20 At The Top: Pac-10 Player RankingsPosted by zhayes9 on August 6th, 2010
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.
For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.
“Banner season” probably isn’t the first phrase that comes to mind when describing the Pac-10 in 2009-10. Much bandied about as a potential one-bid league until Washington peaked in March with a conference tournament run, the Pac-10 was largely kicked to the curb as an inferior of their fellow BCS brethren. A mass exodus of high draft picks coupled with down spirals for normally contending programs resulted in only California vying for a spot in each Monday’s national rankings last season. Bad news for Pac-10 diehards searching for a comeback as soon as this winter: six of the ten All Pac-10 first team members are gone. Regular season champion Cal lost their top four scorers. Powerhouses UCLA and Arizona are not back to elite status yet. The prized incoming freshman changed his mind and bolted for Kentucky. While a conference as proud as the Pac-10 will surely reclaim its glory sooner than later (especially if a raiding of the Big 12 is inevitable), fans may have to hold off on these wishes another season. Still, intrigue does exist. Many feel that Washington is the clear favorite, but there’s question marks abound from that point on, making for what should be an unpredictable Pac-10 slate.
1. Klay Thompson, Washington State– Thompson heads into his junior season as many experts’ preseason pick for conference player of the year. A high volume scorer blessed with a picture perfect jumper, Thompson delivered to the tune of nearly 20 PPG and 17 20+ point performances. Forced into carrying his team on the scoreboard for long stretches- only Stanford’s Landry Fields utilized more of his teams’ possessions- was the only reason Thompson’s shooting percentages dipped a bit last season. He’s also an ace from the charity stripe and his excellent court vision goes unnoticed at times. Thompson could turn into the Evan Turner of the West Coast by season’s end in terms of his versatility, ball-handling and ability to play multiple positions while filling up the stat sheet. Adding some bulk, improving toughness and shaking off a late-season shooting slide are the only areas of improvement that jump out when it comes to this special talent.
2. Isaiah Thomas, Washington– The diminutive Thomas was expected to make a gigantic leap and lead Washington to a year-long stay atop the conference standings last season. Part of the reason Thomas’ sophomore campaign was labeled a disappointment by some when February rolled around was largely due to the expectations he established as a freshman. Luckily for the purple-clad UW fans in Seattle, Thomas played his best basketball late, scoring in double digits in his last 12 games, averaging less than two turnovers per game in his last seven contests and helping lead Washington to a surprising Sweet 16. Thomas isn’t a pinpoint shooter and he’s always been more of a scorer than point guard, but there are only a handful of players in the nation that play with more energy and toughness than the 5’9 Tacoma native. He’s fearless driving to the rim, has a strong frame for his size and the athleticism is jaw-dropping. Expect first team all-conference honors for Thomas as a junior.
3. Derrick Williams, Arizona– A freshman revelation for Sean Miller in his first season at the helm, the former USC commit established himself with an early 25/8 against Wisconsin in Maui and never looked back. Williams went on to surpass even the loftiest expectations as the conference’s rookie of the year: a 16/7 average, double digit scoring in all but three games and top-100 season nationally in true shooting percentage and effective FG%. Williams is a 6’8 versatile forward that lived at the free throw line, shooting 232 free throws last season. Developing his mid-range jumper even further would help disguise suspect athleticism, but Williams’ strengths has piqued the interest of NBA evaluators and the potential is there to lead the Pac-10 in scoring as a sophomore. His role will only expand with senior Nic Wise exhausting his eligibility.
4. Jeremy Green, Stanford– Last season was the Landry Fields & Jeremy Green show for Johnny Dawkins and his Cardinal, two all-conference players that combined for almost 39 PPG and kept the team afloat. With Fields drafted by the New York Knicks, the onus now falls on Green and a duo of talented freshmen to boost Stanford towards the upper portion of the Pac-10 standings. Green improved mightily as a sophomore, more than doubling his scoring average and playing an effective second fiddle to Fields. His ten 20+ point games and establishing the single season Stanford record for threes were strong enough to earn second team all-conference accolades. There’s little doubt Green has the capability to score 20+ PPG as Fields accomplished, it’s other facets of his game that must improve- namely getting to the free throw line at a higher rate and improving extraordinarily low assist totals- in order for Stanford to climb out of the Pac-10 basement.
5. Malcolm Lee, UCLA– Lee is the player who I feel could make the biggest leap this season and finally tap into that potential that has scouts pegging him as a future first round selection. Thrust into directing the Bruin offense after Jerime Anderson flopped, Lee was learning on the fly and a disappointing overall campaign for UCLA masked some considerable steps forward for the jet-quick sophomore. There are flashes where it rings clear Lee can develop as a steady point guard, but the turnovers still can come in bunches and, although Lee loves to run in transition, his proficiency in half-court sets certainly needs work. His 6’5 frame will allow Ben Howland to play Lee at either guard position and he’s displayed a propensity to defend either 1’s or 2’s at the college level. It’s asking a great deal, but refine a questionable jumper while continuing to progress directing traffic and Lee could be the most improved player in this conference.
6. Reggie Moore, Washington State– Along with Lee, Reggie Moore is another player that could take a giant step forward in 2010-11. By all accounts, Moore’s freshman campaign was a smashing success. The 6’2 point guard chipped in with almost 13 PPG and just over 4 APG while shooting 42% from the field and 80% from the line. The 80% didn’t go to waste, as that final number came during a season where he finished in the top-30 nationally in free throw rate. Moore is a super-quick guard that loves to push in transition, force the defense to collapse and find teammate Klay Thompson for open looks. He was the best freshman point guard in the Pac-10 last season and I expect even bigger things in the future.
7. Rihards Kuksiks, Arizona State– One of the best pure shooters in the nation, only Jeremy Green tops Kuksiks for most threes made last season among returning Pac-10 players. The fact Arizona State was 5-1 in games Kuksiks notched 20 or more points shows his importance to the Sun Devils’ winning cause. Kuksiks three-point percentage dipped from the incredible 44% tally he posted as a sophomore, but the fear that strikes opposing coaches when the sweet-shooting Latvian pulls up from behind the arc certainly hasn’t decreased. He’s not exactly a one-dimensional scoring threat, either. Kuksiks utilizes the best weapon for a shooter- the pump fake- to get to the line where he totaled 88% as a junior, grabs 3.6 RPG and is a sneaky defender.
8. Josh Smith, UCLA– Coach Ben Howland knows he needs the Bruins back near the top of the Pac-10 standings sooner than later as those three consecutive Final Fours seem further and further in the past. Smith is ranked as a top-three incoming center in nearly every recruiting publication and, should he continue to make progress curbing his weight issues, has a chance to start immediately for the Bruins. His post savvy and repertoire of moves are advanced for his age and Smith has quite the soft touch and hands for a player of his stature. He’s also a gifted shot-blocker and could shore up UCLA’ s very un-Howland like defensive totals from a season ago.
9. Ty Abbott, Arizona State– Although his Sun Devils failed the make the NCAA Tournament, it certainly wasn’t the fault of Ty Abbott, who came on incredibly strong down the stretch last year for ASU. Hampered by a knee injury in non-conference play, Abbott peaked during Pac-10 competition, finishing ninth in the league in scoring, 11th in rebounding, ninth in FT% and fourth in 3pt%. Quite the campaign for a kid that shot 38% from the field and 29% from three as a sophomore. Abbott’s improvement vaulted him to all-Pac-10 status and provided coach Herb Sendek one of the top all around guards in the conference for 2010-11.
10. DeAngelo Casto, Washington State– The final piece of Pullman’s version of the Big Three, Casto is the shot blocker extraordinaire in the post that all opposing Pac-10 guards avoid testing with too much frequency. Casto ranks second on Wazzu’s all-time shot blocking list and he’s only played two full seasons of collegiate basketball. The 6’8 forward concluded his sophomore season with over two blocks a night and ranked seventh in the conference with seven boards per contest. Look for Casto to be in the running for All-America defensive honors, but don’t sleep on an offensive game that keeps improving.
11. Calvin Haynes, Oregon State- Haynes is an athletic, powerful guard that returns in 2010-11 as the player pegged to lead the Beavers past the CBI. He averaged nearly 13 PPG as a junior and will take on an even greater role in his final year in Corvallis with Seth Tarver and Roeland Schaftenaar departing as seniors. Haynes is extremely versatile with the basketball, a lead guard that can burst to the rim or stroke it from outside. He could team with the finally-eligible Roberto Nelson and sophomore Jared Cunningham for an explosive backcourt.
12. Venoy Overton, Washington– The best on-ball defender in the conference and quite possibly in the nation, where Overton lacks in size he makes up for in quickness and intelligence. Overton once again finished his season with over a swipe per contest and garnered first team all defense in the Pac-10. His steals and A/T ratio were both good for top ten in the conference and the Seattle native has even boosted his offense at Washington, improving on PPG, FG% and FT% in each of his three campaigns. His pressure defense drives the opposition crazy and Overton remains the emotional heart-and-soul of a Huskies team that has their sights set on a Pac-10 title.
13. Allen Crabbe, California– Mike Montgomery is dealing with almost a completely clean slate this season in Berkeley. The rebuilding project is in full force with Pac-10 Player of the Year Jerome Randle and equally impressive performers Patrick Christopher, Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin all moving on. Luckily for Montgomery, he secured a commitment from Crabbe before he blew up on the national scene and won California HS Player of the Year and the state title. Crabbe is instantly the best offensive weapon on the Bears. Don’t give him much room to operate; Crabbe can light it up in the mid-range game or from behind the arc. How much he commits on the defensive end will indicate whether Crabbe plays enough minutes to become Cal’s leading scorer from day one.
14. Terrence Ross, Washington– Unlike Crabbe or some other highly touted freshmen in the conference, Ross won’t be forced into carrying too heavy of a load right away, not with Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton, Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Abdul Gaddy around. The former Maryland commit will help take some of the sting away from high school teammate Terrence Jones bolting for UK. Ross is an athletic wing with NBA range on his jump shot and unwavering confidence to boot. He instantly becomes Washington’s best outside gunner from both behind the arc and in the pull-up variety. But his quickness, alertness and length as a potential lockdown defender has coach Romar just as excited for Ross’ arrival.
15. Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Washington– Folks around the Huskies program quietly believe Bryan-Amaning could at least partially fill the gigantic void Quincy Pondexter left. Translation: much like Pondexter took a few seasons to find his niche and explode as an offensive force, a breakout senior season could be in the cards for Bryan-Amaning. Currently gaining valuable experience overseas playing with his native England, Bryan-Amaning was a high volume rebounder and shot blocker for the Huskies. Coach Romar wants to see him become more of a face-up scorer in the mold of Pondexter, especially given his tendencies to drift to the perimeter. Add that dimension to his game and Bryan-Amaning could make a similar leap.
16. Kaela King, Arizona State– King has garnered some comparisons to one James Harden, and that’s not just because they’ll be attending the same school. King is a wing with great ball-handling skills that loves to attack the rim off the bounce. He should live at the free throw line right away given his aggressiveness and ability to post up smaller guards. Rebounding in traffic is also a strength for King and he seems committed defensively (which he’ll have to be under Sendek). There’s plenty of time to refine an inconsistent outside shot. Look for this prized recruit to star right away for the Sun Devils.
17. Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA- Honeycutt’s rookie season was delayed by a stress reaction in his tibia, but once the prized recruit saw the floor, his presence was felt. Honeycutt has a truly special all-around game. He can handle the basketball, shows great court vision and rebounds at a high rate. Whether he can develop into a dependable one-on-one, aggressive scorer for UCLA is the question. Quite simply, Honeycutt, even at his young age, makes every Bruin better when he’s on the court. Look for the 6’7 forward to take a big step forward in 2010-11.
18. Jamelle Horne, Arizona- One of the top outside shooting forwards in the nation, Horne and Derrick Williams really played off each other nicely last season. Horne led Arizona with 50 threes made and finished second in the conference at an impressive 44% clip from deep. There are very few 6’7 forwards who can drain such a high percentage of three and rank fifth in the Pac-10 in defensive rebounding. Also, Horne is Sean Miller’s defensive ace given his athleticism and ability to guard multiple positions.
19. Nikola Vucevic, USC– This 6’10 Montenegro native came out of relative obscurity to average 10/9 during USC’s feel-good 2009-10 campaign. Expected to contribute as merely a role player, Vucevic ended up leading the Trojans in FG% and topped the entire conference in rebounding, statistics strong enough to garner Most Improved Player honors. Vucevic ended up leading his team in rebounding in 20 games and nearly averaged a double-double. Entering his junior season, this multi-talented forward still has plenty of development ahead of him.
20. Jio Fontan, USC– Fontan would in all likelihood rank higher on this list if he wasn’t ineligible for the first semester after bolting from the crumbling Fordham program. Frustrating with losing and coaching upheaval, Fontan signed on with Kevin O’Neill to eventually take over lead guard duties in Hollywood. Fontan is an elite scoring weapon that averaged over 15 PPG as a freshman in the Atlantic 10. His low FG% was largely due to his lackluster supporting cast. Surround Fontan with capable players like Vucevic, incoming frosh Bryce Jones and 2011 wing Byron Wesley and watch the efficiency markedly improve. Look for an instant impact as soon as Pac-10 play gets underway.
Also considered: Kyle Fogg (Arizona), Daniel Bejarano (Arizona), Carrick Felix (Arizona State), Jamelle McMillan (Arizona State), Jorge Gutierrez (California), Malcolm Armstead (Oregon), Roberto Nelson (Oregon State), Michael Dunigan (Oregon), Anthony Brown (Stanford), Dwight Powell (Stanford), Reeves Nelson (UCLA), Alex Stepheson (USC), Abdul Gaddy (Washington).