The first game of the camp was held at 11 a.m. today, and contrary to what I expected, it was actually a pretty entertaining matchup.
The star of the game, without a doubt, was the exciting 5-9 sophomore PG from Washington, Nate Robinson, who led Team 5 back from a 21 point deficit for a nail-biting 79-78 win.
Robinson came into the game for the second time with about 15 minutes left in the 2nd half and put on a wonderful show for everyone in the gym. He controlled the tempo of the game nicely, moving the ball around skillfully to get everyone involved, and carried the scoring load for his team when they needed him the most. He did the job offensively with a variety of moves; pull-up mid-range jump shots, a couple of hard drives to the hoop for the basket and 1, fade away jump shots with the shot clock running down and much more. He played some nice physical defense on the Mexican PG Omar Quintero, bumping him a little with his chest and not giving him much room at all to operate.
The fan part of me had a really hard time not cheering the little kid on as he schooled players that were much taller and older then him; it was just that much fun to watch. Robinson ended up with 22 points in 22 minutes to go along with 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals.
The gym was buzzing after his impressive performance; almost everyone still thinks that he should go back to school for at least another year, but they felt that his chances of playing professionally in the NBA aren't that much of a stretch any more. The name Earl Boykins came up at least a dozen times throughout the day after that.
The other catalyst of that exciting comeback was Georgia small forward Damien Wilkens, the cousin of you know who. With less then a minute left in the game he hit a huge three point shot from a tough spot to put his team up by one point. Tony Allen from Team 6 then woke up when it really mattered to put his team back up by one with a field goal. Wilkens then answered him by driving to the hoop and finishing with an emphatic (and very Nique-like) tomahawk jam from a step or two inside the free throw line. Even the NBA people that were in the gym had a hard time not responding to that one. Definitely the best play I saw all day.
Team 6 had one last chance to win the game and the ball went straight into Tony Allen's hands. He took his man right to the basket the way he always had at Oklahoma State and dished it off right when he got to the hoop to a streaking TJ Cummings for a layup right underneath the basket. Cummings could not convert the shot and Martin Iti's tip in was just a little too late.
A great way to start off what's been an excellent camp so far.
The star of Team 6 was Jackson Vroman, who was everywhere on the floor today. He is a super energetic player with lots of intangibles to do the small things to help put his team on top. He had 6 offensive rebounds today, almost all sheer hustle plays, to go with his team high 17 points (11-17 from the free throw line). He looked great at Portsmouth and he is now continuing where he left off in Chicago. His chances of being drafted just got a lot higher, especially if he can keep it up.
Other then those three players, one other guy stood out nicely today. Desmon Farmer, who also had a good showing at Portsmouth, looked very nice in the game today. He is definitely one of the most energetic players at the camp, always talking on the court with both his teammates and his opponents, and always willing to carry the scoring load when his team needs him the most (and even when they don't he doesn't mind hoisting up shots). Defensively he was pretty solid as well, he's very active in the passing lanes and his quick hands and feet help him come up with lots of steals. If he keeps being aggressive the way he has he also has a nice chance of making a roster next year. Most scouts like his game a lot but some feel like he might have trouble initially adjusting from being the star of his team to being a role player.
Marko Tomas from Team 6 was a pretty big disappointment for me. He looks really skinny and extremely young, I'm still sort of wondering what he was doing there playing with guys who are fighting for their lives when he can still pull out and reenter his name in the draft a couple more times. He looked lost for the most part, on offense and defense. Hopefully he'll be more aggressive in the next couple of games.
After that there was a 4 hour lunch break for teams to analyze what they've seen and go check out players who aren't participating at the camp.
Kevin Martin workout
We headed over to the Multiplex (where the infamous Pavel Podkolzine workout took place last year) for a workout with Kevin Martin.
Teams picking all over the draft were represented thereâthe Clippers, Lakers (GM Kupchack), Supersonics (Coach McMillan and President Wally Walker), Mavericks, Heat, Trailblazers, Spurs, Nuggets and maybe some others that we didn't recognize as well.
Martin was matched up with Kenny Lowe from Purdue, who was the Big 10 Defensive player of the year two years in a row from what I was told.
They started off with some drills-- ball-handling skills to show off his quickness and then rebounding and dunking under the basket to show off his hops and how fast he gets off the floor.
His shooting was off and on during the workout, but other then that he was by far the most impressive player I've seen in Chicago so far. Having seen him in the past, I already knew just how athletic he is, but most of these teams it seems didn't. As you can see in the video, he is extremely fluid and gets off the floor in the blink of an eye and just soars. Needless to say, he threw down some very nice dunks at the workout, but even more impressive were the 1 on 1 drills on both offense and defense where Martin just tore up poor Kenny Lowe without any mercy at all. I probably won't be sold on his defense until I see him go up against NBA caliber shooting guards, but the kid obviously has fantastic footwork and quickness to go along with his size (6-7 Â½), which will help him out immensely.
Martin has solidly moved himself into the first round now with his showing today, just how high he can go now depends on his workouts from here on. With so many teams looking for shooting guards from 13-26 in the draft, he could easily get closer to that 13th pick if he continues to impress as much as he did today.
Jin, Ukic, Vujacic and Lorbek
During the Kevin Martin workout, the Multiplex gym was buzzing about the upcoming workout that afternoon at Hoops gym with the big Korean (as everyone calls him) Ha-Sueng Jin, Roko-Leni Ukic, Aleksander Vujacic and Erazem Lorbek.
I hopped on the L train and made my way over there just in time to see them start the workout.
Everyone and his mother was there of course, I'd be surprised if every single NBA team wasn't represented there, along with many Europeans.
Ukic really impressed me the most. The kid has so much talent with the ball in his hands that it just seems unnatural at times. He's got great quickness, superb ball-handling skills (he's definitely a legit 6-5 PG), a very nice jump shot (that he just couldn't miss today) and great court vision which he used to feed the ball continuously right where his big man needed it to finish easily. He's very flashy with the ball, doing some nice behind the back type stuff and he's got the ability to elevate immediately for a beautiful mid-range jumper if needed. His only flaws seem to be his body, which doesn't look very mature right now, and the fact that he tends to palm the ball pretty often while dribbling. That probably means he'll fit in perfectly in the NBA. There was no defense to be seen at this workout, but I've heard from our scouts in Europe that he's OK in this area, so that might not be a huge concern.
Ha-Sueng Jin was the guy that I was most excited about watching because I'd never seen him play before, and for the most part I came away with mixed emotions about him. The guy is huge, with a very nice frame that's already built quite nicely for a teenager. His mobility is OK up and down the court, not really mind blowing or anything but decent, while laterally he moves pretty poorly. He has a great set of hands and a really nice attitude, but all in all he has very little in terms of real NBA basketball tools at this point, other than his size. Jin caught and air-balled a couple of shots right underneath the basket that made people around me kind of wonder what's going on for a second, but it seemed that he was pretty worn out by then so I guess that's understandable. His free throw shooting is excellent. Almost every time he shoots from the line it's swish, swish, swish. I think I like where we have him ranked right now on our mock, right at the beginning of the 2nd round, and the scouts around me didn't seem to disagree with that. He's a project player for sure.
Vujacic is a guy that was very hard to get a good handle on based on this particular workout. I like his fundamentals a lot, he has a picture perfect shooting stroke and he looked pretty good in the pick and roll drills. He made some nice post entry passes just as efficiently as Ukic, but not as entertaining. His ball-handling is solid, but I'm not as convinced in him playing PG as I am with Ukic. There wasn't too much to see here, really. He's an interesting player, but I would much prefer to evaluate him in a 5 on 5 game.
Erazem Lorbek was matched up with Jin and he definitely looks a lot better than he did at Michigan State the season before last. His body looks much better, and he seems to move a little better as well. He is really your prototypical European forward, nice and polished, but not too mobile and he could probably be a good bet for a team in the 2nd round if he doesn't pull out.
Team 1 vs. Team 2
From there it was back to Moody Bible to take in two more games before calling it a day.
This was another high scoring game with a nice pace to it. Team 1 ended up winning 93-81 (20 minute halves) and in my opinion the most impressive player on the floor was the 6-4 Slovenian PG, Beno Udrih. He looked extremely comfortable handling the ball at the PG spot, even when being guarded by Rashad Wright from Georgia, who is considered to be a fantastic defender. I was sitting next to a group of Israeli coaches who are very familiar with his game (he played for a season at Maccabi Tel Aviv) and they were extremely impressed with the way he has progressed. Udrih played with a ton of confidence, coming in after an excellent drill session earlier in the day, and he took the ball aggressively to the hoop every opportunity he had, which opened up a lot of scoring opportunites for his teammates whom he gladly dished off to. Udrih finished with 13 points (5-7 FG) and 6 assists and probably helped his stock tremendously, especially compared with the European point guard he was facing, Ivan Koljevic, who had a pretty poor game overall but can still pull out of the draft.
The second biggest surprise of this game was the 6-10 high schooler Jackie Butler. As we mentioned yesterday, he has slimmed down big time and scouts were commenting that he appears to have a legit NBA body at age 19, which is impressive. The best part of his game is definitely his soft hands, which he showed off quite nicely in the paint. It almost seemed like he had glue on them or something, he got a hand and grabbed pretty much every single ball that was even remotely in his area today, ending up with 9 offensive rebounds. He's already hired an agent so there's no looking back for him, but after today I'm starting to think that some established team might take a long hard look at him as a project player if they like what they see. Offensively he is pretty raw, with almost no post moves at all, but despite his youth and inexperience he still managed to outplay Arthur Johnson in every facet of the game. Johnson was very disappointing today. He looked slow and out of shape and kept bricking shots and throwing balls out of bounds.
Andre Emmett was the key guy on Team 2 and the second most impressive player in that game. He did a lot of damage with his typical fantastic inside and mid-range game, ending up with 20 points on 10/13 shooting while also playing some excellent defense, which gave his team a nice spark about midway through the game. The questions surrounding his perimeter shooting and ball handling skills are still unanswered, but everyone around me was convinced that he's going to be given a shot by someone next year regardless, so who am I to argue with them.
Tim Pickett looked pretty good as well, especially defensively. He showed a lot of intensity and shot the ball OK as well.
Trevor Ariza seemed out of his element, to me at least. People were shaking their heads when I asked them about him. He seems pretty athletic, but there isn't much else to his game at his point.
Tony Bobbit is probably the best shooter at this camp, if you let him catch and shoot while open, you may as well just give him the three points before it even leaves his hands.
Ryan Gomes was OK, but didn't stand out as much as he could or should have.
Team 3 vs. Team 4
This game was somewhat of a snoozer, but I thought every game would be like this so I'm not going to complain too much. Team 4 beat Team 3 by a score of 74-64, and both teams played unselfishly with a healthy dose of physical defense.
For the winning team, the player that looked the best to me was Ricky Minard from Morehead State, who looked extremely comfortable out there at both guard spots and was not forcing anything at all. His jump shot was falling pretty well, he seems to be a nice ball-handler and he played great defense on Michel Morandais and Marcus Moore, forcing them both into a couple of bad shots. What I liked the most about him, though, was his demeanor on the court. A lot of players came out today looking to showcase themselves, but Minard stayed within himself, always looking to make the extra pass and keep his teammates happy. Team 4 plays like a real team, they are really helping each other out.
Delonte West, who was playing PG next to him, looked great at times and not so great at others. Most people love him in Chicago, but I'm not sure if I'm sold on the fact that he's a PG just yet. And with the way he measured out today (6-2 Â¾) there is no doubt he will have to play PG in the NBA. He used his quickness nicely to take the ball strong to the hoop today, which helped him create some shots for others as well, but he seems to dribble the ball at full speed with his head down instead of looking for the open man, a characteristic of a shooting guard. Maybe that's something that he just needs to get used to. Defensively, he will struggle at least initially in the NBA, I have little doubt about that. West isn't looking back at this point, from talking to him it sounds like there is very little chance he will return to college next year. People are going to expect him to be Jameer Nelson next season, which means winning the Wooden and making it to the Elite Eight, and realistically that's just not going to happen. It's hard to say whether he's making the wrong or right decision at this point.
Aleksander Capin from Germany played the point for Team 3 very solidly. He's about as pure a PG as you will find at this camp, he moves the ball around unselfishly, he's extremely poised and polished and it's not very hard to tell that he has a lot of professional experience. He really knows how to run a team, but might lack the physical characteristics to do that on the NBA level.
That's it for today folks. Another long day in Chicago. I hope that was as interesting for you guys to read as it was for me to watch.