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Top Prospects of adidas Nations

Nate Duncan looks at some of the top college and high school prospects from this year’s adidas Nations.

Nate Duncan

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Adidas Nations is one of the highlight events of the summer, bringing together talent from all over the age and geographic spectrums in one gym.  With up to six games going at once, it is impossible to get a great look at all of the prospects.  If a player is omitted it does not necessarily mean he wasn’t worth talking about, I simply may not have seen enough of him to comment.

Frank Kaminsky

The Wisconsin center started to get some draft buzz after he dominated for much of the NCAA tournament, including a 28-point performance against Arizona’s elite defense.  He surprised some by returning for his senior season, but it was a difficult calculus for him.  In some respects, his stock would never have been higher after having the games of his life in the tournament.  But 2014 was also a strong, deep draft.  The 2015 draft is not projected to be nearly as deep, and Kaminsky is returning to a potential contender at Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, Nations revealed the limitations that may hold Kaminsky back from being more than a fringe NBA prospect.  His strengths for the NBA level begin and end with the shooting that so bedeviled Arizona.  At Nations he was able to get open all day for pick and pop jumpers at the top of the key, and displayed a reasonably fast release from there.  The makes came and went over the few days, but in a small sample size, that can happen.  He has proved to be a solid shooter.

The problems are in other areas.  He was not able to get much going in the post, lacking the athleticism to finish in a crowded lane with a lot of athletes around.  Kaminsky also showed little effectiveness driving off closeouts, as he wasn’t athletic enough to beat the help to the rim or finish over or around it.

Few would have envisioned Kaminsky as much of a go-to post option in the NBA, but his defensive shortcomings were more worrisome.  His team’s matchup against Kyle Lowry* was telling, as the Raptors point guard repeatedly finished over Kaminsky like he wasn’t even there.  He also was not a great force on the defensive backboards.

*Lowry is freshly signed to an adidas contract, and was a joy to behold playing in this meaningless game against college kids. He played great team ball, took charges, argued with the refs and generally raised the intensity of the game to a fever pitch.

Unless he can significantly improve his ability in the traditional big man skills, Kaminsky may struggle to make an impact on the NBA level.

Stanley Johnson

Johnson sat out the first day, but made his presence felt as one of the best college counselors the last two.  Particularly noteworthy was his matchup with Arron Afflalo on Saturday night, which the Arizona commit took extremely seriously.  He generally got the better of the matchup for awhile before he went a little off the rails trying to take over offensively.  His on-ball defense was outstanding, as Afflalo’s postups on him were like running into a brick wall. On the other end, he used his 240-pound frame to take it to Afflalo for a memorable spin move on his own postup.

Aside from that, Johnson displayed increased explosiveness off one foot, exploding for a game-tying dunk over Kelly Oubre* and Tony Parker late in a game on Sunday.

He still needs to work on his two-foot explosiveness.  Another issue for Johnson is his jumper.  While he can make it at a decent clip when open, his release is very low.  That caused problems as he had one late-game attempt at a tying stepback thrown back in his face.  Still, Johnson impressed with his ability to handle off the pick and roll, get to the basket and finish at his size.  He looked the part of a lower-end top-10 pick at Nations.

*I only saw about 10 minutes of Oubre since he sat out the first two days. He operated exclusively as a four and showed some nice ability to pick and pop.

Norman Powell

The UCLA senior was by far the most explosive player at the tournament, regularly blowing by his defender to finish with authority at the rim.  He does not have a ton of advanced moves at the moment, but that ability to attack the basket allowed him to shoot 61 percent on twos last year.  The key for Powell will be ironing out his shot from beyond the arc.  He shot only 29 percent the last two years, although he knocked enough down at Nations to set up his driving game.  Nonetheless, he is by no means a natural shooter.

It should also be noted that Powell’s best games came when his team’s big men were largely out of action and he played against slower players as a three or even a four when Lowry was playing with him.  Powell did everything he could at Nations to raise his profile, but he is going to need to be a two in the NBA.  Those are the skills to watch for this year as he builds on his talent attacking the basket offensively.

Montrezl Harrell

Harrell is an absolute warrior and a coach’s dream at the college level.  However, his offensive game shows little sign of progressing beyond center level, and at a mere 6’7 (although with a 7’3 wingspan and 8’11 standing reach) he is not going to be a center in the pros.  Harrell’s best-case scenario is to succeed in the same way the similarly-sized Kenneth Faried has, but he does not quite have the offensive feel Faried exhibited in college.

Harrell is certainly a first-rounder based on his hustle, energy and athleticism, but the lottery projections seem a little high to me unless he can really increase his skill level.  Unfortunately, he has not shown much to make one believe that will be in the offing.

EJ Montgomery

The 6’10 Port St. Lucie, Florida resident played on the stacked Team Lillard of high school underclassmen along with Dennis Smith and Thon Maker. Understandably he was not a featured part of the team, but the smooth lefty contributed when he had the chance.  He flashed a solid floater and almost threw down a spectacular alley-oop that showed some great bounce off two feet.  Most impressive was his passing. He showed great vision on hit ahead passes after a bust-out dribble, off his own drives or on interior passes. Nevertheless, he did not have any double-figure scoring games, and struggled a bit to make much of an impact as a big man defensively.  Why is he listed here? Montgomery is a rising freshman.

Thon Maker

We wrote more extensively about Maker when he appeared at the adidas Eurocamp along with Jaylen Brown.  I did not see much to dispel those notions at Nations. He obviously was pushed around a bit less going against high schoolers, and he made a few more of his interior shots with less physicality around the basket.  Nevertheless, Maker did not exhibit the ability to create much of his own offense, either off the dribble or in the post with any kind of advanced moves.  Nor did he particularly shine defensively at the basket, although he does compete and get the most out of his athleticism on the interior.

Maker has lottery talent with his pure shot at his size, but seems more like an eventual top-10 or -15 pick rather than a draft headliner when he eventually declares.  With a listed February 1997 birthday, it should also be noted that he is a year old for his junior class.  Some have speculated that his birthday is even earlier than that.  That age must be priced into his ultimate potential, great kid though he is.

Jaylen Brown

It was not Brown’s best week.  He looked mentally fatigued, and one observer noted that he had lost weight since the start of the summer.*  Brown showed little defensive intensity, often lazily closing out and getting beaten by slower players.  He performed on offense from a statistical standpoint, though his shot was a little more inconsistent than in Treviso and at other stops during the summer.

*This is unsurprising, as it is difficult for kids to get much weight-training or to put on much weight with so much travel during the summer, particularly at tournaments that require them to play multiple games per day.

This was the second time I had seen Brown in person, and it is a little worrisome that his team always seems to get blown out despite a solid individual performance from him.  His Team Howard got completely embarrassed by over 40 points by eventual champion Team Lillard, which featured Dennis Smith, Maker, Montgomery and other stars.  It was particularly ignominious because Brown’s team was 2015 prospects going against class of 2016.  Brown’s solution as his team lost ground was to force the action offensively, which he is capable of doing.  But as the most developed high school athlete at the camp, one would like to seem him impose his will more in the floor game.

While it would have been nice to see Brown dominate, he still projects as a top-10 and possible top-five pick in 2016.

Dennis Smith

Smith had the best camp of any high schooler, leading his Team Lillard to a string of dominating performances en route to the title.  With Smith at the controls, his squad played at a blistering pace and regularly put up over 100 points.

The point guard is fast if not blindingly quick, but has a great two-foot leap that he regularly uses to soar for dunks off the dribble or via alley oop.  He also possesses a nice set shot from way beyond the arc, proving that the NBA threes he hit at the Eurocamp were no fluke.  Most importantly, he showed the ability to get his teammates involved to a far greater extent than in Treviso, although the defense was of much lower quality.

Another solid aspect of Smith’s game was his efficiency.  In the blowout of the 2015 Team Howard, he was 13-14 from the field with the lone miss a three.  He had 14 points on eight shots in the Final as well, with 12 points on seven shots and 10 assists in another game.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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College Headlines

Report: NCAA Announce New College Basketball Policies

Basketball Insiders

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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

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NBA

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.

Ben Nadeau

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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.

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NBA

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.

Ben Nadeau

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“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.

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