NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/26/09—Under the Radar Edition

NCAA Weekly Performers, 1/26/09—Under the Radar Edition
Jan 26, 2009, 03:15 am
Malcolm Delaney, 6-3, Sophomore, Point Guard, Virginia Tech
16.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 1.6 steals, 42% FG, 86% FT, 35% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Fresh off an incredible week on both an individual and team level, this seems like as appropriate time as any to write about the exploits of Virginia Tech combo guard Malcolm Delaney. The Hokies scored one of the bigger upsets of the college basketball season thus far, knocking off Wake Forest on their home floor, and then followed that up with a huge road win over Miami in overtime. Delaney dropped a cool 50 points in those two wins combined, and has scored in double figures in every game thus far this season, en route to being ranked as one of the top 10 scorers in the ultra-talented ACC.

Delaney has good size for a combo at 6-3, as well as very nice athleticism. His frame leaves something to be desired, though, even if there is still hope that it may still fill out, as he’s only 19 years old. Delaney’s best attribute is probably his extremely quick first step, which allows him to create shots with either hand and really make a living at the free throw line. Delaney ranks in the top 25 amongst all draft prospects in most of the categories revolving around made free throws, as not only does he get to the stripe at a great clip, he also converts on 86% of his attempts.

More than just a slasher, Delaney is also a very capable shooter, both spotting up and pulling up off the dribble. 50% of his field goal attempts come from beyond the arc, and he makes nearly two 3-pointers a game, albeit at a somewhat pedestrian 35% clip. The fact that he isn’t shooting a higher percentage probably has more to do with his shot-selection than it does with his shooting stroke, as he tends to settle way too often for tough contested looks early in possessions, which hurt his team as well as his individual percentages. Delaney regardless has shown a really nice feel for making shots from all over the floor, and as he continues to mature, could really develop into a lethal scoring threat.

Although he’s been quite proficient in getting to the line, Delaney still leaves something to be desired in his ability to finish plays around the basket. His slight frame and just average vertical explosiveness make him a fairly poor finisher around the rim, which is one of the reasons he’s shooting an inefficient 42% from the field this season. Getting a little tougher and craftier in his ability to convert in traffic will go a long way for the sophomore, although he’s already showing quite a bit of promise with his very nice floater.

Playing both on and off the ball for Virginia Tech (he often starts at the point and then moves to the 2 later in the game to make room for 5-9 sophomore Hank Thorns), Delaney has been mostly a mixed bag as a playmaker this season. On one hand he is very proficient at creating off the dribble and getting the defense to rotate, giving him opportunities to find open teammates off the pick and roll or on cuts and simple drive and dish plays. On the other hand, his first instinct is clearly to look for his own shot, and this shows in his unimpressive assist to turnover ratio thus far, as well as the many confused possessions Virginia Tech suffers from. Delaney will pick up his dribble or throw the ball away for no particular reason on occasion, and his shot-selection as mentioned can be pretty poor.

Defensively, Delaney still has a long ways to go, even if he’s shown some sparks of potential, particularly recently in Virginia Tech’s winning streak. He has good tools on this end of the floor, and can get stops when he puts his mind to it, but too often he loses focus and lets his man blow by him far too easily. Getting stronger should help, but becoming more intense on this end of the floor will probably help out the most, and also make him more attractive as a prospect down the road.

Right now, Delaney is clearly in the midst of a breakout season, despite the lack of national attention. His physical tools combined with his scoring instincts and production in the ACC should begin to draw him NBA attention fairly soon, even if he still has plenty of room to develop as a prospect. Becoming more mature, polishing up his ball-handling skills, improving defensively, and just becoming a more complete all-around player will go along ways in achieving this goal, but if he can find a way to really develop his playmaking skills, then he could really become an interesting player down the road.

Jermaine Taylor, 6-4, Senior, Shooting Guard, Central Florida
23.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 3 turnovers, 50.5% FG, 39.5% 3P, 78% FT

Jonathan Givony

Quietly putting up some of the best numbers of any shooting guard in the country this year, Jermaine Taylor is nearly single-handedly keeping his Central Florida team relevant in Conference USA.

The numbers are pretty hard to argue with. Taylor ranks 2nd amongst all prospects in points per-40 minutes pace adjusted, doing so on extremely efficient shooting numbers (57% 2-P%, 39.5% 3-P%). He’s the clear-cut focal point of his team’s offense (narrowly edging out Stephen Curry for the national lead in field goal attempts per-40), and the fact that he still manages to remain respectably efficient definitely shows you that he’s not just another mid-major chucker.

Undersized for the shooting guard position at 6-3 or 6-4, Taylor makes up for that with a frame more likely to be found on the gridiron than on the hardwood. That’s not a surprise considering that he was a highly recruited high school football player, offered scholarships by in-state powerhouses Florida, Florida State and Miami. His exceptional strength shows up often when you watch him play, be it grabbing offensive rebounds, bulldozering his way through the lane, or finishing through contact amongst the trees around the rim.

Taylor is a good athlete, even very good for the Conference USA level. He gets to the line at a solid rate, and gets more than his fair share of rebounds, blocks and steals to help pad the stat-sheet. He is an aggressive slasher, showing a nice crossover, and solid body control, but could still stand to improve his ball-handling skills, particularly with his left hand, which is exceptionally weak. He looks out of control at times, forcing the issue and driving into brick walls, which makes him a little bit too turnover prone. He’s also capable of making plays for others, though, showing solid court vision and a knack for finding teammates slashing to the rim.

Taylor is not an easy guy to evaluate—his team relies on him incredibly heavily for offensive production in order to stay afloat in every game they play in, and thus he’s often the sole focal point of opposing defenses, and forced to take bad shots. As evidence, consider the fact that his team doesn’t have a single player averaging double figures besides him.

The part of his game that seems to have improved the most throughout college is clearly his shooting stroke. As a freshman, he shot just 44% from the free throw line, while as a senior he now ranks as one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in college basketball, at a good clip no less, with defenders typically draped all over him. He has excellent shooting mechanics and terrific arc on his jumper, being capable of making shots with his feet set or off the dribble, outside the arc or inside it, showing a nice mid-range game.

Defensively, Taylor is not effective in the least bit, even against the weaker competition UCF faces. He seems to have poor fundamentals and is extremely quick to get out of his stance, looking somewhat lackadaisical fighting through screens and showing very poor awareness defending off the ball. His lack of size will surely be considered a weakness when NBA teams evaluate him as a prospect for the next level, but at the college level there is no reason why he shouldn’t be more effective considering his tools. Obviously the incredibly large offensive load he’s forced to shoulder for UCF limits the amount of energy he can expend on this end of the floor, but he’s going to have to show that he can hold his own on both ends of the floor if he wants to make an NBA roster.

With the NBA pre-draft camp no longer an option for players like Taylor, he would likely be well served competing in a setting like the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, where he can show a different side of his game than he’s able to at UCF. There are some considerable strengths that he brings to the table as a prospect, but there are also plenty of question marks about his size, the level of competition he faces and his ability to translate his production to a setting where he isn’t the sole focal point of his offense. He’ll get plenty of looks from NBA teams regardless.

Luke Nevill, 7-2, Senior, Center, Utah
17.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 61% FG, 77.6% FT, 30.5 minutes

Joey Whelan

For the past four years, Luke Nevill has been a fixture on the court for Utah, and he has put together his best season to date for his senior campaign. The Australian native is posting career bests in nearly every major statistical category after his numbers took a bit of a dip during his junior season.

At first glance it is easy to see why Nevill draws the attention of pro scouts; at 7’2” and (generously) listed at 265 pounds, the true center has a frame with the potential to play in the paint at the next level. While his girth allows him to establish position consistently against most opponents at the collegiate level, he absolutely needs to get stronger in his upper body to handle the rigors of stronger defenders in the NBA. In addition to his massive frame, Nevill runs the floor reasonably well for a player his size, but overall doesn’t possess much athletic ability. He doesn’t elevate well at all and his lateral quickness is quite poor.

As one would expect from a player of Nevill’s size, the vast majority of his shots come within the immediate vicinity of the basket. According to Synergy Sports Technology, nearly two-thirds of all his shots are in the post. At the Mountain West Conference level, the senior doesn’t have much trouble establishing position on the block, but he becomes extremely predictable when catching the ball with his back to the basket. Nevill almost exclusively turns to his left shoulder, relying on a right handed jump hook shot. On occasion he will rush this shot and line drive it at the rim, but in general he shows a very soft touch around the rim. The biggest key for Nevill’s development in this aspect of his game is to diversify his repertoire of post moves. His predictability makes him more susceptible to being overplayed on one side by defenders and for the ball to be stripped when opponents know which direction he is going with it.

The rest of Nevill’s baskets come from a combination of his work on the offensive glass and his sheer size advantage over defenders. He receives a lot of lob passes over the top of smaller opponents, and thanks to his soft hands, he is able to capitalize on many of these scoring opportunities around the rim. His offensive rebounding numbers are solid, at just over 3 per forty minutes, but again, this is more due to his size as opposed to his athletic ability.

Nevill almost never steps away from the basket offensively, but from the few shot attempts we have seen, he has the potential to make this a regular part of his game. He stroke is very smooth and his 77.6% free throw shooting only further confirms that the big man has the ability to shoot from mid-range. Continuing to work this into his game would go a long way to helping Nevill’s prospects of breaking into the NBA, as he won’t be able to bully defenders like he does in college. It’s understandable why Utah would want him shooting all of his shots as close to the rim as humanly possible (he does convert 62% of his field goal attempts after all), but since he obviously will be going up against a different caliber of big man in the NBA as opposed to college, it would help him to show somewhat of a more diverse offensive package.

As a defender, Nevill doesn’t do a whole lot to completely separate himself from the pack. He does average nearly three blocks per game but from what we have seen, opponents are still able to shoot over him consistently due to his lack of ability to elevate. When forced to step outside and guard smaller players we really start to see some of the physical shortcomings of Nevill’s game. His lateral quickness isn’t strong enough to guard many players at the college level, so there is plenty of reason to think that this will be an issue in the professional ranks as well. Defending the pick and roll is nearly impossible for Nevill with his lack of footspeed, and playing zone is obviously not as attractive an option in the NBA as it is in college.

Nevill is going to get plenty of looks from pro scouts simply based on his size and soft touch around the basket. He is an extremely efficient player who is the focal point of a good team in Utah, which will only further help his case. His subpar athleticism is going to be a strike against him, as is his very vanilla post game, but neither of these are preventing him from being a force at this level. Nevill could hear his name called in the second round just as easily as he could go undrafted, but he will almost certainly get some very serious looks in summer league and training camp regardless of what happens.

Talor Battle, 5-11, Sophomore, Point Guard, Penn State
18.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 1.3 steals, 43.8% FG, 41.2% 3P, 71% FT

Kyle Nelson

Last season, Penn State went 15-16. This year, despite playing an admittedly favorable schedule, they are sitting on a 16-5 record, tied for fourth in the Big 10 conference standings. There are many reasons as to why the Nittany Lions are having a much better season, but the most significant is the development and improvement of point guard Talor Battle. He has improved in almost every statistical category and has transformed himself into the floor leader Penn State has desperately needed for the past couple seasons. Though his potential at the next level is somewhat limited, Battle should continue to develop into one of the nation’s top collegiate point guards in the coming years.

One impediment that stands in the way of Battle’s NBA future is his size. Standing 5’11, with a slight 160-pound frame, Battle is a solid three to four inches below the NBA’s prototypical height for a point guard. Similarly, he lacks a tremendous wingspan and elite athleticism to make up for his lack of height. While he boasts good quickness and solid leaping ability, Battle should work on adding strength to his frame and maximizing his athletic potential.

Offensively, Battle’s most effective weapon is his perimeter jump-shot. Sporting a smooth shooting motion alongside excellent mechanics and a lightening quick release, he hits 41.2% of his 3-pointers, good for 14th amongst point guard prospects in our database. He has shown the ability to get his shot off in a variety of situations against many types of defenders, from a standstill and off of the dribble.

Battle is also an effective slasher, using his quick first step to get around his man and to the basket. The problem here, however, is that he is not a great finisher around the rim. While this is likely due to his subpar physical profile, the fact that he shoots a meager 46.7% on shots from inside of the arc is certainly cause for concern in terms of gauging his potential at the next level.

As a point guard, however, Battle shows a lot of promise, and has made great strides from his freshman to his sophomore year. While he still has room to grow and is more of a scoring point guard presently, he has shown far better poise this season, talking to his teammates and demanding the ball in the clutch. He has become very proficient on the drive and dish, using the threat of his slashing ability to draw defenders into the lane and open up his teammates around the perimeter.

An area in which he needs to improve, however, is his awareness, as sometimes he is forced into bad shots or turnovers because the shot clock is running down or he does not know where he is on the court. Improving his handle, particularly learning how to drive left (he goes almost strictly right), would certainly help him here. His awareness as a point guard should improve as he continues to play the position and, if this year is any indication, Battle will only get better.

Defensively, however, Battle has his work cut out for him in terms of his NBA potential. His lack of size and strength certainly hurt him, but so too does his lack of elite athleticism, particularly his average lateral quickness. Opposing point guards at the collegiate level are able to beat him off of the dribble with ease, and the competition only gets harder in the NBA. One area that he must improve on, however, is his awareness. He often finds himself out of position and late arriving to mark his man on the perimeter. He has quick hands, which helps him excel at picking slashers’ pockets, but he needs to work on moving his feet instead of reaching and committing fouls.

Players like Battle are difficult to project at the next level. His size and athleticism are certainly against him, but his point guard ability and sweet shooting stroke will surely win him fans should he improve throughout his collegiate career. Measuring out at a legitimate 5’11 is certainly necessary, but showing scouts that he possesses good defensive fundamentals certainly would not hurt either. Penn State is in the midst of one of their best seasons in years and they are no longer a surprise to the elite Big Ten teams. It is up to Battle to continue to elevate his level of play and to show that he is capable of taking this team to the next level, as nothing proves a point guard’s mettle more than actually winning games.

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