More DX Conference Preseason Previews:
-The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-12
-The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the Big East
-The Top 15 NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 12
-The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the SEC
-The Top 10 NBA Draft Prospects in the AAC
-The Top 30 NBA Draft Prospects in the ACC
Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big 10
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part One
(#1) Diamond Stone (Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Two
(#2) Thomas Bryant (Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Three
(#3) Caris LeVert (Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Four
(#4) Troy Williams (Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Five
(#5) Nigel Hayes (Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Six
(#6) Jake Layman (Scouting Video)
-Top NBA Draft Prospects in the Big Ten, Part Seven
(#7) Melo Trimble (Scouting Video)
#8 Denzel Valentine, 6-6, Senior, Shooting Guard, Michigan State
Denzel Valentine is in the midst of a storied career at Michigan State, already having a Final Four, two Elite Eight appearances and an 83-30 record under his belt. Valentine is coming off a busy summer, earning a spot on USA Basketball's Pan-Am Games roster in Toronto, and then as a member of his school's trip to Italy where the Spartans competed against a number of national teams preparing for the European Championships.
Valentine has good size for the shooting guard position, measured between 6-5 and 6-6 in shoes consistently, with a very long 6-10 wingspan and a strong 220 pound frame. He is a below average athlete by NBA standards, however, as he does not possess a great first step, overwhelming quickness or much vertical explosiveness.
Valentine's calling card as a NBA prospect lies in his offensive versatility, as he is a very capable ball-handler, passer and shooter.
He shows unlimited confidence in his jumper, only needing a glimmer of daylight to fire away from extreme vantage points, and making over 100 3-pointers last season, on an excellent 42% accuracy rate. Valentine has a very compact stroke, with deep range and multiple release points, being capable of making difficult looks shooting off screens, with his feet set, or off the dribble. He has terrific touch and puts a huge amount of arc on his shot, so even though he tends to shoot a flat-footed jumper, is capable of making big shots off the bounce even with a hand in his face. He'll likely benefit from the faster tempo and increased freedom of the pro game in this regard, as he loves to fire away in transition or in the early offense, where he can more easily catch defenders off balance.
Valentine is also a terrific facilitator, dishing out over 5 assists per-40 minutes in his Michigan State career, despite always playing alongside one or more other ball-handlers. He executes extremely well in the half-court, whipping the ball all over the court with great creativity, driving and dishing and making heady post-entry passes. He has a knack for passing ahead in transition, and always has his head up to help him react to what is going on on the floor.
While Valentine does a great job of using his strength, terrific footwork and ability to change speeds to facilitate as a secondary ball-handler in Michigan State's offense, he has some limitations as a shot-creator. He does not possess a very quick first step, and relies heavily on his body and fore-arm to help create space in the half-court. For that reason, he doesn't get to the paint all that often, and is forced to shoot some very difficult floaters (which he has terrific touch on, but are very low percentage shots nonetheless) when a passing angle doesn't open up to find the open man, as he knows he does not possess the explosiveness needed to finish in traffic.
A career 47% 2-point shooter, Valentine hit just 50% of his shots inside the paint in the half-court last year, a below average rate that already came on a small sample size, and also really struggled to get to the free throw line as well, only 2.7 times per-40, one of the lowest rates in our Top-100. Valentine nonetheless finds ways to get by at the college level using his terrific jump-shooting ability and high basketball IQ, but there are real concerns about how he'll fare in this area in the NBA, where creating space is at a real premium.
While Valentine is likely smart and skilled enough to find a way on the offensive end against better competition, the more significant concerns revolve around his play on the other end of the floor. His lateral quickness leaves a lot to be desired here, as he's mostly relegated to guarding small forwards in college, due to how difficult of a time he has staying in front of more explosive guards. Fast-twitch ball-handlers tend to go right around him, and it's not rare to see opposing coaching staffs targeting and picking at him throughout the game trying to take advantage of his slow feet in creating mismatch advantages. Michigan State tends to send a lot of help his way in the form of extra rotations, but this will be a lot more difficult to do against teams with five scorers on the court at all times.
With that said, Valentine is certainly not an indifferent defender. He is competitive and attentive for the most part, doing his best to get through screens, close out on the perimeter, and use his length to his advantage. His strong feel for the game shows up in the work he does at times off the ball, and the 1.3 steals per-40 he's averaged throughout his career is not a terrible rate. He's a tremendous rebounder for a guard, with his 6.3 defensive rebounds per-40 being better than many of the big men in our Top-100.
Valentine is a strong contender for Preseason Big 10 player of the year honors, and is undoubtedly in position to have a huge senior season. Head Coach Tom Izzo is talking about giving him significant playmaking responsibilities this year, and judging by some of the preseason footage at our disposal, he appears to be in outstanding shape conditioning wise. While Valentine may not share the same upside as some of the younger players in the DX Top-100, few are as productive or versatile, and the amount of wins he's strung together in his career certainly can't be dismissed.
#9, A.J. Hammons, 7-0, Center, Senior, Purdue
A.J. Hammons arrived at Purdue with high expectations as a top-100 recruit. Three years later, he still hasn't quite established himself as a surefire NBA prospect. Now, already 23 years old, he's returning for his senior season in an attempt to build off of an impressive second half to the 2014-2015 campaign and improve his draft stock.
Hammons clearly has the size and strength the play in the NBA. At 7'0 and 280 pounds, there are few players in the nation who can match Hammons' brute physique. He uses his size to his advantage effectively on the interior. Last season, Hammons averaged 19.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per-40 minutes, both rating in the top-10 in DX's database among top-100 prospects.
Hammons is not only massive, but he's also long. He was measured with a 7'3 wingspan in 2011 so it's fair to assume he may be even longer now. He's earned his reputation as an elite rim protector at the college level; last season, Hammons averaged 4.6 blocks per-40 minutes a top-three rate in the NCAA among qualified prospects.
Offensively, Hammons can be overwhelming for opponents in the paint. More than half of his offensive possessions last season came with his back to the basket, where he made 93-of-180 of his post-ups (51.7%). When he wasn't posting up, Hammons lurked around the basket gained his team extra possessions on the glass. Hammons pulled down 4.0 offensive rebounds per-40 minutes and grabbed 12.2% of all available offensive rebounds as junior both rating in the top-10 for draft prospects. He also made 47-of-71 (66.2%) shots around the basket, proving he's capable of finishing consistently when establishing position around the paint.
Hammons will help himself greatly if he learns to battle more in gaining positioning near the rim. More often than not, he settles on the edge of the paint and starts his entry moves from shallow post positioning. Equipped with an effective drop step, Hammons should use his size to gain deep positioning before calling for entry passes. Unfortunately, he doesn't always display the type of intensity-level you'd like to see, as he often looks lethargic getting up and down the court and doesn't always display the type of toughness you'd like to see from a player with his physical attributes.
Hammons gets to the line frequently. He averaged 6.6 free throw attempts per-40 but while he's steadily improved his touch at the line, he's still just a 68.4% free throw shooter.
He has a surprisingly nice arc on his shots away from the hoop but has yet to translate the smooth mechanics into smooth efficiency. He made just four of his 25 jump shots attempts (16%) beyond 17 feet last season and often attempted those shots with his feet either on or within the three-point line showing a disregard for court awareness.
He's not comfortable nor willing as a passer, as evidenced by his pedestrian 1.5 assists per-40 minutes and lackluster 9.1% assist rate. This could be explained by the fact that bad things tend to happen when Hammons tries to create anything for teammates offensively. He's one of the most turnover prone players in the NCAA. Last season, he averaged 3.5 turnovers per-40 minutes the highest rate for all big men in the NCAA. And per Synergy Sports Technology, Hammons turned the ball over on a whopping 17.2% of his possessions last season a rate that simply won't cut it at the NBA level.
The root of Hammons' turnovers comes from his rigid footwork, which often leads to traveling violations. From December 8th to January 21st, Hammons was demoted to the bench, before a recalibration of focus brought him back to the starter's role.
While his movements are often mechanical, he actually does have decent mobility for a player of his size. He's not explosive but he gets off the ground for dunks with surprising quickness and finishes strong when he has momentum.
His mobility could eventually develop into a strong suit as a diver in pick-and-rolls at the next level. He has enormous hands and, with his wingspan, he should be an excellent lob target for his guards on alley oops.
Hammons' inconsistent motor is a major red flag in his game. He was held under 10 points in about a third of his team's games last season and finished with five or less total rebounds in about a quarter of his team's games. He's lowered his foul rate to a passable 4.2 fouls per-40 minutes but still commits unnecessary fouls early in the game which forces him to sit out on the action with consistency.
Overall, at 23 years old, what you see is likely what you'll get with Hammons at the next level. He's a physical specimen with the mobility and skill-level to develop into a solid rotation player in the NBA. Still, as a big man, he is a mediocre rebounder and is far too sporadic with his effort-level, not displaying anywhere near the type of intensity you'd like to see on a consistent basis. Still, with his size, length, skill-level, and rim-protection prowess, he's someone who will be getting looks for many years to come due to the scarcity of players at his position with similar attributes.
#10 Yogi Ferrell, 6'0, Senior, Point Guard, Indiana
Kevin Yogi Ferrell's career began with significant expectations, as the former McDonald's All-American played a big role on a team that won 29 games and made a run to the Sweet 16. Since then, Ferrell and Indiana have been inconsistent, barely making the NCAA Tournament last year, and losing their opening game, after a one-year hiatus. For better or for worse, Ferrell was, is, and will be Indiana's leader and he must exceed expectations for Indiana to return to form and make a late run in March. With a deep and talented roster, everything is in place for Ferrell to have a strong final season of college basketball.
Ferrell's physical profile is a mixed bag. On the one hand, his 6'0, 178-pound frame and average length leave much to be desired from an NBA perspective. On the other, Ferrell is a very good athlete, showing elite quickness and agility at the collegiate level and with the athletic tools to excel at the next.
On the offensive end of the floor, Ferrell made modest improvements between his sophomore and junior seasons. While his numbers look similar, he was a bit more efficient as a junior, scoring 18.1 on 46.0% 2FG, 41.6% 3FG, and 860% FT while developing as a distributor in the process.
As has been the case throughout his career, Ferrell is a versatile and effective scorer at the point guard position. He is at his best operating out of the pick and roll, where his quickness, ball handling ability, and scoring instincts make it very hard for defenders to stay with him. Likewise, Ferrell remains an outstanding perimeter shooter making 41.6% 3FG and accounting for over 25% of Indiana's overall attempts, Also impressive is the fact that he made 47.4% of his open spot-up jump shots. On film, Ferrell's mechanics are excellent, his release is quick, and he elevates nicely on his shot.
His biggest issue, however, remains his shot selection. Ferrell still takes too many questionable shots, especially from inside of the three-point line. He is not the most efficient shooter in these situations, either, making only 31.8% of jumpers inside of the arc, and 34.1% of his overall shots off of the dribble. Shot selection has been a weakness of his since his freshman year, so scouts will be watching to see if he can improve his decision-making as a senior.
Another issue is the fact that Ferrell is still not a great finisher around the basket, where he made just 51.6% of his looks and attempted just 18 floaters. This is primarily due to his lack of size and length, even if he tried more than his share of high difficulty shots around the basket. Ferrell does not draw many fouls, either, as he takes just 4.2 free throws per 40 minutes pace adjusted.
While Ferrell remains highly explosive as a scorer, he improved considerably as a distributor. By the numbers, Ferrell logged a 2.55 assist/turnover ratio (up from 1.49) and a 3.76 PPR (up from -0.14) while turning the ball over a career low 2.1 times per 40 minutes pace adjusted. Ferrell still struggles with inconsistency in terms of dictating the tempo of Indiana's offense and he clearly looks for his own shot first, but he made strides at becoming a more fluid passer. His instincts as a distributor, particularly in the pick-and-roll, looked improved, which suggests that there is plenty of room for him to continue to improve here as he gains experience under highly respected head coach Tom Crean.
While Ferrell is an intriguing player on the offensive end of the floor, he struggled at times on defense on an undersized team that often struggled to get stops last season. Ferrell does not have the greatest fundamentals, even before factoring in his lack of size and length. While he has the lateral quickness to be a pesky perimeter defender, he does not have the strength to fight through screens and lacks the aggressiveness to consistently assert himself against bigger or stronger guards. While Indiana needs maximum effort from Ferrell on offense, he must also work harder on the defensive end as a senior.
This season, Indiana welcomes back its top five scorers and looks capable of making a deep NCAA Tournament run. The key, as has been the case for the past three years, is Yogi Ferrell, one of nation's most dynamic point guards. Beyond Indiana's postseason prospects, however, Ferrell has one more season to prove to scouts that he has what it takes to play in the NBA.