Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Scouting in Seattle: Demar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Isaiah Thomas, Abdul Gaddy

Whew, it's been quite a whirlwind for The Painted Area the past few weeks, as we've integrated ourselves into the TrueHoop Network. So much so that we've been sitting on this post for a little bit - a couple weeks ago we spent an awful lot of time at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on the campus of the University of Washington, watching some players who may soon be coming to an NBA Draft Lottery near you.

We attended the annual King Holiday Hoopfest of high school games on MLK Day, and then also went to both the USC-UW and UCLA-UW games on the following Thursday and Saturday. Here's our scouting report.

Let's start with the college games first. Heading into UW's games vs. the SoCal schools, the most intriguing players to watch from an NBA perspective were USC's Demar DeRozan and UCLA's Jrue Holiday, both of whom have been projected to be Top 10 picks for most of this season, though they have just recently fallen to 12 and 14, respectively, on Chad Ford's Big Board.

We caught both of these players at the Hoop Summit in Portland in April, and we didn't see a whole lot of progress from then.

Demar DeRozan, USC (6-7/200): DeRozan is an exceptionally gifted athlete who has had trouble putting things together on a consistent basis at USC. Against Washington, he looked good, with 16 pts and 7 reb on 7-11 FG, but had 6 TO. He displayed his athleticism on a beautiful alley-oop finish and showed some nice shotmaking ability in the mid-range game with a variety of moves (though his long-distance game needs work, as he's made just 1-18 3PT on the season).

Through some combination of DeRozan drifting and Tim Floyd's offense being maddeningly egalitarian, DeRozan didn't seem to get the ball nearly enough - it was especially unconscionable when 5-11 Justin Dentmon guarded him on several possessions yet USC didn't try to exploit the matchup. DeRozan clearly has some very impressive tools, but he needs some seasoning in a scenario where he is the man (and, as important, wants to be the man) and the offense runs through him if he's going to be a guy who becomes an impact player in the league instead of just another NBA wing.

Jrue Holiday, UCLA (6-3/180): Holiday is a tough player to evaluate because he is a point guard but he's playing off the ball alongside Darren Collison. I guess the natural comparison is to rookie Russell Westbrook, who was in his shoes to a certain extent last season. Like Westbrook, Holiday can be a long-armed menace on defense, but he is not nearly as explosive of an athlete. Holiday has good playmaking skills, but was just not very impressive in terms of creating offense for himself on a day when UCLA was desperately trying to match baskets with UW. He had 8 pts, 5 reb, 6 ast, 2 TO on just 3-9 FG and 1-4 3PT (he shoots just .323 from 3 on the year).

I guess I was really underwhelmed by both Holiday and Collison as a whole because defense is their calling card and they were absolutely *torched* by the UW guards. UCLA gave up 86 points to UW - they had only allowed more than 70 one other time and that was 74 to Oregon. However, I'm starting to think that all this is maybe telling me more about....

Isaiah Thomas, Washington (5-8/170): DeRozan and Holiday came into the season as the most highly-regarded freshmen in the Pac-10, but 5-8 Isaiah Thomas has easily been more productive.

Here are some season numbers:
- DeRozan: 31 min, 12.4 pts, 5.1 reb, 52% FG
- Holiday: 27 min, 9.9 pts, 4.0 reb, 3.2 ast, 1.5 stl, 50% FG
- Thomas: 28 min, 16.7 pts, 2.9 reb, 2.9 ast, 1.1 stl, 42% FG

Thomas has been especially impressive in Pac-10 play, averaging 19.2 pts, 3.0 reb, 2.7 ast, and perhaps most notably, 8 free-throw attempts per game - a remarkable number for a 5-8 player. (By contrast, DeRozan averages about 3.5 FTA on the season, and Holiday is around 2 FTA.)

Beyond being an exciting player to watch, Thomas is the kind of guy who's fascinating and kind of fun to project in terms of whether he can succeed in the league - he is so unorthodox and has such distinct pros and cons.

Not a terribly consistent shooter (just .312 3PT), Thomas does most of his damage in the lane - he is extremely quick with the ball and has a great bounce which helps make him quite adept at getting his shot off, and also drawing contact, inside.

Thomas' two-game stretch against the SoCal schools was especially impressive. USC has several long athletic bigs who really showed why rugged UW big man Jon Brockman will struggle at the next level - he can't get his shot off against NBA-type bigs. But it was no problem for Thomas, who was unfazed amidst the trees inside - he got to the line 14 times in the game, scoring 17 points on 4-10 FG.

Meanwhile, the main challenge vs. UCLA was beating the excellent perimeter defense. As mentioned, Thomas and friends (Dentmon, Venoy Overton) torched the Bruins guards. Isaiah lit up Collison especially, scoring 24 points while getting to the line 12 times. Good defensive USC bigs, good defensive UCLA guards, didn't matter - I.T. proved he could get to the basket (and the line) at will and score on both.

Rivals had a story in which UW coach Lorenzo Romar compared I.T. to Damon Stoudamire:
    When Washington coach Lorenzo Romar ran into former Arizona guard Damon Stoudamire in Hawaii a couple of summers ago, he decided to let him in on a little secret.

    But the word apparently already was out on Isaiah Thomas.

    "Damon, I've got to tell you something," Romar said. "We've got a guy coming in."

    "From Tacoma?" Stoudamire asked.

    "Yeah," Romar replied.

    "Isaiah Thomas?" Stoudamire asked.

    "Yeah," Romar replied again.

    "You're going to tell me he reminds you of me," Stoudamire said. "You don't know how many people have told me that."


    "Damon shot more from the outside than Isaiah does and Isaiah probably penetrates more, but if you ask me who he reminds me of, I would say that would be the closest guy – Damon Stoudamire," Romar said.
I think that the comparison is valid to a certain extent - both of the sub-6' lefties have a strong ability to score in the lane (and also rebound well for their size), but I do believe that Stoudamire was both a much better outside shooter and a much better point guard in terms of running a team.

Basketball Reference has Stoudamire's college stats. It's hard to compare freshman numbers both because Damon played only 18 minutes per game and because the overall talent level/competition in college basketball was so much higher then. For his college career, Stoudamire averaged 40% from three and 5.4 assists per game, including highs of .465 and 7.3 in the categories as a senior.

Thomas has a long way to go in both areas if he is to become a top NBA prospect. Right now, he is not even really a point guard, as he has poor court vision. He missed open players multiple times in the games I attended, and had just 1 assist, against 5 TOs, in the two games combined.

Still, I think I.T. has a good chance to stick in the league someday in a role like other small men such as Nate Robinson, Spud Webb, Earl Boykins (different types of players, granted) - as a guy who can provide a spark and instant offense off the bench.

I just increasingly believe that Isaiah Thomas can get to the basket and score on anybody, and I do believe he has the hyper-athleticism of a Robinson or a Spud, which is important for those guys in the league - watch this for proof:

I just wanna see little dude dunk on people in a game.

In any event, it's a pretty impressive rise for a guy who did not crack the Top 61 freshman prospects on Draft Express as of Dec. 24. I.T. has clearly outplayed the many Pac-10 freshmen ahead of him on the list at the college level, and he has to at least be on the NBA radar now, even if he still has a lot to prove as a pro prospect. (For the record, I certainly do not expect Thomas to make himself eligible for the draft this season.)

Other random thoughts from Hec Ed:
Detlef Schrempf: We saw Detlef at Hec Ed both on Monday, when he was watching his son play for Bellevue High, and Thursday, when he was in attendance as Brandon Roy's jersey went to the rafters. The latter event made us wonder how on earth Det's #22 hasn't been raised to the UW roof.

The history of the UW hoops program is rather thin - Roy and Hall-of-Famer Bob Houbregs from the '50s are the only players with retired numbers. Schrempf certainly deserves it for leading UW to rare back-to-back Pac-10 championships. He went to high school in Washington state, was an All-Pac-10 player at UW, had a long productive NBA career including several good years in Seattle, and now still lives in the area. It's a no-brainer - get #11 up there!

Will Conroy: Seems like there are several good teams which could use some point guard help, and as such, I'm really surprised that ex-UW PG Conroy hasn't yet gotten a callup from the Albuquerque Thunderbirds. The dude is tearing up the D-League, averaging a league-leading 25.8 pts, plus 4.5 reb and 7.8 ast, though his numbers are inflated by the Herculean 45.1 mpg he's been logging (and his 4.3 TO don't look great, either). Still, I've always thought Conroy would make a solid backup NBA PG once he got a little professional seasoning. At 26, it seems like it might be time, and it seems like he's earned the opportunity to at least get a look.

As always, we try to catch high school players with potential to play in the league someday. Our previous prep scouting efforts the past couple years have examined Kevin Love and Renardo Sidney.

This year's edition of the King Holiday Hoopfest had a particularly strong lineup of games, featuring most of the best teams in the state, plus Dominguez from L.A.

Top players in action included PG Abdul Gaddy (ranked in the 9-16 overall range for seniors, committed to Washington), big man Josh Smith (ranked as the no. 1 junior by Rivals), and guard Tony Wroten (ranked as the no. 1 sophomore by Scout). Unfortunately, Jordan Hamilton of Dominguez, a top 10 senior, did not play due to an eligibility dispute.

We're going to withhold judgment on Smith and Wroten until we get another look or two at them, and focus on Gaddy for today....

Abdul Gaddy, Bellarmine Prep: This was exhibit A in why it can be much tougher to evaluate players in high-school play as opposed to summer-league competition. Gaddy is a 6-3/170 point guard, yet he jumped center and spent his night on D at the back of a 2-3 zone battling with Bellevue High's bigs because the tallest Bellarmine players are a couple of 6-4 guys.

So, it was tough to get a feel for Gaddy's game on D, but we were certainly impressed by what he did on the offensive end. His numbers were unspectacular, just 11 points and 4 assists, but he literally should have had about 7-10 more assists, as he was consistently delivering the ball to players at the rim who were unable to finish.

Gaddy did a fine job of penetrating into the lane against a good point guard, Bellevue's Aaron Bright (a top 100 junior). Gaddy's crossover was a true anklebreaker, and exceptional court vision was probably his most impressive trait. He tried to be too spectacular a couple times, and there were a couple 100-mph passes that were too hard to handle in there, but that stuff can be fixed.

His outside shot was off a little, though his form was sound despite being slightly off-balance here and there. I think my biggest cause for concern is that Gaddy did not seem to finish with authority at the rim - he had a nice floater from mid-range, but he also seems to use something of a floater right at the basket instead of really going up strong.

Still, Gaddy has nice size for a point, seems to have a good head for the game, and should fit in very well with Washington's attacking style from the perimeter. He and Isaiah Thomas should complement each other quite well - and should be (along with Venoy Overton) one of the most entertaining backcourts in all of college basketball next season. And I'll note with provincial pride that that'll be a backcourt with a Seattle kid and two Tacoma kids. From there, we'll see - I don't know that Gaddy is a lottery talent, but he certainly has first-round potential.

Peyton Siva, Franklin: Quick note on Siva, a Louisville recruit who is considered a Top 50 senior (ranked as high as 23, by ESPN/RISE). He's grown on me by now (literally, apparently, as his listed height is up from 5-10 to 6-1). I've always had concerns about his future prospects just because he's so small yet not really a point guard at all. But he's just such an explosive athlete and wreaks so much havoc that I'm starting to believe there can be a place for him in the modern game. Going to be an uphill battle unless he develops some ability to run a team, though. Still, in a game between Franklin and Garfield, the quintessential Seattle prep rivalry, with athletes pressing all over the floor, Siva's exceptional body control clearly stood out from other players. Dude plays hard, too.


At 11:09 AM, Blogger D.J. Foster said...

Great stuff. Derozan and Holiday are kind of the mysteries of this draft, so it was nice to see some insight on them. It seems to me that Romar is kind of like the Ron Zook of college basketball, in that he can always recruit so well but can't seem to put it all together.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Truth is, Romar can recruit AND put it all together as evidenced by his latest run through the Pac 10. People fail to note that he recruited a top 10 class where 3 players left after thier freshman year due to NBA aspirations or playing time issues.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Nate Jones said...

I'm glad you picked up on Tim Floyd's issues. Most of Demar's struggles can be attributed to Floyd. He features Daniel Hackett and basically runs no plays for DeRozan. Against UCLA a few weeks back Derozan basically scored all his points on two dribble fade away jump shots. With the right coach this kid would be blowing up. I like Holiday a lot too. It's really hard to showcase your talent in some of these college systems.

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