Julian Wright, 6-8, Sophomore, SF/PF, Kansas
Vs. Missouri: 33 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 14-21 FG, 5-7 FT, 0-1 3P
On face value, considering his production, his last game this weekend, scoring 33 points against Missouri, could be looked at as a huge step in the right direction. It certainly was as far as Bill Self's Jayhawks are concerned, but from a scouting perspective, it was hard to get too excited about when breaking down the tape. Wright almost singlehandedly destroyed a lumbering, undersized Missouri frontcourt that had no business being on the same court as him as far as the talent disparity is concerned, and did the overwhelming majority of his damage in this game within a few feet of the basket.
8 of the 12 rebounds that Wright pulled down came on the offensive end, many of them well out of his area. His outstanding hands, instincts, toughness and the quickness in which he gets off the floor were on full display, often going straight up immediately after catching an offensive rebound and finishing strong through contact at the hoop. 14 of his points, plus a few more from free throw attempts, came in this fashion.
Wright also did an outstanding job moving off the ball and cutting to the basket, being rewarded with at least 4 alleyoop lobs that he successfully converted. On other occasions he just caught a simple entry pass calmly and converted an easy layup, usually nearly uncontested. The highlight play of the game came in the first half when he took a pass in transition from Brandon Rush and leaped from about a foot outside the paint right over a Missouri defender for an incredible two-handed jam. If you watched Sportscenter that night, you almost certainly saw it. The lone times Wright scored on something other than a dunk or layup were with a short 8-foot jumper and a nice kiss off the glass from 14 feet coming off a screen. He missed his lone 3-point attempt and another mid-range jumper.
Besides his scoring and rebounding, though, Wright did a nice job with his unselfish passing, as well as keeping his man in front of him. His outstanding lateral quickness and length makes him a potential terror on this end when he fully applies himself, and it's not difficult to project him developing nicely into an extremely bothersome perimeter defender.
What we're slightly more concerned about though his been the relative lack of progress we're seeing as far as his perimeter offense goes. Wright is barely a threat to create offense for himself due to his lackluster ball-handling skills. The ball slows him down considerably and nullifies any chance he has of beating players off the dribble. His perimeter shooting really isn't alleviating any concerns, as even though he's strictly taking wide-open shots with his feet set from behind the arc, he's just 3-11 on the entire season. In terms of pulling up from mid-range, the picture doesn't get much rosier. We can project Wright out as an NBA small forward all we want, but so far-- offensively at least, he really hasn't backed it up.
To be fair, though, Wright is nowhere near a finished product at this point, and wasn't supposed to be anywhere close to there yet. He clearly has the type of intangibles you look for in order to put faith in him continuing to work on his game. Regardless, he's saying that he's on track to graduate on three years and therefore will definitely be staying another season at Kansas. We'd have all the respect in the world for him if he indeed decides to keep his word, but he has to know that he's playing with fire with a move like that. Right now he's being projected as a top-10 pick almost solely based on his upside, and without showing substantial improvement next season, NBA execs will cool on him quickly. That puts a huge burden on his shoulders in terms of the offseason work he'll have to put into every facet of his game. But if he thinks he's up for it, then by all means that's what he should do.
Demetris Nichols, 68, Small Forward, Senior, Syracuse
Vs. St. John's: 37 points, 10 rebounds, 14-24 FG, 7-13 3PT
Nichols hasnt made any wholesale changes to his game over this time period, as his game is still completely focused around his shooting ability, but hes diversified his game so he is now reliable as more than just a spot-up shooter. Nichols has always shown flashes of ability with pull-up jumpers, fadeaways, and jumpers off curls, but hes showing better consistency this season, hitting these tougher shots with much more regularity.
In this game against the Red Storm, Nichols was unstoppable at times, scoring on spot-up three pointers, coming off curls from mid and long-range, posting and facing up on the baseline, and going into a beautiful fadeaway jumper that no one was able to stop. Nichols release seems to be a tad quicker this year, and his motion turning into his shot when coming off curls is seamless and remarkably quick. His jump shot has a high release, consistent shooting motion, and he doesnt show many problems adjusting when his shot is closely contested. In fact, he hit quite a few shots in that fashion over the course of this game.
For one stretch in the game, extending from the final play of the first half into the first five minutes of the second half, Nichols was virtually unstoppable. After hitting a spot-up three as time expired to close the first half, Nichols went on a scoring spree coming out of the gates at halftime. Nichols hit his first seven shots in the second half, most of which were contested. He hit three 3-pointers coming off curls, one long 2-pointer off a curl, two fadeaway jumpers on the baseline, and had an impressive putback attempt where he ran in from behind the free-throw line to make the tip-in.
While Nichols was hitting his jump shot nearly at will, he didnt show much in terms of a dribble-drive game, which is not a consistent staple in his game. He doesnt have a very quick first step, but due to the respect he garners for his shot, hes able to use the threat of his shot to get a step at times, which he did a few times in this game to draw a foul. Finishing in the paint is not something Nichols excels at, but hes improved his mid-range game so that hes able to take advantage of these opportunities the defense affords him.
Defensively, Syracuse actually played man-to-man defense on quite a few possessions over the course of the game, so it was easier to get an accurate gauge on Nichols defensive abilities than in the past. Matched up against athletic swingman Anthony Mason Jr., Nichols showed no problems chasing him without the ball, getting through screens relatively easily and not giving up too much space to his opponent. Unfortunately, no St. Johns player made an attempt to take Nichols off the dribble, so his lateral quickness is still very much in question, as its normally masked by Syracuses zone defense. To Nichols credit, he showed good awareness in the zone defense, was active on the weakside when he needed to be, and did a good job boxing out on the defensive glass.
Nichols position will definitely be small forward at the next level, so his lateral quickness is something many scouts will be curious about. Hes done an excellent job improving some of the finer aspects of his offensive game, and with his improvements he will very likely hear his name called in the second round of the draft. Nichols would do himself well to attend one of the pre-draft camps this summer, where he could show that hes capable of defending small forwards on the perimeter.
Morris Almond, 66, SG/SF, Senior, Rice
Vs. SMU: 29 points, 4 rebounds, 0 assists, 3 turnovers 8-18 FG, 9-10 FT, 4-8 3PT
The biggest asset that Almond brings to the table is obviously his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. He is absolutely automatic when he has his feet set, which he has no problem doing awfully quickly when coming off screens. He gets his shot off quickly, has nice form, and releases the ball quite high. Morris is such an excellent shooter that once the ball left his hand, those in attendance were all expecting it to drop. Off the dribble he is outstanding going to his left, although he usually settles for a pull-up jumpshot instead of taking it all the way to the cup. When he does decide to take it to the rim going to his right, he generally does a great job of finishing, drawing a foul, or finding an open teammate after breaking down the defense.
What makes the Rice senior an even more attractive prospect is his ability to get to the foul line, where he goes nearly 10 times per game. He converts 86% of his free throw attempts, making him a player you dont want to foul at the end of the game, as shown by SMU coach Matt Dohertys choice not to foul with less then 50 seconds to go and his team down by three due to the fact that Almond had the ball in his hands.
The swingmans ability to make his way to the foul line is not so much dependent upon explosive athleticism or a great first step, like it is with so many other wing players. He finds his way to the line via his smart play and ability to move off of the ball. Almond does an excellent job of selling defenders with his shot fake, which is identical to the form of his jumpshot. He also moves quite well without the ball in his hands, setting defenders up before he cuts and then rubbing right off of the screener. This allows him to touch the ball on virtually every possession down the floor. He uses the referees to his advantage as well, pushing off all of the time but doing in it a way that the officials cannot see for the most part. These are clearly acquired skills that he has learned over his four year career at Rice, and are a huge reason why his scoring average was able to jump from 7.2 points per game as a sophomore to 21.9 points per game as a junior.
Almonds physical attributes are also a plus for the scoring machine. He measured out at a legit 66 with shoes and owned a 610 wingspan, verified at last years NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando. His long frame is also remarkably muscular already, with the potential to add another 15-20 pounds if he chooses to go that route. When it is all said and done, his frame could allow him to own a Corey Maggette type body if he decides to bulk up.
It is pretty remarkable that Morris is able to average nearly 28 points per game, while not being a very creative scorer off of the dribble almost whatsoever. He does not have a very explosive first step nor is he an excellent ball handler, making his drives to the basket usually stop far short of the rim. He really seems to struggle going to his right, often settling for contested floaters and seeing his shooting percentage plummet as opposed to when he shoots without dribbling or drives to his left.
Defensively, Almond always seemed to be a step late throughout the game. He did not exert the worlds best effort on the defensive end, resulting him to get burned quite a few times when attempting to go through screens. His rotations were quite poor, as he was always getting to the necessary spot about a half second later then he should have. There were a few brief spurts in which Morris played adequate defense, but overall it was an incredibly poor defensive showing for a player who possesses such excellent length and strength for a wing.
NBA teams will know what they are getting in Almond when the 2007 NBA Draft rolls around. Scouts know they are getting a smart, crafty player who can absolutely shoot the lights out of the ball. If teams are looking for a guy who is going to break down the defense and average 3 or more assists per game from the wing, then Morris is not your man. When it is all said and done, Almond has a very good chance of seeing himself drafted somewhere in the first round due to his proven scoring prowess, ability to get to the foul line, and deadly outside shooting stroke, as well as his excellent intangibles.
Adam Haluska, 6-5, Senior, Shooting Guard, Iowa
3 Games Combined: 83 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 turnovers, 5 steals, 26/51 FG, 12/26 3P, 19/21 FT
The middle of the pack in the Big Ten is wide open, and one of teams that has quietly moved up the standings in recent weeks is the surprising Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes jumped back onto the map with a recent three game winning streak, which included a nice win on the road over Michigan and the "upset" over Indiana at home. The driving force behind Steve Alford's nearly forgotten squad has been senior wing Adam Haluska, who has emerged as one of the Big Ten's most productive players.
Haluska doesn't do one particular thing well, but has plenty of characteristics that could allow him to develop into a serviceable NBA roleplayer. He won't blow anybody away with standout athleticism, but Haluska has a decent first step and above average top speed, with the strength and aggressiveness to finish through contact on slashing moves to the basket. He is a creative offensive player, showing excellent court vision and ballhandling ability, while throwing in an acrobatic scoring move from the midrange on occasion.
As a shooter, Haluska will go hot and cold. He started off the season unable to buy a bucket, going 9-46 from the floor at the season-opening Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands, and shot just 10-38 in two games against Wisconsin. But the senior has bounced back since then, hitting at least two 3-pointers in all but four games since then, and knocking down at least four from beyond the arc on 9 separate occasions. He can continue to make improvements to his release when a look is contested well, but can get his shot off quickly once his feet are set. Haluska has always been more of a volume shooter and often needs a couple of looks to get going, so it will be important for him to pick up that shooting specialist's mentality if he wants to stick in the league.
On the whole, it should be interesting to see how Haluska performs in the pre-draft camps this summer. He is an intelligent player with enough athleticism to make it at the NBA level, and every now and then shows enough creative flair to make one think he might be able to handle the ball a little at the next level. He has faced ball denial defense all season long, and has grown in his ability to come off screens and excel in the decoy role. If Haluska can prove himself to be a bit more consistent as a perimeter shooter, he might be a player NBA teams look at in the second round.