Last week the Six Overtimes crew and I analyzed Syracuse sophomore, Dion Waiters, a score-first combo-guard and sixth man extraordinaire for the Orangemen. Since our last podcast, Waiters has continued to fill it up. In his last four games, he’s averaged 11.7 ppg on 20-33 shooting (60%) in only 18 minutes of action.
This week, we profile the most complicated player on the podcast — Seton Hall power forward, Herb Pope. Born and raised in Aliquipaa, Pa — the same rough town and neighborhood as NFLers, Darelle Revis, Ty Law, Sean Gilbert, Tony Dorsett and Mike Ditka — Pope is an undersized power forward at 6-8, 235, yet rugged and persistent. This season, Pope is averaging 18.3 points and 10.8 boards for a 13-2 Seton Hall team that is off to its best start in nearly two decades and coming off a signature win against Big East foe, UConn. I bet UConn center, Andre Drummond knows who Herb Pope is now.
Pope presents an interesting case study for NBA scouts who will have to weigh his on-the-court production against his off-the-court issues. Ironically, the Sacramento Kings are in the midst of putting out PR fires caused by their young and immature center DeMarcus Cousins. Last week, Cousins reportedly demanded a trade after another verbal altercation with his head coach, Paul Westphal. Cousins won’t be traded, but Westphal will probably be let go after the season, since one of them has to go. Coaches get fired all the time, but the chemistry of the team is almost always collateral damage in these situations. This will weigh heavily on NBA scouts and executives’ minds when working out Pope. UPDATE: Paul Westphal was fired today.
Unfortunately, he does not possess the size, strength or pedigree of a DeMarcus Cousins. For that reason alone, NBA scouts will be more apt to pass on him. But if we went by pure numbers, Pope would be an easy first round selection in next year’s draft.
Pope is a guy with an excellent motor that will simply outwork you in the paint, using his long, bulky frame to earn each and every rebound both on the offensive and defensive end. He is currently first in the Big East in defensive rebound percentage (26.1%). His 31.5% usage rate is second in the Big East. He’s played five more minutes a game (32) than his junior year but at the same time cut his foul rate from 3.5 a game to 2.6 this season.
Well, he was shot four times when he was 15. He was ejected from a game against Texas Tech for punching a Tech player below the belt on national TV and in April 2010, he collapsed before an offseason workout due to a heart condition that required emergency surgery.
So there is that.
Look, the off the court stuff is what it is. He survived the gunshots, got out of Aliquippa and earned a basketball scholarship to New Mexico State before transferring to Seton Hall. Yes, he punched a Tech player below the belt (the video on YouTube is pretty hilarious) and was rightly disciplined for it. He was born with the heart condition and it has since been repaired. According to reports, Pope regularly sees a therapist. He has done everything he could do free himself of “the labels.” Last offseason, he traveled to Houston to work with former NBA player and workout guru, John Lucas, practicing at his camp. Pope competed daily against NBA competition, including Derrick Williams, Damion James, Johnny Flynn and Tristan Thompson. The improvement in his game has been monumental. Still recovering from offseason heart surgery, Pope struggled in his junior season, averaging only 8.9 pts and 9 rebounds a game. This season, fully recovered and rejuvenated, Pope is top 20 in points and Top 10 in rebounds a game.
If I had to compare Pope, I would certainly look at the success of Paul Millsap. Millsap was the first player in NCAA history to lead the NCAA in rebounding three years in a row. Pope has a similar workman-like style. I also look at DeJuan Blair, Tyler Hansbrough and Udonis Haslem as guys who may not have had the NBA-ready talent, but worked hard everyday until NBA coaches couldnt ignore them any longer. These guys have been penciled into NBA rotations for years because they do one thing, and they do it well. Pope could carve himself out a similar career path. He has the offensive game in and around the basket that can immediately translate to the NBA game. He seems like one of those guys that will have a 12-year career just by working harder than the guy next to him.
For all of Pope’s skills, the off the court issues may cloud some NBA team’s from picking him in the first round. But a team like the Cavs or Wizards who are likely to also possess high second round picks should take a chance on Pope. Pairing Pope with a more polished early first round selection would be a great draft-day haul for a team in the midst of rebuilding.
Herb Pope is putting up first round numbers, but he will have to do more this season and in the NCAA tournament to unleash himself from the labels that will likely keep him out of the first round.