After a disappointing junior season, both individually and as a team, senior big man Herb Pope
is looking for a bounce back season with the Pirates, and so far the early returns have been positive. Pope's scoring, rebounding, and efficiency all took severe drops as a junior on a 13-18 Seton Hall team which struggled under first year coach Kevin Willard.
Pope, who had declared for the 2010 NBA draft after his sophomore season but did not hire an agent, collapsed during a workout, having to be rushed to the hospital, where he would stay for three weeks. As more and more details about the collapse, the severity of his heart condition
, and the physical and mental hurdles it placed upon Pope have become public, it became evident how much of an impact the incident had on his struggles last year. In fact, Pope appears lucky to be alive right now, let alone a contender for Big East player of the year.
The setback now appears to be in Pope's rear-view mirror. The senior forward has led Seton Hall to a 13-2 record, including recent impressive wins over West Virginia and 8th ranked Connecticut. Individually, Pope is having by far the best season of his collegiate career, scoring 23.9 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted (5th amongst the top 100 prospects in our database), grabbing 14.0 rebounds per 40 pace adjusted (6th), while doing so at a very efficient 57% true shooting percentage.
Rebounding is still Pope's strongest asset, a statement that has been true his entire career. His 14 rebounds per-40 minutes pace adjusted rank in the top 10 amongst prospects in our database, being an effective rebounder on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Pope shows a good nose for the ball off the glass, which combined with a very high energy level, excellent hands, willingness to fight for position, and good technique, forms the basis of his value at the next level, and one that has a good probability of translating as well.
From there, Pope has a diverse range of skills at the collegiate level, although which of those skills will translate, and to what extent, is still somewhat of a question. His post game has shown marked improvement from a year ago, both in his comfort level and footwork. Pope has more advanced moves in his repertoire now than in years past, with a variety of spins, drop steps, and the ability to make hook shots over either shoulder. His average explosiveness and difficulties scoring over length make it questionable exactly to what extent this will translate to the next level, but he does appear to have good instincts as a scorer.
Pope is tenacious on the offensive glass, using his lower body strength and high effort level to grab an impressive 4.6 offensive rebounds per-40 minutes, pace adjusted. He gathers himself quickly and does a good job of not bringing the ball down, getting his shot off before defenders have a chance to gather themselves and before guards have had a chance to strip the ball.
He also does a good job of moving without the ball, making strong cuts and has excellent hands. He has good touch around the hoop and the ability to finish with either hand, although this is another area where his lack of vertical explosion dampens his effectiveness somewhat.
The key in his development is likely his ability as a jump shooter. Pope struggled last year, shooting only 22.2% on a limited amount of jump shots, and his 0.537 points per possession ranked in the bottom 11%, according to Synergy Sports Technology.
So far this year that part of his game has been much improved. He is shooting a much more respectable 42.4% on jump shots this year, yielding 1.03 points per possession. His consistency still appears to be an issue, and his shot tends to be somewhat flat, especially as he gets further from the hoop, which may play a part in this inconsistency. However, if he can continue to show that his improved jump shot will hold up throughout the year and is a weapon going forward, projecting an offensive role for him at the next level becomes a much easier proposition.
A consistent jump shot would also help him establish himself as a face-up threat. While not an explosive athlete, Pope is fairly fluid for a player of his size, has greatly improved his off hand, and has an effective right-to-left spin move that helps him gain separation on drives.
On the defensive side of the ball, Pope's bulk -- and willingness to use it -- help make him a solid defender in the post. He shows decent technique on the perimeter, both in defending isolation plays and on the pick and roll, but his average lateral foot speed could become an issue at the next level guarding quicker power forwards.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in his game on the defensive end has been his ability to stay on the court. Pope spent his summer working with John Lucas
, and looks to be in significantly better shape, having overcome much of the physical side effects from his collapse. Pope still carries a little bit of extra weight but looks much improved from his junior season, where conditioning was clearly an issue. This has helped him stay out of foul trouble, dropping from 5.2 fouls per-40 minutes to a much more manageable 3.3. Herb Pope
still has some question marks and red flags surrounding his background, but his play, and perhaps more importantly his improved conditioning, are good signs going forward. He appears to have dedicated himself in the offseason, and the results have followed. Pope, despite being somewhat undersized, has an NBA caliber body, a skill in rebounding that should translate, and a level of mobility and overall skill level that provides some intrigue. If Pope can prove his improvement as a jump shooter is legitimate, it would not be a surprise to see him stick at the next level.