Top NBA Prospects in the Big East, Part Four

Top NBA Prospects in the Big East, Part Four
Oct 18, 2012, 02:56 pm
We continue our coverage of the top returning NBA prospects in the Big East with scouting reports on players ranked #11-15: Russ Smith, Sean Kilpatrick, Vander Blue, Brandon Young and C.J. Fair.

Incoming freshmen have been excluded from these previews, as we'd like to wait and see what they have to offer on the NCAA level before we come to any long-term conclusions.

-Top 20 NBA Prospects in the Big Ten
-Top 20 NBA Prospects in the ACC
-Top 11 NBA Prospects in the Big XII
-Top 15 NBA Prospects in the Pac-12

-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East, Part One
(#1) Otto Porter Video Scouting Report
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East, Part Two
(#2) Michael Carter-Williams
(#3) Gorgui Dieng
(#4) Rakeem Christmas
(#5) Jerian Grant

-Top NBA Prospects in the Big East, Part Three
(#6) Chane Behanan
(#7) Wayne Blackshear
(#8) Jack Cooley
(#9) Peyton Siva
(#10) Mouphtaou Yarou

#11, Russ Smith, 6'0, Junior, Point Guard, Louisville

Matt Williams

After playing a limited role for the Louisville Cardinals as a freshman, Russ Smith had a breakout sophomore season. Averaging 11.5 points per-game in just 21 minutes, the former two-star recruit emerged as a game changer for Rick Pitino. A waterbug point guard with speed to burn, Smith posted a number of huge individual performances over the course of the year, changing the pace of the game off the bench.

A 6'0 guard with skinny frame and a long wingspan for his size, Smith is, in many ways, reminiscent of former Miami Heat draft pick Patrick Beverley. An incredibly fast guard with a scorer's mentality, Smith is a constant threat to take the ball coast to coast in transition and is a pest on the defensive end.

Smith's aggressiveness and ability to make plays in the open floor made him a polarizing figure in Louisville's offense last season. Finishing the season ranked as the team's 2nd leading scorer and the best per-40 minute pace adjusted scorer in the Big East, Smith shot a dismal 36% from the field. Attempting 36% of his team's shots when he was on the floor, good for 7th in the country per Ken Pomeroy's data, when Smith was playing well, he was able to carry the load for his team for stretches on the offensive end, but he had a number of quiet nights as well, scoring 5 points or less in 7 games.

As with most players of his ilk, Smith does most of his damage in transition, regardless of whether he's handling the ball or running the wing. Sprinting with purpose and often simply winning the race to the rim, the New York native attacks the basket with reckless abandon in the open floor. Finishing 54% of his shot attempts in transition but only 30% in half court situations according to Synergy Sports Technology, Smith possesses the type of speed you can't teach and is clearly at his best when using that to his advantage.

To take his game to the next level, Smith will need to become a more capable perimeter scorer. Making just 26% of the jump shots he attempted last season, the has a quick trigger, but is a bit loose with his mechanics, severely limiting his consistency both off the catch and off the dribble.

Possessing the speed to turn the corner when attacking off the dribble, Smith does a terrific job drawing contact and getting to the line, but needs to improve his decision-making and develop his scoring ability around the rim. Ranking as the fifth most turnover prone player in the Big East, Smith dribbles himself into trouble too often. Shooting just 40% at the rim and making just 26% of his floaters in half court situations, Smith's aggressiveness plays against him on occasion.

Playing a bit too fast for his own good at times, Smith's ability to learn how to make plays when the game slows down by becoming a more effective scorer or distributor in the half court will be key to his development as a prospect. A very capable passer, Smith makes just as many dynamic plays in drive and dish situations as he over-penetrates and turns the ball over. Smith will have to do a better job picking and choosing his spots to improve on his 0.84 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Defensively, Smith is an absolute menace at the college level, making up for many of the mistakes he makes offensively with his play defensively (87 steals, 90 turnovers). He can pick up the ball handler and apply pressure full court, suffocate his match-up with his tremendous lateral speed, and led the entire NCAA in steals per-40 minutes pace adjusted.

One of the most productive per-minute players in the Big East, but also one of the least efficient, Russ Smith could be the key to Louisville's success this season. If he becomes a better shooter or decision-maker, he could make a more consistent positive impact every time he's on the floor and solidify himself as a NBA prospect heading into his senior year.

#12, Sean Kilpatrick, 6'4”, Junior, SG, Cincinnati

Derek Bodner

After playing 20 minutes per game as a spark off the bench his freshman year, Sean Kilpatrick stepped into a starter's role for the Cincinnati Bearcats. While his per-minute production took a hit, from 19.7 points per 40 minutes to 16.8, his 14.3 points per game led the deep Bearcats in scoring.

Kilpatrick's bread and butter remains his jump shot, with over 50% of his offense coming from behind the three point line, where he shoots 37.6% from three point range on nearly 7 attempts per game, with range out beyond the NBA three point line. Kilpatrick has a short, compact release which allows him to get his shot off with little space and shows very good follow through and consistency in his release, leading to consistent results.

He also does a good job shooting off the dribble, showing an ability to square up and gain his balance off the dribble. This threat to shoot off the dribble opens up some driving lanes for Kilpatrick, which is mostly a mixed bag at this point. Kilpatrick is fairly quick, and has a strong frame, making him a threat to get in the paint if defenses close out recklessly. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Kilpatrick got 11.8% of his offense off of isolation situations this past year, up from just 2.3% his freshman year.

Not having great size, and showing just average explosiveness, Kilpatrick struggles finishing around the rim. He looks to show signs of having a solid floater and pull-up game, which if he can improve upon could help him mask this limitation somewhat.

The biggest obstacle preventing Kilpatrick from getting substantially more of his offense off of penetration right now is his lack of advanced ball handling moves. Kilpatrick is an average ball handler for a guard, lacking much in the way of counter moves and ability to change direction, and his left hand is under-developed. He does a good job of keeping turnovers to a minimum, but improving his ball handling skills is absolutely imperative if he hopes to become an effective high-volume shot creator.

Looking forward, Kilpatrick is a good shooter off catch and shoot opportunities, with a large portion of his jump shots coming in classic catch and shoot situations. He does a good job of being in good shooting position and ready for the pass, and his quick, consistent release make him a threat to shoot with the slightest bit of space. As he looks to move to the next level this is an area where a large portion of his offense is likely to come from as he's asked to create less for himself and others.

His ability to shoot off the dribble also lends him to potentially becoming a pick and roll threat at the next level. Kilpatrick hasn't been used very heavily in pick and roll sets thus far, as Cincinnati doesn't run a whole lot of pick and rolls to begin with and when they do Cashmere Wright and Dion Dixon have gotten the most of the opportunities. That being said, while Kilpatrick isn't all that natural of a passer, he has shown good ability as a scorer off the pick and roll in the limited opportunities he has gotten, with an ability to both get into the lane and shoot off the dribble. With Cincinnati having lost Dion Dixon to graduation, whether or not Kilpatrick is placed in more pick and roll opportunities will be interesting to watch.

On the defensive side of the ball, Kilpatrick stands 6'4" with an average wingspan, which could present some problems defending bigger shooting guards at the next level. He moves his feet relatively well, and puts a very good effort in, but struggles recognizing and fighting over screens. Continuing to add strength to his frame would be beneficial going forward.

With Cincinnati having lost Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates to graduation, they will be looking for Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick to create more for them in the half-court. In order to do so, Kilpatrick will have to become a more well-rounded scorer. How well Kilpatrick, reportedly a very hard worker, improves upon these skills could go a long way towards determining what kind of role he may be able to fill at the next level.

#13, Vander Blue, 6'4, Shooting Guard, Marquette, Junior

Kyle Nelson

Vander Blue's decision to attend Marquette was a legitimate recruiting coup for head coach Buzz Williams. The 6'4 combo-guard ended a decorated high school career ranked in the RSCI top-30 , a part of a talented class of 2010, in which 17 of the top-30 players have already heard their names called on draft night. His college career has been less promising, however, a combination of unfulfilled expectations and an off-the-court issue that may have caused some distraction, even though he has been a frequent starter on a team that made back-to-back trips to the Sweet Sixteen. Now, as Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder are working to keep their roster spots in the NBA, the question remains as to whether Blue can regain his high school form with an increased role on offense while helping Marquette return to the NCAA Tournament for the eighth straight year.

There is still a lot to like about Blue from a physical perspective, as he is a versatile athlete in Marquette's three-guard offense. Though he stands just around 6'4 in shoes, he has a solid 200-pound frame and a long wingspan that allow him to compensate for his average size, particularly on the defensive end. Blue is a good athlete, as well, showing solid body control along with the ability to explode to the basket and excellent quickness in transition.

The problem with Blue still remains his inability to score and score efficiently. After a rough freshman year, he struggled again as a sophomore, averaging just 12.2 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted while playing over 25 minutes per game. In fact, by the numbers he is one of the least prolific scoring guards in our database.

Blue has struggled thus far in his career to score with efficiency, both inside and outside. He makes a very poor 43.6% of his 2-point attempts, which ranks him near the bottom of shooting guard prospects in our database. On film, Blue doesn't show much of a feel for converting plays around the basket, tossing up prayers in traffic and bricking floaters as often as throws down a thunderous dunk in transition. He is at his best using his athleticism to finish off of cuts, slashing to the hoop, or attacking the basket in transition, but it's worth pointing out that he finishes just 41.2% of his shots in the paint. His shooting touch is clearly suspect, but his struggles might also be related to his generally shaky ball-handling skills and struggles finishing left.

His trouble finishing around the basket is particularly disconcerting when taking his overall jump shooting and his lack of an in-between game into consideration. As a freshman, Blue made just 16% of his 1.4 attempts from beyond the arc and as a sophomore he made only 25.8% on fewer attempts. Blue converted just 23.3% of his overall jump-shots last season, showing just how far he has to go in this area. His mechanics seem to be the primary culprit, as he demonstrates a hitched release, with a lot of extra movement in his lower body and torso elevating with his body square to the basket. As a junior, therefore, he will have to find and maintain his shooting rhythm, which he has visibly struggled with thus far.

Improving as a shooter is particularly important because, at this stage, Blue has yet to show much in the way of playmaking ability. Though he is a solid passer in Marquette's three-guard offense, as evidenced by his 3.8 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted, he has struggled as a facilitator, where his tendency toward tunnel vision results in turnovers nearly just as often as dishes to open teammates. His 3.2 turnovers per 40 minutes pace adjusted relative to his low usage rate is certainly an area that scouts will be monitoring during his junior year.

For as inconsistent as Blue has been on the offensive end, he has proven himself to be one of the Big East's top perimeter defenders. His length, lateral quickness, and activity level allow him to hold his own against most perimeter players at this level, point guards and wings alike. When he's dialed in, he shows potential not only to be a defensive stopper, but also to ignite the offense and start quite a few of his transition possessions off of a steal or a defensive rebound. Despite his lack of ideal size for the shooting guard position in the NBA, his defensive ability should allow him to earn minutes, should his scoring and offensive instincts develop accordingly.

At the end of the day, Blue remains an intriguing prospect due to his athleticism and versatility on both ends of the floor, but he has a lot of work to do to prove to scouts that he is an NBA player. While he is an NBA-caliber defender and will once again anchor one of the nation's top perimeter defenses, scouts will be watching to see what else he is capable of contributing. His junior year, therefore, will provide him with plenty of opportunities to replace the scoring, leadership, and toughness that Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom brought on a nightly basis during their times at Marquette. His NBA prospects may ultimately rest on how well he capitalizes on these opportunities and whether he can overcome his mediocre start to his college career with a breakout season.

#14, Brandon Young, 6-3 ½, Junior, PG/SG, DePaul

Jonathan Givony

Playing over 30 minutes per game in each of his first two seasons at DePaul, Brandon Young had ample opportunity to learn on the fly, competing on a team that struggled badly to win games, going 4-32 in the Big East.

Measured 6-3 ½ in shoes at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy this past summer, Young has solid size for a combo guard, as well as a strong frame. He's a reasonably good athlete as well, showing nice quickness in the open court, and the ability to power his way through opponents en route to the basket, even if he possesses just average explosiveness once inside the paint.

Young is the primary ball-handler and main facilitator for DePaul's offense, seeing over half of his possessions coming in pick and roll, isolation or transition situations. Without much Big East caliber help alongside him, he clearly had to force the issue pretty regularly last season, as a great deal of the shot-creating responsibilities fell squarely on his shoulders.

Nevertheless, he was able to distribute the ball successfully, dishing out a solid 5.7 assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted, while doing a good job keeping his turnovers to a minimum. With his strong frame, good size and quick first step, he's pretty effective finding the open man in drive and dish situations, as he appears to be fairly unselfish.

Despite looking capable of putting the ball in the basket at a relatively strong clip at times last season, Young still has plenty of room to grow as a scorer. He really struggled to create efficient offense once Big East play started, as he converted just 41% of his 2-point attempts, and 27% of his 3-pointers versus in-conference competition.

His ball-handling skills, while functional, rarely allow him to get all the way to the rim, where he struggles to draw fouls at a high rate and finish in traffic. He tends to settle in turn for a lot of pull-up jumpers in the mid-range area, which simply aren't high percentage opportunities even for great shooters.

Young's outside shot is probably the biggest thing he'll have to work on to improve his standing as a NBA prospect. His mechanics are a bit unconventional, releasing the ball from behind his head, which makes it difficult for him to find consistency. His shot-selection doesn't do him any favors here either, as he takes a great deal of tough, contested looks early in the shot-clock, before his teammates have even touched the ball. If he's to prove to NBA scouts that he's a true point guard, and not just playing the position out of necessity, he'll have to show better decision making skills in his final two years of play.

Defensively, Young's size and strength allows him to guard a variety of different types of players in the Big East. Like his DePaul team as a whole, he wasn't particularly consistent on this end of the floor last season, as he shows just average fundamentals, and doesn't do a great job of keeping opposing players in front of him. He does not possess a long wingspan, nor great lateral quickness, and has a difficult time occasionally getting low to the ground and staying in front of quicker guards. He commits just 1.6 fouls per-40 minutes, which may indicate more than anything how little effort he puts in. If Young is to convince NBA scouts he's worthy of a roster spot, he'll have to prove he can defend his position effectively, which means he'll have to get a lot better on this end of the floor.

Young has done a good job taking advantage of the opportunities presented to him the last two years and has put himself on the radar screen with the strong numbers he's posted. His size at the point guard position is attractive, but to take the next step in his development, he'll have to improve his outside shooting, decision making and perimeter defense to keep scouts interested.

#15, C.J. Fair, 6-7 ½, SF/PF, Junior, Syracuse

Joe Treutlein

After a solid freshman season, C.J. Fair took a small step forward as a sophomore, slightly expanding his role, seeing his playing time rise from 19 to 26 minutes per game, but not increasing any of his per 40 minute numbers noticeably.

On the floor, the story is much the same, as Fair hasn't developed much with his individual skills in any particular area. Fair still sees almost all of his possessions operating off the ball, mostly on cuts to the basket, and does very little in terms of creating his own shot from the perimeter or in the post. His two-point percentage actually declined significantly this season from 55% to 49%, but given his relatively low usage, that might just be statistical noise. Still, for a player specializing in off-ball scoring around the basket, he'll have to do a better job in the future.

Fair's perimeter shot didn't improve noticeably either, as he made just six 3-pointers on the season, though his improvement from 61% to 74% from the free-throw line was a welcome sign. It's possible this could translate to in-game situations next season, and definitely would be a boon to Fair's stock if it did. To his credit, he has developed a very formidable runner in the lane over the past two seasons, and appears to be capable of translating that touch to the perimeter. That's something he will likely have to do by the time he leaves college, considering he measured just 6-7 ½ and 216 pounds at the Nike Skills Academy, even though he sees plenty of minutes at power forward.

Defensively, Fair had another solid season putting in the consistent focus and energy necessary to succeed in Jim Boeheim's zone scheme, but as is always the case, it doesn't show us much of how he'd fare in more consistent man-to-man situations. At his size, and with his average length (6-9 wingspan), he'll surely have to spend most of his time guarding small forwards at the professional, something he isn't gaining a great deal of experience at in Syracuse's zone.

Looking forward, Fair's lack of noticeable improvement in any significant area is concerning, but he did manage to expand his role without setback and should have opportunities to continue doing so over the next two years. Getting his inside scoring efficiency back to where it was as a freshman and making noticeable strides with his perimeter shot should be his two biggest short-term priorities, but further honing his skills in all areas of the game couldn't hurt either. It's still too early assess Fair's NBA potential, but high energy players with his size and athleticism always deserve looks, and he has time to continue improving.

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