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

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East (Part One: #1-#5)
Nov 06, 2006, 04:19 pm
Continuing with our preview of the Top NBA Draft Prospects in the NCAA, we move our attention to the Big East, with the prospects ranked #1 to #5. For the sake of consistency, the very talented freshman class has been left out of the equation until we have a chance to evaluate them as college prospects against their peers.

#1: Dominic James
5-11, Point Guard, Sophomore, Marquette


Jonathan Watters

Perhaps the premier returning player in a conference that has gone through a lot of turnover in the past two years, Dominic James also might be the top returning point guard prospect in the entire NCAA. Blessed with freakish athleticism and excellent court sense, a season that builds on an incredible freshman year would probably land the speedster a spot in the first round of the upcoming draft.

When a 5-11 true point guard’s signature fast break move is the reverse dunk, you can bet NBA scouts are going to take notice. There is no denying James’ elite vertical explosiveness, and the sophomore doesn’t just utilize it on breakaways. James, already blessed with a dynamite first step, plays much bigger than his listed size because he can hang in the air for acrobatic finishes around the rim and in the lane. He takes contact well around the basket, and really understands how to slash. His ability to change direction and pace, combined with a dazzling crossover move, also add to the dilemma for a defense trying to keep James out of the lane.

James isn’t a consistent outside shooter just yet, but has everything in place to become very dangerous from the perimeter. Where many speedy point guards struggle with their shooting early in their NBA careers because they could get away with shooting more of a set shot against dishonest college defenses, James already gets a ton of elevation on his shot. He needs to firm up the consistency of his release, but one reason for the low percentage a season ago was the tendency for the ball to be in his hands as the shot clock expired. Still, James can probably cut out a few of the contested 3-pointers.

As a point guard, James is a point guard that the entire defense must keep an eye on. Missed shots are especially dangerous, as James is an excellent rebounder for his size and can strike quickly in transition through open court passing or pure ball-in-hand speed. Marquette really doesn’t have to worry about full court pressure, as James is the type of point guard that can slice through traps and presses with ease. His ball-handling gets a little sloppy at times, but this is certainly a byproduct of moving at such high speeds. As a passer, he does a good job of playing under control and limiting his mistakes. Marquette’s offense didn’t flow as well as it could have a season ago, with James having a tendency to overdribble at times. However, James shows great court vision on penetrate and kick plays once he gets into the lane.

Defensively, James isn’t putting his athletic gifts to good use just yet. Tom Crean often used defensive specialist and fellow sophomore Jerel McNeal to guard particularly dangerous floor generals, allowing James to focus on help defense and get his wind back for the next offensive possession. Nonetheless, James’ outstanding lateral quickness and quick hands should allow him to develop into an outstanding ball pressure-type defender down the road.

On the whole, James’ freshman season was downright scary good. His presence was a major reason for Steve Novak’s abrupt emergence as an NBA prospect, and Marquette wouldn’t have been close to an NIT bid without James, let alone an NCAA berth. It is also important to keep in mind that James really wore down over the second half of the season, due to his reckless style of play, and that we haven’t seen much of him at full strength.

James’ lack of size limits his upside to a certain extent, but my guess is that the further he slides out of the lottery, the more temping he will become for NBA teams. His game elicits numerous pro comparisons, from Travis Best to Jamal Tinsley. If he can add a consistent outside shot, his stock is only going to rise. 1st Team All-America is a legitimate possibility, and a deep NCAA Tournament run probably puts James in the first round whenever he wants to declare.

#2: Roy Hibbert
7-2, Center, Junior, Georgetown


Jonathan Givony

One of the more intriguing storylines to follow last year in the NCAA was the reemergence of the college big man, many of whom decided to stay in school for another season. Thanks to the hard work he’s put in and plenty of good coaching from John Thompson III, Roy Hibbert will join a long line of Georgetown centers to play in the NBA. That’s really not a question at this point. What is, though, is the type of role he’ll be able to have there; whether he’ll be just poster-fodder and 6 fouls off the bench or a potential starter and game-changing presence in the post on both ends of the floor. Due to the fact that he’s a late bloomer who made some huge strides in his game--but still has plenty more work ahead of him--we have more questions than answers at this point unfortunately.

What we do know is that Hibbert is big. Huge in fact. A legit 7-2 if not more, he has a great frame that is filling out by the day and will surely be able to carry all the weight he’ll need to handle the rigors of the NBA down the road, even if he’s not quite there yet. He is also well proportioned for his size with long arms and a strong lower body, not looking gangly or awkward the way most 7-foot plus NBA prospects do.

Another thing that is immediately evident from watching him play is that Hibbert is both extremely smart and a hard worker, two things that are again not all that common amongst prospects his size. He plays very hard and really tries to maximize himself on both ends of the floor, although the results don’t always show that due to where he’s at in his learning curve.

When he decides to go inside and make his presence felt around the rim—particularly on the offensive end—there isn’t much opposing players can do to stop him. His big body means that he can’t just be pushed out the paint, and he uses this size to grab plenty of offensive rebounds over the top of his usually puny (compared to him) opponents and score from point-blank range. His work ethic can be distinguished not just from the excellent demeanor he shows on the floor or the numerous articles that have been written about his fantastic attitude in the local DC media, but especially from the huge strides he made in his game from his freshman to sophomore season.

Hibbert is also an intelligent player, which has helped him carve out an invaluable niche in Georgetown’s intricate Princeton-type offense. He doesn’t have a problem stepping out behind the 3-point line as part of his team’s set plays; although it’s never going to be for anything fancier than to make a pass or dribble the ball once or twice at most. When he gets the ball in the post and is inevitably double-teamed, Hibbert shows plenty of promise in the way he’s able to find slashing teammates making their way to the rim. He uses his size here to its fullest and will collect a couple of assists each game by just seeing over the top of defenses and reacting accordingly, but again, all relative to what you’d expect from a player at his height and position.

Two more very encouraging things that Hibbert shows is the ability to catch tough passes as well as a soft touch from the free throw line. His hands are very good which allows him to be a fantastic target in the post to just lob entry passes towards his general direction and let his size do the rest. This makes him a prime target to draw plenty of fouls (just under four in 24 minutes per game), and unlike most big men, Hibbert converts at an excellent rate—72%.

Despite all the positives, there are also plenty of weaknesses that present themselves in nearly every minute Hibbert is on the floor. We’re not talking about a freakish athlete, although he most certainly isn’t a stiff either. The biggest problem has to do with his reflexes and coordination, which have made serious strides but are still just not up to par. Like many big men, the game seems to be moving a little too quickly for him at times. He lacks serious polish in nearly everything he does, whether it’s posting up on the block, using advanced post moves to make his way to the hoop, finishing gimmees around the basket, or doing much of anything offensively outside of 3-4 feet. He doesn’t have the athleticism to explode in the post to make a strong finish once he catches the ball, which means that he’s not always a sure bet to convert in spots you’d expect him to with ease. He also has a tendency to bring the ball down after catching a pass or offensive rebound, and needs a second or two to gather himself before he goes up again. For this reason you’ll see him get his shot blocked more often than you’d typically expect from someone his size.

Hibbert has work to do on his conditioning, as he begins to lumber up and down the court if he’s asked to play more than 25 minutes or so. Defensively he has huge potential for obvious reasons, but is not quite the intimidating threat you’d hope for at this point. He gives up space in the post a little too easy and isn’t quick enough to react to things that are going on around him; which limits him in terms of rotations as the anchor of his defense. If his team is playing man to man defense he’ll struggle immensely if the opposition is smart enough to pull him outside for pick and rolls and such, as his lateral quickness is obviously poor and he’s just too big to be able to hedge on screens. When facing up-tempo teams, Hibbert is usually the last one down on the court on a fast-break.

The direction that modern basketball seems to be heading in is not really in his favor, as many NBA teams are starting to prefer a freakish 6-9 or 6-10 athlete at the center position who can face the basket rather than an old-school back to the basket type. He’ll have trouble with plenty of matchups in the NCAA and especially the NBA due to his physical stature, so it will be on him to improve his offensive game to the point that he hurts other teams more than they hurt him. Converting his terrific touch from the free throw line into a reliable mid-range jump-shot could be a nice start. Developing a consistent go-to move in the post, for example the always deadly jump-hook, would also go a long ways. Hibbert will surely play in the league and could even develop into a lottery pick this year or next, but he still has plenty of work ahead of him and will need to land in the right situation.

#3: Aaron Gray
7-0, Center, Senior, Pittsburgh


Joseph Treutlein

At 7’0 and 260 pounds, Aaron Gray certainly has the size one would want out of an NBA center. He is below average athletically, not having much leaping ability, lateral quickness, or explosiveness, but he definitely possesses enough coordination and fluidity for a player his size to have success in the league. Gray’s game is still developing, as he only saw significant minutes for the first time this past year, but he delivered well in his 28 minutes per game, to the tune of 13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game.

Offensively, Gray has a versatile post game with a good foundation of skills. His go-to move is definitely the right-handed hook shot, but he also has shown the ability to hit the turnaround jumper from seven to eight feet and occasionally a drop-step. He can spin either way with his back to the basket, and has shown flashes of using both hands to put up lay-ups, but his results with his left are inconsistent.

Gray has a lot of good moves in the post, but his game could use a little fine tuning, as he doesn’t always use them as well as he could. He needs to become both more decisive and deliberate with his moves. At times he takes too long to get into his motions, giving weak-side guards ample time to come over and double team him. Yet at the same time, once he goes into his motion, he has a tendency to rush his shot, sometimes seemingly just throwing it in the direction of the rim rather than actually aiming it. Because of this tendency, sometimes it will look as if Gray doesn’t have much touch around the rim at all, and others it will look like he has great touch.

Gray does a good job at establishing position on the low block without the ball, and really makes defenders pay when they front him. He doesn’t use his body much to his advantage when he gets the ball with his back to the basket, relying on mostly finesse, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Opposing teams don’t always have a player with capable size to defend him, though, and he’s shown signs of trouble when matched up with players who project as NBA centers, such as Bradley’s Patrick O’Bryant in the NCAA Tournament.

Gray has shown flashes of a spot-up jumper with range out to 15 feet, but he rarely goes outside of eight to 10 feet, where still he is not yet incredibly efficient. This is something he should definitely work on improving, as while it’s questionable how his post game will translate to the NBA, being able to shoot a 15-foot jumper at 7’0 most certainly will translate.

Gray also shows flashes of nice vision and passing out of the post, though he logged 2.7 turnovers per game to his 1.8 assists, having troubles with footwork in the post and handling double-teams in general. He does show the ability to see the floor and make strong kick-out passes to the perimeter, though.

Gray may not show much tenacity with his finesse-oriented post game, but he looks like a different man when one of his teammates puts a shot in the air, always working relentlessly to attack the offensive boards. He establishes good position down low to take advantage of his size in this aspect of the game, and when he’s out of position, he’ll fight to get around his man without fouling too often. Just as in his post game, though, he has a tendency to rush his shots once he gets a hand on the ball, and it happens in this area very frequently. He needs to really work on his accuracy with his put-back attempts. He also does a good job running the floor as a trailer to attack the offensive glass on missed transition lay-ups.

Defensively, Gray is equally effective with his rebounding, establishing good position and effectively boxing out his man most of the time. Gray also is a pretty aware defender, always paying attention to the entire offense and understanding where he needs to be on the floor. He is mobile enough to make all of the rotations, though he doesn’t have much prowess as a weakside shot-blocker. As a man-to-man defender, Gray does well in the post, effectively using his body to force his man into difficult shots, while not using his hands much to avoid fouls. He also does a good job using his length to prevent entry passes by reaching in front of his man while still establishing dominant position. Gray will have some problems in the NBA against perimeter-oriented centers, though, not possessing great lateral quickness and preferring to defend down low.

Gray is now a senior, thus he will be in the draft come the end of the season. He briefly tested the waters last season, but didn’t participate in either of the pre-draft camps, and there were question marks about whether he’d definitely land in the first round. Gray certainly has a lot of room to improve, and one would expect he will in this, just his second season in a starting role. If he improves his mid-range jumper as well as his conditioning and becomes quicker and more deliberate with his post moves, he should probably be a first-round pick this season. It will be tough to crack the lottery, given the class’s expected tremendous depth, but it is not out of the question if he makes the right strides in his game.

#4: Jeff Green
6-8, SF/PF, Junior, Georgetown


Rodger Bohn

Georgetown forward Jeff Green will use his junior season to solidify himself as a legitimate small forward prospect, and attempt to shed the dreaded “tweener” label that has been placed on him for his first two years in college. While he has shown flashes of potential to make the transition, there are still some doubts as to if he will fully be able to make the switch.

Offensively, Green is built for the Hoya’s Princeton-type offense. He is a constant threat to score out of the high post, whether it be via shooting the outside jumper or by beating players off the dribble with his explosive first step. The junior’s passing ability is what really makes him stand out in this area however, as he displays remarkable court vision for a player playing primarily at power forward. Never was this more evident than during Georgetown’s upset win last season over Duke, where Green picked the Blue Devil passing apart with his adept passing skills. He finished the game with 7 assists, although that figure would have easily reached double digits had his teammates finished better inside.

Green has shown the ability to step out and consistently knock down the three point shot, although primarily from a spot up position. When shooting on the move, his shot becomes increasingly more erratic; resulting in his 31.5% three point percentage last season. Green’s ball handling skills could also use work if he plans to transition to small forward, as he displayed a pretty average handle at best throughout last season when pressured.

As far as defense is concerned, the Maryland native uses his length to assert himself as a threat to pick up a block or two a game and a steal or two a game, but isn’t quite the man to man defender that you’d hope he’d be with his superior athletic ability. With all of the tools he owns (long arms, good frame, nice lateral quickness, great leaping ability), one would expect him to be at least an above average defender, when he is only a marginal one at the moment. Green also is a pretty average rebounder, bringing in 6.5 rebounds per game and relying strictly on his athleticism to corral boards. If he ever decides to consistently box out and exert a little more effort on the defensive end, we could be looking at a guy who gets 9 plus rebounds in addition to 2 steals and 2 blocks per night.

This is a huge year for Jeff in terms of his NBA stock. He has not yet used his draft card, so it is certainly not out of the question for him to entertain the possibility of entering the draft this season. With only average improvement from last season, Green should still be able to land in the first round, due to his passing ability and athletic prowess. However, if the Georgetown junior is able to solidify himself as a small forward prospect, we certainly have a mid first round player on our hands to say the least.

#5: Wilson Chandler
6-8, SF/PF, Sophomore, DePaul


Jonathan Givony

After the top four prospects in the Big East, there is somewhat of a drop-off in terms of finding proven commodities who are known on the national stage. The next batch of prospects could very well be headlined by a somewhat obscure player who has already garnered some accolades early in his career—being named a unanimous choice to the All Big East freshman team as well as being picked for the All Big East preseason first team as a sophomore for example. Wilson Chandler showed some nice upside in his first season of college basketball, but was a little too inconsistent to warrant going overboard with when trying to predict his future in the long-term.

We’re talking about a 6-7 or 6-8 forward with excellent tools to play the game. To start with, he’s extremely athletic, with a nice vertical leap, good quickness, and a strong first step. His frame is solid-- although it could certainly use some more bulk-- and his wingspan long enough to allow him to play bigger than his size. On top of that, Chandler is very smooth and seems to have a really nice feel for the game. In a nutshell, that’s where the majority of his intrigue stems from.

Offensively, Chandler shows a lot of promise in terms of making the transition to being a full-time wing. He is smart moving off the ball and really knows how to present himself around the basket for athletic finishes. His ball-handling needs work, but he showed plenty of potential in terms of creating his own shot and making his way to the hoop.

Although his shooting mechanics are not consistent at this point in his career, he has the touch to improve drastically in this area if he puts in the work. He does a little too much standing around at times waiting for things to come to him, but most of that has to do with DePaul’s unbearably slow offense, a direct derivative of his coach Jerry Wainwright’s background at Richmond and UNC Wilmington—two other programs with notoriously ugly styles of play. Wainwright’s insistence on playing at this slow pace was fairly surprising considering that he had the horses to get and up down the floor consistently last year if he pleased.

Defensively, Chandler is largely untested on the perimeter, as he was asked to play in the post for most of his freshman season. He has nice tools here, though, including good length, nice quickness and the intelligence to stay in front of his man, but his mentality was a bit hit or miss in terms of the effort he brought night in and night out. He was suspended for two games for what Wainwright described as “time management issues,” and was rumored to be unhappy with his role in DePaul’s offense. Whether this is something to be concerned about is anyone’s guess, as he is supposedly actually a great kid off the court. As a rebounder he showed plenty of potential, averaging 7.2 per game in 30 minutes, and also came up with his fair share of blocks despite giving up a few inches on most nights.

All in all, Chandler has plenty to build on after a very successful freshman season—averaging 13 points per game in the Big East slate--one that could have been even more successful had he been on the same page with his coach for the entire year. He’s by no means a sure-thing, but if he continues to improve the NBA certainly looks to be in his future down the road.

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