NCAA Tournament Performers, 4/2/08-- Part Two

NCAA Tournament Performers, 4/2/08-- Part Two
Apr 02, 2009, 05:37 pm
DeJuan Blair, 6-7, Sophomore, Power Forward, Pittsburgh
15.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1 block, 59% FG, 60% FT

Scott Nadler

In one of the greatest NCAA tournament games in recent memory, DeJuan Blair and the Pittsburgh Panthers came up short and ended their season a game away from the Final Four. Although his sophomore campaign is over, Blair certainly left his mark on the season and has solidified himself amongst college basketball’s elite – being recognized on Monday as a first team All-American. His great play, impressive physique and the multiple intangibles that he brings to the game has clearly caught the attention of basketball pundits and NBA scouts everywhere.

DeJuan Blair’s statistical output this season has been nothing short of spectacular. He ranks #1 in PER with an astounding 38.9, which is due in large part to his efficiency offensively and the high value placed on offensive rebounding – an area where Blair excels at averaging 8.1 per-40 minutes, which is first in the nation by a wide margin, and also the most amongst all players in our database in the last eight years. Adding to this rebounding prowess, Blair is averaging 18 total rebounds per 40 pace adjusted, good for second in the nation, and exemplifying even further his efficiency on the glass.

There are a plethora of reasons as to why Blair excels on the boards, and it all begins with his unique build for a basketball player. Blair resembles more of a linebacker than a power forward, and because of his low center of gravity, standing at a modest 6’7, and his wide frame, weighing in 260 pounds, Blair is able to take up a lot of room in the painted area. In addition, his frame helps him and his teammates, seeing that he sets some of the best screens in the country. Furthermore, his freakishly long wingspan makes up for his lack of height and his incredibly soft hands enable him to wrestle boards away from the opposition.

With all of that said, there is still a feeling at times that Blair can give more, particularly on the defensive end. It seems as if he needs something to get him going - be it a matchup against co-Big East player of the year Hasheem Thabeet or a hard foul placed on him by a Villanova player in the Elite Eight. Otherwise, he has a tendency to go about his business quietly and refrain from putting his stamp on the game. The fact that he can potentially do more speaks volumes as to the player that he really is.

On the offensive end, Blair has definitely shown great improvement. He scores at a nice rate, 23 points per-40 pace adjusted, which ranks him 12th amongst the 88 elite college players ranked in our 2009 or 2010 mock draft. On top of that, he is extremely efficient, finishing 59% of his 2-point shots, which ranks him 11th in that category. He uses his body to his advantage inside and in the post, as he finds different ways to get his defender on his back – making it easier for him to finish. He certainly plays below the rim however and his lack of leaping ability has made him susceptible to blocked shots, although he has improved in utilizing crafty moves to get shots off. There is a distinct concern that at the NBA level he will struggle much more to score around the basket, though, considering his lack of size and explosiveness.

Blair also does an excellent job at establishing deep position in the post. He’s also deceptively quick down there, often using the baseline and reversing on the other side of the rim to shield his defender – putting them in “jail”. He doesn’t have any type of face-up game at this point and lacks consistency with his shot – which will be something he must work on diligently if he’s to find a way to become some type of an offensive option at the next level. His free throw percentage actually declined this year, going from 62.4% to 60.5%. With a good shooting coach and plenty of hard work, it’s not out of the question that he becomes at least a capable mid-range shooter in time, which will be very important for him.

One of his better qualities is his patience, as he doesn’t really force anything and does a good job at kicking the ball out to open shooters. He sports a solid near 1-1 assist to turnover ratio, which ranks him competitively amongst the NCAA’s elite power forwards.

On the defensive end is where Blair struggles the most. He lacks great lateral quickness to stay with anyone who drags him out and away from the basket. This is evident in isolations and pick and roll situations, where he’s forced to switch or hold a hedge for an extra second. Moreover, like many college big men, Blair has a tendency to lack aggressiveness when he picks up a foul. He will drop his hands and get out of the way in order to avoid picking up a foul. The ability to play solid position defense without fouling is a skill he will have to develop in order to play in the NBA.

Blair can be an asset to any NBA team if he chooses to forgo his junior year and enter the draft, which seems likely considering that he currently projects as a strong first round pick. He is a high character guy who plays with a lot of emotion and energy on the court. He also has a likeable personality and will be someone that others want to be around. He has the potential to be an outstanding role player and ferocious rebounder, and it won’t be surprising to see him making an impact in the NBA next season.

Jonny Flynn, 6’0, Point Guard, Sophomore, Syracuse
17.4 points, 6.7 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 3.4 turnovers, 46% FG, 79% FT, 32% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

Even though we wrote about Jonny Flynn just over a month ago, we’re writing about him once again due to his outstanding postseason play, especially in leading Syracuse to the Big East Championship. Over the past month, Flynn has shown great toughness and competitiveness, leading his team to a great postseason run in many grueling games.

Over the course of these games, Flynn has eased some of the doubts about his game by adjusting his playing style at times, playing more of a facilitator role, not forcing the issue as much as usual. Still, in spite of showing flashes of progress, Flynn’s flair for the dramatic definitely popped up at times, as he showed off his penchant for trying too hard to create big plays.

As a point guard, Flynn has outstanding capabilities as a shot creator with his court vision and quickness, things he frequently shows off, but his decision-making is still a bit erratic. Whether it’s pulling up for a contested jumper early in the shot clock or driving into three defenders and forcing up a shot, Flynn is prone to some foolish choices on the court. Also, you get the impression that he sometimes will try to convert stylish passes for flashy assists rather than merely executing a fundamental one, attempting no-look passes or lazy lobs when a simple one would do the job better, something that leads to unnecessary turnovers. To his credit, he’s definitely gotten better with these things in his time at Syracuse, and oftentimes he’s capable of making a positive play out of the situations he puts himself in, but just as often it ends up in a turnover.

As a shooter, Flynn shoots an unimpressive 32% from behind the three-point line, but he’s probably a slightly better shooter than those numbers would indicate, as of his 169 jump shots logged by Synergy Sports Technology, only 29 were uncontested spot-up jumpers, while the rest were contested, off the dribble, or both. When Flynn does make the leap to the NBA, it’s only natural that he’d be less of an offensive focal point, so his number of uncontested spot-ups should increase, while he won’t be forced to create for himself off the dribble as frequently, which should result in an increase in his shooting efficiency. Still, there is no doubt that Flynn will need to become a better shooter if he’s to be able to establish himself as legit starting material in the NBA.

On the other hand, despite his exceptional ability to get into the lane, Flynn’s ability to finish at the basket should become even more of a problem, given his lack of great size and that he already has troubles finishing at the rim. According to SST, Flynn converts only 54% of his finishes at the basket, which would rank him in the 26th percentile of NCAA players, and that’s only going against college frontlines.

It’s tough to project Flynn to the next level, as in spite of his tremendous talent level, it’s clear that he’ll need to make multiple adjustments with his game to maximize his effectiveness, both as a scorer and a distributor. By becoming less dominant of possessions and trying to make less highlight reel plays, Flynn should be able to greatly improve his efficiency, and has the potential to be quite a solid point guard. In addition, it’s questionable how he’ll be able to defend at the next level given his small size and wavering commitment to defense.

Flynn has publicly stated that he intends to return to Syracuse for his junior season, though there’s still no telling whether he decides to test the NBA draft waters. If he does, teams will likely be attracted to the fact that he should be able to create sparkplug offense for a team rather quickly with his tenacious and athletic style of play, as well as his long-term potential if he continues making adjustments to his game. If he does declare, Flynn should be firmly in first round discussions, as we currently project him in the mid-teens. He may even be drafted higher than that based on what we’re hearing from certain teams. Returning to school may be the best for his long-term development, but it’d be hard to fault him for leaving.

Matt Bouldin, 6-5, Point Guard / Shooting Guard, Junior, Gonzaga
13.6 Points, 4.1 Rebounds, 3.4 Assists, 1.7 Turnovers, 1.5 Steals, 49% FG, 42% 3P, 74% FT

Matt Williams

Last time we checked in on Matt Bouldin in any kind of detail, he was coming off of a rookie season in Spokane that had piqued the interest of many NBA decision makers. His follow sophomore campaign, though, ending up being fairly disappointing. While his numbers haven’t jumped as significantly as those of many of his peers, Bouldin has made big strides since his first two seasons under Mark Few. His play in the past month keyed Gonzaga’s run through the WCC tournament and their two NCAA tournament victories, and has caused him to give serious thought to the option of entering his name in this year’s draft. .

Despite only averaging 13 points per game on the season and struggling with bouts of inconsistency, the season Matt Bouldin put together met the high expectations that many onlookers had for him. The 215-pound guard found his range this season, connecting on 42.3% of his attempts from beyond the arc and landing near the top of the heap amongst shooting guards in three-point percentage in our database. Bouldin’s marked improvement didn’t stem from any tweaks in his mechanics –his form hasn’t changed since he arrived on campus. He’s just put the work in through repetition and slowly developed into one of the most dangerous shooting threats in college basketball, as we predicted two years ago.

His jump in efficiency this season is thanks in large part to improved patience and confidence in wide open catch-and-shoot situations. According to Synergy Sports Technology’s Quantified Player Report, Bouldin is averaging 1.37 PPP on his wide open catch and shoot looks –a far cry from the .94 and .93 he averaged as a freshman and sophomore respectively. Maybe Bouldin’s conversations with former Bulldog John Stockton mentioned in Howie Stalwick’s recent article for the News Tribune put things in perspective or included some good advice, but obviously he’s made some much needed adjustments, likely in his confidence and shot-selection.

The same patience and poise that have helped Bouldin begin to reach his potential as a shooter have helped him significantly with his decision-making as well. His role as a ball-handler has grown in each of his three collegiate seasons, but this has been easily his most efficient as a passer. A heady player with a great feel for setting up his teammates, Bouldin currently ranks near the top of our database in assist-to-turnover ratio amongst point guards. Considering his size and shooting ability, Bouldin’s court vision and passing ability makes him a highly attractive option next to smaller scoring combo guards in the mold of Monta Ellis or Louis Williams.

Though Bouldin has grown into quite a passer, his midrange game has improved across the board since he arrived on campus. As a freshman, the Colorado native was too aggressive with his dribble drives, often dribbling straight into the teeth of the defense instead of taking the open pull up jumper he already had created for himself with his quick second and third steps. Some of that had to do with his aggressive mentality, but it also stemmed from a lack of consistency in his midrange jumper. Bouldin has been very solid off the dribble this season, and though he will take some tough pull up threes, he’s used his outside shooting ability to set himself up for many easy one-dribble jumpers. Considering that he projects as a below average athlete at the NBA level who will not have as much success around the rim as he did in college, this is an important development.

On the defensive end, Bouldin lacks the lateral quickness to make a major impact on the game, but he gives a good effort and shows the ability to create some turnovers with his anticipation and awareness. Bouldin’s lack of speed is often apparent when he’s closing out shooters, but he gets in a low stance and shows better than average fundamentals to compensate. He certainly doesn’t project as a defensive stopper on the next level, but his strength and smarts will help him considerably. His ability on this end of the floor might be what makes or breaks his NBA chances actually, and is something that teams will want to look at very closely in private workouts.

From what we’ve been told, Bouldin is expected to declare for the draft this spring and see where he stands in the eyes of NBA decision makers. Currently he projects as a second round pick, but it’s possible that he is able to attract some NBA interest due to the very specific strengths he brings to the table, which could fit very well into what certain teams are looking for.

Should he decide to return to Gonzaga, Bouldin would be in an ideal position to make a big splash next season. With three notable seniors moving on, Mark Few will look to both Bouldin and Austin Daye to take their games to the next level and compensate for the program’s lack of experience. With a strong senior campaign underneath his belt, Bouldin may be a player that factors into the latter part of the first round in 2010, should he decide to return to school this spring.

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