NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/6/08-- Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers, 2/6/08-- Part One
Feb 06, 2008, 02:52 am
DeMarcus Nelson, 6’4, PG/SG, Senior, Duke
15.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.1 turnovers, 1.7 steals, 51% FG, 63% FT, 40% 3PT

Joseph Treutlein

After finishing a disappointing 22-11 last season, which was capped off with a first round knockout in the NCAA tournament, Duke has rebounded extremely well this year, posting a very impressive 19-1 record thus far. DeMarcus Nelson, the squad’s lone senior and team captain, certainly has a lot to do with that. The former McDonald’s All-American and all-time leading scorer in California high school basketball history is leading the Blue Devils in minutes, points, rebounds, and steals, while posting the best field-goal percentage of his career. In his four years at Duke, Nelson has impressively improved his efficiency and production every season, showing an outstanding learning curve. His field-goal percentage, most notably, has risen from .400 to .452 to .478 to .507.

Nelson stands 6’4, with long arms and average athleticism, having the tools to guard point guards to power forwards at the college level. He combines those physical tools with a relentless style of play, being very aggressive on both ends of the court, and on the boards.

On the offensive end, Nelson has a versatile skill-set, which starts with his ability to take the ball to the basket. With a solid first step and excellent timing on his moves, Nelson has little trouble taking his man off the dribble, either in isolation or coming off a high screen. Coming off screens, Nelson is very quick to turn the corner and accelerate in the lane, where he makes good use of subtle misdirection moves. Nelson will occasionally pull out a behind-the-back or crossover dribble, but for the most part relies on simple changes in speeds and hesitation dribbles to gain separation, doing very well with it at this level. He shows no preference for going right or left, though he looks a little bit more comfortable going right, using his natural hand. He’s not a very advanced ball-handler, being mostly relegated to simple straight-line moves to the basket.

At the rim, Nelson shows very good touch off the glass with both hands, and is fearless when it comes to taking contact, showing a nice propensity for finishing after being hit. Nelson also has an effective, but inconsistent floater in his repertoire, something he should definitely look to improve on, as it will be important to his success at the next level. While Nelson’s explosiveness or vertical leap would not be classified as weaknesses, he tends to overestimate his abilities in these areas at times, occasionally trying to go up and dunk over one or more opposing big men at the rim, which he usually falls short of doing. At 6’4, this is simply not something he’s going to be capable of doing with a defender in his face, especially at the next level.

From the perimeter, Nelson has a respectable outside shot, as he’s shooting 40% from behind the arc on the season, albeit on a limited number of attempts, but he definitely has some room for improvement here. He doesn’t always get his feet underneath his shot, and his shooting motion has a noticeable hitch in it, which is deliberate when he has a lot of time to get off his shot. The hitch is less noticeable when he’s more pressed for time and space, and the results may actually be better in these situations, where his motion looks more natural. Despite the hitch, his release speed is generally not a problem, and the rest of his mechanics are fairly solid. As his 63% free-throw shooting could attest, though, he definitely could use a few minor tweaks.

Nelson shows off flashes of a mid-range game as well, though he does most of his damage at the rim and from behind the arc. He shows the ability to get separation and pull up for a balanced shot from the 10-15 foot range when he wants to, which he is fairly effective with. Nelson is also very solid cutting off the ball to the basket, where he can catch and finish well at the rim.

While Nelson certainly is not a point guard, he does play a combo-guard role at Duke, and his assist-to-turnover ratio and assists per game have improved in each of his four years there. This season, he’s shown pretty good court vision and a propensity for driving-and-kicking and hitting cutters in the lane, doing a decent job creating for his teammates at times.

Where Nelson really excels, though, is the defensive end, where he has a very complete game, having the physical tools, mentality, and technique to be a very good and very versatile defender. Nelson’s off-ball defense is excellent, as he plays very close to his man while keeping an eye on both his man and the ball at all times, while he fights well through screens when necessary. Once his man gets the ball, he shows a strong, aggressive stance, playing far up on his man and using his length and hands well to cause discomfort. He moves well laterally, and has good recovery speed when he does get beat. Nelson also shows excellent anticipation in the passing lanes, jumping out to deflect and pick off stray passes, while also showing a propensity for making steals in man-to-man coverage. Nelson even looks fairly competent when switched into the post, using his strength and technique to force post players into tough shots. Nelson’s biggest weakness on this end of the court would probably be biting on crossovers too often, which he is prone to doing. Nelson is also a very good rebounder for a guard, leading his team in boards and showing excellent aggressiveness in attacking on both ends, while exhibiting a nice second bounce at the rim.

Despite coming into Duke with a great pedigree as a scorer, Nelson definitely projects as a role player at the next level, and he has many of the characteristics coaches look for in role players in the NBA. His defensive ability will be his greatest selling point, and while he’s slightly undersized for a shooting guard at 6’4, length somewhat makes up for that, while he has the versatility to guard multiple positions. His abilities to cut and finish at the rim, along with his strong rebounding for a guard, will also help him, though really improving on his spot-up shot from outside will be important to his chances of succeeding in the league. Nelson will have a chance to prove his worth to scouts and executives at the pre-draft camps, and he’s someone teams will probably look at in the second round, though he’s not a lock to be drafted.

Bo McCalebb, 5-11, Senior, PG/SG, New Orleans
23.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 2.5 steals, 52% FG, 43% 3P, 80% FT

Jonathan Givony

The all-time leading scorer in Sun-Belt conference history, 5th year-senior Bo McCalebb is one of the toughest and most athletic players you’ll find in the NCAA.

A tiny guard in terms of height (6-feet might be a reach), but built like a pile of bricks, McCalebb is a scorer first and foremost, who plays mostly off the ball. He’s an explosive guard, with an outstanding first step and terrific quickness in the open floor. Despite his diminutive size, he has no problem finishing strong at the rim, often with a powerful two-handed dunk. He’s a very high energy player with a terrific activity level, as his near-seven rebounds per game as a junior would indicate.

McCalebb is a versatile scorer, ranked 7th in that category amongst NCAA players in our database, who’s bread and butter comes from taking the ball strong to the hoop. He also ranks amongst the top-50 players in free throw attempts per-40 minutes, a testament to his ball-handling skills and ability to take contact at the rim. McCalebb can go either left or right, and has some very nifty spin-moves in his arsenal, as well as excellent body control. He moves off the ball extremely well, and is regularly run off screens and back-door cuts to shake the intense amount of attention he receives from opposing defenses. He has a nice mid-range game as well, able to create separation from defenders with his pull-up dribble, although with ugly shooting mechanics.

Never known for his perimeter shooting skills up until this year, McCalebb has improved his percentages to an excellent 43% from behind the arc on the season, albeit on a very limited number of attempts. He has a very inconsistent release point on his jumper, bringing the ball behind his head at times, flailing his elbow around in others, and often shooting the ball on the way down. He can hit a spot-up jumper with his feet set fairly well, but being able to expand his range out to the NBA 3-point line is not a given.

At his size, NBA scouts will surely want to see some point guard skills from McCalebb, and this is where he seems to fall short as a prospect. His playmaking instincts seem pretty lacking when it comes to running a half-court set, and most of his assists come off simple drive and dish plays. He’s not a selfish player, but does have a tendency to run into brick walls and make questionable decisions, as his first inclination is to create offense for himself, and if that doesn’t work out, then only look to create for others.

Defensively, it will be hard for most NBA decision makers to get past his size, even if he makes a pretty good case for himself with the tenacity he brings to the floor, and the pressure he’s able to put on the ball. He’s currently tied for 9th in steals amongst all players in our database, per-40 minutes. His lateral quickness is excellent, and this combined with his strength allows him to be a real force when he puts his mind to it.

All in all, McCalebb is an excellent college player who will get his fair share of looks, starting at Portsmouth most likely, and continuing with private workouts. His game looks better suited for Europe at the moment, but he’ll have an opportunity to prove otherwise.

Mickell Gladness, 6-11, Senior, Center, Alabama A&M
10 points, 8.3 rebounds, .9 assists, 1.9 turnovers, .9 steals, 4.7 blocks, 45% FG, 68% FT, 30 minutes

Jonathan Givony

Anytime you shatter David Robinson’s all-time record for blocked shots in a single game (with 16 last year against Texas Southern), you’re going to get a look from the NBA. And that’s exactly what Gladness has been getting all season long, if only out of intrigue with his size, physical tools and defensive ability.

We’re talking about a 6-11 beanpole with freakishly long arms, big hands and some of the skinniest legs you’ll find anywhere around. He’s quick off his feet and has good all-around mobility, although his athleticism is severely hampered by his lack of strength and conditioning.

Gladness led the NCAA in blocks per game last year, with 6.1, and 7.9 per-40 minutes pace adjusted. This year his averages have dropped to 5.8 per-40, as the word must have seemingly gotten out, and you clearly see slashers doing their best not to challenge him in the lane as much this season.

As a man to man defender, Gladness is frail, but still capable of absolutely wrapping up his matchup with his ridiculous wingspan, looking patient not biting for fakes, and showing tremendous timing to swat balls away once they finally go up in the air. He is almost just as good rotating over from the weak-side to contest shots as well, showing terrific recovery speed and being capable of challenging multiple shots in a single possession due to the quickness in which he gets off his feet. His instincts in this area are for real, regardless of the level he competes against, and he alters just as many shots as he blocks because of his imposing combination of height and length.

Playing in the SWAC, Gladness is clearly picking up a lot of bad habits, though. He basically camps out underneath the rim in order to lock down the paint, contesting anything and everything that comes his way, but not really playing anywhere near the type of team defense he’d be expected to against serious competition. He barely shows on screens, and sometimes does not even bother joining his teammates on the offensive end after throwing an outlet pass, because of the extreme up-tempo nature of the league. He seems to struggle going up against stronger big men, as he’s easily posted up, and clearly lets players get deep position on him, thinking he’ll be able to compensate by meeting them at the rim once they go up for their shot. Until he puts on some serious weight, it’s going to be difficult to envision him playing any type of role at a high level.

Offensively, Gladness is a work in progress, to say the least. He rotates between barely even making it up the floor for his team (partially due to conditioning issues), to forcing the issue badly when he gets the ball in the paint. He struggles to hold his spot on the block, and thus has a tendency to settle for terrible shots, really not seeming to know his limitations on this end of the floor. We see some flashes of a turnaround jumper or a jump-hook at times, but everything is a struggle for him at this point because of his incredible lack of strength. His offense therefore looks rushed, similar to the chaotic way his entire team plays. He does seem to be making some progress in this area, though, as he’s averaging nearly 17 points per game over his team’s last four games. We’ll have to see how this trend continues until the end of the season.

In order to not be labeled a one-dimensional shot-blocker, players like Gladness typically need to bring something extra to the floor in order to hold the interest of NBA scouts. He seems to be a pretty team oriented player, looking very active fighting for rebounds and loose balls, and passing the ball reasonably well out of the post. He would be well served to add something resembling a mid-range jumper, as his 68% from the free throw line indicates that he has some touch from this area. His jump-shot does not look good in the instances that he we did see him decide to step out, though. Gladness is a decent rebounder as well, but again, his lack of strength limits his effectiveness in this area.

All in all, Gladness is someone that NBA teams will want to have a look at, as his combination of physical tools and shot-blocking instincts are fairly hard to come by, and they will likely want to evaluate just how much upside he has skill-wise, and especially physically. He only averaged 2.8 points per game (on 38% shooting) in Junior College three years ago, so it’s pretty obvious that he’s just scraping the surface on his true potential at the moment. He looks like a perfect candidate to invite to Portsmouth for a first glance, and will probably get his fair share of workouts as well.

Russell Hicks, 7-0, Junior, Center, Florida International
13 points, 6.4 rebounds, .4 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 2 blocks, 3.1 fouls, 55% FG, 65% FT, 24 minutes

Jonathan Givony

A potentially intriguing name to keep an eye on for the future might be Florida International junior center Russell Hicks, a transfer from Pepperdine who has shown potential this year and clearly still has plenty of room to grow as a player.

Hicks is a 7-footer with a solid frame that still needs to fill out over the next few years. He has long arms and is a pretty mobile big man, getting up and down the floor well, able to get off his feet, and looking fairly fluid and coordinated for someone his size. He has good hands, and nice touch around the basket, being capable of doing some things on the offensive end, although nothing super polished at this point. He has some back to the basket skills, including a nice jump-hook shot he can get off after spinning to either shoulder, and a very effective turnaround jumper he executes softly with a very high release point. He can also step outside and knock down a 15-foot jumper. The fact that he shoots 55% from the field--while scoring nearly 21 points per game per-40 minutes pace adjusted--is even more impressive when you consider just how bad the guard play on his team is, as they seemingly have no system to speak of.

There are clearly some things to work with here, although his lack of strength is a major hindrance at this point. Hicks struggles to establish position in the post, and has a hard time finishing through contact, looking a bit soft at times in the process. His feel for the game isn’t quite there either yet, as evidenced by the fact that he turns the ball over four times for every one assist he gets. His footwork needs a lot of work, and his motor is inconsistent both from game to game and from half to half even.

Defensively, we find a mostly mixed bag. On one hand, Hicks ranks 16th amongst all players in our database in blocked shots per-40 minutes pace adjusted. His size, length, athleticism and timing make him somewhat of a presence in the paint at the Sun Belt level. On the other hand, his lack of strength again serves as a major issue at this point, as he gets outmuscled in the paint regularly, gets posted up quite easily, and doesn’t look aggressive enough trying to fight back considering his tools. We get the same impression when evaluating his rebounding—his tools are solid, and his production definitely isn’t bad, but there is a lot of room for improvement here still.

As you can probably surmise, we’re talking about a guy who is nowhere near NBA-ready at this point, but is still intriguing enough to keep track of for the future.

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