Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Andrew Nicholson, Find or Fraud?

Red flag: Andrew has a very weak scream-face
Nicholson remains one of the more intriguing prospects in the late 1st round. The St Bonaventure product put up impressive numbers, concluding the season on a strong note against a clearly superior team, on the offensive end at least. Nicholson is 6’9 225-235, and by all accounts has a large wingspan, although unverified to date. His senior year was a solid improvement from his junior year, as he improved his PPS, 3pt shooting, rebounding, and shot blocking. His FTA took a noticeable dip as his role was reduced, but still solid for a #1 option in college.

Nicholson’s primary strengths come from his versatility. He has a solid back to the basket game, can face up defenders on the dribble, pull up jumper, or set shot, and has pretty good timing to be a shot blocker. His late season surge in shooting is likely not a fluke, as his fundamentals and point of release look to be extremely consistent at this stage. In fact, the Bonnies were running screen plays for Nicholson against FSU, much like teams would run screen plays for sharpshooting SGs and SFs in the pros. His shot blocking and timing, while not elite, is solid for an NBA PF. His block numbers are pretty gaudy until you consider the poor defense of his team, allowing more block chances, and the competition level. Nicholson corralled most of his blocks against anonymous college basketball teams.

On the downside, Nicholson’s defensive instincts thus far are not very good. When there’s traffic on offense or on defense, he gets lost quite easily. On defense, he’ll instinctively look to reset to his man, regardless of what’s happening around him. Offensively, he took the ball into traffic way too much and God help him if there’s a double-team: he won’t see it coming. His rebounding, while improved from the past season, is still only average for what you’d expect from someone his size. His passing is abysmal and unnatural at this stage, which is a big red flag considering his primary positive note is his scoring.

Overall, we’re looking at a player who’s #s don’t really reflect the impact he had on his team.  Think we’re looking at a guy who’s going to struggle to catch on in the NBA after putting up some hollow numbers initially. He has to get a better feel for the game and working in a 5 on 5 situation with talented players, or else the game will entirely pass him by.

Eternal Optimist sees: Jason Thompson
Negative Nancy sees: Jamareo Davidson
What I see: J.J. Hickson

Friday, May 11, 2012

'Uncle' Festus Ezeli - He's Creepy and He's Kooky

Tragically, Ezeli has an inverted neck.
Inspired by Reggie Williams, Festus Ezeli is proving that a neck is a luxury, not a necessity, to be in the NBA. He’s the best C from Vanderbilt since Andrew Ogilvy. But unlike Ogilvy, Festus actually projects to be a quality NBA center. Ezeli is 6’11, 255 lbs with a huge wingspan, which is a big part of his value. After being a backup his 1st two seasons, Ezeli eventually took the starting role his junior year, statistically his best season. His senior year, however, shows a decline across the board. His PPG, FG%, FTA, FT%, rebounding, steals, and blocks all went down, while his TOs and fouls went up.

Ezeli is a very easy guy to figure out. Because of his weight and enormous wingspan, he should be a positive impact defender upon arriving to the NBA. He has enough quickness and strength to hold his own against NBA C’s. He’s a one-jump shot blocker, but the upside there is that he’s got excellent timing.  His footwork seems to be a work in progress on both ends of the court, as he usually relied on being faster and stronger than his competition in college. His offensive game is either beating the other guy up for good position to finish (being set up by teammates) and on offensive rebound putbacks. Has shown potential for getting his shot off, but teams will not look to him for buckets on a regular basis.

Uncle Festus has quite a few glaring weaknesses as well. Let’s start with his hands, which are almost Udoh-like in quality. At times you have to wonder if the ball is red-hot, considering how much Ezeli bobbles it. His reaction time is reported to be slow by several draft sites, and it’s hard to argue against that. 6 boards in 23 minutes speaks volumes. He seems to get all the boards in his area, but doesn’t have the motor to get boards that require work. While his shot blocking is impressive, it comes at a price: Ezeli fouls a ton and often times takes himself out of the rebounding equation to try and get a block. Was suspended 6 games for taking improper gifts from alumni, and also has had 2 injuries centered around his right knee in college.

Close, but not 'Uncle' Festus Ezeli
All in all, Ezeli looks to be a solid backup 5 in the Association. Should never expect him to do much offensively, and he has the tools to become a quality defender under the right tutelage. His shaky hands and penchant for over-pursuing blocks really limit his ceiling, but everything else points to him being a rotational big in the NBA for a long time.

Eternal Optimist sees: Ekpe Udoh with C size.
Negative Nancy sees:  Joel Anthony
What I see: Ronny Turiaf meets Ian Manhimi
Draft projection: early 20s to early 2nd

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fab Melo, Not Only an Awesome Name

One of the biggest stories of the NCAA tournament was the 2nd academic suspension of Fab Melo by Syracuse.  Melo was the anchor to one of the best defenses in college basketball, and it showed.  Syracuse was 29-1 with Melo on the team, and 5-2 without him. Admittedly, the 7 games sans-Melo had a higher quality of opponents on the average, but not by much. The difference was enormous:

Attn: Syracuse students. Do not copy answers off this man.
Oppg with Melo: 60.3
Oppg without Melo: 62.6

Ofg% with Melo: 38.2%
Ofg% without Melo: 39.6%

O3pt% with Melo: 29.9%
O3pt% without Melo: 38.1%

RebDef with Melo: +1.1
RebDef without Melo: -6.7

What does that all mean? Clearly Melo was a very important part of that team, but how much? Teams were literally afraid to penetrate when Melo was in the game, and that caused more perimeter ball movement, and less drive-and-kick created shots. With teams not having to focus on Melo’s rebounding, they were free to grab more loose balls from the rest of Syracuse’s average rebounders.  To boot, Cuse’s offense suffered without Melo. Because teams were taking less perimeter shots per game with him out, it put a crimp in the Orange’s fast breaks, leading to less efficient shots, and more 3pta per game.

What does Melo bring to the table? Scary shot blocking. In 30 games, he blocked 4 shots or more 11 times. He got to double digit blocks (1) as many times as he got to double digit rebounds (1), and had as many or more blocks than rebounds 7 times. His rim protection was top notch, although it was in a zone.  Melo clocks in at 7’0, 255, with an enormous wingspan. His defensive footwork is criminally underrated, as he’s frequently labeled ‘just a shot blocker’.  His rebounding is criticized, but when you’re forcing teams to take primarily perimeter shots, rebounds tend to be longer and favor the wings in the college game. Great hands for a big. Don’t sleep on Melo’s budding offensive game. He can knock down a mid-range jumper or two and has a solid skillset to build off of.

Melo doesn’t come without risks though. He is coming off 2 academic suspensions in one season. His weight has fluctuated greatly since coming to Cuse, although he did seem to be in the best shape of his life in his sophomore season. His post game as-is, is very mechanical and easy to predict. Got away with that in college, but in the NBA, 7’ guys will be able to bother him more. Rumors of a questionable motor dogged him his freshman year, and were silenced in year 2, but the question will always remain.

Overall, Melo has the skillset to be an impact defender at the C position in the NBA. He’s played on one of the best college teams, one of the most demanding defensive coaches in college, and earned his way from a 5 minute afterthought to a 25 minute defensive force. The fact this guy isn’t a guaranteed top 15 selection is criminal, and there will be many teams that regret passing on him.

Eternal Optimist sees: Tyson Chandler
Negative Nancy sees: Dan Gadzuric
What I see:  a smarter DeAndre Jordan
Draft range: mid-teens to mid-twenties

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tony Wroten, Washington

Had to dig deep to find ample footage on Tony Wroten.  Washington wasn’t even good enough to get in the big tourney, which you’d think would give Wroten a chance to shine in the NIT. Not so much. In fact, his NIT experience highlighted his strengths and glaring weaknesses dramatically. So dramatically, that he could be available at the end of the 1st round in the 2012 NBA Draft. For a guy with his physical stature, athleticism, and passing abilities, that’s pretty unusual.

Careful ladies, Tony Wroten is a screamer.
Let’s start off with his strengths. Wroten is 6’5, 200-205 lbs. He has excellent handles and head fakes, seems to get to the rim whenever he wanted to in college. He has a quick first step, which, along with his wide body for a primary ball-handler, allowed him to wall off perimeter defenders and get by them with ease. He invites contact, as seen by his 7.5 FTA, and finishes well in the paint, contact and all. His rebounding is a plus at either guard position, and he has the ability and potential to be a great NBA defender. He takes some risks to get steals and also challenges more layups and inside shots than you’d expect from a guard. Will surprise you every once in a while with a very athletic block. His passing ability on fast breaks is excellent, but his creating abilities in the halfcourt are still very much a work in progress. He’s very aware for a young guard, knows when a dunk or layup is the right move. Pretty solid at moving without the ball in the paint, but will have trouble getting away with that at the next level.

If you’ve seen him play at all, his weaknesses are just all too obvious. Wroten’s lack of a jump shot of any sort really limits his potential right now.  His form and release seem awkward, and aren’t very consistent. At least he is smart and aware enough not to try many jumpshots. Despite his quickness and strength, does not seem to have a great, explosive leap. He’ll likely have trouble with quality shot blockers in the NBA, as he likes to glide to the rim from several feet out. If you can neutralize his penetration, he’s almost completely harmless offensively. He’s not a NBA PG, he’s a SG that can drive and create at times. Tends to get caught in the air a lot, usually resulting in turnovers or broken plays. Defensively, can succumb to laziness, and tends to make exaggerated swipes when reaching-in, an easy foul call in the NBA.  Poor FT shooter for a guy who gets there as much as Wroten does. He’s  very much a rhythm player, which can work for or against a team.

Overall, you have a guy who’s getting a stock boost because pundits are trying to pass him off as a part time PG because he doesn’t have the scoring chops a legitimate SG would have. He has solid intangibles, but his overstated athleticism and size doesn’t really apply if he’s playing at SG. Could carve out a career as a successful 2nd-string guard, or potentially a defensive stopper/starting SG type. But until that jumper is fixed, he’s extremely limited as a player. Projects to be a 10-15 minute change of pace guard. Bump that to 15-20 minutes if he’s playing on a team that loves to use the fast break.

Eternal Optimist sees: Tyreke Evans
Negative Nancy sees: Reece Gaines
What I see:  Poor man’s Evan Turner
 Likely draft position: mid 20's to mid 30's