Saturday, January 19, 2013

Midseason Report: Alex Len

Not only did Alex Len come into this season 30 pounds heavier than last year, he was also a lot more comfortable. In his freshman season, he was forced to miss the first ten games and the season and had a hard time adjusting to life in the states. Imagine his situation - missing the first ten games is one thing - we saw how slow Shabazz was after missing weeks of practice and UCLA's first three games. And the overall transition to the college game is tough for any player, especially living away from home for the first time. But for Len, he moved by himself to another country and didn't even understand the language. So while he was behind in learning Maryland's system, he had an even tougher time understanding the coaches and getting up to speed.

This year Len's English had improved to the point where he can now communicate with his teammates and understand what the coaches have to say. There was a sense that he would have a breakout year and potentially become a first round draft pick. Maryland's first game was against Kentucky and Len didn't wait very long to generate buzz in front of plenty of NBA scouts at Barclay's. 

Len had 23 points (10-18 shooting) and 12 rebounds against potential #1 overall pick Nerlens Noel. This was the perfect way for Len to start off his year and the matchup couldn't have been better. The hype surrounding Noel was immense, but he was still a very raw freshman in his first game. But seeing Alex Len outplay him, that turned some heads - even though it shouldn't have been a surprise. 

Soon after, you started hearing Len's name mentioned among the top 5 players in the draft. An obvious overreaction for a guy who really only had one good game. Fans were infatuated with a college big man with a true post game. Old school NBA fans loved him and wondered aloud if he could be the polished post big man that the NBA has been missing. They romanticized his game into something they longed for - something that has been thought to be dying in the professional game.

And make no mistake about it - Alex Len is a highly skilled player. His back to the basket game is one of the best to come along in the college ranks in recent memory. The variety of ways in which he can score, his ability to stretch the defense, and his touch on his shot make his offensive game complete. He throws in turnaround jumpers from either shoulder, solid footwork, and willingness to operate with his back to the basket the people love and is tough to stop if you are the opposition. 

Len didn't dominate competition after his game against Kentucky. After his 23 point performance against the Wildcats, Len failed to match it in any other non-conference affair - netting a high 19 against Stony Brook. But Len wasn't needed to dominate these games. Maryland rolled over most of their competition with a high scoring offensive attack that didn't have to involve their plodding big man. They played arguably the weakest non-conference schedule in the NCAA and Len was consistently covered by smaller defenders - but sometimes two defenders at a time. 

Heading into ACC play, you could say Alex Len was playing a good game. He went "all-in" on the Kentucky game, raising his stock, and then sat back and played it safe thereafter. There wasn't much he could have done in games against the likes of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Georgia Southern, and South Carolina State. He continued to flash his skills each game and analysts were satisfied with his performance - with Kentucky still engraved in their mind.

ACC play is a different animal though. It separates the men from the boys. So far, Len had faced young "boys" at Kentucky in their first career college game and a bunch of low-major 6-7 post players. And he actually struggled at times with the physicality of play and defense.

But nobody was watching him then. 

We are now 5 games into ACC play. Through these 5 games, Len is shooting 47% from the field, 19-28 from the line, grabbing 11 boards (per 40), and has 7 blocks and 5 assists to his name. Again, still nothing dominating and his last two games against other potential first round bigs have netted him 20 total points. 

The Terrapins have had trouble getting the ball into Len and in the process, are making sure people don't underestimate the value of a quality entry pass. Pe'Shon Howard has struggled to run the point for the Terps and has delivered errant passes into the post time and time again.

Passing into the post is a lost art. And it comes with the lack of big men with offensive skills like Len's. And playing through a big man is also something that has gone to the wayside. 

The Terrapins have been battling with an identity crisis so far in ACC play due to that very issue. They have a good big man and want to get the ball into him, But at the same time, the game has changed and you like your players to get out and push the ball in transition. If a college team is struggling to focus an offense around a talented big man, you think a more talented NBA team will go out of their way to run their offense through one?

Maryland's problem isn't just entry passing and style of play when it comes to featuring Len. Its personnel. Maryland's other bigs are bruising types and clog the lane on offense. Between Shaq Cleare, Charles Mitchell and James Padgett - none of them have shown an inclination to shoot jumpers. So with the big lineups Mark Turgeon likes to run, Alex Len usually lacks the space that a lot of other college teams have that have stretch power forwards.

But it isn't just the big man who can't shoot. No, this is a problem with the whole team. Such a problem that Albany transfer Logan Aronhalt finds himself as a necessary member of the team's rotation. They rank 10th in the ACC in 3-pt percentage and have only made 95 on the year - which ranks them 243rd in the nation. 

So spacing is an obvious problem as well. Pe'Shon can't throw entry passes or run point, Dez Wells prefers to push the ball, and Nick Faust rarely looks to set up his teammates to score. Not exactly the supporting cast you'd want to surround Len with. But we know what he is capable of on offense so that isn't a concern.

Concerns with Len come with his defense and his role at the next level. His role is a complicated matter that we've skimmed over a few times already. His defense is pretty simple - he's not very good at it.

And I don't think most people have realized that Len is a bad defender. But they will now that ACC play has started. Simply looking at blocks, you'd assume Len is at least a solid defender. He's normally good for two of them a game. 

Being a good shot blocker doesn't equal a good defender though. Len is the perfect example. For one, Len is a chronic biter on pump fakes. He's always looking to block a shot and is easily lifted off of his feet. To make it worse is his recovery time - once he gets out of place, ball handlers will have their shot off before he can even regather himself.

His lack of ability to make up for mistakes also corresponds to his inability to change directions or move laterally well. Opposing teams love getting Len out on the top of the arc to cover the pick and roll. He is very slow on his feet, struggles changing directions, and lacks an understanding of where to be in order to disrupt the offense. In most cases, Len finds himself in no mans land - not helping hedge the ball handler or getting back to cover the roller. A slow mind mixed with slow feet is not a recipe for success on defense. Len finds himself out of position more times than not on the defensive end.

Len also needs to do a better job using that 7'5'' wingspan on the defensive end. Naturally, Len stands a bit awkwardly and is obviously not a natural knee bender when it comes to getting into defense position and moving his feet. But in the post, Len can do a better job of showing off his wingspan and deterring shots without going for blocks. He needs to develop a mentality as a rim protector - too many times he allows a man to slip behind him and get an easy basket. He also struggles with smaller guys who can go into his body, use his leverage against him, and also outmuscle him. Len has been beaten in this way by some of the low-major players.

Alex Len is a solid rebounder, pulling down 12.5 per 40 minutes. Compared to other top prospects, Len is the 11th best big man in DraftExpress's Top 100 in terms of rebounds. Not great, not terrible. For his size, you'd like more. For the NBA, you'd certainly like a center that is either a great defender or rebounder. Len is neither at this point. Len has been outhustled and outmanned on the boards at times this year. When he does pull down boards though, he usually does a good job of maintaining possession. 

Then there is the question of fit. How does he fit an NBA team? Who does he play like?

The Jonas Valanciunas comparison has been thrown around. Valanciunas actually dominated Len a few years back in the U-18 European Championships. The comparison is pretty off base. Yes, both have similar size and builds while lacking great athleticism. But that is where the comparisons stop for me.

Valanciunas is a much different offensive player. He thrives finishing around the hoop and doesn't stray too far from there. He sticks with his bread and butter and plays efficient basketball. He knows how to use his length around the rim and is stronger than he looks. He also is a good screener who would much rather roll to the basket off a ball screen than to pop out for a jumper. His ability to roll after a pick is a considerable strength and he gets a lot of points this way. On these plays, Jonas shows his ability to move in space and the body control to finish. Valanciunas has always been, and projects to be, a complimentary piece on offense instead of a guy you ask to make plays in the post.

Now for Len, he's a guy who would much prefer to pop after a ball screen. He is much more skilled and can knock down jumpers from 18 feet in. When he rolls, he is slow and isn't very fluid. He can do it on occasion and has good hands to receive passes, but it is not a strength of his. And when it comes to finishing inside, he is not on the same level as Jonas. Len shies away from the contact and is hesitant in traffic. He doesnt use his long arms as well as the Lithuanian does to finish. When it comes to offensive skills though, Alex Len's ability far outshine Valanciunas's as has already been discussed. He is much more likely to receive post touches and have the offense run through him.

Defensively is where the greatest separation could be. Valanciunas has the lateral ability, the aggressiveness, and the smarts that Len has not shown. And that is where fit comes into play. Valanciunas fit into the NBA was easy to project. Len has a more intriguing package in some ways, but how can a NBA team use it?

NBA centers in today's game are asked to rebound and defender first and foremost. The game has changed from the days of dominant offensive bigs. There is no more hand checking which allows guards to be much more prominent. While people yearn for fundamentally sound bigs to return, the problem is more of the priorities of GMs than it is the lack of back to the basket big men. 

Alex Len has lots of work to do in order to become a starter in the NBA and fill the role of a 2012 NBA center. And if you do run the offense through him, his passing has to improve if the 5 assists in 5 ACC games is any indication.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 NBA Mock Draft

*More early entry candidates are included in this mock because it is simply a guessing game to decide who will or will not declare. Therefore, this draft appears much deeper than it will be come June. Most of these second rounders have a good chance of going late first and there are plenty of undrafted players who will end up being selected in the real draft. Enjoy!*

1. Charlotte Bobcats - FR Nerlens Noel, F/C, Kentucky
2. Cleveland Cavaliers - FR Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
3. Washington Wizards - FR Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
4. Sacramento Kings - FR Shabazz Muhammad, G/F, UCLA
5. Phoenix Suns -1992 Rudy Gobert, F/C, Cholet
6. Orlando Magic - FR Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State
7. New Orleans Hornets - SO Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown
8. Philadelphia 76ers - SR CJ McCollum, G, Lehigh
9. Detroit Pistons - SO Trey Burke, PG, Michigan
10. Toronto Raptors (to Oklahoma City) - FR Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh
11. Minnesota Timberwolves - FR Glenn Robinson Jr, SF, Michigan
12. Dallas Mavericks - SO Alex Len, C, Maryland
13. Portland Trailblazers (to Charlotte) - SO Cody Zeller, F/C, Indiana
14. Los Angeles Lakers - FR Isaiah Austin, F/C, Baylor
15. Atlanta Hawks - SR Mason Plumlee, F/C, Duke
16. Milwaukee Bucks - FR Alex Poythress, F, Kentucky
17. Utah Jazz - FR Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Syracuse
18. Boston Celtics - SO Tony Mitchell, PF, North Texas
19. Houston Rockets (to Atlanta) - JR Reggie Bullock, G/F, North Carolina
20. Chicago Bulls - FR Rasheed Sulaimon, SG, Duke
21. Brooklyn Nets - SO James Michael McAdoo, PF, North Carolina
22. Golden State Warriors (to Utah) - JR Victor Oladipo, G/F, Indiana
23. Indiana Pacers - SR Jackie Carmichael, PF, Illinois State
24. New York Knicks - JR Gorgui Dieng, F/C, Louisville
25. Memphis Grizzlies (to Minnesota) - FR TJ Warren, F, North Carolina State
26. Denver Nuggets - SR Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
27. Miami Heat (to Cleveland) - 1994 Dario Saric, F, Cibona Zagreb
28. San Antonio Spurs - SR Michael Snaer, SG, Florida State
29. Los Angeles Clippers - JR Andre Roberson, F, Colorado
30. Oklahoma City Thunder - FR Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky

Round 2

1. Charlotte Bobcats (to Oklahoma City) - SO BJ Young, G, Arkansas
2. Cleveland Cavaliers - JR Phil Pressey, PG, Missouri
3. Washington Wizards - SO LeBryan Nash, SF, Oklahoma State
4. Sacramento Kings - 1993 Sergey Karasev, SF, Triumph Moscow
5. Phoenix Suns - JR Jamaal Franklin, G/F, San Diego State
6. Orlando Magic (to Cleveland) - JR Patric Young, F/C, Florida
7. New Orleans Hornets (to Philadelphia) - SO Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Georgia
8. Philadelphia 76ers - 1991 Nemandja Nedovic, G, Lietuvos Rytas
9. Detroit Pistons - SO Adonis Thomas, SF, Memphis
10. Toronto Raptors - FR Khem Birch, F/C, UNLV
11. Minnesota Timberwolves (to Portland) - SR Richard Howell, PF, North Carolina State
12. Dallas Mavericks - JR CJ Leslie, PF, North Carolina State
13. Portland Trailblazers (to Denver) - SO Myck Kabongo, PG, Texas
14. Los Angeles Lakers - JR Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
15. Atlanta Hawks - JR Deshaun Thomas, F, Ohio State
16. Milwaukee Bucks - SR Mike Muscala, F/C, Bucknell
17. Utah Jazz - 1992 Leo Westermann, G, Partizan
18. Boston Celtics (to Portland) - 1992 Lucas Nogueira, C, Estudiantes
19. Houston Rockets (to Atlanta) - JR Kelly Olynyk, F/C, Gonzaga
20. Chicago Bulls - SR Brandon Paul, G, Illinois
21. Brooklyn Nets (to Minnesota) - JR Russ Smith, G, Louisville
22. Golden State Warriors (to Orlando) - JR Ray McCallum, PG, Detroit
23. Indiana Pacers - JR Allen Crabbe, SG, California
24. New York Knicks (to Washington) - JR Lorenzo Brown, G, North Carolina State
25. Memphis Grizzlies - JR CJ Wilcox, G/F, Washington
26. Denver Nuggets (to Phoenix) - SR Rodney Williams, F, Minnesota
27. Miami Heat - SR Isaiah Canaan, G, Murray State
28. San Antonio Spurs - SR Ed Daniel, F/C, Murray State
29. Los Angeles Clippers - SR Ryan Kelly, PF, Duke
30. Oklahoma City Thunder (to Minnesota) - 1993 Alex Abrines, SG, Barcelona

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Saturday's Weekend Wrap-Up

Cincinnati vs St. John's

Sean Kilpatrick got off to a hot start this year along with the rest of the Bearcat team. However, as we head into a tougher part of the schedule, both him and the team are looking much more average. The Bearcats have been a team that takes advantage of their athleticism and defense by pressuring teams into tough shots. Now, they have been the team getting bullied on the inside.

Kilpatrick only scored 7 points against St. John's - probably the most athletic team he's faced to date. In his last three games (against New Mexico, St. John's, and Pittsburgh), his best shooting performance was his 3-8 game against Pittsburgh. I've watched each of those games and it seems his stock is deteriorating before our eyes. His 3-pt shooting is now down to 33% and that is supposed to be his calling card at the next level. His driving game isn't working either - he has to try to muscle the way to the hoop and has struggled finishing vs size. The write-up I wrote on Kilpatrick in November is looking on point. I thought I might have been a bit too tough on him after his strong December.

Rutgers vs Pittsburgh

Rutgers' pulled off the upset early on Saturday morning which was the start of 3 ranked Big East teams losing. I've been vocal about how much I like this Panther team, but getting outrebounded 31-21 just isn't their style. Talib Zanna only had 1 rebound and now there is a bit of reservation if he has actually made the jump to one of the better big men in the Big East. He has been fools gold before. He thrives in transition opportunities which won't be as rampant in conference play, but his rebounding is a bit of a mystery. I still really like his awareness on defense. He does a great job covering for Steven Adams' mistakes.

Speaking of Adams, he only had 4 rebounds in 28 minutes. This was a better game for him then the box score indicates though. He continues to make visible progress each game which makes his potential almost something tangible. He has been running the court and moving on offense with purpose. It is amazing just how fluid he is at his height. He does a great job moving from point A to point B on offense and finally looks like he knows where he is going. He's been able to catch the ball on the run and finish all in one smooth motion. He completely shut out every pick and roll attempt Rutgers tried. He is a little slow getting back to his man, which is where Zanna's ability to move comes in handy.

The one area where Adams really needs to improve in the immediate feature is his rebounding. Not his ability to rebound the ball, but his ability to hang onto it after he gets it. He is weak coming down with the ball and gets it taken away from him too many times. Adams needs to develop a mean streak. If he shows this, I'd consider drafting him in the top 5-8.

Lamar Patterson is a talented jack-of-all trade performer who I've liked dating back to high school. but it is time for him to expand himself as a player. He is a capable driver and creator and Pittsburgh desperately needs another aggressor on the perimeter. He needs to step up.

Baylor vs Texas

This game was a bit of a surprise with Texas forcing overtime as Scott Drew serving a suspension, but the Bears ended up winning 86-79.

Cory Jefferson came up huge with 25 points and 10 rebounds. His combination of size, athleticism, and energy is the perfect recipe for an early second round draft pick. He is only listed at 210lbs, but looks much bigger and certainly plays stronger than that. He got most of his points around the rim by using a combination of his aforementioned athleticism and relentlessness. He's a team player and also a very good defender. He's gone against 3 strong frontcourts in his last three games - all games that I watched - against Gonzaga, Texas, and BYU. In those 3 games, he has grabbed a total of 33 rebounds.

Those three games have also been an opportunity to see how Isaiah Austin fairs against strong frontlines and he's done as well as one could ask - tallying 52 points and 30 rebounds over that stretch. Austin gets a lot of flack for his softness, but to his credit, he doesn't shy away from contact. It just isn't his game, therefore, it isn't smart for him to try to battle down low. And it probably never will be given his physical profile. You have to accept Austin for what he is - a skilled power forward with elite coordination and nice ball skills. I think everyone agrees on the basic scouting report for Austin, but what that amounts to in the NBA is up for debate. Stretch forwards can be a dime a dozen, but just how high is Austin's potential? There haven't been many 7+ footers with his ball skills since Dirk, so there is some intrigued. Then again, finding a guy anywhere near Dirk is like hitting the lottery. NBA teams tried time and time again to hit the lottery in the 2000s with European 7 footers, each time failing.

Pierre Jackson had a somewhat erratic game, making some errant passes and playing too fast at times. But he did get to the line 15 times thanks to his combination of elite quickness and good ball handling ability. He has a tight crossover that is able to break down defenses. Jackson needs to learn to slow his game down and become more of a constant nuisance on defense, but he has himself in discussions as a second rounder.

For Texas, there has been a lot of positive things to say about them until Javan Felix's performance yesterday. The Longhorns offense has been a mess a season, lacking spacing or any kind of rhythm. Texas has always been at their best with players off all shapes and sizes who can shoot and stretch their defense. It has appeared the Rick Barnes is still trying to run the same sets with this personnel, yet without the shooters. Finally yesterday, Felix took control of the offense through the pick and roll game. He finished with 26 points and 9 assists while only handing the ball over to the defense once. The performance was as impressive as it sounds - he ran the pick and roll with poise and was able to get lots of good looks in the mid-range area. Baylor didn't defend it well, something that might have had to do with Drew being out, but Felix deserves the credit for this one.

Murray State vs SE Missouri State

Ed Daniel - Daniel's endurance was on full display, bringing his energy for 37 minutes in a game that was close post of the way. Daniel is the same kind of player as Ben Wallace or Kenneth Faried - two other small school products who come from the southeast. He's not as good, but he has a good shot at making a NBA team.

At this level, he does a great job at running down the court to establish deep low post position in the paint. He isn't a bully with his size, but does possess great quickness and determination. His post game is basic, relying on a running right handed hook shot and and vanilla arsenal of ball fakes. He hit a foul line jumper in this game. His jumpshot is more of a touch shot though - and he has good touch, but his range doesn't look promising - 10 feet and in. With Isaiah Canaan, his main role on offense is more as a screener and rebounder than a go-to threat.

Defensively, Daniel moves like a small forward and has a tremendous IQ. He brings non-stop energy and is willing to lay his body on the line at all times. He plays great help defense and puts great pride in keeping his man out of the paint (although he can get pushed around at times). Daniel has a chiseled frame that has obviously seen the weight room, much like Faried's in college, but could focus on adding more girth. He has a Faried level body and athleticism. He isn't quite the rebounder, but 11 boards in 29 minutes is not too shabby.

Daniel has improved on his numbers drastically this year and he credits it to the confidence he gained in the all-star camps he attended with Canaan over the summer. He only grabbed 5.5 boards in 24 minutes just last year. This kind of improvement on the glass is something that is unprecedented.

Isaiah Canaan was battling with an injury in this game, but got hot in the second half to bring Murray State into the lead. After a quiet first half, he ended up finishing with 28 points. Canaan doesn't need to be fully healthy to score - all he needs is enough room to get his jump shot off. And thats not a lot of room. Canaan has grown used to the opposition switching on the pick and roll and leaving him to shoot over a big man. The opposition knows Canaan prefers to shoot than drive, so the switching makes sense, but Canaan has adjusted. Next to Deshaun Thomas, he is probably the best shooter in the country when it comes to off-balanced, contested jumpers.

Lehigh vs VCU

For the second time, CJ McCollum let down scouts that flocked to see him play. The first time was when he sat out against North Texas, this time McCollom broke his foot in the first half and is now potentially out the entire regular season.

In the 15 minutes McCollom did play, he was 0-5 from the field. VCU gave him a heavy dose of the havoc defense each time he touched the ball and essentially took him out of the game even before he got hurt. Lehigh still tried to keep getting him the ball, but he was unable to find the open men under the duress of the defense. Once McCollom was forced to the bench, Lehigh actually was able to develop some rhythm since they didn't continue to look for CJ in double teams. They ended up giving VCU a game, eventually losing 59-55. 

Maryland vs Virginia Tech

Maryland 94, Virginia Tech 71

This was a statement game for the Terrapins, and even though I'm a bit bias, this is a team that is severely underrated. They can play effectively big or small and are well balanced on both ends of the court. They also have a good mix of veterans and new players.

Dez Wells has been key for the Terps, acting as the playmaker on offense and stopper defensively. He is impossible to keep out of the lane and has the body type and athleticism to be an elite finisher at the rim. Right now shooting is his only Achilles' heel, but he looks like a future first rounder.

Alex Len continues to show an excellent feel and arsenal in the post. He had 16 points and 9 rebounds in just 24 minutes. The thing about Maryland is they can focus their offense around him, but are equally deadly with him off the court. Len did have some problems with the physical play of Cadarian Raines, but it was a positive start in his mission to prove he is for real.

Maryland's freshman class is special. Seth Allen and Charles Mitchell were the two unheralded prospects from the class, but have made the biggest impact. Allen is very quick, but plays under control. He can get to the rim, pullup in the mid-range area, and stretch the defense out with his jumper. He also can transition back and forth from passer to scorer with ease.

Mitchell has earned his way into the starting lineup over senior James Padgett thanks to his ability as a rebounder. He has been one of the best in the country so far and will only get better as his conditioning improves. Turgeon says he doesn't always give 100% in practice so once he learns how to prepare himself and his body, he could be a scary force. Mitchell is a name to watch in the coming years as he plays himself into good shape.

The two top freshman from their class were Jake Layman and Shaq Cleare. Cleare was a top 50 recruit who has been outplayed by Mitchell so far, but has still contributed well himself. He doesn't have the same rebounding range as Mitchell, but has been on the receiving end of some thunderous dunks. For Layman, he got the start in the backcourt against the Hokies, creating all kinds of matchup problems. He was on Team USA's U-18 team over the summer. He's a guy the Terps will need in ACC play to stretch the defense with his shooting. Saturday was his best performace as he notche 15 points in the first half, finishing with 20.

For Virginia Tech, Erick Green managed to get 28 points even in a 94-71 route. He capitalizes on every opportunity to push the ball in transition he can get. Green is a guy who struggles with a man right in his face and Pe'Shon Howard bothered him at times. But if you get him running in transition or with the ball around a screen, he is deadly. Despite his 28 points, it seemed like the Terps kept him in check and prevented him from dictating any type of tempo. He only had 2 assists to go along with his 2 turnovers.

Notes on Otto Porter vs Marquette

Marquette 49, Georgetown 48

This was a tight game the whole way through between two great defensive teams. Both are tough to drive on - for Georgetown it is because of their length, while Marquette's defenders have quick hands that create a lot of steals. This was more of a great defensive battle that was fun to watch as opposed to an ugly offensive affair.

Otto Porter finished with 13 points and lead the Hoyas with 13 shot attempts. He was able to get a lot of good looks in the mid-range area, where he is generally very successful with his jumper. Porter isn't a guy who creates these mid-range looks with the ball in his hands, instead he has an old school approach where he actually spots up from 15-18 feet. He has no problem getting his shot off in this area with his quick, high release. Porter also gets mid-range looks off curls and post up opportunities. He has solid fundamentals in the post and can hit contested turnaround jumpers.

His ball handling isn't very creative and he lacks an explosive first step. On a couple of occasions, he had trouble creating any kind of space against Jamil Wilson. Porter's go-to off the dribble move is a behind the back move, which is mainly only successful in creating a small space for jumpers.

When he does get penetration, Porter is a great passer and has the length and smoothness to finish at the rim - but again, he isn't very explosive. One thing I like about Porter is that he is always around the boards when the shot goes up and looking for someone to box out. There are a lot of parts that scream "old school" about his game and his toughness is one of them. It goes back to the days of pickup basketball against his dad and uncles.

Defensively, Porter is a great team defender who creates problems with his feel for the game and length. He stuffs the box score with steals and blocks. He is versatile and can cover just about anyone in the college game. In the NBA, his versatility, IQ, and length should make him an above average defender although he will struggle more with the spacing of the NBA game. He is not especially quick laterally.

Vander Blue - Blue continues to hit jumpers this year, a new development in his game. He takes some extremely tough, acrobatic shots and has a knack for making them. These high percentage shots aren't ideal, but certainly show his talent. He needs to be a much more reliable threat spotting up though. He's like a wide receiver who makes the highlight reel plays, but struggles to make the routine plays consistently.

After a strong game against UConn, Junior Cadougan couldn't make anything vs Georgetown. Cadougan is the heart and soul of the offense and as he goes, so does the scoring. He still was able to manage the game as always though, and helped Marquette squeeze out an ugly win.

Trent Lockett has struggled finding his role with his new team, but played one of his best games thus far, grabbing 10 rebounds. He should become more of a factor in the physical battles that the Big East brings.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Saturday's Viewing Schedule

No time for anything else this morning, although it was good to see Adonis Thomas aggressive last night. Here are games that will keep your Saturday busy:

Pittsburgh at Rutgers 11am ESPN2
Virginia Tech at Maryland 12pm ESPN3
Wake Forest at Duke 12pm ESPNU
Seton Hall at Notre Dame 12pm ESPN3
Oklahoma State at Kansas State 1:30pm ESPN3
Texas at Baylor 2pm ESPNU
Green Bay at Detroit 2pm ESPN3
Georgetown at Marquette 2pm ESPN3
Ohio State at Illinois 2:30pm B1GNetwork
Indiana State at Creighton 3pm ESPN3
Stanford at UCLA 3pm Pac-12 Network
Florida State at Clemson 4pm ESPN3
Bucknell at Missouri 4pm ESPN3
St. John's at Cincinnati 4pm ESPNU
Oklahoma at West Virginia 4pm ESPN3
North Carolina State at Boston College 4pm ESPN2
Lehigh at Virginia Commonwealth 5pm NBCSN
South Dakota State at South Dakota 5pm
Gonzaga at Santa Clara 8pm ROOT Sports
Louisiana-Monroe at North Texas 8pm
Northern Iowa at Illinois State 8pm
Washington at Washington State 9:30 ESPNU
BYU at San Francisco 10pm
California at USC 11pm Fox Sports

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Mid-Majors Shine Together

As a draft blogger, you grow attached to certain teams. Of course, you watch the same big schools that everyone else does. The Blue Devils, Kentucky, and the Jayhawks. But you also watch the same small schools over and over again and find yourself getting to know not only their star player, but the rest of the team as well. Not only do you want to see these schools make the NCAA tournament in order to evaluate them on a bigger stage, but also because you start to become a fan of the school. For most small schools with NBA prospects, this is a rare opportunity for exposure and it is fun to be along for the ride with them.

Among the teams that I have found myself watching over and over again this year are North Texas, South Dakota State, Murray State, Detroit, Bucknell, Illinois State, Creighton, and Lehigh. There are other schools as well - Long Beach State and James Ennis, Davidson, Drexel, and Tennessee State.

Tonight, quite a few of the prominent mid/low-major schools were in action. North Texas played Troy and got their first conference win after starting off 0-2. Now, Troy is the worst team in the Sun Belt so it is no reason to get excited for the simple fact that they got the victory. But Tony Mitchell had his best game of the season - scoring 29 points and adding 15 rebounds. Mitchell is capable of these performances against any Sun Belt team, but it is more impressive how he did it. He was the aggressive Tony Mitchell we've been waiting to see all season. He got to the line 12 times, blocked 4 shots, and finally took advantage of easy points in transition by running the court. North Texas's offense had a sense of rhythm to it that has been rare this season. Granted it was Troy, but this is a good blueprint for them to follow for the rest of the season.

The attitude of North Texas fans towards Mitchell is a mixed bag, with a lot of fans disappointed in his effort so far this season. He's not the typical low-major star where he is worshiped on campus. He has his fair share of detractors.

Out in South Dakota, however, they live and breath Jackrabbits basketball because of Nate Wolters. Wolters has been a major part of the program for 4 seasons and is looking to get his team back into the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. They improved to 2-1 in the Summit League with their blowout victory over UMKC tonight (nicknamed the Kangaroos). Wolters was a big part of it - scoring 23 points and also providing 7 helpers. He didn't take over the game in a dominating sense. But he did control the game and its pace. The game moves slower for him than the rest of the players and he does a good job manipulating angles to get inside and show off his floater game. He also made a series of nice passes and delivered them in crafty ways. Now, I've been holding off on comparing him to any NBA player but I've had a guy in mind the entire time - Jeremy Lin. I've been hesitant to say it because of all the other things that are associated with Lin.

But if you look back at Lin at Harvard, you will see the similarities. Neither was a great shooter, but both were excellent in the pick and roll game because of their ability to play at their own pace. They are average athletes, attackers, have good touch inside, play with confidence, struggle defensively, and have similar slow release jumpshots. Lin was never looked at as much of a NBA player but obviously put in a lot of work between college and the Knicks to get to where he is now. Wolters is no stranger to work and has Lin's roadmap to the NBA to follow.

Also in action was Detroit who handled Milwaukee to advance to 1-0 in Horizon League play. Ray McCallum had a modest 13 points, but also helped out with 7 rebounds and 6 assists. McCallum is viewed as a second rounder at best on DraftExpress, but I see him as a very good backup point guard that is capable of starting for some teams - a less crafty Eric Maynor type. I highlighted McCallum's notable plays from tonight in the video below. I must say, he hasn't shown a lot of versatility in his game for much of this season. He's settling for 3s while being very good out in transition. We know he is capable of other things though, and has been impressive at times - such as the 2nd half against Syracuse.

In other action, Long Beach State lost a tough one to Cal Poly 79-73. Both teams look like contenders to win the Big West's automatic bid, but I'm rooting for LBSU in order to see Ennis in at least one more high profile game. He had 22 points and 5 blocks tonight.

Tennessee State advanced to 2-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference, despite Patrick Miller and Robert Covington being out. Covington has been out for both wins and figures to miss 4 to 6 more weeks after his recent knee surgery. Tennessee State didn't look like a good team in non-conference play, so their start is a bit surprising. Although, this is the OVC.

Still, Tennessee State will need to win their conference tournament and they will have a tough time upsetting Murray State. The Racers held off TSU in last year's championship game and the talent gap between the two teams has widened. Murray State may be more dangerous than last year's team with even more experience and the emergence of Ed Daniel. They picked up their first OVC win tonight against Tennessee-Martin.

Video: Michael Snaer's Double Double vs Auburn

Florida State has been bad this season and a 78-72 loss to Auburn last night doesn't make things any better. Ian Miller has been hurt and played ten minutes last night from injury and they need him healthy for ACC play. Without him, Michael Snaer is not only expected to lead them defensively but offensively as well.

Snaer does a lot of things well and is an intriguing prospect. His defense is already NBA caliber - possessing good length and lateral quickness, and a keen understanding of positioning.

Offensively, Snaer does a lot of things well. For the second straight year, he is a 40%+ shooter from behind the arc and 80%+ from the free throw line. He has nearly doubled his rate of getting to the line so far this year, finally putting his first step and fluidity to use. He's also explosive at the rim and is seen completing a backdoor alley-oop in the video below.

Snaer's efficiency on offense is hurt by the fact that he is being asked to do it all for Florida State. But in a smaller role, Snaer is a guy who can do a little bit of everything on both ends. From passing, rebounding (he had 12 against Auburn), getting into the lane, and lighting it up from outside - Snaer has an NBA game.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Illinois State Loses to Creighton; Down 0-2 in Conference

After tonight's loss to Creighton, Illinois State is now 9-5 overall and has suffered two straight losses to begin Missouri Valley play. They were very much in their last two games and also came up just short in losses to Northwestern and Louisville. With only a win over Dayton to be proud of, this solid Illinois State team now has their back against the wall and will need to go on a conference tournament run in order to appear in the NCAAs. This a tournament quality team that has the makeup of a Cinderella, but their backs are now against the wall.

In the Missouri Valley, it is all about the team, but this game was attended by a lot of NBA scouts to see Doug McDermott against Jackie Carmichael inside. Neither covered each other as Echenique was in charge of handling Carmichael and Illinois State refused to play McDermott straight up. Carmichael finished with 10 points while McDermott had a quiet 15.

Neither brought their "A" games tonight, but were big parts of keeping their teams in it despite of it. Illinois State opened up the game by consciously leaving facilitator Grant Gibbs open. It turned out to be a mistake as Gibbs was able to hit open jumpers and make smart decisions. After abandoning that look, Illinois State decided to throw a 2-3 zone at Creighton for the rest of the game - another thing Grant Gibbs exploited. Grant Gibbs proved he is no slouch tonight. He is a coach on the floor type, but if you allow him to make decisions, you can bet he will make the right ones. Going up against the zone, Gibbs was the guy who was able to get into the holes of the defense and find teammates cutting to the rim. Illinois State lacked the length on the wings to contest these shots and left Carmichael in hopeless situations. Man to man defense would have been Illinois State's best bet tonight, not a zone that got torched from both inside and outside the arc.

The defensive schemes Illinois State played asked a lot of Carmichael as a rim protector and put him in some bad situations. He picked up 3 fouls - all while Illinois State was in the zone. The fouls weren't the reason Carmichael only played 29 minutes though. I don't quite understand that one. He was taken out of the game 5 times and wasn't given a chance to establish a rhythm. Illinois State's guards jacked up a lot of quick 3s and they didn't slow down to get set plays for Carmichael. It took until the final minute for them to realize that they could have done some damage with their senior power forward in the pick and roll situation. Carmichael is at his best when setting screens or quickly slipping away.

This down game for Carmichael does allow me to talk about some of his negatives though. I've been busy hyping him up and trying to get people to recognize him to criticize parts of his game that need work.

Just by looking at the numbers, his bad assist to turnover ratio jumps out. For a guy who is under control in the post, has good skills, doesn't get pushed around, and plays smart this is a bit surprising. He does a nice job passing too. But Carmichael will occasionally try to force a drive from outside of 15 feet which rarely ends well. He also struggles to get separation in the post which results in getting the ball stripped more than he should. Overall. turnovers happen when you are such a focal point inside.

The lack of separation gets to me though. Its not that he can't create separation - he has good footwork and skills in the post, is quick, and has the body to carve out space. It is just how he chooses to take his shots. On fadeaway type shots, Carmichael doesn't actually fadeaway, instead he turns around and goes straight up. And then on plays where he should be aggressive and not fadeaway, he leans his upperbody in, but keeps his arms out in front of him - rendering his strong frame useless. If Carmichael learned the mechanics of the fadeaway jumper as well as learned the way to properly use his strength when shooting, his offensive game would be more consistent. The way he goes about it now, it looks like he is too conscious of trying to draw contact than to create open looks for himself.

Carmichael is now 9-27 from the field in conference play. Their next game is against Northern Iowa who did a great job being physical with Anthony Bennett earlier this season.

Duke vs Davidson

Duke vs Davidson

You can call this one the Curry Bowl as Seth Curry faces his brother's old team for the second time. Personally, I like watching two great coaches go up against each other. Both teams run a lot of sets, play a lot of players, and have a balanced offensive attack. Coach K obviously has more talent at his disposal, but McKillop always does great with what he has.

McKillop does have one solid prospect in De'Mon Brooks. He's the prototype for face up college power forwards these days - possessing very good athleticism, a strong frame, and good ability off the bounce. Him and the rest of Davidson threw off Mason Plumlee's game with their physicality. The brought sneaky double teams on the weakside and forced Duke's big men to make quick decisions - something Plumlee struggled with. Plumlee finished with 6 turnovers and only 10 points on the night.

Ryan Kelly did a much better job dealing with Davidson's aggressive defense. He fought back in the post, played under control, and used their aggressiveness against them. Kelly has a series of ball fakes he uses and a very good feel in the post. He takes his time and is able to get a decent look at the basket whenever he gets a touch. He makes good decisions with the ball and plays good man to man defense as well. You feel comfortable when he has the ball - more comfortable than you'd feel about Mason Plumlee to be honest.

De'Mon Brooks dealt with Duke's height by forcing them to play in space and attacking them off the dribble. He knows how to finish inside, taking the ball right at the chest of bigger defenders. Brooks has good touch with either hand near the rim and stays under control. He also does a nice job utilizing pump fakes as well as a spin move when facing up off the dribble. He thrives as a undersized power forward. Defensively, he is disciplined, strong, and uses his above average length well. He is well coached on that end of the floor and is a very good help defender.

On the perimeter, Duke's guards defended very well tonight - namely Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, and Tyler Thornton. Cook has been solid all season since gaining his confidence against Kentucky and stood out tonight. He did a good job getting in the paint and finishing with floaters or kicking it back out on the perimeter.

As for Sulaimon, he filled up the box score with seven rebounds and 6 made free throws. He was only 1-6 from the floor though, despite his aggressive play. He looked to push the ball in transition off of rebounds and did his best work their. In the halfcourt though, he struggled getting all the way to the rim. He has a solid first step, but lacks explosiveness after that. He has to dribble way too much on his way to the rim - at times he will put the ball on the floor for 5 dribbles - the best drivers get to the rim with 2. When you get Sulaimon dancing with the ball on his way to the hoop, turnovers and bad shots are the two most likely outcomes. Sulaimon needs to go back to uses his jumpshot to set up his drives instead of the other way around. He is a good all-around player, but shouldn't feature himself as a pure slasher.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cody Zeller vs Iowa (Video)

Cody Zeller and Indiana traveled to Iowa City for their first conference game of the year against Iowa. Conference play means that no game will be easy - and this game certainly was not for the Hoosiers. They have been less than impressive when outside of Assembly Hall thus far.

Zeller put forth a solid effort finishing with 19 points (7-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds. The little things that he does are what I like best. He isn't able to get every rebound, but will do whatever he can to get his hand on it to tip it to a teammate. And his awareness on the defensive end is top notch. Zeller doesn't have the length or athleticism as some other big men prospects, but his understanding of positioning is unmatched.

Zeller was passive at times in this game, but Indiana did a good job continuing to get the ball through him. They ran a lot of set plays and you could tell they were stressing getting him the ball coming out of dead ball situations. He does a great job in pick and roll situations, especially when he decides to slip the screen. He played with patience and was anything but a black hole on offense.

While the youngest Zeller brother is having a good season, his stock has begun to drop a bit simply because he lacks the upside of a top 5 pick. This isn't a surprise - Zeller was a placeholder at the top of mock drafts until new names emerged and earned their spots during the season.