It’s difficult to make any hard and fast judgments about players based on a game like the Elite 24, because it is a glorified pickup game, there is little defense played, and the guys are all just playing loosey-goosey and enjoying it as an end-of-summer outdoor event on the courts of Venice Beach, California. I mean, the final score was 164-138, OK? Nevertheless, there are always things to learn about guys any time you watch them, especially when playing against other elite-level players. Here’s what I saw on Saturday.
First, the “Marques Johnson” team had a huge advantage. Why? Coaching. Head coach for the squad was Duke’s own Kyrie Irving. While Kyrie spent more time on his phone texting than he did strategizing, it was good to see him out there and it was obvious how much respect he has from the guys. At halftime, he spent almost the entire time talking with uncommitted Pennsylvania forward Rondae Jefferson, but he also hung out with Julius Randle too, and they seemed to have an easy rapport as well.
OK to the game. Starting with the kids Duke is known to be recruiting heavily:
Might as well start with Julius Randle. First of all [private], he has a pro body right now. He’s been downgraded in some circles for having short arms, as that supposedly makes it harder for him to finish against length. His arms didn’t look short to me, especially when he was taking over the game in the second half, scoring five consecutive hoops en route to his game-high 27 on 13 of 14 shooting. He also has a very good handle for a guy his size, and likes to utilize it. When he does so and gets into the lane, he’s so big that the defense just sort of parts for him because they know they’re not going to stop that freight train. In real games, of course, guys will step in and try to take a charge, and he’s going to have to adjust to that. But seeing his game and his body, I don’t think he’d have any trouble playing some 5 in college if his team needed him to, though PF will obviously be his primary position.
Justise Winslow also has a very solid body and is much more athletic than I anticipated. He led his team with 21 points and scored them in a variety of ways. He drove to the hoop, he pulled up for short jumpers, he got put-back dunks, and he got out on the break (though everyone did in this game!) for some throw-downs as well. One thing I really liked was Winslow D-ing up one-on-one against stud guard Aaron Harrison and forcing Harrison to retreat after attempting to drive, and then to take a very difficult three-pointer instead. Justise took on that challenge, even in a game like this, and won it.
Marcus Lee out of California is a real string bean. He’s 6’9″ or so, but there’s no meat on the bones at all. He has excellent hops and blocks shots very well, including a big one Saturday against Kuran Iverson right at the rim and another on Austin Nichols as well. But Marcus didn’t display any offensive game at all, scoring only one point in a game in which his team scored 138. He looks like he’ll be better defensively in college than Casey Sanders was, but his body type and his lack of offensive game reminds me of Sanders, including when he airballed a free throw.
When you watch Tyus Jones play, you can tell the Minnesota point guard is an outstanding player. No. Better than that. He’s a special player. But he didn’t have his best game on Saturday. His handle wasn’t as crisp as it usually is, and he never really fully got into the flow of the action. One thing I did note is that when he and Andrew Harrison went one-on-one on a couple of occasions, Tyus seemed to have a hard time staying in front of Harrison when he went to the hoop, but at the other end Harrison bodied up on Jones and made him take tougher shots on his drives. But I wouldn’t be concerned about Jones at all, especially given the setting. The kid is a flat-out stud ballplayer, and Duke would be very fortunate to get him.
Austin Nichols, 6’8″ out of Memphis, impressed me with his athleticism and his body. This kid is not skinny at all. He’s not rocked up to the degree of a Wayne Selden or Justise Winslow, but he has some mass to him, and he’s going to gain more weight this year. He can jump too, though, and he runs the floor very well. He has good hands and finishes well. He didn’t shoot many outside jumpers in this game — not many of the kids did — so I couldn’t evaluate that, but what I did see of his game, I liked.
Other quick takes:
I thought the best player on the floor was 6’7″ Aaron Gordon out of San Jose. This dude has it all. His handle is very smooth, he’s got a strong body, he can shoot it, and he jumps out of the gym. If there was a gym. He wowed the crowd with a series of spectacular dunks midway through this game, and scored his 25 points in a variety of ways. The whole crowd was talking about him all day.
Carolina signee Nate Britt has a real good handle, but his lefty shot is awkward. And he shoots too much, or at least did in this game.
I really like the Harrison brothers out of Texas. Andrew is the point guard, and he has a very smooth handle and gets to the rim at will. He reminded me a little of Will Avery, but maybe even a little quicker. Both brothers are highly athletic but seemed to have kind of a strange affect out there, like they weren’t that engaged. Well, Aaron was engaged enough to score 25 points on 11 of 14 shooting, so I guess he was paying enough attention to do that. Really, though, these twins are killer ballplayers.
Uncommiteds Jabari Bird out of California and Kuran Iverson are both long, athletic, and active, and they both jump very well. While he’s a couple of inches shorter, Iverson, with his body type and his style, reminds a little of Kevin Garnett. A little. [/private]