Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Scouring the Nation (Part 8)

In this edition of 'Scouring the Nation', I explore two of the top prospects in NAIA Division II- Saint Francis (Ind.)'s Qadr Owens and Huntington University's Caleb Kennedy.

Caleb Kennedy clearly had one of his more remarkable performances against Owens' squad. He was dominant throughout and connected on a very high percentage of his shots. Kennedy's game centers around his crafty post moves. While he is only 6'6, his girth at 215 lbs allows him to maneuver around taller players. At a higher level of basketball, Kennedy will likely still be able to employ his post-up moves. However, he will have to slim down in order to play at a faster pace. With his wide shoulders and strong upper body, Kennedy should be able to still function similarly, even if he has to sacrifice some of his strength.

In the post, Kennedy utilizes an array of drop step and pivot moves in combination with quick jumpers to exploit defenders in the painted area. While his post arsenal is not all that advanced, his savvy around the basket allows him to compensate. While he does need to extend his range, Kennedy regularly pulls up for turnaround jumpers or runners after initially receiving post entry feeds. But, he prefers to create for himself off the dribble. With regard to how this facet of his post game will translate at the professional level, it is clear that he is going to have to minimize the number of times that he puts the ball on the floor. While defenses already converge on him, he would likely struggle maneuvering around higher level athletes on the block. And, he would assuredly turn the ball over more often at the professional level because help defenses in these leagues are far more advanced than anything he has seen in NAIA.

Further, Kennedy is an excellent shooting threat from the mid range. Despite being the focal point of Huntington's offense, he still manages to connect on 51.7% of his field goal attempts. He possesses decent form on his free throws and shoots them at a 70.3% clip, indicating that he has the fundamentals to develop a consistent outside shot. These numbers do not tell the entire story though, as they fail to account for scoring trends. Kennedy tends to dominate in spurts. In his contest with Saint Francis (Ind.), he performed valiantly, but was saddled with foul trouble for some parts of the game; this, in turn, limited his ability to get into a rhythm and ultimately allowed Saint Francis to stage a comeback.

Considering the fact that Kennedy functions primarily as a post option, he rebounds the ball fairly well, especially on the defensive glass. He possesses good box out fundamentals and the intuition to know where the ball is going to land next. Kennedy is also a solid passer. In his contest with Saint Francis (Ind.), he saw several double teams, but was able to dish it to his teammates for easy baskets. Even when he was directly assisting them, his presence commanded significant defensive attention, and this allowed other players to assert themselves when he was in the game.

On the defensive end, there are numerous question marks concerning how Caleb Kennedy will stop quicker forwards at the professional level. While he is capable of moving laterally when defending in the post, the transition to the perimeter might be fairly difficult for him. However, he does have outstanding length, and this enables him to really contest and alter shots at the basket.

Overall, Caleb Kennedy appears to be a good prospect without a definitive position at a higher level of basketball. He must continue to expand his game and improve on his outside shot in order to receive looks from overseas scouts.

On the other end, Qadr Owens demonstrated why he was an All American a season ago. Not only was he able to successfully involve his teammates, but he also displayed his scoring prowess throughout the contest. While he is not a consistent three point shooting option this season (35.4% on the year), he did connect on 4 out of 5 long range shots in this game, attempting decent looks and successfully stretching Huntington's defense. Moreover, he strongly drove to the basket and either set up teammates, or was able to finish through contact. Owens has excellent body control and the upper body strength to complete tough plays around the rim. Further, his solid handle allows him to maneuver around defenders, making him one of the more complete slashers in NAIA basketball.

In terms of his court vision, Owens is a willing passer and successfully set up several of his teammates in this contest. After he drove to the basket and kicked the ball out, though, his teammates would often swing it around the perimeter to an open man, thereby negating some potential assists. However, he oftentimes does make the right pass, and is willing to do whatever it takes to lead his team to victory. Owens is also an exceptional athlete, as evinced by his 5 rebounds per game at 6'1. (may be smaller than his listed height as well)

From a defensive standpoint, Owens was able to shut down his opponents on the perimeter despite his height disadvantage. He even played solid post defense on several occasions, and really forced Caleb Kennedy into some difficult shots. Further, Owens has quick hands and impressive instincts on this end of the floor, which enable him to collect 1.48 steals per game.

Overall, Qadr Owens is one of the more underrated guards in the NAIA. He is a consummate winner who must continue to improve his consistency from beyond the arc. If he can do this and continue to work on his offensive repertoire, he should earn a decent contract overseas.

(Image Sources: Huntington.edu & Naia.cstv.com)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Scouring the Nation (Part 7)

In this segment, I explore two of the leading offensive weapons in Division III, who battled one another in a high scoring affair.

In John Jay College's home contest against Brooklyn College, leading scorer Jerome Alexander really began to assert himself towards the end of the second half. The fifth leading scorer in all of Division III (26.1 ppg) is an aggressive slasher who scores the vast majority of his points attacking the basket. By the mid-way point of the first half, it became clear that the end-to-end tempo really favored his style of play, as he thrived getting to the basket in transition. Alexander possesses a solid first step and an understanding of how to get by his defender with the change-of-pace dribble. He also knows when to utilize the jump stop in order to create space. As such, he is capable of getting around multiple defenders, even in halfcourt sets. And, standing at 6'4, Alexander could potentially develop the ability to shoot over his defenders. In order to do this, however, he must raise the release point on his shot and speed up his shooting motion. Otherwise, he will have to consistently fade away from the basket just to get his shot off. He also must extend his range in order to keep defenses honest.

In terms of his decision making, Alexander made a few careless turnovers driving into traffic once the Brooklyn College's defense converged on him. However, he generally played within himself most of the time, and found open teammates after getting in the lane. At the next level, it is clear that Alexander will thrive beating his man off the dribble and finding open three point shooters. Further, Jerome is a decent athlete who is able to hang and finish through considerable contact. He is also capable of collecting rebounds, particularly on the offensive end, when he decides to assert himself.

From a defensive standpoint, Jerome Alexander has considerable promise if he is able to maintain a consistent focus. Earlier in the first half, Alexander failed to assert himself, lagging behind plays and not really focusing in on perimeter shooters. The 2nd half was a totally different story though. Jerome's defense on Brooklyn's Tyshawn Russell for stretches really sparked John Jay's rally late in the game. In terms of his discernible tools, Alexander possesses good lateral quickness and functions well as a positional defender on the perimeter. However, he must sacrifice his body more often, though, by taking charges.

Overall, Jerome Alexander is one of the top scoring threats in Division III. His ability to attack the basket and create for teammates makes him a valuable player at any level. Alexander also possesses immense potential on the defensive end, but must look to play with the same degree of focus throughout each and every game. While he still must amend certain aspects of his game to be successful at the next level, Alexander has good potential to develop into a solid contributor for a European squad after his collegiate career is behind him.

For the opposing team, Brooklyn College's lead guard Tyshawn Russell really dominated throughout most of the contest, widening his team's margin of victory to twenty points during some stretches. Not only was he capable of playing off the ball and slashing in traffic, but he also took on most of the point guard responsibilities. Much like Alexander, Russell thrives at attacking the basket with his blindingly fast first step. Standing at 5'10, Russell has a slight build, which he willingly throws around whenever he drives to the hoop. Unlike Alexander, though, he usually looks to finish by blowing by defenders at the rim, instead of opting for the pull up jumper. In this contest, Russell completed several spectacular plays, demonstrating that he can contort his body in the air and finish around multiple defenders. Russell possesses exceptional athleticism and is rather dynamic off the bounce. He also has incredible hang-time and the requisite athleticism to play at a higher level of basketball.

When he received the ball on the perimeter, Russell often looked for open teammates, appearing almost hesitant to dial his own number in the second half. He often swung the ball and was not given credit for hockey assists, which nonetheless set his teammates up for open shots. With that said, he does have more turnovers than assists on the year, and this is primarily attributable to his lack of upper body strength. It should be noted that Russell is one of the few options on Brooklyn College that can create their own offense. As such, he often becomes an object of defensive strategies. In order to score during these stretches where he is the subject of the opposing team's defensive focus, Russell must improve his perimeter jumper. On the season, he is connecting on an abysmal 27.8% of his 3 point attempts. While he did nail a few of his attempts from distance in his contest with John Jay College, it is clear that he tends to rush his outside shot at times.

Defensively, Russell has quick hands and was able to push the ball in transition after stealing it from the opposition. He also possesses the lateral quickness to defend at a higher level. However, his lack of upper body strength is alarming, as this will almost certainly be exploited by virtually every other college-level guard who has spent some time in an intense strength training program. Overall, if Russell can improve his physique, he will become stronger with the ball and his assist to turnover ratio will likely normalize as a result. This will ultimately allow him to emerge as a coveted long term prospect for teams competing overseas.

(Images by John Jay College Athletics & C. Gottlieb)