Joe Alexander, 6-8, Junior, SF/PF, West Virginia
16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 1.5 blocks, 46% FG, 27.5% 3P, 82% FT, 32 minutes
Physically, Alexander remains the same intriguing prospect he always was, standing 6-8, with a good frame, long arms and excellent athletic ability. What seems to be developing the most, though, is his mentality, becoming the unquestioned go-to guy of this West Virginia squad. The Mountaineers run a lot of isolation sets for him, and hes look more and more comfortable asserting himself and putting his talent on display. Hes become nothing short of outstanding with his post-up moves on the low block, converting at an extremely high rate with his terrific turnaround jumper, getting to the free throw line at a solid rate, while showing great flashes of talent in many other parts of his game.
Skill-wise, Alexander remains largely a work in progress, although hes clearly come a long ways from the player who averaged just 1 point per game only three years ago playing prep school basketball at Hargrave Military Academy. He relies heavily on his size, length, athleticism, footwork and smarts to create scoring opportunities for himself, be it from operating in the mid-range area, in the post, or from the top of the key. Hes not one of those super smooth, fluid players for whom everything comes easily for, his game looks largely self-mademechanical to a certain degree. Hes at his best banking in mid-range jumpers while fading away off the block, but is also highly adept at facing up from 15 feet and using his quick first step and long strides to get to the rim off a single dribble.
Still not a player who can consistently create his own shot from the perimeter by putting the ball on the floor and beating defenders off the dribble, he needs to continue to work on his ball-handling skills to make the transition to playing on the wing full-time. He struggles changing directions in traffic when operating off the bounce, not quite able to always get all the way to the rim, which diminishes his finishing ability, which would otherwise be extremely strong due to his phenomenal leaping ability. Once Alexander is able to improve his advanced skill-set, hell likely be able to do a much better job showing off just how athletic he is. Unlike most NCAA juniors, his learning curve is still extremely steep (he only started playing organized basketball as a junior in high school), and because of his reportedly outstanding work ethic (as profiled exceptionally well by Pete Thamel of the NY Times today), he also has a fairly high likelihood of reaching his very high ceiling. The fact that he has a very good feel for the game, as evidenced by his nice assist rates, further support that theory.
As a shooter, Alexander has solid formnice mechanics, coupled with a high release pointbut he still doesnt enjoy great accuracy from behind the arc, hitting just 11/40 on the season so far. Hes equally streaky with his feet set as he is off the dribble, going through periods where he cant buy a bucket to being unstoppable from outside. He obviously still has a lot of work to do in this area, but clearly has plenty of room to grow as well. Hes pretty solid from 16-18 feet, though.
Defensively, Alexander has nice tools, including great size and length, and seems to put in a pretty solid effort, but there will be some major question marks about his ability to guard NBA small forwards at the next level. He has a high center of gravity that makes it tough for him to get in a low defensive stance, and struggles staying in front of quicker wing players already, showing average lateral quickness and footwork in the process, and getting beat off the dribble on a regular basis. Hes a little too stiff and upright in his stance, which does not allow him to contest quite as many shots as youd hope within West Virginias zone. To his credit, he does play at the very top of this zone, often matched up against smaller guards, which probably makes him look a bit worse than he actually is here, but there will be big concerns regardless. His very nice timing, combined with the quickness in which he gets off his feet, makes him a decent shot-blocking threat, at 1.5 per game.
Considering the developments weve seen over the past month, including the rumors were hearing from various sources, it appears very likely that Alexander will be entering the draft when its all said and done. He still holds his draft card in hand as a junior, but seems to have a perfect mix of potential and current production to maximize his draft stock without taking the risk of not improving as much as expected next season. Its pretty clear that he could use another season to hone his skills, and could probably even work his way into lottery discussions if he returns and has the type of season many envision him having, but there will be a lot on the line if he does decide to do so.
Stephen Curry, 63, PG/SG, Sophomore, Davidson
25.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 2.0 steals, 49% FG, 89% FT, 44% 3PT
In terms of physical makeup, Curry is undersized for an NBA shooting guard at 63, and he is a bit on the thin side, clearly still growing into his body. Athletically, he has decent quickness, but isnt a very explosive player, and isnt the kind of guy that is going to blow you away with his first step, though he makes up for that in many ways.
Currys game is very much based around his jump shot, which has a high, quick, and consistent release, which holds up well while on the move or when contested. 9.9 of Currys 17.8 field goal attempts per game come from behind the arc, and very few are without a hand in his face. Curry hits a handful of very difficult shots pretty much every game, as teams focus heavily on him, rarely letting him breathe, and rightfully so, given that he accounts for about 33% of Davidsons total scoring, which ranks him 6th amongst all draft prospects in that category. Curry is excellent moving without the ball, almost always in motion and showing good craftiness in his ability to get separation, something he needs very little of to get off his outstanding shot. Curry gets off his shot using every method available, be it fading away, stepping back, turning around, dribbling to the left, dribbling to the right, coming off a screen, or some combination of the above. There really is very little to criticize about his shooting ability. He doesnt always hold his follow through, but its hard to argue with the results. Other than that, he can be prone to having his shot blocked, which is due to his size just as much as its due to him having to take so many closely contested shots every game.
Curry isnt just a long range shooter, though, even if the numbers somewhat suggest it. His remarkable efficiency from behind the arc puts him in a position where itd be foolish not to take so many threes, so he doesnt always show his full offensive repertoire. Curry has the same ability to get off tough shots from the mid-range, and he uses his strong ball-handling to do so when necessary. Curry handles the ball well with both hands, showing good control and excellent decision-making with the ball. He incorporates advanced moves such as crossovers, through the leg dribbles, and behind-the-back moves into his forays with the ball, and sells the moves very well with his craftiness. When taking the ball to the basket, Curry combines these moves along with subtle and dramatic changes in speed and direction to weave through the defense, occasionally making some outstanding plays. His first step isnt anything special, as he doesnt have outstanding quickness or overall athleticism, but he makes up for it with his craftiness. He keeps his head up and shows very good vision in penetrating the lane, though he isnt the greatest finisher at the basket due to his size and lack of physicality (he only gets to the line four times per game). He makes up for this by making some tough scoop shots and going reverse to use the rim as a shield, but improving on his floater will definitely help him at the next level.
With pure point guard Jason Richards running the show, Curry rarely is put in the role of point guard, but he definitely shows potential in that regard, showing flashes of good court vision and decision-making skills. Hell make crosscourt passes to open teammates, hit cutters off the dribble, and he plays the pick-and-roll very well, usually making the defense pay with a strong pass when they double him as the ball-handler. If he returns to school, he should have more opportunity to show his point guard skills, with Richards graduating.
On the defensive end, Curry has very good hands, which helps him grab two steals per game, and he also plays aggressive man-to-man defense both on and off the ball. He plays close off the ball, though struggles getting around screens, not always going over them, leading to some easy shots. On the ball, Curry compensates for his size by playing high up on his defender and keeping his hands up to avoid being shot over, though it still happens from time to time. He isnt beat off the dribble very much, as he has very good fundamentals and reflexes, to go along with solid lateral quickness.
With every 30+ point performance in the tourney, Curry becomes less and less likely to return to school, and rightfully so. There are many question marks surrounding his game at the next level, ranging from his size to his position to how his skills will translate in general, but his talent, clutch ability, and the intangibles he brings to the table are undeniable. Its tough to project his role at the next level at this stage of his development, but even without dramatic improvement, a Jannero Pargo or Juan Carlos Navarro type role is not very much of a stretch. If he improves on his point guard skills or grows another inch or two while adding some strength, full-fledged careers at either the PG or SG position are not out of the picture. Despite the many question marks around him, if he does indeed declare this year and continues to perform well in the tournament, he is someone who could sneak into the first round if someone falls in love with him, as in watching him, he clearly has a special factor to his game.
Bill Walker, 6-6, Freshman, Small Forward, Kansas State
16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 46.5% FG, 30.7% 3P, 73.7% FT, 27 minutes
The 22-point performance really gave us an opportunity to see the full offensive repertoire that Walker brings to the table. He started right away by knocking down a long jumper from beyond the arc in the games opening minute. Walkers 3-4 shooting performance from deep was somewhat uncharacteristic, as he shot just over 30% from this range during the season and was very inconsistent with his three point shooting. Walker also looked more comfortable shooting off the dribble than he had since the last time we reviewed him. A couple of times in the first half he was able to pull up against Trojan defenders and with seemingly little effort knock mid-range jumpers. This is an area of Walkers game that is still being developed, and he doesnt go to it very often, preferring to either catch and shoot or take the ball straight to the rim. As has been previously mentioned in write ups on Walker, his somewhat awkward shooting form deters him from being a more consistent outside shooter. He releases the ball out in front of him rather than higher over his head, as well as tending to push the ball more than he allows it to roll off his finger tips.
Walkers quickness and explosiveness were also on display, particularly in the first half. He was able to beat defenders to the rim both from the perimeter as well as the post, where he likes to go to a baseline spin move and muscle his way to the basket. Of particular note from this game was Walkers ability to hang in the air and finish shots with contact. While his general explosiveness has gradually returned to him since his second ACL tear, his body control and hang time have stayed consistently impressive. The most impressive example of this came in the first half of the USC game when Walker was able to beat his defender along the baseline, take off from the left side of the paint, float to the opposite side, and lay in a soft reverse. These are the types of explosive and finesse plays that will attract NBA scouts.
The strong showing continued from Walker in the Wildcats second round match up with Wisconsin, where the Cincinnati native was able to go for 18 points on 7-11 shooting. We got to see more of Walkers play around the basket in this one, where he showed his ability to pin down his defender and score with his back to the basket. At about 230 pounds, Walker is very strong for a player at this level and rarely has trouble sealing off defenders for position on the block. Once he has the ball, his combination of strength, quickness and leaping ability make him a very tough opponent to slow down. He does however need to improve his touch around the hoop.
We also got to see some more of Walker attacking the basket from the perimeter. He has a fantastic make up for a slasher: quick, explosive, able to take contact and possessing great body control. The major factor holding Walker back at this point continues to be his ball handling skills. Though he was able to keep his turnover numbers down, it was clear to see that he needs to continue to work on this area of his game. His dribble is very loose, and as has been mentioned on this site previously, his crossover dribble is not very effective as he brings the ball very far away from his body as a method of faking out his defender. Walker also got into trouble a few times when he became overly aggressive, taking off in the lane while out of control and picking up offensive fouls.
While his strong defensive play may have not shown up statistically in his two tournament games (no blocks or steals), Walker continued to be a solid presence on the opposite end of the floor. As has been his style all season long, Walker hounded opponents when they controlled the basketball, a few times able to force turnovers thanks to his tenacity. While dropping some of his recently acquired bulk would probably aid his ability to effectively cover wing players in the NBA, he does a solid job at his current stage of development.
The one major concern that arose from this past weekends games is something that has always been an issue when talking about Walker: his emotions. It has been well documented that Walker is a fiery competitor, but also at times very unstable with how he handles himself on the court. The specific incident that triggered this response came when a minor altercation occurred between Walker and Brian Butch of Wisconsin in which Walker was pushed to the floor by Butch. While things didnt escalate between the two players, Walkers demeanor clearly changed after this, often clapping wildly on defense perhaps as a means of firing himself up even more. These issues can be a reason for concern for GMs in todays image conscious NBA.
Being just a freshman, Walker still has plenty of time to continue to develop at the collegiate level. Given his already blossoming abilities and tremendous athleticism though, it is unlikely that we will see him at Kansas State for very long. There is plenty of speculation as to where he would wind up were he to enter the draft this season, but whether or not he is going to is yet to be seen. The imminent departure of Beasley is likely to have some effect on the decision making process for Walker, as will his history with knee problems. While he could certainly use another season with the Wildcats to improve various facets of his game, with the possibility (although no guarantee at this point) of being a first round selection looming, Kansas State could be facing the prospects of dealing with a pair of one-and-done players. If Walker decides to enter the draft, he would be very wise to do so without hiring an agent, as hes still very much hovering on the cusp of the first and second round, like many other players.
Robin Lopez, 7-0, Sophomore, Center, Stanford
10.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, .6 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 2.4 blocks, 54% FG, 65% FT, 25 minutes
Lopez seems to be improving considerably from month to month as he acclimates himself more and more to college basketball. Hes playing virtually the same amount of minutes as he did last season, and is taking a similar amount of shots, but is scoring at a substantially better rate (over 25%), mostly thanks to his improved efficiency from the field (upping his FG% from 48 to 54%), as well as the fact that hes getting to the free throw line more often, and converting better there too. Weve seen a substantial amount of progress from Lopez within the season as well, and in fact seems to be playing his best basketball here in March, scoring 16 points per game in the NCAA tournament thus far, on 74% shooting.
Offensively, Lopez remains a fairly raw prospect, but he still manages to drop intriguing hints of potential from time to time with various moves he makes. He likes to post up on the left block and turn to his right shoulder primarily, and his big hands and solid agility allow him to slither his way around the basket and get shots off in ways his stiffer brother cannot. One interesting move he goes to a lot is a fluid, but unconventional half-hook, half-one-handed jump-shot, palming the ball and throwing it in the basket with range out to about 8 feet. He has a decent turnaround jumper in his arsenal well, and generally seems to make quick moves in the post without thinking a great deal, which is nice to see from an emerging big man. His excellent hands are a real asset here, and hes able to get his team all kinds of scraps around the hoop just by putting his length, size, mobility and solid activity level to use, especially on the offensive glass. He runs the court well, and seems to have solid toughness, not backing down from anyone, and not being afraid to throw his skinny frame around.
Lopezs footwork is nothing to write home about, and he doesnt have the type of strength needed to consistently establish position in the paint yet, even at the NCAA level. Hes a good, but not a great athlete, able to get off the ground to finish around the hoop, but not really exploding, and thus being again limited by his lack of bulk. His focus and decision making isnt always quite there, and its not rare to see him committing various turnovers or violations, traveling, committing offensive fouls, spinning into double-teams, taking bad shots, etc. Hes clearly still a work in progress. It would help him to add some kind of a face-up game, as he doesnt appear to have any range or touch to speak of on his jump-shot, and hes also not a great free throw shooter at the moment. His feel for the game is pretty good, thoughas you can see at times with the type of passes he makes out of the post, especially to his brother.
Defensively, Lopez has outstanding potential, and already makes quite an impact at the NCAA level. Hes a fiery player, much more emotional that his brother, and will get caught up in moments when he looks possessed on the defensive endgetting low in his stance on the perimeter, smothering players with his length, contesting every shot, being extremely physical, and locking up the paint with his terrific shot-blocking skills. His intensity seems to waver a bit, though, at times giving up far too much space for players to establish position in the post, biting on pump-fakes, and doing an extremely poor job defending the pick and roll. If he learns how to maintain the same intensity for every minute hes on the floor, he will at the very least be a terrific big man for an NBA team to be able to bring off the bench and provide energy, particularly with his shot-blocking skills. He has the upside to develop into a bit more than that, though. Lopez is a good offensive rebounder, but hes not nearly as effective on the defensive end. Oddly enough, his twin brother is the exact opposite, so its quite possible that they are evening things out between them. Nevertheless, this is an area he needs to improve on, as it obviously wont be his offensive game that gets him on the court.
Although he would clearly benefit from another year in college, particularly with his brother out of the way, which would allow him to play more minutes at his natural position (center) and see more offensive touches, that might not be the case when its all said and done. It seems like he might want to declare for the draft as well, especially if hes projected as a first round pick, as expected. A lot of that will probably come down to how he plays this weekend in the Sweet 16, with his first test coming against #2 seed Texas.