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Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Returning Point Guards

With the deadline for declaring for this year’s draft behind us, we now know who will and who won’t be returning to school next season. As is usually the case, the vast majority of players projected to go in the first round ended up declaring. Nevertheless, there are still a number of interesting prospects left in the college game. Even in a draft like 2014, which features a loaded freshman class, there’s still plenty of room in the first round for upperclassmen.

This far out, it’s hard to make any type of comprehensive list of the best players in the 2015 draft. Instead, we’ll be going position by position, taking a look at the best prospects in the college game at each position and how they stack up against each other. This is not a list of the who the best college players are, but of who I think has the most pro potential. These guys are unfinished products - who they are today isn’t necessarily who they will be in November or next April.

We’ll start with the point guard position, which features a familiar dichotomy - the biggest PG’s struggle with their jumpers while the best shooters are undersized. The holy grail are the guys who can do both, but even in the NBA, they tend to be few and far between. The smaller guards probably aren’t going to grow much in their late teens and early 20’s, but the bigger guards can make themselves a bunch of money this summer if they can return with a three-point shot.

1) Delon Wright, Utah - One of the most underrated players in the country. The younger brother of Dorell Wright, Delon burst onto the scene this season, after a lengthy trek through the junior college ranks. At 6’5 180, he isn’t quite as big as his older brother, but he’s every bit as athletic and he has a far more well-rounded game. He was a one-man team at Utah this season, averaging 15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1 block a game on 56% shooting.

Wright turns 23 next season, which is a huge red flag for many NBA teams, but his combination of size, athleticism and feel for the game is pretty unique. There’s a lot of Rajon Rondo in his game - his one weakness is his lack of a three-point shot. He’s a reluctant shooter who went 12-54 from beyond the arc last season. If he could consistently make that shot, he would be a lottery pick, but even without it, he will still be a fascinating player to track as a senior.

2) Marcus Paige, UNC - It’s all set up for Paige at UNC. After two slightly down years, the Tar Heels are returning a lot of talent upfront and are bringing in a loaded recruiting class full of wing players. If Paige can be the triggerman for the secondary break offense, they should be right back in national title discussion. And when Roy Williams can put elite talent around a future NBA PG, good things tend to happen. See: Ray Felton in 2004, Ty Lawson in 2009.

At 6’1 170, Paige is undersized for the position at the next level, but he’s a very quick guard with excellent ball-handling ability who can stroke 3’s off the dribble. He averaged 17 points and 4 assists a game on 44% shooting last season, shooting 39% from 3 on 6.5 attempts a game. With a more balanced roster around him next season, he will be asked to be more of a playmaker. It’s almost impossible for a guy his size to start in the NBA and be a shoot-first player.

3) Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s - While Rysheed didn’t get a ton of press as a freshman, his size (6’4 185) and athleticism alone make him a player worth watching. He averaged only 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists a game on 42% shooting, but he also didn’t get much of a chance to play with the ball in his hands. With Jakarr Sampson declaring for the draft, that should change next season. If he can come back with a three-point shot, he will start flying up draft boards.

4) Andrew Harrison, Kentucky - After one of the most up-and-down freshman seasons in recent memory, the Harrison Twins both opted to return to school, something few would have predicted nine months ago. At 6’5 210, Andrew has great size for the PG position, but his lack of athleticism puts a clear ceiling on how good he can be at the next level. If he can become a better three-point shooter he should have a chance to stick, but stardom probably isn’t in the cards.

5) Ryan Boatright, UConn - Along with Shabazz Napier, Boatright exploded at just the right time last season, carrying UConn all the way to an unlikely national championship. Generously listed at 6’0 170, Boatright is extremely undersized for the NBA game, but he has the speed and quickness to at least get a shot at the next level. As a senior, scouts will be watching to see if he can make the same type of jump Napier made, in terms of becoming a better floor general.

Other names to watch: Isaiah Taylor (Texas), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Shannon Scott (Ohio State), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Olivier Hanlan (Boston College)

Welcome Back, Part 1

Returning minutes are sometimes deceiving. That’s because a number of teams will welcome back players who missed all or nearly all of last season. Let’s take a look at some of those players:

Josh Gasser, Wisconsin

Last year Josh Gasser was projected to be the starting point guard for the Badgers. But what the Badgers will really welcome back is Gasser’s perimeter shooting. Gasser made 45 percent of his threes as a sophomore, and while he may have trouble duplicating that rate, his career free throw percentage suggests he is a natural shooter. Once he gets in the gym and gets his legs under him, he and Ben Brust should provide Wisconsin with two extremely dangerous perimeter shooters.

It also isn’t clear that the Badgers will use Gasser at the point guard slot this season. Gasser’s career assist rate is not all that high, and while Traevon Jackson struggled with turnovers and his outside shot last year, he still gained quite a bit of experience in the PG role. Jackson’s ability to penetrate the lane and break down the defense often saved the day in close games last year. In the end Wisconsin may prefer to play Jackson, Brust, and Gasser together in crunch time this season.

Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, Harvard

An academic scandal knocked Casey and Curry out of action last year. Miraculously, Harvard didn’t miss a beat upsetting New Mexico in the NCAA tournament. But to say that Harvard didn’t miss these two would be deceiving. Without Casey’s shot-blocking and defensive rebounding, Harvard’s defense fell off substantially (from 37th nationally to 144th).

Casey and returning forward Steve Moundou-Missi should provide a dynamic interior combination this year. And although they may be a little under-sized against a few teams, Harvard also welcomes 6’9” Top 100 recruit Zena Edosomwan. Ivy league schools can very rarely attract Top 100 talent, and Edosmwan is a huge advantage as a third forward option. Expect Harvard’s defense to bounce back.

As for Curry, it seemed likely that Harvard would struggle without their lead PG last season. But when given the ball, Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers ran with it. Both players emerged as elite passers. Given Saunders size, it will not be unusual to see Curry, Chambers, and Saunders on the court together next season, giving Harvard one of the best passing backcourts in America.

Meiko Lyles, Columbia

Sticking in the Ivy League, while everyone is talking about Harvard’s returning players, not enough people have mentioned the return of Columbia’s Meiko Lyles. Last year I expected Columbia to be competitive for the Ivy League title, but what I didn’t know when I ran my projections is that the team’s best outside shooter Meiko Lyles was going to miss the entire season due to personal reasons. And even though Columbia had the fourth best margin-of-victory in the Ivy league last year, they collapsed to a last place finish.

Unfortunately, Columbia loses two of its best players, Brian Barbour and Mark Cisco. So the team would have been a lot better off with Lyles on the roster last year. But Lyles is back on the active roster, and that’s one of the reasons I expect Columbia to finish in the middle of the Ivy League and not the cellar.

Tim Frazier, Penn St.

Frazier’s return is a boon for a Penn St. program that has been struggling. He had the second best assist rate in all of D1 hoops in 2012, and he was also a high volume scorer. But Jermaine Marshall’s decision to transfer this off-season essentially ended any serious hope Penn St. had of a NCAA tournament bid. In college basketball, Penn St. just cannot catch a break.

And while I should be writing about what Frazier brings to the Penn St. offense, the subterfuge in Marshall’s departure is the more fascinating story. One of the key components of the five-year graduate school transfer rule is that you have to graduate from your previous school before you can transfer. But for some students, they need summer classes to make that happen. Purdue’s Sandi Marcius found out the hard way that if you want your current basketball program to pay for those summer classes, you probably can’t tell them you are transferring before you enroll in those summer classes. But Marshall was much smarter than that. He told Penn St. that he planned to graduate over the summer and then go play in Europe. Only when his summer classes were completed and his degree was ensured did Marshall announce that he was transferring to Arizona St.

Jelani Hewitt, Georgia Southern

If Penn St. is mixing good news with bad news, Georgia Southern is too. Jelani Hewitt was one of Georgia Southern’s best perimeter shooters in 2011-2012, making 40% of his long range shots and starting all but one game. Then he was suspended for an off-court issue in 2012-2013.

Hewitt’s return was supposed to be a boost to the program. Unfortunately, it was recently announced that Georgia Southern’s leading scorer Eric Ferguson has been unable to fully recover from a knee injury he sustained this spring. Ferguson plans to redshirt this season, and even Hewitt’s return is probably not enough to offset the loss of the team’s leading scorer.

Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee

With Maymon out with a knee injury, Tennessee often went with a smaller lineup last season. The Volunteers would frequently have 6’6” Josh Richardson as the second tallest player on the floor and the defense suffered because of it. The 6’8” Maymon wasn’t a traditional shot-blocker, but he was an outstanding defensive rebounder, and his interior presence was probably at least a contributing factor in Tennessee’s horrid defense last season.

But the bigger impact of Maymon’s return may be on offense. That’s because Maymon was not only an outstanding finisher around the rim, but he was also one of the best players in the country at getting to the free throw line.

Whether Maymon’s return boosts the offense to an elite level will depend a lot on what happens at the PG position. After Trae Golden was dismissed for academic reasons, Tennessee brought in Memphis transfer Antonio Barton. Barton didn’t get a chance to be the PG at Memphis, but he does have ball-handling skills. And how well he plays at the PG position may determine the ceiling for this team.

God’s Gift Achiuwa, St. John’s

A year after playing major minutes for the Red Storm, Steve Lavin elected to use a redshirt on God’s Gift Achiuwa last season. Part of the reason was that Jakarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa looked good in practice, and Lavin wanted to make sure they had time to develop. But Achiuwa’s return is still very valuable even if he isn’t a starter on this year’s team. Achiuwa is one of the only St. John’s players who has posted an ORtg over 100 in his career. Two years ago he finished 55% of his shots, didn’t turn the ball over excessively, and did a passable job at the free throw line.

Of course, Achiuwa’s return is not the only reason to be excited about St. John’s front court. Orlando Sanchez has also finally been cleared to play by the NCAA. With Sampson, Obekpa, Achiuwa, and Sanchez, St. John’s actually has depth in the frontcourt for the first time in at least three years.

Andrey Semenov, James Madison

James Madison finished only 11-7 in CAA last year, but with a 3-0 run through the CAA tournament, and a win in the First Four in Dayton, James Madison found themselves playing the Indiana Hoosiers in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament. With an unlikely run like that and only 43% of the team’s minutes returning, a repeat is unlikely. But one thing working in James Madison’s favor should be the return of 6th year senior Andrey Semenov. Semenov missed almost all of last year due to injury.

Semenov is a dynamic outside shooter for a big man, making 62 three pointers (at a 44% clip), and that made him the most efficient players on James Madison two year ago. And on a very young team, he will provide some crucial leadership.

Jarmar Gulley, Missouri St.

Gulley’s height always strikes me as a misprint. How can a 6’5” guard rebound at such a high level. But that’s what you sometimes get with a former JUCO Top 100 athlete. Gulley’s rebounding has been an asset in high school and in the junior college ranks, and there was no reason for him not to fight for every rebound in the MVC too.

Gulley’s return may not be that high profile, but for a team that was 7-11 last year, getting back a player who can fight for rebounds, is great at getting steals, and who has an ORtg over 100 should clearly be a boost.

Part 2 Next Week

Comparing The Conferences

The Pac-12 has been suffering through a long dark period. The Big Ten has been dominant (at least in the pre-conference schedule) for the last few years. Should we expect a change this year? Is the Pac-12’s slump over? Is the Big Ten’s boom about to come to an end? Let’s take a quick look at some basic roster data and see if we can uncover any trends.

Part of predicting the season is noting the number of elite high school prospects on each roster. Not only are these players more likely to play well as freshmen, but they are also more likely to breakout later in their career. Recall, for example, Michael Snaer of Florida St. Snaer was a former Top 20 recruit, and while it took him three seasons, he broke out in a big way in 2011-12. After adding up the numbers…

- The Big East has the most former RSCI Top 100 prospects on rosters heading into the season with 58.

- But the Big East has more teams, and the Big East has only 3.9 elite recruits per team. The ACC has the most former Top 100 recruits per team with 4.6 per team.

- But James McAdoo is the only former Top 10 prospect in the ACC this season. That seems like an unprecedented lack of super-elite talent for the conference. If you want super elite talent, you probably want to watch the SEC, assuming everyone is declared academically eligible. John Calipari never lets us down on the recruiting trail.

- The SEC, however, is only welcoming ten Top 100 freshmen this year as a whole. Even the Big Ten, the land of typically poor recruiting, is welcoming more Top 100 freshmen than the SEC this season. And yes, the slumping Pac-12 brings in quite a few elite recruits this year.

Conf

T10

T100

T100 Fr

ACC

1

55

22

BE

1

58

17

SEC

4

49

10

B10

1

40

15

B12

3

33

11

P12

3

37

15

MWC

1

15

5

A10

0

11

3

The next table isn’t really roster data, but it does reflect some of my preliminary projections about playing time.

- The ACC is going to be the youngest conference in the nation this year, according to my projections.

- The Big East has a startlingly low number of key seniors on rosters this year.

- As usual, the MWC and A10 have more mature rosters. They lose fewer players to the NBA and that helps the top MWC and A10 teams compete, even without a plethora of blue chip talent.

Class

Sr%

Jr%

So%

Fr%

MWC

35%

30%

17%

17%

A10

33%

27%

19%

21%

P12

28%

32%

18%

22%

B12

32%

19%

26%

23%

BE

22%

32%

27%

19%

B10

27%

26%

23%

24%

SEC

25%

28%

24%

22%

ACC

25%

22%

23%

31%

The Pac-12 is getting older in a hurry, thanks in no small part to an influx of transfers. Note that your transfer numbers may vary slightly. I’m excluding transfer walk-ons and a few JUCOs who seem unlikely to play in the next table.

Incoming Transfers

D1

JUCO+

P12

15

8

SEC

10

11

BE

14

6

MWC

7

5

B12

7

5

A10

8

3

ACC

3

3

B10

5

1

The transfer table doesn’t mean the Pac-12 has suddenly become the conference of transfers. This is all a natural consequence of recent league history. The Pac-12 teams have struggled the last few years making those teams particularly attractive places for transfers to matriculate. If you want to transfer and PLAY in an elite league, you would have chosen the Pac-12 too.  On the other hand, the Big Ten has been on an upswing and few coaches have needed to dip into the JUCO ranks as a quick fix. Deverell Biggs of Nebraska is currently the only incoming JUCO player projected for the Big Ten this year.

Overall, the Pac-12 was a depleted league, but it is adding a number of impact freshmen and key transfers this year. The days of the league failing to field a Top 25 team are over. As for the Big Ten, the jury is still out. The teams at the top still have plenty of talent, but programs like Purdue could be in for a bit of a slip without an influx of can’t miss players coming in.

Team-By-Team Gold Medal Winners

The Jazz and Thunder have had the most Gold Medalists since the USA began bringing NBA players in 1992, while Duke leads amongst colleges. How do the other 29 NBA teams rank?

2012 Big East Power Rankings

Syracuse finished the regular season with a 17-1 record and were predictably significantly better than any Big East rival.

Freshmen Bring Hope

Teams that play a lot of freshmen are the most likely to improve as the season goes on, while those with a lot of experience are more likely to plateau. In this piece, we examine freshmen minutes for every major school in the country.

Big East Prospect Watch

With Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Khem Birch and Mouphtaou Yarou, the Big East once again has several high-quality NBA prospects.

Game One - The College Basketball Journey Begins

College basketball season does not begin with a match-up of Top 25 teams. It begins with a group of freshmen taking the floor for the first time at home. Maybe that is fitting.

Surprises And Flops, Part 2

Examining the surprises and flops this season in the Big East, ACC, Big 12 and Atlantic-10.

Conference Rankings (End Of Jan. Edition)

As we have commonly seen in recent seasons, the Big East has been the deepest conference in the country.

 

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