This year's Nike Hoop Summit takes place at 7PM this Saturday at the Rose Garden. The Hoop Summit pits a team of elite United States high school players against a team of World players and is one of the year's best showcases for incoming college freshmen. Go here for discounted tickets.
Saturday's game will be a match up between the speed and skill of Team USA and the size and strength of the World team. Team USA is loaded again this year but isn't as talented in the frontcourt as it was last year, when Demarcus Cousins and Renardo Sidney were in town. The World team, on the other hand, has 5 players 6'10" or taller in all shapes and styles: From a Turkish banger in Enes Kanter to a face-up Brit/Kiwi in Rob Loe. Much like last year, Team USA figures to have a significant advantage when it comes to guard play, as only Canadian Cory Joseph distinguished himself on the World team. Full rosters are available here.
Here are my first-look scouting reports on the five players to watch this weekend (and going forward) based on their play during practices and scrimmages this week. Given the Hoop Summit's track record of selecting NBA talent you'll likely see 3 or 4 of these 5 enjoy solid NBA careers.
(Note: All heights and weights are provided courtesy of USA Basketball.)
1. Brandon Knight | PG | 6-3 | 183 | Coral Springs, Florida | Uncommitted
Brandon Knight finds himself in the unenviable position of being the first top-of-his-class, insanely athletic point guard of the post-John Wall era. If Wall hadn't come through just last year, I would struggle to find a comparison for Knight, who already does things at 19 years old that some professional point guards can only dream of.
With the ball in his hand, Knight has the full set of 6 gears and he is by far the quickest play on Team USA's roster. He is as explosive vertically and horizontally as a 6'3" basketball player can be, and defenders are constantly on their heels trying to keep up with him. He elevates, accelerates and downshifts with equal effortlessness and rarely found himself out of control or in trouble during yesterday's scrimmage. "Opportunistic" best describes him in transition. He actively looks to push the ball and he likes to come back far enough during certain defensive rebounds so that he can get a slight running start up the court before the outlet pass reaches him. The result is a slingshot effect that allows him to use his raw open court speed to beat the defense back down the court or catch someone napping in matching up. He has the rare ability to make extremely difficult plays look routine but he also made a few routine plays in transition more difficult than they needed to be.
He favors his right hand a little bit but has a truly vicious crossover and a number of convincing ball fakes that create space on the perimeter. Team USA ran some high screen and rolls for him and he gladly shot the NBA three any time his defender went under the screen. He happened to be red hot from distance during the scrimmage yesterday and nonchalantly launched three after three when the defense didn't adjust to him. His shooting form isn't ideal, though, as his shot originates from in front of his face at a slightly lower release point than you would like. He is Broward County Florida's all time scoring leader with 3,515 points in his high school career so it hasn't exactly been a deal breaker.
On defense, Knight relies on his lateral quickness and great size to apply significant pressure on the ball handler. Even in a light scrimmage, Knight brought full intensity on the defensive end. At this point, he trusts his instincts a little too much and has a tendency to gamble on the perimeter. With quick hands and feet and the ability to go end to end in just a few seconds he clearly has an incentive to do so but it will cost him in the college and pro games if he doesn't adjust. Knight showed some determination in fighting over the top of picks but, as with almost any high school point guard, there is some work to be done on his overall team defense. He is a good communicator, has very active eyes (keeps his head on a swivel) and seemed to quickly pick up opponent tendencies.
Knight carries himself with the same cool, professional air that Wall showed last year. While his teammates were goofing around or shooting warm up shots before practice, Knight was on the far court going through a rigorous stretching program. The guy is built like gumby, his arms and legs capable of bending unnaturally in almost any direction. Knight is freakish in the best sense of the word.
2. Harrison Barnes | G | 6-8 | 210 | Ames, Iowa | Committed to UNC
Harrison Barnes has the highest profile of any player in the class of 2010 and you won't need more than 30 seconds of watching him to see why. His body, jumpshot and mannerisms are NBA-ready and it's hard to imagine he would attend college if he wasn't forced to. Given his size, strength and shooting skils, Barnes will most likely be a 3 in the NBA and has the potential to average 20+ points per game very early in his career.
The strength of Barnes' game is his offensive versatility. He is a threat to score from anywhere inside 30 feet. He has the best, most consistent shooting form of any elite high schooler that I can remember from the last few years and he has the ballhandling skills and the height to get his shot against defenders of any size. If he continues developing upon his current path, he is a guy NBA teams will need to design defensive gameplans to stop. Most comfortable facing the basket, he protects the ball well when he turns to face and took defenders off the dribble both directions. He has a quick trigger release and actively looks to pull up and shoot off the bounce.
During yesterday's scrimmage, he worked very hard on the offensive boards and had a bunch of buckets on putbacks. His body control in the air is very good and his feel around the rim is exceptional. In transition he has no problem finishing above the rim. His broad shoulders and bulldozer style when attacking the paint bring to mind Carmelo Anthony although the scrimmage setting wasn't the best place to determine whether his motor matched Anthony's.
Indeed, of the big names yesterday, Barnes looked like he was coasting the most. On defense, he trailed his man a few times and got beat backdoor without too much effort. He did manage a spectacular block against a much taller opponent. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him ramp his game up considerably on Saturday given that yesterday's scrimmage was closed to NBA scouts. He has the ability to score in bunches.
3. Tristan Thompson | F | 6'8.5" | 233 | Canada | Committed to Texas
Tristan Thompson's game and pedigree -- he's a solid low-post player who attended an elite basketball academy in Nevada -- would seem to make him a more natural fit on Team USA, but his Canadian roots find him on the World team. Thompson enjoys basketball, enjoys contact and enjoys life. From start to finish, he showed off a huge smile, an excellent motor and an attention to detail in every drill. He possesses the overcompensating work ethic of a much less skilled player which, when combined with his solid frame, makes him an ideal rebounding and defensive prospect for the NBA.
Simply put, Thompson has the ability to change games defensively. He uses his strength and quick-jumping ability to block shots at the rim and has enough lateral quickness to check small forwards at the three point line. As the World team mostly played zone this week, Thompson played in the back corner, moving effortlessly from three point line to paint. During one sequence he closed out on a shooter so aggressively the wing decided not to shoot and looked to drive. He adjusted and cut off the dribbler's path, forcing an interior pass. He then collapsed on the offensive player in the post, challenging the shot. He then boxed out the post shooter and secured the defensive rebound in traffic before calmly flipping the ball to his point guard and hustling down on offense. Thompson is also adept at using his body to bump and disrupt his opponents at the high post or low block and consistently gets his hands up to contest and block shots without fouling.
Thompson is a lefty who can handle it a little bit but he struggles to dribble and finish going to his right. He knows his comfort zones and limitations, though, and doesn't waste a lot of possessions on offense. He's is an efficient scorer and very good finisher around the basket. His offensive touch isn't great yet and, although he rose up and threw down with some authority during a few drills, he isn't really an overwhelming above-the-rim player on offense. If he added an extra inch or two of height it could really transform his game on the next level. He took and made some turnaround shots from close range but the World team runs a motion offense that is more perimeter based rather than conventional. At this morning's practice, nearly all of his points came on dunks as there isn't anyone on the World team that can adequately keep up with his quickness and strength. He should give Team USA's bigs -- Patric Young and Jared Sullinger show the most promise -- everything they can handle.
4. Kyrie Irving | PG | 6'2" | 172 | Elizabeth, New Jersey | Committed to Duke
Kyrie Irving is your prototypical "role model" point guard, the kind of player fathers can point out to their sons and say, "Now THAT is how you play the one." He combines a strong basketball intelligence, excellent physical tools and an innate feel for balancing his own offense with setting up his teammates. It's that word, "balance," that comes up over and over when watching him play. At every moment, in every situation, in every tight nookie and cranny, Irving maintains perfect balance. Everything else flows from that ability: his solid ballhandling, his excellent vision and a confident shooting stroke that extends to the NBA 3 already. Whether hitting a cheeky pull up in traffic or spreading the floor and knocking down the open shot, Irving makes the "right play," although his quickness and skill with the ball allow him to do much more than make the "simple play."
Irving has a congenial personality and is a vocal on-court leader. Lest you write him off as a "safe" point guard, he can jump out of the gym and is more than capable of making a highlight film dunk or pass. During yesterday's scrimmage, Irving tracked down a defensive rebound near the three point line. Bending over at the waist to rescue the ball from going out of bounds, Irving twisted 90 degrees and flipped a bullet outlet pass 60 feet over three defenders, without taking a dribble to collect himself and seemingly without looking. The pass caught a streaking teammate perfectly in stride for a contested layup.
On defense, Irving displays a superb understanding of the fundamentals as an individual and part of a team. He moves his feet, pressures ballhandlers without fouling, fights through screens, talks loudly, helps from the weakside, looks to smartly collapse on opposing big men if they put the ball on the court and, even in a scrimmage, didn't take any plays off.
If Team USA uses the same rotation on Saturday that it did last night, Irving will come off the bench. Don't let that fool you. He could very well be the player from this year's group most likely to find himself on the Men's Senior National team in the future.
5. Dejan Musli | C | 7.0 | 247 | Serbia | FMP Zeleznik
While Tristan Thompson might not be what you expect from a World team player, Dejan Musli most definitely is. An intriguing Serbian 7 footer with a great feel for the game, Musli's size and skill would seem to translate to the NBA game better than Kanter (shorter at 6'11", a little more plodding and traditional back-to-the-basket style) or Nikola Mirotic (a perimeter-oriented 6'10" Montenegran who needs to improve his lateral quickness and shooting range to succeed as a stretch four in the NBA).
Musli is a solid finisher with both hands around the basket and he has the basic moves you would expect from a 7 footer: drop step, power dribble, baby hook. At 247 pounds, he's not rooted near the basket, though, and he seems to enjoy roaming a little bit on offense. At this morning's practice he turned to face from the free throw line, looking for his own offense, and also ran out in transition at a pace you generally don't see from traditional American centers. He's crafty with the ball and sought out chest-to-chest contact with Kanter to create space for his shots. Later, he spun quickly on the block and dunked powerfully over the thinner Loe.
Musli's shooting range is limited and his shot motion is pretty mechanical. His body movements, however, are much smoother and he's able to set the high screen and roll and flash to the basket with good quickness. He wasn't afraid to dribble the ball a bit on the perimeter and even helped bring the ball up during a press break. He's not an explosive leaper and didn't grab as many rebounds as he probably should given his height, but he does have some lift.
On defense, he was the middle man in the 2-3 zone and thus did not have the opportunity to unveil his whole arsenal as he never strayed too far from the paint. He took up space well and did show hard on a few pick and rolls, recovering properly. His defensive highlight was blocking a floater slightly above rim level. In the NBA, he would seem to be more of a shot contester rather than a true shot blocker, and he will likely need to add some muscle if he wants to play 5. But from a Euro-intrigue perspective, Musli is your best bet this year.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter