In this edition of "Scouring the Nation", I review several top prospects, including a first-team all-NAIA player with NBA aspirations.
While he does not have the same name recognition as most Division I prospects, Philander Smith's Ken Brown is one of the top non-D1 prospects in the nation. (I have him tabbed as a top 3 player along with Johnson & Wales' Lamonte Thomas and Farmingdale St.'s AJ Matthews) And, it should also be noted that this was his first season at Philander Smith after he transferred from Western Kentucky. (and before that Cerritos College and Southwest Tennessee Community College) Because he has been a college basketball journeyman over his four years, playing at four different schools, it must be said that his accomplishments this season are all the more impressive. Not only does he have great chemistry with his teammates, but he was able to fit in with his team's system and thrive in his very first season with a new squad. Brown is clearly one of the most talented players that I have reviewed and should find success on whichever team is willing to give him an opportunity, whether that be in the NBA or overseas.
Despite his eye popping scoring numbers, (31.9 points per contest) Brown is more than capable of distributing the ball to his teammates. He involves them early and often, throwing it down court to them off of steals and making proper, fundamental post entry feeds. He knows which hand to feed his big man on and executes with precise bounce passes. Brown regularly finds cutters as well, and is willing to slash in the lane and draw defenders before either making wrap-around passes to a big man, or hitting wide open three point shooters. Brown is clearly most effective passing the ball in transition, but was able to dish the ball to his teammates under a variety of different circumstances as described above. It must also be noted that Brown shared time at point guard with DeMarkus Lipscomb, a 5'8 junior who allowed him to play off the ball at times. When he did, Brown did a good job of rubbing off screens and setting himself up for decent three point looks. Due to his quick release, he does not need much of a window to get his shot off.
At a higher level of basketball, Brown's role will change dramatically, and he will be asked to look for his teammates before asserting himself offensively. While his virtual one-to-one assist to turnover ratio does not appear to indicate that he can make such an adjustment, this statistic must be qualified. Much like Lamonte Thomas, Brown had the ball in his hands for most of the game, as he was the only player on his team that could create his own offense. If kenpom's usage statistics existed for NAIA, I am certain that Brown would be a top 5 player nationwide. Because his role will be so different at the next level, it is hard to tell whether or not turnovers will be a concern. He could stand to tighten up his handle on crossover moves and dribble drives to the basket, but he rarely ran into any problems beating players off the bounce. He was able to implement the change-of-pace dribble when getting to the basket, but he will have to utilize this more often at the next level and work to become even more effective in beating his man. At the NAIA level, he was dominant attacking the basket and was able to weave between defenders both in halfcourt sets and in transition. His first step is very fast, but he will need to utilize an array of different moves to break free from bigger defenders at the next level.
In terms of his greatest strength, Brown is an NBA-caliber shooter. Out of his staggering 650 field goal attempts, Ken was able to connect on 50.3% of his shots this season. Brown displays an ideal form on his jump shot and has good lift. He is able to pullup from the mid range or from beyond the arc. In the contests that I watched, he was able to step back off the dribble with defenders in his face and bury rhythm three point baskets. He also was capable of connecting from distance off the catch, and displayed a quick release with defenders closing out on him. Brown shot an excellent 41.2% from beyond the arc on 274 attempts this season. Those are pretty remarkable numbers given the sheer volume of shots. He also was effective from the line, hitting 80.3% of his attempts, and got there frequently- 239 attempts on the year.
On the defensive end, it was difficult to evaluate Brown's play due to his team's zone. When they moved to more of a matchup zone, Brown demonstrated good fundamentals and rarely allowed his man to beat him. He has good lateral quickness and the ability to successfully close out on his man. However, it is difficult to evaluate what type of help instincts Brown has because help instincts are different in a zone. With that said, he does have extremely quick hands and regularly deflects the ball, as demonstrated by his 3.13 steals per game. In the contests that I witnessed, he was able to tap the ball to himself and turn steals into transition run outs. Because of his team's zone, though, he often overcommitted and would play far out on the perimeter, guiding his man to his off hand and into a trap. But, his ability to do this will likely diminish at the next level, as he will be required to play fundamentally sound man-to-man defense on a regular basis. How he adjusts then, defensively, will likely determine the level of basketball which he will play at next season.
Overall, Brown is one of the more remarkable stories because he undoubtably had the talent to achieve success at a Division 1 school, but did not have any more eligibility remaining after he was forced to leave Western Kentucky. How he measures with NBA scouts will likely determine where he lands initially. While he is listed at 6'1 currently, other sources have him tabbed 5'10. Regardless of his size, Brown has the jump shot and basketball instincts to play at a high level and should land on an NBA summer league roster at a bare minimum.
Another one of the top NAIA prospects in the nation is Tougaloo's Marquise Mems. Standing at 6'5, Mems has a strong NBA body that is a bit undersized for the shooting guard spot. At the NAIA level, he is very big for a wing, and is able to beat smaller players off the dribble. He is a fluid athlete and is able to get the ball down court in a hurry.
As a result, Mems scores the vast majority of his points in transition or attacking the basket. He is most effective in this capacity and is very strong finishing at the hoop. He does a good job of initiating contact and drawing fouls, as evinced by his 229 FT attempts on the year. When he got to the line, however, he only hit 62% of his attempts, something that must be improved on to receive any playing time professionally. While he is capable of getting to the basket in half court sets as well, he needs to tighten his handle and keep the ball lower to the ground. Otherwise, he will turn the ball over more frequently at the professional level. He currently does a nice job of shielding the ball with his body and finishing at the hoop. He attacks the body when finishing and is more than willing to attempt to dunk over a defender. Mems has excellent athleticism and he displays his remarkable leaping ability out in transition. He was fouled very hard on a regular basis from what I saw, and was willing to tough it out and stay in the game.
In terms of his shooting ability, this is one of his biggest weaknesses. He is extremely streaky and must work hard to improve his efficiency from the field. While he did connect on some three point shots off the dribble when I saw him, he had paltry shooting percentages from behind the arc. He only hit 30.9% of his attempts. This is partially due to the fact that he took so many of them, 207 attempts, and the degree of difficulty that he is willing to settle for on so many of those shots. His 43.3% FG% is not the mark of an efficient scorer, and he must work to further develop his shooting stroke. Mechanically, he must work to maintain a consistent form. He does not go straight up and down on his shot and tends to fade left at times. Even more problematic, Mems often shoots the ball on the way down from his jump, leading to inconsistent results in his shot trajectory. In order to be effective at the next level, he is going to have to shoot the same way everytime and avoid off balance shots.
With regard to his intangibles, Mems does a decent job of feeding his teammates at times. He is capable of solid post entry feeds (a lost art in the game today), and is willing to give the ball up, particularly in transition. He was asked to handle some point guard responsibilities when the ball was denied to his team's lead guard. He handled them fairly well, but did occasionally take an ill-advised three pointer early in the shot clock. This was because his man gave him some space, and he casually connected on this three point attempt off of one dribble. As was alluded to previously, Mems must improve his shot selection and learn when to dial in his own number. Further, he turns the ball over frequently and has a 0.53 Assist-to-Turnover ratio. He must take care of the ball and improve his basketball IQ in this area, learning when to pass and shoot. His development in this regard will determine how far he can advance professionally. Despite this weakness, Mems is an excellent rebounder for his size, pulling in 6.32 rebounds per game due to his solid athleticism. He does a fine job of boxing out and securing weakside rebounds, and is willing to fly in for boards when he is initially playing on the perimeter.
On the defensive end, Mems is fairly assertive and has decent lateral quickness. He was able to force the ball to rotate several times in the contests that I saw and was aggressive on this end of the floor. His good athleticism allows him to contest shots at the rim, and his solid length enables him to deflect passes in transition. Mems has quick hands and the ability to turn steals into transition buckets. He did this on several occasions and averages an excellent 2.47 steals per game and 0.82 blocks per contest. In terms of his defensive weaknesses, Mems must be assertive on this end at all times. He remained upright far too often, and as such, his effort level and intensity must change for him to have an impact on this end in professional basketball. While he is effective at this level of play, he might struggle to defend players with similar size and athleticism on the wing. But, this remains to be seen, as there aren't many players that fit that billing at the NAIA level.
Overall, Mems has a good physical profile and the tools to be a decent role player at the professional level. He must learn to adjust to a more limited role and improve his shooting prowess in order to receive playing time at a higher level of basketball. Marquise Mems is an intriguing player at the NAIA level with solid athleticism, and I am almost certain that his basketball playing days will continue somewhere overseas.
Another prospect with a bright future ahead of him is Rust College's Markeith Wilson. Playing as a Division III Independent does not allow him to receive much recognition for his basketball talents. And, it was difficult to get footage and statistics of him, as there is nothing on their website and there are only a few videos of Rust College basketball circulating on the internet.
With this in mind, it should be noted that Wilson is a solid basketball player with a future playing overseas. He is most proficient from behind the three point arc, where he connected on 38.8% of his 201 3 point attempts a year ago. He does an excellent job of squaring his body and has a quick release. In the contests that I watched, he was forced to take difficult three point shots, as he was overplayed on virtually every possession that he had the ball. As a result, he drained three point shots from beyond NBA range and was able to connect on some tough pullup three point baskets off the dribble. Overall, he has a picture-perfect stroke with good elevation, and he does a nice job of squaring his body to the basket on every shot attempt. Wilson can become a decent midrange jump shooter, but must learn to work off of screen sets, which were not always available to him in the games that I watched.
When he is not shooting off the bounce or connecting on long range shots, Wilson utilizes the threat of his shot to beat defenders off the dribble. He does a nice job of implementing the head fake, and then blowing by his man once he gets him in the air. After blowing by his defender, Wilson has the ability to finish at the rim or dish to his teammates inside if the defense rotates over. He also regularly finds open three point shooters off the dribble. It should be noted, though, that he is not particularly explosive as a run jump athlete and thus is more of a finesse finisher at the rim. At higher levels of basketball, he is going to need to work to shield his body and score, as he already has a knack for attacking the shot blocker's chest and drawing fouls. He is not particularly strong finishing through contact, but is crafty enough to hang in the air and score around players. He does have decent hang time even though he is not the best run-jump athlete, as he oftentimes plays below the rim. Before he can excel attacking the basket, though, he must first develop his dribble drive abilities. At this stage, he does not possess the requisite first step to blow by his man and finish at the rim. He instead relies on basketball savvy to get his defender off balance. But, he must work on improving his handle if he hopes to develop more of a slashing game.
Despite his lack of explosive quickness off the dribble, he is fast in transition and is able to get down the floor in a hurry and break away ahead of the pack. He did this on several occasions that I witnessed. In one instance, he did a nice job of boxing out his man and then sprinted all the way downcourt for a fast break layup. He may be able to excel in this area at the next level, as he is able to anticipate run outs fairly well. Wilson generally has a very high basketball IQ and is able to play under control under most circumstances within his team's offensive sets. With that said, when he caught fire from three point land, he tended to shoot until he missed, opting for long three point bombs early in the shot clock. He must avoid such attempts if he hopes to receive extended minutes at the professional level.
Defensively, it was difficult to fully evaluate him. Still, there were times where he did display decent help instincts. In one instance, he allowed his teammate to cover a player slashing to the hoop and successfully closed out on an open three point shooter. When he was forced into a mismatch with big man Darrell Miller inside, he played physical post defense and was unwilling to give up too much ground in the post. Thus, he may be effective switching within a professional defensive scheme. With that said, Wilson is not particularly laterally quick and will likely struggle to defend elite level athletes at the next level. He does have decent defensive instincts though, and may learn to recover and pick up another player on a switch.
Overall, Markeith Wilson is one of the better pure shooters that I have reviewed. Even though his 38.8% three point percentage does not indicate it, he is very dynamic shooting the ball and defenders regularly overplay him. In many instances, he often receives double teams on the perimeter. Wilson must continue to improve his handle and middle-game in order to become a more well rounded offensive weapon at the next level. Defensively, he must continue to work and develop his ability to lock down on the perimeter.
Finally, Fisk University's Darrell Miller deserves a mention despite the fact that he was reviewed on two separate occasions before this. He still brings pretty much the same skillset to the table as was noted in earlier editions. However, it should be noted that he has become a better passer and works to free himself inside. When he is unable to receive deep post position due to his weak lower body strength, Miller is capable of cutting to the hoop for dunks or simply working off the offensive glass. He is one of the best in this capacity. However, when he does inevitably draw fouls, he must finish his free throw attempts. Additionally, while his shooting form does have some promise, his shot is a bit flat when he steps out and attempts open perimeter jumpers. Overall, Miller is an incredibly active player with excellent athleticism and the ability to be a prospect down the road. I will keep following his development to see where he is in a couple of years.
(Image Sources: Cerritos.edu and gcaconf.com)