Friday, June 27, 2014

D-League NBA Draft Roundup: Hairston Makes History at No. 26, Antetokounmpo Selected No. 51

Hairston (left) went No. 26 to Charlotte and Antetokounmpo went No. 51 to New York in last night's NBA Draft

As expected, two out of the six D-League eligible players were selected in the NBA Draft. PJ Hairston made history as the first D-League player to be selected in the first round at No. 26, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo was selected No. 51 by the New York Knicks. Without a doubt, this is a tell-tale sign that the D-League is becoming more viable as the "official" minor league to the NBA, and it will be interesting to see how many high school and college-aged players take the path of going from the D-League to the NBA in the coming years.

For now though, let's take a look at the outlook of Hairston and Antetokounmpo for their respective organizations.

Hairston's Outlook with the Charlotte Hornets

Current Charlotte Hornets Depth Chart:

  • Point Guard: Kemba Walker (starter), Luke Ridnour, Jannero Pargo
  • Shooting Guard: Gerald Henderson (starter), Gary Neal, Chris Douglas-Roberts
  • Small forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (starter), Anthony Tolliver, Jeff Taylor
  • Power forward: Josh McRoberts (starter), Cody Zeller, DJ White
  • Center: Al Jefferson (starter), Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood

MLH Take:

After making the playoffs last season, there will be a lot of excitement in Charlotte with the new team name change and their more positive outlook for the upcoming season in comparison to seasons past. While lottery selection Noah Vonleh will have a tough time finding minutes in a rotation with established post players such as McRoberts and Jefferson, and former first round picks Zeller and Biyombo, Hairston's situation is a little bit more optimistic. This is a Hornets team that will need shooting, as Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist are not prone to shoot much from beyond the arc (2.5 percent 3 point attempt rate for Kidd-Gilchrist and 12.4 percent rate for Henderson). Furthermore, in terms of PER, the Hornets (formerly Bobcats) struggled to get much efficiency from their perimeter players on the offensive end as Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist and Neal, their three primary wing players, posted PER numbers of 13.1, 12.0 and 14.1, which is below average on the PER scale (15 is considered average). Hairston will provide instant offense off the bench immediately. Hairston's proved to handle himself well at the D-League level, posting a PER of 19.6 and an eFG% of 54%. Also, he is a solid threat from outside the arc, as he shot 35 percent from beyond the arc, and nearly half of his field goal attempts were 3-point attempts.

In terms of fit, Hairston finds himself in a good situation. The Hornets were looking for a polished player who could help them out immediately, especially on the perimeter. It was widely rumored that the Hornets were going to select a player like Stauskas or McDermott considering their outside shooting ability and polish as college players. Instead, it looks like the Hornets reached for potential with their lottery pick (Vonleh) and instead found their polished player late in the first round with Hairston. Expect Hairston to compete immediately in Charlotte and find himself as a sixth/seventh man in the rotation, with potential for more playing time depending on how he progresses over the course of the season.

Antetokounmpo's Outlook with the New York Knicks

Current New York Knicks Depth Chart:
  • Point guard: Jose Calderon, Pablo Prigioni, Toure Murray
  • Shooting guard: Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Shannon Brown
  • Small forward: Tim Hardaway Jr., Andrea Bargnani
  • Power Forward: Amare Stoudamire, Earl Clark, Kenyon Martin
  • Center: Samuel Dalembert, Jeremy Tyler, Cole Aldrich

MLH Take:

It is difficult to see where Antetokounmpo will fit considering all the roster fluctuation going on. With the Knicks trading Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for Calderon and Dalembert, and with Carmelo Anthony a free agent, it is hard to determine if the Knicks are going to try to be competitive in 2014-2015 or if they are going to simply tank and play to get a Top-3 pick in next year's lottery. What decision they make could have an affect on the future on the older Antetokounmpo. If they try to be competitive, he most likely will be in Westchester (the Knicks' new D-League affiliate) continuing to develop. If they are punting next season, then it is possible that Antetokounmpo will get a chance to get some playing time at the NBA level.

While the situation isn't prime for immediate playing time like Hairston, Antetokounmpo will benefit from being in an organization that is now being led by Phil Jackson. The Greek forward impressed people last year with his work ethic and improvement over the course of the D-League season with Delaware, and some think the Knicks may be getting a steal at No. 51. Jackson has always been a keen eye not only for talent, but for getting the most out his talent, and it'll be interesting to see if Antetokounmpo will be another success story in Jackson's history book. My bet is Antetokounmpo will be spending another year in the D-League next season, but don't be surprised if he finds a place on the Knicks roster at some point next season, especially if they do not sign Carmelo and begin the rebuilding process in 2014-2015.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

FIBA Americas U18 2014 Championship Scouting Report: Uruguay, 8th Place

One of the youngest squads in the tournament, Grolla De Leon (no. 6) and Uruguay showed some growing pains and need for improvement at the FIBA Americas 18U Championship in Colorado Springs.

With the FIBA Americas U18 Championship now finished (the US beat Canada 113-79 on Tuesday, June 24th), Minor League Hoops is going to break down each team that participated in the Tournament. Today, we're going to look at Uruguay, who finished 8th in Colorado Springs.

Uruguay at a Glance

FIBA Americas U18 Championship Results

Group Play (1-2)
  • Def. by USA 156-58 (L)
  • Def. by Argentina 66-57 (L)
  • Def. Mexico 89-70 (W)

Reclassification Round (0-1)
  • Def. by Brazil 97-55 (L)

7th Place Game (0-1)
  • Def. by Mexico 79-65 (L)

Final Record: 1-4. Final Game and Player stats here.

Uruguay Player Standouts
  • Octavio Medina Reyes, No. 7, SF, 6'4, 18 years old: 13.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2 spg, 39 FG%
  • Martin Counago Rivetria, No. 4, PG, 6'0, 17 years old: 10.8 ppg, 93.3 FT%, 37 FG%
  • Facundo Nahuel Grolla De Leon, No. 6, C, 6'3, 16 year old: 7.6 ppg, 7 rpg
  • Martin Nicolas Rojas Basilico, No.10, 6'1, PF, 15 years old: 5.0 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.8 orpg

Uruguay Roster Scouting Report

Uruguay's U-18 team was one of the smallest (6'2 average height) and youngest teams in the FIBA Americas Tournament field. With three 15-year-old players and only two 18-year-olds to lead the roster, Uruguay coach Luis Eduard Pierri  witnessed his team undergo some growing pains over the five-game span in Colorado Springs. While the young Uruguay squad showed some flashes of promise (mostly in their third game against Mexico), they often found themselves outmatched on a consistent basis throughout the tournament.

In addition to lacking height, Uruguay's roster didn't sport much athleticism in the tournament. The young team relied mostly on their north-south speed to score points and match up on defense (they looked better when they pushed the ball in transition and cutting to the hoop without the ball in the halfcourt; on defense, they often got back and set into defensive position relatively quickly). However, it was obvious that Uruguay's roster didn't sport the length or lateral quickness of other countries featured in the tournament. Medina Reyes, an 18-year-old small forward who was Uruguay's leading scorer, was the most impressive player on Uruguay athletically, offering a multiple skill set as a player, and running the court well considering he was Uruguay's tallest player. Grolla De Leon added some strength in the post both on offense and defense for Uruguay, as he often had to match up against players who often had over six inches on him in terms of height. At the same time though, Grolla De Leon, while he offered strength and heart in often unfavorable matchups against the competition, didn't show much athleticism or quickness for his position, though at 16 years old, he certainly has time to perhaps grow and develop.

Augustin Espinosa de Costa, a 15-year-old, 6'3 shooting guard played limited minutes (only 53 minutes total) but was an active, high-motor player who looked to have the most upside as a player. He displayed some raw skills both on the offensive and defensive end and often provided a boost to a Uruguay team that was often outmatched athletically by their competition. Look for him to be utilized more in the future and emerge as a leader for this Uruguay squad in the next couple of years, especially with Medina Reyes advancing up a level next year.

Uruguay Offense Report

Uruguay, because of their size tried to spread out teams in a 4-out set in the halfcourt with the post rotating toward ball side in a triangular motion (typical of 4-out motion offenses). One of the key aspects about Uruguay was that their coaching staff seemed to want them to get the ball to their playmakers, and let those playmakers create individually off the dribble. With players like Medina Reyes, it seemed to be beneficial. Medina Reyes with his height and size had the ability to be an inside-outside threat for Uruguay, and it was obvious that they wanted to get him the ball on a consistent basis to be their primary scoring option.

However, the one issue with Uruguay's offense is that though Pierri gave his team a lot of freedom on offense, they didn't seem as a team able to do much in the free-flowing offense skill-wise, especially against defenses that were much bigger and more athletic than them. Being free-flowing and allowing your players to go in isolation against a team that is as athletic as you or worse is one thing, but Uruguay was consistently outmatched athletically in almost every game (the only one they were more even with athletically was Mexico, and they hung with them, winning one game against them and playing it close the second game). Furthermore, some players just weren't skilled enough to be able to play in isolation (they didn't have the ball handling, mid-range shooting or driving ability to do so). And this inability to play 1-on-1 basketball ended up resulting in a lot of turnovers or poor shots. Let's take a look at a sample possession by Uruguay displaying their offensive strategy.

Here's an example of a possession in their base four-out set. Uruguay didn't run many away screens, but did run many ball screens in their offense, which resulted in the post and perimeter players flipping on many occasions. In this case, Grolla De Leon, a center and usually in the post, set a ball screen in the wing and popped to the corner where he received the ball (his current position in the snapshot above). Pierri allows his players to go 1-on-1 in isolation and have the freedom to make a play to the basket where the player sees fit. It's a kind of style of basketball that works well with athletic or very skilled players, and is something more common at the upper levels of basketball (mostly the NBA). Unfortunately, Pierri's squad doesn't quite have that skill set yet, Grolla De Leon in particular. A limited outside shooter, Grolla De Leon frequently tries to get to the rim, but often ends up driving to a place where he's in bad position for a shot or a pass. Take a look at how his drive ends up when he picks up his dribble.

Grolla De Leon picks up his dribble in a difficult place on the right block. He has a difficult shot to take, and because he is left handed, he is not in a good place vision-wise to make a pass. With the longer Brazilian defender draping him, Grolla De Leon has to make a tough shot, and he doesn't quite have the height nor the athleticism to take the jump shot over the defender. The play results as such:

Grolla De Leon pivots to the baseline and is forced to take a very difficult up and under attempt near the baseline, heavily contested. That is a difficult shot to consistently make for a NBA player, let alone one 16 years old. It is understandable to see what Pierri wants to do with his team on the offensive end. Because of their lack of height, he wants his players to use their speed to take advantage of matchups where they have the advantage in quickness. But installing this kind of offense also requires better decision making, and a good sense of what one's abilities are as a player. At times, it seemed like Uruguay didn't accomplish those two things well. Certain players in 1 on 1 matchups challenged defenders who obviously had size and athletic advantages over them, and the result was often not pretty (turnover or badly missed shot). Then again, this was a pretty young Uruguay team, so maybe they just need more experience and skill development before they become more adjusted and fluid in this style of play. Regardless, it seemed like Uruguay would have been better served by more ball movement and less Dribble Drive-Isolation action from their young, undersized team (as evidenced by their assist-turnover ratio which was 47-107, a classic sign that they would have benefited by promoting more action to develop off the ball to get better, more high-percentage shots).

Uruguay Defense Report

Uruguay tended to play very conservatively on the defensive end, primarily sticking in half court man-to-man sets most of the time throughout the tournament. Without elite athleticism or length, it made sense that Uruguay simply tried to get back and prevent teams from going into the fast break. This strategy was also evidenced by their low offensive rebounding total which was 50 for the tournament; teams that don't crash the boards that much usually are sacrificing second chance points in favor of getting back on defense to prevent fast break points. Uruguay did not take much chances on the defensive end, further demonstrated by their low steal totals (38) for the tournament.

That being said, their conservative approach didn't necessarily help on the defensive end. They struggled playing off of ball screens as they were torched often from beyond the arc. Teams shot 38% from 3-point land on Uruguay in the tournament, and 47% on total field goals in general. While their inability to contest shots was due at times to athleticism and height, they also showed mediocre fundamentals and communication on the defensive end, especially when it came to defense off the screen. Here's a sample possession where their lack of communication and focus on defense leads to any easy Brazilian 3-pointer.

As you can see, the post player for Brazil is setting the ball screen for the guard. The defender following the post player is very far behind, which makes it tough to properly defend action off the screen. Secondly, much like the defender guarding the ball, he is very upright. Should they be in a switch game plan on defense, if the post man cuts quickly off the screen, the help defender's upright position will not allow him to recover on defense. His momentum is going all forward because he is standing so upright. If he was in better defensive position, and in close proximity to the screener, he would be in better position to defend the screen play, no matter what action the Brazilian pair throws at him and the ball defender.

As the Brazilian post made the screen, its clear that Uruguay was in a "switch" game plan in terms of their man-to-man defense. Of course, switching was probably the only thing they could do. The ball defender wasn't in athletic enough position to go over the screen (much like the help defender he is way too high in terms of defensive position) and he predictably is screened properly by the Brazilian post. But the Uruguay defender switching is also paying for not being in better position and closer to his original defender. If the Uruguay help defender hedged harder on the screen, he would have been closer to the ball handler at the top and been able to properly contest him and force him to take a difficult shot with 5 seconds left on the shot clock. But look at the space between him and the ball handler. The ball handler knows he has to take a shot with so few seconds left on the shot clock, but instead of taking a tough, contested shot, he has a relatively easy look from the top of the arc.

And with the clean look, the Brazilian shooter is able to get a clean three points. Uruguay's strategy was sound on the defensive end. They don't have the athletes to play a full court or trapping kind of game on the defensive end. But they have to get better with their defensive fundamentals and communication, especially in the half court if they want to progress and do more damage in FIBA Americas competition. Teams had far too easy a time scoring on the young Uruguayan squad at times, as evidenced by the competition outscoring Uruguay 93.8 to 64.4 in the tournament.

Final analysis on Uruguay

While it was a tough tournament for Uruguay, they did come out with a win in the tournament, and they have made progress as a program as of late. Their boys squad had one of the biggest rises out of any youth squad in the world, jumping up 7 spots since their last ranking. So, the program is on the rise, and as stated before, they were one of the youngest squads in the FIBA Americas field. That being said, their skills need work on both ends of the court if they want to make the jump past other countries in the FIBA Americas region. Their philosophy on offense requires them to be skilled and adept with the ball, and they turned the ball over way too much. On defense, they were inconsistent in their defensive positioning, fundamentals and communication, and it led to way too many easy points for their opponents. But, this is a country with hope, and with many of their younger players gaining valuable experience, it'll be interesting to see how this U-19 squad looks at next year's U-19 tournament.

D-League Draft Prospect Preview: A Roundup of All the Draft-Eligible D-League Prospects

Here it is. The NBA Draft. After waiting anxiously since the end of the NBA season, NBA fans are looking forward to see who is going to be the next NBA star like LeBron, Durant and Carmelo and who is going to be the next NBA bust like Darko, Oden or Thabeet. It's an exciting time where the draft can help boost a team's chances of a championship, or help get a GM fired.

This NBA Draft, there are an unprecedented six eligible players who participated in the D-League this past season. It will be interesting to see after this draft if going to the D-League prior to entering the draft will start to be a trend for college and high school players not just around the country, but around the world as well. This very draft could be exhibit A in the D-League's growth and continued growth since its inception in 2001.

So, let's take some quick looks at the prospects eligible for this upcoming NBA Draft.

PJ Hairston, 6'5, 229 pounds, North Carolina, 21 years old

D-League Profile: 21.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 45.3 FG%, 35.8 FG%, 10.0% PIE (Player Impact Estimate) (Texas Legends)

Scouting Report (via DraftExpress)

Best Case Scenario: Lottery pick. Worst Case Scenario: Second round pick.

MLH Quick Take:

Hairston is the most polished and heralded prospect coming out of the D-League in this year's draft. After a sophomore campaign where he averaged 14.7 ppg for UNC, Hairston was ruled ineligible for the 2013-14 season due to multiple transgressions which ranged from marijuana use to having possession of a car that was rented out to a convicted felon. Despite his checkered history at UNC, Hairston is a talented wing player that uses his strength well on the drive and can shoot well from anywhere on the floor. Hairston still has to prove that he can improve on defense, but without a doubt, Hairston is a lottery-caliber prospect who could surprise a lot of people in tonight's NBA draft.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo, 6'6, 205 pounds, Greece, 21 years old

D-League Profile: 12 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 46.9 FG%, 7.9% PIE (Delaware 87ers)

Scouting Report (via DraftExpress)

Best Case Scenario: Late first-round pick. Worst case scenario: Late second-round pick.

MLH Quick Take:

The older brother of Milwaukee's Giannis, Thanasis is an athletic wing player that works hard on both end of the court and should be a late first round, second round pick in this upcoming NBA draft. While he doesn't have the height or athleticism of Giannis, Thanasis impressed some people with his motor and improvement over the course of the D-League season with the Delaware 87ers. Any team that picks up Thanasis knows that they will be getting a project of sorts, as many of his offensive skills need a lot of work. It would not be surprising to see Thanasis back in the D-League next season even if he is drafted. But, while his upside isn't as great as his older brother in Milwaukee, his work ethic and defensive ability is already NBA-ready, and he could end up developing into a Luc Richard Mbah Moute type of player down the road.

Cleveland Melvin, 6'8, 215 pounds, DePaul, 23 years old

D-League Profile: 11.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg, 54.4 FG% 9.6% PIE (Erie Bayhawks)

Scouting Report (via MLH)

Best Case Scenario: Second round pick. Worst case scenario: Undrafted.

MLH Quick Take:

A 6'8 wing player with inside-outside scoring ability, Melvin is an interesting player that will be eligible for the NBA Draft. Though he was suspended in January from the DePaul team, he had a pretty good career with the Blue Demons as he was one of the school's all-time leading scorers. In the D-League, Melvin showed a lot of maturity and polish as a player, excelling off pick and rolls and cutting to the basket for easy assisted buckets. Melvin showed a lot of improvement in his outside shot from his freshman year, going from an undersized center who primarily stayed around the hoop his freshman year to one that could hit the mid-range with regularity and occasional three by the end of his D-League campaign. Melvin still has to work on his physicality, rebounding and defense, but there are a lot bigger risks in this draft than Melvin, and it'll be interesting to see if a NBA squad will use one of their selections on him.

Norvel Pelle, 6'10, 207 pounds, Price High School, 21 years old

D-League Profile: 5.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 51.3 FG%, 5.5 % PIE (Delaware 87ers)

Scouting Report (via MLH)

Best Case Scenario: Early Second round pick. Worst Case Scenario: Undrafted

MLH Quick Take:

The long but troubled post prospect will be enticing to many NBA squads. With a 7'2.5 wingspan, and good shot blocking ability, it is easy to see a team take a second-round flier on the D-League prospect. He can wow people with his defense in the post, and he runs the floor well and is able to make the come from behind block with ease. At the same time, most of Pelle's game is a work in progress. His offensive game and footwork still need major work, and his court awareness still needs development as well. Whether he is drafted or not, Pelle would be better served with another year in the D-League to become a more polished player, especially since he had a long layoff between high school and his stint in Delaware. But, I like Pelle and the tools he brings to the table. Don't be surprised to see his name called tonight in the second round.

Elijah Pittman, 6'9, 219 pounds, Marshall, 22 years old

D-League Profile: 10 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 48.4 FG%, 5.8 PIE (Delaware 87ers)

Scouting Report (via MLH)

Best Case Scenario: Late second round pick. Worst Case Scenario: Undrafted

MLH Quick Take:

An athletic forward who has the ability to play on the wing or in the post, Pittman's game really isn't the issue. At Marshall, he was on his way to having a career year 8 games into the season, as he was averaging 20.5 ppg and 4.4 rpg for the Thundering Herd. However, off-the-court issues eventually led to his ouster from Marshall and the college level, and he ended up playing for Delaware during the stretch run. Pittman brings a big frame and a strong ability to score with the ball in his hands. He had improved his 3-point percentage to 38.2 percent his senior season at Marshall, so it is obvious that he can be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders. Defensively he is prone to lapses, and he doesn't rebound as well as you would expect for someone his size, but he definitely held his own in the short, late-season stint with players who had been playing for an entire season. Pittman's profile is very similar to Melvin's, but he isn't quite as polished or heralded as Melvin entering this draft, so that's a strike against him. That being said, Pittman is on the cusp of being a great player. It's just more likely we'll see that jump and development in the D-League next season rather than the NBA.

Aquille Carr, 5'6, 148 pounds, Princeton Day Academy, 20 years old

D-League profile: 10.7 ppg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 39.8 FG%, 7.6 % PIE (Delaware 87ers)

Scouting Report (via MLH)

Best Case Scenario: Late second round pick. Worst Case Scenario: Undrafted.

MLH Quick Take:

A legend in Baltimore high school, AAU and streetball circles, Carr is one of the most fascinating players eligible from the D-League. At 5'6, he is diminutive in stature, but he has excellent athleticism and quickness for a player his size. Furthermore, he shows a strong ability to score against bigger defenders, using his quickness to drive past defenders to the bucket or pull up for easy jumpers. Carr showed some improvement in the D-League with his jump shot from his time in high school and AAU, and he also showed some promise with his pick-pocket ability on defense when it came to steals. That being said, the main issues with Carr stem with size and maturity. History doesn't bode well for guys his height (Nate Robinson is the only notable case as of late) and his off the court issues have hurt him since his high school days (from not qualifying academically at Seton Hall to being released by the 87ers for not showing "professional commitment"). Carr has tremendous potential, and he certainly is enjoyable to watch. But his career outlook at this point seems more destined for the AND1 MixTape Tour rather than the NBA, unless he is able to shore up the maturity and off-the-court issues that have haunted him throughout his short career.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

D-League NBA Draft Prospect: Cleveland Melvin, F, Erie Bayhawks

Cleveland Melvin (left w/ball) is hoping his growth as a player at DePaul and in the D-League will help him get drafted in Thursday's upcoming NBA Draft

In a change of pace, MLH is going to take a look at a D-League prospect that is not a Delaware 87er. Former DePaul standout and Erie Bayhawk Cleveland Melvin will be eligible for the Draft on Thursday and it should be interesting to see if he'll get selected. Let's take a look at Melvin's profile.

Who is Cleveland Melvin?

A 3-star prospect out the Baltimore area according to Yahoo, the 6'8, 208 pound Melvin came to DePaul after previously committing to UConn in 2010. With a long frame and inside-outside ability as a scorer, Melvin projected some Corey Brewer potential, with the positives being his versatility and the negatives being him classified a tweener without a position (and he wasn't as strong as Brewer defensively, but the comp was still valid). As a freshman, Melvin had an instant impact with the Blue Demons, as he averaged 14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 1.5 bpg in 26.2 mpg over the course of 27 games. The stellar debut season earned Melvin Big East Rookie of the Year honors, and not only did the course look bright for Melvin as a collegiate player, but for the Blue Demons squad under Oliver Purnell as well. Watch the video below and you can see Melvin flash a variety of the skills on the court, showing flashes of a raw Brewer or Anthony Randolph-type player.

Unfortunately, the Blue Demons did not show much improvement as a team under Purnell the past four seasons, and Melvin's development as a player also showed some growing pains in the years following his freshman campaign at DePaul. In his sophomore season, he earned an uptick in minutes (32.5 minutes per game) and his scoring and rebounding averages went up (17.5 and 7.4, respectively), but his offensive rating actually decreased from his freshman year (103.9 to 96.4). He struggled to be as efficient a player in his sophomore year, and his efficiency was hurt by a vast dip in true shooting percentage (48.8% after being 54.4% his freshman year) as well as offensive rebounding rate (8.0% after being 9.4% his freshman year). With a high usage rate (28.2 his sophomore year) and high shot rates (31.3), Melvin seemed to be the kind of high-volume shooter that didn't necessarily make his teams better (as evidenced by their 12-19 record his sophomore year).

Melvin did slowly become more efficient as he gained more collegiate experience. In his junior season, his offensive rating jumped to 100.6 (points per 100 possessions) as did his true shooting to 52.1%, and his senior campaign through 21 games looked to be a sign of him putting it all together. While he wasn't averaging a tremendous amount more points per game his senior year (16.7 to 16.6 his junior year), his rating was better than ever (111.2) as was his true shooting (55.8%) and 3-point percentage (47.5%; it didn't touch the 30% mark in his first 3 years). And, he was doing this while shooting less (28.9 percent), and becoming a little more committed on defense, as evidenced by his 5.8 block percentage, which matched his previous freshman season high. Furthermore, Melvin started to shed the "good player who doesn't make his team better" label over the course of his senior year being a key contributor in big wins over Oregon State (23 points, 154 offensive rating in 36 minutes) and Butler (30 points, 123 offensive rating). Before his suspension, the Blue Demons were 10-13. After it, they went 2-11 down the stretch.

How did Melvin get to the D-League?

After the Demons' Jan 20th loss to Xavier, Melvin was suspended indefinitely by the team for a violation of team rules. Now, while Purnell didn't disclose what violations Melvin committed, it was obvious that he was not going to join the team for the remainder of the year, so he left the school knowing that his career was ultimately finished at DePaul. (Some people in DePaul circles claimed the violation was extremely serious, but I am not going to recognize that as the truth for his suspension unless it is verified by a legitimate source).

A senior and out of options, Melvin decided to join the Bayhawks in the stretch run of the D-League season. Considering his team never garnered much positive national attention in his timer there, and seeing the precedent being done by Glen Rice, Jr. last year after he was suspended by Georgia Tech, Melvin entered the D-League hoping to somehow rebound his stock a bit in preparation for the NBA Draft.

So how did Melvin do in the D-League?

In a limited 10-game sample, Melvin held his own as fresh-out-of-college player trying to fit in on a team of professionals near the end of the season. Keith Schlosser of Ridiculous Upside noted in a post about Melvin that he felt Melvin made a strong impression in his short sample in the D-League.
After playing well at DePaul, the young gun displayed an ability to hold his own early on against already present professional and/or current NBA players while in the D-League. In addition to simply holding his own in the minor league (which should be considered an accomplishment in itself at this point in his career), Melvin actually looked somewhat polished for a player his age.He might not be getting as much exposure as some of his fellow minor league counterparts, but there's no denying that Melvin's progress on the basketball court as of late proves he'd be an intriguing player to take a chance on in next month's rookie draft.

Melvin's general stats don't jump out at you: 11.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg in 21.3 mpg. However, his advanced numbers look better, as evidenced by the chart below:

As you can see, Melvin was by no means the centerpiece of the Bayhawks offense (expected considering his late arrival to the squad), but he proved to be an efficient scorer (56.9 TS%) despite not getting a heavy amount of possessions (20.3 usage rate). Melvin impressed teams by using his length and athleticism to cut to the basket and finish at the rim for easy buckets (65.3 % field goals made off of assists). He didn't exactly show that he could dominate with the ball to score, (34.7% fgm unassisted), but with his skill set he may not need to. Teams will not be looking for Melvin to carry a team but to be a complimentary piece, and judging by his efficiency (111.7 offensive rating) and ability to play off the ball, Melvin could satisfy that complimentary scoring role off the bench for a NBA squad.

While Melvin improved as a shooter in his time at DePaul, he remained mostly around the rim in his time with Erie. Take a look at his shot chart from his 10 game sample with the Bayhawks.

As you can see, 65 of of his 90 field goal attempts came from around the rim (72.2 percent). So, Melvin didn't really test his shooting much in the D-League. But when he did shoot outside, especially in the mid-range, he proved he could reliably knock down the jumper. While he may primarily be an around the rim player, cutting to bucket off of pick and rolls and give and go's, Melvin displayed the ability (judging from the green areas on the mid-range) that he can take advantage of defenders sagging and not respecting him around the perimeter. Take a look at his highlight video below and see how Melvin hurt teams in a multitude of areas around the rim and even from inside the arc:

The biggest issue with Melvin is that while he has showed strong abilities as a scorer both inside and outside, he isn't as committed on the rebounding or defensive end. His rebounding rates with Erie remained meager for an athletic player of his size as he only posted an offensive rebounding rate of 6.9% and defensive rebounding rate of 12.8%. Even at DePaul, his rebounding rates weren't impressive either, as his offensive rebounding rate was only 8.4% and his defensive rebounding rate was 14.9%. Considering his build and speed for his size, Melvin needs to be a guy that can crash the boards to be successful at the next level. By doing so, not only will he make himself more valuable to NBA teams for his ability to do so, but he will also help himself in terms of getting easy second chance points at the rim (only 4.6 2nd chance points per 100 possessions last year with Erie).

Defensively, the biggest problem with Melvin at times is he seemed to be hesitant in his decision making. Due to his position on the wing, he was often in flux in terms of when to help and when to stay on the wing on plays that involved the pick and roll or opponents driving or slashing to the rim. Take a look at this possession against the Maine Red Claws.

Melvin is on the left wing, slightly sagging off his man, seeing that the pick and roll is going to be run with Maine guard Abdul Gaddy and center Zeke Marshall. It is this kind of awareness that works in Melvin's favor. He knows the pick and roll is coming, and he knows it's going to attack in his direction. He is putting himself in good position to see how it develops, and react accordingly depending on what Gaddy and Marshall do.

As expected, Marshall rolls and is open after setting the pick. While a majority of the fault has to be placed on the two Erie defenders, it is important to pay attention to Melvin here. Right now, Melvin's hesitation prevents him from making a spectacular defensive play. He recognizes that Marshall is open on the roll, but he instead tries to play halfway respecting his man beyond the arc, and Marshall down low. If you watch the film, he kind of goes back and forth shuffling between the two unsure who to stay on. Instead of properly guarding either, he guards neither. Gaddy is able to thread the needle to Marshall (by Melvin who tries to contest the pass, but his hesitation leads to him whiffing on that) which results in the easy dunk as shown below.

His defensive ability will be a big factor in determining Melvin's future at the next level. He has improved his offensive skills to make himself able to score on all areas of the floor. But Melvin seems to lack motor in the more physical part of the game. He doesn't really have a killer instinct on the glass, and while he can make the spectacular block at times, he does show too much hesitation on the defensive end to have an impact. It is in these areas where Melvin profiles more like a poor-man's Anthony Randolph than Corey Brewer: Melvin has a lot of the tools and abilities to be successful, but his lack of energy and effort in areas other than scoring the basketball makes one wonder if Melvin will have much of a NBA career. Randolph can get away with it because he's 6'11 with freakish wing span. Melvin doesn't have those measurements, which makes his style of play less tolerable with NBA GMs and coaching staffs.

But, Melvin has developed a lot since his time at DePaul. DraftExpress in 2011 called him a "6'7 center non-prospect" and he has come a long way to show that he can be an effective small forward or small ball forward type. The positives of Melvin's game is that he doesn't force the issue offensively: he plays a polished kind of game where he lets his offense come to him. He's apt to set good ball screens and cuts well to the basket off those screens for easy buckets. Out of all the D-League "longshots" beyond PJ Hairston and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Melvin has the best shot of getting drafted and making a NBA team because he's the most polished D-League eligible player available (other than the two listed above) and showed the most growth as a player since arriving as a freshman at DePaul. It'll be interesting to see if a team will see that and give him a chance, even if the rebounding and defensive energy and effort still need some work.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Quick FIBA Americas U18 Championship Preview: Canada vs. United States

I will have a more comprehensive recap of the FIBA Americas U18 tournament in the coming days, but I wanted to do a quick preview of the upcoming championship game which is expected to air at 5:30 p.m. (ET). Here is a quick look at what to expect of the teams going into tonight's match up.

Canada (Men's national ranking: 25; Youth boys national Ranking: 6)

Results at FIBA Americas U18 Championship (4-0)

Group play:

  • Def. Brazil 101-59 (June 20th)
  • Def. Dominican Republic 79-67 (June 21st)
  • Def. Puerto Rico 91-70 (June 22nd)

  • Def. Argentina 91-82 in OT (June 23rd)

  • Dillon Brooks: 24.8 ppg, 65.9 2pt FG%, 44.4 3pt FG%
  • Christopher Ebunde Egi: 11.8 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 bpg
  • Montaque Gill-Cesar: 19.0 ppg, 4.25 rpg

What you should expect from Canada:

Canada is a team that has grown as a youth program over the past decade. With more younger players breaking into the NBA (Anthony Bennett and Tristian Thompson), and some on the cusp (Andrew Wiggins, Nick Stauskas and Tyler Ennis), it is easy to see why Canada is highly ranked in the World boys rankings according to FIBA (they currently sit at six, which is 19 spots better than their Men's team ranking).

Roy Rana is their head coach, who coaches collegiately at Ryerson University in Canada. Rana has also been the long-time World team coach at the Nike Hoop Summit and has helped the squad post three straight victories over the United States team the past three Hoop Summits. Rana utilizes his talent well, utilizing different kinds of press and match-up zone strategies on defense, and a free-flowing style of play on offense that emphasizes getting the ball in the post and action developing off the post man. (More on that in the recap).

Canada cruised through the preliminary rounds, but had a tough go with Argentina who finished second in Group B to Team USA. At times, Canada has looked like the best team in the tournament thanks to their surprising athleticism at all positions, and the go-to-guy ability of Dillon Brooks, who played last season for Findlay Prep (as well as the AAU Team CIA Bounce, which has been a place of development for many Canadian Jr. National team members both past and present). The most interesting player in the tournament has also been Chris Egi, a highly rated recruit who will be heading to Harvard next year to play for Tommie Amaker. While Brooks is a polished wing player with a versatile inside-out skill set offensively, Egi is more of a project who while skilled, has displayed a lot of inconsistency to go along with his flashes of promise. Egi seemed to break out with a 20 point 14 rebound and 4 block performance against Puerto Rico in their last group play game, but he fell back to earth in the semi-final, only scoring 7 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in 29 minutes of play. It will be interesting to see how Egi responds in the championship after a disappointing performance in the semifinals.

United States (Men's Ranking: 1; Youth boys ranking: 1)

Results at FIBA Americas U18 Championship (4-0)

Group Play:
  • Def. Uruguay 156-58 (June 20th)
  • Def. Mexico 100-46 (June 21st)
  • Def. Argentina 118-64 (June 22nd)

  • Def. Dominican Republic 90-56 (June 23rd)

  • Jalen Brunson: 12.8 ppg, 5 apg, 66.7 2pt FG%
  • Justice Winslow: 10.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 57.1 2 pt FG%
  • Myles Turner: 7.8 ppg, 4.75 rpg, 3.5 bpg

What you should expect from the United States:

The US has been the most dominant squad this FIBA Americas U18 championship, dominating their competition in group play and controlling an underrated Dominican Republic squad in the semifinals. Under head coach Billy Donovan (Florida) and assistant coaches Sean Miller (Arizona) and Ed Cooley (Providence), team USA has smothered teams with their pressure defense in both the half and the full court, leading to steals and easy buckets. Considering Canada's turnover issues in their semifinal game against Argentina (16 total), it will be interesting to see how they will handle the US's pressure in the championship game (21 turnovers forced in Semi-final against DR).

The US has been helped by sharpshooter Luke Kinnard, who is shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc and is the team's leading scorer at 14.8 ppg. However, guard Jalen Brunson is the one that makes the engine hum on both ends of the floor for Team USA. Brunson, the son of former Temple guard and NBA vet Rick, has been a two-way star for Team USA, leading the press on the defensive end, and creating easy shots for him and his teammates on the offensive side of the ball. Brunson has really stood out as one of the tournament's best players, and it'll be tough for Canada's guards to contain him in the championship game.

Justice Winslow is also another player that has provided a spark for the United States. Though he hasn't exploded off the stat sheet, the 6'6 McDonald's All-American is showing in Colorado Springs why Duke should be happy about his impending arrival in Durham. Winslow is a versatile wing that has a strong ability to score inside and outside, and he has been a matchup nightmare for his competition so far. Winslow is coming off a rather poor performance against the DR where he scored 0 points and only nabbed 3 boards, but he did have 13 points, 8 rebound and 2 blocks against Argentina in their last group play game. If the US can get a performance from Winslow closer to the Argentina one in the championship, I am sure Donovan and staff would be satisfied and confident in their chances against Canada.

Key matchup: Chris Egi vs. Myles Turner

It will be the Harvard vs. Texas commit going at it in the post in the championship game, as both players are eager to show basketball fans what to expect next season at the collegiate level. Though Turner hasn't been the offensive force people expected in this tournament so far (only 7.8 ppg), he has been a force on defense, averaging a team high 3.5 blocks per game.

Turner is a beast at 7'0 and 240 pounds and it is easy to see why ESPN rated the McDonald's All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant as the no. 2 rated recruit in the class of 2014. Turner has been a matchup nightmare for most of the Latin American competition, highlighted by a dominant opening game against Uruguay where he scored 14 points, nabbed 8 rebounds and had four blocks. Unfortunately for Turner, his performances have declined, as he has failed to reach double digits in any game since his dominant opening game performance.

Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to see if Turner can raise his game on the biggest stage against arguably the best non-American post player in the tournament. If Turner can put his past three performances behind him and step up and have a good game similar to his opening performance, Team USA will cruise with this easily. Of course, it won't be a cakewalk, as Egi brings some skills to the table for Canada. ESPN rated Egi as the no.1 rated player out of Canada in the class of 2014 and the 24th best center prospect in the Nation. However, Egi will be outmatched physically as he gives a lot of size to Turner (Egi is only 6'8, 205 pounds) in the post. That being said, Rana is a resourceful and creative basketball coach, and it should be expected that Rana will utilize Egi in different ways to help Canada overcome the size disadvantage in the post not only on the offensive side of the ball, but defensively as well.

D-League NBA Draft Prospect: Norvel Pelle, PF/C, Delaware 87ers

Norvel Pelle (practicing with the USA National Developmental U17 team in 2010) is a long-term project hoping to get selected in the NBA Draft. Pelle played last season with Delaware in the D-League.

If you have been following these posts on "draft-eligible" prospects over the past week, you may be seeing a connection: all the ones so far have played for the Delaware 87ers. The Sevens, in their first year of existence in the D-League after being the Utah Flash for many years before (and thus an affiliate of the Utah Jazz), have taken a different approach in terms of assembling a D-League roster with signings ranging from college castoffs (Reeves Nelson, Elijah Pittman) to former high school phenoms (Aquille Carr) to more typical journeyman college players (Kendall Marshall, Matt Bouldin) to even siblings of NBA players (Thanasis Antetokounmpo). It hasn't resulted in a lot of on-court success for the franchise (the Sevens had the worst record in the D-League at 12-38), but it showed that the Sevens could function as a true "minor league" organization to their parent franchise (the Philadelphia 76ers).

And what does it mean to be a "minor league" organization? It means player development comes before on-court success. And no player may have benefited from that more than power forward/center Novel Pelle, who, much like fellow Sevens Antetokounmpo, Pittman and Carr, will be eligible to be selected in this upcoming NBA Draft.

Who is Norvel Pelle?

Out of Price High School in Long Beach, California, Pelle was one of the top center recruits in the nation for the class of 2011. According to, he was rated as the 12th best center prospect in the nation, and the 77th best prospect overall, and his size, athleticism and recruiting merits earned him a scholarship to St. John's in New York. And it's easy to see why he garnered such high praise and an offer from a Big East school. Pelle's long wingspan (he measured at 7'2.5 at the NBA Draft combine last year) helped make him a force in the paint on both ends of the floor. It was regular to see Pelle either at Price or on the AAU circuit either making spectacular blocks or finishing breathtaking alley oops. Take a look at a MixTape from 2010, which was compiled of AAU highlights of him in the summer entering junior year:

From the tape above, you can see why Steve Lavin was so eager to team him up with Moe Harkless at St. John's and why he has intrigued NBA scouts. But unfortunately for Pelle, off the court issues have seemed to haunt him since he left high school. Before he could play a game for the Red Storm, Pelle was declared ineligible by the NCAA (along with other St. John's commits JaKarr Sampson and Amir Garrett) and thus not allowed to enroll at St. John's in the Fall, according to Adam Zagoria of Zagsblog. While Sampson and Garrett eventually got eligible and joined St. John's at some point, Pelle re-committed to Iona, but still was ruled ineligible academically by the NCAA and thus unable to play for the Gaels in 2012-2013.

So how did Pelle get to the D-League?

After committing to two schools in two years and unable to play for either due to academic/personal reasons (Pelle claimed in an interview he didn't play last year for Iona because of his mother being in bad shape, according to an interview with DraftExpress), the center prospect decided to declare for the NBA draft. Pelle participated in the NBA Draft Combine and a couple of draft workouts before ultimately pulling his name out of the draft. One of the big rumors surrounding him leaving was that he still had a lot of maturing to do not just as a player, but as a person in general. Take a look at the interview portion of the DraftExpress video below and it is obvious that Pelle interviewed and presented himself like a kid just out of high school, not one ready to make the next step to the NBA.

Not ready for the NBA, Pelle didn't stay in the NBA Draft (he most likely would have gone undrafted if he stayed). Him and his agent looked to be headed to a club team overseas. but Pelle was drafted six overall in the NBA Developmental League Draft and he decided to sign with the team that drafted him, the Delaware 87ers.

How did Pelle do in the D-League?

Pelle's first professional campaign was a mixed bag of sorts. He averaged 5.5 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game and 1.4 blocks per game on 13.5 minutes per game over the course of 35 games. Those numbers aren't impressive at first glance, and even his per 36 minute stats really don't impress at 15.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg and 3.9 bpg (also 8 fouls per game, as fouls were an issue in his first year). Most of Pelle's value comes from the defensive end, as evidenced by his good block rate in comparison to his team (21.5% team block rate). That being said, while the strongest part of his game is on the defensive end, he even still has a long way to go. Check out how some of his points in the paint numbers per 36 minutes compare to fellow post teammate Tiny Gallon:

As you can see, on a per 36-minute basis, Gallon proved to be a much better player not only offensively in the paint (16.8 to Pelle's 11.2 PITP), but defensively overall as well. Opponents scored less off turnovers (16.8 to Pelle's 18.5), less off the fast break (13.4 to 14.8) and less in the paint (40.5 to 41.1) against Gallon than Pelle. Considering Pelle is bigger, longer and more athletic than Gallon (though younger, so Gallon has the advantage in playing experience from his time at Oklahoma and in the D-League), it just goes to show that while Pelle has the athletic tools to be a NBA player, he is very early and raw in his development and his numbers showed that last season in Delaware.

While Pelle did battle some injury issues over the year, it was obvious that the time away from the game had an effect on Pelle in his first professional season. Going against players who not only have played college ball, but also some who have had considerable professional experience, Pelle struggled at times to adjust, and he looked hesitant and didn't look to be giving consistent effort at times while on the floor.

A key example of this is this change of possessions showed below in a late season game against Erie. On these two possessions, Pelle's lack of experience and consistent effort is evident. Let's take a look at the start of the offensive possession below:

BJ Young after a made Erie bucket tries to force the issue with a full court drive. Pelle is filling the lane with him, but his end positioning doesn't help Young. Instead of filling out into the corner or short corner, Pelle positions himself on the block. This shows his lack of playing experience in a couple of ways. First off, if he is in the corner or short corner, he puts his man on defense in a dilemma. If his man helps on D to contest the layup, Pelle will have that easy mid-range or corner 3 shot (most likely mid-range, since he hasn't showed much 3-point ability, as evidenced by his 0.1 3FGA this year). If Pelle's defender stay with him on the mid-range, then Young has an easier time getting the layup or foul. But, because Pelle doesn't drift to the short corner or corner, Pelle's defender has an easier time helping, and Young's shot is heavily contested. Young misses, Pelle, is blocked out by his defender (since he didn't have to commit much in order to help on defense) and Erie gets the ball on the break.

As they are on the break, notice how Pelle is the last guy coming back on defense. Yes, he was furthest underneath the hoop, but Pelle has the athletic gifts to cover a lot of floor with his athleticism and length. Instead, as you can tell from the shot above, he is jogging slowly back, which is putting pressure on the other three defenders knowing that Pelle is either going to come back late or not be there at all on defense. Which results in...

The easy layup for the Bayhawks. Pelle is just above the free throw line instead of in the post, and you can see No. 32 for the Sevens frustrated that no one picked him up. Well, no one picked him up because Pelle should have been there. If Pelle was hustling back, he could have gotten the block from the behind, or at the very least fouled him to prevent the easy bucket and make him earn it at the line. Instead, Pelle's lack of effort costs the Sevens on defense and leads to an easy Erie bucket.

But, growing pains like this are to be expected. Pelle made a major jump from high school ball to professional ball in a short period of time. And considering he was a player who relied on his athletic gifts to carry him during his high school years, its moments like these that can be teachable moments for Pelle going forward as a professional. That being said, when he's in position, Pelle is a strong post defender, as he does have good instincts and uses his length appropriately to block shots and defend the rim. Here's a possession where his defensive ability is used appropriately and helps his Sevens squad.

Pelle is fronting his man who his located slightly above the left block. Pelle notices that the Bayhawk guard has his man (Josh Akognon) beat. So, he sags a little toward the restricted area ready to help out on defense. This awareness showed by Pelle is solid. He's not showing too early (if he shows too early, he allows his defender to cut to the basket for the alley oop), but he's obviously aware and in the right position to help out on defense. Let's see what happens.

The Bayhawk guard drives for the layup and Pelle comes over and blocks his shot with ease. It is moments like this where Pelle excels as a player. He does have a natural gravitation toward the ball on defense, and he is able to block and defend shots in the paint with regularity. Even when you look at his highlight film below, it is his defense that stands out to you, and considering how hard it is to find good post defenders at the professional level, it is easy to see why and how Pelle could find a place at the next level.

Pelle certainly has the tools to be a NBA player, but not right now. He needs more professional experience, more court time and more development, and he would be better served working on those skills in the D-League or perhaps overseas (I think D-League is a better option for him though after his growth last season in Delaware). He lacks a go-to move and struggles to find his game and identity on the offensive end (he wavers too much from being a post player and being a perimeter player and thus, his skills are under-developed on both ends). Furthermore, his inconsistent effort on both sides of the ball is something he needs to work on if he ever wants to make that jump to the NBA. He can't afford to take plays off, especially over an extended 82-game schedule and the increased competition he'll face night in and night out.

But Pelle has the potential, and with some more time, he could develop into something special. His game seems to be a cross of Joel Embiid and DeAndre Jordan, though he doesn't have Embiid's footwork or Jordan's strength. That being said, with a little more development and time, he could end up matching that projection in some sort of way. His defensive abilities and instincts are already a plus (or at the very worst, near a plus), he just needs to round out the other parts of his game.

Monday, June 23, 2014

MixTape Monday: Theo Pinson, Tacko Fall and Dennis Smith, Jr.

Every monday, MLH will show MixTapes of some of the best high school/JuCo/International Youth players out there. This is to give you a glimpse on some of the best up and coming basketball players. Videos are courtesy of Ball is Life, HoopMixTape and Home Town Hoops. Definitely check out those sites for more MixTapes of the best players coming up the ranks.

Theo Pinson, 6'6, 190 pounds, Wesleyan Christian Academy of Greensboro, North Carolina, Signed with North Carolina

A McDonald's All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant, Pinson is an explosive guard that will stay home in-state and be expected to contribute immediately for Roy Williams at North Carolina. Pinson is the 10th best prospect according to ESPN, and the 3rd best guard prospect as well. After struggling to find consistent talent in the past five years, Williams seems to have a player that could not only have impact, but live up to his considerable hype.

Pinson is an athletic, tall guard who offers a variety of skills. He displays a strong ability to get to the basket and can finish in a variety of ways. While he can thunder it down, I chose the "non-dunking" MixTape to display his multiple abilities as a guard. He can finish in traffic extremely well, either by layup or the pull up jumper. Furthermore, he shows good vision and passing ability in traffic as well, as Pinson on a consistent basis was able to find cutting teammates for easy layups and alley-oops. What also strikes you about Pinson's game is his intensity. He's a strong competitor who plays hard on both ends, and that is a trait that will cater well to Williams' intense style of coaching. The Tar Heels will be losing some key cogs to the draft this Thursday (James Mcadoo and PJ Hairston, who was ineligible last season), but Pinson looks like he can soften the losses for Williams and keep this Tar Heels competitive once again in the ACC.

Tacko Fall, 7'5, 270 pounds, Liberty Country High School of Taveras, Florida, Undecided

Nicknamed "Taco" because of his first name, Fall is one of the most intriguing senior-to-be prospects in the nation. At 7'5, he would be the tallest NBA player if he entered the draft today, and he has been a bit of a highlight reel player that has packed venues wherever he has played so far.

Fall is still a bit raw as a prospect, as he doesn't crack the ESPN 100 and is only rated as 18th best center prospect according to ESPN. Originally from Senegal, Fall has only been playing basketball since arriving in the United States, and he has experienced a lot of ups and downs in his development as a player. He doesn't really have much of a motor, and his footwork still needs a lot of work, as he is prone to shuffle his feet at times when receiving the ball down low in the post. However, Fall utilizes his height well and uses his size and strength to overpower opponents not only on the offensive end, but defensively as well. As of now, his game is very similar to Hasheem Thabeet, but only a senior-to-be, it is possible that Fall will continue to develop his game and skills to hopefully surpass that projection. Fall is undecided now, but apparently has offers already from LaSalle and Xavier, and is also looking at Baylor, Houston and Princeton.

Dennis Smith, Jr, 6'2 180 pounds, Trinity Christian School of Fayetteville, NC, Undecided

Smith is only going to be a junior next season, but that hasn't stopped him from making waves as one of the best guard prospects in the nation currently. Smith can wow people with exceptional ball handling skills and explosive athleticism. For a guard, he can easily cut through the defense and finish at the rim with exceptional dunks and layups on a consistent basis. One of the strongest aspects of his game is his explosion off the hesitation dribble, as he routinely made minced meat of opposing perimeter defenders with the move which led to either easy dunks or points for Smith, or assists to teammates for effortless buckets.

Smith is rated as the No. 1 point guard prospect and 6th best prospect overall in the Top 247 according to 247 Sports. He apparently is strongly considering to commit to Duke, as evidenced by 10 of 12 of the recruiting experts polled on 247 sports listing Duke as his college landing spot. The decision by Smith would be a solid one, as Coach K has a reputation of developing strong point guards such as Bobby Hurley, Jay Williams, Nolan Smith and most recently, Kyrie Irving. Smith is someone to be paid attention to, especially since he has two years left of high school eligibility.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

D-League NBA Draft Prospect: Elijah Pittman, G/F, Delaware 87ers

After a rocky collegiate career, Elijah Pittman held his own in a limited stint in the D-League and is hoping to get a call on Draft night.

After covering Aquille Carr, Minor League Hoops will take a look at another enigmatic player eligible for the NBA Draft who ironically played at Delaware this past season in a limited stint much like Carr. Wing player Elijah Pittman, similar to Carr, is probably on the outside looking in coming into this draft, but he does offer enticing skills, athleticism and tools as a player. Let's take a deeper look into Pittman, how he fared in the D-League, and what his outlook will be for the NBA Draft and beyond.

Who is Elijah Pittman?

Pittman is a physical specimen that has attracted all coaches at all levels in his playing days. At 6'9, 210 pounds, Pittman has shooting ability to play both guard and forward on the wing, and though his dribbling isn't the strongest aspect of his game, it is good enough to merit playing time at the shooting guard position.

While his physical skills have never been in question, it's Pittman's maturity and questionable decision making that has held him back as a player. In junior college, he was dismissed from the Chipola Junior College in Texas in April due to multiple arrests. In October of his first season at Marshall University in 2012, he was involved in an altercation with a male Marshall student where Pittman faced misdemeanor battery charges (he later made a plea agreement). After eight games at Marshall his senior season (last year), the Thundering Herd suspended him indefinitely and he decided to leave the team after the suspension to pursue a professional career (more on that below). Off the court, Pittman hasn't done much right.

But on the court, Pittman has produced, especially at Marshall. His junior year was extremely promising as evidenced by his comprehensive stats courtesy of DraftExpress. Take a look at his per 40 stats in his two seasons with Marshall:

And then take a look at his efficiency stats in his first year at Marshall:

In his junior year, Pittman produced a PER (player efficiency rating) of 20.1. In the 8-game sample his senior year, he was on his way to surpass that with a 26.6 PER. His usage rate increased from 22.6 his junior year to 32.2 his senior year, and it was obvious that Pittman was turning into a reliable, go-to-guy for the Herd. He had three 30-plus scoring games in his eight game sample his senior year before his suspension, though they did come against pretty inferior competition (South Carolina State, Morehead State and UNC Wilmington). But regardless of competition, it is interesting to see if Pittman could have turned into a premiere player in the Conference USA judging by his impact and usage his senior season with the Herd.

So how did Pittman get to the D-League?

After Pittman was suspended, it seemed like Pittman had run out of chances at the collegiate level. Considering his past legal and off-the-court issues, it seemed very unlikely he was going to get back with the team and transferring didn't seem like an option for it was unlikely he was going to get another chance with another college, let alone another Division 1 school. So, much like Glen Rice Jr. the year before (who was dismissed from Georgia Tech), Pittman left Marshall and decided to go the D-League route to prepare for the NBA Draft.

In a good profile with Mid-Major Madness, Pittman acknowledged his mistakes and vowed that he has changed for the better. Here are some comments about the changes he made personally in his life and his drive in preparation for the draft:

"I’ve spent a lot of time handing out food for the homeless," said Pittman. "I also helped administer used clothes to the homeless with Kroger grocery stores. But other than that, I eat, sleep and drink basketball. I want coaches to know that I’m as hard working and humble as anyone else. I want an opportunity in the NBA more than anything, and to prove people wrong and that I am cut out for this."

The 87ers, who have been more than willing to take a flier on guys with checkered histories (see Carr and Norvel Pelle), ended up signing Pittman, hoping that his new outlook and the experience from the problems had changed him for good. Though he only played 10 games and averaged 20.6 minutes per game, Pittman stayed out of the media when it came to off-the-court issues, which is a success for him considering how bad his reputation was prior to signing with Delaware.

So how did Pittman do in the D-League?

Pittman didn't replicate his college production, but that was to be expected. The 22-year-old wing was a late addition, and considering how poor Delaware played this season (they finished 12-38), I'm sure trying to fit into the 87er squad wasn't an easy endeavor. The lack of experience with the team and his struggle to find a rhythm at a much higher level of play had the most effect on his efficiency, as his PER dipped to 12.7 and his TS % hovered around 54% according to DraftExpress, and his PIE (Player Impact) was 5.8%, according to the D-League stats page.

But considering his experience and his late exposure to the team, Pittman certainly held his own. He averaged 10 points per game and 3.6 rebounds per game in the 10 game sample and continued to show many of the skills that made him such an enticing prospect. For starters, Pittman's outside shooting carried over at the D-League level in some regards, as he proved to be a solid catch and shoot player. 66.7 percent of his 3 point shots came unassisted, and 33.8% of his points came from beyond the arc in his time with the 87ers. Pittman shows good shot form, with a high arc and clean release, and with his size, it makes it difficult for smaller wing or perimeter players to contest it. Let's take a look at Pittman's shot chart for the year, and pay specific attention to where he made most of his 3-point shots:

Pittman proved to be very efficient from the corner, especially from the right side. Considering how NBA teams like to spread the ball around and find those shooters in the corner for the 3 (heck, just look at the Spurs and Heat), Pittman could prove himself to be valuable to many different NBA squads. How he progresses with this outside shot and dependable he can be with it could be the difference from him finding a spot in a NBA rotation or being a Minor League lifer who spends a majority of his professional career in the D-League or overseas.

Though his outside shooting has garnered a lot of praise, Pittman has also showed a strong ability to dribble drive and finish around the rim. Here's a possession in a D-League game where he recognizes the advantage in the matchup and finishes successfully around the rim.

Pittman (located in the right wing around the score ticker) makes a good crossover move on the wing defender, recognizing the space open in his area, which is prime for him to dribble drive into. The BayHawks are throwing some kind of zone look with the post defender manning the middle sagging heavily off his man at the top. From here, it really depends on Pittman's skills and athleticism in terms of how this possession will finish. If he is athletic and strong in his drive, he'll get the bucket or fouled. If he isn't, it could result in a turnover or blocked shot.

Let's see how it finishes:

He successfully drives by the wing defender and as expected, the post defender helps and picks him up. Pittman however continues to attack, seeing the middle of the lane open and knows to be aggressive. At his size, he can hold his own with both post defenders (look at the other defender lurking on the left block), but he has the athleticism and speed to drive by them as well. Which results in ...

This excellent finish at the rim. Not only does he get by the slower post defender, but Pittman sidesteps and finishes on the right side, knowing that the help is coming from the left block. And thus, the post defender on the right block can't defend it because he can't match his athleticism, and the right block defender just is too late in terms of helping, unable to defend due to Pittman's adjustment. It's this kind of ability to recognize the defense and finish appropriately that makes Pittman a special player. And if you look at the shot chart above, Pittman was very reliable around the rim, as he was above league average at 63.3 percent. Check out the highlight video below and you'll see Pittman doing much of the same things on tape.

If Pittman has any weaknesses, it may be the fact that his game isn't very diverse beyond scoring. He isn't as strong a rebounder as you would imagine considering his size. He only averaged 0.9 offensive rebounds per game with Delaware, and his rate was 5.1 percent his junior season as well (5.0 percent in the smaller senior season sample). In order to take advantage of his size and ability to score around the rim, he has to be more active in terms of getting loose balls and second chance points (only 1.9 second chance points average last year). Also, defensively, while he has the length and size to affect opposing wing players, he doesn't show as much commitment or consistent energy on the defensive end of the ball. While that is something that can improve (after all, he has the natural gifts to be a better defensive player), it is something he needs to be aware of going forward if he wants to stick on a NBA roster.

While Carr may be a genuine longshot, Pittman has more of a punchers chance to get selected in the second round. While the odds are long, it is obvious he has the skills, size and athleticism to compete for a NBA roster spot. He showed immense promise not only in his time at Marshall, but in his short stint with Delaware, especially when you consider the situation he was going into (late in the year, losing team, etc.). Of course, his off court issues will definitely hurt him in this draft, and could be one of the big reasons why he could go undrafted next Thursday. Fellow Thundering Herd alum Hassan Whiteside had many similar "character issues" despite being a first round talent, and those issues eventually led to him being out of the league and bouncing from overseas team to overseas team currently (he was recently released by a Lebanese professional team) despite his skills and size. I think Pittman is a lot more mature than Whiteside was entering the draft (after all, Pittman has experienced a lot more "consequences" in comparison to Whiteside), but it wouldn't be surprising to see NBA front office members hold the Whiteside flame out against him due to them both being from Marshall and both having a history of character issues. It may be unfair, but that's kind of how things go when it comes to evaluating players to draft sometimes.

Whether he is drafted or not (my guess is no), it'll be interesting to see his progression next year as a full-time professional. Even if he makes it back to the D-League next year, he certainly is the kind of player who could make an impact with a D-League team immediately. And, starting the year with the squad would help him a lot more in terms of finding his role, and thus improve his stock and reputation even more in terms of making a NBA roster. It would not be surprising at all if we are hearing about Pittman again some point next December or January, eligible for a callup and 10-day contract.