NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/4/08-- Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/4/08-- Part One
Mar 05, 2008, 03:56 am
Russell Westbrook, 6-3, Sophomore, Point Guard, UCLA
12.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.7 turnovers, 1.7 steals, 49% FG, 35% 3P, 71% FT, 33 minutes

Jonathan Givony

There might not be a more improved player in the country over the last year or two than UCLA sophomore guard Russell Westbrook. Considered a mid-major recruit leading into his senior year of high school, drawing scholarship offers from schools such as San Diego, Wyoming, Creighton and Kent State, Westbrook benefited from a late growth spurt that saw him shoot up from just 5-10 to 6-3 late in his prep career, and is now a key cog on a Final Four contending team and one of the hottest draft prospects in the country as of late. Obviously a late bloomer, Westbrook remains a raw prospect as far as his skill-level is concerned, but has just about as much upside to continue to improve as any guard in the NCAA not named Derrick Rose.

Physically, Westbrook is especially impressive, despite his tweener status. He has solid size at 6-3, an excellent wingspan, and huge hands, and is one of the most explosive players you’ll find anywhere in the country. Featuring an outstanding first step and terrific strength once in the lane, Westbrook’s ability to elevate off the floor has made his highlight reels the stuff of Youtube legend.

Offensively, Westbrook’s biggest source of production (nearly 30% of his offense) curiously comes in transition. He plays a fairly small role in UCLA’s half-court offense (only 8% of his offense comes from either pick and roll or isolation plays) , mostly as a complimentary piece—moving off the ball trying to find holes in the defense to get to the rim with his tremendous strength and leaping ability, or shooting wide open jumpers. It’s pretty clear when breaking down his footage that he lacks quite a bit of polish on this end of the floor, even if he is extremely effective at the few things he does well.

Westbrook’s ball-handling skills are fairly limited, as he has the ability the beat players off the dribble with his tremendous first step going left or right, and is solid getting to the rim in a straight line, but he struggles when trying to do much more than that. He lacks the advanced dribbling skills needed to create his own shot and change directions sharply in the half-court (for example at the end of a shot clock), and thus often looks a bit out of control when dribbling in traffic, forcing him to flip up some awkward shots at the rim. It’s not uncommon to see him called for various violations in the rare occasion that he tries to go out and make something happen on his own, be it traveling calls, palming or offensive fouls.

As far as his jump-shot is concerned, Westbrook is mostly a catch and shoot player, hitting only 18 3-pointers on the season (on a 34.6% clip), usually on open looks, in rhythm and with his feet set. His release is not the quickest or most fluid around, and he lacks accuracy when rushed or forced to shoot off the dribble. He has the potential to improve here, but his touch at the moment looks fairly average. In terms of his mid-range game, Westbrook doesn’t show great polish here either, as his shot is a bit flat, and he doesn’t always take advantage of his terrific leaping ability to create separation from his defender with his pull-up jumper. He seems to be showing more and more sparks as the season moves on here, though.

To Westbrook’s credit, these flaws are not always very noticeable, as he is a very smart player who knows his limitations and has no problem fitting in and being just another cog in UCLA’s very efficient offense. He plays within himself, rarely forcing the issue, and thus has done a very good job of not exposing his weaknesses within his team’s system. The fact that he has other highly efficient and extremely unselfish teammates like Kevin Love, Darren Collison and Josh Shipp has also helped him a great deal.

As a point guard, Westbrook is not an instinctive playmaker, but is very much capable of bringing the ball up the floor and getting his team into its offense. He is smart, patient, and highly unselfish, and possesses the court vision needed to find the open man without hesitation, picking up quite a few assists just by getting the ball to the right place in UCLA’s half-court sets. He lacks some creativity when it comes to improvising outside of his team’s offense, though, and it’s here that his inexperience running the point guard position, along with his average ball-handling skills, seem to show the most. It should be noted that despite his very high assist totals (4.6 per game on the season, compared with just 2.7 turnovers), when taking into account only the most competitive games UCLA was involved with (the eleven which finished within a 10 point margin), his assists per game drop to 3.2, while his turnovers remain at 2.7.

Defensively, Westbrook is nothing short of outstanding, as evidenced by the phenomenal work he did locking down the three top scoring guards in the Pac-10 this season, O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, and James Harden. He is long, strong and very fundamentally sound, getting into a terrific defensive stance on every possession, moving his feet incredibly well, and being absolutely tenacious getting after his matchup. His wingspan, combined with his huge hands and outstanding anticipation skills make him a terror in the passing lanes, and this is a big factor why he spends so much time in transition offensively.

Westbrook is going to have a very difficult decision to make at the end of this season, as there is a tremendous amount of NBA draft hype surrounding him at the moment—to the point that he might struggle trying to live up to it considering the still-early stage of development he’s in. It’s clear that he could use another season at UCLA to refine his point guard skills, but he runs the risk of having many of his warts exposed once people start breaking down his game and notice his not-so-obvious limitations. UCLA also has two and a half McDonald’s All-American guards (Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson) coming in next season, which further complicates his decision.

It’s still not quite clear what position Westbrook will play in the NBA, even if it could probably be said that his upside is so high that he can just figure that out down the road. He lacks significant experience at the point guard position, and probably isn’t a good enough shooter/ball-handler/shot-creator to be considered a starting caliber shooting guard, particularly since he lacks size for the position at 6-3. Considering his physical tools, intangibles and how much he’s improved over the past two years, though, a lot of teams would probably have a hard time passing him up in the 10-20 range, since he truly has home run potential if he can improve on his weaknesses in time. He might ideally be suited coming off the bench playing a Leandro Barbosa type role, which would still be worthy of a very high pick.

At the end of the day, a lot will depend on how well he plays in the NCAA tournament. If he has some big games on the way to the Final Four, he might not have a choice but to come out. Right now, though, we’re hearing that it’s just as likely that he stays.

Sean Singletary, 6’0, Point Guard, Senior, Virginia
19.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 3.9 turnovers, 1.9 steals, 43% FG, 38% 3PT, 85% FT

Joseph Treutlein

After testing the draft waters last year, and finding them extremely cold after a poor showing at the NBA pre-draft camp, Sean Singletary decided on returning to Virginia for his senior year. His team has suffered after J.R. Reynolds’ graduation, going 14-13 so far this season, including just 4-10 in conference play, down from 21-11 and 11-5 last year, winning the ACC. Singletary’s numbers look very much like those he posted as a sophomore and junior, and in watching the tape, there really isn’t much new to be said about him this year.

With Reynolds now gone, Singletary has taken over more responsibility of the ball in the offense, and his assist and turnover numbers have gone up accordingly. While he ranks 13th in our database in assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted, he also ranks 10th in turnovers, illuminating one of the major problems with his game.

As a point guard, Singletary does much of his creating through drive-and-kick situations, where he does a very good job of penetrating with his head up, and then finding the open man on the perimeter with the ball. He also does a solid job running the pick-and-roll and feeding the post, making all the passes a point guard needs to in the half-court. He is prone to over-dribbling and dominating the ball, though, along with trying to force the issue with his drives, trying to penetrate into too tight a space, which leads to many of his turnovers through either losing the ball, committing an offensive foul, or traveling. Despite his good court vision, he’s also prone to questionable passes at times, showing errors in judgment, which also cause many turnovers. Singletary's dominating style will likely be a problem for him at the next level, as he's not a good enough player to dominate the ball like a Stephon Marbury or Steve Francis. How he adjusts to spending less time with the ball in his hands will be important to his success.

As a scorer, Singletary is immensely talented, having an excellent jump shot, with great form and a high, quick, and consistent release. With his excellent ball-handling skills and quickness, he creates separation very well to get his jump shot off, either from behind the arc or from the mid-range. Singletary is at his best using crossovers and stepbacks to get open shots from the perimeter, which he does very well with when he gets his feet beneath him.

Singletary’s decision-making problems come into play here as well, though, as he’s prone to forcing up contested and/or off-balanced shots unnecessarily, and his effectiveness falls off considerably with these higher difficulty shots, as to be expected. Singletary also will pull up from NBA three-point range early in the shot clock at times, or pull up for a contested three-pointer in transition without teammates under the basket, not showing the best judgment in using his offensive abilities the best he could. To his credit, he is able to hit on some of these high difficulty shots at times, and when he does show the patience to get separation and get his feet beneath him, he’s a very good shooter from both mid and long-range.

In terms of attacking the basket, Singletary uses his quickness and ball-handling well here also, mixing in changes of speeds to get deep into the lane, using screens when necessary as well. He’s not the greatest finisher at the basket due to his size, but he’s very good with a right-handed floater in the lane, and is fearless in terms of taking contact to get to the free-throw line when going to the hoop. Singletary looks best attacking the basket in up-tempo situations, when the defense isn’t set and he doesn’t necessarily have to worry about a help-side big man on defense, where he uses his exceptional speed and ball-handling to weave through the defense and get to the basket.

Looking at his offense as a whole, while Singletary’s field-goal percentage is up from 40% to 43% on the year, it’s slightly misleading, as all things considered, he’s not a more efficient scorer this season, with his TS% being down from 58% to 56%. These changes are primarily because he’s taking only one third of his field goal attempts from behind the arc this year, as opposed to nearly half of them last year. He’s also getting to the free-throw line slightly less, and these two things combined point to more of his offense coming from the mid-range.

On the defensive end, Singletary is a mixed bag, as he shows great hands and the ability to make some stellar plays, picking off steals in man-to-man defense or from the weakside, but he often overplays, leading to blow-bys. He also sags off his man when he doesn’t have the ball, leading to open shots, and doesn’t fight very hard through screens, leading to more open shots. Despite his quickness, he also gets beat laterally more than he should.

As a senior, Singletary will automatically be in the draft this year, and he’ll have another chance to go to the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, where he can attempt to do a better job than he did last year, where he had a very underwhelming performance, mostly due to the same poor shot selection, dominant ball-handling and poor decision-making that hurts him at times at Virginia. Singletary will also have the option of going to the Portsmouth pre-draft camp that is in Virginia, and he should strongly consider doing that, as putting all his eggs in one basket at Orlando could spell trouble for him, especially if he repeats last year’s performance. With his outstanding talent, Singletary will be in second round discussions, and he has a chance at becoming a solid backup point guard in the league if he can improve on his decision-making and defense.

Leo Lyons, 6-9, Junior, Power Forward, Missouri
12.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 turnovers, .6 steals, .7 blocks, 61% FG, 63% FT, 21 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Leo Lyons surprised many by earning consideration from DraftExpress as one of the more intriguing draft prospects in the Big 12 following his sophomore season, despite having played less than 18 minutes per game. And while he’s only up to about 21 minutes as a junior, he’s dropped enough glimpses of potential already to show why we decided to highlight him this past offseason. In spite of all that, he remains one of the more enigmatic players you’ll find in college basketball, an odd prospect who could still go in many different directions as far as his future development is concerned.

Statistically, Lyons is much improved compared with the last time we looked at him. On a per-40 minute basis he ranks as the 8th best scoring power forward in our database (at nearly 24.4 points), while his terrific 61% field goal percentage ranks him 11th in that category. Considering the fact that he’s not really much of a post player, and spends a considerable amount of time offensively on the perimeter, that’s pretty impressive.

Offensively, Lyons remains the same extremely smooth and fluid power forward, blessed with excellent athleticism and highly intriguing versatility. He likes to play mostly facing the basket, where he does a nice job operating as a mismatch threat attacking his man off the dribble and drawing a good amount of fouls. Naturally right-handed, he can operate comfortably with his left-hand too, and finish with either around the basket. He can pull-up off the dribble by creating separation sharply from his defender with picture perfect mechanics—looking more like a wing player than a power forward—and has a very soft touch on his jumper from 17-18 feet. He has excellent hands and is also a very creative passer, ranking 11th amongst all power forwards in our database in assists per-40 minutes. His instincts offensively are clearly outstanding, and really leave you wondering at times just how good he could be if the light-bulb ever truly came on for him.

That helps begin to explain why Lyons is such an enigma at this point—truly one of the more baffling players you’ll find in the NCAA. He doesn’t seem to really know what his limitations are, settling too often for fade-away jumpers out of the context of the offense, and looking out of control in the process. He lacks any real back to the basket game—his footwork is poor, and he’s neither strong nor tough enough to compensate for that with his physical tools, and he overwhelmingly prefers to go to his left when handling the ball.

Defensively, Lyons can’t be considered anything short of awful, which helps explain why he’s only averaging 21 minutes per game despite clearly being Missouri’s best offensive player. He doesn’t seem to have much fight in him, doing a poor job boxing out opponents for rebounds and often being conspicuously absent when there is any type of scrum for a loose ball underneath the basket, instead leaking out early trying to cherry-pick in transition. Even when he does try to play good defense, he seems to lack any real awareness on this end, losing his man on in-bounds plays, hedging screens poorly, not rotating defensively, and getting into foul trouble. As a rebounder, he’s average at best as well, mostly due to his lack of strength and activity level.

All indications are that Lyons will put his name in this year’s draft, without hiring an agent, something that would not be a real shock considering that he’s a junior and is entitled to test the waters once to get feedback from the NBA and see what he needs to improve on. He will be an interesting player to follow (probably good enough to garner an invite to the NBA pre-draft camp), but at the end of the day, would almost certainly be best served returning for his senior year. As talented as he is offensively, he isn’t quite good enough to get away with his inability to defend or rebound at his position, and playing for an underachieving Missouri squad (saddled by injuries and off-court issues) he’s still largely an unknown to most NBA scouts. If he puts the work in this summer, and shows a willingness to do what his coaches ask of him (his attitude is somewhat questionable apparently, which could really damage his stock), he’s talented enough to have a terrific senior season and really establish himself as a very intriguing player in the Big 12.

Evan Turner, 6-6, Freshman, Shooting Guard, Ohio State
8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.6 turnovers, 48.6% FG, 35.1% 3P

Joey Whelan

After the best recruiting class in school history last season, Thad Matta followed up his 2007 group with another strong class in 2008. While 7-footer Kosta Koufos may have been the headliner, 4-star guard Evan Turner has made his presence felt as well, and has shown plenty of promise for the future.

Turner has a nice frame for a shooting guard. At 6’6” he has very good length, which helps him on both ends of the floor. His weight is listed at 200 pounds, but this is very generous as Turner is probably closer to 185, so some size and strength do need to be added. The good news though is he looks like he has a frame that will be able to support the necessary weight gain. Turner isn’t a tremendously explosive athlete but is a very smooth one. He shows great timing and body control, and changes speeds with great fluidity.

By far and away the biggest percentage of Turner’s touches come from his moving off the ball and catching passes in spot up situations. In these situations Turner has shown that he is more of a slasher than a perimeter shooting threat, putting the ball on the floor nearly 75% of the time. By far one of the most impressive and encouraging aspects of Turner’s game are his ball handling skills and ability to take defenders in either direction. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Turner drives to his right at nearly an equal frequency as he does to his left. It is rare to see a freshman, let alone any collegiate player, so comfortable driving to either side at this stage in his development. Turner has a low, controlled dribble that, as has previously been mentioned on this site, reminds to a certain extent of Brandon Roy.

Coupled with his great ball-handling skills, Turner shows tremendous amounts of craftiness when it comes to breaking defenders down off the dribble. While his first step may only be average, he has a wide array of moves he uses to get himself to the basket. Turner possesses a pretty good crossover dribble, quick jab steps and a nice spin move. He clearly has a good basketball IQ in the half court set, and has a pretty good nose for the hoop when on the move. Once in the lane, he shows some nice ability to finish in traffic thanks to his touch around the rim; Turner would however benefit from adding some additional muscle to help with the contact he faces from defenders.

While his length and above average athleticism make him a good finisher when driving, Turner shows the most promise with his ability to shoot off the dribble from mid-range. He has a very fluid pull up move, which is very effective when he has room to maneuver in the half court set. He struggles to create the same kind of separation in traffic facing more contact, though, and getting stronger would help in this aspect of his game.

Turner appears to have pretty good mechanics on his shot with his feet set, although a somewhat slow and inconsistent release point does hamper him on occasion. When rushed, he doesn’t seem to have great balance, leaning forward a bit on his release. While inside the arc there isn’t a tremendous effect on his shot, Turner does shoot a lower percentage from the perimeter than he probably should. He only shoots two three-pointers per game, but his 35% clip from this range could improve if he shored up his release point. In the long run it is very plausible that the pull up mid-range jumper will become the staple of Turner’s game, ala Anthony Parker.

With the skill set and fluidity that he possesses in the half court set, it would seem that Turner would have similar success when he has the ball in transition as well; this isn’t the case though. Despite showing flashes of being a big time threat on the break, Turner still has some growing to do as a player in this aspect of his game. He tends to make the types of mistakes one would expect from a freshman with his kind of game: forcing the issue more often than not and making poor decisions with shot selection. These types of mistakes though will be alleviated as he gains experience and goes through the natural progression of growth as a player.

As a defender, it was tough to get a full sense of Turner’s capabilities due to Ohio State playing a lot of zone defense this season. While his length and agility allow him to effectively fill passing lanes and intercept passes (he averages over a steal per game), his lateral quickness is just average, so he struggles against quicker perimeter players—although he does compete fairly well trying to contest shots. As a rebounder he shows promise due to his wingspan and timing, but added strength would definitely allow him to build on his freshman numbers of just over four rebounds per game. The fact that Turner seems to put a good amount of effort into this end of the floor (he would not be getting so many minutes for Thad Matta otherwise) bodes very well for him moving forward.

Turner is a player that hasn’t gotten a ton of recognition this year because he hasn’t been a major part of the Buckeye offense. With that said though, he shows a tremendous amount of potential and could very easily become an all-conference type performer in time with hard work in the off season. It is a little too early to gauge Turner’s prospects for an NBA career, but he certainly possesses some nice tools for the 2-guard position, and already has a solid skill set. Simply allowing himself to mature physically and grow naturally will make him into an exciting player for Ohio State in the future.

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