Beyond the Lottery: Dion Waiters

Syracuse sophomore Dion Waiters helped lead the Orangemen to a team-record 34 wins this past season. The 6’4”, 215-pound combo guard was selected as the Big East Conference Sixth Man of the Year after averaging 12.6 ppg and 1.8 steals per game in only 24 minutes.

Waiters considered leaving the ‘Cuse in his freshman year after getting off to a rocky start. However, once he decided to stay Waiters gracefully accepted his bench role.

Waiters can handle the rock as well as play off the ball. He’s an above average shooter with NBA range and can create off the dribble, find the open man and deliver the difficult pass, rarely turning it over.

Waiters always looks to push the ball up court in transition and has the exceptional strength and athleticism to finish at the rim even when fouled. The Philly product utilizes screens effectively, which should translate well to the pick-and-roll obsessed pro game.

Waiters possesses a Manu Ginobili-like ability to change direction suddenly with the ball and glide into spots that the defense doesn’t anticipate. He plays with a controlled electricity and can be unstoppable when he’s feeling it.

On the defensive end, Waiters can D up either the 1 or the 2. With active hands, fast feet, lower body strength and a high basketball-IQ, he defends well in isolation and is the player on the court who often comes out of nowhere to break up a pass, make a deflection or bring the unexpected double-team.

Waiters was originally projected to go mid-to-late in the first round, primarily because he’s not a true point or scoring guard. Also, he played almost exclusively zone defense under HOF coach Jim Boeheim and lacks man-to-man experience. But after an impressive showing in Vegas, the superstar sleeper has been buzzing up the ranks and may wind up being fished out if the 2012 draft pool earlier than first expected.

Beyond the Lottery: Fabricio del Melo

2012 NBA draft prospect Fabricio del Melo aka Fab Melo could soon join the ranks of Brazilian post players who have flourished in the league as of late. The 21-year-old, 7-footer has the basic components required to be an NBA big. And as the saying goes, “You can’t teach height and length.”

The 255-pound big man didn’t start playing basketball until the ninth grade and came to the U.S. in 2008 as a high school junior. As a senior at Sagemont High School in Florida, Melo earned McDonald’s All-America recognition. He was a member of Brazil’s Under-17 National Team and is currently a starter on the Brazilian National Basketball Team.

The pride of Juiz de Fora, Brazil played for HOF coach Jim Boeheim for two years at Syracuse University before declaring for the draft. Melo worked hard to shed 30 pounds and to improve his quickness and help-side D when he arrived at Syracuse. He was named the 2012 Big East Defensive Player of The Year and averaged 2.9 blocks per game during his breakout season.

Although Melo’s skills and footwork still need improvement due to his late start on the court, his game and competitiveness have benefited from all of his international experience. He has above average mechanics and can hit the mid-range jumper, which could translate into a deadly NBA weapon with his size and length. Melo possesses a natural feel for positioning in the paint and can grab offensive boards and score easy put-backs.

Melo is no sure bet. He had a variety of academic concerns while at the ‘Cuse, and that’s one of the reasons why he’s projected to be chosen in the 18 to 24 area on June 28th in Newark. However, his upside is tremendous, and many hoops experts feel that if the right pro team grabs him, Melo could be one of the steals of the 2012 NBA Draft.

Beyond the Lottery: Bismack Biyombo

Bismack Biyombo is an 18-year-old big man from Democratic Republic of the Congo. He stands 6’9” and has a 7’7” wingspan that allows him to contest virtually every shot in his defensive area. The 245 lb. Biyombo already has an NBA body and is sure to grow stronger and thicker as he matures. He runs the floor extremely well for someone his size and girth. Biyombo is constantly hustling and always crashes the offensive glass, which leads to easy put-backs. Having only participated in organized basketball for approximately four years, Biyombo possesses tremendous potential.

Biyombo made his professional debut in the top-tier Spanish ACB League with Fuenlabrada against DKV Joventut on January 9th, 2011 and scored 5 points to go along with 7 rebounds in just 13 minutes of play. Although he’s only competed in the Spanish Pro League for a short time, Biyombo has displayed marked improvement. His team defense and overall positioning have advanced, as has his low post game.

At the 2011 Nike Hoops Summit, Biyombo played for the World Select Team (against the USA Select Team) and recorded a triple double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. He has become something of an internet sensation due to his exciting and uber-athletic highlights. Biyombo’s vast collection of rudimentary spin moves, up fakes and jump hooks will surely become more polished and refined the longer he plays and practices with an NBA roster.

Biyombo will probably not be a lottery selection because his overall game is still very unpolished, and he oftentimes commits basic blunders due to a lack of formal basketball experience. There are also questions about his real age, with some reports putting it as high as 23-years-old. A true evaluation of his ability to compete and contribute in the paint at the NBA level is hard to formulate due to the fact that he hasn’t faced a lot of quality big men in his short basketball career.

However despite being somewhat of a wild card, Biyombo will be picked in the first round because of his giant upside and his solid defensive play. Biyombo is reportedly a good teammate and a very coachable player. He speaks English well too, which will save him from the many hurdles associated with foreign players attempting to assimilate to American culture. One thing is for certain, this Congolese center is on the rise.

Beyond the Lottery: Tyler Honeycutt

UCLA Sophomore Tyler Honeycutt hustles on the basketball court. He stands 6’8” and has played both shooting guard and small forward for the Bruins of Westwood. Honeycutt had season highs of 33 points (against a loaded Kansas Jayhawks squad on the road), 15 rebounds and 8 blocks, showcasing the talent and determination to impact the game in various ways from his perimeter position. His skill set and motor allow him to compete and play on both ends of the court, which is a prerequisite at the NBA level.

Honeycutt has the ability to match up with the opposing point guard, 2-guard and small forward thanks to his long arms and quick feet, which make him formidable defensively. His lateral and vertical timing are also superb, and he averaged 2.1 blocks per game for the perennial PAC-10 power.

Honeycutt always seemed to be involved in the flow and action of the contest, whether it was crashing the glass or shutting down passing lanes and penetration attempts. The 20-year-old Los Angeles native was one of the best rebounding guards in the country this past season. He pulled down 7.2 boards per game with a significant number of offensive rebounds.

On the offensive end, he displayed advanced court vision. And he knows how to position himself properly and precisely when moving without the ball. Honeycutt has a high basketball IQ, which translates into smart on-court decision-making. Even though he averaged 35 minutes per game for Coach Ben Howland and often guarded the other team’s top scorer, Honeycutt averaged only 1.5 personal fouls per game and didn’t foul out of any game.

Honeycutt’s slim frame (he weighs in at approx. 190 lbs.) is something that will become more of a liability at the professional level. He needs to gain weight and strength in order to maximize his superb defensive traits against bigger, stronger NBA competitors.

Beyond the Lottery: Reggie Jackson

Boston College guard Reggie Jackson stands 6’3” but has a 7’ wingspan. He is exceptionally fast and gets to the rim easily and fluidly, either with his great first step or effective crossover dribbling. Once at the rim, he possesses tremendous jumping ability and body control.

This past season Jackson averaged 18.2 points per game (third best in the conference), 4.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds. He shot 50% from the field, 80% from the line and 42% from 3-point range. Jackson’s ability to attack the basket as well as shoot from bonus-point land makes him a tough cover for the other side’s lead or off guard. And that tremendous wingspan gives Jackson a great natural advantage when he’s getting his hands in passing lanes and disrupting ball movement.

The 21-year-old Colorado Springs native improved across the board during his three seasons in Chestnut Hill. He was named to the All-ACC First Team for the 2010-2011 season. Jackson is a natural scorer who can take control on the offensive end. The Eagles were a team in re-group and re-building mode this year, and the combo guard didn’t have a lot of help which allowed opposing teams to ‘key’ on him. This season-long pressure to be ‘the man’ for the young BC squad will serve him well at the NBA level where the challenge of competing with bigger, veteran, more talented perimeter players will be a nightly occurrence.

Esteemed long-time Boston Globe sports columnist and BC alum Bob Ryan has written that Reggie Jackson is the most athletic and explosive guard in school history. With his above-average offensive arsenal and the potential to be a lock-down defender, Jackson will be a good addition to a team in need of backcourt depth If he can improve his passing and court vision to become more effective at the point guard position.