Monday, March 10, 2014

Around the Nation (Part 1)

In my segment, "Around the Nation" I explore all of the top talent from around college basketball, spanning NCAA Division I to NAIA Division II, and everything in between.

In this edition, I focus on Thomas (Ga.)'s Justyn Watkins, and Coastal Georgia's Reggie Burke and Kentorey Johnson.

Talented senior Justyn Watkins is a 6'5 190lb combo wing with bouncy, DI-level athleticism. In his contest against Coastal Georgia, Watkins was dominant, and eventually hit the game winning shot, a fitting ending to an extremely impressive performance. Watkins is a rangy forward with strong athleticism and a penchant for attacking the basket. He boasts a strong first step with an excellent second gear, something rarely seen at this level of play. With that said, he sometimes tends to struggle finishing through contact at the rim due to his wiry frame, which could stand to add about 20-30 lbs. Additionally, his average handle may cause him some issues at the next level. While he often starts his drives from the top of the key, his handle is rather simplified when he attacks the basket. He tends to jab step and then pass-fake before attacking, which typically gets his defender off guard. However, once he actually puts the ball on the floor, Watkins is rather predictable, opting for line drives and failing to attack with his off-hand or implore hesitation moves en route to the hoop. With that said, he can improve in these areas and, despite his loose handle, he did not have the ball stolen from him in the contests that I witnessed.

In terms of his offensive prowess, Watkins is adept at attacking the basket from just about any angle and will make basket cuts to get open or camp out on the perimeter, if this benefits his team's spacing. Watkins is a willing cutter and screener, and often utilizes these screens to either pick-and-pop or roll to the basket for an easy finish. At the end of his first contest against Coastal Georgia, Watkins was face guarded at the end of the game and freed himself by setting a series of picks and then slipping behind the defense. When attacking the rim, Watkins has the hangtime athleticism to finish with the best of them. He also has a finesse game, and is comfortable utilizing a floater in the lane or a half hook shot. When he is not in attack mode, Watkins keeps defenses honest from the perimeter. While he will need to improve his abysmal three point shooting on the year (22.4% from 3), Watkins is capable pulling up from the midrange and can hit shots with a hand in his face. Watkins has a nice, high release point on his shot and quickly gets it off, making it difficult for most players to defend him once he gets the ball in his hands. With that said, Watkins sometimes tends to hold the ball too long and shoot it on the way down, which lowers his accuracy from distance. But, when he finds a shooting rhythm, Watkins is very difficult to stop due to his ability to beat you off the bounce or pullup for a jumper utilizing his tremendous run-jump athleticism.

On the defensive end, it is difficult to assess where Watkins stands, as his team plays him out of position at the five and forces him to guard the post. Against Coastal Georgia, he struggled to defend post players and often gave up easy looks close to the hoop. While he has the tools and lateral quickness to be a decent defender, his lack of upper body strength and lack of focus/awareness really hurt him on this end. And while he did show some flashes of defending out to the three point line, it was too limited of a sample size to draw any definitive conclusions about his perimeter defense. Watkins tends to bite on shot fakes and is easily drawn off his feet. With the proper training and physical conditioning, Watkins does have some potential to develop into a decent defensive player due to his physical length and solid quickness. In terms of his rebounding abilities, Watkins has the leaping ability to gather rebounds, but does not always consistently put a body on his man to prevent offensive rebounds. And, on the other end, he tends to camp on the perimeter at times and does not aggressively assert himself on the glass despite his excellent athleticism. In terms of passing, Watkins is a willing team player who will make the extra pass to set his teammates up, as he did on several drive and kick opportunities against Coastal Georgia, but he still could stand to improve in this area and see the floor better. All in all, Watkins is an intriguing player with the raw quickness and run-jump athleticism to play professionally.

On Coastal Georgia's side, the team is led by big lead guard Reggie Burke. While Burke was tentative in the first contest of his that I witnessed, he is the team's leading scorer and floor general who looks to take over basketball games in the big moments. While he does not possess blazing quickness, Burke is a shifty guard who has an adequate enough first step to blow by people, and is also crafty enough to utilize change of pace dribble moves in the lane. Burke provides a steadying presence for his teammates and is fairly consistent walking the ball down the floor and slowing tempo down when he does not have numbers. He can also push in transition. Burke has a strong upper body and is able to take contact and finish strong at the rim. He is also crafty and athletic enough to maneuver in mid air when required. To drive his defender off balance, Burke frequently turns to a repertoire of shot and head fakes, drawing his man off guard, before attacking the rim. On several occasions, Burke was able to contort his body in mid air to avoid defenders. Burke also possesses a reliable handle and utilizes a solid crossover move to draw defenders off balance before either stepping back for a jumper or taking the ball to the rim. Given his size at 6'2 185lbs, Burke is a good rebounder, averaging 4.7 boards per game, often turning defensive rebounds into fast break opportunities.

In terms of his decision making, Burke is a good one-pass, drive-and-dish player who can attack and then kick out to open teammates. He usually will utilize penetration to feed either open big men inside or hit three point shooters on the perimeter. With that said- due to the simplicity of most of his passes- he is not super advanced in this area, but typically opts for the right play, as evinced by his 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio despite commanding significant defensive attention. Burke willingly feeds the post and utilizes fundamental post entry feeds the majority of the time. When he is not attacking/feeding teammates, Burke typically opts to pullup from beyond the arc. He often dribbles into two pointers or will shoot long balls off the catch, or after a few dribbles. Burke connects on 37.6% of his three point tries and is fairly reliable in this regard, particularly when left open. With that said, Burke still occasionally will kick his legs out on three point attempts, and this throws off his shooting rhythm. Burke must maintain his consistency from beyond the arc and shoot the same way every time. With that said, Burke regularly comes through in the clutch. Specifically, Reggie Burke, on one occasion, crossed over his man and hit a game winning step back three. 

On the defensive end, Burke plays strong and is able to drive his man off the spot when attacking the basket. He often uses his superior size and strength to force players into tough shots, and possesses great recovery speed. Despite this strength, Burke sometimes does get hung up on screens, and must do a better job fighting over the top. He also only has average lateral footspeed and needs to consistently maintain a stance. With that said, Burke leverages his superior strength and awareness to make a difference on this end of the floor, leading to approximately 2 steals per game. All in all, Reggie Burke is a good lead guard with an ability to control tempo and keep defenses honest from beyond the arc.

Burke's counterpart in the frontcourt, Kentorey Johnson, is an athletic 6'7 power forward with the handle to transition out to the perimeter. While he mostly opts to play in the post at this level, Johnson has demonstrated on countless occasions that he possesses the handle to get to the rim from the three point line and in. Johnson has a very good first step for a big man and is regularly able to out-quick his opponents to the hoop. When he attacks the rim, he drives with reckless abandon, bulldozing over anyone who gets in his way. Due to his faceup activity, Johnson draws a considerable amount of fouls (212 free throw attempts on the season). Johnson relentlessly pursues the basket when he catches the ball in deep and is very difficult to contain when he catches the ball near the hoop. Johnson does an excellent job sealing his man on back-to-the-basket post up moves and employs the necessary ball fakes and head fakes to draw his defender off guard. Further, he works hard to establish position in the post and is difficult to move off the block despite weighing just upwards of 200 lbs. Johnson possesses a nice jump hook in his arsenal. With that said, Johnson could stand to improve his footwork and his go to post moves. While he is effective at this level, he may be overmatched against bigger, more athletic big men, and must rely on footwork to separate himself.

Johnson could play some minutes as a small forward at the next level due to his decent lateral quickness and nose for the ball. While he did not defend out on the perimeter in the contests that I witnessed, he demonstrated decent lateral footspeed and relentlessly pursued the ball on both ends of the floor. This translated to just under 1 block and just over 1 steal per game. His activity defending post entry feeds was admirable, as he regularly deflected the ball out. In terms of his rebounding, Johnson was aggressive on the glass, averaging 7.1 rebounds per contest. Impressively, nearly half of these rebounds came on the offensive glass, where Johnson fought hard for positioning on almost every play. In terms of his shooting, Johnson possesses a medium range jumper and is capable of connecting on shots off the bounce once he hones certain elements of his game. While he must learn to extend his range at the next level (only a 24.8% 3 pt shooter), Johnson is a capable threat if left open. If he could improve in this area to complement his interior game, Kentorey would be very difficult to stop on the offensive end. His decision making could also use some improvement, as he frequently turns the ball over when doubled inside and does not always look for open teammates out of the post. Instead, he will keep attacking with a head of steam, leading to a paltry 0.43-to-1 Assist-to-Turnover ratio. Overall, Kentorey is an undersized tweener with a power post game and the body of a next level small forward. Johnson is more than capable of carving a role out overseas if he chooses to continue playing basketball after his career is finished at Coastal Georgia.

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