After the Sixers announced the acquisition of their latest youngster, I decided to take another examination of former Iowa State big man and the 21st pick in the 2010 draft, Craig Brackins. Having been on the national radar as a potential lottery pick for the 2009 draft, Brackins isn't exactly an unknown commodity, but I wanted to take some time out to take a closer look at some of his best, and worst, games. In all, I watched about 5 games from each of his sophomore and junior years, as well as all of his summer league minutes, concentrating on games against NBA level big men prospects, including both his great game against Kansas his sophomore year and his clunker against them his junior year. It's worth noting that I've seen plenty of Brackins over the past 2 years, these 15 or so games aren't the basis of my opinion, they were just a quick refresher course.
I'll preface this by saying I wasn't the biggest fan of Brackins to begin with, as you could probably tell from our initial reactions the day the trade was announced. After watching hours of film concentrating on the newest Sixer, did my opinion change?
Not really. His weaknesses are very real, and at the forefront of any evaluation. It's hard to look at Craig Brackins the prospect and not wonder whether his defensive shortcomings render his legitimate offensive skill a moot point. Weight is a hot topic with Brackins, and while he did bulk up over time at Iowa State, he still measured in at a very frail 229 lbs at the combine back in May. Looking beyond just that number, his lower body strength comes into question, something you can tell by watching him try to hold defensive position and position on the glass. He doesn't do a good job at either, and will take considerable strengthening to get to the point where he's physically capable of being even an average post defender. Considering he'll be 23 years old at the start of the season, counting on him to develop much more physically is a big assumption.
Compounding the issue is that Brackins isn't an elite athlete by NBA standards, struggling both in moving his feet on the perimeter and in not getting off his feet tremendously quick. This makes it hard to project Brackins as a shotblocker -- he certainly wasn't one at Iowa State -- and he's had trouble defending the pick and roll throughout his collegiate career. Even if Brackins develops a solid understanding of the game defensively and puts in the effort required to be a good defender, he has physical limitations which may make him a liability throughout his career.
Next on the list of "things to be concerned about" is his rebounding. Brackins was terrible on the glass his freshman year but rebounded (pun intended) to have an above average season his sophomore year, only to come crashing back down to earth his junior season. Brackins has never been a threat on the offensive glass, and part of his return to mediocrity can be attributed to the addition of junior college transfer Marquis Gilstrap to the Iowa State frontcourt. Still, Brackins lacks the lower body strength to hold position at this level and doesn't show great natural instincts, and I would expect him to struggle to be a league average rebounder in the NBA.
That brings us to the one part of his game that has shown the most potential, his offensive game. Brackins' post game is a bit of a misnomer. The strength deficiencies are on display when trying to establish position deep in the post here as well, and his post game tends to start in the high post area. His primary move tends to be a quick spin and a face-up jumper, with mixed results. When making a strong move to the basket, his left hand leaves a lot to be desired. When going over his right shoulder, this yields an end result of a lot of fadaway, contested jumpers, and leaves him predictable at times. When you force him to his left and take away his turn over his left shoulder, he's often times forced into low percentage shots. While his footwork is good, his touch is average at best and his left hand a liability. A left handed hook shot and a more developed up and under move are crucial if he hopes to have any success in the NBA at the mid-post and in.
His ballhandling has developed, and looked to be a potential strength of his game during draft workouts. That being said, his dribble drive game is primarily straight ahead, with a fairly solid first step. He has a good -- albeit slightly overused -- pull-up game which can help keep defenders honest in defending his drives but, like most parts of his game, tends to rely on the pull-up game too much and forces too many contested jump shots. He's only an average NBA athlete vertically, with average touch. That being said, he's a fairly fluid big man, and improving his ballhandling will be key in his efforts to get more high quality opportunities at the rim and get to the line at a respectable amount at the next level.
His jump shot is his bread and butter, and the part of his game that could potentially differentiate himself as a prospect. His form is solid, getting good, reproducible elevation on his jump shot with a quick release. Looking just at the stats, this wouldn't be incredibly obvious. Brackins was woefully inefficient last year, shooting 42% from the field, 31% from three, on his way to a true shooting percentage of just 50%, a downgrade from his sophomore year despite a decrease in usage. Watching Brackins at length, his shot selection became incredibly frustrating, a bad combination of quick midrange jump shots, contested pull-up jumpers, and tough fadaways. The disconcerting part is this was a problem that got worse the less he was asked to carry the Iowa State offense, as the addition of the previously mentioned Gilstrap provided Brackins with a legitimate offensive teammate he didn't have his sophomore year. The two never seemed comfortable playing off of each other, and Brackins already questionable shot selection seemed to get more rushed.
This poor shot selection can be perfectly displayed in analyzing his catch and shoot opportunities. In his sophomore year, 44% of Brackins catch and shoot opportunities were guarded, but in his junior year -- after the addition of Gilstrap -- that figure rose to 60% of his catch and shoot attempts being guarded. His junior year saw him shoot only 25.5% on guarded catch and shoot jump shots, compared to an efficiency of 44.1% on unguarded catch and shoot opportunities. Similarly, he increased his frequency with shooting off the dribble, with dismal results (24.1% from the field on jump shots off the dribble). Taking a look at his drop in getting to the free throw line (he averaged one free throw every 2.58 field goal attempts his sophomore year, compared to only one every 2.97 field goal attempts his junior season), the vast majority of this discrepancy can be explained through his change in shot distribution, as his ability to draw fouls on post-ups and cuts remained virtually the same between seasons.
Questions for the future ?
There are some interesting things about projecting Craig Brackins on the Sixers.
Brackins got very little of his offensive opportunities in transition, as Iowa State has traditionally been a slow paced team, and the last two years have been no exception. Brackins isn't a tremendous athlete, but he's not a plodder up and down the court. It is possible Holiday and Iguodala get him some easy looks and improve upon his inefficiency by increasing his fast break opportunities.
Another element of his game that wasn't utilized all that much was the pick and roll game, likely due to the overall poor guard play. While the Cyclones had some decent shooters to spread the floor, the perimeter players were not very adept at creating scoring opportunities.
Perhaps the biggest question mark left for Brackins is his ability to adapt to not being the focal point of the team offensively. His efficiency in unguarded catch and shoot situations does give some hope that if he improves his shot selection he could be useful, and the fact that he never had great guards to create for him makes one hopeful he can limit his reliance on low percentage, contested jump shots. That being said, his drop in efficiency his junior year -- despite his decreased necessity to carry the Iowa State offense, causes some legitimate red flags about his shot selection, concerns that were reinforced while watching him in Vegas during the summer league, as he largely roamed on the perimeter happy to launch quick jump shots. His periphery game is too weak to be an inefficient scoring spark off the bench.
For Brackins to develop into more than a fringe rotational player, he must:
- Diversity his post game. Add a hard spin move, a left hand, and an up and under move to limit his predictability when he does establish position and/or get a mismatch in the post.
- Move better off the ball and at cutting to the basket, something that having a good penetrating guards can help with.
- Prove to be an efficient pick and roll/pick and pop player, something he wasn't asked to do much of in college but showed positive signs of, and something he should be successful at with his catch and shoot ability and above average ballhandling for his position.
- Work on developing lower body strength.
- Improve his ballhandling and ability to finish after contact with his left hand to limit his reliance on pull-up jumpers off drives.
- Most importantly, improve shot selection. Expanding his offensive repertoire as described above will help, but shot selection is and was a major issue, one that didn't appear to be rectified in the summer league. Cut down on the contested jump shots, the jump shots off the dribble, and the fadaways out of the post, particularly from the right block. If more of his attempts come from pick and rolls, open catch and shoot jumpers, and drives into the paint, he can allow his jump shooting ability to open up the rest of his game without trying to do too much.