A lot of Pittsburgh Panthers (17-2, 5-1) fans often wonder why their beloved players don't often end up playing in the NBA. While covering the Wake Forest vs. Pitt game, I met Elan Vinokurov who is the President and Owner of EV Hoops, a professional basketball scouting service.
Elan has agreed to help answer some questions about why former Panthers haven't ended up in the NBA, and why some of them have been drafted much later than many expected.
Q: Elan, can you give our readers a little background on EV Hoops and the services you provide?
I worked on my scouting craft under Jim Clibanoff, while interning for ClibHoops. I later moved up in the business, which scouted collegiate players for the NBA draft with NBA teams as our subscribers.
Serving as the #2 for the professional scouting service was a great experience and when Jim was hired by the Denver Nuggets to serve as their Director of Scouting, I was given the opportunity to acquire the company. This is the inaugural season of EV Hoops, which was built on the foundation of ClibHoops. We are the premier scouting service for the NBA draft.
Q: Sam Young was one of the greatest Pitt players who ever played at the 'Pete'. He was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft with the 36th overall pick. Several experts projected him as a mid-to-late first rounder; Chad Ford had him going 18th to Minnesota. Why did he slide into the second round?
I guess according to the mocks that came out prior the draft, Sam Young did have a little bit of a slip, but I do not think that there is just one reason for the senior’s fall. First of all, Sam was older for a senior (24 years of age at the time of the 2009 draft). Age can always be a factor in a player’s fall. Also, while Sam made a huge leap from his sophomore to junior year, and continued to improve as a senior, there was not too much untapped potential with him. It seemed more or less that he was pretty close to his ceiling.
So now you are looking at a 24-year-old senior who lacks the sizzle and appeal of a younger pup who offers room to dream about his future. This next reason may be small, BUT Sam also elected to forgo the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. Sometimes players choose to go and it prevents them from getting exposed, so they make a wise move.
In Sam’s case though, I believe he could have really ‘nailed it’ at PIT but passed, which happens all-the-time so you cannot blame Sam for being conservative. DeMarre Carroll goes to Portsmouth, shines on a stage in front of every NBA team and moves ahead of Sam on team’s boards (DeMarre got drafted 27th overall).
Q: A lot of people were surprised that Steven Adams left for the NBA after one season. Even more people were surprised that he was a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, 12th overall. Were you surprised by his decision, and how high he was drafted? If so, then why? If not, what were some of the traits/skills that you identified that led you to believe he would be a lottery pick?
I cannot say that I was surprised by Steven Adams’ decision to go pro. It is tough to be surprised by any of the blue-chip frosh’s one-year college stays. If you have the chance to be a lottery pick, that is often a difficult opportunity to pass up.
Now me personally, I am always an advocate for staying in school to work on your craft so that you can maximize the kind of player you can become. Young players with immense potential can easily find themselves buried on a team’s bench at the next level. Playing time can be scarce and without the proper work ethic/confidence combo, their growth can become stunted.
Luckily for Steven, he wound up on a team where he could be brought along slowly, while also getting enough minutes to get a feel for the pro game, so that when his time comes he can be ready.
What I like about Steven Adams is that he is a pure pivot. He does not try to be anything that he is not, both on and off the court. He has NBA size and a solid build for a 20-year-old that can improve over the next couple of years as well. He runs the floor well and has above average athleticism for a center.
But my favorite thing about Steven Adams is the fact that he seems like nothing fazes him. I have seen him take some hard shots at the pro level this season, and Adams does not back down and does not flinch. He simply keeps rolling. This is a great quality and I think the Thunder got a gem in the Pitt Panther.
Q: As I alluded to above, most Pitt players stay all four years, sometimes five, and generally develop into extremely productive players in their last two seasons. While this certainly helps the Panthers program, I know NBA teams place a premium on 'upside potential' and players who are generally younger. How much does staying in school/age factor into why Pitt players often don't get drafted?
As discussed with Sam Young, age is always a factor. How big a factor differs from eye-to-eye and team-to-team. Staying in school can be a risk sometimes. Take a look at what happened with Mitch McGary this season. Had he declared after his freshman season, he likely would have been a lottery pick. Now with his shortened sophomore campaign and back problems, it looks like McGary’s gamble did not pay off.
There is certainly not a clear cut answer whether to stay in school or leave as soon as possible. It differs from case-to-case. For every bad decision to stay, I could think of a good decision to stick around: Blake Griffin. I guess, I digressed a bit from the question you asked, but age is a factor, as well as how low or high a player’s ceiling is moving forward.
Q: Guys like Jaron Brown, Chevon Troutman, and Brad Wanamaker were great overall players. However, they didn't possess an elite skill. How important is that for NBA teams, particularly when they are looking for rotation players?
I think when you start getting into prospects that project ahead as role players or simply rotation players, having an elite skill is extremely important. They are brought in to fill a role, either immediately or in the near future. Can they be a lockdown defender? A three-point specialist? A shot blocker? A tenacious rebounder?
A question we always ask is "What can he hang his hat on?" It is an important question to ask when you are looking at drafting a player who projects ahead as a role player. DeJuan Blair for instance, did one thing EXTREMELY WELL…REBOUND. You knew that if all else failed, DeJuan’s rebounding would still translate. That makes it easier to buy-in to a prospect when you are looking at potential role players in the draft.
Q: Last one; you've gotten to see senior forwards Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna live twice already this year. What is your general assessment of both players? Do you believe either has a chance to get drafted and/or play in the NBA next season?
Lamar is the classic Pitt Panther who uses every ounce of his collegiate career to improve, improve, improve. His basketball IQ, feel for the game, and craftiness are plusses. I think people are also seeing this season that he can knock down set shots pretty well at the college level. Some things that hold LP back are his lack of big-time athleticism, age, and questions about his ability to create his own offense in the NBA.
There is not actually a consensus right now for what position Lamar would best be served playing at the next level. Some view him as a point guard, some as a shooting guard, and some as a short small forward. Would it shock me if Lamar Patterson stuck with an NBA team next season? No, but I also cannot guarantee at this time that he will make it.
He would greatly benefit from going to Portsmouth and showing that his versatility on offense is a huge plus, that he will fit-in seamlessly with any type of team, and that he can knock down open threes with regularity. If the NBA does not work out for him, I think he could have a great overseas career.
Talib has been kind of frustrating from a scout’s perspective. At times, I really like him. He has a nice lean, upper body build, but lacks a stout lower half, to carve out position consistently in the NBA. When he is on, he rebounds well in his area, attacks the rim for dunks off nice assists from his teammates, and plays good defense. But too often, we have not noticed him - cannot say that he is consistent in any regard right now.
I also cannot write him off though. He has been well-coached and even though he is not a great shot blocker, he shows signs of playing solid post defense. A player who parlayed good coaching in college and solid post D to an NBA roster spot was Lavoy Allen.
While they are not identical players, Zanna could sneak through that window and stick in the league if he maximizes every opportunity and every bit of playing time he receives at Portsmouth, Summer League, and Preseason.