NBA Pre-Draft Camp, Day Three

NBA Pre-Draft Camp, Day Three
May 30, 2008, 08:35 am
The third day of the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando saw many prospects break out of their shells and finally play up to their full potential. Players are settling into playing alongside each other and the games began to take on more resemblance of actual basketball. Gary Forbes’ 30 point outing and Mike Taylor’s 24 points were the highlights of the day.

Again we started the day with drills from 9 AM to 11, giving us a chance to focus in on different parts of prospects’ skill-sets than we could see in the games. One player that stood out more than anyone else in the individual drills was D-League combo guard Mike Taylor, a phenomenal athlete blessed with terrific scoring instincts who was deadly creating his own shot in 1 on 1 settings. He got to the rack whenever he pleased and did a great job creating space from his defender with his jab-steps and pull-up moves.
Also leaving a strong impression was the play of Oregon senior Bryce Taylor, who had a nice all-around showing playing strong defense, knocking down shots and looking very crafty in the isolation-based drills. Robert Vaden was excellent in everything regarding the shooting portion of the morning, not a surprise considering that he took over 10 hit over 40%.

Still no sign of Jamar Butler, who is out with a hamstring injury. Joining the injured list is Ty Lawson, fresh off a breakout performance last night—with a supposed “hip pointer.” Some NBA people we spoke with wondered whether hip pointer is actually code for “first round promise,” considering how well he played in the first day and how few point guards there are in this draft once you get past D.J. Augustin. Let’s see if he comes out and plays in the final day.

The Kansas duo Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun did a good job in the morning drills as well. Kaun with his feel for the game, agility and scrappiness around the basket, and Jackson with his improved mid-range jumper and the intensity he brings to the floor. It’s not hard to see why Kansas was so good this year with those two manning the post alongside Darrell Arthur. Jackson’s strong play definitely continued in the actual game, as he made some very quick and effective moves in the post, was constantly around the ball, knocked down his only shot and showed a lot of heart.

The first game of the day pitted probably the most unselfish team in the camp (Lawson’s group) against the team Jamar Butler was supposed to play for if he weren’t injured. The loss of the two point guards hurt the shooting percentages of the game and created some sloppy play, and also forced some unlikely candidates like Malik Hairston and Mark Tyndale to step up and man the point, which they did about as effectively as they could considering the circumstances.

It was indeed Hairston that strung together his second straight impressive performance, not so much in terms of the boxscore (12 points, 8 rebounds, 5-11 FG, 2-6 FT) but more in terms of the talent, versatility and all-around feel for the game he displayed, putting him a cut above pretty much any other prospect in this game. He was again always around the ball, doing all the little things his team needed in order to come away with the victory, whether it was executing his team’s half-court sets as the defacto point guard, posting up inside, creating his own shot from the perimeter, pulling up off the dribble and rebounding the ball extremely well. His ball-handling skills look a lot better than we may have given credit for—as he was very effective facing the basket, making some powerful strides to the rim and using his excellent body to shield the ball from his defender. He had four turnovers in this game, a product of spending so many minutes at the point, but it was hard not to come away impressed with the way he played in this game and in the camp as a whole.

Brian Roberts had a very strong performance as well (17 points, 5/7 FG, 1/1 3P), doing a great job mixing up his mid-range game with his dribble-drives, either finishing strong at the rim or getting to the free throw line (6-6 in this game). He seems to have significantly improved his ability to smoothly change speeds and keep his defender off-balance, which we just happened to watch him work on a few weeks back when we saw him with David Thorpe and co. at the Pro Training Center at IMG Academy. He did a solid job distributing the ball and playing under control as well, even though he didn’t finish the game with even a single assist. His game is extremely text-book and attractive to the eye, and he surely helped himself with the way he played today.

Wayne Ellington bounced back in a big way after his disastrous performance yesterday, starting off extremely hot on his way to a 7-13, 17 point outing in 20 minutes. His shot simply fell for him at a much better clip, as he did a great job moving off screens and being aggressive using fakes and utilizing his strong one-dribble pull-up. On the negative side, he again did not look very good putting the ball on the floor and making his way to the rim, not standing out that much in terms of his size, quickness, toughness at the rim or ball-handling skills. He still needs to have a strong showing in the last day of the camp if he’s truly serious about making a run at the late first round.

Pat Calathes wasn’t quite as good as he was yesterday, but he continued his pattern of impressive play dating all the way back to Portsmouth where he showed a terrific ability to fit in quickly on a team and both make himself look good as well as others around him. He had some excellent plays putting the ball on the floor and even going coast to coast, and also knocked down an NBA 3-pointer. He finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 20 minutes.

Shan Foster played slightly better than he did yesterday, shooting 4-10 from the field for 9 points, but still has some ground to make up tomorrow if he’s going to end up helping himself here.

James Gist had a worse stat-line today (6 points, 3-10 FG) than he did yesterday, but in our eyes played better this time around. He looked very active defensively in the passing lanes and did a great job getting out in transition, using his athleticism well around the rim and even knocking down a long-range perimeter jumper. The energy he brought to the floor was exactly what the doctor ordered for his draft stock. The 7 rebounds he pulled out in 20 minutes definitely stands out.

Mark Tyndale stood out for the second straight game with the excellent versatility he brings to the floor. He can really do everything except shoot the ball effectively, whether it’s distribute, defend, get to the rim or play his typical energetic and heady style of basketball. He might not get drafted, but could have a chance to stick on some team as there is a lot to like about the way he plays the game.

Last, but certainly not least, Joe Crawford again had another very strong game (15 points, 6-11 FG) as the go-to scoring option for his team. He got to the rim very effectively, shot the ball well from mid-range and long-range, was excellent coming off screens and played fairly well in transition. His defensive effort was good, particularly in terms of pressuring the ball, and he showed absolutely no hesitation in anything he does, which people here have to like. He needs to become a little bit more efficient with his ball-handling (he pounds the ball a little too much), but it’s hard not to like what he brought to the floor today.

The second game turned into an up-tempo blast in your face high-scoring affair, finishing up 101-93 in favor of team 5. For the winners, Josh Duncan continued the trend of Portsmouth Invitational Tournament standouts who were able to translate their excellent performance from the all-senior pre-draft camp in April to this setting as well—scoring 20 points (5-8 FG, 9-10 FT) and pulling down 6 rebounds. Duncan knocked down a number of open shots from the perimeter, scored a bit in the post off good feeds from his guards Ramel Bradley and Jeremy Pargo, made some nice passes himself, and was extremely aggressive getting to the free throw line. His lack of athleticism was evident at times, particularly with his attempts to face-up and put the ball on the floor, and he struggled staying in front of quicker forwards defensively. He is a very good basketball player, though, there is no question about that.

Although we’re still waiting for a true breakout performance from DeVon Hardin, today was another solid outing from the Cal senior. He was again aggressive with his post-moves, converting on two very nice moves, one a drop-step and another a hook shot, and also blocked two shots on the defensive end. He did show again his poor hands by bobbling a few passes and also blowing a dunk, which may have taken away a little bit from his performance. It was nice to see how aggressive he was, though, and you certainly can’t argue with his NBA body or superb athleticism.

Underclassman Jeremy Pargo had a stronger performance in game two (11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 turnovers) than yesterday’s outing, doing a fantastic job showing off his incredible physical tools and getting into the paint time after time. He showed nice footwork and a terrific first step, being extremely aggressive pushing the ball up the floor in transition, but also again being typically feast or famine in regards to his distribution skills. On one hand he is able to find his teammates with decent creativity, as evidenced by his five assists, but he also seems to struggle over-handling and trying to make very high degree of difficulty passes, which resulted in five turnovers. This is nothing new from Pargo. He does seem to be separating himself from most of the other point guards, though.

Although he wasn’t able to finish all of his moves, Bryce Taylor again had a solid outing (11 points, 4/9 FG, 17 minutes), showing more versatility than we may have given him credit for in college. He attacked the basket very aggressively, looking very quick off his feet elevating and trying to finish strong, and also looked pretty smooth shooting the ball and pulling up off the dribble from the perimeter. He doesn’t look afraid in the least bit of trying new things here and has in turn emerged as a very effective scoring weapon for his team.

For Team 2, the best player on the floor (and likely of the day) was clearly Gary Forbes, stringing together one of the best single-game performances (30 points, 7-16 FG, 15-16 FT, 26 minutes) we’ve seen in the last five years of the pre-draft camp. Forbes was incredibly aggressive putting the ball on the floor with either hand and making very strong moves to the basket, being very physical once there and in turn getting to the free throw line at will. His scoring instincts might be the best of any wing player at this camp, as he makes up for his lack of freakish athleticism with phenomenal footwork and body control, being able to quickly read and exploit angles, or move intelligently without the ball, in turn showing a very good basketball IQ that impressed many people here. Although his perimeter shot wasn’t a huge part of his game once again, he knocked down one of his two attempts from NBA range, which leaves optimism in that regard. He’s making a strong push for consideration in the early second round or possibly higher.

Richard Hendrix again did his best Paul Millsap impression, doing yeomen’s work on the offensive glass, picking up 6 rebounds on that end in just 22 minutes. He struggled to finish most of his shots inside, though, being unable to elevate quite high enough in traffic. He did have a nice move on the block in which he finished with a pretty jump-hook, and also did his typical work in transition and with simple finishes around the rim. Again he impressed with his passing ability and overall unselfishness, something that you rarely see out of any of the big men here.

The last game of the evening was another up-tempo affair, even if it ended up being a blowout in favor of Team 6, 99-78 over Team 3.
For the winners, Mike Taylor continues to help his stock by showing possibly the most athleticism of any guard in this camp. He was simply a blur in the open floor, weaving his way in and out of traffic being impossible to stay in front of even in the half-court, a looking relentlessly explosive finishing around the basket. He was a man on a mission today, making emphatic plays that clearly left a strong impression in the eyes of decision makers who had never seen him before. His perimeter shot comes better than advertised, as he displayed by pulling up off the dribble from mid-range and killing his defender for going underneath a screen, while also knocking down 2 of his 5 attempts from behind the NBA arc. He also made two very nice reads in the half-court, in back to back possessions, making good reads to slashing cutters moving off the ball for easy finishes. He’s clearly more of a shooting guard than a point, but seems to have the instincts for that not to be as much of a factor these days as it may have been a few years back. He needs to continue to be unselfish and maybe bring it up a notch on the defensive end, but you can’t argue with how well he’s played here so far. He definitely has a chance to get drafted.

Sean Singletary also had a nice showing, displaying excellent creativity and court-vision distributing the ball, and also being very aggressive as a scorer, finishing the game with an impressive 15 points and 8 assists. He may have over-dribbled at times and is likely kicking himself for missing all three of his attempts from beyond the arc, but it was good for him to break out of his shell here finally.

Davon Jefferson continued not to show the type of effort or fire you would expect to see from a player who is currently fighting for his professional future, after having prematurely hired an agent following an average freshman season. His conditioning looks poor, he’s dribbling the ball excessively, and he’s yet to make use of the terrific athletic ability that made him a prospect to start with. This is turning into a very disappointing pre-draft camp for him.

Maarty Leunen is never going to stand out in a setting like this, as there will always be bigger, more athletic players to ooh and ah over, but he once again showed his toughness, smarts and terrific skill-level by knocking down the shots that were presented to him, running the floor hard, competing on the defensive end, doing an excellent job on the glass, and not making even a single mistake. He finished with 11 points and 9 rebounds in 20 minutes

Duke senior Demarcus Nelson made a number of plays around the basket, again being extremely aggressive putting the ball on the floor and moving off the ball, taking it strong to the rim again and again and getting a good amount of calls in the process. He took mostly high percentage shots and converted at a solid rate, finishing the game with 22 points in 20 minutes.

Lester Hudson had yet another uneven performance in game two, alternating between displaying fantastic scoring instincts and creativity and forcing the issues badly at times and making bad decisions. He clearly is an A+ shooter, both from the perimeter and especially creating separation from his defender with smooth body control from mid-range, but needs to show better patience deciding when to shoot. He can throw the ball in the rim from a variety of different angles, but has not been very judicious with his decision making. He finished the game with 13 points, 2 assists, 4 steals and 4 turnovers in 23 minutes.

Plaisted struggled to make his impact felt on the court consistently, just floating up and down aimlessly at times and not using his athleticism to finish particularly strong around the basket. You can’t ignore his physical tools, but at the same time, you’d like to see him make more use of it on the glass or defensively. He’s in this draft for good, so he really would serve himself well to bring the intensity level up a notch and having a strong showing in the last day of the camp.

Shaun Pruitt went back to his bread and butter in day two, throwing his body around in the paint and coming up with a camp-high 12 rebounds in 20 minutes, putting his length and strength to very good use.

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