Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Sweet 16. Players to watch from an NBA scouting perspective

Blue chip players can be found. 
There is a certain credibility that goes with being one of the outstanding basketball players in action in the Sweet 16. Now that the 2015 NCAA Tournament is down to 16 teams, the spotlight begins to shine brighter and focus harder on the individual stars. Annually, we write an article that lists the 16 players that we feel are the most worthy of having NBA scouting eyes on them. We started this exercise in 2005, and we can report that any player making this list has an 82% chance of earning an NBA pay-check, at minimum. Some will become All-Stars. Sweet 16 "alumni" that have reached NBA All-Star status include these "blue chip" players: Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Roy Hibbert, and Jimmy Butler. 

Who are the Sweet 16 players we will zero in on? 

1. Karl Anthony Towns - Kentucky 7'0" 250 lbs. Center. freshman. ...Towns has the best defensive rating in college basketball. When he is on the floor, Kentucky gives up just 76.6 points per 100 possessions. That stat may not mean much to you if you are not "in-tune" with the impact defensive rating (DEFRTG) can have on a team's success. Trust us. A DEFRTG of 76.6 is a BIG DEAL. ...Towns is a tremendous shot-blocker and rim protector, yet he has the finesse to shoot 82% from the free-throw line. He is still learning to play in the low post but by all accounts, he is a smart kid that should improve. ...I also like that at age 19, the seven-foot Towns shows humility in being able to handle playing on a loaded Kentucky team where he plays just 21 minutes per game. He averages 10 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.4 blocked shots per game. 

2. Justise Winslow - Duke 6'7" 229 lbs. Small Forward. freshman. ...Winslow has game changing ability in the open-court. He is ridiculously talented in transition, with the ability to finish with power, speed, and skill. Winslow averages 12 points, and six rebounds per game. He shoots an impressive 40% from beyond the college arc, and he has more assists than turnovers. Winslow shoots just 61% from the free throw line, which is concerning. ...Justise's Dad, Rickie Winslow played professionally in Turkey. Justise will be a safe pick in the NBA Draft. 

They call him "Jah"
3. Jahlil Okafor - Duke 6'11" 270 lbs. Center. freshman. ...Okafor is a skilled BIG that has remarkable ability to score in the low-post. He has a BIG wide body and good ball handling skills that allow him carve space in the paint. Okafor is shooting 67% FG! He averages 18.1 points, and 8.7 rebounds per game. Okafor is especially good on the offensive glass. ...As good as Okafor is, he has three major weaknesses in our opinion. He is a poor foul shooter (51% FT), he has nearly two turnovers for every one assist, and his post defense is below-average. Okafor could also be in better shape. 

4. Delon Wright - Utah 6'5" 180 lbs. Point Guard. Senior. ...Wright is a multi-faceted point guard that has really improved as a three point shooter during the 2014-15 season. The younger brother of Dorell Wright (Portland TrailBlazers forward), Delon is excellent running the pick-and-roll, showing an ability to create a shot for himself as well as set up his teammates. Wright led the Pac-12 in true shooting percentage in 2014-15. ...Wright reacts very quickly, allowing him to get a high number of steals and deflections. But he's not just out there gambling to get steals. His defensive rating is excellent, at 88.9. ...Potential top-tier NBA guards are difficult to come by and should be coveted. Wright has a chance, in our opinion, to, in-time, become a top-tier NBA player. 

5. Willie Cauley-Stein - Kentucky 7'0" 244 lbs. Center. junior. ...Cauley Stein is a rim protecting BIG that is remarkably quick off his feet. He blocks shots and holds down the paint with a presence of cat-quickness and length. Cauley-Stein has a standing reach of 9'2" (same as Tyson Chandler), and a max-vert. of 37". ...Cauley-Stein knows his limitations reasonably well and he seldom takes a bad shot. He shoots 59% FG. ...Far from complete, Cauley Stein is a horrid free throw shooter (50% FT), and he has more turnovers than assists. But his upside is ridiculously high. You just don't find seven footers that can move the way Cauley-Stein does. 

Brice is nice. 
6. Brice Johnson - North Carolina 6'9" 228 lbs. Power Forward. junior. ...Johnson is a scoring forward with NBA athleticism. He averages 12.9 points, and 7.9 rebounds per game. He has a reputation for not being a great defender. However, his Defensive Rating of 93.3 is far from poor. ...Among all 2015 NCAA Tournament PF's in our database, Johnson ranks as the best in efficiency per-minute. He is elite in his ability to finish in transition.  ...Johnson has a thin frame that is beginning to fill out. The three-ball is not a part of Johnson's game at all (zero attempts from beyond the arc in three seasons). 

7. Stanley Johnson - Arizona 6'7" 245 lbs. Small Forward. freshman. ...Johnson is a rugged wing player that can lock-down the opposing team's best wing. That is valuable. He has the best defensive rating of any wing player left in the NCAA Tournament. Johnson helped lead the U.S. to gold medals at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship and the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. He was the MVP of the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. ...He averages 14 points, six rebounds, and one and a half steals per game. Johnson is solid from the three point line, hitting 37%. …Johnson can be better by improving his decision making. He presently has more turnovers than assists.  

8. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - Arizona 6'7" 215 lbs. Shooting Guard. sophomore. ...Arizona is loaded, and sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stands out among great athletes, as the most hyper-athletic guy on the Cats' roster. Hollis-Jefferson is an elite defender. His defensive rating of 87.9 ranks him second among 2015 NCAA Tournament small forwards. …Hollis-Jefferson has a positive assist-to-turnover ratio (career) but he struggles as a perimeter shooter (21% 3-pt career). He shoots 69% from the line. ...I view him as an top-notch athlete with a huge upside. If the shooting gets better, look out. 

9. Kevon Looney - UCLA 6'9" 220 lbs. Small Forward. freshman. ...Looney is an NBA athlete that can legitimately play the small forward position well at 6'9". He is terrific on the offensive glass, and he finishes well in transition. Looney has a positive assist to turnover ratio and he shoots 43% from beyond the college 3-pt. line. I really wish he would stay in school because I don't think he is ready to play meaningful minutes in an NBA game. That said, in three or fours years, he might be a top-tier small forward. 

Sabonis is intense. 
10. Domantas Sabonis - Gonzaga 6'10" 230 lbs. Power Forward. freshman. ..."Domas" Sabonis is the most talented freshman that is still somewhat "under the radar" of the average college hoops fan. He is a fiery competitor with skill, size, and solid athleticism. He is shooting a remarkable 67% FG as a freshman! Sabonis also brings it on the defensive end. He led the West Coast Conference in defensive rating (90.8). ...Domas is the son of international basketball superstar Arvydas Sabonis. Domas is just 18 years old. He was born in Portland, OR. but has citizenship in both the USA and in Lithuania. 

11. Frank Kaminsky - Wisconsin 7'0" 254 lbs. Center. Senior. ...Frank Kaminsky is a seven-footer with skill and shooting touch. He has a feel for the game of basketball. He averages 18.4 points, and 8.1 rebounds per game. He can make three point shots (36% career), owns a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, and he shoots 75% from the foul line. What makes Kaminsky unique is that he was a 6'7" point guard as recently as his junior year of high school. Now those guard skills allow him, as a seven-foot Center, to do things other BIGs simply cannot do. ...He posted the best defensive rating in the Big Ten in 2014-15 (90.1). Kaminsky is a very good defensive rebounder (he led the Big Ten in 2014-15). He was also the Big Ten leader in field goal percentage (55% FG). 

12. Nigel Hayes - Wisconsin 6'8" 235 lbs. Small Forward. sophomore. ...Hayes is yet another quality, two-way, wing player that should have a solid NBA career. He averages 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Hayes did not make a single three point shot as a freshman last season. This season, Hayes is shooting 39% 3-pt with 33 made threes. His career free throw percentage is 66% but he has improved this season to 74%. He is solid with the ball, posting a slightly positive assist-to-turnover ratio. 

13. J.P. Tokoto - North Carolina 6'5" 200 lbs. Shooting Guard. junior. ...Tokoto is a freak athlete that continues to improve as a basketball player. In three straight seasons he has shown progress by improving his three-point and free throw percentages. This season, Tokoto is shooting 37% 3-pt, and 61% FT. His assist-to-turnover ratio stands at a very good (for a shooting guard) 1.62-to-1 (career). In transition he is ridiculously good; making highlight plays routinely. He averages just eight points per game but he adds 5.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. ...The ceiling for Tokoto is extremely high. 

14. Montrezl Harrell - Louisville 6'8" 235 lbs. Power Forward. junior. ...Harrell is among the most intense competitors we have scouted in 17 years of watching college basketball. He is about hustle, and heart. He can be intimidating and hard on his teammates. ...Harrell is not the most skilled player, but he makes up for that with his determined efforts. He averages 15.4 points, and 9.2 rebounds per game. He is a tremendous offensive rebounder that enjoys power-dunking. He will try to dunk ANYTHING close to the rim. This season, Harrell has shown the ability to occasionally step outside and knock down a face-up jumper. ...On the flip side, Harrell is a terrible free throw shooter at 48%, and he turns it over more than he assists it.  

15. Jakob Poeltl - Utah 70'0" 230 lbs. Center. freshman. ...Poeltl is Utah's not-so secret weapon. He plays just 23 minutes per game but when he is on the floor, the Utes are a better team. Poeltl is converting a staggering 69.1% of his field goal attempts. His defensive rating of 87.6 can anchor, for whatever limited minutes he may play, the Utah defense. Poeltl is a good offensive rebounder but his free throw stroke is sketchy at just 45% FT. ...I really hope that Poeltl returns to school next season. For all the promise he shows, I'm afraid he will get lost in the NBA grind of BIG men. 

16. Kennedy Meeks - North Carolina 6'9" 290 lbs. Power Forward. sophomore. ...Meeks is a load. 6'9" 290 lbs. He is hard to keep out of the paint, and he has a soft touch. As such, he shoots 55.9% FG for his two season career as a Tar Heel. The former McDonald's All-American averages 11.6 points, and 7.4 rebounds per game. Meeks is a poor free throw shooter at just 61% FT (career). …He is questionable to play in the Sweet 16 after suffering a knee injury in North Carolina's most recent game. 

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