Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part 7 (#11-15)

Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part 7 (#11-15)
Sep 23, 2013, 10:58 am
We conclude our coverage on the top NBA prospects in the Big Ten with part seven, players ranked 11-15: A.J. Hammons, Andre Hollins, Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, and Keith Appling.

Incoming freshmen have been excluded from these previews, as we'd like to wait and see what they have to offer on the NCAA level before we come to any long-term conclusions.

-Top 30 NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC

-Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part One
(#1) Glenn Robinson
(Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Two
(#2) Mitch McGary
(Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Three
(#3) Gary Harris
(Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Four
(#4) Adreian Payne
(Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Five
(#5) Sam Dekker
(Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Six
(#6) LaQuinton Ross
(#7) Aaron Craft
(#8) Branden Dawson
(#9) Nik Stauskas
(#10) Will Sheehey

#11 A.J. Hammons, 7-0, Sophomore, Center, Purdue

Jonathan Givony

Somewhat of an afterthought in the 2012 high school recruiting class, A.J. Hammons had a solid freshman season for Purdue, pumping in 18.2 points per-40 minutes to go along with 10.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks, more than holding his own in the tough Big Ten conference despite his lack of experience. He was named to the Big Ten's all-freshman team alongside a host of highly touted prospects, and in the process established himself as a player to keep an eye on moving into his sophomore year.

Hammons' biggest assets as a NBA prospect revolve around his rare physical attributes. He possesses terrific size at 7-0 to go along with a very strong 278 pound frame, which he's reportedly cut down to 251 pounds after a productive summer, and has an excellent 7-3 wingspan to go along with that. He's also very mobile for his size, running the floor relatively well considering his girth and showing the ability to get off the floor nicely inside the paint. All told, Hammons is a gifted prospect from a physical standpoint, particularly if he's in optimal shape, which he reportedly is now.

As you'd expect, the overwhelming majority of Hammons' offensive touches came with his back to the basket, where he was just average in terms of scoring efficiency as a freshman, making 41% of his field goal attempts. He can establish deep post position when he wants to and is capable of making quick spin-moves to either shoulder to score with decent touch. He got to the free throw line a good amount, and made a solid 68% of his attempts once there. He shows nice potential as a back to the basket scorer, even if his skill-level, while certainly above average relative to his experience level, is still very much a work in progress.

Hammons doesn't always work as hard as you might hope to establish deep post-position and settles for a fair amount of low-percentage shots inside the paint. He still has plenty of room to improve upon his footwork and the range on his jump-hook and turnaround jumper, even if there's a lot to work with here.

Where Hammons was quite a bit more effective last season was as a finisher around the basket in non-post up attempts (cuts, pick and roll finishes, offensive rebounds, etc), making 68% of his looks in these situations. He has excellent hands, nimble feet, good body control and can finish with power and authority off two feet.

Unfortunately, he didn't see very many attempts of this nature as Purdue suffered from poor spacing, a lack of outside shooting and an inability to create high percentage shots out of pick and roll and one on one situations, which made their half-court offense very stagnant in the incredibly competitive Big Ten. Returning almost the entire roster from last season should help somewhat in that regard this upcoming year.

From the perimeter, Hammons shows some potential as a mid-range shooter, knocking down a handful of jumpers to go along with the above average percentage he shot from the free throw line. With that said, he wasn't consistent in this area by any means, partially due to poor shot-selection, as he was baited into some very long 2-point attempts that opposing defenses certainly didn't mind conceding. All in all, he made just 5 of the 23 mid-range jumpers he attempted last season, showing that he still has a long ways to go in this area.

Defensively is where many of the biggest concerns surrounding Hammons' NBA potential exist. He lacks intensity here in a major way, showing poor focus and awareness and often being very late to react to things going on the floor. He seems to be stuck playing at half speed on most possessions, willingly giving up deep post position and putting forth a very lackadaisical effort fighting back against opposing big men leaning on him. Like many big men his size, he struggles stepping outside the paint, but his problems are only exacerbated by how lazily he often approaches his work here.

His defensive rebounding leaves something to be desired as well for many of the same reasons, as he doesn't put great effort into boxing out his man and pursuing loose balls, despite having the physical tools to be incredibly effective in this area if he wanted to be.

With that said, Hammons has the length and timing to make up for some of his mistakes defensively, showing that he can be at least an above-average presence on this end of the floor if he ever committed himself to it. He rotates from the weak-side and challenges shots on the ball in impressive fashion at times, blocking 3.4 shots per-40 minutes last season, tied for third best amongst returning prospects in our top-100 rankings. He's difficult to shoot over with his towering height and long wingspan, coming up with a handful of very noteworthy possessions last season contesting shots on the interior and exterior that hint at good things to come if he's ever truly dialed in.

Hammons has been saying all of the right things this offseason about maturing and playing with better passion and consistency. Still, it's sensible to approach these types of remarks with a reasonable degree of skepticism. Questions about his work ethic and intensity have plagued him since his early days in high school, and these type of motivational issues don't tend to disappear in the NBA. If anything, they usually become more noticeable without the hand-holding and constant prodding players enjoy in college as the focal point of mid-level programs.

It will be interesting to see how much improvement Hammons makes between his freshman and sophomore year, as besides the question marks about his love of the game, he's also a year older than most of the players in his class as a 21 year-old sophomore. Hammons' ability to take the next step in his development should give us a clearer picture about the extent of his upside. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years last season, Matt Painter and Purdue will be eager to get back on the right track, and Hammons will certainly play a big role in that.

#12 Andre Hollins, 6'1, Junior, Point Guard, Minnesota

Matt Williams

After coming on strong down the stretch during his freshman season in 2012, Andre Hollins emerged as the leading scorer and distributor in Minnesota's methodical offense as a sophomore, putting himself on the NBA radar in the process. Losing Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams to graduation, new Golden Gophers' Head Coach Richard Pitino will rely on the junior guard to help overcome the team's frontcourt losses with his prolific scoring ability in the program's new up-tempo system.

A consensus top-100 recruit coming out of White Station HS (TN), if there's one thing the 6'1 combo guard has built a reputation for, its scoring. Putting up 41 points against his hometown Memphis Tigers in mid-November and ending the season with two 25+ point outings in the NCAA Tournament, Hollins showed the ability to get hot and stay hot from the perimeter at times last season while serving as the team's primary ball-handler for stretches as well.

A solid athlete with good strength for his position, what makes Hollins so dangerous is his perimeter jump shot. With nearly 84% of his shots in the half court coming from the perimeter and more than half of his field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc overall, his ability to make shots was an game changer for Minnesota last season. Shooting the ball with a very quick trigger and unwavering confidence, Hollins made an impressive 37% of his jump shots off the dribble and off the catch alike last year according to Synergy Sports Technology. On his best nights, he's a threat to pull-up on a dime from the outside, hit shots from NBA range, stay dialed in with a hand in his face running off of screens, and is the player you want going to the line in crunch time.

Though Hollins is adept at scoring from the perimeter, his lack of elite elusiveness off the dribble and size limits him around the rim, as he finished at a 41%-clip at the basket last season. Hollins has a knack for creating space for his jump shot thanks to terrific footwork and the speed of his release, but doesn't have that extra gear that would allow him to create high-percentage shots for himself regularly in the half court.

His decision-making also leaves something to be desired as well, as he tends to dribble himself into trouble at times and is still getting used to dialing back his instincts as a scorer in pressure situations as he continues to make the transition to the point guard position. If Hollins is going to take the next step as a prospect, he'll need to learn to pick and choose his spots and do a better job creating shots for his teammates to make himself a more viable point guard for the pro level.

Defensively, Hollins plays with decent energy, but was prone to lapses last season. He didn't always fight aggressively to get over ball screens last season—something that will need to change if he wants to maximize his abilities on this end on the floor. He has solid lateral quickness, and can apply ball-pressure on the perimeter in spurts against slower players, but struggles to stay in front of more aggressive scoring point guards at times. Considering the limitations his size put on his versatility at this end of the floor, scouts will have an eye on his ability to hold his own against primary ball-handlers in the coming seasons.

Moving forward, it is entirely likely that Hollins will emerge as one of the more prolific scoring combo guards in the Big Ten, if not the country over the coming seasons. His jump shot has obvious value at the NBA level, but his lack of size means it will be his ability to become a more capable floor general and defensive player that will likely be determining factors on where his stock stands when he becomes eligible for the draft.

#12 Shannon Scott, 6-2, Junior, Point Guard, Ohio State

Josh Riddell

After being ranked as the #31 prospect in the 2011 class by RSCI , Shannon Scott has not yet played a prominent role in the Ohio State offense, as he averaged only 4.9 points per game in 20.9 minutes per game last season. With Deshaun Thomas leaving for the NBA, the Buckeyes are without a go-to scorer for the first time in Scott's collegiate career, making this a key season for Scott's draft stock.

Scott has superb athletic tools, highlighted by his speed, showcased both with and without the ball. He stands 6'2”, 175 pounds, which is a good build for a point guard. He needs to do a better job of controlling his speed as he sometimes gets out of control, leading to wild shot attempts or turnovers. This athleticism also shows in his excellent rebounding ability for a point guard, as his 5.5 rebounds per 40 minutes pace adjusted ranked 11th for points guards last season.

Playing alongside high usage players such as Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas in his first two seasons, Scott's main role has been handling the ball and running the offense. A majority of Scott's contributions came from setting up his teammates as his 7.5 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted ranked 11th among point guards last season. His passing ability is superb and he is comfortable with all the passes a point guard needs to make, from post entry passes to hitting cutters in stride and distributing well to shooters. At the same time, his 2.4 turnovers per 40 minutes pace adjusted ranked among the lowest among point guards last season. He is great at initiating the offense and keeping the ball moving without forcing anything in the half court.

His speed allows him to get out in transition, as 30% of his possessions used were categorized as transition opportunities by Synergy Sports. He does not generate efficient offense for himself in these scenarios, as he created only .915 points per possession but when you add in his assists, he moves up to 1.49 points per possession. He struggles when he looks for his own shot, as he settles for pull up jumpers too often or is out of control on his layup attempts. He is much more confident in drawing the defense, finding the open teammate and allowing them to finish.

Outside of transition opportunities, Scott did not see many offensive opportunities. He took only 27 catch and shoot jump shots, off which he made 40%. He has nice mechanics but lacks confidence and could be much more consistent with his follow through which will make him a better shooter over a larger sample. He struggled at the rim, shooting only 43% on 37 possessions. He has a tendency to avoid contact which forces him to throw up wild, off balance shots. He also relies on a finger roll, which has a propensity to get blocked by big men helping on his drive.

Defensively, Scott is often charged with guarding the primary ball handler on the opposing team. He works hard on the defensive end to harass his man and make it hard to initiate the offense. He has good defensive instincts and a combination of his quick hands and ability to jump the passing lanes allowed him to average 3.3 steals per game, 3rd in the nation among point guards per 40 pace adjusted . The skills are there for him to be a solid defensive player, he just needs to shore up his fundamentals a bit so that he can match up against great offensive players.

Scott excels in guarding the pick and roll, as his speed allows him to recover to slow down his man after he fights through the screen. He needs to improve on getting around the screen as he relies too much on his speed instead of focusing on proper defensive positioning. Better offensive players will be able to take advantage of the space they have when Scott gets caught in the screen.

The physical tools are there for Scott and he has showed promise in his limited role in his first two seasons. He'll need to balance his role of running an offense while taking on an expanded role in terms of shots attempted. Scott will also need to refine his offensive skills over a larger sample size, improving his ability to finish at the rim while retaining his ability to create offense for his teammates. Scott will need to show he can handle a larger offensive role while still running an efficient offense to boost his draft stock this season.

#14 Sam Thompson, 6'7, Forward, Junior, Ohio State

Kyle Nelson

Swingman Sam Thompson has long dazzled spectators with athletic finishes since he arrived at Ohio State as a RSCI Top-50 recruit. Now a junior and coming off of an sophomore year where he showed improvement, Thompson is out to prove that he is more than merely a human highlight reel while assuming a larger role on the offensive end of the floor for Ohio State.

Such a projection is not entirely out of the question considering how far he has come since his freshman year. Thompson started all 37 games as a sophomore, averaging 25.1 minutes per game while seeing 10.7% of Ohio State's possessions as a sophomore versus averaging 10.3 minutes per game and using a measly 3.3% of its possessions as a freshman.

Yet, despite the bump in usage, he attempted only 4.2 shots from inside of the arc and 1.5 from beyond per game, resulting in a meager 12.5 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted. He scored in double figures just 10 times as a sophomore, and only three of these performances came against teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament.

A look into his play type breakdown on Synergy Sports Technology reveals that 35.1% of his possessions were spot-up jump shots, 24.5% were in transition, 12.4% off of cuts, and 5.7% came out of his work on the offensive boards. In short, despite seeing more playing time and possessions, Thompson is both an extremely limited player as well as one of the least productive small forwards in our database.

That said, there is a lot to like about him as a prospect. For one, he is an outstanding athlete, extremely explosive around the rim and very quick. Though his shaky handles don't allow him to move particularly quick with the ball in his hands, he is among the NCAA's top finishers in transition at this stage and does an outstanding job of finishing off of cuts to the basket. Given his athleticism at 6'7, it's easy to see why scouts are intrigued with his potential at the next level.

Additionally, he has developed into a capable spot-up shooter at this point in his career, converting on 38.1% of his overall attempts, not to mention 42.9% of his overall catch-and-shoot opportunities, while displaying the ability to make shots both guarded and unguarded. On film, his mechanics tend to break down a bit when he's guarded, but he shows a fluid shooting motion in space, with plenty of elevation and a high release point.

The issue is that he is simply not a shot creator at this point in his career. While he is a solid spot-up shooter, he struggles to create the space necessary for shots off of the dribble (8/24 total) and attempted only 11 shots from mid-range. Scouts will be watching to see how he builds on the flashes that he showed as a sophomore during his junior season while developing a more aggressive mindset, given the fact that he is often unselfish to a fault.

As mentioned above, improving his extremely raw ball handling ability will not only go a long way to helping him create offense for himself from mid-range, but also help him to improve as a slasher. Though he finishes an impressive 65.4% of his shots in transition, he made just 26.3% of his shots around the basket, 55.9% of his overall attempts around the basket, and 53.2% of his overall attempts inside of the arc. His rail-thin 200-pound frame and average wingspan (6'8) are clearly issues, but so too is his questionable shooting touch around the basket. Despite his reputation for acrobatic dunks, he misses a remarkable amount of short looks, while lacking the strength to fight through contact.

That said and while Thompson is extremely raw on offense, he showed the potential to develop into a formidable perimeter defender. His combination of size and lateral quickness allow him to stay in front of most wing players at the collegiate level, both inside and out. His tendency to gamble, both in passing lanes and as a shot blocker, sometimes leaves him out of position and his man open on the perimeter, but his physical gifts allow him to be a playmaker all over the floor. He will have to get stronger, as he struggled to both fight through screens and hold his ground against more powerful wing players, but with continued physical development, focus and intensity at all times, he has the potential be an elite defender in the Big Ten.

Thus, Thompson's draft prospects are unclear at this point. He took a big step forward as a sophomore, moving from a curiosity to a bonafide roleplayer, but scouts will want to see him become more productive and assertive as a junior. While many expect LaQuinton Ross to pick up a majority of DeShaun Thomas's production, Thompson should also have plenty of opportunities, as well. With his physical profile and potential on both ends of the floor, continued improvement should keep him squarely on scouts' radars.

#15 Keith Appling, 6'1, Point Guard, Michigan State, Senior

Kyle Nelson

Senior point guard Keith Appling is only 22 years old, but he has already accumulated quite the resume for the Michigan State Spartans. In addition to starting 91 games, he led Michigan State to back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances on his way to being named second-team All-Big Ten by the league's coaches as a junior. Yet, despite these accolades, Tom Izzo wants his now-senior point guard to play more like a point guard.

The good news is that, according to Izzo, the former McDonald's American has made great strides during the summer and will be a key contributor for a Michigan State team that could contend for an NCAA Championship. On an individual level, then, scouts are left with the question of what this transformation may mean to his draft stock.

As we wrote last September, Appling's physical profile is above-average at best, as he is stronger than he is athletic with just average size for the point guard position at 6'1 with a 190-pound frame.

On the offensive end of the floor, Appling seemingly took a step back in his development as a junior, averaging a paltry 15.9 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted despite seeing 22.2% of Michigan State's possessions and taking nearly 20% of its field goals.

It should be noted, though, that Appling's junior season was his first without either versatile forward Draymond Green, or veteran point guard Kalin Lucas before him, by his side. Without Green as his co-facilitator in the post, Appling struggled to adapt to his role on a more traditional roster. He saw over 5% more possessions and over 4% more field goal attempts, and led Michigan State in scoring and assists; yet, more possessions and shots resulted in a sharp decline in his shooting efficiency inside of the arc and in his “point guard statistics.”

While this doesn't look good, it's worth looking into just how much his role changed on the offensive end of the floor. For starters, he saw more of his possessions in the pick-and-roll and in spot-up situations, with significant dips in his scoring in transition and via isolation. Additionally, over 70% of his shot attempts were jump shots -- versus 59.1% as a junior -- and he took far more mid-range and short jumpers. He also found less of his offense around the rim, even though he was significantly more efficient than in the past.

On film, Appling's most significant flaw remains his jump shooting. Though according to Synergy, he was slightly more efficient in every situation as a jump shooter, a majority of his shots were from long range and he made just 31% of them. This is better than the 25% he shot as a sophomore, but his inconsistent shooting mechanics leave much to be desired. He is at his best unguarded, where he shoots a respectable 37.3%, and when he has the time to get his shot off, but even here, his motion remains a bit slow. Improving in this capacity is essential if he wants a shot at the next level, as is proving to scouts that he can make shots off of the dribble and while guarded, in addition to with his feet set in space.

His shooting woes are a shame given the fact that he actually has solid scoring instincts, showing the ability to knock down shots from a standstill and, occasionally, off of the dribble, score out of the pick-and-roll, and get into the lane. Though he scored around the basket less often as a junior and his average physical profile did him few favors finishing with contact, he made over 50% of his attempts. Likewise, he got to the line at a decent rate for a point guard, to the tune of 5.6 attempts per 40 minutes pace adjusted, even if he will likely struggle at the next level due to his lack of bulk.

Though Coach Izzo's critiques of Appling's point guard play are well known and even though Appling played off of the ball at key junctures in games, he continued to play a steady, unselfish brand of basketball while doing a good job of setting the offense into motion. Rarely did he not set the tempo in the half court or handle the ball at the end of the shot clock. While he is not a particularly advanced passer (4.1 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted) and turns it over quite a bit, especially when trying to feed the post (3.0 turnovers per 40 minutes pace adjusted), he did a solid job of finding open shooters off of the dribble, suggesting that reports from summer workouts are more than merely hype.

Once again, he did an admirable job on the defense despite seeing a much larger role on the offensive end of the floor. Though he lacks the size to guard multiple positions at the next level, his lateral quickness combined with quick hands and an aggressive attitude make him a very good man-defender, and his awareness on this end of the floor allowed him to anchor one of the NCAA's most impressive defensive teams.

Therefore, it would seem that Appling's stock is once again linked to his improvement as a shooter. He is a capable distributor and an asset on defense, but his prospects in the NBA depend on whether he can develop his game on the offensive end of the floor. The good news is, despite his struggles as a junior, he has both good scoring instincts while showing the potential to improve. This, combined with his summertime hype and matchups against Kentucky and North Carolina, not to mention a loaded Big Ten Conference slate, should allow him plenty of opportunities to prove himself to scouts before graduation.

Honorable Mention
Devyn Marble
Adam Woodbury
Yogi Ferrell
Aaron White
Amir Williams
Drew Crawford
Tim Frazier
Nnanna Egwu
Hanner Perea
Amedeo Della Valle

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