adidas Nations Basketball Experience Notebook (Day One+Two)

adidas Nations Basketball Experience Notebook (Day One+Two)
Aug 05, 2007, 05:28 pm
-adidas has gathered dozens of prospects from around the world for a four day “basketball experience” showcase. Six teams of high school players—two from the US (consisting of some of the top players in the 2008 and 2009 classes), and one team consisting of prospects from Africa, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America are put through a full day of practices, skill-development, guest speakers, and competitive games. The American high school teams are being coached by former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Paul Silas.

-The highlight for us and the scattered NBA personnel in attendance (probably around 10 teams are represented here, while one GM—Jeff Bower—is present) was easily the incredible group of college players that have been assembled by adidas to serve as counselors. They include names such as Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, Darren Collison, D.J. Augustin, Brook Lopez, Antonio Anderson, Terrence Williams, Mario Chalmers, Robert Dozier, Quincy Pondexter and more. We've already taken in quite a bit of competitive action between all these players, and it's been an absolute treat to say the least.

-In between sessions, we had the pleasure of watching additional workouts that the staff is putting players through on a voluntary basis. Darren Collison, Terrence Roberts and Bobby Nash did shooting and other skill-based drills on one end of the court, while Kevin Love and Brian Butch did a big man workout on the other. In an adjacent gym an Australian prospect named Ater Mojak worked on his skill level, footwork and explosiveness, while BJ Mullens conducted an informal post-footwork drill and shoot-around. Everywhere you looked, players were doing intensive drills to improve their technical skills and also learn how to take matters in their own hands and work on a personal level. It's a far cry from what you typically find in the AAU scene…we'll leave it at that.

-Amongst the college players, the biggest story here so far has to be the excellent tandem that UCLA will have at their disposal next year in Kevin Love and Darren Collison. There is a definite case to be made that those two have been the most impressive prospects based off the way they've played so far.

Love has shown a skill level that is absolutely unheard of amongst big men in the college ranks—knocking down NBA 3-pointers with ease, putting the ball on the floor with either hand, using pump-fakes, spin-moves, jump-stops and creating his own shot with fantastic footwork. He's rebounding the ball well, throwing beautiful outlet passes, contesting shots around the basket, and even coming up with a few blocks on occasion.

Love's body looks better and better every time we see him, as he's shed a good amount of weight and is now probably only 10 pounds or so away from being in optimal shape. He can't necessarily be called an athletic player, but playing next to or going up against physically gifted big men like Brook Lopez, Steven Hill and Robert Dozier, he has looked absolutely fine and has not had a problem doing whatever he wants out on the floor.

In the voluntary workout in between sessions he decided to show up for, Love looked just as impressive. This setting is tailor made to show off his terrific skill-level and fundamentals—and he did a great job draining shot after shot, kissing 15 footers off the glass after a sweet pivot move, conducting step-back moves, turnarounds, and much more. He's really making an excellent case for himself to be considered a one and done lottery prospect with what he's showing so far. He'll be ready to deliver at the collegiate level from day one.

Love's future teammate Darren Collison also had a really nice showing as well, as he's in excellent shape and apparently ready to make a case for himself to be considered the top point guard in college basketball next year. He was extremely patient running his team's set offense, doing a great job reading the defense playing the pick and roll, showing outstanding ball-handling skills, changing gears on the fly wonderfully, getting to the basket, and often finishing with a pretty floater. From evaluating many different tournaments and camps in this setting (summer league, the pre-draft camp, all-star games) where the players are assembled on the fly and have very little time to build up any chemistry—you can automatically tell the pure point guards from the make-shift ones. Collison falls in that first camp.

Collison has terrific quickness, and combined with his deadly crossover and wide arsenal of hesitation moves, he's an extremely difficult player to stay in front of. He also plays very strong defense as you would expect from a Ben Howland player. The one negative to come out of here revolved around his outside shot. Even though he shot an excellent percentage from behind the arc last year, he clearly needs a good amount of time to set his feet, aim, and get off his very awkward looking shot. This allows players defending him to go underneath screens on the pick and roll, and Collison isn't able to punish them consistently enough for doing so at this point. We watched a long workout of his consisting predominantly of shooting drills, and Collison is clearly working hard on improving his shot. He'll got hot at times and knock down a couple of 3-pointers in a row, but he doesn't have much margin for error due to the way he flings the ball violently at the basket from above his head. He has a fairly consistent release point, but when he misses, he often misses badly. This limits his NBA potential to a certain extent, but there is still plenty of other things to like about him and from what we could tell here he's clearly willing to put the work in to improve on that part of his game too.

Derrick Rose might not have been as productive as the two UCLA kids, but no one shares his upside amongst any of the players seen in New Orleans so far. His combination of size, length, frame, freakish athleticism and playmaking instincts make him the top prospect here, and possibly in all of college basketball.

He didn't always stand out in terms of asserting himself and displaying his talent on the court, but the glimpses he dropped were so impressive that we can certainly excuse him for now. Rose pushes the ball up the floor with blazing quickness, showing great ability to change speeds and adjust on the fly. He ran the pick and roll fairly well, but looked more content passing off rather than trying to score the ball himself. He made a number of crisp passes all over the floor while running the point, and was generally extremely unselfish (possibly to a fault) in everything he did.

Defensively he did a fantastic job as well, smothering with his length, showing excellent lateral quickness, and even coming up with a terrific on-ball block on Darren Collison when he tried to take him to the basket on one occasion. Rose does a lot of little things that don't immediately stand out if you're only looking for him to do something spectacular, as at this point in his career he's clearly not a prolific scoring threat. According to the NBA scouts we talked to that are in attendance, Rose will need to show better potential in this area if he's to make a serious run at being the first overall player picked in the 2008 draft. His perimeter shooting is a serious weakness of his at this point, and it really affects his ability to get the most out of his considerable talent. He missed a chance to send a game to double overtime by missing a wide open look from 18 feet, and his team ended up losing.

Brook Lopez has been fairly disappointing so far, looking frustrated at times and not very focused. He isn't fighting for position well enough in the post to take advantage of his excellent physical tools, and he still has a ways to go in terms of learning how to use his body to his advantage. His footwork down low leaves a lot to be desired as well, causing him to settle for some very weak turnaround jumpers in the post that barely drew iron. Offensively he's clearly still a work in progress. He also fumbled a couple of pretty good passes. Lopez did get some production on the offensive glass and through running the floor and finishing around the basket. He also played solid defense on Brian Butch and Sasha Kaun.

Eric Gordon has also been fairly disappointing so far. From what we can see here, there is going to be a certain transition for him that needs to be made to adjusting to the higher level of competition he'll face in the NCAA. He got way too caught up in his own offense, over-dribbling, taking bad shots and running into brick walls with his head down. He didn't even try to read the defenses, relying excessively on his fantastic athleticism to bail him out instead of playing within the flow of the offense and taking what his defenders gave him. He seems to be still playing AAU basketball while everyone around him is playing like they do in college. Gordon's ball-handling ability still isn't where it needs to be to take full advantage of his strength and explosiveness. He pounds the ball incredibly hard on the floor, exposing his dribble a bit higher than you would hope.

It wasn't all negative, though. Gordon made some terrific power moves creating his own shot from the perimeter as well at times, getting to the basket like a bowling ball and finishing incredibly strong with contact. When left open, he also showed a very pretty stroke. Gordon is obviously an awesome prospect, and it will be interesting to see how quickly Kelvin Sampson can get him up to speed and take full advantage of his excellent physical tools and skills.

Robert Dozier showed some nice flashes of talent, leaving some hope that he might finally be turning the corner on becoming a productive option for Memphis at the power forward spot—as his upside would suggest. He had a few nice moves in the post thanks to his excellent quickness, and successfully tried to use his body in the post to carve out some space for himself. He also ran the floor well and had a couple of nice blocks, as well as knocking down a good looking 18 foot jump-shot. He still has a lot of work to do on his strength (he struggled to finish at times in traffic) as well as delivering a more consistent effort on every play, as he has a tendency to fade from time to time and not make good enough use of his excellent physical tools.

-Ignoring the college counselors for a second, we'll talk briefly about the other 6 teams of players from the US and around the world that are supposed to be the main focus here. We'll go into more depth once we get to evaluate them a bit more, since this is our first time seeing many of these players (unlike the college kids) and we hate to jump to too many conclusions off such a small sample of minutes. The fact that all 6 teams are playing at the same time in evening (in three separate gyms) doesn't help matters much.

This might be a surprise considering the quality of players on the 2008 high school squad (top 10 prospects B.J. Mullens, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, many more) but the best player on the floor in the US vs. Team Africa game (in our estimation at least) was Nevada commit (and one-time Ohio State signee) Luke Babbitt. Babbitt showed off a very developed skill level for a player his age, knocking down 3-pointers, pulling up off the dribble, converting hook shots around the basket, and putting the ball on the floor. Babbitt isn't a very explosive player compared to some of the prospects here, but he's smart, tough, has great hands, uses his body extremely well, and just knows how to play. There is no question that he is going to be an outstanding college player.

B.J. Mullens had an up and down game against Africa, coming up with some emphatic finishes around the basket (and-1 sometimes), making some very smart passes, showing really nice flashes of footwork, but also disappearing for long stretches by not asserting himself and not playing all that hard. That's been the knock on him throughout his career so far, and we saw that with our own eyes here. He has a great body, is incredibly explosive, and also has a good looking mid-range jumper as we saw from watching him shoot-around in between sessions—so it's obvious why he is such a highly touted prospect. From what he told us, he plans on staying in college for more than one year, as he doesn't feel like he is ready to think about the NBA yet.

Serge Ibaka announced his presence in a big way to those who were not familiar with him, showing an incredibly intriguing combination of size, strength, athleticism, and skill. Ibaka has an NBA body already despite being listed at 17 years old. Some people here have already raised an eyebrow or two regarding whether that's accurate, but there is no denying that the kid is an excellent prospect. To give you an idea of how athletic Ibaka is, consider the mini-combine conducted here to measure vertical leap. Ibaka started off by hitting the maximum point, and then after the bar was raised even higher, shocked everyone in attendance by again hitting the maximum point on the apparatus a second time. Clearly this method of measuring was not intended for players like him.

Once the games actually started, Ibaka mixed things up with a couple of outstanding dunks as well as by knocking down some jump-shots. His skill level is really promising for a player with his physical tools, and once he really starts to figure out how to use his body and develop better decision making skills, the sky is really the limit for him. At times he seemed to rush things by taking off balance shots with a hand in his face or looking out of control with his dribble. These are the type of things that only lots of playing time and high-level experience can help him iron out, so it will be fascinating to see how he continues to progress over the upcoming season. Ibaka unfortunately didn't play much against the 08 American team because of cramps.

Seidou N'joya was the orchestrator of the surprisingly tough African squad that gave the 08 American team a real run for their money. We could not dig up even the slightest bit of information regarding who he is or where he came from, but we're definitely intrigued. N'joya is a 6-2 point guard with terrific physical tools—a really nice body, an explosive first step, solid ball-handling skills, and great strength. He has the ability to get into the lane almost whenever he pleases, and showed a really nice floater once he was in the paint. N'joya is a pretty wild player at this point in his career, playing way too fast and not being much of a decision maker in tight half-court sets, but he has some pretty nice tools to work with. His perimeter shot looked dreadful in he one time he dared to show it.
We'll keep an eye on him, as well as on the other African players that played well against the US—Youssoupha Mbao, Aboubakar Zaki and Florida commit Kenny Kadji.

-The European team, in case you're wondering, is one of the weakest links of the camp. As we were told by the organizers, only 3 of the 10 original players who were selected managed to arrive. Some pulled out with injuries, others with visa problems, and others had other commitments or were just too tired after the long summer. The fact that the U-18 European championships is going on right now and basketball without borders kicks off tomorrow makes this a tight squeeze scheduling wise as far as the Europeans are concerned. Hopefully next year this works out better because otherwise is an awesome camp as the rosters are concerned. The three guys we were told to keep an eye on (but haven't had a chance to yet) are Nemanja Jaramaz (6-4, PG, Serbia), Miguel Lorenzo (6-7, SF, Spain) and Riccardo Moraschini (6-2, Guard, Italy).

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