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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.

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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, salary cap expert and attorney. He has also written for Sports Illustrated & ESPN, and a host on #NBACast

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