Blogging through Championship Week (Part Four)

Blogging through Championship Week (Part Four)
Mar 15, 2008, 02:44 pm
Thoughts from the Pac-10 Semi-Finals

O.J. Mayo- This was another good all-around game for Mayo, although not quite as impressive as yesterday’s outing against Arizona State. He facilitated SC’s offense beautifully in the first half, moving the ball around unselfishly and getting everyone involved. He was hounded all game by arguably the top defensive player in the Pac-10 in Russell Westbrook, but did not get rattled, showing great patience sticking to his team’s game-plan and not forcing the issue. He’s looking more and more like the PG he came in billed as.

Mayo also took the ball to the basket more aggressively than normal, which is a nice development considering that this is a part of his game that people have begun to question. He managed to blow by Westbrook on a few occasions, but only got average results finishing at rim. He showed great ability to change speeds and directions, and showed a gear today that I had not previously seen. It was impressive to see him create his own shot equally well going both left and right.

Mayo did not take enough responsibility in the second half when SC needed leadership from him, particularly as a scorer. He looked all too willing to give up the ball, until the very end of the game that is. At times he appears to be unselfish to a fault, which is somewhat surprising considering his reputation coming into college. He had 8 points in the first half, but did not score again until 3 minutes to go in the second half, at which point he reeled off 7 impressive points in a row, to give USC a chance to win the game at the end. The ridiculous amount of minutes he's playing as a freshman seems to be catching up to him, and you could see a hint of fatigue setting in on his second night getting almost no rest on the back to back. He had a pretty good look on the potential game-tying three, at the end of the game, but it rimmed out.

Kyle Weaver- Had his best game of the season at just the right time, scoring a career-high 25 points on 8-15 shooting from the field and 7-10 from the free throw line. A big development was the fact that he hit two pull-up 3-pointers in rhythm, and another long two-pointer from mid-range. That’s the part of his game that will be scrutinized the most, as despite the 39% he shoots from long range, he’s only hit 24 of them on the season in 31 games. We specifically watched him shooting around in the pre-game, and there did not appear to be a lot to be encouraged by regarding his spot-up jumper, either by the form (with a low, slow release point) or the results. It appears that he is better pulling up off the dribble than he is on the catch and shoot. His Synergy Sports Technology Quantified report seems to indicate the same thing—they have him tracked as hitting 8/28 spot-up jumpers (29%), and 14/45 (36%) pulling up off the dribble. They have not tracked every single game he’s played in this season, just most of them.

Thankfully for Weaver, there is a lot more to his game than just his outside shot. He got in the passing lanes repeatedly, playing his typical outstanding defense, and also drew a gutsy charge in the post from Brook Lopez. He was also very aggressive putting the ball on floor and getting to free throw line.

Brook Lopez- We saw a lot of the same from Lopez tonight, besides the fact that he didn't have a long armed athlete like Jordan Hill in his face all game long. He scored 30 points on 11-22 shooting from the field, virtually all on right-handed hook shots and turnaround jumpers from the, five foot range, only being forced to use a counter move once (an awkward dribble spin move that he missed, then got the putback on). Stanford’s offense revolves exclusively around him (which we need to take into consideration when looking at his poor FG% numbers), and when he couldn't get the ball in the post, he just went and got it off the glass, grabbing six offensive rebounds on the night. He also knocked down 8 of his 10 attempts from the free throw line, in typical impressive fashion. Defensively, he was a huge presence inside, absolutely destroying Aron Baynes on both ends of the floor.

Joseph Treutlein gave us his perspective on how to evaluate Lopez’s offensive game…”On one hand, he’s not going to be able to rush the same exact move every single time he touches the ball in the post when he’s matched up with the Tim Duncan’s, Andrew Bynum’s, Marcus Camby’s, and Dwight Howard’s of the world. On the other, with his size, athleticism, and coordination, he will be able to go to those simple moves most of the time against a lot of NBA defenders. When looking at a guy with his physical tools and that package of skills and intangibles, if you have a top pick in the draft, you might just have to look at him and say ‘I’m just going to hope he develops the counter moves and post awareness that haven’t been necessary to his success at the college level,’ as guys with his game at his size just don’t come around very often.”

Kevin Love- Love had another very strong game, mostly thanks to a huge spurt he had to start off the 2nd half. He came alive in the first minutes of the 2nd half, just like yesterday, scoring 11 straight points (two and ones and a three-pointer), as part of a 15-2 run in first four minutes that changed the complexion of the game. After seeing how he works the paint for two straight days here, I’m convinced that he's going to be a very good rebounder even in the NBA. His technique, timing, hands, and motor are all top-notch.

Darren Collison- He again continues to show absolutely no hesitation on his mid-range pullup jumper, a shot he didn’t have in his arsenal last year, but gets great results on. What a pest defensively…

Russell Westbrook- Struggled a bit from the field early, going 2-9 in the first half. He missed two wide open 3-pointers early, one badly. We got the same impression watching him in warm-ups—his stroke needs a lot of work. He at one point passed up an open shot even, having appears to lose some confidence in his stroke. He’s obviously an incredible athlete with huge potential, but at the moment it appears that his stock is starting to come back to earth.

Davon Jefferson-Started off the game on fire, scoring 12 points in the first 12 minutes, hitting a 3-pointer, finishing athletically around the basket, and even pulling up off the dribble crudely from mid-range at one point. He came out hungry and focused, but then proceeded to do absolutely nothing for the next 28 minutes.

Thoughts from elsewhere around the country…

Joseph Treutlein

Tyler Hansbrough- Had an up-and-down game against Florida State, scoring 22 points, hitting on most of his mid-range jumpers and getting a lot of finishes down low where he secured inside position, but struggled a bit with his back-to-the-basket game, having trouble getting off clean looks with even hook shots and fadeaway jumpers, against a less than imposing frontline. How Hansbrough’s back-to-the-basket game will translate to the next level is a serious concern, but his developing mid-range jumper should definitely ease his transition. Speaking of the next level, a reporter on the ESPN broadcast mentioned that there’s a rumor going around that Hansbrough has renewed the lease on his campus house for next year. While Hansbrough is currently on our mock draft, there seems to be a good chance he does in fact return to school, as there are multiple reasons for doing so. For one, he will decimate UNC’s all-time scoring record (held by Phil Ford) if he decides to return next year. With 2,023 points scored thus far, he has a good chance of catching J.J. Redick’s all-time ACC record as well, which stands at 2,769. On top of that, if UNC can win a national title, Hansbrough could go down as one of the best college basketball players in history, and be pretty close to the very top of the list. While he should go on to have success in the pros, it will likely never measure up to what his place in history in college basketball can be, and that may be his reasoning to stay another year.

D.J. Augustin-
Had a strong game to lead Texas past Oklahoma State in a tough game, scoring 24 points on 11 shot attempts, though only dishing out 3 assists. One of Augustin’s most impressive skills is the ability to pull up off the dribble from three-point range, something he does so smoothly and with such ease. When he gets a screen to come around or when his defender gives him space, he’s very good at pulling up in rhythm and nailing a three, something he did multiple times in this game. While Augustin didn’t get credited with many assists, he looked very good in the drive-and-dish game, showing good vision and decision-making in the lane, and also pushed the ball well in transition, something you like to see from a point guard. On the downside, when Texas’ offense struggles to get points off execution, Augustin’s response can often be to force a tough shot on his own, such as pulling up for a contested three-pointer, which isn’t the ideal decision you want your point guard making. Also, while Augustin does show a tendency to overdribble at times, he’s also shown the ability to play off the ball late in the season, doing so in this game by getting open for spot-up shots by moving through the defense. Augustin played extremely aggressive defense in the early going as well, playing up on his individual matchup and pressuring hard in the trap Texas was employing, and while his intensity level didn’t remain that high for the entire game, he still played solid. Continued strong play through the postseason will be important for Augustin’s stock, as there are quite a few point guards capable of being drafted in the top half of the first round that he’ll be fighting for position with.

Damion James-
Lost amidst all the other great prospects in the nation over the course of this season, Damion James has taken noticeable strides in his development as an NBA prospect, and there’s really quite a lot to like about the package he brings to the table. James has been as key a player as any for the Longhorns this year, averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds per game, while pulling in 23 and 11 this game. The biggest development in his game this season has obviously been his three-point shot as he only hit one shot from deep all of last year. James is shooting 42% this year, albeit on only 64 attempts, but he’s developed into a clear threat from deep, as evidenced by his three long balls in this game. James brought his excellent defense to the table against OSU as well, contesting shots on the perimeter and in the post, using his excellent athleticism and length to do so. While likely not entering the draft this year, it’s hard to ignore that James is developing into the consummate role-playing small forward for the next level, with his energy, defense, athleticism, rebounding, and now the ability to spot-up from three. He has some mid-range and post-up game as well, which he showed with a nice turnaround jumper on the baseline going to his off-shoulder in this game. James could improve his stock a lot by coming back next season and playing a more feature role in the offense while continuing to improve his skill-set, but he already has a lot of things he could contribute at an NBA level.

Darian Townes-
Had a great game as Arkansas fought for their postseason lives against Vanderbilt, leading his team to a win with 18 points and 7 rebounds, most of them scored by sheer athleticism, determination, and touch around the basket. Townes has struggled to establish consistency in both production and minutes in his four years at Arkansas, never really putting the complete package together, despite showing nice athleticism, size, and a groundwork of skills in the post, consisting of hook shots and turnaround jumpers. Townes will be fighting for his prospect life, and possibly his team’s NCAA Tournament hopes, today against Tennessee, though it’d be very surprising to see him not get the invite to Portsmouth in early April. Continued strong play is very important to his future chances, though, as he has four years of underwhelming play to make up for, and he could use every chance to do that, be it a postseason game or a pre-draft camp.

Shan Foster- Struggled to really get going against Arkansas, the target of very tough off-ball defense, which obviously took him out of rhythm and limited good shot opportunities. He missed on some open shots from deep, though, and wasn’t consisted finishing with his right-handed floater when he had an open path to the basket. That said, there’s still quite a lot to be impressed with in looking at his game, even in such an underwhelming performance. The high-release point on his shot that allows him to get off tough, contested shots is clearly a strong selling point, as is his ability to show good accuracy when fading away. Also, it’s very nice to see the right-handed shooter hit smooth pull-up shots going left and pulling up from a left dribble, making it look effortless.

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