Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10, Part One (#1-5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10, Part One (#1-5)
Sep 20, 2010, 05:42 pm
Moving onto the Pac-10 conference, we take a look at UCLA's Tyler Honeycutt, Arizona's Derrick Williams, UCLA's Malcolm Lee, Washington State's Klay Thompson and Washington's Isaiah Thomas.

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

#1 Tyler Honeycutt, 6-8, Sophomore, Small Forward, UCLA
7.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 1.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 50% FG, 60% FT, 35% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Starting off his freshman campaign slowly due to a spinal stress fracture followed by a stress reaction in his right tibia, Tyler Honeycutt nevertheless managed to bounce back and string together a very interesting freshman season for an underachieving UCLA squad.

Showing excellent size for a small forward at 6-8, to go along with a nice wingspan and better athleticism than you might expect on first glance, Honeycutt is a very smooth, very versatile wing player with a big upside and an outstanding feel for the game.

Honeycutt does a little bit of everything offensively at the college level, even if he was clearly way too unselfish as a freshman last season. He averaged just 7.7 field goal attempts per-40 last year, sixth most total on the team, looking a little too willing to fit in at times.

While there is no way he should have been passing up shots to the type of talent UCLA sported on its roster last season, this does highlight possibly his greatest strength—his excellent passing ability—as he's a major asset for any team to have in their half-court offense. Honeycutt has excellent court vision and anticipation skills and regularly makes passes that hint at an extremely advanced basketball IQ. He does a great job facilitating his team's ball-movement and looks to have the potential to develop into a point forward type down the road—the type of player a coach can run his team's offense through.

Honeycutt also has a very nice stroke from the perimeter, even if he was at times hesitant to show that last year and was inconsistent with his shooting when he did. He made just 13/46 of his jumpers (10/29 3P, 60% FT) according to the data at our disposal, but should be able to improve on that significantly based on his excellent mechanics and the soft touch he displays.

As a ball-handler is where Honeycutt might need the most work, as he's just an average shot-creator at the moment. His ball-handling skills need plenty of work, particularly in terms of his ability to change directions with the ball and operate in pick and roll and isolation type situations. He was the fifth most turnover prone player in our database last season on a per-possession basis, coughing the ball up on an extremely high 31% of his possessions. His terrific court vision sometimes leads him to try and force the issue threading the needle with some very tough passes, but as he matures and gains experience, he should be able to improve his decision making skills significantly.

Adding strength to his lanky frame should open up plenty of things in Honeycutt's game, as he's clearly yet to reach his full athletic potential. Somewhat of a late bloomer in high school, Honeycutt's frame will be able to put on more weight down the road. He has a great feel for scoring around the basket, but is hampered significantly by his lack of strength at the moment.

Defensively, Honeycutt has outstanding potential with his terrific size, length, smarts and anticipation skills, and he's already one of the more productive players in the NCAA on this end in terms of the amount of rebounds (9.6), steals (2.2) and blocks (1.8) he puts up on a per-40 minute basis. Honeycutt moves his feet well on the perimeter and does a very good job of using his length to contest shots, but he can definitely get taken advantage of at times from a physical standpoint by older and stronger players. He struggles fighting through screens and seems to have mental lapses at times on this end of the floor like all young players do, but based on what we've seen and the fact that he's playing under Ben Howland, he should be just fine in this area down the road.

The fact that Honeycutt is already such a good rebounder despite lacking a significant amount of strength and spending heavy minutes at the small forward (as well as the power forward) position is a great sign. He has an excellent feel for tracking down loose balls and doesn't seem to lack much in the ways of toughness or hustle the way some other skinny players do.

Based on what we saw at the adidas Nations Experience in Chicago in August, Honeycutt could be on his way to a breakout season on the national level, something UCLA sorely needs. With a bigger role in Ben Howland's offense and more aggressiveness than he showed last year, Honeycutt will emerge as a coveted NBA prospect and could be ready to make the jump to the League already next spring. His ability to fit into any type of half-court motion offense will make him very interesting for slower paced teams in particular.

#2 Derrick Williams, 6'8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Arizona
15.7 Points, 7.1 Rebounds, 0.7 Assists, 1.9 Turnovers, 57% FG, 68% FT

Matthew Williams

Last time we checked in on Derrick Williams, he was in the midst of an impressive rookie campaign that garnered him 2010 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors. Though his team finished with a disappointing 16-15 record, Williams solidified himself as one of the top power forwards on the West coast and a potential conference player of the year candidate heading into this season. As productive as Williams was as a freshman, he still has quite a bit more to prove, as he has some clear limitations as a NBA prospect.

When we checked in on Williams last December, we observed that while he has some physical tools that match up extremely well with his savvy interior play offensively, he's lacking in other areas. Williams shows good body control when finishing, uses his physical strength to get to the line at a simply phenomenal rate, and benefits from a long wingspan defensively, but could still stand to continue to maximize his frame and improve his lower body strength. The California native has good athleticism for a NBA power forward, even if he could stand to expand his offensive repertoire to mask his shortcomings on the next level.

Last season, Williams did the vast majority of his damage inside the key, with some two-thirds of his touches on the offensive end coming from cuts, post-ups, and offensive rebounds. Showing a great activity level, Williams does an excellent job working off his teammates, spacing the floor, showing impeccable timing flashing to the open area, and generally finding himself in the right place at the right time on more than a few occasions each game. Once Williams receives the ball, he immediately looks to attack his man with an aggressive dribble or pivot to position himself to score.

Arguably Williams' best asset on the offensive end at the college level is his ability to get to the foul line. He does a tremendous job seeking out and playing through contact, ranking amongst the top-5 players in our database in free throw attempts per-40 minutes pace adjusted. Though he's prone to getting his shot blocked on occasion, Williams does the little things to compensate for his lack of great leaping ability at the rim, shielding the ball with his body, scoring with either hand, playing the angles, and using the rim to screen potential blockers out of the play.

In terms of his ability to create his own shot and score in one-on-one situations, Williams flashes some advanced moves in the post, can create separation with his spin move attacking the left block off the dribble, and is able to be fairly effective with his back to the basket by virtue of his physicality and touch alone, but still has some room to grow. He does a solid job gaining position, but tends to set up a bit too far away from the rim on occasion, minimizing his excellent finishing ability and forcing himself to get creative to score.

Williams isn't a great ball handler on the move, but he puts the ball on the floor almost every time he touches the ball in a post-up situation. He's good at using his body to shield the ball from his defender, will surprise with his first step, can beat most centers and power forwards off the dribble at the college level, and doesn't turn it over at a high rate, but needs to continue polishing his footwork to become a more versatile post scorer in the traditional sense. Improving his court vision and becoming a better overall passer would also benefit him.

His ability to become more versatile on the whole boils down to his how consistent he can become as a shooter. Shooting 59.4% from inside the arc and a respectable 42% from the post, Williams proves to be very good at what he does offensively, ranking prominently in our database in true shooting percentage. An area of interest for NBA scouts this season will be the progress of his jump shot. Capable of knocking down shots from the midrange with time and space off the catch, Williams has a long release that isn't always terribly smooth and isn't an asset to him when he is defended. If Williams can improve his jumper, it would open up his game tremendously. He'd be able to convert more of the impressive number of free throws he produces each game, allow him to be a bigger threat when facing up, and afford him a much smoother transition to the NBA, where his strengths around the basket won't be as pronounced.

On the defensive end, Williams spends most of his time defending the post and sitting on the block when Arizona decides to drop into a zone. While he isn't a dynamic shot blocker and doesn't possess excellent defensive tools, Williams is able to find success thanks to his blend of toughness and fundamentals. Frequently defending the opposing team's center, Williams goes straight up almost every time his man puts up a shot in the post, and does a terrific job reacting to his man's moves in the post to not give up easy looks. His ability to stay in front of his man helps him on the glass, where his knack for not giving his man any angles compensates for the fact that he does have a great second bounce –something that limits him on the offensive glass.

Away from the rim, Williams does a good job pressuring bigger players and denying penetration, even if he falls victim to much quicker power forwards on occasion. Showing active hands, pursuing the ball off the rim, and rotating crisply to help his teammates, Williams is an excellent team defender on the college level, even if his lack of ideal size renders him just an average rebounder at this stage.

Though he was only a freshman last season, Williams showed a toughness and savvy to his game that one would expect from a much more seasoned player. He has a solid basketball IQ, and while he doesn't show a ton of emotion on the floor, proves to be a hard worker on both ends of the court. Though Williams spent quite a bit of time on the interior last season, his touch and innate ability to score in traffic make him a player to watch this season. Despite being a bit undersized, Williams is a premier college player with promises of an NBA future that could grow even brighter if he becomes a reliable midrange threat.

#3 Malcolm Lee, 6-4, Junior, PG/SG, UCLA
12.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 1.1 steals, 43% FG, 71% FT, 25% 3P

Having profiled Lee 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.

#4 Klay Thompson, 6-6, Junior, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Washington State
19.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 3.4 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 41.2% FG, 36.4% 3FG, 80.1% FT

Kyle Nelson

Klay Thompson was one of the best scorers in the country last season and was named First Team All-PAC-10 after a productive sophomore campaign. Few players, however, demonstrated such extreme highs and lows. For example, despite averaging 25 points per game during November and December, Thompson faltered in February, where he shot just 32% from the field on his way to a paltry 13.7 points per game. As Thompson enters his junior year, scouts will be watching to see if he can shoot the ball more efficiently this season and to gauge whether or not he can successfully transition into a role player at the next level.

The numbers confirm Thompson's increased role in Washington State's offense, where he found almost 45% of his offensive possessions spotting up or in isolation sets. He ranked 18th of all prospects in our database in possessions and field goal attempts per game. He increased his productivity accordingly, scoring 22 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted.

Though his shooting numbers were only slightly better and his shooting efficiency was still far below average, Thompson honed his scoring instinct last season, looking more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and excelling in catch-and shoot opportunities. Thompson displays a smooth shooting motion with a very high release point and quick release, which, at 6'6, is an asset at this level. He can make shots off of the dribble and with his feet set and proved himself to be an extremely streaky shooter. He also does an excellent job moving without the ball and utilizes screens extremely well at this level.

Curiously, however, Thompson shot a better percentage when guarded than he did on open jumpers. While he can make difficult and contested shots, he misses far too many wide open shots with his feet set, especially given his reputation as a shooter. Thompson's mechanics break down considerably when he is out of rhythm, which is exacerbated by shooting too early in the shot clock or taking a shot outside of his range.

While Thompson proved that he was one of the best catch-and-shoot players in college basketball—from a volume perspective at least--he must work on consistency and efficiency next season and avoid the long shooting droughts that plagued his play during his sophomore campaign. After all, NBA offenses will probably not feature him like Washington State's and there will not be many plays run for him at the next level.

Though Thompson's catch-and-shoot abilities should translate smoothly to the next level, he looked less refined as a shot creator and raised quite a few questions marks with his performance. His mid-range game was much improved and he was successfully pulling up inside of the arc after taking a dribble or two. As a slasher, however, his potential looks very limited. While his ball handling improved last year with his expanded role in the offensive, Thompson is still just an average slasher with a high dribble and continues to favor his left hand. His marginal first step and lanky frame do him no favors as a slasher, either, and his lack of explosiveness makes him an ineffective finisher around the basket.

He also turned the ball over at a very high rate last season, as he was prone to tunnel vision on his way to the basket, only looking to kick the ball out when it was too late. He forced the action too often and did not respond well to increased defensive pressure, especially against teams with solid perimeter defenders like Washington and UCLA. Next season, scouts will be watching to see if he can become a more efficient player within the framework of Washington State's offense.

While Thompson shows potential to contribute on the offensive end at the next level, his defensive ability leaves much to be desired, both in terms of fundamentals and athleticism. He is neither a particularly explosive nor fluid athlete and his below average lateral quickness severely limits him on defense. He can use his length to disrupt shooters on the perimeter, but he was often slow closing out his man. Ultimately, though he showed an increased willingness to defend, he must continue to stay focused and interested on this end of the floor he otherwise he'll almost surely struggle at the next level against more athletic offensive players.

Though his below average defense and athleticism present more than a few questions about his potential at the next level, Klay Thompson his size and scoring instinct work in his favor and make him a legitimate prospect. He can and should get better next season, especially if his comfort level increases and he continues to improve his skill set. Though it would be nice to see Thompson continue to diversify his offensive game, it is essential that he consistently hit shots with his feet set and work hard on the defensive end. Efficiency is the key, however, as Thompson must convince scouts that he can play a role as a spot-shooter in the NBA while carrying the offensive load for a young, upstart Washington State team.

#5 Isaiah Thomas, 5-8, PG/SG, Junior, Washington
16.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 1.1 steals, 42% FG, 73% FT, 33% 3P

Having profiled Thomas 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.

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