13.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.1 turnovers, 1.1 blocks, 58.9% FG, 42.4% 3FG, 67.3% FT
Last time we checked in on Markieff Morris in late December, he appeared to be coming into his own as a terrific complement to his twin brother, Marcus, on the offensive end. Though he committed 6 first half turnovers as the Jayhawks fell victim to VCU's improbable Final Four run, Morris's body of work since our last update has continued to impress scouts, to the point that he's now viewed as a consensus first round pick.
A strong, explosive, and physical power forward with a readymade NBA frame, Morris has come a long way since his freshman year at Kansas when he shot just 44.8% from the field. Now able to match his athleticism with a number of promising offensive tools, the junior appears to have turned the corner as a prospect.
Perhaps the biggest change in Morris's game this season has come on the perimeter, where he's emerged as a reliable spot-up threat, especially when left open. Though Morris knocked down 52.6% of his three-point attempts as a sophomore, his jump shot had not emerged as a significant part of his offensive arsenal, as he only attempted 19 3-point shots all season. Attempting almost two jumpers per-game this season, and connecting on 42.4% of them according to Synergy Sports Technology, Morris has been consistently making the shots he's getting when defenders collapse on his teammates' post-ups and drive-and-kicks, something that makes him a valuable offensive cog in many NBA offenses as a floor-spacer.
Around the basket, Morris has continued to improve as a finisher. Progressing steadily with his skill-level in recent years, Morris's coordination has caught up with his aggression and athleticism around the basket, as evidenced by his near 70% shooting in finishing situations this season and highly ranked 62.5% two-point field goal percentage.
The same can't necessarily be said for his post play, where he continues to get by on his ability to pin his man on the high-side and finish the lob passes subsequently sent his way. Considering that he connected on 51% of his post-up opportunities according to Synergy Sports Technology, it is safe to say that Morris wasn't hampered by his lack of a go-to-move on the college level, but it will be important for him to refine his post-game if he wants to see touches consistently in one-on-one situations with his back to the basket on the NBA level as he doesn't create shots for himself from the midrange.
Though Morris still has a ways to develop, and could stand to cut down on his turnovers and improve his overall decision-making, the progress he's made this season has been overwhelmingly positive. Looking at his freshman season alone, Morris seemed bound for a basic catch-and-finish role predicated on hustle and defensive toughness that would have him spending virtually all of his times at the rim or in the paint. His offensive skill set now fills a variety of roles that fit nicely with the ever-increasing versatility of the power forward position on the NBA level.
Defensively, Morris has clearly improved on paper, cutting down on his fouls and rebounding the ball at an impressive rate. However, it is his toughness and the way he takes things personally on the defensive end that are most intriguing. His wingspan won't allow him to be a big factor as a weakside shot blocker, but he's got the mentality to be a solid one-on-one defensive player and a quality area rebounder early in his career.
While Markieff Morris may not have a tremendous feel for the game or superstar potential, he has all the tools and versatility to enjoy a long NBA career and be a solid contributor on both ends of the floor. Considering his steady ascension over the course of his three year college career, he could clearly continue to improve if given the minutes necessary to feel out his game in the NBA. With a number of highly touted power forward prospects electing to return to school, the recently declared Morris will surely look even more attractive ond raft day.
Jeremy Lamb, 6'5, Shooting Guard, Freshman, Connecticut
11.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 turnovers, 48.7% FG, 79.7% FT, 36.8% 3PT
While Kemba Walker was the unquestioned leader of the University of Connecticut national championship team, Jeremy Lamb's development into a consistent off the ball scorer played a pivotal role in UConn's improbable championship run.
Lamb came into the season as a mid-level recruit, not cracking the top 100 in either ESPN or Scout.com's final rankings. While Lamb began to show flashes of realizing his potential with strong showings in Big East conference play, he arguably raised his stock more than anyone over the course of the conference and NCAA tournaments, averaging 15.2 points per game over his last 11 games, all of which he scored in double figures, becoming a key secondary piece in the Huskies surprising Big East and NCAA tournament championship runs.
The first thing that jumps out about Lamb is his incredible length. Standing at 6'5 with a reported 7'1 wingspan which, if true, would be one of the longest wingspans of any shooting guard in our database Lamb has a unique physical profile for a shooting guard. He combines that with very good athleticism, creating an extremely intriguing prospect from a physical standpoint.
That's not to say everything is to like about his profile, as Lamb is rail thin with slender shoulders, possessing a frame that may have difficulty adding much more weightsomething that could make his life very difficult early on in his NBA career.
Lamb's length makes him a potential play maker on the defensive side of the ball. With an ability to play the passing lanes, his length also allows him to play further off his man on isolation situations than normal defenders would, as he has good ability to recover, close out and contest an otherwise open jump shot. He also has the ability to recover when his man beats him off dribble penetration. UConn used Lamb's length for stretches on Shelvin Mack and Brandon Knight during their tournament run, showing off his potential defensive versatility.
Beyond his athletic profile, however, Lamb is a little erratic defensively from a technical standpoint, not entirely uncommon for a freshman playing big minutes in a primarily man to man defense. He can at times be too upright defensively, and has a tendency to lose his man off the ball. He appears to have solid lateral quickness and good intensity on this end of the court, which combined with his length provides a reasonable amount of intrigue on what he can ultimately become on this end of the court. Additionally, his lack of strength would likely be a major hindrance going up against grown men at the NBA level, likely preventing him from seeing very much playing time until he addresses this issue in a serious way.
Offensively, Lamb's game currently revolves primarily around the jump shot. Lamb's a good catch and shoot option, who should be able to extend his range out to NBA three point line. His catch and shoot game can be a little inconsistent, but with enough repetition this should be a staple of his game.
Lamb's a very good midrange jump shooter, and he does a good job coming off screens and curls, running tight off screens to get separation, and showing a quick release with good elevation, a skill that should translate well to the next level.
He has a good first step with long strides, but is currently held back somewhat by his average ball-handling skills and a lack of advanced moves creating his own shot, although he does show signs of developing a quick right to left spin move, which helps him gain separation on forays to the hoop. He heavily favors driving to his left, usually to setup a very effective pull-up jump shot.
Lamb shows decent body control and touch around the rim, but that's partially wasted as there are several factors limiting his overall effectiveness at the rim. He favors finishing with his right hand, struggles at times to finish through contact, and gets to the line very infrequently. In fact, at only 2.1 free throw attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted, Lamb comes in as one of the five worst collegiate shooting guards in our database in that category. He offsets this somewhat by showing nice touch on floaters in the lane, showing an ability to hit them from all angles, and using the glass well from the right side.
The son of former VCU star, NBA draft pick and CBA player Rolando Lamb, Jeremy Lamb plays the part of a kid who grew up around the game. Lamb does a good job of playing within himself, has a high basketball IQ, and is reportedly a hard worker off the court.
Should Lamb return to the University of Connecticut next year he'll be returning to a drastically different role, with much larger expectations placed upon his slender shoulders. Lamb seemed to coast at times, floating around the perimeter waiting for the play to come to him. This very well could have been exacerbated by his role and playing alongside Kemba Walker.
If Lamb returns, he'll have the opportunity to show whether he is capable of being the focal point of an offense, something that looks doubtful considering his average shot-creating ability. Even so, Lamb's current skill set as an off the ball traditional shooting guard, combined with his unique physical profile, creates a very intriguing prospect and has him now firmly on the radar of NBA executives.
Nikola Vucevic, 6-11, PF/C, Junior, USC
17.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.7 turnovers, 51% FG, 76% FT, 35% 3PT
A player we profiled extensively just three months ago, Nikola Vucevic actually managed to slightly increase his production and efficiency numbers in conference play, continuing to play excellent basketball all season long. He didn't have the best finish to his junior year in postseason play, but given the turmoil surrounding his head coach at the time, it's hard to read too much into that.
Vucevic chose to declare for the draft and hire an agent immediately after his season ended, which gives him a lot of flexibility going forward given his European background. Unlike most NCAA players who have to decide whether to keep their name in the draft by May 8th, Vucevic has until June 13th to decide to stay in or go to Europe to play for a year instead.
Looking at Vucevic's on-court performance this season, he's shown an outstanding learning curve and has made a lot of adjustments to his game that benefit his prospects as a potential NBA role player. While his spot shooting ability is still in its early stages of development, he's already an extremely dangerous shooter from the mid-range in spot-up and pick-and-pop situations, while his three-point attempts and percentages both gradually increased as the season went on. If he does decide to pass on the draft for a year, he should have ample opportunity to further foster this ability in high-level Europe, where his style of play would fit in perfectly.
Vucevic also showed slightly increased comfort handling the ball on straight-line drives as the season went on, and dabbled with pull-up one-dribble jumpers from the mid-range as well. Neither of these skills are yet on an NBA level, but it's a good sign that he's still trying to expand his game, and at just 20 years old with his overall feel, there's a good chance there's more improvement to come here.
He's not a great runner, does not play above the rim with regularity, and still needs to put a good amount of work into his power game, but his feel for the game, skill-level and tremendous touch around the basket leave plenty of room for optimism regarding his ability to fit into a pro offense with his ability to score inside and out.
Defensively, Vucevic's strengths and limitations remain largely the same. Displaying a solid fundamental base and effort level to go along with terrific length, and good positioning and timing as a shot blocker, Vucevic does a decent job overall, but is prone to being outmuscled in the post and outquicked on the perimeter by bigger, stronger athletes. His length helps compensate for this somewhat, though, as he can contest shots very effectively with his long wingspan.
Looking forward, Vucevic has multiple options at his disposal, while his stock is already fairly strong, being projected as a borderline first round pick at the moment. His skill set projects well both as a role playing big in the NBA or a perimeter-oriented big man in Europe, and if he does choose to go to the overseas route, it's arguably a noticeably more beneficial situation for his development than would be returning to USC for his senior season. With a lockout potentially looming and him being able to get paid immediately for a season in Europe, that option has to be looking very attractive, especially if Vucevic plans to continue putting in the work improving his growing skill set, which could raise his stock even higher a year from now, or even in this draft for a team looking to plan ahead in advance of a lockout.
Matt Howard, 6-8, Senior, Power Forward, Butler, 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.7 TO, 1.1 steals, 47.1% FG, 39.8% 3FG, 79.2% FT
There is no denying Matt Howard's illustrious career at Butler, which yielded consecutive appearances in the national championship game. In four years, Howard improved and evolved as much as any NCAA player, combining energy and fundamentals to be productive against mid-major and NBA-caliber talent.
His prospects at the next level, however, are not so defined as Butler's post-season run highlighted his strengths and his weaknesses well.
Standing somewhere between 6-7 and 6-8, with a narrow frame, Howard has maximized his physical tools since arriving at Butler and is a very well conditioned player. That said, he is still undersized for the NBA-post, which was evident in his struggles in the national championship game against Connecticut's elite post athletes. Though he works extremely hard all over the floor, his below average strength, explosiveness and quickness limited him in college and will continue to hinder him at the next level.
From an offensive perspective, Howard improved as a senior, showcasing the same fundamentally sound post game while integrating perimeter shooting into his repertoire. He averaged 21.7 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted while shooting 50.8 inside of the arc and 39.8% from beyonda tremendously productive season.
While he was post-bound throughout his career, Howard found 20.4% of his offensive possessions in spot-up opportunities as a senior, and connected on 44% of his attempts. He showcased range out to the NBA three-point line as a senior, where he made just under 40% of his 4.7 attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted. This is impressive given that he attempted just 20 three-point field goals in his career prior to his senior season, where he made 53 of his 133 attempts. He does not get much lift and his needs to tighten up his mechanics, but his shooting ability adds an intriguing, NBA-friendly element to his game. That said, his production dropped off considerably when matched up against NBA-caliber big men in the NCAA tournament.
In the post, it's largely the same story for Howard. He is still limited by his over reliance on his left hand and his subpar athleticism, but his footwork has improved. He now looks comfortable executing complex spin-moves towards the basket in addition to his reliable jump hook and drop step. The NCAA Tournament was a particularly good showcase, as Howard struggled to finish against better athletes, but still found a way to get to the basket consistently. Furthermore, though he is a poor finisher due to his lack of explosiveness, he has always gotten to the line at an excellent rate, where he converts 79.2% of his 8.1 attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted.
While Butler played outstanding defense throughout their magical NCAA tournament run, its tough to project Howard as more than an average defender at best at the NBA-level considering his physical tools. He struggles to guard the pick-and-roll effectively and his lateral quickness does him few favors on the perimeter. Despite his effort, he has similar trouble in the post as he lacks the strength and size to hold his own against bigger and more athletic big men. It seems as though his struggles will intensify at the next level with consistently better competition.
Howard improved on one of his major weaknesses this season, grabbing 10.2 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted, up from a paltry 8.6 last year. His instincts and fundamentals are above average in this area, which allows him to somewhat compensate for his athletic shortcomings. Whether his productiveness translates to the NBA remains to be seen.
While it is unwise to scout solely based on the NCAA Tournament, Howard's successes and struggles likely translate well to the next level. His lack of size, strength and athleticism is significant to his NBA prospects, as it will likely limit him significantly against the more physically gifted big men he'll see at the next level. With that said, his shooting ability, consistently high energy level, and outstanding intangibles will remain attractive to NBA teams looking to fill out their bench. Howard's college career has positioned him well for professional basketball and if he struggles to make the NBA, there is no doubt that he is an attractive prospect for high-level European basketball.