To read part I, which includes the First and Second Team Preseason All-Americans, click here.
Welcome to part two of Grantland’s Preseason All-American Extravaganza! After unveiling our First and Second teams earlier this week, we now present the Third team and a handful of Honorable Mentions.
As before, the good folks from DraftExpress.com will be on hand to provide analysis of the players’ NBA potential. So why in Dickie V’s name would we wait? Let’s get to it.
1. Terrell Holloway
Point Guard, Senior
1. Holloway goes to Xavier.
2. Holloway is so far under the radar that he’s actually in the room two floors below where they keep the radar.
But the reigning Atlantic-10 Player of the Year can’t stay anonymous for long. After a terrific junior season, where he averaged 19.7 points and led the conference in assists per game, free throw attempts, and free throws made, his profile is ready to go national. And I would wager that Holloway’s personality is suited for the leap; he’s got the on-court swagger that lets you know a healthy ego is operating beneath the surface. His game is predicated on the drive, which is how he racks up assists and trips to the foul line, but he can knock down the open jumper when defenders give him space.
At heart, Holloway is a classic, undersized (6-foot) point guard whose surprising combination of strength and quickness allows him to score against bigger defenders. Unlike the prototype, however, he’s blessed with the vision to distribute. Perhaps most impressive to me about Holloway, though, is how his tempo-free stats have improved over his three years at Xavier. Obviously his points and assists have gone up as his minutes increased (in fact, Holloway played 94.4 percent of his team’s minutes last season, tops in the A-10), but his efficiency has followed suit. Check out the chart below:
Throughout his career, Holloway has progressively improved his shot, assisted on a greater percentage of his team’s field goals, and drawn fouls at a higher rate. You could make the argument that these are the three most important statistics for a scoring point guard, and it’s somewhat amazing that Holloway increased his scoring average by seven points per game from his sophomore to junior season while simultaneously upping his assist rate by almost 10 percent. That’s the definition of efficiency, and if he just maintains those numbers this season, Holloway will be one of the best point guards in the country. If he improves, as he’s done each of the last two seasons, he could become a sneaky first team All-American.
Strengths: Quick, strong, aggressive point guard with a scorer’s mentality. Capable of making shots with his feet set or off the dribble. Gets to the line at an excellent rate. Very good on the pick and roll, where he can create for himself or teammates in drive and dish situations. Tough, intense competitor with long arms. Has an impressive résumé, having won plenty of games throughout his career.
Needs Work: Only measured 5-foot-10 without shoes at last year’s New Jersey Combine, which, if drafted, would make him one of the shortest players ever selected. Shot selection and decision making are shaky at times. Streaky perimeter shooter. May struggle to get inside the paint and defend his position effectively against taller NBA point guards.
Projection: Second round pick. Holloway’s NBA aspirations were put on hold by a surprise upset loss in the first round of last season’s NCAA tournament. He’s unlikely to grow but can help his draft stock by ironing out some of his weaknesses this season.
Best Case: D.J. Augustin
Worst Case: Dee Brown (Illinois)
2. Orlando Johnson
Shooting Guard, Senior
UC-Santa Barbara, you ask? That’s right. I’m the most indie college basketball fan you know. Whenever people ask who my favorite player is, I sip a complicated drink and say, “You’ve probably never heard of him.” If you tell me you like a team from a major conference, I smirk and pull the brim of my San Francisco Dons hat super low.
Fine, that’s not true. I’m as mainstream as they come. I root for Duke and think the dunk should be outlawed. But look, Orlando Johnson can straight-up score. He’s led the Big West conference in that category for two straight years, and, barring a miracle, this will be the third. The thrill with Johnson is his aggression and variety. As you see from the video above, the list of ways he can light it up is long. He can hit the turnaround jumper. He can beat you with quickness, and his leaping ability and body control allows him to glide around the bigs in the lane. And if that’s not scary enough, he was third in the conference last season with a 40.3 three-point shooting percentage.
Johnson can also rebound; he grabbed 6.2 boards per game last year (eighth in the conference). What you might not expect is that he also passes well and averaged three assists per game (11th). And this summer, at the World University Games in China, there were hints that he began to transition from an adequate defensive player into a stopper. His turnovers are high — 2.7 per game — and he gets to the line at a lower rate than he should, but those are minor quibbles.
The great rivalry in the Big West this year is between Johnson and senior Long Beach State point guard Casper Ware, the conference Player of the Year who very nearly made this list over Holloway. Last year, the teams played three times. In the first, neither player was at his best, but Long Beach won 71-55. In the second, Ware scored 26 to Johnson’s 18 as LBSU won by double digits again. Then, in the finals of the conference tournament, the teams were tied at halftime before Johnson exploded for 18 second-half points to send Santa Barbara to the dance. The year before, in the same game, Johnson scored 20 points to Ware’s 19 to give his team the same result. If you’re looking for some West Coast drama this season in the absence of any real excitement in the Pac-10, look no further.
Strengths: Possesses solid size at 6-4 without shoes to go along with a chiseled frame and a 7-foot wingspan. One of the most prolific and efficient scorers in college basketball. The NCAA’s top returning scorer at 25.7 points per-40 pace adjusted, on a sparkling 51%/41%/80% 2P/3P/FT% split. An excellent shooter with deep range and the ability to make shots with his feet set or off the dribble. Got rave reviews for his play this summer at the LeBron James Academy and with USA Basketball.
Weaknesses: Average ball-handler who has traditionally struggled to create his own shot against elite competition. Not particularly explosive or creative with the ball in his hands. Occasionally lackadaisical on defense.
Projection: 31-undrafted. Johnson passes the look test and has the numbers to back it up, but he hasn’t shown that he can translate his production against higher-level competition. He’ll have more chances to show off his shot-making prowess this year, and should benefit from the exposure of a full pre-draft tour after merely testing the waters last April.
Best Case: Kelenna Azubuike
Worst Case: Reggie Williams
3. John Shurna
Small Forward, Senior
John Shurna looks like the same kind of player as former Duke forward Kyle Singler. Both players are tall (6-foot-9 for Shurna, 6-foot-8 for Singler), and both are advertised as inside-outside forwards who can hit threes and finish near the basket. Both lack quickness, and try to make up for it with strength and smarts. Both averaged in the neighborhood of 16-17 points last season. But it’s instructive to look at a nifty radar chart from our pals at StatSheet.com comparing the two:
Now we see the difference. Shurna is like Singler if Singler could shoot threes at a lethal rate (43.4 percent), be more effective inside the arc, get to the line more frequently, dish out assists almost twice as often, but still turn the ball over at the same low rate. At this point, you may be wondering why I’m using the Singler comparison, so I’ll show my cards. Remember how much hype Singler had last season? He was a preseason first team All-American, and despite some really worrisome trends over the course of his career, especially in the shooting department, nobody could stop gushing. Then he had a disappointing senior year. Well, Shurna is the real thing and he’s not getting the same hype.
Maybe, this time, the voters are right. Maybe Shurna will be limited by his lack of lateral quickness, or by the fact that he’s not very strong (in that department alone, he was Singler’s inferior, and it shows in the small but significant rebounding disparity between the two). And with teammates who may or may not be effective during a tough Big 10 schedule, Shurna could have some rough nights. But when you consider that he battled through a concussion and an ankle sprain last season and still put up strong numbers, and throw in the fact that he has supposedly improved his strength and interior game, I think Shurna could be an absolute blast to watch this season.
Strengths: Skilled, smart forward with nice size. Measured 6-10 in shoes at the New Jersey Nets Combine. One of the top shooters in college basketball. Converted 43 percent of his 3-point attempts. Excellent passer.
Needs Work: Somewhat stuck between the forward positions. Lacks the strength to guard most PFs and the lateral quickness to guard small forwards. Production dropped off considerably against better opponents last season. Fairly one-dimensional. Exceptionally poor rebounder.
Projection: 45-undrafted. High basketball IQ stretch forwards in Shurna’s mold are somewhat en vogue in the NBA these days, but he’ll have to show he can contribute a bit more as a rebounder and defender to crack someone’s rotation.
Best Case: Brian Scalabrine
Worst Case: Sven Schultze
4. Trevor Mbakwe
Power Forward, Senior
Of all the positions, the forwards were hardest to choose. But Mbakwe stood out from the others — even Kentucky’s Terrence Jones — because he’s remarkably efficient. True, it didn’t hurt that he plays every game like he’s fighting for survival, or that you’d probably need a suit of armor and an elephant gun to intimidate him. He’s possibly the best rebounder in the Big 10, and he’s certainly the most vicious. He’s probably the only player in the conference with the defensive chops and flat-out guts to handle Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger.
Call him a bruiser if you want, but Mbakwe’s game is refined. His 58.2 effective field goal percentage (seventh in the Big 10) complemented an exceptional 52.1 free throw rate (tops in the conference). He also led the Big 10 in rebounding on the way to averaging a double-double and was fifth in blocks per game. Put simply, Mbakwe is one of the great physical big men in the country, and he proved it with his dominant turn at the World University Games this summer.
On the negative side, he turns the ball over too often, especially for a forward without much playmaking responsibility. He has faced assault charges in the past (they were dismissed), and whether or not it’s justifiable, some observers will wonder if Mbakwe has character issues. If so, they didn’t affect him on the court last season, and that’s where he’ll be the key ingredient in Minnesota’s attempt to make the tournament and erase the memory of last season’s collapse, when they lost 10 of their last 11 and missed the Dance.
Strengths: A physically developed, long, athletic big man who plays with a chip on his shoulder. The second-best returning rebounder amongst all collegiate draft prospects. Efficient offensive player who gets to the free throw line at a high rate. Has excellent tools on the defensive end.
Needs Work: Somewhat undersized for an NBA power forward at 6-8. Plays more like a center with his lack of perimeter polish on both ends of the floor. Skill level is average. Gets most of his points by overpowering weaker opponents and finishing at the rim. Turns 23 in January and may have limited upside.
Projection: 25-45. The demand for active, athletic big men in the NBA is always high, particularly if Mbakwe can have a quiet year off the court and continue to rebound at an elite rate.
Best Case: Jordan Hill
Worst Case: Joey Dorsey
5. Tyler Zeller
Power Forward, Senior
Look, if you want to see Tyler Zeller make a bunch of layups, go this picture.
In case you couldn’t tell, I really, really didn’t want to put Zeller on this list. I looked for any excuse I could find to exclude him, because Zeller is the most maddening basketball player in the world. I have the statistics to back that up, but they’re scrawled on the walls of the “quiet room” where I spend the unpleasant postgame hours whenever UNC beats Duke.
The problem (for Dukies like me) is that Zeller is excellent. At least on offense. He’s the perfect foil for his teammate John Henson, who I believe is the best defensive player in the country. Zeller is an average defender, but he’s agonizingly consistent on offense. Often, when Zeller touches the ball on an offensive possession, he scores. He was top five in the ACC in field goal percentage, offensive rating, free throws made, free throw rate (how often he gets to the line), points, and offensive rebounds.
Here’s what I’m trying to say: Tyler Zeller is a robot designed to function as a perfect offensive component on a great team. Big men like Zeller are dependent on their teammates, and with Kendall Marshall feeding him, Harrison Barnes and Dexter Strickland distracting the defense, and Henson picking up all the loose slack on defense, Zeller is perfectly positioned to execute the action sequences the robotics engineers programmed for him.
Alas, those same scientists didn’t totally ignore the defensive side of things. Instead, they programmed Zeller with one move, which is to flop dramatically whenever an opposing player makes the slightest whisper of contact with him. God, I’m getting so angry just thinking about it. And yes, I appreciate the irony of a Duke fan complaining about flopping. Thank you. Thank you for your concern. This is going to be the worst year ever.
Strengths: Mobile big man with good size, a nice skill level, and a developing frame. 6-foot-11, runs the floor well, and plays above the rim. Scores efficiently in UNC’s offense, both off the ball and with his back to the basket. Appears to have a good feel for the game.
Needs Work: Just an average defender and rebounder. Needs to add strength. Doesn’t show great toughness. May not be quick enough to guard NBA power forwards? Hasn’t displayed any type of face-up game.
Projection: 10-25. Zeller had a breakout season in 2010-11, and then raised expectations by electing to return to UNC for his senior year. NBA scouts will want to see improvement in all facets of his game, and he has the talent to deliver.
Best Case: Juwan Howard
Worst Case: Malik Allen
These are the players who were very, very tempting to include on the Third Team. Starting with:
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse: Averaged almost six assists per game last year, and that number should improve on a strong Syracuse team. His overall offensive value was limited by relatively poor 41.5 percent field goal shooting and trouble getting to the line. He worked out with Chris Paul this offseason and his improvement — or lack thereof — will determine the success of the Orange more than any other player, including Kris Joseph.
Ray McCallum, Detroit: The sophomore point guard plays for his father, head coach Ray McCallum, and had a terrific freshman season. He’s already projected as a second-round pick, and if he improves his scoring while maintaining a high assist-to-turnover ratio, he’ll start to make waves despite Detroit’s small profile.
Casper Ware, Long Beach State: Last year’s Player of the Year in the Big West is back for his senior season, and he’s capable of averaging 20 points per game. He shot a high percentage from three (38.1) but also turned the ball over more than most point guards, with three per game.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Craft’s minutes gradually increased as last season progressed, and his tempo-free metrics were superb. His 53.5 effective field goal percentage and 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio were particularly impressive. With Sullinger on his side, Craft could become a star.
William Buford, Ohio State: Are you starting to get the sense that the Buckeyes have an embarrassment of riches this season? They’re a hair’s breadth below UNC. With Jon Diebler gone, Buford is poised to score a lot of points. He averaged 14 per game last year, and his 44.2 percent shooting from 3-point range should serve him well in an offense that will produce plenty of open looks.
Marcus Denmon, Missouri: His 60.3 percent effective field goal rate was third in the Big 12 last season, and he turned the ball over less than once per game while racking up a high share of assists and steals. He was lights-out from three at almost 45 percent, and he’s a strong candidate to average 20. Denmon is high on the list of players I’m most excited to watch.
Perry Jones III, Baylor: We’re still waiting for Jones’ performance to catch up with his deservedly hyped natural ability. The 6-foot-11 Jones is still just a sophomore, so there’s time for him to develop into the player his talent suggests he should be.
Terrence Jones, Kentucky: He has every gift in the book (wingspan, ball-handling, quickness, scoring instincts, passing acumen) except, possibly, a shot. His body language leaves a bit to be desired at times, too, and he shouldn’t be shooting 3s ever unless he can improve his 32.9 percent rate. If he lives up to his talent, however, he’ll be a first-teamer.
Thomas Robinson, Kansas: Robinson only averaged 14 minutes per game last season, but I’m ready to wave the hype flag. He shot 60 percent from the field and had an almost unbelievably high offensive and defensive rebounding rate (third in the country for both, actually). The junior should get a lot more playing time this season, and if last year’s numbers are indicators of how he’ll play over a full season, he’ll be one of the best big men in the country.
Reeves Nelson, UCLA: He’s the only Pac-12 player who deserves a place on this list. The 6-foot-9 junior shot well, got to the line, snagged nine rebounds per game, and led the country in having a name that resembles a British butler’s.
Alex Oriakhi, UConn: I really wanted to include a true center on the Third Team, but nobody quite merited it. Oriakhi came close. He’s a force inside and one of the best shot-blockers in the country, but he should be scoring more. His offensive repertoire needs to be developed before he can become a true threat.
Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt: Best name in college basketball, hands down. Ezeli, 6-foot-11, shoots a high percentage inside and got to the line at a higher rate than anyone in the SEC last season. He’s quick for his size and runs the floor well. His rebounding numbers are solid, especially on the offensive end, and he blocks a lot of shots. He only played 23 minutes per game, though, and like Oriakhi, his post game could use more polish.
And that’s that! The greatest sport in the world begins Monday with the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, but the fun really kicks off next Friday, when 254 teams square off on opening Friday. Don’t blink.
Shane Ryan is a staff writer for Grantland. Follow him on Twitter at @TobaccoRdBlues.
Previously from Shane Ryan:
Why Duke Will Win the National Championship
The Wrestler in Real Life
Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, and Unforeseen Drama at Duke’s Midnight Madness
College Football Recap: Clemson Fights Back
College Football Preview: Can Michigan Keep Winning?
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