I hit open layups
Join Date: Jul 2008
Re: insider request
For a college basketball fan and draft junkie like me, the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy is the beginning of the new season because it comes about a week after the NBA draft. In addition to coaching 80 of the top high school players in the country and watching them compete in front of college coaches, I get to evaluate 20 or so of the top college players in the country working as a counselor, as well.
The college players were on the court twice a day and, while there were no NBA teams watching this year because of the lockout, they got to compete and compare their skills as they get ready for the upcoming season. By the end of the camp, I believe we saw three future lottery picks there and a few others who impressed, as well.
Here are some of my observations:
The Three Lottery Picks
Anthony Davis, 6-foot-10, Freshman, Kentucky
While Davis wasn't the best player at the camp, he certainly has the most long-term potential and will likely be the first of these players selected in next June's NBA draft. The high school late bloomer from Chicago will be a mainstay immediately for the Wildcats because of his immense guard-like athleticism and 7-foot-4 wing span.
First of all, as ESPN colleague Jay Bilas pointed out as we were watching a workout, Davis catches everything around the basket. In addition, he runs like 400-meter guy, covering 94 feet effortlessly. It means he will be the beneficiary of lob passes, "over the top" passes in transition and way above-the-rim offensive rebound opportunities before John Calipari ever runs a play for him.
While Davis doesn't handle the ball well enough to play in the backcourt, he is above average for his size and his shooting stroke is more than adequate. However, it is not likely that Calipari will allow him to roam the perimeter much. I expect that his size will allow him to have a positive impact on Kentucky's defense, especially at the rim.
If there is a particular weakness, at the moment, for Davis, it is his overall strength. It won't be an issue very often for him next season but will impact how early he helps his NBA team, presumably, a season from now.
Thomas Robinson, 6-10, Junior, Kansas
Based on Robinson's performance, I expect this season to be a major coming out party for him. After backing up three NBA first-round selections in his first two years and dealing with major personal tragedies this past year, he looked ready to go at the camp.
Robinson combined a "Body by Jake" with a ferocious intensity that impressed me at the camp. He was dunking everything with ease and was sticking 10-foot jumpers. It should translate to him being one of the toughest players to guard in the country around the basket. In fact, Robinson had better get used to passing out of double-teams in the post this year because it will happen often.
Jared Sullinger, 6-10, Sophomore, Ohio State
If Jared Sullinger is 281 pounds, he is wearing it well this summer because the Wayman Tisdale Award winner as college basketball's top freshman last season is in great shape. And, while he was experimenting with his face-up jump shot at the camp, he showed that he is at his best in the paint.
While Sullinger is never going to be an above-the-rim low post player, he has great footwork, great hands, a 7-foot-1 wing span and a feel for how to use his huge frame around the basket. In addition, while he didn't need to show it much last week, he is an excellent passer out of the post and plays with a terrific basketball I.Q. Crafty often is not a flattering term but it fits, in this case.
There are Kevin Love-like comparisons here with Sullinger from an athletic standpoint. That doesn't necessarily insure instant stardom for the Buckeyes' sophomore, but his body of work already indicates a likelihood that he'll perform well in the NBA someday.
Others Who Impressed
Darius Johnson-Odom, 6-2, Senior, Marquette
I don't know if Johnson-Odom will be a first-round selection or even get drafted, but he will play in the NBA because he is a junk yard dog and a superb athlete. He was among a number of solid Big East guards who impressed at the camp, like UConn's Shabazz Napier, Syracuse's Scoop Jardine and Maalik Wayns of Villanova. They will battle each other all season.
First of all, Johnson-Odom's mental approach, I believe, comes from being an obscure national recruit after one season in junior college and it carries over to how he approaches the game. His mentality of toughness along with his combination of strength and quickness makes him an outstanding defender. It is something he can hang his hat on this coming season with NBA scouts and, more importantly, his coach, Buzz Williams.
He carries over the aggressiveness on the defensive end with an attacking style on offense. Although Johnson-Odom is a left-handed jump shooter, he is ambidextrous around the rim and he does get to the rim with force, especially in the open court. And, while he didn't shoot from the outside as well as I have seen him, he is a career 41 percent 3-point shooter at Marquette.
Johnson-Odom should be a huge catalyst for Williams' team this season as one of the Big East's best guards. Based on what I saw this past week, he will be on an NBA scout's "must see" list as a result.
Trevor Mbakwe, 6-8, Senior, Minnesota
Mbakwe is not as physically imposing as Thomas Robinson but possesses the same relentless motor and a ridiculous 7-4 wing span. Watching those two battle for rebounds last week was fun.
One of my NBA friends describes Mbakwe as "undersized and underskilled" by NBA power forward standards, but there are a number of NBA players who have had solid, workman-like careers in the league with the same characteristics. If "playing hard" is a skill, as I believe it is, the attributes that enabled him to average a double-double in the Big Ten will be enough to get him a long look from NBA scouts this season.
Orlando Johnson, 6-5, Senior, UCSB
The two-time Big West scoring leader could be the mid-major surprise to fans of the NBA draft next June, but NBA teams are aware of his accomplishments already. And, there were some things I really liked about his game last week.
First of all, Johnson has been one of the most versatile players in the country and he showed those attributes at the camp. He has the body and the strength to post up inside, a good midrange pull-up game and accurate 3-point range.
If there is a concern regarding his NBA future, it would be a lack of elite NBA athleticism. He won't be the first player to overcome that, but he'll need to sharpen his basketball skills.