This week, the top high school prospects in the world are in Portland, Oregon, to showcase their skills at the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit. Sandwiched between the McDonald’s All-American Game last week and the upcoming Jordan Brand Classic on the 18th, the Summit is part of a busy month for these youngsters, but it’s also a chance for them to solidify their status as prospective lottery picks or at least prove that they can withstand the increased scrutiny from scouts and media personnel.
Some of the biggest stars of high school prep are here, including Chi-town natives Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander, who are off to Duke and Kansas this fall respectively, as well as the still-undecided Myles Turner. Then there’s Emmanuel Mudiay, the Congolese wunderkind who’ll quarterback Larry Brown’s offense at Southern Methodist University, and Canadian big man Trey Lyles, who’ll help Calipari revamp Kentucky’s frontcourt after the inevitable departure of Julius Randle. Together, these five players make up the top picks on the DraftExpress 2015 Mock Draft, with other well-established players like Stanley Johnson and Tyus Jones rounding out the field.
Unlike the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Nike Hoop Summit also offers a particularly unique opportunity for a select group of international stars who haven’t enjoyed the same level of exposure as American high school players, and at least a couple of these players are poised to see their stock rise significantly.
After a couple of practice sessions this week, here is a handful of players from both squads who might be undervalued or at least possess some sneaky potential that has heretofore gone ignored or otherwise unnoticed.
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Karl Towns, Jr., C
ESPN 100 has him ranked ninth, while DraftExpress has him at number six, but the growing perception seems to be that Towns could potentially end up as a top-three lottery pick next summer. In fact, by the second practice session this week, one scout was already half-joking that the top two prospects were actually on the World Select Team (Towns and Lyles) and not, in fact, hailing from the Windy City. I’m not completely sold on Lyles just yet, partially because I just haven’t seen enough of him, but Towns, on the other hand, is already showing signs of the type of physical maturity that will ultimately set him apart from someone like Okafor, who has a much less impressive physique.
Beyond that, Towns is arguably the most versatile player of the bunch. He has solid footwork and a soft touch around the rim (with plenty of room for improvement), unlimited range on his jump shot, and great rebounding and shotblocking instincts. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as the No. 1 pick next summer.
Justise Winslow, F
A scout I spoke to was convinced that Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson are the two best defenders of the crop, partially because their length and athleticism allow them to cover so much territory. He was particularly high on Winslow, who he described as a “glue guy” who can play, and perhaps more impressively defend, positions one through four. Though DraftExpress has Winslow at number nine, ESPN currently has him as low as 15. It’s difficult to imagine his stock doing anything but rising from here on out. Winslow has proven that he can score at the high school level–he averaged 27.5 points as a senior this season–but he rounded out his stat line with 13.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.8 steals.
Nikola Jokic, F
No one was sure what to expect from Jokic, the 6-11 Serbian prospect who immediately looked like the least athletic big man on the World Select Team. Seeing him move around during drills and warm-ups didn’t inspire much confidence either, but by the end of scrimmage, everyone was talking about his breakout performance. He had a game-high 20 points and went 4-for-4 from deep, including a very impressive step-back jumper that was evocative of Dirk Nowitzki’s patented, one-legged move. (But perhaps a more conservative comparison to someone like Spencer Hawes is more apt at this stage.)
Clint Capela, C
Make no mistake, the lithe center from Switzerland is a work-in-progress. His footwork and his post moves are his biggest weaknesses, but at 6-11, his length (a 7-4 wingspan) and athleticism make him a potentially imposing force on the defensive end, and his speed in the open court is truly remarkable. He has great shotblocking instincts, and he did a respectable job defending the more offensively-polished Towns during scrimmage this week. His overall speed, agility and explosiveness around the rim are immediately reminiscent of a young DeAndre Jordan. Defensively, Capela has the most upside of anyone on the World Select Team, and after an impressive season playing professionally in France, DraftExpress has the 19-year-old at No. 13 in this summer’s Mock NBA Draft, where he could end up being the biggest steal.
James Blackmon, Jr., SG
One of the scouts I spoke to was particularly high on Blackmon, calling him possibly the best shooter on either squad (he won the McDonald’s All-American 3-Point Shootout last week), and after seeing him in person, it’s clear that he has the type of range that can keep opposing defenses honest on the pick-n-roll. As a 6-2 combo guard, Blackmon can create his own shot, break down the defense with dribble penetration, and keep defenders on their heels in the open court.
Key Matchups to Watch in the Nike Hoop Summit Game
The Forest from the Trees
The consensus top three players in the country–Okafor, Turner and Alexander–are all big men this year, but the World Select Team has its own trio of formidable frontcourt studs in Karl Towns, Jr., Trey Lyles and Clint Capela. Okafor and Towns are, by a longshot, the most polished post players on either squad, while Turner and Capela each dominate on the defensive end with their shotblocking abilities, but the slight edge goes to Turner here for his ability to stretch the floor with his midrange and long-distance game.
Two very different point guards will square off this Saturday when Emmanuel Mudiay of the World Select Team matches up against USA’s Tyus Jones. At 6-5, Mudiay is an oversized guard who, during scrimmages this week, has very much looked like the best player on the floor at any given moment. His ability to create off the dribble and finish around the rim with strength and finesse makes him a potentially frightening amalgamation of Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade. When you add to that his above-average court vision and a knack for defensive tenacity, opposing teams have a real problem on their hands.
But don’t go drafting Tyus Jones’ eulogy just yet. At 6-0, 170 pounds, he’s not the most impressive athlete on the court, but he more than compensates for this with his composure, creativity and Mensa-level basketball IQ. He’s extra savvy in the pick-n-roll, and his budding ability to knock down the three-ball makes him that much more difficult to guard coming off the screen. If Jones wants to quiet the naysayers about his ability to defend the types of physically-superior point guards he’ll face consistently at the next level, he should make the most of his matchup against Mudiay this weekend.
A Wing and a Prayer
It doesn’t take long to recognize Justise Winslow’s potential to evolve into an elite perimeter defender. At 6-6, 210, the Duke-bound forward has all the physical tools to guard positions one through four, and what’s more impressive is that he gives maximum effort and intensity on every play. Stanley Johnson is also a lockdown defender and an explosive scorer in the open court, and we haven’t even gotten to Theo Pinson yet. The Americans seemingly have the advantage here over admittedly very talented wing players in Jamal Murray and Damien Inglis for the World Select Team, mainly for their aforementioned defensive prowess.
Best NBA Player Comparisons
Karl Towns Jr. = A more mentally stable Andrew Bynum who is allowed/encouraged to shoot threes, or a slightly taller Kevin Love
Jahlil Okafor = A more mentally stable Boogie Cousins, Al Jefferson
Cliff Alexander = pre-goggles Amar’e Stoudemire, only less-chiseled
Emmanuel Mudiay = If Dwyane Wade were a point guard
Myles Turner = Serge Ibaka, LaMarcus Aldridge
Clint Capela = DeAndre Jordan, Giannis Antetokounmpo
Trey Lyles = Derrick Williams
Justise Winslow = If James Harden wasn’t allergic to defense and passing
Stanley Johnson = Andre Iguodala
James Blackmon Jr. = Mo Williams, Monta Ellis
What are you most looking forward to in this game?
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