NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/10/08-- Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/10/08-- Part Two
Jan 10, 2008, 04:12 am
NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/9/08-- Part One

Devon Hardin, 6-11, Senior, Center, Cal
10.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, .7 assists, 1.2 turnovers, 1.7 blocks, 2.1 fouls, 54% FG, 65% FT

Jonathan Givony

It’s been almost a full year since the last time we saw Devon Hardin in real game action. 12 games into his junior season, Hardin broke his foot, being forced to sit out the rest of the season for Cal, but still allowing him to test the waters of the NBA draft. He supposedly had a guarantee in place from the Detroit Pistons at the end of the 1st round, but decided to return to Cal regardless, in order to get his degree and move himself further up the draft.

So far, Hardin looks a better prospect than the one we evaluated last season. He’s added quite a bit of strength to his frame, making him even more imposing physically, if that was at all possible. He’s now listed at a sculpted 250 pounds, up from 235 a year ago, and looks every bit the part of NBA center, with a massive wingspan and terrific athletic ability.

Offensively, Hardin looks better than we remember him as well. He’s finishing much better around the rim, going up and taking contact better, not rushing his shots as much as he did in the past, understanding his limitations more willingly, and doing a better job establishing position in the post. His free throw attempts are up considerably (8 per 40 minutes, compared with 5.5 last year), as is his field goal percentage (from 48% to 54%), all because of the reasons described above. Hardin is knocking down his right-handed jump-hook somewhat regularly with range out to about 8 feet, as well as his turnaround jumper, and is looking incredibly active hitting the offensive glass as well, where he can get his team a couple of easy baskets every game by just utilizing his outstanding physical tools to his advantage. When he finishes, the entire arena feels it, and that’s exactly what you want to see out of a player this size. We had concerns in the past about the tentative, uninspired manner in which he conducted himself on the court at times, but these are slowly starting to dry up the more we’re evaluating him these days. He doesn’t always make his presence felt offensively the way one might hope, but it’s no longer because of a lack of effort on his part.

That’s not to say that Hardin is any kind of offensive juggernaut. Far from it, actually. He’s not the type of player you throw the ball to and expect to be able to create offense for himself, as his footwork is noticeably unpolished and he’s fairly limited outside of a few feet around the hoop. He’s somewhat mechanical with his post-moves, and really struggles when forced to finish with his left hand.

This year, Cal seems to be using their center in a role that more closely resembles the one he would play in the NBA. Hardin’s usage is down from 15.4% of his team’s possessions to 12.2%, but he’s doing a much better job with the possessions he is given, improving his points per possession from 1.01 to 1.17. His assist to turnover ratio up is by 150%, which a very encouraging sign for a player like him.

Defensively, Hardin looks excellent at times, but could still make some small adjustments that could make him even more dangerous on this end. He did an excellent job in a game against Michael Beasley by the way when the two were matched up, swatting his shot a number of times (even twice on the perimeter), and not giving him many opportunities at all to score inside the paint. Hardin’s combination of size, length, strength and athleticism is virtually unrivaled at the collegiate level, and allows him to be quite an effective threat challenging shots around the rim. He also has quick enough feet to accurately hedge a pick and roll and recover in ample time, which is very rare from a player his size. His lateral quickness also comes in handy in the post, where he can step in and take a charge, which he looks quite willing to do. Hardin is fouling at a much lower rate than he did in years past (3.3 per 40 minutes this year, compared with 4.9 last year and 5.2 the year before). He’ll still bite on the occasional pump-fake, and will at times get called for a foolish foul far away from the basket, but he’s obviously making solid progress in this area, which is very encouraging. His 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted is certainly solid, but still only ranks him 33rd amongst draft prospects in that category.

To continue to establish his value in the draft as a potential defensive anchor, Hardin must do a better job closing out on his man in the post. He gives up too much space here at times, letting his matchups get deep position in hopes that he’ll be able to outquick them going up for the block when the shot finally goes up. He got scored on quite a bit by players like Kevin Love and Luke Nevill for this reason, from what we saw. We’d also like to see him do a better job protecting his basket making rotations to stop slashers on their way to the rim.

Another encouraging sign we’re seeing has to do with Hardin’s rebounding ability. His 14.9 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted ranks him 4th amongst all draft prospects in that category, and certainly is an important stat considering what his likely role will be at the next level. His hands look better, as does his timing and aggressiveness—which will surely help his cause.

All in all, Hardin seems to be in great shape heading into the second half of his senior season from what we can tell. His team is winning at a pretty solid rate, he’s done a solid job addressing many of the concerns scouts had about him, and he’s producing very well in the areas he needs to most. Considering the lack of true centers in the NBA, especially those who can be considered outstanding athletes, Hardin should find himself in pretty high demand come draft day if he can keep it up. He’ll be under the microscope in this very difficult Pac-10 schedule, so making the NCAA tournament and continuing to play well will be imperative for him.

Ryan Anderson, 6-10, Sophomore, Power Forward, California
20.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.6 turnovers, .5 blocks, 52.5% FG, 43.5% 3FG, 85% FT

Kyle Nelson

Ryan Anderson is a prospect we’ve scouted at length throughout his freshman campaign, so his progress this year definitely warrants another look. Statistically, there are few players in the NCAA who are in the same league as Anderson -- shooting over 50% from the field, over 40% from the perimeter, and 80% from the foul line. The fact that the California Golden Bears are 10-3 even after embarking on their PAC-10 conference schedule, only has increased their and Anderson’s visibility.

On the offensive end, Anderson looks to be a more versatile player this year. For one, he is aggressively attacking the basket and using his ball-handling ability better to penetrate from the perimeter against opposing big men. He utilizes a combination of finesse and good footwork to get around defenders and get the ball into the basket. He’s just as good in the open court, doing a good job of putting the ball in the basket in transition.

His perimeter game is a very important part of his game, as he has become an even more prolific three-point shooter, at an even better percentage, this season. His release looks excellent, with a high release point and quick release, and his range extends all the way to the NBA three-point line. However, he seems to have fallen in love with his perimeter shot to a certain extent, at nearly 4.8 attempts per game.

When Anderson catches the ball in post, he is a little less reliable. He has good footwork, a soft touch, and good intelligence on the offensive end, but he too often finds himself trapped under the basket or turns into a double or triple team. While he is a very good passer out of the paint and has shown very nice awareness in the high post and on the perimeter, he frequently finds himself out of position on the low blocks and then is pressured into a bad shot or decision. This is a trend against big defenders such as Luke Nevill of Utah and Kevin Love of UCLA. While he does a very nice job of establishing position and posting up, once the ball gets into his hands, the results are not always as good.

On the defensive end, there are still some concerns about his potential at the next level. He has adequate feet in the post, and uses his length fairly well to guard opposing big men. Against quicker big men, he sometimes gets caught flat-footed trying to stay in front of his man, but for the most part he competes trying to defend the paint. With more upper body strength, though, he could be an even more effective defender in the post, because at this stage, he looks a little weak against bigger opponents. However, where he has trouble is when he has to cover opposing perimeter players. He is not the most athletic player and does not always close out fast enough on smaller players, lacking some lateral quickness here and not doing a great job defending pick and rolls. Some added awareness and intensity on this end of the floor would go a long ways in easing some of the concerns scouts have about his average athletic ability.

As proven by his 9.2 rebounds per game and his six double doubles in the past 13 games, Anderson is a solid rebounder, especially when you consider the monster he plays next to and has to share rebounds with. On the defensive end, he uses his size, terrific hands, and aggressiveness to grab rebounds. His ability to gain position on the offensive end translates into solid positioning for rebounds on the defensive end. Even though he is a very competent offensive rebounder, he still is too far away from the basket at times to make more of a difference on the offensive boards.

Anderson has made a lot of strides in his game since we last analyzed him. He has become an absolutely lights out shooter and a more aggressive player. He has also increased his effectiveness as a rebounder, despite the fact that he is playing with fellow rebounding machine Devon Hardin. Anderson has a skill set that is coveted in the NBA and with more improvements, combined with continued intensity, he will find himself playing at the next level sooner or later.

Patrick Christopher, 6’5, Shooting Guard, Sophomore, California
17.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 48% FG, 75% FT, 33% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

California shooting guard Patrick Christopher is having what can only be described as a breakout sophomore season, averaging over 17 points per game on 48% shooting, up from just five points per game last season. Christopher stands 6’5 with a decent frame and decent length, and is having little trouble adjusting to his larger role with the team.

Christopher is not quite a finished product, but he has a nice assortment of skills, which have to begin with his scoring. He has very good timing on his first step and good ball-handling ability with his right hand, which allows him to get to the rim frequently in the half-court. He reads the defense here extremely intelligently, and does a great job picking his spots. He usually has no problems taking his man off the dribble from isolation situations, and also does a good job catching-and-driving off cuts. Once in the lane, Christopher keeps the ball low to the ground and does a good job changing directions, using spin moves and crossovers on occasion, but usually just relying on subtle adjustments to get to the rim. Once at the rim, Christopher shows good creativity and touch, liking the use of reverses, fakes, and banking the ball off the glass on his shots. Christopher also makes us of a decent right-handed floater when he can’t get all the way to the rim.

Christopher does have some issues with his dribble-drive game, though, most notably that his left hand is very weak relative to his right. He can use it on occasion, but clearly prefers going right, looking uncomfortable when forced left. He also doesn’t show much finishing ability with his left, almost always going to his right, even if it means a tougher shot. At the rim, Christopher doesn’t often show the explosiveness to finish over defenders, usually opting to go around defenders, even if it makes for a tougher shot attempt.

Christopher also has a developing outside shot in his arsenal, as he takes around one third of his field goal attempts from behind the three-point arc. He’s hitting just 33% of those shots, though, which is the same percentage he shot from deep last season. His jumper doesn’t have terrible form, though it does has some issues, including a noticeable forward-push motion on his release. His release point is also inconsistent, with his arm occasionally flailing to the left or right, usually when rushed by a contesting defender. He isn’t always consistent holding his follow through either, and his form can get sloppy when he’s pulling up off the dribble. Christopher is clearly at his best from deep when he has time to spot up, and most importantly, get his feet underneath him.

Without the ball, Christopher shows good court awareness, having a solid understanding of spacing, and often getting open around the basket by recognizing seams in the defense. He isn’t always consistent with his off-ball movement, though, sometimes standing around and waiting. This, along with his inconsistent outside shot, result in some inconsistent scoring games, including a three point game against North Dakota State and an eight point game against Kansas State, both of which he played over 33 minutes in. Christopher also is a solid passer, as he doesn’t usually force the issue with his drives, and shows good recognition when the defense is collapsing and he has an open man.

On the defensive end, Christopher has room for improvement, showing an inconsistent defensive stance, not always pressuring his man in man-to-man situations. He also isn’t consistent with his effort moving laterally, though he shows decent ability there at times. He struggles getting through screens as well, though generally does a solid job staying with his man off the ball otherwise. He hasn’t shown much ability in the passing lanes either.

All in all, Christopher should have a chance at a career in the NBA down the road, but he’d definitely be best served spending at least another year in college. He’s slightly undersized for a shooting guard, and is just an average athlete by NBA standards to compensate for that. He’s going to need to continue to round out his offensive game to have a chance to make much of an impact in the pros, although he seems to be off to a nice start. Continuing to develop his left hand and improving his outside shot should be among his priorities, while adding more consistent effort on the defensive end could help as well.

Davon Jefferson, 6-8, Freshman, SF/PF, Southern Cal
11.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, .7 assists, 2.4 turnovers, .9 blocks, 55% FG, 73% FT

Jonathan Givony

Two years behind schedule, 21 year-old freshman Davon Jefferson has finally made his NCAA debut. Jefferson was once thought of as a potential early-entry candidate for the 2006 draft, but after failing to get academically eligible, first following the Letter of Intent he signed with UNLV in advance of the 2005-2006 season, and then with USC for 2006-2007, he was forced to wait for 2007-2008 to step out on the court. Even though he obviously has a world of talent at his disposal, he still looks like an extremely raw basketball prospect at this point.

Any discussion of Jefferson has to start off with his unbelievable physical tools. We’re talking about a thoroughbred athlete, blessed with incredible leaping ability, outstanding quickness, and awesome speed in the open floor. He has good size at 6-8, with a frame that should eventually fill out, and an excellent wingspan that completes a very interesting physical picture.

Most of Jefferson’s offense stems almost exclusively from these physical tools. He likes to face the basket and use his terrific first step to get to the rim attacking unbalanced defenses. He can also do some work in the post, mostly by receiving the ball and then facing up and using his quickness and explosiveness to slither his way around the paint to get close enough to the basket and finish, being a magnet for fouls in the process. Nothing here screams polished (especially not NBA wise), and in many games his best source of offense come just through running the floor in transition and crashing the offensive glass, where his athleticism really shines.

Jefferson’s long term position down the road will probably be at the small forward position. At the moment, though, that seems to be pretty far off. His ball-handling skills are extremely poor, particularly with his left hand, and he shows very little ability to change directions and avoid traffic, which can lead to offensive fouls. He’s also a poor outside shooter—not having hit even a single 3-pointer on the year, and looking fairly limited from mid-range as well unless he’s wide open and able to fully set his feet. He will drop some occasional glimpses of potential with a 17-footer or a pull-up jumper, but these are still few and far between. He plays the power forward position exclusively right now for USC, and considering his skill-set and the makeup of their roster, this probably won’t be changing any time soon.

One of Jefferson’s biggest problems is that he plays way too fast for his own good, as his athleticism is still way ahead of his skill level. He has a very limited understanding of the game, not having appeared to have received very much real coaching up until this point, and thus severely lacking in the fundamentals department. The place where that seems to show up the most is in his passing game, ranking amongst the worst in the country amongst draft prospects in assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted, and 13th worst in assist to turnover ratio. Looking beyond the stats, you can clearly see how this plays out on the court, as he shows no filter in his shot-selection and looks to jack up absolutely everything that comes his way. Once he gets the ball, he just lowers his shoulder and tries to get to the basket, regardless of what’s in front of him. Even when he tries to pass the ball, it often results in a turnover.

Defensively, Jefferson has very nice tools, showing a good wingspan, excellent lateral quickness, and nice explosiveness getting off his feet, but he again relies more on his athleticism than on any real fundamentals. He has pretty poor awareness and doesn’t seem to read situations very well, getting backed down in the post because of his lack of bulk (at the power forward position), and not being particularly effective defending the pick and roll. He is a very active player, though, and looks very aggressive for the most part, which helps make up for a lot of his shortcomings on this end.

There are also some question marks about his intangibles. The fact that he could not qualify academically for college for two straight years is somewhat of a red flag, as is the way he bounced around between high schools until he finally landed at USC. He did not play in the first three games of the season in November—either because he was suspended for two of them for team related issues, or because of a “lack of understanding of team concepts,” depending on who you ask. There could be more issues that get dug up once we move into the draft process as well.

All in all, Jefferson is a high-risk, high-reward type prospect who looks very far right now from being able to compete at the NBA level, but surely possesses nice upside to continue to improve in the future as his knowledge of the game expands. He’ll likely have to stay at least another year or two at USC before he can start garnering legit consideration in the first round. That is, unless an Isiah Thomas type GM falls in love with him, much the way the Knicks did with Wilson Chandler last year.

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