Jordan Brand Classic Games (Day Three)

Jordan Brand Classic Games (Day Three)
Apr 20, 2008, 10:09 pm
Jordan Brand Classic Scrimmage (Day Two)
Jordan Brand Classic Practices (Day One)

Much more so than the practice or scrimmage, the 2008 Jordan Brand Classic All-American Game was dominated by the selfish play and poor shot-selection of the overzealous blue chip high school recruits desperate to make a name for themselves, playing on national TV at Madison Square Garden. It's becoming more and more evident that this high school class is incredibly weak compared to last year's. The White team got ahead to a huge lead in the first half, but the incredibly selfish play of their lead ball-handlers Tyreke Evans and Willie Warren allowed Brandon Jennings to storm back and eventually win the game by a comfortable margin.

Despite frustrating nearly everyone in attendance by repeatedly over-dribbling, driving stubbornly into traffic, pulling up off the dribble for horrible shots and virtually making a mockery of this game and all his teammates around him, the organizers somehow still decided to reward Tyreke Evans by giving him co-MVP honors. That's a pretty good way to sum up the high-school all-star game experience, and also gives you a good idea about what the NBA and NCAA are working against when they decided to come together two weeks ago in San Antonio to try and reform what American basketball has deteriorated into.

At least half the NBA was represented here at Madison Square Garden, mostly in the form of scouts, but also with some scattered executives and also a GM (Bernie Bickerstaff). We counted representatives of 15 teams in our area alone, and very well could have missed a few others dispersed around the buildings. The teams we did see included: Portland, Charlotte, Houston, Memphis, New York, Orlando, Minnesota, Denver, Golden State, Dallas, Seattle, Milwaukee, Indiana, New Orleans, and the LA Clippers.

Blue Team Recap

Jonathan Givony

For the Blue Team, the co-MVP of this game was named Brandon Jennings (10 points, 14 assists, 3 turnovers, 6 rebounds, 5-13 FG, 22 minutes), a much more worthy selection considering the way he played and more importantly, the value he brought to his team. He seemed more concerned at times with checking out the scoreboard to see how many assists he was racking up, but still did a great job feeding everyone around him. He showed his shiftiness in the open floor with his flashy ball-handling skills and excellent hesitation moves, and utilized both hands showcasing his court vision and making outstanding post-entry passes, lobs, and drive and dish plays. At times it seemed like he was dominating the ball a little too much, but considering the way he got everyone around him involved and cheered his teammates on both on the court and from the bench, there is not a whole lot to criticize here.

The most significant development as far as the NBA draft is concerned, merely continuing what we had observed from the entire weekend as a whole, was clearly the “reemergence” of arguably the most talented big man in this high school class—Greg Monroe (13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover, 6-10 FG, 23 minutes). Although this game's setting was never going to be all that well suited for a player of his nature, Monroe found ways to show off just how gifted a player he is on numerous occasions. Facing the basket from the perimeter, he was lethal putting the ball on the floor and blowing past players with his terrific first step, almost exclusively with his left hand. He hit a beautiful jump-hook in the lane, and showcased his outstanding basketball IQ repeatedly by making a number of fantastic passes. He again got outhustled a bit in the paint and on the glass, but still had a very impressive showing taking into consideration everything we saw. Although many are frustrated by the lack of intensity he displays and the way he apathetic manner in which he runs up and down the court—and rightfully so--it's impossible to ignore his incredible talent, and it's clearly too early to write him off just yet.

On the wing, Demar DeRozan (17 points, 4 rebounds, 7-10 FG, 20 minutes) looked better than he did earlier in the week, similar to what he did at the Nike Hoop Summit last week. He got out in transition and used his athleticism to get easy baskets and punish the White team for their poor shot-selection, and also knocked down a very smooth looking 3-pointer on the catch and shoot. He still looks a bit limited in the half-court—it's not clear if he's unable or just unwilling to take on too many responsibilities creating his own shot from the wing, but this wasn't much of an issue in this setting. It will be very interesting to see how he looks next season under Tim Floyd at USC, particularly on the defensive end. The numerous NBA scouts we spoke with here (before, during and after the game) were all completely enamored by his talent.

Scotty Hopson also found a way to translate his significant upside into an impressive performance (21 points, 4 rebounds, 8-13 FG, 18 minutes), scoring in a variety of ways, including 3-pointers, alleyoop finishes, baseline jumpers, and simple takes to the rim. He's clearly one of the top athletes this class has to offer, and with his excellent size, scoring instincts and budding skills, will definitely be an interesting name to follow next season as a potential “sleeper” one and done candidate. What's interesting about him is that despite already showing considerable talent and clearly getting excellent results, he still has a ton of room to improve on his all-around skill-set—his shooting, ball-handling and mid-range game in particular—which makes you think that his ceiling is probably extremely high. He needs to find a way to become a significantly better perimeter defender, though, as he seemingly puts little to no effort into this part of his game and already suffers from very poor fundamentals on this end of the floor.

Despite starting off the game slowly, Malcolm Lee still found a way to have a pretty impressive all-around performance (7 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 0 turnovers, 3-7 FG, 18 minutes). He logged significant minutes at the point guard position, and got mixed results. Early on he seemed to be forcing the issue a bit, not finding the open man cutting to the rim or spotting up on the wing, and may have been looking a bit too much for his own shot. That changed in the second half, though, as he settled down considerably and started making some terrific drive and dish passes, particularly in transition.

The fact that this was an all-star game where many of his colleagues played virtually no defense didn't seem to impress Lee at all—he continued to get right in his man's face, contesting shots and also making a significant effort to crash the glass. He's a tough kid who doesn't back down and never gives up on a play—which is going to make him very popular with Ben Howland. He's still a raw player who has plenty of work to do on polishing up his all-around skill-set in many facets of the game (his off hand, body, perimeter shooting, advanced ball-handling skills), but has considerable upside and should emerge as a legit prospect down the road.

Fellow UCLA commit Jrue Holiday also played his typical fantastic defense, but wasn't much of a factor on the other end of the floor (5 points, 3 assists, 6 turnovers, 1-9 FG, 19 minutes). He did a great job staying in front of his man on the perimeter, contesting and even blocking shots and showing terrific timing recovering when getting beat, again putting a lot of effort into doing little things for his team. He did settle for some ill-advised 3-pointers at times, and looked out of control at times with his ball-handling, but also showed terrific body control taking the ball to the rim on a beautiful drive.

Much like he has been all weekend long, B.J. Mullens (12 points, 3 rebounds, 6-7 FG, 17 minutes) was fairly quiet throughout the game, besides on a number basic catches and athletic finishes around the rim. He has a great body, excellent size and terrific hands, and is a superior athlete as he often shows in warm-ups, but just isn't smart or aggressive enough to know how to fully utilize his tools at this point in the game. His lack of focus was evident on a number of occasions this weekend, and it's pretty clear that Thad Matta is going to have to put a significant amount of work in to get him up to snuff on the defensive end. He has almost no concept of how to hedge a ball-screen or make effective rotations inside, and seemingly relies exclusively on his size and athleticism to defend his man inside.

White Team Recap

Joseph Treutlein

As mentioned in the introduction,
the story of the White Team was very much Tyreke Evans, who disappointed everyone in attendance, especially those who were so encouraged by his unselfish, balanced, and highly effective play during the practices and scrimmage earlier in the week. Despite being the game's MVP while scoring 23 points (8-15 FG, 4 assists, 5 turnovers, 7 rebounds, 25 minutes) Evans frequently over-dribbled and forced his own shots, ignoring his teammates for large stretches and earning groans from many of those in attendance. When you get past the incredibly selfish style of play he took on here, which has been characteristic of him through much of his high school career, there is quite a lot to be pleased about with his game, as he's definitely one of the most athletic and skilled players in this class, showing the total package that you'd want from a shooting guard, even showing the capability to play the point guard as well. Evans frequently penetrated into the lane going in either direction, showed the ability to change hands while driving and finish with either hand at the basket, showed excellent creativity at the rim, showed nice touch at the basket, and excellent body control in the lane. The more you watch him, the more you can see how his skill-set is perfectly suited for the Memphis system, but you just hope that his play style will catch up to his skill level. Evans had some success with his pull-up jumper, but was inconsistent and had some troubles at times, which is expected with his unorthodox mechanics. And for all the criticism about his selfishness in terms of dominating the ball, he did make some nice drive-and-dish plays in the game.

Tony Woods had yet another solid performance here (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4-6 FG, 17 minutes), showing off his developing coordination and post skillset, using up fakes extremely well to get his man off balance, and showing good counter moves, including a nice step through. He is not shy about dunking the ball and finishing hard at the basket, and despite his awkward demeanor in the post, he usually shows pretty good overall awareness, even if it doesn't always look pretty. His 15 foot jump shot, which looked pretty good in the open gym earlier in the week, didn't look good at all in the game, as he rushed his two attempts, missing one badly and getting lucky by banking it off the middle of the backboard on the other. He was also one of the few players putting in more than half-hearted effort on the defensive end, though his poor conditioning caught up with him late in the game, which was evident watching him.

Samardo Samuels did much of the same here at the game (16 points, 5 rebounds, 7-11 FG, 4 turnovers), playing extremely aggressive, constantly calling for the ball on offense, and showing no hesitancy to try post-up and face-up moves whenever he got the ball. He established dominant position and was very active cutting and in transition, leading to many powerful, open dunks. That said, though, his limitations were on clear display, as he had his shot blocked frequently in the post, as despite his good bulk and length, he is not the most athletic player, not getting much elevation off the ground. Regardless, with his relentless style of play and fairly developed skill-set, it wouldn't be surprising to see him outworking Derrick Caracter for minutes as soon as he arrives at Louisville.

Al-Farouq Aminu had a mixed performance here (12 points, 13 rebounds, 4-13 FG, 3 turnovers) on one hand doing a great job attacking the offensive glass and getting out in transition for a lot of easy baskets, while also hitting a nice spot-up three-pointer, but his skill-set, specifically in terms of ball-handling and shot-creating, looked very alarming, as he really struggled doing anything off the dribble, making one pause about calling him a small forward just yet. With his 7'4 wingspan on his 6'8 body, along with his very good athleticism, he definitely has some great upside at the 3, but it's going to take some time. While he's a bit more developed as a post player, he struggled around the basket a bit as well, not finishing strong on his put-backs, clearly needing some more bulk to his lanky frame. Speaking of which, his balance also doesn't look very great, which is evident on his drives to the basket, so strengthening his entire body should be a priority.

After two fairly non-descript showings in the practice and scrimmage, Ed Davis seemed to finally step up a bit here (10 points, 4 rebounds, 4-6 FG, 15 minutes), getting involved in a game that's very tough for some bigs to do. Davis had some putbacks and open dunks, while also having one very nice sequence in the post, faking and drawing a foul on a left-handed hook shot (he's a lefty). Overall, Davis is fairly raw and doesn't show the greatest post awareness, often not reading his defender very well, while he also could use some more development physically. He may not see much action initially at UNC, but definitely could contribute down the road if he continues to develop. Oregon-bound Michael Dunigan is another raw big man who had trouble getting involved all week here, and while he had some dunks and played good post D here, using his length to front well, he never really got to consistently contribute.

After a tremendous shooting performance the day before, Kemba Walker never really got his shot going in the real game (3-11 FG, 1-6 3P), missing frequently from behind the arc, but not forcing the issue. He played off the ball to Tyreke Evans most of the time, as the White Team failed to let their only true point guard run the point consistently, but Walker did make some nice passes, and also played tough defense for most of the game, fighting through screens and really trying to stick with his man.

Regional Game

Jonathan Givony

The level of play was fairly low here, particularly in terms of guard play, but a few players still managed to stand out as being solid college prospects at the very least.

For the winning team, it was the Morris twins, both heading to Kansas, that emerged as likely the best prospects in the entire game. They are an interesting pair to say the least.
Marcus, the smaller of the two at 6-9, and also the more versatile, had the better game, named co-MVP after coming up with 20 points, 8 rebounds [6 offensive], 3 assists 2 turnovers, 8-15 FG, in 18 minutes. He showed an extremely high skill level facing the basket, knocking down contested 3-pointers and pretty pull-up jumpers from 18 feet, and putting the ball on the floor and making his way to the rim. He has good ball-handling skills in the open floor, but is just an average overall athlete, lacking explosiveness around the basket, but showing the creativity to finish nicely with finesse moves. He's a little bit low energy in his all-around demeanor, playing virtually no defense and also not putting much effort in on the glass either, even if he does have the size and length, as well as good hands, to be a factor here if he shows some more desire. He's listed by the always overly optimistic recruiting services as a small forward, but clearly looks like a power forward at the next level, as he just doesn't have the lateral quickness to defend any other position. Bill Self is not going to tolerate him playing the way he did here defensively, so it will be interesting to see how much he improves in Lawrence. He will most certainly have to if he wants to play in the NBA, since he's just not athletic enough to get by on his skill-set alone.

His brother Markieff also had a solid all-around game, with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 6-11 FG, 3-5 3P, in 19 minutes. His conditioning leaves a lot to be desired, which makes him even less athletic than his brother. Also showing a high skill-level, able to shoot from the perimeter (even out to the NBA 3-point line) and possessing very smooth footwork in this game pivoting in the post, he looks more like a traditional big man than his brother Morris. He also has good hands and length as well as a solid basketball IQ evidenced by some of the passes he made, but put even less effort in on the defensive end, just not even trying to contest shots. He also showed an affinity for leaking out and cherry-picking easy baskets. Let's hope he only plays like this in all-star games.

As profiled in this month's Dime Magazine, the Morris twins committed and subsequently decommitted from Memphis twice, and spent a year in prep school rounding out their game.

Joseph Treutlein

On the City Team, the loser in the game, we saw an incredibly performance by Ryan Pearson, a two-star recruit out of Christ the King high school who's headed to George Mason next season. The 6'6 small forward scored what has to be a record 36 points on 15-for 19 shooting from the field, to go along with 15 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 turnovers. Pearson will be considered a decent athlete at the college level, but he doesn't really stand out with his explosiveness or quickness, and doesn't appear to have the greatest wingspan either.

None of that mattered in this game, though, as his motor and excellent creativity skills in the lane took over, while he seemed to be involved in every play on the floor. He showed excellent ability to adjust, change directions, and take contact in the lane, showing very good body control and making excellent reads on what the defense was giving him. He finishes with both hands, incorporated spin moves, did a little of posting up, got out in transition, crashed the offensive boards for about a handful of putbacks, and also hit a step-back three-pointer, though that was his only jumper of the game, something that's considered a weakness for him by most scouting services.

In analyzing this game, it's important to note that Pearson's frequent success in the lane was somewhat facilitated by the complete lack of weakside shot blockers in the game, along with the typical defensive performances you see in all-star games. Regardless, with his motor, skills, and basketball IQ, he should be able to make a nice impact at George Mason, who may have gotten themselves somewhat of a steal.

Aside from Pearson's outstanding performance, the best player on the City Team appeared to be Florida-bound, 5'8 point guard Erving Walker (20 points, 11 assists, 4 turnovers, 3 steals, 5 rebounds, 6-18 FG, 2-10 3P) who happens to be Pearson's teammate at Christ the King. While short on size, Walker isn't short on anything in the skill department, as he showed excellent ball-handling skills, having the ball on a string, mixing in advanced moves, and frequently penetrating into the lane to cut up the defense. He was the game's leader in assists with 11, and frequently excelled on the drive and dish and in transition, looking unselfish for the most part, but knowing when to step up for a pull-up three-pointer, which he hit a few times in the game. He also showed a nice floater, and despite his size, Walker is probably someone who should be able to help the Gators out if he can crack their point guard depth chart, which is a bit cramped at the moment with Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas.

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