-Trending Prospects (12/22) - Kris Joseph, Draymond Green, Chace Stanback
-Trending Prospects (12/9) - Doug McDermott, Scott Machado, Henry Sims
Will Barton, 6-6, Shooting Guard/Small Forward, Sophomore, Memphis
Although the Memphis Tigers are off to a disappointing 6-5 start, Will Barton looks to have made some very nice strides from his freshman to sophomore season. When we last wrote about Barton back in March, he was struggling with his decision-making and shot selection and seemingly having trouble adjusting to collegiate defenses. He's playing much more efficiently through eleven games this season, however, with improvements in his production across the board.
As we mentioned before, Barton has the size, length, and athleticism of a prototypical NBA wing, but at some point, he'll need to add some strength to his lanky frame if he's going to be able to compete against stronger, bulkier players at the NBA level.
Memphis has been playing at a very past face so far this season, and much of Barton's early success has been in transition, accounting for about a third of his used possessions. As we noted before, Barton excels in the open court thanks to his great speed with the ball is his hands or filling the lanes, and his very good body control, which he utilizes to find ways to finish at the rim.
Perhaps Barton's biggest improvement, though, has been with his shot selection, which we noted was very poor at times during his freshman season. About 60% of his shot attempts last season were jumpers, and he converted only 28% of them, as many of those shots were clearly ill-advised. So far this year, though, Barton has made much more of an effort to attack the basket and not settle, as only 31% of his shot attempts have come on jumpers. Not surprisingly, this has made him far more efficient, as his true shooting percentage has increased from 50% to a very solid 62%.
Barton's focus on attacking the basket has also led to him getting to the free throw line at a much higher rate. His handle could still use some tightening up, but he's utilizing his quick first step and rangy strides to get to the rim and is also more active on the offensive glass and with cuts in the basket area. His nine free throw attempts per-40 ranks him second amongst all wing prospects in our database. Despite this increased emphasis on getting to the basket, he's nearly cut his turnover rate in half from last season, which is quite impressive.
Defensively, Barton's athleticism, length, and lateral quickness bode well for his defensive transition to the NBA level, but scouts will likely be concerned with his slight frame and if he'll be able to matchup against some of the more physically imposing wings he'd face regularly. His activity level is plus, though, as he's really seemed to focus on this as a sophomore, as evidenced by his increases in his block, steal, and rebounding numbers. His rebounding improvement has been especially impressive for a player his size, as his 9.7 rebounds per forty minutes ranks him #1 among all wing prospects, an area where he was just average as a freshman.
Overall, the former top-10 recruit has gotten off to a very good start to his sophomore season, and seems to be learning how to better utilize his talents and play more efficient basketball. His game is very well suited to the up-tempo style at Memphis, but scouts may very well still have questions for how his game fits into an NBA offense in the half-court.
His decision making can still be shaky at times, his skinny frame may limit his ability as a finisher, and although he's shooting a respectable 35% from 3-point range early on this season, he still needs to prove he's capable of being a reliable perimeter shooter with his feet set. So while there are definitely signs of encouragement, it's still early in the season, and he still some question marks as well.
Scouts will surely be keeping an eye on Barton and his Memphis teammates throughout the Conference USA season, and if the Tigers can turn things around and play up to their potential, Barton will have the opportunity to showcase himself on the big stage in the NCAA tournament.
LeBryan Nash, 6'7, Freshman, Small Forward, Oklahoma State
Possessing a combination of physical gifts that put him in rare company, freshman forward LeBryan Nash has yet to fully harness those tools and has been a bit of a disappointment so far this season.
While Nash's stats (19.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.1 blocks per-40 minutes) are respectable, they are buoyed by his role as the primary focal point on a young Oklahoma State squad. Nash is in the top 25 players in our database at 17.6 field goal attempts per 40 minutes, but he has been both the least efficient in that group (46% true shooting percentage) as well as the least productive (13.4 PER).
To put in perspective just how inefficient he has been, his 46% true shooting percentage ranks 4th worst among all players in our top 100 prospects and his pure passing rating is second to last.
That's not to say there isn't intrigue around Nash as a prospect, and he certainly has plenty of time to turn both his season and his draft prospects around.
The basis of his potential as a prospect is his terrific physical profile. Standing 6'7 with excellent size, strength and athleticism, Nash is simply on a different level than many he is playing against. Nash has the physical tools to play in the NBA today, and combines power with smooth athleticism to create a very intriguing physical package.
On the offensive end, Nash likes to operate in the mid post. He has solid footwork down low, has the physical strength to play through contact, is capable of making shots over either shoulder and is showing improved patience in letting plays develop on the block. While playing largely at the power forward spot right now, Nash's physical profile makes it likely he will carry this part of his game over to the next level.
Nash is also a good slasher from the perimeter. While his ball handling could still stand to improve, he is capable enough with either hand to utilize his above average first step and excellent explosive ability. His strength once again allows him to play through contact, and his 8.0 free throw attempts per 40 minutes shows an ability, and willingness, to draw contact.
Nash's efficiency as a shooter is largely inconsistent. He has been efficient making shots off the dribble, averaging 1 point per possession so far this year according to Synergy Sports Technology, and seems to do a good job of getting his feet underneath him and gaining balance, and he has the ability to get good lift on his pull-up jump shots, making it hard for defenders to contest.
As we previously noted, his jump shot is flat, which may explain his difficulty in extending his shot out to three point range. He is shooting only 27.3% from three point range so far on the year and has a field goal percentage of only 13.3% in catch and shoot situations. His overall form doesn't look entirely broken, as his footwork, balance, and follow through look relatively solid, so perhaps this could improve with some slight modifications and a lot of repetition down the line.
Nash has done virtually nothing creating for his teammates, generating only 0.6 assists per game, a rather disappointing number considering how much he has the ball in his hands and how much attention he draws from the opposition. When he gets the ball, whether that be in the mid post or on the perimeter, his sole focus has been attacking the basket. His recognition as a passer has been poor as well, often times recognizing the double team too late and becoming turnover prone. Not surprisingly, he currently ranks as the third worst passer in our top-100, behind two players who have yet to generate an assist this season.
The intrigue on the defensive side of the ball, like most parts of his game, are based more on potential than on current productivity. Nash has the lateral foot speed to be a force on the defensive end, but his technique and, more importantly, focus, are largely inconsistent. Nash's effort level on this end of the court varies from play to play, and he can get lost off the ball, can be slow to recover, and has a tendency to defend with his hands rather than by moving the feet.
Nash will remain a tantalizing prospect due to his physical attributes, but he has a ways to go in order to maximize his gifts. While development in his ball handling and long range jumper are important, the bigger questions that will define his future as a prospect are less about his talent level and more about his effort, maturity, and ability to maximize his potential.
Nash clearly went into this season with the mindset of being one and done, but he still hasn't alleviated the concerns going in which could keep him out of the first round.
Ricardo Ratliffe, 6-8, Senior, PF/C, Missouri
A major factor behind Missouri's 12-0 season start, Ricardo Ratliffe has established himself as one of the most productive and efficient big men in college basketball in his final year of eligibility.
Initially unable to meet the NCAA's academic standards out of high school, Ratliffe spent two years at Central Florida Community College, emerging as a dominant force and the #1 JUCO prospect in the country.
That dominance has translated to the division one level this season as well, as Ratliffe ranks top-20 amongst prospects in our database in scoring on a per-minute basis, while shooting an outrageous 76% from the field.
Slightly undersized for a center at 6-8, Ratliffe possesses an extremely long wingspan and a chiseled frame that he's learned to use to his advantage. While not an exceptional athlete in terms of raw explosiveness, his combination of strength, length and aggressiveness renders him extremely effective at this level.
Ratliffe plays only 24 minutes per game, but he scores prolifically in that time, to the tune of 25 points per-40. He's mostly a finisher on this Missouri team, which plays an up-tempo four-guard style and has a number of excellent shooters and passers at their disposal.
Ratliffe has some basic back to the basket moves (most notably to set up his jump-hook) but he does most of his damage on the move, finishing plays created by others. He's especially dangerous on the pick and roll, setting wide, physical screens and then rolling to the basket with terrific timing.
Ratliffe is not afraid to throw his weight around inside the paint, and his combination of length and extremely soft hands makes him a very reliable target for his guards to dish the ball to. He does an exceptional job of finishing plays with very soft touch, being capable of finishing with either hand around the basket, and using the glass very well. Finishing 80% of his shots around the basket (#1 in the NCAA), Ratliffe is almost automatic within five feet, despite the fact that he rarely tries to play above the rim. While not a high flyer, he gets off the floor quickly, being very decisive with his moves. That helps him avoid committing turnovers (2.2 per-40), but also plays a part in him not getting to the free throw line very often (3.7 attempts per-40).
Outside of his interior scoring, Ratliffe doesn't offer much outside the paint, only have attempted two jumpers all season. He's not the kind of player you want making decisions with the ball on the perimeter either, as his basketball IQ appears to be just average. Ratliffe is essentially an undersized center on both ends of the floor, which may hurt him a bit come draft time since its unlikely he'll be able to produce quite as effectively against NBA-sized front-courts.
Ratliffe has improved as a rebounder this season, which certainly helps his cause. He crashes the glass well both offensively and defensively, taking advantage of his superior length, strength and aggressiveness going out of his area for loose balls.
Like many undersized big men in his mold, Ratliffe's biggest question marks may revolve around his potential on the defensive end. He lacks size for a center and doesn't have the quickness or explosiveness to be much of an intimidator protecting the paint. On the other hand, he may not be quick enough laterally to guard most power forwards, particularly in pick and roll situations, where he struggles to take proper angles and often looks a bit lethargic. While his scoring prowess is certainly attractive, he'll likely impress NBA scouts more in the next few months by stepping up his play on this end of the floor as games become more meaningful for Missouri.
Nevertheless, Ratliffe is certainly producing the way you'd expect a future NBA player to, even if we're only twelve games into the season. If he can continue to do so as the season progress, he's likely to attract a lot more scrutiny.