About a month until the first games of the college basketball season, and the road to the 2013 NBA Draft has begun. It’s time to start my look at this year’s junior class and give some brief notes on areas where they need to show improvement to maximize their appeal to the NBA if they choose to leave school.
Remember, these are not meant to replace scouting reports, which will come out during the season. Some of these players are already pro candidates, while others will clearly need a senior season. These are not all-inclusive and just meant as a brief primer for those who want to track draft prospects throughout the season.
Joshua Smith, UCLA, Center, 6’10, 305
9.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 57.4 FG%, 59.0 FT%, 16.6 mpg
Last season was another frustrating one for Smith and UCLA. Conditioning issues limited Smith’s time on the court, but at times you saw just enough to want to see Smith more. Smith can use his huge body well to get position in the post, and when he gets the ball deep, there aren’t many who will stop him. He has good footwork for his size and excellent touch around the basket. He can be a good passer out of the post and he does a good job sealing off his man for his teammates to attack the lane.
What he needs to show this season: Conditioning and consistency continue to hound Smith. He played at least 25 minutes only twice last season, and usually was good for only 15-17 minutes per game. While he shows good footwork on offense, he doesn’t move well on the defensive end at all. He is the first 300 pound player who I’ve seen get backed down easily in the post and when he gets beat he will commit silly fouls, sending him to the bench. Between his lack of conditioning and these other missteps, Smith never gets into any kind of rhythm on the floor, leaving him to contribute very little. Smith needs to start showing a commitment to the game and to his team by getting into shape enough to be a regular contributor.
CJ Leslie, North Carolina State, Forward, 6’9, 200
14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.6 bpg, 52.5 FG%, 59.6 FT%, 28.6 3FG%
Leslie is a top-level athlete with great speed and quick leaping ability. He is an offensive threat in the lane or in transition, and he is aggressive attacking the basket. He is very strong getting the ball in the high or low post and making a quick move to the rim. He does a good job getting after missed shots on the offensive glass. In transition, Leslie runs the wings well and can finish off the dribble or the lob pass. Defensively, Leslie does a good job challenging shots around the rim and getting quickly to missed shots that are around him.
What he needs to show this season: Leslie relies heavily on his athleticism to make an impact on both ends. He needs to work on improving his skills in almost all areas. He will need to play more out on the perimeter at the next level, so Leslie needs to improve both his ballhandling skills and consistency on his jumper. While he will still get some points around the basket and in transition, he doesn’t have the body to compete in the post at the NBA level. On the defensive end, Leslie needs to have better court awareness – he has a tendency to fixate on the movement of the ball, but not pay attention to his man, who finds himself open for easy points. He relies on his leaping ability to get to rebounds, but he needs to work on using his body to create space and establish position. I have seen some reports claim that Leslie doesn’t always play hard, which couldn’t be further from the case. There are a lot of instances where he just doesn’t know what he should be doing, especially on offense. When on defense, he is passable when on the ball, but it’s the lack of awareness that does him in. Focus and consistency will be keys for him this year.
Alec Brown, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Center, 7’1, 225
13.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.9 bpg, 45.6 FG%, 77.1 FT%, 21.1 3FG%
Brown has emerged as one of the best big men in the country. He is able to score from the post or the perimeter, and he runs the floor well for his size. He has developed a few go-to moves in the post, is able to use both hands, and he is solid as a passer or a shooter in the high post. When Brown faces up in the post, his ability to draw out defenders and hit the jumper makes him dangerous. On defense, Brown has very good awareness and positions himself well. He is a solid help defender and has very good timing when looking to block shots. He is very good at blocking shots to his teammates allowing the team to get out on the break. His footwork on both ends of the court has improved, and he does well at getting out on the pick-and-roll.
What he needs to show this season: Brown’ slender frame makes it tough for him to hold his position on the blocks on both ends of the floor. He needs to develop both his upper and lower body strength, though he does a good job using his long arms to deny the post when he can’t hold his spot. Strength will also allow him to establish position better when looking to rebound. Brown’s mid-range jumper is good, so he should continue to work on consistency and expanding his range out a bit further. Defensively, Brown needs to continue working on his footwork and his lateral movement.
Trey Ziegler, Pittsburgh, Guard, 6’5, 203
(At Central Michigan) 15.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.1 spg, 46.2 FG%, 49.5 FT%, 28.9 3FG%
Ziegler spent his first 2 seasons playing for his father at Central Michigan, before transferring to Pittsburgh after his dad was fired. For reasons not known, he was granted a waiver to play immediately. Ziegler will give the Panthers a capable scorer on the wing. Athletic with a solid body, Ziegler attacks the basket from strong from all angles and can finish through contact. He is a decent ballhandler and handles pressure well. He has a good understanding of court spacing and finds holes in the defense to penetrate. Ziegler has the ability to post up and other shooting guards and is creative in finding ways to score around the basket. On defense, Ziegler is a good on-ball defender and can guard multiple positions. He moves his feet well and does a good job getting over screens on the perimeter. He rebounds well for his size, anticipating where the miss will go and getting in good position to get the ball. In transition, Ziegler is capable of pushing the ball himself or running one of the lanes.
What he needs to show this season: Shooting consistency is a major issue for Ziegler. His jumper has very little arc and he has trouble getting clean looks to get it off. When he is open and can get set, he can hit his shot, but he has trouble shooting off the dribble or with defenders around him. He has the same flat shot on his free throws, which is a major detriment to someone who gets to the line as often as he does. Ziegler also needs to work on his vision and passing skills. He can be so aggressive and narrow-sighted attacking the basket that when he gets stopped he doesn’t know what to do with the ball. Understanding where the help defense is coming from and where an open man will be are important parts of his development.
Phil Pressey, Missouri, Guard, 5’11, 175
10.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 6.4 apg, 2.1 spg, 43.0 FG%, 77.5 FT%, 36.5 3FG%, 2.6:1 A/TO
Pressey may be the most exciting guard to watch in college basketball. He has fantastic speed and is an excellent ballhandler. He can break down his man off the dribble to get into the lane or come quickly off a screen. He has a very good crossover dribble which leaves many defenders watching him go by them. Pressey is a good shooter when he has space and time, and he has done well using screens to give him room and a clean look. His court vision is outstanding and he does a very good job finding open teammates all over the court. He is an above average on-ball defender, positioning himself well and using his quick hands and feet to force the ballhandler into giving up the ball. Pressey can be a blur in the open court and does a good job getting out in front of the defense and finishing. If he gets picked up, he knows where his teammates are and hits them for easy baskets.
What he needs to show this season: With the ease that Pressey can get into the lane, he needs to become a better scorer, especially working on his short jumper and floater. He is too small to go up against next level big men, so he will need to be more creative in finding ways to score. This will also be the first season Pressey has played with a big man who understands the pick-and-roll like Alex Oriakhi. If Missouri decides to implement the big man rolling to the basket off the screen, Pressey will need to be able to make the correct reads. While Pressey uses screens well to get room for his jumper, he needs to show that he can use his dribble as well to create space and get the shot off. Also, teams were able to find a weakness in Pressey last season if they had a defender who was quick enough to pressure him. Pressey will need to do a better job making decisions when being pressured. On the defensive side, Pressey uses his speed well to defend, but he needs to work on his lateral movement. He tends to chase his man which leads to Pressey getting caught in screens or forcing needless switches on defense.
CJ Fair, Syracuse, Forward, 6’8, 215
8.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.1 spg, 46.5 FG%, 74.7 FT%, 26.1 3FG%
Athletic and long, Fair should have a much bigger role this year with the departures of Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters. On defense, Fair does a good job in the back of the zone, covering a lot of ground, reacting well to cutters, and playing good help-side defense. He uses his length and leaping ability well to rebound on both ends of the court, and to challenge shots. On offense, Fair does a good job hitting openings in the defense and going to the basket hard. His longs strides allow him to get to the rim quickly and he can finish in a variety of ways. He runs the floor well and can finish strong in transition.
What he needs to show this season: Fair has gotten a lot of his offense by hitting open spaces created by the guards. The next step will be for Fair to create his offensive opportunities. To do this, Fair will need to become a much better ballhandler and a more consistent shooter. Fair has good length and good footwork and he can use it to create scoring opportunities in the post if needed. On the defensive end, Fair will need show that the defensive traits he uses in the zone will translate to playing man defense.