The games were played up to 7 points, with two point baskets being worth one point and three point baskets being worth two points. The winning team would stay on each game after they won, unless they needed a break, in which they would sit out for one game to rest.
I personally feel that it is difficult to get an accurate feel on a player's entire skill set from an unstructured pickup game, but it did give us the ability to measure some of the physical talents of the players invited to play. A setting such is this makes it impossible to judge certain facets of a player's game, as they are often forced to play out of position due to the lack of height or the surrounding players on their team. For example, Louis Williams who will be a PG on the next level, was unable to bring the ball up the court much on the day and forced to play off the ball because he was on the same team as LeBron James for practically the entire night. Here are our observations of the top players in attendance:
LeBron James, 6'8, SG; Cleveland Cavaliers
The first thing that I noticed about LeBron in this closed setting was his extremely competitive nature. Even though this was just an open run, he made it clear that he wanted to win every game and was willing to do whatever it took in order to make sure that happened. He was extremely intense and played hard throughout the night, a rarity for a player of his stature playing against much less talented players. James showed a desire and passion here comparable to that of the stories that are frequently told of another player who wore the #23 jersey.
On the court, LBJ seemed to focus on his outside shot, routinely shooting three pointers instead of driving to the basket. It was obvious to anyone in the gym that the second year star has already put in some work on his three point shot. He must have made over 60% of his attempts, even intentionally banking a few in off of the glass for good measure. However, when his team needed a bucket, King James would drive at will or post his man if need be. He chose to bring the ball up the floor just about every possession, finding ways to get teammate Louis Williams the ball in scoring situations. It was an absolute dominant performance by obviously the most talented player on the floor.
J.R. Smith, 6'6 SG; New Orleans Hornets
The 2005 Slam Dunk Contest participant did not disappoint in this setting, routinely throwing down jaw dropping dunks including one in which he went up as if he were going to shoot a left handed lay-up, only to bring the ball down to his waist and back up for an amazing two handed windmill dunk. It was truly an amazing sight that you had to see in order to believe. J.R. had many emphatic one handed tomahawk dunks on breakaways, as well as an incredible two handed dunk off of a pass off the backboard from Chet Mason.
Like Lebron, Smith seemed to focus on the aspects of his game that he is currently working on, showing his improved midrange game and ability to break people down off the dribble. Although he possesses extraordinary range on his shot, J.R. didn't shoot too many NBA three pointers, choosing to knock down the 16-19 foot jumpshot instead. The rookie standout showed great lift on his jumper to go with a lightning quick release, virtually making it impossible to defend. He also showed improved ball handling skills, running the pick and roll to perfection and driving to the basket throughout the night. If he continues to improve on these areas of his game, J.R. truly has a very good chance to become one of the better shooting guards in the league.
Louis Williams, 6'2 SG/PG; South Gwinnett HS; Committed to Georgia
Coming into the night, I was excited to see how Louis' point guard skills have progressed since the high school all star games, but I walked away disappointed, as he barely had a chance to handle the ball with LeBron James assuming the large majority of the ball handling duties. Now forced to play off of the ball, Williams did exactly what he did throughout his high school career: Put points on the board.
Practically the entire night, Louis was being guarded by Chet Mason, a defensive stopper from Miami (OH). He did not back down to the challenge, showing a very explosive first step and trying to score on one of the nation's finest defenders. While Williams was not able to get to the basket as easily as he did in high school on Chet, he showed the ability to routinely find the open man after his penetration attempts were stopped. In addition to that, the high school standout showed a refined jumpshot with much more lift and range beyond the NBA three point line. His shot looked much more consistent then in the high school all star games, even knocking down contested three pointers from NBA range. To put things plain and simple, if you left Louis open from beyond the arc, you could mark points up on the board. In addition, the high flying guard had a few very nice dunks which left little doubt about his extraordinary leaping ability.
While he was not able to show much as far as point guard skills, I was very impressed with Williams' ability to score on one of the better defenders in the collegiate game this past season. He showed me that he has the ability to score on anyone, no matter what level. Now he just has to show teams that he has the ability to run a team, and Louis is fully aware of that. With the work that he is putting in right now and the attitude he displays, I am confident that eventually he will be able to take on the role of a scoring point guard in the NBA.
Devin Green, 6'7 collegiate SF, NBA PG; Senior; Hampton
Devin Green is a very interesting player in that he played and was recruited as a point guard in high school, but was forced to play small forward at Hampton due to his team's lack of height. Green is a very athletic player with a body chiseled from granite. Like Williams, he was not able to handle the ball that much in the open run due to his surrounding teammates. When he did have the ball in his hands, he showed a very tight handle and solid passing ability. One of the most impressive things about Green was his ability to consistently knock down the midrange jumper and collegiate three pointer. He did a great job of moving without the ball and finding open areas in which he was comfortable shooting the ball. Defensively, Devin used his great length and lateral quickness to stay in front of smaller players, usually strongly contesting any shot they put up.
The biggest obstacle that Devin will face is convincing NBA personnel that he is a point guard. Any game tapes from Hampton that they will receive will show him playing small forward, not really helping him at all. It is worthy of note that Green played point guard in the Black College All Star Game, eventually being named MVP of the game. If Devin is able to convince teams he is a point guard, I honestly feel that he has a legitimate shot to compete for a roster spot when its all said and done.
Chet Mason, 6'4, PG; Senior; Miami (OH)
The MAC defensive player of the year lived up to his billing, locking down whatever player he was guarding. He was matched up with Louis Williams for the majority of the day and did a great job containing his penetration, forcing Louis into extremely tough outside jump shots which he still somehow managed to knock down. Chet uses his very long frame, great athleticism, and superb lateral quickness to give opposing offensive players fits. He was the leading rebounder amongst all guards in the entire NCAA at 7.9 per game, and showed why in the open run as he did a great job boxing out and attacking the basketball. Offensively, Mason showed a very high basketball IQ throughout the night making excellent cuts to the basket and great decisions with the ball. Chet The Jet did a great job of utilizing his great speed breaking down defenders and finding open shooters. It is truly a thing of beauty to watch him push the ball up and down the floor so quickly. While Mason does many things well, he was one glaring weaknessand it's a big one: His outside shot. Mason's mechanics are a bit off, as he has a hitch in his shot and does not get much lift. While he has been training with ex-NBA star Ron Harper and can definitely knock down the mid range jumper, the defensive stud still has a lot of work to do on his shot before he will be able to make an NBA roster.
Chet has received interest from quite a few NBA teams due to his great size, rebounding ability, and blazing speed. He plans on attending a European basketball camp in Treviso, Italy similar to the NBA's Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago at the end of this month. Right now, Mason looks like a high level European prospect, but if he is able to eventually improve his jumpshot, that could certainly change.