With many of the marquee non-conference battles already in the books, the rising/falling candidates become more difficult to identify. With that said, this week’s Stock Watch puts forth an interesting blend of finished product upperclassmen and potential laden-underclassmen from across the collegiate landscape. Without further ado…
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Napier is assertively climbing the rungs of legendary Husky point guard with each passing game. Rather than have his exploits compared to those of Kemba Walker, soon enough it’ll just be ‘Shabazz being Shabazz’… or maybe it already is. The clutch gene is quite strong with this guy. Napier scored 27 of Connecticut’s 59 points in the 2K Sports title game against Indiana, including 14 in the second half and seven in the final 4:29. Versus Florida on December 2nd he again scored 26 of his team’s 65, and again poured in 14 in the second stanza. However, Napier surpassed his own superior levels of magicianry in this one, scoring six points in the final 39 seconds on a four-point play (came up lame afterwards) and subsequent follow-up free throw line jumper as time expired.
His shooting efficiency has been off the charts: 50% from the field, 57% from distance (1.8 makes) and 78% from the free throw line (3.6 makes). He’s a difficult shot maker extraordinaire in large part due to remarkable balance – from deep range pull up treys (many of the bail-out variety) to one-footed step back jumpers to contortionist style layups around the rim. More creative probing off the pick and roll and fewer three-point attempting = rewarding recipe. Napier has great hands defensively, but too often sells out for the swipe from behind, particularly when fatigued.
The senior plays with absolute ice in his veins. To quote UCONN head coach Kevin Ollie: “He relishes the moment. Some people run away from it, but he embraces it.” He came back to school to win games and enhance his draft stock; the Huskies are 9-0 and Napier has slid into the first round recently in the mock draft. The mission is an early-season success.
Jabari Brown, Missouri
We detailed Jordan Clarkson in an earlier Stock Watch, now it’s time to give his backcourt mate Jabari Brown much deserved recognition. The 2011 recruit has played in just 36 collegiate games, but he is rapidly making up for lost time. Brown is scoring 20 points per game for 9-0 (yet unranked) Mizzou, surpassing the 13-point plateau in every game and cracking 22+ on four occasions.
With a powerful base to draw from, Brown possesses an effortless shooting stroke with unlimited range that has him connecting on three treys per game at a clip of 42%. However, 57% of his shot attempts come from behind the three-point line – and that’s obviously a bit excessive. He attacked the rim more versus UCLA on Saturday afternoon, getting to the stripe ten times (making all 10) and putting his 215 pound frame and solid athleticism to use. Right now he’s a lethal shooter… if he wants to become a lethal scorer he’ll need to diversify with greater frequency. Not surprisingly given his physical prowess, he’s a productive defensive rebounder for a guard. Brown currently sits at #34 in the 2015 mock.
LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
Fortunes can turn quickly in the world of draft prospect monitoring. Just two weeks ago Ross was in the dumpster; now he’s back on the ascent. The 6’8 junior is putting up 20 points per game over his last three (2.3 PPG in his prior three), connecting on 70% of two-pointers and 53% from deep (8 makes). Maryland started off in a 2/3 zone on December 4th and Ross absolutely torched them with four standstill three-pointers in the opening 5:30 of the game. He’s an explosive/dynamic offense weapons, but the peaks and valleys and bouts of offensive passivity need to be eliminated. His movements are stiff and he can be exposed defensively. Ross might be best served to remain in Columbus for four years, but there's a real chance he will opt to leave this year.
Rondae Hollis Jefferson, Arizona
The early season statistics from Hollis-Jefferson don’t jump off the page, but his versatility is already proving to be a comfort for head coach Sean Miller. Every game he does something different to help the Wildcats win… and he’s just finding his sea legs at this level offensively. His defense is ready-made. In the last three games Hollis-Jefferson has seen more court time, to the tune of 27, 26 and 28 minutes. The results have been intriguing: six rebounds and two blocks in the win over Duke; eight rebounds eight FT attempts versus Texas Tech; nine points, seven rebounds and six assists versus UNLV. Perhaps what’s most impressive is his turnover total, or lack thereof. He’s coughed up the rock only five times in nine games. While Hollis-Jefferson appears unsure of his definitive role within the offense, he certainly does not play like a 19-year old freshman. With a potential mass exodus from Arizona at season’s end, he’ll get an opportunity to strut his stuff without being reigned in. He has the skill package to the lead the Cats, as reinforced by his #10 projection in 2015.
Caris LeVert, Michigan
The Wolverines have a void in the offensive playmaker department, but LeVert is putting forth his best effort to fill it. The 6’6 sophomore is stepping up his game in a major way, averaging 14 points, four rebound and 2.5 assists per game in 32 minutes; dramatic increases from his 2.3/1.1/0.8 triple slash a frosh (11 minutes). While he arrived on campus with the reputation as a shooter, LeVert has proven to be far more versatile through nine games in 2013-2014.
With his team unable to find decent looks on the road at Cameron Indoor, John Beilein turned to LeVert as the primary ball handler in the second half to tap into a potential mismatch. He responded with 20 points in the final twenty minutes, keeping Michigan within relative shouting distance. Coach K was impressed: “He was terrific. Instead of just shooting the ball from the outside, he drove the ball and gave them a huge lift when Stauskas wasn’t scoring. They were having a hard time scoring and LeVert put them on his back and was terrific.” Indeed, for all the positive attributes Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III bring to the floor, creating offense is not among their strengths – they are dependent scorers. LeVert’s aggression level was highly encouraging, and he’s moved into the first-round at #30 in the 2015 mock.
Austin Nichols, Memphis
Nichols has gone about his business ‘under the radar’ to this point; he was quietly a top-15 national recruit and he’s quietly averaged 12 & 6 in his first seven collegiate games. He scored 19 points and snatched eight boards in 38 minutes against the sizeable and talented front of LSU, and he’s blocked at least one shot in every game. Let’s call this the calm before the storm, because Nichols’ game is loud. Standing at 6’9 with a massive 7’2 wingspan, Nichols possesses an advanced skill level in tandem with terrific athleticism. His coordination is eye-catching – runs the floor exceedingly well and is a quick leaper. Mid-range jumper with a high release point is already a good looking stroke. Nichols must get stronger to battle in the post consistently, but his feel on the interior can’t be denied. While his canvas is very attractive, there are some concerns about his ability to develop under the current Memphis coaching staff. Nonetheless, Nichols has soared up to #13 in the 2015 mock.
Michael Qualls, Arkansas
Qualls is a “bully guard” at 6’6 225 with elite athleticism and incredibly long arms. When asked by SB Nation if his rumored 44-inch vertical was legit, he responded: “My junior year in high school it was, like, a 38, but its way higher now. Maybe it could be true, but I feel like I just jump as high as the team needs me to jump. I haven't had my vertical measured since I've been here.” Slashing to the hoop and crashing the offensive glass were traits he displayed as a freshman, but this shooting efficiency… where did it come from? The sophomore is hitting 55% from the floor, 80% from the FT line and 50% from three (1.8 makes); he made six threes all of last season. His stroke is not a work of art by any means, and he’s not your typical catch-and-shoot guy, but he’s knocking them down with regularity. As Aran noted in his prospect evaluations from Maui, his handle needs work. Power jump stops into the lane won’t fly forever. For now though, he’s leading Arkansas with 16 PPG in 27 minutes in Mike Anderson’s plenty of bodies system and bolstering his draft stock (#25 in 2015).
Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
As I mentioned in the ACC blog from 11/28, prior to his apparent benching, Sulaimon is a head case right now. With Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood inhabiting the focal roles – on and off the court – Sulaimon has retreated into a shell. He hasn’t made more than two FG’s in a game since November 12th (Kansas) and he has one total three-pointer since that same date. Rather than advancing his game with talent surrounding him, he’s been totally unable to meld into the new offensive order. His position tweener status has really been highlighted. After Sulaimon failed to get off the bench versus Michigan, Coach K sent the challenge loud and clear: “He has to play better than the guys who played tonight”. Projecting his draft status right now would be a practice in futility… but it’s not good. Is he a transfer candidate?
AJ Hammons, Purdue
After building up his stock dramatically towards the latter stages of his freshman year, Hammons is off to a poor start in year two. He was suspended for the season opener for violating undisclosed team rules, and since returning his effort has been uninspiring. A 7’0 250-pounder with freakish agility and a soft touch should not be sitting on 4.3 field goal attempts per game. There is no sense of urgency from Hammons, no apparent desire to dominate. He’s content just floating around, going through the motions… and blocking shots – and he blocks a lot of them (4 per game). The Boilermakers will need him to wake up for conference play. His on-court persona is bizarre. Despite his inherent upside, we have him at #32 in the 2015 mock.
Joe Harris, Virginia
Harris’ shooting has been wildly inconsistent in the season’s opening month. While he’s converting 46% from distance, he made 11 of those in a three-game stretch against Hampton, SMU and Missouri State on 12 attempts. Subtract those three efforts, and he’s 6/25. Quite frankly, if he’s not running off screens knocking down shots, he doesn’t impact the game enough in other areas to withstand it. Harris created a few decent looks for himself versus Wisconsin, but his attempts at finishing in the paint were mock-worthy. He has a great frame, but his strength doesn’t stand up against the physical treatment and his athleticism is subpar.
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Many talent evaluators have a soft spot for Dekker, particularly in high school, but we’re not fully on board with positive assessments. He’s posted two 20/10 double-doubles in the past three games, but those stats don’t click with the “eye test”. His activity level is what jumps out on film more so than athleticism, as he does make his presence felt on the offensive backboard. He can be best described as tightly wound when the ball is in his hands, perhaps muscly. Dekker’s shooting stroke looks pleasant, but he aims quite often and doesn’t give the shot a chance – 60% from the free throw line. He’s currently rated as the top pick in the 2nd round in 2015, dropping a handful of spots since the initial mock. He's not looking like a first rounder for this year as some projected early on.
Follow Adam on twitter for ACC and national insights @AdamGaneles