Thursday, June 30, 2011

Early 2012 NBA Draft Thoughts: Evaluating the High School Class of 2011

Back in April, The Painted Area was able to do some live scouting of top future NBA prospects at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland. Normally, this event is a showcase for players who will be drafted in future years, but a major story of the 2011 Hoop Summit was the emergence of Bismack Biyombo, who became a top prospect in this year's draft. As a result, our original Hoop Summit post in April focused on Biyombo and the international players on the World team.

We'd been hoping to follow up soon after with our take on the Team USA players, but then we had regular-season wrap-up followed immediately by playoffs, yada yada yada, and this post got delayed. So we decided to hold this Team USA post until now, post-Draft, as this is mainly a look at players who are expected to be major factors in the 2012 NBA Draft.

The 2011 edition of the Nike Hoop Summit offered a particularly good look at the top prospects in this year's high-school class - quite possibly a nice peek ahead at several of the 2012 NBA Draft's lottery picks - as seven of the top eight ranked players in the ESPNU Class of 2011 rankings were in the ballgame. Those seven are all currently ranked in the top 16 picks on Chad Ford's 2012 Big Board.

(Of course, the 2012 Draft should also prominently feature several players who chose to return to college for the 2011-12 season. We've previously offered in-person scouting reports of Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger, after watching them at the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit, and Perry Jones and Terrence Jones, after catching high-school games of theirs in 2009-10. We think those scouting reports still hold up pretty well.)

For the Hoop Summit, I attended both the game and the last day of practice. Once again, I found the Hoop Summit to be an excellent scouting venue, as the centerpiece was a competitive game pitting USA vs. the World. Additionally, I watched the two other major all-star games - the McDonald's All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic - on television. Even though they are all-star games, I believe history has shown that the best players generally rise to the top in these games. Not always, but often. Also, I saw other high-school games for a few of these players. OK, on we go with the high-school Class of 2011.


If I had to characterize this group generally, I'd have to say it's a defensive-minded class. Across the board, guys really got after it on D at the Hoop Summit, playing a 2-2-1 trap from about three-quarters court that fell back into a tough half-court man-to-man defense. Team USA held the World Team to just 37.5% FG shooting on the game, including a paltry 3-21 (14.3%) in a first quarter which set the tone for a 92-80 victory. It's a good group of American prospects, with defense definitely being ahead of ball skills for these young players, for the most part.

Two of the key leaders for Team USA were a pair of Kentucky recruits, Anthony Davis (6-10 PF) and Michael Gilchrist (6-7 SF). Currently, the Chicago-bred Davis is considered to be an early consensus choice as the potential no. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. I had been a bit underwhelmed by Davis in the McDonald's All-American Game, even though he put up big numbers (14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks on 5-8 FG in 21 minutes), and also at the abbreviated Team USA practice prior to the Hoop Summit.

After watching Davis in the Hoop Summit game, I started to get more of a sense of what the hype is about. The central narrative around Davis is that he'd been a guard all his life, until a late growth spurt turned him into a 6-10 player with uncommon open-court skills, making him suddenly elite. Indeed, Davis is fairly gangly, as he still seems to be growing into his body. He was very active on both ends at the Hoop Summit, displaying why his game has drawn comparisons to the young KG, as he was very active in challenging shots and trapping on D, running the floor, and showing the ability to pass, catch and finish on the run.

All told, Davis went for 16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks on 8-13 FG in 23 minutes, and he followed that up with an even more impressive line in the Jordan Classic: 29 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks on 13-15 FG in 29 minutes.

Still... there's something missing with Davis that keeps me from anointing him as an unassailable no. 1 or future superstar, as of now. I respect his full package of skills in the open floor, but I'm uncertain about him as a go-to offensive player in a half-court setting. I look forward to seeing more of Davis at Kentucky, but for now, he's not my no. 1.

As far as Gilchrist goes, I'm trying not to get too irrationally exuberant. I love watching the guy play - there's a real Pippenesque all-around quality to his game, with the way he defends all over the court, hit the boards and passes. The big question mark around Gilchrist is whether he'll be able to score enough to be a true NBA star. In a matchup between the top two ranked high-school teams in America, for example, Gilchrist was held to seven points on 2-11 FG as his St. Patrick's (N.J.) team lost to their rivals from St. Anthony's (N.J.).

In the Hoop Summit, Gilchrist's offensive game was on, and I thought he was spectacularly good. He contributed 16 points, five rebounds and five blocks on 6-9 FG in 25 minutes, and he really did a little bit of everything. Gilchrist knocked down a three, he hit a pullup two, he converted a runner and-one, he lead the break. And it was Gilchrist's defense and blocked shots which were especially impressive: he had a block on the run, a block vs. a seven-footer (Lucas Nogueira, a good prospect), a chasedown block.

I thought Gilchrist's all-around play was excellent in all three all-star games, though he did shoot just 1-4 on threes and 11-20 on FTs overall. He needs to be a more consistent scorer, there's no doubt. But if he can improve in that area, I think Gilchrist has a shot to go no. 1 in 2012, which would really be something, as it would mean Coach Kevin Boyle's St. Patrick's program would have produced top picks in two straight years, as Kyrie Irving played there also.

There was another Kentucky-bound player, Marcus Teague (6-2 PG), on the Team USA roster, and I have to say I'm largely unimpressed by Teague after watching him in all three all-star games. Much like the other top PG in the class, Canadian Myck Kabongo, Teague is fast, but way too turnover-prone, and questionable in both decision-making and shooting ability.

Teague had six points on just 3-10 FG in the Hoop Summit, with three assists and 2 TOs in 22 minutes. That was after a three-assist/five-TO performance in the McDonald's game, on just 4-10 shooting. All told, Teague went 0-4 on threes in the three games.

Strangely, the guy I like best in this class right now is a player who didn't really get to show his stuff at the Hoop Summit, James McAdoo (6-8 PF), who's headed to North Carolina. McAdoo was constantly in foul trouble in Portland, and was never able to get his game on track, finishing with six points and seven rebounds on 2-4 FG in 15 minutes.

But I loved the way McAdoo played at both the McDonald's game (17 points on 8-13 FG in 21 minutes) and the Jordan game (26 points and 14 rebounds on 10-16 FG in 27 minutes). McAdoo's a smooth and explosive athlete who can both finish alley-oops and hit deep jumpers (he made 3-4 threes overall). He also has excellent length, which he used to his advantage by shooting into passing lanes defensively to create turnovers and easy buckets.

I thought McAdoo was better than Davis at the McDonald's game, and comparable at the Jordan game. I'd rate McAdoo as my no. 1 in the class currently, though I'd certainly have Davis, Gilchrist and Quincy Miller (a Baylor recruit who missed most of the season with a torn ACL) all in the running, as well. I do recognize that McAdoo's size could end up being an issue in the league - he could another inch or two of height. Along with Barnes and Sullinger, I think these will be the six elite players in the 2012 NBA Draft, should all decide to come out.

One thing that's clear is that I absolutely can't wait to watch Kentucky and North Carolina play next season. Considering returning players, the two teams could end up producing as many as eight lottery picks (Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, McAdoo, Davis, Gilchrist, Jones, Teague), with a few other potential first-rounders in there as well (Kendall Marshall, P.J. Hairston, Doron Lamb). Getcha popcorn ready for when these teams square off at Rupp Arena on Dec. 3. 11 potential first-round picks in one game! I wouldn't mind turning the whole thing into a seven-game series!

On we go. One player whose ball skills are definitely ahead of defense is Austin Rivers (6-3 G/Duke), who was Team USA's offensive leader with 20 points on 7-11 FG and 3-4 threes. Rivers, the son of Doc Rivers, is exceptionally quick with the ball and has a gorgeous crossover in particular, as well as deep shooting range.

I have little doubt that Rivers will be an outstanding college player for Coach K, but I find him to be overrated as a pro prospect, given that he's ranked at the top of the class. He is a shooting guard through and through, as he's a gunner with subpar court vision. Given that, I just don't see him having the size or explosiveness to be a true star in the NBA. I think Rivers will struggle to score at the rim in the league, as he did in the Hoop Summit when Biyombo denied him. And after watching Rivers not only in the three all-star games, but also in high-school matchups vs. Gilchrist's team this year and Brandon Knight's last year, he's just not as good of a passer as he needs to be, given his good-but-not-great athleticism.

Quinn Cook (6-1 PG) will be Rivers' backcourt-mate at Duke, where they should be a potent tandem. Cook is a relatively low-rated player in the class (no. 37 by ESPN) who had an excellent Hoop Summit, with 12 points and three assists (against only one TO) on 5-7 FG/2-4 3PT in 16 minutes. Cook also scored 14 in 21 minutes in the McDonald's game. Cook strikes me as a player who'll be a standout in the college game, but I'm not sure he'll be an impact player as a pro PG.

Tony Wroten (6-4 PG/Washington) is a mercurial player whom I've had the chance to see several times here in Seattle, as he attended Garfield H.S. in town, the alma mater of the likes of Brandon Roy, Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee. Wroten was ranked right up at the top of this class as a freshman, but he's been plagued by maturity issues, which likely played a role in his getting snubbed from the McDonald's game (ludicrous on a talent basis), and which - along with a torn ACL suffered during an ill-advised stint playing football as a junior - caused him to slide in the rankings (down to no. 16 on ESPN).

Wroten's performances in the Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand Classic offered reminders that a lack of talent is not his issue. His court vision is at times stunning, and easily the best in the class in my opinion. Wroten ranked right up there with Davis and McAdoo as the best players on the floor at the Jordan game, with a line of 16 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists in just 16 minutes. His passing was simply extraordinary in that game.

The problem is that you never know exactly which Wroten you're going to get. In the practice prior to the Hoop Summit, my facetious estimate was that Wroten had 27 points, 26 assists and 25 turnovers in the scrimmage. He's always making plays, good and bad. Walker Beeken of DraftExpress made the observation to me in Portland that Wroten doesn't pass to pass, he passes for assists, and I think there's some validity there.

Wroten was certainly the proverbial box of chocolates at the Hoop Summit, with four points, five assists, three TO's on 1-4 FG in 17 minutes. He seemed to alternate bad plays with good ones - an atrocious TO followed by a gorgeous full-court pass to Davis; an exceptional display of court vision offset by a lack of awareness leading to a 24-second violation. He did get after it on D, and just had all manner of beautiful passes - alley-oops, backdoors, no-looks, underhanded dishes - to remind observers that he is still one of the top talents in this class.

I saw Wroten twice during his senior regular-season, and again got a taste of the Jekyll/Hyde nature of his game. In the marquee game of the annual King Holiday Hoopfest, played on the big stage at the University of Washington, Wroten seemed to try too hard to put on a show, throwing multiple 100-mph no-look passes that were so ridiculous that they induced laughter as they flew out of bounds.

The other time I saw him, Wroten was just masterful with a 32-10-10 triple-double against a good opponent. These were a legit 10 assists, too - no NBA cheapies, as he repeatedly set guys up at the rim. He was as under control in this game as he was out of control at the King Hoopfest.

Wroten's an interesting case athletically. He certainly has excellent size for a PG, and outstanding speed as well (he ran an eye-popping 10.78 100 during track season this spring). There is some question as to whether the torn ACL may have robbed Wroten of some explosiveness - he does not seem to have great explosion vertically, though the southpaw is a very strong driver, almost always going to his left, and capable of acrobatic finishes.

Really, Tony Wroten will determine how high he ultimately gets drafted. He has the talent to vault himself into the top 10, I'm convinced, but if he can't keep his head on straight consistently, he could just as easily become a second-round pick.

Florida-bound Bradley Beal (6-4 SG) is one of the top-rated players in the class, and he looked good on the all-star circuit. He's a strong and tough player who showed off his finishing ability at Hoop Summit with a good strong dunk on the break. Beal's numbers were only OK in Portland (8-4-3 on 2-6 FG in 24 minutes) after a 17-5-4 in 21 minutes in the McDonald's game. Beal draws comparisons to Ray Allen as a shooter, though he hit only 2-11 threes on the all-star circuit. He's a solid player, no doubt, though size could become an issue for him as he's clearly an SG.

Adonis Thomas (6-6 SF/Memphis) is a top-10 ranked player who was really underwhelming to me across all three games. He was certainly a non-factor at Hoop Summit, where he had two points on 1-5 FG in 14 minutes. Amazingly, that was his best all-star game, as he shot a combined 3-24 FG in the three games. Yikes!

Rakeem Christmas (6-9 PF/Syracuse) was the oldest player in the game (well, depending upon what you think Biyombo's age is!), at almost 19 1/2. He was decent at Hoop Summit, with two points, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 17 minutes. Doesn't project to be an impact pro.


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At 7:46 PM, Blogger Jarrod877 said...

I enjoyed the post very much, as you have done your homework on who will be the impact freshman in college basketball during the 2011-2012 season. I will definitely be watching for them this fall, and, if I forget who some of these guys are, I always have your blog as a reference point.

On Tony Wroten: you point out that a colleague mentioned to you it seems Wroten 'doesn't pass to pass the ball, he passes for assists.' For me, Mr. Beeken touched upon something that has become an alarming trend in high school and college basketball. Players nowadays seem to eschew the fundamentals of the game in order to 'make the big play' that will impress visting coaches or scouts.

You say that Anthony Davis has the potential to be the number one overall pick in the 2012 draft. I have a hypothetical question for you then. If the 2012 NBA Draft was tomorrow, and you had the No. 1 pick, whom would you choose, Anthony Davis or Jared Sullinger? Assume you are selecting based on the best player available, and not based on need.

Finally, I would like to say something about Austin Rivers. You say that at 6'3 he doesn't have the size to make it as a shooting guard in the NBA, but let's not forget that his dad wasn't that big, either. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Doc Rivers played at least ten years in the league as well. I think that if Coach K can't bring this kid's potential to the forefront, then no one might be able to.

At 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree you with about Rivers. For a top 5 guy who was ranked number 1 for a long time, he's not a shoo-in to be a 1-and-done. The jaw dropping physical tools aren't there and his style of game--taking contested long-twos and threes off the dribble; not great at finishing around the rim--could cause him to have only a so-so freshman year. The most perplexing thing for me is that he's a NBA coach's son because he doesn't play like one. Doc Rivers loves to stress good shot selection and non-hero shots and Austin is the antithesis of that based on the times I've seen him.

Overall, what is he right now? An averaged sized guard with an average wingspan who is quick and a great ball handler but who needs work on his shot selection and finishing around the rim. Also, in balancing his scoring with making plays for others. He would do well to bring back his former point guard skills because then he could shape his draft prospects as an all-around combo guard. The only 6'4 guard without Wade's athleticism and Ray Allen's shooting touch who I can think of that became an all-star is Ginobili. Rivers should pattern his all-around game after him.

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