College Road Report: Connecticut vs Pittsburgh
|by: Rodger Bohn - Director of Prep Scouting
|March 11, 2009
|DraftExpress was on hand at the Peterson Events Center this past weekend to take in top ranked Connecticut against #3 Pittsburgh in our latest college road report. In this edition, we take a look at Pitt forwards DeJuan Blair and Sam Young, as well as UConn prospects Hasheem Thabeet, Kemba Walker, A.J. Price, Stanley Robinson, and Jeff Adrien.
Hasheem Thabeet, 7í3, Junior, Center, Connecticut
13.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 blocks, .5 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 64% FG, 63% FT
We will have a more comprehensive scouting report update on Thabeet coming in future weeks, so these are merely some observations from this game that stood out watching in person
It was truly the tale of two halves for Thabeet, looking like the potential top pick in the first half against Pitt, only to resemble a player a long ways away from contributing in the NBA in the second. This small sample of Thabeet gave a glimpse of how dominant he can potentially become down the road, but also how raw he still is at this point.
The game started with the Huskies looking to establish Thabeet immediately on the offensive end. He ran a number of successful pick and rolls with A.J. Price, making tough catches in traffic and finishing around the rim. UConn also got the ball to Thabeet early in the pivot, where he finished with a number of drop steps to the basket. He scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half before disappearing in the second.
Despite the fact he had one of his better offensive halves of the season early on, he still didnít read the defense at all on his finishes around the rim. There were many times in which he was given an opportunity towards his right shoulder and finish, yet he insisted upon going towards his left and finishing with his right hand. Hasheemís passing skills also showed mixed results, where he did a great job of reading the double team on a few possessions and made nice skip passesÖonly to make a number of downright careless passes later on in the game.
Thabeetís immense size couldnít have been more evident than on the defensive end. He clogs the paint so well with his size and length, providing an impact that does not appear in any box score. Thabeet was quite strong rebounding the ball and has improved his timing on the defensive end considerably, allowing him to block a number of shots this season while staying out of foul trouble. What was most impressive this game was the juniorís improving ability to defend the pick and roll, though. While his lateral quickness is quite poor, he finally seems to understand that by merely offering a strong hedge on a ball screen, his length is enough to force the ball handler to loop around himÖgiving the player who was screened plenty of time to recover. That doesnít mean that Thabeet is an outstanding pick and roll defender by any stretch, but he is definitely not the liability at defending this facet of the game that he was earlier in his career.
The first glaring thing we noticed when observing Thabeet in person was his lack of balance and poor core strength. This was especially glaring on the offensive end when attempting to establish post position on the low blocks. He was easily forced away from the hoop by DaJuan Blair and the slightest amount of contact knocked him off balance and/or sent him to the ground. Unless this improves substantially, heís going to have obvious problems against the stronger centers the league has to offer.
The recurring issues with Thabeet losing focus, his questionable motor, and lack of strength with the ball were all apparent against Pitt. These are issues that are certainly going to have to improve quickly, given that he is a likely top 10 pick and should be heading to a team that will need some sort of contribution from him immediately. Either way, itís hard to imagine another center being picked before Thabeet when draft day rolls around in June.
DeJuan Blair, 6í7, Sophomore, Power Forward, Pittsburgh
15.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.4 turnovers, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 60% FG, 62% FT
We will have a more comprehensive scouting report update on Blair coming in future weeks, so these are merely some observations from this game that stood out watching in person
Blair didnít have quite the showing that he did against Thabeet the first time the two tangled this season, finishing with a pedestrian 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. His performance was enough to frustrate Thabeet immensely in the second half and help his team to a huge victory, though.
Standing within an armís reach of Blair before the game, itís clear that heís legitimately 6í7 and is not in that bad of shape. Heís also quite toned when you see him up close and personal. Blairís shoulders are as broad as anyoneís youíll meet, explaining why he is able to take up so much space in the paint when heís posting.
The first thing that really stood out about Blair watching him in person was his ability to set monster screens. This guy flat out lays people out, and seems to take great pleasure in doing so. The Pittsburgh native knocked down a number of UConn players down with his bruising picks, which were not dirty in the least bit. He simply knows how to use his strength and set a solid screen, something that will benefit him quite a bit once he reaches the NBA.
The aforementioned strength also allows him to gain incredibly low position on the pivots, to the point that he can basically work from 7 feet and in. He uses his body to get into defenders and create space, helping compensate for his poor leaping ability. He holds his position on the pivot down low on the defensive end as well, seen by his ability to force Thabeet away from the rim for the majority of the game.
Blair is not a high leaper, but possesses very quick leaping ability. This, combined with his length, is why he is able to get his hands on a number of balls that most players would not be able to, both in terms of rebounds and blocked shots. When you combine this with his outstanding motor, wingspan and strength, itís easy to see why this guy is such an animal on the glass.
It was clear observing Blair in person that he definitely doesnít move the best laterally when defending players who face the basket. When he picked up a couple of fouls early on, Coach Dixon had Blair defend Jeff Adrien, who immediately faced Blair up and beat him off the dribble. Adrien isnít exactly what youíd call the most explosive guy off of the dribble, so imagine what will happen when heís matched up against one of the hybrid power forwards that are becoming more and more common in the NBA today.
From what weíre hearing, itís looking likely that Blair gives the NBA a shot this season after a great sophomore campaign. He currently projects as a mid-first round pick, but that could certainly change depending on Pittís success in the NCAA tournament.[/p]
Sam Young, 6í6, Senior, Small Forward, Pittsburgh
18.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 2.4 turnovers, 1.1 steals, .8 blocks, 50% FG, 36% 3PT, 71%FT
[i]Having just wrote about Sam Young two weeks ago, weíll mostly focus specifically on his performance against UCONN only[/p]
If this was the only game that you saw Sam Young, you would swear that you were looking at a lottery pick based on the 31 point, 10 rebound hurting that he put on UCONN. This was the climax of a stretch of strong performances Young has put together to end the regular season of his final collegiate campaign.
Standing next to Young before the game, he appears to be a legit 6í6 with quite long arms. He has an absolutely chiseled body that looks like it could add substantially more weight if desired. Though a little on the short side for a small forward, he certainly has all of the other ideal aspects in the physical profile for a wing in the NBA.
Young was simply a nightmare for UConn to defend on Saturday. He was able to blow by both Jeff Adrien and Stanley Robinson off of the dribble, where he was able to finish at the rim with either hand. It was definitely clear that Young was not the strongest ball handler, but his explosive first step helped make up for that. In the open court though, Youngís marginal handle was a bit more exposed and he appeared to be quite out of control at times.
When cut off going towards the basket or in the open floor, it became apparent that passing definitely isnít the strong point of Samís game. He often dribbles with his head down and routinely misses open teammates. This isnít indicating that Young is a selfish player by any nature, but is another example of how he is still transitioning to becoming a small forward.
Young looked to be a pretty nice catch and shoot jump shooter from beyond the arc. He didnít do much moving around or coming off of screens, but when left with his feet set in a static position, he can easily knock it down from beyond the arc pretty routinely when left open.
The high motor that Young has allows him to really get out in transition, where he finishes with his very nice athleticism. The senior had a number of high flying dunks against UConn, simply by beating defenders down the floor and filling the lanes in transition. This energy carried over to the defensive end as well, where he collected a number of rebounds that were clearly out of his area via hustle plays.
Defensively, Young appears to be ready to guard small forwards at the next level. He is a smart player who exhibits nice lateral quickness and has very good length. Throw in his athleticism, maturity, and understanding of defensive rotations and youíll see why we are looking at a player who should be a pretty nice defender at the next level.
Young is currently looking to establish himself as a solid first round pick. He will have plenty of opportunity to do that in the NCAA tournament and in pre-draft workouts, where he will likely work solely at the wing positions.
Kemba Walker, 6í0, Freshman, Point Guard, Connecticut
8.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 turnovers, 1.1 steals, 48% FG, 32% 3PT, 74% FT
Walker has put together a very solid freshman season, playing behind senior point guard A.J. Price. He ranks 6th amongst freshman point guards in assists per 40 minutes and 3rd in rebounds per 40 minutes, an impressive feat given that he is playing point for only half of the time he is on the hardwood usually.
Though Walker wonít wow anyone physically in terms of size, length, or strength, he is a very quick player who completely utilizes his speed to every facet of his game. He appears to be a very smart player, running the helm for one of the top programs in the country as a freshman. Many times throughout the season when UConn was beginning to unravel, coach Calhoun would put Walker at the point and slide A.J. Price over to the shooting guard spot, showing his confidence in his young playmaker.
Walkerís offensive game primarily centers around his ability to get to the rim. Comfortable going both left and right, he possesses a devastating change of direction dribble that can collapse a defense in a heartbeat. His relatively slender frame does not deter him from finishing at the rim amongst the trees, even though he stands only a hair over six feet tall. The kid is simply fearless when going to the rim, while also maintaining the poise to run an offense and not forcing the issue. And in the cases that he is not able to score, he shows absolutely gorgeous court vision, especially in terms of drop off passes to big men.
The main problem with Walkerís offensive game centers around his ability to shoot the ball. While he is not an awful shooter, most defenders opt to play off of him and make them beat him with his jumper. This is the primary area of his game that he will need to improve upon if he hopes to establish himself as one of the elite point guards in the country for next season. Heís also a little bit turnover prone at this point in his career, although with added experience and having the keys to his team full time next year, this could change.
Walker really excels on the defensive end, playing tough on the ball defense and also great team defense. When not pressuring the ball, he did a very nice job of rotating and even tried taking a few charges against bigger Pitt players. Not only was it clear that Walker has the physical ability to defend, but he also understands HOW to defend, which makes him even more appealing as a prospect.
With A.J. Price graduating, the Huskies will be Walkerís team for the 09-10 season, where he will likely enter as one of the top point guard prospects for 2010. Obviously itís a bit premature to start talking about his pro prospects, but draft fans should remember a player who should be one of the top playmakers in the collegiate game next season when watching the conference tournaments. His lack of size will always be considered a hindrance on both ends of the floor, but he seems to show the type of intangibles you look for to make up for that.
A.J. Price, 6í2, Senior, Point Guard, Connecticut
13.3 points, 4.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 turnovers, .6 steals, 42% FG, 42% 3PT, 70% FT
Price appears to be a very different player then the one that we observed last season, lacking explosiveness to the rim now, usually settling for outside jumpers instead of driving to the rim. Regardless of his style of play, we are still looking at a very heady point guard who ranks amongst the tops in his position in the Big East.
The senior has seen his style of play change due to the serious knee injury that he suffered within the last year, seemingly taking away a lot of his explosiveness. He is only converting on 42% of his 2-point attempts this season (down from 48%), which is an extremely poor rate. His free throw attempts are also down fairly substantially. He struggled desperately against Pitt getting to the rim, usually settling for contested jumpers. Price really had problems creating space against Pittís Levance Fields, but was still able to get his fair share of points on the board because of his nice skill set.
The main weapon of Priceís offensive arsenal this season has been his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. This is seen especially when you consider the fact that he has made more three pointers (68) then both two point shots and free throws (61 a piece respectively). 53% of his field goal attempts come from behind the arc in fact, up from 38% last season. He is perfectly capable of shooting the ball off of the dribble or from a static position, as seen when he slides over to the shooting guard slot. The New York native has displayed no problem shooting the ball out to the NBA three with relative ease, either.
The other top asset that Price owns as a prospect is his ability to run the pick and roll. A very efficient guard, he does an outstanding job of making the proper reads when coming off of ball screens. This will obviously prove key for him at the next level considering that the majority of NBA teams run the pick and roll for a large part of the game. Priceís assist output is not an entirely accurate reflection of his court vision, given UConnís use of multiple point guards late in the season. It is pretty clear that heís more of a scorer that a distributor, though, and a bit turnover prone at that.
There is still a ton of work to do with Price on the defensive end. He doesnít have very good lateral quickness, nor does he seem to have much desire on this end of the court. Luckily for Connecticut, they have Kemba Walker to pick up the slack defensively and can stick Price on the lesser threat opposing backcourts have to offer.
Price is currently projected as a second round pick, with his tournament play and workouts playing crucial into solidifying his chances of getting drafted. He should at least get a shot somewhere in this league whether heís drafted or not due to his experience running a team at the highest level of college basketball, and his perimeter shooting.
Stanley Robinson, 6í9, Junior, Small Forward/Power Forward, Connecticut
6.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.5 turnovers, 1.0 blocks, .6 steals, 45% FG, 6% 3PT, 57%FT
Words cannot even begin to explain the struggles that Stanley Robinson has endured this season, but weíll try. After contemplating moving back to Alabama and not playing the first semester, he has played in the last 22 games and never come close to finding a groove. His game against Pittsburgh was no different.
Itís easy to see the outstanding potential that Robinson possesses. At 6í9 and with a long wingspan, he has a prototypical frame for either forward position. He has added a nice amount of muscle to his frame and is now around the 230 pound mark, also solid for a face the basket forward. Combine that with the athleticism he possesses and youíre looking at a player who really fits the bill of a serious NBA prospect.
That is where things have stopped for Robinson this season, though. After shooting 41% from the three point line as a sophomore, he is shooting the ball at a grizzly 6% from three this season. His ball handling skills have not improved at all, nor has his midrange game. Itís kind of tough to play the small forward position when struggling to have one single offensive skill that distinguishes you as a wing. Robinsonís offensive output this season has basically solely been buckets that were scored off of his athleticism.
A downright freak athletically, the Alabama native offers a great first step in addition to outstanding leaping ability. This allows him to get past defenders from time to time on the baseline and to the rim, despite his poor ball-handling skills. It also allows him to be a monster finisher above the rim, both in transition and in half court situations. The emerging perimeter skills that we started to see in small doses last season in Robinson just arenít there this season, for one reason or another.
A strong defender last year, he has struggled on that end this season as well. Though he has outstanding length and lateral quickness, he bites for every single ball fake and often loses focus on this end of hardwood. Itís made for a really tough situation at UConn because they have a player with all of the talent in the world, who seemingly canít find it this season.
Given his performance this season, Robinson should undoubtedly be returning to Storrs for his senior season. Having all of the makings of an NBA prospect, he is a player that will be followed closely by NBA scouts over the remainder of his career, in attempt to see if he will ever develop into the outstanding prospect he could potentially become.
Jeff Adrien, 6í6, Senior, Power Forward, Connecticut
13.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.6 turnovers, 1 block, 50% FG, 64% FT
Adrien has played the part of undersized power forward for UCONN for seemingly forever now, nearly averaging a double double for three consecutive seasons now. While the production has remained constant, his skill set really hasnít drastically changed over the last few seasons in terms of his NBA skill set.
The obstacles that Adrien has to overcome are his lack of ideal height (though he does have a very long wingspan), freakish athleticism, or an advanced skill set. He is still much more of a back to the basket player, lacking a consistent face-up jumper. When in the pivot though, very much favors his right hand and almost never opts to turn towards his left shoulder. In the occasions that he does choose to face the basket, he has shown a nice first step going right but is usually a bit out of control. Adrien is hitting around 41% of his jump-shots this season, up from 28% last season, but will very rarely take more than one or two attempts per-game. His free throw shooting has improved marginally, from 62 to 64% this year. He has also managed to cut down on his turnover rate substantially, which shows that his feel for the game (always considered a major weakness of his) is starting to improve.
Defensively, Adrien has no problems defending players who own more of a back to the basket game, such as DeJuan Blair. However, he struggles mightily when matched up against players who can face the basket, a la Sam Young, due to his poor lateral quickness. In terms of team defense though, Adrien rotates well and often finds himself in position to draw charges.
Adrienís motor and tough play are going to be the two things that give him a chance of finding a place in the league. He is a ferocious rebounder, who is incredibly active on both ends of the floor. While itís going to take some strong play in the tournament and workouts for Adrien to assure himself of being drafted, he should have an opportunity to make someoneís roster as a hustle player by the time training camp rolls around.
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