Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Three (#11-15)

Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Three (#11-15)
Sep 03, 2009, 01:01 pm
To get a jump on the rapidly approaching NCAA season, we continue to break down the top individual NBA prospects in college basketball, going conference by conference. Part three of the Big Ten is led by Penn State's Talor Battle, followed by Michigan State's Delvon Roe, Michigan's DeShawn Sims, and a pair of Minnesota players in Damian Johnson and Al Nolen.

Freshman 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 NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part One (#1-5)
Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Two (#6-10)

#1 Evan Turner
#2 William Buford
#3 JaJuan Johnson
#4 Kalin Lucas
#5 Manny Harris
#6 Mike Davis
#7 Durrell Summers
#8 Dallas Lauderdale
#9 Demetri McCamey
#10 Robbie Hummel

#11 Talor Battle, 5'11, Junior, Point Guard, Penn State
16.7 points, 5.0 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 2.4 turnovers, 40% FG, 70% FT, 34% 3FG

Joseph Treutlein

One of the more improved players in the country last year, Talor Battle capped off his impressive sophomore season by leading the Nittany Lions to an NIT Tournament Championship. This season, Battle will look to improve on his NBA draft prospects, and might start to generate some buzz if he can make similar strides with his game this season as he did last season.

While he isn't quite your prototypical pass-first point guard, Battle does a solid job distributing the ball, rarely over-dribbling, and finding a variety of ways to get it to his teammates. Many of his assists come off simply finding open shooters on the perimeter through good ball movement, but he also is good with drive-and-kicks, recognizing when defenses send early help on his drives and quickly dishing it back out to the perimeter. He doesn't create as many shots for his teammates once he gets in the lane, however, usually opting for his own shot and not showing the same vision and decision-making as he has in space.

On the pick-and-roll, Battle makes good reads and is patient in letting plays develop, but he struggles at times when teams trap him hard, as his size doesn't always allow him to see over or pass out of them. His passing is generally good out of pick-and-rolls, but he doesn't always do a good job creating scoring opportunities for himself, struggling to consistently hit pull-up jumpers coming off the screens.

As a shooter, Battle has great natural ability, showing NBA range and being able to hit a lot of tough shots, including a few game-winners and overtime-forcing shots last season, but he shows problems with his consistency, which is why his shooting percentages aren't that good. In terms of mechanics, Battle has a high and quick release and a very good base when he's spotting up in space, but things tend to break down when he's on the move and/or contested, leading to some bad misses and him not shooting up to his potential. Squaring his upper body to the basket, keeping his legs underneath him, staying on balance, and not letting his arm drift to the right are all things he could work on that would lead to him becoming a more consistent and efficient shooter.

In terms of attacking the basket, despite being undersized without much vertical explosiveness, Battle does a pretty good job finishing, due primarily to his creativity in the lane and his impressive array of floaters. He does struggle when the lane gets crowded, however, not having the size or separation to get off good shots when multiple defenders are contesting him.

With good but not great quickness for his size, Battle does a pretty good job getting past his man in isolation, making good use of changes of speed and direction along with a solid repertoire of advanced moves. He goes left just as frequently as he goes right, though he's much stronger to the right, showing a more aggressive and surer dribble. Again, though, Battle does a much better job in space than crowds, not having the elite athleticism to split double teams and weave through defenses with the ball.

Defensively, Battle shows a pretty good effort level, not letting up on his man and doing his best to contest shots, but his lateral quickness isn't great and his reflexes leave a bit to be desired, leading to him being beat a good amount on the perimeter. His lack of size and strength don't help things either, and it will only become more of a glaring issue at the next level, so Battle certainly has some work to do in this area.

Looking to the next level, Battle is at a disadvantage due to his height, and his lack of strength and elite athletic abilities don't help matters either. In addition, while he does have a well-rounded game and has shown nice signs of improvement in college, he doesn't have one outstanding ability that allows him to stand out, though his shooting could become that with more work. Becoming more consistent with his outside shot and working on his strength and explosiveness should both be priorities for Battle, but he'd likely need to make significant strides with his game to make a compelling argument for entering the draft this season.

#12 Delvon Roe, 6-8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Michigan State
19.7 minutes, 5.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 56.6% FG, 45.5% FT

Joey Whelan

On a team that played in the national championship game just a few months ago, featured several stars, and had a player selected in the most recent NBA draft, it would seem a difficult task for a freshman to make a real impression averaging barely over five points per game. That's exactly what Delvon Roe managed to do despite seeing just over 17 minutes of playing time per game in his first season in Lansing and the former top-10 recruit now finds himself showing up on the radars of pro scouts as he prepares for his second campaign in the Big Ten.

There were some concerns about Roe physically entering the season as he underwent micro fracture surgery on his knee during his senior season of high school, and while it took him a little time to work his way back to being at his peak, by the end of the year he looked to be back towards his peak performance level. The sophomore certainly looks good physically for a power forward at the collegiate level, standing 6-8 with a wiry but strong 220-pound frame and a wingspan that reportedly measures seven feet. The youngster runs the floor very well, has good quickness and shows off good leaping ability. The one noticable effect of the surgery Roe underwent two years ago is that he isn't an overly explosive jumper from a standstill like he used to be back in high school. He can still elevate well, but most of the time he needs a little bit of a start before he can get going.

As one would expect from a young big man, the overwhelming majority of Roe's touches last season came in the immediate vicinity of the basket, with post ups, offensive rebounds, and cuts to the rim accounting for nearly two-thirds of his shot attempts according to Synergy Sports Technology. He holds his position very well on the block thanks to his broad shoulders and upper body strength, having little trouble establish himself inside on this level. Once he has the ball, Roe typically sticks to basic back to the basket moves, alternating between a strong drop step and a baby hook shot in the middle of the lane. From time to time he will use an up and under as well, but even with his post game still developing, the potential is definitely there as he displays excellent footwork. What he needs to focus on next is developing a little more touch on his shots around the cylinder, as his consistency wavers when he's well defended our doesn't have a great angle. There's no denying that the gritty power forward is more than capable of finishing with contact from defenders and he has the athleticism to contort his body for the occasional acrobatic finish.

The rest of Roe's offense at this point is built around his tremendous hustle and the mismatches he gets as a result of his athleticism. The Ohio native ranked third in offensive rebounds per 40 minutes amongst all freshmen in our database thanks in large part to his tremendous effort. As previously mentioned, Roe doesn't explode off the floor from a standstill, but he does such a great job of positioning himself and more often than not just outworks other players to haul in rebounds at a very high rate. He gets a fair number of baskets as well by simply running the floor well in transition, often beating opposing frontcourt defenders down the court for open or lightly contested looks.

Roe didn't get very many touches in situations where he was facing up away from the basket, but there are certainly signs that he could start to work himself away from the paint as he continues to develop. The sophomore handles the ball pretty well in transition and can attack the rim in a straight line at this point, able to beat slower big men off the dribble. His range is limited to the foul line extended primarily, and his form needs quite a bit of work. Again, there wasn't a large sampling of jump shots to look at, but his 45.5 percent shooting from the charity stripe is a strong indication that Roe is a ways off from being considered a perimeter threat as a shooter.

Defensively there is a lot to like about Roe as he carries the same toughness over from the offensive side. He plays tough in the post despite often giving up several inches and quite a bit more weight to other big men. The shots that he blocks at this point are a testament to his timing and his smarts, as he doesn't leave his feet early very often. It's encouraging to see that he can already guard the pick and roll fairly well and he certainly shows enough lateral quickness to cover smaller, quicker players right now. Roe still has some things to learn defensively as he will get caught in the wrong spot from time to time and he often gets fooled on simple ball fakes when on the perimeter.

Overall, Roe is a player who is more than likely going to spend at least a couple of more seasons at the college level, something that will give him time to further develop his game. With the departure of Goran Sutton, he will almost certainly be more of a feature in the Spartan's offense; it will be interesting to see how much time he spends away from the paint though. Possessing a smaller frame for an NBA frontcourt player, it will be vital for Roe to improve his mid-range jumper, while also further developing his ability to handle the basketball on the perimeter. There is no question his hardnosed, blue collar work ethic and hustle will endear him to many NBA scouts and help ensure another good season for Michigan State.

#13 DeShawn Sims, 6'8, Senior, Power Forward, Michigan
15.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.3 turnovers, 51% FG, 71% FT, 32% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

DeShawn Sims had a somewhat inconsistent junior season, but compared to what he gave in the two years prior, his play was a welcome improvement for the Wolverines, as his stats improved across the board, both in regards to production and efficiency. Sims played a major part in Michigan's turnaround season, and helped lead them to multiple top-25 victories and a win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

As an offensive player, Sims has a versatile skillset for a power forward, being able to score inside and out with a variety of weapons. In the post, Sims has a deadly turnaround jumper he can finish over either shoulder, and at times it looks like it can't miss. He uses his jumper moving to the baseline or back into the lane, with range out to at least 15 feet, and it doesn't matter if there's a hand in his face. In addition to this, Sims shows flashes of other moves, including a right-handed hook shot and a rangy dropstep, but he can be inconsistent with them as his post awareness isn't always great, specifically when dealing with double teams. To his credit, when he gets into his comfort zone, his coordination and footwork actually look quite good, but he doesn't seem to consistently be able to make full use of his repertoire.

As a face-up player, Sims has no problem shooting his mid-range jumper right in his defender's face, but he struggles when trying to go off the dribble, looking uncomfortable with his left hand and while he's better with his right hand, he still can't muster more than a few awkward straight line dribbles. His first step is pretty good for his size, however, and he takes long strides with the ball, so this is something he could further develop.

As an outside shooter, Sims has the foundation of good shooting mechanics, with a high release and solid enough release speed, but he's prone to not holding his follow through at times, and he's still inconsistent from behind the arc.

While Sims is a skilled player with pretty good physical tools, he doesn't always take full advantage of these things, showing an inconsistent energy level in all areas of his game. At times he will be fighting extremely hard for post position, moving all around the floor to get open, and making hard, decisive moves with the ball, but just as often he's content to just let the game come to him, and doesn't show much physicality or assertiveness. While he isn't a great athlete, you get the feeling he doesn't always play to his athletic potential, being very much a below the rim player who doesn't try to create much contact or finish through people around the basket. This lack of energy shows in other areas of his game as well, as he clearly doesn't rebound the way a player with his size, mobility, and hands should.

Defensively, Sims has solid lateral quickness to defend opposing 4's on the perimeter, but he doesn't deal with quick changes of direction very well, being somewhat stiff in his movements. Sims' biggest problem on defense seems to be constantly staying focused and sticking with his man off the ball, as he's prone to lapses.

Looking to the next level, Sims should get some looks in the second round and will definitely have chances to improve his stock throughout the season, at pre-draft camps, and in workouts, but scouts would probably like to see more consistency and killer instinct from Sims, who even after making big strides in his junior season, still isn't playing at his potential on a nightly basis. Adding some base strength, working on his explosiveness around the basket, and continuing to develop his outside jumper should be among his priorities, all of which could help his stock in the draft.

#14 Damian Johnson, 6-7, Senior, Small Forward/Power Forward, Minnesota
26.7 minutes, 9.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.9 steals, 2.0 blocks, 48.5% FG, 26.3% 3FG, 67.1% FT

Joey Whelan

On a Minnesota team that saw eight players average between five and thirteen points, it's hard to really call any particular player an offensive standout; even in the statistical sense. With that said, Damian Johnson did finish second on the Golden Gophers in scoring and rebounding with respective averages of 9.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. Still, don't think that the rising senior is a gifted offensive weapon, he has a long way to go before he can be talked about as a scorer at the next level, but certainly there are aspects of his game that will make some pro scouts take note of him, most noticeably, his tremendous defensive prowess.

Physically there are several ups and downs when analyzing Johnson. At 6-7 he has adequate size for a NBA small forward, but is nowhere close to being physically capable of working as a combo-forward given his 195-pound frame. The Louisiana native has a long wingspan, something that helps him at both ends of the floor, but particularly when it comes to playing the passing lanes as a defender. Johnson doesn't have overly impressive athleticism, lacking the first step to beat even average perimeter defenders off the dribble at the college level, and his leaping ability is below average. While he is capable of elevating for a well rounded slam from time to time, Johnson needs a full head of steam and an unobstructed lane to the basket to compfortably finish plays above the rim.

Johnson's offensive game seems to be built around his ability to draw mismatches from the opposing team. He operates on the perimeter the majority of the time, but will post up smaller guards if the opportunity is presented. Nearly a quarter of his touches come in spot up situations according to Synergy Sports and of these nearly half are simply catch and shoot attempts. Johnson converts a good number of these attempts from inside the arc, but his range does not extend beyond the three point line, having connected on a little more than 25 percent of the 78 three-pointers he has attempted over the last three seasons. His form isn't terrible, although he takes a very long time to get his shot off as a result of a long release that features a lot of wasted movement. As a result, Johnson generally will only shoot when he has a lot of space between him and a defender and as one would expect, his percentages plummet when he is forced to shoot off the dribble. Not only does he not elevate well when shooting on the move, but his handle is below par, meaning he has trouble creating space unless he is going to the basket.

When Johnson does opt to attack the rim - be it in transition, cutting without the ball or spotting up – he does see more success than when operating in the mid-range. Again, Johnson isn't quick off the dribble because of how poor his handles are, forcing him to rely on a basic spin move to create space when he gets into the lane. This is where his lack of leaping ability really comes back to hurt him as the forward struggles to finish in traffic, often getting his shots altered or deflected by players even smaller than he is, simply because of his inability to explode to the rim.

Lucky for Johnson, it isn't his offense that most scouts will be keying in on; it will be his play at the other end of the floor. As a junior, Johnson emerged as one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big Ten and has the drive and the tools to finish as one of the best in the country this season. He ranked in the top ten in our database in steals per 40 minutes and was top 25 in blocked shots per 40 minutes as well. Johnson plays with a tremendous amount of aggressiveness on defense, often stripping the ball away from opponents simply because he is outworking them. As previously mentioned, his wingspan plays a big role in his success as does his tremendous basketball IQ at this end of the court. Johnson always seems to know where to be on the floor and when he has to be there, blocking shots at a high rate almost solely because of his incredible timing. While his quickness is stifled on the offensive end because of his poor ball handling skills, the tremendous speed with which he is able to move laterally is on full display when he is locking down an opposing player. The only knock against Johnson right now defensively is that he does not rebound the basketball well at all (just 4.2 per game) and this is due in large part again because of his thin frame and lack of leaping ability.

In many ways, Johnson is reminiscent of former Oklahoma State defensive standout Marcus Dove, another taller tweener forward who struggled offensively. With a developing young nucleus and several talented freshman joining the Minnesota roster, don't expect Johnson to suddenly start seeing more touches to work on his offensive game, but showing some improvements in his efficiency would go a long way to earning him points with pro teams. Is he a long shot to make the NBA? More than likely, but there have been more than a handful of long, athletic type players who have cracked a pro roster simply on defense and sheer hustle while lacking a polished offensive skill set.

#15 Al Nolen, 6-1, Junior, Point Guard, Minnesota
6.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 turnovers, 1.9 steals, 33.7% FG, 29.4% 3FG, 73.1% FT

Kyle Nelson

Tubby Smith has engineered a remarkable turnaround at the University of Minnesota. Just two seasons removed from a disastrous 2006-2007 campaign, the Golden Gophers won 22 games and returned to the NCAA tournament. Most of the 2008-2009 roster is returning and expectations for next season are high. The most significant question surrounding this team is whether or not a player will emerge as a legitimate star. One nominee is junior point guard Al Nolen, who has shown flashes in the past, but is not nearly consistent enough to stand out at this level. With another year of experience under his belt, he certainly has potential to emerge as an interesting player.

At first glance, Nolen is slightly undersized for the NBA point guard position. Though he is just 6'1, he has a wiry, 180-pound frame with a good wingspan and looks as though he can continue to get stronger. He is also a good athlete, not only in terms of his explosiveness and leaping ability, but also his quickness and agility. He has the physical tools to be a factor at the collegiate level and with some more time in the weight room, he would not look out of place in the NBA.

Looking at Nolen's offensive game, however, reveals how far he has to go before being considered a legitimate NBA prospect. At this point, Nolen is mainly a set-shooter, and while he could develop into a solid catch-and-shoot player over time, he must work on his shooting fundamentals if he wants to become a better scoring threat. Last season, he had a tendency to push the ball with his arms, concentrating most of his shooting motion in his upper body and making it nearly impossible to establish a consistent release point. His shooting motion is too deliberate as well, and while he already does not have the quickest trigger, he needs to work on getting his feet under him and squaring up to the basket. Expanding on the flashes of a mid-range game that he showed at times last season would also go a long way towards increasing his stock in the eyes of NBA scouts.

Though Nolen's offense is nowhere near NBA level at this stage, his point guard ability presents plenty of questions, as well. For one, he does not seem to have the necessary decision making ability to play the point guard position at the next level. He is caught far too often holding the ball until the final seconds of the shot clock only to force a wild attempt at the buzzer. Similarly, he will periodically pick up his dribble in awkward positions where he does not have a clean shot or a plan of what to do next. He has shown potential in establishing a drive-and-dish game, but he sometimes has tunnel vision on his way to the basket, which more often than not results in a missed lay up or a turnover. Lacking the touch around the basket and advanced ball handling ability to fully utilize his athleticism and solid body control, Nolen's slashing game is undeveloped and inefficient, even though he certainly has the potential to improve in the future. He does not run the pick-and-roll reliably, either. However, considering the depth and skill of Minnesota's frontcourt, Nolen will have plenty of opportunities to show scouts that he can run the pick and roll effectively.

While Nolen is as raw as point guards come on the offensive end, he is the leader of one of the NCAA's top returning team defenses. He possesses outstanding lateral quickness, which, combined with his long arms and active hands, makes him a stellar perimeter defender. He does not give his man much room, either, though it would be nice to see him consistently run over screens rather than ducking under them. If he gets beaten, which happens occasionally because of his propensity to gamble defensively, it is not surprising to see him trail his man and find a way to interrupt his shot. He is a very crafty defender, but last season he sometimes looked apathetic down the stretch. Whether this is a matter of conditioning or effort is unknown, but next season, he will have to continue to prove himself as an overpowering defensive presence whenever he is on the floor if he wants to stay on scouts' radars.

Nolen has to make significant improvements and adjustments before he can be considered a legitimate NBA prospect. Showing scouts that he can score and run the point guard position effectively would be a good place to start, but working on his ball handling could open up his game even more. As a sophomore, Al Nolen showed flashes of possible NBA potential. Next season, he has the opportunity to improve on that campaign to show scouts that he is worth keeping an eye on in the future.

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