Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012-2013 Breakout Players (Midmajor Edition)

In this edition of the 2012-2013 Breakout Players segment, I explore midmajor talents poised for breakout seasons.

Ray McCallum, Detroit- While he had an excellent season a year ago, McCallum has made some significant strides this offseason, as evinced by his play at Adidas Nations. McCallum thrives as a slasher and got to the line quite frequently last season, drawing 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes. He also does a nice job finishing in transition, and is successful playing alongside one of the nation's "high flyers" in Doug Anderson. As the coach's son, McCallum typically makes the right pass, and is a good decision maker running the show. However, while he does possess good end-to-end speed, McCallum was not particularly effective creating shot opportunities for his teammates last season. This was due in large part to his inability to keep defenses honest with his perimeter shooting. He shot a paltry 24.0% from beyond the arc, and this allowed defenses to slack on him in halfcourt sets. After his performance at the Adidas Nations camp, I expect his outside shooting to be much improved this year and for him to really exploit defenses off the dribble as a result.

James Ennis, Long Beach St.- Ennis is a lengthy, athletic 6'7 wing who is physical slashing towards the rim. Playing alongside Long Beach St. stars Larry Anderson and Casper Ware, Ennis fit in remarkably well and was very efficient from the field. He finished with the 10th best Offensive Rating in the Big West and posted a 58.9% eFG%. (79th best in the nation) Ennis was also a capable rebounder and passer last year, and really helped set up his teammates at times. With the losses of Anderson and Ware, Ennis becomes the clear cut number one option on offense. I expect him to thrive in this role and involve his teammates. On the defensive end, Ennis will likely make his biggest mark, as he did a year ago. He does a nice job contesting shots and stealing the basketball with his great length. I expect this trend to continue and for him to establish himself as one of the best wing help defenders.

Tyler Brown, Illinois St.- Brown is a 6'4 sharpshooter who will likely step into a bigger role this season after Moore's transfer. Not only can Brown fill it up from the outside, (45.4% from 3 last season) but he is also a capable passer, finishing 22nd in the Missouri Valley Conference in Assist Rate. (% of Assists to teammates' field goals made while on the floor) I expect that he will take on some of Moore's point guard responsibilities running the team, as well as scoring the basketball. He will likely attack the rim more often this season, and I feel that he has the quickness and offensive repertoire to be effective off the dribble. On the defensive end, Brown has good hands, but is not a great defender due to his average size and anticipation. He rarely fouls though, and is able to stay on the floor. All in all, I feel that Brown will become more of a national name this season alongside Jackie Carmichael and that Illinois St. will contend for a Missouri Valley Conference title.

Deshawn Stephens, San Diego St.- After not playing high school basketball, Deshawn Stephens continues to improve year after year. I expect that he will become an elite role player this season and will receive looks professionally because he is such a late bloomer. Stephens is one of the most promising rebounders in his conference, particularly on the offensive glass, where he finished 3rd in the Mountain West last season. (in terms of Offensive Rebounding %) He employs outstanding strength, anticipation and length to secure rebounds and create extra possessions for his team. I feel that his ability to grab offensive rebounds will lead to more scoring opportunities for him this season. Last year, he was very efficient from the floor, despite not being an offensive focal point- he shot an outstanding 60.8% eFG% last year. In terms of his scoring ability, I expect that Stephens will continue to make adjustments to his shooting form, which is still very much a work in progress. This will come in time. On the defensive end, Stephens is aggressive chesting players outside the paint. However, he tends to have momentary lapses where he does not box out and allows tip ins after not securing the defensive glass. Overall, I expect that Stephens will continue to make incremental improvements and should enjoy some success after he learns to employ his outstanding physical gifts.

Derrick Henry, Winthrop- Two years ago, Henry was one of the top 10 players in the state of Georgia. After receiving limited playing time in his first season at Winthrop, Henry returns in better physical shape and with a sense of purpose. The 6'3 200 lb. guard is a slasher who does a nice job of getting in the lane and drawing contact. He is physical when attacking the hoop and is creative off his dribble. Henry compliments his slashing game with a nice perimeter shooting stroke. As a point of reference, he shot 41.7% from three point range on limited attempts last season. If he can learn to involve his teammates, Henry may be a player to watch down the road. In terms of his defensive ability, Henry has decent lateral quickness and rarely fouls unnecessarily. Overall, Derrick Henry is a young player to keep an eye on in the Big South.

Marcus Davis, Houston Baptist- Davis is a 6'5 wing with good size and athletic ability. While he was one of Houston Baptist's top offensive weapons a year ago, Davis did not consistently serve as his team's go-to weapon last season. He came off the bench at times, and did not always receive consistent playing time. However, Davis is a capable slasher with good athletic ability, which allows him to finish through contact in the paint. His first step is not especially stifling, but he can cover ground in a hurry, particularly in transition. Further, he is aggressive on the glass, and finished 5th in the Great West Conference in Defensive Rebounding %. Davis is also a capable long range shooter, who connected on 40.5% of his three point attempts last year. In terms of where he can improve, Davis must finish easy buckets at the rim. While he shot an efficient 50.2% eFG% last year, he did miss many easy attempts going to the rim. This is captured by his pedestrian 45.3% two point field goal %. On the defensive end, Davis has good size and lateral quickness. He is also great at stepping in the passing lanes. Overall, if Marcus Davis can improve on his offensive consistency and play fundamental man to man defense (without gambling too much), he should receive some attention. He is an exceptionally athletic player for his level, and likely has more untapped potential.

Davion Berry, Weber St.- Following the departure of Damian Lillard to the NBA, Weber St. brings in talented transfer Davion Berry. The 6'4 guard comes from Cal St. Monterey Bay, where he was a Division II All American. In terms of his strengths, Berry is a solid shooter who can fill it up from the outside. He shot over 40% from three point range two years ago. Berry can pull up off the dribble, and is also a threat dishing to teammates. While he was an average decision maker two years ago, he did pass to open teammates. After practicing against Lillard last year, I expect that Berry will make better decisions in 2012-2013 as his team's leader. On the defensive end, Berry has decent hands. But, before I can evaluate just how effective he is on this end, I will have to see how he plays against Division I competition. Overall, Davion Berry is one of the best transfers in the country that no one has heard about.

Justin Crosgile, Eastern Washington- After functioning solely as a spot up shooter at St. Joes, Crosgile should be one of the more improved players in the country. Crosgile is quick off the dribble and has decent court vision, despite never being able to display this strength at St. Joes. At 5'11, this point guard is a very good spot up shooter, much better than what he showed with the Hawks. He often was forced into taking difficult three point attempts, and was playing out of position off the ball next to Carl Jones. While he must improve his overall efficiency by focusing on his shot selection, Crosgile has the ability to get hot from beyond the arc. He must learn to do a better job finishing at the rim, though, so that he can set up his teammates for easy buckets. Defensively, he does give up some height and is not especially quick laterally. I expect Crosgile to score early and often this year, and to begin transitioning to his full time role as his team's lead guard. He must look to create for teammates; in particular, Collin Chiverton is a solid option for him.

Nate Maxey, Texas A&M Corpus Christi- While Maxey is still a work in progress, this 6'11 center is taking noticeable strides forward and should make more of an impact in his second season with the Islanders. In terms of his strengths, Maxey is quickly becoming one of the best shot blockers in the nation, and he does a nice job utilizing his 7'8 wingspan. (2nd best blocks % in NCAA so far) He also uses his length to poke the ball away. While he is statistically productive on the defensive end, he does not yet have the lower body strength to hold his ground and prevent deep post positioning. He did add weight in the offseason, though, and I expect him to be stronger in the paint this year. Maxey is also fairly productive on the defensive glass, and he should be effective in this area as well. Offensively, Maxey is still very raw and relies primarily on tip ins and dunks for his points. As a result, he shot 59.7% eFG% last year. This is because he does not possess the lower body strength to post up against more physically imposing big men. In time, I expect this facet of his game to come along as well. All in all, while Maxey is still a project this year, he is an interesting player to keep an eye on.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2012-2013 Breakout Players (Major Conference Edition)

The 2012-2013 college basketball season has opened with a bang. Several competitive matchups highlight the returning strength of college basketball in spite of the massive wave of defections following the 2012 NBA Draft. With much of the headline talent from a year ago opting to play professional basketball, other players need to step in and fill the void left by their peers. The following is a list of the projected breakout players for the major conferences.

James McAdoo, North Carolina- After a disappointing season by pretty much everyone's standards (43.4% eFG%, which would have placed him 45th out of 50 players in the ACC) McAdoo has a prime opportunity to assert himself on a large stage. All of North Carolina's starting front line are gone from a year ago, and McAdoo will immediately be considered the go-to option due to his talent and developing skillset. While he had some success in transition towards the end of last year, McAdoo must demonstrate an improved post game and a renewed aggression attacking the rim. A year ago, his post footwork left a lot to be desired and he did not receive many touches due to his limited playing time behind Henson and Zeller. This year, he will have to show scouts that he has the footwork and athleticism to maneuver quickly towards the rim. In addition, his back to the basket game should have been a point of emphasis for him this past offseason. McAdoo will continue to get his points in transition due to his ability to run the floor and his athleticism. But, he must produce on a consistent basis, as he moves from a complimentary bench role to the number one offensive option. On the defensive end, he must look to move his feet and use his improved strength to prevent players from obtaining deep post position. He is currently projected as a top 10 pick due to his physical profile and success at the high school level. This is his year to prove his worth and lead UNC to another tournament appearance.

Alex Len, Maryland- The departure of high volume scorer Terrell Stoglin should be a blessing in disguise for 7-foot returning big man Alex Len. He has added weight in the offseason and appears to be more physically imposing in 2012-2013. Much unlike McAdoo, Len was efficient in his first season of play, posting a 55.3% eFG%, despite not being a focal point of Maryland's attack. He was also a very good defensive rebounder during his time on the floor, posting a 20.0 Defensive Rebounding %. (which would have been top 10 in the ACC) While it is known that Len can run the floor and score utilizing his solid length and athleticism, he must assert himself in the halfcourt. He must improve his go-to post move and counter and really use his size to obtain favorable position on the floor. While it was difficult for him to hold post position due to his weaker lower body strength, he may be able to assert himself more often this year. Len also has potential as a shot blocker, and should become one of the more difficult players to guard in the ACC. In order to actualize his potential, however, he must stay on the floor. His 4.6 fouls committed per 40 minutes is not going to help his cause. He must become smarter on the defensive end so that he can impose his will offensively. All in all, I expect him to have a tremendous year and to help Maryland surprise a few people.

Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati- After impressing everyone at the Adidas Nations event this past summer, Kilpatrick is poised for a breakout year on a national scale. With Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates graduating a year ago, Kilpatrick will have the ball in his hands early and often. While he has made noticeable strides from a year ago, he posted the 11th Highest Offensive Rating in the Big East amongst all players (according to and the 15th best eFG% and True Shooting% last season. While he shot a respectable 37.6% from behind the arc, I expect him to shoot more efficiently this season. And, it should be noted, however, that he posted these numbers despite the fact that he was involved in 20.5% of his team's possessions. I expect his usage to increase considerably with the graduation of Dixon and the continued emergence of Cashmere Wright at the point guard slot. Kilpatrick is also a much better passer and decision maker than his statistical output. He was 11th best in the Big East in terms of Turnover Rate last year, but he also makes heads up plays assisting his teammates. I expect to see more of that this season. On the defensive end, Kilpatrick is physical, but does a nice job of staying out of foul trouble, committing only 1.5 fouls per 40 minutes. (good for 29th best in the nation) Kilpatrick has the strength and tenacity to defend bigger players, and his play on this end of the floor will be the greatest consideration this season in terms of his long run NBA potential.

CJ Fair, Syracuse- Fellow Big East wing CJ Fair served as an important complimentary player for Syracuse's deep squad a year ago. He was aggressive attacking the basket and as a result, got to the line frequently relative to his field goal attempts. In his time at Syracuse, Fair has done most of his damage off of the ball, either from cleaning up offensive rebounds or by cutting hard to the rim. While his handle is decent enough to allow him to maneuver to the hoop, he is not an efficient pull up jump shooter and instead likes to go all the way to the rim. CJ Fair would have to play the Small Forward position in the NBA, and thus would be best served improving both his midrange pullup jump shot as well as his 3 point shooting ability. Last year, he connected on a paltry 25.0% of his attempts from behind the arc. Because he is taking on a bigger role in Syracuse's offense this year, he will be expected to diversify his game and look to score from the wing. I expect him to enjoy some success in this area, although he may be overplayed due to his poor outside shooting. Fair is dynamic on the offensive glass and posted the 22nd best Offensive Rebounding %, despite playing alongside Fab Melo and other big bodies. Defensively, Fair is aggressive and utilizes his length to poke the ball away, stepping in passing lanes and demonstrating good awareness.

Talib Zanna, Pittsburgh- Zanna is poised for a breakout year after making significant strides each of his last two seasons. This developing big man has the athleticism to finish inside amongst the trees and the aggression and awareness to grab rebounds against virtually any squad at this level of play. Zanna is extremely strong and has the upper and lower body to assert himself on the block, despite his lack of an extensive post repertoire. Zanna functions predominantly as a faceup player at this stage and has a developing mid range game. He can finish attacking the basket, and has the quickness to score past opposing forwards. Zanna was remarkably efficient last season, posting the 4th best Offensive Rating in the Big East. He typically scored at the rim and finished dunk attempts out in transition, but did show that he can occasionally step out and hit jumpers. I expect him to assert himself more in this regard in 2012-2013. Zanna was also difficult to contain on the glass, posting the 4th best Offensive Rebounding % and the 5th best Defensive Rebounding % in the Big East. He is strong with the ball in his hands and rarely turns it over. On the defensive end, Zanna plays solid fundamental post defense and works to chest his man out of the paint. With increased playing time, I expect him to be more of a factor blocking shots this season than he had been in the past. Overall, look for Zanna to have a breakout year and for Pittsburgh to reestablish themselves nationally as a contender.

Rodney Williams, Minnesota- After a magnificent performance in the NIT, I expect Rodney Williams to establish himself as one of the more prolific, athletic wings in college basketball this season. While he has looked timid in the past and not really asserted himself against top competition, I fully expect Rodney Williams to be as aggressive as ever this year. Williams is as explosive of a run-jump athlete as you are going to find at the college basketball level. He finishes strong around the rim and is physical getting to the basket. As a result, he scores efficiently and was the 17th best in the Big Ten in terms of Offensive Rating a year ago. He ranked 5th in the Big Ten in terms of his 59.0% eFG% due to his penchant for scoring inside. Aside from demonstrating a renewed aggression attacking the rim, Williams must also show that he is capable of keeping defenses honest both from the mid range and from beyond the arc. His perimeter shooting stroke leaves a lot to be desired, particularly his 30.9% 3 point %. But, he was able to shoot more efficiently from the mid range in the NIT and used this to supplement his rim-attack game. I expect this to continue this season, and hopefully he has improved his shooting touch enough to really move up the NBA draft boards. On the defensive end, Williams is not an elite defender, but has the physical tools to develop into one down the road. He combines great length and athleticism with solid footspeed. Last season he was able to use his tools to collect 2.0 steals and tally 1.0 blocks per game. Overall, I believe that Minnesota will surprise people this season and that Williams is a lock for the first round in next year's draft (barring a return to his old tendencies).

Chris Otule, Marquette- After sitting out with an injury last season, Otule will likely have an increased role in Marquette's offense with the departure of Jae Crowder. Otule is a 6'11 275 lb forward who has made significant strides since beginning his career at Marquette. While in the past he functioned almost exclusively as a role player inside, Otule will have an opportunity to showcase his improved post moves. Due to his size and strength inside, Otule has little trouble obtaining post position. However, he does not possess the footwork to be effective against top flight frontcourt defenders once he receives the ball. In terms of his offensive repertoire, he typically overpowers players at the college level and scores over them. Or, he does a nice job of shielding his defender, opting to score on an efficient half hook. He also does a nice job cleaning up the offensive glass, as he demonstrated with his 10.4% Offensive Rebounding % in 2010-2011. (17th best in the Big East at the time despite playing alongside Crowder) I expect that Otule will secure more defensive rebounds this season as well. On the defensive end, Otule is one of the most underrated shot blockers in the country. He finished the 2010-2011 season with the 40th best Blocks % in the nation. Aside from swatting the ball away, Otule plays strong positional defense, but must cut down on his fouls. (6.1 fouls committed per 40 minutes in 2010-2011)If he can stay in the game, Otule should be one of the more improved bigs in the country and one of the better role players.

Trent Lockett, Marquette- Lockett transferred from Arizona St. and will likely take some time to adjust to Buzz Williams' system. With that said, Lockett is one of the more prolific slashing guards and has the athleticism to thrive against top level competition. Lockett is very efficient getting to the rim, and is strong enough to finish through contact. He does a nice job of hanging in the air and has the explosive run-jump athleticism to finish over bigger players. As a result of his superior quickness off the dribble and athleticism finishing at the rim, he posted a 53.4% eFG% in 2010-2011. He also got to the line very often, resulting in 5.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. (11th best in the Pac-10 at the time) He also was capable hitting shots off the dribble, but must look to extend his range if he hopes to play at the next level. He shot a paltry 32.3% from beyond the arc two seasons ago, and must improve on this percentage this season. Lockett is capable shooting the basketball though, as evinced by his near 70% free throw percentage. In terms of his ability on the glass, Lockett was one of the better rebounding guards, finishing in the top 30 in both offensive and defensive rebounding %. Lockett is also an underrated passer and really orchestrated the Arizona St. offense during his time there. One concern is that Lockett must learn to play off the ball effectively, as Buzz Williams relies heavily on Junior Cadougan to distribute and run team sets. If he can learn to function without the ball in his hands, Lockett will thrive in Marquette's system. Defensively, Lockett has excellent lateral quickness and the hands to steal the ball. Overall, I expect Lockett to be one of the more surprising transfers in the country and to make an immediate impact.

Kyle Wiltjer, Kentucky- While Wiltjer took a backseat to some of the extraordinary freshmen UK used to earn a national title, he did have an efficient first season offensively. Wiltjer thrives as a shooter, and posted a 54.6% eFG% despite rarely driving to the basket. Wiltjer was prolific from behind the arc, connecting on 43.2% of his attempts and making his impact felt at crucial moments. He also was effective from the free throw line as most good shooters are, hitting 81.5% of his attempts. Wiltjer is also fairly unselfish, but was not able to really demonstrate this facet of his game playing behind more experienced weapons in the frontcourt. Despite these notable strengths, Wiltjer must do a better job rebounding the ball if he hopes to become a faceup 4 at the next level. He must assert himself on the glass with Noel gambling to block shots fairly frequently. Otherwise, UK will struggle on the defensive glass. Wiltjer is also a poor defender and must improve his footspeed so that he can stick with power forwards at the college level. This will likely always be a weakness, but he can work to minimize it by playing intelligently on this end. Wiltjer will likely start this season, and I expect his offensive output to increase considerably, as his strengths and weaknesses will be in clear view this year.

Terrell Vinson, UMass- This is my second year predicting a breakout season for Terrell Vinson, and I truly believe that this is it for him. Coupled with the addition of Chaz Williams, (who is clearly UMass's most important contributor) Vinson's return from injury was one of the main reasons for UMass's improvement last season. He shot the ball efficiently, hitting most of his shots around the rim and simplifying his game around the basket. At this level, Vinson functions as a faceup forward and generally scores by driving by his man or by cutting to the rim and receiving a pass. But, Vinson is more skilled than his role at UMass, and can step out and keep defenses honest. He needs to keep a consistent lift on his three point shot though. While he only shot 30.8% from beyond the arc a season ago, he did make some strides from previous years. He must considerably improve his efficiency in this area if he hopes to lead UMass to a tournament appearance. Further, Vinson was rather average rebounding the basketball last season. He must work to obtain better position on the glass. While injuries have limited Vinson in his stint at UMass, he must look to diversify his offensive game and continue to attack the basket. On the defensive end, Vinson usually defends the post and struggles against bigger players. While it is difficult to assess, Vinson may be able to transition to the wing due to his strength and decent lateral quickness. Overall, Vinson is an underrated player who is out of position at the 4 slot. If he can continue to extend his range and work on his handle and midrange game, Vinson will help lead UMass to a tournament birth.

Travis Taylor, Xavier- Taylor was a backup a season ago and did not contribute much in terms of his overall production. However, with the mass exodus that Xavier experienced in the offseason, Taylor may very well be a go-to guy in 2012-2013. In terms of his game, Taylor is an undersized energy post player with a quick leaping ability and the faceup game to attack the basket with reckless abandon. In his limited minutes at Xavier last year, Taylor was not noticeably efficient, posting a very poor 44.9% eFG%. This was largely due to his limited touches, but Taylor often tried to force the action when he did receive minutes. This is evinced by the fact that he shot 17.6% of his team's shots when he was on the floor, despite not being a focal point offensively. He often rushed himself in the post and this led to some very difficult shots. Taylor does do a very nice job drawing fouls, as he drew 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes last season and 5.8 fouls/40 mins a season before that at Monmouth. With increased usage, I expect him to return to his pre-Xavier days. When he gets to the line, however, he must improve on his near 60% free throw percentage. In terms of his prowess on the glass, Taylor is a good rebounder, and finished in the top 10 in the Atlantic 10 in terms of Offensive Rebounding % and in the top 20 in terms of Defensive Rebounding %. Defensively, Taylor struggled against stronger post players, but has the length and athleticism to block shots. Look for him to play an inspired senior season and for Xavier to surprise many people.

Roberto Nelson, Oregon St.- With the early departure of Jared Cunningham to the NBA, Roberto Nelson takes over as the heir apparent for the Beavers. Nelson is an athletic combo guard with an improving skillset. He is capable attacking the basket, and was able to get to the line often due to his explosive leaping ability. Nelson finished 13th in the Pac-12 with 4.7 fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He also has continued to improve as a distributor, (and finished 16th in the Pac-12 in Assist Rate) and I expect this trend to continue this year. With that said, Nelson must cut down on his turnovers. While he made a significant leap from his freshman year where he posted a 0.76 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio (last season 1.27 to 1), he still has a ways to go before he can be considered a reliable lead guard. Also, Nelson must look to improve his consistency shooting the ball from a season ago. He connected on 34.8% of his attempts from beyond the arc and posted a 47.0% eFG%, but these statistics fail to account for how streaky he was. Last season, Nelson would shoot the ball well from long range for about five games at a time and then would fall into shooting slumps. If he can continue to work on his consistency, he could become one of the Pac-12's top players. Defensively, Nelson has the quickness, hands, and athleticism to grab steals and even block shots. He will likely make strides on this end next season, and I expect him to finish as an All-Pac performer. (either 1st or 2nd team)

(Image Sources: SB Nation, Newsday, AP Photo via Feature.rr,, and