NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/11/09

NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/11/09
Feb 11, 2009, 10:09 am
Chase Budinger, 6-7, Junior, SG/SF, Arizona
17.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 1.3 steals, 47% FG, 81% FT, 41% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Those expecting massive improvements from Chase Budinger in his junior season might be a little disappointed. Those expecting him to develop into a more efficient and better all-around player, though, have been pleasantly surprised.

Budinger scoring numbers have remained pretty consistent over the past few seasons. This season he’s become an even better shooter, though, knocking down 41% of his 3-pointers, while improving his free throw percentage nearly 10%. Other than his assist to turnover ratio, up to a very solid 1.5/1, as well as a slightly better rebounding rate, he hasn’t changed a great deal from last season.

Budinger hasn’t quite developed into the star that some people unrealistically expected him to become thanks to his lofty recruiting rankings. He was after all ranked as the 7th best player (according to the RSCI) in a terrific high school class, which already produced 16 first round picks in its first two seasons of draft eligibility. It’s pretty safe to say that he’s not going to become a real go-to type scoring juggernaut, since that’s just not the type of player he is. The type of NBA player he does project as doesn’t look all that bad, though.

What makes Budinger a unique NBA prospect starts with the excellent size (6-7) he brings to the wing position. Fairly skilled offensively, Budinger can get his shot off in a variety of ways, and indeed gets most of his offense playing off the ball. An excellent spot-up shooter, Budinger does a good job running the floor in transition, moving off the ball, utilizing screens and finding ways to cut to the basket (where he can finish lobs with authority), and has even shown some willingness to post-up smaller matchups inside. His excellent leaping ability makes him a very dangerous finisher in the paint, even if he isn’t very good at creating shots for himself, and sometimes lacks a bit of toughness finishing through contact.

Not particularly explosive with his first step, and a fairly average ball-handler, especially trying to change directions with the ball, Budinger is the type of player who needs to be around other talented shot-creators if he’s to be effective. The fact that he has a very nice feel for the game, being an unselfish player with nice passing skills, should help in that regard. Only 36% of his field goal attempts come from beyond the arc, showing that he has a little more offensive versatility than you might initially expect. He needs to improve his ability to make shots off the dribble, as currently he is far more effective with his feet set.

Even if his size and frame give him a decent framework to build off, Budinger still projects as a below average defender at the next level. His poor lateral quickness, combined with his high center of gravity and tendency to easily get out of his stance makes it fairly easy for college players to blow by him on the perimeter. It’s not hard to envision him being Iso’d against at will in the NBA, which might make him a tough fit for some coaches. He’s going to have to make drastic improvements over the next few years if he wants to avoid being labeled as a liability.

Although his ceiling isn’t incredibly high, you know what you are getting for the most part by drafting Chase Budinger. It’s pretty easy to see him fitting into a rotation on an NBA team, thanks to his ability to make shots, play smart and not make mistakes on or off the court.

Marcus Thornton, 6-4, Senior, Shooting Guard, LSU
20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.4 turnovers, 1.7 steals, 50% FG, 41% 3P, 74% FT

Jonathan Givony

With very little acclaim from the national media, Marcus Thornton has quietly developed into one of the top scorers in college basketball. Thornton has not only put together a sensational senior season from an individual statistical standpoint, he’s also helped LSU to a 19-4 record and a first place ranking in the SEC.

This past summer, when reviewing Thornton’s film from last season, we came away with the impression that we’re looking at absolute scoring machine of a shooting guard, with some very noticeable flaws in his game. Under the tutelage of new head coach Trent Johnson, Thornton has made huge strides in many of the areas we were concerned about, which has made him into of the most productive players in the country.

Thornton has made a number of subtle changes to his game that has made him a far more efficient player. He’s showing much better shot-selection for one, relying less heavily on 3-pointers. Only 35% of his field goal attempts come from behind the arc this season, as opposed to nearly 50% last season. His field goal percentage is up in turn by 6% to a hair under 50% now, while he’s shooting over 41% from 3-point range. He’s getting to the free throw line far more as well (6.9 per-40 compared to 4.3), although he’s shooting worse once there.

Perhaps most telling is the dramatic improvement he’s shown in his assist to turnover ratio, from .62 to 1.36—meaning he’s dishing out twice as many assists this season for every one turnover he commits. Any way you slice it, Thornton is playing much better basketball, which helps in large part explain why LSU has gone from firing their coach after a mediocre 13-18 season, to being the best team in the SEC.

Thornton is still very much a gunner, he’s just a much more efficient one now. He ranks 8th in the country in field goal attempts per-40 minutes, but is spectacularly proficient, ranking second in the NCAA in Dean Oliver’s offensive rating, at 124 points produced per 100 possessions. His ability to get to the line, score inside and outside the arc, grab offensive rebounds, dish out assists and not turn the ball over makes him one of the most complete offensive players in college basketball.

The way Thornton scores looks fairly likely to be able to translate to the NBA level, at least in some capacity. LSU likes to run Thornton off a huge number of stagger screens, flex cuts and curls, utilizing his terrific ability to catch and shoot. Thornton possesses an extremely quick release, and also likes to add in a slight fade-away to his jump-shot, which helps him create separation from his defender even more effectively. He is terrific at moving off the ball on top of that, and thus is an extremely deadly weapon at the college level.

Far more than just a spot-up shooter, Thornton can also put the ball on the floor and make his way to the basket, as evidenced by the high amount of free throws he attempts each game. Thornton is a good, but not great ball-handler, but his combination of strength, quickness and aggressiveness allows him to get to the rim and finish very effectively at the college level. He’s an incredibly mistake-free player as well, ranking first amongst all shooting guards in turnover ratio, while coughing the ball up on just 9% of his possessions. He’s also one of the best offensive rebounding guards in the NCAA, becoming even more prolific in that area this season.

With that said, there are a couple of chinks in Thornton’s armor, which will likely become more noticeable against NBA-level defenders, when he doesn’t have an entire offense geared towards getting him shots. When forced to pull-up and shoot off the dribble, Thornton’s accuracy drops dramatically. Thornton is not a great ball-handler with his left hand, and he’s a little bit undersized as well. His ability to score off isolation plays is a bit limited--if forced to create his own shot on his own using advanced moves, he struggles—so it’s obvious that he needs teammates and plays designed to work for him.

In the NBA he will probably have to develop his mid-range game (which is not polished at all), as he won’t be able to get to the basket and finish in traffic nearly as effectively. While his shot-selection has obviously improved quite a bit, he is still prone to showing some poor shot-selection from time to time, something that coaches will probably have to live with considering the type of scorer Thornton is.

Defensively is where LSU may have improved the most under Trent Johnson, and Thornton doesn’t seem to be any exception. He shows good effort and activity level, getting low in a stance and doing everything he can to contain his matchup, often looking very physical and intense in the process. His fundamentals are still a bit lacking at times—he tends to overextend himself, reach for steals or bite on pump-fakes—but for the most part he does a pretty good job. His lack of size may be a bit of concern going up against bigger NBA shooting guards, but he does seem to have a good wingspan, which shows up in his ability to get in the passing lanes.

All in all, Thornton has done an excellent job this season making a strong case for himself as an NBA draft prospect, and there is a pretty good chance that he’ll be rewarded for that. If LSU can find a way to continue their momentum and cause some damage come tournament time, NBA decision makers will likely become a lot more aware of the season he’s having. He’s a bit under the radar now, but definitely has the makings of an intriguing prospect.

Tyler Smith, 6’7, SF/PF, Tennessee, Junior
17.3 points, 6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 46% FG, 28% 3P, 76% FT

Kyle Nelson

Tyler Smith continues to be one of the most versatile prospects in the NCAA, a player who can carry multiple roles on both sides of the ball. Coming into this season, he was supposed to be the leader of a Tennessee team that was going to cruise through the SEC and establish himself as one of the premier players in the country. Flash forward to February: Smith has shown a lot of improvements in his transition to the wing, but Tennessee is unranked with a 14-8 record and Smith has gradually exposed his many strengths and weaknesses regarding his potential at the next level.

Physically, there is very little not to like about Smith. Standing a legitimate 6’7 with a nice frame and good wingspan, he has the ideal body type of an NBA small forward. His athleticism also projects nicely as he possesses good lateral quickness on the defensive end, speed in the open floor, and explosiveness around the basket. There are few collegiate combo-forwards who look the part better than Smith.

Offensively, however, he is less of a sure thing, not really diversifying his offensive game to a great degree from his sophomore to his junior season. Though his scoring rate has improved over his career, at this point he is most effective as a spot-up shooter and slasher. The problem, however, is that he is not particularly efficient from beyond the arc, where he shoots 27.6% on 2.6 attempts per game. Despite his bad percentages, his form looks salvageable, as he possesses a quick release and, for the most part, a fluid motion. He most needs to work on getting a consistent release point, as sometimes he will push the ball from his chest. Working on getting his legs more involved in his shooting motion might help him too, as he does not get much elevation in his shooting motion. Also, for somebody who neither shoots an outstanding percentage from deep nor displays the best shot selection, he sometimes will fall in love with his jump shot instead of going elsewhere in his offensive repertoire.

He is also effective as a slasher, utilizing a quick first step in addition to superb athleticism for his size; Smith is effective off of the dribble and scoring around the basket. He certainly has room to improve, however, most prominently cleaning up his handle in order to be quicker with the ball in his hands. With better ball handling abilities, Smith could easily translate his slashing ability to the next level, which would help show scouts that he has an NBA ready skill on the offensive end. It would also help him to establish a mid-range game, creating separation to get shots off inside of the three point line, which he simply does not show consistently at this point. Another aspect of his slashing game that could improve is his court vision off of the dribble. Despite the fact that he shows good court vision in general, off of the dribble and in the post, Smith has a tendency to power the ball to the basket, regardless of how many players stand in his way. His turnover rate continues to improve for the third straight season now, though, to a now solid .15 turnovers per possession.

Defensively, Smith is having somewhat of a down year, but still shows a lot of promise at the next level. For one, his size and athleticism, primarily his lateral quickness, should help him to immediately earn playing time at the next level. Smith should be able to multiple positions, even some power forwards at the next level, which is one of his best attributes right now. Though he has struggled somewhat this year on his rotations and with maintaining his focus, which has manifested itself primarily in his decreased rebound, steal, and block numbers per-40 minutes pace adjusted, inconsistency has been the norm for Tennessee this year, who have yet to gel defensively.

Thus, the book is still out on Tyler Smith. His ceiling is not considered to be as as it once was, as he projects to be a Trevor Ariza type at best and a Renaldo Balkman type at worst—a nice role player who brings energy off the bench. The trouble regarding Smith at this point is that he can do many things offensively, but none of them consistently or particularly well enough to consider him NBA ready in any particular area. The rest of this season will be considered a salvation project both for the Tennessee Volunteers and Smith, who has to prove that he can lead this team in multiple roles to more wins. He is a year older than most in his class and because of this, declaring for the draft is a strong possibility, but he has a long way to go before being considered a lock for success at the next level. Improving his jump shot and ball handling abilities seem to be the most significant areas of concern and, should he be able to improve his consistency in these areas, he could make a bigger splash than expected come June.

Danny Green, 6’6, SG/SF, Senior, North Carolina
13.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.7 turnovers, 1.9 steals, 1.6 blocks, 51% FG, 47% 3PT, 79% FT

Joseph Treutlein

After a breakout junior season, Danny Green has once again taken his game to the next level as a senior, showing some nice increases in production and efficiency in many areas while playing the largest role he’s ever played for UNC.

Green has made a few noteworthy improvements on the offensive end, something that isn’t all too surprising given the way we saw him work out over the summer. The first thing to take note of is Green’s improved shooting from three-point range, up nearly 10 points to 47% (9th of all players in our database), doubly impressive given the increased length of the three-point line this season.

Looking at the mechanics of his shot, it’s very encouraging to see the type of changes Green has made in such a short period of time, which is a testament to the work he must’ve put in over the summer. Green has always been consistent with his mechanics, but his form is now much closer to textbook form, boasting full straight-arm extension and follow through on nearly all of his shots, which is clearly making a strong impact on the results. In addition to that, Green shows good balance and squares his shoulders well when he isn’t rushed, while getting solid elevation with a very high and decently quick release. Green’s mechanics can show some bad habits when he’s rushed by a defender, and his results fall off in these situations as well, but it’s not something that isn’t fixable.

In addition to his good shooting form and the results he’s been getting, there are many other reasons to be optimistic in regards to Green’s shot, namely the fact that he already shows NBA three-point range with his good upper and lower body strength, showing no change in form when shooting from past the line. Also, Green shows excellent awareness of floor spacing while doing a great job moving to open spaces on the floor, frequently getting open for good catch-and-shoot opportunities. His awareness and readiness are both top-notch on the offensive end, and many NBA teams will likely be attracted to the way he’s spent four years excelling in his job as a role player in one of the best offenses in the country.

Aside from his jump shot, Green brings other things to the table on the offensive end, namely his ability to move without the ball, as alluded to above. In addition to doing a good job of maintaining spacing and consistently getting open for spot-up opportunities, Green reads and take advantage of cutting lanes exceptionally well also, doing a great job of slashing to the rim without the ball for the catch-and-finish. Green converts on these opportunities frequently in college, but in analyzing his game, some questions arise about how this ability will convert at the next level, as he doesn’t have the explosiveness to power up over weak side help consistently, and his ability to score with finesse on lay-ups and floaters over help hasn’t been consistently reliable in the NCAA. Working on his floaters and contested lay-ups in half court situations should be among his priorities in preparing for the draft, to better maximize his off-the-ball abilities.

As a ball-handler, Green seemed to be showing some progress in the offseason workouts we were privy to, but it hasn’t really translated to his game yet, as he still looks uncomfortable when executing advanced moves and doesn’t have the first step to get by his man with any sort of consistency. In isolation situations, Green is just not much of a threat to take his man to the hole, however he’s looked more comfortable pulling up off the dribble, doing well when he can get space, though still struggling a bit to consistently create it. He’s very rarely getting to the free throw line this season—his 1.9 attempts per-40 is an extremely low total, and easily the lowest of his career.

Green’s passing also has to be mentioned, as he’s dishing out an impressive 3.1 assists per game compared with 1.7 turnovers while playing off the ball, helping improve his assist to turnover ratio drastically from 1.04 to 1.8 this season. Green has excellent decision-making and sees the floor very well, making lots of smart, simple passes in half court sets, however he’s also shown growing abilities as the handler in pick-and-rolls, making very good reads and dishing out some nice assists.

Defensively, Green is still excellent, one of the best perimeter defenders the NCAA has to offer, showing superb fundamentals and instincts, making great use of his size and length to consistently body up on the perimeter. Green uses his length incredibly well to alter shots, with many of his 1.6 blocks coming in isolation situations on the perimeter, which isn’t all too common at any level of basketball. Laterally, Green doesn’t particularly stand out, but his quickness is more than adequate when coupled with everything else he brings to the table, particularly his 6-10 wingspan. The drop in his rebounding rate this season can likely be explained by the fact that he’s no longer playing power forward for UNC, as he’s become the starting small forward.

Currently projected as a mid-second round pick, it’d be surprising to see Green go undrafted given the improvements he’s made over his four years at UNC, most notably this season. Even though he’s not a prototypical NBA athlete, his ability to defend and make shots could still look very attractive. Because of his outstanding basketball IQ and the experience he’s received at UNC, he may even begin to creep into first round discussions as the draft draws nearer, as winning teams drafting near the end of the first may be attracted to a player who’s already excelled as a two-way role player for a top college team in a top college conference, which should ease his transition to the league.

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