Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC (Part One: #1-#5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC (Part One: #1-#5)
Oct 03, 2007, 01:12 am
Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-10:

Part One, Two, Three

Top Returning NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC:

Part One, Two, Three

#1: Marreese Speights, 6'10, Sophomore, Power Forward, Florida

Rodger Bohn

On the 06-07 Gator post depth chart behind NBA draftees Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Chris Richard was a player far more productive then the trio, at least in terms of statistical output per 40 minutes. He does not have the aggressiveness of Noah, the maturity of Horford, or the strength of Richard. Instead, we found a player who had certain similarities to each of the three, and now comes in ranked as the SEC's top prospect for the 07-08 season: Sophomore Marreese Speights.

Standing 6'10 and weighing 250 pounds, we are looking at a player with ideal size for a modern dan NBA big man. Although already having substantial strength, Marreese has a frame that could easily add another 20 pounds. His wingspan is above average for a player his size, and is completely utilized on both ends of the court.

Athletically, there is very little to complain about with Speights. He combines excellent raw strength with above average leaping ability. The sophomore is excellent running the floor, both in terms of offense and defense. In terms of raw size and athleticism, there isn't a whole lot one could ask more from in a 20 year old power forward.

Now that we have gotten Speights' immense package of physical gifts out of the way, it’s time to talk about his game. It is hard for many to imagine how a player who played just 5.7 minutes per game can be the top prospect in one of the nation's strongest conferences. Well, if you are basing this strictly on statistical output, the UF freshman becomes a little more appealing as you dig deeper into the box score.

In the 5.7 minutes he played each game, he posted averages of 4.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, and .5 blocks per game. He did all of this while shooting an eye popping 67% from the field. If one were to translate those averages into per 40 minute averages, one would quickly see why there is so much buzz around Speights. Per 40 minutes, he threw up averages of 28.7 points, 18.2 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks. Not bad for a player fourth on a team's post depth chart, right?

Within eight feet of the cup, Speights showed off an uncommon set of moves for a college freshman. He has a jump hook that he shoots with either hand with solid accuracy. The footwork that he exhibits on the low blocks is reminiscent of a player much smaller, with Marreese even beginning to develop some counter moves. The touch that is shown is also excellent, as he is able to kiss the ball softly off of the glass with either hand from 8 feet and in. Those mits that kiss the ball off of the glass are also outstanding when it comes to catching the ball, evident by the tough catches made routinely by the big man.

One area of Speights' game that has a sizable amount of room for improvement is his jump-shot. The few jumpers that he took in games were off the mark, and it was clear that his comfort zone was much closer to the rim.

Defensively, there is plenty of potential in the Gator big man. He has shown to be a nice positional defender, holding his spot on the low blocks via his lower body strength. On this end, he has especially shown potential as a shot blocker, challenging shots with either hand. Speights does a good job of staying on the ground and not biting for opponents' shot fakes, while also showing off quick leaping skills and good timing. One area that Marreese does appear to struggle in is guarding players on the perimeter, however. He just doesn't seem to move his feet well enough to keep in front of opposing posts that drag him away from the basket, an area he will surely have to improve upon. Regardless, it’s not hard to imagine that getting beat up on in practice every day by the likes of Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard prepared him exceptionally well for anything he’ll face this upcoming season.

Whether or not Speights is able to continue his production over the course of an entire game will ultimately be the key factor in whether or not he is able to bolt to the NBA sooner rather than later. With the Gators losing five players to the NBA (and one to Greece), there will certainly be more shots available within the Florida offense. While there remain many questions about how Speights will fair in his new role as the go to post player, he has all of the tools to develop into a high draft pick with a strong showing this season.

#2: Richard Hendrix, 6-8, Junior, Power Forward, Alabama

Jonathan Givony

Statistically one of the most impressive returning players in college basketball on a per-minute basis, there will be some lofty expectations from Richard Hendrix heading into his junior season. That’s especially true considering the graduation of Jermareo Davidson and the fact that starting point guard Ron Steele is redshirting the season with continued knee problems.

Hendrix is a rare specimen in college basketball—a big, strong, smart, tough and skilled Carlos Boozer-esqe post player who can score effectively with his back to the basket. He’s a terrific finisher around the hoop, despite being somewhat limited in his explosiveness, but shows awesome ability to pin his man and shield him with his body and doing an especially notable job using the glass to finish craftily around the rim, particularly using the opposite side of the rim on a reverse. He mixes in spin-moves with fundamentally sound footwork and pretty jump-hooks featuring outstanding touch—always knowing where he is in the paint and being about as close to automatic inside as you’ll get at this level, indeed ranking 3rd in this draft class in field goal percentage at 60%, only behind Roy Hibbert. Hendrix is as noted not the most impressive player vertically, but he is pretty quick off his feet and combined with his strength, smarts, timing and toughness can be a real load for opposing defenders to handle—even the outstanding Florida Gator frontcourt for example, which he lit up for 16 points and 8 rebounds in a very close loss on the road.

More than just an effective scorer, Hendrix is also the 2nd best rebounder in this draft class as well, largely thanks to his terrific timing and outstanding hands, which serve as suction cups that allow him to gobble up rebounds over bigger, more athletic players that he should have no business grabbing. His fundamentals, aggressive nature and basketball IQ all come in very handy here, as you would expect from a coach’s son.

Hendrix showed sparks of an effective mid-range jumper—even looking good on one occasion stepping out behind the 3-point line to knock down a shot. He is also not a bad ball-handler, facing up on a couple of occasions through the year to take his man off the dribble and make his way intelligently to the rim, despite his average first step. This is a part of his game that Hendrix will have to show more of if he’s to successfully make the transition from NCAA center to NBA power forward—as well as trimming down as much as possible (he’s currently listed at 265) to help improve his quickness. He’ll also need to show more ability to use his left hand when finishing around the basket- as he clearly prefers to go to his right even in situations where he wastes valuable time and space switching hands.

The most concerning part of Hendrix’s game revolves around his defensive ability, though. Already undersized at around 6-8, without outstanding athleticism to make up for it, Hendrix really can’t be considered anything more than a poor defender at this point. His lateral quickness is awful, he gives up way too much space in the paint, and he really does not seem to put in much effort at all in terms of moving his feet and staying in front of his man—particularly when forced to get out and defend the perimeter. Part of the season why he wasn’t able to play more minutes last year was because of the foul problems he encountered, something that must improve considering how heavily Bama will rely on him this season. They were nothing short of a massive disappointment last season, going from being projected in the top 10 in preseason polls to ending their season in the first round of the NIT.

Things don’t look much better for the Crimson Tide this season…unless they can get their go-to guy to step up and have a dominant year.

#3: Jamont Gordon, 6-4, PG/SG, Junior, Mississippi State

Joseph Treutlein

Jamont Gordon quietly put together an extremely productive sophomore season, averaging over 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists in the SEC. It’s also worth noting that he improved in every single notable statistical category from his freshman to sophomore year, while not seeing an increase in minutes. Gordon regularly plays three, sometimes four, positions for the Bulldogs, though he’s primarily their point guard, even if he projects as more of a combo-guard in the pros.

The left-handed Gordon has a very strong build for a 6’4 guard, though he’s not the quickest or most explosive athlete for his size, having an average first step without a great vertical leap. Despite these shortcomings, Gordon’s game is predominantly based on his dribble-drive slashing game, as he’s extremely aggressive attacking the hole, and does a pretty good job finishing when he gets there. He uses fakes and jump-stops well to get by his man, and does a good job adjusting in mid-air and finishing off the glass at the basket, often going to a reverse lay-up off the glass if he gets too deep below the rim. He doesn’t make very many quick moves in the lane, but relies on subtle changes in directions and turns of his body to make his way to the hoop.

Gordon is a lot more comfortable going left when attacking, not going as strong to the hole with his weaker right-handed dribble, though he’s still able to get the job done that way occasionally. Gordon takes contact well at the basket, but sometimes has trouble finishing over bigger opponents, not getting much elevation on his field-goal attempts. This is also sometimes a problem when Gordon is offensive rebounding, as he struggles to convert on many of his put-back attempts. That’s not to take away from his rebounding, though, as it’s one of his greatest strengths. He attacks the boards with great ferocity on both ends of the court, often pulling down rebounds over players much larger than himself.

Gordon also brings a formidable outside shot to the table, having decent form on his spot-up shots, despite a slower than average release speed and a little bit of a hitch in his shooting motion. Gordon gets into trouble when pulling up from deep, though, not usually keeping his feet beneath him, while fading away from the basket, leading to much decreased accuracy. Gordon also rarely utilizes a mid-range game, taking most of his field-goal attempts from behind the three-point arc or within 5 feet of the basket.

As a point guard, Gordon gets the job done at the college level, but probably isn’t poised to be a full-time floor general at the next level. He gets most of his assists finding open shots in the basic flow of the offense or pushing the ball in transition, rarely creating off dribble-drive opportunities. When taking the ball into the lane, Gordon usually is looking for his own shot, though he does make the occasional dump-off down low.

Defensively, Gordon is aggressive staying with his man, fighting through screens, and playing pressure defense, but his lateral quickness is a weakness against many quicker guards. He isn’t afraid to take a charge, and his fundamentals are solid, but he still gets beat in one-on-one situations, where he is susceptible to quick moves.

Gordon is a bit tough to project as an NBA player, as his style of play doesn’t really emulate any current player. He has all the intangibles one would look for, and definitely has a lot of skill, but he’s between positions and isn’t the greatest athlete, so things may not be as easy for him against higher competition on both ends of the floor. He should be drafted this upcoming year should he declare, but to push himself into the first round, he’ll need to improve his jump shot and cut down on his turnovers. Adding a bit of a mid-range game wouldn’t hurt either.

#4: Chris Lofton, 6-2, Senior, Shooting Guard, Tennessee

Kyle Nelson

Chris Lofton has plenty of odds against him. After all, he is a severely undersized NCAA shooting guard. But considering the recent NBA success of Daniel Gibson type combo guards, combined with Lofton’s advanced scoring ability, the window in the draft for undersized shooting guards has temporarily widened.

Chris Lofton is a sniper. He possesses infinite range and an absolutely beautiful jump shot. His mechanics are textbook: lightning quick release with a high release point and good elevation. Perhaps just as impressive is his ability to create his shot. Whether it is creating separation off the dribble or navigating his way around screens, when Lofton wants to shoot from the perimeter, he usually gets his way. He shot 253 three-pointers last season and made a solid 41.7% of them. He took a little more than 8 three-point shots a game last year and though he will probably be a perimeter specialist in the NBA, it is important that he figures out other ways to help his team win next season.

Lofton is at times on the streaky side from the perimeter, but, as his 28.1 points/per 40 minutes scoring average (ranked first amongst players on our mock draft) and his 64% true shooting percentage represent, he knows how to put the ball in the basket.

But Lofton’s not just a shooter. He is also a good slasher at the NCAA level. He’s not particularly fast, but he is quick enough to get into the lane and smart enough to compensate for his lack of size and athleticism, sometimes showing a nice floater on some of his drives. He is also a tough player and last season, more than doubled his trips to the foul line to just over five a game. For a guy that is considered to be a jump-shooter, these are encouraging numbers. The fact that he shoots 81% from the line is not bad either. His sophomore year, he shot nearly 92% from the line, further supporting his foul shooting ability. He also expanded his offensive game to the midrange, where is in the process of becoming a good pull up shooter. This is an area in which he could stand to improve on even more before the end of next season.

Defense is an area in which Lofton might never be a star, but he puts in more effort than most players in his situation. He is a good man defender with quick hands and relatively quick feet, but is clearly a step slower than he should be. He is not large enough to fight through screens and because of this, he is often caught running behind them or simply getting stuck. He’ll likely be guarding point guards in the NBA (hopefully alongside a bigger playmaking guard), and he is far too slow at this juncture. These defensive concerns are a major drawback as far as scouts are concerned, and could realistically be enough to eradicate his chances at making it.

Another question in terms of his NBA potential is his point guard abilities. Basically, while he is an incredibly mature, intelligent, and clutch player, he is not a point guard. Though he has a good handle and moves well leading the break, he is a step slower with the ball in his hands and does not show the vision or anticipation to be an effective playmaker. However, in an NBA that has seen everybody from David Wesley to Daniel Gibson as pseudo point guards in recent years, it is not far-fetched to imagine Lofton playing effectively alongside a big guard. After all, he takes care of the ball very well and ranks near the bottom of current draft prospects in terms of turnovers. Whether or not he can make the transition is unknown, but a good season along with a deep tourney run should answer a few questions.

#5: Patrick Beverley, 6-0, Sophomore, Point Guard, Arkansas

Mike Schmidt

From a pure-production standpoint, Beverley had an outstanding freshman season, walking away as the SEC’s freshman of the year. The talented guard from the Chicago area will look to come back his sophomore season and establish himself as one of the top players in the SEC, while trying to win games and impress scouts at the same time.

Beverley is a streak scorer who can absolutely light it up from the perimeter when ‘on’. A threat as a set shooter and off the dribble, he makes some very difficult shots against even the best defenses. As a freshman, he shot 39% from behind the arc on the season, an impressive feat considering that he hoisted five threes per game. Beverley’s also utilizes an impressive mid-range game to his advantage, showing the ability to pull up from 15 feet or shoot the floater over bigger players inside the paint.

Defensively, Beverley plays with good all-around effort, and uses his length well to keep the offense from penetrating. Help defense positioning appears to be another strength for the sophomore guard, though he does struggle to fight through screens against stronger players at times.

To make the jump to the NBA, Beverley will have to prove he can become more of a distributor. Last season, he spent a good amount of time playing the 2 guard spot, and didn’t exactly show great floor general skills while manning the point. When driving to the hoop, he seems much too focused on finding his own shot rather than breaking down the defense and finding the open man. Beverley does show some solid passing skills in the open court, and his role as a scorer might limit what he can show as a point guard, however.

Physically, Beverley lacks the ideal size for the NBA, and really needs to add weight to his frame. At the next level, bigger guards will be able to punish him in one on one situations, where they will just back him down and score. Beverley shows good quickness in the open court, but he rarely takes advantage of this in the half court setting. Rather than penetrating all the way to the basket and drawing a foul, it seems that he chooses to take a more difficult floater at times, which has an effect on his scoring efficiency.

Patrick Beverley has the tools to play in the NBA, but he must further develop his point guard skills to reach his potential. His shooting could make a very nice compliment off the bench in the NBA, and a Daniel Gibson type of role would make sense for him at the next level. If he can show progress as a sophomore and lead Arkansas into the NCAA Tournament, Beverley will help his draft stock considerably.

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