Grimes has been dismissed for off the court issues. It will be very interesting to see if he can translate his tremendous potential into significant production. If he does, ranking him this high despite his paltry credentials won’t look nearly as ridiculous down the road.

#7: Damion James, 6-7, Sophomore, SF/PF, Texas

Jonathan Givony

Behind the incredible amount of hype surrounding Kevin Durant’s magnificent freshman season, as well as the terrific production received from point guard D.J. Augustin, it was easy to forget that Texas was actually sporting three McDonald’s All-American freshmen in their starting lineup. With Durant now out of the way, there will be plenty of touches opening up at the forward spots—many of which will go in the direction of Damion James.

Based off what we can tell, James is ready to handle them. He is a powerful athlete, blessed with long arms, good quickness, a nice first step, and plenty of explosiveness around the basket. He’s an extremely strong player, which helps explain why he’s still more of a power forward making the transition to playing out on the wing full time. If you’re looking for a comparison, think of a mix between Joey Graham and Bonzi Wells.

Most of James’ production as a freshman came from playing off the ball and picking his spots in Texas’ offense—which is predictable considering how prominently Durant, Augustin and A.J. Abrams were showcased last year (the three combined to use over 65% of Texas’ possessions, nearly half of which went to Durant). He did a good job playing off his teammates by cutting to the basket, as well as grabbing a fair share of offensive rebounds, but still got enough touches of his own to allow us to evaluate his game.

James has a pretty solid mid-range jumper with range that extends to about 17 feet, although it’s mostly a flat-footed power forward-style shot that he hits with his feet set. He shot just 1/11 from behind the arc on the season, and 59.5% from the free throw line, two areas he will have to work on if he’s to make the full transition to the small forward position in the future. His pull-up jumper is a bit on the mechanical side as well, another area that scouts will be monitoring. Based off what we saw on tape, though, improving his range seems like a plausible proposition.

As a ball-handler, James is pretty solid (preferably with his right hand)-- having the athleticism and especially the aggressiveness to make things happen off the bounce. He did look like a freshman at times with some of the unforced errors he would make due to mental lapses-- his game is more about power at this point rather than finesse after all-- but he got the job done semi-effectively as a shot-creating threat and certainly has room to improve.

Defensively, James has good strength and a really nice wingspan, allowing him to block his fair share of shots (particularly coming on the ball) and pull down a good amount of rebounds. He does look a bit lackadaisical at times with the amount of space he gives his man, though, getting burned on the perimeter especially because of his lack of defensive fundamentals and inexperience playing away from the basket.

All in all, there is still a good amount of work for James to do before he establishes himself as a serious and immediate draft prospect, but he has a good base in place and certainly is in a great spot to prove himself playing under the spotlight at the University of Texas. He’ll surely be monitored closely.

#8: Mario Chalmers, 6-1, Junior, PG/SG, Kansas

Joseph Treutlein

Heading into his junior year at Kansas, Mario Chalmers has yet to prove he can consistently run an offense, and with teammate point guards Russell Robinson and Sherron Collins both returning, it’s unlikely he’ll prove it this year either. Chalmers certainly has a little bit of point guard in his game, but at this stage, he’s clearly more of a shooting guard, playing his best off the ball. At 6’1, Chalmers is undersized for an off-guard, but his length, athleticism, and tenacious defense help make up for his size disadvantage.

Chalmers’ offensive game keys around his outside shot, which has great form, a very high arc, a pretty quick release, and great body control getting it off. After shooting 37.5% his freshman year, Chalmers raised his percentage to 40.4% as a sophomore, and has the potential to improve into an even more deadly shooter in the future. He doesn’t pull-up from behind the arc often, but his form still looks good when he does, usually when coming around a screen.

Chalmers’ dribble-drive game isn’t as effective as his outside game, but he’s still formidable in that regard. He’s at his best going to the hoop coming off cuts or screens, putting the ball down for just a few dribbles, but he can take his man in Iso situations as well, albeit with inconsistent success. Chalmers can get into trouble trying to do too much with his ball-handling, usually when splitting double teams. Also, even though he has a quick first step, Chalmers doesn’t use changes of speed enough in getting his man off balance, which would definitely help in more consistently getting past opponents. Once in the lane, Chalmers doesn’t change directions enough either, leading to a lot of charges and tough shot attempts at the basket. When he has a route to the basket, Chalmers finishes well, showing good touch off the rim and the ability to finish with both hands. Chalmers also has an effective right-handed floater that he uses fairly often, though he could stand to improve it more, as he’ll have to rely on it much more in the lane at the next level.

As a point guard, Chalmers shows flashes penetrating into the lane and kicking out to teammates for open jumpers, also pushing the ball ahead in transition, but he doesn’t seem to have a true floor general’s mentality, and he’s not going to be put into a situation where he’d have to develop one. He can run an offense adequately in a pinch, but he just hasn’t proven he can consistently do it over time.

Chalmers’ best skill is perhaps on the defensive end, where he puts his full athletic ability to use. He plays menacing, in-your-face defense, constantly fighting through screens and staying with his man without the ball, then not letting up when his man has the ball, showing great fundamentals, instincts, and lateral quickness. Chalmers’ long arms also help him when running out to contest perimeter jumpers, while his excellent hands help at constantly picking balls away from opponents, in straight-up man-to-man defense or by sneaking up from the weak-side.

Chalmers isn’t a sure thing for the NBA, but barring any major changes on his current development path, he stands a good chance at being drafted at some point once he decides to declare. Depending on what strides he makes with his game this season, he will likely have to strongly consider coming back for his senior year as well. The pre-draft camps will be very important for Chalmers, where players of his defensive ilk usually excel, and he can try to show that he’s more of a point guard than many believe. Even if he can’t develop his point guard game until later in his career, he could still find himself a niche similar to Daniel Gibson’s on the Cavaliers, he will just have to fall into an ideal situation, which isn’t always easy.

#9: Josh Carter, 6’7, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Junior, Texas A&M

Rodger Bohn

Josh Carter enters the 07-08 season as one of the top shooters in college basketball. He shot a sizzling 50% from beyond the arc as a sophomore, while connecting on nearly three 3-point shots per game. The loss of Acie Law to the NBA could possibly hurt the talented wing, in that he will not have a formidable point guard able to create shots for him. However, the loss of Law also means that the Aggies will be running many more offensive sets for Carter, allowing him to free up for even more three point attempts as a junior.

Easily the most intriguing part of Carter’s game is his ability to shoot the ball at 6 foot 7. He possesses excellent size for a wing player, allowing him to shoot the ball over virtually any defender that he goes up against. Of all of the wing prospects eligible for the draft, his 50% accuracy from 3-point land is easily the highest. Although the form on the Aggie junior’s shot may be a bit unorthodox (he shoots the ball from the left side of his head), it does not seem to affect his ability to put the ball through the rim.

While shooting is the bread and butter of Josh’s offense, he also displays a solid first step for a player his size. His marginal ball-handling skills were masked by his ability to blow by opposing defenders on the perimeter, in the rare occasions that he actually chose to take the ball to the rim. Given the fact that defenses will be focusing on Carter more this season, he will likely have to prove that he is much more than just a standstill shooter.

Ball-handling and lack of creativity off of the dribble are surely the two biggest weaknesses Carter’s offensive game owns. He is very much a “two dribble, straight line guy” in that he usually will only put the ball on the floor one or two times en route to the rim. You will not see a nifty crossover from the junior, nor will you will any sort of move to free himself up for a pull-up jumper off the dribble. Despite the fact that he is a below average ball-handler for a wing, Carter is not turnover prone at all. Owning an assist to turnover ratio of 2:1, he has shown to be one of the better decision making wings that the Big 12 has to offer—largely due to the fact that he knows his limitations and did not try to do much more than hit open shots that were created for him.

Consistency has also proven to be a major problem with the Carter. In six games this past season, he scored 5 or less points in a game, even posting a goose egg in a loss against Texas Tech. At the polar opposite, he also had six games of 20 or more points, including a dominant 26 point performance in a blowout win versus Texas. With Carter now being well on the radar of most NBA teams, he will surely have to improve upon his ability to put points on the board with more regularity, given that he is close to be considered a one dimensional player at this point in time—even if we’re not completely certain that that wasn’t just him playing the role that was asked of him at Texas A&M .

Defensively, Josh does a very nice job guarding smaller players on the perimeter. His size, lateral quickness, and long arms allow him to contest smaller players’ shots on a consistent basis. Often guarding smaller players, Carter stood out as one of the better defenders on Texas A&M. One area that he did struggle in a bit was his ability to defend stronger wings who took him down to the low post. This is an area that Carter will surely improve upon with added strength to his wiry 195 pound frame.

With Joseph Jones and DeAndre Jordan manning the paint for the Aggies, Carter will enter the season as his team’s best perimeter scoring threat. Having two capable big men on the blocks will allow him to get open looks on the outside, and improve his scoring average if he is able to maintain anything near his three point percentage from last season. Josh will certainly be a player who NBA personnel will be watching closely due to his size and ability to shoot the ball. Given the recent success of bigger shooters such as Jason Kapono and Kyle Korver, the chances of Carter finding his way in the league at the conclusion of his A&M career look strong if he can continue to establish a role for himself a lights out perimeter threat.

#10: Marcus Dove, 6-9, Small Forward, Senior, Oklahoma State

Joey Whelan

If NBA scouts are looking for a future top-scoring option, then Marcus Dove is likely not the player for them. However, if they are looking for an absolute force as a perimeter defender, than the fifth year senior will fit the bill just fine. At 6’9” Dove has great size and athleticism for a wing player, and his added length is a bonus. He isn’t very strong, and at just 215 pounds is rail thin, so some time in the weight room certainly couldn’t hurt him, especially when he is forced to cover bigger players near the basket.

Dove has never been called upon to be an offensive presence for Oklahoma State, but at the same time he doesn’t make much of an effort on that end of the floor either. Blessed with great physical ability, he certainly has shown flashes that indicate he can score from time to time if he wants to, but often he prefers to set screens and remain passive. The majority of his points (he only averaged 4.7 in 28.6 minutes last season) come from open looks near the basket or in transition. Dove does a fairly good job moving to open spaces in the half court setting, but unless he is inside the paint or has a straight line to the hoop, he struggles to score. He has an awkward shooting motion, pushing it more than shooting it, so he isn’t much of an outside threat.

A major deterrent in the Dove’s threat on offense is his lack of ball-handling skills. He can get to the basket from the perimeter only when he has a straight line to the hoop. His first step is slowed down tremendously by his poor ball control, so often he gets caught taking awkward shots or turning the ball over. Dove does do well on the break though, primarily due to his play on defense. He has tremendous anticipation skills and quick hands, leading to an abundance of intercepted or deflected passes that he is able to take the other way for easy dunks.

Defensively, there may not be a better perimeter defender in the country. Dove has every physical characteristic you want out of a defender out on the wing. He is long, is quick laterally, has great anticipation skills and is smart. He forces a lot of turnovers and tough shots simply by staying one step in front of his man on almost every play. Very rarely will you see Dove bite on a fake from an opponent. In the last season’s Big 12 semi-finals against Texas, Dove spent the entire game covering national player of the year Kevin Durant. Despite Durant winding up with 26 points on 11-24 shooting in the box score, Dove played a tremendous game. Durant simply hit a lot of difficult shots.

Dove is even more appealing to scouts as a defender because of his versatility. He can cover smaller quicker perimeter players and be just as effective defending against bigger players that stay closer to the basket. That isn’t to say that Dove will be an interior defender in the NBA, he isn’t big enough or strong enough, but he is the kind of player that can cover bigger guards or smaller forwards that like to go inside sometimes.

The biggest question now is when Dove will be back on the court. Dove was charged with aggravated drunken driving over the summer and accepted a plea agreement in August. Oklahoma State head coach Sean Sutton suspended Dove indefinitely from the team, but he is expected to eventually be reinstated. As far as on the court matters are concerned, Dove is already one of the nation’s elite defensive players, and the fact that he is being mentioned as a potential pro player with how poor his offensive numbers are, really says volumes about his ability to shut down opponents. Dove does need to step up his offensive production and become more aggressive, if he is to really help his stock and his team this season.

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