NCAA Weekly Performers-- 3/1/2007, Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers-- 3/1/2007, Part Two
Mar 01, 2007, 02:43 am
Three seniors and one junior get the call in part two of our NCAA weekly performers. Herbert Hill finishes off the season in style. Gabe Pruitt is slowly adapting to his new role as USC's point guard. Jared Jordan shows a national audience what they've been missing out on all year. And Alando Tucker loses some ground in the national player of the year award race.

Herbert Hill, 6-10, Senior, PF/C, Providence
29 points, 15 rebounds, 8 blocks, 2 steals, 13-16 FG, 3-4 FT


Joseph Treutlein

Since our last progress report on Hill over one month ago, we’ve had the chance to watch a lot more tape on the late-blooming senior, and Hill hasn’t failed to impress against the best competition the Big East has to offer. Hill has scored in double figures in every game of conference play, including a 20 point performance when matched up with Pittsburgh’s Aaron Gray, and now this 29 point outburst against Syracuse and 6’11 shot blocker Darryl Watkins.

In our last report, much praise was given to Hill’s face-up game from within 15 feet, but in analyzing his game more, it’s clear that he is more of a back-to-the-basket player, and will only use a face-up dribble or two to get closer when he doesn’t have initial position, then seamlessly turning to go into a back-to-the-basket post-up. Once in position, Hill will quickly go to either his jump hook or turnaround jumper, both of which he is nearly automatic with from within five feet. Hill’s touch is outstanding on both his hook shot and turnaround jumper, and despite him not getting much playing time until his senior year, his footwork is surprisingly polished and he makes smart, quick decisions when he gets the ball fed to him in the post.

Hill’s decision-making and quick moves were on full display against Syracuse’s collapsing zone, which proved to be just a small obstacle for him. The zone was pressuring him from all sides both before and after he received entry passes, but he went to quick work when he got the ball, and shot a remarkable 13-for-16 from the field, hitting a variety of hook shots, turnaround jumpers, and easy lay-ups around the rim. Much credit should also be given to the guards on his team who did an excellent job feeding him the ball through Syracuse’s pesky zone.

Hill’s offensive game could use some expanded moves in the future, as he can’t do much outside of 15 feet, and is really only consistently effective from inside 10. His mid-range shot has solid form, but he rarely uses it and it hasn’t been quite refined yet, as evidenced by his sub-par 60% free throw percentage. Aside from being very reliable with his back to the basket in the post, Hill does a good job attacking the offensive boards, though he relies a bit too much on his physical tools at this level, not enough on establishing inside position. He also doesn’t always follow through on his pursuits of the ball, sometimes just getting a hand on the ball rather than securing it by pulling it in.

Defensively, Hill has excellent shot-blocking ability, which was evidenced in this game where he blocked eight and altered a few more. Hill’s weakside awareness is strong, and he has good timing on his blocks, though his man-to-man defense in the post could use some work. While very fundamentally sound in the post on offense, Hill has a long way’s to go in fundamentals in guarding the post on defense, as he doesn’t have much of any. Hill doesn’t really get his weight down to get leverage on his man, which leads to him being backed down nearly at will. His lack of strength, specifically in the lower body, is also concerning on the defensive end, though with some professional weight training that could be remedied. Given the vast progress Hill has made in his four years at Providence, specifically in the polishing of his offensive game while not getting much playing time his first two seasons, there’s a good chance his defensive game could see similar improvement if he has the dedication and the proper coaching. Hill’s drive and focus on the defensive end also don’t seem quite up to speed with his offense, so more dedication on his part could also help.

At this point Hill projects as a fringe first-round pick, and there’s much to be impressed with from him as a prospect. The polish on his offensive game in spite of his lack of playing time over the years is a testament to the work he must put in practicing, and the great progress he’s made with his game this season is a testament to his steep learning curve. Couple these things with his physical gifts, and acknowledge that there is still a lot of untapped potential in him, and Hill could turn out to be a very effective player in the NBA playing the power forward and center positions. With his shot-blocking, rebounding, outstanding touch, and two legitimate go-to moves in the post, he already has a lot to offer an NBA team. If he can improve his mid-range shot and add some weight to his decently sized frame, Hill has the chance to be an effective starter at either the 4 or the 5 in the NBA. Hill would be best off if he was drafted by a team with a coach who puts a strong emphasis on fundamental defense, as that area of his game is in need of the most work, and coaching should be essential to his development there.

Gabe Pruitt, 6-4, Junior, PG/SG, USC
16 points, 8 assists, 3 turnovers, 4 rebounds, 7-13 FG, 2-6 3P, 0-0 FT


Jonathan Watters

One prospect long overdue for an update is USC combo guard Gabe Pruitt, now a junior. Pruitt won over plenty of suitors after displaying all sorts of lead guard potential as a freshman, but hasn’t exactly followed through on those expectations for a variety of reasons. His production is down this season because he missed nearly the entire non-conference slate due to academic difficulties, and took a while to get up to speed with the rest of the Pac-10 already in midseason form. After averaging 16.9 ppg and shooting 38% from 3-point land as a sophomore, Pruitt has slipped to 11.6 and 33% this year.

The poor shooting percentages may appear to be alarming, since Pruitt’s textbook jumper is going to be his main NBA weapon, but a little context must be added before any conclusions are rushed. The junior has never been good at creating his own offense under any sort of pressure, whether it be driving the ball to the basket or hitting a contested jumper. It is when he gets his feet set and has time to get comfortable that the shots start dropping. He continues to hit spot-up jumpers at a high clip, but with the tragic death of teammate Ryan Francis in the offseason, has ended playing more of a creator’s role this season. Instead of Francis creating an abundance of good looks for Pruitt to cash in on, Pruitt has found himself handling the ball and running the offense in support of freshman Daniel Hackett.

This leaves Pruitt’s offensive game very much a mixed bag at the moment. With the way he elevates at 6’4, he should be able to stretch defenses at any level. But the problems with consistency remain, and he still looks quite unpolished in his forays to the basket. His athleticism and length allow him to get around NCAA-level defenders fairly easily, but he doesn’t make good use of the space he creates for himself and is a terrible finisher.

As far as the ball-handler’s role goes, Pruitt has done a better job. His Ast/TO ratio has nearly doubled, and he no longer looks like a fish out of water directing the offense. This is a good sign, and with all the length, athleticism, and defensive potential he displays, there is still the possibility that Pruitt could someday make a serviceable Bobby Jackson/Leandro Barbosa/Devin Harris-type secondary ball-handler for a team attempting to run and stretch defenses. However, Pruitt hasn’t developed quickly enough in the past two years, and would need to pick up the pace dramatically in terms of toughness and all-around scoring ability to crack the first round in 2008. Of course, OJ Mayo is headed west this fall and we are hearing that this could cause Pruitt to enter the draft this spring. Aside from a testing of the waters, it doesn’t appear like this would be the right course of action for Gabe Pruitt at the moment.

Jared Jordan, 6-2, Senior, Point Guard, Marist
24 points, 15 assists, 2 turnovers, 7 rebounds, 8-17 FG, 4-9 3P, 4-5 FT


Jonathan Givony

In the last home game of his college career, a rare nationally broadcasted game, Jared Jordan put together one of his finest performances of the season in an overtime victory. A win over Siena helped his team clinch first place in the MAAC conference, and will go a long way in facilitating a very important goal as far as his individual draft stock is concerned, earning an NCAA tournament berth.

In that game, Jordan showed off most of the strengths and weaknesses we’ve observed through watching him play all season long. He has decent size for a point guard, and is generally a shifty guy who does a good job masking his athletic shortcomings by keeping defenders off-balance with his herky-jerky style of play. Despite looking out of control at times-- for example going air-borne with the ball in his hands before deciding exactly to do with it-- Jordan is almost always in full control of the game. He makes lightning quick decisions, and has an absolutely terrific sense for finding the open man. He has great poise as a true floor general should, usually making all the correct reads, and this calmness transcends over to his teammates as well, who do a good job of executing in the half-court. His team looks well coached and gets great spacing on the floor, sharing the ball with each other the way old-school basketball fans love to see out of a college team. At the heart of that mentality is their coach on the floor, Jared Jordan.

Jordan is a master at running the pick and roll, thanks to his outstanding timing, ball-handling and decision making skills. He does an excellent job making post-entry passes, either with a perfectly placed lob, a one-handed bullet, or a no-look bounce pass off the dribble right into the hands of a moving cutter for an easy layup. His court vision is exquisite as you might guess by his NCAA-leading 8.9 assists per game, and he does not turn the ball over as evidenced by his 2.65/1 assist to turnover ratio.

In terms of creating his own shot, Jordan has a nice array of hesitation moves he can go to to compliment his excellent ball-handling skills, but generally speaking, he does not show great potential as a slashing threat at the NBA level. His first step is average, and he lacks the extra gear needed to explode into the lane before defenses can rotate. Already in the MAAC conference he struggles finishing in the paint due to the way big men can recover on him, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that he’d get his shot blocked regularly if he were to try the same moves in the NBA.

What’s concerning is that-- unlike other marginally athletic NBA point guards--Jordan doesn’t have a great stroke from the perimeter to make up for his shortcomings in the slashing department. This makes you wonder just how effective he’ll be able running a team if he can’t keep defenses honest with either his shooting or shot-creating. Earlier in his career, Jordan was a very average shooter, hitting only 37 3-pointers in his first two seasons of college basketball, at a 30% clip. Last year, he upped his shooting numbers to 37.4%, but this season he again came down to earth by hitting 31% of his outside shots. Pulling up off the dribble is where he struggles the most, even with space, while he’s a lot better shooting with his feet set. Defensively, the picture doesn’t get much better, as he’s lacking plenty in the lateral quickness department, and really struggles staying in front of his man already at the mid-major level.

The MAAC tournament kicks off this weekend in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Jordan would help himself plenty if he’d be able to guide his team to a first-round matchup in the NCAA tournament where he can display his skills against better competition than he’s seen thus far this year. While always entertaining to watch, the MAAC is generally not considered one of the stronger mid-major conferences, particularly in terms of the defenses we’ve seen in games of his this year. A strong showing in a big time matchup against a highly regarded point guard in the tournament could do wonders for his stock. As things stand, he’ll probably have to prove himself in Portsmouth and likely the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando. No one can question the fact that he’s an absolutely outstanding basketball player, but there are quite a few question marks about his NBA potential that he will need to answer over the next four months first.

Alando Tucker, 6-5, Forward, Senior, Wisconsin
19.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.9 apg, 48 %fg, 64 % ft, 32 % 3pfg


Mike Schmidt

Alando Tucker is in the midst of a fantastic senior season, leading the Wisconsin Badgers to a top 10 ranking for most of the year. Despite his overall success, he has struggled in his past two losses, both on the road to in-conference opponents, with the last being to top ranked Ohio State. As a 5th year senior, Tucker knows what it takes to lead his team in the gritty Big 10. Many questions still surround his game when it comes to the NBA, however, and his limitations will be scrutinized by NBA front office personnel in the coming weeks as the NCAA season wraps up.

The athletic ability Tucker possesses should be apparent to anybody that has seen him play this season. In addition to an explosive vertical leap, he runs the floor very well, and changes directions very quickly. Tucker puts his athleticism to use on the basketball court, as he elevates quickly when shooting a jumper. In addition, he absorbs contact well, has the ability to adjust and finish after taking the initial foul. In terms of 3-point shooting, his percentage has increased by 7% compared to last season. Tucker has also displayed the ability to make difficult shots off the dribble from 12-17 feet. He uses the glass well from a lot of different angles, and pulls off some very difficult shots at times. Tucker moves well looking for the open spot off the ball, and scores a lot of points from just being active with his athleticism inside.

Measurements before the draft will be very important for Tucker, who’s listed at 6’6,” but may be more than an inch shorter. Despite an improvement in percentage, his 3-point shooting is quite inconsistent at this point. Tucker has a flat release on his shot, meaning he has to shoot it perfectly to get it in the hoop. He has improved his perimeter game, but at this point a great deal of his points still come from the power type game from inside 12 feet. His back to the basket game works very effectively at the college level, as his combination of power and athleticism inside wreaks havoc on opposing defenses. This type of scoring should work well against smaller defenders in the NBA, but Tucker may struggle to translate that against some of the bigger, more powerfully built small forwards in the NBA.

Wisconsin has one game remaining against Michigan State before moving on to the Big 10 tournament, and then the NCAA tournament. It will be important for Alando Tucker to bounce back strong from his struggles over the past two games, particularly with starting center Brian Butch out for an extended period. Tucker can best help his draft stock by regaining the terrific form he enjoyed earlier in the season from behind the three point line, as well as by leading Wisconsin through at least a couple round of the big dance. Despite his limitations, Tucker has done nearly everything in his power to help himself and his team to a great season, and could make an NBA team very happy in the second half of the first round of the draft.

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