Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Three: #11-#15)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Three: #11-#15)
Oct 01, 2007, 02:20 am
#11: James Gist, 6-8, Senior, Power Forward, Maryland

Kyle Nelson

James Gist is a member of the ever-growing group of tweener forwards that have crowded the NBA Draft conversation as of late. Too short and skinny for a prototypical NBA power forward, he seems most suited for an NBA small forward with his quickness and athleticism. The problem? He’s clearly got some work to do in the skills department. However, his potential is undeniable and he should do some serious damage in the paint next year with the graduation of Ekene Ibekwe.

Standing a legitimate 6’8 and weighing around 225 lbs, Gist enjoys the athleticism, mobility, and speed to be labeled a physical specimen, even by lofty NBA standards. He runs the floor very well and has the explosiveness needed to finish contested dunks or layups on fast breaks. He doesn’t have great ball-handling ability, and looks fairly mechanical trying to create offense for himself. He shows decent form on his set shot, though, which has college three-point range. He also has a turnaround jump-shot and a jump hook in his offensive arsenal.

Off the dribble, Gist can shoot, but it does not look quite as natural at this point because he shows a tendency to pause before going into his shooting motion. In the post, he is a completely different player. He uses his strength and athleticism to dunk just about anything around the basket and get offensive rebounds, but is a bit limited trying to do much more than that. He doesn’t show the greatest touch near the basket, but, as witnessed through his percentages (53% FG, 42% 3FG, 71% FT), Gist is an effective scorer at the college level.

Gist has all of the physical attributes and athleticism to be a good college post-defender. He blocks shots all over the floor at a good rate (2.1/game) and can stick with most collegiate players. He is a good defensive rebounder (5/game, 6.6/48 min) that could get even better with a better understanding of fundamentals under his belt. However, it’s all about effort with Gist. He just has to stay focused on the defensive end to be effective. On the perimeter, he gives his man too much space, but it is simply a matter of undeveloped instinct rather than a lack of effort. It will be important for him to work on his defense this year, because without the equally long and athletic Ibekwe, any inadequacy will be more visible. His potential, though, is quite promising. He has very long arms to go with his athleticism and shows good enough lateral movement to make the transition in the NBA.

However, he must show that he is comfortable playing on the perimeter and creating his own offense. At this point in his career, he is an undersized post player with limited perimeter abilities. To become a true NBA combo-forward prospect, he’s going to have to develop this kind of offense.

This being said, there is a chance that James Gist will see some kind of big-league paycheck. His combination of skills, athleticism, size, and effort is coveted in the NBA. Without Ibekwe in the post and with improvement at the point guard position, a big season is expected out of Gist and the Terrapins. He could be a sleeper in the NBA draft game, and with another breakthrough season under his belt, it is not a stretch to imagine him sneaking into draft conversations.

#12: Deon Thompson, 6'8, Power Forward, Sophomore, North Carolina

Rodger Bohn

With the loss of Brandan Wright to the NBA, there will be plenty of opportunity available for Thompson to step in and make his presence felt for the Tarheels. He showed plenty of promise throughout the limited playing time that he received as a freshman, leaving the UNC staff feeling a little better about Wright's decision to bolt to the NBA after one lone season. He then went on to have a great summer in the U-19 World Championships, emerging as Team USA’s best player in the final crucial games.

Despite averaging less than 5 points per game, Deon showed flashes of brilliance at times for UNC. If his offensive performance versus Arizona (14 points, 6 rebounds in 23 minutes) can be more of a norm, the Tar Heels will not miss a beat in terms of putting points on the board from the power forward position.

The California native is a skilled low post player, already exhibiting two "go to" moves on the blocks. He has a smooth right handed jump hook when turning towards his left shoulder, and a feathery turnaround jump-shot when going to his right shoulder. The accuracy of both of these shots easily must be around the 75% clip, making him incredibly difficult to stop when receiving the ball in a position to utilize these moves.

Aside from those two moves, Thompson's offensive repertoire is relatively limited. He is an inconsistent shooter when facing the basket from midrange, although he seems to understand this and does not take jumpers too often. His left-hand is virtually non-existent, leaving him to use his right hand where he should use his left, occasionally resulting in his shot being blocked.

On the other end of the court, Thompson has proven to be an adequate defender in the low post. His lower body strength and length allow him to hold his own against bigger players on the blocks. The California native does struggle a bit when guarding players who prefer to face the basket, however. Perimeter oriented big men give him trouble, largely due to his marginal lateral quickness and inexperience guarding players that far from the basket.

Standing only 6-foot-8, Thompson is a bit undersized for a power forward. On the flip side, though, he possesses a massive frame and is already 240 pounds. The lengthy wingspan that Deon owns helps combat his lack of height, while he has proven to be above average in terms of running the floor, when motivated. While Thompson does a good job running the floor, he is not a very explosive leaper, playing below the rim the large portion of the time he is on the court.

After only playing 12.7 minutes per game as a freshman, Thompson will see significantly more playing time this time around. He will likely begin the season as UNC's starting power forward, and will benefit greatly from playing alongside the ACC's top big man, Tyler Hansbrough. Thompson may not wow NBA scouts in terms of upside, but will surely be a player they will keep tabs on, given his expected increased statistical production.

#13: Gavin Grant, 6-8, Senior, Small Forward, N.C. State

Jonathan Givony

Ranked as the 9th best prospect in the ACC last year in this very same column, Grant has slipped a few spots this time around despite upping his averages to nearly 15 points per game (from 8.3) between his sophomore and junior seasons. Grant is clearly developing into a real go-to scoring threat at the collegiate level, but is also seriously exposing his flaws as a prospect in the process.

Watching him on tape, it’s not difficult to see why Gavin Grant was considered an intriguing prospect to begin with. Standing 6-8, he has a nice frame, solid length, and very nice athletic ability. His first step is quick and powerful, and he has no problem getting into the paint and finishing above the rim if given the opportunity to do so. He is an excellent ball-handler, capable of pulling up off the dribble from mid-range, and can go either way equally well. N.C. State would use him as both an extra ball-handler to help break the press (and sometimes as a real point-forward), or in the paint as a post-up threat, where he shows decent footwork on occasion backing down smaller guards. There really aren’t that many 6-8 players with his versatility in the college game.

With that said, Grant got exposed to a certain extent because of how heavily N.C. State relied on him to create offense for them. He averaged 4.2 turnovers per game—ranking him first in the country amongst draft prospects in that category, while also shooting just 31% from behind the arc. His shot-selection is poor, and he often looked very much out of control, putting the ball on the floor wildly on his way to the rim—regularly leading to an offensive foul. He also had too many unforced errors caused by mental lapses—throwing balls away carelessly for example, or not executing his role within N.C. State’s offense.

To really maximize his chances as a draft prospect, Grant must tighten up his shooting mechanics. He has an inconsistent release point on his jumper—usually shooting it on the way down off a small bunny hop. This can be fixed, but it will take a good amount of work to really get down pat.

Grant would also be well served to work on his perimeter defense. He doesn’t seem to put all that much effort into this part of his game, giving his man way too much space, letting players blow past him way too easily, and gambling excessively for steals. He does not seem to have great fundamentals in this area, although the physical tools are there and then some. This is a part of his game he has to work on if he’s to make and stick in the NBA.

Regardless, expect to hear the name Gavin Grant mentioned frequently leading all the way into the draft process. He’ll have every opportunity to showcase his credentials as an NBA player as a top scoring option for N.C. State, and then in the pre-draft camps, which he’ll likely be a part of.

#14: Ishmael Smith, 5-11, Sophomore, Point Guard, Wake Forest

Joseph Treutlein

Standing 5’11 and weighing about 155 pounds, Ishmael Smith is undersized for a point guard, but he makes up for some of his physical shortcomings with his quickness, tight ball-handling, and excellent court vision. Smith had a strong freshman season for the Demon Deacons, starting at point, playing 30 minutes per game, and averaging six assists per game, but he also scored under nine points per game and committed 3.6 turnovers per, numbers he can certainly improve on.

Smith has a pass-first approach on the offensive end, and he does most of his damage by getting into the lane, where he loves making precision bounce passes through the defense to get a good portion of his assists. He draws defenders by penetrating all the way to the basket or hesitating midway through, making passes through the seams of the defense, on many occasions without looking. He reads the floor very well and makes quick decisions when he sees openings in the defense. Smith also does a good job controlling the tempo of the game and finding open shooters, through basic perimeter ball motion in his team’s half-court set.

Smith handles the ball very well with both hands, keeping the ball low to the ground and possessing a nice array of moves, using crossovers frequently, while also going behind the back on occasion. He does a good job using hesitations and changing speeds and directions once in the lane, weaving through the defense to get to the basket. He does have a tendency to force the issue at times in the lane, though, driving into a crowd and getting into trouble where he’s forced to throw up a tough shot over much bigger defenders, leading to some low-percentage shot attempts. Smith likes to use a right-handed floater to score in the lane, and also shows good touch on his lay-ups, but sometimes he can’t score over longer defenders. He also doesn’t take contact well, and he has a tendency to pump-fake when he doesn’t need to.

Smith occasionally will go to a pull-up jumper from the 10-15 feet range, showing good form and arc on his shot, and doing a good job using his quickness to create the space necessary to get his shot off. Because of his size, he isn’t always able to get the room to get off his shot clearly, as it’s susceptible to blocks due to his height. Smith has a respectable three-point shot as well, showing good form, but he needs space and time to get off his shot, having to step into it on most attempts to generate the necessary power. With some added strength to go along with repetition, Smith has all the tools to become a very good outside shooter in time.

Defensively, Smith puts in good effort and has a solid fundamental base, but his physical shortcomings often hold him back. He doesn’t have the length to contest most perimeter shots, can’t defend in the post at all if he’s ever backed down, and sometimes players can get around him even if he does a good job moving laterally, as his frame is so slight that he’s easy to get past. Smith shows good hands and uses them well to pick at the ball, but isn’t a very big threat in the passing lanes.

All in all, Smith still has some work to do with his game, and will definitely need to become more of a scoring threat inside and out to have a shot in the NBA. He brings good passing instincts to the table, and has a solid grasp of running an offense, but could work on not dribbling into a crowd as often. Smith isn’t ready to make the leap to the pros just yet, and unless he shows incredible growth over the course of this season, he’d likely be best served coming back for his junior year as well.

#15: Jon Scheyer, 6-5, Shooting Guard, Duke, Sophomore

Mike Schmidt

Despite going through a very disappointing season, Duke fans had a lot to be encouraged by from the play of their freshman Jon Scheyer.

Standing 6-5, Scheyer scored a good number of his points from behind the three point line. His job for much of the game was to wait for the ball rotation from the weak side and hit the jumper if left open. Though his jumper lacks elevation, Scheyer gets the ball away very quickly with a high release point. The ability to get the ball off quickly allows him to shoot with accuracy even if the defense has a chance to apply pressure. Scheyer’s three point shot was streaky at times last season, however, especially in ACC games.

Scheyer brings a lot more than three point shooting to the Blue Devils. He ranked second on Duke in free throw attempts last season at 4 per game, coming in only behind Josh McRoberts. Despite lacking an incredibly explosive first step, Scheyer effectively utilizes a combination of shot fakes, jab steps, and other crafty moves to keep the defense off balance. Once at the basket he makes up for a lack of hang time by effectively drawing contact with his body and finishing at a number of different angles. From mid-range, Scheyer shows a lot of promise as well. Last season, the pull-up jumper from 15 feet off of two dribbles was probably the most accurate scoring weapon for the young guard. In addition, he can make a floater inside 10 feet with some accuracy, though he had the tendency to force this shot at times.

Despite a productive freshman season, a few big weaknesses could really limit the NBA potential of Scheyer. A lack of strength sometimes hurts him at the college level, particularly on the defensive end where he often loses his man going through screens. His average size, lateral quickness, and overall athleticism also limits the upside of the sophomore guard. Without a physical improvement, Scheyer will always struggle to create his own shot off the dribble in a half court setting.

If Scheyer could develop into more of a combo guard, his chances of making it in the NBA would greatly increase. He played the 1 in very limited stretches early last season, when Greg Paulus was still recovering from an injury. Scheyer seemed surprisingly comfortable bringing the ball up the court against pressure, but he will need to learn to penetrate from a standstill and run a team more effectively before we can talk about him legitimately as a combo guard.

There is little doubt that Scheyer will become a great scoring threat at the college level, but his NBA upside will depend on how well he overcomes his physical tools. He will play a major role for Duke this season, and his production from behind the three point line will certainly catch the eyes of some scouts. Scheyer will have the next few years to work on his weaknesses against very strong competition in the ACC before attempting to transition his game to the next level.

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