The “In Lieu of Jrue” NBA Prospect Watch, The Ocho

Stephen Dunn

We go over everything from Aaron Gordon's defense, to Willie Cauley-Stein's hair, to Erick Atkins becoming the new Chris Thomas.

Hello, all. First off, my sincerest apologies for not writing a prospect watch last week. The first order of business is some housekeeping from a couple of weeks ago, when the LB community ranked their top prospects.

I averaged out everybody's selections (well, at least those who submitted close to 14 players), and behold, The Liberty Ballers Community Midseason Draft Board of Meaninglessness!

1. Andrew Wiggins (1.7)

T2. Jabari Parker (2.5)

T2. Joel Embiid (2.5)

4. Julius Randle (4.5)

5. Dante Exum (5.6)

6. Marcus Smart (5.8)

7. Aaron Gordon (7.2)

8. Noah Vonleh (8.5)

9. Willie Cauley-Stein (12)

10. Rodney Hood (12.02)

11. Dario Saric (12.10)

12. Zach LaVine (12.17)

13. Gary Harris (12.20)

14. James Young (12.4)

If a player wasn't listed in a particular poster's fake lottery, he received a score of 15. That's why everyone towards the back of the lottery is fairly bunched together. The first three guys who didn't make the cut are Montrezl Harrell, Doug McDermott, and Jerami Grant. Here are a few impressions of our finished product:

  • If this list were separated into tiers, it would be pretty cut and dried. Wiggins, Parker, and Embiid are at the top. Randle, Exum, Smart, Gordon, and Vonleh make up the middle, in that defined order (with the exception of Exum and Smart). After that, the next six guys are tightly packed together.
  • The largest range of values seemed to be with Randle, Cauley-Stein, and Vonleh. Should we start calling those three "hot-button prospects?" Probably not, because it's pretty lame. In my opinion, although he generally was rated highly, Wiggins is ultimately going the prospect that starts the most contentious arguments.

Game of the Week: Arizona 79, UCLA 75

Really fun game at Pauley last night. Here are a few observations:

  • Aaron Gordon (DX #7): Really struggles to make perimeter shots and free throws, but it's apparent that he never had to in high school. Shooting is a skill that could improve in time, especially now that it'll be a focus. Possesses absolutely breathtaking athleticism, and showed it off on two ridiculous alley-oops. Passed the ball very impressively in the interior of UCLA's zone, despite not having strong numbers as a playmaker. Terrific defensive prospect; stoned Kyle Anderson on the game's most important possession.
  • Zach LaVine (ESPN #11): Ultra-smooth offensive player. Reminds me a lot of Jamal Crawford as a scorer, from the deadly hesitation dribble to the high-arcing jumper, to the unlimited range. Much better athlete than Crawford, an explosive leaper that has to play off the ball mostly with Anderson running the show. UCLA didn't play a ton of man-to-man, but when they did late in the game, he seemed to do a nice job chasing shooters around screens.
  • Kyle Anderson (ESPN #37): Unique prospect, an insanely skilled point forward type that lacks explosiveness. Unblockable jumper with a super-high release. Got to the basket at will towards the end with a nice array of change of pace and direction moves. Seemed to make a few really nice anticipation defensive plays, whether it was steals or blocks. Two major problems: First, needs the offense to run through him, but is he good enough to warrant that type of responsibility as the athletes will only get better? Second, who does he defend? Looked bad on one possession matched up against (Chester's) Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but was decent on a few others.
  • Jordan Adams (ESPN #29): Not his best game. Didn't shoot the ball well from deep, but has a nice, quick release. Created some decent shots for himself off the dribble against a very athletic team. Has an extremely high steal percentage, but didn't stand out on defense as UCLA mostly played zone. Conditioning looks to be a bit of a concern at this stage.

Prospect of the Week: Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado

Let's stay in the Pac-12 and turn our attention to Dinwiddie, which is admittedly a pretty funny name. The 6-6 junior guard is smack dab in the middle of an absolutely kick-ass offensive season. Take a look at the jump in his numbers from last year, per the great KenPom:

2013: 114.7 ORtg, 49.0 eFG%, 59.1 TS%, 20.2 ARate, 17.1 TORate.

2014: 131.4 ORtg. 56.7 eFG%, 67.1 TS%, 24.7 ARate, 15.8 TORate.

He'll start to face tougher competition in conference play, but those are nice improvements. From what (little) I've seen of Dinwiddie this year, I suspect that he's benefitted from the stricter hand-check rules in college. A combo guard, he's an average athlete from a quickness standpoint and a bit below that as a leaper. Dinwiddie will probably never be a great finisher at the rim in the NBA, and he's reportedly struggled with length at the college level.

At some point in the draft (in the middle of the first round, if he keeps this up), it's going to be tough to pass on Dinwiddie's current skill-set. Even if there are valid questions whether he can play point guard full-time, he can definitely shoot the ball from deep (41% on almost 4 attempts per game). Also, most reports indicate that he'll be able to adequately defend in the pros, on both a team and individual level. If Dinwiddie declares for the draft, he certainly has a lot going for him as a prospect, including a killer mustache a la Bill Kennedy.

The Other Half

When evaluating prospects, it's important to remember that defense is literally half of the game. Sure, rim protectors like Willie Cauley-Stein and Joel Embiid can ultimately have more of a defensive impact than wings like Andrew Wiggins or point guards like Marcus Smart. Still, defense matters at every position.

Rafael Uehara wrote a nice post detailing Wiggins' defensive potential. The key there is potential, as Wiggins has definitely struggled with his intensity on that end of the floor recently at Kansas. This partly may be explained by the recent uptick in his playing time. There's no question that Wiggins has the tools to be a disruptive and versatile wing defender. His ability to contest shots from far away reminds me of a more athletic version of Shane Battier. Not the guy who currently guards power forwards for the Heat, the one who used to routinely force Kobe to take 32 shots for his 35 points in the playoffs.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that Aaron Gordon's offensive efficiency numbers at Arizona weren't very good. While those have slightly improved, ESPN's Ryan Feldman wrote a post that details Gordon's strong defensive metrics. Check out the whole thing, but here is the best part, where his defense is compared favorably to that of a freshman Blake Griffin:

Gordon is holding opponents to 34 percent shooting as an on-ball defender. Griffin's opponents shot 42 percent as a freshman. Gordon is much better than Griffin was defending the post. Gordon is holding opponents to 40 percent shooting on post-up plays compared to 55 percent for Griffin.

Forget the comparison to Blake, who isn't a great defender. Those numbers are impressive for anyone. According to Feldman, Gordon leads all freshmen nationally in defensive win shares. Wiggins, Parker, or Randle aren't in the top 10.

Gushers: Wayne Selden

When it comes to anything basketball except the Sixers, Mike is easily the most positive person on the LB staff. I figured that once in awhile, he should say good things about a prospect in this space. Today's installment is all about Kansas' Wayne Selden.

Excellent body control. Immaculate physique. Tremendous vision. Wayne Selden is basically a microcosm of the homoerotic lens through which I analyze NBA prospects. He's the third freshman in the KU hierarchy, behind Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, but he's numbers one through ten in my heart. Dude is exactly what you want in an NBA 2-guard -- something seriously, seriously lacking in the league today. Kid can shoot (5-10 from deep last game, 41% on the season), pass (started off his college career with a 13-3 assist-to-turnover ratio), and defend (MY EYES).

And best of all, he hasn't put it together yet! Why's that good? Because scouts thought he could go as high as Top 5 coming into the season and the Sixers really like him. A mixed bag of a freshman year has him firmly in the area of where the Pelicans pick will land. KU is struggling periodically on both sides of the ball, and Selden has been far from excellent, but I've seen enough from him to fall over myself at the idea of pairing him with Michael Carter-Williams, who, along with Nerlens Noel, he played AAU ball with back in the day.

Is everything I said a stretch? Definitely. But that's what prospect gushing is all about: adjusting the narrative to fit what I want it to. And I want Wayne Selden on the Sixers because he is a perfect human. WAYNE.

Random Tangent: What's up with Julius Randle's poor advanced numbers?

In Chad Ford's chat this week, he mentioned that Julius Randle was sliding down draft boards. Here's how Ford replied to a question about Randle's poor steal rate:

I've had a number of teams point this out to me. Very strange and you're right, the advanced metrics guys are all a bit concerned about it. NBA teams still like Randle, a lot, but I haven't really heard a team (GM or scout) say they'd take him No. 1 in over a month.

SB Nation's Jonathan Tjarks wrote a really strong piece about Randle's extremely short wingspan, and how it will affect his NBA prospects. I personally think that the short wingspan and steal rate are related, and decision makers definitely should take them into strong consideration. Like Anderson above, who exactly does he guard at the next level?

Thing is, Randle is putting in work on the college level. He's definitely benefitting from his extreme physically maturity, an advantage that will largely go away in the pros. On the flip side, this Kentucky team (and the college game in general) provides Randle with much less space than he'll be able to operate with in the NBA.

The concerns are real, but as Tjarks notes, Randle can thrive on the right team. Specifically, he could thrive with the right frontline partner, one with the ability to block shots and spread the floor. As far as the Sixers are concerned, Nerlens Noel should provide one of those things in spades. The other one, not so much.

I'm not totally down on Randle (had him ranked 4th on my Big Board two weeks ago, would slide him back one spot now), but some of these things are definitely worth looking at with a closer eye as he heads into conference play.

Notre Dame Break

One segment that I originally promised was letting Dave talk about his favorite college team, Notre Dame. Here's what he gave me, after ACC play started with an Irish win over Duke (nice) and a loss to NC State (not as nice).

Are we talking NBA prospects or European prospects, because ND's best player, Jerian Grant, just got kicked out of school and I've already secured four people for my CBI tournament pool. ($15 entry if interested; I have PayPal).

My heart aches for their point guard, Eric Atkins, who is in his 7th year at Notre Dame, and hasn't been taken out since 2009. He has played 41 minutes per game in his last three contests, which I guess wouldn't be that big of a deal if college basketball games were longer than forty minutes.

Big man, Tom Knight, isn't an NBA prospect but he looks like Todd MacCulloch. And seeing him kinda makes me yearn for the days of yesteryear, when the Sixers' jerseys were black and the first big off the bench was a 7'0" Canadian named Todd.

Four Games to Watch This Week

9:00 Monday: Kansas at Iowa State. Wiggins played one of his worst games of the year in the win at Oklahoma on Wednesday. The Jayhawks need to fire on all cylinders when they visit Fred "The Mayor" Hoiberg and the undefeated Cyclones.

7:00 Tuesday: Indiana vs. Wisconsin. Bo Ryan's team hung 95 on Illinois the other night. That's amazing. They're a legit Final Four contender, with a potential first rounder of their own in Sam Dekker. Good luck, Noah Vonleh.

9:00 Tuesday: Kentucky at Arkansas. Either Kansas or Kentucky will get a roll here soon, and I think it's going to be the Wildcats.

8:00 Thursday: Colorado vs. UCLA. The Pac-12 has a lot of fun matchups, plus the hilarity that is Bill Walton announcing basketball. He forced Dave Pasch to utter the words "Alright, that's enough about Lithgow" during the Arizona-UCLA game.

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