Weekly Top Performers (12/12): Part 2

Weekly Top Performers (12/12): Part 2
Dec 14, 2006, 04:47 am
Matt Bouldin, 6-5, Guard, Freshman, Gonzaga
21 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 9/12 FG


Jonathan Watters

Bouldin didn’t come with a Burger Boy billing, but plenty of Gonzaga fans who saw Bouldin play were ready to announce him as the schools’ floppy-haired messiah. It turns out they may have been right. The freshman finished with 21 points against Washington.

Bouldin looks like a freshman, but plays with a poise that most grizzled veterans could only pray for. His stoic demeanor is a calming presence to his teammates, and the perfect contrast to one-speed backcourt mates Derek Raivio, Jeremy Pargo, and Pierre-Marie Altidor Cespedes.

While Raivio and Pargo handle many of the point guard duties, it is fairly clear that the freshman will end up spending a lot of time handling the ball. He doesn’t have prototypical point guard explosiveness, but makes up for by checking in at 6’5 and rarely struggling with freshman decision making foibles. Bouldin is a truly special passer, making sportscenter-worth plays look easy by consistently identifying and taking advantage of holes in the defense.

Once billed as much more of a shooting specialist, this tag would still be accurate if not for his emergence as a floor general. He gets good elevation and has a crisp release, seemingly comfortable shooting with a hand in his face. Though talented enough to demand his fair of shots, Bouldin is content to fit in with the flow of the offense and make his teammates better - to the point of being too unselfish. But then Bouldin will remind you he is on the court with an emphatic slashing or mid-range scoring move.

In today’s NBA, Brandon Roy-Deron Williams mold guards are only going to become more sought after. Bouldin could become a poster boy for this new trend, displaying all the well-rounded characteristics sought after by GM’s building modern systems. He is a dynamic point guard, but looks just as special off the ball.

Bouldin doesn’t come with the pedigree of some of his freshman classmates, but surprisingly few 2006 newcomers appear to be on Bouldin’s level as a prospect. The freshman could use a summer in the training room, but there is very little to dislike here. He is a first rounder whenever he decides to come out, but could lead the ‘Zags to new heights should he stick around for a couple of seasons.

Courtney Lee, 6-5, shooting guard, Western Kentucky, Junior
2 games, 48 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists, 10 steals, 19/38 FG, 10/12 FT


Mike Schmidt

Saturdays performance for Lee started off with a slow first half, but he came back strong in the second half, proving why he is the best draft prospect in the Sunbelt Conference. In the first half, Lee was too passive in looking for his own offense, and missed a lot of mid-range shots off the dribble. He was able to get a lot of clean looks, but his shots just weren’t falling. In the second half, he came out much more aggressive, and was able to lead Western Kentucky back from a large deficit to make it an interesting game.

Lee is a smooth athlete with good quickness, and an NBA body. He displayed some of his athleticism against Southern Illinois on a put-back dunk that brought the crowd to its feet. Lee has very nice form on his jumper to go with good elevation, and a quick release. He can shoot it out to NBA range, and generates most of his points from off the dribble jumpers at the college level. Against Southern Illinois, Lee displayed promising potential on the defensive end as well. In addition to staying in front of his man, he also disrupted the passing lanes, and generated 5 steals. A lot of players who steal a lot of passes do so while gambling a lot, which costs them defensive position, but this isn’t the case at all with Lee. He displays good confidence on the floor, but is a very unselfish player.

The main weakness for Lee at this point is the fact that he isn’t a great slasher going to the basket. His ball handling could use some work as well, though it works fine for the competition he is facing now. For a player averaging 19 points per game and shooting over 53% from the field, you’d expect Lee to look for his own shot more often than he currently does. This is fine for someone who will be a role-player at the NBA level, but in college he needs to carry his team.

At the NBA level, Lee projects to be a nice role player with a solid all-around game. He doesn’t have the best upside in the world, but he is the type of guy who will make a team happy to get a contributor in the second round. To best help his draft stock, Lee will need to lead Western Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament this season. They have one of the stronger teams in the Sunbelt, but they will face tough competition from South Alabama, who made the tournament a year ago, as well as North Texas. As a junior, Lee is likely to test the waters this year and enter his name into the draft. If he continues to produce at the same level for the rest of the season, Courtney Lee will find himself in the early to mid-second round at least.

Ramon Sessions, 6-2, Junior, Point Guard, Nevada
19 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 5/7FG, 8/9 FT


Jonathan Givony

Coming off an injury riddled season last year that limited him to 4.7 point, 4.9 assist averages in just 26 minutes per game after a terrific freshman campaign that put him firmly on the radar screen (9 points, 5.2 assists, 31 minutes), Sessions seems to have regained his confidence and is so far in the midst of his best season to date—averaging 13.3 points, 4.8 assists and just 1.8 turnovers. He’s shooting over 49% from the field and needs just one more 3-pointer to match his combined totals from both of his first two seasons there.

We had a chance to scout Sessions in one of the more intriguing out of conference meetings Nevada will have this year, a visit to the Bay area to meet up with the California Golden Bears. Sessions had a terrific showing (19 points, 6 assists, 2 turnovers) and more importantly led his team to the victory that ultimately propelled Nevada into the Top 25 of both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls.

Based off what we saw, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Sessions is one of the steadiest, mistake-free point guards you’ll find anywhere in the country, as his 2.71 assist to turnover ratio would attest. He’s extremely confident handling the ball, is very smart, and as natural a playmaker as they get. His passing skills are outstanding, either driving and dishing—always with his head up seeking the open man—or in the half-court offense where he runs his team’s sets to perfection and does a fantastic job threading the needle unselfishly with some gorgeous post-entry passes.

At this point in his career, Sessions is certainly not a prolific offensive player. He lacks range on his jump-shot, a legit pull-up game from mid-range, and is not terribly explosive vertically once he gets into the paint. He can hit a 3-point with his feet set when he’s left open, but this is certainly not his strength. He has decent shooting mechanics, excellent footwork and a quick enough first step to keep defenses honest, but NBA scouts will want to see him develop more offensive versatility by the time he graduates to keep them interested. As is stands right now, he compares favorably with Aaron Miles (the best point guard in Kansas history), but it’s just this lack of firepower that keeps Miles out of the NBA for the time being.

Like Miles, Sessions is an outstanding defender, being fundamentally sound with his lateral movement, superb toughness, great footwork, and showing outstanding hands and anticipation skills to get into the passing lanes.
Sessions probably isn’t the sexiest prospect you’ll find on this list, but he shows many of the characteristics you look for in a solid backup point guard for the NBA, and therefore he’ll get plenty of looks as teams come to watch his more highly touted teammate Nick Fazekas.

Rodney Stuckey, 6’5, Sophomore, Guard, Eastern Washington
56 total points, 16-32 FG, 7-15 3P, 13 RB, 15 assists, 9 steals, 11-14 FT


Jeremiah Kiehl

It was another typical week for the most prolific scorer on the West Coast. With a 32 point outburst against CS Northridge and a 18 point outing against Portland, Stuckey once again proved why he is considered one of the best guards in the nation.

Maybe the best kept secret in college basketball, Rodney Stuckey is once again showing why he will be a NBA first round draft choice in the near future. Following a sensational first year ( 24.2 pts, 4.8 RB, 4.1 assists) where he was both the freshmen of the year and player of the year in the Big Sky, Stuckey is avoiding the sophomore slump and adding to those already gaudy numbers. As of today he is putting up 26.7 pts, 4.7 RB, and 5 assists a game, not to shabby for a guy who wasn’t that highly touted out of High school and had to sit out his entire first year at college.

On the offensive end of the court, Stuckey can do it all. He is a combo guard in the mold of Ben Gordon and Dwayne Wade (before you laugh, check the stats, remembering the Wade also had to sit out his first year at Marquette) who can shoot the deep ball, drive to the hoop, and make the extra pass. He’s not the best shooter in the country, and he’s not the best slasher in the country, and he’s not the best ball handler in the country, but he might just be the best scorer in the country. He has that un-teachable, God-given knack for putting the ball in the basket.

Like Wade, Stuckey’s biggest strength is creating his own shot off of the dribble. He uses his strong body and superior quickness to get past his man and then either pull up for the jumper, or take the ball all the way to the rack, where he can finish with either hand and absorb contact. Because of this, he gets an unusual amount of and one’s for a guard, and he almost always makes good from the charity strike (89%). Like Wade and Gordon, Stuckey has no problem moving over to the point and running the team. For a guy who does the bulk of the scoring, and doesn’t have a whole lot of other options, 5 assists is more then respectable.

Earlier this year, against the University of Washington, Stuckey put on one of the best first half performances that I have ever seen. Washington, an athletic and deep team, threw every one of their defenders at him and he still rattled off 21 points in only 17 minutes of play. It is clear that Stuckey is the only real option for the Eagles, so his stats might be a little padded, but like Adam Morrison did last year, he is stepping up and proving himself against top-level competition.

As far as what kind of player Stuckey is going to be at the next level, I really like the Ben Gordon comparisons. I think he can play both guard positions, and like I stated before, he can flat out score, and the NBA loves a scorer. Stuckey also has that air of confidence that so often comes with great players. He always wants the ball in his hands and he is never afraid to take the big shot. When Eastern needs a basket, they just give the ball to Stuckey at the top of the key and let him do his thing.

On the defensive end of the ball Stuckey is still more about potential then anything else. With his size and strength he has the capability of being a lock down defender at the next level. He also has the frame to add bulk as he gets older, which is going to be important in his NBA development. A lot of players just don’t have the genetics to add a lot of size, but again like Gordon and Wade, he should be able to put on muscle without sacrificing speed and quickness.

Look for Stuckey’s numbers to increase even more drastically once league play begins. There is a really good chance that he could end up leading Division 1 in scoring this year, and then bolt for the NBA. I wouldn’t personally read too much into his league averages, but rather what he does against non-conference opponents and if he can lead the Eagles to the tournament, what he is able to do there.

Alando Tucker, 6-5, Forward, Wisconsin, Senior
28 points, 13/22 Field Goals, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers


Mike Schmidt

Tucker carried the Badgers to victory on Saturday against a talented Marquette team. He started the game strong, scoring 9 of his team’s first 17 points as a result of mid-range jumpers and drives to the hoop. He then disappeared for 6 minutes, and was a non-factor on the court until he scored 2 baskets in the last 4 minutes of the half. Tucker played well in the second half, and was consistent throughout. His two biggest baskets of the game came with under two minutes remaining, where he slashed to the hoop and made 2 lay-ups. These lay-ups came after Marquette had gone on a run to cut the lead to 4, and his shots essentially put the game out of reach.

Tucker has always been known as an explosive leaper with a power forward’s game and a small forward’s body. If his game against Marquette was any indication, he may have the tools to be effective at the small forward position in the NBA. Tucker created many of his shots off the dribble, and knows how to finish against defenders of all sizes inside, thanks to explosive leaping ability and good knowledge of how to use different angles of the backboard. Tucker’s jumping ability combined with good body control give him a chance to finish inside after taking the contact of a foul. His mid-range jumper looked very good as well, and he created a lot of very nice looks from the 12-15 foot range. Off the dribble, Tucker is deceptive with a series of head-fakes and speed changes he uses to get away from the defender. Tucker started his career playing mostly inside, and still has the ability to score on defenders with his back to the basket.

Tucker’s handle is still sloppy at times, though much improved. There were a few occasions where he lost control of the ball while slashing to the basket in traffic. His first step is pretty average, and he doesn’t have great quickness off the dribble, but his ability to change speeds helps him create a lot of separation. Though his jumper is improved, Tucker still is not a consistent threat to hit the three pointer. Tucker’s free throw stroke is streaky as well, though it has been better of late. It will be important for him to become consistent from the line, because he is getting there over 6 times per game this season. Some times he looks like a player who has played small forward his entire life, but on other occasions he leaves you wondering if he is going to be able to complete the transition to the 3.

Alando Tucker is starting to receive a lot of attention at the national level, and Wisconsin will go as far as he carries them this season. To best help his draft stock, Tucker will need to prove himself against teams who can put an athletic perimeter defender with good size against him. If Tucker keeps making progress with his ability off the dribble, and can become more consistent from behind the three point line, there is a chance he could be drafted in the first round in 2007.

Spencer Hawes, 7-0, Center, Freshman, Washington
20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 8/15 FG, 4/4 FT


Jonathan Watters

A consensus Top 5 member of the class of 2006, Hawes is the latest highly anticipated freshman to strut his stuff on the national stage. The skilled 7-footer had shown flashes early in the season, including a dominant second half against a very tough UNI frontcourt, but a weak schedule had offered few real challenges.

Gonzaga is a tough place to play anytime. Especially when you are Washington, and especially when you are trying to back out of the annual series with your regional rival. The crowd noise was deafening, and Hawes clearly took some time to adjust to this hostile environment.

Much like we saw with Grant Stout in the first half of the UNI game, Gonzaga big man Josh Heytvelt came out and physically challenged Hawes from the opening tap.
Hawes, looking very much like a freshman playing in his first real road game, struggled to gain good post position and had several of his early attempts blocked or altered. Hawes appeared to start forcing things once things weren’t going his way, settling for an outside jumper or two and not making smart decisions with the ball in his hands and his back to the basket.

Gonzaga quickly pulled away, and Hawes began to tire. He missed several opportunities to alter shots by lagging in defensive transition, and looked quite lethargic as a help defender in the halfcourt. He sat down midway through the half, visibly frustrated.

Where many freshmen may have lost their cool and simply packed it in for the night, Hawes came back strong upon his return late in the first half. He scored three quick buckets in the closing minutes, including two beautiful left-handed jump hooks.

It was Hawes that kept this game interesting early in the second half, picking up where he left off with a series of beautifully executed post moves. He sets his man up well, can go to a multitude of different moves, gets his shot up very quickly, displays phenomenal touch, and never loses his bearings when he has the ball with his back to the basket. As much as Heytvelt was able to bother Hawes in the first half, he might as well have been a 6’2 guard in the second.

While Washington never did cut Gonzaga’s lead to single digits, Hawes continued to show perhaps the most impressive back to the basket feel of any 7-footer to emerge as a pro prospect since Tim Duncan. His frame and touch are quite similar, and Hawes even took a page out of Duncan’s book by going glass midway through the second half.

Of course, Hawes is still very much a work in progress. Physically, any comparison to Duncan would be ridiculous at this point. Hawes is capable of moving well for being a 7-footer, but is clearly in need of some lower body strength. He gets little lift, and while he has bulked up a bit in terms of his frame, he must get a lot stronger before he is ready to handle NBA defenders in the paint.

In terms of skill, it appears that Hawes may have been born ready for the league. Athletically, he could probably use another year of preparation. At any rate, Spencer Hawes is a special prospect and already one of the top big men in the country.

As long as he can prove that increased strength is only a matter of time, Hawes is a lottery pick whenever he wants to be.

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