NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/28/08-- Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/28/08-- Part Two
Feb 29, 2008, 03:59 am
Eric Maynor, 6-2, Junior, Point Guard, VCU
18 points, 5.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 1.3 steals, 47% FG, 42% 3P, 78% FT

Jonathan Givony

After an absolutely spectacular postseason performance that engraved his name in the minds of NBA scouts and college basketball enthusiasts around the country, Eric Maynor has come back and shown during his junior season that he is worthy of being considered one of the top point guards in the NCAA with his play for VCU.

Maynor has become much more of a scorer for VCU this season, very much out of necessity to keep pace in the competitive Colonial Athletic Association, after his team lost four seniors (two being starters) to graduation. His scoring is up substantially—from 14 to 18 points per game, while his assists are down and his turnovers are up (and thus his assist to turnover ratio has gone from an incredible 3.07/1 to a still solid 1.72/1). What’s most impressive is how much better of a shooter Maynor has become, as he’s taking over twice as many 3-pointers this year (3.7 per game) and is regardless hitting 42% of his attempts from that range. His field goal percentage is up by 4% to a very respectable 47%, and he’s still going to the free throw at the same impressive rate of 5.3 attempts per game.

Showing solid physical tools, Maynor has ample size for the point guard position, and enough athleticism to play in the NBA. He changes speeds well, and has pretty good quickness, being very effective getting to the rim thanks to his aggressive mentality and nice ball-handling skills. He can go both ways with his dribble (although he prefers his right hand), and has a nice crossover move in his arsenal and solid hesitation moves to keep his defender on his heels.

As a shooter, Maynor has made terrific strides as already mentioned. He does not possess the most fluid or quick release around, but is extremely confident in himself and has become absolutely deadly with his feet set. Teams have struggled defending VCU’s pick and roll this year, as Maynor has proven to be almost automatic if the defense dares go underneath the screen.

Although he’s become a much more effective scorer this season, Maynor is very obviously a pure and quite unselfish point guard. He sees the floor extremely well, executes his team’s offense efficiently, and is at his best running the pick and roll, where he makes very good decisions with the ball in his hands. Unlike most college point guards, he already looks quite comfortable making virtually every type of pass a point guard needs to make—be it a lob over the top of the defense, a bounce pass splitting the double team off a pick and roll, a bullet pass into the post, a drive and dish pass to an open shooter on the wing, or just a simple swing in the flow of the offense to keep things fluid and moving. He’s at times a little overambitious with some of the passes he makes, but you have to wonder just how much better he would be if he had a slightly better supporting cast (particularly big men) around him—which is probably depriving him of at least 1-2 assists per game. With that said, he is not immune to mental lapses like seemingly all college point guards, and will at times come up with some careless turnovers.

The most impressive thing about Maynor might be the swagger in which he plays with. He’s obviously a player with great character, a guy who wants the ball at the end of games (as we all saw with his late-game heroics last season against George Mason and Duke), steps up in the clutch, and exudes confidence that clearly rubs off on his teammates. He plays the game with a great deal of confidence, always at his own pace, and has a certain moxy about him that suggests that he will find success to one degree or another eventually in his career.

With that said, there is still a great deal of improvement left for him to make. For one, Maynor is a pretty poor finisher around the basket, converting on just 36% of his shots at the rim according to his Synergy Sports Technology quantified report. His lack of size, strength, and especially explosiveness is a pretty poor combination, and will only become more of an issue at the next level when he goes up against much bigger and more athletic defenders than he currently sees playing in the CAA. His floater is not a consistent enough weapon at this point, and he seems to lack some touch in this department as well.

To reach his full potential, Maynor will have to learn to initiate contact better around the basket—taking a page out of Sam Cassell’s bag of crafty tricks here would really serve him well. His mid-range game shows some promise, but he will have to become much more polished here to better avoid the giants he’d have to deal with every time he takes the ball into traffic in the NBA. Getting stronger in the lower body will probably help his fairly underwhelming leaping ability as well.

At the moment, Maynor projects as more of a backup than as a starter, with one of the main reasons for that being his defense. Maynor’s physical tools are less than outstanding, and he doesn’t make up for that in the least bit either with his technique or the amount of fight he puts in. His approach is fairly lackadaisical on this end of the floor, doing a poor job contesting shots, and his fundamentals here generally seem fairly poor. He’ll have to put in a much better effort in (which we clearly saw more of in the postseason last year) in each and every game to prove that he can hold his own on this end of the floor, since he’s not such an incredible talent on the offensive end that NBA coaches will excuse him for his approach. He is very young, though, so there is still plenty of time left for him to improve in this area.

Being a junior, and still holding onto his draft card to test the waters should he please, another big postseason showing could be enough to push him into the first round of the 2008 draft, despite the apparent strength of this year’s point guard class. He will have to lead his team to the NCAA tournament first through his conference tournament, as VCU does not appear to have a good enough resume to garner an at-large bid. If things don’t work out this year, gaining another year of experience underneath his belt could clearly help him. It will be interesting to see how things will play out with his head coach Anthony Grant, who will likely be one of the hottest commodities on the coaching carousel this summer—something that could play a role in his decision to stay or leave this June.

Tyrese Rice, 6’1, Point Guard, Junior, Boston College
20.4 points, 4.9 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 turnovers, 1.5 steals, 44% FG, 84% FT, 34% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

Tyrese Rice has had a strong showing thus far in his junior year, picking up right where he left off last season, slightly increasing his scoring production, with very little falloff in overall efficiency. What makes this year so impressive, though, is that Boston College lost Jared Dudley, Sean Marshall, and Sean Williams to graduation and the NBA, with those three players accounting for 45.9 points per game last season. This year, the four leading scorers after Rice consist of three freshmen and one sophomore, which means even more defensive attention, and not the best supporting cast to help him. On top of that, Rice has performed even stronger since conference play began, upping his scoring to 21.9 points per game on 46% from the field, and 35% from three.

Looking at how Rice gets the job done on the floor, he’s very much the same player as we saw last year, only now he’s doing everything as BC’s clear cut #1 option. Rice uses his extremely quick first step and excellent ball-handling skills to get all over the floor, scoring from inside and out, dominating possessions for the Eagles. To give you an idea of how central he is to BC’s offense, of all players in our database, Rice ranks third in minutes per game and 13th in percentage of team possessions used, with ten of the players ahead of him being from mid-major and low-major schools, and the other two being Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo.

From the outside, Rice has slightly improved his three-point shooting percentage, but he’s still a much better pure shooter than the percentages would indicate. As has been the case with him for all his college career, he’s excellent when he has time to get his feet set, but struggles when he doesn’t, either when he’s moving coming off a screen, or pulling up off the dribble. He seems to be doing a better job getting his feet beneath him in those situations, but still takes some ill-advised shots over the course of a game, sometimes due to questionable decision-making, and sometimes due to his team needing a bail-out shot late in the shot clock. Rice has done a better job pulling up from mid-range this year, though, making it a more consistent staple of his offense, and showing the ability get separation there when he wants to.

In terms of driving the ball to the basket, Rice has a plethora of ways to get there, preferring his natural left hand to his right, but being more than competent going in both directions. He most prefers using some combination of his outstanding crossover and his ability to change speeds, usually having little trouble penetrating into the painted area. Once there, Rice throws up his signature left-handed floater from anywhere at any angle, frequently making remarkable shots using his strong accuracy and body control. As for taking it all the way to the basket, Rice can occasionally use his quickness and basket awareness to get through the defense, but struggles to finish over opponents at times due to his size.

Rice is clearly a scoring point guard, but has some creating abilities as well, dishing out over five assists per game by finding open shooters and driving-and-dishing, though he excels most in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations. Rice gets into some trouble at times with questionable passes, though a good portion of his 3.4 turnovers per game come from him always having the ball in his hands in the team’s offense. Rice doesn’t get many of his assists in transition, but if he picks off a pass on the perimeter on the defensive end, he’s usually a good bet to get to the basket to lay it in himself, as his end-to-end speed is excellent.

On the defensive end, Rice still has many of the same habits, at times overplaying on help defense to leave his own man open, and at times just sagging or losing his man due to attentiveness. In man-to-man defense, Rice usually shows a good stance, and uses his hands very well to pick off balls, but overplays and bites for plays frequently, leading to blow-bys by his opponent.

Rice has nothing to lose by testing the draft waters this year, so it’s something he’ll likely do, and he seems like an ideal candidate for the Orlando pre-draft camp, where he could attempt to show his team-managing abilities in a fashion where he doesn’t need to dominate the ball like he does at BC, something that will be critical for his chances of making it in the NBA. If he can make that adjustment and cut down on some of the questionable shots, he has a decent chance of becoming a backup point guard in the pros, where his ability to play the pick-and-roll, his outside shooting, and his ability to penetrate and score with floaters stand a good chance of translating to the next level. Improving his defense should also be a priority, and Rice also has the option of returning for his senior year, where he could attempt to further develop his game.

James Johnson, 6-8, Freshman, SF/PF, Wake Forest
15.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 1.5 steals, 1.4 blocks, 50% FG, 30% 3P, 68% FT, 30 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Also very much deserving of recognition as an intriguing prospect for the future amongst the endless sea of extremely productive freshman is Wake Forest forward James Johnson, the 15th best scorer in this class so far, although quite a bit older than any freshman not named Davon Jefferson, at 21 years old.

We’re talking about a 6-8 combo forward with a big body, long arms, and smooth athleticism—very fluid, with nice timing and body control. The son of a World Champion Kickboxer, and a black belt in Karate himself, Johnson has terrific balance and coordination that clearly stems from his background in Martial Arts. He only started playing basketball in the 8th grade, and was used mostly as a guard throughout high school. Academic issues are apparently the reason he’s 2-2 ½ years older than most players in his class.

Offensively, Johnson looks most comfortable facing the basket, where he shows a great deal of talent taking his man off the dribble and attacking the rim. He has a good first step, utilizing shot-fakes nicely and showing a nice crossover, crafty footwork and some solid ball-handling skills in a straight line to beat his man and make his way to the rim. Once he gets there, his excellent strength and body control helps him out a great deal, but he also has terrific touch as a finisher, being able to throw in a quick spin move to gain himself even more space if needed—which is not an easy move for a player his size. It’s pretty clear that we’re talking about a player with some very advanced scoring instincts, even if he could still stand to polish up his ball-handling skills even more, particularly his ability to change directions on the fly and utilize the type of advanced moves that he’ll need to effectively create shots at the next level as a small forward.

Johnson is also pretty effective running the floor in transition, as well as moving off the ball and making sharp cuts to the rim, where his terrific hands make a very reliable target for Wake Forest’s guards. He’s also an excellent offensive rebounder, ranked 4th amongst all freshmen in that category this season.

Johnson’s perimeter stroke shows some promise, even off the dribble on rare occasions, but his incredibly poor shot-selection destroys any chances he might have of putting up decent shooting numbers here. He still forces the issue and looks a bit out of control at times, especially with his dribble, and has taken more shots than anyone else on the team this year so far. He has no shame whatsoever in jacking up shots early in the shot clock from well beyond the 3-point line, which is somewhat concerning. He is shooting much better in ACC play (16-41 or 39%, compared with 10-46 or 22% in out of conference games)—hopefully a sign that he’s adjusting his game accordingly. Johnson would do well to develop his back to basket game a bit in order to be able to better take advantage of mismatch situations that might occur. He doesn’t have much in the ways of post moves or a left hand at this point. His free throw shooting could also improve.

It’s still not entirely clear what Johnson’s natural position will be at the next level, as he seems to have some intriguing perimeter skills, but his very thick frame and defensive ability leave some question marks about his ability to make the full-time transition to playing out on the wing. His lateral quickness is tough to really gauge at the power forward position, as he doesn’t look great out on the perimeter hedging screens and trying to stay in front of quicker forwards. He has a tendency to coast at times, and his fundamentals do not appear to be the best, displaying average awareness and regularly biting on fakes—but his instincts, footwork, length and timing do leave some room for optimism for the future, particularly if he can shed the 20 or so extra pounds he is currently unnecessarily carrying on his frame. He used to be a lot skinnier apparently, but decided to put on some bulk to better help him compete in the post in the ACC. It appears that he could improve his quickness substantially if he decided to take off that extra weight.

Wake Forest is in an interesting situation, as they have a terrific recruiting class coming in this summer, headlined by 6-8 McDonald’s All-American combo forward Al-Farouq Aminu. The two seem to have quite a few similarities, and it will be interesting to see how and if they will be able to play together, and in what capacity, considering that both players view themselves as small forwards. Since Johnson is already 21 years old, he’s going to have a decision to make at some point regarding his NBA future, as by the time he’s a senior, his upside might not be considered as intriguing to scouts at age 24. He obviously still has a long ways to go on his all-around game, though.

Chris Johnson, 6’11”, Junior, Power Forward, LSU
11.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, .7 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 54.2% FG, 85.7% FT, 30.6% 3P FG

Joey Whelan

It has been a disappointing season for LSU, and the Tigers are simply playing out the stretch of the regular season at this point in the year. What has been promising though is the development and sudden appearance on the scene of junior Chris Johnson. After seeing limited time as a freshman and sophomore, Johnson was suddenly thrust into a starting role, where he has certainly had his troubles, but has shown flashes of tremendous talent and ability.

At 6’11” and just 190 pounds, Johnson has tremendous length, but is rail thin. While his enormous wingspan is a huge plus for him, he doesn’t appear to have a frame that will allow or support much gain in weight. This lack of strength and ability to withstand much contact has hampered Johnson a tremendous amount in certain aspects of his game. His 5.5 rebounds per game for example is a very poor number for a player of his size and length. Johnson is capable of pulling in plenty of balls outside of his immediate area, but often he is muscled so far out of position by opponents that he simply can’t make a play on the ball.

For a player listed at a frontcourt position, Johnson generally looks very uncomfortable in the post. Again, his slight build is a major factor in is lacking post game. Johnson can’t hold his position on the block for more than a second or two, so often his post up opportunities are thwarted if teammates don’t get him the ball quickly. When he has the ball, though, he shows some signs of having a drop step or dribble move to the middle, he has to go around defenders simply because he can’t body them up or take much contact at all. As a result of his inability to play physical on the block, Johnson often resorts to a fade away jump shot down low, showing nice form and a consistent stroke, allowing him to finish the shot with a good amount of regularity.

When he is forced completely off the block and is given a little more room on the outside, Johnson likes the face up when he catches the ball with his back to the basket. Again, he shoots a solid percentage from the mid-range when he is able to get squared, although he shows some tendency to fade even when he has room for his shot. From this position, Johnson has also shown the ability to put the ball on the floor. While by no means is he a fantastic ball handler, the skills he displays for a player his size are fairly impressive. He can change direction when attacking the basket, and his first step is quick enough that he can on occasion beat some backcourt defenders off the dribble, and is certainly capable of taking most frontcourt players to the basket.

Johnson is at his most effective when he can spot up in the half court set. He likes to rotate to the weak side of the floor and set up on the perimeter, where he shoots just over 30%. While he isn’t a lights out shooter from beyond the arc, if left open, he can do some damage on the outside. What is impressive though, is Johnson’s ability to catch and shoot off of cuts. It is rare at the collegiate level to see a player of his size so fluid in their ability set up and fire. With that said though, Johnson does have a long, slow release that he needs space to get off, and he hasn’t shown much ability to shoot off the dribble yet.

Like he does in the high post, Johnson will drive to the basket from time to time when he catches the ball out on the perimeter. While he isn’t a tremendous leaper, he is a quick one, so he often catches defenders off guard with how fast he gets into the air; this also helps him a lot on the offensive glass. Johnson shows great body control for a player his size, often contorting his body around defenders in order to get himself a better look at the hoop. He shows surprisingly nice touch as well, so while his body may get tossed around due to its lack of bulk; Johnson is often still able to finish plays around the rim thanks to his finesse.

Defensively is where some questions start to arise with Johnson. While he shows some flashes of quickness on the offensive end, his lateral quickness is not good enough to guard most perimeter players at the college level, let alone in the NBA. While his size and length seem to make him a natural candidate to play the power forward spot, he doesn’t have the strength to hold up as a post defender. He does come away with over two blocks per game, but this is typically against smaller opponents whom he is able to block on their way to the basket. It would be much harder for him to do this when being backed down by frontcourt players; in fact he rarely even defends the post because of his lack of bulk. Typically Johnson is left to cover taller perimeter players, but again he struggles when they take him off the dribble.

Another issue with Johnson is his basketball IQ and decision making abilities. He is one of the worst passing big men in the NCAA, and has one of the worst assist to turnover ratios in the nation. He also at times makes questionable decisions about when he should be handling the ball in the open floor and when he should defer to a guard. A lot of this may stem from the fact that prior to this season, he hadn’t played very much at all.

Turning 23 this July, Johnson is old for his class, and despite his obvious shortcomings, he is a very intriguing prospect. He is a tremendous athlete, showing versatility, some quickness and great body control. He is an excellent shooter for a player of his size; in his first 13 games this season prior to missing time with a fractured hand, Johnson was connecting on 62% of his shots from the field. Despite a drop in his shooting percentage since the injury, he still has had some big games including an 8-15 performance against Tennessee and an 8-11 game against Florida. While his lack of a more solid frame may keep him from breaking into the NBA initially after his senior season, Johnson will certainly be an impact player in the SEC next year and will garner interest wherever he ends up landing. It will be interesting to see what kind of improvement he can make to his body this summer.

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