This week's version is a bit of a mixed bag. Half a tribute to some of the besst and most consistent upperclassmen who haven't gotten enough recognition on the site, and half a look at a couple of intriguing sleepers who have caught our eye as the season nears it's conclusion. There is a bit of overlap between the two as well as you might expect.
Solomon Jones has been one of the best big men in the incredibly tough Big East all season long, but hasn't gotten much hype to back it up until now; Brandon Roy is making a strong case out West for joining Redick and Morrison as a first team All-American with a near triple-double; Alexander Johnson and FSU are finally starting to see the fruits of his labor pay off in the form of double-double after double-double in the ACC; Allan Ray finally gets a well-deserved mention thanks to his outstanding performance against UConn last week as well as his play all season long; Justin Williams is the 2nd best shot-blocker in the country despite playing on one leg all season long; and Maryland transfer Andre Collins is quietly showing the country why he may have deserved more opportunities than he garnered in his first three years in college, to the tune of 27 points per game.
Solomon Jones, 6-10, senior, PF/C, South Florida
19 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, 7-10 FG, 5-8 FT
Part of that has to do with the fact that his South Florida team has yet to win a game in the Big East at 0-12, and the lack of positive exposure that comes along with that. Another reason would be the fact that hes really crept up on the college basketball world, being a no-name in high school, transferring in from Daytona Beach Community College at just 195 pounds, and having a fairly pedestrian junior season averaging just 6 points and 6 rebounds in conference USA.
None of that is of any interest to the NBA scouts that have become a regular fixture at his games this year, though. After adding 35 pounds to his wiry frame (now at 230) since transferring into USF, Jones has become an extremely intriguing prospect thanks to his excellent athleticism, superb length and budding skills in all facets of the game. Hes slowly but surely making great strides from game to game, showing new things every time he steps out on the floor and most importantly looking like he still has an extremely high ceiling to continue to improve.
Jones runs the floor as well as any big man in the conference, possessing great quickness and an outstanding vertical leap which has made him one of the top 10 shotblockers in the country in this his senior year. Hes extremely active both defensively and on the glass, rotating well from the weakside and going out of his area to grab double digit rebounds every game.
His offensive game is still fairly raw, but he shows some nice sparks from time to time; putting the ball on the floor and spinning his way to the lane, knocking down mid-range jumpers as well as his free throws, and showing decent coordination catching balls in the post and going up for emphatic finishes.
He doesnt like to use his left hand much, and his lack of strength eliminates most possibilities of a potential back to the basket game, but he wouldnt be the first skinny 6-10 athlete to make it in the league if he continues to work hard on his all-around game. He gets outmuscled right now trying to hold his spot on the block on both ends of the floor, and really isnt much of a factor in half-court sets beyond setting picks and sneaking up on his matchup occasionally thanks to his activity level and athleticism. Foul trouble has been one of Jones worst enemies throughout his career, picking up too many cheapies just by sticking his hands in all kinds of places they should not be, but to his credit hes still found a way to average an outstanding 37 minutes per game this season in the extremely tough Big East.
All in all we are talking about a rare senior who appears to be nowhere close to reaching his full potential as a basketball player at this point in his development, and could very well hear his name called on draft night based on the upside he shows in workouts and NBA draft camps. Jones has received his invite to Portsmouth already and according to his coach at South Florida is likely to accept it and attend.
Brandon Roy, 6-6, shooting guard, senior, Washington
25 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, 10-17 FG, 5-5 FT
This game, as much of this season has been, was a showcase of Roy's tremendous versatility. Roy's excellent slashing ability was on full display as he used his combination of strength, athleticism, quickness, balance, and creativity to get into the lane and score nearly at will. He used a vast array of spin moves and floaters to get to the line and put the ball in the hole, always keeping his balance to ensure a high-percentage shot. But that's not the only way Roy was scoring. While Roy did go 0-for-3 from behind the arc in this game, he did make use of his mid-range jump shot and post-up game to put some points on the board. Roy's key weakness coming into this season was his ability to hit the long ball, though he has improved his three-point percentage to a respectable 39% this year, although only on 67 attempts.
Roy's contributions in this game went far beyond scoring, though. As Roy has improved his scoring ability and taken on a greater role in Washington's offense, he has used the added attention he receives from defenses to help set up his teammates. His court awareness is superb and he uses it to often create easy shots for himself and others. In this game, Roy frequently drew defenses to himself by penetrating or posting up, then found an opening and dished the ball to a teammate for an open shot. Roy also spent brief stretches playing point guard, taking the ball up the court and initiating the offense, looking very comfortable doing so, as he has all season.
Roy is very active on the boards, as he was in this game with eight rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end. Roy is much stronger than his size would suggest, and he uses his strength and instincts to constantly grab rebounds and make tip-ins on the offensive end. Defensively, Roy was impressive as usual, excelling in both man-to-man and team defense, with his excellent fundamentals and strong weakside awareness on full display.
If Roy continues to play at the level he's been at for the past few games, he's going to be heavily mentioned in draft lottery talks, if he isn't already. In the NBA, he possesses the strength, quickness, and ability to effectively play and defend PG, SG, or SF. His great versatility will allow him to fit into the rotation of any team or any style of play, as he really has no holes in his game other than an occasional tendency to play passively. While Roy is good at many things, he arguably is great at none, which takes away from his star potential. But that said, he is the prototypical "glue" player and possesses all of the intangibles that coaches and teammates love. Roy is one of those players every coach loves to have in that he works hard, plays smart, and can really do anything you ask of him. As some on our official message board have pointed out, his game reminds of Manu Ginobili in many aspects.
The only major concern with Roy is a past knee injury that had to be surgically repaired. Roy's surgery came in November of 2004, during his junior season, when he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus. He has fully recovered this season and looks in no way hindered by the surgeries, but it is always something to keep in mind that he is playing on a surgically-repaired knee.
Alexander Johnson, 6-9, junior, PF/C, Florida State
3 Games Combined: 47 points, 35 rebounds, 6 blocks, 4 assists, 8 turnovers, 10 fouls, 14/28 FG, 19/21 FT
Johnson went into the offseason thinking of transferring to another school, but came back into the fall semester with a completely new body, a wide arsenal of all-around skills and more dedication to the game of basketball than hes ever shown before. Johnson shed 30 pounds, finally took care of his extremely poor eyesight by getting contact lenses, and hooked up with one of the top trainers in the country in David Thorpe at the 5-Star pro training center in Clearwater, Florida, which took his game and mental frame of mind to a completely different level. As you have read on DraftExpress over the past few years, Thorpes alumni include under the radar college sleepers-turned solid NBA pros such as Udonis Haslem, Kevin Martin and Orien Greene. This is one of the reasons Johnson is viewed as an intriguing prospect, as Thorpes students are far and few between and the fact that he will be training at such a well respected gym helps his stock almost right off the bat. Johnson would have to back it up himself, though, since these things dont mean anything until he starts showing it in a real game. Thats exactly what has started to happen in the 2nd half of the season in Tallahassee.
The fact that hes finally started to show his talent shouldnt as much of a surprise to those familiar with his career, though. Johnson was a top-30 prospect coming out of high school and a borderline McDonalds All-American. He initially committed to Georgia, just a few hours from his home in Albany, but academic issues forced him to spend a year in prep-school first. Eventually landing as at Florida State, he showed outstanding potential initially and looked to be on his way to cashing in on a first round contract, finishing 3rd in the voting for ACC freshman of the year after two top-10 lottery picks in Luol Deng and Chris Paul. His sophomore year did not go according to plan, suffering from a severe hamstring injury that hampered him for much of the way, gaining plenty of weight and playing extremely tentatively as if he was afraid to do anything that would risk getting injured again. Physically he was not the same, but it was mentally that Johnson struggled the most.
Despite the rumors of a new and vastly improved Johnson coming in the preseason, his junior year initially started off much like his sophomore year did, but for completely different reasons this time. Florida States extremely athletic guards could not or would not find a way to utilize the talent they had inside the post, and Johnson had trouble figuring out how to take advantage of his vastly improved frame.
A mediocre outing at Clemson eleven games into the season was when Johnson bottomed out, shooting 4-10 from the field, picking up 4 fouls and failing to pick up even one rebound in 30 minutes in a nail biting loss. Since then the light-bulb appears to have come on and weve seen a player intent on showing everyone that he is one of the top big men in the ACC after Shelden Williams. Behind a new offense that looks to get Johnson involved early and often and 5 double-doubles in his last 7 games, Florida State has landed a spot right back on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Thats only part of the reason why Johnsons name is starting to pick up some serious buzz, though. Standing 6-9 and with a frame and the type of athleticism that most college players can only dream of, he shows most of the all-around attributes and skills you want to see in an NBA power forward--potentially at the very least.
Johnsons athleticism was never in question even when he was 255 pounds rather than the much more compact 225 hes today. His feet are extremely nimble, his vertical leap is off the charts (somewhere in the 40 area), and he gets off his feet as quickly as any big man in the country, often to pull down monster rebounds well out of his area. He has some very nice basic post moves, including a sweet jump-hook shot that is almost impossible to stop when he gets the ball in the post. He does a good job establishing deep position in the paint, but doesnt see a ton of one on one situations in the paint as he doesnt have a true playmaker or post entry passer on the team. When he does get the ball, his explosiveness and aggressive demeanor make him a magnet for drawing fouls.
He can also step outside and knock down the jump-shot outside to 18 feet, displaying nice elevation and a sweet stroke in the process, or even beyond that at times as hes shown knocking down eight 3-pointers this year. In the high post, he had a good feel for making unselfish passes, rifling in rocket passes the way he only hope would be returned to him next time down the floor.
In terms of weaknesses, Johnson still isnt an extremely polished player in any facet of the game besides rebounding. He can be a bit passive at times, floating in and out of the game and not maintaining his focus at all times, being a bit tentative in his decision making and struggling to stay out of foul trouble. Hes clearly still getting used to his new dimensions as a player both in terms of his physical attributes as well as the skills he picked up over the summer, and doesnt quite know how to fully utilize them at this point in his career.
Defensively he doesnt quite have the height or the length to be an amazing shot-blocking presence, but this is not really an area he can afford to show too much in considering the way his team likes to front the post as well as his tendency to pick up cheap fouls. The clinic for footwork and quickness he put on Tyler Hansbrough in the UNC game a few Sundays ago, fronting and denying him any touches altogether in the last 10 minutes of the game should have been well noted by NBA scouts. He was well on his way to a career best game on the road at Duke two weeks later, giving Shelden Williams all he could handle with 13 points and 11 rebounds in his 14 minutes on the floor, but was shot down by the overzealous ACC refs who called one of the worst technical fouls weve seen all year (all 3 refs were eventually suspended by the ACC for the call), sending Johnson packing to the bench after the double foul.
Johnson has continued that excellent momentum over the past 9 games, scoring in double figures every time out, averaging nearly 10 rebounds per game, and shooting 80% from the line. As his stock has risen in the eyes of scouts, questions have arisen regarding his intents about the draft this year. Turning 23 just a few weeks ago, he isn't getting any younger any time soon. Right now he appears to be 50/50 on whether to declare or not, mostly depending on how he finishes up the season. If Johnson can find a way to lead FSU to the NCAA tournament and his stock continues to rise, he will certainly test the waters and go workout for 5-7 teams drafting in the mid-late 1st round. If the feedback is lukewarm, it appears that he will return to school.
Allan Ray, 6-2, shooting guard, senior, Villanova
25 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 3 steals, 9-21 FG, 5-10 3PT, 2-2 FT
Rodger Bohn/Jonathan Givony
Ray, a senior from New York City, was absolutely on fire in the second half. He hit contested three pointer after contested three pointer, and helped Nova gain a come from behind victory over the Huskies. Ray is an effortless shooter with NBA range on his jumper. Hes deadly on the pick and roll since he can absolutely murder his matchup if he decides to go underneath the screen, but will find the open man or take a few steps in to set up a mid-range jumper if his man hedges or switches. Ray is a volume shooter, extremely prolific and very confident in his ability to knock down shots at any time, from any range. He has a certain swagger to his game that you usually find in NYC guards, fully believing that every shot he takes will go in and showing absolutely no conscience to hoist one up at any given moment. He shoots just as well off of the dribble as he does from a set position, thanks to his excellent footwork, superb elevation and picture perfect mechanics squaring his shoulders and pulling the trigger with a lightning quick release. The Nova senior is not particularly bad off the dribble for the position he currently plays, and does a pretty good job of finding the open man as hes not selfish at all.
Unfortunately, Allan has a lot of things working against him. First of all, he is a 62 shooting guard who shows almost no point guard skills at all. To add to that, he cools off from behind the arc almost as quickly as he heats up, being streaky enough to miss a few wide-open threes in a row, but then exploding for 4-5 in a row that are contested by a 6-9 wingman such as Rudy Gay. Defensively, he has a tendency to take possessions off, not fighting through screens, rotating half-heartedly, and generally showing that he doesnt mind giving up 2 points on any given possession since he knows hell be able to come right back and score 3 in return. When Ray does put the ball on the floor (not all that often) he is not particularly effective finishing around the hoop. Hes much more comfortable settling for jump-shots, but has a hard time finding a way to contribute to his team when his shot isnt falling for him.
Even though Ray will find his fans amongst NBA types, these deficiencies make it extremely hard to project a player of his size to be drafted in the first round. Even a player like Salim Stoudamire who was even a better shooter (some would say much better) and at least played the point guard position on and off at Arizona in his 4 years there ended up landing in the 2nd round.
However, Allan is very much a second round prospect, as virtually every team can use a player like him off of the bench. It would not surprise at all to see him play a role similar to the one Eddie House or Damon Jones do, spark-plug type roles in the NBA when it is all said and done. If Ray is able to show better point guard skills in pre-draft camps, though, things could drastically change in his draft stock. Playing next to three guards who all have legit playmaking skills makes an opportunity of this type easier to find outside of Villanova.
Justin Williams, 6-10, senior, center, Wyoming
8 points, 13 rebounds, 11 blocks, 4-6 FG, 0-0 FT, 0 assists, 3 turnovers
What makes that feat all the more impressive is the fact that Williams has been playing all year long on a severely injured ankle, but has managed to play through the pain and still put up impressive numbers with over 5 blocks and 11 rebounds per game. His ankle could end up putting his participation in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in doubt, as hes already received one of the coveted 40 invites to the all-senior NBA draft camp in early April. He doesnt practice much with Wyoming these days, and we can only hope that he isnt doing himself serious damage by playing on it twice a week, especially with the way he likes to compete.
Despite the pain, Williams shows enough skills to make us think that he will find himself on an NBA roster one way or another next season. He has outstanding length, great legs and a lot of spring to his step, not having an extremely wide frame but still possessing wiry strength and being incredibly quick off his feet.
Williams is an intuitive shot-blocker, showing outstanding awareness and anticipation skills and being a lethal threat to rotate and intimidate anyone from the weak-side at any given moment. He goes up straight in the air to deny his man the shooting-angle to the basket, and will sometimes just catch the ball right out of mid-air with his huge hands. At times he doesnt even need to jump in the air to come up with the block, just positioning himself in the right spot and putting his hand in the right place to pin the ball to the glass. Shot-blocking comes so easy to Williams that it sometimes looks unnatural.
His team defense doesnt end there, as hes very good showing on the pick and roll and is capable of playing the type of pesky and physical scrappy defense that coaches love. He has no problem getting onto the floor to dive for loose balls, and as weve seen all year is not afraid to sacrifice his body for the good of the team in other facets as well.
Offensively, Williams isnt much of a threat even at the mid-major level as his 11 points per game would indicate. Being fairly mechanical, his touch around the rim is hardly the stuff legends are made out of, and he has little offensive game outside of a basic jump-hook shot he likes to execute around the paint. His ball-handling is non-existent, as is his jump-shot outside of 10 feet. His position in the NBA is not exactly clear, being a bit of a small 6-10 if that. The competition he goes up against leaves some many questions regarding how his shot-blocking will translate to the NBA, since the Mountain West conference is nowhere near what it was with Bogut and Granger last year, especially in terms of big men. Hopefully Williams can make a full recovery from his ankle problems and find his way to the Chicago pre-draft camp where well be able to get a great taste of just how he fares against better competition.
Andre Collins, 5-11, senior, point guard, Loyola MD
30 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 turnover on 8-16 FG, 3-7 3PT, 11-12 FT in win over St. Peters
Collins, who transferred to Loyola after riding the pine for three years at Maryland, is one of the top scorers in the NCAA this season, averaging nearly 27 points a game thus far. Against St. Peters, the usual volume shooter attempted his second lowest amount of shots this season (16) and had his most efficient game of the year by far. Collins scored all of his points within the flow of the offense, not forcing anything and looking to set up his teammates first. It almost seemed as if he knew that he would be hurt greatly by playing his usual reckless style of play, and actually played under control in the first time weve seen him this season. Collins showed great range on his jumpshot and broke down KeeKee Clark at will, while holding him to one of his poorest shooting performances of the season. He was also able to find open teammates in scoring positions (resulting in his 8 assists), while making excellent decisions as the primary ball handler (only 1 turnover).
Listed at 60, Collins looks much closer to 510 and is undersized for the point guard position in the NBA. He should be invited to Portsmouth, where he will have the chance to show NBA scouts if he is able to run a team or not. If that doesnt pan out, Andre should be able to have a very successful career in Europe as a prolific scoring lead guard.