Kansas Brandon Rush
continued to build upon his outstanding freshman season Monday night with a dominating 24 point, 11 rebound performance in a blowout win over Texas Tech. This continued what has been a fantastic week for Rush averaging 22 points and 9 rebounds in 3 games in 6 days.
Rush, who declared for the 2005 NBA Draft, is showing college fans throughout the nation why KU fans were so ecstatic to land him after one of the most public recruiting battles in history. Over the last 8 games, he has averaged a sizzling 18 points, 8 rebounds, 2.25 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. Not coincidentally, his Kansas team has been equally as hot as of late, going 11-2 over the last 13 games. The biggest knock on the smooth freshman this year has ironically been his refusal to emerge as KUs go-to scorer, but it appears the light has come on for him and hes been extremely aggressive as of late showing off his extremely polished game and outstanding basketball instincts.
Against Texas Tech, Rush showed why he was so highly touted coming out of Mount Zion Academy. Offensively, he showed deep range once again, knocking down four three pointers (hes shooting 54% on the year), and much improved ball handling skills that he was criticized for in past. More importantly, Rush used his freakish athleticism on both ends of the floor. When the Jayhawks had the basketball, he took the ball strong to the rack, pulled off the dribble for mid-range shots, crashed the glass extremely hard and generally used his excellent quickness, first step and leaping ability to the fullest. On the other end Rush played great defense, not only rebounding well but also getting out in the passing lanes to ignite fast breaks and using his 611 wingspan to wreak havoc on opposing Texas Tech players. His attitude this year has consistently been outstanding, playing unselfish basketball, putting in plenty of effort in all facets of the game and meshing well with his teammates on and off the court.
Last year Rush could get no love from NBA GMs who were foolishly not sold on his excellent high school career or a surprisingly good performance at the Chicago pre-draft camp, high school player or not. This year Rush joins LSUs Tyrus Thomas
and Memphis forward Shawne Williams
as the only legitimate first round freshman prospects for the 2006 draft, with the price tag going up substantially compared with what he could have been had for just 6 months ago, and rising by the day. People will point at the fact that Rush (like the other two freshman mentioned above) at age 20 is older than your typical college freshman and therefore might have less potential than other teenagers in the draft. Looking at the strides he has made in his game over the past 9 months since we saw him workout privately at the Roundball Classic in Chicago, through the pre-draft camp and up to now; it would be ludicrous to say that he doesnt have a great upside to continue to improve.
Rush is a smooth and effortless swingman with outstanding size, length, athleticism and offensive instincts.
He made a name for himself early in his high school career mostly with his physical attributes. Rush has good quickness, a nice first step and an explosive vertical leap. He turns the corner on handoff screens smoothly, exploding towards the basket and using his outstanding leaping ability and instincts to finish creatively around the hoop. Hes a pretty explosive player once he gets going; Rush gets in the air with purpose from impressive distances and absolutely loves to throw down emphatic alley-oops in transition, where he is at his best. Measured at 6-6 ½ in Chicago, Rush has a wingspan and standing reach that are comparable to some NBA power forwards at 6-11 ¼ and 8-8 1/2. His frame is NBA caliber and he already possesses excellent strength for a 20 year old.
Offensively, Rush shows the ability to score from almost anywhere on the court. He has terrific instincts to put the ball inside the basket, and its always been clear that basketball comes very easy (maybe too easy
) for him, particularly when it comes to scoring. Hes one of the most accurate outside shooters in the NCAA, shooting 51% from behind the arc this season on about three attempts per game. His mechanics are not pretty or particularly conventional, especially with his ability to utilize his athleticism and get better lift on his jump-shot, but it goes in for him at a good enough clip that there probably isnt any reason to worry or change it besides improving the quickness of his release.
Rush picks and chooses his spots inside the arc as well, shooting a very efficient 50% from the field. He doesnt put the ball on the floor well enough at this point in his career, but when he does he often has a lot of options he can go to. At times he will tease you with some terrific head and body fakes or a nice hesitation move to get his man off-balance and create space for himself, He has good vision passing off the dribble, and shows raw, but promising ability to pull-up from mid-range for a silky smooth jump shot. His athleticism allows him to take the ball strong all the way to the basket as well (although again, it doesnt happen nearly enough) and this is where his offensive instincts come out the most in the way he finishes creatively around the hoop; whether with a beautiful floater, a crafty kiss off the glass or just with an explosive dunk to get the crowd off its feet. In the open floor is where Rush is truly at his best.
Whats probably most surprising about the collegiate player Rush has turned out to be is just how good of a teammate he is. Hes incredibly unselfish, certainly to a fault at times, but has shown terrific passing ability and an innate understanding of his teammates and where they like the ball. He refuses to force the issue even one bit as evidenced by his outstanding percentages from the field,
Rush has become a much more complete all-around basketball player at KU, showing significant improvement in his ball-handling, defensive effort and ability. A year in college has served him extremely well, and will make him a much better player down the road.
On the defensive end, Rush has never been known as a great half-court man to man defender, but has shown the willingness and ability to get better during the course of his freshman year. He has great potential here thanks to his terrific length, quickness and frame; and has used this numerous times already to come up with some very nice blocked shots both on the perimeter and recovering from the weak-side inside the paint, or even to step in once in a while and take a charge. His rebounding has been very good this year for Kansas, elevating high off the ground, not being afraid to mix it up boxing out and showing great hands rebounding out of his area. Weaknesses:
As a player that freely admits to never really being coached before being thrown straight into the fire for a very young Kansas team, Rush is lacking a lot of experience and savvy at this point in his career.
His slashing ability is probably the area that raises the most concern. Never known as a great ball-handler, Rush has problems taking advantage of his athletic gifts to get himself easy shots around the basket, particularly in half-court sets. Being used to just overpowering high school players with his strength and athleticism, hes missing a lot of the crafty moves that most NBA wing players have in their repertoire to create space and free themselves up on the perimeter. Rush is averaging just over 2 free throw attempts per game at the time of this report, which is an alarmingly low number for a player with his physical gifts. Beyond his average ball-skills, he just does not take the ball strong enough to the hoop. Many will wonder whether he is tough enough to capitalize on his athleticism until he proves them wrong. His left hand is extremely poor, and any NBA advance scout worth his salt will pick up on that immediately and tell his coaching staff to force him to either go left or just give up the ball if he's not spotting up for an open 3-pointer.
His extremely efficient shooting numbers tell you about the player he is in more than one way. Playing for such a young team, Kansas has needed Rush to step-up as a go-to guy and create offense when things bog down for them. Rush hasnt always been up to the task, being either unwilling or unable to take his team on his back at times when they needed him the most.
Rush doesnt always look 100% focused on what is going on around him on the court, making freshman mistakes, with careless turnovers and mental lapses on the defensive end. He's a guy that was very obviously not challenged very much early on his career by good coaches, and it's hard to completely change his mentality despite the obvious progress he's made under Bill Self.
When things dont exactly go his way early in the games, Rush will show poor body language at times by failing to assert himself and getting too down on himself, being extremely passive and not being able to switch on the elusive switch that determines the type of player we will see that night. This is not the first or last time well see that in a freshman, but there are legitimate concerns regarding whether he is willing and able to capitalize on his immense potential and become a star rather than just a very solid role player. Rush is so talented that he coasts sometimes, possibly thinking subconsciously that he only needs to fully turn it on occasionally when his team really needs him to.
Defensively, Rush is again lacking experience defending high caliber players on the perimeter. He was always the unquestioned star of his AAU and prep school team, and therefore wasnt expected to participate in the little defense they played on the court anyway. As mentioned already, he has excellent potential in this part of his game, but isnt always 100% focused on staying in front of his man. Good coaching, more practice against better offensive players and especially adding some strength to his excellent frame will help him here, particularly in the lower body. He appears to be more of a small forward than a shooting guard anyway, so bulking up will be a priority for him to guard the bigger and stronger players we usually find at the 3 spot in the NBA.
Already being 20 years old (turning 21 in July), Rush is not your typical 18 or 19 year old college freshman. Some may question his upside because of that, but considering the huge strides hes made in his game over the past 10 months, and the fact that hes only getting better by the game, it would be foolish to say that hes reached anywhere near his peak as a basketball player. Competition:
Before college, Rush bounced around between four different high schools, eventually settling in at Mount Zion Academy, Tracy McGrady
s alma matter. Mount Zions reputation in the recruiting world may have been a factor in Rush not being invited to the McDonalds All American game, where on talent alone he surely was deserving of a spot.
Rush plays at the University of Kansas, one of the most tradition-rich and pressure packed environments in the NCAA historically.
His team, one of the youngest in the country, was thrown right into the fire to start off the season at the Maui Invitational tournament, where they went 1-2 to start off the year (their only win came against the hosts, Chaminade of Division II). Rush played fairly well considering that these were the first games of his college career (see links: Maui Stock watch). After losing 4 of their first 7 games to start off the year, it looked like Kansas and Rush were in for a very long and disheartening season under Coach Bill Self. They managed to win their next 7 straight games, though; with the most impressive of them coming at home on national television where they blew out Kentucky by nearly 30 points. Rush had what might have been the best game of his young career, scoring 24 points (9-15) with 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks (see links: Top Weekly Performers). Two odd losses in a span of three days to archrivals Kansas State and Missouri followed almost immediately, with Rush having his typical 12 or 14 point performances. Kansas responded with 10 straight conference wins, many of them being impressive blowouts, which solidified their spot at the top of the Big 12 with a great shot at getting a high seed in the NCAA tournament. Rush was terrific in many of those games. A 25 point loss at Texas broke that streak, and Rush had his worse game of the season with only 3 points on 1-8 shooting. Kansas will still finish 2nd in the Big 12, far exceeding all expectations besides those of the most optimistic Jayhawks fans. A good showing in the Big 12 and NCAA tournament will likely solidify his spot in the top 20 of this draft.