-Trending Prospects (12/9) - Doug McDermott, Scott Machado, Henry Sims
-Trending Prospects (12/22) - Kris Joseph, Draymond Green, Chace Stanback
-Trending Prospects (12/23) - Will Barton, LeBryan Nash and Ricardo Ratliffe
-Trending Prospects (12/30) - Mike Moser, Kenny Boynton and Jarrod Jones
-Trending Prospects (1/6) - Herb Pope, Eric Griffin, Otto Porter, Quincy Acy
-Trending Prospects (1/12) - Arnett Moultrie, Kevin Jones, Robbie Hummel, Elias Harris
-Trending Prospects (1/20) - Andrew Nicholson, William Buford, Orlando Johnson, Tyshawn Taylor
-Trending Prospects (1/26) - Jordan Taylor, J'Covan Brown, Ashton Gibbs, Jorge Gutierrez
-Trending Prospects (2/3) - Tu Holloway, Maalik Wayns, Rodney Williams, John Shurna
-Trending Prospects (2/10) - Terrence Ross, B.J. Young, Darius Miller and Isaiah Canaan
-Trending Prospects (2/19) - John Jenkins, Hollis Thompson, Kim English, Elijah Johnson
-Trending Prospects (2/27) - Doron Lamb, C.J. Leslie, Darius Johnson-Odom, Bernard James
-Trending Prospects (3/1) - John Henson, Festus Ezeli, Mike Scott, Kevin Murphy
Dion Waiters, 6'4, PG/SG, Sophomore, Syracuse
Following an underwhelming freshman season in which he struggled to produce and failed to find a consistent role on a very talented team, Dion Waiters has developed into a key part of Syracuse's #2 squad as the team's sixth man this season. While Waiters' play has tailed off against more difficult competition, especially during conference play, he's had a solid season on the whole, giving Orange fans a much better idea why he was the 23rd ranked player in his high school class.
On the offensive end, Waiters has made a real impact this season by being more opportunistic pushing the ball and getting out on the break, as he sees over 28% of his possessions in transition according to Synergy, which is especially impressive given Syracuse's just 178th ranked tempo according to Kenpom.com.
A physically gifted player with an excellent frame and terrific instincts, Waiters' aggressive defense definitely fuels this area of his game by creating opportunities, but he does a very good job keeping his head up and attacking when his team has a numbers advantage. He's very crafty with the ball in his hands and does a good job of using his shiftiness going to the basket, switching the ball between hands and showing a very good feel for weaving through defenses. While not exceptionally quick or fast, Waiters has perhaps helped himself most here by showing a good commitment to using his well-built frame to go hard to the basket, frequently finishing with power and playing with a real mean streak on the break.
In the half court setting, Waiters has performed best this year operating pick-and-rolls, showing a solid feel for balancing his own offense and finding open teammates. He does a good job making the simple pass to spot shooters, using separation from the pick to get a half step on his man, or pulling up for open jumpers in space.
Unfortunately for Waiters, despite his pick-and-roll and transition prowess, he's struggled to consistently perform at a high level in most other areas of offense this season, most notably showing troubles consistently contributing in the half court against top competition. While Waiters possesses good ball-handling skills, excellent body control, and flashes of potent jump-shooting ability, he doesn't have a true go-to skill in the half court if unable to simply overpower his man, while also being plagued by errant decision-making at times.
Waiters' jump shot is likely the area he can make the best short-term and long-term gains in improving his half court offense, as he shows a lot of potential in this area with his flashes of NBA range and ability to hit pull-up shots in space. He hurts himself here by often taking shots that are rushed, contested, unbalanced, or a combination of the three, while even his open spot-up jumpers are prone to bouts of inconsistency. Really buckling down in this area in either the pre-draft process or offseason should be his biggest priority going forward, and could do a great deal to ease his transition to the NBA game or take his game to the next level at Syracuse.
As far as Waiters' shot-creating ability in isolation goes, he's had some issues staying consistent this season, but to his credit he doesn't force this area of his game much, having a pretty solid feel of his strengths and weaknesses. Most of his questionable decision-making in the half court stems from shot selection, as he keeps his turnovers pretty low at just 0.13 per possession.
The other area Waiters could expand his game is as a floor general and shot creator for teammates, but this is something he hasn't shown much with in his two years on campus outside of his expanded pick-and-roll game. Waiters is a good passer and plays pretty well within his team's offense, but he doesn't show much penchant for breaking the defense down off the dribble and seems to lack a true floor general's mentality, so his most likely future is probably as combo guard who plays both on and off the ball depending on matchups.
While Waiters has been somewhat of a mixed bag on the offensive end this season, the same cannot be said for his defensive performance, where he's been one of Syracuse's most effective and disruptive defenders this season, as chronicled in great depth by SI's Luke Winn.
Waiters is extremely aggressive on this end of the floor, extending Syracuse's zone well beyond the college three-point line, being constantly in motion, and frequently picking off balls in the passing lanes to fuel his own transition game. He does a great job jumping out to contest shots and shows very good hustle and focus overall. Waiters also does a good job using his strength to get over picks on pick-and-rolls, and works hard to stay in front of his man on the rare chance he sees a true isolation in Jim Boeheim's zone, but as always with Syracuse players, it's tough to get a perfect handle on this aspect of his game from a scouting perspective.
With that said, considering his physical attributes and aggressiveness, it's not difficult to see him being capable of guarding both guard positions in the NBA, which should give his team plenty of versatility to work with.
Looking forward, Waiters brings an interesting package of skills to the table along with a good amount of untapped potential. His style of play should seemingly translate well in a combo guard role off the bench as a sparkplug transition and pick and roll scorer who can defend multiple positions, which every NBA team seems to have at least one of these days.
Waiters could help his stock by really putting in work with his jump shot, something he could demonstrate to teams a few months from now in workouts if he elects to declare for the draft.
Mason Plumlee, 6'11, Junior, PF, Duke
Standing 6'11 with good size and impressive athletic tools, a combination of limited role and unrefined skills had prevented Mason Plumlee from turning that into production on the basketball court in the past. While not the focal point of the Duke offense this year, Plumlee has been asked to create more for himself during his junior year, with some mixed results.
Plumlee has seen his scoring output increase from 10.6 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted last year to 15.0 this year. Scoring largely off offensive rebounds and cuts to the basket in years past, Plumlee has been used substantially more as a post-up threat this year. He does a good job of establishing position and has the length and quickness to get shots off down low. Although still a little methodical and prone to over-dribbling at times, he is showing an increased ability to score over either shoulder in the post.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in his offensive game has been his ability to get to the free throw line, including his ability to draw fouls from post-up opportunities. Plumlee has nearly doubled his free throw attempts, from 3.7 free throw attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted to 7.2.
Despite his improvement in the post, Plumlee still shows perhaps the most potential in the NBA as a face-up threat, both from pick and roll threats and from creating off the dribble. Plumlee sets good screens off the pick and roll and can cover ground quickly with his long, rangy strides. Combine that with his soft hands and this creates an intriguing pick and roll player at the next level.
He also has the quick first step and athleticism to potentially attack the basket as a face-up threat, although this is currently held back by a lack of perimeter shooting ability. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Plumlee has attempted virtually no jump shots this year, which combined with his lack of progress from the free throw line (54.3%, 44.1%, 51.2% so far during his three years at Duke) creates a huge question as to whether he will be able to translate these gifts into production. While not having many advanced ball handling moves, Plumlee is good enough in a straight line with either hand to take his man off the dribble if they are forced to defend him from the perimeter.
Making his mid-range game a reliable threat would also improve his effectiveness as a passer, where he shows very good vision from the high post and foul line extended areas.
Plumlee also continues to be a solid option off the ball, something he had previously shown. His soft hands and physical tools come into play here, and he does a good job of finding openings in the defense off dribble penetration. He also shows good pursuit off the offensive glass, pulling down a solid 3.8 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. While he elevates quickly off the ground, he can at times bring the ball down and over dribble, allowing defenders time to recover.
Plumlee is a very good rebounder off the defensive glass, showing good technique boxing out and with good hands and an ability to grab the ball at its apex. His 8.8 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted is a good mark, and a substantial improvement from his freshman year.
Defensively, Plumlee once again has very good physical tools that have not yet been fully realized. His length and quickness off his feet allows him to be a weakside shot blocking threat, he has solid lower body strength and length to defend the post, and he moves his feet fairly well defending the perimeter. That being said, his recognition and consistency could still use some work, particularly early in the shot clock, as he at times tends to rely more on his upper body to hold his ground rather than getting leverage and using his lower body.
Mason Plumlee has taken a larger role in the Duke offense this year, which has made him a more consistent contributor than in years past. His continued success on the offensive and defensive glass provides a solid base as a useful rotational big man at the next level, and his soft hands, athleticism, and defensive potential should help him see court time as well.
Fab Melo, 7'0, Sophomore, Center, Syracuse
Last time we checked in on Fab Melo we noted that it often takes centers longer to develop than prospects at other positions. The Brazilian center has been a prime example of that adage this season, taking an enormous step forward in a number of facets of the game for the second-ranked Orange as a sophomore after a largely undistinguished freshman campaign.
The biggest factor in Melo's improvement this season has been his conditioning. Coming into the season in significantly better shape than he did as a freshman, Melo has been able to exploit his 7-foot frame more frequently thanks to improved quickness, leaping ability, and stamina. He still has plenty of room to add muscle to his frame and refine his physique, but he's taken the steps to put himself in position to succeed at the college level with his work this past offseason, a key reason he's playing 15 more minutes per-game as a sophomore.
Melo's development as a byproduct of his improved physical tools has been most clear on the defensive end, where he's been the anchor of Syracuse's zone as he was expected to be as a recruit. Ranking 6th in the NCAA in blocks per-40 minutes pace adjusted, Melo's ability to step out to the high-post and rotate over to the weakside more quickly has allowed him to intimidate shooters with his 7'3 wingspan.
Not only has Melo been a better shot blocker, but he's been a better defensive player across the board as a second-year player. Still losing contact with offensive players on the weakside leading to an occasional easy putback for the opposition, Melo is much more well-schooled at positioning himself on the defensive end than he was last year, doing a good job splitting the difference between offensive players when the ball gets driven into the paint, stepping in front of players attacking the rim to draw charges, and going straight up to challenge shots around the rim. Committing 2.6 fewer fouls per-40 minutes pace adjusted, Melo has shown dramatic improvement in the way he contests shots and protects the rim.
Melo's ability to be active and physical has helped him on the glass as well. Though Syracuse still struggles on the defensive boards as a unit at times, Melo remains a capable area rebounder and has become a more significant factor on the offensive glass thanks to his improved motor. Lacking a natural feel for the game and usually being more focused on taking charges or chasing blocked shots in Syracuse's zone, Melo is not a very prolific defensive rebounder, though he does have soft hands and is improving his fundamentals. It will be interesting to see how much he can improve on this skill once outside of Syracuse's zone, as he simply isn't always in position to make a play here.
Offensively, Melo remains a work in progress. His minutes may have expanded during his sophomore season, but his offensive role remained largely the same, with cuts and offensive rebounds comprising the majority of his touches according to Synergy Sports Technology. Often the fifth-option on the floor even as sophomore, Melo has continued to finish at an efficient 63% rate at the rim thanks to his size and length, showing good hands and finishing above the rim whenever possible. The young center has also improved his still questionable free throw percentage from 36% last year to 67% this year, though he remains limited as a shooter away from the rim.
In one-on-one situations, Melo shows some interesting signs, though he still has a long way to go to be an effective post-up threat. Flashing solid touch on some of the hook shots and turnaround jump shots he attempts on his occasional back-to-the-basket touches, Melo lacks consistency down low. He makes some solid passes out of the paint, but still has some major lapses in his decision-making too, not showing great instincts on this end and looking especially mechanical when creating his own shot at times.
With Syracuse's roster in flux as Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph graduate, Melo could be due a significant increase in offensive usage as a junior, which would be a significant development in the trajectory of the big man's college career considering he's using under 11% of his team's possessions this season.
Having a veritable break out year for one of the NCAA's best teams, Fab Melo has made significant strides on both ends of the floor that are clearly visible to NBA decision-makers, even if he is still raw in a number of facets of the game. Big men who can defend the rim are always at a premium, and Melo is starting to match his tremendous physical gifts with production on the floor, thanks in large part to his efforts to get into better shape. Melo's play in the tournament will be a key to Syracuse's success this postseason, and could give him a chance to play himself into the first round with a strong showing. Should he opt to stay in school, he'll be a focal point for the Orange as a junior in 2013 and could make a run at becoming a top-20 pick.
Marcus Denmon, 6'3, Shooting Guard, Senior, Missouri
Marcus Denmon entered his final season at Missouri as an under the radar prospect, coming off a successful junior campaign, but lacking the ideal physical profile of an NBA shooting guard. Denmon has not disappointed as a senior, assuming a more prominent role as a scorer in Missouri's offense while leading the Tigers to a 27-4 record and a potential #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Though he is responsible for 20% of Missouri's offensive possessions and 22.6% of Missouri's total field goal attempts, he has continued to play the same brand of extremely efficient basketball, shooting 53% from 2-point range and 42% for 3, while coughing the ball up on just 9% of his possessions and averaging only 1.3 turnovers per 40 minutes pace adjusted. This is particularly impressive given his expanded role as Missouri's primary scoring option.
On film, Denmon continues to excel as a perimeter shooter with his feet set, both guarded and unguarded, and he sports a picture perfect release with range that extends well beyond the NBA three-point line. Only 20% of his shots come off pull-up jumpers, demonstrating the narrowly tailored role Denmon plays for Missouri, as well as his patience and shot-selectionwhich helps explain why he's such an efficient player.
Despite looking slightly more aggressive looking to take his man off the dribble, Denmon remains a limited shot-creator due to his average size, strength, explosiveness and ball-handling skills. Very opportunistic in transition, off cuts, or on straight line drives, Denmon is able to keep defenses honest just enough to not be labeled as a one-dimensional player.
Denmon certainly has solid tools and fundamentals on the defensive end of the floor, where he guards every perimeter position. He displays good lateral quickness and quick hands, but at 6'3 with a wiry 185-pound frame and an average wingspan, it remains to be seen whether he can guard NBA-sized shooting guards on a consistent basis.
Despite coming off of an excellent senior season, Denmon still has work to do in terms of carving out a role for himself at the NBA level. Though he possesses excellent intangibles as an extremely tough, smart, hard-working and winning attitude, he is still not remotely a point guard; remains extremely undersized for the shooting guard position; and lacks the elite athleticism to compensate. He has improved his offensive arsenal as a senior, however, continuing to prove himself as an extremely efficient perimeter scoring threat, but will need to fall into the right situation in the NBA to stick and make an impact. Denmon should have plenty of opportunities in the NCAA Tournament, and during the pre-draft process to continue to prove to scouts that he has what it takes to fill a niche as a sparkplug scorer in the NBA.
Alex Young, 6-6, Small Forward, Senior, IUPUI
One of the top-10 scorers in college basketball, Alex Young's senior season and career at IUPUI came to a disappointing end this week after losing in the quarterfinals of the Summit league conference tournament.
Young increased his scoring productivity on both a per-game and per-minute basis this season, but did so on a high-volume, low-efficiency basis, ranking 3rd amongst collegiate prospects in field goal attempts per-minute pace adjusted, while shooting a career low 42% from the field. He was able to offset that somewhat by getting to the free throw line more often and turning the ball over much less frequently, but did so mostly in a losing cause on a team that went 14-18 on the season and finished seventh in the weak Summit League, with a 7-11 record.
Young is a very impressive player to take in on first glance, as he has terrific size for a wing player at 6-6 to go along with a NBA-ready frame. He's an instinctive scorer who can create his own shot at will and makes jumpers from all over the floor, sometimes in extremely impressive fashion.
A solid ball-handler in the open floor, Young is occasionally asked to initiate his team's offense from the perimeter, using his superior size, strong frame and aggressive nature to bully his way to the rim, drawing plenty of fouls in turn. Not particularly explosive around the rim, he struggles to finish everything he creates for himself, but is such a force driving down the lane at the Summit league level that he can often get himself to the free throw line instead. Young is talented enough to put the ball in the net from almost anywhere on the floor, albeit not in an efficient manner, as evidenced by his poor shooting percentages (47% from 2-point range).
Also a capable perimeter shooter, Young can get very hot at times and bury some very tough jumpers from well beyond the 3-point line. His shot-selection is exceptionally poor unfortunately, as he has a difficult time distinguishing between good and bad looks, as has a tendency to settle for deep, contested pull-up jumpers early in the shot clock, which makes it very difficult for him or his team to play efficient, winning basketball. Young attempted nearly five and a half 3-pointers per game this season, but converted just 34% of them, struggling in particular to make shots with his feet set.
Defensively, when dialed in, Young can make a major impact with his combination of size, strength and length at the Summit league level, as he moves his feet well and has good anticipation skills, getting a good amount of steals jumping in the passing lanes. Young's fundamentals and awareness can waver at times, though, and his team ranked as one of the worst defenses in the NCAA this season, giving up 110 points per 100 possessions according to Kenpom.com.
The type of player who could have some strong workouts thanks to his impressive physique and solid one on one scoring instincts, Young will have a chance to display his merits as a NBA-level scorer at the Portsmouth Invitational tournament in April.