NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/10/09

NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/10/09
Dec 10, 2009, 10:43 pm
Washington's Quincy Pondexter, Georgetown's Greg Monroe, North Carolina's John Henson and Marshall's Hassan Whiteside are the next four prospects to be evaluated in our NCAA Weekly Performers series.

Quincy Pondexter, 6-6, Senior, Small Forward/Power Forward, Washington
22 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.9 turnovers, 1.9 steals, 54% FG, 14% 3P, 88% FT

Kyle Nelson

Going on four years of continually profiling his NBA draft prospects, it is time to evaluate Quincy Pondexter for the player he is rather than harp on his as of yet untapped potential. After all, the senior forward is averaging 22 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.9 steals per game, positioning himself as one of the top scorers and rebounders amongst NBA draft prospects in our database. In fact, Pondexter has improved across the board, averaging career highs in just about every statistical category and showing the tenacity and grit that scouts hoped to see from him during his last season at Washington.

Physically, there continues to be still very little to dislike about Pondexter. After all, he stands between 6’6 and 6’7 with a great frame and length. He is in another league athletically, as well, with excellent explosiveness and mobility, which when paired with his energetic and scrappy play, form an invaluable combination for the college game. Looking to the next level, where combo forwards are thriving and perimeter roles are being redefined, Pondexter has a tremendous amount of potential, capable of playing inside and outside on both ends of the floor.

On the offensive end, Pondexter has improved across the board, starting to look much more comfortable with his role and dominating all over the floor. While many of his 22 points per game come from the post and around the basket, he looks far more comfortable this season putting the ball on the floor and spotting up from distance.

His handle is much improved, probably still not quite where it needs to be in order to excel as a shot-creator at the next level, but good enough so that he can utilize his superior first step and explosiveness in mismatch situations. Few defenders, regardless of size and athletic ability, can stay in front of him at the collegiate level, hinting at his potential as a slasher should he continue to improve his ball handling ability.

Also much improved is his shooting stroke, which is far more fluid and compact than in the past. Though he still does not show the ability to consistently and comfortably knock down shots from the perimeter, it now looks like a good possibility that he will develop with time and practice. After all, he is making close to 57% of his shots from inside of the arc and 88% of 8.3 free throw attempts per game. There is no reason why Pondexter cannot develop into an offensive game equivalent to James Posey or Mickael Pietrus if he continues to work on getting more range on his jump-shot and confidence in his abilities. Scouts will be watching this season to see whether or not he can continue to make progress in this area.

On the inside, Pondexter’s athleticism and much improved footwork have allowed him to dominate bigger players with ease. He shows a softer touch this season and better awareness, which have helped him maximize his efficiency around the basket. Also worth noting, however, is his improved passing and the way he’s managed to cut down on his turnover rate. Though he is very undersized, he does a good job of using his combination of athleticism and versatility to exploit match ups at the collegiate level, something sure to catch scouts’ eyes in the coming months.

Slowly but surely Pondexter is developing a killer instinct, attacking the boards relentlessly and getting to the foul line at a very good rate, both of which are expected from a player with his size, skill-set, and athleticism. He has also slowly emerged into a leadership role, which has manifested itself in aggressiveness and a greater desire to step up and create offense for himself in the clutch. Scouts will be watching him throughout this year to see if these flashes become a habit, as we’ve seen him start seasons off red-hot in the past, only to fade down the stretch.

Defense reigns supreme, however, when considering Pondexter’s NBA future. He has the ability to defend inside and outside, with lateral quickness that allows him to stay in front of guards and wings and suffocating length that helps him compensate for his lack of height in the post. His effort and focus-level has increased significantly this season as well, and while he still suffers from lapses from time to time, they’re far less frequent and it is clear that he is more active, aware, and vocal. He will have to continue to work hard in match ups against high caliber offensive players to prove to scouts that he has can develop into a multi-positional lockdown defender at the next level.

At just 21 years old, Pondexter is still very much an enigma and his role in the NBA is still not easy to project. Players with length and athleticism who can guard multiple positions and excel in up-tempo offenses are thriving in today’s NBA, granted they fall into the right situation. If he can develop a reliable jump shot and continue to bring consistent energy and focus on both ends of the floor, he could be an extremely valuable rotation player.

Greg Monroe, 6’11, Sophomore, Power Forward, Georgetown
15.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 1.4 blocks, 46% FG, 63% FT

Matt Williams

The Georgetown Hoyas hadn’t truly been tested up until their Wednesday night meeting with the Butler Bulldogs in Madison Square Garden in the opening game of the Jimmy V Men’s Basketball Classic. However, even from the small sample of games he’s had to work with, sophomore Greg Monroe has managed to show some incremental improvements in his game and had arguably the best outing of his young career in a victory of the Bulldogs. After opting to return to school despite being projected as a lottery pick following an up and down campaign last year, Monroe has made strides in some areas while having to make a number of adjustments as the successor to DaJuan Summers as Georgetown’s featured scorer.

Often maligned for his lack of aggressiveness, below-average athleticism, and soft demeanor as a freshman, the biggest change in Greg Monroe’s game from this season to last season has come on the defensive glass. While his numbers clearly suggest that he’s done a better job rebounding the ball, (his defensive rebounding average is up to 7.0 per-game from just 4.5 per-game last season) John Thompson III’s influence is apparent in his approach on the glass. Unlike last season where Monroe was purely a reactive rebounder, he now frequently makes an effort to find a man, box him out, and then secure the ball.

Not a good athlete by NBA standards, Monroe still has a lot of room for improvement, needing to do a better job pursuing the ball at its highest point and be consistent with his effort level as the level of competition increases, but he’s already seeing clear results from the slight changes he’s already made, as evidenced by his 15 rebound performance against Butler. Monroe isn’t the type of player that will consistently rebound outside of his area, lacking the quickness, toughness and explosive leaping ability that prolific NBA rebounders possess, but the extremely early results so far this season indicate that there is reason for optimism here.

In addition to his improvements on the glass, Monroe has looked more assertive on the block too, establishing better position and showing off a nice drop step that allowed him to get to the other side of the rim on multiple occasions during his 24 point effort against Butler.

Lacking the quickness or explosiveness that would allow him to dominate games around the basket on the collegiate level, Monroe has had his share of issues from the inside this season. Though he certainly shows flashes of potential, often in the form of swooping hooks around the basket where he uses his length to his advantage, Monroe has struggled with turnovers in the early going, losing his balance when he doesn’t beat his man with his initial move leading to travels and having an extremely hard time working through the double-teams that he’s seen on a regular basis this season. Monroe has a very difficult time elevating off two feet in order to get a good shot off, something that will likely become far more of an issue at the next level.

Watching the way he is scoring inside the paint, it’s hard not to question whether he’d be able to continue to do so against the far superior type of athletes he’d face in the NBA, but it’s good to see a guy who is often been maligned for his lack of toughness at least try and use his height advantage for the betterment of his team.

While Monroe’s comfort level dealing with double-teams on the block seems to improve on a game to game basis, the challenges he’ll face in Big East play will provide a real indicator of his progress from this season to last. Monroe appears to have gained a degree of focus and intensity, but still seems to be coasting at times. Considering that he looks considerably slower than the majority of the other NBA draft prospects at his position, his effort level over the course of the season and his ability to maximize his physical tools will be a key component of his draft stock.

They will also play a key role in Monroe’s ability to have an impact defensively. Though he seeks out contact once he sees a shot go up, he seems lost at times when defending off the ball and seldom makes the aggressive rotations that would allow him to block shots coming over from the weakside. He did register an emphatic rejection in the Butler game, but aside from one excellent play, he seemed indecisive and was often a step slow helping his teammates.

Projecting Monroe to the next level based on his performance through seven games would be foolish, but the small steps he’s taken have been on display thus far and will be worth keeping an eye on as Georgetown moves into conference play. Monroe needs to continue playing well if he’s to carve out a spot in the lottery, and will have to continue responding to the questions concerning his athletic limitations by performing like he did on Wednesday against Butler.

John Henson, 6-10, Power Forward, Freshman, North Carolina
3.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.1 blocks, 41% FG, 42% FT, 17% 3P, 10.4 minutes per game

Joey Whelan

There may not be a player in the country that can inspire more intrigue in ten minutes per game like John Henson can. The crown jewel of yet another loaded freshman class in Chapel Hill, the talented forward with the Kevin Durant-esque frame has already shown glimpses of the ability that will make him a potential top prospect when he opts to make the jump to the NBA. Like many taller perimeter players, though – especially one a young as Henson – it may be a long time before he really grows into his body and is able to reach his full potential as a player.

Packing a paltry 200 pounds (if that) onto his massively long frame, Henson gets muscled around by even the most average college players. Despite being listed as a power forward, he rarely gets touches in the post given his inability to hold his position and bang with defenders—not to mention the fact that his team is absolutely loaded at his position.

When attacking off the bounce he will get bumped off his line by opponents as well, but does often show the length and athleticism to compensate for this shortcoming right now. Obviously the UNC training staff will do all they can to get some additional mass onto him during his time with the program, which will go a long way to making him an even greater threat with the basketball in his hands. How quickly he will be able to do so will likely play a huge role in how he’s perceived as a draft prospect.

The appeal of Henson’s game is his combination of size and versatility. He already shows flashes of possessing the skill set to capably function on the perimeter, something he has been forced to do in the limited time he has seen on the floor this season. His ball-handling skills, though still too loose to allow him to create his own shot consistently in half-court situations, are very intriguing for a player his size. He definitely displays an above average first step for a bigger perimeter player, and is crafty enough to get to the basket in isolation situations against most defenders. When attacking the basket he uses his length very well, able to score over and around defenders with relative ease. Once he adds the strength necessary to handle the bumps he gets in the lane (which may be easier said than done), the combination will prove deadly for opposing defenses.

As a shooter, the freshman exhibits a very soft touch, but is wildly inconsistent with his release right now. He has range beyond the three-point line, but has struggled from that distance thus far given how slow his release is, due in large part to his tremendously long arms. He certainly looks comfortable shooting on the move and off the dribble, but developing consistency in this aspect of his game will be paramount to his future value as a pro prospect considering his lanky frame. What does need to be noted though is Henson’s advanced understanding of how to move without the basketball. He displays a strong knack for finding open spaces in the defense, and though he doesn’t always capitalize on these holes, this skill will help him a great deal when he comes a more integral part of the offense.

In the limited time Henson is on the floor he shows a great deal of hustle, particularly on the defensive end. He is very active on the glass and has already proven to be a menace as a shot blocker, swatting away 4.3 blocks per-40 minutes, the sixth highest total among the freshman class. With his wingspan and leaping ability, he often doesn’t even need to be in proper position to alter shots around the basket and has already shown glimpses of his brilliance as a help side defender. His lateral quickness will need to improve in order to effectively cover perimeter players at the next level, but again, his is aided by his length in this regard.

Given his limited playing time this season (a trend that will likely continue) and the tremendous amount of physical maturing he has left to do, it seems fairly safe to assume that Henson will be staying for at least his sophomore season. Deon Thompson will be gone in 2011 and Ed Davis probably will be as well, allowing the freshman to move back to his natural power forward position and assume a larger share of the offensive load. With a year to grow physically and fine tune his skills, it would not be out of the question for Henson to have a huge second season in the ACC. Regardless of what his numbers eventually look like, his enticing combination of size, skill and upside will keep his name high on the draft board of every team in the NBA.

Hassan Whiteside, 6’11, PF/C, Freshman, Marshall
11.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.4 blocks, 1.6 turnovers, 63% FG, 35% FT

Joseph Treutlein

An unheralded high school recruit coming off the bench at Marshall, Hassan Whiteside probably isn’t on the radar of many people yet, but as conference season approaches, that is likely to change. Whiteside already has one near triple-double under his belt, putting up a monstrous 14 point, 17 rebound, 9 block performance in just 29 minutes against Ohio, and he’s had a few other good games as well. He’s yet to play much noteworthy competition, but appears to have all the tools to replicate his performance against C-USA foes.

Standing 6’11 with excellent length and great athleticism, Whiteside is an extremely intriguing physical prospect, theoretically having the tools to effectively multiple positions at the next level. Since the first time we saw him a little over a year ago at a prep tournament, he’s added some weight to his frame, but still could stand to add significant lower and upper body strength in the near future, both of which could help his game substantially.

Offensively, Whiteside shows flashes of skills in multiple areas, but he is very unpolished in all of them, and is still pretty much a blank slate in terms of what type of offensive player he could become. He shows glimpses of a nice hook shot in the post, but lacks the footwork to get it off consistently. He can take his man off the dribble from 15 feet using his rangy steps in a straight line motion, but can’t do much else. He will occasionally knock down a spot-up 15 footer, but just as frequently will put up an air-ball. His disastrous 10-for-29 showing from the free throw line thus far is probably pretty good evidence as to where his jump shot is overall. The fact that he’s getting there so often in limited playing time is a very good sign for the future, though.

What Whiteside does do well on offense, though, is finishing off the ball and crashing the offensive glass, relying on his physical tools to do so. He’s a good finisher around the basket, but could be better if he had the upper body strength to finish through contact and the lower body strength to more easily power up without gathering himself. His ability to finish on finesse lay-ups could also be better, as his touch appears just adequate. One area where Whiteside doesn’t appear to be utilized much is finishing on pick-and-rolls. This is something his skill-set and physical attributes are perfect for, and is an area we hope to see more of in the future. Despite his limitations, Whiteside is already scoring at a very nice rate for a college freshman, and is doing so efficiently as well, shooting nearly 64% from the field.

Defensively, Whiteside has incredible potential, and is already a force in multiple ways. In addition to having excellent length and mobility, Whiteside possesses outstanding timing on his shot blocks, and does a pretty good job with making rotations from the weakside. He blocks shots in all situations, be it coming across the lane on a driver, in man-to-man situations in the post, or running out on the perimeter to swat down jumpers. He averages an astounding 8.2 blocks per-40 minutes pace adjusted, which ranks him 2nd overall amongst all NBA draft prospects in college basketball, behind only Jarvis Varnado, who will go down as one of the best shot-blockers in NCAA history.

Another strong aspect of Whiteside’s defensive game is his lateral quickness, being able to hold his own when switched onto perimeter players in pick-and-roll situations, while also having a pretty solid fundamental stance. His post defense is a bit lackluster, however, as he doesn’t utilize his length as well as he could, and he lacks the lower body strength to consistently hold his position.

As a rebounder, Whiteside has been extremely prolific thus far this season, averaging nearly 15-rebounds per-40 minutes pace adjusted, which ranks him amongst the NCAA leaders in our database in that category.

Looking forward, it’s way too early to come to any definitive conclusions about Whiteside’s game, but it’s clear that we are talking about an extremely intriguing long-term prospect. Matchups with North Carolina, West Virginia, and all of Conference USA loom on the horizon, which should give us plenty more instances to evaluate his game against worthy competition. He is definitely someone to keep on the radar from an NBA perspective, but how soon or to what degree is yet to be determined. It should be mentioned that he is about two years older than most players in his class, as he turns 21 in June.

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