Lacking the normal luster of Classics past without Giles, Tatum and Bolden for Duke, and missing the rare opportunity to see two elite wings match up in Jackson and Tatum, the Classic didn’t blow anyone away this year. It was still a prime gathering of multiple lottery picks in the ’17 draft however, and is definitely worth exploring in deeper fashion than most games considering the competition level and stage. The following are my prospect observations from Tuesday night.
Monk generated the most buzz at the classic, a byproduct of going a nuclear 7-11 from behind the arc. He shoots a beautiful ball with fluid mechanics, a high release point and good wrist action. Monk’s performance was aesthetically appealing and shooting on a big stage usually leaves the most impactful lasting impression but I’d caution people not to overreact. Monk’s shooting was impressive, but he’s a notorious streak shooter who entered the night 3-12 from 3 over his first two games, and he didn’t really showcase anything offensively beyond shooting. He looked uncomfortable as a handler, usually dribbling 1 or 2 times max that weren’t attack dribbles and were mostly straight line stuff without any shake . He didn’t look to drive at all, and while he made the extra pass at times he didn’t show any playmaking vision. I was impressed with Monk’s defense, as he looked agile laterally not getting beat 1 on 1 and for the most part wasn’t lost on off-ball D outside of a few times. We know Monk is a tremendous athlete, but he still has a ton to show ball-skills wise and consistency wise on defense to overcome being an undersized wing. He was compared to Russell Westbrook on the halftime show due to his athleticism, but stylistically that’s pretty insane. He really looks like JR Smith, a 1-2 dribble streak shooter at this juncture. Monk shot the hell out of the ball at an ideal time, and good for him, but I’m still dubious.
Fox played pretty much as expected. He’s lightning quick at the point of attack on defense and excels getting around screens. His reactionary athleticism on that side isn’t in question, although he did get beat a few times but was able to recover for an insane block one of the times. Offense in the half court, particularly scoring and shooting, are areas that Fox has to show improvement. MSU went way under on every pick and roll knowing Fox isn’t a range shooting threat. He’s now 0-5 on threes for the year, and while he did have one pull-up jumper around the foul line, his other two made baskets came in transition and on a cut at the rim. Half court scoring is a real issue. Fox’s handle was a bit loose at times and he made a few questionable decisions like the one Cal blew up on throwing the ball to Bam in a precarious situation, but those elements aren’t overly concerning. He is now 15-15 from the foul line this season, which is encouraging, but until we see shooting and finishing improvement consistently in the half court, it’s hard to be overly bullish.
Bam is a bull in a china shop in college, and paid the price for that Tuesday night by drawing frequent whistles. He’s just too damn big and strong for almost everyone, and it hurt him tonight. Bam never really got in a rhythm against MSU, totaling 4 fouls and 5 turnovers, some of those on offensive fouls. He did get beat bad in pick and roll defense in space once, but it looked like a miscommunication where Hawkins switched and Bam took a step back towards Bridges not anticipating the switch, and by then it was too late. Overall it was mostly an incomplete viewing experience in his regard.
Gabriel was a noticeable presence on defense at the four spot with his length and mobility, standing out numerous times swiping at balls on dig downs and sliding laterally in space. He looks ultra-switchy with a good motor, and there is a lot of value in that. Offensively, he’s not a dribbling threat, rendering shooting paramount. He looked comfortable from range and at the line, a positive sign. I liked how he moved the ball immediately when he caught it knowing if the shot isn’t there he’s not creating anything (another reason he should play the 4 and not the 3). Impressive night for Gabriel, more than the box score indicates.
Briscoe was damn solid defensively and got to the rim with his bullying frame, but the same issues persisted. He still has a hitch in his release and isn’t a range threat. He also doesn’t have plus vertical pop as a slasher/finisher (the transition play where he got his shot blocked was indicative of that), which is a tough sell for a non-shooter/non-elite passer. I wouldn’t spend on draft pick on him at this juncture, but he’s definitely a camp/D League guy.
It was a rough night for Bridges, who picked an incredibly poor time to go 2-11 with 9 turnovers. Bridges looked sped up all night, which in part can be attributed to Kentucky’s pressure defense. His decision-making, whether on skip passes or attacking the rim making reads on the move, was incredibly poor. The play where he spun into Bam/a double team who blocked his shot was a microcosm of Bridges’ night, as he had no awareness of the dig defender even before that which should have been a steal.
Bridges did have a few nice handling sequences in a row later in the game, showing some shake and cross-over moves, which at his size is impressive. He also didn’t look out of place standing next to Bam, which is kind of insane, even though Bam dislodged him pretty easily on a post attempt where Bridges was too aggressive.
So many times tonight I was yelling at Bridges to slow down, size guys up and just attack in face up situations. He did so once on Gabriel, blowing by him with a nice left to right cross-over for the athletic two-handed finish. But for the most part it looked like the moment (and Kentucky’s D) got to him.
I still think Bridges’ combination of size, strength, explosiveness and feel is alluring, and like him better tentatively than the Kentucky guys as a prospect, but tonight was disappointing.
(As a brief aside, two irredeemable things happened Tuesday night. 1) Whoever is telling college refs to call games closer deserves a permanent ban from basketball, because even though the officials mostly got calls right in Duke/Kansas the product is just unwatchable when whistles are unhinged. 2) College needs to change the rule that has technical fouls double count for personal fouls, because frankly that’s some draconian horse shit and deprived us of Josh Jackson tonight).
Jackson started the game a little of out sorts, much like the game against Indiana. Self was letting him initiate the offense at times and actually handle the ball in creation situations, but Jackson wasn’t really doing anything with that freedom (the contested midrange pull-up shot he took stands out as especially bad). His on-ball defense was fantastic, as he consistently walled off Allen and other dribble-penetrators with his elite lateral agility, and even showed wiry strength preventing Jeter from scoring in the post. He then proceeded to draw a technical from swiping at the ball and picked up another foul, leading to a long stint on the bench. Then the second half rolled around and everything changed.
We saw JOSH JACKSON at the beginning of the second half. He burned Allen with two dribble drives, finishing with a beautiful floater on one (his touch is a real, legit thing) and even adjusting to finish with his left on one. He hit a dribble pull-up three and used that result in the near future to shot-fake and hit the pull-up jumper once the defender bit. Basically, we saw the entire offensive repertoire and the ability to score from all 3 levels before Jackson picked up a comical 5th foul trying to get around a screen (one of the calls the officials missed).
Jackson continued to show good feel and the ability to read the floor, and with his scoring display, athleticism and defense he just looked light years ahead of every other prospect at the classic. Jackson will be 20 in February, so you can argue he should be showing more than other elite competition, but it’s still good to see. One thing Jackson needs to work on is off-ball defense focus. He freelances a lot playing too far off his man, which resulted in a few steals tonight, but he consistently overhelps one pass-away, notably giving up an open corner 3 to Jones.
Frank Mason is a gamer, and I’m warming up to him potentially being a third lead guard at the next level. Right now he’s fringe level, but it’s hard to see Yogi Ferrell play against the Lakers and not think Mason at least has a shot. He’s fearless driving to the rim and is a bulldog with his frame, consistently putting his body on the line and finishing through contact. He also has pretty legitimate burst to boot and is fast with the ball. Sure he’s undersized and not the purest passer, but he plays bigger than 5-11. Overall, Mason is tough as all hell and excels in big moments, and he’s developed into a plus shooter off the dribble. I’m intrigued.
A quieter night for Graham, who can really fill it up from deep but was only 1-6 Tuesday night. Not a lot to say here.
Bragg struggled with foul trouble, playing only 16 minutes, but he showcased his fluid midrange shooting game in limited court time. He could be a situational backup 5 in the league
Azubuike looked far more coordinated than the last time I saw him over the week of Hoop Summit practices, running the floor well and showcasing decent footwork inside. He’s a gargantuan human being and will struggle to defend, but as a big body rebounder offers some utility down the road.
I don’t think Svi is much of a prospect. He looks out of place from a build perspective even in the college game, and while he has legitimate shooting and ball-skills he doesn’t put them on display consistently.
Jackson has an intriguing combination of frame and athleticism. He had a drive in the first half where you saw the burst and power to dislodge the defender, and he did well tonight getting around screens with the frame to absorb contact. He’s clearly athletic, fast and strong. I just don’t know what he is offensively yet. Duke ran a lot of Horns sets where Jackson just initiated passing to elbow for a wing DHO, and didn’t really run much PNR. He stopped short of the rim on one drive throwing up a left handed scoop shot when he could have gotten all the way to the basket and didn’t show much playmaking prowess outside of a nice drop-off look between defenders that didn’t register an assist. His shot mechanics looked smooth off the catch from 3 and he gets good elevation on his shot. He kind of reminds me of Wade Baldwin with less ball-skills and without the outlier length. He doesn’t have shake with the ball and looks more like a wing than a lead guard. If he can defend at the point of attack and hit threes he has value. Need to see a lot more of him.
Allen had a really hard time for most of the game tonight, getting beat repeatedly by Jackson in isolation situations in space and missing shots. He did show his normal long-strides and plus footwork with a nice euro in the open court, but he was inefficient and a revolving door defensively. Allen struggled on the big stage at the Classic again, and his defense is a real concern for his NBA prospects.
Jefferson had an insane 7 turnovers, but his basketball intelligence just stands out every time I watch him, especially defensively. He’s a really mobile and fluid mover, and has a consistent motor on the glass that will appeal to NBA teams. He also showcased a soft touch and good footwork on the interior. Jefferson is a tweener and fringe NBA guy, but he might work his way into the league as a situational fifth big as a backup 5.
Kennard is insanely fun to watch with his herky-jerky change of pace style with the ball and ability to shoot off the dribble. I’m not sure he possesses the athleticism and defensive frame/tools to be an NBAer, but he’s college Goran Dragic as a playmaker and intelligence-wise. I’m also not sure if Allen is a better prospect than Kennard either.
Jeter showed impressive activity on defense in the first half protecting the rim on a few occasions with good range. Unfortunately that will be marred by that missed dunk stint later in the game. Jeter does have some intriguing tools and athleticism, so we’ll see how he responds to a disappointing freshman season.