During the 2008-2009 college basketball season, no player endured more ups and downs than Marquette University’s Dominic James did. The Golden Eagles were ranked 8th in the nation going into a game against Connecticut, but in the first half James came down funny and broke his foot.
He did, however, make a valient return in what would be Marquette’s final game of the year against Missouri in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
That kind of tenacity that James showed throughout the year is the same thing that any NBA team that selects the 5′11″ senior from Richmond, Indiana will get. On the year, James averaged 11 points, 3.4 assists, and five rebounds per game and averaged a team high 2.1 steals.
James’ obvious position in the NBA will be at the point guard position and, due to his lack of height but athleticism, would do a well in an up-tempo offense. His court vision was one of the best in the nation this past year and he sported one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in college basketball.
With such a point guard heavy draft class, it will be tough for James to find a stop on an NBA roster, but it is hard to deny his positives.
It is very tough to find a comparison in the NBA to James, but the player closest to his type of game is Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks. Robinson is enjoying a breakout season this year, and while he is more of a jumpshooter than James, the similarities are there.
First and foremost, Robinson’s leaping ability is something everyone in the league knows about. Winner of this year’s dunk contest, Robinson can also get up on rebounds and blocks and plays very solid defense, all things (his height) considered. The same goes for James who became Marquette’s best defender last year.
Because of Robinson’s lack of size, the quickness that he shows in games all but made up for it. More times than not, James was the smallest player on the court but consistently blew by defenders that opened up shots for himself as well as lanes for open teammates.
Because of his great leaping ability, Robinson does not get blocked nearly as much as one would think, and James is the exact same way. James plays above the rim and surprises a lot of defenders with his hang time. Neither players shoot great percentages from the field, but neither take that many shots.
In Mike D’Antoni’s system in New York, Robinson was free to run the court and play a lot of transition basketball. When Buzz Williams came to Marquette this year, the tempo was turned way up and the Golden Eagles thrived.
Differences between Robinson and James are seen when jump shots come into play. While Robinson always had a lower field goal percentage, his three point percentage was always very solid and had a nice mid-range game to go with it. His speed allowed him to come off screens and take jumpers, and it has worked for him in New York.
James may struggle with finding his own shot in the NBA because he has trouble with defenders on him. He gets good elevation on jump shots but his body is usually leaning back, causing a miss. If James does not improve his jump shooting, his stay in the Association will be short lived.
The other area that needs a massive makeover is in the free throw shooting department. James shot 46.1 percent from the line last year, something that was really a back breaker considering how many times James went to the line. He is going to make his money off going to the hole, and in the NBA that means getting fouled.
He seems to fade away when he goes to the stripe and hopefully whichever team he goes to will fix the issue. Robinson shoots 84 percent from the line for the Knicks currently, something that has slightly improved for him since his college days.
On the defense side of the ball is where James will start to get looks. Leading your team in steals when you have a guy like Jerel McNeal in the starting lineup is quite a feat. Two times this year James held his opposing point guard to zero points (Cincinnati and West Virginia). James also came up with the occasional block and stepped up great in crunch times situations.
He really stepped up his game defensively when he realized he was really the fourth scoring option behind McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Lazar Hayward. It’s the kind of selflessness that James showed that makes him such a team player and an even better leader.
One thing that will entice many NBA scouts that may get overlooked in draft camps are the leadership qualities that James possesses. One thing you want from a point guard is confidence, and if there is one thing James has, it’s that. He is a great motivational leader and is very vocal with his teammates helping them out.
Teammate Wesley Matthews attributed his success in the last season to James calling him out and letting him know what he needed to do to help the team win.
When James went out with his injury, head coach Buzz Williams let James sit in his chair for the remainder of the season as a coach. Not only did James encourage his teammates better than any fan could have (as seen in the Villanova game), but he also took on a coaching role that Williams admits helped him a ton.
James has a very high basketball IQ that translates to smart decisions in games. He might not have had the best stats in the nation last year, but no point guard in the nation, minus Ty Lawson, meant more to his team than James did. The value that the senior has to any team that may pull the trigger on him will be the same.
He probably is not going to start in the NBA but can be a valuable asset coming off the bench, a great practice player, and an even better attitude in the locker room.