Top NBA Draft Prospects in Non-BCS Conferences, Part One (#1-10)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in Non-BCS Conferences, Part One (#1-10)
Oct 30, 2010, 10:33 pm
Beginning our coverage of the top returning NBA prospects in Non-BCS conferences, we rank ten players and profile Greg Smith of Fresno State, Damian Saunders of Duquesne, and Temple's Lavoy Allen.

Freshmen have been excluded from these previews, as we'd like to wait and see what they have to offer on the NCAA circuit before we come to any long-term conclusions.

-Top 20 NBA Prospects in the Big Ten
-Top 15 NBA Prospects in the Big 12
-Top 10 NBA Prospects in the Pac-10
-Top 15 NBA Prospects in the SEC
-Top 25 NBA Prospects in the Big East
-Top 25 NBA Prospects in the ACC

Having profiled each of the players in our top-6 Non-BCS prospect late in the season with comprehensive scouting reports, we've elected to wait and see what type of progress each has made with a fresh perspective in a few months, rather than rehashing many of the same comments made last year based off their 2009-2010 game footage.

#1 Elias Harris, 6'7, Sophomore, Forward, Gonzaga
14.9 Points, 7.1 Rebounds, 1.1 Assists, 0.9 Steals, 1.9 Turnovers, 54.7% FG, 45.1% 3P, 67.6%

#2 Kenneth Faried, 6'8, Senior, Power Forward, Morehead State
16.9 Points, 13.0 Rebounds, 1.6 Steals, 1.9 Blocks, 2.4 Turnovers, 56.4% FG, 59.5% FT

#3 Kawhi Leonard, 6'7, Sophomore, Forward, San Diego State
12.7 Points, 9.9 Rebounds, 1.9 Assists, 1.4 Steals, 0.7 Blocks, 2.3 Turnovers, 45.5% FG, 20.5% 3P, 72.6% FT

#4 Wesley Witherspoon, 6'8, Junior, Small Forward, Memphis
12.5 Points, 4.6 Rebounds, 1.4 Assists, 1.4 Steals, 0.9 Blocks, 1.8 Turnovers, 46.7% FG, 43.0% 3P, 76.4% FT

#5 Aaric Murray, 6'10, Sophomore, Center, La Salle
12.2 Points, 6.6 Rebounds, 2.3 Blocks, 1.1 Assists, 2.1 Turnovers, 44.7% FG, 36% 3P, 65% FT

#6 Keith Benson, 6'11, Senior, Power Forward/Center, Oakland
17.3 Points, 10.5 Rebounds, 3.3 Blocks, 1.7 Turnovers, 53.3% FG, 72.4% FT

#7 Greg Smith, 6-10, Sophomore, Center, Fresno State
11.5 Points, 5.8 Rebounds, 1.2 Assists, 1.2 Blocks, 2.1 Turnovers, 57.6% FG, 58.6% FT

Jonathan Givony

A pleasant surprise amongst last year's freshman class, Fresno State's Greg Smith emerged from relative obscurity at the high school level to string together a very productive season.

Smith's virtues as an NBA prospect are pretty easy to see on first glance, as he brings great size to the table to go along with a nice wingspan and a big, strong frame. Smith looks the part of a legit NBA center from a physical standpoint, which when combined with his excellent hands, puts him in a rare class of prospects right off the bat.

Offensively, Smith shows an intriguing skill level for a young big man. He does most of his damage inside the paint, often operating with his back to the basket, where he's quite a capable threat. He scored at a nice rate as a freshman, 16.7 points per-40p, got to the free throw line regularly, and was very efficient (58% FG) in his somewhat limited role in a very disjumbled looking Fresno State offense. He showed some at times last season, having the ability to put the ball on the floor a bit and utilizing some basic spin moves to get his shot off with very soft touch. There is definitely some things to work with here you take into account his chiseled frame and soft hands.

On the negative side, Smith struggles with contact and doesn't finish above the rim in traffic very often, as he's not the quickest or most explosive big man you'll find amongst NBA prospects. He's mobile, but does not possess off the charts athleticism. He lacks any type of face-up ability at this point in time, attempting just a handful of jumpers last year and shooting 58.6% from the free throw line.

Smith is also not a very good rebounder at this stage, which is a bit disappointing considering his physical attributes and level of competition he plays at in the WAC. He can rebound in and around his area, but seems to lack the quickness and explosiveness to go out and extra possessions on a regular basis. Playing harder and being more physical boxing out, especially on the defensive end, would go a long way in solving this issue.

Still nowhere near a finished product at this point, Smith's lack of experience really gets exposed on the defensive end, where he shows poor fundamentals and awareness, and regularly gets taken advantage of, often resulting in foul trouble. He loses his focus and gets beaten off the dribble very easily on the perimeter, and also lets smaller, weaker players post him up and push him around.

Where freshmen tend to struggle the most in making the transition from high school to college is often with dealing with the increased level of physicality and intensity, and Smith is clearly no exception.

Unfortunately Smith tends to gives up on plays easily and generally doesn't put very much effort in on the defensive end either, which only compounds the problem, and helps explain his paltry rebounding numbers. Clearly he has very good physical tools, and the potential to be a solid defender down the line, but at this stage, he looks nowhere close to that.

With Paul George off to the NBA and Sylvester Seay graduated, Smith should become a focal point in Fresno State's offense, and will surely draw intrigue from NBA scouts. While he surely doesn't look close to being ready to compete for minutes in the NBA, it also wouldn't be much of a shock if he came out soon either, as players with his tools tend to be valued pretty highly. We'll have to see what kind of progress he makes this year.

#8 Damian Saunders, 6'7, Senior, Power Forward, Duquesne
15 Points, 11.3 Rebounds, 2.9 Blocks, 2.8 Steals, 2.4 Assists, 3.0 Turnovers, 49.5% FG, 18.9% 3P, 48.4% FT

Matt Williams

Looking through our database in an effort to find a more impressive defensive player from a statistical standpoint than Damian Saunders is fruitless one, as he is the only player since the start of the 2001 season to average more than 2 blocks, 2 steals, and 10 rebounds in a single season. A true stand out on the defensive end, Saunders caught the attention of NBA scouts for his athleticism and potential as a high-level stopper. Returning for his senior season at Duquesne, the pressure is on Saunders to improve his offensive game to compensate for the transfer of Melquan Bolding and show the development that would take his draft stock to the next level.

Much of the intrigue surrounding Saunders as a prospect stems from his tremendous physical profile. Standing 6'7 with a massive wingspan that pays big dividends for his team defensively, Saunders is a very solid athlete who appears to be more smooth than explosive, but shows good lateral quickness and a fine effort level. Though he could still stand to add some muscle to his frame over the long-term, Saunders has the tools necessary to be a defensive specialist at the next level.

His biggest obstacle in achieving that end will be developing some offensive tools to go along with his tremendous defensive profile. As it stands, Saunders is very raw on that side of the floor and doesn't seem to know his limitations. Nearly 35% of his shot attempts last season were jumpers according to Synergy Sports Technology. Knocking down just 17.3% of those attempts, Saunders showed highly inconsistent mechanics with his feet set and tends to settle for high degree of difficulty short-range jumpers in the mid-post a bit too frequently off the dribble.

Though Saunders is able to create space off the bounce on occasion thanks to his rangy strides and solid first step, he relies heavily on his left hand, appears out of control at times, and has a long ways to go to become a complete perimeter threat. He still has trouble dealing with more physical perimeter defenders, and needs to tighten up his ball-handling ability. His ability to make strides in his development as a perimeter scorer will play a key role in his draft projections, as he'd benefit immensely from projecting as a full-time small forward at the next level.

Most of his scoring production comes in the paint, where his length and athleticism allow him to play above the rim in traffic and simply jump over defenders to score. An excellent offensive rebounder, Saunders does a good job positioning himself when he doesn't have the ball to either clean the glass or receive a pass from a driving teammate. His activity level complements his athleticism well, and allows him to shoot a respectable percentage from the floor despite his highly questionable efficiency from the perimeter.

Though Saunders has some questions to answer offensively, he is a highly capable defensive player. Using his lateral quickness to deny penetration effectively out on the perimeter and doing an excellent job using his length to recover and contest shots on the occasions he does get beat to the rim, Saunders has a knack at being in the right place at the right time. A great shot blocker and a very good rebounder for his position; it is obvious why NBA scouts are impressed with his defensive potential.

Moving into his senior season, Saunders is one of the most intriguing small-conference prospects in college basketball. He's proven his mettle defensively, but his ability to develop some perimeter tools offensively will dictate where he's drafted next summer. His usage should increase this season, making him a player worth watching as the season gets moving.

#9 Jimmer Fredette, 6'2, Senior, Point Guard, BYU
22.1 Points, 4.7 Assists, 2.7 Turnovers, 3.1 Rebounds, 1.2 Steals, 45.8% FG, 44% 3P, 89.2% FT

Having profiled Fredette fairly late in the season with a comprehensive scouting report, we've elected to wait and see what type of progress he's made with a fresh perspective in a few months, rather than rehashing many of the same comments made last year based off his 2009-2010 game footage.

#10 Lavoy Allen, 6'9, Power Forward, Senior, Temple
11.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.5 turnovers, 54% FG, 63% FT, 22% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

Steadily improving his production all of his three years in college, Lavoy Allen enters his senior season firmly on the NBA draft radar, but there is still much more he could do to improve his stock.

At 6'9 with a solid frame and solid length, Allen is a highly mobile and coordinated athlete, but not a very explosive one. Allen's somewhat laid back of play makes his lack of explosiveness even more pronounced than it has to be, as he rarely if ever tries to finish with power.

On the offensive end, Allen has a pretty nice set of skills, though he's very content being a cog in Temple's offense as opposed to consistently asserting himself and taking over games. It's not a rare occurrence for Allen to go 10 minutes on the floor without a field goal attempt, and it's a big reason why he averaged just 13.3 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted this past season.

Allen does the majority of his damage operating with his back to the basket, where he has a diverse arsenal of moves and a very strong feel for the game. He is predominantly a finesse player here, relying on turnaround jumpers and jump hooks primarily, though he will occasionally show off nice sequences of drop steps or up-and-under moves going to the basket. His footwork is very strong and he's capable of covering large amounts of ground with long strides, making him capable of finishing from some awkward angles.

The biggest thing that holds Allen back in this area is his complete inability to finish with power, being incapable and/or unwilling to power up over defenders, and calling him soft wouldn't be a stretch. According to Synergy Sports Technology, he averaged just 0.63 points per possession on post-ups this past season, and that's certainly something he'll want to improve.

On the positive side, Allen also does a good amount of damage off the ball, finishing on cuts and offensive rebounds, where his combination of touch and mobility makes him very dangerous on the catch-and-finish. His underwhelming post game probably wouldn't be utilized much in the pros, but this is an area he could excel with, especially if he transitioned it into more of a pick-and-roll game, something he isn't utilized much with currently.

Allen also brings a respectable jump shot to the table, dabbling with range to the college three-point line (12 makes from deep in three seasons). His form is sloppy, with him fading away and not holding his follow through on many attempts, but his results aren't bad, and there's reason to believe he can improve in this area over time, something that will be likely critical to his chances in the NBA. Developing into a more reliable spot-up shooter in combination with his ability to score rolling to the basket would make him a very dynamic threat out of the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop.

Another thing Allen brings to the table that may catch some off guard is an outstanding ability to pass out of the high post, where he shows great court vision and instincts hitting cutters and shooters alike. He sometimes will overdo it in this area of his game, giving up the ball too freely when his team could use him to score, as he's probably too unselfish for his own good at this level, though it may benefit him more in the pros where he has much better offensive options to defer to.

On the defensive end, Allen shows a high level of attentiveness and an excellent fundamental base in the post, where he does exceptionally well against most of the competition he faces at this level, doing a good job getting leverage, keeping his hands up, and moving his feet. That said, from an NBA standpoint he doesn't have above average strength, size, or quickness for a power forward, and it shows when he's matched with more physically imposing opponents, where he can be beat frequently. On the perimeter, Allen likewise has a good fundamental base and appears pretty comfortable on switches despite his high center of gravity, though he doesn't have the lateral quickness to stay in front of most people. To his credit, he does a good job hustling to stay in plays when he is beat, using his length to block shots from behind.

Allen is a very good shot blocker in man-to-man situations in the post where he shows superb timing, though he isn't very threatening from the weakside, not being very assertive and lacking great athleticism and length to affect shots. Allen also does an excellent job on the glass on both ends of the court, showing good timing and instincts in pursuit.

Looking forward, Allen clearly brings quite a few things to the table that could translate to the NBA, namely his rebounding, passing, jump shot, and ability to finish on the move in the lane. Further developing these key skills could allow him to find a niche as a hustling, rebounding, pick-and-roll power forward in the NBA, but shoring up his defense and maximizing his physical abilities should also be priorities. Playing with more assertiveness and a higher motor also wouldn't hurt, as Allen's somewhat passive demeanor isn't typical of players who fill the niche he likely projects to if he makes it in the NBA.

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