NCAA Weekly Performers (12/4/2006)--Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers (12/4/2006)--Part One
Dec 05, 2006, 03:53 am
Kevin Durant, 6’9, SG/SF/PF, Freshman, Texas
29 points, 9 rebounds, 5 turnovers, 8-18 FG, 10-10 FT, 3-7 3PT


Joseph Treutlein

You know you’ve got quite the player on your hands when you can say that a 29-point, 9-rebound performance wasn’t among his best games of the season, and that’s what you can say about this one for Kevin Durant. It wasn’t a bad game by any means, and Durant definitely got better as the game went on in this one, but there were some questionable shots and turnovers by the multi-skilled freshman, and one just got the feel that he could’ve performed better against Texas’ toughest opponent to date.

Durant had an up-and-down game, on one hand showing terrific ability on the offensive end, but on the other also showing some very questionable decision-making and having some struggles on the defensive end.
Offensively, it’s easy to marvel at many of the things Durant does, as it’s rare to see a player of his size with some of his abilities. The touch, form, and accuracy on his outside shot are nothing short of phenomenal, and he can effortlessly stroke the ball from NBA three-point range already, as he did on one shot in this game. He has great confidence in his shot, which is apparent the first time you see him shoot the ball, though he has a tendency to throw up some shots early in the shot-clock when it really isn’t necessary. Durant’s ability to take the ball to the basket is equally impressive, and there aren’t many players his age and his size that can handle the ball so well with either hand. He protects the ball extremely well, understands how and when to utilize his beloved spin move on drives, and does it all effortlessly and fluidly, leading to some great shot attempts when you consider his elevation and high release point on shots. He did a great job getting to the free-throw line in this game and showed nice touch on his floaters, lay-ups, and turnaround jumpers, executing them right out of his spin move perfectly. On the other hand, Durant did travel a few times and charge into a defender on an out-of-control drive, so he’s obviously still coming along in his court awareness and decision-making at this stage.

Durant did a good job on the boards in this game, but he operates there in a very unorthodox manner considering his effectiveness. Especially on the offensive end, he looks very tentative in drawing contact, and often will just use his incredible reach to get his hands on rebounds, but still does a good job finishing on putbacks, even though he doesn’t seem to be assertive here at all. This is a testament to his touch and ability, and as he continues to hit the weights and improve his toughness inside, it’s a scary thought about how effective he could be. He didn’t operate in the post much in this game, but showed a nice hook shot on one occasion.

Defensively, Durant looks very out of sorts, but his coach does a very good job hiding his deficiencies in the Texas scheme, usually putting him on the opposing team’s worst player. In this game he got beat on a few occasions early inside by Gonzaga’s Sean Mallon, looking helpless trying to defend him, but coach Rick Barnes did a good job in not letting Gonzaga exploit him much after that. Durant seems to have trouble both on the perimeter and in the post on the defensive end, and that’s definitely something he’ll need to work on over the course of the rest of this season.

Most people believe it’s a foregone conclusion that Durant will enter this year’s draft, and he has as good a chance to go #2 as anyone. Whether he can eclipse Greg Oden, almost unanimously assumed to be this year’s #1 pick, is still up in the air. Durant’s position at the next level is also something many are questioning, and realistically he could have success as a SG, SF, or PF, depending on what areas of his game he chooses to improve.

Sean Williams, 6-10, Junior, Center, Boston College
16 points, 2 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, 6-8 FG, 4-4 FT


Jonathan Watters

At this early juncture, it appears that the feature of the 2007 draft will be the abnormally large pool of elite big man prospects likely to be there for the taking. But with the nation abuzz over one-and-done names like Oden, Durant and Wright, it is a bit surprising to see one upperclassman with similar natural tools almost completely off the NBA radar at the moment.

Obviously BC's Sean Williams has a few issues that the more well-known freshmen don't, both off the court and on it. As far as the latter, Williams' game is quite one-dimensional, with his spectacular strong points countered by a couple of glaring weaknesses.

But at the same time, have these freshmen proven to be a vital part of a successful NCAA Tournament contender like Williams did last year during BC's second half surge? Would North Carolina really miss Brandan Wright that much at this point in the season? Ohio State appeared to be doing fine without Greg Oden.

Williams' value to Al Skinner cannot be disputed. He sat out the first two games of the season because of a suspension, and the Eagles looked absolutely horrendous in losing to Vermont. BC fell to Providence in Williams' 06-07 debut, but the junior blocked a dozen shots and the game was only decided once Williams got into foul trouble. Since then, Boston College has reeled off consecutive impressive wins against Michigan State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and at much-improved rivals UMass. In both games, Boston College looked quite vulnerable without Williams' shot blocking presence on the floor.

His ability to change a game through his mere shot-blocking presence really can't be understated at this point. We were all amazed at the way Justin Williams and Shawn James continued to one-up each other last season with new shot blocking exploits. Williams is currently matching James' record pace of 6.5 swats per game, has a legitimate chance to average a similar number at a much higher level on the season, and disrupts offenses at a level that Ron Everhart could only dream about getting from James.

The real news here is while Williams had been billed as a shot blocker and only a shot blocker up to this point, he has added a wrinkle to his game over the summer. In this week's action the junior showed off a much-improved back-to-the-basket offensive arsenal, displaying adequate footwork and surprisingly soft touch while using every bit of his impressive length to score over the defense. The issues we have seen with poor hands have seemingly disappeared, and Williams made very good decisions this week once he had the ball in his hands as far as when to look for his own offense and when to start looking for a teammate. If he wasn't scoring on the low block, he was looking for ways to contribute from the high post, finding fellow BC big men repeatedly on nifty high-low passes.

However, there are still a few weaknesses that must be accounted for in any evaluation of Williams' status as an NBA prospect. In terms of physical attributes, it is hard to find a player who does less with more when it comes to rebounding. Looking like a freakish combination of Amare Stoudemire and Theo Ratliff as a weak-side shot blocker, Williams is anything but when battling for a rebound. Naturally explosive and decisive in protecting the rim, he is tentative and lethargic on the glass, routinely losing loose balls and rebounds to players he shouldn't have to break a sweat to overpower. Obviously Williams' rebounding totals are going to look a bit worse than they should because he is chasing so many shots on the way up, but a total of 5 rebounds in the two games last week is simply impossible to explain or justify from a player with such formidable natural gifts.

Williams is very hit or miss with his individual post defense, sometimes gobbling up shots with jaw-dropping ease, and in others allowing marginal opponents to score with little apparent resistance at all. The same issues show up with his inconsistency in running the floor, where he can absolutely fly when an uncontested dunk is in the cards but will lollygag up and down the floor in many fastbreak situations on both sides of the ball. His shot blocking totals are even more impressive when one realizes how many potential rejections he passes up on because of his inability to consistently defend the rim in transition.

The only things Williams really has left to prove on the court have everything to do with consistency effort and motor. He is somewhat of a difficult prospect to project because he has incredible natural instincts as a shot blocker and has shown work ethic in developing his offensive game significantly, but appears as lethargic as ever in other hustle-related areas.

As far as the off the court issues are concerned, Williams has already developed somewhat of a reputation as a guy who could do harm to a team's image and bring distractions into the locker room. He has been sidelined due to suspension in each of his three seasons in Boston, and it is now his task to prove that these issues are behind him if he does want a team to really stick their neck out as far as where he gets drafted.

Nonetheless, Sean Williams has shown some very encouraging signs over the past year, beyond the fact that he is back on the court after being temporarily kicked out of school a year and a half ago. The fact that he can have such an impact on the court in spite of all his serious shortcomings makes him a player who probably deserves a bit of extra slack, and this is a prospect who is now showing that he can improve his game.

Considering that his ultimate upside is nothing short of a Top 5 pick even in this most loaded of drafts, Sean Williams is certainly a player to keep an eye on as the new season continues to heat up. If he can stay out of trouble develop into even an adequate rebounder/hustle type, a spot in the lottery in either this draft or next is much more likely than the hype machine would indicate.

Brandan Wright-- Last 2 games: 13.5 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1.5 turnovers, 24.5 minutes, 11/17 FG

Wayne Ellington-- Last 2 games: 18 points, 1 rebound, 1.5 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 steals, 26 minutes, 13/27 FG, 6/16 3P

Tyler Hansbrough-- Last 2 games: 14 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 turnovers, 30.5 minutes, 10/26 FG, 8/15 FT


Jonathan Watters

It appears as though there may be a changing of the guard taking place in Chapel Hill, where the prospect many pundits predicted would earn national player of the year honors has begun to take a back seat to a pair of immensely talented freshmen.

Hansbrough has struggled in recent high-profile matchups, getting outplayed by Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt and Kentucky's Randolph Morris. On one hand, he has struggled to finish over these taller players and hasn't been able to bring that near-maniacal level of effort as consistently as he did a season ago. Playing with another traditional big man beside him in Brandan Wright, there isn't as much space to operate on the low block - which means the double teams are coming much more quickly and they are quite a bit bigger than they were last year. Hansbrough is struggling to pass out of these situations, and his trademark ability to finish through defenders has looked more like a tendency to force the issue early this year.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited freshman class continues to reap the benefits of playing with such an attention-grabbing presence.

Wright has been nothing short of spectacular in nearly every game he has played thus far, displaying absurd length and near-Tyrus Thomas-level explosiveness as Hansbrough's complement in the paint. He couldn't finish through contact, struggled to hit his free throws against Gonzaga and was plagued with foul trouble in the Ohio State game, but a series of gorgeous jump hooks in the second half (with both his left and right hand) should put to rest any doubts about whether the freshman phenom can create his own offense. Wright continues to be a force running the floor and is a constant threat to get behind the defense and finish. He's elite, folks.

While it is likely that the finishing ability of Wright and the adjustment of Hansbrough will eventually force teams to be less aggressive in the amount of extra attention they send the sophomore's way, the emergence of freshman Wayne Ellington as the go-to scorer in the backcourt is a very, very significant development. Ellington was not effective against Gonzaga and is always going to be a hot/cold type of scorer, but the multi-talented wing has really come on since struggling with his shot in the loss.

Ellington's shooting stroke contains a smoothness that can't be taught - once he is in a rhythm and knocking down shots, North Carolina is going to be nearly impossible to beat. His high release point and feel for how to get his defenders off balance in the midrange makes him one of the best "go-to shooting specialist" prospects to come along since Ray Allen over a decade ago. He doesn't bring elite size or athleticism to the table if he is viewed as a true wing, but given the type of combo guard that has been succeeding in the NBA in recent years, these things don't appear to be an issue for Ellington. His body control and slashing ability should make up for whatever he lacks in pure bounce.

So what does the freshman need to improve upon before he is ready for the big time? It is true that if any player can afford to be in love with his jumper that Ellington would be on the short list of candidates, but at the same time he must do better at contributing when his outside shot isn't falling. He certainly has the tools be a dominant scorer even if it isn't his night spotting up. A bit more focus on the defensive end and some toning up over the summer and Ellington is looking like a mighty fine candidate for the 2008 lottery.

It is seriously doubtful that Wright and Ellington are going to take the reigns away from Hansbrough and lead the Heels to the promised land. Hansbrough is going to adjust to the new looks he is getting, and teams will then be forced to adjust to him. At the same time, the spectacular ability and potential of the Tar Heel freshmen is impossible to ignore. And we didn't even get around to mentioning Tywon Lawson yet!

Jeremy Pargo, 6’2, PG, Sophomore, Gonzaga
18 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 4 turnovers, 6-8 FG, 5-6 FT


Joseph Treutlein

Jeremy Pargo, younger brother of NBA player Jannero Pargo, is beginning to solidify himself as a future NBA prospect, in this his sophomore season at Gonzaga.
Jeremy played a limited role for the Bulldogs last season, but is now starting and sharing point guard duties with teammate Derek Raivio.

Pargo’s overall floor game is still a work in progress, and it will be tough to get a gauge on how he can run a team by himself until next season when Raivio graduates. But the early results have been encouraging so far, and Pargo definitely has some promising skills. Pargo’s a strong and fearless player that does a good job getting to the basket and drawing contact, which he did many times in the win over Texas, both in the half-court and in transition. He’s definitely at his best in transition, and he showed that in this game, making plays for himself and his teammates. He showed off his court vision in the open court by dishing out a few nice assists in the transition game, and did a decent job in the half-court as well. Right now, Pargo looks most comfortable in the half-court playing the pick-and-roll game, and he does a good job recognizing what the defense gives him and adjusting his play to such. The defenders were collapsing on him, and he did a good job passing the ball through them to find his open teammate for a score.

Defensively, Pargo has great tools and is a very good man defender when he wants to be, but he has a tendency to overplay the help-side, which he did a few times in this game. He showed off his anticipation by making a nice transition interception in the game, and also played good man-to-man defense on his opponent.

Pargo’s an unfinished product at this stage, and he likely will be a three or four-year player. With his ability to play the pick-and-roll, his open court awareness, and his defensive abilities, it’s not hard to project him as a backup point guard in the NBA if he continues along the way he’s been playing. Scouts will be looking for him to improve on his outside shooting (.229 from three-point range last season) and continue to improve his point guard abilities over the next few seasons.

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