After DJ Augustin's brilliant two-year tenure in Austin, Longhorns fans certainly have good reason to be excited about undersized point guards from New Orleans. Javan Felix may not have nearly as much raw talent as did his predecessor, but the comparisons will be inevitable. And, in some important ways, appropriate. Let's meet Texas' four-star point guard from the Class of 2012.
Javan Felix | 5'11" | 190 lbs. | New Orleans, LA | St. Augustin's High School | New Orleans Elite AAU
Many have noted Rick Barnes' apparent shift in emphasis towards recruiting more quality depth, focusing on bringing in deep stables of strong players who are likely to play three-plus years in Austin. But there appears to be another, more subtle, shft in emphasis embodied in the 2012 recruiting class: Rick Barnes and his staff seem to be keenly focused on recruiting players who are driven, competitive winners -- without question, among the defining attributes of Javan Felix.
To the extent that this emphasis is substantive, as opposed to just coach-speak, I like it, particularly if there's a correlation with recruiting players with excellent basketball understanding and make up. Although this is probably a topic for a full post all on its own, I think it's an important and useful lens through which to evaluate Javan Felix and his potential impact at Texas
As an illustration of the differences between these three attributes, take Myck Kabongo and J`Covan Brown. In terms of raw talent, Kabongo bests JCB -- and just about everyone else, for that mater -- with his elite physical attributes and skills that made him a McDonald's All-American, five-star prospect. As for drive, by all accounts both Brown and Kabongo possess plenty -- for all Myck's freshman season struggles, there was no question about his work ethic or eagerness to improve. Perhaps the most important difference between the two, though, is in that third category -- what I'm calling make up, or pure Basketball Know-How.
There's something of an inverse relationship between talent and make up, in that the more talent you have the less pure basketball ability you need to possess. Even if Lebron James had average make up, his talent level is so absurd that he'd still be an elite player. And on the flipside, the only reason a player with average talent like J`Covan Brown has a chance to be an NBA player is his incredible pure basketball ability. Former Longhorn PJ Tucker was the same way.
It's worth laying all this out both to frame the evaluation of Javan Felix and to re-emphasize what it was that was missing from Myck Kabongo's game as a freshman, and why there are legitimate reasons to wonder if he'll be as productive a player as he is talented. Not that anyone should write him off -- he very well might, because again, the more talented the player, the less of the other stuff is required. For Kabongo, should his feel and know-how meaningfully improve, his upside is substantial -- along the lines of a Ty Lawson, Rajon Rondo, or Mike Conley. Basically, a Tier 1 NBA starter. If not, though... well, he's so talented, he's still got a fair chance to have an NBA career, but more likely as a reserve.
When looking at basketball recruits, you should be focused on three distinct attributes: raw talent, drive, and what I'll call "make up." The raw talent is the stuff you can't teach -- your speed, athleticism, quickness, coordination, and the like. With drive, of course, we're talking about an eagerness to work hard, to improve, to be the best. And when I say "make up," I'm talking about a player's ability as a Basketball Player. Not a player's speed, but his ability to move naturally and fluidly through traffic. Not his athleticism, but his ability to put it to productive use. Not his intelligence, but his basketball understanding. (For more on the differences between these attributes, see the sidebar at right.)
Read any scouting report of Javan Felix, and you'll see -- usually right from the top -- gushing praise about the point guard's competitive drive, his superior understanding and feel for his position, and his striking ability to help produce wins for his team by making everyone else around him better.
We'll have to see how much of that is oustanding make up and how much is standard praise for a successful point guard in high school, but given Felix's particular limitations, the answer will certainly matter in terms of defining his upside as a collegiate player. Because Felix does not possess the same high-elite raw talent as Kabongo, or even the similarly undersized DJ Augustin.
Felix measures at 5'11", 190 pounds, with a similar build to Augustin, but stronger, with less baby fat. Felix is fast and quick, but neither are elite skills, and when you watch video of the point guard in action, it's not a blow-by ability that stands out, but rather (1) how extraordinarily fluid he is with the ball in his hands, (2) what appears to be excellent understanding of how to manage spacing, and (3) his unwavering body control in everything that he does.
All three of those are related, and together provide a promising indicator of a point guard with excellent make up. Unlike a high-elite point guard who breaks down a defense with exceptional speed and quickness, Felix makes effective basketball moves through the savvy use of a variety of other sklls. Like J'Covan, he has a natural understanding of how a player can and should use his body to assist in what he's trying to accomplish. Throughout his film you also see him use good footwork and a variety of body/head fakes to get defenders off balance, and a strong first step to exploit the space that's created.
Particularly encouraging is how purposeful Felix appears to be with his basketball actions. Rarely on his film do you see him waste dribbles; he attacks spots with a purpose, and a clear understanding of his surroundings -- both defenders and teammates. When his penetration creates an advantage, he exploits it, attacking the vulnerability immediately and intentionally, maximizing the particular opportunity presented. If, for example, he gets by his man and the wing defender takes a step his way, he qickly fires the pass to the open shooter while the opporrtunity is ripe.
Felix excels much more as a distributor and facilitator than a scorer. His outside shot is solid, featuring a smooth and repeatable release, but he very much needs to develop his consistency from outside the three-point line to reach his potential at the collegiate level. Without the speed and quickness to beak down a defense that sags off him, Felix will need to present a meaningful outside threat to be effective. Felix does not possess a particularly strong ability to score in the halfcourt through either a mid-range game or in the paint, tending to use successful penetration to set up teammates -- an area where he demonstrates excellent vision and very capable passing. He's an excellent open-court facilitator, doing a great job starting breaks quickly with passes ahead, or leading smooth, successful fast breaks with the ball in his hands.
When fans get their first look at Felix, they'll immediately understand why his make up will be so essential to his potential succes. The diminutive point guard's limitatons are obvious and pronounced, in ways that make essential he possess an extremely keen and refined understanding and feel for his position. The good news is that, at least at the collegiate level, that's as important to success as size and talent, and if Felix is as smooth, smart, and savvy as he's made out to be -- and certainly appears to be on film -- then he projects as a valuable four-year contributor, who can help a talented group reach its potential. At every level, once he's had time to adjust and develop, Felix has proven himself capable of being a highly effective player, able to be productive and successul against the best of the best.
In the near-term, Texas fans should be very grateful that Myck Kabongo decided to return for a sophomore season. Felix needs a year of S&C training, but even more than that, a year of seasoning/adjusting to the collegiate game. While reserving judgment until seeing him live in the gym, I get the sense that Felix's size will present pretty serious challenges to him during his freshman season, and while I can certainly see him being a useful back up who gives Texas 10-15 solid minutes per game, I expect that it will take some time before he learns how to put his skill set to use against collegiate defenders. And unless he plans to grow when he gets to college, he's going to need to work hard with Todd Wright to improve his quickness and agility to avoid being a liability on the defensive end.
All told, Javan Felix represents a very solid take as a player with potential to be a valuable contributor to successful teams. In the best case scenario, he's a player who will be a very valuable asset to Texas in trying to make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. At worst, he's a solid role player who can provide valuable minutes as a primary ball handler off the bench. I'm a fan, and am excited to see what he shows us this fall.
Previous Player Profiles for the Class of 2012: Cameron Ridley