NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/6/08-- Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/6/08-- Part Two
Mar 07, 2008, 02:35 am
Donte Greene, 6-10, Freshman, Small Forward, Syracuse
17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.5 turnovers, 1.1 steals, 1.7 blocks, 41% FG, 33% 3P, 74% FT, 35 minutes

Jonathan Givony

While many of the elite members of this terrific freshman class have taken their game and their teams to an entirely new level as the regular season comes to a close, one of its most talented players—Donte Greene—has not shared the same fortune.

Greene is still the same super-scoring oversized wing player oozing with NBA potential—standing 6-10 or possibly even 6-11, with a terrific frame, smooth athleticism, and uncommon mobility and coordination for a player his size. He seems to have hit a bit of a wall late in the season, though, after averaging over 35 minutes per game for 30 games now, as his team has been crippled by injuries and has basically nothing to turn to off the bench, and the fatigue now seems to be catching up. Syracuse looks to be outside the bubble at the moment, and will likely miss the NCAA tournament unless they string together a few wins in the Big East tournament.

Greene has become more and more of a spot-up shooter as the year progresses, attempting over 50% of his shots from behind the arc on the season, but seeing his accuracy drop to a miserable 28.7% in 17 Big East conference games thus far (32.9% total). At his size, Greene can get his shot off virtually whenever he pleases, which is precisely part of the problem, since he’s shown very little self-restraint. His 7.3 3-point attempts per game ranks him 3rd amongst all players on our 08 or 09 mock drafts.

What’s ironic is that he actually has one of the prettier shots you’ll find in this draft, blessed with picture perfect mechanics, a high release point, and a very quick release. The problem is that his shot-selection has been poor, as he’s fallen into some of the same selfishness that has plagued his entire team (particularly Paul Harris) in Big East play. Greene has been taking too many rushed, off-balance, contested shots as of late, not fully setting his feet, contorting his body unnecessarily, and thus not getting the kind of accuracy he enjoyed earlier in the season. Regardless of whether his shot has been falling, he’s continued to take them (he attempted sixteen 3-pointers in a single game a few weeks back), and thus has shot his team out of a few games.

As the year moves on, the scouting report has gotten out to a certain extent about how best to neutralize his potent scoring—further aided of course by the injuries and lack of depth Syracuse suffers from. Teams are forcing him more and more to his off-hand (his left), which he’s not particularly comfortable operating with at the moment. He’s struggling to beat players off the dribble, and has thus failed to emerge as the shot-creator Syracuse needs in their half-court offense. Not being incredibly explosive finishing around the rim, and possibly lacking some toughness at times going through contact, he’s had his problems finishing his drives in traffic, and isn’t getting to the free throw line at a particularly high rate. To his credit, he’s responded by showing a better post game than we had seen earlier in the year, hitting some beautiful jump-hooks and turn-around jump-shots, even if it hasn’t been on a consistent enough basis.

Defensively, it’s never easy to evaluate Syracuse players because of how heavily they rely on their zone defense. There might be some question marks about how he’d be able to defend NBA small forwards, though, considering that he at times struggles to stay in front of players attacking him off the dribble, getting stuck flatfooted on the perimeter. He does have excellent size, length and a good frame, and seems to be a fairly smart player, so he should be able to become at least decent in this area down the road if he’s willing to commit himself. He picks up a solid number of blocks and steals already within Syracuse’s zone.

We’re definitely holding Greene to a high standard here, especially considering that he’s just a freshman, as he obviously has the potential to emerge as one of the most talented players in the NCAA. Considering his size, tools, and scoring instincts at the small forward position, it’s hard to see him not getting drafted somewhere in the lottery, even despite his struggles this season, as he has more upside than any small forward in this draft. From what we understand, it’s still somewhat up in the air whether he enters the draft this year or not, although it seems like if he gets word that he’ll be taken in the lottery, he will probably leave. He’s the type of player that will look phenomenal in private workouts, and thus could see his stock bounce right back into the top 10 fairly quickly. He won’t be rolling into the NBA on the red carpet (with the huge endorsement deals and marketing hype that goes along with that) though—he’d need another year in college to achieve that most likely.

Kosta Koufos, 7’0, Center, Freshman, Ohio State
13.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, 1.5 turnovers, 48% FG, 73% FT, 33% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

Kosta Koufos’ solid but unspectacular freshman year is near its conclusion, as his team looks like a long shot at the moment to make the NCAA tournament, and he will soon have a tough choice to make regarding his future. While a seven-footer with his tools would warrant a lot of looks in the first round, and he’s coming off a decent season production-wise, Koufos still has much development to do with his game, which became apparent over the course of this season.

Looking at Koufos’ game, there is certainly a lot to like, starting with some of his abilities in the post, specifically his back-to-the-basket finesse game. Here, Koufos heavily favors a right-handed hook shot and turnaround jumper, or occasionally a shot that’s somewhat a hybrid of both. With his good hands, touch off the glass, size, and ability to establish post position quite easily at this level, Koufos gets a lot of good looks in the 5-10 foot area. Koufos’ post game is fairly limited, though, in that his repertoire doesn’t extend much beyond here, primarily because he has no left hand to speak of. Koufos will rarely try to turn off his right shoulder, and when he does, it usually results in a turnaround jumper with his right hand at an awkward angle, that’s also prone to being blocked. No matter how close he is to the rim and no matter how obvious it may be that using his left hand is the best option, he simply never does it. This predictability about his post game leads to some problems as well, resulting in some of his right-handed hook shots being blocked by smaller opponents, because most teams know its coming. Koufos compounds things further by sometimes rushing his shots in the post or not fully following through on his moves, not getting full extension on his hook, resulting in some flat-looking shot attempts.

Also, while Koufos has a nice finesse post game, he doesn’t have much of a power post game, as most of his moves are fading away from the post, which results in him very rarely going to the free-throw line. Of all the college players in our 2008 and 2009 mock drafts, Koufos ranks sixth from last in free-throw attempts per game, with four of the players behind him being wings and the other being a perimeter-oriented big in Connor Atchley. In that same player pool, Koufos ranks 12th from last in true-shooting percentage, once again with mostly guards and wings behind him. This kind of inefficiency and inability to get to the line from a player who spends most of his time in the post is a serious concern. Koufos’ passing is also a concern, as his assist-to-turnover ratio ranks fourth from last amongst this same player pool.

Moving away from the post, Koufos has a very nice jump-shot from the mid-range, possessing good form and a high release point due to his size. His range extends out to at least the college three-point line, though he’s only shooting 33% on 52 attempts on the season. Watching the tape, Koufos appears to be a better shooter than the numbers would indicate, and this is an area he could certainly improve his effectiveness with in the future. As for the rest of his perimeter game, Koufos will occasionally show a brief flash of the ability to face-up from the mid-range, putting the ball on the floor for one or two dribbles, but he struggles doing it when not in space.

On the defensive end, Ohio State plays virtually all of their possessions in a 2-3 zone, with Koufos being one of the protectors of the rim, and this gives him very few opportunities in one-one-one defense. As a help defender, Koufos is attentive and mobile and shows good timing on his shot blocks, where he uses his size well, blocking almost two shots in just 27 minutes per game. In man-to-man defense, Koufos plays solid in the post, maintaining his position and using his length to contest, while doing a good job staying in front of his man. His lateral quickness doesn’t get challenged on the perimeter much, but he does a good job running out to contest the spot-up jump shots that OSU’s zone defense forces. Koufos is solid on the defensive boards, but excels on the offensive end, where he does a good job getting behind the defense to use his size to pull in boards over the opposition.

Koufos may be tempted to enter the draft early this year, as it’s tough to see a big man with his tools falling very far, but in analyzing his game, it’d definitely be best for his development for him to come back to school, where he could more easily improve on many aspects of his game. Among the things Koufos needs to work on are improving his left hand, getting to the free-throw line more, becoming a more efficient jump shooter, and continuing to make gradual improvements in all aspects of his game. Because he’s not the most quick or explosive big man in the world, further developing all of these skills will be very important to Koufos’ long-term success in the league.

J.J. Hickson, 6-9, Freshman, Power Forward, N.C. State
14.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 2.7 turnovers, 1.6 blocks, 59% FG, 68% FT

Jonathan Givony

After an extremely hot start to his college career (profiled below), J.J. Hickson and N.C. State cooled off substantially as the season moved on, losing their last seven games in the ACC (a massive disappointment considering the preseason expectations), while getting “just” 12.5 points on 50% shooting from their star freshman in conference games. Teams have figured out how to defend Hickson more effectively as the scouting reports have gotten out, as he’s not the most polished or versatile player you’ll find around.

The majority of Hickson’s game revolves around his ability to play with his back to the basket, despite standing just 6-8 or 6-9. Over 50% of his offense comes on post moves (the rest mostly on cuts to the basket and offensive rebounds), and he’s mostly limited to setting up on the left block and utilizing the 2-3 moves he is extremely effective at, while not showing any real skills facing the basket or finishing with his left hand. Hickson has limited range on his jump-shot (out to about 12 feet or so) and does not appear comfortable at all putting the ball on the floor from the high post, looking out of control and committing offensive fouls when forced to do so. This limits his effectiveness in N.C. State’s half-court sets, as if he’s not lowering his shoulder and going to work with his back to the basket, there really isn’t a whole lot more he can offer at this point.

The things he does do well, though, Hickson is extremely talented at—as evidenced by the terrific 59% he shoots from the field. He’s a very reliable presence cutting to the rim or running the floor in transition, thanks to his superb length, hands, strength, toughness, aggressiveness, and the way he finishes around the rim. He likes to dunk everything he gets his hands on, being extremely quick getting off his feet, and having no problem going right through contact—drawing a good amount of fouls in the process.

Hickson has a great feel for scoring in the post, showing a nice combination of quickness, footwork, strength, and a few very solid moves. His drop-step is already an excellent weapon for him, and his turn-around jump-shot is quickly becoming an effective part of his arsenal. He establishes good, deep position inside, knows how to utilize shot-fakes, and has some nice spin-moves he executes with great quickness.

His problem at the moment is that he doesn’t have much of a left hand, and at times has a tendency to hold the ball excessively and force the issue barreling his way into brick walls, looking a little bit selfish in the process and turning the ball over more than he should. To his credit, he seems to be doing a better job of passing out of double teams than he did earlier in the season, even if his .39 assist to turnover ratio is still nothing to write home about (it was much worse earlier in the year). He’s a player who lives off his instincts more than off any kind of great feel for the game, at times looking out of place in some of N.C. State’s more complex half-court sets.

Defensively, Hickson doesn’t have great size at 6-8 or 6-9, although his terrific wingspan compensates for that to a certain extent. His feet are quick enough to get out and hedge screens on the perimeter, but his general understanding of how to play team defense is not yet developed enough to consider him anything more than an average defender at best. He gives up too much space in the post and is not physical or aggressive enough putting his tools to good use, lacking some intensity and awareness on this end of the floor at this point in his career (which is not unusual for a freshman). He suffers from mental lapses, not boxing out his man, and losing his focus and such, but generally speaking is a very productive rebounder.

Hickson publicly says that he is still undecided whether or not he’ll be declaring for this year’s draft, but persistent rumors we’ve been hearing all season indicate that he will almost certainly put his name in when it’s all said and done. That would probably be a mistake if that’s indeed the case, as he does not look anywhere near ready to see minutes on an NBA team (defensively, or operating as a true power forward should facing the basket), and would greatly benefit from expanding his game through another season in college. His talent will still likely be too great for most teams to pass up on in the first round--even if he’ll have to spend time in the D-League polishing his all-around game--and therefore he’d likely get drafted somewhere in the bottom half of the first round barring bad workouts or off the court red flags that pop up during the draft process.

Jeff Pendergraph, 6’9, Power Forward, Junior, Arizona State
12.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.1 turnovers, 1.6 blocks, 58% FG, 79% FT

Joseph Treutlein

With the arrival of freshmen teammates James Harden and Ty Abbott, Jeff Pendergraph had to make a slight adjustment with his game. While his minutes are down some, Pendergraph’s shooting percentages and most of his other numbers are up, and the Sun Devils would obviously much prefer this year’s 18-11 record to last year’s 8-22.

The 6’9 power forward has improved his efficiency this year, which is to be expected with the arrival of Harden, who is now clearly the focal point of opposing defenses. Pendergraph’s game doesn’t look much different, but he has grown more comfortable with his jump shot from the 10-18 foot range, which has become a more consistent staple of his game. In the 12 games we charted from conference play, Pendergraph went just 11-for-35 from this range, but he looks confident taking the shot, which boasts a high release and decent form. He still obviously has work to do in this area, but he’s making progress, as evidenced by his free-throw percentage being slightly up from 73% to 79%. One thing he could work on is taking a few less contested or off-balanced shots, and focusing on keeping his feet underneath him.

In the post, Pendergraph is still fairly raw, mostly relying on a right-handed hook shot, though he has mixed in a few other things at times. He uses fakes well to get his man off balance and draw contact to get to the free throw line, which he’s doing much better this year. He predominantly turns off his left shoulder in the post, but will go off his right shoulder on occasion to keep the defense honest, and shows flashes of a developing left hand. He also is improving with his turnaround jumper, showing range out to 10 feet, though he forces these shots up at times. Pendergraph has had some problems in the post, though, mostly with being a bit too slow in going into his moves at time, leaving him vulnerable to guards coming over to pick the ball out of his hands. He doesn’t show great poise handling double teams in general, which is something he’ll need to work on. Also, he’s been susceptible to having his shot blocked at times, especially when matched up with centers like Devon Hardin and Brook Lopez.

Pendergraph’s at his best on offense when he’s playing without the ball, showing excellent court sense, being very efficient getting his scoring by getting inside position in the post, cutting off the ball, or playing the pick-and-roll. Pendergraph shows very good understanding of floor spacing and shows good hands to catch and finish on cuts to the basket, which accounts for a very good portion of his offense. Looking at the rest of his offense, Pendergraph could definitely use some work in the ball-handling department, not being much of a threat to take opponents off the dribble, rarely even attempting it. Also, per 40 minutes pace adjusted, his offensive rebounds are down considerably, which accounts for most of his fall-off in rebounds per game. While he still makes some nice plays at the rim by outworking the opposition and slipping beneath the defense, he’s not doing this nearly as much as last season.

On the defensive end, Pendergraph has definitely improved his game, which can most notably be seen with his blocks per game up from 0.7 to 1.6, despite playing less minutes. Pendergraph has shown good attentiveness in his team’s zone defense, being very mobile and always contesting shots, either on the perimeter or in the paint. He uses his length well to contest, and shows good recovery ability when he’s playing from behind. In man-to-man defense, Pendergraph is solid in the post, keeping his hands up, forcing tough shots, and not backing down easily. He can be backed down or shot over by bigger opponents, though he is very active in fronting the post to keep the ball from getting to his man when matched with tough assignments.

Pendergraph, a junior, could possibly test the draft waters, since it’s his last chance to before he becomes automatically eligible next year. Pendergraph seems like a perfect candidate for the Orlando pre-draft camp, where he could attempt to stand out in front of NBA scouts and executives, and show off some of his improving game. It’d probably be in his best interest to return to school next year, though, as he has a lot of things he could improve with his game, most notably his mid-range jumper, which will be very important for his success at the next level, as his post game may not translate very well due to his size. If Pendergraph does come out, he should be in second round discussions, though he could probably improve his stock some by spending another year developing his game.

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