Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12 (Part Two: #6-#10)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12 (Part Two: #6-#10)
Oct 30, 2006, 03:53 am
DraftExpress continues to evaluate the top prospects in the NCAA on a conference by conference basis, this time with the Big 12. Sasha Kaun, Aaron Bruce, Mario Chalmers, Joseph Jones and Jarrius Jackson highlight the middle of the crop. For the sake of consistency, freshman have been left out of the equation.

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12 (Part One: #1-#5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part One: #1-#5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Two: #6-#10)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Three: #11-#15)

#6 Sasha Kaun
6-11, Center, Junior, Kansas


Joseph Treutlein

At 6’11 and 245 pounds, Sasha Kaun has a good build for a potential NBA center. Kaun also brings good length and a decent level of athleticism and fluidity to the table. Entering his junior season, which will only be his sixth year playing organized basketball, Kaun has a lot of intrigue to his game. As of now, Kaun is strictly a post scorer with no semblance of an outside game, but he had an effective and encouraging sophomore season at Kansas. Expected to return as the team’s starting center, many will look for Kaun to expand on his currently narrow but effective game.

Kaun has a pretty reliable post game, though it’s lacking much versatility at this stage in his development. About 90% of the time when he has his back to the basket, Kaun will turn across his left shoulder for a soft hook shot with his right hand. Kaun has also shown the ability to use this move to fake his man, getting him up into the air, and then switching the ball to his left hand while stepping through the defender to go up with a left-handed lay-up. This is something he very rarely will do, but it’s something he should definitely work on to add versatility to his post game. Kaun also has shown the ability to use a left-handed hook shot, though his touch with his left hand is not up to par with his right. It’s obvious that Kaun’s post game is still developing, but it’s encouraging to see flashes of a multitude of different moves, all of which he’s been able to use with at least some effectiveness.

Kaun fights hard for position in the post and is very active in calling for the ball. He does a good job to seal out his man when on the inside, and has good enough hands that he rarely will bumble a pass. Kaun’s footwork is something he could use some work on, as he can look uncomfortable when he goes out of the comfort zone of his basic go-to move, the right-handed hook shot. When faced with multiple defenders, Kaun doesn’t show much grace with his feet in trying to create a shot opportunity, occasionally stumbling or losing his balance. Kaun does have very good recognition of where he is on the court, though, also understanding how and when to use the glass with either hand. Kaun is not an athletic freak by any means, but he has enough athleticism for his post game to get by should he reach the next level. At 6’11 with good length, Kaun doesn’t have many problems getting his shot off. He also shows a good level of fluidity at this stage of his development, even in spite of his currently non-advanced footwork.

Kaun is also a pretty good offensive rebounder, exhibiting the same motor as his post game in his relentless to establish position. Kaun does a good job at getting inside position, then being able to effectively seal off his man. Even when he doesn’t initially have the inside position, he can slip around the defender to get the inside track, then using his length to either tip the ball or pull down the rebound.

As mentioned earlier, Kaun doesn’t have any semblance of a perimeter game. He has not displayed any kind of jump shot, even from 5-10 feet, and also has no face-up game to speak of. He doesn’t play from the perimeter, and hasn’t shown an ability to play from the high post either. The only time Kaun does step out of the painted area is to set picks. Kaun also has not shown much proficiency passing the ball, not doing much in terms of hitting cutters or making a kick-out for a perimeter shot. Kaun isn’t turnover prone either, though, as he’ll pass the ball out and let the play reset if he doesn’t have anything down low.

Defensively, Kaun is an adequate man-to-man defender in the post, generally being able to stay in front of his man and contest any shots while not fouling too much. He’s also strong enough that he’s generally not overpowered at this level of play. Kaun is a pretty attentive player on defense and makes most of the necessary rotations. He doesn’t do much in terms of blocking or altering shots, though, as he lacks explosiveness from the weakside. Kaun hasn’t shown much in terms of man-to-man defense on the perimeter, though his lateral quickness would definitely be a question mark. He does however show enough mobility to be able to hedge the ball-handler on pick-and-rolls, and still be able to recover to his own man. In terms of rebounding the ball, Kaun is adequate there as well, for the most part maintaining good position and boxing out his man.

Kaun had a very strong start to the previous season, putting up some very impressive statlines early in the year, though his play tailed off as the season wore on. Scouts will be looking for more consistent production from the junior big man, but that will be tough given Kansas’ abundance of talent at the other four positions on the floor. Still, if he’s been working hard in the offseason, he should come back with a more diversified post game and hopefully at the very least a semblance of a 5-10 foot jumper. In an era where serviceable big men are becoming more and more scarce at the professional level, Kaun has a very nice foundation to build upon with his physical attributes and reliable post game.

#7 Aaron Bruce
6-3, PG/SG , Junior, Baylor


Jonathan Watters

As a sophomore, Bruce wasn't able to build on a brilliant 04-05 freshman season in which he emerged as the unquestioned focal point for a program still reeling from the Patrick Dennehy scandal. The youthful Bears were dealt a serious blow when the NCAA barred the team from non-conference play. Bruce started slowly, and by the time he finally caught up he was suffering from numerous nagging injuries. Despite having significantly more talent surrounding him, Bruce's field goal accuracy plummeted nearly 10 points, and his scoring average fell from 18.2 to 13.1. A simple look at the statistics would tell you that Bruce took a major step backward as a sophomore.

But delving into the matter a bit more closely leads to several interesting conclusions. First of all, Bruce's sophomore campaign was really the tale of two very distinct halves. Over the first 10 games of the season, the Aussie was terrible. He shot a very un-Bruce like 29% from the floor, averaged just 10.8 ppg, and could manage just 0.96 assists for every turnover. But Bruce would eventually get healthy, and it showed over his final seven Big XII games. The field goal percentage spiked to 47%, including nearly 44% from beyond the arc. He increased his scoring to 16.4 per game, his rebounding to 4.4 per game, and his ast/to ratio bounced back to a very respectable 1.59/1. Compare these numbers with Bruce's freshman line of 18.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, a 1.25/1 ast/to ratio, and 47% shooting. Is it any coincidence that Baylor was much more competitive over the stretch run?

So just what does Bruce bring to the table as an NBA point guard prospect? It all depends on what you are looking for.

If you are looking for an efficient, steady floor general capable of getting the ball to the right people in the halfcourt and keeping the mistakes to a minimum, Bruce probably isn't your guy. He just isn't where he needs to be physically, earning low marks in athleticism and body composition. There is certainly potential for significant physical improvement, but little noticeable improvement took place between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Bruce has more than enough craft to get his shot off in the lane on dribble penetrations, but doesn't have the physical strength to power his way through defenders and finish at the rim. For this reason, he rarely gets all the way to the basket even at the NCAA level. He is an opportunistic defender, but doesn't like to get physical and would much rather gamble from the weak side than get physical and slide his feet. His defensive liability can be marginalized in certain systems, but is a definitely issue when games are played more in the halfcourt. Bruce also has a tendency to attempt difficult, complicated passes, which can lead to periods of poor decision making when things shouldn’t be complicated.

Where Bruce really excels is in the open court. His ability to create fast break opportunities for his teammates by passing the ball from the backcourt is nearly unparalleled at the NCAA level. His creative forays are nearly always set up well before the defense realizes what is happening, usually with a well-timed jab step, dribble drive, look off, pump fake, or body contortion. He sees holes in the defense on the fly, and does a great job of identifying ideal scoring situations for specific teammates. Bruce is the type of point guard that is a constant threat to burn a defense with the ball in his hands, and really forces the opposing help defenders to keep one eye open as far as heading over at moment's notice.

Bruce isn't your prototypical half-court lead guard, but he does enough things well to make up for it. Where Bruce tends to create opportunities for fellow lead guard CJ Jerrells in the open court, the roles reverse once transition opportunities have passed. Jerrells, a hard-nosed penetrator and electric scorer, can draw defenders off the bounce and find Bruce for perimeter looks. Bruce has gorgeous form on jumper, and gets his shot off so quickly it sometimes looks like he is beginning his motion before the ball arrives. His range extends to well beyond the 3-point line, and defenders drawn by the penetration of Baylor's other quick guards almost always pay when the result of the play is a kick out to Bruce.

Bruce's lack of strength is mentioned above, but once he gets defenders to overplay his shot, he is capable of getting to the basket for floaters, runners, and midrange jumpers. He gets nice elevation when shooting off the jumpstop, and looks very comfortable pulling up on the move. Sometimes Bruce get a bit too smart for his own good and get stuck in the air when underestimating a more athletic help defender's reaction ability, but he generally does a good job of picking his moments to slash. Give him space and license to attack, and there are very few NCAA teams capable of containing him, especially when he is burning up the net from the outside. That "quick strike" anticipatory offensive ability many lead guards use to make up for athleticism issues is definitely a tool in Aaron Bruce's arsenal.

While Bruce's sophomore season did not live up to expectations, it is easy to see Scott Drew's floor general bouncing back quickly. Drew has been forced to play at a slower pace due to a thin and generally talent-lacking roster, but that changes in 06-07. With six new coaches in the conference, several traditional Big XII powers are now in the same situation Baylor has been in since Drew arrived. But Drew has amassed a roster heavy on athleticism, depth, and guard play. Joining Bruce in the backcourt will be three other combo guards, the aforementioned Jerrells, sophomore shooter Henry Dugat, and McDonald's All-American recruit Tweety Carter. After playing at a laborious pace over the past two seasons, Drew now has an undersized, athletic backcourt rotation that will always be more comfortable in the open court.

Look for Baylor to run early and often, and look for Aaron Bruce to have an outstanding junior season. He will need to work on his body before he is ready for the NBA, but Travis Diener is a success story from the same mold, and the former Marquette standout was at least as physically overmatched entering his junior year. It isn't clear whether Bruce's future lies at at the highest level or whether he will become a prized commodity overseas, but Baylor's dynamic floor leader is certainly a prospect to keep an eye on.

#8 Mario Chalmers
6-1, PG/SG, Sophomore, Kansas


Jonathan Givony

Although his development curve could still lead him in any direction—either up or down—on this list over the next few years, its tough to ignore the impressive 11.5 points, 3.8 assists and 2.7 steals Mario Chalmers averaged as a freshman in 26 minutes. Chalmers started off the season quite slow but really hit his stride in the Big 12 conference slate, hitting double-figure points in all but 3 of his last 20 games of the season. Coach Bill Self didn’t seem to trust the somewhat wild freshman too much early on—at times preferring to go with a walk-on in his place--but Chalmers quickly showed him that the good parts to his game far outnumber the bad when he gets a chance to show what he can do.

Chalmers joins the likes of Julian Wright, Brandon Rush, CJ Giles and others in a long line of Kansas players that can be called long-armed freaks. He has average size at 6-1, and isn’t terribly explosive off the bounce, but his sheer length and stubbornness makes him a force to be reckoned with on either end of the court.

Playing almost exclusively off the ball due to his unpredictable nature, Chalmers loves to come off screens for mid-range or 3-point jumpers. He has good shooting mechanics that could be even better if he could quicken up the speed of his release and possibly get a tad bit more elevation off the floor with his bunny hop attempts. Nevertheless, Chalmers has fantastic touch and it’s only a matter of time before he’s considered absolutely deadly from behind the arc. He’s already extremely confident in it.

Generally speaking, Chalmers is a player who wants the ball, will call for it, and knows what to do once he gets it. He wants the responsibility of being his team’s go-to guy, and will probably become just that at Kansas down the road if he doesn’t leave for the NBA prematurely. As a freshman he wasn’t quite up to the task even though he did his best at times to show that he was. This littered his highlight reels with all kinds of plays he will surely want to forget—unforced errors, bad shots, offensive fouls, wild lobs, plenty of turnovers and the usual stuff you’d expect from a freshman—but just a lot more of them.

As a slasher, Chalmers needs to improve his strength and savvy and get much better at finishing around the rim. Not having great size, his floater needs to gain some polish, as do most of the offensive moves in his arsenal. He showed some flashes of shot-creating skills—a nice hesitation move here, a crafty ball-handling move there—but he’s got plenty of room to develop in this area, as he does with his mid-range game.

The biggest question mark about Chalmers’ NBA potential though has to revolve around the position he’ll play at the next level. Standing 6-1, he’s already undersized for the point guard position. The problem is that he plays the 2 almost exclusively, and really didn’t show anything resembling a point guard’s mentality when he had the chance. Fortunately he has plenty of time to continue to work on this part of his game, but he’ll have to start playing the point guard position at some point to really be evaluated as one.

Something that absolutely must be discussed before we conclude is Chalmers’ defense. Based off what his tapes show, it wouldn’t be a stretch at all to put him in the same league as some of the best ball-hawks in the country. His hands are unbelievably quick, and that coupled with his superb length and fantastic anticipation skills make him an absolute terror when it comes to getting in the passing lanes. Regularly you’ll see him hound his defender in the backcourt to sneak his paw in at just the right moment and come up with a fast-break igniting steal. In fact, from the tapes we evaluated (the large majority of his season), over 17% of his shots come in transition (where he’s a not so great 54/84 or 64%), second only to his spot-up shooting (phenomenal at 102/204 or 50%). Bill Self’s Jayhawks looked like an awesome defensive unit to watch on tape with the way they help each other out, and Chalmers was possibly the most important cog with the work he did at the top of the zone.

#9 Joseph Jones
6-9, Power Forward, Junior, Texas A&M


Wojciech Malinowski

After being nominated to an All-Big 12 Second Team and playing a huge role in getting the Aggies back to the Big Dance, there is a lot of pressure on the junior inside player of coach Billy Gillespie.

Calling him not a Power Forward and not a Center, but an "inside player" does have a good reason. Jones who plays as a center for his team, won't be able to that at the next level, mostly due to his lack of size and limited athleticism. He is able to score consistently in college around the rim, using jump hooks or just overpowering opponents and going strong to the rim. Even if his upper body is strong and he is not afraid of making contact with defenders, he lacks strength in his lower body. This lack of elevation prevents him from finishing in traffic, as well as from scoring over defenders, particularly if there is no defensive reaction to his pump-fakes and he has to shoot on his second or third effort. Getting a few pounds off his wide body could make some difference here, and it would also help his stamina, since he looked exhausted a few times during the last minutes of close games.

Jones made 74% of his free throws last year, which is a good result for an interior player. It usually suggests that the player can nail mid-range jumpers on a consistent basis. Unfortunately Jones is not there right yet - he knows how to repeat his free throws motion regularly, but his bad shooting mechanics stop him from making a baseline or straight-away jumper during live games. But we are quite optimistic about him adding this element to his repertoire soon.

Even not being able to shoot from 10 feet or further from the rim right now, Jones has some other tools to expand his offensive game. He is a surprisingly good ball-handler and also has a nice first step off the dribble. Combining it with decent passing skills and an ability to read defenses, Jones has a chance to become a much better face-up player, which would tremendously help his chances of being drafted.

And last, but not least - his defense. Jones has a really long way to become at least a decent defender. He is good in rotating from the weak side, and his big body frightens some opposing players from going straight to the rim. But if they decide to do it, he is not able to stop them, making only 16 blocks in 30 games during last season, which for a 6'9 player who spends 29 minutes per game on the court, is an awful, awful result. His rebounding and blocked-shots statistics were down last year compared to as a freshman year, probably because he focused more on an offensive end. He needs to bounce back his production in these areas, or Texas A&M’s interior defense will be non-existent and his chances of being drafted probably won't get higher than as a 2nd round pick.

#10 Jarrius Jackson
6-1, Shooting Guard, Senior, Texas Tech


Jonathan Givony

The top returning scorer in the Big 12 finally makes an appearance at #10 on this list, as we remind that NBA potential is what’s being taken into consideration rather than a player’s impact at the collegiate level, where Jackson would surely be at the beginning of the pack.

At the NCAA level, there is no doubting what Jackson brings to the table. He’s one of the better scoring guards you’ll find around, and does it even more impressively playing for one of the most methodical offenses in the country under Bobby Knight. What Jackson lacks in size (he doesn’t appear to be more than 6-0 at best) he clearly makes up for in toughness and strength, being a stocky pitbull type in the Jameer Nelson mold, only without the point guard skills. He plays mostly off the ball (although he will see at least a few minutes a game at the point) and does a fantastic job moving around and finding creases in the defense from which to present himself, whether in the post, from mid-range or behind the arc coming off a screen.

If an immediate scoring opportunity is not available (Jackson only needs a fraction of a second to get his shot off), he’ll usually use his strength and smarts—rather than a terrific first step or some crafty ball-handling moves—to bully his way into the paint and finish high off the glass. Most of his slashing attempts come using his right hand, and at some point this can become predictable, especially considering that his first step is pretty average. When he does get to the basket, he is tough and crafty enough to usually get his shot to go down, but there are serious question marks about whether his lack of vertical explosiveness will allow him to finish should he make the NBA.

Jackson’s mid-range game is one of the more odd you’ll find. Rather than pull-up off the dribble to elevate and get a clean jumper off, he’ll almost strictly attempt to get off a one handed half jump-shot/half floater that isn’t always very appropriate considering how far out he will be sometimes, and the results are predictably not as consistent as you’d hope.

From behind the arc, though, there is no mistaking the fact that he’s absolutely lights out. When Jackson has a chance to set his feet for just a second, the ball is going to go in the basket more often that not. His release is lightning quick and his mechanics absolutely terrific, indeed making him one of the best 3-point shooters you’ll find in the country as far as volume and percentages go. He hits tough shots with a hand in his face on a regular basis, and does not have a problem taking responsibilities on his shoulders when the game is on the line.

Despite his disposition as a scorer through and through, he doesn’t force the issue nearly as much as you’d usually expect players in his mold (read: undersized shooting guards from bad teams) to. He’s a patient player who lets things come to him and is very much adept at looking for the best shot he or his teammate can find. Although he shows nothing close to the instincts you’d hope for in a point guard, he’s definitely not a selfish player and will rarely hurt his team as long as his shot is falling.

Defensively, you get more of the same. Jackson is a tough and strong guard who doesn’t like to give his matchup anything easy. While he might not be quite big or quick enough to be a lockdown defender in the NBA, his fundamentals and hard-nosed attitude ensure that he’ll always be quite solid in this area. As far as the NBA is concerned, stranger things have happened than a 20+ point per game scorer from a high major conference making it, combo guard or not, but the early inclination would be that he’s going to be absolutely ideal for Europe.

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