Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Three: #11-#15)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Three: #11-#15)
Oct 16, 2006, 04:27 am
DraftExpress evaluates the Top 15 NBA Draft prospects in the ACC, continuing with part three, from prospects ranked #11 to #15. For the sake of consistency, the very talented freshman class has been left out of the equation until we have a chance to evaluate them as college prospects against their peers.

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part One: #1-#5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Two: #6-#10)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC (Part Three: #11-#15)

#11: Ekene Ibekwe
6-9, Power Forward, Senior, Maryland


Jonathan Watters

An elite athlete standing 6 feet 9 inches, Ekene Ibekwe has been an intriguing project from the moment he stepped onto the floor at Maryland. Unfortunately, he remains little more than that headed into his final season at College Park. Ibekwe has managed to add a good amount of bulk over the past three years and certainly has the physical attributes to play power forward in the NBA. He runs the floor like a deer, while his length and quick reaction time allow him to make an impact as a shot blocker. Ibekwe's body type and athletic gifts would seem to put him in that face up 4 development mold, but he has never added any sort of offensive polish, still struggling with poor hands and the inability to finish anything that isn’t a dunk. He doesn’t look comfortable when he does get the ball in the post, and isn’t aware of what help defenders are doing around him. Ibekwe’s footwork and post moves are adequate at best, and he rarely converts anything that is well-contested.

The offensive struggles wouldn’t be a problem if Ibekwe made up for it by excelling in a Ben Wallace sort of role, as he is certainly athletic and strong enough to do just that. However, Ibekwe often plays tentatively and clearly doesn’t relish contact in the paint. When it comes to making hustle plays, Ibekwe just isn’t enough of a consistent presence around the basket to make up for his offensive shortcomings. To truly reach his full potential, it will be the mental side of the game that he will have to make the most strides in, as he lacks a great feel for the game and reportedly does not bring a great effort to practice on a daily basis. There are moments when everything comes together and he dominates the interior for stretches, but consistency is a major issue. Ibekwe still has problems with foul trouble, and has a tendency to disappear if things aren’t going his way. The reality is that Ibekwe has problems with players weaker than him at the college level. What happens when he gets to the NBA and he is going up against stronger big men on a nightly basis?

That being said, Ibekwe is a special athletic specimen who will get every chance in the world to prove he belongs in the NBA. He had an impressive showing at the World Basketball Championship playing for Nigeria, particularly in one spectacular outing matching up with Dirk Nowitzki, and will get plenty of touches this season with a big group of Maryland seniors graduating last spring. Maryland really needs a bounce-back season, and Ibekwe will have to be a big part of any return trip to the dance. If the draft was tomorrow he probably wouldn’t hear his name called, but Ekene Ibekwe is certainly one to keep an eye on over the course of the season.

#12: D.J. Strawberry
6-5, PG/SG, Senior, Maryland


Mike Schmidt

Strawberry is a versatile guard best known for lock-down defense. In the 2005-2006 season, he was asked to be the primary ball handler for Maryland, and was somewhat successful in spurs despite lacking the skills of a true point guard. He is a good passer with decent court vision, and is generally a very unselfish player. Last year, Strawberry improved his questionable shooting from both the free throw as well as the 3 point line where he shot 35% on 66 attempts (9 percentage points higher than last year). He still has work to do from the free throw line, where he shot 68% this year, as well as his long-range shot by continuing to convert on a more reasonable amount of attempts. A good ball handler, Strawberry has the ability to get into the lane, and is very smart with drawing fouls once he gets to the hoop. He is a communicator on the floor, and always directs his teammates if he sees one of them out of position. He’s certainly not a pure point guard, but the experience he received last year should come in pretty handy for him now that he’s being moved back to his natural shooting guard position.

Strawberry struggles in a few areas, which limits his potential as an NBA player. He doesn’t look to create enough for himself off the dribble, and lacks the ability to consistently draw pressure off teammates through dribble drives, a skill that many guards use to create for others. Though a very good athlete, Strawberry’s ball-handling isn’t quite up to par. Despite his proficient ability to create contact, he rarely finishes after he makes his way to the basket.

Strawberry certainly has his weaknesses, but is the type of player who could be a solid bench player with a long NBA career. Possessing good size and particularly length, he is capable of being an absolute ball-hawk defensively when fully unleashed. In terms of intensity and pure anticipation skills, there are not many guards in the ACC who can stack up with him 1 on 1 if he’s fully committed to shutting his matchup down.
With the smarts he shows moving the ball around the perimeter and the versatility he is adding to his offensive repertoire in college, the hope is that he should be able to handle some point guard in the NBA. In addition, he could play off the ball as well, specifically to be a defensive specialist next to a scoring point guard in a Larry Hughes type role. Further improvement with his shot should be good enough to keep him from being a liability on the offensive end from the 2 spot. In crunch time situations in the NBA, Strawberry could be a nice guy to have just for defensive substitution purposes. Though he won’t be an all-star and likely not a career starter, D.J. Strawberry has the tools and intangibles of a versatile role-playing guard in the NBA. He will see significant playing time as a senior and will get a long hard look if he improves on some of his offensive shortcomings. He’ll have to find himself a niche, though.

#13: A.D. Vassallo
6-6, Shooting Guard, Sophomore, Virginia


Joseph Treutlein

A.D Vassallo is a player who saw inconsistent minutes and gave inconsistent production in his first year at Virginia Tech. After a slow start, Vassallo was able to carve himself a niche in the second half of the season, playing 30+ minutes per game for six straight games in January and February, scoring in double digits in four of them, one of them being for 29 points. His production and minutes began to dip down after that, though he still held a spot in the rotation. All of Virginia Tech’s starters are returning this season, so Vassallo is going to be in a fight for minutes, though he should easily trump his 16.6 average from last season.

Vassallo’s best skill at this moment is his outside shooting ability, specifically when spotting up. He has a pretty stroke and decent release speed to go along with a high release point, which allows him to often shoot over defenders. He rarely shoots from the outside off of more than one dribble, though he occasionally takes some questionable shots, be it for being too far behind the arc or having a hand in his face.

Vassallo’s offensive repertoire is pretty lacking beyond his outside shot, as he’s not extremely proficient attacking the hole. His first step is nothing special, though the respect he gets for his outside shot gives him some opportunities to get into the lane. Once in the lane, he can tend to pull-up for a shot too early, sometimes with a hand in his face or being off-balanced. When he does go all the way to the rim, he has pretty good touch around the basket, though he lacks much creativity with his shots. It often seems as if he’s chucking the ball at the basket while on the move, both when it’s a lay-up or a pull-up jumper. Vassallo will need to work on his ability to create better once in the lane or his ability to more effectively shoot bad shots before he takes his offensive game to the next level. Because of an unspectacular first step, Vassallo would be better served working on his bad-shot shooting. Putting in a lot of practice on some on-the-move, off-balance, contested floaters the way Adam Morrison does could do a lot for his already respectable mid-range game. He shows some really nice instincts in this regard early on, though.

Vassallo, with his strong 6’6, 215-pound build, does attack the glass pretty well offensively, getting good position and having good anticipation for a swingman. He doesn’t contribute much in the other areas on offense, though, not being an incredibly proficient dribbler or passer. Defensively, Vassallo needs to work on his quickness in staying in front of players on the perimeter.

Vassallo has a strong skill to build upon in his outside shot, and if he can add another consistent element to his offensive game while improving his man-to-man defense, he could average 30+ minutes a game and begin to show what he’s capable of as a prospect. Working on his slashing game to complement his outside shooting should be his biggest concern on offense. This season will go a long way in telling if Vassallo is an NBA prospect or not.

#14: Greg Paulus
6-1, Point Guard, Sophomore, Duke


Jonathan Givony

Although it’s certainly too early to begin talking about Greg Paulus as an surefire NBA player, there is no question in anyone’s mind that he’s in the perfect situation to develop into one by the time he’s done at Duke. Taking the reigns as the starting point guard for one of the top programs in the country almost from day one, there won’t be a more experienced player in big time situations than Paulus should he decide to stay all four years.

In terms of the type of college point guard you want recruited onto your team, you couldn’t draw up a better prototype. Smart and skilled enough to run an offense effectively in one of the most pressure packed environments in the NCAA from the moment he become eligible, he’s just small and unathletic enough to ensure that he most likely won’t be leaving before that eligibility actually expires. In the meantime, though, he is going to rack up enough wins and enough assists to challenge all the great point guards in Duke’s storied history of terrific playmakers.

We’re talking about an old-school pass-first point guard with an outstanding sense for running an offense and finding the open man. His ball-handling skills are terrific with either hand, allowing him to use a nice array of speed changes and hesitation moves to get his man off balance and drive the lane effectively. His court vision is superb and his decision making instantaneous, which results in at least one or two highlight reel passes every game; whether it’s threading the needle through multiple defenders, throwing a beautiful lob to a cutting big man, or finding the open man spotting up on the wing off a one handed no-look pass. Paulus has almost every pass you would want a point guard to have down pat in his arsenal, and he tries to use most of them every time he steps out on the floor.

On top of that, he’s a natural born leader with a great flair for the game, combining outstanding instincts with the type of physical and mental toughness you just cannot teach. It’s not rare to see him stick his nose in for a charge or hit the deck for a loose ball, and you’re just as likely to see him rile up the crowd, his teammates, and himself with his sheer desire to make plays.

On the downside, his flair for the spectacular often led to a fair share of freshman mistakes, many of them unprovoked. He’ll often opt for the crowd-dazzling highlight reel assist rather than stick to the fundamental bounce pass for the easy two points. He was quite turnover prone (3.3 per game) in his first year at Duke, and he’ll have to do a much better job of avoiding mental lapses with no seniors in J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams and Sean Dockery to cover for him.

With no true backup point guard behind him this year, his job will be that much harder. Chalk on the recent reports from this weekend on a foot injury that could keep him out for as much as two months, and you’re talking about a huge setback both for him personally but even more so for his team.

As far as his NBA potential goes, the jury is still very much out. What’s certain is that he’ll have to rely on his yet-to-be-built resume rather than on a promise of potential to come later. Paulus is an average athlete at best, showing a mediocre first step and little to no explosiveness once he reaches the paint and attempts to finishes. It’s not rare to see him getting his shot blocked, as he just does not get off the floor quick or high enough to compete with the type of athletes the ACC had to throw at him as a freshman. How that will translate to the NBA is not a simple equation. He’ll have to become even smarter and craftier at driving the lane and finishing, a la Steve Nash, or he really doesn’t stand a chance.

Defensively, he is smart, tough and active enough to be above average as a college player, but there will again be questions about his lateral quickness at the next level.

His outside shot will also have to improve by leaps and bounds, as 37% from the field and 31% from the 3-point line probably won’t give a sniff from the NBA if he doesn’t improve. On the positive side, his mechanics look solid, even if his release is a bit on the slow side. He seems to have plenty of potential in this area though, as his touch actually looks quite good.

All in all, Paulus will be a very interesting prospect to evaluate when it’s all said and done, as you can count the number of true pass-first playmaking point guards coming out of college every year on one hand at best. Racking up as many accolades as he can over the next three years will be in his best interest, and then the battle will only begin for him once the pre-draft camps roll around. He absolutely cannot be ruled out, but he’s got his work cut out for him for sure.

#15: Ra'Sean Dickey
6’9, Power Forward, Junior, Georgia Tech


Rodger Bohn

For a college player, there is a lot to like about the Georgia Tech junior. He has no problem playing the center position (although his eventual position at the next level is clearly power forward), he’s tough on the glass, and he finishes extremely well inside. As far as the NBA is concerned however, there is nothing about his game that screams “NBA” and he will have to show significant improvement in a number of areas before he has a legitimate shot of being drafted.

Within ten feet of the basket, Ra’Sean is pretty hard to stop, evidenced by his nearly 60% field goal percentage. He uses his big body and long arms incredibly well, allowing him to get his shot up over taller, more athletic defenders in the ACC. The Yellow Jacket junior showed that he could score against some of the best defenders in the country going to his right, but really struggled going to his left, where his field goal percentage went down substantially. He incredibly favors going to his right hand, making at least 75% of his back to the basket post moves this way. This is surely an area that he will have to improve upon, as any college coach worth his salt will be able to pick that out within 10 minutes of watching him on tape.

Dickey’s shooting range extends to about 18 feet, although he does not shoot many jump shots and is inconsistent from the perimeter. His game is much better suited closer to the rim, as he isn’t a great ball handler and is generally a terrible decision maker. The South Carolina native is a turnover machine, averaging nearly 3 per game with a 1:5 assist to turnover ratio. He will surely have to improve upon this, as he will face constant double teams this season, being one of the ACC’s better returning post players.

Off of the ball, Ra’Sean is a pretty solid defender. He rotates well, gets a ton of help side blocks, and even gets in the passing lanes quite a bit. However, the emerging post’s man to man defense is downright awful. He seems to lack consistent effort on the defensive end, and any opposing power forward or center with a pulse will have a huge night when facing Georgia Tech. This was evidenced by the fact that Tyler Hansbrough (40 points), Craig Smith (games of 26 and 25 points), and Shelden Williams (26 points) collectively averaged 29.25 points per game against the Yellow Jackets in 05-06. This cannot all be credited to Dickey of course, but he was the one who guarded these players in each of the large majority of their respective games.

Dickey finished up last season on a strong note, scoring in double figures in each of Georgia Tech’s final thirteen games. He looked more comfortable on the floor as each game went on, and hopefully for the sake of his NBA potential, he is able to carry that over to this season. The additions of Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young may limit his volume of shots eventually, but the Yellow Jackets will rely heavily upon their junior big man while their super freshman are getting acclimated to playing at the college level.

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