Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC (Part One: #1-5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC (Part One: #1-5)
Sep 15, 2008, 04:28 pm
With the Big 10 and Big 12 out of the way, we move our attention to one of the strongest conferences in college basketball--the SEC, which is pretty loaded with returning first round caliber prospects this season. Andrew Ogilvy leads the way, followed by Patrick Patterson, Tyler Smith, Nick Calathes and Jarvis Varnado.

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 10: Part One, Part Two
Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

#1 Andrew Ogilvy, 6-11, Sophomore, Center, Vanderbilt

Jonathan Givony

Statistically speaking, Andrew Ogilvy was clearly one of the most impressive freshman in the country last season. The Australian import ranked in the top-25 of 16 different statistical categories in our database, two of those being negative (related to fouls), and has the distinction of being the 6th best returning scorer in the NCAA per-40 minutes pace adjusted. Not only does Ogilvy stand 6-11, he is a true center who does the majority of his damage inside the paint (as evidenced by the 59% he shot from the field), which makes a unique prospect at the NCAA level any way you slice it.

A mobile big man who probably can’t be described as being anything more than just a ‘fair’ athlete by NBA standards, its Ogilvy’s incredibly high skill level which really separates him from the pack. He wants and knows how to establish position deep in the paint, and shows outstanding hands to go along with the ability to knock down jump-hooks with either and terrific touch.

Ogilvy has a great feel for operating inside, always looking in command of where he is and how he wants to attack his matchup. He looks extremely impressive finishing his moves smoothly and elegantly with terrific extension around the rim. His relatively quick feet make him difficult to match up with inside, and he’s capable of scoring in a couple of different ways, including a turnaround jumper, drop-step and up and under moves.

The downside appears to be that Ogilvy isn’t always athletic enough to just rise up and finish over his opponents in traffic, looking more likely to score with a layup or finesse move rather than a dunk, and thus seeing his shot blocked a decent amount. He needs to add at least 10-15 pounds of upper body strength to more comfortably operate against NBA-level big men, but there is very little doubt that his post game should translate to the next level and could be a very valuable asset in the right system.

Ogilvy also gets to the free throw line at a superb rate, being amongst the best in the NCAA in that category last season, and he comes with the added bonus of shooting a very nice percentage from the line, at 76%.

Despite obviously possessing very nice touch and a generally high skill level, Ogilvy didn’t show an incredibly advanced face-up game as a freshman last season. The release point on his shot looks a bit low (coming from just above his chest) but he clearly has the ability to knock down 16-18 foot jump-shots, and he may show more of that this upcoming season, which would be an intriguing development. Likewise, he didn’t put the ball on the floor a great deal either, but seems to have the potential to do so, with either hand even. We’ll see if he feels more comfortable showing off a wider variety of perimeter skills this year, something that would clearly add to his resume.

One of the big issues that prevented Ogilvy from making a bigger splash last season was his consistent struggles with foul problems, which held his minutes in check at just 26 per game. He is clearly nothing more than an average defender at best, as he often gives up position deep in the post to opposing big men, gets backed down incessantly around the rim, struggles to move his feet rotating inside the paint, and displays questionable lateral quickness trying to defend the perimeter with his flat-footed upright stance.

It’s pretty clear that he had never faced the type of athletic big men that the likes of Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and Mississippi State were able to throw at him, but considering his youth, timing and nice feel for the game (which helped him block nearly a shot and a half per game, mostly coming on the ball), he should be able to adjust better this season. Getting stronger will help, but he’ll need to get tougher and more aggressive as well, particularly on the glass, where he appears to get outhustled at times going after rebounds.

Regardless, there is a lot to like about what Ogilvy brought to the table as a freshman, and with so many underclassmen centers opting to jump ship for the NBA last June, he’s clearly one of the best remaining big men prospects in college basketball—and possibly the most skilled.

#2 Patrick Patterson, 6-8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Kentucky

Jonathan Givony

Few freshman played as big a role for their team as Patrick Patterson did for Kentucky last season. At a shade under 36 minutes per game, only O.J. Mayo and Donte Greene narrowly edged him out amongst the minutes played leader board for freshman in 07-08. That starts to give you an idea about the type of immediate impact Patterson was expected and able to make for the Big Blue, and very little of that is expected to change this upcoming season.

A substantial part of Kentucky’s offense last season revolved around throwing the ball inside to Patterson on the left block, and letting him go to work. He is a true back to the basket presence at the collegiate level, working very hard at establishing deep position inside and then possessing the strength, aggressiveness and girth to just bully his man about as far as he needs to to get his right-handed jump-hook shot or turnaround jumper off. At times he tends to settle for bad shots when he can’t get the type of deep post position he needs to get in his comfort zone, which doesn’t happen as often at the collegiate level as it will in the NBA.

Where Patterson is at his best is moving off the ball and cutting towards the rim for strong finishes around the basket. He has great hands, an outstanding frame, and the toughness and athleticism needed to finish most everything that comes his way. We’re talking about a very high energy player who gets to the free throw line at a nice rate and finishes a terrific 73.4% of his touches in the immediate basket area according to Synergy Sports Technology’s quantified reports.

Where Patterson needs to improve is in becoming more versatile offensively, relying less on the advantages he possesses in the strength and athleticism categories—which will not be as pronounced in the NBA—and increasing his already decent skill-level.

The soft touch on Patterson’s jumper shows lots of potential, but he can still expand his range and consistency. Facing the basket, he rarely puts the ball on the floor to beat his man to the basket, something which would make him more of a threat to operate in the high post. In the low-post, he clearly favors his right-hand even when he’d be much better off using his left hand.

As the level of competition increases, so does the level of advance scouting, and Patterson will need to be able to take what the defense gives him, which means rounding out his entire offensive game.

Defensively, Patterson is a bit undersized at around 6-8, but he makes up for that and then some with his tremendous 7-2 wingspan. He has the strength to contain his matchup in the post, the aggressiveness to not back down from anyone, and the length to contest most every attempt from the player he’s defending. He has the tools to be outstanding in this area, and indeed shows flashes of brilliance from time to time. The problem is that at times he seems to give up too much space in the paint and rely excessively on his physical tools rather than playing fundamentally sound basketball. This is most evident in the rebounding department, where Patterson makes a big impact on the offensive glass, but is surprisingly pedestrian on the defensive end. Doing a better job of boxing out his matchup would make him much more effective here most likely.

Big men with Patterson’s athleticism, length, motor and budding skill level almost always find their way into the NBA, in some capacity. The question is how much he’ll still improve from here, and what kind of role can be expected from him at the next level. As long as he stays healthy (his season was cut short last year with a broken foot), there’s a more than decent chance that this will be Patterson’s last year at Kentucky. How productive he is this season and how far he can help Kentucky get in the tournament will play a large part in how high he can elevate his draft stock.

#3 Tyler Smith, 6’6, Junior, SF/PF, Tennessee

Rodger Bohn

Tyler Smith followed up his stellar debut at Iowa with an even better season as a sophomore at Tennessee, after being granted a hardship transfer waiver due to his father’s health. He has continued to make great strides transitioning from the power forward to the small forward position, and proved to be one of the best passing small forwards in the collegiate ranks last season.

Quite impressive was the fact that Smith was able to match or surpass his production from his freshman season at Tennessee despite playing 8 minutes less per game. His field goal percentage jumped from 44% to nearly 54%, his rebounding rate increased dramatically, he blocked more shots, dished out nearly just as many assists, cut down on his turnovers, and shot the ball much better from beyond the arc. He ranks third in assists per 40 minutes amongst returning small forward prospects, and fourth amongst returning small forwards in assist to turnover ratio. Not only is this a testament to the nice court vision that he shows, but also tells you about his ever-improving decision making skills.

The main way that Smith puts points on the board would be through slashing to the rim and cutting towards the basket. Not an outstanding ball handler, he tends to put the ball down a couple of times with his head down in a straight line to get to the rim. When cut off, he finds ways to elude defenders through a series of spin moves or pulling up for a short jumper. His quickness and all-around activity level gets him to the free throw line at a solid rate, where he shoots an improvable 71% from the stripe.

Defense is one area of the court where Smith stands out, having completely bought into Bruce Pearl’s philosophy of intense ball pressure. He moves well laterally, possesses nice length, and has shown good maturity and activity on this end of the floor. Smith picked up his rebounding during his sophomore year, and proved to be one of the team’s better rotating defenders. Able to guard both forward positions, the versatility that Tyler presents on this end of the floor makes him very appealing as an NBA prospect.

The primary weakness in Smith’s game continues to center around his outside shot. Although he has made some serious improvement from his freshman to sophomore year, he still remains an inconsistent threat from beyond the arc and could really clean up the mechanics of his shot. Despite shooting nearly 38% from beyond the arc, Smith only attempted one attempt from that range beyond there per game, which tells you about the amount of confidence he has in that part of his game. To be able to play the small forward position full-time in the NBA, scouts would like to be able to see him expanding his range out to the NBA line eventually, and be a consistent threat to make open shots with his feet set. The former Tennessee prep star still tends to drive left the majority of the time, going towards his off hand over 65% of the time he takes the ball to the basket. Despite cutting down on his turnover rate recently, he can still get even better in this area.

Age is a bit of a concern for Smith, who was originally a class of 2005 high school prospect. He is 22 years old at the moment, having being forced to spend a year at the prep school ranks after not qualifying out of high school. On the bright side, Smith is far from a finished product and still has two years to hone his perimeter skills.

As a junior, testing the waters will certainly be an option for Smith at the conclusion of this season. He would surely be a player who would receive an invite to the Orlando Pre-Draft Camp, and will definitely make a case for himself to be considered a first round pick if he continues to fill out some of the holes in his game.

#4 Nick Calathes, 6’5, PG/SG, Sophomore, Florida

Joseph Treutlein

While he wasn’t as publicly visible as his fellow McDonald’s All Americans in his freshman season, Nick Calathes quietly put together a very strong initial campaign, immediately stepping in as Florida’s most important player. The versatile and highly skilled Calathes filled up the box scores frequently, averaging over 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game, notching one triple double and a few near ones as well. He stood out in many areas up against the entire NCAA, ranking 3rd in assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted in our entire database, and 14th in assist-to-turnover ratio.

On the offensive end, there are many things to like about Calathes’ game, starting with his point guard abilities. Calathes’ high skill level stands out in a lot of little ways: his low controlled dribble with both hands, his efficiency in pulling off advanced moves, his ability to throw all kinds of passes, one handed or two handed, with great precision, and his quickness transitioning from dribbles into passes. He uses all these tools along with his excellent court vision and decision-making abilities to distribute the ball around Florida’s offense, mostly getting the job done on quick entry passes or simple one/two dribble drive-and-dishes.

He’s not going to blow his defender away with a great first step (which he doesn’t have), weaving his way through the lane and making highlight reel plays, but he consistently finds seams in the defense and makes good reads to spread the ball around and create a lot of open shots. He also does a good job whether he’s the man bringing the ball up the court or playing off it from the wing, playing both roles well and not trying to do too much.

As a scorer, Calathes is definitely at his best with his set spot-up shot, which besides having a low release point in front of his face, doesn’t have any real issues. Unfortunately, while his shot works fine when he’s open with his feet set, he struggles more when he’s guarded or coming off a screen, as the low release point makes it easy to alter. According to stats logged by Synergy Sports Technology, Calathes netted 1.19 points per possession on catch-and-shoot situations when not guarded, but went all the way down to 0.77 when guarded. Slightly tweaking that issue with his shot could definitely help this out over time, and will be even more important against longer, more athletic opponents at the next level.

One area where Calathes really does struggle on the offensive end is scoring in the paint, as he lacks vertical explosiveness and isn’t the best creator around the rim, leading to a lot of tough shot attempts and blocked shots, especially when dealing with weakside help. While Calathes does a really great job pursuing his own misses and scoring on follow-ups, his efficiency around the basket could certainly still improve, and adding a floater or runner to his arsenal would definitely help, as it’s something he rarely goes to. Adding that dimension to his game to compensate for his lack of explosiveness around the hoop could really push his game to the next level, and it should be among his main priorities moving forward.

On the defensive end, while Calathes is smart, focused, and hard-working, he suffers against quicker foes due to below average lateral quickness. He compensates for this by having good reflexes, positioning, and a strong, fundamental stance, but it’s definitely something scouts will be concerned about projecting him to the next level as a point guard or combo guard.

Calathes should be able to pick up right where he left off last season, and if he’s made strides in any of his weaker areas, he could become one of college’s most versatile and effective players. While he was consistent in scoring output last season, rarely dipping below double digits, he could certainly help himself to be a bit more consistent, as his 43% FG% and 37% 3PT% are still improvable considering his skill-level. Looking ahead to the next level, Calathes would probably be best served spending a bit more time at the college level honing his skills, which his game is heavily reliant upon, but with a breakout sophomore season, the draft could certainly be in the picture this year.

#5 Jarvis Varnado, 6’9”, PF/C, Junior, Mississippi State

Joey Whelan

We took a look at Varnado late last season so there isn’t much new to report on him at this point. What we do know is that with the departures of Charles Rhodes and Jamont Gordon, Varnado will be expected to shoulder a much bigger offensive load than he has in the past for the Mississippi State. The junior is the top returning scorer in the frontcourt and the team’s top returning rebounder.

As has been mentioned in the past, Varnado is a tremendous athlete. His length, leaping ability and timing make him a force on the defensive end where he is a nightmare for opponents in the paint. At 6’9” he is maybe a tad undersized for a post player, but what really hinders him is his tremendously narrow frame. The reports last season were that Varnado has bulked up to 210 pounds, but from what we were able to see from him at the Adidas Nations event in Dallas last month, he still needs to put on a good 20 pounds before he can consistently hold his ground on the block. His narrow shoulders don’t appear as though they support the type of natural filling out that he needs to go through.

The real question mark offensively this season for Varnado will be how much he has developed his skill work with his back to the basket. Last season he rarely received the ball outside of open dump offs around the rim simply, because his moves were so underdeveloped. A lack of footwork and strength often left Varnado spinning and shooting wherever he was regardless of his angle to the basket, and he lacks the touch needed to convert on these type of difficult maneuvers.

Up to this point what has really made Varnado a threat offensively has been his tenacity as an offensive rebounder. While he was only credited with 2.2 offensive boards per game last season, he got his hands on plenty of other loose balls, even if it was simply tipping one up in the air to keep a play alive. Where his lack of strength came back to hurt him here was often rather than coming down with the ball and going back up strong with it, he would have to settle for trying to tip in rebounds over opponents. While he has been effective doing this, he would also be better served by coming down with the ball and getting himself a higher percentage shot.

Defense is still where Varnado is going to garner the most interest, having the ability to simply change a game at the collegiate level. As a sophomore last season he could easily lay claim to being the top shot blocker in the country, averaging 4.6 per game in only 28.5 minutes, and 6.3 per 40 minutes pace adjusted. Additionally, he recorded three games in which he blocked 10 shots. He has great timing and doesn’t appear to be overly anxious to block shots, instead waiting for his opponents to go up before attempting a swat. Still, the rest of Varnado’s defensive game needs to improve. He often looks lost outside the paint, not running the floor well or providing effective help defense.

At this point, unless he makes huge strides this season, Varnado is likely going to need to be a four-year prospect. This season will be a good test for him, as he now must become more of a factor in the Bulldog’s offense. While there have been hints of a developing mid-range jumper, he must first become a more effective low post scorer, and adding weight would be a step in the right direction for him. Showing more hustle as a perimeter defender too would only add to his growing reputation as a stopper on the other end of the floor. It is likely Varnado will draw interest this season simply because of his length and athleticism, as so many players of his make-up do. Showing improvements in his skill set this season will lift him from simply an intriguing athlete to a legitimate NBA prospect.

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