Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences (Part One: #1-5)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Non-BCS Conferences (Part One: #1-5)
Nov 10, 2008, 07:16 pm
Five first rounders were drafted out of non-BCS conferences last season, telling us that there is a lot more to scouting college basketball than what initially meets the eye. To kick off our analysis of the top returning NBA draft prospects in the non-BCS conferences, we start with players ranked one through five. Gonzaga's Austin Daye headlines this group, followed by St. Mary's Patrick Mills, Davidson's Stephen Curry, Xavier's Derrick Brown, and VCU's Eric Maynor.

-Top Prospects in the Big East: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four,
Part Five
-Top Prospects in the ACC: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four
-Top Prospects in the Pac-10: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC: Part One, Part Two, Part Three
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 10: Part One, Part Two
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

#1 Austin Daye, 6-10, Sophomore, Small Forward, Gonzaga

Kyle Nelson

The last time we wrote about Gonzaga sophomore Austin Daye, he was in the midst of one of the most efficient freshman campaigns in the country. Once the regular season ended, however, things took somewhat of a turn for the worse. First, Daye ran into the freshman-year wall during the post-season, averaging 6.0 ppg on 29% FG, 10% 3FG, and 60% FT in a three game time span which included upset losses to San Diego and Davidson. Then, during the Nike LeBron James Skills Academy last summer, he suffered a low-grade ACL tear and bone bruise that sidelined him for a month. With this in mind, this season is essential for Daye to prove that he can distinguish himself on a stacked, pre-season top ten-ranked Gonzaga squad. If last season was any indication and his rehabilitation went as scheduled, it’s entirely possible.

Daye is a mismatch waiting to happen at the collegiate level because of his size, skill, and athleticism. Standing at 6’10, he can play multiple positions, even if his wiry 190-pound frame is more suited to the perimeter rather than the post. He is not an explosive athlete by any measure, but he is smooth in his motions and has an above average first step for a player his size. Adding muscle onto his thin frame, though, is absolutely essential should he want to be a factor at the next level.

We have written extensively on Daye’s offensive game, and he remained fairly consistent throughout the rest of the season. By the numbers, there were few freshmen who matched his level of efficiency on the offensive end. In just 18.5 minutes per game he averaged 10.5 ppg (47.5% FG, 41.3% 3FG, 88.1% FT) with a .60 TS% and .53 eFG%.

While he looked tired in the post season, and therefore lacked the lift on his jumpshot that distinguishes it on such an elite level, our analysis of his shooting ability remains unchanged. He still needs to work on consistency concerning his release point when guarded, and he sometimes wastes motion by kicking out his legs during his release, but he still has an unbelievable feel for throwing the ball in the basket nonetheless. His shot-selection at times left a lot to be desired at times—settling for extremely off-balance contested looks early in the shot-clock for example—but there is no doubting the natural instincts he displays on this end of the floor.

Elsewhere, Daye’s offensive potential is extremely high. In limited minutes last season, he showed the ability to create his own offense off of the dribble from anywhere on the court. In addition, unlike most developing wing prospects, his mid-range game is very good, and as the year progressed, he got better finding spots in the offense for himself. Consistency is the key, and with an expanded role in the offense next year, he should take full advantage of available opportunities. Though he already gets to the line at a nice rate of 6.6 times per 40 minutes pace adjusted, his combination of size and athleticism make him a very effective mismatch threat. Add to the equation his solid ball handling ability and arsenal of body and head fakes, and Daye could develop into a lethal scorer very soon at the collegiate level.

One significant area of concern is his defense, which we have covered at length last season. While Daye looked passive for stretches floating around the perimeter on offense last year, he almost always looked out of his element of the defensive end. Despite his solid defensive numbers per 40 minutes pace adjusted, including 1.4 spg and 3.4 bpg, he is very much caught between positions on the defensive end. He does not have much in terms of fundamentals guarding his man on the perimeter, which renders his above average lateral quickness somewhat useless. His tendency to use his hands in order to compensate for being beaten off of the dribble doesn’t help his cause either. In the post, he possesses neither the bulk nor the toughness to be effective, though his fundamentals look much stronger and he uses his body more effectively.

Daye is by no means a complete player. He showed enough interesting and promising flashes during his freshman year, however, to suggest that he can develop into a very promising player if works to overcome some of his shortcomings. Improving his body, decision-making ability, and his defense seem to be his most significant obstacles at this point. After an offseason of injury and speculation, these concerns are still quite relevant and will be factors throughout this season, as well.

Similarly, Gonzaga’s roster is full of borderline NBA prospects with something to prove, and there will be a lot of pressure for Daye to carve out a niche for himself on the offensive end. Daye and Gonzaga enter this season pre-ranked in the top ten, which means scouts will have plenty of opportunities to watch him progress. As we have said before, there are few players in college basketball with Daye’s combination of size, athleticism, and skill. Should he show scouts that he is ready for the next step and looks likely to reach his high ceiling of potential, he will have an opportunity to be drafted pretty high, either this year or next.

#2 Patrick Mills, 6-0, Sophomore, Point Guard, St. Mary’s

Jonathan Givony

No player in college basketball had as productive and noteworthy a summer as St. Mary’s point guard Patrick Mills. Invited back for a second stint with the Australian national team, Mills did not disappoint Coach Brian Goorjian for the confidence he put in the 20-year old, leading the team to the quarterfinals (where they lost to the gold-bound US) and emerging as their top scorer in the process after averaging 14 points in 24 minutes per game. Mills was particularly impressive in the loss to Team USA, racking up 20 points, 3 steals and 2 assists, after already showing he can hold his own in a friendly game earlier in the month with a 13 point performance in 21 minutes of action.

Needless to say, Mills had an outstanding summer, and likely became a much better player in the process thanks to the extremely high level of competition he went up against. It’s very likely that folks in the NBA paid close attention as well.

Now that he’s back at St. Mary’s, almost certainly for his final season of college basketball from what we’re hearing, Mills has a tall task at hand in order to live up to the very high expectations he created for himself. He had a strong freshman campaign last year, but showed a couple of flaws in his game that we must keep a close eye on.

The most attractive part of Mills’ profile at the moment is clearly the terrific quickness he brings to the table. He is an absolute jet in the open floor, capable of beating most anyone in a footrace from end to end, but also possesses a terrific first step which he uses quite well to turn the corner at get by his matchup in the half-court as well. Severely undersized, and not very strong at the moment to compensate, Mills’ athleticism will be a key factor in projecting how his game translates to the next level.

Despite the quickness he shows, Mills relied very heavily on his jump-shot in his first season of college basketball. 50% of his field goal attempts came from beyond the arc—of which he converted just 32%--which made him a not very efficient player in the final tally. Mills has nice shooting mechanics, good touch, and the ability to make jumpers from well beyond the college line, but his shot-selection left something to be desired at times last season.

Mills got to the free throw line at a fairly average rate last season considering the athletic advantage he enjoyed in a competition like the WCC. He lacks the size, strength and explosiveness to go up and finish amongst the trees at times, and doesn’t do a great job currently creating contact and finishing through it. His mid-range game and floater could also stand to improve. These are two things he will need to have down pat to compete more effectively in a league like the NBA at his diminutive size. He also looks less comfortable utilizing his left hand, usually preferring to pull-up off the dribble when forced in this direction rather than take the ball all the way to the rack.

Improving his ball-handling skills and doing a better job of utilizing change of speeds in his game should open things up considerably for him. He did not always do a great job of reading defenses last season, and it’s likely that as his knowledge of the game expands, he will better learn how to take advantage of his tremendous initial burst. One clear positive that came out of this summer’s experience for Mills was the more aggressive mentality he showed taking the ball strong to the rim and not settling for jumpers.

As a point guard, Mills shows some excellent qualities to build off of, but also still has quite a bit of room to continue to grow as a floor general. He is much more of a shoot-first point guard at the moment than a natural floor general, as indicated by his poor 1.22/1 assist to turnover ratio last season. He has solid court vision and is clearly not a selfish player, as well as excellent leadership skills and an unbelievable amount of confidence, but his mentality right now appears to be that of a scorer. Improving his knowledge of the game, gaining experience and doing a better job of seeing the floor will be a real test in terms of evaluating how good of a player he can become down the road.

Defensively, Mills lacks size and strength, but makes up for those deficiencies somewhat with the quickness and competitiveness he brings to the table. He is very intense and does a very good job of getting in the passing lanes, where his excellent wingspan aids him greatly. Still, his upside on this end is limited somewhat by his lack of size, which will allow bigger point guards to post him up, shoot over the top of him, and see the floor with greater ease.

This is a big season for Mills, and there isn’t a huge margin for error considering the conference he plays in. Making a deep run in the NCAA tournament is a distinct possibility considering the quality of players (especially big men) on St. Mary’s roster, and it will be important for him to take show himself as much as possible on big stages in order to erase the doubts scouts might have about his lack of size.

#3 Stephen Curry, 6-3, Junior, PG/SG, Davidson

Curry was profiled in extreme depth in the midst of his unbelievable NCAA tournament performance. At this point, there isn’t much to add to that scouting report. We will be eagerly waiting to see how he is able to perform now that he is slated as his team’s starting point guard.

#4 Derrick Brown, 6'7, SF/PF, Junior, Xavier

Rodger Bohn

Derrick Brown enters his third collegiate season as the top returning scorer for a Musketeer unit that looks to make some serious damage yet again in the NCAA tournament. The graduation of Josh Duncan, Stanley Burrell, and Drew Lavender will provide Brown with plenty of opportunity to bolster his production, and should allow him a good deal of room to show off other parts of his game as well.

Much has already been written about Brown's athleticism, so there is no need to go into extreme depth here. He has a freakish wingspan to go along with quick, explosive leaping ability. The aforementioned athleticism resulted in 73 dunks last season. Not just a leaper, he also possesses an outstanding first step and excellent lateral quickness. There is very little more that one could ask for athletically out of a 6'7 combo forward.

The vast majority of Brown's damage on the offensive end was done around the rim last season, usually off shots created for him by teammates. Over 80% of his field goal attempts in fact came off shots right around the rim, which tells you quite a bit about his role offensively. An incredibly efficient player for that reason, he shot nearly 61% from the field. Proving capable of finishing at the basket with either hand, he showed a limited ability to utilize mismatches by posting smaller opponents. At the same time, he was able on rare occasions to use his great first step to blow by slower defenders off of the dribble. The bulk of Brown's scoring is predicated off of his athleticism and energetic style of play at the moment, rather than any kind of high skill-level.

Standing 6-7 and playing exclusively at the power forward position thus far in his career, Brown's perimeter game is still very much a work in progress. While he possesses an explosive first step, he often gets quite out of control when attacking the rim, resulting in a fair amount of turnovers. While his ball-handling skills are improving and he has shown somewhat of a crossover from time to time, he handle still could use a great deal of polish, as he’s pretty much limited at this point to straight line dribbles. Even though he struggles changing directions with the ball and is very unpredictable when attempting to create his own shot, it is clear that there is potential for the Dayton native as a slasher, given that he is willing to shore up his handle.

The other primary area of concern with Brown's game is his jump-shot. Making only 11 three pointers last season (hitting 34% of his attempts), and 70% of his free throws, it is clear that this is not one of the more confident areas of his game. There were countless times in which he passed up wide open looks from beyond the arc to attack the rim, even though the defense was playing five feet off of him. When he did put the ball up, he displayed an awkward jumper with a deliberate release. Brown tended to dip the ball below his waist and bring it forward in front of himself before going into the shooting motion, giving far less athletic defenders plenty of time to contest his shot. If any area of his game would have to be labeled as his biggest weakness, this would surely be it.

On the defensive end, Brown has all of the characteristics of an eventual lockdown defender. Able to guard both forward slots, he appeals to NBA scouts because of his versatility on this end of the hardwood. Owning the quickness to stay in front of smaller defenders, while also possessing the length and strength to guard bigger players, he offers a large amount of intrigue on this end. Just an average rebounder, Brown is capable of improving upon this area with more of an emphasis on boxing out rather than just relying upon his athleticism to snag rebounds. Getting stronger would probably help as well.

Brown is definitely a player who will have the option to test the waters when the season is over, as long he is continues to improve at the rate that he has. Considering the stage of his development he’s currently at, though, it seems likely that he will need all four years to improve his perimeter skills enough to show the potential to play the small forward position at the next level. With that said, Brown has the athleticism and upside to excite many NBA decision makers, even if he looks like a clear-cut project at the moment, and he will have plenty of opportunity to show his stuff with the interest that Xavier basketball typically draws.

#5 Eric Maynor, 6-2, Senior, Point Guard, VCU

Maynor was profiled in extreme depth just a week before his team failed to win the CAA conference tournament, which effectively ended his season. At this point, there isn’t much to add to that scouting report. We will wait to see how he looks during his senior season in order to evaluate his improvement and better gauge his prospects as an NBA draft pick.

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