NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/3/09

NCAA Weekly Performers, 3/3/09
Mar 03, 2009, 01:32 am
James Johnson, 6-8, Sophomore, SF/PF, Wake Forest
14.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 1.6 steals, 1.5 blocks, 54% FG, 70% FT, 30% 3P

Jonathan Givony

Although on paper it may appear that James Johnson is having a similar season to his freshman campaign, when digging deeper into his performance, that initial impression couldn’t be any further from the truth.

The leading scorer on a bad team that went 17-13 last season, Johnson is now the #2 option on one of the best teams in college basketball. While his scoring rate is slightly down, Johnson’s field goal percentage has climbed from 48.7 to 54%, as he’s taking less 3-pointers and doing a much better job scoring inside the arc. His role is smaller this year but he’s contributing much more with his all-around game, doubling his assists while cutting down on his turnovers, and being far more solid on the defensive end. Considering the many different ways in which he helps his team, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Johnson one of the most versatile players in the country these days.

Offensively, Johnson has shown flashes of a complete repertoire this season. His ball-handling skills look much improved, as you regularly see him grabbing rebounds and taking the ball smoothly coast to coast, and he’s become quite a lethal threat creating his own shot in the half-court as well. Johnson has very unique timing on his drives as discussed in the past (see prior reports), and he’s just as effective creating and finishing with his left hand as he is with his natural right—something that is pretty rare at the collegiate level at his size.

Johnson’s ability to face-up and attack his man off the dribble makes him a terrific mismatch threat on the perimeter, and watching him utilize his outstanding footwork and pivot moves in the post, it’s hard not to come away impressed with his scoring and overall basketball instincts. He has great hands and outstanding touch with either hand around the basket, sometimes flicking up pretty floaters around the rim, and looks very comfortable at times operating with his back to the basket as well.

Although his 3-point shot has not fallen at a very good rate (he’s just 17/57, or 30%), Johnson’s mid-range pull-up jumper has become a very effective weapon this season, particularly off one dribble after getting his defender in the air with a pump-fake. On the catch and shoot, despite showing nice mechanics, Johnson has often appeared rushed. He still needs to work on his range it appears, as well as his free throw shooting—where he hits just 70%.

While Johnson can score in a wide variety of ways, he is also a fairly solid passer as well. He sees the floor well and regularly makes heady passes right into the post for easy baskets, clearly possessing an advanced feel for the game. Johnson’s knack for making plays around the ball also extends to the offensive glass, where he is not quite as prolific as he was last season, but is still pretty adept.

Johnson’s biggest issue right now might be the lack of focus he shows at times—making some poor decisions at times with the ball, but also making costly fundamental mistakes as well. He tries to do too much from the perimeter on a few possessions every game, over-handling the ball, being somewhat turnover prone, and settling for bad shots. He isn’t as solid as you’d hope either, forgetting to box out his man in crucial moments, being late to rotate defensively, and generally being inconsistent from game to game and often possession to possession. Johnson seems like the kind of guy who needs special attention from the coaching staff to make sure they’re getting (and will get) 100% out of him at all times, although this could be something that improves with added maturity.

Defensively, Johnson is a mixed bag, but seems to be much improved from last season, partially due to his much improved physique. He puts a pretty solid effort in on this end of the floor, doing a good job trying to stay in front of his man on the perimeter, utilizing his height and length very effectively, and being especially impressive recovering into the paint after being beat—sometimes coming up with a rejection in the process. Johnson is a real stat-stuffer, getting plenty of blocks, steals and rebounds—a product of his increased activity level this season, as well as his natural timing and instincts—which are superb. You’ll still see him losing his focus on this end at times, for instance not fighting through a screen or getting caught flat-footed while a smaller player blows by him—his lateral quickness is average as mentioned in the past—but he seems to be getting better in this area, and should continue to improve as his career moves on.

All in all, Johnson is one of the more unique prospects in this draft—while not a prototypical small forward, he’s got more than enough tools to get by on the perimeter, and he can hurt the opposition quite a bit in his own right. It will be interesting to see where teams have Johnson rated on their board, as won’t fit in on quite any team, but should be able to carve out a solid niche. Having turned 22 just a few weeks ago—despite being a sophomore—the indications are that Johnson is likely to declare for this upcoming draft, particularly if he has a strong showing in the NCAA tournament.

Kyle Singler, 6-9, SF/PF, Sophomore, Duke
16.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2/7 assists, 1.6 steals, 2.4 turnovers, 45% FG, 36% 3PT, 69% FT

Joseph Treutlein

One of the few high profile freshmen from the class of 2008 to return to college, Kyle Singler has done a nice job taking his game to the next level for Duke as a sophomore, seeing his per 40 minute pace adjusted stats go up in virtually every category this season.

On the offensive end, Singler has shown more with his dribble-drive game this season, which all starts with his truly exceptional grasp of ball fakes and rip moves. Not an especially quick athlete, Singler uses these crafty moves in combination with a rangy first step and excellent timing to get past his man, where he shows a good controlled dribble in getting to the basket, though not the advanced ball-handling to make dramatic changes in direction.

Once he gets the step on his man, Singler doesn’t really possess the second gear to consistently get his defender off the hip, but he exhibits craftiness in using his body to shield the ball, enabling him to get off creative shot attempts in the lane, as he has shown proficiency with floaters and pivot moves, leading to running hooks or turnaround jumpers. At the basket, Singler lacks a bit in vertical explosiveness, so he struggles to finish at times when going up strong, something that will be more of a concern against the stouter weak side defense at the next level.

Despite his great shooting form, Singler still hasn’t had great success as a jump shooter at the college level, shooting just 36% from behind the arc and a disappointing 69% from the free-throw line. From behind the arc, Singler looks very good at times, mostly when he’s shooting spot-up jumpers in rhythm, something he excels at. Singler’s accuracy falls off dramatically when he’s taking jump shots off the dribble, however, as even though he’s able to get good separation with stepback moves, he doesn’t maintain the same rhythm in his shot as when he’s catching and shooting. According to Synergy Sports Technology’s quantified statistics, Singler’s averaging 1.07 PPP on catch and shoot situations this season, as opposed to an abysmal 0.49 PPP off-the-dribble.

While Singler is a very good scorer at the college level, he has also excelled in other areas on this end of the court this season, upping his rebounding noticeably, which is evident on the offensive glass. Singler’s motor has gone to the next level this season, as he’s constantly finding opportunities to crash the boards on the offensive end, doing a great job of hustling in general here. When evaluating his film, teams will like the competitiveness he shows, emphasizing that he projects to become more than just a spot-up shooter. Off the ball, Singler does a good job staying in motion and finding openings in the defense. Singler has also done a good job as a passer, playing an unselfish style, moving the ball, and showing good court vision from static positions and on the move.

On the defensive end, Singler’s lateral quickness is still questionable, but Singler does his best to make up for that by showing excellent attentiveness, a good fundamental stance, and he’s also developed strong reflexes defending the perimeter. While he mostly plays the power forward position for Duke, Singler’s been switched onto perimeter players frequently throughout the season, and he’s done a decent job not getting exposed. It is worth noting that he often gives up a little bit of extra space to shooters, however.

Looking forward, Singler will have a tough choice to make this coming offseason, as he currently projects as a mid-to-late first round pick if he declares. There are some questions about what position he will play at the next level, but combo forwards of similar physical builds such as Hedo Turkoglu have found niches in the league, regardless of position. Singler still needs a lot of work to develop his skill level to have that kind of impact, both with his ball-handling and his shooting, however teams will likely be attracted to his relentless work ethic, very high basketball IQ and strong role-player potential.

James Anderson, 6-6, Shooting Guard, Sophomore, Oklahoma State
18.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2 turnovers, 1.1 steals, 48% FG, 43% 3P

Joey Whelan

After making a splash in the Big 12 as a sweet shooting freshman last year, James Anderson has developed into a big time scorer in his second season with the Cowboys. Despite seeing just a minimal increase in playing time, the sophomore has experienced significant increases in every major statistical category and has upped his three-point shooting percentage nearly five percent.

Even though Anderson has made such substantial jumps in his production this season, there haven’t been any drastic changes to his overall game since we last took a look at him. He is still a perimeter shooter first and foremost, with half of his shot attempts coming from beyond the arc, as was the case last season. While he is certainly at his best when he can catch and shoot, Anderson is pretty effective shooting off the dribble, able to get good elevation under his shot. There is no question now that he is a top flight perimeter shooter, connecting on 42.5% of his over six attempts per game from this range.

The biggest hindrance for Anderson continues to be his less than stellar ball-handling skills, particularly with his right hand. An excellent athlete, he is able to compensate a lot of the time thanks to his quickness off the dribble and ability to improvise while in the air, but improving this aspect of his game would make him a much more dangerous scorer. What proved to be a problem last year has continued to be one this year, as Anderson loses out on a lot of scoring opportunities in transition as a result of his ball handling skills. Even with sagging defensive pressure on the break, he tends to be a straight line dribbler who doesn’t show much propensity for changing direction to improve his angle of attack. His size and athleticism allow Anderson to score more often than he should in these situations at the collegiate level, but he will more than have his work cut out for him against NBA caliber defenders if he can’t improve his ability to create. An added bonus to Anderson’s game this year has been his increased hustle and production on the offensive glass. The sophomore is averaging more than two offensive rebounds per game, a good number for a player who spends the overwhelming majority of his time on the perimeter.

Defensively, Anderson is still very much a committed player. He works hard as both an on and off the ball defender, and the added weight he put on this season has allowed him to do a better job of fighting through screens, something he struggled with as a freshman. It is clear that he has become a smarter defender as well and his instincts have made definite strides, resulting in an increased number of steals and blocked shots this season. At times last year Anderson would seem to lose track of his assignment on the floor, but he seems to have cut down on these mental lapses in the later part of this season. Overall, with his size, athleticism and wingspan, he is a very pesky defender who shows improving instincts at this end of the floor.

Anderson certainly has made improvements to his game, most obviously his perimeter shooting. The sophomore has a great nose for the basket and has proven he can put up impressive numbers against elite competition (35 points vs. Texas) on a regular basis. By far the biggest step to address next is improving his ball-handling skills, which are severely hindering his potential in several aspects of his offensive game. With the size, athleticism and shooting prowess that Anderson brings to the table he is going to be an enticing prospect to teams at the next level; developing the ability to score more effectively off the dribble will only push his name up the draft board. There is some talk that Anderson might decide to throw his name in this year’s draft, but he might be selling himself short by doing so, as next season could truly be a breakout year for both him and Oklahoma State.

Wesley Matthews, 6’5, Senior, SG/SF, Marquette
18.8 Points, 5.3 Rebounds, 2.5 Assists, 1.3 Steals, 52.1% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 81.4% FT

Matt Williams

The last time we checked in on Wesley Matthews two and a half months ago, he had assumed a much more prominent role on a Marquette team preparing for its daunting Big East schedule. Despite the significant jump in competition from the program’s non-conference schedule, Matthews has continued to produce at a high rate, helping his team attain a top-10 national ranking and showing some marked improvements in his game in the process. While he still has a lot to prove, Matthews has solidified his stock as a draftable prospect and seems capable of climbing even further if he continues to improve throughout the draft process.

The most significant change in Matthews’ game since mid-December has been the consistency of his outside shot. At that point in the season, he was shooting only 30% from three-point range, a far-cry from the almost 42% that he’s shot in conference play. Matthews still doesn’t elevate well when he shoots and is prone to fading-away at times, but he displays consistent mechanics on his release and seems to have improved his perimeter footwork. Those factors, coupled with the fact that he’s been more selective with his attempts from the perimeter, have helped him improve not only his efficiency from beyond the arc, but the efficiency of all of his outside shots in general. He isn’t going to wow anyone with his perimeter shooting yet, but the fact that he’s making shots should give NBA teams reason for optimism considering the other things he brings to the table.

Marquette’s undersized lineup creates ample open looks for Matthews, which allows him to be more particular than the average player when looking to score. He doesn’t have to force many attempts from the perimeter, preferring to take more risks attacking the basket. Though he isn’t an especially explosive athlete, and is just an average ball-handler, he gets a lot of looks at the basket by getting up the floor in transition, moving into the open spot under the rim when his teammates penetrate, and driving to the hole when he receives the ball with his defender off-balance. The strength he shows when he gets his shoulder into a defender, his ability to take contact and get to the line, and his consistency as a foul shooter place him amongst the most efficient scoring wings in the country in terms of true shooting percentage. In everything that has to do with getting to the free throw line, Matthews is amongst the best in college basketball.

Outside of his ability to score from outside, Matthews is capable of making his presence felt in a number of other ways on the offensive end. He moves the ball well on the perimeter, displays improved decision-making, and has always been a solid offensive rebounder for a player his size. On top of the guard-skills he brings to the table, Matthews has also shown the ability to take advantage of mis-matches in the post this season. His strength makes him a tough guard for weaker players, and he’s pinned his man for an easy look on a handful of occasions this season.

On the defensive end, Matthews is a very solid player at the college level. He’s smart, shows good instincts, and demonstrates the work ethic that will get him noticed in pre-draft workouts. The fact that he often has to box out bigger players won’t hurt him either. Unfortunately, Matthews doesn’t appear to have the elite lateral quickness that would allow him to seamlessly translate his defensive ability to the next level, despite having most of the other tools necessary to do so.

Though Matthews has the strength and athleticism to do a lot of damage at the rim at the college level –he’s connecting on 59% of his attempts according to Synergy Sports Technology’s Quantified Player Report, his average vertical explosiveness could make NBA decision-makers question his ability to do so at the next level. Matthews isn’t a bad athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but he doesn’t play above the rim as consistently as most NBA wings, nor does he have the dynamite first step that will let him get to the rim at the next level with the same frequency that he has at Marquette. What he does have is great functional strength, a good basketball IQ, and a willingness to do the little things.

The fact that Matthews does not stand out as a dynamic threat in any one area and is only a slightly above average run-jump athlete by NBA standards will relegate him to role-player status in the minds of GMs, making his willingness to do the little things that much more important. Matthews could do wonders for his stock by shooting the ball well throughout the NCAA tournament, but will likely need to have good showings at the Portsmouth Invitational and the NBA Combine (should he be invited) to ensure hearing his name called on draft day. As it stands, Matthews has improved his stock this season, but he’ll need to show that he can produce at a good rate in a different setting when the time comes.

Josh Heytvelt, 6-11, Center/Power Forward , Gonzaga
15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 1.2 turnovers, 55.0% FG, 72.6% FT

Scott Nadler

Before the start of the season, Heytvelt needed surgery to insert two more pins in his foot since his previous surgery did not heal correctly. He recovered well and has started all 28 games this season for the Zags and is putting up similar numbers to that of his sophomore campaign, where he solidified himself as one of the best players in the WCC and garnered national attention as well. His production dropped off last season due to a decrease in playing time because of his injury and off court issues, but he has been instrumental in Gonzaga’s undefeated run through conference play this season and will be depended upon greatly as we go further into March.

Heytvelt elevates well off the vertical for dunks in traffic and can pin shots off the glass on weak side rotations. Almost all of his 9.1 rebounds per 40 adjusted are because of his athleticism and not because of his fundamentals, as he is inconsistent with boxing out and surrenders inside position too often. He’s grabbing about two rebounds less per- than he was two years ago, and 1.3 blocks less as well. Although he’s still efficient, he’s not doing it at the same rate, which would lead one to believe his injury and the subsequent weight he put on has affected his ability to elevate the way he once did.

On the offensive end, his advanced skill set for a big guy is still hard to ignore as he’s able to step out and shoot and also finishes well around the basket. He converts about 45% of his catch and shoot opportunities according to Synergy Sports Technology, albeit on a modest sample size (30/67). With that said, he has an effortless looking stroke and shoots with confidence and there’s no reason to believe he can’t consistently shoot at this rate with more attempts. He’s 21/50 from beyond the arc on the season, or 42%.

Around the basket, Heytvelt is connecting on an outstanding 72% of his shots (SST). This has a lot to do with his soft hands and soft touch, as well as his good mobility in the painted area. He has a good feel for where he is when he receives a pass at the basket and wastes little time deciding what to do with it. He’s not as effective operating with his back to the basket, often getting pushed further away from the basket than he wants, taking questionable shots or is forced to put the ball on the floor which gets him into trouble. He’s also not much of a passer at all, making up his mind what he is going to do and rarely seeing his teammates, even when they are open on the perimeter. Amongst all players projected to be drafted in the next two years, Heytvelt ranks in the top 5 amongst the worst passers in the NCAA per-possession.

There are several stretches each game where Heytvelt will disappear. He’ll go a couple minutes without touching the ball and won’t really have any impact on the game. This has been particularly noticeable in some of Gonzaga’s biggest games this year, where he often came up pretty flat. Some of this has to do with the talent around him, as the Zags have a few players who often look for their own offense (Pargo, Daye, Gray, Bouldin). Another reason however has to do with Heytvelt’s lack of focus for a full 40 minutes - as he’ll play aggressively in spurts and then fade into obscurity in other instances.

Still a liability on the defensive end, it is unclear as to who Heytvelt can defend at the next level. He gets muscled around in the post and doesn’t put up much of a fight - often content with playing behind his man as opposed to fighting over the top to dissuade a post feed. He also has a tendency to flop, which referees around the WCC have taken notice of and are not giving him the benefit of the doubt as of late. He also lacks great lateral speed and thus struggles with quicker players on the perimeter. With that said, he plays with a chip on his shoulder and is not afraid to mix it up - something that may work in his favor for a team looking to add some toughness.

All in all, Heytvelt is certainly an intriguing prospect. He offers a lot with the great size and build coupled with a smooth outside shot, and in the right situation he should be able to make a roster and potentially earn playing time down the road.

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