The Top 20 NBA Draft Prospects in the Pac-12 Conference
Top NBA Prospects in the Big 12, Part 1
(#1) Kelly Oubre (Scouting Video)
Top NBA Prospects in the Big 12, Part 2
(#2) Cliff Alexander (Scouting Video)
Top NBA Prospects in the Big 12, Part 3
(#3) Myles Turner (Scouting Video)
Top NBA Prospects in the Big 12, Part 4
(#4) Wayne Selden (Scouting Video)
#5, Juwan Staten, 5-11, Senior, PG, West Virginia
After flirting with leaving West Virginia for the 2014 NBA Draft, Juwan Staten elected to return for his senior season after a junior campaign that saw him make the Big XII All-Conference First Team and All-Defensive Team. Staten will attempt to lead West Virginia to the NCAA tournament, after a 2013-14 season that ended with a first round NIT loss to Georgetown.
Measured at just 5'11 at the 2014 Nike Skills Academy, Staten is a little undersized relative to most NBA point guards. His wingspan was measured at 6'3, which helps his cause somewhat, and he is absolutely lightning quick with the ball, further compensating for his small stature. He isn't especially strong for a player of his size, so he might get pushed around by bigger players, but he still has some room to add some strength as he matures. He has demonstrated he is in excellent shape, as he played 37.3 minutes per game last year.
Staten was the focal point of the Mountaineer offense and did an excellent job of getting his own shot while setting up his teammates at the same time. His 6.1 assists per 40 minutes pace adjusted ranked near the top of point guard prospects last season, while his pure point rating of 4.74 ranked 9th, showing he does a good job of distributing while not turning it over. Staten allows the offense to develop and runs through the options to find an open teammate without forcing his own shot. He sees the floor well and delivers strong passes to his teammates to allow them to score.
Staten has plenty of ways to score himself, starting first with his ability to beat a defender off the dribble. Staten showed a strong inside out crossover to get by his defender in isolation situations, which put him in a good position to score. Considering his size, Staten is a capable finisher at the rim, where he shot 52.7% on 131 attempts last season, according to Synergy Sports Technology. One piece he could add to his game is a floater or runner, as he attempted only 30 last season, according to Synergy Sports Technology. A floater he could rely upon would add to his offensive arsenal and give him another way to score when he beats his defender on the perimeter by avoiding the rim protectors.
Instead of going for the short floater, Staten often attempted pull-up mid range jump shots off the dribble after getting a step on his defender, where he shot an excellent 44% on 100 attempts according to Synergy Sports Technology. This would rank him seventh among all players who had at least 100 attempts last season, according to Synergy Sports Technology. He does an excellent job of gathering himself off the dribble to take a controlled jump shot and demonstrated solid fundamentals in the mid-range area, which is very important at his size.
While Staten is a proficient mid-range shooter, this did not translate to the three point line, as he attempted only fifteen threes last season. He has good form on his mid-range shot, so the potential is there for him to be a capable three point shooter, but this aspect is not a major part of his game.
The list of guards who have been drafted since 1994 who averaged at least twenty minutes per game and attempted less than twenty total threes in a single season isn't very large, showing just how important this is considered to be among NBA teams:
To improve his draft stock, Staten will need to add a three point shot to his offensive arsenal in his senior season. He has demonstrated he is a capable jump shooter in the mid-range area, so a three point weapon would allow him to be a floor spacer while forcing defenders to guard him on the perimeter, improving his ability as a penetrator.
Although Staten was named to the Big XII All-Defensive team, there are some questions about how his defensive skills will translate to the next level. He is at an immediate disadvantage because of his size, as he will have trouble matching up physically against taller guards in the NBA. His averaging length allows taller players to shoot over him on the perimeter, as he is unable to challenge jump shooters. He also fails to recognize screens on occasion and is knocked off balance when he runs into them, effectively taking him out of the play. He only blocked three shots last season which, as we showed earlier, isn't something many NBA players can boast. His speed and lateral quickness will be an asset for him to help bother players and play the passing lanes but he will likely struggle overall because of his size.
Staten returns to West Virginia as the leading offensive option and will likely have to shoulder a larger scoring role due to the departure of the second leading scorer, Eron Harris. Staten's mix of point guard skills combined with his athleticism make him an intriguing draft prospect and he will need to show once again he can balance between scoring and distributing. Since Staten sat out a year after transferring from Dayton, he will be 23 at draft time. He is on the radars of many scouts and another solid season from a production standpoint, coupled with adding some semblance of a three point jumper to his game will put him in the mix to have his name called for the 2015 NBA Draft.
#6, Perry Ellis, 6-7, Junior, SF/PF, Kansas
A consensus top-35 recruit in high school, Perry Ellis was one of the most improved players in college basketball last season, averaging 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per-game after tallying 5.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per-game during his freshman year.
Measuring 6'8 with a 222-pound frame and a 6'10 wingspan this summer at the Nike Skills Academy, Ellis doesn't have great size for a power forward. Though he's on the small side, and not exceptionally athletic, he still managed to be brutally effective and efficient in just his second year of high-major college hoops thanks to a workman-like approach to the game and tremendous fundamentals.
After doing much of his damage from the post as a freshman in limited minutes, Ellis made contributions in a variety of areas as a sophomore, continuing to score with very good efficiency with his back to the basket, but also proving to be an efficient midrange jump shooter and finisher around the rim. The Kansas Mr. Basketball recipient is not the type of player who will blow you away with his athleticism or shiftiness, his appeal next level is more about substance than style.
Ellis uses a low base to carve out space inside, and can put the ball on the floor and attack slower big man driving in either direction. He uses his timing and feel for the game to earn touches cutting off the ball or crashing the boards, and knocks down set shots out to the college three-point line with a somewhat mechanical, but fairly reliable shooting stroke. Posting the 9th highest true shooting percentage of any player in our top-100 last season and more than doubling his usage from his freshman year, Ellis figures to once again bring balance and efficiency to a Kansas team adding Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander in the place of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
Moving forward, it will be worth keeping an eye on Ellis' ability to improve as a shooter. He has many of the attributes common among undersized combo forwards that have carved out niches at the NBA level as roleplayers, but he could solidify his standing further if he can become a more prolific shooter. He shot a tremendous 46.2% on jump shots last year, but on under two attempts per-game. His ability to improve his range and potentially solidify himself as Kansas's go-to-scorer with more touches on the block could only help him in the eyes of scouts.
Aside from his scoring ability, Ellis is a low-mistake player on both ends, a solid area rebounder, and staunch individual defender. His lack of size, length, and lateral quickness limits his ability to contest shooters, block shots, pull down rebounds in a crowd, and defend quicker players one-on-one, but his effort helps him overcome many of these limitations at the college level.
The stabilizing force for a young Kansas squad a year ago, it will be interesting to see how Ellis asserts himself in a similar situation this year. The confidence he gained as a sophomore, coupled with his high basketball IQ, could make him one of the more productive players at his position in the country if he gets a chance to shine. While Ellis certainly isn't a glamorous NBA prospect, he could factor into the draft after this or his senior year. His ceiling isn't terribly high, but if he can replicate his efficiency from a year ago, he could endear himself to NBA decision-makers regardless.
#7, Georges Niang, 6-8, Junior, Power Forward, Iowa State
One of the most productive players in high school basketball (averaging 30 points per-40 in Nike EYBL play on ridiculous scoring efficiency), despite not being considered a top-50 recruit by any of the high school scouting services, Georges Niang blossomed into an elite college player virtually from day one, being a major factor in Iowa State's resurgence under Fred Hoiberg.
Niang is an extremely unique player, standing 6-8 and seeing most of his minutes rotating between the power forward and center positions defensively, but operating as somewhat of a point forward in Iowa State's offense. He has the freedom to grab a rebound and bring the ball up the floor himself, and acts as one of their primary facilitators from both the high and low post in the half-court.
Niang's versatility shines through in his passing metrics, as he is the only frontcourt player among all returning Top-100 prospects to post a positive pure point ratio last season. Only 12 college players standing 6-8 or taller who averaged more than 4 assists per-40 minutes (like Niang did) have been drafted since 2000 (see chart), but it's important to note than an additional 31 players accomplished the same and did not get picked.
Niang saw his offensive possessions in a variety of ways last season, be it posting up, spotting up on the 3-point line, finishing on cuts and pick and rolls, or creating his own shot from the outside, but he was most effective with his back to the basket. He uses his strong frame to establish solid post-position and then does a great job utilizing his excellent footwork, soft hands and terrific touch around the rim with either hand. When double teams arrive Niang is very good at finding the open man cutting to the basket.
There are some question marks about how this part of his game will translate to the professional level, though, as Niang is very much a below the rim player who gets his shot blocked fairly frequently and doesn't draw that many fouls. He is not very effective in transition, as he struggles with length at times, relying very heavily on his superior basketball IQ and skill-level to find advantages against other collegiate big men, but this might not work quite as well against NBA players, who are typically far more gifted physically.
To Niang's credit, he's far more than just a back to the basket player at the college level, as he also does a good amount of working facing the rim as well. He's very adept at creating his own shot in one on one situations, not because he owns a lightning quick first step, but more-so thanks to his terrific timing, body control and footwork.
Niang operates at his own pace on the perimeter and does an excellent job utilizing shot-fakes, crafty ball-handling moves, and his own strong frame to keep opponents off balance. Once inside the paint, he uses all kinds of nifty runners and floaters to finish creatively around the basket, often utilizing the backboard with his superb touch. He's just a very difficult matchup for opposing centers to handle at the college level, because they simply aren't used to guarding players who can dribble and create the way he can, not just for himself but also for teammates.
Also a relatively effective shooter, Niang converted 36% of his jumpers last season in catch and shoot situations, hitting 1.4 3-pointers per game. He shoots a flat-footed set shot with a fairly slow release, but shows good potential to continue to develop this part of his game, something that will be extremely important for him at the pro level. After hitting 39% of his 3-pointers as a freshman that number dropped to 33% as a sophomore, but he should be able to improve on that as a junior as he shows good mechanics and touch on his jumper.
Niang almost never takes an off the dribble jump-shot (only 9 attempts all season), which helps his overall field goal percentage. This is very much by design, as his Iowa State attempted the lowest percentage of off the dribble jumper attempts in all of college basketball last season, taking one on just 6% of all offensive possessions according to Synergy Sports Technology.
Defensively, Niang has a lot of things going against him, as he's somewhat undersized for a big man at 6-8, and does not possess very long arms to compensate, measuring just a 6-9 wingspan at the Nike Skills Academy this summer. He gets posted up a decent amount and shot over with relative ease, not having the length to contest shots effectively inside the post or on the perimeter when matched up one on one. On top of that, he lacks both quickness and explosiveness, which nullifies any chance he has at being much of a rim protector (he's blocked just 28 shots in nearly 2000 minutes at Iowa State so far), as he's simply not a leaper at all.
To his credit, Niang is a very competitive player with excellent timing and anticipation skills, which helps him from being a liability on this end of the floor. He puts a solid effort in and isn't someone that opposing coaches can game-plan to score on with ease. There are question marks regarding how he'll fare at the NBA level, though, specifically what position he'll guard, as he clearly won't be able to defend centers like he mostly does at Iowa State. To address this, Niang has elected to shed quite a bit of weight (25 pounds reportedly) this summer (see this before and after photo Niang posted). It will be interesting to see what effect this has on his game, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
One of the biggest concerns around Niang is how poor of a rebounder (1.3 offensive rebounds per-40, 4.6 defensive) he's been at the college level thus far, on both ends of the court. Should he end up getting drafted, he will have the unenviable distinction of having one of the five worst rebounding seasons among power forward or centers picked in the past 30 years, and the worst since Steve Novak and DaJuan Summers. Part of his offensive rebounding woes revolve around his role for Iowa State, but his short arms and below average athleticism certainly don't help matters much.
A year old for his class, Niang turns 22 this June, making him the same age as many college seniors. This might help explain the urgency he showed this past summer to get into the best shape of his life, as this is likely going to be an important season for him to show scouts that he is serious about parlaying his very unique style of play into a NBA roster spot. Opinions about Niang's prospects at the NBA level are very much split at this point, but there is very little doubt that he deserves serious consideration considering how productive and versatile a college player he is.
#8, LeBryan Nash, 6'7, Junior, Small Forward, Oklahoma State
An extremely highly regarded recruit, LeBryan Nash struggled to live up to expectations during his freshman season, providing the Cowboys with a solid contributor, but one who didn't bring much in the way of offensive efficiency or consistency. Nash made substantial improvements as a sophomore, bumping his true shooting percentage up from the dismal 47.7% as a freshman to a more respectable 53.8% as a sophomore. He continued that trend as a junior, bumping his true shooting percentage up even further to 57.5%.
While Nash's scoring has remained relatively flat, with his 17.4 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted matching his output from his freshman season, his drastic improvement in efficiency has made him a better player for the Oklahoma State team. But how well will that improvement translate to the next level? And what exactly does that mean for his standing as a prospect?
The key to Nash's drastically improved efficiency has been a much better shot selection. As we noted in previous write-ups, Nash had a disconcerting tendency to fall in love with his jump shot which, despite him showing progress with it during his sophomore season, has never been a strength of his game.
Nash has completely reversed-course on his jump shot. After attempting 118 three pointers combined during his first two seasons, Nash attempted only 6 during his junior season. According to Synergy Sports, jump shots made up only 14.7% of his half-court field goal attempts, a significant drop from the 38.4% of his offense it took up during his sophomore season, and the vast majority of the jump shots he did attempt came within 17 feet of the basket.
This change in shot distribution allowed Nash to focus on what he does well: converting opportunities around the rim due to his physical strength and excellent explosiveness. These shots primarily came from post-ups, cuts to the basket, and in transition, which combined to take up nearly 60% of his possessions, up from up from 50% during his sophomore season and way up from the 36.6% they made up during his freshman year.
His recognition of how to best utilize his physical gifts represents a positive shift in his approach to the game, and has done wonders to increase his overall effectiveness as a basketball player. The concern comes from the lack of improvement in his skill level. It's not that his shot distribution changed (which is a good thing) that is troubling, it's that his jump shot and perimeter skills didn't improve.
Despite being far more selective as a jump shooter, his overall effectiveness shooting the basketball took a serious step back. Nash shot only 31.7% on jump shots overall, which includes 33.3% in catch and shoot situations, 29.6% off the dribble, and 30% from midrange. All of those figures, per Synergy Sports, are well below average, and significant steps back from where he was as a sophomore. Beyond the numbers, his form and especially his balance, show much of the same inconsistency that has likely contributed to his struggles with consistency shooting the basketball.
He also continues to show some of the same struggles he has in previous seasons. His overall ball handling is fairly rudimentary, which limits his ability to use his athletic gifts to slash to the basket. Besides struggling to change direction, Nash can also become turnover prone on forays to the hoop, frequently out of control and allowing guards to reach in and force turnovers.
On the defensive side of the ball, Nash still flashes his excellent physical tools, although neither his 0.7 steals per 40 minutes pace adjusted or 1.0 blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted would necessarily reflect that. He frequently finds himself out of position off the ball, causing his rotations to be a step late. Still, his physical tools for his position give a fair amount of hope that a coach can get production out of him if they're able to get him to consistently focus on this end of the court.
One area of the court that Nash did improve upon was his defensive rebounding, which at 5.0 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes was the best of his career, and a significant improvement over the 3.9 from his sophomore season. While still far from a great contributor on this end of the court, particularly for somebody who spends so much time in the post, and for a team that has struggled on the defensive glass over the past three seasons, that output is a little bit closer to respectability.
While Le'Bryan Nash has never lived up to the high offensive output that some projected when he came to Oklahoma State, his drastic improvement in his shot selection over the years has given coach Travis Ford a basketball player who provides far more impact than he did when he arrived at Oklahoma State. Still, the lack of progress on his perimeter skills has made it tough to project exactly what kind of role Nash would play at the next level. With the departure of Marcus Smart, it will be interesting to watch whether Le'Bryan Nash reverts back to his pre-Smart, jump shot heavy days, and whether he has made any progress in his ability to be reliable from the perimeter.