Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part 9: Prospects 18-21

Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part 9: Prospects 18-21
Nov 07, 2014, 12:27 pm
We continue our coverage of the top NBA draft prospects in the non-BCS conferences with scouting reports on players ranked 18-21: Speedy Smith, Cameron Payne, Alex Hamilton and Luke Nelson.

The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-12 Conference
The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12 Conference
The Top 10 NBA Draft Prospects in the AAC Conference
The Top 22 NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC Conference
The Top 10 NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East Conference
The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten Conference
The Top 26 NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC Conference

Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part One
(#1) R.J. Hunter (Scouting Video)
Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part Two
(#2) Rashad Vaughn (Scouting Video)
Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part Three
(#3) Domantas Sabonis (Scouting Video)
Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part Four
(#4) Shawn Long (Scouting Video)
Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part Five
(#5) E.C. Matthews (Scouting Video)
Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part 6
(#6) Ron Baker
(#7) Fred VanVleet
(#8) Keifer Sykes
(#9) Briante Weber

Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part 7
(#10) Przemek Karnowski
(#11) Alan Williams
(#12) Christian Wood
(#13) Treveon Graham

Top NBA Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences, Part 8
(#14) Mamadou Ndiaye
(#15) Vince Hunter
(#16) Joel Bolomboy
(#17) Larry Nance

#18, Speedy Smith, 6-3, Senior, Point Guard, Louisiana Tech

Jonathan Givony

A first team All-Conference player as both a sophomore and junior, Louisiana Tech's Kenneth “Speedy” Smith enters his senior season looking to solidify himself as a legit NBA prospect, while trying to help his team make their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 24 years.

Standing 6-3, Smith has good size for a point guard, to go along with long arms and a solid frame.

Smith is one of the few players in college basketball with a near 1/1 assist to point ratio, a unique distinction that some would say is because he's such a great passer, while others would claim is due to the fact that he's almost a total non-scorer.

Only two players (Kendall Marshall and Randy Livingston) in the past thirty years have been drafted after scoring under 10 points per-40 minutes pace adjusted, which is exactly what Smith will try to do if he follows the same path he did his first three seasons of college basketball.

Smith led the NCAA in Pure Point Ratio at 8.37, the fourth highest mark historically in our database. He's the definition of an old-school floor general, an incredibly instinctive passer who does a phenomenal job of creating offense for teammates. Smith doesn't hesitate for a second to deliver crisp, accurate passes, as often the ball is in his hands for less than a second before he's already moving it on to the next destination for an easy assist. He makes everyone else on the floor better with his vision and creativity, and knows his personnel extremely well, especially where they like to receive the ball in order to be effective.

Despite his nickname, Smith actually isn't the speediest player you'll find around, at least not in the half-court. His first step is just average, as he struggles to get into the lane and finish at a high rate. In end of clock situations, his team will usually ask one of their other guards to create a high percentage look.

Smith took just 52 shots inside the paint all of last season, hitting only 22, or 42% of them. He relies very heavily on his floater as he rarely gets all the way to the basket, but is extremely ineffective with them. He doesn't compensate for that by drawing fouls at a huge rate, only attempting 2.8 free throws per-40 minutes pace adjusted last season, while converting just 66% of them once there.

While he doesn't shoot all that many of them, Smith has actually developed into a respectable 3-point shooter, making a solid 38 of his 104 (36.5%) attempts last season. He has solid shooting mechanics and pretty good range on his jumper, being fairly effective with both his feet set and off the dribble, but will need to continue to hit outside shots at a good rate as a senior to prove that he can be trusted to keep defenses honest at the pro level.

One area where Smith can certainly offer value as a NBA prospect is on the defensive end. His team loves to press, trap and generally harass opposing ball-handlers as much as possible, which suits his style of play extremely well. He moves his feet wonderfully, and puts excellent pressure on the ball, often hounding his man the length of the court. Smith's long arms, quick hands and tremendous instincts allow him to get in the passing lanes at a phenomenal clip, as he simply has a terrific knack for putting his hands in the right place at the right time. His 3 steals per-40 pace adjusted was one of the top marks in all of college basketball last season, helping him earn Defensive Player of the Year honors in Conference USA last season.

On a very undersized Louisiana Tech team, Smith is often asked to guard a variety of different positions on the floor, something he's capable of doing due to his pesky and relentless nature. He regularly fights in the paint against players much taller than him as they try to post him up, and crashes the glass effectively for rebounds as well. He's not without faults, though, as he tends to get lost at times off the ball and will get caught with his hand in the cookie jar gambling for steals a fair amount—but all in all its hard not to like what he brings on this end of the floor.

Speedy Smith is one of the more unique players you'll find at the college basketball level, a non-scorer who is a passing maestro and defensive stalwart who shoots 3-pointers a good clip. His often passive approach to scoring puts a lot of pressure on his teammates at the college level, as his defender can act like a free safety and cheat off him to help out on others—something that would certainly not fly in the style of basketball we find in today's NBA.

But it's difficult to rule him out as a prospect, as he's very effective in a couple of extremely important areas, which might lead teams to take a look and see if they can help him become at least passable in the places he struggles in. He's definitely not someone every NBA coach will want, but some might be able to find a niche for him, especially if he can prove he can make 3-pointers at an acceptable clip.

#19, Cameron Payne, 6-2, Sophomore, Point Guard, Murray State

Kyle Nelson

Isaiah Canaan's graduation left Murray State in a lurch and many expected Steve Prohm's program to enter a prolonged rebuilding phase. Yet, by the end of the 2013-2014 season, the Racers sat atop the OVC West standings again with a 23-11 record and won the postseason CIT after narrowly losing the OVC's automatic NCAA Tournament bid to Eastern Kentucky. None of that would have been possible without the efforts of freshman point guard Cameron Payne. Payne not only transitioned seamlessly into Canaan's large role in Murray State's offense, but he also earned both OVC Freshman of the Year and All-OVC First Team honors in the process, and was recently named to the 2015 Cousy Watch List. Now, with Murray State favored to win the OVC and without the element of surprise working in his favor, the Payne must build on his stellar freshman campaign and prove to scouts that he is worthy of consideration as an NBA prospect.

At 6'2, with a skinny and long 175-pound frame, Payne has decent height for the point guard position, but he must get considerably stronger before he is able to hold his own against NBA caliber athletes. This is because while he is a good athlete and very quick in the open floor, he is neither exceptionally explosive off the dribble from a stand-still, nor a high flyer around the basket.

Payne is able to compensate for his lack of elite athleticism through his advanced instincts on the offensive end of the floor. He commanded 30% of Murray State's overall possessions, which ranked second behind Jabari Parker among all freshmen prospects, while posting a solid 54% TS%. His 20.4 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted situated him among the most prolific scoring point guards in our database last season.

Nearly a third of Payne's possessions came in pick-and-roll situations, where he established himself as a dangerous threat from day one. As a scorer in these situations, Payne showed the ability to take his man off of the dribble or pull up into a jump shot, utilizing his solid quickness and ball-handling ability, as well as his advanced scoring instincts and tremendous aggressiveness. His proficiency operating out of the pick-and-roll is complemented by his mid-range game, as he looked comfortable pulling up for a jump shot or a runner in the lane, making a solid 37% of his off the dribble jumpers on the season.

While Payne's overall shooting percentages aren't much to write home about, his consistent shooting mechanics combined with his extremely quick release and solid elevation leaves room for optimism regarding how he'll develop in this area down the road. Payne made 34.5% of his 3-pointers last season, likely more due to his questionable shot selection than a lack of skill. That's partly a function of the huge role he played in Murray State's offense, as well as his own overconfidence and tendencies for taking extremely high difficulty jumpers early in the offense, sometimes from well beyond the college line. Regardless, scouts will be expecting Payne to become a more efficient offensive option as his college career progresses.

Payne does not have an extraordinary first step, and he can be somewhat turnover prone due to his often overly ambitious forays to the rim and preference for driving right. With that said, he shows savvy operating off the dribble at times, and does a decent job of getting inside the paint and using his creativity to generate shots, even if he can't always manufacture a great deal of space to get them off cleanly. As he continues to mature physically, and learns how to operate at different speeds and read the court better, he certainly has room to grow as a shot-creator in the half-court.

Payne converted only 44% of his shots inside the paint last season, due to his tendency for settling for difficult floaters rather than driving all the way to the rim and finishing strong. This also shows up in transition, where he converted just 42% of his field goal attempts, a very poor rate. He struggles to finish over big men and through contact as a result of his lack of strength and standout explosiveness, and doesn't have a great feel for knowing his limitations yet. Getting stronger will help him here, as will developing his ability to finish with both hands.

Payne did a nice job of mixing up his scoring with his passing last season, as his 6.3 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted ranked favorably among point guards in our database even if he proved to be fairly turnover prone, as well. Payne shows solid vision off of the dribble, even if he tended to be a bit ambitious and loose with his passes at times. Notably, however, he did a great job of throwing entry passes into the post and getting his big men involved in the offense, more generally. As mentioned above, he tends to look for his own shot out of the pick-and-roll, but he does show promise as a distributor in this capacity, as well, doing a particularly good job of finding open shooters on the perimeter.

On the defensive end, Payne shows solid lateral quickness and overall intensity, even if his instincts and fundamentals fall well short at this stage in his career. Nowhere in this clearer than his struggles guarding the pick-and-roll, as he tends to get lost if he cannot run over the screen and loses track of his man. This is mainly because he simply lacks the strength to fight through screens. That being said, he is a solid man defender and does a good job of staying in front of opposing guards off of the dribble. He has a nose for the ball, as well, doing a good job of using his length and timing to his advantage to interrupt passing lanes and strip opposing players, nabbing 1.9 steals per 40 minutes pace adjusted.

Though he is just a freshman, Payne came out of relative obscurity to emerge as one of the more intriguing point guard prospects outside of the BCS Conferences. To take the next step in his development as an NBA prospect, he must become a more efficient shooter and develop his shot selection, cut down on turnovers, and add some bulk to his skinny frame. Furthermore, he has few opportunities to prove himself against NBA-caliber athletes, making early season matchups against Xavier and Houston, which will make getting to postseason play all the more important. It is still early, but Payne has a nice foundation to build on moving forward and should have plenty of opportunities to distinguish himself as a prospect during his time at Murray State. If he continues to improve as a sophomore, then expect to his name to be much higher on this list at this time next year.

#20, Alex Hamilton, 6-4, Junior, Shooting Guard, Louisiana Tech

Matt Williams

A largely unheralded recruit coming out of Chipley high school in the rural Florida panhandle, Louisiana Tech junior Alex Hamilton has blossomed into one of the most intriguing guards at the mid-major level over the first two years of his collegiate career. Averaging 7.8 points, and 2.5 assists per-game as a freshman in 2013, Hamilton made an instant impact for Michael White's Bulldogs, but really blossomed as a sophomore, leading Tech in scoring at 14.6 points per-game as the team finished with 29 wins.

Standing 6'4 with a long and wiry, but fairly strong frame, Hamilton has nice size for a shooting guard to go along with terrific quickness, an attribute that has served him extremely well in White's aggressive, press-heavy defensive system and fast paced offense.

Hamilton's offensive role a year ago reflected White's style of play, as nearly a quarter of his possessions came in transition according to Synergy Sports Technology, to go along with significant usage creating one-on-one, on the pick and roll, and in spot up situations off the ball. Hamilton's ability to use his athleticism to create and score around the rim is easily his best offensive attribute at the moment.

Hamilton is a capable ball-handler who uses hesitation moves effectively, which coupled with his speed, make him a tremendous slasher at the collegiate level. His aggressiveness pays off, as his 8 free throw attempts per-40 minutes pace adjusted would ranks second among shooting guards in our Top-100 prospect rankings. Though Hamilton gets a bit out of control at times when in attack mode and needs to continue improving his right hand, he still finished at a 64% clip around the rim a year ago, a terrific mark for a guard.

Part of the reason Hamilton gets out of control is systematic—White gives his players significant freedom offensively as he wants to speed the game up, so the Bulldogs often take a lot of bad shots as a team—but the junior guard is also just an average jump shooter at this stage of his career, so his lack of tremendous confidence from the outside results in some amount of tunnel vision when he looks to score. Making just 29% of his pull-up jumpers a year ago, but 36% of his open catch and shoot attempts, Hamilton's mechanics waver and look rigid at times at times, but the lefty has enough range to force defenders to respect him from the perimeter and the building-blocks to continue improving as a shooter over time.

Playing alongside one of the most unique lead guards in the NCAA in Speedy Smith, Hamilton is not Louisiana Tech's point guard per se, but he is a good passer and secondary ball-handler who seemingly has the vision and ability to handle pressure to make it seem as though he could handle some minutes at the position down the road. Averaging 3.6 assists and 2.8 turnovers per-40 minutes pace adjusted, it will be interesting to see how Hamilton fares as a passer and shot creator as a senior when Smith, who ranks among the top passers in the college game in the past decade, has graduated.

Defensively, Hamilton's length and athleticism allow him to make some positive contributions for Louisiana Tech, which applies full court pressure as frequently as almost any team in the country and plays the passing lanes very aggressively as a team in the half court. Showing impressive quickness and conditioning picking up the length of the floor, Hamilton can be a factor in the passing lanes in the half court, but can also get a bit lackadaisical at times defending the ball. A stout individual defender when he wants to be, Hamilton has nice potential on this end of the floor, even if he gives up dribble penetration more frequently than he should from time to time.

Though he still has room to improve as a shooter, Alex Hamilton shows the type of athleticism and shot creating ability that NBA teams like to see in shooting guard prospects. He'll have to improve his jump-shot to make it eventually, as that would take his offensive game to another level, and would benefit from improving his decision-making and right hand, but Hamilton is a player worth keeping tabs on over the next couple years.

#21, Luke Nelson, 6-3, Sophomore, PG/SG, UC Irvine

Jonathan Givony

A member of Great Britain's various youth national teams at the U16, U18 and U20 levels the past four summers, Luke Nelson had a very strong debut campaign for UC Irvine, winning Big West freshman of the year honors and being named 2nd Team All-Conference. Irvine went 13-3 in conference play, but ended up losing in the conference tournament semis to Cal Poly, which sent them to the NIT.

Despite being 18-years old and completely new to American basketball, Nelson regardless stepped up as the team's leading scorer and go-to guy virtually from day one. Nelson has decent size for a combo guard at 6-3 and is a pretty good athlete, being very quick and fluid, but needs to get significantly stronger, a process that might take a couple of years.

Nelson played both guard spots for Irvine last season, but was always a significant part of what they tried to accomplish offensively, whether he was playing on or off the ball. He is a very capable floor spacer, showing a beautiful stroke from the outside and making 38% of his jumpers with his feet set on the season, including 37% of his 3s.

He can also come off screens, moving off the ball purposefully, with excellent quickness and strong footwork. Nelson navigates his way around screens intelligently and can set his feet, create separation and get a good shot away very effectively, showing almost unlimited confidence in his stroke. He has a quick release and deep range on his jumper, being capable of making some very deep shots at times, even from NBA range.

As pretty of a stroke as Nelson has, he still has some improvement to do in terms of improving his shot-selection. He has a tendency to settle for very difficult looks off the dribble, pulling up with sharp step-backs and a hand in his face, which he can sometimes make, but come with very low percentages regardless of how talented a shooter/scorer he is.

While Nelson is a very fluid guard who shows excellent quickness in the open court, and has strong potential as a shot-creator, he still has a ways to go to maximize his effectiveness as a slasher. 77% of his field goal attempts in the half-court came off jumpers, and he didn't get to the free throw line much either last season.

Nelson strongly favors his right hand, and isn't an advanced enough ball-handler to fully take advantage of how shifty and smooth he is at this stage of his development. When he puts the ball on the floor, it's mostly to take a pull-up jumper, which is a shot he's still working on mastering, as he tends to elevate too high at times and shoots the ball on the way down, which leads to inconsistent results. He made just 27% of his off the dribble attempts last season according to Synergy Sports Technology.

When Nelson does get into the paint, his lack of strength and narrow frame hamper him considerably, evidenced by the fact that he made just 48% of his attempts around the basket last season, a fairly pedestrian rate. To his credit, he's a very unselfish player who sees the floor fairly well and can make some highly creative passes at times, particularly into the post. Considering his size, NBA teams will surely want to see him display some ability to run the point at times, but Nelson's 1.22 assist to turnover ratio and -1.44 PPR shows that he's still a ways away from being able to do that full time.

Defensively, Nelson was somewhat of a mixed bag last season. His lack of bulk makes it difficult for him to get through screens and contain stronger players, and he sometimes had a tendency to lose his focus on longer possessions.

With that said, Nelson has solid lateral quickness and good length, moving his feet pretty well to stay in front of his matchup, and putting nice effort in to contesting opponents' shots on the perimeter. Nelson needs to get stronger and tougher, and gain more experience to make the transition from the Big West to the NBA, but there are some positive things to work with here at least.

After a very strong freshman season, scouts will be waiting to see what kind of improvement Nelson can make in his sophomore year and beyond. Playing alongside the tallest player in college basketball in Mamadou Ndiaye, he'll get pretty good exposure despite the conference he plays in.

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