What Did We Learn At the Champions Classic? Part 1: Kentucky vs Duke

What Did We Learn At the Champions Classic? Part 1: Kentucky vs Duke
Nov 18, 2015, 09:54 am
Analyzing the play of the top prospects seen in the first game of last night's Champions Classic between Kentucky and Duke, including video from Mike Schmitz.
Champions Classic, Part Two: Michigan State-Kansas
Jamal Murray, 6'5, Freshman, Shooting Guard, Kentucky
16 points, 5-14 2P, 2-3 3P, 0-2 FT, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 turnovers, 3 steals, 38 minutes

Mike Schmitz Video Breakdown

Despite being the second youngest player on the court (after Isaac Humphries), Murray did not look phased in the least bit by the spotlight of playing against the defending champions in a featured matchup on ESPN. He played a simple and efficient game, showing the ability to operate at different speeds, make perimeter jump-shots, find the open man, and contribute on the glass and in the passing lanes.

Murray's average speed and explosiveness in the half-court contributed to his 5/14 shooting from 2-point range, and he only got to the free throw line twice to compensate for that. Playing off the ball, he showed some vision and ability to operate as a secondary ball-handler, but it's clear that this Kentucky team is Tyler Ulis' squad, so it's difficult to get a perfect gauge on his playmaking ability, at least early on. He did show some nice glimpses of vision and creativity with a beautiful pick and roll and lob to Marcus Lee, and a couple of other drive and dish plays, but also looked quite wild at times forcing up contested looks and turning the ball over somewhat sloppily.

All in all, though, considering his youth and inexperience, as well as his role, it's tough to not come away impressed by some of the things Murray showed, and it will be very interesting to track his development as the season moves on.

Skal Labissiere, 7'0, Freshman, PF/C, Kentucky
7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, 3-5 2P, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, 13 minutes

Mike Schmitz Video Breakdown:

Labissiere battled through foul trouble for much of the night, never really getting into a groove with how closely the refs were calling the game with a series of ticky-tack fouls. He showed glimpses of what his role will be for much of the season, namely running the floor, diving to the rim, using his soft hands to catch everything thrown to him by Kentucky's outstanding backcourt, and finishing effortlessly around the rim. He did drop some glimpses of things to come down the road, though, showing some fancy footwork and even a hint of passing ability at times. His second foul in particular came on a gorgeous move, a quick spin-move with great quickness and footwork that was bafflingly called back. He also did a nice job of protecting the basket, even if he was often rewarded for a nice defensive play by being called for a foul.

Labissiere's frame is still a major work in progress, and that is going to be an issue all season for him. He got pushed around the paint by the significantly older and stronger Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson all night, giving up a number of offensive rebounds. He'll have to get stronger and tougher to reach his potential as a rebounder both now and down the road, and he's only grabbed 6 defensive rebounds in his first 64 minutes of college action thus far.

Brandon Ingram, 6'9, Freshman, SF, Duke
4 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 block, 1-6 2P, 0-0 3P, 2-2 FT, 19 minutes

Mike Schmitz Video Breakdown

Ingram struggled with foul trouble as well, being the victim of a number of questionable calls that prevented him from getting into any kind of offensive groove. In spite of that, he showed how tantalizing a prospect he can be with his unique combination of size, length, fluidity, ball-handling ability and body control.

Ingram is still at a very early stage of his development physically, skill-wise and in terms of his overall awareness and feel for the game. He shows great flashes in many different areas, but has a difficult time putting everything together consistently. The makeup of this Duke team, with their poor spacing caused by their duo of interior oriented big men, and a lack of playmakers, certainly exacerbates this issue.

When Ingram was at his best, he was creating his own shot impressively on the perimeter, changing speeds, showing impressive footwork, and finding teammates off the dribble. That was mixed in with bad shots, settling for a long, contested 2-pointer off the dribble, and getting burned off the dribble by Kentucky's significantly smaller combo guards. Even though Ingram has tremendous potential defensively with his 7'3 wingspan and impressive instincts getting in the passing lanes and block shots, and showed as much with some very nice plays around the basket, he is still too inexperienced and lackadaisical with his overall approach, especially on the perimeter.

This was far from a vintage performance, but Ingram still showed his significant talent, which is impressive considering how poor his boxscore line looks on paper.

Isaiah Briscoe, 6'3, Freshman, Shooting Guard, Kentucky
12 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 2 steals, 4-7 2P, 1-1 3P, 1-3 FT, 31 minutes

Briscoe had a quietly strong outing, picking his spots nicely and finding ways to put the ball in the basket, which is what he's known for. He pushed the ball in transition (twice to score, once with a pretty full-court lob to Marcus Lee), made a contested (banked) pull-up 3-pointer, and scored twice off of closeout situations in the half-court. Most impressive was the way he defended, though, as he played a key role in shutting down Grayson Allen in the first half. Briscoe is in terrific shape, and with his improved mobility, strong frame, and tremendous wingspan (measured between 6'8 and 6'9), he can be quite a handful to deal with when he's operating at full intensity, like last night. He contested a huge amount of shots along the perimeter last night, all of which seemingly rimmed out. For someone who has been known as a mostly indifferent defender for much of his career, that's a great sign for him. Playing mostly off the ball, and sharing possessions with two other ball-dominant guards, we're probably not going to see everything Briscoe can offer offensively this year, but he'll have opportunities to contribute within the flow of the dribble-drive offense over the course of the season, and if he can continue to defend like last night, he'll build up his resume nicely.

Grayson Allen, 6'4, Sophomore, Shooting Guard, Duke
6 points, 1 assist, 4 turnovers, 3 rebounds, 2-11 2P, 1-3 FT, 28 minutes

Allen had perhaps the most damaging performance of any prospect on the floor, as he looked completely overmatched and really exposed his flaws for all to see.

Miscast as Duke's starting point guard, Allen was hounded by Kentucky's talented backcourt all night, and his limitations as a passer, playmaker and ball-handler were never more evident. He repeatedly drove into brick walls trying to execute the same predictable move, being unable to change speeds or directions, pull-up in the mid-range, or improvise on the fly when his initial move was cut off. He turned the ball over four times, sometimes in very sloppy fashion on simple plays, looking extremely rattled after a very shaky start. His defense was also nothing to write home about, appearing to fall asleep on a few different possessions.

While this was only one game, and Allen will have many more opportunities to show that he's a better player, there were already serious concerns going into the season about whether he is ready to handle such a heavy ball-handling and playmaking load for Duke.

Tyler Ulis, 5'9, Sophomore, Point Guard, Kentucky
18 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 0 turnovers, 2 steals, 6-13 2P, 0-0 3P, 40 minutes

This was a vintage performance by Tyler Ulis, calmly and steadily leading his team to victory with very solid play on both ends of the floor. He set the tone for Kentucky by executing in the half-court, pushing the ball ahead in transition, and not turning the ball over a single time despite playing all 40 minutes.

Ulis' willingness to move the ball ahead and find the open man is the key to Kentucky's offense, as he's always probing, quarterbacking and talking on the floor. He never hesitates to fire a pass into open space, and is tremendous at getting his teammates easy baskets. He fed Skal Labissiere with two gorgeous looks, one a drop-off in transition, and another a bounce pass from the baseline, demonstrating his court vision and ability to counter his lack of size with his passing ability. He also had a few notable possessions in the second half showing he can score himself as well, using his strength to fend off Derryck Thornton on two beautiful isolation possessions for strong finishes in the lane, even if he struggled to create high-percentage looks in late-clock situations in other occasions. Ulis also hit a handful of pull-up jumpers after creating a shot in the half-court when the lane was clogged, which is extremely important for him at his size.

Scouts are seeing Ulis in a very different role this season, particularly defensively where he's not picking up opponents 94 feet away from the basket and putting crazy ball-pressure on opposing point guards like we became accustomed to last season. Nevertheless, his really frustrated freshman Derryck Thornton in their individual matchup, forcing him into bad passes and even worse body language as the game wore on.

Ulis is the engine that makes Kentucky go, and every win he accumulates will be another notch in his belt as a Mr. Intangibles type that some NBA team will inevitably fall in love with.

Marshall Plumlee, 7'1, Senior, Center, Duke
12 points, 10 rebounds, 6 blocks, 4-6 2P, 4-8 FT, 36 minutes

Without Marshall Plumlee's impressive first half performance (11 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks), Duke may have lost this game by 20 points or more, as he was seemingly their only offense for a very ugly stretch where they simply could not do anything in the half-court.

At 7'1, with a much improved frame, and strong athletic ability, Plumlee can certainly be a presence inside the paint when he's playing with the type of confidence, aggressiveness and intensity he put forth in this game, at least at the college level. The way he protected the rim was particularly eye-opening from an NBA standpoint, as he showed really nice timing rotating from the weakside and chasing down loose balls, hustling non-stop for every moment he was on the floor.

Considering he turns 24 in July, and had only reached double-figure points or rebounds twice in his college career before tonight, Plumlee will need to continue to stay productive all season to hold scouts' interest. With two brothers in the NBA, there's already a blueprint for the type of role he can play, and even though there's something a little bit awkward or even goofy about his style of play, particularly offensively, you can't argue with his combination of size, athleticism and energy.

Derryck Thornton, 6'2, Freshman, Point Guard, Duke
7 points, 3 assists, 4 turnovers, 3 rebounds, 2-5 2P, 1-2 3P, 0-0 FT, 29 minutes

It's no surprise that Derryck Thornton's season-high in minutes played came against a vaunted opponent—Duke needed him badly to run their team effectively with Grayson Allen often struggling to get the ball up over half-court. Unfortunately, Thornton isn't quite ready to provide that steady presence, which makes sense considering he is 18 years old, has never made a USA Basketball roster, and has received very little coaching up until this point in his career. In other words, he is a freshman, as spoiled as Duke fans may have gotten last year with the incredible maturity of Tyus Jones.

Thornton nevertheless showed some glimpses of talent, demonstrating nice speed in the open floor and the ability to change speeds in the half-court. He made a catch and shoot 3-pointer, as well as two pull-ups inside the arc. He can handle the ball nicely, and get to different spots on the floor, even if his finishing ability will need to improve, some of which will come with added strength. His jumper looks better than advertised—it appears he can develop this part of his game in time, and he made a handful of interesting passes that were much-needed on a night in which Duke suffered from very poor ball-movement and overall offensive flow. Turnovers were an issue, though, as Thornton made a few foolish plays, spinning into traffic wildly, throwing a post-entry pass out of bounds (and then showing bad body language blaming his teammate for not catching it), and making unforced errors. Defensively, he struggled with the strength of Isaiah Briscoe, and the speed and savvy of Tyler Ulis, looking his age on this end of the floor. The fact that he does not possess a big wingspan (measured at 6'2) to compensate for his average size is a clear negative, and the 5'9 Ulis being able to score on him repeatedly inside the paint late in the game won't help that perception.

All in all, Duke seemingly has no choice but to give Thornton the reps he needs and hope he improves rapidly as the season moves on. He has the talent to help them, but will need to produce perhaps more than he's ready for right now.

Marcus Lee, 6'9, Junior, PF/C, Kentucky
10 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, 5 fouls, 5-10 2P, 22 minutes

Lee was highly productive in his 22 minutes, posting a double-double, and giving Kentucky some much needed energy on both ends of the floor. He ran the court nicely and beat Duke's big men up the floor twice for dunks, and also was a reliable presence as a finisher in the half-court with his good hands and soft touch. He was a pogo stick on the offensive glass all night, earning Kentucky a number of extra possessions with his tremendously quick second bounce, and was active on defense, particularly with his versatility on the pick and roll. He also surprised with one really nice pass from the baseline to a cutting Isaac Humphries, something we had seen very little of in his first two seasons.

On the downside, Lee's body looks very similar to how it did when he arrived at Kentucky, and there are serious questions about whether he has the strength and bulk needed to not get pushed around at the NBA level. He's essentially a 6'9 center without a very high skill-level, something that is not difficult to find outside the college ranks. Lee's productivity (this was his first double-double of his career) will help keep scouts interested, but to emerge as a higher caliber prospect, they'll likely want to see more.

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