Way back in 2013 when the “New Big East” was about to form...
And Fox Sports was on the verge of hiring Bill Raftery...
And Commissioner Val Ackerman was referencing something called “The Power Six...”
Otto Porter, a small forward from Georgetown, was selected by the Washington Wizards with the third pick of the draft.
Since the reshaping of the conference, 11 Big East players have been selected. However, six have been pawned off in draft night trades. NBA teams aren’t exactly tanking to take the Big East’s stars.
This year’s group is especially fringy.
I put the league’s top prospects (minus its incoming freshmen) into tiers, ranking their success on a sliding scale.
Tier 1: The Big East Player of the Year who gets drafted way too low
Past Examples: Josh Hart, Jae Crowder
This year: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson
Imagine putting Villanova’s Jalen Brunson into the Cleveland Cavaliers’ rotation, and immediately mark him down as the backup point guard.
Brunson plays with so much composure. He maneuvers through the defense with a tight handle, but has a proclivity towards his left hand. Even when Brunson goes to the right side, he prefers using his left. When he shoots a layup with his right hand, it looks like he’s leaning to his left. While this limits his ability as a finisher, it doesn’t affect his skill of breaking down the defense. He has the best handle in the conference.
Brunson assisted on over a quarter of Villanova’s baskets. His high usage rate (23.0) and higher assist rate (26.0) reveal a rare sort of player; the ball is often in his hands, but he is always looking to get rid of it. He is also one of the most valuable defenders in the Big East according to defensive win shares (1.7), a stat the captures the individual value that a defender provides.
What can’t he do that Derrick Rose can?
Mikal Bridges can one through four and seamlessly floats around the perimeter. He usually uses his seven-foot wingspan to guard ball handlers. Somehow, he led the conference in steals, but had even more blocks.
On offense, he is one of the straightest shooters in college basketball. When he gets the ball in transition, he rockets through the lane. Bridges utilizes a gliding two-step that cuts straight through defenders. Per Ben Rubin, Bridges has taken 165 shots at the rim in college and made 80.6 percent of them. That's a better mark than Karl Anthony-Towns (75.6%) on more attempts.
There is so much more than meets the eye with the Villanova forward. NBA front offices seem biased against players with passive temperaments. Bridges will never be the guy isolating in crunch time, even at Villanova. But his lack of expressiveness hides his offensive capability.
I’d take Bridges over any other Big East player on a breakaway in transition.
Tier 2: Will be traded for cash considerations in the future
Examples: Darrun Hilliard, Sean Kilpatrick
This Year: Trevon Bluiett, Angel Delgado
It really isn’t an insult to be traded for cash considerations. Ask Darrun Hilliard, who made his mark as an efficient scorer at ‘Nova. As a result, he got some guaranteed NBA money that ended up being used as filler in the Chris Paul trade; we all should be so lucky. The Clippers released him last month, but Hilliard showed enough in Detroit to get another NBA check, and he already has a few in the bank.
Trevon Bluiett would be fine following in Hilliard’s footsteps. He went from a projected undrafted free agent to a real second round prospect in the last six months.
Bluiett shot the most 3-pointers in the conference and made them at the league’s highest rate. He’s efficient as a result of his pristine form, the most notable quality of any Big East prospect. From any spot on the floor, off the dribble or the pass, his body reverts to the same loose and vertical position. It’s almost like a puppet whose limbs are controlled by the basketball hovering over his head. His body goes completely straight and almost limp, and it all happens so quickly from any spot on the floor.
While Bluiett scores like a guard, he never defends one, and he can’t rebound in the same gym as Angel Delgado (he had just 26 offensive rebounds on the year and zero at Seton Hall). He guards forwards, but his teammates (Malcolm Bernard and J.P. Macura last season) defended Josh Hart, Kelan Martin, or Marcus Foster, the Big East wings with NBA athleticism.
He’s the Frank Mason of forwards: An elite college player with one skill that translates well enough to garner slim attention.
But Bluiett isn’t scoring at Doug McDermott levels, and even McDermott couldn’t survive on the floor against James Harden and the Rockets in the NBA Playoffs. He’s supposed to be a 6-foot-6 forward with just a 6-foot-6 wingspan, and I’m not sure what that translates to against better athletes in the NBA.
On the other hand, I’m exactly sure what a chiseled 6-9 and 230-pound power forward can do. Rebounding is one of the skills that most directly correlates between college and the NBA, and Angel Delgado snagged one out of every four available defensive rebounds last season, the best mark in the country.
In baseball, Billy Hamilton and Kevin Kiermaier provide their most “scoring value” by saving runs in the outfield instead of getting RBI. For every difficult catch they make, they save a run that their team won’t have to score later. Likewise, even though Delgado isn’t a great floor spacer, finisher above the rim or shot blocker, he provides value on offense by creating new possessions. Even if he makes those possessions slightly less spatially optimal.
He scores most often not by putting the ball below the rim (which he can still do better than any of his teammates), but by giving Seton Hall more chances to do so. When he was on the floor, 14.4 percent of Seton Hall’s baskets came off of passes from Delgado. Most were likely off of offensive rebounds. Like baseball’s best defensive center fielders, Delgado’s contributions are more unorthodox when his teammates take advantage of the possessions that he creates.
Tier 3: Will come into every training camp “in the best shape of his life”
Past Examples: Daniel Ochefu, JaKarr Sampson
Current Players: Shamorie Ponds, Jessie Govan
The “best shape card” really should only be played once, optimally in a contract year. Fringe NBA players don’t have that luxury. Take Jakarr Sampson, a St. John’s product, as an example; Every year I see a story that fawns over his frame and adds that he grew two inches and four glove sizes and added another ab. This summer, however, he couldn’t start for the Kings summer league team. The method isn’t really working, but Sampson will keep trying.
We call Isaiah Thomas one of the best scorers in the league; he’s outgrown the moniker of the best “short scorer.” There’s a point in his career where a guard’s frame becomes less significant than his ability. Shamorie Ponds is 6 feet tall and weighs 170 lbs. That being said, his scoring ability and 3-point shooting have that power at the college level. He averaged 17.4 points last season by diving at the rim and through bigger defenders (often with a tough to stop left handed finger role), or by stopping on a dime at the 3-point line (usually a few feet behind it) and pulling up with a quick trigger.
He was one of the conference’s 10-most efficient shooters by several analytics, including eFG% and TS%. He is a prototypical high-volume college scorer.
As mentioned, Ponds stands 6 feet tall and weighs 170 lbs. That’s my frame. A player that small in the NBA has to be more explosive, especially in the open floor. Ponds usually stays below the rim in transition (I also stay below the rim in transition). As a result, we’re at least three “getting in better shape” articles away from seeing Ponds get a guaranteed NBA contract.
Jessie Govan is another classic Sampson. Like every Georgetown big man after Patrick Ewing, his post moves look like they hurt. He shoulders his way from the free throw line to the block and musters up a right-handed baby hook. Timofey Mozgov would be proud. The Big East has gotten smaller, and fewer teams are starting traditional centers. Advantage, Govan.
Govan has a 9-foot-2 standing reach, so when he operates around the rim is actually around the rim. As a result, he’s more effective as a dive man in the pick and roll. Je still shot only 51 percent from the field, a low total for a center who can touch the backboard.
He averaged less than three fouls per game and only fouled out once this season. Govan has greater control of his body in open space than most centers his size. Still, he averaged only 21 minutes per game. You’d hope for better from an NBA draft prospect. It’s an easy fix: He needs to get in the best shape of his life every year.
Jessie Govan, I look forward to reading more about you in the future.
Tier 4: Future Summer League standout
Past Examples: Sir’Dominic Pointer, Vander Blue
Current Players: Donte Divincenzo, Kelan Martin
In the 2015 offseason, Sir’Dominic Pointer called himself the Draymond-like figure that the Cavs were missing in the Finals (what they really needed was Dahntay Jones). And here’s him dunking in the 2017 Summer League, where dreams come true.
Here’s a photo of NBA Summer League Champ Vander Blue. That is the face of someone who graduated in 2013 but just dropped 20 points in the Summer League Finals!
While their careers aren’t moving as quickly as Sir’Dominic Pointer on the fast break, Pointer and Blue’s summer league successes (and the two-way contract) are bringing some respite. If Fran Fraschilla taught one thing to those watching The Basketball Tournament last month, it’s that players get better after college.
Donte Divincenzo is this type of player. His nickname is “The Big Ragu.” A ragu is an Italian sauce typically made with ground meat, onions, tomato puree, and red wine, and served with pasta. “This now global staple was first lovingly stirred in 18th-century Italian kitchens,” says Lonely Planet, a depressingly-named food site.
“Soon after, an especially rich version was captured in 1891 cookery bible La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiare bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Fine Dining). Not content with using veal, the author Pellegrino Artusi also calls for truffle, chicken liver and cream in his recipe.”
Back to basketball…
I like how he works in quick bursts. He never holds onto the ball too long. He uses his explosiveness on every possession. He’ll fight for a steal, leap for a block and dunk over a defender before the first TV timeout.
Before the 2016 Final Four, coach Jay Wright had Divincenzo play as Buddy Hield on the scout team. Wright said, “He was tougher to guard in practice than Buddy Hield in the game,” and Kris Jenkins credited Divincenzo’s role in practice for their stellar defensive performance in that game. Give him time to diversify his offensive repertoire (he relies too much on the one dribble pull up to his right), and he’ll thrive in Vegas.
Kelan Martin had the highest usage percentage in the Big East (30.4), meaning that Butler’s success was more contingent on his shooting than any other player on any other team. It’s surprising that such an important player came off of the bench, but Chris Holtmann decision was influenced by factors bigger than his production.
His game against Indiana was fascinating. He scored 28 points on just 16 shots in Butler’s upset over their cross-state rival. He made five threes: Three off of the dribble; one off of a pass; and one of from a dribble handoff where he pulled up three feet behind the arc. He has those three weapons that few NBA forwards possess. (Did we ever figure out how Andrew Chrabascz, not Kelan Martin, was named first team all-conference?)
The Butler forward told Gregg Doyel of the Indy Star that the biggest reason for his benching was his motor, especially during practice. Here, Martin recalls an assistant coach breaking down film:
“Look at yourself on defense. Look at yourself rebounding. Are you trying hard enough? Do you care?”
Some of Martin’s issues were alleviated after his midseason wakeup call, but what can he do other than score? He had fewer than one steal and block per game, averaged just 1.2 assists, and turned the ball over on 11 percent of his possessions.
Back to the Indiana game: he took 16 shots and had only three rebounds and two assists. He played the biggest role in Butler’s victory, even though he only affected the game in one way.
Tier 5: Future Summer League Trade Candidates (The Rest)
I was at the Summer League in Las Vegas this July. One of the players I saw (but hadn’t heard of) was Raphiael Putney. On Friday, I watched him play in the 12 o’clock game with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was wearing a Suns jersey when I returned to the arena that night (the Suns were -15 with him on the floor in a game they lost by four points). I hope these players’ careers aren’t as strenuous.
Kamar Baldwin: He has an efficient 57.4 TS% and placed fifth in the conference for Defensive Box Plus/Minus. Baldwin will be tested for the first time this season as Butler’s full time point guard; I hope to see higher usage rate and assist rate that would highlight improved skills as a playmaker. He told Bleacher Report that he plays because of his mother who "Had to put a ball in his hands just to shut him up.
Kyron Cartwright: Providence’s point guard is eerily similar to Casper Ware, a former Knick who carried the entire scoring load in crunch time for his The Basketball Tournament team. Last season, he had the best assist rate in the conference and a good defensive rebound rate for a player his size. He makes his biggest impact as an isolation scorer, but his lower eFG% (47.0) highlights his inefficiency. He needs a better move than the step-back to create space, but most college point guards, even Frank Mason, have the same problem.
Khadeen Carrington: Another frail guard, but a better finisher in traffic than his counterparts. He seems like Angel Delgado’s best friend, which makes me a little jealous. The two play with great chemistry; Carrington seems to be the most frequent beneficiary of a Delgado’s offensive rebounding. Still, his defensive value is almost zero according to win shares and box plus/minus.
Marcus LoVett: Before the St. John’s fans complain about it, I want to defend the stance that Ponds is a better pro prospect than his backcourt partner. Ponds and LoVett are both point guards with high usage rates who succeed in an uptempo system; it’s like the Big East’s version of the James Harden-Chris Paul partnership in Houston. However, Ponds outscores Lovett by five points in wins and plays a bigger part in the offense for longer stretches than his teammate who still takes more shots. Still, LoVett has a stronger frame, a better looking shot, and commits fewer turnovers.
Tier 6: Future The Basketball Tournament team (The Honorable Mention)
PG: Markus Howard
SG: Marcus Foster
SF: Khyri Thomas
PF: Sam Hauser
C: Tyrique Jones
We’ll call this team “Big East Coast Bias.”