The NBA Draft Blog Conference Previews continue with Part II of our look at the Pac 10. If you haven’t checked out Part I yet (
In Part II, we take a look at two of the best in the conference – Stanford and Washington, a rebuilding power in UCLA, a sleeper squad in
The Good: Add Stanford to the list of teams here who lost their leading scorer, though life without Landry Fields will not be that bad for the Cardinal. Jeremy Green is an excellent long-range shooter with consistent form and a quick release. He needs to improve his first step to the basket and should add some muscle to allow him to take a few shots on his way. He is a very good defender, and can guard either guard position if needed. Without Fields, I am interested in seeing how Green handles being the focus of the defense. Another player who can be a difference maker is freshman Dwight Powell, a long, lean shot blocker. He has good footwork for his size (6’10) and has a soft touch around the rim. He will need to work hard at adding some bulk to play in the post. He will be especially hindered on the defensive end where he is just not strong enough yet to keep players out of the lane, though his shot-blocking ability may make them think twice. He will be joined in the frontcourt by returning starter Jack Trotter, a big man who works effectively in the high post with his strong passing skills and good court vision. Jarrett Mann is a capable point guard, doing a good job running the offense and pressuring the ball. He is not much of a scoring threat, but he can finish when he gets into the lane. Freshman Anthony Brown may be a year or so away from becoming an impact player, he has the scoring skills to demand immediate playing time. Once he bulks up and can finish strong, he will be a monster scorer in the Pac 10.
The Not-So-Good: Perimeter shooting, aside from Green, will be an issue. The Freshman Brown will provide some help, but they will need him to step up consistently to take pressure off of Green. Another potential issue is the lack of a bruising big man – the Cardinal’s group is skilled but lacking toughness. Powell can be intimidating though he still lacks the toughness to be a defensive force. Trotter is a battler, and freshmen John Gage and Stefan Nastic will provide some depth down low.
The Question Mark: Can Green become the go-to guy with Landry Fields gone? Green put up very good scoring numbers last season, but he often found himself with good shots from the attention Fields drew. As I said earlier, Green will need to improve his moves to the basket, especially his first step, if he wants to become the multi-faceted scorer that the Cardinal need him to be.
What Will March Bring?: Coach Dawkins has a young team, but they are very talented and should pick up some quality wins along the way. Most likely 22-25 wins and a NCAA Tournament bid for this group – 2nd in the Pac 10.
The Good: After a run of Final Four appearances under Ben Howland, the Bruins have stalled the last couple of years. I think this year that they will find their way back into the Tournament once again. Malcom Lee can play either guard position, though he is still much more effective in the open court rather than the halfcourt. He does a good job breaking down defenders, though his shot selection can use work, as well as his jumper. He is a good defender, especially pressuring the ball, but his effort can be consistent. Reeves Nelson had a successful freshman year, and will provide some much needed toughness down low. I would like to see him expand his offensive game out to 10-12 feet this season. On the defensive end, he needs to be more aggressive, especially going after rebounds and contesting shots. Tyler Honeycutt is an athletic swingman with a great first step and the ability to finish strong. He plays tough defense and can guard multiple positions. Freshman Josh Smith is a monster for an 18 yr old at 6’10, 305 pounds. If he can control his weight and improve his conditioning, he can be one of the top big men in the country. He is extremely skilled on offense, using his body well to shield defenders, good hands and a nice touch. He needs to develop more moves in the post, but he seems to adjust quickly. Defensively, he moves well for his size, but his lack of leaping ability doesn’t make him a huge block threat. Tyler Lamb, a freshman shooting guard, has the ability to be a game changer eventually for the Bruins. He can score and defend, plays well in both fast-paced and slower offenses, and is a good rebounder for a guard. He will need to add some strength to get to the basket, and become more consistent with his jumper. Jerime Anderson is a solid point guard who provides good experience at the position.
The Not-So-Good: One of the reasons the results haven’t been up to par recently was inconsistent play, especially on the defensive end. The addition of Smith should give them the anchor they need in the middle to allow the perimeter players to pressure the ball. The frontcourt is thin behind Smith, and inexperienced. They will be in much better shape next season when the Wear twins become eligible. The loss of Michael Roll behind the three-point line is big, and Lee will need to become a better perimeter shooter. Lamb and fellow freshman Matt Carlino also will need to show that they can consistently hit the long-range jumper.
The Question Mark: What can UCLA expect out of Josh Smith this season? Smith is a huge presence, and just him being out on the court is a huge upgrade for the Bruins. However, the adjustment to the rigors of the NCAA level may be tough unless he loses weight. His stamina will most likely limit him to a maximum of 20 minutes for at least the first half of the season. Though in those 20 minutes, he can be capable of excellent production on both ends of the floor. No matter how much he plays, the Bruins are a better team with him on the floor.
What Will March Bring?: I think the Bruins become one of the first beneficiaries of the expansion to 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament. They are probably a 18-20 win team, with a couple of big wins and Josh Smith has a great chance at being Pac-10 Freshman of the Year if he can stay on the court.
The Good: Coach Kevin O’Neill is still in the process of rebuilding the program after the debacle that was Tim Floyd. He will have some talent this season, though it is mostly young and untested. There are 2 returning starters to help school the new players – Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic. Stepheson is a strong post defender and excellent rebounder. While he isn’t particularly skilled on offense, he does have the ability to finish in traffic. Vucevic is a good post scorer and has the ability to step out to 15 feet and knock down the jumper. He also uses his length well to rebound and alter shots. Three newcomers will help add some much needed talent to the backcourt. Freshmen Bryce Jones and Maurice Jones should provide the Trojans with stability in the backcourt for the next few years. Bryce Jones is at his best in transition, though he does have excellent slashing ability in the halfcourt. He needs to become a more consistent perimeter shooter. Maurice Jones is a lightning quick point guard with fantastic athletic ability. He is near unstoppable in transition and does a good job getting to the rim and finishing. The third newcomer may be the best - Fordham transfer Jio Fontan. Fontan, who will be eligible for the 2nd semester, is an excellent all-around guard, with the ability to penetrate, score and make excellent decisions. From the moment he gets on the court, he should control the Trojans offense and play tough ball defense.
The Not-So-Good: Scoring was at a premium for this team last season, and losing leading scorer Dwight Lewis doesn’t help matters. Perimeter shooting, especially three-point range, could be the biggest weakness. One of the guards will need to provide at least the hint of a threat from outside to help keep the defense honest. Free-throw shooting was also a problem last season, though some of the culprits are now gone. There are also depth issues in the frontcourt behind Stepheson and Vucevic. Freshman Curtis Washington could provide some minutes, though he is still a work-in-progress on both ends of the floor.
The Question Mark: Will O’Neill be able to rebuild this program? The damage caused by Tim Floyd’s lack of oversight and the OJ Mayo scandal were a serious blow to a program which was on its way up. Enter O’Neill, who’s no-nonsense approach will not be for everyone, but it should produce a program which is judged on wins and losses and not on bad press. That being said, it will be at least a few years, maybe more, before we see the USC program back near the top of the conference.
What Will March Bring?: Another rough season for the Trojans, though with some additional talent, O’Neill may be on the right track here. Most likely 12-15 wins at most this year.
The Good: While last year’s team leader, Quincy Pondexter, has moved on to the NBA, there is plenty to still be excited about for Huskies fans. Guards Isaiah Thomas and Abdul Gaddy are back for Washington, as well as forward Justin Holiday. Thomas, who is listed at a generous 5’9, finds ways to get to the rim and can be dangerous in the open court. Of course, his lack of size makes it tough for him to operate on the perimeter, but he can nail the open jumper. Gaddy did not have the freshman year that many expected out of him, especially shooting-wise. I expect him to be much more confident on the court this season and to show more of the Gaddy we saw in high school. Defensively, both players do a good job pressuring the ball, but are susceptible to perimeter shooters.
The Not-So-Good: There is not a lot of depth in the frontcourt. Senior Matt Bryan-Amaning does a decent job, though undersized in the post. He will be joined by Junior College transfer Aziz N’Diaye will provide a solid presence in the middle, especially on the defensive end. Any offensive production they will get will be a bonus at this stage. After those two, there isn’t much to get excited about. The pace will be critical for this team, as the guards are much better in transition than they are in half-court sets. Thomas and Gaddy will need to be instigators on both ends of the floor.
The Question Mark: Who will step up as a leader in Pondexter’s place. Pondexter showed as a senior that he would do whatever he could to help his team win, and now that onus will fall on Thomas. Thomas is incredibly brash, but he can provide tough defense and big shots when needed. What he needs to do is make sure that his effort level is consistently high to keep his teammates behind him.
What Will March Bring?: The Huskies are the favorites to win the Pac-10 and I would be surprised if they didn’t win it. They are most likely a 23-25 win team and should get a good NCAA Tournament seed, though how far they get depends on the maturation of Thomas and Gaddy.
The Good: Head Coach Ken Bone returns an experienced starting group who will provide a tough match-up to most teams in the conference. Junior Klay Thompson is one of the conference’s best and provides the Cougars with the ability to score anywhere on the court. He is also a tough defender and showed the ability to guard multiple positions. Reggie Moore is an excellent distributor and can also get into the lane and finish. Defensively, he is a solid on-ball defender, though he sometimes loses his man easily off of screens. DeAngelo Casto is a strong presence in the post on both ends of the floor. He has good hands and can finish in traffic, though he does need to improve his free throw shooting. Marcus Capers is a strong defender and provides another solid ballhandler in the backcourt. The bench should get some solid minutes out of Brock Motum and Charlie Enquist, along with newcomers Patrick Simon and Faisal Aden.
The Not-So-Good: The main issue the team had last season was a lot of times they went through stretches where they just seemed to watch Thompson do what he does and the focus just didn’t seem to be there. The defensive intensity needs to become more of a priority this season, especially around the lane, where the Cougars are undersized. Road games were a problem last season, but I am expecting an improvement with this experienced group.
The Question Mark: How much better can Klay Thompson get? Thompson showed last season that he could be both a jump shooter and a slasher. If he can become more consistent from 3, he will be tough for any defender to stop. He showed his toughness last season, often finding himself guarding players around he post and holding his own. The important thing is his attitude – he wants to keep getting better and he will.
What Will March Bring?: I like this team a lot, and they are legit post player away from being a dangerous team. However, that lack of a true post presence may come back to bite them. They will definitely improve over last season’s win totals – 20 sounds about right for this group and they will certainly be in contention for a NCAA Tournament bid. Thompson is a mid-late first rounder if he comes out next season.
That wraps up our look at the Pac 10. Make sure to check back tomorrow for Part I of the SEC Preview, including looks at