NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/9/08-- Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/9/08-- Part One
Jan 09, 2008, 03:07 am
O.J. Mayo, 6-5, Freshman, PG/SG, Southern Cal
20.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 3.9 turnovers, 1.5 steals, 44.4% FG, 77% FT, 37.4% 3P

Jonathan Givony

We’re nearly half-way through O.J. Mayo’s much-anticipated freshman season at USC, and for some reason, it still feels somewhat premature to accurately assess how he’s faring so far. On one hand, he is the second leading scorer on the best conference in the NCAA, but on the other, it’s hard not to ignore the way he’s struggled at times so far. The expectations from him coming in were unbearably high, and it seems clear that it’s not only Mayo who needs to reassess some things after what we’ve learned 14 games in.

It’s impossible to separate Mayo the prospect from the situation he’s landed in at Southern Cal. The Trojans are one of the slowest and most inefficient teams in the Pac-10, ranked near the bottom in points, field goal percentage and assists, but #1 in turnovers. Ken Pomeroy’s website ranks them 107th in tempo, and 133rd in offensive efficiency, clearly awful when you look at the teams he has ranked around them. He also has them ranked 11th on defense, though.

Tim Floyd likes to milk to shot-clock down to single digits before spacing the floor calling almost strictly Isolation plays, featuring very young guards and almost no shot-creators to be found besides Mayo. His big men are undersized and extremely poor decision makers, and the team has almost no depth or veteran leadership. In short, this team was always going to struggle to win games.

Into that situation steps O.J. Mayo, who is now beginning to figure out that things are quite different at the collegiate level than they were in high school. All of a sudden everyone around him is just as big, strong and athletic, and it’s pretty clear that his explosiveness around the basket is not quite as impressive as it looked against high school players. He started the year relying way too heavily on his 3-point shot, and is now making more of a commitment to getting into the paint, but with limited success until he learns more about the art of getting his shot off in traffic.

With that said, Mayo is still very much an impressive prospect. He has very good size at 6-5, with a terrific body that looks ready to compete right away in the NBA. He’s a powerful athlete with outstanding body control and great ball-handling skills going either left or right, and excellent instincts finding and creating shots for himself, as well as for others. Mayo’s court vision is much better than his 2.9 assists per game would indicate. He brings the ball up the court regularly and for the most part looks quite unselfish executing his team’s half-court sets, making the extra pass and finding the open man when he’s trapped/double-teamed off a pick and roll play time after time, but too often only to see his teammates miss a wide open shot. Late in games or shot-clocks (for example against Memphis) he’s forced into take-over mode, where his entire team clears out of the way for an Isolation play and watches him go 1 on 5 in impossible fashion. This seems to happen far too often, but is almost a necessity considering how poor a team USC is offensively (ranked 308th by Pomeroy in 3-point shooting for example.)

Mayo’s best attribute right now actually might be his shooting ability. He has deep range on his jumper, with picture perfect mechanics, and the ability to come off a screen and create separation elevating sharply off the floor. If his defender goes underneath the screen while he’s executing the pick and roll, he won’t hesitate to punish him instantaneously by knocking down a shot. He can also pull-up off the dribble from mid-range, stopping on a dime and creating terrific separation from his man with a high arching release. He can hit difficult shots with a man in his face, moving left or right and using the glass when needed—which is where a lot of his problems come into play. If his defender over-commits, he’s smart enough to know how to get by him, and has a nifty floater he can go to to finish the play.

The problem with Mayo this year seems to be that he’s trying to do too much at times. This is likely for a combination of reasons--by design from his coaching staff, out of frustration with his teammates or the scoreboard, or from habit from spending so much time on the AAU circuit. His shot-selection needs a lot of work, particularly in transition where he shows an especially fast trigger. He’s not reading defenses the way a point guard needs to, lowering his shoulder and driving right into defenders, possibly expecting to get bailed out with a call. Some box-score reading pundits might mistake this type of play with selfishness, but you really don’t get that sense when actually evaluating his game footage.

Mayo doesn’t seem to be getting by defenders the same way he did in high school, meaning that once he’s at the rim, he usually has one defender that he hasn’t quite fully beaten, and another shot-blocker rotating over—a situation that he’s not really used to dealing with right now. He’s getting his shot blocked too often, and is trying to get too cute with his finishes in others. Small adjustments to his game—for example knowing how to use his body better to initiate contact and keep his defender at bay, and using some crafty tricks to finish once inside the paint—will make him much more productive. He still has plenty of time to pick up these small nuances, and if he indeed has as good of a work ethic as reports indicate, should be able to in due time.

Even with how good of a shooter he is, he’s taking way too many contested jump-shots, which is killing his shooting percentages. On top of that, he’s been far too careless with the basketball, exposing it excessively to his defender, taking too many risks, making lazy passes, and therefore turning the ball over at an extremely high rate (3.9 per game). Again, experience here is paramount. Getting to the free throw line far more often (3.7 per game), and shooting less 3-pointers (6.5 per game) would be very beneficial for him as well.

The silver lining from this season has to do with Mayo’s defense, which has been nothing short of outstanding so far, when he’s put his mind to it. He’s doing a terrific job putting pressure on the ball, denying space and overwhelming his matchups with his combination of size, strength, length and lateral quickness. The work he did on Derrick Rose in Madison Square Garden was particularly notable, rendering him fairly ineffective when were matched up against each other. Mayo still needs to show that same commitment on each and every possession, but the early signs have been fairly promising.

All in all, Mayo’s freshman season has been fairly up and down so far, both individually and as far as his team is concerned, though. It’s not a shock to see that there’s been a transition for him to be made from the high school/AAU level to college, especially when you look at the coaching he received in the past…He has a tremendous framework of skills and tools of which to build off, though, and even if his draft stock may have taken a hit so far, he still very much looks like an excellent NBA prospect.

Chase Budinger, 6’7, SG/SF, Sophomore, Arizona
17.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 45% FG, 74% FT, 40% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

Chase Budinger has picked up right where he left off last season, making some slight advancements in his game and having no trouble adjusting to his slightly larger role on the Wildcats. The versatile and athletic wingman has made small improvements in his points, assists, and three-point shooting percentage, and shows no sign of slowing down as conference play begins. Budinger’s scoring actually was above his season average in Arizona’s three games against ranked opponents thus far (#2 Memphis, #4 Kansas, #9 Texas A&M).

Budinger’s style of play hasn’t changed much in his sophomore season, but he’s getting things done slightly better in a few areas, most notably from behind the three-point arc. With his near-textbook form, boasting a high, quick, and consistent release on his shot, Budinger is shooting a very solid 40% from behind the arc, up from 37% last season. He’s been equally effective spotting up and coming off screens, doing some damage in that vein from the 15-18 foot range as well. He still isn’t nearly as dangerous when pulling up off the dribble, but he’s making more of an effort to incorporate that into his game, getting off quite a few shots in that manner from the 15-18 foot range, though having inconsistent success with it.

In terms of taking the ball to the basket, Budinger still isn’t a great threat in isolations, but his improving ball-handling and ability with both hands bodes well for his future success. His handle is fairly tight, even though it’s not especially low to the ground and he doesn’t use many advanced moves. Because of such, he struggles splitting double teams and dribbling in a crowd, but looks very comfortable in space, either coming off screens with the ball, finding open space on the floor, or handling in transition. Budinger’s dribble-drive game should benefit from the extra spacing on the floor in the NBA half-court game, due to the deeper three-point line, along with the tougher scrutiny on perimeter defense by referees, similar to the way Rudy Gay’s dribble-drive game has improved in the NBA.

Budinger has continued to show his excellent motor and basketball IQ on the offensive end of the court, constantly moving without the ball, making good use of screens, and getting out in transition. He finishes well in transition, and also has shown some nice passing proficiency there, with his assist totals up on the season. Budinger would be best off if he was drafted by a team with an up-tempo style, as his ability to play in space would best be utilized on a team that tries to catch defenses off guard.

On the defensive end, Budinger has continued to play well this season, though it’s worth noting that his motor is not as consistent on this end of the court, yet it’s still very solid. His perimeter defense is heavily reliant on his lateral quickness, as he’s not very physical, with his game being almost entirely based on beating his man to the spot. His lateral quickness is good, but he is a bit stiff in the hips and he doesn’t have the lowest center of gravity, so he’s likely best suited to defend small forwards at the next level, provided his body can handle some extra bulk, which it should be able to. Budinger is also prone to overplaying at times on defense, either over-rotating while leaving his man open off the ball, or overplaying in man-to-man defense, leaving him prone to quick crossovers. To his credit, he recovers well when he gets beat, sometimes being able to move laterally and still get in front of his man on the second effort.

There’s a very good chance Budinger will enter the draft this season, and if he does, he should be firmly in lottery discussions. With his work ethic, athleticism, and foundation of skills, he should be a fairly low risk prospect, likely amounting to a solid starter at worst. His continued improvement and learning curve will determine how high his ceiling is, though he doesn’t seem to have the mentality to ever be a #1 option scorer. Adding some strength, extending his shooting to NBA three-point range, and continuing to improve his ball-handling should be his main priorities at this stage.

Darrell Arthur, 6-9, Sophomore, Power Forward, Kansas
13.7 points, 6 rebounds, .6 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 1.6 blocks, 54.4% FG, 25% 3P, 67% FT

Jonathan Givony

Heralded as one of the top power forward prospects in the country coming into this season, Darrell Arthur has had a good, but not outstanding sophomore campaign so far. His minutes are up, as is his production, and his skill-set has noticeably improved, but there are parts of his game that are beginning to emerge as somewhat lacking as far as his NBA draft profile is concerned.

Arthur is still the same superb athlete he’s always been—quick off his feet, explosive, and terrific running the floor—making him a terrific weapon to have in transition, where KU thrives. He has a scoring mentality, with great hands and a hunger for the basketball, and has added some bulk to his lanky frame, although he could still clearly use more.

Most of Arthur’s points come in the paint, where he shows plenty of raw talent and a number of solid moves. He has an excellent turnaround jumper and a solid jump-hook, as well as some solid spins and terrific overall touch. He has excellent potential as a finisher thanks to his supreme length and athleticism, although he doesn’t always capitalize here due to his lack of strength and tendency to fade away from contact at times. His left hand is average and he clearly prefers not to use it, sometimes missing close-range shots for that reason.

This year we are starting to see even more of that intriguing face-up game that Arthur showed sparks of last season in small doses. He looks much more willing to put the ball and the floor attack his man off the dribble, showing a terrific first step, but still not being a good enough ball-handler to really make this a consistent enough weapon quite yet. He can get by his man (going left or right), but is often out of control by the end of his drives (and thus struggles to finish), due to his average handle.

In terms of his jump-shot—Arthur seems to be making strides here too. He’s already knocked down two 3-pointers on the season (last year zero) as well as a number of 18 footers, although he’s showing some questionable shot-selection from time to time in the process (hitting just 25% of his 3-point attempts). His shooting mechanics could still be cleaned up a bit, particularly when he’s rushed, but this appears to be a part of his game that should develop nicely in time. Kansas is even bringing Arthur off some short screens at times—taking advantage of his excellent touch—running some basic pick and pop plays for him if the matchup calls for it, and Arthur has delivered fairly well, on a limited number of attempts.

Defensively, Arthur has been very solid as well, showing excellent lateral quickness (especially hedging pick and rolls), staying in front of his man nicely, not giving up much space, and showing a good all-around commitment to stopping his man. Bill Self wants his players to give everything they have for every moment they are on the floor, and this, coupled with Arthur’s average awareness, leads to some foul problems at times—which KU will probably live with. It does limit the amount of minutes Arthur can play at times, though, hovering around 24 per game on the season so far.

Rebounding wise, he leaves a lot to be desired at times, not always showing the same hunger and intensity you’d hope for, and coming up a bit short in the production department too—with just 9.7 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted game, which ranks him 79th in that category amongst all draft prospects who play more than 20 minutes per game.

That same lack of effort seems to show up in other parts of his game as well, leaving you wondering at times about his combination of toughness and intensity, which seems to be just average. He doesn’t always seem to be giving 100%, and will look pretty lost out on the court from time to time if his team doesn’t make a concerted effort to keep him involved offensively. There are question marks about his focus and overall awareness—often chalked up to his freshman status last year, but still very much coming into play this season early on so far.

Something that is clearly not in question is his extremely poor passing ability. Amongst all NCAA prospects, he ranks statistically as one of the worst at gathering assists, and also amongst the worst in the assist to turnover ratio category. He often looks like a black hole in the post, calling for the ball with all his might, and then trying to bully his way to the basket at all costs, almost never surveying the floor and looking for the open man when the double team inevitably comes.

With that said, Arthur is still an extremely gifted prospect, with an outstanding combination of physical tools and scoring instincts. Players like him are always coveted in the NBA draft. Kansas is having an outstanding season, and his stock will continue to hover around the lottery or better as long as he continues to win and produce the way he has so far. To truly reach his full potential as a player, though, he still has plenty of work to do, and might be better off staying another season.

Darnell Jackson, 6-8, Senior, Power Forward, Kansas
12.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 0.9 steals, 68% FG, 67% FT, 23.5 minutes

Kyle Nelson

There are few players more statistically improved this season than Kansas senior big man, Darnell Jackson. The fact that he has become a key role player for one of the premier programs in the country has surely made scouts and opposing teams take note.

On offense, Jackson has established himself as one of the most efficient players in the country. Not only is he scoring more than twice as many points as he did last year, he is also doing it while using less than 14% of his team’s possessions. Statistically, he is easily one of the most efficient players in college basketball. He is ranked 13th amongst draft prospects averaging 1.3 points per possession, and in the top 20 amongst post players in PER (29.6) and Efficiency per 40 minutes (28.4). However, his most important number may be his field goal percentage which ranks him in the top 10 amongst all draft prospects at 67.4%.

Jackson gets a good amount of his points around the basket. He has good offensive awareness and always seems to be in the right place at the right time around the basket. While he does not always show the best instincts, he uses his body well and has good hands to catch the ball. This offensive awareness is what really sets him apart from the pack, and is partly the reason that he is such an efficient player.

Utilizing his nice touch and body control, he is able to score over taller and more athletic players in addition to being able to draw contact around the basket. Also impressive is how active he is around the hoop, always in the mix for offensive rebounds and finishing after collecting missed shots. However, most impressive thus far this season is how well he finishes in transition. He runs the floor well for a big man and loves to be on the receiving end of alley-oop passes that he emphatically dunks. These opportunities are possible because he clearly has the trust of his guards on the offensive end, and this chemistry is combined with his good hands and nice touch.

Despite the assumptions usually made about high shooting percentages, Jackson does some damage away from the basket as well. Jackson has become a decent spot up shooter from mid-range, and has range out to the college three-point line. His mechanics are a little inconsistent at this stage, and he is shooting awkwardly from his chin at times. However, his improvements in the past season into a good set shooter might indicate that he has room to grow as an offensive post player and. While he might not be the best prospect at the moment, he might be able to develop into a Udonis Haslem type role.

To do that, he must show that he can defend his position at the next level—something that seems questionable at best right now. His effort here leaves much to be desired, displaying poor lateral quickness and not seeming to put as much effort in on this end of the floor. He has decent athleticism and size, but for some reason or another cannot translate his superb timing on offense to his defensive effort. He shows poor awareness, does not contain his man in the paint, and is frequently beaten off the dribble when trying to defend the pick and roll. In order for him to have any potential at the next level, he is going to have to improve.

Jackson’s improvements are nice and he is steadily moving towards becoming a draft prospect. However, he must continue to play his role and maintain his efficiency if he wants to get there eventually. He’ll likely be looked at as a candidate to play at Portsmouth, and seems to be the type of player that can make a name for himself in an increased role there. Kansas looks like one of the premier teams in the country and Jackson will certainly have many opportunities to prove himself throughout the remainder of the season.

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