I already wrote my detailed scouting reports on Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Doug McDermott, and TJ Warren as those were the players I felt I got to know the most intimately in Las Vegas. But I watched enough of other players to have observations I’d like to share.
Of all the players I was bearish on, Zach LaVine appears to be the strongest bet to prove me wrong. He was a mystery box that I assumed contained nothing substantial, but now that we got to see him run an offense and play man to man defense, he demonstrated much more ability than I anticipated.
In the first game, it stood out that Gal Mekel tried to drive past LaVine on 3 occasions and couldn’t get by once. I wasn’t sure whether to be sad for Mekel or happy for LaVine, but then Mekel blew by Glenn Robinson and got to the rim 3 times in a row. Even though Robinson is a SF, he’s not athletically challenged. Then Mekel tried to go at LaVine one last time, put a nice crossover on him and tried to shift directions a couple of times, but LaVine diligently shuffled his feet and forced him into a tough fadeaway jumper that badly missed.
I expected LaVine to be clueless on defense due to bad high school and college steal rates. He finished with 4 steals in 5 games, and 2 of them showed quick hands to strip the ball that you never see from McDermott or Randle types. I don’t think his defensive instincts are that bad, he just didn’t get many steals because he doesn’t have long arms and he is rail thin (I am starting to believe strength plays a significant role in steals). He still can’t fight through a screen to save his life and doesn’t always seem certain of where he’s supposed to be on defense, but he definitely showed enough potential to make me believe he can possibly become a positive on this end.
Offensively, we finally got to see LaVine run an offense and it wasn’t too bad. He doesn’t seem like a natural PG, and in the first game he appeared uncomfortable whenever Dee Bost applied pressure. He also isn’t the best passer, as he doesn’t see the floor all that well and he didn’t appear to be particularly accurate with his passes. But once he settled in his handle didn’t look too shabby, as it was good enough to get him wherever he wanted to go with his elite explosiveness and quicks. The issue was that it’s difficult for him to get off passes in the post because of his short arms, and he struggles to finish due to his lack of strength, so he was fairly reliant on his jumper and free throws. But he did a couple of shots to go at the rim when he found daylight, including some highlight dunks. His feel for the game didn’t look great, but at the same time it was much better than expected for a guy who hasn’t run an offense above the high school level. It will be interesting to see how much he can improve with hard work and repetitions. His final counting stats weren’t too shabby for such a raw prospect: 15.7 pts 2.8 asts 3.3 tovs in 6 games– his turnover rate is especially mild given all of the slashing, passing, and scoring LaVine was asked to do given his age and experience.
LaVine is pretty much Nik Stauskas if you traded a healthy portion of skill and feel for elite quickness and explosiveness. Stauskas was a lower RSCI recruit than LaVine who rose due to working diligently on his skills and body. I now understand why LaVine wasn’t top 50 RSCI: there’s a bias toward players who dominate high school due to physically developing sooner such as Jabari Parker, Shabazz Muhammad, and Julius Randle. LaVine’s rail thin frame is still a concern, as he is uniquely underweight and may never add enough muscle to accomplish much inside. But I get the impression that he is taking his NBA career seriously and is going to work hard and listen to his coach (if only his coach wasn’t Flip Saunders). I don’t know how high he’ll peak or if he’ll even necessarily become good, but he inspired a ton of hope in Las Vegas and he shot up my rankings. I feel he justified his lottery selection.
Exum looked awesome the first game, as he was getting to his spots offensively, dishing beautiful passes to his teammates, and protecting the ball with just one turnover. I don’t know if he was feeding off of the crazy pro-Utah energy (the crowd was going crazy over every tiny pro-Jazz event) or if he faced a horrible defense, because he completely disappointed in the following games.
He still showed good quickness, good vision and passing ability, and playmaking instincts defensively to suggest that he has plenty of upside. He is young and toolsy enough such that he didn’t need to have a great summer league. Frankly he looked uncomfortable adjusting to the higher level of competition after not playing above Australian HS level for the past year. It would have been nice to see him show some progress toward the end, but maybe he just needs to get repetitions and work on dribbling with his left hand. Also it appears his conditioning may be a bigger issue than expected, which explains why he conserved so much energy on defense in high school.
His defense looked as bad as anticipated and he couldn’t buy a bucket in the paint over length. He had some sexy finishes in FIBA, but it’s possible that he can’t consistently finish at the rim off the dribble in the NBA.
Altogether there is nothing about his summer league that suggests irreparable flaw or makes his upside unattainable. But he could have shown more and we do need to brace for the possibility that this mystery box does not contain a boat. I don’t drop him heavily though, he’s still top 5 to me.
I like the way the Lakers were using Randle. He often slashed from the perimeter, where I felt he was at his best in college. And unlike Jabari and Wiggins, he doesn’t attack exclusively for himself, as he makes a conscious effort to create to teammates. I don’t think he sees the floor all that well, but he is mindful of where his teammates are hanging out and he tries to dish to them when he can. He had one excellent pass where he threaded the needle inside and created FT’s.
And even though he’s bad on defense, it’s not because he doesn’t care. He shows competitiveness on this end, he just is naturally bad at it due to short arms, lack of burst, and slow reactions. I think this is just a killer triumvirate of weaknesses, but he works hard and he can at least become good man to man with his quick feet and great strength.
Randle is definitely less talented than Wiggins and Parker but it feels like he’s on a better developmental path than either of them. I’ve always had the impression that he really does want to be good at as many things as possible to win, and he will sacrifice touches and shots for the good of the team. He still doesn’t naturally play efficiently, and he struggled to finish some of his postups which involved a bit too much dribbling. But he still is so good at finishing circus shots that his shooting percentages didn’t look horrible at the end of the day.
I think he has an uphill climb to become great and I will always perceive him as an underdog in spite of his recruiting ranking and draft slot. I could see him overachieving my expectations for him through hard work and adaptability. It will be interesting to monitor Randle vs. Parker– I feel that Parker has naturally sharper instincts, but Randle is more in tune with the overall health of the team, but they are otherwise largely similar players.
Ennis was a disappointment for me. I didn’t watch a ton but from what I can tell he’s too slow to get to the rim and could only get close enough to get off floaters. He made some sharp passes and showed quick hands that suggest he might have had a good steal rate even without the zone. Also he might be much better in the NBA since he was awful against bad teams his first few college games before everything clicked. But I might just have been too much of a sucker for cerebral PG’s and need to upgrade the value of athleticism + quicks for the position. I can still see him as a Mark Jackson type.
I didn’t like Hood as a prospect at all, but he had a solid showing in Vegas. His offensive package isn’t shabby: he makes 3’s, he sees the floor, he passes well, he can exploit mismatches to get to the rim with his decent athleticism and handle, and he doesn’t force the issue and make mistakes. That’s a solid supporting role player, and 11 assists vs 5 turnovers is nice. If he could even be neutral defensively I’d say that’s a solid pick in the late 1st. Unfortunately given his poor strength, short arms, and bad instincts defensively I still think he’ll offset the good but not great offensive skill set. But who knows, maybe he’ll overachieve enough on both ends to become an alright role player.
I am big time disappointed in Kyle. He couldn’t get to the rim and finish, he couldn’t get to the line, he didn’t rebound, and he didn’t get many assists because he couldn’t get to his spots offensively. Further when he played Utah, Rodney Hood absolutely abused him and was able to blow by him at will. Against New Orleans there were 2 occasions on which Kyle was near the rim but didn’t rotate to help, although on one occasion he reached in to commit a weak foul and got pulled. I have heard that he did well defensively against some of the other top players, but whenever I happened to notice he was not getting to the rim and not doing anything of value on defense.
The slomo nickname is all fun and games until Kyle actually needs to match up against NBA athletes. He’s the smartest player in the draft, but smarts won’t be enough when he’s weak and slow and going up against elite athletes. He was drafted to the best possible situation to succeed, but I’m starting to fear he’s just a bit too slow and lazy.
Caboclo’s rawness was on fully display with his 2 assists and 18 turnovers. He didn’t seem to be that sure of where he was supposed to be defensively when I watched either. His rawness is a thing, his feel for the game is a work in progress. But it’s still easy to see why he was such a tantalizing prospect: just look at those arms and his shooting touch. He had one possession where he splashed a stepback 3 and it looked especially nice. Near the end of a half he was standing covered in the corner and caught the ball, fired, and hit at the buzzer. It’s such a broken weapon if he can get off corner 3’s whenever he wants– there was no off ball movement necessary to create that shot. He might not be good at all, but his upside is obvious so I can’t hate on the selection.
Bruno pretty good for someone who’s 2 years away from being 2 years away.
One thing i noticed from watching Bruno play – He’s not that great of an athlete. He doesnt seem like a leaper and his quickness is average, atleast from what i saw.
I think if you have arms that long, teams will be so happy to see you move at any rate faster than kyle anderson that they’ll tack the athletic label on to the scouting report a bit too lightly. I wasn’t expecting much more athleticism and he doesn’t really need it. That arm and shooting combination alone has the potential to be so broken.
I kinda hope Exum is a bust. The hype train was just insane for him with virtually no supporting evidence other than his clearly superior athleticism. Like I feel like Wiggs was overhyped too, but at least there was some footage of him hitting threes and dunking a little. And even in the FIBA games, I seem to remember Smart completely shutting Exum down, though I might be misremembering.
Warren seems like the anti-Exum, in that he completely abused ACC competition all year, to the tune of 25 very efficient ppg, without very much resultant hype. I’d love it if he was in the mix for 2015 ROY
Well Exum looked good against all of the team USA guys other than Smart, who was the best u19 perimeter defender in the world at the time. There were reasons to like Dante. He has insane size and quicks, he dominated FIBA when he wasn’t matched up with smart, he is really smart and everybody says he’s a hard worker. maybe he’s just not as smart and hard of a worker as everybody thought and he doesn’t learn to shoot, but I think there were clearly compelling reasons to justify a hype train. The intersection of smarts + tools in a young player who hasn’t been proven to suck at basketball is pretty huge. There were just a lot of blank spots to be gambled upon. I think he can be real good still, but would like to see him improve his conditioning if he’s such a hard worker.
Warren is the anti-everyone. Produces in college, produces in SL, scores in a way that actually helps his team and gets underrated with his main strength being the most overrated quality in the draft. So mad I could have been slurping him all this time and missed out.
Richard Newell (@rakmjn1) said:
what do you make of Nick Johnson? He looks like he’s ready to contribute right away offensively and defensively – your thoughts?
I like Nick Johnson. He looks like an NBA role player based on his summer league stats. I didn’t scout him quite enough to have a strong opinion, but he definitely looks like he belong in the back end of round 1. He’s an athlete and he was good defensively in college. I have been high on Nick Johnson as round 2 value ever since Morey made the pick.
Dean, just found your blog and love your analysis. You have a bright future in sports writing. Any chance you can write a bit about how you got into basketball betting and your experience with it?
It was always of interest to me. I started off by beating prop markets (I intuitively had a good feel for how to go about this) and then I decided to move on to beating the NCAA point spread. I ended up watching so much NCAA basketball that I figured I may as well write up opinions on the prospects I watch all the time and make predictions, since making predictions tends to sharpen me in one way or another once I get to see the outcome.
Overall I’ve only been doing it full time for 2 years, but I feel I’m getting better at a fast rate. At a certain point the gambling might have to supersede the draft writing, but for now it’s a fun hobby and I’m letting it ride.