NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/11/2008, Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/11/2008, Part One
Dec 11, 2008, 04:07 am
We kick off our series of NCAA Weekly Performers once again with four prospects, taking a look at three high-major big men –including Blake Griffin– who have made large strides in their play from last season to this one, as well as an under the radar mid-major point guard. As players get more reps underneath their belt and go up against better competition, we'll continue to evaluate the progress made by prospects around the country, and update their profiles more frequently.

Blake Griffin, 6-10, Sophomore, PF/C, Oklahoma
24.8 points, 16.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 3.8 turnovers, 2.1 steals, 67% FG, 60% FT

Jonathan Givony

Although we’re always reluctant to read too much into the early results of the often mediocre out of conference schedules, it’s become increasingly difficult to ignore the outrageous production of Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin.

25 points per game, 16 rebounds—shooting 67% from the field and getting to the free throw line nearly 12 times per game, Griffin is putting up amazing numbers against a couple of decent opponents (namely Purdue, Southern Cal, Davidson, and to a lesser extent Tulsa and UAB)—even hitting a pair of 3-pointers along the way.

Even though NBA scouts will continue to nitpick every possession he plays from here on out, it’s pretty obvious that Griffin has taken a big step forward in his progress as a player, and is clearly living up to expectations-- if not far surpassing them.

We heard quite a bit about the amount of work that Griffin put in this summer, and the results have not been difficult to discern.

Griffin’s ball-handling skills look much improved, as you’ll often see him grab a defensive rebound and begin to dribble the ball up-court himself, adding some nifty spin-moves in for good measure along the way. This isn’t always the best idea in the world considering that he’s 6-10, but it’s nice to see the versatility he displays, and he does a good job showing off his terrific coordination and body control at the same time.

We’re still yet to see the dribble-drive become a real staple of his half-court repertoire, but it’s not very hard to envision that happening down the road considering his terrific tools. Facing up from the mid-post, Griffin’s quickness and fluidity makes him an absolute nightmare to try and stay in front of—which is one of the main reasons he ranks #1 amongst all prospects in our database in free throw attempts.

His unreal combination of strength, explosiveness and aggressiveness contributes heavily in this area as well, making him a near automatic finisher when put in a position to score around the basket. Even when he gets fouled around the rim, or is unable to simply throw down a powerful dunk, he’s often able to convert regardless thanks to his excellent touch and massive hands.

Another area of improvement revolves around his perimeter jump-shot, which appears to have made significant strides. His mechanics look solid, with a nice release and follow-through, and the ability to use the glass in Duncan-esqe fashion. As noted, he’s already hit two 3-pointers this season (his lone attempts), which is pretty impressive despite the limited sample size. He hasn’t really attempted enough jumpers from any range to draw any definitive conclusions just yet, but the progress he’s made is encouraging.

It would be nice to see Griffin improve his free throw shooting, though—still very mediocre at just 60% (up from 59% last season). He’s leaving at least 2-3 points on the board every single night when considering how often he gets there, which may come back to haunt him as Oklahoma approaches the post-season.

Defensively, Griffin still appears to rely too much on his physical tools, even if his intensity looks a bit better than it did last season. He has a tendency to gamble for steals excessively (his quickness makes it quite easy for him to jump in front of post-entry passes) and seems to give up position too easily on the block (possibly to avoid cheap fouls), but there is regardless no doubt whatsoever that he should be able to develop into an excellent defender in time if he wants to thanks to his terrific physical tools, smarts and intensity.

Griffin has been an absolute monster on the glass, leading the NCAA by a wide margin in rebounds per game for all the many reasons already mentioned.

Griffin looks the part of a potential #1 pick, not just because of his production or athleticism, but because of the intangibles he appears to possess. He looks like an excellent teammate-- unselfish, intelligent, and showing the competitiveness of a real winner, which should make teams comfortable about making the significant investment involved in picking him so high.

What’s scary is that he looks nowhere near a finished product at this point. His back to the basket skills could still use work, his decision making lapses on occasion, and he’s a little bit turnover prone. Still only 19 years old, there is plenty of time to work on his all-around polish.

DeShawn Sims, 6’8, Junior, Power Forward, Michigan

Rodger Bohn

As a heralded recruit coming out of high school, expectations were quite high for DeShawn Sims when he made his arrival in Ann Arbor. Two lackluster seasons for the Wolverines mixed with inconsistent play and horrible shot selection from Sims left little room for optimism for the junior. However, he has made a complete 180 with his play this season thus far, shooting 16 percent higher from the field and leading his team to two victories over top 5 opponents.

For starters, Sims passes the look test of a solid power forward prospect, minus a few inches. Although only 6’8, he has a very long wingspan and a massive frame. Already at a muscular 235 pounds, he has plenty of room to bulk up more if desired. Sims is a good, but not great athlete in terms of both running the floor and getting off of the ground. It’s pretty surprising to see a player who is approaching 240 pounds get up and down the floor with the coordination that he does. However, he doesn’t have the world’s best lateral quickness when defending players who opt to face the basket.

Much of Sims' offensive game centers around his ability to shoot the ball. Perfectly capable of knocking down jumpers from both mid-range and beyond the arc, he shows off good form and nice range for a power forward. The Detroit native's consistency from the three point line needs to continue to improve, but his accuracy is good enough for the time being to keep opposing defenders honest.

Inside, Sims has shown off a very soft touch when going to work in the post. Capable of finishing with either hand around the basket, he has shown glimpses of a nice jump hook turning towards both shoulders. His go-to move remains his turnaround jumper on the blocks, though.

The large hands that the Detroit native owns help him greatly in terms of finishing in the paint, both in transition and in half court sets. He catches even the hardest of passes inside, finishing with a dunk whenever possible. In transition, he runs the floor well and is usually able to beat his man down the floor for at least one easy bucket each game.

When Sims looks to attack the basket, it’s mostly two or three dribbles in a straight line. He isn’t a player who is going to break you down with creative scoring moves off of the dribble, but can take slower big men off of the dribble with his solid first step.

One of the major problems that plagued Sims throughout this first two years at Michigan was his tendency to fall in love with the outside jumpshot. While he has been much better with this issue throughout this team’s first few games, there are still many instances in which he would be better served making a power move towards the rim rather than settling for a tough fadeaway out of the post. He’s regardless gone from a horrid 39% from the field to a very solid 55% this season—one of the main reasons he’ll be drawing much more attention.

Michigan’s now patented zone makes it a bit challenging to evaluate Sims’ man to man defense on a consistent basis. There’s no denying that he has the physical gifts to defend opposing power forwards on the blocks, but he appears a bit heavy footed when defending the perimeter. He’s certainly learning to play smarter defense, as he’s not getting into the same type of foul trouble he did earlier in his career. The question remains whether or not he has the desire to defend with regularity. He has been a solid rebounder this season averaging 8.4 boards a game, despite posting poor numbers in this area throughout his first two years.

Sims’ consistency and ability to play winning basketball this year will eventually determine the type of NBA interest he receives at the conclusion of this season. He and Manny Harris have firmly placed themselves on the NBA radar with their huge upsets on center stage, and will have the opportunity to further bolster their draft stock with strong play. For now, Sims has done a very nice job of doing so.

Ben Woodside , 5-11, Senior, Point Guard, North Dakota
20.7 points, 7.2 assists, 3.7 turnovers, 2.5 rebounds, 49% FG, 52% 3P, 82% FT

Scott Nadler

A relative unknown in the college basketball world, Ben Woodside is continuing to show what the fans of North Dakota have been witnessing for the past three years. The reason for his anonymity is because it’s only the Bison’s second year in Division I competition as new members of the Summit League. The Bison ended last season with an impressive thrashing of eventual champion Oral Roberts, but because of NCAA transitioning restrictions, NDSU had to forfeit any postseason aspirations. The restrictions are lifted and the Bison are now a team that could be wearing that proverbial slipper come March.

The leader of the bunch is point guard Ben Woodside, who has career averages of 18.2 PPG and 5.1 APG and is a career 40% 3 point shooter on five attempts a game. No longer a sleeper, Woodside is now on scouts’ radars and with another big season he could be a prospect for Portsmouth and the NBA draft workout circuit. Two causes for concern right off the bat for Woodside however, are his size—at just 5-11, and his age, as he will be only days away from his 24th birthday by next June’s draft.

Woodside is a scoring point guard (24.5 points per-40 pace adjusted) who can really shoot the ball. He has an effortless stroke with very little wasted motion and range that extends well beyond the NBA 3 point line. He has the ability to create a shot for himself off the dribble, especially coming off pick and rolls, where he is extremely adept. He comes off pick and rolls very tight, forcing a switch or a delayed hedge which he is very good at exploiting. Despite being less than 6 feet, Woodside has no problem getting his shot off. He has a very quick release and does a good job with his handle to create space.

Woodside is very quick for a mid-major college point guard, but he doesn’t display freakish athleticism by NBA standards. He gets to the basket on a regular basis and the reason for that is two-fold. Firstly, as mentioned previously, his shot is deadly. As a constant threat from behind the arc, opposing guards play him tight and are told to run him off the 3 point line. He’s very good at using jab steps and head fakes, which get defenders leaning, giving him a step otherwise unachievable.

The second reason is his craftiness and deceptiveness. He changes speeds very well, makes great use of ball screens and can lull an opponent to sleep with his dribble before he accelerates to the basket. He splits screens regularly, which often leads to a short shot or tear drop in the lane. This incredible knack for getting to the basket is evidenced by his high free throw rate, as he’s getting there 6.5 times a game for his career – an impressive stat considering his size.

On the downside, Woodside has a tendency to over dribble and force the action. When getting cut off from a drive, he’ll be persistent to a fault - either trying to drive amongst a crowded defense to make a play that’s not there, or force up a tough shot. He doesn’t protect the ball well either on his drives as he susceptible to being stripped. He also favors his right hand considerably, and coughs the ball up on 1/5th of his possessions.

He’s currently averaging 7.2 APG (6th in the country), which suggests he’s a terrific passer, but the jury is still out on that. His high turnover rate thus far (3.7 a game) gives him a solid but not spectacular 1.9 A/TO ratio. He makes simple passes to open shooters or bounce passes on a two on one break, but none really eye opening. He goes for homerun passes in the paint which can either lead to a great assist or a costly turnover. When he decides to penetrate he often makes up his mind to shoot the ball instead of staying cognizant of open teammates. He has a propensity to leave his feet to make a pass which is always a dangerous decision.

On the defensive end, Woodside plays in spurts. At times he looks very good and prevents drives to the hoop, and other times he gets blown by. Overall, he’s a much better on the ball defender than he is off of it. His decent lateral quickness, high I.Q., and strong upper body all contribute to his ability to compete at this end against more talented guards.

Off the ball however, he often has lapses in concentration as he’ll come out of his stance, be a second late on a rotation or casually swipe at an off guard driving past his side. He can get lazy on the ball as well as demonstrated by his habit of letting his man go past him with hopes of poking the ball out from behind. His lack of size will always be considered a hindrance regardless, as just doesn’t have the length to contest most shots or deny passes on the perimeter, and will be susceptible to post-ups from bigger guards.

Woodside will need to prove that he can be a pure point guard at the next level by cutting his turnovers down and improving his decision making abilities. His shot will serve him very well and ensure that he plays somewhere professionally next season. It’s going to be interesting to follow the Bison through this season and a lot will depend on how far Woodside can carry them.

Deon Thompson, 6’8, PF/C, UNC, Junior
14.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.6 blocks, 59% FG, 54% FT

Kyle Nelson

Our pre-season evaluation of UNC big man Deon Thompson ended with the following conclusion: “Thompson has surprised us before. It’s not out of the question that he could surprise us again.” Well, this season he has surprised us—thanks in large part due to the absence of Tyler Hansbrough. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how much Deon Thompson has improved.

For one, his averages of 14.9 ppg (58.9% FG), 7.9 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.6 bpg are by far the best in his collegiate career, and have largely been accomplished against solid competition. Similarly, in his first two seasons, he scored in double figures just 12 times and only recorded one double double. This year, he already has two double doubles and eight straight games in double figures including a 20 point, 9 reb, 1 stl, and 1 blk performance against Patrick Patterson and Kentucky Wildcats and 19 pts, 13 reb, 2 stl, and 1 blk game against Luke Harangody and the Notre Dame. His numbers are up across the board and this year he has taken some big steps forward.

Physically, it’s the same story for Thompson. He is undersized for the NBA post and not quite athletic enough to fully compensate, running the court awkwardly and not possessing ideal lateral quickness or leaping ability. He does have a nice frame, though, which he has started to use more effectively this year.

Offensively, Thompson’s improvements can be summed up by the following statistic: his current 14.9 ppg average in 27 minutes is almost is a point higher than he scored per-40 minutes pace adjusted last season. This year, he has a more diverse offensive repertoire and has expanded his game significantly from the past two seasons. Without Tyler Hansbrough in the lineup early in the season, Thompson was forced to play more in the post, and responded with some of the most refined footwork of his career.

Combined with his soft touch around the basket, Thompson has become a very capable post scorer at the collegiate level. He can sometimes become a bit mechanical the deeper he gets into the post and occasionally looks like he could be more aggressive around the basket, but there is still time for him to work and his improvement over the summer is a good sign for future development.

Another area for Thompson to improve is his ball-handling ability, as he is far more comfortable going left than right and has trouble putting the ball on the floor without turning it over at this stage. That said, Hansbrough’s presence in the starting lineup has a tendency to stunt Thompson’s offensive effectiveness. With Hansbrough back in the middle for the Tarheels, Thompson again resorts to his arsenal of mid-range spot-up jumpshots or turnaround jumpers on the baseline. While it would be great to see him post-up more often, Thompson is shooting better from the field than ever before, boasting TS% and eFG%s of 59% (up from 50 and 48% last year) and showing far more fluid mechanics than before. His free throw shooting, on the other hand, is a different story, at a very mediocre 54%.

On the defensive end, Thompson shows better awareness, especially when guarding his man in the post. While he lacks the ideal size and athleticism to guard perimeter-oriented big men, he is putting forth more effort this year, keeping his feet active and his hands up. He also does a great job of staying in his defensive stance. His focus sometimes wanes, however, and he is still not great at defending against the pick and roll or rotating out to the wings to close out shooters. Similarly, he is boxing out more than he did in the past, but he still needs to focus on gaining position under the basket.

With Thompson, however, this season has been a night and day difference when compared to last season. This year, Thompson has emerged as a passionate player, aggressive on both ends of the floor, and an essential element of UNC’s post game. We said earlier this year that it would be a positive step if Thompson earned playing time, let alone improved all of his numbers and remained a starter.

With this in mind, Thompson has started to realize his potential and show that there is a reason to consider him a prospect down the road. He still has a long way to go, however, and consistency is still very much the key on both ends of the floor. Considering that his role in the NBA—if any—would be to come off the bench, he must show already right now that he is capable of being productive with limited minutes and playing time. If this year is any indication, though, he is well on his way to emerging as one of the breakout players of the out of conference portion of the regular season and, minus Hansbrough next year, could easily reemerge once again for the duration of the year.

Recent articles

4.0 Points
3.7 Rebounds
1.5 Assists
13.1 PER
13.3 Points
5.6 Rebounds
1.8 Assists
15.8 PER
19.3 Points
4.8 Rebounds
1.5 Assists
20.9 PER
8.8 Points
3.3 Rebounds
5.5 Assists
12.4 PER
7.9 Points
5.0 Rebounds
1.7 Assists
15.1 PER
0.0 Points
0.0 Rebounds
0.0 Assists
0.0 PER
3.5 Points
4.0 Rebounds
0.0 Assists
0.9 PER
8.8 Points
4.6 Rebounds
0.8 Assists
15.0 PER

Twitter @DraftExpress

DraftExpress Shop