Pre-Christmas Scouting Tidbits (Pt. 2)
One last scouting dive before we get to the holidays. Let's dive right in with some film tidbits...
Ron Harper Jr. emerging as consistent shooter
Sunday marked the biggest win likely in program history for Rutgers. Not because it was a monumental upset to beat 12th-ranked Illinois at home, but because it is a consequential enough win both in standings of the Big Ten and their NCAA Tourney hopes to cement this as a legitimate top-25 team for the rest of the year.
Part of the resurgence: Ron Harper Jr. The son of the former Chicago Bulls champion point guard has been shooting the lights out all season, and that continued in the RAC on Sunday. He was 5-8 from deep, hitting some from catch-and-shoot scenarios and some off the pick-and-pop.
Harper is a mismatch forward who can bully smaller guys to the rim and stretch bigger ones to the perimeter. Both were on display Sunday, and Illinois really had no answer once he got going from deep. They switched it up to guard him with a smaller guy, and he blitzed those assignments off the bounce.
Harper may not be a first-round prospect quite yet, but he's knocking on the door with his shooting performances. He's averaging 23.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and only 0.8 turnovers while shooting 50% from 3. The volume of scoring may cool (I doubt he averages over 20 this year), but if he's north of 40% from deep, he's going to be really intriguing as a 3 or 4-man in the right system.
A 40-Piece for Bouknight
UConn took Creighton to overtime on Sunday. That shouldn't be possible, but it was fueled by an outrageous scoring performance from Bouknight, who helped the Huskies hold a two-point lead late in regulation before Creighton scored with one second left to force overtime.
Sure, Bouknight was aided by having an overtime session to add to his point total (he had 34 at the end of regulation) and one of his threes was a meaningless triple at the buzzer. But he showed why he earns the designation by many as a microwave scorer.
Bouknight can get it going in many ways, especially when he's hitting from deep. He's more of a rhythm 3-point shooter, who needs to get them up after he sees one go in. But what impresses me most is how easily he elevates when there's a runway to get to the bucket. He glides through the air without being a flashy athlete. He has a brilliant last step that allows him to finish through contact and be undeterred by rim protection.
Bouknight will put up numbers this year, though its the efficiency and the aesthetics of his play that will dictate his draft stock. He needs to be north of 35% from deep, have clearly more assists than turnovers, limit poor tough-twos on a routine basis and show defensive intensity instead of saving energy for offense.
I have Bouknight as a first-round prospect and think that, if he checks all those boxes, the middle of the first-round is within his sights.
Earl Timberlake Debuts
The DeMatha grad finally played in a college game this weekend, helping Miami defeat Jacksonville at home. It was a much-needed lift for the Hurricanes, who lost two in a row to Pitt and Florida Gulf Coast; with ACC play the rest of the way, their margin for error was gone.
In 26 minutes off the bench, Timberlake scored 12 points on 5 field goal attempts, had 5 rebounds and 2 assists. His shot is still really funky, a combo of Zion-like lefty mechanics with a line-drive trajectory. But on the wing, he can be an exciting passer/ playmaker, and demonstrated that early.
Timberlake should be an interesting prospect for many over the next month or so. He started late without game action and needs to do some work to play catch-up to the many guys who got off to impressive starts. I'm fascinated by someone of his size with guard skills and an NBA-ready frame.
Separating Chris Smith
It's been an odd start to the year for Chris Smith and UCLA. They dropped their opener to a stingy San Diego State club who is filled with great individual defenders, only putting up 58 points. They need 3 overtimes to survive a great mid-major team in Pepperdine, then turn around and throttle in-conference Cal by 20. Just when things seem turned around, Ohio State manhandles them on the interior to hand them another loss. I can't figure out this team, what their strength is and how the Covid pauses they undergo are impacting their success.
The same goes for Chris Smith, who withdrew his name from the NBA draft a year ago to help lead the Bruins, who had Pac-12 Title aspirations. The senior is flashing more impressive numbers than a year ago: 12.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 44.4% from 3. But he has also flashed some weak points.
Smith is averaging 2.6 turnovers a night. His misses near the rim are low-percentage looks that might as well be turnovers. The senior struggles to separate one-on-one with great defenders. Mick Cronin tries to get him the ball on handoff actions that quickly get him downhill, but those get pushed wide by prepared defenders. The result is many overhead layup attempts where the glass isn't in play, pinned to the baseline and lofting a running hook shot as a prayer:
Smith lacks something we call "last step quickness", where he can quickly and impactfully cut off his defender to get a good look at the rim. He has longer strides but a high center of gravity, preventing him from displacing a defender or staying on course against contact. You can see his lack of overall burst when he has to make a play from a standstill and doesn't catch it on the run. It's really difficult to call Smith a legit NBA prospect with this kind of finishing prowess. He shot 58% at the rim last year, so hopefully this is just a rough stretch athletically or there's an excuse for his frequency of driving to the short corner.
The Defensive Weapon: DeJon Jarreau
Take a bite into DeJon Jarreau and you'll be impressed with his defensive energy.
Anyone who plays for Kelvin Sampson at Houston must be able to get after it on that end; they might be the most blue-collar program remaining in Division I. Jarreau brings really impressive length to his combo guard spot; he's a super-long 6'5" who disrupts opposing wings and backcourt foes thanks to his length. Jarreau is a little old for most NBA radars: he started at UMass in 2016-17 as a freshman before transferring to Houston; this is his fifth year out of high school.
The New Orleans native has a really fascinating backstory, as profiled last week in the Houston Chronicle. Seen as the villain for his unique suspension last year after biting the leg of an opponent on a loose ball, Jarreau returned to the Cougars after initially testing draft waters. It may have been a strong decision.
There's a ton left for Jarreau to work on offensively; he's always been a solid creator but shooting is never his strong suit. He shot just 18% from 3 a year ago; he's not making an NBA roster with that as the last taste he leaves in scout's mouths.
Hot damn can this kid play some defense, though:
He can guard 1 thru 3, is smart off-ball and has some of the best/ most instinctual timing to block shots I've seen. Another clip not-included above shows him chasing his man around a Philly cut and literally timing his takeoff perfectly from the second has to stuff the guy. His recovery is next-level, he can guard 1 thru 3 and is timely at knifing into passing lanes.
There's some real undrafted free agent potential here, and Jarreau is a guy I'd love to see in the G-League. Kelvin Sampson made waves this past weekend talking about not encouraging poor shooters to shoot -- it's not that he's wrong when the goal is trying to win games, but encouragement in a developmental setting alone would go a long way. If Jarreau gets with the right teaching crew and developmental system to the point where he has a workable standstill shot, he could have a Jonathon Simmons or Javonte Green-like late-career surge to fringe NBA status.
Another UDFA Target: Arizona's Jordan Brown
When the 20th-ranked prospect in the 2018 recruiting class chose Nevada over the dozens of West Coast bluebloods vying for his services, it was the coup that shuttled Eric Musselman to Arkansas. Brown entered the portal shortly thereafter, especially off the heels of a disappointing freshman season where he was the 7th man for the Wolfpack, playing only ten minutes a night.
Brown chose Arizona, where he got to develop as a redshirt last year next to Zeke Nnaji. Brown, a stout 6'11" who moves far better than you'd think at first glance, has some fascinating mixes of skill to go with his frame. Sean Miller and the Wildcats will deploy him in the post a ton this year; he's strong with his back to the basket and leans on those wide shoulders to carve out space.
I'm intrigued elsewhere. He seems to be comfortable in the mid-range shooting jumpers, and has flashed a little bit of ball handling and driving in the open floor. Is there more latent skill here than what his role has been at Arizona?
Scouting isn't just about nailing the order at the top of the draft for when your franchise comes on the clock. Finding those diamonds in the rough, the guys who turn into cheap contracts that make an impact on a roster, are the ones really worth mining through deeply. Sometimes they won't turn into a gem, but sometimes they do. Brown may not be a diamond himself, but there's enough here to keep scrubbing that lump of coal until more clarity is gained.
Marcus Carr's Ride to the Draft
The 6'2" junior point guard has taken the reigns of the Minnesota Golden Gophers offense this year. Through seven games, he's averaging 24 points and 6 assists. He capped off a great string of games by putting up 32 points and 7 assists in a Sunday win over a tough St. Louis team. Carr got to the free throw line 19 times, hit a bunch of really tough mid-range step-backs and even knocked down a couple of threes.
Most impressively from Carr was how he performed as a passer. He used his eyes to manipulate the help defense, getting them to jump in one direction so he could hit his teammate in another. Routinely that resulted in layups, which he got twice on the Bilikens:
Traits like that are more rare than you think, at least to do consistently. As Carr flashes high-level passing, he comes off as more than a scorer. That'll be important once we get into Big Ten play, where he'll be the lone scoring option for the Gophers and be completely focused on by opponents. His scoring efficiency may fall, but so long as he can create open looks for others (especially at the basket) he'll be a multi-faceted threat.
I like Carr. I don't know how much. But I like what I've seen thus far.
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Adam Spinella, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Boys' Latin School (MD)