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

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East (Part Two: #6-10)
Oct 27, 2008, 02:35 am
#6 DeJuan Blair, Power Forward, 6’7, Sophomore, Pittsburgh

Joseph Treutlein

Dejuan Blair doesn’t look like your typical NBA prospect, but he had quite the freshman season for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Standing 6’7 with an excellent 7’3 wingspan, Blair is undersized for an NBA power forward, and really didn’t show the athleticism to compensate for it last year. However, Blair played at 265 pounds with a physique that looked like it was carrying quite a lot of baby fat, so he’s clearly nowhere near his physical potential yet. According to newspaper reports, Blair says he’s lost about 10 pounds this offseason while hitting the weights hard, coming back with a more chiseled physique. How his body reacts to the difference will be critical in assessing his long-term potential.

Looking at Blair’s game, it’s hard not to start with his excellent prowess on the glass, as he ranked 5th in our entire database in rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted, and 2nd in offensive rebounds by the same criteria. Blair does a very good job using his weight to get inside position, and shows great hands to go along with good timing and a relentless motor, which is evident in all areas of his game. Blair gets most of his shots off putbacks, by making cuts to the basket, or sealing off his man in the post, though he’s very much an under-the-rim player, something he can hopefully improve upon with his improved physique. While Blair is pretty good at converting inside, there were many instances last season where having a little more explosion around the hoop could’ve scored him an extra basket, as he’s prone to having his shot blocked or miss badly on his under-the-rim lay-up opportunities.

In the post, Blair also establishes excellent inside position, having his way with the lighter opponents he faces on a nightly basis. While he doesn’t have the most advanced arsenal of moves just yet, he has a nice groundwork to build on, going to hook shots, turnaround jumpers, and drops steps regularly. His footwork isn’t bad, but he lacks range on a lot of his moves and also isn’t very quick getting them off, both of which could improve by getting in better shape. Blair also rarely will use his left hand or turn right shoulder, leading to a lot of awkward situations in the post. Also, his lack of explosiveness tends to hurt him in this segment of his game as well, as there are many times where he could do much better if he was able to just power over his man to the hoop.

Blair’s jump shot wasn’t a consistent staple of his game last season, and it has a ways to go before it will be considered one. While his form isn’t terrible, he seems to have little feel for shooting the ball, not showing much touch at all, often overpowering shots badly. His free-throw percentage was also an unimpressive 62.4%, though Blair claims to have worked hard on his jump shot this offseason, something that is refreshing to hear, seeing how he’ll likely need to develop his mid-range shot to have a fighting chance in the NBA.

On the defensive end, Blair is somewhat of a liability on the perimeter and on pick-and-rolls, but he tries to make up for it by playing with non-stop effort and decent fundamentals. In the post, while he holds his position well and plays smart, energetic defense, he’s prone to being shot over due to his lack of size, and his lateral quickness can be exploited here as well against quicker opponents. Again, it’ll be interesting to see how his improved physique affects this area of his game.

This will be an important season for Blair if he improved his body as much as has been suggested, mainly because it should give evaluators a much better feel for what his potential is physically. If he can show improvements with his quickness, explosion, and conditioning, it would go a long ways for improving his chances to play in the NBA. Still, at 6’7 without much semblance of a jumper, it’s going to be something of an uphill battle for Blair, even though he’s clearly on the path to being an outstanding college player.

#7 A.J. Price, 6-2, Senior, Point Guard, Connecticut

Joey Whelan

After putting together a season in which he was a unanimous selection for the All-Big East First Team, but saw his junior campaign come to a tragic end after tearing his ACL in the first round of the NCAA tournament, A.J. Price is back for his senior year. The heady floor general will be the key component for the Huskies as they look to stay near the top of what will be a loaded Big East conference this season. How well he managed to recover from that serious injury will play a huge role in seriously UConn can contend for a national championship, and will play a big role in where he ends up getting drafted as well. Between the laptop theft incident and a brain hemorrhage, there has never been a dull moment in Price’s career thus far.

Showing average size and strength, but good speed and agility for the point position, Price is equally quick in the open floor and off the dribble, with tremendous ability to change speeds. His aggressiveness attacking the lane makes him a real asset on the floor, although at this point he still relies primarily on his first step to get past defenders. Price has very good ball-handling skills, but doesn’t always use his dribble drive moves to get himself free, instead he simply tries to beat opponents with his physical ability.

Price is at his most effective from the mid-range, relying on screens from teammates to set himself up. Often he dribbles back from the screen to free himself up for a shot, but when he does opt to attack the lane, he shows nice ability with a runner he can get over much taller defenders. When he chooses to go all the way to the rim, Price proves to be a mixed bag. He doesn’t elevate particularly well, nor does he have adequate upper body strength to handle contact. He does however show solid body control and the touch to put in some difficult shots from tough angles. While it is certainly a plus that he can hit these tricky looks in the lane, he needs to learn to sometimes look for a better option.

Nearly 40% of Price’s shots last season came from beyond the arc. While he hits a respectable 36.9% from this spot on the floor, he clearly becomes a less effective scorer this far from the basket. While his form isn’t picture perfect to begin with, often possessing an inconsistent release point, it becomes even more profound when he is forced further out. Price’s left elbow will fly out to the side quite a bit, putting odd rotation on his shot, he also seems to wind up more from deep, as if he needs the extra oomph to get the range on his shot. He is a streaky perimeter shooter, capable of big nights (5-8 vs. West Virginia) or shooting his team out of a game (2-8 vs. Georgetown); for him the biggest key is better shot selection.

The real appeal to Price’s game is his ability to run a team while still looking for his own shot. His 7 assists per 40 minutes last season is third amongst all returning point guards in our database, and his pure point guard rating is second. He primarily gets a lot of his assists by threading the needle to teammates from the perimeter, which, while impressive, also results in the majority of his turnovers. Improving his ability to drive and dish to teammates, would make Price a much more versatile and dangerous playmaker.

Defensively, Price has a long way to go. From what we’ve seen, he doesn’t seem to put much effort in on this end of the floor. Price struggles to fight through screens and doesn’t do a great job of closing out on shooters. While he has a pretty good first step on the offensive end, his lateral quickness is suspect and leaves him susceptible to getting beaten off the dribble often.

There is plenty of reason to think that Price will make a solid point guard at the next level, at least as a backup. He has good point guard instincts, solid ball-handling skills, a great pull-up jumper, and a certain toughness scouts look for in floor leaders. Price is a shoot first point guard, that isn’t in question, but he needs to become a more consistent scorer like he was during Connecticut’s 10-game winning streak in the Big East last season. Improving his effort on defense and the consistency of his perimeter stroke will go a long way to helping his stock, but it is very likely that Price will land somewhere as a backup next season.

#8 Dar Tucker, 6'4, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Sophomore, DePaul

Rodger Bohn

Tucker quietly established himself as one of the top freshman in the Big East last season in terms of production, while also showing quite a bit of long term potential. The graduation of scoring guard Draelon Burns will certainly open of more opportunities for Tucker (and fellow sophomore Mac Koshwal for that matter) to increase their scoring outputs by a decent amount.

Tucker surely does not possess ideal size for his position standing only 6'4, though he compensates for it as well as he can through his outstanding athleticism and explosiveness. His ability to get off the ground allows him to consistently get his shot off against taller defenders, and likewise on the defensive end, his strength enables him to not be vulnerable to being posted up.

The biggest asset that Tucker brings to the table besides his athleticism is his ability to put points on the board in a hurry. Averaging 13.9 points per game in only 23.6 minutes of playing time, he ranked 4th amongst all returning sophomores in points per 40 minutes. The self confidence in his ability to score can also hurt him at times, though, through poor shot selection and over-reliance on his three point shot (over 45% of his field goal attempts came from beyond the arc).

Regardless of his quick trigger, Dar is a player who can keep defenders honest by scoring in a number of ways. Taking the ball to the rack is the strong point of his offensive repertoire, where he has proven capable of finishing with either hand in traffic around the rim and adjusting his body in mid-air around defenders. Not an outstanding ball-handler, the Michigan native relies upon his explosive first step to get by the opposition off of the dribble. He favors going right quite a bit, driving that way 85% of the time when attacking the rim. Also, he appears to be a quite poor passer when it comes time to finding open teammates.

Though Tucker’s shooting percentages may not reflect it, he is a good enough shooter to consistently keep defenders honest. Getting the ball off quickly and with a nice release point, he showed some serious flashes of perimeter shooting potential down the road. Capable of shooting on the move going both ways, he is just not a standstill shooter like many young players. Tucker has also shown the ability to shoot the ball from mid-range off of the dribble.

There is plenty of room for improvement for Tucker on the defensive end. He has the length, lateral quickness, and desire to be a very good defender down the road. However, he just isn’t there yet right now. Tending to raise out of his stance too easily, he leaves himself open to be penetrated upon against less athletic players. Also, he struggles quite a bit guarding players who utilize many screens. It is clear that there is potential for him on this end of the hardwood, but he needs to solidify his fundamentals before that can happen.

There will be plenty of opportunity for Tucker to have an impressive year on an inexperienced Blue Demon team. Certainly a player that NBA scouts will be paying close attention to, he’ll probably need to spend a couple more years in the NCAA before bolting to the NBA. A strong season statistically in the Big East might open some eyes, but winning more games would do him even better most likely.

#9 DaJuan Summers, 6-8, Junior, SF/PF, Georgetown

Scott Nadler

DaJuan Summers enters the 2008/09 season after a disappointing sophomore year where he showed little to no improvement. After the departure of Jeff Green to the NBA, expectations were high for him to elevate his game and become a legitimate NBA prospect. This did not happen, as Summers was unable to show the versatility needed to develop into a top scoring option on a very good Georgetown team. This year, those same expectations are present, and scouts and front office executives will be looking to see if Summers can break out of his shell and develop into the type of player many thought he would become after the intriguing glimpses of potential he showed as a freshman.

In terms of physical attributes, Summers looks the role of an NBA small forward, showing good size at 6-8 and 241 pounds. He will need to expand his offensive game if he wants to be an NBA 3-man, the position he will most likely be asked to play at the next level. As of right now he plays power forward for the Hoyas and it’s going to be interesting to see if he can make the transition.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the lack of improvement for Summers, but one reason may be his decision making, and lack of versatility. He turned the ball over at a very high rate considering how little he put the ball on the floor, and shot far too many 3-pointers considering the type of accuracy he enjoyed. Over half of his attempts from the field came from beyond the arc, but he hit only 34% of them, which is not a very impressive clip.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have potential in this area as a floor spacer. Summers has an effortless stroke with very little wasted motion. His quick release allows him to get his shot off despite little elevation. Although his shot is a great asset, it may also contribute to his lack of development. According to Synergy Sports Technology, 43.35% of his offense consists of spot-up jump shots. Clearly, Summers relies way too much on his outside shot and settles for contested looks when he should be attempting to create more high-percentage looks.

With a good stroke and a willingness to let it fly, defenders are likely to bite on pump fakes which will open up driving lanes. Within the offense there are opportunities to penetrate and finish or drive and kick. It’s going to be interesting to see if Summers can take advantage of that or if Coach Thompson will have to put a few wrinkles in the system to accommodate his talents.

In accordance with that, Summers will need to show that he has improved his ball handling skills and is willing to attack the basket. Right now he is only attempting three free throws a game, which shows his reluctance to dribble drive. He has displayed flashes of what he can do, but not nearly enough to impress scouts. What is impressive is his length on the court and his overall skill-level. He is also a good (not great) athlete who can finish in transition and runs the floor well. With all of these factors, there’s no reason for Summers to rely solely on his outside shooting.

Defensively, Summers has all of the tools to be outstanding with good size, strength and athletic ability. With limited lateral speed however, Summers has a hard time keeping his man in front of him. He’s often late to close out, or simply can’t contain slashing forwards who like to attack. On the positive side, Summers does a great job contesting shots. With his long wingspan, he’s good at getting a hand up on shooters and disrupting shots.

This is a very important year for Summers, as his development appeared to stunt compared to what was expected from him. Perhaps with the absence of Roy Hibbert clogging up the middle, Summers will feel more comfortable stepping up and showing more versatility.

#10 Dominic James, 6-0, Senior, Point Guard, Marquette

Jonathan Givony

As a no-name freshman stepping right into the spotlight three years ago, Dominic James blew away most observers with a terrific debut season on his way to winning Big East Rookie of the year honors. He looked well on his way to stardom, only in need of some minor adjustments that old-fashioned experience would surely take care of en-route to a first round selection in the NBA draft.

Fast-forward three years, and James is still at Marquette, after seeing his numbers regress noticeably in nearly every major category from season to season, and his team unable to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. He burned himself pretty badly with a terrible showing at the NBA pre-draft camp in 2007, and has been left for dead by most scouts who have moved onto younger and more intriguing prospects.

Still, with the wisdom that hopefully comes with age, going into his very important senior season, there is time to turn things around.

James is still the same freakishly explosive athlete he always was, capable of blowing by opponents with a terrific first step or elevating around the rim with ease for a rim-rocking dunk. The back-door alleyoop lob is still a fixture in Marquette’s set-offense with him as the main target—highlighting just how impressive an athlete he truly is at his diminutive size of 5-11 and ¾ in shoes. He gets to the free throw line at a solid rate for that reason, but only converts around 65% of his attempts once there.

The book on James’ slashing ability is pretty clear: when he drives right he’s going all the way to the rim, and when he drives left he’s almost always pulling up. Shifty in the open floor and herky-jerky with his movements, James can create his own shot with the best of them, often needing nothing except his pure first step. His strength and explosiveness come in very handy around the basket, but his lack of size and length often hinders him from finishing some of the out of control drives he’s become known for. He does a nice job running the pick and roll (40% of his offense comes this way actually) and has the vision to find open teammates off the dribble cutting to the rim or spotting up from outside.

James’ assist numbers (he ranks 25th amongst all players in our database in assists per-40 pace adjusted) and assist to turnover ratio (ranks 17th aren’t bad, but we haven’t seen any real progression from him over the last few years in terms of decision making and shot-selection. He still plays that same frenetic, unpredictable style of offense that would drive most coaches up the wall—dribbling with his head down into brick walls frequently, and pulling up off the dribble for some absolutely awful shots. Many of the mistakes we saw him make as a freshman are still very much a part of his game, making you wonder if his feel for the game will ever improve enough to give an NBA coach the faith to let him run their team.

The biggest problem James faces is that he’s just not a good shooter by any stretch of the imagination. Regardless, he shoots the ball an awful lot from the perimeter, which ranks him dead last in True Shooting Percentage amongst all players currently in our 2009 mock draft, and 15th worst amongst all players in our database. The form on James’ stroke looks pretty decent actually, but he elevates so high that he is never able to get a consistent release point on his shot, and he seems to suffer from pretty poor touch as well, as evidenced by the 66% he shot from the free throw line last season.

Defensively, James will likely always be deemed limited to a certain extent (at least as far as NBA decision makers are concerned) due to his poor size at just a hair under 6-feet and average 6-2 wingspan, but he surely makes up for that with his terrific effort. He is tough, pesky, and very willing to get down in a low stance and get right in his man’s grill to help come up with a stop. He gets in the passing lanes at a nice rate in turn, and will even come up with a blocked shot from time to time, showing great lateral quickness and that same pogo-stick bounce that makes him such a highlight reel caliber player on the other end of the floor.

Scouts will have to continue to monitor the progress of Dominic James this season, as despite being unable to live up to expectations thus far, he is still a tremendously talented player with extremely rare physical tools. It will be interesting to see what kind of season he has, as it probably won’t take all that much for people to jump back on his bandwagon.

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