Shawn James of Northeastern is on pace to break the single season NCAA shot-blocking record; Alan Daniels is toiling in obscurity in Texas, but is still finds a way to score 40+ points for the second time this season; Marcus Williams puts up the first UConn triple-double since Emeka Okafor on his way to a massive week for his team; Daniel Horton is doing his best to make the scouts forget about his inconsistency and off the court problems with an impressive 39 point performance; and Glen Davis continues to make his case for first team All-America honors by helping his team wrap up the SEC regular season championship in style.
Shawn James, 6-9, sophomore, power forward, Northeastern
Last 4 games average: 17 points, 11 rebounds, 8.25 blocks, 2 steals, 1.25 assists, 50 FG%, 27% 3P, 100% FT
James, a native of Guiana in the West Indies, plays for Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic Association, widely considered the best mid-major conference in America after the Missouri Valley and a likely multi-bid league for the NCAA tournament. He plays alongside Jose Juan Barea, easily one of the five best NCAA point guards in the country and a legit NBA draft prospect in his own right. James is a threat to put up a triple-double on any given night, already recording 4 in his first two seasons.
For James its not so much the incredible shot-blocking numbers he puts up, but the way he does it in a completely different style than anyone else among the other top shot-blockers in the country that makes it so remarkable. James blocks shots with his mind just as much as he does with his arms. He anticipates and times his jump beautifully, getting high in the air with his pterodactyl-like arms outstretched, tapping the ball to himself or a teammate to almost always keeping the ball in-bounds, and just intimidating and rejecting shot attempts from angles that most players have never had their shot blocked before thanks to his incredible reach. James could end up challenging David Robinsons record for blocks in a single game by the time he is done at Northeastern; the Admiral from Navy had 14 blocks in 1986, as did Shawn Bradley with BYU in 1990 and Loren Woods with Arizona in 2000. James has reached double-digits in blocked shots five times this season and twice in a matter of 8 days last week, rejecting James Madison 11 times and then going to Delaware and blocking 10. James goes after anything and everything that comes around the hoop, being incredibly active in his will to make plays, always being around the ball and showing outstanding instincts in the process.
Offensively, James is showing both the ability and the willingness to move his game out to the perimeter to more of a small forwards role. He will probably never be a full-time small forward, but the added versatility he is showing makes him all the more intriguing. He likes to operate in the high post, where he shows decent passing ability and an all-around nice feel for the game considering his relative lack of basketball experience. Hes unselfish and understands the team concept, clearly wanting to do a little bit more for his team than he is currently able to, but usually realizing that he plays with an incredibly dominant player in Barea and deferring to him when immediate opportunities to score arent presented to him.
Hes still finding ways to improve game by game, though, expanding his range out to the 3-point line this season (shooting 20 of 46 on the year or 43.5%), knocking down shots when he has time to set his feet, and even putting the ball on the floor to take advantage of the quickness advantage he has over the big men he is always guarded by.
In the post, James lacks the strength and bulk to make his presence felt with his back to the basket game, besides a raw looking jump-hook that he will bust out on once in a while. Most of his points come off offensive rebounds and in transition, as well as from the newfound range on his jump shot that hes been showing more and more lately. His raw athleticism alone allows him to outquick and outjump most of his opponents, and hell often go well outside his area to come up with a long rebound. When he gets to the free throw line, he knocks down his shots at a very impressive 80% clip.
To truly become a legit 1st round prospect for 2007 or 2008 (if he isnt one already), James will have to put some serious weight on his skinny frame. He came into Northeastern listed at a paltry 195 pounds, but definitely looks a bit bulkier than that already. His lack of lower body strength makes it tough for him to establish and hold a spot on the block, which comes to play in his inability to post up his man, hold on to rebounds when facing fierce opposition, or keep his man out of the paint defensively.
Whats amazing about this story is that James has only been playing organized basketball for four years now; one in high school, one in prep school and two in college, despite already being 22 years old. Entering high school, James was only a measly 5 foot 7 before hitting an incredible growth spurt that eventually saw him grow 14 inches by the time he was 18. In spite of his age, he seems to be making huge strides in his game every time we get to see him, showing new things all the time and most importantly continuing to show a great feel for the game considering his lack of experience and an even better passion and attitude around his teammates. Best of all, all anyone in the Northeastern program ever wants to talk about is not what an excellent player Shawn James is developing into, but the type of person he is off the court that really makes him so special.
If James and his superstar teammate Barea can find a way to click at the same time for a matter of just few days in the CAA conference tournament, there might not be a team that can be able to stop them from reaching the NCAA tournament. If that happens, you might actually start hearing his name in the national media once or twice for a change.
Alan Daniels, 6-6, senior, shooting guard, Lamar
40 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 11/23 FG, 11/13 FT, 7/12 3P
Against Louisiana Monroe, Daniels needed just 23 shots to get his 40 points, shooting very well from both the three point line and free throw line. Though he was the focus of the defense, as he has been in every game he has played this season, he managed to only turn the ball over twice, and didnt force any bad shots. Daniels led his team to a 89-83 victory, which was much needed for the Lamar Cardinals as they try and make a late season charge heading into their conference tournament and possibly the NCAA tournament. They now sit in a tie for fourth place in the Southland Conference.
Daniels has a quick release on his shot, and gets it off with good elevation. Though he does have nice form, he is shooting low percentages from both the three point and free throw line this season. Alan gets forced into some bad shots, and hes often expected to make something happen when hes handed the ball with a few seconds left on the shot clock. Though hes very fluid, and usually the fastest guy getting down the court, he does not stand out as a guy that has great athleticism. Its sometimes hard to tell how explosive he is, because Daniels gets doubled or triple teamed and is often fouled while going to the basket. Instead of trying to force everything to the rim, Alan Daniels has a nice midrange game, and can pull up very quickly and get his shot off with ease.
In terms of NBA potential, Daniels is a guy who could hear his name called on draft night if he plays well in the pre-draft camps. He has a very skinny frame, similar to that of both Rawle Marshall and Kevin Martin. With his quick release, Daniels should not have a problem getting his shot off at the next level, and he will benefit from a role where hes not a primary scoring option. He will need to improve his effort in transition defense, because a few times a game, he conserves energy by hanging back and waiting for the ball if he feels he doesnt have a shot at making a play. In our never ending hunt for the next diamond in the rough we are working on getting more tape of Alan Daniels to better judge his potential, particularly his 41 point outing against Memphis, so look for a scouting report in the coming months leading up to the draft.
Marcus Williams, 6-3, junior, point guard, UConn
18 points, 13 assists, 1 turnover, 10 rebounds, 6-16 FG, 3-5 3P
Sandwiched in between those three games was the first triple-double by a UConn player in over two years, with the last coming by Emeka Okafor in December of 2003 against Army. Williams feat came against tougher competition and included some late-game heroics (an offensive rebound with 10 seconds remaining and ensuing game tying shot to send the game to overtime) to help his team come away with the win, but it also did a great job highlighting for us all of his strengths and weaknesses in a 42 minute overtime performance against Notre Dame.
Williams was at his absolute best in the first half in particular against the Irish last Tuesday, running his team to perfection on the way to a 16 point lead at the end of the 1st half, showing exquisite playmaking skills and combining that with some impressive scoring and rebounding ability to boot. He finished the first half with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 0 turnovers, using his killer crossover to constantly keep his man off-balance and get in the lane to find the open man, distributing the ball equally amongst all of his extremely talented teammates, knocking down a number of deep 3-pointers when his man sagged off him, and controlling the tempo of the game wonderfully by constantly shoving the ball down his opponents throat.
No point guard in the country knows his teammates strengths better than Williams does. He distributes the ball exactly the way Coach Jim Calhoun would want him to, rewarding his teammates after a strong rebound or nice defensive play with an easy bucket the next time down the floor to ensure they remain happy and keeping the morale of the team high in the process by making sure that everyone puts in maximum effort for every second they are on the court. Thats not easy when you have as much talent as UConn does this year, but Williams does a great job making sure everyone gets involved, particularly when it comes to his big men, who might otherwise starve for touches on most NCAA teams.
In transition is where Williams stripes as a point guard really come out, as he organizes the break wonderfully, makes spectacular passes to his incredibly athletic frontcourt look easy, and knows how to put the ball in the cup himself if needed if the pass isnt there. Hes got great size and strength to get the job done, and his huge hands make impossible passing angles look simple since he has the peripheral vision to move the ball to the sides or behind him with a quick swoop and great accuracy when other point guards would struggle getting the ball off their finger tips. His mind moves quickly even though his feet dont; hes trademarked the art of the one-handed pinpointed accuracy bullet pass into the post out of absolutely nowhere to the point that he should be able to collect royalties on it in the future.
There is little doubt that Williams is the best point guard in the country as far as the sheer arsenal of passes he has in his arsenal to make his teammates better. His outstanding ball-handling skills make him a lethal weapon on the drive and dish, and after two years with him at the helm, his teammates know exactly where to move towards the basket to be rewarded with an easy bucket underneath the hoop. This year more than ever hes done a great job of playing under control, taking care of the ball under pressure and rarely being rattled into making a bad decision.
Williams weaknesses were exposed as well in this nail biting overtime finish. UConn was up by 19 points early in the 2nd half and completely relinquished their lead to the point that they were trailing with a few minutes left on the clock. Just as much as Williams doesnt get fazed by opponents being thrown in his face or by a highlight reel assist that he makes, he also doesnt show much leadership ability when things arent going his teams way. He has the credibility and then some to get on his teammates in the huddle and snap them of their funk, but is still too quiet, passive or maybe apathetic to do so. Defensively he had a tough time staying in front of a very average athlete in Chris Quinn, not showing much concern for giving up easy baskets, displaying questionable lateral quickness and putting too much pressure on his 3 outstanding shot-blockers to rotate and make up for his mistakes.
Williams is certainly not a great athlete, and this also shows up on the offensive end where his 1st step would be easily contained if it werent for his fantastic ball-handling skills. Its not clear how this part of his game will translate to the NBA where the point guards are so much more athletic. Offensively he did a good job in this particular game, but there are still questions about how effective an outside shooter he is, considering his slow and flat-footed release and the fact that hes only knocked down 12 3s all season long. We dont ever see much of an in-between game from Williams in terms of pulling up off the dribble for mid-range jumpers. When the opposing team makes him go all the way to the basket to finish rather than dishing off like he clearly prefers, he doesnt have the spring in his step to really get very far off the ground to finish amongst the trees. Hes experimented a bit with some floaters and runners to counter this problem, but still has to work on his touch around the basket.
Despite these obvious flaws, Marcus Williams still might be the best PG prospect in this years draft when its all said and done. One NBA scout we spoke to this week said he has Williams ranked as the 4th or 5th best PG on our board right now, but clearly 1st in terms of talent. Why the discrepancy? The off the court problems need to be looked into. Were not sure what to make of them right now. Well have to do our homework on everything, the scout said. Whats clear is that a deep run in the NCAA tournament with Williams at UConns helm could do wonders in terms of helping scouts forget about his run-in with the law earlier this year.
Daniel Horton, 6-3, senior, point guard, Michigan
39 points, 3 assists, 5 turnovers, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 13-20 FG, 5-7 3P, 8-8 FT
Horton was all over the court, draining threes, hitting floaters in the lane, and getting to the basket. He scored 25 in the second half alone, including a personal 9-2 run after Illinois had come back and taken the lead midway through the half, and the last eight points of the game. Horton made all eight of his free throws, and was five of seven from beyond the arc. If you want to talk about heroic senior performances, you won't find many better than this.
Of course, there is a reason why a guy with every physical tool in the book is projected by most to go undrafted. Ever since an encouraging freshman season, Horton has been plagued with bouts of poor shot selection, awful decision making, and off the court issues. The volatile nature of Horton's game reared its ugly head on Saturday, when Horton put in a 4-16 shooting, 6 TO stinker in Michigan's loss at Ohio State.
Game-to-game inconsistency aside, Horton is having by the far the best season of his career, currently posting personal bests in assists (5.5), Ast/TO ratio (1.51), FG% (43.5%), and 3pt% (39%) - all the areas that have been serious issues for him in the past. Horton's natural strength, athleticism, and streak scoring ability are sure to get him a chance with the NBA this spring, likely starting with the seniors NBA draft camp in Portsmouth if he is wise enough to accept his bid. He is likely headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time, and a nice stretch of games more like Tuesday's and less like Saturday's would likely cause scouts to forget about the past two seasons very quickly.
Daniel Horton is definitely a player to keep an eye on this March.
Glen Davis, 6-8, sophomore, PF/C, LSU
28 points, 15 rebounds, 9-14 FG, 9-9 FT, 3 steals
Davis started off the game hot, scoring his teams first 6 points, and never looked back. Using his wide frame and incredibly nimble feet, Davis camped out on the block, and used an array of post moves to put the ball in the basket. He finished the game with a very efficient 28 points on only 14 attempts from the field, and play much of the second half in foul trouble that resulted from guarding Randolph Morris for most of the game (Morris did well himself with 17 points). Down the stretch, Davis played a huge role in leading LSU to the win, as he grabbed a key rebound with 4 seconds left when the score was 69-68, and made the ensuing free throws to bring the score to its final mark of 71-68.
Glen Davis is extremely agile for a 6-8, 315 pound mountain of a man, and is more athletic than you would think at first glance. He has great footwork in the post, and understands how to score in almost any situation. In addition, Davis shows solid rebounding fundamentals, to go along with very soft hands.
To be considered a top NBA prospect, Davis will need to continue to shed a significant of weight to help his extremely poor leaping ability. Davis will also need to learn to start passing out of the post when he is double teamed, and continue to show the ability to knock down his shots away from the basket. He lacks the ideal height to play center in the NBA, yet doesnt show any ability to defend away from the basket. Davis is shooting 67% from the free throw line this season, and though his free throw shooting has improved over the past few weeks, it would be nice to see at least 75% from the free throw line from a player who averages nearly 6 free throw attempts per game. To best improve his stock, Glen Davis most importantly needs to continue to trim down and become a more natural power forward. His attitude in LSUs huddle has looked questionable at best at times this season, so Davis will have to find a way to show some more respect for Coach Brady if he wants to earn the respect of NBA scouts.