NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/12/07--Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/12/07--Part Two
Dec 13, 2007, 02:41 am
Earl Clark, 6-9, Small Forward/Power Forward, Sophomore,
14.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 2.4 blocks, .9 steals, 47.5% FG, 22.2% 3PT

Rodger Bohn

After a promising conclusion to his freshman campaign, Clark has came out with a bang in 07-08. His strong all around stats serve as an example of how much he can bring to the table, when properly utilized. Playing strictly on the perimeter as a prep player, Clark rarely used his talents to their maximum potential. Since his arrival at Louisville, Coach Pitino has made the New Jersey native fully understand how to utilize his size, quickness, and athleticism, resulting in the excellent performance he is having across the board so far.

There is very little to complain about physically when evaluating Clark. At 6’9 with a tremendous wingspan, he has ideal height and length for either forward position in the NBA. In addition to his size, he already has a very strong body that is ready for the next level and adequate enough quickness to enable him to defend both forward spots. Clark’s overall athleticism and ability to get up and down the floor will allow him to be a force on the glass and score garbage points, at the bare minimum.

With the latest indefinite suspension of Derrick Caracter and injuries to Juan Palacios and David Padgett, the New Jersey native finds himself as the lone post presence for the Cardinals and will be forced to play center for quite some time. This will give him the opportunity to show off his vast array of offensive skills as a mismatch threat, including his rapidly developing post game. Coach Pitino has done an excellent job of selling Clark on the fact that he can be much better utilized playing both inside and out, instead of just hanging out on the perimeter exclusively. He likes to use a nice little turnaround jumper in the post in particular, while his strong inside play has also been apparent in terms of his rebounding, where he has been a downright monster on the glass, corralling nearly 12 rebounds per game. His second and third bounce getting off the floor is particularly impressive and has helped Louisville keep countless possessions alive on the offensive glass.

The 2006 McDonald’s All American is also capable of beating defenders from the outside, where he exhibits above average quickness and an improving jump-shot from mid-range. He likes to receive the ball about 17 feet away from the basket and then attack his matchup by wiggling his way to the hoop, being fairly difficult for opposing big men to stay in front of. Louisville’s “pick and pop” style of offense gives Clark the freedom to show what he can do from the outside, despite being slotted at the power forward and center positions. It’s not rare to see him grab a rebound himself and then bring the ball up the floor and get Louisville into its offense, which is not a common sight for a player his size. He can also deliver some very smart passes from time to time, either on the move, or setting up his fellow big man in the post in high/low half-court sets.

On the defensive side of things, Clark primarily guards players in the pivot. His size, strength, and athleticism allow him to make his presence felt, shown by his performance in the rebounding and shot blocking columns. The potential is definitely there for Earl to be a very nice defender at the next level, given that he is able to learn the fundamentals and reduces his gambling tendencies on that side of the floor. He needs to be a little bit more physical denying position and bodying up big men in the paint, though, sometimes relying too heavily on his athleticism and length instead of playing tough, fundamental man to man defense. There are still question marks about his ability to defend the small forward position at the next level, as his hips are a bit on the stiff side and he doesn’t his feet particularly well on the perimeter.

Although Clark has a huge upside, he still could use a considerable amount of work before he reaches his ceiling as a player. While his handle and jump-shot are very good for a 6’9 player, they could definitely use some refinement if he hopes to play small forward full time at the next level. His left hand is also considerably weaker than his right, especially finishing around the basket. The combo forward will also need to continue to develop his moves on the blocks, where he primarily relies upon his turnaround jumpshot, showing little else in terms of post moves.

If Clark is able to keep up his outstanding play for the remainder of the season, the NBA draft will probably be something he will have to consider, although it still looks like he would clearly be better suited sticking around another year to refine his skills and develop a true position. The latest Derrick Caracter blunder will serve as yet another opportune time for Earl to showcase his talents, giving him the chance to show that he can be a go-to guy offensively for Louisville.

Patrick Mills, 6-0 , Freshman, Point Guard, St. Mary’s

15.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 44% FG, 34% 3P, 92% FT

Jonathan Givony

Somewhat lost in the sea of outstanding performances in this excellent class of NCAA freshman has been the play of St. Mary’s point guard Patrick Mills. The Australian teenager has led his team to a top 25 AP poll ranking, producing at a high rate and showing terrific poise and maturity in the process. Having spent three years at the world renowned Australian Institute of Sports, Mills has terrific fundamentals that are helping him make the transition to college basketball much easier.

Mills is a small and skinny point guard with long arms and good athletic ability. He is very fast in the open floor, but is not very capable of finishing above the rim. Mills relies on his outstanding skill-set and natural basketball instincts to get the job done, and is doing so incredibly well so far early on in the season, especially when considering his age

Mills’ best source of production at the moment comes from his terrific stroke from the perimeter. He has excellent shooting mechanics, with NBA plus range on his jumper, and is able to elevate nicely off the floor to create separation and get his shot off. He creates shots for himself in the mid-range area as well, and has no problem pulling up off the dribble if given just a glimpse of daylight. In an early season game we took in pitting St. Mary’s against Oregon, Mills showed his credentials as both an outstanding shooter and scorer by knocking down back to back to back 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, all in pull-up fashion, and all from NBA range. It was an impressive scoring barrage to say the least.

As a point guard, Mills looks very natural with the ball in his hands, clearly possessing natural leadership skills as well as the aggressive mentality needed to want to be a go-to guy for his team. He’s an unselfish player, looking very good making the simple pass to cutters going to the rim, or a post-entry lob to his talented big men (Omar Samhan and Diamon Simpson), and being a very quick decision maker, particularly in transition. He does a very good job pushing the ball up the floor, which is exactly the way St. Mary’s wants to play from what we can tell early on. He’s extremely clever for a player his age, already showing the ability to bait referees into making calls and the fortitude to take a team on his back when they need him to.

On the downside, he seems to have a tendency to hold the ball a little too much at times in the half-court, and at times will display questionable shot-selection. We must keep in mind that we’re talking about a freshman point guard here, meaning he should improve on these things as he gains more experience.

As a slasher, Mills can get to the rim using either hand, but clearly looks more comfortable looking for shots outside of the paint if he has the option to do so. Part of that has to do with his below average size, part with his struggles finishing at the rim (strength related), and partially due to the fact that he’s just not always strong enough to create separation from his defenders and beat the opposing big men rotating over before he reaches the basket.

Defensively, Mills does a very good job despite his lack of size and bulk. His outstanding wingspan helps him out greatly in this area, as does the toughness and tenacity he brings to the floor. He is willing to step in and take a charge when needed, and really does an excellent job getting in the passing lanes to come up with steals—looking very instinctive in the process.

All in all, Mills does not look like a prototypical early-entry type point guard, but he does have all the makings of an outstanding college player. To give himself a chance to really emerge as a draftable prospect by the time he’s done at St. Mary’s, he must endear himself to NBA executives through production and wins, rather than relying on his upside or natural physical tools. He’s a player to keep an eye on both in the WCC as well as internationally playing with the Australian National Team—which he already joined and made an excellent impact for this summer in an important Olympic Qualifying tournament against New Zealand.

Malik Hairston, 6-6, Shooting Guard, Senior Oregon
16.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.3 turnovers, 55.2% FG, 46.4% 3PT, 59% FT

Joey Whelan

Malik Hairston has gotten off to the best statistical start of his career, posting new highs in scoring, shooting percentage and three-point shooting percentage. With the departure of Aaron Brooks, Hairston has stepped up on the offensive end, leading the team in scoring through its first eight games. There haven’t been many radical changes to Hairston’s game since last season; he is continuing to stick with his strengths and with Oregon’s ability to spread the floor, and has already posted a few big games.

Physically, Hairston looks to have dropped just some weight from last season, which is a very positive development. He has always been somewhat bulky for a swingman, and while this added weight helps when posting up other perimeter players and crashing the boards at the NCAA level, it has hurt his quickness. His length has continued to help him, mainly on the defensive end, where he is averaging more than a block per game, a great number for his position.

Offensively, Hairston is continuing to do what he does best, rely on his perimeter shooting and his smarts. He is shooting a career best 46.4% from beyond the arc, and is a constant threat to spot up from anywhere on the floor. Hairston’s tendency to spot up too often in transition though probably takes away some scoring opportunities he would have if he went towards the basket more. He has also continued to be a dangerous slasher, not so much because of his athleticism, but because of his basketball IQ. Hairston does a great job of taking what the defense gives him, then incorporating a series of head and ball fakes to get to the rim. He does still struggle though against quicker guards who he has trouble beating off the dribble, in these scenarios though he relies on a strong mid-range jump shot.

One issue for Hairston last season that continues to be a trend this season is his ball-handling. In the transition game he seems to have no problems, looking very comfortable. In the half court set though, that same confidence and handle seem to disappear somewhat. This is another reason Hairston has trouble with quicker defenders, because he doesn’t appear to have completely developed the skills to handle the ball in tight situations and break defenders down. This will be crucial for him to develop if he is to make it to the next level.

Hairston definitely earns points by being able to handle his own inside the paint. He has always shown the ability to post up other guards and muscle them around, and this season he has been doing a great job of moving inside without the ball when in the half court set. He doesn’t have a great vertical leap, but again uses an array of head fakes to get defenders out of position and either finish the easy basket or draw a trip to the foul line. Hairston has nearly doubled the number of free throws he is attempting per game this season as compared to last season, a trend scouts will love to see.

Defensively, Hairston still has some room for improvement. Again, not the quickest of players, he can have trouble against speedy guards who force him to guard them far from the basket. He crashes the boards well and has shown more of a knack this season for blocking shots. Hairston’s wingspan coupled with his great timing has made him a shot altering threat for opponents this season.

Hairston’s numbers have improved, which is always a positive, but at this point in time it seems more a result of the fact that the Ducks no longer have last season’s biggest offensive threat Aaron Brooks than it is a result of Hairston having a tremendous increase in his abilities. While his shooting percentages have improved from the field, he is attempting nearly three more shots per game this season than he did last year, which is a good reason for his rise in scoring. Hairston is still sticking to his guns, which is working for him so far. Three twenty-point performance is a nice indication that he is more of an offensive threat this year than last, but recent back-to-back seven-point performances shows that the consistency still isn’t there yet. If Hairston can solidify his defense and become a more constant scoring threat creating his own shot, than the NBA could come calling in June.

Shawn James, 6’10, Junior, Power Forward/Center, Duquesne
3 Games this week: 18.0 ppg (60% FG, 100% FT), 8.3 rpg, 3.7 bpg in 32 mpg

Kyle Nelson

Shawn James is a fascinating and frustrating prospect at the same time. While he possesses outstanding physical tools and a tantalizing skill set, he is in a system that is not rewarding to post players and is coming off of a transfer season filled with injuries and inaction. The past three games, particularly games against West Virginia and Pittsburgh, really show both sides of James, the great, and the rusty.

Most NBA draft junkies know Shawn James, the elite shot blocker, but first it is worth mentioning how much his offensive game has improved. Against good post defense, James had the ability to showcase his various improvements and his potential to be a post player and post scorer at the next level. The results were mixed. James is still a somewhat of a work in progress on the offensive end. On the low blocks, he shows a nice arsenal of post moves, from spin moves to turnarounds. While he does not have the greatest touch in the world, he does convert on a good amount of his shots around the basket, shooting 58% for the season.

Moving away from the basket, James has shown similar improvement. He can catch the ball on the perimeter and take a few dribbles to the basket, or turn around and back his man down in a style that, while still a little bit mechanical, is extremely effective at this level and bodes well for his future. Also effective are his running jump hooks in the lane. However, all of this being said, you’d like to see a guy with James’s athleticism and speed be more aggressive around the hoop. Basically, he does not power the ball around the basket nearly enough. This is definitely something to work on, but for someone who sat out for a season, some of the time doing rehabilitation for a gunshot wound, he seems to be making positive strides and could show these improvements even by the end of the season.

Even further from the basket, James is effective, being able to knock down open jump-shots from 15 feet to just inside the NBA three point line. He has a consistent shooting form, but one that could still use a substantial amount of work. However, he shoots foul shots very well for a post player, which proves that it’s just a matter of practice in terms of tightening up his jump-shot’s form. For a guy James’s size, this is an attractive facet of his offensive game. Still, you’d like to see him getting more involved under the basket. However, because of the nature of the Duquesne offense, touches are few and far between. Even though he and fellow post player, Kieron Achara, are averaging over 26 ppg, they are still having to scrap for their points and hope for passes from their trigger happy, selfish guards. Therefore, a lot of James’s points are self-created and have a lot to do with his aggressiveness on the offensive boards as well as his ability to face the basket on the offensive end. James’s offense in general is a little mechanical and inconsistent, but as said before, he should be constantly improving all season and shaking off the rust.

On the defense end, James is a presence merely by stepping onto the court. Watching West Virginia and Pittsburgh shoot over 15 three-pointers per game shows, to a certain extent, his incredible defensive reputation. He is incredibly gifted athletically and uses a combination of length with this athleticism to alter shots at a remarkable rate. He also has superior body control, timing, and consistency, making him a shot blocking threat in the open floor as well as in the post. Whomever James defends is usually altering their shot by the end of the game. In terms of his actual post defense, the key word is strength. James is very skinny and even if he were to succeed at the next level as a face up power forward, he is still far too weak to get touches on the offensive end and make plays on the defensive end. He should look to gain more muscle, though this could be an endeavor for a guy who has only been able to put 20 pounds onto his already feeble frame. He has the quickness and agility to be a good post defender, but it all depends on whether or not he can gain the right amount of strength.

This also affects his rebounding. While he rebounds at an extremely high rate for the amount of minutes he plays, he still has a long way to go before being considered an elite rebounder. For one, James is always a second late establishing position on the boards, constantly giving his man time to box him out. Despite his athleticism and length, he is not strong enough to fight around the box out or establish position for himself. Therefore, on the defensive boards, as well as the offensive boards, he is somewhat of an underachiever. Considering the fact that he is already pulling in 7.7 rpg, his potential is through the roof should he be able to become stronger and work on his fundamentals.

That is a good way to describe Shawn James: potential is through the roof. So, even though James is having one of the best years of his career, he has a lot of work to do before becoming a legitimate NBA prospect. He has the size, athleticism, and ability to, if he works hard, become a serviceable face-up power forward in the future. The rest of this year will be a telling one for James in terms of how much of this potential is actually attainable. For the upstart Duquesne Dukes, however, James’s involvement on the offensive end is essential for any sort of success.

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