Instead of repeating the same names over and over again we've instead decided to look at 6 players whose stock has taken a bit of a hit with the way them and their teams have performed as of late.
Tyrus Thomas has come down to earth and is back on the 2007 mock draft for now; Maurice Ager is struggling to regain the excellent form he showed in Maui and is again having his consistency and mental toughness questioned; Marco Killingsworth's stock is clearly on the decline as his averages drop and Indiana moves dangerously close to the NCAA tournament bubble; Taquan Dean could only wish his team was on the bubble and that he had another ball-handler in the lineup next to him; Eric Williams and Wake Forest are just hoping for an invite to the NIT at this point as his draft stock is at an all-time low; Kevin Pittsnogle has no such concerns but is trying to bounce back from his two worst performances of his senior year, coming back to back.
Tyrus Thomas, 6-9, freshman, power forward, LSU
Last 3 Games Combined: 17 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers, 3 steals, 8 blocks, 10 fouls, 8-20 FG
As is oftentimes the case with incredibly explosive prospects like Thomas who come out of nowhere and seem to have unlimited potential, the hype sometimes comes too quickly and can get completely out of control.
By all accounts Thomas is still having a marvelous freshman year, is a lock for SEC freshman of the year and is probably a very strong candidate for All-SEC honors as well as the defensive player of the year. But you cant help but think that he has come back to earth a bit as of late as SEC teams have watched more film on him and adapted to his style of play. Hes no longer able to sneak up on teams like he did against UConn early in the season, and in his last three matchups, incidentally against the three best frontcourts in the Southeast, hes struggled to dominate the way he did earlier in the year. His worst game of the season came against Florida this past weekend where he was outplayed badly by both Joakim Noah and Al Horford, giving up easy points around the basket, committing foolish fools and not being able to show off his athleticism even one bit in the 15 foul-plagued minutes he spent on the floor.
Thomas camp has actually been trying to get out the message all year long that he is not ready by any means to enter the NBA draft and will need at least another season or two of polish before he even considers doing so. And after watching him closely over the past three games, its pretty tough to argue with that. His lack of strength has really become a hindrance to his game, being outmuscled badly in the post both defensively and on the glass, struggling to establish any type of rhythm for himself offensively as hes constantly pushed off the block, and looking very frustrated with himself and a lot more raw than most people initially thought he was. Hes still a top prospect for any draft he decides to enter because of his incredibly high ceiling, but it might be wise to take a step back and let him fulfill his wishes as well as those of his family of becoming a truly dominant NCAA player before he makes the leap to the next level.
Thomas is actually the antithesis of what weve become accustomed to from many of the big time early entry candidates over the past few years. Hes a great student who might even be able to accomplish the amazing feat of graduating as a redshirt sophomore next summer, he comes from a basketball family who is more concerned about education and keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground rather than cashing in on an 8 figure shoe deal, he has a great motor and what appears to be an excellent feel for the game, and most importantly, he is telling anyone and everyone who is willing to listen that he will absolutely not enter the draft this year. According to people close to him, as well as sources at LSU, he knows that he is nowhere near ready to contribute and hold his own at the very tough power forward position in the NBA next year, and has no interest in being practice fodder until he does add enough strength to do so.
Thomas has been moved to the 2007 mock draft and will likely stay there until we receive indication that he is indeed intending on declaring for the draft.
Maurice Ager, 6-5, senior, shooting guard, Michigan State
Last Four Games: 13.25 ppg, 2.75 rebounds, 2.25 assists, 2.75 turnovers, 18/54 FG (33%), 5/23 3-pointers (22%), 12/17 FT (71%)
Stephen Bell, http://www.bankhoops.com
The last two seasons have seen key Michigan State players do the Spartan Senior Fade, Chris Hill in 2005 and Adam Ballenger in 2004. But Maurice Agers descent is particularly alarming, given that he had risen to such heights, if only fleetingly.
Our last memories of Ager from the 2005 season were his 24 points against eventual national champions North Carolina in the Final Four; the first of this season came in Maui and his 38-point barrage in a triple-overtime instant-classic shootout with Gonzagas Adam Morrison. He hasnt had it so good since.
Ager may have bottomed out Sunday, when he scored six points none in the second half in the Spartans 69-55 loss at Minnesota. The Gophers guards did a good job denying Ager the ball, and when he did get it they sent two guards at him, a bad scenario for Mo given his lack of true guard ball-handling skills (often bouncing it too high) and inability to put it on the floor to create a mid-range shot.
When ESPN commentator Rick Majerus questioned Agers athleticism during the Maui Invitational, citing his lack of steals, Michigan State message boards went goofy with outrage. Surely these fans, when not spreading vitriol about Majerus weight, were thinking of Agers fast break frolics, as he runs the floor hard and finishes plays explosively. With sophomore point guard Drew Neitzel on the trigger and Ager and junior Shannon Brown streaking down the wings, the Spartans offensive transition game can be a thing of beauty. But theres a game beyond those highlight moments.
Ager can drift mentally on defense and Majerus was right -- whats up with that paltry steal total? On the other end, Ager is now the schools No. 3 all-time three-pointer attempter, joined on the list by such non-athletes (by NBA standards) as Hill, Shawn Respert and Kirk Manns. Thats fine when the shots are dropping like they were against the Zags. But if theyre not? With senior center Paul Davis out of the lineup, Michigan State beat Penn State at home, 69-60. While Neitzel and Brown both stepped up to fill Davis scoring void, Ager responded with a 3-for-19 shooting performance, including 2-of-13 from deep.
So where does that leave Ager as a 2006 draft prospect? At the New Year, he seemed like a first-round lock. But as an increasingly one-dimensional scorer who lacks strength and resolve on the other end, he doesnt look like an NBA starter. A best case scenario could find Ager as an offensive specialist off the bench, doing what he does best, launching long balls and finishing fast breaks in an up-tempo offense.
Marco Killingsworth, 6-8, PF/C, senior, Indiana
Last 6 Games: 14 ppg, 34/80 FG (42%), 9.5 rebs, 1.5 assists, 3 turnovers, 3.8 fouls
After an incredibly dominant season start highlighted by a 34 point, 10 rebound performance against Shelden Williams and Duke, it appears that both Indiana and Marco Killingsworth have completely come back to earth and are starting to show many of the characteristics weve become accustomed to from both camps in the past few years.
DJ Whites brief return had Indiana fans dreaming about the final four once again, but White went down for the season and Hoosier fans have once again resorted back to calling for coach Mike Davis head after losing 5 of the last 6 games.
After what he did to Duke and Michigan State in December/January, Killingsworth was not going to sneak up on anyone in the Big 10 anymore once Indianas game tapes were widely circulated and effective game plans to shut him down were established. Indianas entire offense appears to revolve around getting Killingsworth position deep in the post where he can use his fantastic footwork and touch around the rim to punish his man with beautiful lefty jump-hook shots. Its become obvious that the key to shutting Indiana down is to lock Killingsworth down and force their guards to beat them instead. While early in the year Indianas offense was purring like a well oiled machine based on their inside-outside play that helped them lead the country in field goal and 3-point percentage, things have not been nearly as easy in Big 10 play, known for its tough stingy defenses and grind it out style of play. In conference play so far Indianas offense is 2nd to last in field goal percentage, 5th in 3-point percentage and dead last in assists. Its gotten to the point that Killingsworth was benched at the beginning of Indianas 1-5 skid against Iowa for refusing to move the ball around when he was double teamed.
It was always extremely obvious that no NBA team in their right mind was going to design their offense around a 6-7 center with limited athletic ability, but now it appears that this strategy might not even be effective enough to get a college team past the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The UConn game in particular highlighted just how much more difficult things are going to be for Killingsworth at the next level. Going up against the best frontcourt in America, Killingsworth was dwarfed by the height, length and explosiveness of Rudy Gay, Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong and could not manage to get anything going from the field (shooting 4-13), on the glass (being out-quicked time after time) and especially on the defensive end where UConns post players all had some of the best games of their season and did so with the greatest of ease. His lack of size, athleticism and height was completely exposed, and he hasnt shown any type of effective or consistent perimeter game to lead us to believe that things will be any easier for him in the pros. To make matters even more concerning, were talking about a 5th year senior who is turning 24 next week. Killingsworth might hear some birds chirping in his ear right now about him being a 1st round prospect, but with the way hes looked over the past month, even getting drafted would be considered an accomplishment.
Taquan Dean, 6-3, senior, shooting guard, Louisville
Last 3 Games: 19 ppg, 2.67 assists, 2.67 turnovers, 6.67 rebounds, .33 steals, 19-52 FG (35%), 14-30 3P (46%)
One of this season's biggest and surprising disappointments has without a doubt been Louisville. Staked to a preseason top 10 ranking and moving to a higher profile conference with more television events and hype, the Cardinals -- and senior combo guard Taquan Dean -- had every reason to be excited.
Dean was instrumental last year as the yin to the departed Francisco Garcia's yang in the Cardinals backcourt, shooting a whopping 45% from three-point range on the year and providing a deep threat to keep defenses from sagging and cutting off Garcia and Larry O'bannon's driving lanes. Louisville made the final four, Garcia was drafted in the first round, and it looked like Dean was headed on the same path.
This year, without Garcia and O'Bannon, and with a slew of new faces, Dean has struggled mightily. Nagged by a bum ankle and lacking other offensive options and ball-handlers in his teammates, Dean's numbers are down across the board. He's hitting (or missing) at a woeful 37% clip on the year, and his overall field goal shooting is 39%.
Even more frustrating has been his inability to rally his team in tough games. Aided by an effective inside scorer in David Padgett, Dean should have been the difference between three or four close wins, but has instead had poor performances in losses to Villanova, Kentucky and Rutgers.
The real question for Dean going into the year was whether he was ready to handle the ball more. Junior Brandon Jenkins has not been effective in handling point duties, meaning that Dean has had to be more of a combo guard than an off-the-ball guy. And thus far, he's been exposed as average athletically, and as a player who can't really handle the ball and score effectively at the same time.
Louisville's struggles have amplified the pressure on Dean, meaning his margin for error is even thinner than it already was without Garcia. But this was Dean's year to shine in the spotlight, and so far he has looked much more like a future European scorer than he has an NBA shooting guard. Louisville looks to be firmly on their way to the NIT, and Deans draft stocked has in turn suffered equally, to the point that he too might be hard pressed to turn down the Portsmouth committee when they come calling with an invitation to the seniors only NBA draft camp in April. His teammates Larry Obannon and Ellis Myles had a good enough excuse turning them down last year since attending the tournament would require boarding on a plane to Virginia directly from the final four in St. Louis. Dean most likely wont and could put a potential invite to Chicago in jeopardy if he decides to turn them down.
Eric Williams, 6-8 ½, senior, PF/C, Wake Forest
Last 3 Games: 14 ppg, 7.3 rebounds, .66 blocks, 3 fouls, 16/29 FG, 10/23 FT
If there is one player on this list who has probably lost the most ground of anyone else on this list, its Eric Williams of Wake Forest. After a fairly successful appearance at the Chicago pre-draft camp, and with two fellow NBA draft prospects next starting next to him in small forward Trent Strickland and equally disappointing combo guard Justin Gray, the Demon Deacons were a fixture in most preseason top 25 rankings and were considered one of the top contenders to finish 2nd in the ACC after Duke.
What weve instead learned more than anything from Wakes season so far, as well as by the play of the New Orleans Hornets who are on the verge of making a surprising return to the NBA playoffs; is that losing or gaining just a single player in the mold of Chris Paul is enough to make or break a teams season depending on who is on the receiving end.
Williams appears to be suffering from it more than anyone, and many of his weaknesses which were so well masked by Wakes up and down style of play last year have come out in full effect as his team has stumbled to an incredibly disappointing 1-9 in the ACC.
Not only has Williams been incapable of improving on many of the weaknesses scouts told him they will be looking at in his senior season after his play at the Chicago pre-draft camp last year, he has even regressed in many areas.
Williams still has absolutely no offense outside of 10 feet, being incapable of putting the ball on the floor, knocking down a mid-range shot or even hit over 47% of his free throws. He still has problems catching tough passes inside the paint, and even when he does, continues to show the bad habit of bringing the ball down or dribbling it before going up for a dunk. When he gets the ball in the post you can basically forget about it ever coming out even if hes double teamed as his 79 assists in nearly 120 games of college basketball will attest. On the glass, he struggles with his average hands here too, along with a certain softness and either unwillingness or inability to go out of his area and pull down a rebound. Defensively its hard to project a position for him at the next level as he is probably not athletic enough to guard more mobile power forwards and is not big enough at 6-8 to defend centers. Even at the collegiate level he is a fairly poor man to man defender, failing to rotate time after time and not being much of a shot-blocking threat with his below average leaping ability.
Since Wake Forest will be lucky to even make the NIT at this rate, Williams will probably have plenty of time to get with a good trainer once the season is over and get back to the basics. His first priority should be losing as much bulk as he can until private workouts kick off. Have no mistake, Williams is built like a rock, but that is a big part of the problem. He wont be able to do nearly as much damage bullying his way through the lane the way he does in college, and therefore is better off taking the Udonis Haslem route to making the pros and just outquicking everyone he goes up against to make up for his lack of height.
The way things look right now, he could put himself a lot of trouble if he decides to turn down his invitation to Portsmouth in April. As a player who already was invited to Chicago last June and has been right under the noses of college scouts for the past 4 years, another invite to Chicago is anything but a sure thing. Williams is capable of dominating at the all-seniors camp and restoring a lot of the confidence he has lost in this nightmare season both for him and Wake Forest, which would be a great way to start off his draft campaign which will likely last deep into October and NBA training camp, and hopefully for him, beyond.
Kevin Pittsnogle, 6-10, PF/C, senior, West Virginia
2 Games: 6 ppg, 4.5 rebounds, .5 assists, 2 turnovers, 1.5 blocks, 4/29 FG (14%), 4/17 3P (24%), 0/0 FT
It seems like such a good idea. A big man who can pull his defender out of the lane and stroke it from three. And for much of the season, the 6'10" Pittsnogle experiment has worked to perfection. Maybe it's the new baby (Pittsnogle's wife gave birth to a baby boy Feb. 3), or some bad ink from a new tattoo, but in two games this past week, the West Virginia big man was bad and awful, in that order.
In a win over Cincinnati on Saturday, Pittsnogle shot a putrid 4-of-17 from the field, and a remarkable 4-for-11 from three-point range. Lasso that with no trips to the free throw line, and you have a game to forget. Luckily for Pittsnogle, his teammates picked up the slack and the Mountaineers kept their conference mark perfect.
But not for long.
On Thursday, in a nationally televised road game at Pittsburgh, Pittsnogle managed to do the unthinkable and actually have a worse game. How much worse? Try an o'fer, as in 0-for-12 shooting with no free throw attempts. So to recap, 4-for-29 (4-of-17 3s) and no free throw attempts in 63 minutes of Big East play. And to top it off, Pittsnogle had to watch the end of what would be a first conference loss from the bench after fouling out late in the game.
That West Virginia lost the game at Pitt is hardly surprising, given that Pittsnogle is the team's leading scorer at 18+ points a game. For the year, he is shooting a shade under 41% from three-point range, not terrible, but down from the 43% he made last season, when Pittsnogle broke into the national consciousness with his unconventional game (and look).
One bad week does not a career make, but with scouts still wondering about Pittsnogle's pro position, his obvious lack of any type of foot-speed, and about whether he's enough of a banger to warrant a high draft pick, this week's games were not helpful. Pro centers are generally more mobile and the defenses more clever than at the college level, and a few more rough nights can leave a bad impression in scouts' minds.
However, having hit 56 threes already this year (after hitting 60 all of last year), Pittsnogle has shown his game to be effective, and we're more inclined to say the inked-up Mountaineer just had one of the best (aforementioned baby) and worst (4-29 shooting) weeks of his young life. He did recover on Saturday to the tune of 25 points and 4 rebounds on 10-15 shooting, making this week just a little bit bearable than the one he had 8 months ago at the Chicago pre-draft camp, where by all accounts (including the DraftExpress scouts in attendance), he bombed even worse.