The Thanksgiving tournaments are over, but we’re just getting into the meat of the college season. The always exciting ACC-Big Ten Challenge takes place this week, featuring a number of savory tilts. With December upon us, and three weeks of games in the books, here are some players who are showing out, and some that would probably like to start the season over.
D'Angelo Russell 6-5 180 PG Ohio St. Fr.
Russell has been one of the most impressive freshmen in the country thus far. He plays with maturity beyond his years, showing great composure and a high skill level at the lead guard position. On Tuesday night, Russell made a strong impression on scouts in their loss to Louisville. He showed tremendous poise, helping to lead a 2nd half comeback, despite playing with four fouls. His ball skills, in particular his passing ability gives him a lot of intrigue for the next level as a point guard. Last year, Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis started the season on a tear and quickly garnered lottery hype, and the same thing has happened with Russell. With Ohio State losing their three leading scorers from last season, Russell was expected to ease some of the offensive burden. He has exceeded expectations, averaging 18 ppg, 4 rpg and 5.4 rpg, and showing that he can fill up a stat sheet. He also has solid lateral quickness and plays the passing lanes well. His 6-foot-9 wingspan gives him great length. He’s a player that may take time to be a contributor at the next level, but with his great maturity, poise and intelligence at the PG position, he’s skyrocketed all the way up to 10 on the most recent mock draft update.
Last year was a well-documented roller coaster ride for the Harrison twins, with major expectations as the guard duo for the pre-season #1 team. They had the high point of the NCAA tournament, with Aaron making three straight, clutch game winning shots. The low point was the NCAA title game, where UConn’s more experienced guard duo got the better of them. This year, expectations were even higher for UK and with increased depth across the board, much more realistic. So far, the twins are looking comfortable and they are showing increased NBA appeal.
While NCAA Tournament hero, Aaron, has not had the best shooting start, he is UK’s leading scorer through 7 games while becoming a better and more willing playmaker. His shooting numbers should eventually balance out and he is also showing more as a defender. Andrew’s efficiency has increased a great deal and his per minute numbers are up across the board, while he is making fewer mistakes. Even if he is not a “true PG”, his size and ability to penetrate make him appealing for the next level. The drop in minutes has cut their aesthetic statistics, though make no mistake, the twins have grown as players and they should start rising up the draft board.
Sam Dekker 6-9 230 SF Wisconsin Jr.
Long thought to be around the 6’7” range, Dekker apparently hit a late growth spurt as he measured out at a legit 6’9” this summer at the LeBron James Skills Academy and has looked the part this season. His size on the wing was not really a huge issue to begin with and at 6’9, he’s even more appealing for the next level. He has not surprisingly been much more of a post option and he is quite versatile in the mid-range as well. Wisconsin seems to be headed for another Final Four appearance and while Frank Kaminsky deservedly gets a lot of press, Dekker is clearly looking like their best NBA prospect.
Trey Lyles 6-10 250 PF Kentucky Fr.
Playing on Kentucky’s “White Platoon”, Lyles has spent a majority of his time on the wing as opposed to holding down his ideal position as a stretch 4. He has yet to see much more than 20 minutes per game and despite some off shooting nights, he has provided good all-around play while still stretching the floor and maintaining his ability as a dangerous perimeter shooting option. With size and length ideal for the NBA PF spot, his diverse offensive ability should make him a solid first rounder whenever he chooses to enter.
Damian Jones, 6-10 250 C Vanderbilt So.
Jones was the only returnee from Vandy’s top five scorers from last season and while this team is absolutely in rebuilding mode, the young big man’s progress is a bright spot. His confidence on both ends of the court has grown, while added strength has made him more of a post threat. He can make plays above the rim, has nice timing as a shot blocker and is even showing more of an ability to shoot. Stretching the floor may not be his forte, though he has a high release and has been noticeably more efficient on that end. His conditioning and post moves still need work, but he is a player who has moved into the mid-first round for 2016. Jones is averaging 17.7 ppg on 63.3% FG, with 7.7 rpg and 2 bpg in 27.3 mpg.
Nigel Williams-Goss, 6-3 190 PG Washington So.
The Huskies have started out the season 6-0, with their leader Williams-Goss being named MVP of the Wooden Legacy after capturing the title in Southern California. All he did in high school was win, and that’s carrying over to the college game this season. His athleticism is not out of this world, and he has struggled from long range but he still manages to put up numbers across the board translating to a winning team. He is the classic team player, averaging a stat sheet stuffing 14.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg and an impressive 7.5 apg. He considered the draft last season and it is uncertain whether that would be advisable without an additional year under his belt, though in a 2015 class that lacks PG depth, Williams-Goss is one to keep an eye on.
Trevon Bluiett, 6-6 215 SG/SF Xavier Fr.
Bluiett has come down a bit from a blazing hot start to his first year at Xavier, however we have liked him as a prospect for a while and have been impressed by what we have seen. He is a big time shooter and scorer, averaging 16 ppg on 55.7%FG, 86.4% FT and 50% 3PT (averaging 2 made per game) through his first 7 games. He has also done a great job on the boards, particularly on the offensive end and has been making plays without many mistakes. He still needs to work on his lateral mobility while tightening both his handle and body. If he does these things, he should very well be on the 2016 first round draft radar.
Rysheed Jordan, 6-4 195 PG St. John’s So.
His inclusion here is more based on the eye test as opposed to analytics, though in time the numbers should be more in his favor as the season progresses. Jordan has the size, creativity and at times explosiveness near the hoop that gives him next level potential. His efficiency is up in just about every statistical category this season, with exception to only shooting 3-15 (20%) from 3PT range and averaging 4.4 topg through his first 5 games. What he does show is stand out athletic gifts and an ability to penetrate with a handle that one can build upon. He needs to focus on the overall fundamentals of running the point, but he possesses the physical and athletic tools to excel.
Chris Walker, 6-10 220 PF Florida So.
Seen by many as a top 10 player in the HS Class of 2013, Walker came along slowly on a senior laden team after sitting through a lengthy suspension. His athleticism for his size and some glimpses of his work during Florida weight training led some to believe Walker might shoot up 2015 Draft boards. He had to deal with another suspension to begin the year and while it is a very small 4 game sample size, it is hard to see much progress. He can still play above the rim, though he has shown nothing from outside the paint and has not carved out a viable post game. Still coming off of the bench, Walker certainly has physical and athletic ability, though his skill set seems to be lacking and his feel for the game still very raw.
Shaquille Thomas, 6-7 210 SF Cincinnati Jr.
The nephew of former NBA player, Tim Thomas, certainly is a strong run and jump athlete who showed some promise his first two seasons at Cincinnati. His start to his junior season has been a big step back, with his struggles to score earning him a lot more time on the bench than one would expect. Thomas also is a tad old for being a senior, though he is still only a junior. He is only shooting 35.7% FG and 50% FT through Cinci’s first 6 games. It is a long season, but Thomas needs to show much more if he wants to keep his name in NBA talks.
Sindarius Thornwell, 6-5 215 SG South Carolina So.
Thornwell is a strong off-guard who was asked to do a lot for South Carolina last season and showed some promise. Though he still seems to be promising, his jumper has been ice cold and has really struggled from long range (7-38 3PT, 18.4%). It looked like Thornwell could be a player that might be a possible 2015 Draft sleeper and while it is still early, it looks like he is pressing and can use more time to increase his efficiency as a scorer. We have moved him into next year’s 2nd round in the mean time.
Shawn Long 6-9 255 PF Louisiana Lafayette Jr.
The former teammate of Elfrid Payton was another player with big expectations, averaging 18.6 ppg and 10.4 rpg as a sophomore. Long has been battling a bone bruise and tendinitis in his foot, which caused him to miss the last two Louisiana Lafayette contests. In his first 3 games, he was noticeably hindered by this injury, in particular his last contest where he was outplayed by Auburn junior, Cinmeon Bowers. It is unfair to fault Long too much and he still has some qualities that have scouts intrigued. It has however been a disappointing start to his junior season and he will have to play his way out of this hole to get back into discussions as being higher than a 2nd round pick.