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Looking To The 2015 NBA Draft: Shooting Guards

With the deadline to declare for the 2014 NBA Draft behind us, our look at the top prospects coming back to school at each position continues with the shooting guards. The big thing for most players at the position is opportunity - there are only so many touches and so many shots to go around in an offense. Ideally, an NBA prospect at the SG position can dominate the ball for at least one season, in order to give scouts an idea of how complete they are as an offensive player.

That’s how you make your money in the draft - Nik Stauskas went from a spot-up shooter (and a second-round prospect) to the Big Ten Player of the Year (and possible lottery pick) when he moved into a bigger role at Michigan following the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Of course, not every player will respond well to such an opportunity. Glenn Robinson III lost a ton of money when he wasn’t able to make a similar leap in his sophomore season. 

There is no shortage of big, athletic guards who can shoot the ball - what separates the best SG prospects is the ability to attack the rim and create shots for their teammates. This is the most important summer of most of these player’s careers. If they can’t prove they can handle the extra responsibility, they will become yesterday’s news as a new wave of SG’s comes up behind them. The margin for error for a 6’5+ wing prospect isn’t all that high.

Wayne Selden, Kansas - After playing in the shadow of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid as a freshman, Selden will be given the keys to the Kansas offense as a sophomore. At 6’5 230, he’s a good athlete with excellent size for a SG and his strength should allow him to double as a SF at the next level. Selden had to adjust to playing off the ball last season, but he showed promise as a scorer, shooter and passer. If he can improve his shooting percentages while maintaining a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, he should be in the lottery discussion.

Caris Levert, Michigan - With the departures of Stauskas, Robinson and Mitch McGary to the NBA, a lot will be expected of Levert headed into his junior season. At 6’6 220 with the ability to shoot 3’s, put the ball on the floor and create shots for others, Levert has all the tools to make a Stauskas-like leap as the primary option in John Beilein’s system. He’s faster and more solidly built than Stauskas and he’s almost as good a shooter, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up as the better NBA player.

Jabari Bird, Cal - A 6’6 180 athlete with good ball-handling and shooting ability, Bird has all the tools to be an NBA SG. With Justin Cobbs graduated, he should have a much bigger role in the Cal offense next season, although the transition from an offensive minded coach in Mike Montgomery to a defensive-minded coach ni Cuonzo Martin could take some getting used too. If Bird can play up to his potential and grown into a role as a first option at Cal, he should make Martin’s new life on the West Coast a little easier.

Jordan Richardson, Tennessee - With Jordan McRae and Jeronne Maymon graduating, Jarnell Stokes declaring for the NBA Draft and Cuonzo Martin off to Cal, Richardson is the one of the only players left from Tennessee’s unlikely run to the Sweet 16. At 6’6 200, Richardson is an elite athlete with the potential to be a defensive stopper on the next level. His discovery of a three-point shot last season is what allowed the Volunteers to make a run - he will have to start creating his own shot for them to stay near the top of the SEC.

Keith Frazier, SMU - As the first McDonald’s All-American to come to SMU in a generation, there were a lot of expectations on Frazier headed into his freshman season. An electric athlete at 6’5 190 with the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, he definitely has the tools to play in the NBA, but he spent most of the season playing like a poor man’s Gerald Green. If Larry Brown can get him playing within himself as a sophomore, he could team up with Emmanuel Mudiay to push the Mustangs program to previously unforseen heights.

Other names to watch:

Jerian Grant (Notre Dame), Michael Frazier II (Florida), Aaron Harrison (Kentucky), Dez Wells (Maryland)

You Can Never Have Enough Tall Shooters

There are a million different reasons for the slow motion collapse of the Indiana Pacers over the last few months, but the heart of their problem against the Atlanta Hawks is simple enough - spacing. The Hawks, despite being far less talented, do a much better job of spacing the floor than the Pacers, which has allowed them to take a stunning 3-2 lead in their first-round series. Atlanta plays more guys who shoot 3’s, so they have an easier time getting open shots.

The low point for Indiana came in the second quarter of Game 5, when they were outscored 41-19. Leading the charge for the Hawks was Mike Scott, a second-year 6’8 240 power forward out of Virginia. Scott, who was drafted in the second round in 2012, went 6-6 from the field in the quarter, including 5 three pointers. Luis Scola, whom the Pacers acquired for a first-round pick, Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green, couldn’t stay attached to him on the perimeter. 

Indiana’s No. 1 rated defense is built around packing the paint and preventing opposing teams from getting any open looks at the rim. They are one of the biggest teams in the NBA, with a 7’2 Goliath standing in front of the rim next to another 6’9 bruiser and three of the longest and most athletic perimeter players in the NBA in front of them. They were built to beat the Miami Heat, a team full of slashers, but they have no answer for an Atlanta offense that plays five out.

Hibbert has been rendered completely ineffective in this series, forced to defend Pero Antic 25+ feet from the basket and unable to get back to protect the rim. The Hawks top three big men - Antic, Scott and Paul Millsapp - can all step out and shoot three pointers, forcing the Pacers big men to defend out on the perimeter. As a result, the Atlanta guards can operate in a ton of space, with a ton of driving lanes to attack the paint or drive and kick for an open 3.

On the other side of the floor, Indiana hasn’t been able to get enough floor spacing for Paul George and Lance Stephenson to take advantage of their 1-on-1 ability. None of the Pacers top three big men - Hibbert, Scola and David West - can consistently shoot 3’s, so the Atlanta big men can pack the paint and stagnate the Indiana offense. In the first four games, Indiana tried to pound the ball inside and take advantage of their size, but they weren’t efficient enough to make it work. 

It’s simple geometry. The Hawks' five out offense forces the Pacers to defend the entire length and width of the floor, while the Pacers two post offense allows the Hawks to clog the paint. All of Indiana’s size and talent has been negated by Atlanta’s numbers advantage. There’s no question that the Pacers are the better team, but in the crucible of a seven-game series, with their offense ground to a halt and Hibbert rendered ineffective, they have to change things up.

They were able to get back into Game 5 by downsizing and going small, moving West to center and bringing in Chris Copeland off the bench. Copeland, a 6’8 235 stretch 4, hasn’t played much all season and was only 2-7 from the field on Monday, but his presence changed the game completely. He was +17 in his 20 minutes on the floor - all of a sudden, Indiana had a guy who opened up driving lanes for their guards and was able to stick with Scott on the perimeter. 

Neither Scott nor Copeland has the pedigree or statistics of a big-time player, but they have become two of the most important players in the series. While Scott was a second round draft pick and Copeland had to bounce around Europe for years before getting a shot at the NBA, their skill-set - the ability to stand behind a post player on defense and shoot 3’s on offense - is invaluable to their teams. Every team in the NBA needs at least one stretch 4 on their bench. 

We’ve seen that on the other side of the bracket as well. The Golden State Warriors went small in Game 4, moving Draymond Green into the starting line-up and blowing the Los Angeles Clippers off the floor. Green, at 6’7 240, has just enough size to not be destroyed by Blake Griffin and his ability to shoot 3’s and put the ball on the floor put the Clippers defense in a bind. Playing in so much space allowed Steph Curry to go off, with 5 three pointers in the first quarter. 

When Green got into foul trouble in the first half of Game 5, the Warriors were much more effective with Harrison Barnes at the 4 than Marreese Speights. In the second half, the Clippers were eventually forced to go small too, at least when DeAndre Jordan was on the bench. Rather than playing Glen Davis, a big-bodied bruiser who can’t shoot 3’s, Doc Rivers moved Matt Barnes to the power forward position and played Griffin as the Clippers backup center.

Adding more shooting is one of the easiest adjustments a coach can make in a playoff series. By the third or fourth game, the other team knows your plays as well as their own, so it becomes increasingly harder to execute in the half-court. You can either turn up the defensive pressure, force TO’s and play more in transition or you can stretch out the defense with more frontcourt shooting. Either way, the goal is for the offense to play in as much space as possible.

The good news is stretch 4’s aren’t that hard to find - Scott and Green were second-round picks that any team in the NBA could have picked up. Their lack of ideal size for the position caused them to slip in the draft, but their skill-set is so valuable that their flaws can be overlooked, especially on a second unit. They may not have the brand name value of a player like Scola or Davis, but the undersized stretch 4 has proven to be more valuable than the conventional 4.

One player in this year’s draft who fits that mold is Oregon senior Mike Moser, a 6’8 230 power forward who shot 38% from three as a senior. Once considered a first-round pick at UNLV, injuries and a transfer have caused Moser’s stock to plummet. He doesn’t have the physical talent of many of the power forwards ahead of him on draft boards, but his skill-set could help teams. If this playoffs have shown anything, it’s that you can never have enough tall shooters.

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)

Identifying What Late 1st Round Big Men CAN Do

You can always find a good perimeter player in the D-League, but the best 6’10+ players in the world are pretty much spoken for. Mason Plumlee and Dieng had turned themselves into effective centers in college, but they slipped in the draft because of concerns about their age and ceiling.

Duncan's Longevity & The Meaninglessness Of Stardom

There have been a ton of articles marveling about the Spurs longevity atop the NBA, but there's no real mystery to what's going on. Having Tim Duncan meant your team had a great offense and a great defense. There are not many players in the history of basketball you can say that about.

MCW & Giannis: Why The Eye Test Still Matters

When you are evaluating young players, the statistics can only tell you so much. That's why there are still ways to find steals in the draft - look for the tallest, longest and most athletic guys at each position. It’s really that simple.

Draft Report: Dante Exum Of Australian Institute Of Sport

While Dante Exum isn’t quite as long and athletic as Andrew Wiggins, he’s far more skilled. He’s an elite athlete in his own right and plays with more poise. You have to play Trading Places with these guys - what would have happened if Exum was on the AAU circuit every summer and Wiggins was in the AIS?

NBA Players Who Could Still Be In College

It’s easy to forget how young some of the players in the league are - freshmen drafted in 2011 would have been college seniors this season. You have to judge young players against guys their age not against the guys in their draft class.

One And Done Model Works For Everyone

John Calipari is 18-3 in the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky. Even more remarkable, he compiled that number with four completely different teams, sending upwards of 15 players to the NBA. It’s a vindication not only of how he built his program, but of the entire “one and done” model.

The Draft Deadline

The crucial earning years for a basketball player aren't their early 20's but their late 20's, when they are in the prime physically. At that point, it's not about whether they maximized their draft position but whether they developed their game and maximized their earning potential before they start to decline.

Blue Blood Schools Again Taking Country's Best Talent

The programs who reel in multiple players from the McDonald’s game are the sport’s blue bloods. There were 13 schools represented at the game, but only five with multiple recruits - Duke and Kentucky with 4, UNC with 3, Kansas and UCLA with 2.

The Bigs Of The Incoming 2014 College Class

Jahlil Okafor, for all his skills, plays more like the No. 1 overall pick in 1994 than 2014. For a glimpse at where the game is going, you have to look at Karl Towns and Myles Turner, two of the other top big men in the class of 2014.

How Kentucky Became Better Than The Sum Of Its Parts

In a tourney filled with unlikely stories, none is more unlikely than John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats becoming a Cinderella. Rather than 2-3 guys emerging as stars, everyone on has shared the burden, with each member of their rotation coming up big at a different time.

Balance Remains Key To Winning In March

While UCLA could only beat you with offense and San Diego State could only beat you with defense, Arizona and Florida could beat you with both. An elite team can beat you in multiple ways.

All About The Bigs In March

One of the most common misnomers about the NCAA Tournament is that it’s a “guard’s game." While it is very hard to win games in March without quality backcourt play, it is just as hard to win them without quality play in the frontcourt. The best teams have good players at each of the five positions on the floor, which allows them to match-up with any opponent.

Michigan State Undercover: The Most Complete Team In Tournament

When their five starters are in, Michigan State has an NBA prospect at every position who can impact the game on offense and defense. Unlike the rest of the field of 68, they don’t have an exploitable weakness on either side of the ball.

The Wichita State Match-Up Blueprint

Wichita State has become one of the best programs in the country, regardless of conference affiliation. They want to get the game going up-and-down, where they have the advantage in terms of taking care of the ball and knocking down transition 3’s.

Dwight Howard Has Rockets Looking Like Title Contenders

No one was winning a title with Dwight Howard’s supporting cast in either Orlando or Los Angeles. He’s in a better situation with the Rockets, with a shrewd front office and a talented young core around him.

The Outlook For The Blazers At The Deadline

It would be easy for the Blazers to stand pat at the deadline, as they’ve already done more than enough to clinch their first playoff appearance since 2011. At the same time, their core is firmly in their 20s and the long-term status of LaMarcus Aldridge hasn't been resolved.

Terrence Ross Keying Raptors' Ascent, Reason For Optimism

Over the last generation, many of the league’s best shooting guard prospects have been undone by getting too much too soon. Terrence Ross has been the exact opposite, an All-NBA talent forced to pay his dues and learn the game at every stop of the way.

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