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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



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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NBA Daily: Trae Young Looks To Be Next Up

Oklahoma’s Trae Young is taking college basketball by storm, and drawing comparisons to All-Star point guards.

Dennis Chambers



When basketball fans glance across the college landscape to find the next wave of talent they expect to dominate the sport, they check in on the usual spots.

Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas and UCLA are among the culprits. Norman, Oklahoma, and the Sooners, though? Well, they’re not a destination that comes to mind very often when debating what young player is in position to take the reins at the next level.

Until now, that is. Meet Trae Young.

Young is Oklahoma’s freshman point guard. He’s 6-foot-2, isn’t overly muscular, and operates up and down the court with a smoothness that’s eerily similar to the guy who plays the same position out in the Bay Area.

How he looks isn’t the only thing that draws comparisons from Young to Steph Curry. Look at the numbers, and the obscene production the 19-year-old point guard is putting up. At the moment, Young leads the entire country in points per game (28.7) and assists (10.4). Young has reached the 30-point plateau four times in eleven games, including his 43-point outburst against Oregon. He’s scored 29 points on two occasions, and twice more reached 28 points.

Young’s picture-perfect shooting form and effortless release from beyond the arc are what makes this teenager so lethal. But he’s not just a one-trick pony. On Dec. 20 against Northwestern State, Young tied the NCAA record with a 22-assist performance (to go along with his 26 points). It was the first time in 20 years a player had reached 20 points and 20 assists in the same game. In six of Young’s first 11 collegiate games, he’s reached double-digit assists.

The invigoration of Young into the Oklahoma offense has Lon Kruger’s 11-20 team from a year ago at 10-1 and ranked No. 17 in the country heading into Big 12 Conference play. Make no mistake about it, that’s large, if not wholly, because of the freshman point guard.

How exactly did the Sooners land a superstar player of this caliber, though?

Well, they almost didn’t.

Young’s college choice came down to his hometown Sooners (he attended Norman North High School right down the road) and typical blue-blood powerhouse Kansas. Even with the commitment of a five-star point guard, few, if any, saw this type of impact from Young right away.

Ranking No. 23 on ESPN’s Top 100 for the class of 2017, Young was behind three other point guards: Trevon Duval (Duke), Collin Sexton (Alabama) and Jaylen Hands (UCLA).

Expecting the supernova level star Young has become almost immediately would’ve been a bit overzealous in any prediction. But that’s what makes college basketball the marvel that it is. Young has looked like the best player in the country, on a team where, at just 19 years old, he is considered “the man,” and without the usual supporting cast that players get at Duke and Kentucky.

After a 31-point, 12-assist performance against Northwestern on Friday, opposing head coach Chris Collins couldn’t do anything but rave about the teenager that dominated his team.

“With how deep he can shoot it from, you have to extend out on him, and then it just opens the floor,” Collins said. “He does a great job. He changes speeds well and he is shifty. And so the moment you are kind of a little off balance, he does a great job getting into your body and kind of playing off your movements. He’s got incredible vision. I always knew he was an incredible scorer. But the one thing I think he is underrated is his ability to pass. I thought he made some great passes and found guys.”

While the comparisons between Young and Curry are obvious, Collins offered up his own version of the mold he believes Young is fitting into.

“I had the opportunity to coach Kyrie Irving at the same age, and he was similar like that before he got hurt,” Collins said about Young. “There was just a maturity to his game that he had. He knew how to change speeds. He looked like a veteran from day one and that’s how Trae is out there. He plays at his pace. He knows where he wants to go.

Ironically, 11 games were all Irving got to play at Duke during his freshman season, and he still managed to be drafted first overall. Young may have a bit more competition than Irving did come next June for the draft’s top spot, but just over a month into his rookie campaign in college, Young is looking every bit of the best player in the entire nation.

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College Basketball Has A Money Problem, But No Solution

The FBI confirmed that college basketball has a big money problem. But it won’t go away until NCAA fixes their rules.

Dennis Chambers



College basketball saw its world rocked on Tuesday when the FBI made a two-year long investigation into the illegal paying of amateur players public for all the world to see.

Ten people total were arrested and charged with fraud and corruption. Those men included active assistant coaches from Auburn, USC, Arizona, and Oklahoma State, along with a prominent executive from Adidas.

All the FBI did this week was confirm what was potentially the worst kept secret in college sports: that high-profile high school athletes receive under-the-table benefits to attend certain schools and keep certain relationships with shoe companies, agents, financial planners, etc. once they make their jump to the NBA.

As the curtain is pulled back on the backdoor dealings of the grassroots basketball scene and the public receives more confirmation about how some of these basketball powerhouse schools continuously get the best of the best, surely there will be more professional casualties. Already this probe has cost a Hall of Fame coach his job, as the University of Louisville announced Wednesday that Rick Pitino would be suspended from his duties. Pitino’s attorney later released in a statement that the coach “has, in effect, been fired.”

With the massive involvement the FBI seems to have in this matter, the smart guess would be to assume that Pitino isn’t the only prominent coach that will fall victim to this case. On Tuesday, Adidas executive Jim Gatto was arrested in the initial sweep by the authorities, making all of the schools with an Adidas sponsorship immediately look suspect. Just one day later, the FBI issued a subpoena to employees of Nike’s EYBL grassroots division, which runs their AAU basketball circuit.

These initial offenders appear to be the tip of the iceberg. Common sense would suggest that since the long arm of the law is now involved in how certain recruits make their college decisions things will certainly change. However, until the NCAA finds a better way to compensate their student-athletes, don’t hold your breath.

Yes, this is going to be a long and excruciating process for the NCAA. Once certain people involved are facing federal agents and the likes of jail time, they will turn over more information, dragging others down with them. For a while, maybe the recruiting process will get back to operating more organically. But in a multi-billion dollar business like college basketball, money will find its way back in.

Each year there are more than a few top prospects who come from families that are in need of assistance. That player, despite being just a kid, can be viewed as the family’s ticket out of their difficult situation. Those realities are what makes this entire scandal somewhat understandable. That certainly isn’t advocacy for cheating, but when you take into account the financial status of a high-profile player and his family, coupled with the impending millions that a university is set to make off of that individual, with no effective legal payout from the NCAA heading their way it almost makes the cause just.

Certainly, though, rules and laws were breached by these individuals and they will face the consequences as a result. The list of those involved will grow, and the pointed finger at who to blame will swing wildly in the direction of many. But until the conversation is had as to why this truly happening, nothing will ever change permanently for the better.

According to Forbes, Louisville’s team value in 2016 stood at $45.4 million, with their 2015 revenue reaching $45.8 million. Those are eye-popping numbers for a basketball team that doesn’t have to pay its players. An organization can only be as successful as its employees. So, while Louisville continues to be one of the nation’s top basketball programs as a result of their high-tier talent, their payout to these athletes reaches only to the price of tuition and room and board. Most of the players that help keep elite team’s like Louisville relevant don’t stay for more than a year or two.

In the documents released by the FBI, Gatto, agent Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood are named directly as helping provide funding to a particular player.

The statement reads that Gatto, Sood, and Dawkins “conspired to illicitly funnel approximately $100,000 from company-1 to the family of Player-10, an All-American high school basketball player; to assist one or more coaches at University-6, a school sponsored by Company-1, and to further ensure that Player-6 ultimately retained the services of Dawkins and Sood and signed with Company-1 upon entering the NBA.”

Clear as day, the NCAA’s biggest problem is written in black and white by the FBI. These companies and agents know that players are more than willing to take money (truthfully, who wouldn’t?). When a player or player’s family recognizes their worth in a market that doesn’t let them cash in on it, their recruiting process becomes marred with wink-wink agreements from the schools that are recruiting said player, and ultimately the decision is made to attend whichever school is willing to bend the rules the most.

On Tuesday, the world saw for certain that this time the rules were bent to their breaking point. Dark days are ahead for college basketball during this scandal, but until the NCAA develops a reasonable way to compensate their athletes, the problem will never fully disappear.

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Is Lauri Markkanen Finland’s Dirk Nowitzki?

Draft prospect Lauri Markkanen talks to Michael Scotto about preparing for the draft and his NBA prospects.

Michael Scotto



Not many 20-year-olds have drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki and have an opportunity to be a basketball ambassador for an entire nation. Lauri Markkanen is not your average 20-year-old.

“First of all, it’s an honor to be compared to him,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “It’s probably not fair to him to have some young guy compared to a Hall of Fame player and champion. We have similarities because of the height, being from Europe and shooting. But I have a long way to go before I’m in the same category as him. Hopefully, I can get there one day.”

Markkanen, a 7-foot prospect from Finland, shot 49 percent from the field, 42 percent from downtown and 84 percent from the foul line in his freshman season at Arizona. Nowitzki has shot 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from downtown and 88 percent from the foul line in his 19-year career.

A few weeks ago, video footage surfaced of Markkanen draining 18 straight 3-pointers from the corner.

“He has the most ready NBA skill of any player in the NBA draft,” a Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “He’s the best shooter coming into the draft in my opinion. That’s one skill you can rely on.”

Markkanen isn’t just a standstill shooter. He’s lethal in pick-and-pop sets, and can move off the ball and attack off the dribble.

“He has a lot of similarities to a guy like Ryan Anderson,” another Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “I think later in the season he showed more versatility to his game. He’s shown that he has more to his offensive package with his ability to post up, which will only get better as he gets stronger. He has a good enough handle to create space and is tall enough where his shot will be hard to contest.”

As the league emphasizes floor spacing more than ever before, Markkanen could be a matchup nightmare in small ball lineups.

“He’s an excellent shooter with range for his size,” an Eastern Conference scout told Basketball Insiders. “He knows how to play and has good overall fundamentals. Center will be his best position as a stretch-five. He has deceptive mobility. He’s a below the rim player, not a rim protector, nor a top rebounder now.”

While Markkanen’s shooting ability is unquestioned, he believes other areas of his game are underrated.

“I think I am the best shooter in this class,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “I think my ceiling as a rebounder and defender is higher than people may think. And my work ethic is something I take a lot of pride in, which will help elevate my game.”

Scouts and executives believe Markkanen will need to improve his lateral quickness to compete better on the defensive end at the NBA level. He will also have to get stronger to fight for rebounding position in the post, but that’s a natural progression for any rookie coming into the league.

Unlike most foreign players, Markkanen skipped an important adjustment. He came overseas and got a chance to adjust to lifestyle on and off the court in the States while attending the University of Arizona.

“As a player, the physicality of the game and the pace was different and took some getting used to,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “Otherwise, the adjustment was not that bad. As a student, there was more work than back home, but it was not too difficult to me.”

While Markkanen enjoyed his time at Arizona and is looking forward to NBA life as a rookie in the States, he believes he can eventually help grow the game of basketball back home in Finland.

“That is one of my biggest goals,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “Hopefully my story can inspire more kids back home to learn the game and enjoy it. I look forward to many future projects back home and hopefully continued success of the national team program.”

Markkanen’s father, Pekka, played for Kansas and was a member of the Finland National Team. At 15 years old, Markkanen made his Second Division debut for BC Jyvaskyla. At Helsinki Basketball Academy, Hanno Mottola – one of two all-time Finnish NBA players – was one of Markkanen’s coaches, as DraftExpress noted. Markkanen’s international debut for the Finland U-18 National Team came at the 2015 FIBA Europe U-18 Championship. A year later, Markkanen was the top scorer in the 2016 FIBA Europe U-20 Championship, averaging 24.9 points per game, and participated in the NIKE Hoops Summit.

“As a player, the kid dominated at the junior level,” a Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “In big games, he stepped up. He led Arizona to an incredible record.”

Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament and was a No. 2 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. Markkanen led all freshmen in offensive rating (134.1) and made as many 3-pointers as any 7-footer in college since 2000, as DraftExpress noted. As a result, Markkanen was named a member of the Pac-12 First Team. Arizona eventually lost 73-71 against No. 11 Xavier in the West Regional Semifinal.

While Markkanen hopes to become a role model for children in Finland and inspire them to play the game, he has other goals in mind before hanging up his sneakers down the road.

“Winning an NBA championship, winning an Olympic medal and being an All-Star,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders.

Markkanen’s journey will begin Thursday night at the NBA Draft, where colleague Steve Kyler and I both have him going to Minnesota with the seventh pick in our latest mock draft.

However, the Timberwolves may trade their pick for an established veteran or as part of a package to acquire Jimmy Butler. With the uncertainty of the draft in mind, why should any team select him?

“I think I am unique as a player,” Markkanen replied. “I am a very hard worker and give everything on the court. I am going to do everything in my power to help my team win.”

While becoming the next Nowitzki is the ceiling for Markkanen’s career, becoming a basketball ambassador and role model for young children in Finland could be Markkanen’s greatest accomplishment by the time he hangs up his sneakers.

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