After putting up outstanding individual numbers during his sophomore season and laboring over his decision to declare for the 2009 NBA Draft throughout the spring, Craig Brackins surprised most of the basketball community with his decision to return to school. Pegged as a potential lottery pick last spring, the 22-year old California native took a huge risk in returning to Ames at the urging of his former AAU coach T.J. Otzelberger (now an assistant coach at Iowa State), as hed be asked once again to shoulder a heavy load at ISU, for better or worse. Thus far, the risk hasn't paid off, as Brackins team looks far from being NCAA tournament worthy and his draft stock is faltering badly as his efficiency and rebounding numbers have taken major hits.
When we analyzed the situational statistics of last years power forward crop, we identified Brackins as one of the prospects who wasnt benefiting from the play of their teammates. Little has changed in that regard this season, as Brackins still has to create most of his offense on his own, earns very few easy baskets around the rim working off the ball, and is relied on as a go-to-scorer virtually all the time.
Though he displays the versatility to create his own shot in the post, he is unable to do so consistently, as his frame does not appear to have improved much from last year and hes still just an average athlete by NBA standards at best. Competitive teams are honing in on him more this season and are making a conscious effort to stop him, further limiting his ability to take advantage of his long frame and finesse game. The presence of Marquis Gilstrap hasn't helped either, as Brackins is deferring quite a bit to the athletic junior college transfer, looking very passive in some of Iowa States games down the stretch.
The most prominent improvement Brackins appears to have made on paper revolves around his 3-point shooting, as hes hitting 47% of his 3-pointers on the season, compared with 28% last year. This may be a bit of a mirage, though, as hes only taken less than two attempts from beyond the arc, and hasnt been all that consistent from mid-range this season. Though Brackins is capable of hitting shots from range with more consistency when hes on, his form still wavers possession to possession, hes too eager to pull the trigger with a hand in his face early in the shot clock, and hes not nearly as effective when forced to take a contested jump shot a step inside the arc. His improved spot up ability has a lot to do with his comfort level shooting in rhythm with his feet set, but ultimately, his perimeter game is still a work in progress for the 22-year old.
Closer to the rim, not a lot has changed for Brackins from last season. He continues to get upwards of 40% of his touches in post-up situations according to the data we have at our disposal. Brackinss go-to-move in the post remains a quick jumper, which allows him to exploit his touch and length, but often forces him to settle for tough shots over defenders. He still tends to establish position closer to the midrange than the block, and doesnt make assertive moves to the rim unless he already has his man sealed to one side on the catch. Brackins often looks most comfortable letting his man push him out to the perimeter and then going one-on-one, though opposing defenses are doing a better job forcing him to give the ball up in such situations. There are plenty of question marks about how this part of his game will translate against NBA caliber athletes considering his average physical tools (frame, strength, explosiveness) and toughness.
Defensively, Brackins still looks shaky defending the perimeter, and his frame doesnt project well when trying to determine how hell fare against NBA caliber post scorers. Even more concerning is the fact that his rebounding numbers have come back down to earth this season, something that was a major concern going into his sophomore season as you can read from his earlier scouting reports on this site. Brackins isnt the strongest, most explosive or active player, which limits his impact on the glass when surrounded by better athletes.
With Marquis Gilstrap translating his dynamic rebounding ability to the NCAA level, Brackins has regressed as a rebounder; his production in this area has dropped by 25%. He continues to be a paltry offensive rebounder, ranking last amongst all collegiate draft prospect centers in that category and 8th worst out of the 117 power forwards in our database.
This isnt a new development for Brackins--he simply isnt able to compete for loose balls in traffic. He displays active hands and has his moments defending the rim, but needs to become a more fundamentally sound defender to overcome his lack of outstanding lateral quickness, explosiveness and bulk and show better intensity to answer the serious question marks scouts have about his motor.
When it comes down to it, Brackins simply hasnt had the season that his talents and play last season seem to warrant. As of now, it is clear that he would have been better served to declare in 2009. Hes still talented enough to warrant a pick in the first round, but unlike last season, he has significantly more to prove in the draft process, and much stronger competition at his position this time around. A year older than many of his classmates, Brackins seems destined to at least test the waters this summer to see if there are any teams still enamored with his potential. His play in the Big 12 will dictate just how much work hell have to do to solidify his NBA draft stock.