NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/3/10

NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/3/10
Mar 03, 2010, 12:23 pm
Updated scouting reports on Damion James, Trey Thompkins, Derrick Caracter and Ben Uzoh.

Damion James, 6-7, Senior, SF/PF, Texas
17.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2.1 turnovers, 1.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, 51% FG, 65% FT, 41% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Unable to garner any guarantees in the first-round after declaring for last year’s draft, Damion James opted to return for his senior season at Texas, which has been a bit of a roller-coaster thus far.

Starting off the year 17-0 and climbing all the way to the #1 spot in the polls following some impressive victories, Texas has fallen on hard times since, going 5-7 in their next 12 outings and subsequently dropping out of this week’s AP poll.

22-years old and a fairly known commodity at this point, James is having a pretty similar season statistically to last year, particularly when you adjust for the much faster pace (75 possessions compared to 68) Texas is now playing at. Continuing to see nearly all of his minutes at the power forward position (he’s more likely to slide to the 5 than he is to the 3), the main difference lies in his efficiency, as he’s improved his 2-point and especially his 3-point percentages considerably, and is also getting to the free throw line quite a bit more, which makes a big difference in his overall output.

James’ biggest strength clearly revolves around how hard he plays, a part of his game we don’t seem to have emphasized strongly enough in previous reports, and a skill in its own right. He brings an unbelievable amount of energy to the floor every time he steps out onto the court, being incredibly aggressive in pretty much everything he does.

That manifests itself in a number of areas—the way he runs the floor in transition, crashes the offensive glass, cuts and finishes at the rim, and just the overall toughness he offers. He is the leading rebounder in Big 12 history, averaging over 10 boards per game this season, and regularly is the one coming out of a crowd with a loose ball in traffic when his team needs an extra possession.

Offensively, James appears to have improved his ability to operate off the dribble this season. While he’s still not the most skilled guy you’ll find, he has no problem operating comfortably off the bounce in the half-court or particularly in transition, showing off his aggressive nature as usual. It’s good to see the senior show some new parts to his game, especially the ability to beat his defender with his left hand. He’s getting to the free throw line like he never has at any point in his career (8.1 free throws per-40 minutes pace adjusted, up from 6.1 last year), and his improved ball-handling skills have a lot to do with that.

With that said, James is obviously more effective facing up from the elbow than he is starting from the 3-point line, as his advanced ball-handling skills are nothing special, and he doesn’t have an amazing first step to begin with. He sometimes gets himself into a bit of trouble when he tries to get too fancy with crossovers and such on the perimeter, which is why Texas’ staff likes to isolate him 17-18 feet away. From here he can get him to the rim off a single dribble thanks to his long, powerful strides and ability to take contact at the rim.

James’ jump-shot appears to be back too, after seeing his 3-point percentages regress to a disappointing 33% last year, he’s back up to 41% on the season, albeit on a fairly limited (2.5 per game) amount of attempts. He’s far more consistent with his feet set now, making his catch and shoot jumpers regularly now, even if he continues to struggle to hit pull-up jumpers. Texas runs all kinds of pick and pop sets and short staggers for him these days, and James is very effective from the mid-range area in turn. Improving his ability to pull-up off the dribble would clearly be the next stage in his development as he tries to make the conversion to playing out on the wing full time.

James’ aggressiveness looking for his own shot does come at a price, though, as his assist rate (the percent of possessions that end in an assist) has dropped in each of his four years at Texas, now settling in at a paltry 0.06. He’s never appeared to be a great passer at any point in his career, but at times this year he’s seemed to be hunting shots more than usual, possibly feeling the pressure of wanting to increase his NBA standing in his final season of college basketball.

Considering his likely role-player status at the next level, as opposed to the star and go-to guy he is now, there may be an adjustment that James needs to make to his game to fit in playing alongside more talented players. With that said, he already showed the ability to do that earlier in his career, playing alongside the likes of Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin.

Despite being knocked for most of his career for not being a very good defender, it was difficult to find much evidence of that from the tape we took in. Sporting a terrific 7-1 wingspan, a chiseled frame and standing nearly 6-8 in shoes, James has all the physical tools needed to be an excellent defender, especially when you consider his terrific toughness and aggressiveness.

That clearly manifests itself on the court as well, as he is very active, uses his body extremely effectively, does a good job of utilizing his length to contest shots, and gets his hands on a ton of loose balls. James is a playmaker on the defensive end, getting in the passing lanes on a regular basis, blocking shots at a good rate, and doing a great job on the defensive glass. His lateral quickness on the perimeter may not be stellar, but it looks more than adequate for the NBA level. In fact, he seemed to do a better job guarding the perimeter from the film we saw than in the post, where his lack of size can get exposed at times.

All in all, James is a player that has clearly improved his draft stock by returning for another year, as he appears far more likely to be picked in the first round than he was last year, and may even be taken fairly high depending on how he finishes the season and works out for teams. It may not be easy to immediately identify a clear-cut role for James, as he’s a bit of a jack of all trades master of none, and is clearly stuck between the small forward and power forward positions at this point. With that said, NBA teams are always in need of tough, aggressive players who are productive and can contribute in a variety of ways, which is why James will be coveted on draft day.

Trey Thompkins, 6-8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Georgia
17.9 Points, 8.1 Rebounds, 1.6 Assists, 3.1 Turnovers, 1.0 Steals, 1.1 Blocks, 50% FG, 42% 3FG, 76% FT

Matthew Williams

After a very solid freshman year, Trey Thompkins spent last summer with the U-19 National team at the World Championships in New Zealand where he finished as Team USA’s leading scorer. Poised for a big year after his play in Auckland, he returned to a UGA program welcoming a new head coach and facing a bleak outlook in the SEC. Though the Bulldogs have struggled in Mark Fox’s first season, that hasn’t stopped Thompkins from having a breakout year, quietly emerging as a very legitimate NBA prospect, far from the national spotlight.

Thompkins’ development doesn’t come as a major shock, as he was considered by analysts such as’s Dave Telep as a borderline McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school. The 19 year old forward showed flashes of brilliance last season, displaying a high skill level and playing well despite the lingering effects of an offseason injury that hampered his conditioning all season long.

A talented inside-outside threat, Thompkins was able to make an impact around the basket while showing a promising post repertoire and budding catch and shoot game. This season, Thompkins has turned that potential into production thanks to improved consistency, a much sleeker physique, and a perfectly defined role in Mark Fox’s offense.

Though Thompkins has done a tremendous job building his draft resume this season, he still has some limitations from an NBA perspective. His body looks considerably better than it did last season, and he has a very nice wingspan, but he still isn’t terribly explosive, lacking the first step and leaping ability that would compensate for his average height. Possessing an average physical profile for an NBA power forward, Thompkins may not be an outstanding athlete, but his lack of physical tools is clearly overshadowed by his impressive scoring arsenal.

The biggest improvement Thompkins has made since last season lies in his ability (and willingness) to score with his back to the basket. Showing a knack for gaining position and making decisive moves to create space, Thompkins is converting 47.4% of his shots from the post, up from 41.2% last season according to Synergy Sports Technology.

When Thompkins is isolated on the block, his go-to-move is his turnaround jumper, which allows him to utilize his outstanding touch and features a very high release point –something that will help his transition to the next level. When Thompkins doesn’t see an opportunity to turn and shoot, he shows a nice up and under move, and has solid overall footwork. He shows a rare ability to throw the ball in off the glass, something you don’t see from many players his age, and perfectly demonstrates how talented a scorer he truly is.

When Thompkins isn’t showcasing his outstanding touch around the basket, Mark Fox has done an excellent job positioning him to operate one-on-one from the elbow or foul-line extended, similar to how many NBA power forwards are utilized in isolation situations. Thompkins regularly catches the ball on the wing and high post with his teammates cleared out, in a situation to create his own shot. A capable ball handler for a player his size, Thompkins likes to drive right to get to the basket, preferring to use his strength to get to the block and then using his footwork to beat his matchup to the rim, often using nifty pivot moves along the way. This an impressive move for an NCAA big man to make, let alone one who is just 19 years old.

While not showing much in the way of advanced ball handling ability, and showing average decision making and passing skills at times, Thompkins is one of the more turnover prone players in our database –something he’ll need to work on moving forward. While he’s not a bad ball-handler by any stretch for an NCAA big man, he could clearly stand to polish up this part of his game.

Away from the rim Thompkins has made some significant strides as a shooter and is benefiting significantly from the improved shot-selection he’s showing this season. After shooting 38.4% from three-point range on 3.1 attempts per-game as a freshman, Thompkins has shot an impressive 42% from three on 1.9 attempts per-game this season, ranking him amongst the most efficient shooters in our database. With Mark Fox’s system getting him the ball in the post more effectively, Thompkins still forces defenders to respect his range. He displays excellent touch on virtually every shot he takes, which has helped him improve his pull up jumper and midrange game –two areas he should continue to work on but show great potential moving forward.

Thompkins is able to make a big impact on the offensive end with his well-rounded skill set, but his laid-back nature becomes apparent when watching him defend. The Georgia native does an adequate job getting a hand up on shooters, and his excellent hands help him come up with loose balls in the lane and rebound at a solid rate, but his lack of intensity makes it difficult for him to be an effective stopper. Giving up position too easily on the block, and lacking a sense of urgency and discipline when closing out shooters, Thompkins doesn’t always compete on the defensive end the way that NBA decision-makers would like to see. Considering his average physical tools, the concerns about his intensity become that much more problematic when projecting his defensive presence to the next level.

With his sophomore season coming to a close, Thompkins faces a difficult decision regard his future. Mark Fox has been laying the groundwork for future recruiting classes, but there is little talent at this point headed to Athens next fall. Thompkins has boosted his play considerably, but with Georgia seemingly off of the national radar, are enough NBA people actually taking notice? A couple of teams we spoke with hadn't seen him play this season. Another question would be-- could he significantly improve his NBA resume next season if his team continues to struggle?

One NBA scout we spoke with stated, “He took a big step this year, but he isn't going to get a lot of buzz. I see him in the late 1st, early 2nd round.” Considering his age and talent level, Thompkins seems like a great bet for a competitor drafting for the future, but he’s not guaranteed a spot in the first at this juncture. Keeping things close to the vest when asked about his future, Thompkins will have a tough call on his hands when the early entry deadline rolls around. A strong showing against Kentucky tonight and then in the SEC tournament would go a long ways in making people notice his play.

Derrick Caracter, 6’9, PF/C, Junior, UTEP
14.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 3.0 turnovers, 56% FG, 67% FT

Joseph Treutlein

Following a very tumultuous two seasons at Louisville that made many wonder if how much of a future he has in basketball, Derrick Caracter transferred to UTEP and sat out a year as required. Now he’s become a key contributor for a team that’s on a 13-game winning streak and just clinched the Conference USA title last night, all while being a model citizen throughout the season.

Plagued by weight, conditioning, and attitude issues at Louisville, Caracter appears to have figured things out for the most part at UTEP, even if he still has room for improvement in many areas. His offensive profile still reads very similarly to what it was two years, if only for the difference that he’s seeing a lot more time on the floor each game and not getting suspended multiple times per season.

In the post, Caracter has an extremely high skill level, excellent footwork and touch, and an incredibly high level of functional strength, making him a dominant force at this level. He can finish off either shoulder with ease, boasting effective hook shots with both hands, and he does an excellent job of establishing position without the ball and then backing his man down some more once he gets the ball. He reads his opponent very well when isolated, recognizing where the opening is and quickly and compactly going to whatever move and direction gives him the highest percentage opportunity.

Caracter uses a great combination of finesse and power when operating with his back to the basket, though there are some concerns projecting to the next level, as the release point on most of his moves is low, and he doesn’t do a great job getting separation, having well below average explosiveness for an NBA big man.

Also, while Caracter has a very good feel for the game in the post, he is pretty turnover prone, getting called for offensive fouls, three-second violations, and travels pretty frequently, turning the ball over on a very high 23% of his possessions. He doesn’t deal with double teams especially well either, and is prone to forcing his way through them, usually not making quick pass outs and only looking for them well after defenses collapse on him. While he clearly has the feel and skill-level to find the open man, as we’ve seen on a few occasions, he seems to elect not to at times, instead forcing his own offense.

Aside from his post game, Caracter has done an excellent job on the offensive glass, usually just out-willing opponents by throwing his body around and using his strength to pull down boards in a crowd, and he’s shown a very high motor on the offensive end in general. While his jumper is still very much a work in progress, he has hit 3-of-11 threes this year, boasting decent form in spite of a slow, deliberate release. He’s also mixed in jumpers from face-up positions in the 10-15 foot range, turning into his defender to shoot them with inconsistent results. This isn’t something anyone should expect to become a ripple of his game anytime soon, but for a player with question marks about how his game will translate to the pros, it’s good to see him working on skills that could help him down the road.

While Caracter has shown flashes of development in other areas of his game, he is still incredibly reliant on his post game, as 80 of his 142 charted offensive possessions on Synergy were of the post-up variety. Looking to the NBA, he will need to diversify his game some to find a long-term niche in all likelihood, and should probably look at fellow under-the-rim banger Craig Smith as a player to model himself after. Improving on his ability to finish off cuts and pick-and-rolls by using his massive body to seal out defenders and create angles is something that could help him contribute in multiple ways in the pros.

Defensively, Caracter has an improved effort level and focus this season, though there are still many things holding him back from being an effective defender. In the post, he actually shows decent fundamental in man-to-man situations, getting into his opponent and using his strength to hold position well. That said, with very little lift and a weak standing reach, he’s very prone to being shot over, and can be outmaneuvered by quicker opponents as well.

Things get worse on the perimeter, where his fundamentals aren’t great and he’s very slow of foot moving laterally, looking like a fish out of water when matched with someone resembling a stretch four. This is of great concern in projecting Caracter to the pros, given the makeup of the power forward position in the NBA, and could very well push him to the center spot instead, which he is clearly undersized for. Caracter also isn’t great as a help defender, not having the athleticism to really do much on the weakside, as evidenced by his low steals and blocks numbers.

Looking forward, while this season has been a revelation for Caracter in terms of where he was two years ago, he still has much work to do if he wants to find a long-term home in the NBA, beyond just maintaining the physical and mental makeover he’s undergone in El Paso. Shedding some more unnecessary weight, working hard on his explosiveness around the rim, putting in considerable work to become respectable as a perimeter defender, and diversifying his offensive game are all things that need to be priorities for him, though they’re all well within his reach if he puts in the work.

For all the areas in his game that could use some work, his skill level and strength in the post are things that very few players have, and other undersized 4’s in the pros have proven this can be a potent weapon in the NBA.

Caracter is rumored to have one foot out the door already in El-Paso and has apparently already decided that he’ll be declaring for this year’s draft. Considering the numerous question marks teams have about his background, combined with the fact that he’s hardly a can’t miss-talent, it’s not out of the question that he goes undrafted.

While there will always be a lucrative market for his services in Asia (China and Korea) and in some parts of Europe, Caracter might want to at least consider the possibility of returning to UTEP, as another year of keeping his nose clean and improving his weaknesses could get him a lot closer to carving out a career in the NBA.

Ben Uzoh 6-3, Senior, PG/SG, Tulsa
15.6 points, 4.5 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 4.8 rebounds, 46% FG, 35% 3P, 78.9% FT

Scott Nadler

As one of the most consistent players in Conference USA over his four year career, earning all conference team honors the past two seasons, Ben Uzoh is having another solid season for Tulsa. With the lack of exposure the Golden Hurricanes receive however and failing to make the NCAA tournament, with this year not looking like an exception, Uzoh’s fallen under the radar a bit until now. His name is finally beginning to garner some attention amongst NBA circles, though, and he’ll surely get looks from teams throughout the draft process.

The biggest question mark for Uzoh is his lack of a defined position – an area of concern for most NBA personnel. At 6’3, he’s not a true point guard but more of an athletic combo guard with scoring instincts. This season, he’s made a concerted effort to be more of a playmaker and he’s certainly improved in that department, sporting a solid 1.9 assist to turnover ratio – averaging more assists and less turnovers then a season ago.

With that being said, he hasn’t quite developed his overall skills as a lead guard. He has a tendency in the half court to be a ball stopper at times, appearing indecisive, pounding the rock and slowing the flow of the offense as a result. His court vision is average and he isn’t the most creative guy you’ll find – with most of assists coming by way of post entries, ball reversals, or hitting a teammate in transition. In the open court, he’s certainly more comfortable and is willing and able to advance the ball off the bounce at any opportunity.

This added attention to becoming a pure point guard hasn’t affected his scoring, increasing his average of 14.0 from last season to 15.6 this year and he’s shooting a higher percentage from inside and outside the arc. More of a self-made player than an incredibly skilled or naturally talented scorer, Uzoh doesn’t seem to have great touch offensively, appearing a little mechanical at times. His shot is fairly inconsistent, both with his feet set and off the dribble, as the arc on his release can vary with each attempt. He does have decent mechanics though and with his ability to elevate it’s not out of the question to see him improve in this area.

As a penetrator, Uzoh is a talented shot-creator who can create off the dribble thanks to his solid first step and aggressive mentality. With his excellent size and strength for a point guard and the athleticism to boot, it’s reasonable to say that Uzoh should be getting to the free throw line a bit more. His ball-handling skills clearly could use some work, and he seems to have a tendency to pull-up for floaters rather than take the ball all the way to the basket and draw contact at the rim. For someone that shoots nearly 80% from the stripe, it would serve him very well.

On the defensive end, Uzoh has the versatility to play both guard spots but is a better defender off the ball then he is on it. He has good not great lateral speed and can struggle against quick slashing players and gets hung up too often on high ball screens, leaving him out of position. On the positive side, he has good size, nice strength, a long wingspan and does a good job at using it to contest outside shots. He fights through off ball screens well and is effective at closing out on shooters. He also uses his frame to his advantage, handling his own against bigger guards who try to post him or take it to the rim on him.

There are a few question marks surrounding Uzoh that will need to be answered before he’s considered a lock to be drafted. A postseason run (making the NCAA tournament, or more likely the NIT) will be a good start for him to further demonstrate what he can do. Just as important would be a solid outing at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, which would give him a chance to show off what he brings to the table in front of all 30 NBA teams at once. With steady production for four years and intriguing physical attributes, Uzoh is a prospect that will likely be making the rounds at private workouts come June.

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