NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/28/10

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/28/10
Jan 28, 2010, 02:07 am
Updated scouting reports on Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe, Radford's Artsiom Parakhouski, Memphis' Elliot Williams and Arkansas' Michael Washington.

Eric Bledsoe, 6-1, Freshman, Point Guard, Kentucky
10.9 points, 3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 3.7 turnovers, 1.3 steals, 46% FG, 44% 3P, 76% FT

Jonathan Givony

In a draft class that appears completely devoid of quality point guard prospects (just one—John Wall-currently ranks in the top 25 of our latest mock draft), NBA teams with playmaking issues are frantically searching for players to fall in love with.

The latest name to emerge is that of Kentucky freshman Eric Bledsoe, who currently sees most of his minutes playing off the ball, but clearly shows excellent potential thanks to his rare athletic gifts.

A late bloomer who was not an considered an elite college recruit (partially due to academic concerns) until late in his high school career, Bledsoe was initially (and very briefly) committed to play at Ole Miss, but eventually found his way to Kentucky after the hiring of John Calipari.

The intrigue around Bledsoe mainly revolves around his outstanding physical profile, as despite showing average size at just 6-1, he sports a nice frame, an excellent wingspan, and terrific athleticism. He has a great first step, is extremely quick off his feet, and shows excellent end to end speed operating in the open court.

Playing around 30 minutes per game, Bledsoe typically serves as his team’s fourth or fifth option offensively, putting up pedestrian scoring numbers, and not doing so in a particularly efficient manner at that. He shoots just 46.5% from 2-point range, is incredibly turnover prone, and does not get to the free throw line at a very good rate.

On the positive side, Bledsoe is knocking down 3-pointers at an excellent 44% clip, although the sample size leaves something be desired considering that he’s made just 24 of them on the season in 19 games, or one every for 24 minutes of action he sees. Digging deeper into the film at our disposal leads us to become a bit less optimistic about his outstanding 3-point percentages, seeing that Bledsoe sports a flat-footed and fairly slow-looking release on his shot, struggling badly when forced to take contested jumpers or shoot off the dribble.

Playing alongside the likes of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousin and Patrick Patterson clearly has its perks, as he’s getting quite a few wide open looks with his feet set every game, only some of which he elects to take. It’s safe to say that Bledsoe must continue to work on expanding his shooting range, mechanics and overall consistency, particularly pulling up in the mid-range area, where NBA point guards tend to operate the most.

As a slasher is where Bledsoe shows the most potential as an NBA prospect down the road, as he has superb quickness getting by his defender, and is able to create his own shot either left or right almost equally as effectively. He’s absolutely lethal in transition, doing an excellent job of using his speed to push the ball up the floor in the open court, where he can finish himself or find an open teammate running with him. Most of his assists indeed come in transition, as Bledsoe does a good job penetrating unbalanced defenses and making simple reads in drive and dish situations, not appearing to be a selfish player in the least bit.

Where Bledsoe tends to struggle far more is in the half-court, as his skill-level clearly hasn’t caught up to his physical tools at this point in time. He shows many of the same issues that most young, ultra athletic American guards do early in their career, as he’s no longer able to get by solely on his athleticism and pure talent the way he did in high school and AAU.

Just an average ball-handler at this juncture, Bledsoe has a tendency to dribble the air out of the ball when the tempo of the game slows down, only being able to play at one speed (full throttle) and often causing Kentucky’s half-court offense to look extremely stagnant. He does not show the temperament of a true point guard at this point in time, looking much more comfortable playing alongside his teammate John Wall and not having the burden of steering the ship on his shoulders.

Bledsoe struggles to create his own shot in half-court situations, dribbling the ball with his head down and running into brick walls excessively, one of the main reasons he ranks amongst the most turnover prone players in all of college basketball.

Palming violations, traveling calls, offensive fouls-- 31% of Bledsoe’s possessions conclude with a turnover, a strong indication of how far away he currently is from being a finished product.

Despite being far more explosive than almost all of the matchups he’s gone up against, Bledsoe currently struggles to get to the basket and convert at a high rate. He does not get to the free throw very much at all—averaging one attempt for every 10 minutes he plays in fact--often electing to throw up a floater from 8-10 feet out rather than initiate contact and finish strong around the rim. His percentages around the basket (41.5%) are fairly poor, and his inability to create separation from his defender and elevate from mid-range for a pull-up jumper only exacerbates this issue even more.

Defensively, Bledsoe has outstanding tools to get the job done, as his length, lateral quickness and terrific recovery speed give him a chance to contest pretty much any shot his matchup will attempt. He’s a tough, competitive guy who puts a good effort in, but tends to lose his focus from time to time, biting on pump-fakes, gambling for steals, and relaxing his stance operating off the ball. This is nothing out of the ordinary considering his youth, but is something he will need to improve on with added experience.

Despite the fact that he’s getting mentions from respected outlets such as as being a potential lottery pick already this year, it’s difficult to see a scenario like that actually come to fruition once teams actually dig deeper into his overall profile.

Bledsoe looks much further off from being able to contribute to an NBA team than most draft prospect point guards we typically evaluate, as he has a huge amount of holes in his game that can only be fixed by garnering experience through extensive playing time.

While there is no question that Bledsoe’s upside is extremely high, it will be likely very difficult for him to improve on his many weaknesses and make the transition to being a legit NBA point guard if he leaves college too quickly.

Artsiom Parakhouski, 6’11, Senior, Center, Radford
23 Points, 12.7 Rebounds, 0.9 Assists, 2.2 Turnovers, 2.2 Blocks, 62% FG, 58% FT

Matthew Williams

After posting solid numbers and earning the attention of NBA scouts in his first season of college basketball last year, Artsiom Parakhouski has only improved his draft stock with his play this season.

Though he’s had a couple of down games against the likes of James Madison and Charleston Southern, the Belarusian center has responded with double-doubles against Kansas and Duke. Last time we checked in on him before the season started we wondered how he’d respond in non-conference play, and while some question marks remain, he certainly proved he can hold his own against some of the nation’s best.

Parakhouski’s biggest strength remains his sheer size. He’s simply dominant around the basket on the college level, and his height and strength advantage is even more apparent in Big South play.

Probably the best showcase of Parakhouski’s potential physical impact at the next level was his matchup against fellow prospect Cole Aldrich and the Jayhawks. Parakhouski was bothered by Aldrich’s length on a number of occasions, but saw success against him when he was able to establish deep position. On a number of possessions, Aldrich forced Parakhouski to be a finesse player, something he’s shown the potential to be, but not with any sort of efficiency.

Moving forward, that may be one of the more important developments Parakhouski is yet to make. His size affords him a ton of success against the average NCAA center, and he’s become especially decisive on the block. His poise on the block and ability to get to the line account for his increased scoring average, but Parakhouski continues to show flashes of potential as a shooter.

Usually able to take what the defense gives him, turn into contact, and finish, Parakhouski shows soft touch on the occasions that he goes to his turnaround jumper. Until he develops a more consistent hook shot, he’ll need to improve his ability to hit his turnaround jumpers to compensate for the more physically gifted NBA defenders he won’t be able to seal with a simple drop step.

His jump shot currently features a low release point and little in the way of rhythm- two things he’ll need to work on in the future. If Parakhouski can develop a go-to-move on the block, it will ease his transition to the NBA considerably.

Defensively, Parakhouski has shown some improvement this season, largely due to the improvements he’s made to his body—which looks significantly better. He appears more comfortable making rotations from the weakside, which has allowed him to block more shots based on his size. However, his lack of lateral quickness will likely limit his defensive presence on the next level.

His physical strength allows him play effective one-on-one defensive in the post, and he shows active feet playing in the middle of Radford’s zone, but he isn’t fluid or explosive enough to project as a surefire quality defender just yet.

Parakhouski has put himself firmly on the radar of NBA decision-makers with his play thus far this season –it is hard to ignore a player that ranks third in our database in PER, and has only been playing basketball for about five years now.

He’s positioned himself as one of the top seniors in the NCAA and one of the better center prospects in the discussion for this season’s draft. With all said, he’d still be well served to steer his team to the tournament to put an exclamation point on his resume against a big school to end the year.

Regardless of his play down the stretch, Parakhouski will draw a lot of attention come draft season considering his physical profile, production and the fact that he still has plenty of potential left to continue to improve.

Elliot Williams, 6’4, Shooting Guard, Sophomore, Memphis
19.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 3.2 turnovers, 1.6 steals, 49% FG, 38% 3P, 78% FT

Joseph Treutlein

After a solid but limited freshman season (which he profiled in our last report), Elliot Williams transferred to Memphis to be closer to his mother, who is battling cancer, and thus far his performance has been outstanding.

Not only have Williams’ numbers gone up across the board, as he’s playing twice as many minutes and using four times as many possessions, but he’s also vastly improved as a shooter and ball-handler, leading his efficiencies to likewise skyrocket.

Last season Williams’ biggest problem area was his lack of anything resembling a reliable shot, either from the field (25% 3PT, 1.1 attempts per game) or the free throw line (50% FT, 1.4 attempts per game). This season, Williams has completely turned things around, taking 5.3 threes per game and hitting at a 38% clip, while getting to the line 7.4 times per game and hitting at a 78% clip.

This increase has led him to rank 25th in our database in True Shooting percentage at 63%, while interestingly doing so on incredibly high usage, as no one ranked higher than him is scoring more points per game.

Looking at his jump-shot, Williams is clearly an excellent shooter in space, where he has consistent mechanics and a high release point. He jumps into his shot a little bit, and likewise has a tendency to fade his shoulders back some, but this has little effect on his shot when he has the time and space to get it off. He also has developed a nice stepback jumper with three-point range, where he does a good job getting separation while maintaining his balance to get off high percentage shots.

Things break down for Williams a bit when he’s closely contested or pulling up off the dribble, mainly because his motion is at its best when more deliberate, and his balance can fall off some when he’s rushed, leading to decreased accuracy. If Williams makes his motion more compact and less reliant on jumping into the shot, it could lead to him being a more efficient scorer against tighter defense, and make him a more dangerous shooter in general.

Attacking the rim, Williams still gets by mainly relying on his terrific explosiveness, long strides, and power dribbles, not having much in terms of advanced ball-handling moves, as evidenced by his fairly high turnover rate.

He seems to be getting more comfortable with the straight-line dribbles using both hands, but at the rim he is completely reliant on his dominant left hand to finish, rarely if ever using his right, which hampers from being as good of a finisher as his athleticism indicates.

He does make up for that by doing a great job of initiating contact around the basket, helping him get to the free throw line at a superb rate.

While Williams’ scoring numbers have taken a huge jump this season, it’s also important to note how his role his evolved since his time at Duke, as he’s dishing out 3.6 assists per game as Memphis’ primary and definitive ball-handler.

Williams does most of his creating on simple one or two dribble drive-and-kicks, showing good recognition when the opposition sends help, where he makes quick, simple passes to the open man. He shows flashes of ability making drive-and-kicks and drive-and-dumps from deep in the painted area, doing a good job of keeping his head up, but definitely looking most comfortable relying on the simple stuff.

Williams tends to struggle badly at times with his decision making in the half-court, sporting an unimpressive assist to turnover ratio and pure point rating, leading many to believe that his future lies more at the shooting guard position.

He’s clearly learning to play the point on the fly right now, but is garnering terrific experience in the process. This isn’t as much of an issue in today’s NBA as it once was anyway, as Williams’ terrific athleticism could make him a very dangerous threat on an NBA up-tempo team, particularly next to another solid ball-handler.

Defensively, Williams shows a high activity level and good focus to go along with very good foot speed, which allows him to match up against either guard spot, which he’s done at times this year.

He’s probably not as aggressive a defender as he was at Duke, having to expend much more energy on the offensive end, but he has all the tools to project well as a defender at the next level. The fact that he has the size and length (at 6-4, with a nice wingspan) to defend multiple positions at the NBA level surely helps matters when considering that he’s a bit stuck between positions.

Looking forward, Williams is starting to make a case for testing the waters this season, where he should be firmly in first round discussions given his scoring prowess, physical tools and overall upside. Becoming a more reliable pull-up jump shooter and developing his right hand around the basket should be among his priorities, while improving his advanced ball-handling skills and all-around decision making ability is also important.

Williams already has the tools and skills to project as a strong role player at the next level, but it isn’t out of the question that he could be even more than that if he keeps improving his game.

Considering his difficult family situation, no one should be surprised if Williams decides to put his name in this year’s draft when it’s all said and done.

Michael Washington, 6-10, Power Forward, Senior, Arkansas
13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.2 blocks, 50.6% FG, 27.3% 3FG, 66.3% FT, 24.4 minutes

Entering this season few returning players stood to gain more in the eyes of NBA scouts than Arkansas big man Michael Washington. When we evaluated the senior’s stock back in September he drew praise for his physical make up and the tremendous increase he saw in his statistical production between his sophomore and junior years. We were quick to point out the tremendous amount of polish his game needed, as Washington was lacking consistency in any one aspect of his overall skill set.

With a little more than half of the schedule in the books, many would say that the power forward has taken a major step back from where he was at this time last year, due to a few factors. First there was the freak injury that Washington suffered back in November, spraining his lower back and missing two games. While it certainly impacted his play in the first weeks following the injury, he appears to have gained a significant amount of weight that has robbed him of most of the athleticism that got us so excited to begin with.

Second has been the chaos surrounding the Arkansas program (with five players being suspended amidst rape allegations) and the struggles the team has had trying to reincorporate that talent into the roster.

Guard Rotnei Clark has emerged as one of the elite scorers in the SEC and the arrival of talented freshman forward Marshawn Powell has taken touches away from Washington as well. What that has meant is a decrease in playing time and scoring. Unfortunately he has become much less efficient at the same time, seeing his shooting percentages drop nearly 5% from last season.

Washington continues to see most of his touches in the post for the second straight season. He is still very raw offensively as we have mentioned on multiple occasions, showing little in the ways of post-moves or counters, but now no longer having the quickness or explosiveness to just rise up and finish over opponents the way he was once able to.

His ball-handling skills and overall shot-creating ability remains weak, and he’s not making shots from the perimeter at a particularly high rate either. All in all, there is little to point at in Washington’s offensive profile that would appear to translate on a consistent basis to the NBA level.

What we must keep in mind that Washington has faced arguably the toughest string of frontcourt players any one individual has seen this season, and has done so while struggling through injuries and playing for a team that was severely depleted by suspensions. In his first seventeen games this year Washington has faced Samardo Samuels, Ekpe Udoh, Dexter Pittman, Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins and Jarvis Varnado—pretty much a who’s who of big men NBA draft prospects.

In these matchups, Washington posted averages of 13.4 points but just 3.4 rebounds. As a whole, the big man has seen a significant decrease in his rebounding numbers, dropping from 12.4 per-40 minutes last season, to 9.1. For a frontcourt player who lacks a defining offensive skill and is not considered a very good defender, this sudden drop in production on the glass is fairly disastrous for his case as an NBA prospect.

In our previous assessment of Washington we said he could gain a great deal of value in the eyes of pro teams by showing even marginal improvement this season. As of right now he appears to have headed in the complete opposite direction. Washington must spend the next few months toning up his body and trying to maximize his physical potential as much as possible, and then try to regain some of the fans he lost along the way with a strong outing at Portsmouth.

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