2018 Prospect Watch: Futures/Raw (Continued)

Omari Spellman, PF/C, Villanova, FR(RS)

6’9/255 pounds/7’2 wingspan/20.6 years old

~ Omari Spellman reminds me of Mikal Bridges his freshmen season.  Both were redshirted, had NBA potential, raw, nice size, a budding skill set and overall interesting pro prospects.  Fast forward three years and Mikal Bridges is on path for a lottery selection come this June.  Bridges developed his three point shot, his footwork, his handle and passing ability on top of having elite defense.  If Spellman puts the proper work in like Bridges did than becoming a first round selection is totally within reach.

Even though I list Spellman as a PF/C he really is more of a center than a power forward at the next level.  His size at 6’9 with a 7’2 wingspan and 255 pounds is capable of playing both front court positions but his athleticism is what’s hindering him of thriving at either front court spot.  He’s not a bad athlete but NBA power forwards are getting quicker and faster by the year and Spellman has good enough athleticism to deal with centers primarily.  His conditioning and body need to improve for that to even be a discussion.  Back in his high school days he was pushing 300 pounds and was noticeably out of shape.  He has done an admirable job of losing weight but he clearly needs to add muscle, lose fat and stay in game shape.  Maybe if he does that than playing either front court position would be a possibility.  

   With that said Spellman has deceptively quick feet and it’s very apparent on defense.  Spellman has a nice defensive stance; constantly low, butt down, feet sliding, hands at ball and man with a steady balance.  He uses his wide frame to shut down air space than he uses his agile feet to cut of driving angles.  At the next level, if he gets in better shape, with his quick feet and defensive stance there’s 1 thru 5 switch ability potential.  He can bang down low on the block, dig in and contest post shots or guard perimeter players thinking they have the advantage than with nowhere to go forced into a mid-range jump shot.  Spellman has to do a better job of recovering after pushing shooters of their spots, not to over help and to box out consistently.  In general Spellman has solid upside on defense.

     His best skill to date is without a doubt his jump shot.  Short compact loading pocket, with a dead eye set point and an up follow thru with a high release point; it’s very balanced and just looks pretty.  As a spot up jump shooter Spellman is a 1.458 PPP (points per possession) which ranks 99th percentile.  Off catch-and-shoot attempts Spellman is a 1.301 PPP which ranks 88th percentile.  Either shooting from the pick-and-pop, pull-up, spot up or catch-and-shoot Spellman has good form and fine footwork turning into a variety of shots.  He needs to improve his ball handling as Spellman is typically a one dribble, pass or shoot type of player.  Since he plays with four other shooters on the court at all times he gets good looks regardless but in the NBA he’s going to have to put the ball on the floor from time to time.  Spellman can pump fake, jab step than take one dribble or side-step into a shot but he needs to show he can get to the rim and finish off the bounce.  

Villanova plays a four-out one-in motion styled offense where Spellman sets a bunch of pin-downs or rub screens.  The offense doesn’t call for many traditional ball-screens so his ability to rim-run is seldomly used.  He has a board frame so he can set capable screens but rarely do we see him roll.  Spellman plays mostly spot up, pick-and-pop and post up.  His post-up game isn’t bad but it isn’t great.  He can face up, drop step, turn the shoulder or hook shot but since he’s not an amazing athlete his explosion off those shots are lacking; could have trouble getting shots off versus NBA length/athleticism. 

Spellman should be at least a three year man at Villanova.  If he keeps on adding a skill every year to his repertoire like Mikal Bridges did then maybe we’ll see Spellman climb up mock draft boards too.  For now Spellman is a ball of potential that’s ripe for the modern day NBA game.    

* All stats provided by Synergy Sports Technology * 

2018 Prospect Watch: Futures/Raw

The “futures/raw” section of my prospect watch deals with players that are currently going to college; no high schoolers like RJ Barrett.  Some of these players are under the radar talents that in time could develop to be first round or possibly lottery picks.  Some others are just players who have a skill or two that translates to the NBA, and with enough year-to-year progress could end up on draft boards.  These are players who you might not know now but could know in a year or two.  No seniors allowed.  

 

Chuma Okeke, PF/C, Auburn, FR

6’8/230 pounds/7’ wingspan/19.5 years old

~ Chuma Okeke has been under utilized on the bench for most of the season.  Sitting behind upperclassmen Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer Okeke was averaging 20 minutes per game.  In that time span I saw someone who could be a Channing Frye or Kyle Kuzma at the next level; the potential was there.  But either because lack of playing time, lack of aggression, lack of confidence or unwilling coaching the full arsenal of skill for Okeke laid dormant.  With the recent season ending injury to McLemore has now given Okeke a bump in playing time to roughly 30 minutes a game so far.  I’m interested to see if Bruce Pearl continues to play Okeke that many minutes but with the offensive skill that Okeke possesses it’s hard to believe he won’t. 

The first thing that stands out for Okeke is his NBA size.  Being 6’8 with a 7’ wingspan and a good athlete really highlights his potential as a versatile player.  His athleticism isn’t overpowering and his foot speed could stand to improve but his length and accumen make up for having just good athleticism.  The biggest reason why he made this list was his pick-and-pop play.  Okeke has shot 42.6% from three, 1.25 PPP (points per possession) on spot up and catch-and-shoot attempts which is excellent.  He is constantly setting screens and fanning out to the three point line.  Whether or not he gets the ball the mere fact he is a threat off pick-and-pops opens up driving lanes for ball handlers and puts pressure on defensive pick-and-roll coverages.  He also can create when pushed off the line.  Okeke has a 1.00 PPP on all jump shots off the dribble which ranks 84th percentile.  His handle could use some work especially his weak hand but Okeke can pump fake, put the ball on the floor and either attack the basket or shoot the midrange.  He really doesn’t go to his off-the-bounce game that much and relies heavily on pick-and-pop but in the limited amount of off-the-bounce attempts he’s had so far so good.

Even though he is a good pick-and-pop player Okeke needs to improve his diving skills.  Of the 39 pick-and-roll “roll man” opportunities Okeke has had this year, 34 have been pick-and-pop, 4 he’s slipped the screen and just one was a roll to the basket.  That is something I need to see more of.  Being able to pick-and-pop, drive off the dribble and roll to the rim are three important abilities for “bigs” in the NBA.  Without proper context it’s hard to grade that skill.  He’s also not a post up factor yet and I don’t know if that’s a big worry.  8.2% of his plays are post ups and he’s .647 PPP which is below average.  He definitely could stand to add some up-and-under moves, hook shot with either hand and refine his low block footwork but that isn’t a necessity in the NBA anymore.  Every time I see Okeke at the low block he usually either cuts or fills the three point area.  He can go pinch post every so often and show off his underrated passing skills; he makes great decisions and the ball never sticks with Okeke.     

Defense has been up and down for Okeke.  The Tigers either go 2-3 zone or man-to-man.  I actually think Okeke has done a better job of man-to-man instead of 2-3 zone.  When Okeke goes man-to-man he understands pick-and-roll coverages and rotations better.  But when he goes zone he has trouble guarding and communicating an area and making the correct reads.  When the front line of the zone breaks down he doesn’t wall off the drive in time.  His rim protection skills are questionable since he lacks elite foot speed.  He has quick hands so he can cause deflections and turnovers but defense is an area of improvement for Okeke.  Okeke might be a three to four year college player at Auburn.  There are multiple players playing his position on the Auburn roster and if it wasn’t for an injury his playing time would be limited this season.  Kyle Kuzma stayed three years and Channing Frye stayed four years so I wouldn’t expect anything different from Okeke.  He has shown next level skills that over time can develop into an NBA player.                 

*All stats provided by Synergy Sports Technology* 

2018 Prospect Watch: Undrafted (final)

J.P. Macura PG/SG Xavier SR

6’5/203 pounds/22.7 age

~ Before Macura committed to Xavier his first choice was Butler.  Unfortunately for Macura, Stevens decided to go to the NBA that same year.  Macura ended up picking Xavier instead because of its toughness, coaching and winning attitude.  Three years later Macura goes 7 of 13 from the floor, 1 of 2 from three, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 18 points in the 2017 elite eight loss to Gonzaga; now he’s had his part in Xaviers 25-4 start to the 2018 season.  Trevon Bluiett will get most of Xavier’s notoriety and rightly so because of his scoring ability but Macura is the heartbeat of the Musketeers.  Macura talks trash to the opposing players, fans and sometimes even coaches.  It could come off like over the top abrasiveness, someone who the fans love to hate.  I just see someone who doesn’t like to lose and uses that brashness as an edge in the hope it could change one possession on the way to a win.

Out of the five players I listed as possible undrafted NBA candidates JP Macura and Jonathan Williams are my two favorites.  Macura’s biggest flaw is without a doubt his defense.  When Xavier plays a 1-3-1 zone Macura is fine within that structure but as soon as they go man-to-man it’s a different story.  He gambles on passing lanes too many times becoming out of position and breaking the the integrity of the defense.  He lunges too often when he should be vertical.  He has above average athleticism and can get blown by if he’s not in his proper stance.  His calling card on defense is effort and intensity.  I can’t recall how many times I see him fly into a play and grab a loose ball, a rebound or take a charge that changes the outcome of a play.  It really is infectious.  Macura has for sure made progress defensively every year since his freshman season but he needs to improve his stance, stay sound on drives/fakes and not to over extend himself.  Macura actually has solid length and deceptively quick feet so there is potential for improvement at the next level.  

Offensively is where Macura can make inroads at the NBA.  As a pick-and-roll player he has great court vision, awareness and presence of action.  Macura has a 1.073 PPP (points per possession) as a pick-and-roll ball handler which is excellent.  He does a great job looking off defenders, making pocket passes and finding cutters dropping off from the short corner.  He’s definitely revamped his PnR skills over the years.

His ball handling ability is a part of that skill too.  He has an array of change of direction, hang dribble and change of pace moves that he uses to manipulate a screen.  He’s been a mixed bag when it comes to isolation because the lack of elite strength, quickness and speed.  This year he is .25 PPP on isolation plays and last year he was 1.2 PPP on isolation plays.  Overall his ball handling and passing are major pluses when looked at the next level.

As far as shooting goes Macura’s mechanics are pretty inconsistent and yields average results.  He is by no means a poor jump shooter though.  He has a dead eye release, nice loading pocket and gets the ball off at the height of the jump.  Two things that seem inconsistent are his base and arc.  Sometimes the flick on his follow thru is short giving the ball extra air under it becoming a floater.  Also his base contracts every time he shoots; sometimes his knees will be touching than the next shot he will be shoulder width apart.  He’s already a 35% three point shooter so making slight adjustments will be beneficial at the next level.   

Macura projects to be a backup combo guard who makes hustle plays on defense, plays the pick-and-roll and shoot threes on offense.  I really think theres a chance he goes late second round but that’s more of a hope at this point.  No matter what he should be playing summer league ball come July fighting for a roster spot.

Honorable Mention: Yante Maten, PF/C, SR, Georgia…..Dakota Mathias, SG, SR, Purdue 

2018 Prospect Watch: Undrafted (continued)

The next two players I’m about to write about are very similar in their overall body of work; both lefties, play the same position and were transfers.  One is more likely to make an NBA team but both possess NBA qualities that can lead to a summer league invite or maybe even a late second round pick.  I’ve checked most mock drafts and both players are nowhere to be found.  I did see Williams once projected to go late second round but last time I checked he wasn’t there anymore.  

 

Jonathan Williams PF/C Gonzaga SR

6’9/225 pounds/7’ wingspan/22.7 age

~ Last year during the tournament I wrote about players who were lesser known at the time but have the potential to make a leap up draft boards (post).  I had faith in Williams then and the way his senior year is going has not deterred me from thinking he can one day make an NBA roster.  He’s a good not great athlete with quick feet.  He’s played mostly power forward with his time in Gonzaga but has spent some of that time playing center or small forward when need be.  

That versatility is one of the biggest reasons as to why I like him for an NBA roster spot.  He uses his solid athleticism, quick feet and length to bang down low with bigger players or stay in front of ball handlers on the perimeter.  Williams does a great job in the post of getting low and contesting shots.  He will have to add a few pounds of muscle at the next level to guard in post and maintain his ground.  Overall on defense he is a smart, sound defender staying long, vertical and keeping his feet moving.  He is a good pick-and-roll defender whether it being hedging hard, blitzing or staying down, Williams has the foot speed and length to cover ground in a hurry.  Another plus for Williams is his overall rebounding skills averaging 10 rebounds per 40 minutes throughout his four year college career. Williams does a good job defensively finding a man and boxing him out.  His offensive rebounding numbers are pretty solid averaging 3.5 rebounds per 40 minutes but could’ve been better since he spent a lot of time outside the paint last year with Zach Collins and Karnowski maning the middle mostly.

Since Williams was on the perimeter more offensively last year he used additional possessions on his outside jump shot compared to this season.  Last year Williams was a 1.156 PPP (points per possession) on spot up jumpers, 1.382 PPP on catch-and-shoot jumpers and both those numbers are down in terms of PPP and attempts this season.  He’s taken on a bigger role in the paint this year with less outside jump shots but why are all his outside shooting numbers down including three point percentage from 40% to 27%?  Was last year a blip?  Is this something for NBA scouts to be concerned about?   

Between last year and this year his mechanics on his jump shot are pretty identical with a staggered balance to add power, a low loading pocket for a slower delivery and a high release point on his ball.  Even though his spot up numbers are down his pick-and-pop numbers are still solid sporting a .96 PPP.  As a pick-and-roll “roll man” Williams does a nice job of either popping, diving or setting screens.  Williams has to get more consistency on his spot up and catch-and-shoot jumpers at the next level since he will be asked to do that a lot but being a good pick-and-roll partner is still a nice foundation to grow from.

He’s been excellent in the post the past two years at Gonzaga as they now make up 35% of his possessions.  Williams utilizes his hook shot lefty or righty most of the time in the paint but still can go up-and-under or drop step.  His ball handling ability will be a major point of emphasize for his training since he really can’t take his man off the dribble, create for others or himself.  He is more of a one dribble and pass guy for now.  Williams projects to be power forward but that’s only if he can improve his handle and consistency on his outside jump shot.  If not then he will have a hard time making the league.  Either way he should still get a summer league invite and a shot at making a roster.

 

Kyle Washington PF/C Cincinnati SR

6’9/230 pounds/7’ wingspan/24.5 age

~ Almost an exact replica of Jonathan Williams except for age (Washington is turning 25, yikes), foot speed and athleticism.  Washington can also shoot threes, play either frontcourt position and bang in the post.  Washington probably has the longest shot at making the league of all my “undrafted” candidates.  Some of it has to do with age but most of it has to do with athleticism.

One of his biggest flaws is pick-and-roll coverage on defense.  Cincinnati plays an aggressive press defense that hedges most screens.  Any moment Washington has to hard hedge on a pick-and-roll the time for him to recover can be clocked with a stopwatch its that slow.  As a result his rotations aren’t as crisp as they should be because the lack of foot speed.  He has put forth better effort at becoming a more dependable team defender this season with sharpened communication.  Washington does do a good job of one-on-one defense in the post and even on the perimeter sometimes because of his stance and length.  I think his pick-and-roll defense has to be a reason why Washington only averages 22.7 minutes per game.  Washington is too critical of a player for the Bearcats to be playing him that little.  In my opinion he should be playing more regardless because Washington brings the skill on offense and the energy on defense every night.  That will be without a doubt his calling card in the NBA: the hustle player.  Diving for loose balls or catapulting into three defenders for a rebound, Williams has to transfer his hustle to the next level especially on defense.   

His biggest flaw on offense is his ball handling skills.  He is a left handed straight line driver with no shifty moves to break down a defense.  He does have potential since he’s proficient in the post with either hand and his finishing around the basket is solid with steady runners and push shots.  Nevertheless Washington needs to improve his handles greatly.  Williams made progress this season from .833 PPP to 1.229 PPP on all catch-and-shoot opportunities.  His shooting mechanics have a nice follow thru, good arc on the ball, and a tight compact form helping him improve on all his jump shots this season from a .847 PPP to a 1.075 PPP.

I doubt Washington does make the NBA but because of his work ethic, length and jump shooting ability it leaves the door open for a slight possibility.  For rookies that are about to turn 25 and have less than stellar athleticism making an NBA roster is very tough.  He should get a summer league invite or make the G-league at the very least.  

 

To be continued…again

2018 Prospect Watch: Undrafted

I’m going to start a college basketball prospect watch breaking down players into different categories.  “Lottery” will deal with elite players who will most likely come out this year and are projected to go top 15.  “Mid-tier” will deal with players who have a chance at being selected mid-first to second round.  “Undrafted” will deal with upperclassmen who probably won’t get drafted but have a chance at making an NBA roster.  And “Futures/Raw” will deal with underclassmen that have the qualities or upside to one day be drafted.  This article will deal with the upperclassmen who you may have heard of before and probably won’t be drafted.  

I’ve always been enamored with undrafted players in the NBA.  What are NBA teams missing in the draft process?  Is there any possible predictive correlation that might help us identify these players better?  Why did Robert Covington slip through the cracks?  Jon Starks?  Ben Wallace?  Bruce Bowen?  Even players like Fred VanVleet, Tyler Johnson and Royce O’neale are having successful NBA careers being undrafted.  How come these players made it but not highly touted players like Adam Morrison, Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson or Hasheem Thabeet.  

These prospects that my made list are candidates for summer league roster invites.  Of course they have their flaws but possess certain requisite skills to make it at the next level.  It was tough picking prospects that I liked and at the same time I don’t think will get drafted.  I mean if you like someone’s game enough than why wouldn’t you think they’re getting drafted?  I’ve scoured mock drafts from all over and these players aren’t on them save for maybe one.

 

All stats provided by Synergy Sports Technology

 

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman PG/SG Michigan SR

6’4/175 pounds/23.5 age  

~ Abdur-Rahkman’s senior season started off a little inconsistent when it came to conference play.  Recently over the past month he might be playing his best basketball yet including a 26 point, 6/9 from three and 10/15 from the floor performance in a one-point loss versus Purdue.  With Derrick Walton Jr graduating last season Michigan really didn’t have a true point guard to take over.  As a result Abdur-Rahkman has taken over a good portion of the ball handling duties.  He uses 30.4% of his possessions as a pick-and-roll ball handler and nets a .887 PPP (points per possession) on those plays which is very good but not excellent.  

His ball handling ability is probably the biggest reason why he made my list.  He is capable of driving with both hands but prefers his right and has a nice first step with hesitation and change of direction moves.  In the midst of getting pushed off the line he can get to his spots while breaking down the defense with his capable handles.  When he gets to the rim his finishing ability is good enough sporting a 1.182 PPP around the basket.  If he gets walled off on his drive Abdur-Rahkman does a nice job of locating players filling the gaps and making last second dump off passes.

Overall he is an excellent half court player spotting a 1.019 PPP using his pick-and-roll abilities plus jump shooting as his main skills.  When Abdur-Rahkman spots up or makes a shot of the catch his form is more compact with a tighter loading pocket and nice follow thru.  But when he has to create in an isolation type play that’s where he struggles.  His release can be slow at times bringing the ball too far down on the load curtailing his one-on-one ability somewhat.  When Abdur-Rahkman gets time or shoots in rhythm he is a solid jump shooter but off the bounce is a different story.  It leads to his inconsistent shooting numbers making 36% of his three point attempts.

As far as defense goes when he’s engaged he can be a great team defender understanding helping the helper, communicating on coverages and not over extending himself.  He is a pretty good athlete but nothing spectacular and might have trouble staying in front of players at the next level.  He doesn’t have the athleticism to stay with point guards in the NBA and that’s what he projects more to be.  He is a backup combo guard that can play solid team defense, make spot up threes and put the ball on the floor in a pinch.  He does nothing amazing and most things just good enough so it will be hard imagining him being drafted.  He is likely to be offered a summer league spot and may take a few years in the G-league before he makes an NBA roster.

 

Devon Hall SG Virgina SR

6’5/211 pounds/22.6 age

~ Devon Hall has had his struggles senior year but for the most part has been one of the better two-way players in Division I.  Good size, good length and a good athleticism give Hall a great chance at being one of the undrafted players to make an NBA roster.  Hall isn’t Justin Anderson or Malcolm Brogdon; two former Cavalier grads.  He doesn’t have the elite athleticism or length like Anderson or as good of a pick-and-roll player like Brogdon.  Hall projects to be more of a Danny Green type player; 3-and-D 2-guard.  Unlike Abdur-Rahkman Hall doesn’t have as good of a handle.  Hall is more of the typical dominant hand straight line driver.  He is a lefty shooter and has more trouble driving/finishing with his right hand.  To be Danny Green at the next level he needs to work on his ball handling so he can’t be too predictable.  Hall does scan the court well when he has to be a playmaker though.  At times he reads the appropriate actions and passes with solid accuracy to the shooters pocket.  

 His jump shot should help him transition to the NBA.  Sporting a 1.398 PPP catch-and-shoot and 1.052 PPP spot-up the numbers back him up as a great shooter.  A much more consistent shooter than Abdur-Rahkman Hall gets more elevation on his jump shot with a better release point and quicker loading time.  He can shoot it off the bounce or off ball.  Hall was also better at using screens to create space.  He made a nice knack at reading screens, knowing when to out-cut, curl or flare.  Hall used a screen 22% of the time and had a 1.484 PPP which is fantastic.  

Hall is currently one of the better defenders in the country.  He moves his feet well, doesn’t bite on fakes and makes crisp rotations.  He has the switchability factor too, guarding point guards to power forwards. Virginia uses a pack-line defense and that’s the opposite of what most NBA defenses run.  NBA defenses usually denies middle and helps baseline while pack-line defense denies baseline and help middle.  It’s pretty much the introvert of eachother but there still are basic pick-and-roll concepts, v-back principles and man-to-man help.  If Malcolm Brogdon can be a solid defender his rookie year than Hall has just as good of a chance.  I doubt Hall will get drafted and is staring down a summer league contract.  He has solid tools and skills to be a rotational 3-and-D shooting guard.

To be continued