NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/15/2008, Part Two

NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/15/2008, Part Two
Dec 15, 2008, 10:21 pm
Part two of our NCAA Weekly Performers series continues with Arizona's Jordan Hill, Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney, and Marquette's Wesley Matthews.

Jordan Hill, 6-10, Junior, Power Forward, Arizona
18.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1.3 assists, 2.6 turnovers, 61% FG, 60% FT

Jonathan Givony

A player we’ve been following with interest for quite some time, it appears that Jordan Hill has taken a big step forward in this his junior season, establishing himself as one of the more productive big men in this draft class thus far. His per-40 averages of 25 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks per game are simply off the charts, and he’s done so while shooting 61% from the field, against some decent competition.

Following up on what we’ve already written about him, Hill has added some decent bulk to his frame this season and looks far more capable of utilizing his outstanding athleticism now. Whereas once he was mostly limited to catching and finishing around the basket--he’s creating his own shot far more aggressively now, showing better footwork and some interesting moves in the post in the form of spins and pivots, often just to get himself close enough to the basket to allow him to rise up and finish with authority.

Hill is near-automatic around the basket at the collegiate level thanks to his combination of length and explosiveness, as he gets off the floor with ease, and finishes well above the rim, with minimal effort. This added ability to create scoring opportunities for himself (his usage rate has risen from 6% to 17% to 25% of his team’s possessions this season) makes him quite dangerous considering how athletic he is inside paint. This athleticism shows up on a regular basis on the offensive glass in particular, where Hill has been an absolute force all season long so far.

Hill looks more comfortable facing the basket from the mid-post and putting the ball on the floor. His terrific first step makes him very difficult to stay in front of, and is a big reason why he’s getting to the free throw line 6.4 times per game. He seems more patient and under control with the moves he’s making these days, even showing a bit of a left hand, and also mixing in a very nice turnaround jumper in the post—which is very difficult to contest thanks to his high release point. It was exactly this shot that put #4 ranked Gonzaga away with 36 seconds to go on Sunday night—an absolute huge win for Arizona.

Another area of improvement lies in his jump-shot. Hill is shooting quite a bit more from the perimeter than he did last season, and although the results have been pretty streaky at times, he’s definitely established that he can hit the 18-foot jumper, sometimes even off the dribble. His free throw percentage leaves a lot to be desired at just 60%, so clearly there is still work to be done here.

Definitely a late-bloomer, Hill’s overall skill-level and feel for the game are still catching up with his terrific physical tools. Even though his production has been nothing short of outstanding thus far, there is still a substantial amount of room to improve on the offensive end. Continuing to work on his all-around polish and decision making skills is a big priority, as he tends to look a bit mechanical at times still with some of the moves he makes, suffering some lapses in judgment on occasion, and is still not a great passer. It’s hard not to be impressed with the improvement he’s made over the past two years, though, as he started with almost no skills at all as a freshman.

Defensively, we find somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, Hill is one of the more imposing big men you’ll find in the country in everything related to his shot-blocking ability, as he not only has outstanding tools to get the job done on this end of the floor, but he also shows excellent timing rotating over from the weak-side and sending shots back. He still isn’t always as fundamentally sound as you might hope, though, playing a bit too upright staying in front of his man, closing out wildly on the perimeter and not always fighting very intensely through screens. He gets lost occasionally defending off the ball in the half-court, and is still somewhat foul prone, though not as much as he was in his first two seasons.

Considering what he’s showing so far, it might be time to start considering Hill as a legitimate lottery prospect, or even more. He has most-everything you look for in an NBA power forward athletically, and still has plenty of potential to improve on his already decent skill-level—far more than your typical junior. We’ve heard comparisons to Chris Wilcox, and some NBA scouts we spoke with already have him pegged as high as the mid-lottery. We’ll have to see if he can keep it up as Arizona enters the Pac-10 portion of their schedule, but the early returns look very promising.

Kyle McAlarney, 6’0, PG/SG, Senior, Notre Dame
18.6 points, 3.7 assists, 1.7 turnovers, 46% FG, 47% 3P, 100% FT

Joseph Treutlein

Few players in the country have started their season as well as Kyle McAlarney, and even fewer can boast that their best games have come against the likes of Indiana, Texas, and UNC on national television with countless NBA scouts and executives in attendance. McAlarney very quickly elevated his profile as a player with his unbelievable 21 three point makes in his 3 games at the Maui Invitational, doing so on 55% shooting, which is hardly an aberration for the sharp-shooting senior, shooting 47% from three on the year, barely up from 44% last year and 46% the year prior.

In analyzing McAlarney’s game, it’s hard to start with anything other than his jump shot, as he’s a truly exceptional shooter, one of the best the college game has to offer. His form is textbook through and through, with a quick, compact, efficient form that boasts a high release and effortless range. It’s probably safe to say about one third or more of his three-point attempts actually come from NBA range, and he’s shown no hesitancy or lack of confidence to hoist shots up from behind there as well, showing the ability to hit shots from at least two or three feet past NBA range on occasion. His shooting form doesn’t change one iota with the increased range, staying consistent and not trying to overcompensate at all.

While McAlarney is clearly at his best spotting up, he can shoot the ball from deep in a variety of ways, coming off screens, moving left or right, with a hand in his face, or off a dribble or two. Despite being blanketed by defenders frequently, he is able to get separation for his shot consistently, as he doesn’t need much to get it off. He doesn’t take very many bad shots, almost always having proper balance with his shoulders squared.

While it’d be unfair to call McAlarney a one-dimensional player, it’s definitely worth pointing out just how much of his game revolves around his three-point shot. This season, 91 of his 120 field goal attempts (76%) have come from deep. This is a bump up from last year, but even then, he took 245 of 383 attempts (64%) from deep. It’s really hard to argue with his preference to stay behind the arc, though, as he’s shot better from three-point range than two-point range for the past two seasons, an incredibly rare feat.

Looking at the rest of his offensive game, McAlarney does have some weapons inside the arc, namely a right-handed floater in the lane that he shows good effectiveness with, even amidst defenders’ outstretched arms. He gets into the lane mostly using hesitation dribbles and shot fakes to gain separation, as his quickness is below average for a high major college point guard. At the rim, when not using his floater, he’s inconsistent scoring, as he doesn’t get very much vertical lift, and because of this he seems to rush a lot of his lay-ups in an attempt to avoid help defenders. Because of this, he’s not a very good finisher at the rim overall, and gets to the free throw line at an extremely poor rate (although he’s yet to miss this season once there).

Judging McAlarney as a point guard is a little tough due to the situation at Notre Dame. Junior guard Tory Jackson is the primary ball-handler, averaging around 6 assists per game for the past two seasons, while McAlarney spends a lot of time off the ball, where he’s better utilized for his outstanding outside shooting. In terms of point guard skills, McAlarney definitely shows flashes, bringing the ball up the court, running the team as primary ball-handler when Jackson is on the bench, and showing good prowess with the pick-and-rolls, taking full advantage of the fact that opposing defenders need to respect his jump shot, making them pay if they give him space, or making the smart pass if they don’t.

While he shows the ability to make all the passes from the pick-and-roll, going above, between, or around defenders with chest, bounce, and lob passes, McAlarney does show some inconsistency in this area, making some questionable decisions at times, especially when faced with aggressive traps. His turnover rate has traditionally been quite high throughout his career relative to his usage, but he’s been able to cut down on his mistakes significantly to the point that he’s rather mistake-free these days. His 2.2/1 assist to turnover ratio is quite encouraging.

Defensively, McAlarney runs into trouble at times, and projects to be a liability at higher levels due to his lack of size and quickness. At just 6’0, without much length to make up for it, along with below average lateral quickness, McAlarney would definitely be at a disadvantage physically in the NBA. He does play tough, committed, smart defense, contesting shots, doing his best to stick with his man, and showing a good stance, but he shows really problems dealing with quick change-of-direction moves on the ball, getting beat frequently in isolations with quicker guards.

Looking forward to the draft process, McAlarney appears to be an ideal candidate for the Portsmouth pre-draft camp, where he can look to show off more point guard abilities than he’s able to at Notre Dame. The change in format of the NBA pre-draft camp this year definitely hurts McAlarney in that it will be one less opportunity for him to show something scouts haven’t seen from him in a 5-on-5 setting, so it’s that much more important he show his full repertoire of skills over the course of this season. Realistically, considering his lack of size, athleticism, shot-creating ability and defensive potential, he looks like a stronger candidate to play in Europe than the NBA, although stranger things have happened in the past.

Wesley Matthews, 6’5, SG/SF, Senior, Marquette
19.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.7 turnovers, 1.9 steals, 48% FG, 30% 3P, 87% FT

Joseph Treutlein

Wesley Matthews has played a solid supporting role for Marquette in his first three seasons, however he seems to be trying to break out to become more of a focal point player, leading the team in scoring with 19.6 points per game in the early going this season. The hard-nosed 6’5 swingman has certainly made his presence felt thus far this season, however it’s very important to consider the level of competition Marquette has faced, which, besides Wisconsin (where Matthews had his worst game), is nothing compared to what they’ll see in the Big East, starting in a few weeks.

Playing alongside shot creators Jerel McNeal and Dominic James, Matthews does most of his damage playing off his teammates, making quick cuts to the basket, leaking out in transition, attacking the boards, and also hitting the rare spot-up three or taking his man off the dribble himself. His best attribute on the offensive end is his ability to get to the rim and draw contact, evidenced by the fact that he has 79 free throw attempts this season on just 104 field goal attempts, a remarkable ratio ranking him top-10 in that category in our entire college database. While this number is obviously elevated from a small sample size and weaker competition, his ratio from last season would have also put him in the top 30.

Attacking the rim, Matthews shows good body control and the ability to adjust with the ball, getting around defenders or just going straight into them to get to the line, taking full advantage of his pro body and excellent length. However, he doesn’t have amazing vertical explosiveness, which stops him from being a great finisher, as he often has trouble getting good separation in the lane, leading to some tough shot attempts.

Matthews shows flashes of dribble-drive abilities as well, showing a good first step, excellent strength, and pretty good change of direction ability when he pulls out the rare crossover or spin move. Unfortunately he possesses just average ball-handling skills in close quarters, which hampers him from fully taking advantage of his ability in this area. He does most of his damage around the rim by cutting off the ball or catching with his man rotating over, giving him a half-step start, and not taking more than one or two dribbles to get to the basket.

Matthews makes his presence felt doing a lot of the little things as well, moving off the ball, making smart passes, leaking out in transition, and pursuing hard against players much larger than himself on the offensive glass. He plays with a reckless abandon that has become a trademark of Marquette basketball as of late—for better or worse—and his toughness is sure to draw fans amongst professional talent evaluators.

One area Matthews could definitely stand to improve offensively is his jump shot, specifically from three point range. Between this season and the previous two, Matthews has taken 2-3 three-point attempts per game, but his percentage has never risen above 31%, and has started off at 30% this year. While he’s shooting an outstanding 87% from the free-throw line this year, his success clearly hasn’t translated to long range yet, and his shot mechanics could use some work. He gets very little elevation on his shots, being an inch or two away from shooting flat footed at times, and he also has tendencies to fade away unnecessarily, while his arm often drifts to the right as well. Adding a more dangerous spot-up three-point shot to his arsenal will be crucial for his future success, be it in the NBA or more likely overseas.

Defensively, Matthews excels, showing excellent lateral quickness and length, assets he uses well by never giving up easy shots, staying in a low stance, and playing aggressive defense on his man. He closes out well on shots, keeps his hands up around the basket, sticks with his man on drives, and always shows great toughness and effort on this end of the floor.

Looking forward, Matthews appears to be an ideal candidate for the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, where he could look to stand out in front of NBA decision-makers. He’ll need to maintain his current production to really build some draft buzz, though, as in terms of skills and overall polish, he doesn’t have one standout quality that he really excels with, something NBA scouts and executives usually look for in the later stages of the draft.

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