Evaluating the NCAA Freshman Class, Part Two

Evaluating the NCAA Freshman Class, Part Two
Jan 14, 2009, 11:20 pm
We take a look at another four of the more highly touted members of the NCAA freshman class--Jrue Holiday, Scotty Hopson, Sylven Landesberg and Trey Thompkins--to see what we can learn from their performance about half of the way through the college season.

Evaluating the NCAA Freshman Class, Part One
Greg Monroe Report
Al-Farouq Aminu Report

Jrue Holiday, 6-4, Freshman, PG/SG, UCLA
10.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2 turnovers, 1.7 steals, 50% FG, 33% 3P, 66% FT, 27 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Ranked by the RSCI as the #2 prospect in this exceedingly enigmatic freshman class, the expectations were obviously going to be quite high for Jrue Holiday going into the season. This was always going to be a difficult proposition, though, as not only is he quite young (only turning 19 in June), but he also is playing mostly off the ball next to one of the NCAA’s top point guards in Darren Collison, in a slow-paced, ultra efficient offense.

Learning the nuances of Ben Howland’s system takes any player time, as we’ve seen from UCLA’s pro guards over the past few years, and Holiday is the type of unselfish, mature, high-character player who would always come into a new situation being slightly deferential. All that combined led to a somewhat slow start for the west coast product, although he seems to be picking things up lately as his comfort level at UCLA grows.

Holiday’s jump-shot was the slowest to come along early on in the season, although it still shows good potential. He has a quick release and nice shooting mechanics, being capable of making shots both with his feet set and off the dribble. He’s only shooting 33% from beyond the arc at this point, but it seems like this figure could rise as the season moves on.

Athletically, Holiday does not really stand out compared with other top guard prospects, such as Ty Lawson and Brandon Jennings. He has great strength, but isn’t blessed with an incredible first step or outstanding leaping ability, being more likely to impress with his feel for the game, fundamentals and all-around versatility. That’s one of the reasons (along with UCLA’s system) he hasn’t gotten to the free throw line very much at all early on—and he’s converted just 65% of his attempts once there.

Not quite a true point guard just yet, Holiday has very good vision regardless and is an extremely unselfish player. He shows great patience on the pick and roll, and plays the game at a very nice pace, usually letting things come to him within the flow of the offense. Although his ball-handling skills are still improvable, he can create his own shot going left or right, and is extremely crafty getting his shot off. Not immune to making freshman mistakes, Holiday does turn the ball over at a slightly above average rate.

The best part of Holiday’s game, by far, is clearly his defense, where he already looks like one of the top guards in the country. Holiday has phenomenal lateral quickness, being extremely physical and intense getting right up in his matchup and giving him absolutely no space to operate on the perimeter. He gets in the passing lanes at a terrific rate, showing incredible hands and timing picking his opponent’s pocket, but does not gamble like most young players do. His length and strength come in very handy here, but it’s really his smarts and fundamentals that really stand out the most. There is very little doubt that Holiday will be able to guard both guard positions in the NBA, which makes him extremely versatile when you consider that he will likely be able to play both positions on the offensive end as well.

There is a certain type of team and coach that Holiday will appeal most to, and that is almost certainly what will keep his NBA draft stock high despite the fact that his production does not jump off the page. He is a complete player on both ends of the floor, the type that fits into any system and clearly is programmed to help a team win games. Whether or not he decides to come out this season and how highly NBA teams value an extraordinary role player in his mold (who is not a star) are questions we’ll be trying to figure out over the next few months.

Scotty Hopson, 6-7, Freshman, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Tennessee
8.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 47.4% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 76.5% FT, 20.5 minutes

Kyle Nelson

Tennessee freshman Scotty Hopson entered this season with an enormous amount of hype, being expected to be one of the nation’s top freshmen since the first day he stepped on campus. Thus far, however, the results have been mixed, as 14 games into the season, Hopson is averaging just 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist in 20 minutes per game.

Hopson has put his many strengths and weaknesses on full display, and has shown that while the hype may someday be justified, he has a lot of work to do before reaching his vast potential. With a difficult conference schedule left to play, though, it will be up to Hopson to step up to the plate and maximize his strengths to help the Volunteers.

Standing at 6’7, with a great wingspan, Hopson has outstanding size and length for a wing player, and is an elite athlete at any level of competition. He possesses a good first step and nice quickness in the open floor, as well. While he could stand to add some more muscle to his slight, 185-pound frame, there is little not to like about Hopson’s physical profile.

Offensively, Hopson is for the most part a one trick pony at this point, primarily a spot-up perimeter gunner in coach Bruce Pearl’s up-tempo offense. After all, the 2.9 three point attempts per game constitute 43% of his total offense. His shooting form looks good at this point, as evidenced by his 41.3% three-point field goal percentage, but it is not without its kinks. While Hopson gets outstanding elevation, which combined with a high arching jump-shot makes his shot nearly impossible to block at this level, he needs continue to smooth out his mechanics, namely removing wasted motion from his lower body and working to make his motion more fluid. Outside of these small concerns, however, there is little not to like about Hopson’s perimeter shooting ability, which will likely translate favorably to the next level and is his primary weapon on the offensive end at this point in his young career.

Looking at other areas of Hopson’s offensive game reveal some flashes and potential, but little consistency. When he does choose to put the ball on the floor, he shows very poor ball handling ability, which limits his otherwise good first step and hinders his ability to get to the basket. This is a shame considering his elite leaping ability and body control, both of which suggest he could be a superb finisher at the collegiate level if he were to work on tightening up his handle and get more aggressive taking the ball to the basket. An improved handle would also likely help him find a mid-range game, which has been non-existent to this point in the season. Though he does not look like the greatest shot creator with the ball in his hands, he ideally should be able to open up more opportunities for himself with his athleticism and all-around talent.

Defensively, Hopson has a great deal of potential, but like many young “star” players, is mostly a non-factor on this end of the floor. Though he has a good wingspan and lateral quickness, he does not display much energy on defense, which is amplified by his lack of defensive awareness. He is also a very poor rebounder, grabbing just four rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted (worst amongst all SFs in our database), despite his elite physical attributes. These deficiencies are likely a big part of why he has yet to carve out a real niche at Tennessee early on. Increasing his intensity, at the very least, would be an improvement and would help him to find more minutes in Tennessee’s crowded perimeter, as well as improve his stock in the eyes of scouts.

The important thing to remember is that, despite Hopson’s many high school accolades, he is just a freshman, getting accustomed to playing for a very talented high-major division one basketball team. He has a tremendous amount of potential, and once his skill-set begins to catch up to his elite athleticism, he could develop into a tremendous player. Now, though, Hopson must work on his fundamentals, continue to expand his offensive game, and play more aggressively on both ends of the floor. The NBA is very likely in the long-term equation for a player of Hopson’s caliber, but he has a lot of work to do in the meantime.

Sylven Landesberg, 6-6, freshman, Shooting Guard, Virginia
18.5 points; 6.0 rebounds; 2.6 assists, 2.4 turnovers; 48.7% FG; 30.0% 3FG; 82.4% FT

Scott Nadler

Little talked about Sylven Landesberg has quietly become one of, if not, the most productive freshman in the country. In a season where the freshman class has underperformed, Landesberg is showing why he was a McDonald’s All-American, as he has already become Virginia’s go-to-guy. His smooth demeanor coupled with an aggressive nature make this Queen’s native a very intriguing NBA prospect.

Landesberg’s ability to get to the basket is undeniable. He puts pressure on the defense for 40 minutes and is always in attack mode. He’s not exceptionally quick, but he manages to get in the paint with ease by using a variety of crafty hesitation moves which are very tough to keep up with at the collegiate level. He handles the ball very well, and has the ability to cover a lot of ground with just one dribble.

With great size at 6’6’, and a very strong frame, Landesberg does not shy away from contact; in fact, he welcomes it. He gets to the line at a very impressive rate at 8.8 times a game per-40 pace adjusted, good for 12th in the country, and 1st amongst freshman, while connecting on 82.4% of those attempts. His savvy and aggressiveness are also key factors for why he’s able to get to the line so often, although there are question marks about how this part of his game might translate to the next level.

When he’s not drawing contact, his finesse game takes over, enabling him to weave in and out of defenses. He displays great body control on his dribble drives, using long strides and side steps to get where he wants to go. He also has a great knack of finishing in traffic, whether it’s a runner or a reverse lay-up, Landesberg finds creative ways to put the ball in the basket.

With that said, he has tendency to press and force the action. At least a couple times a game, he’ll take questionable off balance shots or penetrate into a crowd, essentially wasting a few possessions each contest. Landesberg’s first step is usually enough to get by at the collegiate level, but you already see instances when he struggles to beat more athletic players off the dribble, in which case he’ll usually force a very tough shot off at the rim with a defender draped all over him.

Another improvement Landesberg must make in order to reach his true ceiling is with his shooting. He has a nice looking stroke, especially with his free throws, but when spotting up or pulling up he has shown an inconsistent form and a flat shot, often looking rushed and uncomfortable. He’s also flat-footed when he shoots on the catch which also contributes to a flat shot as he displays a rather slow release. He’s currently shooting 48.7%, with the vast majority of his shots coming at the rim and has only attempted 20 three pointers in the first 13 games making just 6 of them. His shot is certainly not broken however, and there is definite reason to think he can make the necessary adjustments to become a better overall shooter. This is extremely important for a player like Landesberg considering that he will almost certainly not be able to just get to the rim at the NBA level the way he does in college, due to his average athleticism.

Landesberg’s passing skills and decision making could use some improvement as well. When driving to the basket, his mind is made up on scoring, often missing open teammates as a result. Other times he’s so focused on sizing up his defender that he holds the ball and slows down the offense. With that said, the quality of his teammates leaves a lot to be desired, and he’s really the only one on the roster who can really create his own shot at a high level. His A/TO ratio is a decent 1.01, and he’s only turning the ball over 2.4 times game, not bad for a freshman that handles the ball as much as he does. With the country beginning to take notice of his stellar play, it’s going to be interesting to see if his vision will open up due to the added attention he’ll start receiving in conference play. Landesberg has an excellent feel for the game and can definitely make plays for others, so it’s likely just a matter of gaining experience and learning how to better pick his spots.

On the defensive end, Landesberg has been solid and will only get better. He has all the tools to be a solid perimeter defender, even if his lateral quickness is just average, and clearly puts the effort in. He’s long and very strong, and despite having great foot-speed, he makes up for it with long and low strides. There are times when he comes out of his stance and loses sight of his man, but for the most part he plays with great spirit and energy, which is true on both ends of the court.

Another outstanding element of Landesberg’s game is with his ability to rebound. His no fear attitude and toughness is a big reason for why he’s one of the best rebounding guards in the country, pulling down 6.7 rebounds a game per 40 pace adjusted. On his defensive rebounds, he’s able to grab it and push it down the court, an extremely valuable skill, especially at the next level. He locates the ball quickly and is not afraid to sacrifice his body in traffic.

At only 18 years old (turning 19 in April), Landesberg is one of the most impressive newcomers in the country and has a game that could translate to the next level if he continues to improve his all-around skill-level and polish and learns how to overcome his athletic limitations. He’s already been named ACC freshman of the week 5 times, and with a great foundation and terrific instincts, Landesberg could develop into a very intriguing NBA prospect.

Trey Thompkins, 6’9, Power Forward, Freshman, Georgia
14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 2.6 turnovers, 50% FG, 73% FT, 49% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

Although he missed the first four games of the season and wasn’t able to participate in much offseason strength training, Trey Thompkins has gotten off to a pretty solid start for the Georgia Bulldogs, especially of late, with three consecutive strong games against Missouri, Georgia Tech, and Tennessee. Heading into the conference season, he seems to be getting his game in stride, which is good news for the Bulldogs.

Despite missing significant time with knee and ankle injuries (meaning he may not be at 100% quite yet), it appears pretty evident early on that Thompkins is at best an average athlete. He is a mobile and coordinated big man with great length, and an excellent frame, but lacks any real explosiveness around the rim. He’s struggled finishing around the basket this season for that reason, but has been able to make up for that and then some with his terrific skill-set.

Looking at his offensive game, Thompkins looks very adept inside the post, where he has a nice repertoire of moves and a very good feel for the game. He does an excellent job of playing off what his defender gives him, slyly working to inside position, reading the angles, and getting himself into the position where he can get the highest percentage shot. When he gets the ball, he can spin off either shoulder going to or away from the basket, and does a good job of reading the defense and adjusting accordingly. He has a nice shoulder fake and can hit a turnaround jumper spinning left or right, though his accuracy falls off outside of 8 feet with this move.

He’s at his best when he’s utilizing his drop step, though, showing good footwork and playing off his excellent positioning to create a lot of easy shots at the rim. On the downside, Thompkins really struggles to power up at the basket, not being able to finish strong over defenders, but he makes up for this with a good command of ball fakes.

Thompkins’ game extends all the way out to three-point range, where he has a reliable spot-up jumper, hitting for nearly 50% from behind the arc, on under three attempts per game. He has a deliberate shooting motion with somewhat of a push shot, however he has good balance when spotting up and is pretty consistent when he’s not rushed.

He’s at his best in space with time to get off his shot, and struggles when shooting on the move, not having very good balance pulling up off the dribble. He shoots from the mid-range a bit, incorporating some turnaround jumper pivot drives into his game, but he’s inconsistent with them and sometimes rushes these moves.

As a ball-handler, Thompkins is above average for a freshman power forward, having pretty good composure and control, but his timing and footwork seem off at times, not letting him take full advantage of his mobility just yet. He struggles to gain separation at times, not being exceptionally quick with the ball in his hands, but still has moderate success with his dribble-drive game, albeit mostly on straight-line drives where his defender is out of position. This is clearly a part of his game that he can continue to develop, as he shows a nice framework to build off.

On the defensive end, Thompkins is still a work in progress, not being a great weak-side shot-blocking threat and struggling a bit in man-to-man defense. In the post, he tends to get caught out of position by overreaching on fronts, and doesn’t do a great job recovering. When playing straight-up man, he does a pretty good job to stay in front of his man, but isn’t as active as you’d like and still could use some work on his fundamentals, not being incredibly effective. His woes become more pronounced when he has to step out to the perimeter, as his lateral foot speed is not good, nor are his fundamentals. His terrific wingspan does help him on this end of the floor, though, and it’s possible that he becomes better here as he gains more experience.

On the glass, Thompkins hasn't really hit his full potential yet. He shows good touch and instincts on the offensive end, but his attentiveness to boxing out and crashing the boards on the defensive end isn't up to par for a player of his size and ability.

Looking forward, it’s a bit too early to make many definitive statements about Thompkins’ projection, both due to the limited number of games he’s played and because he wasn’t able to benefit from an offseason of strength training due to injuries. Maximizing his athleticism will certainly be crucial for his future successes.

Other than that, he should be working on his defensive fundamentals and trying to expand his already solid perimeter game. It’s pretty impressive to see a freshman show such an advanced skill-set both facing and with his back to the basket already, to go along with a nice feel for the game, so there is some reason to be cautiously optimistic in regards to his future.

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