Don't blink now, but college basketball season is right around the corner. It starts next Friday with what projects to be a riveting showdown against North Dakota State. Things will pick up pretty quickly from there, though, as Texas travels to NYC the following week to face what should be a good Iowa team as part of a nationally televised double-header. Basketball is back and given what's going on with the football team, it couldn't have come at a better time.
Coming into the season, optimism for Texas basketball is as high as its been in some time, probably since the ill-fated 2010 season, which featured three future first-round picks - Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton and Damion James - and a second-rounder in Dexter Pittman. The talent level has slipped in the last few years, but good player development and a recent upsurge in recruiting has the program back to where it was for most of Rick Barnes' tenure.
Under Barnes, Texas has been an NBA factory, sending 17 players to the league. This year's team features one guy who will definitely join that list - Myles Turner - and at least five more guys who will have the chance too - Isaiah Taylor, Jonathan Holmes, Cam Ridley, Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh. The interesting part about it is that four of the five play the same two positions, although Holmes is presumably going to spend a good amount time at SF.
Turner is the reason everyone is talking about Texas right now. He's the program's most hyped recruit since Kevin Durant, the latest in a long line of lottery pick PF's from the Dallas area, from Kenyon Martin to Chris Bosh, LaMarcus Aldridge and Julius Randle. Those are awfully big expectations to place on an 18-year old, but that's what's out there right now. If everything goes right for Turner this season, he will be the program's first lottery pick since
DJ Augustin Tristan Thompson.
When Hubie Brown coined the phrase tremendous upside potential, he was thinking of guys like Turner. He's 6'11 240 with a 7'4 wingspan, he moves really well for a guy his size and he has shooting range out to the three-point line. If you have been watching the NBA at all in the last few years, you will know how valued that skill-set has become. There are few commodities more prized than being a tall, athletic jump-shooter who can spread the floor.
Like most young guys his size, he's a fairly raw player whose still growing into his body. On paper, Turner could one day be a stretch 5 who anchors a defense, scores out of the post and stretches the floor. Turner doesn't have LaMarcus Aldridge's insane athleticism, but it is the obvious comparison and, like Aldridge, he might not necessarily dominate at the college level right away. Aldridge only averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds a game as a freshman.
The big questions for Turner are A) how effective will Holmes be as a SF and B) how many shots a game will he get next to Holmes and Ridley? In a best-case scenario where those three guys can play most of the game together, they can't all put up big stats. A good example of this is Baylor a few years ago, when they started Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller. If someone gets the short end of the stick, it's probably going to be the youngest player.
No matter what Turner does this season, he's going to wind up going in the first round of the draft. There are millions of dollars in guaranteed money waiting for him whenever he decides to go pro. If he wants to maximize his draft situation, he might end up staying two seasons, although there's little chance he stays a third, barring some type of injury. As long as he stays healthy, he should play 10+ years in the NBA and make a whole bunch of money.
Holmes is really the key to the whole team this season. If he can function as a SF, not only will it improve his draft stock, it will open up playing time for all the team's young big men. Holmes is the only senior and their leading returning scorer - the only reason he won't be in the game is because he is too tired from already playing in the game. If he ends up spending most of his time as a small-ball PF, a lot of the team's best players will be stuck on the bench.
Holmes is listed at 6'8 240, although he has apparently lost some weight in anticipation of playing more on the perimeter. He's not very tall for the PF position in the NBA, so it makes sense that he would want to prove himself as a SF. The odds are against him, though, as the vast majority of 3/4 combo forwards in college are better off playing as a smaller 4 than a bigger 3 at the next level. NBA 3's are so fast and so skilled that most bigger guys can't hack it.
DraftExpress has Holmes as the No. 28 senior in the country, which is about right. If he's going to be drafted this season, he's going to need a huge senior year where he puts up the type of numbers that scream this guy has to be drafted, as he's not getting the vote from the guys judging off upside and athleticism. The key for him is three-point shooting - if he can get to 38-40% from 3, he will at least get a chance in summer league. NBA teams always love shooting.
Taylor is the guy who could make himself the most money this season. At 6'3 185, he has the size, speed and floor game to be an NBA PG. The big question with him is the outside shot - he shot 39% from the field and 26% from 3 as a freshman. The higher those numbers go up, the more money he is going to make. A guy with his physical abilities can make the league anyway, but it's a whole hell of a lot easier when you can consistently make shots from 25 feet.
There's plenty of room for him to improve across the board. The summer between the freshman and sophomore seasons is when you expect a guy to make a big leap - if Taylor's numbers don't improve this season, a lot of the buzz surrounding him will go away. There's certainly no guarantee he makes the league. He can ask Myck Kabongo. Literally, he can ask him - Kabongo is playing for the Austin Toros, the San Antonio Spurs affiliate in the D-League.
** Correction: Myck is now playing for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. The life of a professional basketball - it isn't all glitz and glamour.
I'm not sure about Ridley, who has a lot in common with another Toro, Dexter Pittman. At 6'10 260, he's a little undersized for the center position and he doesn't have the speed or perimeter ability to be a PF. The league is moving away from bigger, post-up centers anyway - it's all about the spread pick-and-roll and your ability to move your feet in space, both on offense and defense. Ridley will probably need four years in school if he's going to be drafted.
If he wants to make himself some money, he should play well against Kentucky in non-conference. That's basically an NBA front-line he is going up against - if he can big boy guys like Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Karl Towns, he might be able to do it in the NBA. They are all going to be 7'0 at the next level. A big guy can put up a bunch of numbers against a team like Iowa State and it doesn't necessarily mean anything, from an NBA perspective.
Ibeh is kind of the opposite of Ridley, in that he's a big man who might be more suited for the NBA game than the college one. He's never going to be a guy you can throw the ball too in the block and get a basket, but he has the type of long, wiry body that can play above the rim and move well laterally that is almost perfect for the modern NBA. As an athletic 6'11 250 big man with a 7'4 wingspan, he can do nothing in Texas and still get a shot at the next level.
All he needs to work on is catching the ball, finishing at the rim and knocking down free throws when he goes to the line. Like every other young big man in this mold, he should be watching hours and hours of Tyson Chandler tape. I'm not sure how many minutes he's going to get in the next two seasons, given the logjam ahead of him in the rotation, but barring injury, he will be in an NBA training camp in two seasons regardless of what happens.
Anyone whose 6'9 240 and can shoot 34% from 3 is going to be looked at by NBA scouts, although it's a very long leap from being looked at to making the league. There are really two types of stretch 4's - guys who you have to guard if they are knocking down their shots and guys who you have absolutely have to guard at all times because they are automatic. If Lammert is going to be an NBA player, he will probably have to be the latter, given his lack of athleticism.
He's a fairly skilled player who can play with his back to the basket and facilitate offense, but he will have to put up much bigger stats in the next two seasons to differentiate himself from the growing number of stretch 4's proliferating the college game. Just to pick a name out of a hat - is he better than Kyle Wiltjer at Gonzaga? Who knows. I would like to see him play as much like Ryan "The White Raven" Kelly as possible because that guy was a beast at Duke.
Until he learns to shoot 3's, it isn't happening. Even then, maybe. Here's the bottom line - if you are a young basketball player with dreams of playing in the NBA, you had best get in the gym and start working on your three-point shot. That's just the way the game is going these days.
Didn't play much as a freshman, but he is the younger brother of former Oklahoma State guard Terrel Harris, who got a few cups of coffee in the NBA, and I do love me some bloodlines.
I don't have much to say about Felix, other than I really don't think I can handle another season of him taking 11 FGA's a game on 36% shooting. He definitely helped the team last season, but some of those shots he was taking - they really had no chance of going in. He might as well have chucked the ball out of bounds and allowed the team to set up their half-court defense.
I'll be totally honest - I don't really remember what he did last season. What can I say? I'm getting old. If someone has any hot takes or an actually informed opinion on Croaker, feel free to share in the comments.
I have not watched him enough to say much of anything, that's more JC's department. His recruiting pedigree and the size on the wing (6'7 185) is definitely intriguing, though. To me, the stars don't mean as much as the other schools that were recruiting him - Florida, Michigan State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Stanford. If a guy is good enough for Billy Donovan and Tom Izzo's programs, he should help here.