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Notes From The 2014 Nike Hoop Summit

Five bigs could conceivably become the first five picks of the 2015 NBA Draft. All five of them (Jahlil Okafor, Myles Turner, Karl Towns Jr., Trey Lyles and Cliff Alexander) have been here this week in Portland at the Nike Hoop Summit and all five have radically divergent styles.

Okafor: The highly polished and graceful post scorer.

Turner: The raw athlete with the length to become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Towns: The two-way, multi-dimensional seven-footer.

Lyles: The classic face-up power forward.

Alexander: The bruising hard hat big.

While Alexander has the least amount of talent and upside by a comfortable margin, the other four are remarkably close in terms of talent and how someone ranks them is an indicator of what they value most and least from a big.

Jahlil Okafor continues to look like the most skilled post prospect we’ve seen in years, with a blend of advanced footwork and quickness in spin moves to lose his defender. Okafor almost plays like an ice hockey player in the smoothness of his movements, yet he rarely leaves the ground unless he’s right at the rim and that is more length than lift.

Okafor lacks verticality in the post and not having a reliable jump hook is a liability when he goes to work against a defender as long and athletic as Turner or Towns.

Okafor won’t impact the game too significantly unless he’s the focal point of a team’s halfcourt offense. The World Select Team played a pressing halfcourt zone, which didn’t allow Okafor to get to work until late in the second quarter when they switched to man.

For most of the game, Okafor looked far more ordinary than I’ve seen him on other occasions. 

Myles Turner looks stronger and is also one inch taller since I last saw him in August. He is active on defense and a disruptor to anyone coming into the lane.

Turner is an injury concern due to how awkward he runs and lacks fluidity in his movements. Turner left the game in the second half with an injured ankle.

Turner already has a respectable jumper and hit one in the game just inside the three-point line, but it is doubtful he ever becomes a significant scorer.

Karl Towns had a better looking shot during the practice sessions than nearly anyone on the USA roster. He has the type of range on his jumper that most bigs don’t develop into very late in his career. Towns has the potential to be the best all-around big of this group because he projects as having the capacity to develop every critical aspect of his game.

Towns doesn’t have the athleticism of Turner or skill level of Okafor, but he can be a more active version of a healthy Andrew Bynum, who coincidentally went to the same high school in New Jersey. Similar to Bynum, his lack of seriousness in his approach to the game is concerning. Some players are capable of maximizing their potential regardless, but the fear that he plateaus in his development is legitimate.

Trey Lyles has the complete toolbox for a face-up big. He’s smooth and has a sophisticated game in the 10-20 feet range in the halfcourt. Lyles was more confident and aggressive here than he was at adidas Nations, but he still tends to disappear and has lapses of playing too soft.

Cliff Alexander is not especially skilled or athletic, but does all a lot of little things like boxing out, setting a big screen, etc., that add up to an effective big in aggregate.

Even though Alexander the best rebounder right now of the group, I’m far less bullish on him, but I also believe bigs with his type of skill-set are far less valuable.

Most of the perimeter prospects are not quite at the same level at this point, though Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk have been the most intriguing over the course of the week.

Emmanuel Mudiay was the best perimeter shooter of the week, which is particularly scary since he’s one of the biggest and strongest point guards with truly elite talent to emerge in recent years.

Mudiay can lose his man with ease off the dribble with sudden bursts of quickness and power that has some Dwyane Wade to it, but he too often dribbles sloppily into a black hole in the halfcourt and that part of his game will need to mature significantly in order for him to become an NBA starter.

Mudiay will play for Larry Brown at SMU and he’s absolutely capable and talented enough to play his way up draft boards all the way to No. 1 if he shows improved decision-making.

Mudiay had 12 points in the first half and dictated play for the World Select team, before finishing with a game-high 20 points. Mudiay had the most consistently impactful performance in the game and has the intangibles to become a franchise player.

Stanley Johnson is fearless going to the basket with the physicality of a football player. He was the toughest and most active player on the USA roster and is impossible to guard when he’s hitting from three because of how good he is driving the lane.

Johnson had a frustrating game, however, going 1-for-6 from the field.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk was a late addition to the roster and it was the first time nearly everyone has seen the 16-year-old out of Ukraine. Mykhailiuk appeared out of his element physically at times, but the purity of his shot and natural instinct were always there.

He turned the ball over on his first touch of the game curling around a screen, but had a nice assist on his next touch.

Mykhailiuk struggled badly with his three-point shot attempts in the first half as the speed of the game.

Mykhailiuk is a legitimate 6’6 and he already is an impressive athlete for his age. Mykhailiuk can dunk with ease on an alley-oop to himself off the backboard and his quickness in creating for himself off the dribble may become his most special ability.

Other Notes

Justise Winslow & Kelly Oubre: These two southpaw wings are extraordinarily similar on the superficial levels. They’re about the same the same height and have similar skill-sets, though Winslow is a little stronger. Both are physically more mature than most of the other players. Oubre has a better perimeter shot but appears prone to mental lapses and erratic misses, while Winslow is extremely serious and will clearly maximize his potential with his work ethic.

Winslow has enough skill and athleticism to convert on most of the opportunities his high motor creates.

With the possible exception of Tyus Jones, both players had the best games of any of the USA players with Winslow scoring 16 and Oubre finishing with 14.

Damien Inglis: One of the better perimeter shooters during the practice sessions, Inglis is an extremely long 6’8 due to his 7’3 wingspan. Inglis should become a useful 3 & D rotation player and has enough length and a wide frame to add strength to play small ball 4.

Inglis had good vision on a first quarter drive, finding Towns for an easy dunk. His playing time and usage was limited with Mudiay dominating the ball in the first half, but had a nice run in the second half.

Tyus Jones: A pure point guard with all of the leadership qualities you want from the position, Jones will undoubtedly have an outstanding college career at Duke. In terms of his NBA potential, it is difficult to gauge how special his skills are because he’ll need to be in order to become a start at that level due to his modest physical profile.

Jones is all runners and drive & kicks without a reliable jumper or sufficient athleticism to get to the rim.

Jones had a particularly strong second half with several key assists and steals to help USA pull away on their way to the 84-73 win.

Theo Pinson: Consistently a disruptor on the perimeter on both sides of the floor with his motor and length. The erratic nature of his game is alternately a benefit and detriment.

Jamal Murray: He picked his spots well with a strong shooting performance, hitting a pair of top of the arc three-pointers in the first half. There’s a lot of Leandro Barbosa in his game.

Clint Capela: The only player from this game that will be in the 2014 NBA Draft, Capela had two moments of impressive play for every seven frustrating ones throughout the week. Big project but he could certainly develop into a rotation big.

Draft Report: Joel Embiid Of Kansas

Ever since a back injury prematurely ended his freshman season, Kansas center Joel Embiid has been out of sight, out of mind when it comes to NBA draft discussions. Embiid, who declared for the draft on Wednesday, is far from a finished product, but he would dramatically improve every team in the lottery. There’s no one else on the draft who can replicate his impact on both sides of the ball. Embiid is the No. 1 prospect in 2014 and it isn’t really close.

Embiid had good statistics for a freshman - 11 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.5 assists and one steal a game - but they don’t fully capture how dominant he was. His biggest problem was foul trouble, which is what you would expect for a guy who started playing basketball three years ago. His per-40 minute numbers were outrageous - 19 points, 14 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 4.5 blocks and six fouls on 63 percent shooting. He’s a 19-year-old center with a 28.2 PER.

When Embiid was in the line-up, Kansas looked like one of the best teams in the country. Without him, they looked like a team that was replacing four senior starters and a lottery pick (Ben McLemore). Their tailspin at the end of the season coincided with Embiid’s absence. They went 3-3 in their last six games, including a loss to an NIT team (West Virginia), struggling with a 15-seed in the first round of the NCAA Tourney and losing to a 10-seed in the second.

Andrew Wiggins, his more celebrated teammate, had 41 points in the game against the Mountaineers, but he wasn’t making his teammates better. Without Embiid, Kansas couldn’t control the tempo of the game or protect the rim, allowing West Virginia to get the game going up-and-down and race out to a 50-38 halftime lead. Wiggins took 18 shots in that game, but he had only two assists on four turnovers. That’s not the ratio you want from your best player.

It’s much harder for a big man to rack up assists than a perimeter player, yet Embiid and Wiggins both averaged the same number on the season. When Wiggins gets the ball on the wing, he’s putting his head down and making a straight-line drive at the rim. When Embiid gets the ball in the post, he’s collapsing the defense and moving it back out. Even though he’s far less experienced, Embiid showed more court awareness than Wiggins this season.

For all the talk of Wiggins’ athletic ability on the defensive end, Embiid averaged only 0.3 fewer steals a game, despite spending most of his time in the paint. A great interior defender, as the second line of defense, is far more valuable than a great defender on the perimeter. Just by standing in the middle of the lane, Embiid covered up a lot of mistakes on the defensive end and made everyone better. There’s no way for a guard to replicate that kind of impact.

When people talk about the draft, everyone brings up Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan and Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. At the same time, you don’t hear many people talking about taking Evan Turner over Derrick Favors or all the teams that passed on Andre Drummond. The media would like you to believe that basketball games are won and lost by which team’s perimeter players can hoist more shots and “impose their will” on a game, but that isn’t the case.

If you make a list of the best centers in the NBA, you will start to notice a trend - they all play on really good teams. Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Tim Duncan, Roy Hibbert and Andrew Bogut are all centerpieces of good teams. The only good center on a bad team (DeMarcus Cousins) is the exception that proves the rule - he’s the rare center who doesn’t play much defense. If you paired him with Embiid, it would be a serious problem.

It’s no coincidence that Gasol, Noah, Duncan, Hibbert and Bogut all made the second round of the playoffs last season. The other three centers? Tyson Chandler, Chris Bosh and Kendrick Perkins. Unless you have LeBron James or Kevin Durant, you had better have a good center. In case you were wondering, there aren’t any 6’11 235 SG’s with a 7’4 wingspan or 6’9 270 point centers in this draft. Embiid is the one guy who brings instant credibility to the team that drafts him.

Embiid makes his teammates better on both sides of the ball. He’s the rare 7’0 who has a chance to be an elite defensive player and an elite offensive player. He has the physical ability to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and the skill-set to be indefensible in the low post. In terms of his ceiling, Embiid is more fluid offensively than Howard, more athletic than Gasol, more skilled than Hibbert and Bogut and much bigger than Noah. His ceiling is Tim Duncan.

There are a lot of parallels between Duncan and Embiid. Both picked up the game later in life - Duncan was an elite swimmer in the Virgin Islands, Embiid grew up playing volleyball and soccer. As a result, neither picked up the bad habits that plague modern big men. They aren’t trying to play point guard or shoot a bunch of 3’s - when you are bigger, faster and more coordinated than everyone you face, you don’t want make the game any more complicated than it has to be.

That’s the most intriguing thing about Embiid - he’s a 19-year-old still growing into his body, yet he’s already bigger and faster than most NBA centers. He won’t come in and dominate his competition as a 20-year-old, but he will be able to hold his own. Even if I had a center on my team, I would draft Embiid and make him a PF, just like Duncan. He’s fast enough to play on the perimeter and he shoots 69 percent from the free-throw line - he’s capable of playing out of the high post.

Andrew Wiggins is a great prospect, but there are super-athletic wings who can’t pass the ball in every draft. If Embiid never gets better, he is a more offensive-minded Tyson Chandler. An NBA team doesn’t get a chance to draft a 7’0 with his ability very often - there aren’t many drafts where Embiid wouldn’t be the No. 1 prospect. He’s the only player in this draft I would seriously consider tanking for. If the doctors clear him medically, you take Embiid without thinking twice.

Aquille Carr's Second Chance

Upon his release from the NBA Development League, Aquille Carr started a purifying process around him, eliminating distractions and creating a gym regimen. The Delaware 87ers extended Carr an opportunity to train with them for the June NBA draft, but the former high school prodigy understood his run-ins with the team came with consequences and went noticed on the professional level.

So Carr cut his inner-circle, hired new representation (Daniel Hazan of Hazan Sports Management) and constructed a strategy to help rebuild his image. As a heralded phenom out of Maryland, Carr stumbled into problems away from the court. Now, a primary condition in his agency signing was a rebranding of himself through community events and youth basketball clinics in New York.

“I made a couple minor mistakes with Delaware, and I learned from them,” Carr told RealGM in a recent phone interview. “It will never happen again. Delaware was a great experience and I had a lot of fun there. Players and coaches taught me how to be a leader and be responsible. The D-League built my confidence up by playing against older people and more mature guys that played. I had to catch on fast, but I believe I have a good basketball IQ.”

In the weeks after being waived in January, his agency mapped workouts and appearances for Carr to visit elderly men and women and distribute food. Carr received the nickname “Crimestopper” in Baltimore, garnered prominence in an area averse in talent development, and he had been so immersed in this privileged environment, so removed from normalcy.

As Carr says of his experiences through community appearances, “I’ve been wanting to do them, but I didn’t have the support around me to finally go out there. As soon as I told my agency that I wanted to do community events, they were on it. I want to build a new brand, and I don’t want people to think about me as a bad person.”

Even now, Carr doesn’t regret turning pro overseas out of high school, declaring and then forgoing his basketball commitment at Seton Hall University. He wanted a path into the NBA the way Brandon Jennings carved – choosing professional money instead of the payment of tutelage and some sort of education – but stood at 5-foot-6 and became sidetracked.

Signing into the D-League suggested solidified advice, improved voices factoring in his decisions, and Carr averaged 10.7 points, 1.9 assists and 14 minutes in 10 games for Delaware, which drafted him in the third round. He scored 22 points in consecutive games in December. His shooting percentages – 39.1 percent from three-point range, 39.8 percent overall on nearly nine attempts per game – left him putting up more jumpers in the gym with the organization and now in his private workouts, but underscored elevated competition for him. The D-League’s become increasingly respectable, legitimate players old and new, and Carr joined several draft prospects using the platform to showcase in front of executives and scouts.

They all want the same achievement there, Carr noticed, players desiring their own shots and an NBA call-up opportunity. Still, the 20-year-old credits two guiding figures with Delaware: Kendall Marshall, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Damian Saunders.

“Kendall was the first one I stopped and asked him to teach me the game, given as long as he’s been playing,” Carr said. “I asked him how I can place people in the right spot, make people better, being more of a point guard, vocal and talkative.

“Damian is an older guy, more mature, and he told me to stay on the good path.”

Soon, Carr will formally declare for the upcoming draft, a hopeful second-round pick in a strong class. Should he go undrafted, has Carr pondered another run in the D-League or possibly another stint overseas?

“No, I haven’t looked past the draft,” Carr said. “My agency and I, we look forward to me getting drafted. I look at getting drafted and working hard until getting that day.”

All Stars Must Pass

If Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker aren’t scoring, they have a hard time impacting the game. While they were eliminated, Julius Randle is in the Sweet 16 thanks to his career-high six assists against Wichita State.

2014 First Round Picks (Which Teams Own The Picks?)

While RealGM has an excellent database of the draft picks that have been traded between teams, we wanted to put together a summary more focused on the upcoming draft.

The Development Of Big Men Prospects

Julius Randle and Isaiah Austin are still 7-8 years away from the prime of their careers. Randle is better equipped to physically dominate undermanned opponents, but there aren’t many of those guys at the next level. And while he is the safer bet right now, that doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee. Young big men don’t necessarily develop on a straight line.

Lottery Lowdown (November Edition)

While each class ends up incredibly different, this potential group stands out for one key reason: it has so many interesting commodities that competent management can go the entire way through the lottery by picking the best player available. While BPA generally proves to be the best path anyway, we often see GMs pass on or reach for players because of current fit.

The Misses Of The 2010 NBA Draft

There are seven first-round picks from 2010 not currently on an NBA roster (Aldrich, Henry, Babbitt, Brackins, Elliott Williams, Damion James, Dominique Jones, Lazar Hayward). At this point in free agency, all would be happy to play for the minimum.

Reaction To ESPN's Draft Night Coverage

While the fans booing Adam Silver for the first time, Hakeem Olajuwon making a guest appearance, the hats that didn’t fit, and the flags hidden under suit coats were amusing, there were really three things that made this draft more enjoyable than usual.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Final Edition)

Draft day has finally arrived and while everyone pines for the 2014 class already, this one has the chance to be sneaky good in the 'many quality starters' variety.

2013 NBA Mock Draft (Wednesday/Quality Of Opp. Edition)

In this mock, we include the PER of each player based on the quality of opponent. Even statistics in this context can only go so far, but helps move beyond the possibility of inflation against competition that isn't even close to being NBA caliber.

NBA Draft Candidates By The Numbers

In preparation for the NBA Draft, we examine several advanced statistical categories to determine which players stand out both good or bad to help solidify our opinions on their strengths and weaknesses.

2013 NBA Draft Board

Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Otto Porter and Alex Len join Nerlens Noel at the top of our draft board.

Lottery Lowdown

Over the last few seasons, some have commented on the movement of the league away from “true” centers in favor of more versatile players who previously played more power forward. This draft class will test that due to the presence of Nerlens Noel, Rudy Gobert, Alex Len, Cody Zeller, Isaiah Austin and Kelly Olynyk.

Learning From The Kings' Thomas Robinson Mistake

The Kings thought Andre Drummond was too big of a gamble, but passing on him for Thomas Robinson was always the riskier move.

No Bad Drafts, Just Bad Drafters

One of the weirder aspects of NBA draft coverage is the groupthink mentality that quickly emerges and downplaying the quality of a draft class seems to be a pastime for many “NBA insiders.” Far too often, teams deal away first round picks thinking the guaranteed contract that comes with it is a burden rather than an asset.

Why Every College Game Matters

We’ve seen Kobe Bryant and LeBron James play thousands of basketball games; at this point, we have a pretty good idea of what they are all about. So while the level of play in the NBA is much higher, you never know what you are going to get in the NCAA.

The Alan Anderson Effect

There’s no bright line dividing proven NBA rotation players like Landry Fields and free agents playing overseas like Alan Anderson. For the most part, “NBA experience” isn’t worth the extra cost. Just as in tennis, the distribution of talent in basketball is pyramidal. The difference between LeBron James or Novak Djokovic and the #350 player in their respective sports is immense.

Let The Valanciunas, Anthony Davis Comparisons Begin

Like almost all young centers, the development of Jonas Valanciunas and Anthony Davis will depend heavily on the environment their team puts them in. Davis has a higher ceiling than Valanciunas, but the difference between the two isn’t nearly as high as their pre-draft publicity would suggest.

The NBA Draft, 2012 Olympics And Intangibles

Why the 2012 NBA Draft was particularly a dream for high school scouts and how the dream of imagining players joining forces is sometimes better than the reality.

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