Last March, I put together two teams of college basketball players: one made up solely of players I thought were overrated, and one made up of underrated players. Recently I’ve begun to narrow down my initial list of candidates for the 2010 editions. But because that’s not quite done yet, I thought it would be interesting to run through the members of the 2009 teams and see what they’re up to today.
A.J. Abrams, G – Texas
My knock against Abrams’ game was that he contributed little to the Longhorns other than shooting, and even that strength was limited to three pointers. He shot well from the line, but didn’t get there enough to make that skill a huge asset. Lastly, he finished his senior year with more turnovers than assists. So, other than shooting, getting to the basket, and creating opportunities for his teammates, Abrams had all the skills you’d want in a guard.
Currently, Abrams appears to be playing for the Greek club AS Trikala 2000. I say “appears” because that looks like him second from the right, but I can’t find him anywhere here (but I found Tyrell Biggs!). His statistics in Greece actually indicate improvement. He’s averaging 17.3 ppg on 54.7% shooting from two and 37.8% from three. His free throw percentage has dropped to 74.4%, but that’s acceptable given his improved shooting on shots worth twice as much. Abrams still, however, is not much of a creator for his teammates, averaging one assist per game (turnover numbers are unavailable).
Greivis Vasquez, G – Maryland
Last year, I criticized Vasquez’s game because it was recognized as great when it was, in fact, merely good. I thought his playmaking skills were a little overrated – Vazquez was just as likely to make a brilliant pass as a boneheaded one – but my main gripe was with his shooting. He hit 45.2% of his twos last year, which is fine, but 32.7% of his threes, which is not great but even worse if that rate comes on 202 attempts. The result was a True Shooting % of 51.2, which ranked 34th in the ACC.
Vasquez has improved tremendously this season. He currently sports the best assist-to-turnover ratio of his career (1.96 : 1) and a significantly higher assist rate than last year. Most importantly, both his shot selection and shot results have gotten much better. Vasquez is now hitting 46.9% of his twos (a slight improvement) and 37.9% of his threes on only 153 attempts (a huge improvement). Factoring in his typically efficient scoring from the free throw line, and he can no longer be called overrated.
E’Twaun Moore, G – Purdue
As I put it last year, Moore “much like Abrams, is an inefficient scorer taking a large percentage of his team’s shots.” Moore’s balanced per-game statistics were a nice shiny object, but distracted the viewer from his 33.7% three-point shooting on 166 attempts.
Like Vasquez, Moore has gotten much better in 2010. Moore is taking a higher percentage of his team’s shots when he’s on the floor (30.2% this year versus 26.3% last year), so it’s a good thing he’s become more efficient. He’s stopped launching so many threes (37.2% on 113 attempts), preferring twos and hitting them at a very good 52% clip. He’s also increased his free throw and assist rates slightly, making him a vastly more efficient player than last season.
Earl Clark, F – Louisville
In hindsight, Clark’s inclusion was unjustified. As usual, the reason for his inclusion was shooting. Clark hit a 49.3% of his twos in 2009, which in itself isn’t so bad, but is a little paltry for a 6’9″ monster like him. Then there was his 32.6% three point shooting on nearly a hundred attempts and his sub-par performance from the line. But really, that was all a little nitpicky. especially considering his blocking and rebounding prowess. This was a bad pick.
Following last season, Clark was drafted 14th overall by the Phoenix Suns. He rarely plays, so it’s probably too early to draw any conclusions about his ability, especially because he’s on a win-now playoff team. For what it’s worth, Clark is shooting 35.4% from the field and 63.6% from the line in the NBA.
Luke Harangody, F – Notre Dame
Last year, I criticized Harangody’s game for the same reason I did Vazquez’s. Both players were discussed reverentially in basketball circles, which in fact their games had notable flaws. Harangody’s stats were inflated both by his team’s fast pace and a shooting rate that ranked 11th in the country. He shot an astounding 615 twos in 2009, but hit only 46.5% of them. His three point shooting was a superficially-good 36.8%, but he only took 38 of them. Harangody’s major redeeming qualities were his ability to draw fouls (68th in the country) and his defensive rebounding (17th). Still, his large volume of wayward shots warranted inclusion on this team.
Harangody’s per-game totals in 2010 are almost exactly the same as 2009′s, but one major factor has changed. Notre Dame is playing at a significantly slower pace this season, down to 226th in the nation. In order for Harangody to maintain such high numbers in games with fewer possessions, it would follow that he’s become a more efficient player. This turns out to be true. Harangody is hitting 52.1% of his twos this season and has improved his free throw percentage very slightly. His three point shooting and fouls drawn have declined somewhat, but he remains a high-percentage free throw shooter. The biggest story here, though, remains his two point shooting. Last year he shot 46.5% on 615 twos, and this year he’s shooting 52.1% on 388 twos – a huge, huge difference. The result is a TS% that has increased to 55.5% and him having absolutely no chance of holding onto his spot on my 2010 team.
Jerome Randle, G – California
The best player on the Pac-10′s best team, Randle’s 2009 season was one of the more unheralded great seasons in recent memory. His per-game averages certainly passed the eye test: 18.3 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists. But the remarkable thing was his efficiency. Despite being generously listed at 5’10″, Randle hit 53.4% of his twos, 46.3% of his threes, and 86.3% of his free throws. Those are staggering numbers, and good enough for 14th-best TS% in the country last year.
If you finished reading that paragraph thinking “there’s nowhere for him to go but down,” it turns out that you’re right. Randle is still a very good player, but his efficiency has dropped off a little. He’s now hitting exactly 50% of his twos, 41% of his threes, and 92% of his free throws. Furthermore, his assist-to-turnover has declined from a good 1.74 : 1 to a more pedestrian 1.26 : 1. Right now, it’s hard to classify Randle as “underrated.” Unknown, yes. But not underrated.
Darren Collison, G – UCLA
Like Randle, Collison earned his way onto last year’s team on the strength of his shooting. The point guard finished the 2009 season having hit 55.8% of his twos, 39.4% of his threes, and 89.7% of his free throws. He also took good care of the ball (1.91 : 1) and earned some bonus points by finishing fifth in the Pac-10 in Steal %.
Collison was drafted 21st overall by the New Orleans Hornets, where his basketball career has continued with remarkable similarity. He’s hitting 47.2% of his twos, 33.8% of his threes, and 84.9% of his free throws in 23.2 minutes per game. Of course, Collison will play less once Chris Paul returns, but his fifth-ranked PER among rookies (15.75) is quite good in its own right.
Wesley Matthews, G – Marquette
I’m mere moments away from gloating, so please brace yourself. Last year’s Marquette team received a ton of publicity for its triumvirate of explosive guards. The group was led on the court by senior guard Dominic James, a really, really poor shooter who took excellent care of the ball. The typical adjectives given to diminutive senior point guards were assigned to James: fearless, gutsy, smart, etc. Next was Jerel McNeal, who was the flashy one. He had no exceptional skill but many good ones, and his 19.8 points per game earned him the most praise. Then there was Matthews, who was characterized as smart (but not as smart as James) and skilled (but not as skilled as McNeal). Even though Matthews bested McNeal in 2P%, 3P%, ORtg, TS%, OR%, DR%, TO%, FD/40, and FTRate, and James is every significant category but Assist Rate, he remained the least-recognized of Marquette’s senior guards.
Guess which one of the three is playing in the NBA right now. Yes, while James is playing in Turkey and McNeal in Belgium, the undrafted Matthews is playing 22 minutes a game for the 38-21 Utah Jazz. Matthews is hitting 52% of his twos, 35.2% of his threes, and 78.2% of his free throws – numbers that are right in line with his production at Marquette. I’m confident that he’ll never be a star, and probably not a career starter either. But Matthews has all the makings of a quality guard off the bench for the next several years. And I’m proud to call him an alum of the 2009 All-Underrated Team.
DeMarre Carroll, F – Missouri
Carroll made last year’s team on the strength of his excellent two-point shooting (57.9%), his infrequent but useful three-point shooting (36.4%), his ability to draw fouls, and his guard-like proficiency at stealing the ball and not turning it over himself.
Surprisingly, Carroll was drafted 27th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies. He hasn’t performed well in limited duty, shooting 39.2% from the field, making none of his six shots from distance, and continuing to hit free throws at a poor rate (61.7%). I like Carroll as much as anyone, but given the relatively high value of the 27th pick, I think he’ll be a disappointment.
Patrick Patterson, F – Kentucky
Patterson might have been the most underrated player in the nation last year. While his teammate Jodie Meeks was garnering well-deserved accolades, Patterson kept on doing what he’s always done – scoring with great skill. In 2009, he hit 60.5% of his twos and shot 76.8% from the line (where he got frequently). His TS% of 63.7% ranked 39th in the country and first in the SEC.
While his free throw shooting has inexplicably fallen off a cliff, Patterson has become an even better player this season. He’s continued to nail his twos (62.2%) and, shockingly, has revealed a real ability to hit threes (40.8% on 49 attempts). This new skill has offset his decline in FT% to keep his TS% at 62.8%, just slightly worse than last year’s. Lastly, Patterson is 35th in the country and second in the SEC in TORate, which is impressive for a big man that plays so many minutes. Teammates DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall get much of the publicity – and deservedly so – but Patterson is equally important to the team’s success.