NCAA Weekly Performers -- 1/9/2007, Part One

NCAA Weekly Performers -- 1/9/2007, Part One
Jan 10, 2007, 01:45 am
Our first installment of the weekly NCAA performers series features three outstanding young wing players, and one experienced senior point guard. Kevin Durant leaves us no choice but to lead off with him following an amazing 37 point, 16 rebound performance against Colorado. Corey Brewer puts up another near-triple double against Georgia. Quincy Pondexter explodes off the bench against Arizona. And in the same game for the opposing team, Mustafa Shakur shows that his phenomenal senior year is no fluke and he's truly a changed player.

Kevin Durant, 6’10, Freshman, SF/PF, Texas
37 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 turnovers, 13-23 FG, 5-7 3PT, 6-6 FT vs. Colorado


Rodger Bohn

Texas freshman Kevin Durant put on easily the most dominant performance by any of the stellar freshman the college game has to offer this week, boasting a ridiculous 37 points, collecting 16 rebounds, and drilling five three pointers. What made things even more impressive was that he did all of this within the flow of the game, not forcing anything at all. Durant is making his case for number one louder and louder as the days go on, as he has even surpassed what Carmelo Anthony did at Syracuse at this point in his freshman season.

Offensively, Kevin was a nightmare for all opposing Buffalo defenders. He was scoring from inside and out, from the pick and roll and off the dribble. It was virtually impossible for any opposing power forward to guard him, as his excellent quickness allowed him to blow past them on the perimeter, and he was able to utilize his height down low on the blocks. Then of course, you had to deal with Durant’s outside shooting ability, which is unparalleled at the collegiate level by any player his size.

Durant displayed his remarkable perimeter shooting ability, knocking down five three pointers for the second time in a game this season, with the first coming earlier in the season against St. John’s. He combines the range and shooting ability of a Steve Novak with a remarkably quick release and feathery soft touch. Kevin hit jumpers from virtually every angle of the court, both from a stand-still and on the move. It was simply an amazing shooting performance by the freshman that Texas depends on every game, but Durant showed us a little more against Colorado: An emerging post game.

For quite some time early in the season, Durant chose to roam around the perimeter, firing up outside jumpers. While there is nothing wrong with this due to his excellent accuracy (39% on the season), one would like to see him utilize his length (6’10 with 7’4 wingspan) closer to the basket. Well, Kevin must have gotten the memo, making it a point to show everyone watching the game that he is excellent with his back to the basket as well. He showed off a beautiful right handed jump hook, as well as a smooth turnaround jump-shot from the low post. Both shots looked seemingly unblockable, as Durant used his freakish wingspan to extend far beyond where any Buffalo defender could reach.

Despite his small frame, the Maryland native showed that he had no problem mixing it up inside, collecting 16 rebounds, 7 of which came from the offensive end. He did not back down from the smaller and stronger Colorado big men, holding his ground on the blocks and using his length to alter plenty of shots. Kevin used his length and athleticism on the offensive end as well, delivering two SportsCenter Top 10 quality dunks that left the crowd in awe. He also used his guard-like quickness to break down whoever was placed on him off the dribble, Richard Roby included

Despite his outstanding performance, it was clear that Kevin’s ball-handling skills could use some refinement if he plans on being a full time small forward in the NBA. As it stands now, his handle is outstanding for a power forward, but still marginal for a wing. Durant has a tendency to let his dribble get a bit high, allowing smaller guards to get their hands in there and poke the ball away, which played a part in his five turnovers for the game.

Saturday’s game was just another page in the remarkable storybook that Kevin Durant is writing in what will surely be his only season of collegiate basketball. It was his most dominant performance of the year, but what makes things even scarier was that he had 33 points with 12 minutes to go and his teammates stopped feeding him the ball. If he would have kept getting consistent touches, the outstanding freshman surely would have been in the mid 40’s at the rate he was going. He has surely solidified himself of the #2 pick in this year’s NBA Draft barring any catastrophe, and could wind up making a legitimate case for top pick in the draft over Greg Oden if he is able to continue his remarkable play as of late.

Corey Brewer, 6-9, Junior, Small Forward, Florida
19 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 turnovers, 4 steals, 1 block, 7-14 FG, 1-2 3P, 4-7 FT vs. Georgia


Jonathan Givony

Any doubts as to why the returning national champions dropped two of their first nine game are beginning to get answered with the recent return and superb play of their ultimate glue-guy Corey Brewer. Either out or severely hampered with mononucleosis in defeat, the value of Brewer’s infectious energy and indispensible perimeter defense cannot be understated after seeing the way Florida has looked since his return. 18 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists were just a taster as he began to return to form against Ohio State, but his phenomenal showing against a tough Georgia squad--one that went well beyond even the very impressive boxscore—left a great impression as to the type of prospect that Corey Brewer really is.

What’s scary about the effectiveness of Brewer’s play is that he is nowhere close at this point to reaching his full potential. Still a marginal ball-handler with no left hand, a beanpole frame and a very shaky perimeter jumper, Brewer gets by almost solely on his liveliness, athleticism, and terrific all-around talent. He’s a 6-9 true wing with incredibly long arms, fantastic hands and superb quickness, which, coupled with his outstanding instincts and anticipation skills, relentless motor and tremendous aggressiveness on the defensive end make him one of the most disruptive matchups you’ll find anywhere in the college game. Brewer absolutely smoked one of the hottest players in the SEC these days, Mike Mercer of Georgia, who has been using his excellent athleticism and talent to average over 16 points a game up until that game. Smothering him with his length and using his quickness to stay in front of him all game long, Brewer forced Mercer into a miserable 3-14 shooting, 4 turnover outing, and still found time to help out on team defense with 4 steals and one block reminiscent of Tayshaun Prince erasing a potential game-tying Reggie Miller layup in the playoffs a few years back.

Offensively, Brewer was just another cog in Florida’s well-oiled machine, making the right pass at the right time continuously and feeding Joakim Noah and others for easy finishes. His 7 assists marked the 20th time in the last 45 games that he’s hit 4 assists or more in any given game. Brewer is unselfish and instinctive despite the fact that he has a tendency to play too fast and get out of control at times trying to do too much, but once he gains more experience and learns how to pick his spots better he’ll become an even more dangerous team player. He’s improved both his field goal percentages (50.5% compared with 46.8% last year) and assist to turnover ratio (1.60/1 compared with 1.19/1 last season), meaning he’s making some strides in this area, even if he still has plenty more room for improvement.

Once he develops his marginal ball-handling skills to the point that the ball does not slow him down and he’s able to go left on occasion…watch out. As a shooter, Brewer has decent mechanics--including good arc on his shot—but he is not consistent at all, particularly off the dribble. This eliminates any possibility of having a capable pull-up mid-range jumper at the moment, even if he does show some flashes from time to time in this area.

Considering the long list of weaknesses listed above, you might wonder how Brewer manages to produce the way he does, even if the numbers aren’t always easy to come by playing alongside three other players who will surely be drafted in Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Taurean Green. The answer to that lies in his outstanding talent and gives you a bit of an idea why NBA teams are so eager to see how good he’ll be once his game begins to round out. Unlike his teammates Joakim Noah and Taurean Green for example, he still hasn’t reached anywhere near his full potential. Fortunately for Brewer, he has the type of outstanding attitude and work ethic that lead you to believe that he’ll put the effort in over the next few years to reach his very high ceiling.

Quincy Pondexter, 6’7,” Forward, Freshman, Washington
25 points, 4 rebounds, 10/16 FG, 4/4 FT, 1/2 3 point FG vs Arizona


Mike Schmidt

Before Thursday’s game against Arizona, Pondexter was moved from the starting line-up to the bench. Washington had been on a 2 game losing streak, and Coach Lorenzo Romar thought the move might spark his team. Though Washington lost against Arizona, Pondexter had his best game of the season thus far, and fully displayed his potential as an NBA draft prospect.

Right when Pondexter was inserted into the game, he went on a scoring spree that may go unmatched this season in the Pac-10. He scored 17 points in his first 8 minutes on the court in the first half. During this stretch, he scored most of his points inside the paint, both slashing to the hoop and in transition. On one possession, Pondexter dribbled the length of the court on a fast break and made an amazing behind the back move in traffic before finishing around a defender at the basket. He cooled off a bit in the second half, but was still able to score on some more penetrations, as well as cuts and back to the basket moves. Pondexter finished the game with 25 points in his 26 minutes, but it was not enough to lead Washington to victory.

Offensively, Pondexter is very adept at slashing to the hoop and finishing with either hand. He does a good job of anticipating traffic, and his footwork allows him to use spins and jukes to separate from the defenders. In terms of shooting, Pondexter has a nice stroke with three point range when he’s set, but struggles to make perimeter shots off the dribble. He is smooth athletically, and this helps him both on his jump shot and when he is finishing inside.

Pondexter has to make some steady improvements before he is ready to play in the NBA. His off the dribble ability must improve, and he also has to improve his passing ability when defenders start collapsing on him. At this point, Pondexter has a nice frame, but will need to become stronger. He has nice potential on the defensive end, but will need to work on his positioning, and his effort is sometimes inconsistent. Size and length help Pondexter get rebounds in college, but better fundamentals will be necessary for this to translate to the next level. He has a nice back to the basket game that he can use in college, but this probably won’t be a main tool for him in the NBA.

As a freshman at Washington, Quincy Pondexter has displayed efficient scoring ability that separates him from many other draft prospects. A nice combination of slashing ability, athleticism, and set shooting ability are a nice combination for a freshman to possess. He will need to progress in other areas of his game, but he has the whole Pac 10 season to improve. If Pondexter continues to produce throughout the conference portion of Washington’s schedule, we’ll have a much better handle on his true draft stock. A run in the NCAA Tournament will best help Pondexter’s draft stock, but he’s likely still a year or two away from being ready for the NBA.

Mustafa Shakur, 6-3, Senior, Point Guard, Arizona
14.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 3.2 turnovers, 2.47 assist to turnover ratio, 53% FG, 43% 3P, 80% FT


Jonathan Givony

Long overdue for a mention in this space is the absolutely phenomenal senior season Mustafa Shakur is having so far. Arizona is 14-2 on the year and playing some of the best basketball of any team in the country, and there is no question that the main reason for that is the winning attitude their senior floor general is bringing every night.
Shakur has gone from a talented, but very unpolished athlete with little rhyme or reason to his game to a rock of consistency and possibly the best point guard in the NCAA.

The most improvement we see from this year to last has to be in his decision making. Going beyond his stellar near-2.5 to 1 assist to turnover ratio, Shakur is playing with a swagger we’ve never seen before. In the past he altered between looking too passive at times to completely out of control in others. Now, he’s running his team with poise and confidence, making crisp passes and executing Lute Olsen’s run and gun offense to perfection. Using his terrific speed to constantly put tremendous pressure on opposing defenses, Shakur has Arizona playing some of the most eye-pleasing basketball in the country with the way he’s relentlessly pushing the tempo of the game and getting all of his teammates involved. While he’s dribbling the ball in transition, he’s smart enough to keep his head up at all times and then thread the needle with a spectacular bullet pass between multiple defenders. Shakur has always been as unselfish as they come, but he’s now making great reads in the half-court too and finally has the luxury of multiple shooters on the wing he can kick the ball out to and expect to knock down shots. Arizona is collectively shooting 41.2% from 3-point range and 51.6% from the field, which is helping out his assist numbers exponentially, especially against the seemingly invisible Pac-10 defenses.

Shakur has always had the type of strength and explosiveness needed to create offense for himself effectively off the dribble and get into the lane. Getting there this year, though, he’s done a terrific job using his athleticism to finish strong around the basket or get to the free throw line as his 5.4 attempts per game would attest. If the defense collapses around him, Shakur has good enough vision to find the open man spotting up or drop off a simple pass to a cutter in the paint. His pull-up jumper from mid-range looks absolutely terrific this season, and he’s become quite confident in it from 15-18 feet out.

Even from 3-point range, Shakur has improved remarkably, shooting 43% on the season on 3 attempts per game, compared with 33% last year. His mechanics are still extremely awkward looking due to the ugly looking hitch he’ll probably always have, but he’s getting his shot off quickly and knocking it down at a good rate, which is far more important than having picture perfect form. He’s mainly a spot-up threat from behind the arc, but if his man gives him space he’s shown very little hesitation to pull up in his face and knock one down either.

Defensively, Shakur has been more up and down. Having quick feet but only an average wingspan (6-5), he hasn’t always been as focused as you’d hope. Not too many teams outside of Cal or UCLA play defense in the Pac-10 anyway as you can probably guess from type of scores we’re seeing there, so it’s not clear whether he’ll be able to turn it on and really lock down the way he shows the potential to, when Arizona needs it most. As a rebounder he’s been phenomenal, though, pulling down nearly 5 per game from the point guard position.

In terms of weaknesses, Shakur will still at times be guilty of making the odd bone-headed play--his trademark up until this season--although nowhere near as often as in the past. His ball-handling in particular needs work, as he really dribbles the ball too high and lets it slow him down when trying to explode off the bounce in the half-court.

Up until now we’ve been slow to point out the terrific season Shakur is having because of some healthy skepticism as to whether he’d actually keep it up. That has a lot to do with the incredible inconsistency he showed in his first three years at Arizona, and the major question marks we had about his basketball IQ and overall focus. He seems to be answering them so far with flying colors, but we’re only now entering the real meat of the season, so he can’t let up yet. If he keeps playing the way he has so far into the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be hard to see him falling out of the first round when it’s all said and done. That’s still a long ways away, though.

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