NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/24/07-- Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/24/07-- Part Two
Jan 25, 2007, 03:32 am
Part two of our NCAA Weekly Performers series takes an in-depth look at Joakim Noah of Florida, as well as three ACC players in Thaddeus Young of Georgia Tech, J.R. Reynolds from Virginia, and James Mays of Clemson.

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/22/07-- Part One

Joakim Noah, 6-11, Junior, Power Forward, Florida
24 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, 3 blocks, 9-10 FG, 6-6 FT


Jonathan Givony

After shockingly deciding to return for his junior season and passing up the opportunity of potentially becoming the #1 pick in the draft, Joakim Noah’s numbers on the year so far haven’t exactly jumped out off the page at you. 13 points and 8.5 rebounds per game is certainly not terrible, but we might need to dig a bit deeper to understand why he hasn’t taken the massive step forward that many expected him to after averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

First and foremost you’d have to start with the team he plays for, the Florida Gators, who are currently unanimously ranked #1 in the country. Only having to play 25 minutes per game with possibly the best backup big man in America in Chris Richard behind him, not to mention a freshman center who we’ll be hearing plenty about in the next few years in Marreese Speights, Florida’s coaching staff is certainly preferring to keep him fresh throughout the year rather than letting him put up meaningless stats in garbage-time blowouts. Next to Noah in Florida’s starting lineup also play three more players -- Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Taurean Green -- who will almost definitely be drafted by the NBA and probably would be considered legit All-America candidates if they were split up individually on different teams. Their shooting guard, Lee Humphrey (10.5 points per game, 51% FG, 46% 3P in 27 minutes per game) will also play high-level professional basketball when he’s done in Gainesville. The same goes for the aforementioned Richard.

On this deep Gator team, Noah surprisingly only attempts the 5th most amount of shots of any of their starters (around 7 per game), even though he’s made more field goals than any of them thus far. He’s made more shots than any of them, though, putting him an almost obscene 68% field goal percentage on the year. He gets to the free throw line considerably more than any of his teammates, at over 5 per game in just 25 minutes. That gives him a points per weighted shot (PPWS) index of 1.36, ranking him in that category ahead of fellow big men prospects such as Greg Oden (1.33), Kevin Durant (1.18), Brandan Wright (1.27), Al Horford (1.25), Josh McRoberts (1.09), Aaron Gray (1.18), Tyler Hansbrough (1.19), Glen Davis (1.11), and Jermareo Davidson (0.95), amongst many others.

Against Ole Miss this past Saturday, though, we could finally start throwing those “excuses” out the window, as Noah finally reminded us of the player the entire country fell in love with last March when he led the Gators to the national championship and was named Final Four MVP. The real treat of watching him might have been seeing him show the scouts in attendance exactly what type of role he can be expected to play once he reaches the NBA.

He was played in the high post for most of the afternoon, and was the player that the Gators made sure to facilitate a good deal of their offense through. He made a number of stunning passes, whipping the ball all over the floor creatively to his teammates for easy looks, the way a 7-footer never should. On one occasion he threaded a one-handed cross-court bullet pass while leaning forward with all his weight on one foot, while on another he heaved a 40-foot rocket baseball pass from half-court to a streaking Al Horford under the basket while bringing the ball up the floor.

Noah also did a nice job showing off his trademark ball-handling skills in the half-court, taking his man off the bounce with a low, tight and flashy dribble, either from the high-post or from the baseline with a quick spin-move. Once he gives up the ball, he’s immediately in motion looking to make something happen, setting picks and cutting/rolling to the hoop with purpose for an aggressive finish. His fantastic hands and extraordinarily long arms give him the ability to finish strong even from great distances away from the rim, putting the ball in a spot above his opponent’s outstretched arms that makes his dunks nearly unblockable. These types of finishes give him the impression of more of a long jumper than the typical high-jumping athlete we are accustomed to, and are quite a spectacle as far as people who compile highlight reels are concerned.

In terms of his activity level, it was nice to see him show the same type of fire that made him one of the most loved (by some) and hated (by others) NCAA players in the country last March. He fought tooth and nail to grab numerous rebounds out of his area on both ends of the floor, and constantly looked to attack once he came away with the board. On defense, he’ll immediately start dribbling the ball up the court himself, looking quite effortless in the process. On offense, he’ll instantly explode off the floor looking for contact and any way humanly possible to dunk the ball through the net. His timing in this area is really what separates him from the pack, and is also what makes him an effective shot-blocker at this level.

In terms of weaknesses, he showed many of the concerns that we’ve always had. First would be his distinct lack of strength, slightly improved over last season, but still worrying considering his narrow frame. He doesn’t look much more comfortable operating with his back to the basket than he did last year, and this is probably never going to be a huge part of his game.

Another would be his jump-shot, which he’s admitted that he hasn’t worked on at all. For someone who is destined to spend a good amount of time facing the basket in the more-space friendly NBA, it’s imperative for him to develop a consistent 16-18 foot mid-range jump-shot. He threw up only one jumper in the game against Ole Miss, and considering the way it looked coming off his hand and clanking off the rim, that’s probably for the best. The last quibble would be with his decision making skills, often causing him to rush plays, look out of control, or just try to do too much at once, usually in the form of turnovers or fouls. That’s something that comes with the territory of being such an intense, high-energy player, though, and with age and experience, a part of his game he’ll most likely learn to ration.

There seems to be a sentiment out there amongst some scouts and fans that Noah is destined to pan out in the NBA as not much more than a hustling role-player, likely because of the uncertainty regarding where his offense will come from. It’s not outrageous to suggest that subconsciously, part of that has to do with the close similarity he bears physically to Anderson Varejao. While that is not out of the question depending on the type of system he lands in (for example, under a very conservative coach on a team with one or two already-established stars), his skill-set is just too unique and diverse to pigeon-hole him that way. The fact that it’s impossible to come up with an accurate comparison for him to any NBA player, past or present (much like Kevin Durant), shouldn’t be held against him. If anything, it should tell you a little bit about the type of prospect he really is, and just how tough of a matchup he’s going to be at the next level.

Thaddeus Young, 6’8, SF, Freshman, Georgia Tech
Vs. North Carolina: 22 points, 3 rebounds, 0 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 steals, 10-16 FG, 2-5 3PT


Rodger Bohn

In a much-hyped primetime matchup against North Carolina, fans and scouts alike were able to see both faces of talented freshman Thaddeus Young. For the first 27 minutes of the game, we saw the somewhat disappointing prospect who has failed to live up to the lofty expectations set out for him so many. In the final 13 minutes however, we witnessed the player whom we saw in high school and had pegged as a future top 5 pick, scoring 18 points in this limited time. In the end of the game, we finally got a glimpse of the talented combo forward expected by many to fall behind only Greg Oden and Kevin Durant in this freshman class, even if most of his damage came in what was essentially garbage time.

As the game started, Young looked like a player with little confidence who was seemingly unsure of himself on the floor, where he fit in, or how talented he is. He stood around on offense, didn’t crash the glass on either end, and exerted very little effort on the defensive end. Young was beat countless times off of the dribble by both Wayne Ellington and Reyshawn Terry, not utilizing his excellent athleticism or 7’1 wingspan at all. It appeared as we were looking at a talented prospect who had lost all of his confidence, and was just going through the motions on the floor waiting for the game to end so he could head back to Atlanta.

Then in the final 13 minutes, something turned on in Thaddeus Young’s mind. He realized that he could take over the game, and that he did, scoring 18 points. The Memphis native showed vastly improved ball-handling skills, a smooth looking three point shot, and the ability to post smaller defenders. He actually utilized his athleticism to its fullest capabilities, blowing by unsuspecting defenders to the rim on the offensive end and giving opposing offensive players fits with his length. He showed just about everything you could ask for out of a small forward prospect offensively besides his ability to pass the ball, as he displayed the ability to shoot the ball (from a standstill, on the move, or off the dribble), post smaller players, and break down wings and finish at the rim.

Of course it is hard to come to any definitive conclusions on Young based on his inconsistent play this year, but the North Carolina game showed both the incredible upside and potential mediocrity that he offers as a prospect. Ball-handling, passing, and perimeter defense still remain question marks on him as a prospect, as he has yet to show the ability to do any of the three on a consistent basis. Paul Hewitt’s allowance of the McDonald’s All American to start at small forward as of late should do nothing but give him more of an opportunity to develop in these areas, however.

This was just another page in the puzzling story that has been Thaddeus Young’s freshman season. On one hand, we see the potential high lottery pick that has scouts drooling all over him as a legitimate combo forward prospect. On the other hand, we saw flashes of the player who has struggled to live up to the lofty expectations placed on him all season long. It was made clear by Young and his family when choosing a college that he intended on staying only one season, but his erratic play this year should bring him back to Georgia Tech for a sophomore campaign, where he would have the opportunity to re-solidify himself as a high lottery prospect. Even if Thaddeus does decide to come out this year though, it is hard to imagine him slipping out of the first round, as teams are probably aware of the tremendous upside that he has at the next level, even if he has yet to fully show it at the collegiate level. There’s no question that he’s very far from reaching that upside at this point, though, and therefore will be considered a long-term project until he gives reason to believe otherwise.

J.R. Reynolds, 6-3, Senior, PG/SG, Virginia
Vs. Wake Forest: 40 points, 4 assists, 1 turnovers, 2 rebounds, 12-18 FG, 6-8 3P, 10-10 FT


Jonathan Givony

The ACC’s 2nd leading scorer J.R. Reynolds put together one of the most impressive individual offensive performances we’ve seen since J.J. Redick’s incredible senior season, leading Virginia to a blowout victory and reminding us exactly why we decided to name him the top non-freshman guard prospect in the ACC over the summer.

Reynolds was unconscious all game along, knocking down shots in every way possible and from everywhere on the floor. Whether it was coming off screens from mid-range or behind the 3-point line, draining deep, contested shots from 30 feet and beyond, pulling up smoothly off the dribble after taking his man off the dribble, or getting to the basket and finishing with either hand, Reynolds could not be guarded by anyone on Saturday. His outstanding shooting mechanics were on display throughout, creating separation from his defender instantaneously with his excellent body control and quick release, and just elevating off the floor thanks to his exceptional strength and footwork.

Being more than just a perimeter threat, Reynolds looked like a prototypical NBA combo guard with the way he mixed up his slashing game beautifully with his deadly stroke. He moves off the ball intelligently and has more than enough athleticism to get or create his own shot. Putting the ball on the floor, he can go either left or right and change gears nicely to shake his man before exploding to the basket. His mid-range game helps him out greatly in this area, and he already understands the nuances of using the threat of his shot to mix things up off the dribble. Once he gets into the lane, he’s tough and athletic enough to know how to get the job done, being capable of finishing with either hand and draw contact, as his impressive 6.5 free throw per game average would attest.

What’s even more impressive is the fact that he does all this playing next to another terrific guard in Sean Singletary, a player who really dominates the ball, making you wonder just how much more (or less?) effective he would be on a team that had a little bit more balance than Virginia does. While he doesn’t look like a pure point guard by any stretch, Reynolds shows very nice potential with the way he’s improving his passing skills, dishing out 4.2 assists per game on the year (compared with 3.1 last season playing almost 3 more minutes a game). His partner in crime and starting point guard Singletary (who is having a fantastic season in his own right) is averaging just one assist more per game than him despite clearly being Virginia’s offensive catalyst. Reynolds makes the correct reads, passes at the right time and is a solid ball-handler, which leads you to believe that he might be capable of handling spot minutes at the backup point guard position in the NBA, ala Bobby Jackson or Randy Foye. If he were able to show that at one of the NBA pre-draft camps (Portsmouth or Orlando), that’s something that would greatly improve his draft stock, but it could also completely sabotage his chances if he can’t and looks very bad in the process. Regardless, as we’re finding out over the past few years with the rules the NBA has implemented regarding hand-checking on the perimeter, being considered a combo guard isn’t so much of an insult anymore.

Something that he will have to show is the ability to guard an NBA position, though, because right now he just doesn’t defend anyone, not the one or the two. He lets guys get by him way too easily, as he completely lacks focus on this end of the court. Ken Pomeroy ranks Virginia as the 105th best defense in the country, and Reynolds has no small part in that. Looking beyond his 40-point night to his season as a whole, improving his shot selection probably wouldn’t be that bad of an idea either, although some of this is a product of his team’s offense, which isn’t the most disciplined in the ACC to say the least. Making the NCAA tournament will be essential for his stock—5 more wins or so in the ACC should do—but the Cavaliers are the type of team that is capable of making a bit of a run in the tournament as well thanks to their phenomenal backcourt. They need to get there first, though.

James Mays, 6’9, Power Forward, Junior, Clemson
Vs Maryland: 22 points, 15 rebounds (10 offensive), 2 assists, 2 steals, 9-23 FG


Joseph Treutlein

Athletic power forward James Mays showed some promise in his sophomore year, but his season was ended before conference play even began due to academic ineligibility. Now a junior, Mays has returned to the court, and he’s been a huge reason why Clemson is off to an 18-2 start. Mays stands 6’9 with long arms and a solid frame while boasting very impressive athleticism to boot, which makes him a prospect the NBA will consider almost by default.

Overall, he is a pretty raw player, but due to his physical tools and his energetic style of play, he’s able to contribute a lot to his team, and he has the potential to become a very interesting player if he improves on his skill set. Offensively, Mays shows some flashes in virtually all areas, but he lacks a skill that can be consistently relied on. In this game, Mays took a few spot-up shots from around 18-20 feet, but he missed them all. He shows pretty decent form on his jump shot, but he doesn’t hit it consistently and he could use a little more elevation as well. Mays’ ball-handling could use some work, but he showed in this game that he can take one or two dribbles to the hoop in a straight line when the path is there for him. He scored on dribble-drives on two occasions in this game, but both occasions were with his defender out of position and neither required him to change direction.

Mays’ post game is very raw at this stage of development, but one thing he does very well is establish position down low. He fights hard for his position in the paint, and this often gives him opportunities to get the ball around five feet from the basket. Unfortunately, Mays doesn’t consistently capitalize on these opportunities, not having the greatest touch and not possessing a strong array of post moves. He shows flashes of the ability to create his own shot here, but oftentimes he just goes straight up with the ball, and his predictability led to his shot being blocked frequently in this game. Mays needs to work on adjusting his shots when defenders are contesting him, and just being more creative with his moves.

On one occasion in this game, Mays did make an extremely expressive move from about 10 feet away from the basket. Catching the ball with his back to the basket on the mid-block, Mays used his left foot as a pivot while faking a hook shot across the lane, only to quickly come back in the other direction with an explosive drop step around his man, making one big stride towards the hoop for a lay-up.

Mays grabbed 15 rebounds in this game, 10 of which came on the offensive end, though those numbers are partly deceptive. Most of Mays’ offensive rebounds came in batches of two or three, when his shot was being blocked back into his face. Oftentimes he proceeded to go up two or three times while being successively blocked, sometimes not even finishing the final putback attempt. To Mays’ credit, he does a good job using his length and athleticism to track down rebounds when he’s not in position, and he did score on a few of his putbacks on the night. When in position on the defensive end, Mays usually blocks out his man to pull in the rebound.

Mays shows solid passing for a power forward, making a few nice assists and passes that led to open shots in this game. He showed the ability to feed the post from the perimeter, hit cutters, and feed from post to post as well. His passes are strong and crisp, and he seems to have a decent eye for the open man. He’s averaging 2.5 assists on the season, which isn’t bad for a power forward.

Defensively, Mays is very active, playing a major role in Clemson’s full-court press, using his length and athleticism to disrupt the opposition from baseline to baseline. He constantly is forcing tough passes, deflecting passes, and also picking off the occasional pass. In the half-court, Mays struggles a bit on the defensive end, lacking in awareness and making some bad decisions. In this game, Mays was often defending his man straight up in the post, but he’d always try and reach out from behind to pick off the entry pass when there was no one on his team behind him to pick up his man. He didn’t successfully break up a single pass, but his over-aggressiveness led to about four or five wide-open dunks or lay-ups for the opposition. Mays also was very inconsistent hedging on pick-and-rolls, on one occasion standing with his hands at his side while the ball-handler drove right past him to the basket, and on another not stepping up on the shooter who was given a wide-open jump shot. His defensive awareness could use a lot of work, and it’s clearly exposed when the opposition settles into half-court sets.

From what we’ve been told by more than one source, Mays is openly discussing entering his name in this year’s draft. As a junior, he can “test the waters” this year to gauge what NBA teams think of him, without risking his college eligibility. Although he’s made some big strides in what is essentially his first full season of college basketball, it’s hard not to think that he has a lot to gain by returning for his senior year. The natural tools he possesses cannot be denied and will surely give him every opportunity needed to make an NBA team when the time is right, but his all-around skill-level and court savvy still leave a lot to be desired. Scouts will surely be monitoring his progress as the year moves on, though, since Clemson has the makings of a team that can cause some serious damage in the NCAA tournament should they be able to keep up their strong play.

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