NBA Draft Stock Watch: Conference Tournament Week (Part Two)
Brandan Wright, 6-10, Freshman, Power Forward, North Carolina
3 Game Average: 15.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2 blocks, 22/32 FG, 3/7 FT
Wright glided up and down the court effortlessly in every moment he was on the floor, not forcing a thing and looking extremely comfortable in his role as a finisher in and around the paint. At times you feel like things are just too easy for Wright at this level, as hes never asked to go outside of what he does best and is therefore a little more difficult to evaluate than the Odens and Durants of the world, who need to shoulder much bigger roles for their teams. This is exactly why he managed to shoot nearly 70% from the field from the tournament, and is converting 66% of his field goals on the year.
Regardless, he seems to be showing a little more every game he steps out on the floor, for example in knocking down a 14-foot jumper from the baseline or creating a little bit off the dribble for himself. He gets his points primarily though moving off the ball intelligently within Carolinas loaded lineup and presenting himself for easy catches and finishes within 8 feet of the hoop, usually with his gorgeous left-handed jump-hook.
What did stand out more than anything was the phenomenal athleticism, length, touch and instincts he has at his disposal. Hes a fluid athlete with excellent quickness and body control, able to explode off the floor effortlessly to finish bounce passes with a two handed dunk, catch alleyoops thanks to his terrific hands, block shots on occasion, or put-back any offensive rebounds that are lurking around the rim. One play that showed how his tools can be brought together all at once occurred deep in the second half of UNCs blowout victory over Florida State. Wright ran the floor smoothly in transition with his guards and was thrown an errant alley-oop lob well out of his range, but somehow managed to still elevate and get a finger tip on the pass as it was sailing out of bounds to convert the basket with his left hand. These are the kind of instances where it clearly doesnt hurt to have a 7-5 wingspan. On another simple play against Boston College, Wright went over the top of a couple of Golden Eagle defenders and stuck his hand in out of nowhere to tip out a defensive rebound to a streaking Bobby Frasor running down court for an easy layup in transition. You might not have thought much of it at the time, but there are only a select number of players in the NCAA who can make a play like that, let alone do it so easily.
Although he seems to be playing slightly harder than he did earlier in the year, phrases like effortless and too easy dont get to attached to him for nothing. For example, theres no excuse why a player with his tools should only pull down 11 rebounds over a three game stretch playing 30 minutes per game. This is the main beef scouts we spoke with in Tampa had with him, wondering just what kind of drive he has to be the best possible player he can be. Thats also where the comparisons to Channing Frye and LaMarcus Aldridge are coming from, although hes clearly an even more naturally gifted player than those two. If he played with even half the intensity of his teammate Tyler Hansbrough, we might even be having a discussion about him competing with Oden and Durant for the #1 pick. Its not that hes lazy, he just has a very calm and relaxed demeanor to him. Thats all nice and dandy playing alongside a roster that is chock full of NBA talent, but at the next level that just wont fly if hes to reach his full potential.
Its hard not to wonder how much better (or worse?) Wright might be if he was playing on a team with slightly less talent that allows him to just coast at times and score so easily off his terrific playmakers and the attention Tyler Hansbrough draws. Unfortunately, we might have to wait until hes in the NBA to find that out.
Trey Johnson, 65, Senior, Shooting Guard, Jackson State
3 Game Average: 27 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 4 turnovers, 29/66 FG, 15/19 FT, 8/16 3PT
Johnson did a fantastic job of utilizing his size and strength against smaller opponents. He is a threat to score from the low post, but can also beat you off the dribble with his explosive first step and heady play. The former minor league baseball player does an outstanding job of employing shot fakes and jab steps, but is especially deadly when driving right. His three point range extends out the NBA line, and it is not abnormal to see him drill heavily contested jump shots off the dribble from 20 feet and beyond. Simply put, Trey is a downright scoring machine at the collegiate level and should be considered a prime prospect to develop into a legitimate scoring punch off of the bench.
It has been quite clear throughout the season that the Jackson State coaching staff was attempting to mask Treys defensive ability, or lack thereof. He doesnt seem to have phenomenal lateral quickness or length, and often struggled throughout the year to keep his man in front of him when isolated upon. While on the topic of weaknesses, it must be noted that Johnson is extremely right hand dominant, rarely even putting the ball on the floor with his left hand and in the few instances he does, usually going back to his right hand. Any decent NBA assistant coach or bench scout will be able to spot this out a mile away, making him quite easy to guard at the next level if he doesnt improve his off hand.
Fridays game against Florida will be crucial for Johnson in terms of his NBA stock. He will most likely be guarded by one of the nations finest perimeter defenders, the super long Corey Brewer. It will be interesting to see how he bodes against the 69 Brewer, with strong performance against the Gator junior being just what Johnson might need to boost his NBA draft stock. Right now he looks like an excellent second round prospect for this Junes draft, but a strong NCAA tournament showing could surely allow him to find himself landed somewhere in the late first round.
Brandon Costner, 6-8, Freshman, Power Forward, NC State
4 Game Average: 22.5 points, 5 rebounds, 2.25 assists, 2.75 turnovers, 29/56 FG, 26/33 FT, 6/15 3P
Costner is the perfect fit at the power forward slot in Sidney Lowes Flex offense. A natural lefty, Costner is equally effective with his back to the basket as he is facing it. He is an excellent ball-handler with his left hand, and has a pretty stroke with range that extends all the way to the college 3-point line. Most perimeter oriented big men are known more for their finesse rather than their toughness, but Costner is an extremely aggressive player who puts tremendous pressure on the defense and does not shy away from contact. Hes not overwhelmingly quick in his first step, but is extremely smart and crafty, particularly in the way he uses the glass to finish around the hoop. Hes a patient guy who takes what the defense gives him and is highly intelligent in the way he moves off the ball in the half-court, setting screens nicely and doing a good job making sharp cuts to the basket for easy finishes.
Once Costner gets to the rim, he lacks a bit of explosiveness to finish in traffic, being more likely to finish with a layup rather than a dunk, but is smart enough to know how to draw fouls and get to his noticeably stronger hand, his left. He got to the free throw line over 8 times per game in the tournament, and showed a very soft touch there knocking down his shots.
In the post, Costner is blessed with an outstanding frame and has excellent footwork and a great understanding of how to use fakes and pivot moves to get his man in the air. His touch is excellent once again here, and if faced with a double team, shows terrific court vision (like all of NC States players) to find the open man spotting up or cutting to the rim.
After having the pleasure of taking in a couple of his performances this past weekend in person, there is little doubt in our mind that Costner will emerge as one of the best big men in the ACC, likely as soon as next year. The only question we have is, just how good of an NBA prospect will scouts consider him to be? Only standing 6-8, Costner has the frame but not the prototypical height of an NBA power forward. He is just an average athlete on top of that, which shows up most noticeably on the defensive end, where he struggles with his lateral quickness and does not really go out of his area for rebounds. Offensively, he could still stand to improve his off-hand, as its not hard to tell that he favors his left strongly and will even switch hands in mid-air while on the right side of the post to avoid having to finish with his right. In terms of an NBA comparison, think of a mix between Brian Cook and Ryan Gomes.
NC State ran out of gas in the ACC Championship game against North Carolina and was not able to pull off the Cinderella upset to secure the automatic bid for the NCAA tournament, but few will forget the heart this young team showed off in winning their first three games. Returning most of their core, minus Engin Atsur, this team will be one to look out for next year and should be able to win an at-large bid next year with all the talent they possess and with the terrific coaching of Sidney Lowe. At the forefront of that effort will be their smooth and versatile power forward, Brandon Costner.
Ben McCauley, 6-9, Sophomore, Power Forward, NC State
3 Game Average: 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.5 steals, 20-30 FG (67%), 7-12 FT (58%)
McCauley operates almost strictly in the low post as an offensive weapon, though his superior passing ability makes him an excellent facilitator of ball-movement out of the high post as well. McCauley operated out of the left-side, low post for a majority of the ACC Tournament and did some decent damage from there as a playmaker. McCauleys turnovers were higher than acceptable at 3.8 per game, but his seasonal average of 2.3 per contest leads one to believe that McCauley was simply over-anxious to be a playmaker for the Wolf Pack during Tourney play.
As a draft prospect, McCauley is almost assuredly a four year man due to his average athletic ability, though his improvement from first to second year was quite encouraging. McCauleys main problem is his physical tools relative to his skill set. As a seven-footer, McCauley would be one of the most intriguing sophomore big men in the country, but he is not. At 69, McCauley has a power forwards size with the game of a pure center. McCauley hasnt displayed any type of outside shot, taking less than nine percent of his offensive touches off the face-up jumper. His first step and dribbling ability are center caliber quality on an NBA level as well. His rebounding numbers aren't off the charts either, something that is a must for undersized players looking to buck the normal trend and stand out from the pack. Hitting the boards and hitting his free throws (67%) would go a long way toward a successful junior season showing marked improvement. He also isnt the quickest guy in the world and wont ever wow you with the way he explodes off his feet.
Overall, McCauley has a great feel for the game and has improved dramatically over the course of two seasons. As his game and body develop maturity, he should help NC States frontcourt gain the consistency it needs to win games and garner him some attention in the process. His skill set and size point to a pro career somewhere if he keeps developing his game, especially with a solid face-up game from the foul line extended. McCauley should be a fun player to watch develop over the remainder of his collegiate career, as he plays the game the right way and has a winning attitude.
Jimmy Graham, 6-8, Sophomore, Power Forward, Miami
2 Game Average: 10.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 steal, 9-16 FG, 3-4 FT, 24.5 minutes
Graham plays with an edge to his game, which makes him slightly foul prone. Some would even call him dirty, but we prefer the term scrappy. But Grahams aggressive nature makes him an intimidating presence around the basket, as he will bump shoulders and throw elbows when securing a loose ball just as readily as hell dive on the floor to go get it. Graham didnt put up amazing rebounding numbers, averaging 8.9 per 40 minutes on the season. His technique for rebounding the ball is very solid however, especially on getting inside position for offensive rebounds. Graham sneaks in front of his man when the ball is in the air and has very good timing for releasing off his man and jumping for the board. As is often the case with players in his mold, he just seems to want the ball more than his opponents.
Grahams offensive game is almost non-existent unfortunately. He has poor touch from the free throw line and didnt show much more than the rudiments of a running hook when he had the ball in scoring position. As a tweener power forward, Graham will have to add some type of offensive element to his game beyond toughness and timing. Grahams rebounding, shot blocking, and steals numbers arent off the charts, so relying on those skills to get him to the professional level simply wont be adequate based off of the level theyre currently at. A tough competitor and energizing player, though, he has some athleticism and certainly a good deal of strength and will. Graham has two years left at Miami to round out his game. He would be well served to watch tape of Eddie Najera, a player he resembles, and see how the Denver Nuggets combo forward secures his NBA paycheck with a similar approach to the game.
Josh McRoberts, 6-11, Sophomore, Power Forward, Duke
Vs. NC State (ACC Tournament): 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 turnovers, 2 steals, 8-13 FG, 0-2 3P, 1-2 FT
This was really a tale of two halves for McRoberts, starting off terribly and then warming up as the game moved on. He picked up two quick fouls and barely scored in the first 25 minutes or so, looking completely out of sorts on both ends of the floor and displaying some very worrisome body language when things werent going his way. It doesnt seem to take much for McRoberts to completely lose his confidence. He looked sluggish and a lot slower than we thought he would, being extremely passive on the offensive end and not being able to take and make decisive actions without hesitating. On one particular sequence, he stole the ball from NC State and handled the ball beautifully all by himself in transition. As the defense recovered, he could not decide whether to take the ball in all by himself or pass the ball to a streaking Greg Paulus, instead doing neither and just throwing the ball meekly out of bounds, and then hanging his head in disgust.
Defensively, McRoberts was absolutely smoked by either of the NC State big men he tried to guard, whether it was Ben McCauley or Brandon Costner. They established position on him at will, backed him down in the post, and then got him in the air with a simple pump-fake to open up a clear angle for an easy layup. Part of this had to do with the foul trouble they quickly got him in, but McRoberts clearly needed to show a little bit more pride by not letting players score on him so easily on this end of the floor.
Offensively, he looked as mechanical as always with his back to the basket, struggling to get into any kind of effective post move without deliberating and taking the ball up extremely softly at the basket. It was if he were more concerned with avoiding contact than getting his team two points, which resulted in his shot being blocked on more than one instance.
Later on in the game, his real potential started to come out to a certain extent, making some great crisp passes and executing nicely on pick and roll plays with Greg Paulus, finishing with one terrific tomahawk jam after creating his own shot and then throwing down a beautiful two-handed reverse on another. In overtime he stepped up his game a lot more, but it was too little too late and Duke was sent packing before archrivals North Carolina even made it into the building.
McRoberts season hasnt gone according to plans so far, both individually and on the team level. If hes to recover his draft stockkeeping in mind that he was considered a lock for the top 5 up until not too long agohe will have to show some more passion and fire in leading his team past the second round of the tournament. Thats not going to be easy of course, considering that his team is a 6 seed and theyll likely be playing Aaron Grays Pitt if they are to make it past VCU in round one.
Kyle Weaver, 6-6 Junior, Shooting Guard, Washington State
2 Game Average: 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 steals, .5 blocks, 7-15 FG, 10-10 FT, 2-4 3P
Weaver makes his living offensively by slashing to the lane, relying heavily on his tremendous feel for the game. Weaver uses every trick in the book to break his man down off the dribble: spin moves, hesitation moves, and classic crossovers. Once in the lane Weaver does one of two things. When he has the step on his defender he will go straight to the rim. With his long, thin frame, Weaver is able to finish more drives than he should because he has fantastic body control in the air, and a nice touch off the glass. He also does a good job shielding the ball with his body, drawing a fair number of trips to the foul line. If he doesnt drive, Weaver almost always spins and pulls up for a jumper. He has a nice pull up shot and fades away from time to time, making it even harder to block. Weavers form is unique in that he tends to double clutch when he pulls up, but it doesnt seem to have any effect on his shot.
Weaver is a guy that does a lot of little things very well, and the end result winds up being a solid contributor. He is a fantastic passer on both the screen and roll and out of the double team. He picks up the majority of his team leading 4.5 assists out of those two scenarios. What makes Weaver so much of a likeable player, especially to coaches, is the ferocity with which he attacks the boards. Despite his wiry frame as a perimeter player, Weaver still grabs more than 5 rebounds a night simply because he never gives up on a ball in the air, often times tapping it three of four times before finally coming down with it. Weaver has also shown that he is comfortable in the post offensively. He doesnt go down low often, but when faced with a small defender he will drop to the block where he has been able to get himself good looks at the basket.
Tough defense is where Weaver really earns his playing time with the Cougars. He is second in the Pac-10 in steals per game thanks to his great anticipation and exceptionally long arms. He has the open court speed to turn an intercepted pass into a dunk at the other end of the floor. Just like on the offensive glass, Weaver is a workhorse down low defensively, fighting for every rebound. He uses his length to his advantage, tapping balls away from opponents to himself.
Weaver didnt help or hurt his stock during his two games in the Pac-10 Tournament, but he has been showing flashes all season long of a player who could breakout next season as an All-Conference selection, especially with his potential to play as a big point guard in the NBA. There are plenty of facets of his game that he needs to improve on if he wants to reach the next level, specifically his outside shooting where he is an abysmal 24.3% for the year. His is a real hustle player though, and does a lot of things well, but nothing great yet. Look for him to continue to be a focal point of the Cougars offense next season.