While he took some time to evaluate his options, Arizona freshman forward Stanley Johnson has decided to enter the 2015 NBA Draft. Johnson announced his decision to forego his final three seasons of eligibility Thursday evening at a press conference held with Arizona head coach Sean Miller.
Named the Pac-12’s top rookie and also a first team all-conference selection, Johnson averaged a team-best 13.8 points per game in 2014-15 while also accounting for 6.5 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 Fullerton, California product, who’s projected to be a lottery pick in the June draft, shot 44.6 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Johnson’s departure is one that the Wildcats planned for recruiting-wise, as their incoming freshman class has multiple perimeter players capable of putting points on the board. Findlay Prep product Allonzo Trier is the most highly regarded of the group, but Las Vegas native Ray Smith (who missed his senior season with a torn ACL) will also be heard from on the wing and combo guard Justin Simon can play either on or off the ball.
Arizona also returns multiple perimeter players (not counting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright) from last season’s Elite Eight team, with Gabe York and Elliott Pitts being the most experienced and junior college transfer Kadeem Allen available after redshirting last season.
Losing a player as talented as Johnson hurts, but Arizona’s worked hard to ensure that they have the pieces needed to account for this news. Next up for them is an official declaration from center Kaleb Tarczewski, whom many believe will return to Tucson for his senior season.
Player of the Year Power Rankings: It’s essentially a two-man race at this point
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: The Player of the Year race is, as it has essentially been all season long, a two-man race at this point. And, quite frankly, I’m not sure how much more I can say about these two beyond “I hope we get a rematch in March”.
3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Grant is one of the best point guards in the country in pick-and-roll situations and he plays in an offensive that is almost entirely built around spreading the floor with shooters and letting him, and to a lesser extent Demetrius Jackson, use ball-screen actions. Should I mention that the Irish are first in adjusted offensive efficiency, and that Grant’s ability on that end of the floor is the reason that Notre Dame has overcome a defense that ranks outside the top 150 to be 19-2 and ranked in the top ten? Yeah, I probably should.
4. Delon Wright, Utah: Wright is embracing the role that Utah needs him to play this season. He doesn’t have to be a dominant scorer or an elite shooter, he needs to be an aggressive penetrator that creates open looks for his teammates. He’s had at least five assists in every game since December 23rd and has missed just three free throws during that span. He’s protecting the ball — the Arizona loss was the only game he’s had more than two turnovers December 10th — and, most importantly, he’s shooting 40 percent from three the last four games.
5. D’angelo Russell, Ohio State: My biggest concern with D’angelo Russell early on this season was that the majority of his damage was coming against mediocre competition. When he was squaring off against high-major opponents, he was getting tuned up. Of late, that’s not true whatsoever. In his last three games, he’s averaging 27.3 points, 9.0 boards and 6.0 assists. On the season, his numbers are ridiculous: 19.4 points, 5.2 boards, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 47.7 FG%, 44.4 3PT%.
You can look at a box score and realize just how productive Russell is. You can see is insane, cross-court bounce passes and his ability to beat people off the dribble to realize how skilled he is. But what impresses me more is how well he seems to understand the game. Two examples stand out from the Ohio State win over Indiana. In the first, you can see Russell create a switch and a mismatch in the post for Marc Loving with a back-screen and immediately call for the Sam Thompson to swing the ball and create a chance for a high-low entry pass:
In the second, Russell throws a pass to Jae’Sean Tate in the middle of Indiana’s zone while Tate is pointing for the ball to be passed to someone else. In other words, Russell knows you’re open before you know you’re open:
6. Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble did not have his best game of the season on Tuesday of last week, when the Terps got trucked by Indiana in Assembly Hall, but he followed that up with 27 points as Maryland came from behind to knock off Northwestern at home.
7. Georges Niang, Iowa State: I’m torn on how I should rank Niang here. His versatility is such an integral part of what makes Iowa State good. He’s a point guard in a power forward’s body, which allows the Cyclones to invert their offense; there are only three players that average 14.0 points, 5.0 boards and 3.5 assists, and Niang is one of them. But he’s also a question mark on defense, which is part of the reason that Iowa State has a ceiling when it comes to their chances of winning the Big 12.
8. Justin Anderson, Virginia: Sound the alarms: after going three for his last 11 from three, Anderson’s three-point percentage has dropped to just 51.9 percent on the season. All kidding aside, he’s a major reason that no one has broken 56 points against Virginia since that double-overtime game against Miami.
9. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson’s last four games: 20.0 points, 8.3 boards and dominant second halves in wins over Utah at home and at Stanford, the two other teams that look like they might have a shot of making some noise in the Pac-12 race. He’s turning into the go-to guy offensively Arizona needs. T.J. McConnell may be more valuable to this team, but Johnson is Sean Miller’s best player right now.
10. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: I still think Cauley-Stein is the engine that makes this Kentucky defense run, but it would be nice to see him have another dominating performance or two. He has 17 points, 19 boards, four blocks and five steals in his last three games.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), D’angelo Harrison (St. John’s), LaDontae Henton (Providence), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Ty Wallace (Cal), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)
Weekly Awards: D’Angelo Russell’s ascension, Kansas takes the next step
It took a while for Russell to find his rhythm against high-major competition, but the talented freshman is rolling these days. This week, he went for 33 points, seven boards, six assists and no turnovers in a win at Northwestern, following that up with 22 points, 10 assists and six boards as the Buckeyes got revenge on No. 23 Indiana at home. He shot 21-for-32 (65.6 percent) from the floor and 8-for-18 (44.4 percent) from three in the two wins. If you do that math, Russell missed just one shot from inside the arc in those two games.
Russell has shot his way up NBA Draft Boards of late, turning himself from a potential first round pick down the road into a guy that not only appears to be a lock to be a lottery pick, but could climb his way into the top five. The 6-foot-4 lefty is a big-time scorer that has made Sportscenter for his ability to throw mind-bending passes, and while he lacks that next-level explosiveness of a point guard like John Wall or Russell Westbrook, he’s crafty around the rim. And, more importantly for our purposes, he’s making sure that Ohio State remains relevant in the Big Ten.
THE ALL ‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
Hassan Martin, Rhode Island: Rhode Island moved to 5-2 in the Atlantic 10 with wins over La Salle and St. Bonaventure this week, and Martin was the biggest reason why, averaging 12.0 points, 10.0 boards and 8.0 blocks.
Maurice Ndour, Ohio: After scoring 17 points in a win at Ball State, Ndour followed it up with 31 points, six boards, three blocks and this game-winning dunk against Buffalo.
Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern: In wins over UNC-Asheville and Gardner-Webb, Nimley averaged 34.0 points and 3.5 assists. In his last four games, he’s averaging 32.0 points and shooting 25-for-57 (!!!) from three.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State: The Beavers are a surprising 5-2 in the Pac-12 after sweeping the LA schools. Payton had 39 points, 17 boards, eight assists and seven steals in the two wins.
Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson led the Wildcats to wins at Stanford and Cal this weekend, playing his best basketball while leading a second half charge in the win over the Cardinal. In his last four games, Johnson is averaging 20.0 points and 8.3 boards.
Notables: Cam Payne (Murray State), Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington), Nic Moore (SMU)
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas made a statement on Saturday, going into Austin and smacking around No. 17 Texas, 75-62. That came after the Jayhawks built a 19-point lead on No. 19 Oklahoma, blew that lead in 10 minutes of game time and managed to come-from-behind to win anyway.
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
I don’t think anyone does.
But the bottom-line is that the Jayhawks, with all the inconsistencies and question marks that they’ve had this season, are sitting all alone in first place in the toughest conference in college basketball. And, finally, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre seem to be hitting their stride. This team has always had the potential to be among the nation’s elite, and they got a step closer this week.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
Georgetown: After blowing out Villanova in Washington, D.C., the Hoyas went up to Milwaukee and survived a scrappy Marquette team in overtime. Their freshmen have been terrific of late, with Isaac Copeland, who averaged 17.0 points in the two wins, leading the way.
Duke: The Blue Devils have officially bounced back from their two losses. This week, they beat Pitt and won at St. John’s — Coach K’s 1,000th win — due in large part to the play of Tyus Jones. He averaged 22.0 points and 5.0 assists.
Davidson: Despite playing without Jack Gibbs, who has a knee injury, the Wildcats blew out Dayton at home and won at George Mason in overtime.
Murray State: The Racers have now won 15 straight after winning at SIU-Edwardsville and Eastern Illinois this week. Cameron Payne may be the best player you’ve never seen play.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane moved to 7-0 in the American with a blowout win over Memphis at home and a victory in a trip to East Carolina, which turned into a bittersweet homecoming for head coach Frank Haith.
Notables: Butler, Miami, Texas A&M
SET YOUR DVR
No. 17 Texas at No. 9 Iowa State, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
No. 5 Duke at No. 8 Notre Dame, Tue. 7:30 p.m.
No. 14 Wichita State at No. 20 Northern Iowa, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 15 North Carolina at No. 10 Louisville, Sat. 4:00 p.m.