NCAA to NBA: Prospects to watch Thursday

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At 12: 15 Eastern, Clemson and West Virginia tip off the NCAA Tournament (I’m not counting those first four play in games, that’s just the NCAA trying to make a little extra cash on the backs of athletes they don’t pay).

By 12:45, my bracket should be dead.

So we’ll be watching the games checking out some of the NBA prospects. If you want a great breakdown in that regard, check out Kevin Pelton’s at Basketball Prospectus. We spoke with our man Joe Treutlein, Assistant Director of Scouting for DraftExpress.com, leaned heavily on their great scouting (those DX numbers are Draft Express ranks for them as an NBA prospect), plus added some of our own observations on the guys we’ve seen and put together a prospects little guide. Just because we care.

Here are some guys to watch Thursday while you cry into your green beer over your brackets.

Jimmer Fredette, 6’2” guard, BYU (DX No. 17): We’ve had the debate about him before on this site, so I’m not rehashing it here. But you should watch him because no college player is more entertaining.

Kemba Walker, 6’0” guard, Connecticut (DX No. 7): Mr. Game winning step back jumper was on scouts radar long before last weekend when he was all over SportsCenter. He’s one of the small, quick guards that has done well in the NBA in recent years, plus the guy has stepped up in big games (not just the Big East Tournament, all the way back to the Maui Invitational). You have to like a player that does not shrink from the big moment.

Terrence Jones, 6’8” forward, Kentucky (DX No. 9 ): He’s a freshman but with a real NBA body already, very athletic and very long. He started the season impressing everyone but his energy and consistency have been spotty as the season wears on. One guy we’re curious to see how he does under the bright lights.

Brandon Knight, 6’3” guard, Kentucky (DX No. 16): Consider him a little in the Tyreke Evans mold in that he plays a lot of point but projects as a shoot-first combo guard in the NBA. Or, for his detractors, a tweener (he is not as big as Tyreke, not as quick nor can he finish like Derrick Rose). But the guy can shoot, 38 percent from three and knocks down contested midrange shots.

Kawhi Leonard, 6’7” forward, San Diego State (DX No. 13): Not a great shooter, not a great rebounder, but a guy who has gotten better at both, who can leap out of the gym and who has a big motor. He finds a way to get things done and lead, and guys who can do that find a way to make it work in the NBA. Also, just a fun guy to watch play.

Patric Young, 6’9” power forward, Florida (DX No. 27): He passes the eyeball test — he has an NBA body. Some NBA scouts think he can be a Ben Wallace type in the NBA — great defender, great rebounder, an anchor. His offensive game (3.3 PPG) is not why anybody is drafting him.

Justin Harper, 6’10 power forward, Richmond (DX No. 32): He made a huge leap this season — Draft Express called him the most improved player in the nation this year. He averages 17.9 points per game and hit 46.5 percent of his threes. He’s not a great rebounder but if you’re tall and can stroke it you can bet scouts are watching.

Carmelo Anthony on shrinking role with Knicks: ‘I see the writing on the wall… I’m at peace with that’

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Carmelo Anthony scored just nine points on 12 shots in the Knicks loss to the Heat last night — well below his season averages of 22 points on 19 shots per game.

Anthony, via Ian Begley of ESPN:

“I see the writing on the wall. I see what it is,” Anthony said late Wednesday night. “I see what they’re trying to do, and it’s just me accepting that. That’s what puts me at peace. Just knowing and understanding how things work. I’m at peace with that.”

Is Anthony talking about just the Knicks’ final dozen games of this season, when they’re clearly interesting in testing less-proven players? Or is he referring to his entire tenure in New York?

Anthony has said he’d consider waiving his no-trade clause if the Knicks want to rebuild, and they’ll reportedly try again to trade him this offseason. Perhaps, this is Anthony indicating he’s warming up to the idea of allowing a trade.

Anthony’s and Kristaps Porzingis‘ timelines are barely compatible, if at all. It’d make sense for the Knicks to go in a different direction.

Could Anthony be at peace with that?

Dwight Howard’s offensive rebounding defies convention

Al Bello/Getty Images
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Hawks president/coach Mike Budenholzer has the authority to set the Hawks’ priorities.

“Organizationally, fundamentally,” Budenholzer said, “transition D is more important than anything.”

Dwight Howard challenges that daily.

Howard has already built a Hall of Fame résumé:

  • Eight-time All-NBA center, including five-time first teamer
  • Three-time Defensive Player of the Year
  • Five-time rebounding champ

But the big man is doing something he’s never done before: Grab 15.2% of available offensive rebounds.

And he’s doing it at age 31 in a league that has increasingly deemphasized offensive rebounding. The NBA will set a record this season for lowest offensive-rebounding percentage for the fourth straight year.

Teams have just figured getting back on defense trumps crashing the offensive glass, the strategy emanating most prominently from the Spurs. Budenholzer, a former San Antonio assistant coach, brought the plan straight to Atlanta. The Hawks ranked 28th, last and last in offensive-rebounding in his first three seasons — in part for philosophical reasons, in part because they’ve lacked the personnel to do better. They’ve also been a below-average defensive-rebounding team each season under Budenholzer.

Then Howard signed and forced Budenholzer to adjust.

Atlanta has become an above-average offensive-rebounding team and far better with Howard on the court – a helpful crutch with ace 3-point shooters Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague traded. The Hawks are ceding more transition opportunities, though they remain very good at defending those.

It’s an obvious tradeoff, says Stan Van Gundy. The Pistons coach who coached Howard with the Magic sees the center in the rare class of players who deserve full autonomy to chase offensive rebounds.

“You don’t limit those guys,” Van Gundy said.

Howard has made the most of his freedom to chase rebounds. His 15.2 offensive-rebounding percentage ranks second to only Kenneth Faried among qualified players.

And, again, Howard is 31. Offensive rebounding tends to be a young man’s game.

Here’s top 10 in offensive rebounding this season, plotted by age:

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Player Team Age Offensive-rebounding percentage
Kenneth Faried DEN 27 16.1
Dwight Howard ATL 31 15.4
Andre Drummond DET 23 15.2
JaVale McGee GSW 29 15
Tarik Black LAL 25 14.8
Tristan Thompson CLE 25 14
Rudy Gobert UTA 24 13.9
Enes Kanter OKC 24 13.9
Kyle O'Quinn NYK 26 13.9
Willy Hernangomez NYK 22 13.8

Howard’s previous career-high offensive-rebounding percentage was 13.8.

The only other players to set career-high offensive-rebounding rates north of 15% after their age-30 season: Dennis Rodman (20.8% at age 33 with the 1994-95 Spurs) and Alan Henderson (15.6% at age 32 with the 2004-05 Mavericks). Both Rodman (Cooke County Junior College and Southeastern Oklahoma State) and Henderson (Indiana) played four years of college basketball, giving them less wear and tear on their bodies and fewer opportunities to post career highs at a young age.

Howard jumped to the NBA straight from high school.

Yet, he’s having a resurgent year in his 13th season. How is he doing it?

“One, I’m not super old,” Howard said earlier this season. “Two, my body feels great. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff to take care of my body.”

Known for eating legendary amounts of candy earlier in his career, perhaps Howard has made a breakthrough. His defensive-rebounding percentage (31.8) is the second-best of his career and ranks fourth in the NBA. That has helped him anchor the league’s fourth-best defense.

Howard has been subject to widespread criticism, and last season with the Rockets was a low point. This year, Howard has recommitted to the basics: Rebounding, defending, scoring inside.

“He’s got a big personality, but I think we all knew that,” Budenholzer said. “But it’s all in the right place. He wants good things, and I’ve really enjoyed coaching him.”

So much so that Budenholzer has compromised a core basketball tenet for Howard.

And it has proved a worthwhile decision.

JaVale McGee misses open dunk (video)

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Shaquille O’Neal said he’d stop talking about JaVale McGee, who has featured prominently on Shaqtin A Fool.

This missed dunk, a low point in the Warriors’ otherwise-impressive win over the Spurs, will test Shaq’s sincerity.

Grizzlies’ James Ennis fouls out then hits half-court shot (video)

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Against the Pacers last night, James Ennis missed all three of his 3-point attempts… that counted. And he makes this one after fouling out?

Mike Conley more than picked up the slack to lead the Grizzlies to victory.