Sunday, December 22, 2013

Prospect Watch: Kansas vs Georgetown

A lop-sided affair between a team packing two likely top-5 picks in the upcoming draft and one unlikely to have a player drafted this year, any game with Kansas is worth watching for draft fans regardless.

Andrew Wiggins - Kansas
Invisible for much of the game, Wiggins finished with a quiet 12 points on 3-10 shooting. He seemed half-hearted offensively, especially once the lead blew out to double digits. However, he was superb defensively, with a number of stellar defensive plays, including a blocked jumper after fighting around a screen, which gives you an idea of just how athletically gifted he is. He finished with 3 steals and one block, but as always, stats don't tell the full story on the defensive end. If freshman rival Jabari Parker's performance against UCLA was all O and no D, Wiggins' showing against the Hoyas was almost the exact opposite. 

However, there were some positives offensively. His shooting stroke looked good, and he managed 2-5 from beyond the arc. He gets up so quick into his shot that it's almost impossible to stop, he just needs to work on his consistency. He also managed 4 assists, usually off strong drives where he drew double-teams, and while he doesn't make spectacular passes, he often makes the simple - and correct - pass to the open man.

I've seen Wiggins play a few times now, and the trend that has emerged is that Wiggins plays a lot better when his team is down, his back against the wall. In games like this, where Kansas has the upper hand, Wiggins tries to fit in, doesn't seem to be in attack mode, and focuses on playing D. But in games where he's been down, he becomes much more aggressive and effective. After receiving a shove after the whistle on one play, Wiggins flashed his aggressive potential and buried a 3 in vengeance. If he played with that fire every minute, he'd be doing some special things.

That said, would you really want him to? Is it a bad thing that Wiggins tries to share the ball when the team is playing well and doesn't look for his own shot too much?

These are all questions Wiggins will have to answer if he wants to reclaim pole position for being taken first overall in the 2014 NBA draft.

Joel Embiid - Kansas
If you had to find another reason for Wiggins' quiet game, you would look no further than the sheer dominance of Joel Embiid in this contest.

The closest thing to Hakeem Olajuwon since the Dream himself, in both background and talent, Embiid earned that comparison and then some against Georgetown. I was intrigued to see how Embiid would handle the load on the block that is Joshua Smith. After struggling to keep him from establishing position early on, Embiid changed his strategy to front him more and did a superb job deflecting or bothering post-entry passes to the Georgetown giant.

Embiid finished with one block, but it was a doozy. Georgetown's Aaron Bowen was driving hard to the rim and elevated for the throwdown, but Embiid rose up before him and blocked it clean to stop the basket, and regain possession for Kansas.

However, players with Embiid's defensive potential are a dime a dozen these days. What really impressed me was his offensive arsenal. He showed excellent footwork against the bigger Smith, using a number of spin moves to lose him on the block. Finishing with 17 points on 4-4 shooting, Embiid also displayed both his toughness after finishing through contact a number of times, and his great FT shooting touch - the bane of many a great C (cough*Dwight Howard*cough). He also stepped out to the baseline to swish a mid-range J, which is a nice tool to have in his arsenal - although importantly, he didn't fall in love with it and went straight back to the low block.

While he could stand to gain some weight, the upside for Embiid is sky-high, and I'd have no problems taking him first overall for the same reason Houston drafted Olajuwon over Jordan.

- Josh Smith still needs to lose weight, but showed the soft hands and touch inside which draws the attention of optimistic basketball fans the world over. He has the size and skill, he just needs to little less of the former to show off the latter.
- Wayne Selden had a quiet game, but showed his shooting form is solid and had a nice dunk off the alley from Frank Mason. A likely lottery pick on upside alone, Selden could stand to return to Allen Fieldhouse for a second season to assert himself as the man and show scouts what he's capable of, instead of playing second-fiddle to Wiggins/Embiid.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Prospect Watch: UCLA vs Duke

This was a much anticipated match-up for an up and coming Bruins team against a Duke team chock-full of NBA talent. With 3 projected lottery picks (Parker, Hood, LaVine) in the mix, this was a game worth watching for draft fans. So let's breakdown who performed and who fizzled.

Jabari Parker - Duke
Parker leapfrogged his freshman rival Andrew Wiggins for the projected #1 spot a little while ago after a series of strong performances, and tonight's match-up against UCLA was no exception; Parker dropped 23 points on 7-13 shooting, and 4-8 from deep. He also made it a double-double with 10 boards and also dished out five assists. Looking at the box-score, you can see why scouts and NBA executives are so high on this kid.

However, when a player is projected #1 in such a loaded draft-class, you can't help but nitpick. Firstly, I still have my doubts about his release, while it's consistent, it also takes him a decent amount of time to get up into the shot and it might cause him some trouble getting free to shoot in the NBA next year. Also, while he does have a nice handle, I didn't see much isolation scoring from Parker on the perimeter. Rather, he moves off the ball, spots up for shots or goes to work in the post. While these are all valuable traits, you have to wonder whether he can carry the burden of an NBA franchise without better isolation scoring, especially given the expected decline in his post-up game once he makes the jump to the pros. This might account for an 8 minute stretch in the second half where Parker went scoreless until he found his way back to the FT line.

Athletically, he's not going to wow you, but he's no slouch and should hold his own. That said, lateral quickness appears to be a concern as Kyle Anderson took him to school off the bounce on numerous occasions and Parker appeared completely unable to stop him. There has to be some cause for concern when you're being beaten by a guy nick-named "Slo Mo".

Overall, Parker still has the makings of a franchise player in the NBA, but despite a polished skill-set and productivity, there are still weaknesses in his game he needs to address before I'd take him over a guy like Wiggins - especially on the defensive end.

Rodney Hood - Duke
There was chatter coming into the season that Hood would outperform Parker, but thankfully that has died down and expectations for the 6-8 combo forward have come back down to Earth. Hood showed flashes of a solid shooting touch, great work ethic and athleticism, including a few strong drives to the basket to put the Bruins away down the stretch.

However, he didn't quite seem comfortable creating his own shot and lacks the upside of his team-mate Parker and other projected lottery picks. Hood will play in the NBA and likely enjoy a long career, probably as a starter, but I didn't see anything from him which said "star player". Not a top-5 pick, but good value for a late lottery team looking to add an above average role player.

Zach LaVine - UCLA
This was the first opportunity I had to see LaVine play after hearing almost nothing about him until a few weeks ago, so I was surprised to find him coming off the bench. When he did come into the game, he was invisible through the first few minutes, and touched the ball maybe once, before passing it off to a team-mate. But the second time he touched it was leaking out on missed shot from Duke, receiving the outlet pass from Anderson and nearly grazing his head on the rim when he threw down the rock for a dunk. Ah. Now I understood why teams were so excited.

As the game wore on, it became apparent LaVine is more than just an athlete. He possesses sound form on his shooting stroke, even if it was a little off tonight, and his handle is at a high level. But what really impressed me was his body control and ability to hesitate before exploding past his man, seemingly at will. There was a particular drive where LaVine crossed over Hood (I think) twice on his way to the rim before dishing off a sweet no-look pass to Tony Parker, who unfortunately fumbled the beautiful pass.

While LaVine could certainly be taken in the top-5 in this draft, I think his career would benefit from another year in college refining his jumper and learning to be the man. If he came back he'd have a great chance of going 1st overall, but more importantly it would give him a chance to prepare for the pros properly and make sure he doesn't flame out like other players who made a premature jump to the pros.

Kyle Anderson - UCLA
This kid is almost night and day from the player we saw alongside Shabazz Muhammad and Larry Drew III under Coach Howland last year. He's more aggressive, shooting better, handling the rock more and fighting for rebounds more. He's proving this year that he has a role to play on the next level offensively; a point-forward with good size and vision.

That said, his complete inability to play on- or off-ball D will continue to hurt his draft stock. The kid's lateral quickness is non-existent and while he can play the PG offensively, you have to wonder who he could possible guard?

If Anderson puts on some more muscle and improves his conditioning and quickness he could carve out a niche role as point forward off the bench - a poor man's Boris Diaw, if you will - but despite what Dick Vitale says, Anderson just isn't all that special.

EDIT: Stay tuned for Prospect Watch: Kansas vs Georgetown in a couple of days.