NCAA Weekly Performers-- 2/28/2007, Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers-- 2/28/2007, Part One
Feb 28, 2007, 02:53 am
Kevin Durant, Lawrence Hill and Bobby Brown are our chosen standouts in this edition of the NCAA Weekly Performers.

Kevin Durant, 6-10, Freshman, SF/PF, Texas
32 points, 10 rebounds, 0 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 9-14 FG, 5-6 3P


Jonathan Givony

After a short cooling off period that saw him “only” average 19 points a game over the past 4 games, rather than the 30 points we’ve grown accustomed to, Kevin Durant went back to his ridiculous scoring ways in putting together another double-double (his 17th of the season in 28 games) and another 30+ point effort against Oklahoma. Durant started off with a cool 19 points in the first half alone en-route to helping build a large lead for Texas that the Sooners just could not overcome. He also received another feather in his cap by breaking Marcus Fizer’s single-season record for points in the Big 12 conference.

This was a classic Kevin Durant scoring barrage, knocking down 3-pointers with the greatest of ease, mixing in a few gorgeous turn-around jump-shots, getting to the free throw line almost whenever he pleased, and doing it all in an unselfish manner, seemingly without forcing a thing.

That’s really what stands out the most beyond his amazing skill level—Durant is very much just another cog in Texas’ offense, not demanding the ball excessively, rarely stopping the flow of the ball movement, executing perfectly in half-court sets, and getting his points in large part thanks to the level of trust that his teammates and coach Rick Barnes have in him. He’s gone 3 whole games now without dishing out even a single assist, but rarely do you feel like he’s not doing exactly what he’s being asked to, almost exclusively for the betterment of his team rather than his own personal gain.

Of course, Durant stood out in a couple of other areas too. It’s impossible to watch him and not be amazed at his physical tools, and the way he utilizes them offensively and on the glass. Durant might not be a guy that will blow people away at the NBA combine, but in our book, he’s a fantastic athlete for a player his size. Durant runs the floor extremely well, has excellent quickness, is extremely quick off his feet, and beyond all, possesses incredible timing to help bring together this package of skills and make certain plays that no one else in the NCAA is capable of. His size and freakishly long arms, along with his instincts, allow him to catch passes he has no business catching, tip balls he has no business tipping, and dunk put-back attempts and lobs that he has no business dunking. His hands are outstanding as you might have guessed, making him the 2nd best rebounder in this year’s draft according to our advanced statistics. Considering the differences in strength of schedule between him and the #1 prospect, Nick Fazekas, the .1 rebound margin between the two gains a little more perspective.

Offensively, he already has a complete package of skills, making him easily the most naturally talented scoring threat we’ve ever personally scouted at the collegiate level. In the post, he has solid footwork and a decent array of moves, being capable of executing quick drop-steps and jump-hooks that are seemingly unblockable due to his incredibly high release point. More than anything, though, he loves utilizing the turnaround jumper, especially banking it in smoothly high off the glass, ala Tim Duncan.

From the perimeter, though, is where the Nowitzki comparisons come from. Durant is an instinctive shooter, particularly spotting up. His shooting mechanics are gorgeous, his release effortless and lightning quick, and his range extends past the NBA 3-point line. Unlike most 6-10 players, he actually elevates off the floor in getting his shot off, but only when the situation actually calls for it. This ability to change his release point when needed and get his shot off in a variety of different ways is what truly separates the natural born shooters from those who became great through their work in the gym.

Depending on who you ask, Durant can easily belong to both groups, which is where his potential starts to really scare you. Many of his points come simply from him catching the ball within the flow of the offense, recognizing that he has only the glimmer of daylight that he needs due to his size and high release point, and then draining a 3-pointer effortlessly as if he were by himself in the gym. Despite the large amount of attention he receives from opposing defenses, he still shoots an excellent 40.4% from behind the arc. Even though his advanced perimeter game and lack of bulk would lead you to assume that he prefers to hang out on the perimeter exclusively rather than getting dirty in the paint, only 31% of Durant’s shots come from behind the 3-point line, and he gets to the charity stripe nearly 7 times per game, ranking him 5th in this draft.

If a defender is crowding him excessively, Durant is smart enough to not force the issue. He uses the threat of his shot, often with a quick pump-fake, to get the defense off balance and then penetrate all the way to the basket off just one dribble. He’s able to do this because of his incredibly large strides, and if a defender is waiting for him at the rim, has no problem pulling up off the dribble or releasing a gorgeous one handed floater that he converts at a high rate thanks to his phenomenal touch. He can go left or right equally well, and is also capable of finishing smoothly with either hand as well. As mentioned, he doesn’t get so caught up in his scoring that he loses track of his teammates, something that we saw numerous times over the course of the season with the crisp passes he is capable of delivering all over the floor.

Defensively, Durant has a ways to go in terms of his awareness and fundamentals, but he’s not completely useless here either, having made noticeable strides over the course of the year. He blocks nearly two shots a game thanks to his reach, hands, athleticism and timing, and comes up with steals at an identical rate due to these same attributes. The same exact thing can be said about his propensity to rebound, but here more than ever he also shows solid fundamentals boxing out, and is also extremely active going out of his area and right over the top of matchups to hit the glass. To emphasize his stat-stuffing ways (except for the assists), Durant is currently ranked 2nd in PER, and also 2nd in EFF.

Even if he’s around the 3-point line when a teammates’ shot goes up, he’ll still make the extra effort to get into the paint quickly and help out on the boards. It’s exactly this type of attitude that gets scouts all the more excited about the type of player he’ll end up becoming down the road. When speaking about Durant, it’s always wise to remind people that he doesn’t turn 19 for another 7 months, and therefore is very likely just scraping the surface on how good he’ll end up being down the road.

For that reason precisely, Durant still his fair share of weaknesses that need to be worked on. The most obvious one would be his body, which is thin and frail and likely won’t ever be considered overly bulky by NBA standards. This hinders him in a few areas right now, with the main one being his defense in the post. Durant gets pushed around excessively and has a tendency to lose his balance and position too easily. Offensively, he struggles to finish through contact at times around the basket, and therefore relies on his finesse and touch more than you might prefer.

In the half-court offense, Durant still has plenty of room to improve in his ball-handling skills. His arms are so long that he struggles to do the type of advanced ball-handling moves that are often needed to beat peskier defenders off the dribble if they don’t bite on his initial pump-fake. Adding some hesitation moves to allow him to change pace and take advantage of the better spacing the NBA enjoys will certainly benefit him, because in traffic is where his ball-handling struggles the most.

If we’re looking for more places to nitpick, Durant can a little too streaky within the course of games, at times getting a bit passive when his team needs him most. This was most easily noticed in the Texas A&M game a few weeks ago. He seems to go on incredible short bursts where he racks up 10-12 points in just a few minutes, and then gets a little bit quiet until his team starts running plays for him to heat back up. This is anything but uncommon for a player his age, but it’s something he will need to work on in the NBA, where focus is everything and games can be won or lost off a single possession.

All in all, though, Durant is having an unbelievable freshman season and has done everything in his power to make the race for the #1 overall pick a real conversation—something that was almost unfathomable in November. Ultimately, it might come down to positional factors and specific team needs, but the lucky GM who lands the coveted top pick will at least have to think long and hard before he decides to pass on a player that could end up leading the NBA in scoring.

Lawrence Hill, 6-8, Sophomore, SF/PF, Stanford
Vs. USC: 21 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 5-13 FG, 3-7 3P, 8-9 FT


Jonathan Watters

The role of the Lopez twins in Stanford’s mid-season emergence has been discussed at length here at DraftExpress, but the freshman 7-footers aren’t the only draft prospects in Trent Johnson’s frontcourt. Sophomore forward Lawrence Hill has quietly emerged as one of the elite players in the Pac-10, leading the Cardinal in scoring at 16.1 ppg, and stretching defenses all season long with a beautiful midrange jumpshot.

Hill is somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to scoring, as he began his career as more of a post-oriented player, but has taken his game outside more and more. With a formidable wingspan and lanky build, Hill is more than capable of playing either forward spot at the college level, becoming a master of understanding how to best take advantage of individual matchups or situations. His bread and butter would be a beautiful, high-arcing jumpshot that he can hit in a variety of situations. A phenomenal spot-up shooter from just about anywhere, Hill is especially effective hitting off balance leaners, fadeaways, and baseline pull-ups in the midrange. He doesn’t have the look of a typical shot-creating wing, but lets the game come to him and won’t hesitate to pull the trigger if given a reasonable amount of space. He has enough toughness, athleticism, footwork and touch to be a threat in the post, and his ability to drive on perimeter defenders appears to be improving. Hill does a great job of using his length to hang in the air, fade away, and generally sneak his way around defenders to the get the ball to the rim.

While Hill is probably capable of scoring in some way on just about any potential defender in the Pac-10, the NBA will be a different story. His mobility and comfort level on the perimeter is certainly improving, but he still has work to do in order to become a full-time wing. He rarely handles the ball unless putting it on the floor for a straight-to-the-basket slashing move, and just doesn’t move quite like a natural perimeter player. He needs to continue to make major strides in his perimeter game over the next two seasons if he wants make a complete transition in terms of NBA aspirations. Hill’s long arms and workmanlike mentality will certainly help him out defensively, but he is still very much a tweener on that end of the floor as well.

Lawrence Hill’s NBA future is far from set in stone, but the sophomore is developing quite rapidly and has 2+ seasons to work on moving out to the wing full time. While some aspiring power forward prospects may have taken the arrival of two 7-foot freshmen like Brook and Robin Lopez as a negative, Hill has managed to make the most out of the situation. He is certainly athletic enough to play small forward in the NBA someday, and his instinctual shooting form is something he should be able to hang his hat on. With Stanford’s roster likely to remain intact through 2008, it would appear the program has a bright future. Lawrence Hill is certain to play a big role in this, and with continued development, appears to be on track for an NBA career someday himself.

Bobby Brown, 6-2, Point Guard, Cal State Fullerton, Senior
26 points, 6 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers, 9/21 FG, 2/10 3PFG vs. Cal Poly


Mike Schmidt

After testing his stock and working his way through pre-draft camp after his junior season, Brown decided to return to Fullerton and work on his game and degree rather than trying his luck with the draft. His decision has appeared to pay off thus far, as he increased his scoring average, assist average and assist to turnover ratio, and now ranks as Cal State Fullerton’s all time leading scorer. In a rare TV appearance over the weekend, Brown displayed his ability to shoot the lights out at times, but he also displayed limitations that may hurt his upside as a prospect.

Athletically, Brown runs the court well, and has good quickness and coordination. He also possesses good leaping ability, but he needs to work on how he uses it. When pulling up off the dribble in the mid-range, Brown elevates well, but he lacks this same type of lift when shooting from behind the three point line. The biggest asset Bobby Brown brings to the game is the ability to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court. Due to a quick release, Brown never seems bothered when shooting the ball under pressure. He shoots the ball all the way out to NBA range without too much trouble at this point, and can knock it down while he’s set and off the dribble. Brown has plenty of success at Fullerton when he runs the high pick and roll, where he can score with the long three pointer or take advantage of his mid-range game. From 10-15 feet, he can constantly pull-up and knock down the jumper, or he goes to a floater that works well against bigger players.

During his senior season at Fullerton, Brown has shown continual improvement in his point guard skills. Against Cal-Poly, he displayed the ability to draw the defense and kick the ball out to the open man. He found cutters on their way to the hoop on more than one occasion also, and even hit his teammate for an alley-oop on a backdoor cut. When dribbling the floor and running the offense, he keeps his head up and constantly looks for the open man. Brown currently leads the Big West conference in assists, and has improved his assist to turnover ratio to nearly 1.5 this season.

A few weaknesses might make teams think twice before drafting Bobby Brown this June. Brown remains skinny at this point, and lacks the size you like to see in an NBA point guard. Despite being listed at 6’2,” he measured in at 6’0.75” inches at the pre-draft camp. Brown is already a poor defender at the college level, and this will be compounded by his lack of size at the next level. Though he has good versatility as a scorer, he rarely takes the ball all the way to the hoop, which leads to a low number of free throws attempted. He also has the tendency to go to his right more often, though he seems to have the ability to go left as well. Brown has improved his point guard skills this season, but it doesn’t appear that he’ll ever be a true floor general.

In the Big West conference, Brown faces a lot of undersized shoot-first guards who run the point. He has established himself as the best point guard in the conference throughout the season, and team success will only help his draft stock. Cal State Fullerton currently resides in second place in the Big West, and it will be necessary for them to win the conference tournament in order the make the NCAA Tournament. Brown has a reputation for being a big game player, and a NCAA berth might give him the exposure he needs to elevate his stock on draft boards, particularly in terms of playing against more high caliber competition than he sees in the Big West.

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