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

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10 (Part Two: #6-10)
Sep 16, 2009, 02:03 am
Our second look at the top NBA draft prospects in the Pac-10 focuses on USC's Dwight Lewis, UCLA's Drew Gordon and Jerime Anderson, Washington's Isaiah Thomas and Cal's Jerome Randle.

As a reminder, incoming freshmen have been excluded from this series.

-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part One (#1-5),Part Two (#6-10), Part Three (#11-15)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12, Part One (#1-5),Part Two (#6-10), Part Three (#11-15)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10 (Part One: #1-5)

#1 Malcolm Lee
#2 Michael Dunigan
#3 Klay Thompson
#4 Patrick Christopher
#5 Quincy Pondexter

#6 Dwight Lewis, 6-5, Senior, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Southern California

Kyle Nelson

After initially looking like a long-shot to even qualify for the NCAA tournament, USC won the Pac-10 Tournament and got by Boston College in the First Round before falling in a close game to eventual National Championship Runner’s Up, Michigan State. This season, under new head coach Kevin O’Neill and following a number of significant losses and offseason drama, the Trojans’ fortunes rests on the shoulders of senior wing, Dwight Lewis. After three years of steady improvement in Los Angeles, Lewis must take a big step forward, proving himself as a true first option and a leader in the locker room.

Standing 6’5, Lewis has average size for his position with a good frame and a solid wingspan. He is just a decent athlete, not likely to blow you away with his vertical leap or quickness, but he usually plays within his limitations on both ends of the floor. From a physical standpoint, Lewis’s NBA future is somewhat uncertain, as he has neither standout size nor athleticism to play on the wing at the next level.

On the offensive end, Lewis was as a very potent scorer for Southern California at times last season, but the volatility of point guard Daniel Hackett and the late-season emergence of DeMar DeRozan made it difficult for him to be the team’s primary offensive option with his current skill-set.

Lewis improved tremendously from beyond the arc, making 37.9% of his shots while taking 4.4 attempts per game. These are both career highs and looking at video, he has improved his form, showing a very fluid release and far more confidence when he receives the ball with space. It looks as though he can develop into a very solid spot-up shooter at the next level. He does appear to struggle though when not given enough time and space to get his shot off.

Elsewhere on the offensive end, little has changed. Lewis is still primarily a slash-and-shoot player, not showing the ball handling abilities or creativity at this stage necessary to develop an effective mid-range game or emerge as a great shot-creator. He still shows flashes, mainly when he pulls up for a fifteen-foot baseline jumper, but his average physical tools, he must continue to polish this part of his game.

As a slasher, there is no denying the fact that working on his ball-handling abilities would help him significantly, especially given his average first step. He also needs to overcome the tunnel vision that he showed at times last season, driving recklessly into double teams and shot blocking big men instead of deferring to open teammates. Similarly, his touch around the basket is not good and severely limits his effectiveness inside of the arc. This inefficiency around the basket, combined with his average explosiveness and lack of awareness of opposing defenses, is evidenced in his dismal 41.6% two-point field goal percentage, an unacceptable rate for an NBA prospect. Lewis should look to his slashing game more often this season, however, and aim to increase his 3.7 free throw attempts per game, not to mention his efficiency around the basket.

Lewis was a standout defender on a very good defensive team last year, though he will likely run into some trouble at the next level. As we have said before, he is a hard worker and able to cover multiple perimeter positions at the college level. As a man-to-man defender, he still shows the ability to harass his man while communicating with his teammates and maintaining solid court awareness. At just 6’5 with average athleticism, he will have trouble guarding some of the bigger and more physical wings at the next level, not to mention the fact that he simply will not be able to contain NBA point guards. Effort, however, is the key and Lewis can continue to work hard on the defensive end, scouts will take notice.

Next season presents Lewis with a tremendous opportunity. He will be playing in a new system under Kevin O’Neill, but he will be the leader, top scorer, and defensive anchor from day one. At this point, however, he is just an average prospect in almost every single area, which does not bode well for his potential at the next level. Similarly, playing alongside a young and inexperienced point guard won’t be easy, but if Lewis can turn into the potent scorer he was at times last season and continue to expand his game in the process, scouts will take notice.

#7 Drew Gordon, 6-9, Sophomore, PF, UCLA

Scott Nadler

Playing for a team going for their 4th straight Final Four appearance last season, Drew Gordon was expected to step in and help get the Bruins back for another tournament run. Upon his arrival however, Gordon figured out quickly that life under Ben Howland was not going to be easy, playing less than 11 minutes a game in a season filled with plenty of ups and downs.

Gordon averaged only 3.6 points and 3.4 rebounds after piling up double doubles on a nightly basis at Archbishop Mitty (CA) a season earlier. With the departures of seniors Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya, Gordon will be called upon to help fill their void and should be given a chance to show why he was once a highly touted high school player.

On the two occasions DraftExpress planned on evaluating Drew Gordon, once at the Hoop Hall Classic (Springfield, MA) in early 2008 and this past summer at the U-19 USA Team Trials in Colorado, he was injured and barred us the opportunity to assess his talent level. Even though Gordon’s injury, a partially torn right patellar tendon, was less severe than initially reported, his durability is something to keep an eye on during the upcoming season.

With all of that said, it’s difficult to be a top-25 ranked player (according to ESPN) in the class of 2008 and a Jordan All-American without having a world of talent and potential. At 6-9, 240 pounds, Gordon is a good athlete with a long wingspan. He runs well for a big man and possesses a great second jump which will pay dividends for him on the boards and in the shot blocking category.

Analyzing his production from last season, Gordon’s production and efficiency proved to be greater than his basic numbers could ever show. On a per-40 minute pace adjusted basis, Gordon averaged 13.4 points and 12.7 rebounds a game last season. Those are solid numbers and it will be interesting to see if he can keep up that production with a bigger role and added minutes this season.

On the few post up opportunities that Gordon had last season, he showed a limited amount of moves, resorting to a mini jump hook over his left shoulder on almost every occasion. He would also get pushed away from the basket too easily, which was due in large part to his high center of gravity and lack of lower body strength. He must learn how to establish and hold a base, which will make for easier post entries from his guards. He has a decent looking shot and had 17 foot range in high school, thus developing a face up game, which was nonexistent last season, would serve him well. Additionally, gaining more confidence with the outside shot will open up options for Howland to use Gordon in pick and pop situations.

While going through the freshman struggles of limited playing time and adjusting to a new system are past him, Gordon will endure new challenges this season as he will surely be given a larger role and be expected to contribute from the onset. If he can rebound the ball and block shots like many people think he’s capable of, while showing an improved offensive game, look for UCLA to be in the hunt for yet another Pac-10 championship.

#8 Jerime Anderson, 6’3, Point Guard, Sophomore, UCLA

Joseph Treutlein

One of many talented freshman on UCLA’s roster this past season, Jerime Anderson was limited to primarily garbage minutes over the course of the season due to a playing time crunch, as evidenced by his underwhelming stat line. This season, with Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday off to the NBA, Anderson will have every opportunity to show his value, and there are many reasons to be encouraged for how he will.

Standing 6’3, Anderson has great size and good length for the point guard position, though he’s not quite ideal physically, having a slight frame and lacking a lot of strength at this point in his development. Athletically, Anderson doesn’t have a blazing first step, relying more on crafty change of pace moves to get past his man, however he is pretty explosive for his size vertically, showing the ability to get up in the lane. It’ll be interesting to see how Anderson responds from a full offseason of strength training at UCLA, as it could potentially affect his game in numerous positive ways.

Looking at Anderson’s game, it’s hard to come to many definitive conclusions based off his limited playing time, often coming when UCLA already had a convincing lead, but a few things can be taken away. Anderson is a steady floor general who runs his team’s offense well, not over-dribbling, moving well without the ball, maintaining good spacing, and distributing the ball among his teammates. He didn’t show much in terms of ability to create off the dribble for others in the lane, however it’s something we’d seen from him in high school and is something to look out for as he grows into his larger role this year.

As a scorer, Anderson shows potential in a few areas, however he’s very inefficient and inconsistent at this stage, in part stemming from his underdeveloped body. As a jump shooter, Anderson can look good when shooting in rhythm, showing some three-point range, however oftentimes he seems to overcompensate for his lack of strength by throwing his body into his shot, throwing off his touch and accuracy greatly. Developing better base strength so he can more consistently and effortlessly use his shooting motion from deep will go a long way in developing his outside shot.

In terms of attacking the basket, Anderson shows a good dribble with both hands and has a very good command of hesitation dribbles, compensating for his lack of breakaway speed by throwing defenders off balance and picking his spots well. In the lane, he shows very good creative potential, being able to finish with an array of floaters and finger rolls with either hand, however he’s not a good finisher in the lane overall, lacking the ability to get through contact and having a very unreliable pull-up jumper in the lane.

While Anderson does have good moments with his dribble and can make things happen in the lane, he seems to have a lot of trouble dealing with pressure defense in both the halfcourt and fullcourt, often exposing his dribble to defenders, leading to quite a few steals far away from the basket. Being able to better handle these type of situations will be crucial to his success this season, as it’s something teams will catch onto and abuse if he doesn’t fix it.

Defensively, Anderson shows a very strong stance and puts in consistently high effort both on and off the ball, however his lateral quickness is a liability against point guards, even though he somewhat compensates for it with his size and fundamentals. Off the ball, Anderson is in constant chase and doesn’t lose his man due to lack of awareness, however he can have trouble getting around screens given his lack of strength. Projecting to the NBA, Anderson’s lateral quickness will be a much bigger concern, especially with some of the game’s quicker point guards.

Looking forward, Anderson is still a ways away from thinking about the NBA, but there is much to be optimistic about based on the limited things we saw from him as a freshman. With the point guard position wide open for UCLA, Anderson will have many opportunities to grow as a player this season, and in watching him you get the feeling that with some more strength, a tweak here, and a tweak there, things could quickly fall into place for the young floor general. Anderson could stand to improve in every single facet of the game, but the little flashes he’s shown have been promising.

#9 Isaiah Thomas, 5-8, Sophomore, PG/SG, Washington

Matthew Williams

Thomas would rank considerably higher on this list if he were a few inches taller; nonetheless, the Tacoma native has earned some buzz after a simply outstanding freshman campaign for the Huskies. Displaying a knack for getting in the lane, but lacking a degree of consistency as a shooter, Thomas was his team’s most dynamic player, leading Washington in scoring at 15.5 points per-game en route to Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors. Not held back by his size at the college level, Thomas will be the clear-cut leader for Lorenzo Romar’s troops with the departure of Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon to graduation. With additional shots opening up, Thomas will be a player to watch as he builds his draft resume and carries his team.

Wearing the same number that Nate Robinson did when he terrorized Pac-10 defenders, it is hard not to see the similarities between the two players. Both diminutive scoring guards with tremendous quickness, Robinson and Thomas share a common physical profile, though Thomas is a bit heavier than Robinson and not as explosive a leaper. While that’s a simple comparison to make, the eerie similarity between the pair’s numbers gives it a lot more weight. Considering Thomas was living up to Robinson’s as a legacy says a lot about what he brought to the table last season.

Using roughly 17 possessions per-game according to Synergy Sports Technology, Thomas assumed a considerable offensive load from the day he stepped on campus. Functioning as both a point guard and shooting guard for stretches, the lefty showed the ability to score from the inside and outside alike.

When playing off the ball, Thomas proved capable of hitting spot-up shots with decent consistency, showing good elevation and a quick release on his jumper, though he’s a bit streaky at times, and doesn’t always finish his follow-through when he has a hand in his face. Though Thomas’s size hurt his ability to hit shots with a hand in his face, his low three point percentage (29.1%) reflects a general lack of consistency that he’ll need to work on moving forward. The same can be said for his free throw percentage (68.1%), which is highly improvable as well.

One thing that scouts won’t be questioning is what Thomas can do when he puts the ball on the floor. Displaying an absolutely outstanding first-step, excellent speed in transition, and a knack for creating space to get off his shot from inside of 15-feet, Thomas doesn’t show great consistency with his pull-up, but uses a nice array of floaters, show-and-go’s, and up-and-unders to score in the lane. Especially shifty around the basket, Thomas proves capable as a finisher despite his size, though he gets his shot blocked pretty frequently, he’s able to use his quickness and the ability to finish acrobatically to get the job done amongst the trees. Fearless when he goes to the rim, Thomas forces some looks over defenders, but gets to the line at a tremendous rate as well, ranking amongst the top-20 players in our database in free-throw attempts per-40 minutes at 8.3 attempts.

When he isn’t looking to score, Thomas displays some point guard ability. Though he’s a natural scorer, looking for his shot when he penetrates or operates on the pick and roll, he’s able to handle the ball under pressure, but his passing still leaves a lot to be desired. Not likely to be mistaken for a distributor, Thomas shows decent court vision when he doesn’t have tunnel vision to the rim, and will need to improve his drive and dish ability to take full advantage of his quickness and passing.

Defensively, Thomas is limited in the same ways that most players his size are. His lack of length hurts his ability to force turnovers at the rate his quickness and anticipation would allow, and while he’s able to deny penetration, he can’t provide much resistance when his man looks to shoot. Not able to deter many spot up attempts with his size, Thomas needs to focus on his defensive stance and not get caught staring at the ball as he tends to. He may never be much of a defender, but he’ll have the opportunity to make some improvements over time.

In terms of his NBA potential, Thomas will have a lot of questions to answer. Nate Robinson’s leaping ability was a driver behind his success, and while Thomas shares his speed, it will be tough for his to transition his mid-to-short-range scoring to the next level. In order to compensate for that, Thomas needs to improve the consistency of his outside shot and point guard skills considerably, otherwise he’ll have to fight the perceptions about combo guards his height. Regardless of how he develops, Thomas is an exciting player to watch, and one worth keeping an eye on.

Jerome Randle, 5-10, Point Guard, Senior, California

Joey Whelan

The Golden Bears broke a two year dry spell from the NCAA Tournament thanks to the stellar play of their diminutive floor general Jerome Randle. As a junior, the Chicago native finished second in the Pac-10 in scoring and was the conference leader in assists per game – no small feat. With running mate Patrick Christopher returning to the backcourt as well, Randle should be right back to business in trying to steer Cal towards a conference championship in 2010.

Size is never going to be a strong point for Randle as he stands just 5-10. With that said, he has a bevy of physical attributes that allowed him to operate at a very high, efficient level in his junior season. Blessed with an excellent combination of open floor speed and quickness, the rising senior is very difficult to stay in front of on a consistent basis. Perhaps his greatest weapon though is his ability to change speeds so effectively, often losing defenders in that manner when playing in the half court set. Randle doesn’t have a particularly good vertical, but he has very solid body control that allows him to finish acrobatically around the basket when he isn’t able to elevate with his defenders.

Randle gets his touches in a wide variety of scenarios and in impressive fashion, scores at a high rate in the majority of these situations as well – posting an outstanding 66% true shooting percentage, which ranks him tops amongst all point guards in college basketball last season.

His game is built around speed, opting to put the ball on the deck a large percentage of the time in the half court offense. Randle possesses fantastic handles, able to weave his way through traffic, often burning several defenders on his way to the basket. By combining these skills with his excellent hesitation moves, Randle is able to get into the lane almost at will when he chooses to. This has allowed him to be not only a dynamic scorer but an equally as dynamic playmaker, dishing out five assists per game last season, with nearly a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. While he does struggle to finish at the rim given his smaller stature, the upperclassman has developed a very soft runner which he is able to hit from a variety of angles depending on where he is attacking from.

Where Randle proved to be the most dangerous last year was as a perimeter shooter where shot a scintillating 46.3 percent from beyond the arc on nearly six attempts per game. The impressive thing about this rate of success for the point guard is he shoots this well even given the fact that he takes many ill advised shots, particularly in transition where he has a tendency to pull up and shoot. Randle has a good looking stroke with a quick release – able to connect from several feet beyond the three-point line. He’s at his best when he can catch and shoot, though with the ball in his hands so often, he has started to show the ability to take this shot coming off of screens as well. While he is able to get his shot off fairly well right now, he will have a tougher time at the pro level with bigger, longer defenders.

Defensively, Randle leaves something to be desired as a result of his physical shortcomings. His lateral quickness is good, but he can certainly be beaten off the dribble by quicker guards. The biggest problems he faces stem from his size – as is the case on the offensive end. He struggles to fight through screens and gets overpowered by bigger perimeter players often. Even when he can stick with other guards, Randle often finds opposing players shooting over him both on the perimeter and around the basket. He does however have quick hands and good anticipation skills, a combination that allowed him to come away with nearly a steal per game last season.

There’s no question it will be an uphill battle for Randle to crack an NBA roster given his tiny frame and the problems those create for him specifically as a defender. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed by the outstanding numbers he put up last season (particularly his efficiency) as well as the number of assists he doled out in a competitive Pac-10. A big senior campaign will go a long way towards forcing pro scouts to take an even harder look at him once the spring comes around, even if at this point he looks more likely to end up in Europe.

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