Wesley Johnson, 6-7, Redshirt Junior, Small Forward, Syracuse
17 points, 9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.9 turnovers, 1.9 blocks, 1.8 steals, 55% FG, 46% 3P, 75% FT
Likely the fastest riser of any draft prospect in this 2009-2010 NCAA season thus far, Wesley Johnson is already looking like a genius for deciding to transfer from Iowa State to Syracuse. He put himself on the map very early on with two outstanding games in the Preseason NIT in Madison Square Garden against Cal and North Carolina, and has continued his strong play into the Big East conference as well so far with outings like a 20 point, 19 rebound performance in a road win over Seton Hall.
As already discussed in each of our three previous scouting reports, Johnson fits the mold of your prototypical NBA small forward from a physical standpoint, and then some. His excellent size, length and athleticism give him a terrific base from which to build off of, and he's really rounded out his skill-set now as well.
The biggest development that must be discussed is the improvement Johnson has made as a perimeter shooter. A career 31.6% 3-point shooter going into this season, Johnson has made 25 of his 55 attempts from beyond the arc thus far, good for 46%. While the number of attempts he's averaging (just over 3) per game leaves something to be desired as far as the sample size is concerned, the smooth mechanics, deep range, quick release and terrific separation he creates elevating away from his defender should ease most of the concerns teams might have. As we discussed in the past, Johnson's issues mostly stemmed from poor shot-selection, and since that problem has completely evaporated, his percentages have sky-rocketed accordingly.
While Johnson starts at the 3 for Syracuse (alongside Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku), there is no question that his coach Jim Boeheim much prefers to play him at the 4. It usually only takes a few minutes for Boeheim to sub in a guard for Jackson, and this clearly makes both Syracuse and Johnson quite a bit more effective.
One of the reasons Johnson doesn't attempt all that many 3-pointers is because Syracuse would much rather get him the ball from 15-feet and in. It's here that Johnson can operate as a huge mismatch against most collegiate forwards, as he can elevate smoothly for a mid-range jumper if his man sags off him, or blow right past him with his terrific first step if he plays him too closely. He has great quickness making his way into the lane, and appears to have worked extremely hard on polishing up some very impressive spin moves.
Developing his post game would probably be the next step, as he's not always able to take advantage of his superior physical tools against weak defenders. He currently lacks much in the ways of footwork and doesn't appear to be the toughest guy around.
Still not what you would call a great shot-creator, Johnson continues to struggle to get to the free throw line at a high rate. His ball-handling skills are average at best, as his left hand is weak, he has a difficult time changing directions with the ball in tight spaces, and he's not very effective if he's unable to beat his matchup with his pure first step.
That's not as much of an issue with the way he's being used at the moment for Syracuse, but there are legitimate concerns about whether he can be the type of player that can take over (or finish off) an NBA game as a one on one scorer, particularly when being matched up with similarly sized NBA small forwards. To his credit, Johnson appears to understand his limitations and isn't very turnover prone.
Johnson contributes in a variety of areas for Syracuse, showing excellent versatility. Extremely unselfish and seemingly an outstanding teammate (on and off the court reportedly), the ball rarely gets stuck in his hands for more than a few seconds. He's a terror in transition and a force on the offensive glass, averaging over 10 rebounds per-40 minutes pace adjusted. His scoring efficiency is impressive considering the load he carries for Syracuse, as he shoots 59% from 2-point range and 46% from beyond the arc.
Defensively, we run into the same issue we always do with Syracuse playershis team plays zone pretty much exclusively. Considering Johnson's phenomenal physical tools, thoughsize, length, athleticism, and his high activity level, it's not difficult to project him as a versatile and very effective defender at the NBA level. He already contributes nearly two steals and two blocks per game, and is able to switch seamlessly onto a variety of different styles of opponents without much of an issue.
There isn't a great deal not to like about Johnson at the moment from an NBA perspective, and it's no wonder that he's shot up into the top-10 of most teams' draft boards with his stellar play. The only concern teams might have about taking him in the high lottery is whether he is a good enough shot-creator and overall scorer to develop into a first-option type, or if he's simply a terrific role-player.
Considering that he turns 23 this July, his upside may not be deemed quite as high as other combo forwards in this draft, such as Al-Farouq Aminu for example, who is three years younger than him. On the flip-side, he'll be coming into the NBA ready to help the team that drafts him immediately, and there is a lot to be said for that.
Gordon Hayward, 6'8, SF/PF, Sophomore, Butler
16.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 46.7% FG, 85.6% FT, 35.9% 3PT
After a solid freshman season, Gordon Hayward has upped his production as a sophomore, creating himself some nice draft buzz in the process. The 6'8 Hayward is playing more like a combo forward this season, upping his scoring and rebounding, without sacrificing efficiency.
On the offensive end, despite a decrease in three-point shooting percentage this season (45% to 36%, on just 78 attempts), Hayward's bread and butter is still his outside shot, boasting a high and quick release with range to the NBA three-point line. Hayward's shot is incredibly smooth, and one of the most impressive aspects of his shooting is his excellent body control and shot selection, as he almost always squares his shoulders and gets his feet underneath him before taking a shot, leading to very few bad misses. He's not a great shot creator off the dribble, however, even though he looks very comfortable pulling up in space.
Attacking the basket, Hayward doesn't have much in terms of advanced ball-handling, rarely changing directions with the ball, but he can handle it comfortably on straight-line drives with either hand, and his ability to take the ball to the basket or throw off a runner in the lane allows him to still score efficiently around the basket. A deceptively good athlete, Hayward has outstanding coordination and body control, while also showing off pretty good explosiveness when he gets his legs under him. He likewise has a solid first step, and is very crafty maneuvering through the lane and finding open spaces, getting to the free throw line at a pretty high rate.
Aside from scoring, Hayward is a very versatile contributor on the offensive end, moving well without the ball, showing a good understanding of spacing, getting out in transition, and playing smart basketball in general. This also shows up in his passing game, where he excels in particular on the drive and dish, and does a good job keeping his head up with the ball. Hayward is already a dangerous threat in transition with his size and body control, and this is before you consider his marksmanship with his three-point shot, something he doesn't utilize much at this level but could be a very valuable weapon to some open-minded offensive teams in the NBA.
Hayward is also a good offensive rebounder for a small forward, doing a great job of coming out of nowhere to crash the glass, showing good instincts and a high motor in that regard.
The defensive end is where Hayward's game has the most concerns, as he's not really an ideal matchup for any position in the NBA, lacking the size to defend most 4's and not having ideal lateral quickness on the perimeter. While he plays with a good effort level and his fundamentals aren't bad, he doesn't have a particularly low stance and he's a bit stiff in his lateral movements. That said, his foot speed is adequate and he does a good job of using his length to contest shots, making up for his lack of great quickness. There are concerns about how he will stick with many of the explosive small forwards in the NBA, but it's something many other sharp-shooting forwards (Gallinari, Turkoglu) in the league live with.
Looking forward, Hayward should be a very good bet to go in the first round should he declare this year, and he could be a very quick contributor if he's drafted to a team with a good point guard and a wide open offense that can take advantage of his range and quick shooting. Becoming more comfortable creating his shot off the dribble and developing his advanced ball-handling should both be among his priorities, even if they don't become staples of his game, as it will help keep defenses honest.
Larry Sanders, 6-10, Junior, Power Forward/Center, Virginia Commonwealth, 15.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.4 turnovers, 0.6 steals, 3.1 bocks, 51.9% FG, 25% 3FG, 65.8% FT
During his first two seasons at Virginia Commonwealth, junior Larry Sanders was part of Eric Maynor's supporting cast, often a defensive force who showed flashes of offensive ability. This season, now that Maynor is backing up Russell Westbrook in the NBA and Anthony Grant is coaching Alabama, Sanders has led Virginia Commwealth to a solid, though unspectacular, 11-4 start and has showcased his strengths and weaknesses as a future NBA player along the way.
As we have written about amply, Sanders has a tremendous physical profile. Standing 6'10 in shoes with a 7'6 wingspan, he has the size and the length to play either the power forward or center positions in the NBA. Athletically, he will be among the elite at the next level, boasting excellent explosiveness, mobility, and quickness for a player with his size. A significant question mark, however, surrounds his strength and frame. Though he has wide shoulders and looks capable of adding muscle in the future, he does not appear to have improved his frame substantially during his time in Richmond, which may make things difficult for him in the NBA at times.
On the offensive end, Sanders has expanded his game significantly, but he still is a very raw player who has a long way to go before being able to contribute consistently at the next level. Sanders averages 22.4 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted, a five point improvement over his average last season. Despite using more possessions than last season, his efficiency has increased considerably, largely due to the fact that he's getting to the free throw line 8 times per-40 minutes pace adjusted, and knocking down 66% (up from 56% last season) of his attempts.
Looking beyond the numbers, Sanders still has a ways to go. His footwork, while improved, remains very raw, and he continues to look hesitant at times after receiving the ball. Now battling more intense defensive pressure, and without the benefit of a terrific passer like Eric Maynor next to him, he isn't getting nearly as many open opportunities inside. His somewhat suspect touch around the basket certainly does not help matters, but neither do his still raw ball handling abilities and overall awareness.
Sanders is still most effective within 5 feet of the basket and while finishing in transition, catching and finishing or executing a simple move on his way to the hoop, where his combination of size, athleticism, and length put him in an elite class at the college level.
Interestingly, Sanders has relied more upon his face-up game this season, showing a part of his game that he hadn't really displayed in the past all that often. His ability to create is extremely raw at this point and would definitely be improved with better ball handling abilities, particularly with his left hand. He does not show much of a mid-range game outside of isolated, although intriguing, flashes, but this area of his game is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
More prevalent is his spot-up jump shot. He has already attempted 16 3-pointers this season, 16 more than he had previously in his career, and has also been taking some mid-range jumpers. While he's shown the ability to make a shot from time to time, it's safe to say he has room to improve in this area. He oftentimes falls away while shooting and kicks out his feet, both of which detract from his release's fluidity and consistency. While his suspect shot selection does not help matters, he does have a quick release, which combined with his length and size, could make him into a respectable spot-up shooter if he continues to improve his mechanics.
On the defensive end, Sanders is a tremendous presence due to his size, length, and athleticism, to the tune of 4.4 blocks and 7.6 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted. Sanders is an extremely good shot blocker, combining his incredible length, athleticism, and timing to alter a tremendous amount of shots over the course of the game. Though his tendency to gamble causes him to bite for fakes around the basket, there is no denying his ability as an anchor in the post, the kind of player that can alter a team's game plan by his presence.
That said, he still has a long way to go before being able to defend stronger and more versatile post players in the NBA. His lack of strength hurts him, but sometimes he looks passive when guarding his man. On the perimeter, he shows average lateral quickness, but his length helps tremendously in this area. His overall defense must continue to improve should he want to convince scouts that he has what it takes to contribute at the next level, which will in large part come down to how much strength he can add to his frame.
While Sanders has improved remarkably during his time at Virginia Commonwealth, he still has a long way to go before achieving his considerable potential. In the NBA, his lack of strength and fundamentals will certainly hold him back, and scouts will be monitoring his ability to improve in these areas. That said, 6'10 players with his length, athleticism, shot blocking abilities, and developing offensive skill sets are extremely rare, and usually get strong looks in the lottery. Sanders must assert himself in the CAA as the season moves on, and in the process show NBA scouts that he has what it takes to contribute sooner than later in the NBA.
Gani Lawal, 6-9, Junior, Power Forward, Georgia Tech
15.4 Points, 9.1 Rebounds, 1.4 Blocks, 2.2 Turnovers, 56.4% FG, 68.7% FT
An early entry candidate for the 2009 NBA Draft, Gani Lawal opted to return to school after going through the draft process and not receiving the first round guarantee he was looking for. Though some were impressed by his potential, others questioned his lack of polish something that was only magnified at the NBA combine and in the heavily attended group workouts. Though he was well-positioned last summer with a number of major prospects opting to stay in school, he decided to hone his skills back at Georgia Tech alongside incoming freshman Derrick Favors.
While Lawal's minutes and touches have decreased marginally next to the lottery-bound Favors, he's shown development in some areas and will still have an opportunity to hear his name called in the first round this summer.
Sporting an excellent physical profile highlighted by a 7'0 wingspan, Lawal has always been lauded for his athleticism and tremendous work ethic. While those two attributes have afforded him quite a bit of success on the NCAA level, Lawal's post footwork, jump shooting, and passing lagged behind his ability to impose his will on lesser athletes in the paint.
This season, Lawal has shown marked improvement to some of those weaknesses. His post footwork looks substantially better for example, being far more assertive these days. He's still not adept at making counter moves on the block and loses control when he tries to do something overly complicated, but his ability to create space for his turnaround jumper has improved considerably. His turnaround jumper over his left shoulder has been particularly impressive, as he's shown the touch to use the glass effectively and creates separation seamlessly with his strength and leaping ability.
While Lawal is definitely showing signs of improvement in the post as evidence by the improvement in his field goal percentage from 46.7% to 54.9% in back to the basket situations according to the data we have at our disposal, he still has plenty of room for improvement. He finishes with his left hand occasionally, but he doesn't appear entirely comfortable on that side of the rim when he can't dunk the ball.
Away from the block, Lawal remains limited. He rarely attempts a jump-shot, taking less than one per game according to our data. He has improved from the foul line, upping his percentages more than 10% from last season. Continuing to improve his range will be a key for him as he moves forward in his career.
Defensively, Lawal appears to have improved, though he doesn't always sustain his quality defensive play. He still has some issues closing out shooters too aggressively, but displays a better stance and moves better when not defending the ball. While he sometimes over-commits to helping his teammates, leaving his man open on the perimeter, and will have an occasional lapse of judgment, he appears to have added a degree of discipline to the high energy play that makes him an extremely productive rebounder, even playing next to a jumping jack in Derrick Favors. If he can learn to stay home when closing out shooters and be a bit more decisive off the ball, he could really help his draft stock.
Watching Lawal on film, it is clear that he's made some strides, though they are not overwhelmingly obvious in his numbers. In the short-term, it will be important for Lawal to show well against the high-level competition he'll face in ACC play and hone his defensive ability. His role in the NBA may be limited to doing some dirty work off the bench initially, but if he can continue to add strength and improve his jumper, he could fit into niche similar to the one that Leon Powe and Brandon Bass have played for their respective teams.