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5 Standouts from adidas Nations: Part 2
Posted By Nate Duncan On August 7, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In Main Page,NCAA | No Comments
The adidas Nations tournament may be the best scouting event of the summer. It combines a tournament of many of the best 18-and-under players from around the world with scrimmages between college counselors. The tournament featured teams from Asia, Europe (mostly Russia), Australia, Latin America and Africa, as well as two teams each comprised of players from the 2014 and 2015 classes. Nations is a veritable tour de force of draft prospects.
With six games usually going at once, it is nearly impossible to see enough of every player at the camp. I focused on the college counselor games and those featuring the 2014 USA Red team, opting to arrive at more accurate impressions of certain players rather than a more superficial view of all of them. Therefore, this is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all the best prospects at Nations. Our Jabari Davis had more on the best prospects he saw yesterday. Here are five who stood out to me:
Joel Embiid–7’0 Freshman Center–Kansas
Joel Embiid was the only college counselor present who is currently considered a consensus top 15 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The rising freshman at Kansas has a very interesting backstory, having been discovered by the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program from Cameroon before coming to the U.S. for his last two years of high school. Embiid’s most noticeable traits are his height (7’0), wingspan (7’5) and frame (240 lbs. as of April), which give him great size for the center position.
As a result, his greatest potential is on defense. Most of Embiid’s blocks in the counselor games came on the ball, as he proved extremely difficult to post up against. He held his ground well and didn’t get backed down, then was able to contest or block the resulting turnaround or jump hook. Off the ball, his instincts are not quite as well-developed, as he had difficulty getting into position to help on drives. His jumping is pretty average, as he mostly used his length to block shots out of the hand of the offensive player rather than getting them in the air.
Embiid showed excellent potential on pick-and-roll defense. While he didn’t hard hedge or trap, he probably shouldn’t at his size. He was able to move his feet to deny driving lanes until the ballhandler’s defender could get back in position. He simultaneously used his size to prevent easy passes to the roll man as well. However, his inexperience showed a few times when he helped to the wrong side of the pick, leaving the ballhandler a direct line drive to the basket. This and his help defense should benefit from at least a year under Bill Self’s tutelage at Kansas.
Offensively, Embiid showed more skill at times than his “raw” reputation would suggest, flashing an old school one foot hook shot on a couple of occasions (on which he was fouled), a passable outside jumper, and one shocking rip over jump stop in transition that led to a dunk attempt as he was fouled. His shooting form looks solid enough and he sports a high release, although it takes him quite a while to load up.
Embiid generally looked better making individual moves instead playing off others. He does not project as a high usage player unless he can significantly improve his feel. In particular, he showed almost no understanding of when and how to roll to the basket on the pick-and-roll, and similarly struggled to find chances to play off his guards’ drives inside.
At this point, Embiid’s ceiling is hard to project. He is almost certainly an NBA player due to his size alone, but whether he will be a defense-only backup center, a solid finishing threat or even a post scorer depends on his development. My prediction would tend to fall between the first two of those scenarios, but due to his late start in the game it is too early to foreclose a higher ceiling.
Justise Winslow–6’6 Wing, Houston, TX–Class of 2014
The Houston native fell back to earth a bit after a great performance at the U-19 World Championships in Prague, which we chronicled back in July. There, he played mostly inside, where he was able to use his 6’6, 208-pound NBA body to more than hold his own against the generally less athletic European players. After watching him in Prague, I marveled at the fact that he could be ranked only 15th in his class. However, playing against more athletic competition at adidas Nations showed that Winslow still needs some skill development to be considered an upper-echelon NBA draft prospect. He worked mostly on the wing and off the dribble at Nations, and showed that he still has work to do on his handle and jumper.
Winslow generally struggled to get to the rim against a set defense. While watching four of his games, I never saw the lefty successfully drive right. If he did go right, it was to pull up into a developing but somewhat inconsistent jumper. He did make a few attempts to finish with his right when he got inside, however. He also doesn’t really seem comfortable taking threes, especially off the dribble. And he often shoots on the way down, which makes it difficult to extend his range beyond about 17 feet. As a result of taking so many jumpers, he shot only 43 percent for the tournament. His shot is not broken though, as he has solid form. If he can learn to shoot at the top of his jump, it should improve nicely.
Defensively, Winslow has the potential to be a monster defender on the wing with his strength and athleticism. He competes and gets into a good stance when pressuring the ball, although he’s a little handsy guarding out on the perimeter at this point.
It is also worth noting that he struggled with a groin injury most of the week, although it did not prevent him from doing this…
…a play that he tweeted about in rather amusing fashion.
— Justise Winslow (@Chief_Justise) August 3, 2013
Joking aside, Winslow is by all accounts a high-character player with a solid work ethic. But he will need it to turn his physical tools into more advanced scoring ability.
Jahlil Okafor–6’11 Center, Chicago, IL–Class of 2014
Okafor was another standout from the dominating U.S. team in Prague, but he too did not have his absolute best week. I have already noted that Okafor has the potential to be the best American post-up big man since Tim Duncan, and I saw nothing to notably change that perception at adidas Nations. Okafor possesses outstanding touch around the rim with his hooks and turnarounds (though he was not nearly as automatic as in Prague), and even repeatedly drained mid-range jumpers in the drills.
However, the more athletic competition in Long Beach did expose a few offensive weaknesses in his game that I had not noted before. In particular, he could use his large frame to greater effect. Posting up has generally been so easy for Okafor that he contents himself with catching the ball well outside the lane. While he possesses the skill level to go to work from this position, he will need to learn to use his ample posterior to carve out deep post position. Similarly, he must learn to put his shoulder into defenders Zach Randolph-style as he goes up inside, especially as he encounters longer and more athletic defenders (although he already possesses a much better off hand than Randolph ever will). He could also better use his heft to get position on the offensive boards as well.
These problems are very easily improved. However, Okafor may have more permanent issues as a finisher on the pick-and-roll. He lacks the explosion to go up over defenders after catching a pass, and was called for several offensive fouls when he used his off hand to ward off the defense in this scenario. That said, he should develop a nice pick-and-pop jumper, and also has great feet that will allow him to catch at the free throw line and take a dribble to get to the basket. He has also showed solid passing vision at times, although he is prone to wilt into the corner when double teamed instead of standing tall and delivering an incisive pass.
All of this should not obscure Okafor’s tremendous ceiling, as he is more than worthy of his ranking as the top prospect in the class of 2014. Most importantly, as our Alex Kennedy chronicled yesterday, he is well-aware of his weaknesses on defense and is working to address them, most notably by slimming down in recent months. Indeed, he looks much better now than when I first saw him against Chicago rival Simeon High School last winter. He was able to run the floor very well in transition as a result. However, Okafor is unlikely to ever develop into an explosive shot-blocker, and he averaged less than one block per game at Nations.
When asked about his college choice, the Whitney Young High School senior stated, “I don’t have a leader right now, but I have Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Arizona and Baylor.” Duke and Michigan State would seem the most logical destinations for Okafor to shine; Duke because their four-out style would be perfect to give him room to operate down low and Michigan State because Tom Izzo is famous for maximizing the defense, rebounding and toughness of his big men.
Kevon Looney–6’8 Combo Forward, Milwaukee, WI–Class of 2014
The Milwaukee product is currently ranked No. 9 in the class of 2014 by ESPN, and he looked entirely worthy of that ranking at adidas Nations. Although the 6’8 combo forward is very thin at this stage, he still managed 2.8 offensive rebounds per game in only 22 minutes. Even more impressive was the fact he led the tournament in blocks per game at 4.0 in so few minutes, while also recording 1.8 steals per game.
As a thin, jumping jack combo forward who racks up blocks and steals, Looney evokes a better finishing Andrei Kirilenko. He tries to go up and power dunk everything around the rim with two hands, but has a decent ability to create off the dribble and make layups on the drive at the high school level. He also flashed a few quick spin moves in the post. His jumper is a deliberate set shot, but his form is good and he can make threes. There is no reason to think he could not become at the very least an average three point shooter in time.
Although he does not project to be a primary offensive option in the pros or even in college, Looney looks like he a could be a very solid complementary player and a great defender. He reportedly has offers from Duke, Florida, Michigan State, Tennessee, UCLA and Wisconsin.
Alec Brown–7’1 Center, Wisconsin Green Bay–Junior
Brown was billed as a potential first round prospect coming into the season, meriting a HOOPSWORLD profile early in the year. The 7’1, 226 pound center looked the part at adidas Nations, especially in counselor games played with the NBA three-point line. Brown was money from the top of the key all weekend, flashing an accurate and versatile jump shot out to well beyond the NBA line. Not only that, but his release was extremely quick. He showed the ability to shoot threes off pick-and-pops and over fast-closing defenders. It would seem to be no fluke, as Brown shot 44 percent on threes last year at Wisconsin Green Bay.
The key for the Winona, MN native is whether he can rebound and defend at an NBA level. He should be able to provide adequate help defense, as he has quick feet and moves very well for his size. However, his relatively thin frame after three years in college does not augur well for his ability to withstand post-ups. And while he does reasonably well on the offensive boards by using his quickness to slither inside, defensively he rebounded a pathetic 15.8 percent of opponent misses last year. If one considers that an average team should rebound 70 percent of opponent misses, that means the 7’1 Brown barely exceeded an average player’s performance on the defensive boards. That is not good for a center.
Brown largely disappointed for the Phoenix last year, but he came on as the season progressed. His size and shooting ability should get him drafted, but to make a real career he will have to provide something more in the traditional big man areas than an Andrea Bargnani lite.
The best story of the weekend was the African team coached by Babacar Sy. The team played extremely hard and gleaned a well-deserved third place finish. Unlike the stereotypes of African teams past, the team featured two of the most skilled guards at the camp in Mehdy-Sofian Ngouama (perhaps the best passing point guard there) and Sidi Ndir (one of the best shooters).
The only American I saw who really qualified as a great shooter was Indianapolis native Trevon Bluiett, which was surprising considering the premium placed on shooting in today’s NBA.
It was also a surprise that the American teams did not feature any great passing point guards, although pure point Emmanuel Mudiay had to sit out with a knee injury.
Arizona sophomore center Caleb Tarczewski was one of the counselors, and he largely confirmed the impressions left by his freshman season. Traczewski has a great body and affects the game on defense, but met with little success posting up. While he should have an NBA career, it is difficult to project him as much more than a lower-end backup center unless he significantly improves his offense.
Despite the reputation that summer basketball lacks defense and fundamentals, these kids played HARD. Most teams pressured the ball and gave solid effort on defense and the boards, while players regularly dove on the floor for loose balls. While Nations is perhaps a more serious environment than a typical AAU tournament, it was comforting to see kids belie the stereotypes of summer basketball. Then again, a building teeming with NBA personnel tends to have that effect.
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