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

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC (Part Two: #6-10)
Sep 17, 2008, 11:13 pm
Continuing to analyze the top returning NCAA prospects in the SEC, we move to part two of this analysis, where we find Florida combo forward Chandler Parsons and Alabama wing Alonzo Gee, followed by three LSU players in Marcus Thornton, Chris Johnson and Tasmin Mitchell.

-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC: Part One
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 10: Part One, Part Two
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

#6 Chandler Parsons, 6’9, Sophomore, SF/PF, Florida

Kyle Nelson

On a Florida roster filled to the brim with young talent, such as Marreese Speights and Nick Calathes, sophomore combo-forward Chandler Parsons was often overlooked in his freshman season. In a reserve role, he quietly delivered solid numbers to the tune of 8.1 ppg (47.2% FG, 32.4% 3FG, 62.7% FT), 4.0 rpg, and 1.4 apg in 20.7 minutes per game. This coming season, with Marreese Speights lost to the NBA ranks, Parsons will be relied upon to take on a more significant role in Billy Donovan’s offense.

Standing 6’9 and allegedly weighing about 213 pounds after an aggressive strength-training regimen this summer, Parsons has spectacular size for the wing and should be better equipped to play in the post. Parsons is a good athlete, looking quite mobile and fluid in his movements for a player his size. His work ethic is well documented as well as and should allow him to continue to work on his physical profile throughout his time in Gainesville.

Offensively, Parsons is a prototypical collegiate combo-forward, most known at this point for his streaky perimeter shooting. According to Synergy Sports Technology’s Statistics Database, spot-up jumpshots consisted of 35.7% of his offense. His shooting motion looks fairly good at this stage with his feet set, but his stroke loses significant accuracy when rushed or forced to pull up off the dribble. Parsons needs to work quickening the speed of his release, as his somewhat deliberate mechanics often take too long to get off. Parsons has nice touch and solid range on his perimeter shot and looks to be able to develop into a very good shooter in the future should he continue to improve on his consistency.

Elsewhere on the offensive end, Parsons is not nearly as developed. His most glaring weakness at this stage is his ball-handling ability. He dribbles the ball far too high and visibly slows down with the ball in his hands. If he could improve in this area, his offensive game looks as though it would expand significantly. He has shown the ability to get to the basket off of the dribble utilizing his solid first step, quickness, and outstanding touch around the basket, as well as flashes of a mid-range game. That being said, Parsons shows neither skill with any sort of consistency and must show such improvements during this upcoming season if he wants scouts to consider him a potential small forward at the next level. 50% of his attempts from the field currently come from beyond the arc, which tells you a bit about his mentality and polish as a slasher.

Parsons spends most of his time away from the basket, but when he decides to play in the post, he is not incredibly effective. His added bulk should help, but Parsons does not have a very advanced post arsenal outside of using his size and quickness to get around defenders to the hoop. He shows outstanding touch around the basket and does a good job positioning himself for put-backs, but expanding his post-game is another area where Parsons must improve next year, especially considering the fact that he’s one of Florida’s top returning players with any significant size.

Defensively, Parsons isn’t yet anything to write home about, but he looks to have the potential to be a solid defender in the future. Utilizing his long arms and solid lateral quickness, Parsons has the ability to guard collegiate wings. In the awareness department, Parsons has a long way to go. He gives his man too much room on the perimeter and often gives up shots because of his inability to close his man out. In the post, Parsons lacked the strength to efficiently defend his man and it remains to be seen whether or not his off-season work will positively influence his post defense, specifically his lackluster rebounding numbers.

Parsons is nowhere near a finished product and would likely be best suited staying at Florida for two to three more seasons. Like most collegiate combo-forwards, there is certainly a wait-and-see aspect in terms of Parsons’s development. If he continues to progress, however, he could emerge as one of the more interesting prospects in the SEC and cement his place as a legitimate draft contender. That being said, considering how well Billy Donovan and his staff have developed players in the past, particularly between their freshman and sophomore seasons, don’t be surprised if you hear the name Chandler Parsons more often during this coming year.

#7 Alonzo Gee, 6’6, SG/SF, Senior, Alabama

Joseph Treutlein

Alonzo Gee has done a good job steadily improving his game in his three years at Alabama, and could place himself into draft discussions by continuing to do so as a senior. Gee upped his points and rebounds per game while dropping his turnovers as a junior, though the increased usage also hurt him on the efficiency end, as his FG% dropped to 42% and his 3PT% to 31%. Even worse, his overall TS% is just 50%, which is fifth worst among every senior in our entire database.

Looking at Gee’s game, as has been mentioned before, the first thing that stands out is his outstanding athleticism and build, as he’s very explosive and strong for a small forward, with a body more mature than his age. His skills still haven’t quite caught up to his physical gifts, but he’s been making progress, and he’s definitely not just an athlete.

On the offensive end, Gee’s at his best attacking the basket, using his explosive first step on straight-line drives and going up strong over the opposition. Despite not having great creativity at the rim, he makes up for it with excellent explosiveness and the ability to finish through contact or draw contact to get to the line. His dribble is still a work in progress, especially his left hand, and his dribble with either hand can look high and awkward at times, but he’s effective when he gets the right openings, quickly leaving defenders in his dust when he has a driving lane. While his crossover has developed well and doesn’t look bad, he doesn’t look very fluid when changing directions with the ball, even when just making subtle misdirection steps. Gee’s also developed a decent right-handed floater to use in the lane, and while it’s still a work in progress, it’s fairly effective already.

While Gee does a good job at the basket, converting for 1.25 points per possession on shots around the rim (data courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology), his PPP falls off to a very low 0.85 on all jump shots, which account for nearly half of his entire offense. This is one of the primary reasons his efficiency is so low at this point.

Gee doesn’t have a bad jump shot, and is actually pretty good when open, whether he’s spotting up or pulling up. In these situations, his shot is fairly consistent without many mechanical problems, the biggest minor issue being he doesn’t always fully extend his release. The problem comes when he’s guarded by defenders. Whether pulling up off the dribble or spotting up, in these situations, his shot runs into all kinds of problems. He often fades away with the ball, not getting his legs underneath him, the inconsistency of his extension becomes more severe, and he tends to rush his shooting motion in general. All of these issues contribute to his PPP on guarded jump shots being a very bad 0.56, compared to 1.16 when unguarded. The good news for Gee is that there probably won’t be many teams at the next level requiring him to take so many closely guarded jump shots, but the bad news is with Richard Hendrix gone, more of the offensive responsibility will likely fall his way, requiring him to create these shots at least as much as he did last season, if not more. If he can improve on this problem area, it would do great things for both his efficiency and his draft stock.

On the defensive end, Gee does a good job on man defense, playing aggressive and effective defense. His defensive stance is inconsistent, and arguably could even be called sloppy, as he goes in and out of fundamental stance randomly, but his foot speed is pretty good, and his length and athleticism allow him to often recover from behind when beat. He has a lot of bad habits that could become more severe problems at the next level, but he shows very good potential as an individual defender with his tools. Off the ball, he’s not quite as effective, losing focus and sagging off his man at times, while also not doing a great job fighting through screens, but once again, his athleticism and length allow him to make up for that when he rushes out to contest shots, which he does do consistently.

While Gee is still somewhat of a project player, as his skills, while developing, are largely unrefined, he’s made great strides in his time in college, and seems to be continuing to improve, with a few decent weapons already at his disposal. His potential would most likely be as a role playing defensive wing who can slash and spot up shoot, so working on those areas should be his biggest priority. Continuing to improve his ball-handling also wouldn’t hurt, but he’s still awhile away from the point where NBA teams would be asking him to use that skill consistently. Looking at the draft, he could certainly be in second round discussions, and is someone scouts will almost undoubtedly like to see in the pre-draft camps.

#8 Marcus Thornton, 6-4, Senior, Shooting Guard, LSU

Jonathan Givony

The second leading scorer in the SEC last season, and the top returning one now that Shan Foster has graduated, there is very little doubt that Marcus Thornton was able to make an immediate impact on the scoreboard for LSU right out of Kilgore Junior College. Slightly undersized at 6-4, with nice athleticism and a solid frame, Thornton clearly has the physical tools needed to make his presence felt in the SEC. Now going into his final season of collegiate eligibility, Thornton has a chance to improve his standing in the eyes of NBA types by delivering a more balanced offering individually, while also winning more games. The two are clearly correlated with each other.

There is a lot to like here in terms of pure natural ability. Averaging just a hair under 20 points per game last season, Thornton can obviously be described as a “scorer” first and foremost. Although he’s much more than just a spot-up shooter, it’s his shooting stroke that provides him with a large part of his production, as evidenced by the fact that 50% of his field goal attempts came from behind the arc.

When given a second to set his feet and get his shot off, there aren’t many players anywhere in the NCAA who are more effective than Thornton. He sets his feet and goes into his shooting motion very quickly, possessing a very fluid and natural stroke that yields great results as long as he isn’t forced to rush too much. Thornton can heat up very quickly and go off on ridiculous scoring barrages at times, as he showed in the SEC slate last season, where he eclipsed the 35 point mark on three separate occasions (going a combined 19 of 34 from behind the arc in the process).

When he is forced (or just decides) to rush, though, and especially shooting off the dribble, Thornton’s accuracy drops off dramatically, as he doesn’t get enough legs underneath his shot and typically comes up short or even doesn’t draw iron. Being such a natural scoring talent, capable of making shots with an incredibly high-degree of difficulty, he seems to want to try to convert these type of attempts every time down the floor seemingly, which lowers his percentages significantly. He ranked 13th amongst all players in our database at field goal attempts per-40 minutes pace adjusted, and 17th in field goal attempts per possession, despite not really showing the type of shooting efficiency needed to back up carrying such a large load offensively.

Thornton’s shot-selection appears to have a very long ways to go, as he takes a couple of terrible shots each game that you wouldn’t even expect to see in a junior college game. Off-balance, early in the shot clock, with a hand in his face and no one underneath the basket, it’s not hard to come to the conclusion at times that he’s playing for himself (and his stats) and no one else. There is simply no other explanation why he would take some of the shots he does.

This was a problem that plagued LSU’s entire team (a big reason they had such a bad season), but no one exemplified this problem more than him. With a new coaching staff in place coming in from a completely different type of culture than LSU has seen in recent years, it will be fascinating to see if they are able to change some of the bad habits players like Thornton have acquired. It must be said that despite his poor shot-selection, Thornton still managed to hit nearly three 3-pointers per game on a 38% clip, which is pretty impressive.

Looking beyond Thornton’s perimeter game, there seems to be room for improvement as well. Fairly quick, strong, and extremely high-energy (which all combined also makes him one of the best offensive rebounding shooting guards in the NCAA), Thornton is capable of getting to the rim and/or free throw line relatively well, and looks extremely tough finishing shots in traffic at times. He’s nothing more than an average ball-handler, though, which hurts him when trying to create his own shot and finish around the rim considering his already average size and leaping ability. By the time he gets into the paint, he often looks out of control already, which is part of the reason he averaged 50% more turnovers than assists. These are correctable flaws, though, largely a matter of polish and experience, things that Thornton is obviously lacking in currently, but can still improve on significantly.

Defensively, Thornton will make some plays from time to time (his length and strength help him in this area), but he can’t be described as being anything more than average. Besides lacking an inch or two compared to the prototypical NBA shooting guard, he also lacks intensity and awareness on this end too. This shows up most in his ability to defend the pick and roll, as he regularly gets buried behind screens and doesn’t put much of an effort into knowing where he is supposed to be on the floor. This again seemed to be a problem with LSU as a whole, so it will be interesting to see how things look this upcoming season under a new coaching regime. If Thornton can show that he can be relied upon to defend his position at the next level, his chances of making it will improve substantially, so this is something he must work seriously on over the next year.

All in all, Thornton is going to get extended looks this fall and spring from the NBA, as there just aren’t that many players in college basketball with his natural scoring ability, even if his flaws are quite obvious. There are a number of adjustments he needs to make to his game, mostly in terms of his mentality and overall approach, but also by rounding out his all-around skill-set. He has the potential to make an NBA team, or even get drafted possibly (if Joe Crawford can, then he surely can too), but a lot of that will come down to the type of season he has at LSU, and how he performs during the pre-draft process.

#9 Chris Johnson, 6-11, Senior, PF/C, LSU

Kyle Nelson

As you can read by following the link to his profile, we wrote extensively about LSU’s 6’11, 190 pound power forward Chris Johnson at the end of last season. He is an interesting prospect in the deep and talented SEC because of his size, athleticism, and versatility, but he is still very much a developing player who has yet to reach his full potential. Last year, the 23 year old senior had the opportunity to play more minutes than ever in his career and responded with career highs of 11.6 ppg (52.5% FG, 30.6% 3FG, 85.2% FT), 6.6 rpg, and 2.6 bpg. This season, however, more progress is expected from Johnson, and if he wants to remain wants to remain relevant in the mind of NBA scouts, it will be essential that he delivers.

First, Johnson will have to improve some of his glaring weaknesses. While there is likely little hope of correcting his extremely slight frame, Johnson must work to show that he can man the post at least part-time at the collegiate level. He has shown promise with his footwork and very nice quickness and leaping ability in the paint, but his lack of bulk makes it extremely difficult for him to post up and keep his position. Lacking the lateral quickness to play on the perimeter at the next level, it’s going to be essential for Johnson to show improvements dealing with contact on the interior.

Similarly, Johnson is going to have to continue to work on his raw perimeter skills. His jump-shot, one of the principal weapons in his offensive arsenal is extremely hit or miss at this point. First and foremost, it is necessary for him to develop a consistent shooting motion. Then, he should work to remove excess motion, specifically kicking his legs out and falling away from the basket from his shot. Thanks to his length and his extremely high release point, his jump-shot could be incredibly difficult to defend if he can improve.

Last season, Johnson showed tantalizing offensive potential on occasions, sometimes creating his own shot from mid-range or other times driving to the basket from the perimeter and in transition. Though these are by no means staples in his offensive repertoire, he should look to continue to expand his offense next season and prove to scouts that he is not just another spot-up-shooting big man.

Defensively, Johnson will have to prove that he has a position. He had trouble staying in front of perimeter players, and in the post he lacked the strength to be very effective against back-to-the-basket big men.

The odds are somewhat against Johnson, as at the end of the day he is a 6’11, 190 pound face-up power forward with a developing skill-set that oftentimes does not involve post play. If he can prove, however, that he is still improving and should he have a good senior season, then there is a chance that somebody will give him a serious look on draft night.

#10 Tasmin Mitchell, 6'7, Redshirt Junior, Small Forward, LSU

Rodger Bohn

Tasmin Mitchell looks to rebound this year after suffering a horrendous ankle injury as a sophomore just three games into his season. It appears as if he will be granted a medical redshirt, leaving him two years to show his stuff to NBA brass. The departure of Anthony Randolph to the NBA and de-commitment of current UCLA big man J'Mison Morgan has opened up plenty of opportunity for Mitchell to put points on the board this year for the Tigers.

Standing 6'7 and weighing a legit 235 pounds, Mitchell fits the ideal mold physically of a power wing. He is incredibly strong and uses his strength to his maximum advantage, making up for some of the deficiencies that he has. He is not blessed with an outstanding wingspan, nor is he overly athletic, but he uses his cerebral style of play and high basketball IQ to overcome his athletic shortcomings.

Mitchell appears to be an absolute coach's dream as far as intangibles are concerned. He is a vocal leader who plays every minute on the court as if it were his last, diving on the ball for loose balls and constantly hustling for rebounds out of his area. Blessed with a high basketball IQ, Tasmin seems to have a knowledge of the game that is uncommon amongst most players his age.

Offensively, Mitchell puts points on the board in a variety of ways. He shows a strong dribble drive when going towards his right, finishing well around the rim with either hand. The Louisiana native is also strong enough to post smaller defenders, and even shot the ball with 37.6 accuracy from beyond the arc. A strong mid-range jumper was also shown, giving him a nice arsenal of skills for a player looking to show scouts that he can transition from the power forward position. He also scores a nice amount of points through simply being at the right place at the right time, seemingly always flashing in the proper areas of the defense to free himself up for open looks.

Passing the ball is one area that Tasmin has shown nice promise, primarily due to his high basketball IQ. Not a guy who is going to completely collapse a defense, he does a good job of finding open shooters when he is cut off en route to the rim.

Ball-handling is an area of concern for Mitchell, especially going left. He drove left only 25.81% of the time as a sophomore, looking increasingly uncomfortable when doing so. Even when going right, the former McDonald's All-American shows off a high handle that can be quite erratic at times.

While Mitchell has improved mightily shooting the ball, he could still use some serious polish before he will be considered a threat from beyond the arc at the next level. His mechanics can be a bit wild at times and his shot is a bit slow, with most of his made three pointers being when he was left completely open. These are areas that can be fixed with proper skill training and development, but should be identified before he makes the jump to the NBA.

There is little not to like about Tasmin on the defensive end, though. He is strong enough to guard power forwards and quick enough to guard wings, making him incredibly versatile. Mitchell is able to corral a nice amount of steals without over gambling, and is also a strong rebounder for a small forward, bringing in about 6 rebounds per game.

This season will be crucial for Mitchell to prove that he is able to live up to the acclaim that he had as a prep star, ranked 10th in the class of 2005 according to the RSCI. A strong season will help put Mitchell back on the NBA radar, and it appears that he could very well be in line to do that under new LSU coach Trent Johnson, who will probably value his all-around skill-set dearly. First he needs to show that he is completely healthy, though

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