Nick Young, 6-6, Junior, Shooting Guard, USC
Vs. Arizona: 26 points, 8 rebounds, 0 assists, 2 turnovers, 9-13 FG, 3-5 3P, 5-8 FT
It has been an exciting year in the Pac-10, and one of the reasons for this is the resurgence of Tim Floyd and his USC Trojans. Floyd is getting the most out of a once-undisciplined group of youngsters who have learned to play the brand of hard-nosed half-court defense he has always been able to teach so well. Chief amongst those who have benefited from the presence of Floyd would be junior wing Nick Young, who has steadily improved over the past two seasons, to the point where he is now the go-to scorer on a team that is suddenly giving power programs like UCLA and Arizona everything they can handle.
Young's 17.2 ppg is actually down slightly from a season ago, but he is now shooting 53.5% from the field (up from 46.7%), and 47.7% from beyond the arc (33.3% a year ago). Considering that he is playing further away from the basket this year now that the Trojans have a full-time PF, and that Young gets the call nearly every time the shot clock is running down or his team needs a key basket, this level of efficiency is very impressive. Where Young once provided fans with a nightly roller coaster ride of consistency and feel for the game, his off nights have come less and less as this season has wore on.
While Young doesn't appear to do anything exceptionally well in terms of the NBA, his biggest strides have come in his midrange game. Young used to have a very up and down jump shot, sometimes looking overwhelmed in forcing the issue in the half-court. He now looks very much at ease attacking defenses designed to limit him, utilizing screens well and taking what the defense gives him. Teams used to be able to play off of him, but now he is taking midrange jumpers and making them look easy. He loves the step back/fadeaway all the way out past the 3-point line, and will spin and elevate for impressive scores closer to the basket. Young may never be a 3-point shooting specialist in the NBA, but his intuitive, simple release allows him to get shots off in a variety of ways.
Defenders now have a serious quandary in deciding whether to leave him open or let him attack the basket. Young doesn't have an exceptional first step and is still on the skinny side, but has first-rate vertical explosiveness, good slashing feel and the ability to finish through contact. For the most part, Young attacks the basket aggressively at the slightest opportunity, and barely needs any advantage at all to get to the rim in transition. There are times when he can get passive and float around the perimeter, but hes developed a fairly strong understanding of when dribble drive opportunities are available to him.
While Young's impressive junior season probably has him in line for First Team All Pac-10 honors and on the short list of legitimate conference POY candidates, there are still things he can work on. Young's offensive consistency has improved, but one gets the feeling that he can still become a better day-in, day-out go to scorer (see the disappointing loss @Arizona State in which he scored just 11 points). At times he will forget about attacking the basket and settle for lower percentage outside shots. While not a poor defender, Young's focus and intensity on the other side of the ball can certainly improve.
While Young is far from a sure thing in the NBA, his evolved offensive game gives him a chance to contribute right away, and he retains solid starter-level upside. He does a variety of things well, has the size and athleticism to make it, and has the scoring feel to make for a frame that is definitely on the lean side. Young is a good bet to test the waters after the season, especially if he can get hot in March. He has already proven he can be a go-to guy against the NCAA's elite, but a further display in the NCAA Tournament could easily push Young's stock into the middle of the first round in this wing-deprived 2007 NBA Draft.
Tyler Hansbrough, 6-9, Sophomore, Power Forward, North Carolina
Vs. Boston College: 17 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 2 blocks, 6-12 FG, 5-6 FT
Hansbroughs strength, energy, and relentless motor still define much of who he is as a player, but everything one could have reasonably asked him to improve upon this season, hes done. A year ago you may have gotten away with saying Hansbrough cant play outside of the paint on either end of the floor, and that he wouldnt be able to simply overpower the opposition at the next level as he does against his collegiate foes. But now with a more confident and effective mid-range jumper and a new committal to perimeter defense, Hansbrough is more than just a rugged, low-post bruiser, and he no longer needs to rely on just his post game to be effective.
Hansbrough is still a force to be reckoned with in the paint, possessing an incredibly polished skill set, excellent wherewithal, and a pension for drawing contact and not being phased by it. His go-to move is his mini jump hook, which he is nearly automatic with out to five feet, and still comfortable with out to 10. With his improved confidence in his jump shot, Hansbrough also is using his face-up and turnaround jumpers more often within the paint, making his repertoire that much more dangerous. When hes not in the mood for finesse, Hansbrough will opt for using a fake or combination of fakes to get his man off balance so he can power to the hole and finish with authority, contact or not. Hansbrough is frequently double and triple-teamed, but with his man-child status, he occasionally can go through them all to draw the foul or even put the ball in the basket. At the next level, Hansbrough will not have the ease he does now scoring in the paint, and he will certainly need to work on looking to pass out of double teams more often, as overpowering the opposition wont work too well when most players possess close to, if not just as much power as you do.
Because his post game wont be as effective at the next level, Hansbrough did himself a great service by putting more work into his mid-range game, and while he showed flashes of a spot-up jumper from out to 15 feet last season, its now become a more consistent staple of his game, and hes even starting to show range out to 18 feet now. Hes definitely most comfortable between 10 and 15 feet, and his shot possesses a quick release and a decently high release point, as hes seemed to cut down on the forward motion in his shot a bit, altering it to a more upward shooting motion. This is a skill that will definitely translate to the next level, and having his shot blocked by bigger, longer, more athletic opponents will be less of a concern on the perimeter than in the paint.
Defensively, Hansbrough has always been a good post defender, but hes really improved his perimeter defense this season, which was a very wise move considering he projects to be a power forward at the next level, where most power forwards are of the face-up, perimeter variety. Lateral quickness will always be somewhat of a concern for Hansbrough, but his committal in both fundamentals and effort this season should be enough to make him at least an average perimeter defender at the next level, relative to other frontcourt players. Hansbrough is tenacious at getting up on his man, lowering his center of gravity, keeping his hands out, and shifting his feet laterally to follow his mans every step. I wouldnt bet on him to shut down Chris Bosh or Jermaine ONeal, but Hansbrough should be able to hold his own at the next level with his recent development. Hansbrough is also a very fundamentally sound defender in the post, fighting hard for position, staying in front of his man, and using his intelligence to draw offensive fouls and force opponents into traveling violations. Due to his height and lack of vertical lift, Hansbrough has problems contesting shots over his head, and many big men in the NBA will be threats to shoot over him in the painted area.
Despite playing with much more talent on his team this season, Hansbroughs stats havent gone down much at all. Hes still scoring the same amount of points and pulling in the same amount of rebounds. The only area that has significantly changed is his FG%, down from .570 to .524. This may be concerning at first glance, and it certainly makes him a less efficient college player, but much of it is due to him shifting some of his game out of the painted area, which should help him a lot at the next level. His free-throw percentage is also up from .739 to .768, a testament to his improved confidence in his mid-range shot.
Its tough to project a player like Hansbrough at the next level. While certainly a tremendous college player, many of his skills just dont seem to translate well to the next level given his physical attributes, and there arent many similar players whom he compares favorably to currently in the NBA. That said, counting out a player with Hansbroughs work ethic and talent would simply be foolish, and theres a very good chance he could go on to be a very effective pro, especially with the work hes put in over the past year. Even with the doubts surrounding his athleticism and size, Hansbrough should be a sure-fire first-round pick if he declares this season, and he has an outside chance of creeping into the lottery, especially if he impresses in private workouts after the season.
Derrick Byars, 6-7, Senior, SG/SF, Vanderbilt
Vs. Florida: 24 points, 8 assists, 6 turnovers, 1 rebound, 5 steals, 11-19 FG, 2-6 3P, 0-1 FT
Byars led Vanderbilt to a massive upset on national TV against #1 ranked Florida on Saturday, a win that solidifies his teams place for an at-large NCAA tournament bid, but will now come with a much better seed. He hit an array of difficult shots from seemingly every part of the floor, coming off screens and utilizing his strength extremely well to outhustle the national champions on both ends of the floor. He did it while being matched up with one of the best defensive players in college basketball in Corey Brewer, scoring clutch baskets that kept his teams momentum going in the timeliest moments of the game.
This has been an outstanding year so far for the 5th year senior transfer out of Virginia. Hes currently the 4th leading scorer in the SEC, playing for the 2nd best team in the conference. Hes improved his all around game tremendously from when he first started his NCAA career, going from being just a solid all-around role-player with nice physical tools to a fairly complete college player who has no problem stepping up and being a leader for his team.
As far as his pro prospects go, Byars has a few things going for him, although at this point, he is anything but a sure thing. He has good size at around 6-6 (though hes listed at 6-7) to compliment his chiseled frame. Athletically he is solid, yet unspectacular, but he knows how to use his terrific strength to his advantage. His best attribute has to be his jumper, which he is hitting at a 38.5% clip from behind the arc. He has a slow and fairly deliberate release, which hurts his percentages when hes crowded excessively, particularly when shooting on the move, but hes excellent when given the opportunity to set his feet and get off a clean look.
Byars is a crafty player who likes to use an array of jab-steps and shot-fakes to create space for himself, and is capable of bullying his way into the paint and finishing creatively with his brute strength. Hes not a great ball-handler, nor does he have an explosive first step, so when he does commit himself to putting the ball on the floor, hes usually going to go all the way to the hoop rather than show an advanced pull-up game from mid-range. His court vision is above average and he makes quick and good decisions, moving intelligently off the ball, particularly off screens, and being very much capable of executing within a half-court offense. He averages a solid 3.2 assists per game, although some of this has to do with Vanderbilts offense, a variant of the Princeton offense, which is very much geared towards garnering assists.
Defensively, Byars is fundamentally sound and knows how to use his strength to his advantage. He lacks a bit of lateral quickness at times to stay in front of more explosive matchups, but he has good awareness and is committed to playing good defense, which is usually half the battle. His strength and intensity also come in handy on the glass, where he is averaging nearly 5 rebounds a game.
Byars might not be a top prospect due to his lack of incredible athleticism or shot-creating skills, but he will certainly get a chance to impress scouts at Portsmouth and possibly the pre-draft camp. To make it in the NBA, hell have to improve the speed in which he gets his shot off, since the wasted motion in his mechanics leave some real question marks as to how effective hell be against bigger and more athletic defenders, where his strength wont be as much of a factor as it currently is. He has a few things going for him, but nothing he can truly hang his hat on at this point in time as far as his upside is concerned (as a 5th year senior), which is why its important for him to help his team go as far as possible in the NCAA tournament this March.
Reggie Williams, 6-5, Junior, Shooting Guard, Senior, VMI
Vs. Radford 33 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 turnovers, 5 steals, 11-20 FG, 1-6 3P, 10-12 FT
In all fairness, we could have picked any given week this season to talk about a top performance from VMIs super junior scorer Reggie Williams. Hes currently leading the country in scoring at 28.5 ppg, and isnt showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon.
To really understand why hes putting up the numbers he is, though, a short introduction on his team is in order first. VMI plays the most unorthodox style of basketball of any team in America. Instead of playing regular half-court defense like most teams, they instead prefer to double and sometimes triple team the man who has the ball, no matter where he is on the floor. This forces opposing teams to take shots extremely early in possessions, and they in turn act similarly on offense, where any sign of daylight is immediately greeted by jacking up a 3-pointer from anywhere on the floor. You can read more about the VMI offense here. This is an incredibly fun brand of basketball to watch, and play, and it results in some extremely wacky statistics that you wont find anywhere else in the nation.
For example, VMI leads the country in scoring at 102.9 points per game, over 15 points more than their closest competitor, North Carolina. They average just under 96 possessions per game according to our DraftExpress Usage Stats, which pales in comparison with a team like Georgetown at 59.4, or Michigan State at 62.2. Therefore, if we normalize his numbers to 40-minutes on a tempo adjusted basis, he becomes only the 12th best scorer in the country, rather than #1. Thats not to take anything away from the terrific season hes having, but some objective perspective on his gaudy stats are certainly in order.
Now that we got that out of the way, lets talk about the type of player and prospect Reggie Williams is.
In terms of weaknesses, you have to wonder what hes going to hang his hat on in the NBA. Not a freakish athlete, his ball-handling and outside shooting dont stand out enough to make up for his weaknesses here. Defensively, there are major questions about who exactly he is going to guard, but wed like to see him in a real half-court defense before we draw some final conclusions. Because his team lacks size, he often plays the power forward spot for them, although they really dont have any positions in a traditional sense.
All in all, hes a very good basketball player, but its hard to say that he has an abundance of NBA qualities at his disposal. Hell surely get his fair share of invites to camps and workouts next year (hes only a junior) if he keeps producing at the level he has so far, and if anything, a long and prosperous career overseas is virtually guaranteed for him.