- Tuesday, January 19, 2010 6:07 PM
- Written By: Jordan Schultz
With the college hoops season approaching the heart of conference play, I will preview some of the elite prospects and their NBA futures. The Pac-10, for example, may be enduring one of its worst seasons in years, but it still has some very good NBA prospects worth watching.
One of them is Quincy Pondexter of Washington, who has emerged from an up-and-down underachiever to perhaps the best player in the conference. He is now a consistent scorer on the wing who can finish through contact, which is hardly what Husky fans saw during his first three years in Seattle. While he showed brief, albeit brilliant flashes of talent, Pondexter was more of an enigma than anything else. He was a guy with all the tools but not the production, a kid who needed to refine his skills.
But in watching Pondexter wax both Stanford and California last week (averaging 26 on an insane 61 percent shooting), I saw a kid who morphed into a brand new type of player, a guy who has used the four-year college system to the utmost of his advantage. He looked like a senior, like a leader, and for the first time over a two-game period, like he was by far the best player on the floor.
In scoring 21 points in the first half alone against Cal, the thing that jumped out to me the most was how calm he was with the ball. In year’s past, Pondexter was always in a race to score. But now, much more mature, he evaluates the defense, reads his defender, and then goes to work. This makes all the difference.
Pondexter is superb on the block posting up, using his 6-7 (now filled out frame) to abuse smaller defenders, and his quick feet to blow by slower ones. While he often slashes to the cup, Pondexter also makes the correct decision when help comes by pulling up, countering with the other hand, making a spin move, or dishing off to an open teammate.
Defensively, I think he may be the best wing defender on the West Coast, in that he uses his length very well both on the ball, when he harasses the opposition, as well as in the passing lanes, where many of his open-court steals lead to easy baskets. His ability to guard up to three NBA positions skyrockets his draft value. It is a rare blend of tools for a 6-7 wing laterally fluid enough to guard 2s and 3s, yet strong and athletic enough to defend 4s. It is perhaps even more relevant than his improved offensive repertoire.
(These are the types of break-outs Pondexter creates by playing the passing lanes - nothing but him and open space)
A key knock on Pondexter is his lack of a pure shooting stroke. I'd say he can hit the college three in rhythm; it’s just that he’s not a guy who can come off screens from 24 feet, which is okay. He hasn’t developed the range on his NBA three, but given his vast mid-range improvements since his freshman season, teams will see he is willing to put in the work. At this juncture, his scoring prowess (20.3 ppg) is best served from the 18-foot mark and in, where he mixes his pull-ups with dribble-drives and posting.
Even with his shooting and scoring improvements (more than 8 points per game from last year), I think his best selling point to scouts is his improved commitment to rebounding. I’d always wondered why Pondexter, always an excellent leaper, didn’t hit the glass harder. I no longer wonder this. In 17 games, this season, he has rebounded at an astounding 7.9 per game, one of the best in the Pac-10. All of this comes despite playing on the wing, and not being in traditional rebounding position. This serves him extremely well at the next level. His high energy play and non-stop motor will supplant the typical doubts teams have about one-year wonders such as Pondexter.
Given his aptitude to defend and create mismatches on the block, Pondexter has become one of the premier small forwards in June’s draft. The 21-year-old is a rising, sure-fire first round pick. If he continues his steady play and gets Washington into the tournament, I think the Fresno native will crack the lottery, (not unlike another off-the-radar wing from UW in 2006 ... Brandon Roy anyone?).
As an NBA player, there are two aspects of his game that Pondexter must improve immediately: the first is his overall handle. In the college half-court set, he’s able to jab and use one or two dribbles to get to the rim because his first step is simply that much better than the defender's recovery. This won’t always be the case in the league. An improved handle will allow him the opportunity to effectively run pick-and-rolls (a staple of the NBA offensive diet), as well as aid in certain situations when his team goes big and he's forced to assume more of a set-up role in the offense. Furthermore, in the open floor when he’s forced to handle the ball and make decisions in transition, his current skill set is not there. Right now he's a great finisher but not a great decision maker. If he adds the latter to his game as well, he will earn consistent minutes as a pro.
As I eluded to earlier, Pondexter is more of an 18-feet and in rhythm shooter. At this stage, his jumpers come from either beating his man off the bounce, or using a slight in-and-out dribble or step-back to create space and rise up. These are good traits to have at any level, but in order to fully maximize his potential, it is imperative for him to increase his range out to the NBA three either by spotting up, creating, or running off screens. In essence, doing so makes his athleticism that much more dynamic and dangerous. The more defenders respect him as a shooting threat, the more Pondexter is able to drive and make plays, something he's already apt at doing.
All in all, I believe Pondexter will become a very effective NBA starter. Between his natural gifts and tenacious nature, he possesses too many intangibles to keep out of the line-up. Potential All-Star? That’s a stretch, but if he lands in a quality organization where he can learn early on, I think he’ll have a really nice career. His best-case scenario is to go to an established, veteran team where ultimately, he doesn’t have to be a go-to guy, but rather a reliable third or fourth scorer who can guard the opposition’s best wing. Think Corey Brewer or James Posey - productive starter or first guy off the bench type of player. The kind of guy every successful team needs.
Ray Allen and all of ESPN - seriously the home page is decked out - agree with me on the All-Star voting debacle.