College Basketball Recruiting

College Basketball Recruiting: Biggest Weakness of 5-Star Players in 2015 Class

Thad NovakCorrespondent IJune 9, 2014

College Basketball Recruiting: Biggest Weakness of 5-Star Players in 2015 Class

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    College basketball recruiting keeps focusing in on younger and younger prospects, meaning that even the highest-rated players have a long way to go. The class of 2015 has yet to start its senior season at the high school level, giving its elite talents plenty of time to shore up the holes that remain in their games.

    Oakland native Ivan Rabb, for one, has already established himself as an overpowering low-post scorer. When it comes to putting the ball on the floor, though, the big man still has a lot to learn.

    Herein is a closer look at Rabb’s ball-handling concerns, along with the most prominent weakness to watch for in each of the 5-star prospects (as determined by Scout.com) in the class of 2015.

Malachi Richardson: Physicality

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    Credit: 247Sports

    With his 6’6” length and silky jump shot, Malachi Richardson would be a valuable player on many college rosters right now. However, he carries just 190 pounds on his slender frame, and that’s not going to be enough to handle college lanes.

    The Syracuse commit is a respectable finisher, but he won’t be able to hold up against the kind of contact he’ll face in the ACC until he gets some more bulk on him. Adding muscle will also make him even more dangerous as a defender.

Thomas Bryant: Low-Post Offense

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Thomas Bryant has a promising touch as a face-up shooter, but he gets most of his scoring opportunities by crashing the offensive glass.

    If he wants to become a go-to scoring option, the 6’10” forward needs to be able to back down smaller defenders with more consistency.

    More polish on his post moves might also help correct Bryant’s tendency of being passive and letting other players drive the attack. He ought to be an offensive centerpiece once his skills expand to match his mobility and size.

Ray Smith: Jump Shot

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    Credit: 247Sports

    As an elite small forward prospect from Las Vegas, Ray Smith is naturally going to draw a few comparisons to ex-UCLA star Shabazz Muhammad.

    Although the high schooler has the explosive athleticism to warrant the parallel, one huge difference between the two is Smith’s lack of a reliable jump shot.

    At 6’8”, the youngster’s primary scoring option at this stage is slashing to the rim, but he’ll be far more effective at the next level if he can diversify.

    As he’ll be spending most of his time on the perimeter in college, a three-point shot would be especially advantageous, but even a consistent mid-range stroke would represent an improvement.

Chance Comanche: Post Moves

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Standing 6’10” and 220 pounds, Chance Comanche has the body to back down most opponents he’ll face as a collegian. Now he just has to learn how to take advantage of it.

    Although Comanche has a promising face-up game and solid ball skills, he has yet to find a comfort zone when it comes to posting up on the block.

    From his positioning to his fakes and counter-moves, everything needs a significant upgrade before it’s ready for Division I ball.

Antonio Blakeney: Basketball IQ

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Antonio Blakeney features an impressive repertoire of skills as a scorer, passer and defender. However, his ample talent can often trick him into trying to make plays that aren’t there.

    Blakeney’s ability to read a defense will especially need to improve if he hopes to earn minutes at point guard at the next level, but even in his shooting guard capacity, he needs to learn which shots are too hard to be worth taking.

    Similarly, his tendency to gamble in the passing lanes on some defensive possessions and hang back in over-passivity on others needs to be smoothed out.

Luke Kennard: Defense

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    Credit: 247Sports

    It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Luke Kennard, who scored better than 40 points per game as a high school junior, doesn’t need to worry too much about boosting his offensive performance.

    However, the Duke commit does need some work on the other end of the floor.

    Kennard has good length (at 6’5”) and respectable athleticism, but he hasn’t shown great instincts or intensity as a defender. If his fundamentals don’t tighten up before he gets to Durham, Mike Krzyzewski will make sure they get plenty of attention afterward.

Deng Adel: Dribbling

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Athletic and aggressive, Deng Adel loves to get to the rim, especially in transition. When the defense is set, though, he hasn’t yet developed the ball-handling ability to break it down from the wing.

    The Australian import is already a dangerous perimeter shooter, and his 6’7” length gives him an edge on many wing defenders. Improving his moves off the dribble will let him fill in the missing piece between his standstill outside shot and his fast-break dunks.

Jalen Brunson: Athleticism

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Former NBAer Rick Brunson passed a lot of assets on to his son, Jalen. The young point guard is a student of the game, with passing skills to rival his dad’s, but he’s missing the most obvious piece you’d expect him to inherit from a former pro.

    The younger Brunson simply doesn’t have the kind of explosive quickness and strength that makes a prospect stand out as a candidate for an NBA roster spot.

    He can still break opponents down off the dribble, but it’s because of his well-drilled moves, not because foes can’t keep up with him.

Isaiah Briscoe: Decision-Making

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    USA TODAY Sports

    One of the toughest parts of being a streaky shooter is knowing when to cut your losses and pass the ball. That’s a skill Isaiah Briscoe is still mastering, and it’s one of the few holes left in his offensive game.

    The 6’3” scorer does his best work in the paint, but when he’s dialed in, he can light up the scoreboard from long range as well.

    When he figures out how to avoid unnecessary one-on-five drives or contested treys, he’ll become as efficient as he is productive with the ball in his hands.

Allonzo Trier: Defense

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It’s tough to find a hole in Allonzo Trier’s offensive game, as the 6’5” 2-guard is already as dangerous an all-around scorer as the class of 2015 can boast.

    However, it’s also tough to find anyone who even registers Trier’s performance when the other team has the ball.

    Given the physical tools that help him pile up points, he should be making a serious impact as a defender, too.

    It’s not as though he’s a liability now, but he could go from a fairly one-dimensional scorer to an all-around star if he starts putting the same boundless intensity into preventing points that he does into producing them.

Justin Simon: Jump-Shooting

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Neither Justin Simon’s leadership abilities nor his passing touch is in question at this point in his development. However, like so many pass-first point guards, he’s still vulnerable to teams who force him to put up points for himself.

    The Californian can use his 6’5” length to score inside, but there are a lot of rough edges on his jump shot.

    Simon is committed to Arizona, where he’ll have plenty of scorers to feed, but the Wildcats would love to see him extend his range to force opponents to focus on guarding his shot as well as his passes.

Elijah Thomas: Quickness

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Low-post bruiser Elijah Thomas spends most of his time making sure opponents can’t move him off the block. To get the most out of his 6’9”, 230-pound frame, though, he’ll need to get better at moving himself when the situation calls for it.

    Thomas’ heavy-footed style—something of a throwback in this era of speedy combo forwards—is especially evident in his lack of shot-blocking prowess, as he struggles to reposition himself as a help-defender.

    A quicker first step would also help him make plays in transition, making him a better fit for up-tempo college offenses.

Caleb Swanigan: Conditioning

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The most appealing part of Caleb Swanigan’s game for college coaches is that he already knows how to use his 275-pound mass to dominate down low. The least appealing part is that he already weighs 275 pounds.

    The 6’9” Swanigan has impressive mobility for his size, but his high-energy playing style makes it a fine line for him to be able to stay in high gear for an entire game.

    Like Kennedy Meeks, last year’s standout freshman at North Carolina, he can be run right off the floor by his own team or by a fast-paced opponent.

Carlton Bragg: Ball Skills

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    As an offensive player, Carlton Bragg relies heavily on his raw athleticism.

    The explosive 6’9” forward has a considerable edge over his high school foes, but at the next level, he’ll need to add some versatility to handle defenders who aren’t intimidated by his physical gifts.

    Whether he’s facing up from the high post or backing down a smaller foe, Bragg has yet to develop the kinds of jukes and fakes that he needs to keep the opposition off balance.

    When he can combine a more polished set of moves with his quickness and length, he’ll be a far more consistent scorer.

Skal Labissiere: Muscle

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Skal Labissiere is a 6’11” center who has already established himself as a valuable scorer and shot-blocker. He can add a significant upgrade to both skill sets, though, by packing on some weight.

    Labissiere weighs just 200 pounds, making it awfully easy for shorter opponents to push him out of position on either end of the floor.

    The stronger he gets, the tougher it will be to match up with him and the more impact he’ll make as a rebounder (not his strong suit these days).

Chase Jeter: Offensive Fundamentals

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Chase Jeter already boasts an impressive package of skills for a power forward. Although the 6’9” Nevadan is an improving scorer, terrific rebounder and productive passer, he does need work when it comes to creating his own shots.

    Jeter’s still-clunky low-post game leaves him vulnerable to turnovers on double-teams or from his own iffy footwork. He’s going to be a serious back-to-the-basket scorer some day, but he needs his skills to match his shooting touch in order to reach that level.

Stephen Zimmerman: Strength

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    Credit: 247Sports

    There isn’t a more skilled big man in the 2015 class than Stephen Zimmerman, a 6’11” center who can bury hook shots from the low post or jumpers from the elbow.

    However, there’s a lot to be said for raw power in the pivot, and that’s a dimension Zimmerman doesn’t have enough of.

    The 225-pound youngster, who doesn’t help himself any by playing with a high center of gravity, can still be outmuscled by opponents who are surrendering several inches in length.

    As long as he doesn’t lose his mobility by bulking up, he can only become more valuable on both ends of the floor by packing on some extra power.

Henry Ellenson: Shot-Blocking

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Henry Ellenson is far from the only high school power forward who needs work as a defender. However, as he’s also one of the most productive offensive big men in his class, he’s obviously got the talent to do more than he is on the other end of the floor.

    Ellenson has surprising power for his age at 6’10” and 235 pounds. He’s already a force as a rebounder, but he needs to show the same aggressiveness and physicality in erasing shots that he does in retrieving them.

Malik Newman: Defense

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    There isn’t a guard in the class of 2015 with more reason to be thinking about an NBA career than Malik Newman. He’s a devastating all-around scorer, but he still needs to sort out how to handle matchups with offensive players as prolific as he is.

    For all his skill and athleticism, Newman has yet to make much of a contribution on the defensive end.

    He’ll especially need to improve his ability to cut off dribble penetration in the likely event that he transitions to more of a point guard’s role down the road.

Cheick Diallo: Interior Scoring

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    Credit: 247Sports

    As a rim-protector, Cheick Diallo has already developed into a big-time player. Offensively, though, the 6’9” New Yorker has yet to develop the same level of comfort or command.

    Diallo gets most of his points these days on putbacks, although his face-up shooting has improved. He could become a top-tier back-to-the-basket presence someday, but right now he has neither the moves nor the ball security to do it.

Jaylen Brown: Long-Range Shooting

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    Credit: 247Sports

    An explosive athlete, Jaylen Brown is already one of the most complete players in the class of 2015. The 6’7” forward is a premier defender and a big-time scorer, but his jump shot has been a late addition to his all-around package.

    Brown is a respectable shot overall, but he has yet to extend his range to the three-point arc with any consistency.

    Once he has that option to mix in with his solid mid-range performance and devastating finishing ability, he’ll be unstoppable on the offensive end.

Ivan Rabb: Ball-Handling

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Ivan Rabb is the most dangerous low-post scorer in the class of 2015, and he’s working on improving his game away from the basket, too. One key step in that process will be gaining more confidence at putting the ball on the floor.

    The 6’10” Rabb already knows how to keep the ball high when he’s backing down a defender, but he’s not as effective making plays off the bounce.

    He’s a potent face-up shooter, so adding a couple of quick one- or two-dribble moves to his arsenal will really keep defenders guessing.

Ben Simmons: Off-Ball Movement

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    Stefan Postles/Getty Images

    Australian import Ben Simmons has had plenty of adjustments to make as he’s learned the American game. One nuance at which the combo forward is still below par is how to maximize his value when he doesn’t have the ball on offense.

    Simmons’ fearsome jump shot will translate into even more points when he gets better at coming off screens and cutting to the open spaces on the floor.

    Similarly, as the LSU commit improves his ability to get himself open, he’ll find better angles to crash the offensive glass and boost his unspectacular rebounding totals.

Diamond Stone: Endurance

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    Andy Manis/Associated Press

    Diamond Stone isn’t the tallest center prospect in his class, but he’s certainly the most physically imposing at this stage. The 6’10”, 255-pound monolith has pretty good mobility for his bulk, but he can only keep that going for so long.

    Despite improvements in his conditioning, Stone does struggle to keep his activity level high over the course of the entire game.

    That’s a problem college opponents will be glad to exploit, so look for the Wisconsin native to continue his efforts to add stamina while maintaining his valuable edge in terms of raw power.

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