Fraschilla: Working outside

Fraschilla: Working outside

Postby JSM on Wed Jan 27, 2010 11:59 pm

Fran Fraschilla of ESPN wrote:Most college post players who attempt to make the transition to playing on the perimeter fail. Usually, it's because if it hasn't come naturally at an early stage of their basketball development, it will be difficult to add that aspect to their game later. And, when a college player is effective in the lane, he usually relies on that strength as a security blanket.

However, if a player can add some aspects of a perimeter game, it enhances his value to NBA teams. Think about Robert Horry, who was an outstanding rebounding and shotblocking power forward at Alabama who made only 9 of 30 3s as a rookie. By the end of his career, he became a very reliable outside shooter who will be forever known for his clutch bombs in playoff crunch time.

Here's a look at five players who have tried to add perimeter skills this year, and how that process has turned out.

Patrick Patterson, Kentucky

Patterson is in the midst of a very good career at Kentucky as one of the country's best low-post scorers. When John Calipari arrived in Lexington with his "dribble-drive" offense, there was some thought that it would help Patterson diversify his game by improving his perimeter skills. That would be a boon since there is some concern from NBA people that Patterson is not long enough to score in his accustomed manner at the pro level.

There is no question that Patterson has a little more freedom to experiment on his perimeter game under Calipari. After shooting 0-for-4 from behind the arc in his first two seasons as a Wildcat, Patterson has knocked down 10 of 23 attempts this season. He's proven to be adept at the "pick and pop" game, especially with his midrange jump shot when his feet are set.

The downside of Patterson's perimeter experiment is that his ballhandling is still below average away from the basket. He's a predominantly a right-handed driver who doesn't have the necessary explosiveness to get to the rim against good defenses. When he is cut off, he relies on a spin move to free himself and attempt to create some separation from the defense. Spin moves against a loaded up defense are not the way to go.

Here's the good news for Patterson. He's still an animal inside, shooting 66 percent inside the arc. That's where his NBA bread will be buttered. Balancing any concern about his lacking length is the fact that undersized power forwards can make a good living in the NBA, and there will be room for someone with Patterson's physique. The dribble-drive offense and remolding his game won't help him much, though.

Luke Babbitt, Nevada

Luke Babbitt has made an easy transition this season from power forward to his true NBA position of small forward. He's averaging 20 points and a shade under 10 rebounds a game. While there's still work to be done, it is obvious that the summer spent working on his perimeter skills is paying off. He is becoming increasingly well prepared to play away from the basket, whenever the sophomore decides to leave Nevada.

Babbitt has earned a reputation for being an excellent spot-up shooter and, although he's struggled some behind the arc this year, has been terrific as the trail man at the end of the Wolfpack fast break. He runs the court well and, if he doesn't shoot the 3, the left-hander is crafty with the basketball and can get to the rim off the dribble with both hands. In addition, he's a sneaky good athlete with a great first step and he has a nice feel for the game.

I like Babbitt's toughness, as evidenced by his 11 double-doubles, but he's not going to be a post-up player. Instead, he's very good as a face-up player 10 feet off the lane. If there's a similar player who made the transition from inside to outside in his college career, then made the leap to the NBA, it would be Matt Harpring. The former Georgia Tech star was a physical inside presence in college who gradually developed into a perimeter player. Babbitt is already on the way to doing that, although we likely won't see him in this year's draft.

Stanley Robinson, Connecticut

Robinson fits the profile of a player who's done much of his work in the lane in college but will play away from the basket when he gets to the NBA. Granted, Jim Calhoun has played him at small forward during most of his career at UConn, but this year he has become a different sort of small forward, and has enhanced his development as an NBA prospect in the process.

Playing Robinson on the perimeter has been somewhat of a necessity for the Huskies because they are devoid of perimeter depth and, with Alex Oriakhi, Ater Majok and Gavin Edwards, are solid inside. However, Jim Calhoun loves the mismatches Robinson creates for opposing small forwards, especially on the offensive backboards.

Robinson's greatest NBA attribute is his athleticism and size for the position. At 6-foot-9 and 225 pounds, he's got the prototypical body type for an NBA 3. In addition, he has "broken play" athleticism, In other words, he creates scoring opportunities for himself without a coach running a play for him. At UConn, he gets much of his offense in transition and off steals and is terrific at attacking the offensive glass as well. You can count on Robinson to make two or three ridiculously athletic plays a game that will impress NBA scouts.

There is a perception based on last season's 3-of-23 shooting from behind the arc that Robinson can't shoot the ball. I don't think that's true. Remember, he did not practice with the team until after the end of last year's fall semester and it's possible that he didn't get into a shooting groove.

By contrast, if you look at Robinson's 3-point numbers from his freshman, sophomore and senior year, he's been a 42 percent shooter from deep. What makes him a good open shooter is that he has great body balance into his shot and his form is fine. He can be an excellent spot-up shooter in the NBA with more repetitions but there is a foundation to work with.

What are Robinson's perimeter weaknesses? He is a below-average ballhandler and doesn't have the ability to create his own shot because of that. And I have some concerns about his lateral quickness in guarding quicker perimeter players. Remember, small forward is the most athletic position in the NBA.

Overall, however, Robinson's combination of athleticism, skills and the legacy of playing for a coach who has coached him hard will serve him well. I believe he is moving up the draft charts and could even land in the late lottery. If not, he'll likely drop to a playoff-caliber team where he would be a great fit ... and a steal, as well.

Kyle Singler, Duke

In his first two years at Duke, Singler was the ultimate "stretch power forward," a player who can bring an inside player away from the basket and take him off the dribble to create plays for himself and his teammates. In addition, he could post up smaller defenders and get himself to the free throw line. I have really enjoyed watching his versatility as a college player.

This season, because of the Blue Devils' depth inside and lack of it on the perimeter, Singler has been almost exclusively a small forward. It is his likely NBA position, but it hasn't necessarily played to his strengths. Unlike the explosive Stanley Robinson, Singler's athleticism will not translate as easily to the NBA level.

Being guarded by quicker players doesn't allow Singler to use his dribble game as effectively as he has in the past. In watching as many Synergy Sports Technology clips as I could, I've noticed that Singler has settled for a lot of contested jump shots this season. When he is unguarded, he is a good deep shooter.

While Duke is playing terrific basketball and Singler is still a productive player, the transition to being more of a small forward in this offense seems to have taken its toll. In my opinion, he is playing the game too fast. It's no time to be thinking about the NBA and I am sure he isn't. He just needs to get back to playing to his strengths. He's been too good a player not to.

Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

I wrote last week about how productive Luke Harangody has been as a college player. He is averaging 24.9 points a game this season, including a 30.3 average in his first three Big East games. I am convinced that there will be a spot on an NBA roster for him. Like Patrick Patterson, he has worked on some elements of a perimeter game, but he's still doing the majority of his work from 10 feet and in.

What makes Harangody so lethal inside is his quickness against bigger, slower college players. He's got a great spin move inside, uses the rim well to protect his attempts near the hoop and has an unorthodox release point on his jump shot. In addition, he uses his body well and invites contact, a positive trait for a post player. To me, because he'll be undersized at the NBA level, he'll have to be even craftier.

Harangody has added a perimeter game in the last two seasons but has been limited to mostly spot-up 17-foot jump shots that are accurate, yet he is only shooting 33 percent from the college 3-point line. In addition, he has been a below-average shooter in pick-and-pop situations where he has to shoot on the move.

Occasionally, Harangody has success with a quick first step drive to his left hand, but it is questionable that it can become a major weapon at the NBA level.

The bottom line with Harangody is that he is an unorthodox and undersized 10-feet-and-in scorer. When I think of his game, he is the offensive-minded version of former Washington Huskies center Jon Brockman. He'll do most of his work in his most comfortable environment -- in the paint.
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JSM
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