May 6, 2008

Exit Evaluations: Posts

We've taken an in-depth look at Arizona State's point guards and wings and now we finish our exit evaluations by looking at the three scholarship post players, led by Jeff Pendergraph.

Jeff Pendergraph --A third-team all-conference selection as a junior last season, Pendergraph averaged 12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.65 blocks (fourth best in the league) per game while shooting .593 from the field (third best) and .793 from the foul line.

While his scoring output remained relatively static, if you compare Pendergraph's rebounding numbers from 2006-07 to 2007-08 you'll see that his overall per game average dropped from 9.1 to 6.4, but it's important to look behind those numbers. Pendergraph played 5.2 fewer minutes per game last season and the Sun Devils improved offensively, shooting .413 from the field in 2006-07 and .464 from the field in 2007-08, which contributed to Pendergraph gathering 44 fewer offensive rebounds on the season. So the drop-off in rebounding isn't as significant as it might look.

Still, while Pendergraph has the physical tools to be an excellent rebounded, his production did not particularly reflect that. He dropped from second in the league as a sophomore to ninth as a junior. The top performers in the category average about one rebound for every three minutes of game action, while Pendergraph was closer to one board per 4.5 minutes. Pendergraph is long and lanky with very good mobility and quick lift off the floor and he has the ability to rebound outside his area, which is a key attribute scouts look at when determining the ultimate potential of a player as a rebounded. He needs to become more assertive on the glass on a consistent basis, especially on the defensive end.

Offensively, Pendergraph has a pretty decent skill base. He's most effective with his back to the basket on the low block where he has a variety of effective post moves and can finish at the basket with either hand. Impressively, he has a jump hook with extended range out to about 12 feet. He also has a nice mid-range jump shot out, which is consistent out to about 16 feet. He's very capable in the screen and roll game, with the ability to hit the jumper or backdoor to the basket.

Where his game could use some refinement is with his ball handling and ability to get to the basket off the dribble. He's shown flashes of the ability to do this against less mobile defenders when he has a lot of open court around him, but it's still a limitation which presents as Pendergraph tending to appear to settle for the mid-range jumper. He gets that shot off quickly and with good height, which is a potent weapon. But he's be significantly more deadly as a complete player if could put it on the floor with greater confidence and consistency.

Many ASU fans were curious why ASU didn't play Pendergraph and Eric Boateng in the lineup simultaneously and there were reasons for that at both ends of the floor. On offense, ASU needs one of those players to be able to be fluid and skilled enough to play on the perimeter with no drop off in the flow of the offense. Boateng is further off from being able to do that than Pendergraph, so if those players are both going to see the floor at the same time next season, it will only be if Pendergraph can become more skilled with the ball and push his shooting range back to at least 18-19 feet.

Defensively, there is also a limitation, which is the ability to cover space and especially close out to shooters in the corners with two bigs in the lineup. Interior passes are more effective against guys that don't move their hands and feet as quickly, but of course, the ability to be better on the glass, especially on the weakside is a positive trade-off. But the biggest limiting factor to this is currently on the offensive end with the offensive flow and versatility.

The biggest individual issue with Pendergraph last season was his tendency to get in foul trouble and more to the point, his habit of allowing himself to be overly emotional on the court, which in turn led to poor decisions, especially frustration fouls. Pendergraph is one of the most intelligent and articulate ASU players in recent memory, so there is no excuse for taking himself out of games due to a lack of emotional control.

Eric Boateng -- We expected Boateng to get off to a slow start to his ASU career because of the simple reality that he basically was coming off a two year absence from meaningful action on the playing court, which is an eternity for any young athlete, but especially for a center in basketball. Practice is not the same as playing in games, not even close.

Coming out of high school Boateng was at McDonald's All-American sure, but that was based primarily on potential as a young 6-foot-10 kid with nice mobility and coordination . He hardly saw the court at Duke as a freshman and then sat out a year post-transfer. He worked on skill development with then-assistant (and now Drake head coach) Mark Phelps and on strengthening his body in the weight room and at the training table.

Those things worked to some degree, and yet the consensus with almost everyone inside the program we have spoken with is that Boateng is the guy on the team who has the biggest difference between how good he is in practice, and how good he is in games. Basically, he just needs more game minutes to close the gap, but the coaching staff has a responsibility to do that at a pace that still allows it to give the team its best opportunity to win games.

We saw Boateng get increasingly more effective as the season wore on, and mostly that has to do with patience at both ends of the floor. As a result, he played more significant minutes down the stretch and was trusted as a backup to Pendergraph in some very crucial situations, which he handled relatively well. On a couple of occasions, he was a key player, without whom, the Sun Devils probably would have lost an extra game or two.

Early in the season, Boateng was far too rushed at both ends on the court and looked very awkward as a result. He was trying to quickly score on every catch in the low post and trying to block every shot and gather every rebound and do it all in his next breath. It was difficult to watch at times.

Coaches continually stressed situational understanding and patience with Boateng and it began to really take hold in the second half of Pac-10 play. He began to take his time when catching the ball in position and proved that he has some respectable post moves when he stays within himself and has time and space to operate. He has two somewhat predictable go-to type moves and needs to shoot the ball over his left shoulder to feel comfortable. When that option is taken away from him, he is much more limited offensively.

In his skill work, Boateng has a nice mid-range jump shot but we just haven't seen that opportunity really develop in games. Interestingly, the hitch that he has when he shoots free throws is much less pronounced in his jump shot. He's no more effective off the dribble or from long range in game situations than Pendergraph, which is what limits the coaching staff from being able to play both at the same time against most opponents.

What Boateng needs to work on moving forward is continuing to play poised and within himself at both ends of the floor, while incrementally increasing his skill base and comfort level with new elements of his game. He also needs to get bigger and stronger (as does Pendergraph) and be more of a physical presence inside, even if it's not as a shot-blocker. Pendergraph has more lift off the floor than Boateng and that makes him a better weak-side shot blocking threat, but Boateng needs to excel as a position defender and at boxing out opponents and gathering rebounds in his area. He doesn't need to go for a lot of shot blocks and he committed too many fouls doing that in the wrong situations last season.

ASU won't ever need Boateng to score a lot of points, as long as he is a threat to score with his back to the basket and as long as he must be guarded out onto the floor. But that is precisely what should help him to become an even more refined offensive player.

Kraidon Woods -- With ASU practices being closed and Woods not playing hardly at all in his first season, it's more difficult to know exactly where he stands and what he needs to work on if he's going to have a sniff at the rotation next season and into the future. But we have seen enough of Woods to know basically what type of player he is and generally what he needs to do to bring his game to the next level.

Upon arrival at ASU, Woods looked primarily like a run-and-jump athlete with open court capability. He runs the floor well and can be a weapon in transition filling lanes and slashing to the basket. His has great leaping ability and can be a finisher at the rim on the break.

But Woods isn't really a complete perimeter player and he's not really a polished post player as yet. He has some limited ability in both areas, but is not advanced enough in either to be considered ready-enough to garner game minutes with the current configuration on the roster. Basically, he can't play alongside Pendergraph or Boateng as another taller body because his lack of perimeter fluency with ball handling, shooting and movement without the basketball. And he was a secondary option to Boateng in backing up Pendergraph in the middle due to Boateng being a little more proficient with his back to the basket offensively in terms of at least being a threat to score. So he didn't play.

That pretty much also tells you what Woods needs to work on moving forward. It's not that dissimilar from what Boateng needs to work on, except Woods is a different type of player. He's more explosive off the floor, more mobile and fluid and he has more perimeter upside. Pendergraph and Woods have benefited from spending an extra year working with the skill development component, which was excellently taught by Phelps. This off-season is very big for Woods in his development. He's a good athlete who plays basketball right now and is in need of becoming a basketball player who also happens to be a good athlete. That's all about skill development. Ball skills; extending the range on his jump shot; greater fluency in the post.

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