Sunday, December 6, 2015

Around the Nation (Part 1) - Dominez Burnett and Lawrence Jackson

In the "Around the Nation" segment, I explore prospects throughout the country, with a particular focus on non-D1 talent. In part 1, I feature two pro prospects from NAIA DII: reigning POY, Davenport's Dominez Burnett, and Northwestern Ohio product Lawrence Jackson. 

Dominez Burnett - The reigning POY nationally in NAIA DII is a special talent and could be the most promising prospect I have seen at this level of play. While he still possesses some flaws that will need to be addressed as he transitions to a professional level, the Flint native is one of the more naturally gifted athletes outside of DI and would likely stand out on a professional level. It should be noted that most of Dominez's points come attacking the basket. He is particularly gifted creating for himself and teammates off the dribble, and possesses an array of dribble drive moves and a crafty handle. Burnett sports a decently quick first step and is crafty maneuvering around defenders to the basket; in particular, he regularly employs a spin dribble move in the lane which tends to keep defenders off guard. While he is able to regularly avoid contact and craftily maneuver around his opponents, Burnett is often able to draw contact when meeting defenders at the summit. To put his foul drawing ability into context, his ~11.5 free throw attempts per game is one of the highest marks nationally. On the whole, Burnett's run-jump athleticism stands out from the pack and is likely on par with other highly rated pro players. In terms of his unselfishness, Burnett is a willing passer - he regularly kicks the ball out to an open big man when he gets deep in the lane and is adept at making pinpointed post entry feeds from either wing. While he often is able to exploit defenses himself, his assist-to-turnover ratio over 1-to-1 is impressive given his heavy usage in all facets of the offense.

Also supporting the notion that he is a special athlete, Burnett is dynamic on the glass, securing 7.23 rebounds per contest. Dominez possesses decent fundamentals on this end of the floor and is very aggressive boxing out and securing loose balls. He rarely gives up on plays and often leads the team's transition offense. In terms of his glaring offensive weaknesses, Burnett is a very streaky three point shooter, and has shot poorly in recent weeks. While he has hit critical long range shots with the game on the line (see the end of the Northwestern Ohio contest), Burnett is connecting on a very poor 25.0% of his attempts from beyond the arc. His mechanics will likely have to improve at the next level, given his low release point. With all of that said, he shot 38.7% from 3pt range a year ago; therein, I believe that his poor 25.0% clip is likely not sustainable. On the defensive end, Burnett is a very unique talent with outstanding hands and the athleticism to contribute as a help defender. While he has played inside in zone situations, Burnett thrives as a man-to-man defender, and is more than capable of defending at the next level, given his good lateral quickness. While his play in the zone will likely not translate at a higher level, his quickness to the ball and innate anticipation suggest that this will be a significant strength.  All in all, Dominez Burnett is one of the more complete players on both sides of the ball and is making a name for himself nationally. 

Lawrence Jackson - Emboldened by Davenport's #3 ranking nationally, Jackson was unflappable in his matchup with NAIA DII's top talent, despite coming off of a pesky facial injury which forced him to wear a mask for the first time. It should be noted that players often have to adjust to the feel of the mask, which impacts one's shooting touch and overall rhythm. Throughout the contest, it was clear that Jackson was having difficulty seeing/tracking down the ball due to the nature of his orbital injury. While Jackson had difficulty adjusting early on, clanging several forced jump shots off of brush screens, he eventually found his groove from the floor. Lawrence's greatest asset is his jump shot, and he regularly connects from the midrange, rising up and scoring over the top of opposing defenses. Jackson's range extends out beyond the three point line, and he is shooting a solid 40.8% from beyond the arc. Also, Jackson possesses a fairly quick release and a high release point. In terms of his role in the Northwestern Ohio offense, Jackson is particularly effective with the ball in his hands and needs only a little daylight to get his shot off. While his shot selection was questionable at times, he was clearly his team's go to option, and handled the ball on most of his team's possessions (even calling plays as a lead guard on occasion)

In terms of his limitations, given Jackson's status as a jump shooter, he rarely gets to the line, averaging a mere three FTA per contest (with 0 against Davenport). In stark contrast to Burnett, Jackson struggles finishing through contact at the rim and often has his shot altered despite his good size (for this level) at 6'4. He will need to diversify his game in this respect if he hopes to land a contract at a more competitive level of play. With that said, Jackson is a strong defensive rebounder, and is willing to fight amongst the trees. In addition, given that the ball ran through him much of the Davenport game, Jackson proved to be a capable passer, setting up his teammates in pick and roll scenarios and executing the prettiest lefty wrap around (whipped) pass of the contest. Defensively, Jackson has good anticipation and solid hands - posting 2.5 steals per game. All in all, Jackson must continue to diversify his offensive game, while proving that he can defend the best players at his level.   

[Images courtesy of (Burnett) and (Jackson)]

Friday, November 13, 2015

Blogging Through the Exhibitions (Part 1) St. John's vs. St. Thomas Aquinas

After a brief hiatus, I am returning to provide original content for all levels of basketball. In this first matchup, a more experienced St. Thomas Aquinas team took advantage of the new-look Red Storm in the exhibition opener. Several standouts emerged on both sides, and it will be interesting to track how these players develop as we move through the non-conference season.

St. John's Player Notes 

Christian Jones - While Jones played a very minor part in the Red Storm's success last season, he is likely going to be asked to take on a much bigger role this year, particularly in light of St. John's mass exodus (with Chris Obekpa transferring and Rysheed Jordan choosing to play professional basketball). Although I believe the expectation coming in was that he would be more of a locker room presence than a go-to option, Jones proved to be St. John's more reliable weapon in this contest. Throughout this game, Jones was the most active Johnnie getting in the lane and finishing through contact. He was an aggressive presence on the boards and created numerous second chance opportunities. Jones is thriving in his role as an energy player and has the requisite athleticism - despite being slightly undersized at 6'7 - to impact the game on both ends of the floor. On the defensive end, Jones was disruptive in passing lanes, forcing difficult shots for St. Thomas Aquinas big men and displaying active hands. He is a strong leaper and shot blocker as well. Overall, look for Jones to play a more prominent role this season as a seasoned returnee.

Federico Mussini - Mussini is arguably the most talented player on this St. John's team, with maybe the exception of Marcus LoVett, who the NCAA recently ruled as ineligible to play this season (LINK). Mussini is a quick lead guard with a nice handle and the stop-and-go moves to penetrate in the lane and create for his teammates. With that said, Mussini clearly has not adjusted to the college basketball learning curve just yet (to be expected for the freshman), as he forced numerous outside shots early in the shot clock in this one, over-dribbled and appeared out-of-control forcing the ball in transition with no numbers, and generally struggled with the pesky defense of highly improved James Mitchell. With that said, Mussini can get his own shot, though, and already has the requisite perimeter jumper to keep defenses honest. On the defensive end of the floor, Mussini is still very much a work in progress, and needs to work harder on-ball to contain penetration.

Malik Ellison - The son of basketball royalty (Pervis Ellison), Malik is very much an up-in-coming player in his own right. Standing at a sturdy 6'6, Malik has the requisite size, length, and athleticism to play at a higher level of basketball. In this contest, he demonstrated his unique floor vision and his ability to create for teammates off the dribble. Malik possesses a strong handle and his ability to penetrate and kick will be extremely important for the Red Storm this year. Like Mussini, he often over-dribbled at times, but also showed strong flashes attacking the basket. In addition, Ellison also possesses an effective jump shot and can score in a variety of ways. In contrast to Mussini's performance early in the game, Malik did a nice job picking his spots shooting the ball. Defensively, Ellison has the length to be effective in the Big East this season. All in all, it will be interesting to track Malik's learning curve and see how Malik's ball skills improve over the course of the year. I strongly believe that he is a future NBA prospect.

St. Thomas Aquinas Player Notes     

Chaz Watler - Leader of the upstart Spartan club and the preseason ECAC POY, Watler was the most impressive performer in this contest. While teammate Justin Reyes made a splash in the second half when the lead was in hand, Watler's breakout performance really built his team's lead from the opening tip. Undersized at 6'2, Watler is a combo guard with a great first step and a wide array of offensive moves in his repertoire. Watler is adept at beating his man off the bounce and either finishing at the rim over rim protectors or kicking it out to open teammates. He can also stop on a dime and connect on fadeaway jumpers when necessary. The threat of Watler's shot really opens his game up, and Chaz is a serious threat from anywhere on the floor, particularly beyond the arc. After shooting over 40% from three point range a year ago, Watler was 3-5 in this contest and had no problems getting his shot off. While he may prefer to function off the ball at this point, Watler would likely be able to convert to the lead guard role, as he is an adept passer and already can keep defenses honest with the threat of his jumper. On the defensive end, Watler wreaked havoc on the Red Storm with his extremely quick hands (to the tune of 4 steals) and decent quickness.

Justin Reyes - The much improved Reyes dominated St. John's front line in the second half, taking his man off the dribble and converting at the rim. He also was able to collect rebounds despite his diminutive size (at 6'4) in comparison to St. John's bigs Darien Williams (6'8) and Yankuba Sima (6'11). Reyes appeared to be everywhere on the court at once, and was particularly effective on the defensive glass, where he boxed out the opposition and collected 10 boards. While he mostly opted for higher percentage shots around the basket, where he was able to use his physicality to score against the youthful St. John's bigs employing an old man's game, Reyes appears to have a decent (albeit slow) perimeter stroke. Reyes will play a vital role for his team this year as a much improved enforcer inside. Despite his strong hands, Reyes is a bit of a mixed bag defensively and is a bit slow laterally.

James Mitchell - Stepping into the role of lead guard following Marcus Henderson's departure, the diminutive, 5'9 Mitchell appeared to be the most improved player on this squad. Mitchell was electric in his debut against St. John's, running the Spartan offense to perfection and really getting progressively more comfortable with the ball in his hands as the game wore on. While he initially connected on some questionable perimeter jumpers, his shot selection improved considerably by the end of the game. He ultimately was orchestrating the offense and facilitating for just about everyone on the floor. While many of his passes were not finished due to strong contests at the rim, Mitchell put his big men in a position to score many times. He is adept in the pick and roll, and is not shy from the perimeter when the ball is kicked out. Mitchell should be able to keep defenses honest as the season progresses. On the defensive end, Mitchell was a pest, fighting through screens, contesting out of bounds plays, and generally wreaking havoc to the tune of four steals. The Mitchell/Watler backcourt will be a defensive force to be reckoned with once Division II play begins.

Aaron Cust - Cust is an explosive, 6'1 guard who can get to the basket in a hurry and finish with the best of them. He was particularly effective early on against the Red Storm and did a nice job completing plays. Cust is a willing passer when attacking the basket, and is more than capable of serving as a point guard. While he doesn't have the prettiest jumper, Cust was able to connect from deep on one occasion.

Jonathan Lawton - This outstanding freshman also left his mark on the game driving to the rim and finishing from the perimeter on kick out plays. Lawton is a serious perimeter shooting threat. While still assimilating with teammates, it is clear that he will be in for a much bigger role as the season progresses.

Image Sources: and

Monday, March 2, 2015

Senior Spotlight 2014-15 (1st Installment)

In "Senior Spotlight", I explore some of the top seniors across college basketball and assess their potential from a professional standpoint. In today's segment, the first of the year, I take a look at South Carolina's Tyrone Johnson.

After being relegated to the bench with a foot injury towards the end of his junior season, the Gamecock's Tyrone Johnson is back this year and bringing senior leadership to his South Carolina  squad under head coach Frank Martin. Johnson is a combo guard with lead guard potential at the next level. Hailing from Plainfield, New Jersey, Johnson has made noticeable strides converting to the point guard slot, but still has some work to do before he can become an impact player at a higher level of basketball.

When noting his current strengths, one would be remiss if failing to mention Johnson's gifts on the defensive end of the floor. It should first be noted that Johnson has made significant strides in this area since his first season with the Villanova Wildcats, and especially since his high school playing days. While Johnson's output does not jump out as far as defensive statistics are concerned, posting a modest 2.12% steals % (40th in the SEC) - which happens to be in-line with fellow defensive stalwart Tyler Ulis, he possesses strong fundamentals on this end of the floor. For instance, he rarely bites on pump fakes, and has strong lateral quickness. His quickness enables him to double down on the post at times, and recover to his man on the perimeter if a kick out pass is made. Johnson is particularly effective on close outs and does a nice job disrupting without fouling out on the perimeter (2.84 fouls per 40 minutes, good for 25th in the SEC). In his matchup with standout Vanderbilt freshman Riley LaChance, Johnson was incredibly active fighting through screens and getting enough pressure to disturb LaChance's shooting rhythm. It should be noted that as soon as South Carolina shifted to the 1-2-2 zone and Johnson no longer had the sole responsibility of covering him, LaChance broke out, scoring the majority of his 19 points during this juncture.

Johnson brings senior leadership to the table and boasts a strong basketball IQ on defensive rotations, shifting inside when necessary and acting the part of a savant in anticipating ball movement. And while he does possess good size for a next level point guard at 6'3, he does tend to struggle defending bigger players. For instance, in his matchup with Aaron and Andrew Harrison, he struggled with their superior size and length, particularly when recovering to defend the rim. With that said, he did a nice job closing out on the perimeter and it should also be noted that he will not always have to contend with players that have comparable size to the Harrison twins at the next level. Overall, Johnson possesses strong defensive awareness and the ability to actively contest shots without fouling.  

On the opposite end, Johnson is an adequate playmaker who finds open shooters, but has struggled to find his shot at times this season. While Johnson was able to keep defenses honest a season ago by connecting at a 42.1% clip from three on a limited number of attempts, Johnson has been on a cold streak for much of this year, choosing to pass the ball back outside rather than squaring up for an open jumper - much to Frank Martin's chagrin. When he does opt to shoot, Johnson's stroke possesses decent mechanics with solid fluidity, but Johnson could stand to work on the consistency of his motion (elevation/elbows in particular). With that said, he could be turning things around from a shooting perspective, given his 28 point breakout performance (on 7-10 shooting, 1-2 from three) against Mississippi State most recently. In terms of his playmaking ability, Johnson is a strong slasher with a solid crossover dribble who can take a defender off his spot in a hurry. While he could stand to develop a Euro step maneuver when getting all the way to the rim to avoid charges, Johnson does have the requisite hangtime and strength to finish at the hoop.

That said, he will have to improve upon his finishing ability/ overall shooting (connecting on a paltry 41.2% of his two point attempts) if he hopes to receive any minutes at a higher level of play. Importantly, Johnson is very unselfish with the ball in his hands. While he tends to swing the ball far too often instead of getting into the teeth of the defense, particularly against the 2-3 zone, Johnson does hit open shooters on drive and kick plays. He also has good vision out in transition and is very underrated as a post entry passer, with a strong ability to lob over the top of the defense and find his open big man. That said, he has often been too passive at times to attack the basket (3.9 fouls drawn per 40 mins vs. 6.2 last year in a shortened season), instead settling for simplistic kick out passes. This is likely due to his lack of confidence hitting his perimeter stroke, as defenses can now back off of him a bit. Importantly, it remains to be seen (as far as I have seen) how he would function on a nightly basis in a high pick and roll offense, where his big man does not opt to flare out for the open three pointer.

All in all, Tyrone Johnson is an experienced talent with the requisite skillset to become a solid role player at a higher level of basketball. He must continue to perfect his shooting stroke and refine his court awareness, but he should receives some looks when his college career is finally over.

(Images via,, and

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Top 105 D1 Seniors

In my return to the blogosphere, I compile a list of the top ranking NBA prospects in the "tweener class" (seniors) of Division 1 this year.  

1) Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
2) Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
3) Delon Wright, Utah
4) Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
5) LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State
6) Anthony Brown, Stanford
7) Juwan Staten, West Virginia
8) Darrun Hilliard, Villanova
9) Larry Nance Jr, Wyoming
10) Norman Powell. UCLA
11) Treveon Graham, VCU
12) Andre Hollins, Minnesota
13) Quinn Cook, Duke
14) Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
15) Jonathan Holmes, Texas
16) Ryan Boatright, UConn
17) Yanick Moreira, SMU
18) Denzel Livingston, Incarnate Word
19) Joseph Young, Oregon
20) Corey Hawkins, UC Davis
21) Josh Richardson, Tennessee
22) Shannon Scott, Ohio State
23) Derrick Marks, Boise State
24) Dez Wells, Maryland
25) LaDontae Henton, Providence
26) Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
27) Jordan Sibert, Dayton
28) Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa
29) DJ Newbill, Penn State
30) Levi Randolph, Alabama
31) Sam Thompson, Ohio State
32) Marcus Thornton, William & Mary
33) Keifer Sykes, Wisconsin Green Bay
34) Wesley Sanders, Harvard
35) Wayne Blackshear, Louisville
36) Tyler Haws, BYU
37) Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss
38) Amir Williams, Ohio State
39) Kourtney Roberson, Texas A&M
40) Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
41) D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's
42) Branden Dawson, Michigan State
43) Aaron White, Iowa
44) Lawrence Alexander, North Dakota State
45) Joshua Smith, Georgetown
46) TaShawn Thomas, Oklahoma
47) Chasson Randle, Stanford
48) Briante Weber, VCU
49) Brad Waldow, St. Mary's
50) Ryan Harrow, Georgia State
51) Richaun Holmes, Bowling Green
52) Deshawn Delaney, New Mexico
53) Maurice Walker, Minnesota
54) Kenneth "Speedy" Smith, Louisiana Tech
55) TJ McConnell, Arizona
56) Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
57) Rashad Madden, Arkansas
58) Pat Connaughton, Notre Dame 
59) Cady Lalanne, UMass
60) Darion Atkins, Virginia
61) Youssou NDoye, St. Bonaventure
62) Sir' Dominic Pointer, St. John's
63) David Kravish, Cal
64) Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast
65) Kyan Anderson, TCU
66) Keon Moore, Winthrop
67) Travis Trice, Michigan State
68) Askia Booker, Colorado
69) Mikh McKinney, Sacramento State
70) Kiel Turpin, Florida State
71) JJ Avila, Colorado State
72) Chris Jones, Louisville
73) JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
74) Mike Caffey, Long Beach State
75) DeVante Lacy, Washington State
76) David Laury, Iona
77) Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
78) JJ O'Brien, San Diego State
79) Corey Walden, Eastern Kentucky
80) Royce O' Neale, Baylor
81) Marcus Thornton, Georgia
82) Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin
83) Jerrell Wright, LaSalle
84) Raheem Appleby, Louisiana Tech
85) Juwan Howard Jr., Detroit
86) Thomas Gipson, Kansas State
87) Carson Desrosiers, Providence
88) Myles Mack, Rutgers
89) Rodney Cooper, Alabama
90) Jeromie Hill, Texas San Antonio
91) KT Harrell, Auburn
92) Ty Greene, South Carolina Upstate
93) Matt Carlino, Marquette 
94) Chip Armelin, Southern Miss
95) Julius Brown, Toledo
96) Phil Greene IV, St. John's
97) Nino Williams, Kansas State
98) Daishon Knight, Illinois State
99) Maxie Esho, UMass
100) Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin
101) Matt Stainbrook, Xavier
102) Zaid Hearst, Quinnipiac
103) Isiah Umipig, Seattle
104) Jabril Trawick, Georgetown
105) Javier Duren, Yale