Today was my first day in Portland at the Nike Hoop Summit, an annual event pitting 10 US high school seniors against some of the best U-20 players from the rest of the world. The full rosters are available here. Over 100 scouts and executives were able to take in an hour and a half World Team practice and a 40-minute Team USA scrimmage against local collegians. The World team practice consisted mostly of intrasquad scrimmaging and five-on-five drills. Given the small sample size, it would be premature to provide full scouting reports on the players in attendance, but a few things stood out today.
Karl Towns, Jr.
The Kentucky commit and Dominican Republic national teamer was outstanding shooting the ball, making well over 50 percent of his NBA threes during shooting drills and draining them in the team scrimmage as well. He also has a quick, compact release without bringing the ball down to his waist like many shooters. Shooting is an increasingly prized asset among big men, as more and more evidence is showing that bigs who can stroke the three are a tremendous boon to NBA offenses. Most NBA teams like to have their centers hang back on the pick-and-roll to protect the lane, but big men who can pick-and-pop from beyond the arc obviate that strategy.
At 7’0 with a 7’3.5 wingspan and 9’5 standing reach, Towns has legitimate center size. He also has a relatively high skill level in the post for this point in his career, with decent touch on jump and one-legged hooks with both hands. He can also put the ball on the floor off closeouts, and had a spectacular dunk over Nikola Jokic off one foot after his man had to rush out to guard him. He also has decent passing vision, although he does revel in some rather insouciant pass fakes from the post.
Towns does have little two-foot explosiveness at this point, so he’s not going to go over or through people after receiving passes inside. He will also need to learn to absorb contact when finishing. Towns did not do much on the glass today, and like most big men his age he got winded at times during the scrimmage.* Defensively, he showed the ability to challenge shots with his length and moves his feet laterally relatively well for his size. He was matched up quite a bit with the stronger Trey Lyles, but managed to avoid getting beat up down low.
*These can be hard because there are not any TV breaks and few timeouts.
Personality-wise, it is clear that he is not a natural “beast” the way one would prefer in a big man. But it is clear he is also trying to work on that, making a big effort to talk on defense in contrast to a lot of the (admittedly ESL) World players and celebrating after big plays like the aforementioned dunk.
But Towns’ shooting ability is what really made him stand out. As team USA’s roster shows, high schoolers at any position who can stroke the NBA three are rarities; legitimate centers who can do so are almost unheard of. His coaches deserve credit for letting him develop that skill instead of pigeonholing him into playing exclusively in the post.
This 6’6 Ukrainian burst onto the scene last summer with a dominating performance for his national team at the U-16 European championships.
*You are going to want to check out the in and out dribble at the 3:35 mark.
He does not turn 17 until June, so he is basically the age of a young high school junior. He may be the best young European prospect since Ricky Rubio, and possibly the best offensive wing on either team right now. Mykhailiuk deferred throughout the first half of the scrimmages; he got few opportunities playing at the three in an offense with a two guard front and two post players. But once he got the chance to handle the ball out top, he immediately made an impact and looked like the best player on the court–no small feat considering the World team has players as old as 19. He drained three NBA threes, including one from three feet behind the line off the dribble on a pick-and-roll going to his right. He has excellent form and a quick release on his jumper, utilizing the two foot “hop” to square his body to the target.
What really sets him apart from the typical European wing prospect is his athleticism. He is excellent off one foot, even getting an alley oop run for him out of a timeout in the scrimmage. Some Europeans are good off one, but Mykhailiuk can get up off two feet as well. He looks like he can be an above-average NBA athlete on the wing, with athleticism that could be comparable to a young Manu Ginobili if he continues to develop.
Mykhailiuk also has solid feel and a reputation as a good passer, although he wasn’t really able to handle enough to show that aspect of his game today. The Ukrainian also has solid lateral quickness and good hands defensively, though he is of course quite thin at this point in time. Of all the prospects here, Mykhailiuk is the one I was most looking forward to seeing, and he did not disappoint at all on day one. It will be fascinating to see him go up against the stronger American wing defenders like Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson in the game on Saturday, although the coaching staff may not feature him as much as older prospects whose draft fates are more likely to be helped by playing well.
Talk has been that Team USA is trying harder to win this year, notably by bringing the prospects in earlier for additional practices to compete with the World team. However, the squad is almost devoid of shooters, to the point that the team made precisely two jumpers outside the paint in the entire 40 minute scrimmage. While the team features solid post players like Chicagoans Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander, they were completely unable to make the defense pay for double teaming. The game against the local collegians was ugly, although Team USA was able to assert itself defensively. Stanley Johnson was particularly outstanding on that end, coming up with numerous steals on-ball, in the passing lanes and even denying the ball inbounds.
It seems like this USA team, while full of seemingly high character kids, may struggle. Perhaps even more important than the lack of shooting is that this 2014 class lacks the kind of dominant scorers Team USA usually has at point guard and on the wings. Meanwhile, the World team features much more athleticism of late with the inclusion of more U.S.-based players like Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Lyles and Towns, along with European-based Clint Capela and Mykhailiuk.
Up next tomorrow: Two Team USA practices and one World team practice, followed by the game on Saturday. Stay tuned for more updates, and full scouting reports on every player in attendance.
Report: NCAA Announce New College Basketball Policies
The NCAA adopted a sweeping series of policy and rules changes Wednesday that it hopes will clean up college basketball, which has been engulfed by an FBI investigation and other corruption over the past two years.
Among the significant changes that were adopted by the NCAA’s board of governors and Division I board of directors are allowing elite high school basketball recruits and college players to be represented by agents who are certified by the NCAA; allowing eligible underclassmen to enter the NBA draft and return to school if undrafted; introducing more rigorous certification requirements for summer amateur basketball events; and imposing longer postseason bans, suspensions and increased recruiting restrictions for coaches who break rules.
“These changes will promote integrity in the game, strengthen accountability and prioritize the interest of student-athletes over every other factor,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We remain committed to promoting fairness in college sports and creating an environment that will champion the success of student-athletes.”
Source: Mark Schlabach of ESPN
NBA Daily: Junior Robinson: “Size Doesn’t Matter”
Junior Robinson talked to Basketball Insiders about the Pro Basketball Combine, his athletic family tree and that killer on-court fearlessness.
At just 5-foot-5, Junior Robinson is easily one of the shortest players to go through the draft process in some time. But after four successful seasons at Mount Saint Mary’s, Robinson refuses to let his height define him as he reaches for the next level in his ever-evolving basketball journey.
In May, Robinson was invited to the Pro Basketball Combine, an opportunity for the collegiate star to prove himself on a big stage ahead of the NBA Draft. But even with a solid showing in both the testing and scrimmage stages of the audition, Robinson is expected to go undrafted this month. Still, there remain plenty of avenues — starting with summer leagues and two-way contracts — for Robinson to head down.
For now, however, he’s happy for the chance to compete and prove himself one more time.
“It was fun, I’ve had a great time so far, I’m here to have fun as well as try to make a name for myself — as the rest of these guys are,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “I think I played well, I didn’t make a lot of shots, as many as I wanted to, but, at the end of the day, I think I did well.”
Robinson, who led the Mountaineers to 18 wins in 2017-18, has undergone the type of transformation front offices specifically scout for. After averaging 8.2 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman, Robinson grew into his game, role and responsibilities. He would finish his collegiate career pulling down 22 points and 4.8 assists per game instead, a scoring tally that was good for 16th-best in all of Division-I. For somebody that often faced defenders more than a foot taller than him, shooting 44.6 percent from the field — and a workable 38.8 from three-point land — this year is a testament to Robinson’s willingness to adapt and survive.
“I had to find different ways to do different things, I’m not jumping over guys like 6-foot-9 — so I had to find a way to score around, over, or, you know what I’m sayin’,” Robinson said. “I had to do a lot of things to just improve my game inside, outside, ball handling, everything had to improve in order for me to be where I am today.”
Today, although accomplished, the odds are still stacked against Robinson. To date, only Earl Boykins and Muggsy Bogues have reached the NBA at 5-foot-5 or smaller. Bogues averaged 7.7 points and 7.6 assists over 14 NBA seasons, while Boykins himself enjoyed 13 — but those are two of the greatest exceptions, not the rule. Currently, the league’s shortest players are Kay Felder, who only played two games in 2017-18, and Isaiah Thomas, both standing at 5-foot-9. Of course, Thomas, a more recent success story, was the No. 60 overall pick in 2011 and has parlayed that opportunity into two All-Star appearances and a top-five MVP finish last season.
But when he was asked what exactly he’s looking to prove these days, Robinson’s answer was compelling.
“That size doesn’t matter. I mean, as long as you have heart and you’re willing to compete and give it your all every day — what’s height got to do with it?” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “All my life, I’ve been told I’m too small, I’m too short or that I’m not gonna be able to play with bigger guys. At some point, that phrase and all those have to go away, you just have to be a basketball player.
“And that’s what I try to prove — that I’m just a basketball player like the rest of these guys.”
Over his four seasons in Maryland, Robinson collected a handful of impressive individual outings — but perhaps none more so than the show he put on against Loyola back in early December. During a slim five-point victory, Robinson logged 39 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals on 4-for-7 from long-range. No matter your size, that’s an achievement worth acknowledging — and Robinson made a habit of putting in big performances like that all season. When Robinson scored above his season average (22), the Mountaineers were 11-4, a mark that accounted for 61 percent of the university’s wins last year.
Where Robinson went, so did Mount St. Mary’s.
Watching Robinson, even from afar, is a treat. There’s certainly something to be said for the league’s hulking, mammoth rim-rattlers, but Robinson’s craftiness and clever play can be just as enthralling. Utilizing pump-fakes, feints, floaters and his reckless abandon, Robinson frequently excelled at creating scoring chances out of very little. Any NBA franchise that gives Robinson an extended look this summer will find a hard-working, determined scorer — traits he credits to his uber-athletic family tree.
“My parents are pretty athletic,” Robinson said. “My mom played at Elon and went overseas and played in Germany. My dad was really athletic, he could do any type of dunk at like 5-foot-4. It’s in my genes as well, it’s also a competitive thing — I wanna be the best I can be. I wanna be just as good as these guys or be on that pedestal. For me to be able to come in here and play with them, it’s great for me.”
For now, nobody is quite sure what the future holds for Robinson, but he’ll likely get his shot to go headlong at looming seven-footers soon enough. His fearlessness has been a staple for Robinson since he arrived at Mount St. Mary’s in 2014 — get knocked down, get right back up. As he tells it now, Robinson knew he had to be unshakable to make the next level, slowly honing those killer instincts and shifty offensive moves. What we’re left with now, effectively, is a very talented 22-year-old scorer that spent last season as a legitimate Division-I force to be reckoned with.
But to him, Robinson’s unparalleled fearlessness is all just another day at the office.
“I think was I was nine, I went up and a kid knocked me over and I realized: It’s not going to kill me, so why not?”
And the rest is history.
NBA Daily: Egor Koulechov: Three Schools, Five Years, One NBA Dream
At the Pro Basketball Combine, Egor Koulechov talked about his overseas journey, his extensive collegiate history and what it was like leaving home to chase a dream.
“Do you want the beginning, or do you want the condensed version from when I got to the states?”
When Egor Koulechov was asked to describe his worldwide basketball journey at May’s Pro Basketball Combine, he laughed before responding. After all, it’s a story he’s told a hundred times before — so what’s one more? In pursuit of reaching the summit of his NBA dream, Koulechov grew up grinding overseas before attending three stateside colleges in five years.
While he’s facing an uphill battle from here, Koulechov refuses to give up on it just yet.
As Koulechov, 23, recounts it now — albeit in an abridged, rapid-fire version — he lived in Volgograd, Russia until the age of six, then his family moved to a Neve Ur, a kibbutz in northern Israel. At 14, Koulechov relocated from home and played for two separate academy clubs, Maccabi Rishon LeZion and Wingate, as he progressively fell further and further in love with the game. Subsequently, Koulechov told his parents he wanted to play basketball in the United States, so he packed up and stayed with a host family alone for the following two years.
“I remember when I was sitting on that plane when I left my parents, that’s when it kind of hit me,” Koulechov told Basketball Insiders. “I’m not going to see my parents every day anymore, I’m not going to be home, I’m going to have to take care of myself. . .
“It’s just been an incredible journey, to be honest, I’ve met so many people, but it’s such a big adjustment, I remember, at 16, I struggled with it for a little bit.”
From there, Koulechov enrolled at Arizona State, where he averaged just 3.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 14 minutes per game as a freshman. Smartly, the Israeli-Russian transferred to Rice University, sat out a season in accordance with NCAA rules and then took a massive step forward. In his second season at Rice, Koulechov pulled down 18.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 47.4 percent from three-point range. All of sudden, he was back on the map.
“Then, last year at Rice, I had a decision to make, whether I wanted to go pro or would I want to do a grad year,” Koulechov said. “I was kind of in between and decided to give this thing one last go-around to stay in the States and give myself the best shot of making my dreams come true — that’s why I went to Florida for one year.”
This past spring, Koulechov wrapped up a graduate transfer season at the University of Florida, where the 6-foot-5 guard tallied 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds over 30.6 minutes per game. He started in all 34 games for the tournament-bound Gators, using his innate playmaking abilities and solid shooting marks to take advantage of smaller defenders. During Florida’s first-round victory over St. Bonaventure, Koulechov took in a team-high 20 points along with six rebounds — all season long, he was the team’s most consistent contributor. Although it wasn’t enough to get Koulechov to the NBA Draft Combine, he was more than happy to compete in the Pro Basketball Combine instead.
“It was awesome, honestly, I haven’t done workouts like that in front of teams, I haven’t had any NBA workouts, I have some lined up later — but this was good, this was a good experience,” Koulechov said. “It’s honestly a little nerve-wracking at first, when you kind of have all those people watching you there shoot, kind of a little tense, but once you start getting used to it and getting in the flow, it’s kind of easier.”
More likely than not, Koulechov will go undrafted later this month — but with private workouts, multiple summer leagues and two-way contracts ahead of him, he’ll get plenty of chances to prove he belongs. Even as he works from behind the eight ball, the modern league thrives on three-point shooting, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable that Koulechov, a career 39.5 percent marksman in college, could certainly catch on with the right franchise.
But his capable combine performance helped him exhibit far more than just his long-range abilities.
“Toughness, shooting, rebounding, defense, all those things — the 3-and-D thing that’s been going around a lot,” Koulechov said. “That’s kind of what I try to portray and show those guys, but it’s just how I play. It’s not like I try really hard, it’s kind of coming natural.”
Of course, it hasn’t been an easy road for the overseas dreamer — but it’s only served to make him even stronger. Unlike most NBA prospects, Koulechov was never a highly sought-after high school prospect, nor was he chased by five or six elite collegiate programs either. And yet, he still sacrificed everything to come stateside and compete for an opportunity. Now, he stands closer than ever to the big leagues, but he almost didn’t make it here.
During that challenging season at Arizona State in 2013-14, Koulechov couldn’t stop the doubts from sneaking in.
“[I felt like giving up] many times, many times,” Koulechov told Basketball Insiders. “But after my freshman year, I was kind of like: ‘Wow, why do I need this?’ Why when I could just go back home, play pro and make decent money? But I like to think of myself as mentally tough, and I know a lot of Israeli players who came through college and came for one year and then they left — everybody leaves after one year.
“I kind of wanted to be tougher than that. I didn’t want to be just another guy that tried it and went back to the same old thing, so that’s what I really wanted to get out of it.”
He’s not wrong either, and the current list of Israeli-born NBA players is a short one. Outside of the Indiana Pacers’ T.J. Leaf — born in Tel Aviv — and Omri Casspi, who was cut by the Golden State Warriors in early April, Israeli representation remains low. Koulechov’s passion for his hometown has motivated him through years of ups and downs — but following that stellar second season at Rice, he knew he had to keep reaching for his decade-long goal.
“If I did go back to Israel, I’d have to do military service, so this right now is me trying to make it to the NBA so I can represent Israel and give them another player,” Koulechov said. “That’s my dream, that’s always been my dream since I started playing basketball at 13. So that’s why I stayed here for another year.
“I could’ve been playing pro after one year of college or even before that — but this has always been my dream so I’m just trying to give it my best shot.”
After recapping his lifelong journey up until this point — a path that took him to three countries and three colleges before the age of 22 — Koulechov paused, smiled and said: “That’s the condensed version.”
And if Egor Koulechov has his way, his story is far from over.