Thursday, July 3, 2014

Orlando Summer League: Foreign League Players to Watch and the Top 5 of the Bunch

With the rosters finalized, it appears things are good to go for the Orlando Summer League debut this upcoming Saturday. In the last couple of posts, MLH looked at interesting players to watch out for in the Orlando Summer League, which mostly stemmed from undrafted rookies who were looking for an opportunity to get a contract for the upcoming seasons.

In this post, MLH is going to highlight all the players who played foreign ball last season that are participating in the Orlando Summer League. A lot of players we have mentioned already, but we'll list them again just for continuity sake.

Note: Stats are according to Eurobasket database.

List of All Summer League Players Who Played International Professional Ball last season.

Boston Celtics

  • Dairis Bertans, G, 6'4, 183 pounds. Team: Bilbao Basket (Spain). Stats: 10.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.1 apg.
  • Edwin Jackson, G, 6'3, 201 pounds. Team: ASVEL (France). Stats: 18 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.3 apg.

Brooklyn Nets
  • Daniel Clark, F/C, 6'11, 210 pounds. Team: Laboral Kutxa Vitora (Spain). Stats: Only played 1 game.
  • Donte Greene, F, 6'9, 226 pounds. Team: Dongguan Leopards (China). Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg. 
  • Nick Minnerath, F, 6'9, 215 pounds. Team: STB Le Havre (France). Stats: 11.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.0 apg.
  • Alen Omic, C, 7'1, 225 pounds. Team: Union Olimpija Ljubljana (Slovenia). Stats: 10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg.
  • DaJuan Summers, F, 6'8, 240 pounds. Team: Budivelnyk Kyiv (Ukraine). Stats: 15.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.4 apg.

Houston Rockets
  • Miro Bilan, C, 6'11, 245 pounds. Team: KK Cedevita Zagreb (Croatia). Stats: 13.3ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.5 apg.

Indiana Pacers
  • Kevin Jones, F, 6'8, 251 pounds. Team: San Miguel Beermen (Philippines). Stats: Has not played yet this year for San Miguel.

Memphis Grizzlies
  • Janis Timma, F/G, 6'7, 226 pounds. Team: BK Ventspils (Latvia). Stats: 12.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.5 apg.
  • Jack Cooley, F/C, 6'9, 244 pounds. Team: Trabzonspor (Turkey). Stats: 12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg.
  • Jarrid Famous, C, 6'11, 240 pounds. Team: Tadamon Zouk (Lebanon). Stats: 19.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg.
  • Deon Thompson, F, 6'8, 250 pounds. Team: Bayern Munich (Germany). Stats: 11.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg.
  • Edwin Ubiles, G/F, 6'6, 204 pounds. Team: Kyoto Hannaryz (Japan). Stats: 15.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.2 apg.
  • Terrico White, G, 6'5, 215 pounds. Team: Hapoel Eilat (Israel). Stats: 14.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.1 spg.

Miami Heat
  • Ivan Aska, F, 6'7, 230 pounds. Team(s): Ikaros Kallitheas (Greece) and Cangrejeros de Santurce (Puerto Rico). Stats: 15.2 ppg, 7 rpg (25 games for Ikaors); 6.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg (11 games for CDS).
  • Danilo Barthel, 6'10, 220 pounds. Team: Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt (Germany). Stats: 11.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.4 apg. 
  • Nobel Boungou Colo, 6'8, 215 pounds. Team: Limoges CSP Elite (France). Stats: 15 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.8 apg.

Orlando Magic
  • Kim English, G, 6'6, 200 pounds. Team: Chorale de Roanne (France). Stats: 11.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.9 apg.
  • Vernon Macklin, F, 6'10, 227 pounds. Team: Liaoning Jiebao Hunters (China). Stats: 12.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg.

Philadelphia 76ers
  • Casper Ware, G, 5'10, 175 pounds. Team: Granarolo de Bologna (Italy). Stats: 11.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.2 apg.

Teams without foreign representation: Detroit Pistons, Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now that all of the players with foreign professional experience last year have been listed, let's take a look at the Top-5 players from the list compiled above. This is my own personal rankings, and I give explanation of why I rated them so and give an outlook on their potential below the video.

MLH Top-5 European League Players in Summer League.

1. Terrico White, Memphis

A strong athlete and scorer, White is a veteran of many foreign leagues, playing in Israel, Turkey Serbia and even here in the states in the D-League (Idaho) and NBA (Pistons). At 6'5, White is a strong combo guard with good inside-outside ability. He reminds a lot of people of a poor man's Rodney Stuckey, and he can go off for scoring at will, as evidenced by the highlight tape above when he was playing in Serbia for Radnicki KG. The Grizzlies need help on the perimeter, and White is a dark horse to make an impact thanks to his experience and growth as a player overseas.

2. Edwin Jackson, Boston Celtics

The Celtics need more perimeter scoring and Jackson looks like he could be the under the radar player to do it. While I mentioned him in an earlier post, I can't stop gushing about the Frenchman. While more of a combo guard, he displays a beautiful shot, excellent jumping ability and a strong knack to playing above the rim. He offers instant offense and athleticism to this Celtics summer league squad. A player who is a bit older (he's 25) and spent most of his development in France (he hasn't played professionally outside the country), Jackson will be tested in this exposure to American professional basketball, but he appears polished with just enough upside to really stand out in Orlando.

3. Janis Timma, Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies' 2013 2nd round pick, Timma spent the year back in Latvia developing his game. Timma, though not wowing in terms of athleticism, the 6'7 forward brings a balanced game with a strong overall skill set. He can score, rebound, handle the ball and create for others on the offensive end. His game is the equivalent of a "Swiss Army Knife" and he shows extraordinary polish for a player who is only 22 years old. There is no timetable in terms of when Timma will make his way permanently stateside for the Grizzlies, but with a strong Summer League campaign, he may force Grizzly management to bring him over sooner rather than later.

4. Donte Greene, Brooklyn Nets

Who knows how much Greene has left in the tank. A tall wing/forward combo who has always had promise and potential, Greene hasn't really fulfilled expectations in the NBA, whether its fans or his own. He looked on the cusp of a breakout with Sacramento, but inconsistent performance and playing time ended up leading to his ouster, and he's been traveling around ever since, jumping from D-League squads, to teams in Puerto Rico to even the Chinese Basketball Association. However, averaging near 20-8 in China for DongGuan (who finished 3rd in League) certainly helped his case this past season. Only 26, this latest Summer League may be a chance for Greene to prove that he can help a NBA team off the bench as a tall, aggressive energy guy.

5. Deon Thompson, Memphis Grizzlies

A star out of North Carolina, Thompson has endured a tough professional career, playing in Greece, Slovenia and Germany since graduating from UNC. Thompson though, while not flashy, may be one of the most polished players on this list. While his numbers are meager, Thompson without a doubt played against the toughest European competition while suiting up for Bayern Munich. Furthermore, Thompson's maturity and professionalism strike you as a plus in his favor, especially when you watch this interview. If Thompson is going to make a NBA squad this summer, he's not going to make one based on potential or upside. He'll make it because of his intangibles, polish and ability to play on a team, as he did the past season for Bayern Munich.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Orlando Summer League: Players to Keep an Eye On Part 2

Seton Hall's Fuquan Edwin, undrafted, but playing for the Thunder Summer League squad, could breakout in Orlando

If you haven't done so, check out part 1 for highlights on under-the-radar players participating in the Orlando Summer League for Boston, Brooklyn, Houston and Memphis. Now let's check out part 2 and look at some players to keep a watch for in the Orlando Summer League.

Indiana Pacers

  • Jake Odum, G, Indiana State
  • Tyler Stone, F, SE Missouri State

MLH Take:

The Pacers will be loaded up with D-League stars on this summer league squad, with Dee Bost, Frank Gaines and Sadiel Rojas being the prime examples. However, undrafted rookies Jake Odum and Tyler Stone are interesting, under-the-radar cases, and could be seen as emergency backup plans for the Pacers in terms of solidifying their perimeter depth if Lance Stephenson doesn't re-sign with Indiana this offseason.

Odum was a four-year player at Indiana State and considered the 51st rated senior in the 2014 class according to DraftExpress. DraftExpress noted that Odum was a "Missouri Valley Conference version of Kendall Marshall...big, pure, creative PG who can handle and make every pass in the book." Odum was the standout player of a 23-11 Sycamore squad, as he posted an offensive rating of 111.5 and an assist rate of 29.1 to only a turnover rate of 15.3. One of the issues though with Odom was that he didn't play against very elite competition at ISU, especially his senior season, with Wichita State being the only real challenge left in the MVC. Against the Shockers, he had two sub-par performances (89 rating in first Jan. meeting and 94 rating in MVC tournament matchup) and one slightly above par (103 rating). A local kid who is actually from Terre Haute (the location of Indiana State), Odum will win some fanfare because of his Indiana ties.

Stone is an interesting PF prospect who also comes from the small college circles. After transferring from Missouri after his freshman season, Stone brought his skill set to the Ohio Valley Conference school.  Though the Redhawks struggled to find success, Stone really came into his own in the smaller, less-pressure setting. In his senior season, Stone, the 53rd rated senior according to DraftExpress, scored 19.1 ppg and nabbed 9.2 rpg. He also ranked in the top 100 in defensive rebounding rate (22.7%) and top 120 according to adjusted offensive rating (120.7) according to KenPom. Stone bring some athleticism to the table, and his profile is very similar to a poor man's Thomas Robinson in the sense that he is known for his effort and tenacity, though he is a bit undersized for a power forward. It'll be interesting to see how Stone adjusts after playing against mostly meager competition in the OVC.

Orlando Magic
  • Kadeem Batts, F, Providence
  • Asauhn Dixon-Tatum, C, Auburn

MLH Take:

Batts was a key cog in helping the Friars not only return to the NCAA Tournament, but win a Big East Conference Tournament Championship as well. Batts was named 2nd team All-Big East his senior year, as well as the 2013 Most Improved Player in the conference. Batts primarily profiles as an around-the-rim player, but he wins points with his tenacity and toughness around the rim. His offensive rebounding rate was 12% last season, so he is the kind of guy that can crash the board and not give up after the first shot. He still has to work on his touch around the rim (only 44.1 eFG% a year ago), but his effort and growth as a player at Providence could bode well for him in the future as a professional, especially in Summer League play.

Dixon-Tatum is a project of sorts and most likely will find a spot on a D-League roster this upcoming fall. He has an impressive frame at 7'0, 230 pounds, but he overwhelmed a bit in his career at Auburn. He only averaged 6.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg with the Tigers his senior year, but his advance stats were better than expected. His 14.2 offensive rebounding rate was 27th best in the nation, and his 10.9 block rate was 26th best in the nation according to KenPom. At the very least, Dixon-Tatum could fit himself to be a good shot blocking and rebounding energy guy off the bench for a professional squad. Whether that professional squad will be a NBA is yet to be seen, but he is an under-the-radar guy who didn't get a lot of love leading up to the draft who could surprise in Orlando.

Miami Heat
  • Danilo Barthel, F/C, Germany
  • Nobel Boungou Colo, G, Republic of Congo
  • Ivan Aska, G, Murray State

MLH Take:

The "under-the-radar" players all have an international flavor to it, as the three listed above all played some form of international basketball in 2014. Barthel is a 6'10 220 pound post from Germany who played for the Fraport Skyliners of Frankfurt in the German Basketball League last season. As the starting power forward, Barthel averaged 11.3 ppg and 4.9 rpg. Not a lot is known about the German prospect, other than the fact that he is spent most of his career in the German league and appears to be a very raw prospect. However, considering Germany's development when it comes to basketball players since the arrival of Dirk to the states (Dennis Schroeder was a draft pick of the Hawks last season), Barthel could be an interesting player to watch in Orlando.

Boungou Colo hails from Congo, but has spent most of his career playing in France. Last season, he played for the Limoges CSP Elite team of the France ProA league. As the starting shooting guard, Colo averaged 15 ppg and 5.1 rpg for the 20-10 Limoges squad. Colo has showed some touch from beyond the arc, as he is a 40 percent three point shooter. And, his 6'8, 207 pound frame gives him ability to play the forward or guard position on the wing. Check out Boungou-Colo's mixed tape below and it is obvious to see that he does bring an interesting skill set to the Miami Heat summer league roster.

Aska made a name for himself in 2012 for a Racer squad that only lost 1 game during the NCAA regular season. Aska had a solid campaign his senior season that year, averaging 10.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg as a 6'7 athletic combo guy. A bit of a tweener, he went undrafted in the 2012 NBA draft and has been bouncing back and forth internationally playing in Greece for Ikaros for 25 games, averaging 15.2 ppg and 7.0 rpg for the Greek squad. He also has been playing in the BSN of Puerto Rico, where has suited up as a reserve for the Santurce squad, averaging 6.9 ppg and 4.5 rpg. A tweener that really doesn't have a true position, Aska is a long shot to make a NBA squad, but he has proved that he has developed a bit overseas and it'll be interesting to see if he can continue that growth in the Summer League.

Philadelphia 76ers

  • Melvin Ejim, G, Iowa State
  • Jakarr Sampson, F, St. John's
  • Aaron Craft, G, Ohio State

MLH Take:

If Miami is going the international route, Philly is going the "college stars" route with undrafted players. Ejim, a native of Canada, had a solid season for the Cyclones in helping them to a Big 12 Tournament title and Sweet 16 appearance, but his game profiles as a bit of a tweener, and with his 6'6 frame, he went undrafted in this year's draft. Ejim statisically was solid as he averaged 17.8 ppg and 8.4 rpg for the Cyclones last season, and Hoiberg's system will have dividends for him in his adjustment to the NBA game. Whether Ejim finds a true position, and whether or not he can find a consistent outside shot (34.6 3pt% last season) will determine whether or not Ejim can find a roster spot in the NBA.

Sampson on the other hand brings a lot of intangibles to a possible NBA roster. Primarily a post player at 6'8, 207 pounds, Sampson came in No. 98 in DraftExpress' Top-100 prospects leading up to the Draft. There is no question athletically Sampson can play at the next level, but his play at St. John's often underwhelmed. His 101.6 adjusted offensive rating last year was nowhere close to matching his potential, and he underwhelmed in many "physical categories" such as rebounding and block rate. Though, it is possible that the NBA may be in his future, it is likely Sampson will be manning a D-League roster next season. However, a good showing in Orlando could put him back on the radar as a possible callup from the D-League next year.

Craft doesn't need much of an introduction. A defensive-first player who was either loved or hated by most college basketball fans and analysts, Craft went undrafted, but found a spot on Philly's roster. Whether Craft makes the league or not will depend on how his defense will transition to the next level, but Craft needs to carve out some kind of semblance of an offensive game in order to have that possibility realize. His 30.2 3pt percentage was flat out lousy for a guard, and his 24.3 turnover rate didn't inspire much hope that he could handle being a NBA point either. Craft needs to find some kind of role or identity on an offense, as his defensive ability is NBA ready, but he won't find a spot on a NBA roster unless some kind of offense is developed.

Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Fuquan Edwin, G/F, Seton Hall

MLH Take:

If you want a breakout candidate for this Summer League, look no further than Edwin, a combo player from Seton Hall. A high-shot (32% shot rate last year) athletic guard/forward who stands 6'6 and 207 pounds, Edwin was rated as the 69th best prospect according to DraftExpress leading up to the NBA Draft. Big East Coast Bias, SB Nation's Big East basketball blog, had a good writeup on Edwin, and what stands out the most about Edwin's game is his defensive ability. His 5.3 percent steal rate was 3rd best in the country last season, and he according to sources has tried to model his game after Bruce Bowen. Unlike Craft, he has some semblance of an offensive game, though he will need to shore up his outside shooting a bit if he wants to truly realize that Bruce Bowen-potential (33 percent 3pt % last year). Edwin is a polished player who is known for defense and effort, and those kind of characteristics could go a long way. OKC is known for finding under-the-radar talent and utilizing max potential out of them. It could be possible Edwin could satisfy that role, especially with their need for more perimeter help since James Harden left town.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Orlando Summer League: Players to Keep an Eye On Part 1

Alen Omic, a 7'2 center from Slovenia is expected to play for the Nets squad in the Orlando Summer League 

With the NBA Draft now over, it means the next item of NBA-related material to get excited about will center on the NBA Summer League. While the Las Vegas Summer League is the NBA's main event league this summer, Orlando also has proved to be an interesting showcase to pay attention to as of late. Mostly meant for drafted and undrafted rookies, early players who need more development or journeyman vets looking for one last shot in the NBA, Summer League provides the most hardcore NBA fan of an early glimpse of what players could be making a name for themselves in the upcoming season. Some players have used successful Summer League campaigns to launch successful seasons and careers (Reggie Jackson a prime case last year), while others have had good summer league campaigns that proved to be mirages (Anthony Randolph).

So, let's take a glance at who will be some interesting under-the-radar players competing for teams in Oralndo Summer League that people need to keep an eye on in Orlando. They range from undrafted rookies, to second-third year guys trying to break into the league after not making it the previous.

Here is part 1 that looks at Boston, Brooklyn, Houston and Memphis.

Boston Celtics

  • Mike Moser, F, Oregon
  • Devin Oliver, F, Dayton
  • Daniel Coursey, F/C, Mercer
  • Edwin Jackson, G, France
  • Dairis Bertans, G, Latvia

MLH Take:

The rookies are the main attractions for the Celtics' Orlando team, as Marcus Smart and James Yong will be expected to carry this team in Orlando. However, there are some interesting pieces that Boston added. Oliver led the Elite-Eight finishing Flyers in adjusted offensive efficiency at 121.7 a season ago, as he is an excellent inside-outside player, with good shooting touch (59.4 TS%) and excellent rebounding skills for his size (9.0% offensive rebounding rate, 20.9% defensive rebounding rate). Oliver may have been the Flyers' best player last season, and the Celtics could have a sneakily good player on their roster that could have a breakout this summer. Oregon's Mike Moser brings a similar profile as a big, inside-outside forward with a good shooting tough (55.9 TS%) and some rebounding ability as well (24.3% defensive rebounding rate) though he certainly isn't as efficient as Oliver (111.2 adjusted offensive rating).

Coursey is also another player that has a lot of interesting metrics. Though he played on a Mercer team that wasn't probably as good as their upset win over Duke indicated (they still finished 86th in KenPom's final rankings), Coursey was a dominant post threat for the Bears in 2013-2014. He led the team in block rate at 9.7 percent and was dominant on the offensive (10.9 percent) and defensive (20.0 percent) glass. He wasn't a high usage guy, and I wonder how he'll adjust to more athletic competition, but Coursey was a guy who many thought had a chance to be second-round pick material in this last draft.

Jackson and Bertans are a pair of interesting foreign rookie guards who could bring a lot to the table and perhaps some competition for Smart. Jackson, who played for the French National Team in the FIBA 2010 World Championship as a 20 year old, played last season in France for ASVEL Basket, where he averaged 18.0 ppg in 31.9 mpg in French domestic play, and 14.2 ppg in 28.9 mpg in 10 Eurocup games. Bertans is coming off a solid season with Bilbao in the more prestigious Spanish ACB league, as he averaged 10.3 ppg in 23.7 mpg in ACB league play, and 10.8 ppg in 26.3 mpg in 14 Eurocup games. Both Jackson and Bertans are more shoot-first style of guards, but they have good European pedigree, and it'll be interesting to see how they adjust to US play here in the summer league.

Brooklyn Nets
  • Alen Omic, C, Slovenia
  • Kyle Casey, F, Harvard

MLH Take:

From Slovenia, Omic has spent the past years playing for Union Olimpija Ljubljana for the Slovenian-Telemach league. Omic averaged 10.2 ppg and 6.4 rpg for the Slovenian squad in domestic league play, and 9.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg in 16 Eurocup games. At 7'2, 217 pounds, Omic is a tall center that has gained a lot of experience playing in his native Slovenia. That being said, he is not an overly physical or defensive minded player, as his blocks per 40 were extremely low last season for a player of his size (0.8 in the Slovenian-Telemach league and 1.9 in the Eurocup, very low for a seven-footer). Furthermore, his lack of competition also has kept him under the radar and tempered people's expectations of him since he jumped on the scene in the FIBA U20 World Championship in 2011. In 10 Euroleague games in 2013, Omic only scored 5.0 ppg and nabbed 3.8 rpg in 12.8 mpg. There is a lot of intrigue with Omic, but it'll be interesting to see if this summer will be a gateway for Omic to find a spot on the Nets roster, or will just be a temporary stopping point before he heads back to Europe.

Kyle Casey is one of the more accomplished players in Harvard history, having helped the Crimson to two NCAA Tournament appearances in his four seasons in Cambridge. Casey sat out the 2013 season due to a cheating scandal where he and other Harvard students (including fellow player Brandyn Curry) were implicated in (it was not just a basketball player scandal but a general student cheating scandal they got mixed up in). Casey withdrew from Harvard for a year to preserve eligibility, and was able to return to the squad and help the Crimson reach their 3rd straight tournament berth. However, Casey wasn't quite as effective in his return, as his adjusted offensive rating hovered at 101.5, a career low for him, which wasn't helped by his 47.5 eFG%, which was also a career low. Casey brings interesting athleticism and ability to play above the rim, but he's been in college for over 5 years, and he's not exactly trending in the right direction. It'll be interesting to see how he fits on this Nets squad in Orlando.

Houston Rockets

  • Miro Bilan, C, Croatia
  • Tarik Black, PF/C, Kansas
  • Jahii Carson, PG, Arizona State
  • Jabari Brown, SG, Missouri
  • Chris Udofia, SF, Denver

MLH Take:

Bilan is a 24-year-old, 7'0, 245 pound center from Croatia who has spent most of his time in the Adriatic League, playing with KK Cedevita Zagreb. This past season, he was the starting center for a competitive Cedevita team, averaging 13.8 and 6.4 rpg in both Adiratic and Eurocup action. Bilan gained some steam going into the 2011 draft, but didn't get drafted and seems to be a long shot to make the Rockets team. Much like Omic, while skilled, he doesn't provide enough defensive presence to be a NBA post player. On the flip side, Black is sort of the opposite of Bilan. While limited in his offensive game, Black provided a tough physical presence as Joel Embiid's primary backup. Hampered by foul trouble all season (caused 8.3 fouls per 40 minutes), Black was a tough rebounder (11.6 % OR rate, 21.3 % DR rate) who proved to be an efficient scorer when he had the ball in his hands (122.5 adjusted offensive rating). Black compares similarly to a Jeff Adrien type and could surprise in Orlando.

Carson and Brown are prime examples of why players shouldn't leave college early when they're not guaranteed first round draft picks. Carson and Brown had their reasons to leave. Carson was one of the top playmakers in the country at point (29.7 assist rate), and Brown arguably was a more effective player than second-round pick and teammate Jordan Clarkson (Brown had a rating of 119.8 while Clarkson had a rating of 109.8; also, Brown ranked in the top-100 in true shooting at 62.2 percent). But, both didn't play on overly standout squads this season (ASU was 1 and done in the tournament and Mizzou whiffed the tournament completely), and didn't stand out in an exceptionally deep draft class. Maybe last year or next season they could have sneaked in the second round, but this was a year where there was just great talent from top to bottom, and unfortunately, Carson and Brown missed the cut. That being said, both are extremely talented players, and have the potential to turn solid Summers League seasons into perhaps a couple of D-League spots next year.

Udofia was a four-year, small college player at Denver. While he or team didn't stand out much in his four years with the Pioneers (no NCAA Tournament berths), Udofia was rated as No. 83 in the Top-100 seniors according to DraftExpress, just behind Marshall Henderson. Udofia struggles from beyond the arc (22 percent 3pt% last season), but he is an athletic player at 6'6, 200 pounds and is very polished, though lacking in upside.

Memphis Grizzlies
  • Joe Jackson, PG, Memphis
  • Scottie Wilbekin, PG, Florida

MLH Take:

Ranked No. 49 and 50 in their senior class respectively by DraftExpress, Jackson and Wilbekin provide some interesting upside as potential point guard sleepers who could breakout this Summer. Jackson came in as a heralded hometown kid to Memphis four seasons ago, but he failed to live up to the hype in his Tiger career (it didn't help that he succeeded Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at the PG position at Memphis). That being said, his 14.4 ppg, 4.5 apg, and 112.3 adjusted offensive rating showed that his career wasn't a total disappointment, and that Jackson shouldn't be blamed for the Tigers being unable to advance to the second round in his Tiger career. As for Wilbekin, he gained a lot of praise for his leadership in helping Florida be the No. 1 team in the country for most of the year, but his numbers don't jump out at you. 13.1 ppg, 3.6 apg and 112.2 offensive rating display Wilbekin as a solid, but unspectacular player who wouldn't seem to stand out in a position that is very deep in the NBA right now. That being said, Wilbekin's intangibles have earned himself a lot of praise as a player, and he showed vast improvement from where he was as a freshman at Florida (97.2 offensive rating his freshman year).

Overall, Jackson and Wilbekin are incredibly similar players, and it's funny to see them on the same squad. They are both polished point guards known for leadership and consistency, but don't seem to have too much upside in terms of development. They are classic high floor, low ceiling guys, with that floor being a NBA backup, and the ceiling being an emergency starter or starter for a rebuilding team. Because of their similarities, both will fight hard for playing time this Summer and it will be interesting if one will emerge this Summer as a candidate for the backup point guard position to Mike Conley on next year's Grizzly roster.

Friday, June 27, 2014

D-League NBA Draft Roundup: Hairston Makes History at No. 26, Antetokounmpo Selected No. 51

Hairston (left) went No. 26 to Charlotte and Antetokounmpo went No. 51 to New York in last night's NBA Draft

As expected, two out of the six D-League eligible players were selected in the NBA Draft. PJ Hairston made history as the first D-League player to be selected in the first round at No. 26, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo was selected No. 51 by the New York Knicks. Without a doubt, this is a tell-tale sign that the D-League is becoming more viable as the "official" minor league to the NBA, and it will be interesting to see how many high school and college-aged players take the path of going from the D-League to the NBA in the coming years.

For now though, let's take a look at the outlook of Hairston and Antetokounmpo for their respective organizations.

Hairston's Outlook with the Charlotte Hornets

Current Charlotte Hornets Depth Chart:

  • Point Guard: Kemba Walker (starter), Luke Ridnour, Jannero Pargo
  • Shooting Guard: Gerald Henderson (starter), Gary Neal, Chris Douglas-Roberts
  • Small forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (starter), Anthony Tolliver, Jeff Taylor
  • Power forward: Josh McRoberts (starter), Cody Zeller, DJ White
  • Center: Al Jefferson (starter), Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood

MLH Take:

After making the playoffs last season, there will be a lot of excitement in Charlotte with the new team name change and their more positive outlook for the upcoming season in comparison to seasons past. While lottery selection Noah Vonleh will have a tough time finding minutes in a rotation with established post players such as McRoberts and Jefferson, and former first round picks Zeller and Biyombo, Hairston's situation is a little bit more optimistic. This is a Hornets team that will need shooting, as Henderson and Kidd-Gilchrist are not prone to shoot much from beyond the arc (2.5 percent 3 point attempt rate for Kidd-Gilchrist and 12.4 percent rate for Henderson). Furthermore, in terms of PER, the Hornets (formerly Bobcats) struggled to get much efficiency from their perimeter players on the offensive end as Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist and Neal, their three primary wing players, posted PER numbers of 13.1, 12.0 and 14.1, which is below average on the PER scale (15 is considered average). Hairston will provide instant offense off the bench immediately. Hairston's proved to handle himself well at the D-League level, posting a PER of 19.6 and an eFG% of 54%. Also, he is a solid threat from outside the arc, as he shot 35 percent from beyond the arc, and nearly half of his field goal attempts were 3-point attempts.

In terms of fit, Hairston finds himself in a good situation. The Hornets were looking for a polished player who could help them out immediately, especially on the perimeter. It was widely rumored that the Hornets were going to select a player like Stauskas or McDermott considering their outside shooting ability and polish as college players. Instead, it looks like the Hornets reached for potential with their lottery pick (Vonleh) and instead found their polished player late in the first round with Hairston. Expect Hairston to compete immediately in Charlotte and find himself as a sixth/seventh man in the rotation, with potential for more playing time depending on how he progresses over the course of the season.

Antetokounmpo's Outlook with the New York Knicks

Current New York Knicks Depth Chart:
  • Point guard: Jose Calderon, Pablo Prigioni, Toure Murray
  • Shooting guard: Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Shannon Brown
  • Small forward: Tim Hardaway Jr., Andrea Bargnani
  • Power Forward: Amare Stoudamire, Earl Clark, Kenyon Martin
  • Center: Samuel Dalembert, Jeremy Tyler, Cole Aldrich

MLH Take:

It is difficult to see where Antetokounmpo will fit considering all the roster fluctuation going on. With the Knicks trading Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for Calderon and Dalembert, and with Carmelo Anthony a free agent, it is hard to determine if the Knicks are going to try to be competitive in 2014-2015 or if they are going to simply tank and play to get a Top-3 pick in next year's lottery. What decision they make could have an affect on the future on the older Antetokounmpo. If they try to be competitive, he most likely will be in Westchester (the Knicks' new D-League affiliate) continuing to develop. If they are punting next season, then it is possible that Antetokounmpo will get a chance to get some playing time at the NBA level.

While the situation isn't prime for immediate playing time like Hairston, Antetokounmpo will benefit from being in an organization that is now being led by Phil Jackson. The Greek forward impressed people last year with his work ethic and improvement over the course of the D-League season with Delaware, and some think the Knicks may be getting a steal at No. 51. Jackson has always been a keen eye not only for talent, but for getting the most out his talent, and it'll be interesting to see if Antetokounmpo will be another success story in Jackson's history book. My bet is Antetokounmpo will be spending another year in the D-League next season, but don't be surprised if he finds a place on the Knicks roster at some point next season, especially if they do not sign Carmelo and begin the rebuilding process in 2014-2015.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

FIBA Americas U18 2014 Championship Scouting Report: Uruguay, 8th Place

One of the youngest squads in the tournament, Grolla De Leon (no. 6) and Uruguay showed some growing pains and need for improvement at the FIBA Americas 18U Championship in Colorado Springs.

With the FIBA Americas U18 Championship now finished (the US beat Canada 113-79 on Tuesday, June 24th), Minor League Hoops is going to break down each team that participated in the Tournament. Today, we're going to look at Uruguay, who finished 8th in Colorado Springs.

Uruguay at a Glance

FIBA Americas U18 Championship Results

Group Play (1-2)
  • Def. by USA 156-58 (L)
  • Def. by Argentina 66-57 (L)
  • Def. Mexico 89-70 (W)

Reclassification Round (0-1)
  • Def. by Brazil 97-55 (L)

7th Place Game (0-1)
  • Def. by Mexico 79-65 (L)

Final Record: 1-4. Final Game and Player stats here.

Uruguay Player Standouts
  • Octavio Medina Reyes, No. 7, SF, 6'4, 18 years old: 13.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2 spg, 39 FG%
  • Martin Counago Rivetria, No. 4, PG, 6'0, 17 years old: 10.8 ppg, 93.3 FT%, 37 FG%
  • Facundo Nahuel Grolla De Leon, No. 6, C, 6'3, 16 year old: 7.6 ppg, 7 rpg
  • Martin Nicolas Rojas Basilico, No.10, 6'1, PF, 15 years old: 5.0 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.8 orpg

Uruguay Roster Scouting Report

Uruguay's U-18 team was one of the smallest (6'2 average height) and youngest teams in the FIBA Americas Tournament field. With three 15-year-old players and only two 18-year-olds to lead the roster, Uruguay coach Luis Eduard Pierri  witnessed his team undergo some growing pains over the five-game span in Colorado Springs. While the young Uruguay squad showed some flashes of promise (mostly in their third game against Mexico), they often found themselves outmatched on a consistent basis throughout the tournament.

In addition to lacking height, Uruguay's roster didn't sport much athleticism in the tournament. The young team relied mostly on their north-south speed to score points and match up on defense (they looked better when they pushed the ball in transition and cutting to the hoop without the ball in the halfcourt; on defense, they often got back and set into defensive position relatively quickly). However, it was obvious that Uruguay's roster didn't sport the length or lateral quickness of other countries featured in the tournament. Medina Reyes, an 18-year-old small forward who was Uruguay's leading scorer, was the most impressive player on Uruguay athletically, offering a multiple skill set as a player, and running the court well considering he was Uruguay's tallest player. Grolla De Leon added some strength in the post both on offense and defense for Uruguay, as he often had to match up against players who often had over six inches on him in terms of height. At the same time though, Grolla De Leon, while he offered strength and heart in often unfavorable matchups against the competition, didn't show much athleticism or quickness for his position, though at 16 years old, he certainly has time to perhaps grow and develop.

Augustin Espinosa de Costa, a 15-year-old, 6'3 shooting guard played limited minutes (only 53 minutes total) but was an active, high-motor player who looked to have the most upside as a player. He displayed some raw skills both on the offensive and defensive end and often provided a boost to a Uruguay team that was often outmatched athletically by their competition. Look for him to be utilized more in the future and emerge as a leader for this Uruguay squad in the next couple of years, especially with Medina Reyes advancing up a level next year.

Uruguay Offense Report

Uruguay, because of their size tried to spread out teams in a 4-out set in the halfcourt with the post rotating toward ball side in a triangular motion (typical of 4-out motion offenses). One of the key aspects about Uruguay was that their coaching staff seemed to want them to get the ball to their playmakers, and let those playmakers create individually off the dribble. With players like Medina Reyes, it seemed to be beneficial. Medina Reyes with his height and size had the ability to be an inside-outside threat for Uruguay, and it was obvious that they wanted to get him the ball on a consistent basis to be their primary scoring option.

However, the one issue with Uruguay's offense is that though Pierri gave his team a lot of freedom on offense, they didn't seem as a team able to do much in the free-flowing offense skill-wise, especially against defenses that were much bigger and more athletic than them. Being free-flowing and allowing your players to go in isolation against a team that is as athletic as you or worse is one thing, but Uruguay was consistently outmatched athletically in almost every game (the only one they were more even with athletically was Mexico, and they hung with them, winning one game against them and playing it close the second game). Furthermore, some players just weren't skilled enough to be able to play in isolation (they didn't have the ball handling, mid-range shooting or driving ability to do so). And this inability to play 1-on-1 basketball ended up resulting in a lot of turnovers or poor shots. Let's take a look at a sample possession by Uruguay displaying their offensive strategy.

Here's an example of a possession in their base four-out set. Uruguay didn't run many away screens, but did run many ball screens in their offense, which resulted in the post and perimeter players flipping on many occasions. In this case, Grolla De Leon, a center and usually in the post, set a ball screen in the wing and popped to the corner where he received the ball (his current position in the snapshot above). Pierri allows his players to go 1-on-1 in isolation and have the freedom to make a play to the basket where the player sees fit. It's a kind of style of basketball that works well with athletic or very skilled players, and is something more common at the upper levels of basketball (mostly the NBA). Unfortunately, Pierri's squad doesn't quite have that skill set yet, Grolla De Leon in particular. A limited outside shooter, Grolla De Leon frequently tries to get to the rim, but often ends up driving to a place where he's in bad position for a shot or a pass. Take a look at how his drive ends up when he picks up his dribble.

Grolla De Leon picks up his dribble in a difficult place on the right block. He has a difficult shot to take, and because he is left handed, he is not in a good place vision-wise to make a pass. With the longer Brazilian defender draping him, Grolla De Leon has to make a tough shot, and he doesn't quite have the height nor the athleticism to take the jump shot over the defender. The play results as such:

Grolla De Leon pivots to the baseline and is forced to take a very difficult up and under attempt near the baseline, heavily contested. That is a difficult shot to consistently make for a NBA player, let alone one 16 years old. It is understandable to see what Pierri wants to do with his team on the offensive end. Because of their lack of height, he wants his players to use their speed to take advantage of matchups where they have the advantage in quickness. But installing this kind of offense also requires better decision making, and a good sense of what one's abilities are as a player. At times, it seemed like Uruguay didn't accomplish those two things well. Certain players in 1 on 1 matchups challenged defenders who obviously had size and athletic advantages over them, and the result was often not pretty (turnover or badly missed shot). Then again, this was a pretty young Uruguay team, so maybe they just need more experience and skill development before they become more adjusted and fluid in this style of play. Regardless, it seemed like Uruguay would have been better served by more ball movement and less Dribble Drive-Isolation action from their young, undersized team (as evidenced by their assist-turnover ratio which was 47-107, a classic sign that they would have benefited by promoting more action to develop off the ball to get better, more high-percentage shots).

Uruguay Defense Report

Uruguay tended to play very conservatively on the defensive end, primarily sticking in half court man-to-man sets most of the time throughout the tournament. Without elite athleticism or length, it made sense that Uruguay simply tried to get back and prevent teams from going into the fast break. This strategy was also evidenced by their low offensive rebounding total which was 50 for the tournament; teams that don't crash the boards that much usually are sacrificing second chance points in favor of getting back on defense to prevent fast break points. Uruguay did not take much chances on the defensive end, further demonstrated by their low steal totals (38) for the tournament.

That being said, their conservative approach didn't necessarily help on the defensive end. They struggled playing off of ball screens as they were torched often from beyond the arc. Teams shot 38% from 3-point land on Uruguay in the tournament, and 47% on total field goals in general. While their inability to contest shots was due at times to athleticism and height, they also showed mediocre fundamentals and communication on the defensive end, especially when it came to defense off the screen. Here's a sample possession where their lack of communication and focus on defense leads to any easy Brazilian 3-pointer.

As you can see, the post player for Brazil is setting the ball screen for the guard. The defender following the post player is very far behind, which makes it tough to properly defend action off the screen. Secondly, much like the defender guarding the ball, he is very upright. Should they be in a switch game plan on defense, if the post man cuts quickly off the screen, the help defender's upright position will not allow him to recover on defense. His momentum is going all forward because he is standing so upright. If he was in better defensive position, and in close proximity to the screener, he would be in better position to defend the screen play, no matter what action the Brazilian pair throws at him and the ball defender.

As the Brazilian post made the screen, its clear that Uruguay was in a "switch" game plan in terms of their man-to-man defense. Of course, switching was probably the only thing they could do. The ball defender wasn't in athletic enough position to go over the screen (much like the help defender he is way too high in terms of defensive position) and he predictably is screened properly by the Brazilian post. But the Uruguay defender switching is also paying for not being in better position and closer to his original defender. If the Uruguay help defender hedged harder on the screen, he would have been closer to the ball handler at the top and been able to properly contest him and force him to take a difficult shot with 5 seconds left on the shot clock. But look at the space between him and the ball handler. The ball handler knows he has to take a shot with so few seconds left on the shot clock, but instead of taking a tough, contested shot, he has a relatively easy look from the top of the arc.

And with the clean look, the Brazilian shooter is able to get a clean three points. Uruguay's strategy was sound on the defensive end. They don't have the athletes to play a full court or trapping kind of game on the defensive end. But they have to get better with their defensive fundamentals and communication, especially in the half court if they want to progress and do more damage in FIBA Americas competition. Teams had far too easy a time scoring on the young Uruguayan squad at times, as evidenced by the competition outscoring Uruguay 93.8 to 64.4 in the tournament.

Final analysis on Uruguay

While it was a tough tournament for Uruguay, they did come out with a win in the tournament, and they have made progress as a program as of late. Their boys squad had one of the biggest rises out of any youth squad in the world, jumping up 7 spots since their last ranking. So, the program is on the rise, and as stated before, they were one of the youngest squads in the FIBA Americas field. That being said, their skills need work on both ends of the court if they want to make the jump past other countries in the FIBA Americas region. Their philosophy on offense requires them to be skilled and adept with the ball, and they turned the ball over way too much. On defense, they were inconsistent in their defensive positioning, fundamentals and communication, and it led to way too many easy points for their opponents. But, this is a country with hope, and with many of their younger players gaining valuable experience, it'll be interesting to see how this U-19 squad looks at next year's U-19 tournament.

D-League Draft Prospect Preview: A Roundup of All the Draft-Eligible D-League Prospects

Here it is. The NBA Draft. After waiting anxiously since the end of the NBA season, NBA fans are looking forward to see who is going to be the next NBA star like LeBron, Durant and Carmelo and who is going to be the next NBA bust like Darko, Oden or Thabeet. It's an exciting time where the draft can help boost a team's chances of a championship, or help get a GM fired.

This NBA Draft, there are an unprecedented six eligible players who participated in the D-League this past season. It will be interesting to see after this draft if going to the D-League prior to entering the draft will start to be a trend for college and high school players not just around the country, but around the world as well. This very draft could be exhibit A in the D-League's growth and continued growth since its inception in 2001.

So, let's take some quick looks at the prospects eligible for this upcoming NBA Draft.

PJ Hairston, 6'5, 229 pounds, North Carolina, 21 years old

D-League Profile: 21.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 45.3 FG%, 35.8 FG%, 10.0% PIE (Player Impact Estimate) (Texas Legends)

Scouting Report (via DraftExpress)

Best Case Scenario: Lottery pick. Worst Case Scenario: Second round pick.

MLH Quick Take:

Hairston is the most polished and heralded prospect coming out of the D-League in this year's draft. After a sophomore campaign where he averaged 14.7 ppg for UNC, Hairston was ruled ineligible for the 2013-14 season due to multiple transgressions which ranged from marijuana use to having possession of a car that was rented out to a convicted felon. Despite his checkered history at UNC, Hairston is a talented wing player that uses his strength well on the drive and can shoot well from anywhere on the floor. Hairston still has to prove that he can improve on defense, but without a doubt, Hairston is a lottery-caliber prospect who could surprise a lot of people in tonight's NBA draft.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo, 6'6, 205 pounds, Greece, 21 years old

D-League Profile: 12 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 46.9 FG%, 7.9% PIE (Delaware 87ers)

Scouting Report (via DraftExpress)

Best Case Scenario: Late first-round pick. Worst case scenario: Late second-round pick.

MLH Quick Take:

The older brother of Milwaukee's Giannis, Thanasis is an athletic wing player that works hard on both end of the court and should be a late first round, second round pick in this upcoming NBA draft. While he doesn't have the height or athleticism of Giannis, Thanasis impressed some people with his motor and improvement over the course of the D-League season with the Delaware 87ers. Any team that picks up Thanasis knows that they will be getting a project of sorts, as many of his offensive skills need a lot of work. It would not be surprising to see Thanasis back in the D-League next season even if he is drafted. But, while his upside isn't as great as his older brother in Milwaukee, his work ethic and defensive ability is already NBA-ready, and he could end up developing into a Luc Richard Mbah Moute type of player down the road.

Cleveland Melvin, 6'8, 215 pounds, DePaul, 23 years old

D-League Profile: 11.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg, 54.4 FG% 9.6% PIE (Erie Bayhawks)

Scouting Report (via MLH)

Best Case Scenario: Second round pick. Worst case scenario: Undrafted.

MLH Quick Take:

A 6'8 wing player with inside-outside scoring ability, Melvin is an interesting player that will be eligible for the NBA Draft. Though he was suspended in January from the DePaul team, he had a pretty good career with the Blue Demons as he was one of the school's all-time leading scorers. In the D-League, Melvin showed a lot of maturity and polish as a player, excelling off pick and rolls and cutting to the basket for easy assisted buckets. Melvin showed a lot of improvement in his outside shot from his freshman year, going from an undersized center who primarily stayed around the hoop his freshman year to one that could hit the mid-range with regularity and occasional three by the end of his D-League campaign. Melvin still has to work on his physicality, rebounding and defense, but there are a lot bigger risks in this draft than Melvin, and it'll be interesting to see if a NBA squad will use one of their selections on him.

Norvel Pelle, 6'10, 207 pounds, Price High School, 21 years old

D-League Profile: 5.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 51.3 FG%, 5.5 % PIE (Delaware 87ers)

Scouting Report (via MLH)

Best Case Scenario: Early Second round pick. Worst Case Scenario: Undrafted

MLH Quick Take:

The long but troubled post prospect will be enticing to many NBA squads. With a 7'2.5 wingspan, and good shot blocking ability, it is easy to see a team take a second-round flier on the D-League prospect. He can wow people with his defense in the post, and he runs the floor well and is able to make the come from behind block with ease. At the same time, most of Pelle's game is a work in progress. His offensive game and footwork still need major work, and his court awareness still needs development as well. Whether he is drafted or not, Pelle would be better served with another year in the D-League to become a more polished player, especially since he had a long layoff between high school and his stint in Delaware. But, I like Pelle and the tools he brings to the table. Don't be surprised to see his name called tonight in the second round.

Elijah Pittman, 6'9, 219 pounds, Marshall, 22 years old

D-League Profile: 10 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 48.4 FG%, 5.8 PIE (Delaware 87ers)

Scouting Report (via MLH)

Best Case Scenario: Late second round pick. Worst Case Scenario: Undrafted

MLH Quick Take:

An athletic forward who has the ability to play on the wing or in the post, Pittman's game really isn't the issue. At Marshall, he was on his way to having a career year 8 games into the season, as he was averaging 20.5 ppg and 4.4 rpg for the Thundering Herd. However, off-the-court issues eventually led to his ouster from Marshall and the college level, and he ended up playing for Delaware during the stretch run. Pittman brings a big frame and a strong ability to score with the ball in his hands. He had improved his 3-point percentage to 38.2 percent his senior season at Marshall, so it is obvious that he can be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders. Defensively he is prone to lapses, and he doesn't rebound as well as you would expect for someone his size, but he definitely held his own in the short, late-season stint with players who had been playing for an entire season. Pittman's profile is very similar to Melvin's, but he isn't quite as polished or heralded as Melvin entering this draft, so that's a strike against him. That being said, Pittman is on the cusp of being a great player. It's just more likely we'll see that jump and development in the D-League next season rather than the NBA.

Aquille Carr, 5'6, 148 pounds, Princeton Day Academy, 20 years old

D-League profile: 10.7 ppg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 39.8 FG%, 7.6 % PIE (Delaware 87ers)

Scouting Report (via MLH)

Best Case Scenario: Late second round pick. Worst Case Scenario: Undrafted.

MLH Quick Take:

A legend in Baltimore high school, AAU and streetball circles, Carr is one of the most fascinating players eligible from the D-League. At 5'6, he is diminutive in stature, but he has excellent athleticism and quickness for a player his size. Furthermore, he shows a strong ability to score against bigger defenders, using his quickness to drive past defenders to the bucket or pull up for easy jumpers. Carr showed some improvement in the D-League with his jump shot from his time in high school and AAU, and he also showed some promise with his pick-pocket ability on defense when it came to steals. That being said, the main issues with Carr stem with size and maturity. History doesn't bode well for guys his height (Nate Robinson is the only notable case as of late) and his off the court issues have hurt him since his high school days (from not qualifying academically at Seton Hall to being released by the 87ers for not showing "professional commitment"). Carr has tremendous potential, and he certainly is enjoyable to watch. But his career outlook at this point seems more destined for the AND1 MixTape Tour rather than the NBA, unless he is able to shore up the maturity and off-the-court issues that have haunted him throughout his short career.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

D-League NBA Draft Prospect: Cleveland Melvin, F, Erie Bayhawks

Cleveland Melvin (left w/ball) is hoping his growth as a player at DePaul and in the D-League will help him get drafted in Thursday's upcoming NBA Draft

In a change of pace, MLH is going to take a look at a D-League prospect that is not a Delaware 87er. Former DePaul standout and Erie Bayhawk Cleveland Melvin will be eligible for the Draft on Thursday and it should be interesting to see if he'll get selected. Let's take a look at Melvin's profile.

Who is Cleveland Melvin?

A 3-star prospect out the Baltimore area according to Yahoo, the 6'8, 208 pound Melvin came to DePaul after previously committing to UConn in 2010. With a long frame and inside-outside ability as a scorer, Melvin projected some Corey Brewer potential, with the positives being his versatility and the negatives being him classified a tweener without a position (and he wasn't as strong as Brewer defensively, but the comp was still valid). As a freshman, Melvin had an instant impact with the Blue Demons, as he averaged 14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 1.5 bpg in 26.2 mpg over the course of 27 games. The stellar debut season earned Melvin Big East Rookie of the Year honors, and not only did the course look bright for Melvin as a collegiate player, but for the Blue Demons squad under Oliver Purnell as well. Watch the video below and you can see Melvin flash a variety of the skills on the court, showing flashes of a raw Brewer or Anthony Randolph-type player.

Unfortunately, the Blue Demons did not show much improvement as a team under Purnell the past four seasons, and Melvin's development as a player also showed some growing pains in the years following his freshman campaign at DePaul. In his sophomore season, he earned an uptick in minutes (32.5 minutes per game) and his scoring and rebounding averages went up (17.5 and 7.4, respectively), but his offensive rating actually decreased from his freshman year (103.9 to 96.4). He struggled to be as efficient a player in his sophomore year, and his efficiency was hurt by a vast dip in true shooting percentage (48.8% after being 54.4% his freshman year) as well as offensive rebounding rate (8.0% after being 9.4% his freshman year). With a high usage rate (28.2 his sophomore year) and high shot rates (31.3), Melvin seemed to be the kind of high-volume shooter that didn't necessarily make his teams better (as evidenced by their 12-19 record his sophomore year).

Melvin did slowly become more efficient as he gained more collegiate experience. In his junior season, his offensive rating jumped to 100.6 (points per 100 possessions) as did his true shooting to 52.1%, and his senior campaign through 21 games looked to be a sign of him putting it all together. While he wasn't averaging a tremendous amount more points per game his senior year (16.7 to 16.6 his junior year), his rating was better than ever (111.2) as was his true shooting (55.8%) and 3-point percentage (47.5%; it didn't touch the 30% mark in his first 3 years). And, he was doing this while shooting less (28.9 percent), and becoming a little more committed on defense, as evidenced by his 5.8 block percentage, which matched his previous freshman season high. Furthermore, Melvin started to shed the "good player who doesn't make his team better" label over the course of his senior year being a key contributor in big wins over Oregon State (23 points, 154 offensive rating in 36 minutes) and Butler (30 points, 123 offensive rating). Before his suspension, the Blue Demons were 10-13. After it, they went 2-11 down the stretch.

How did Melvin get to the D-League?

After the Demons' Jan 20th loss to Xavier, Melvin was suspended indefinitely by the team for a violation of team rules. Now, while Purnell didn't disclose what violations Melvin committed, it was obvious that he was not going to join the team for the remainder of the year, so he left the school knowing that his career was ultimately finished at DePaul. (Some people in DePaul circles claimed the violation was extremely serious, but I am not going to recognize that as the truth for his suspension unless it is verified by a legitimate source).

A senior and out of options, Melvin decided to join the Bayhawks in the stretch run of the D-League season. Considering his team never garnered much positive national attention in his timer there, and seeing the precedent being done by Glen Rice, Jr. last year after he was suspended by Georgia Tech, Melvin entered the D-League hoping to somehow rebound his stock a bit in preparation for the NBA Draft.

So how did Melvin do in the D-League?

In a limited 10-game sample, Melvin held his own as fresh-out-of-college player trying to fit in on a team of professionals near the end of the season. Keith Schlosser of Ridiculous Upside noted in a post about Melvin that he felt Melvin made a strong impression in his short sample in the D-League.
After playing well at DePaul, the young gun displayed an ability to hold his own early on against already present professional and/or current NBA players while in the D-League. In addition to simply holding his own in the minor league (which should be considered an accomplishment in itself at this point in his career), Melvin actually looked somewhat polished for a player his age.He might not be getting as much exposure as some of his fellow minor league counterparts, but there's no denying that Melvin's progress on the basketball court as of late proves he'd be an intriguing player to take a chance on in next month's rookie draft.

Melvin's general stats don't jump out at you: 11.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg in 21.3 mpg. However, his advanced numbers look better, as evidenced by the chart below:

As you can see, Melvin was by no means the centerpiece of the Bayhawks offense (expected considering his late arrival to the squad), but he proved to be an efficient scorer (56.9 TS%) despite not getting a heavy amount of possessions (20.3 usage rate). Melvin impressed teams by using his length and athleticism to cut to the basket and finish at the rim for easy buckets (65.3 % field goals made off of assists). He didn't exactly show that he could dominate with the ball to score, (34.7% fgm unassisted), but with his skill set he may not need to. Teams will not be looking for Melvin to carry a team but to be a complimentary piece, and judging by his efficiency (111.7 offensive rating) and ability to play off the ball, Melvin could satisfy that complimentary scoring role off the bench for a NBA squad.

While Melvin improved as a shooter in his time at DePaul, he remained mostly around the rim in his time with Erie. Take a look at his shot chart from his 10 game sample with the Bayhawks.

As you can see, 65 of of his 90 field goal attempts came from around the rim (72.2 percent). So, Melvin didn't really test his shooting much in the D-League. But when he did shoot outside, especially in the mid-range, he proved he could reliably knock down the jumper. While he may primarily be an around the rim player, cutting to bucket off of pick and rolls and give and go's, Melvin displayed the ability (judging from the green areas on the mid-range) that he can take advantage of defenders sagging and not respecting him around the perimeter. Take a look at his highlight video below and see how Melvin hurt teams in a multitude of areas around the rim and even from inside the arc:

The biggest issue with Melvin is that while he has showed strong abilities as a scorer both inside and outside, he isn't as committed on the rebounding or defensive end. His rebounding rates with Erie remained meager for an athletic player of his size as he only posted an offensive rebounding rate of 6.9% and defensive rebounding rate of 12.8%. Even at DePaul, his rebounding rates weren't impressive either, as his offensive rebounding rate was only 8.4% and his defensive rebounding rate was 14.9%. Considering his build and speed for his size, Melvin needs to be a guy that can crash the boards to be successful at the next level. By doing so, not only will he make himself more valuable to NBA teams for his ability to do so, but he will also help himself in terms of getting easy second chance points at the rim (only 4.6 2nd chance points per 100 possessions last year with Erie).

Defensively, the biggest problem with Melvin at times is he seemed to be hesitant in his decision making. Due to his position on the wing, he was often in flux in terms of when to help and when to stay on the wing on plays that involved the pick and roll or opponents driving or slashing to the rim. Take a look at this possession against the Maine Red Claws.

Melvin is on the left wing, slightly sagging off his man, seeing that the pick and roll is going to be run with Maine guard Abdul Gaddy and center Zeke Marshall. It is this kind of awareness that works in Melvin's favor. He knows the pick and roll is coming, and he knows it's going to attack in his direction. He is putting himself in good position to see how it develops, and react accordingly depending on what Gaddy and Marshall do.

As expected, Marshall rolls and is open after setting the pick. While a majority of the fault has to be placed on the two Erie defenders, it is important to pay attention to Melvin here. Right now, Melvin's hesitation prevents him from making a spectacular defensive play. He recognizes that Marshall is open on the roll, but he instead tries to play halfway respecting his man beyond the arc, and Marshall down low. If you watch the film, he kind of goes back and forth shuffling between the two unsure who to stay on. Instead of properly guarding either, he guards neither. Gaddy is able to thread the needle to Marshall (by Melvin who tries to contest the pass, but his hesitation leads to him whiffing on that) which results in the easy dunk as shown below.

His defensive ability will be a big factor in determining Melvin's future at the next level. He has improved his offensive skills to make himself able to score on all areas of the floor. But Melvin seems to lack motor in the more physical part of the game. He doesn't really have a killer instinct on the glass, and while he can make the spectacular block at times, he does show too much hesitation on the defensive end to have an impact. It is in these areas where Melvin profiles more like a poor-man's Anthony Randolph than Corey Brewer: Melvin has a lot of the tools and abilities to be successful, but his lack of energy and effort in areas other than scoring the basketball makes one wonder if Melvin will have much of a NBA career. Randolph can get away with it because he's 6'11 with freakish wing span. Melvin doesn't have those measurements, which makes his style of play less tolerable with NBA GMs and coaching staffs.

But, Melvin has developed a lot since his time at DePaul. DraftExpress in 2011 called him a "6'7 center non-prospect" and he has come a long way to show that he can be an effective small forward or small ball forward type. The positives of Melvin's game is that he doesn't force the issue offensively: he plays a polished kind of game where he lets his offense come to him. He's apt to set good ball screens and cuts well to the basket off those screens for easy buckets. Out of all the D-League "longshots" beyond PJ Hairston and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Melvin has the best shot of getting drafted and making a NBA team because he's the most polished D-League eligible player available (other than the two listed above) and showed the most growth as a player since arriving as a freshman at DePaul. It'll be interesting to see if a team will see that and give him a chance, even if the rebounding and defensive energy and effort still need some work.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Quick FIBA Americas U18 Championship Preview: Canada vs. United States

I will have a more comprehensive recap of the FIBA Americas U18 tournament in the coming days, but I wanted to do a quick preview of the upcoming championship game which is expected to air at 5:30 p.m. (ET). Here is a quick look at what to expect of the teams going into tonight's match up.

Canada (Men's national ranking: 25; Youth boys national Ranking: 6)

Results at FIBA Americas U18 Championship (4-0)

Group play:

  • Def. Brazil 101-59 (June 20th)
  • Def. Dominican Republic 79-67 (June 21st)
  • Def. Puerto Rico 91-70 (June 22nd)

  • Def. Argentina 91-82 in OT (June 23rd)

  • Dillon Brooks: 24.8 ppg, 65.9 2pt FG%, 44.4 3pt FG%
  • Christopher Ebunde Egi: 11.8 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 bpg
  • Montaque Gill-Cesar: 19.0 ppg, 4.25 rpg

What you should expect from Canada:

Canada is a team that has grown as a youth program over the past decade. With more younger players breaking into the NBA (Anthony Bennett and Tristian Thompson), and some on the cusp (Andrew Wiggins, Nick Stauskas and Tyler Ennis), it is easy to see why Canada is highly ranked in the World boys rankings according to FIBA (they currently sit at six, which is 19 spots better than their Men's team ranking).

Roy Rana is their head coach, who coaches collegiately at Ryerson University in Canada. Rana has also been the long-time World team coach at the Nike Hoop Summit and has helped the squad post three straight victories over the United States team the past three Hoop Summits. Rana utilizes his talent well, utilizing different kinds of press and match-up zone strategies on defense, and a free-flowing style of play on offense that emphasizes getting the ball in the post and action developing off the post man. (More on that in the recap).

Canada cruised through the preliminary rounds, but had a tough go with Argentina who finished second in Group B to Team USA. At times, Canada has looked like the best team in the tournament thanks to their surprising athleticism at all positions, and the go-to-guy ability of Dillon Brooks, who played last season for Findlay Prep (as well as the AAU Team CIA Bounce, which has been a place of development for many Canadian Jr. National team members both past and present). The most interesting player in the tournament has also been Chris Egi, a highly rated recruit who will be heading to Harvard next year to play for Tommie Amaker. While Brooks is a polished wing player with a versatile inside-out skill set offensively, Egi is more of a project who while skilled, has displayed a lot of inconsistency to go along with his flashes of promise. Egi seemed to break out with a 20 point 14 rebound and 4 block performance against Puerto Rico in their last group play game, but he fell back to earth in the semi-final, only scoring 7 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in 29 minutes of play. It will be interesting to see how Egi responds in the championship after a disappointing performance in the semifinals.

United States (Men's Ranking: 1; Youth boys ranking: 1)

Results at FIBA Americas U18 Championship (4-0)

Group Play:
  • Def. Uruguay 156-58 (June 20th)
  • Def. Mexico 100-46 (June 21st)
  • Def. Argentina 118-64 (June 22nd)

  • Def. Dominican Republic 90-56 (June 23rd)

  • Jalen Brunson: 12.8 ppg, 5 apg, 66.7 2pt FG%
  • Justice Winslow: 10.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 57.1 2 pt FG%
  • Myles Turner: 7.8 ppg, 4.75 rpg, 3.5 bpg

What you should expect from the United States:

The US has been the most dominant squad this FIBA Americas U18 championship, dominating their competition in group play and controlling an underrated Dominican Republic squad in the semifinals. Under head coach Billy Donovan (Florida) and assistant coaches Sean Miller (Arizona) and Ed Cooley (Providence), team USA has smothered teams with their pressure defense in both the half and the full court, leading to steals and easy buckets. Considering Canada's turnover issues in their semifinal game against Argentina (16 total), it will be interesting to see how they will handle the US's pressure in the championship game (21 turnovers forced in Semi-final against DR).

The US has been helped by sharpshooter Luke Kinnard, who is shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc and is the team's leading scorer at 14.8 ppg. However, guard Jalen Brunson is the one that makes the engine hum on both ends of the floor for Team USA. Brunson, the son of former Temple guard and NBA vet Rick, has been a two-way star for Team USA, leading the press on the defensive end, and creating easy shots for him and his teammates on the offensive side of the ball. Brunson has really stood out as one of the tournament's best players, and it'll be tough for Canada's guards to contain him in the championship game.

Justice Winslow is also another player that has provided a spark for the United States. Though he hasn't exploded off the stat sheet, the 6'6 McDonald's All-American is showing in Colorado Springs why Duke should be happy about his impending arrival in Durham. Winslow is a versatile wing that has a strong ability to score inside and outside, and he has been a matchup nightmare for his competition so far. Winslow is coming off a rather poor performance against the DR where he scored 0 points and only nabbed 3 boards, but he did have 13 points, 8 rebound and 2 blocks against Argentina in their last group play game. If the US can get a performance from Winslow closer to the Argentina one in the championship, I am sure Donovan and staff would be satisfied and confident in their chances against Canada.

Key matchup: Chris Egi vs. Myles Turner

It will be the Harvard vs. Texas commit going at it in the post in the championship game, as both players are eager to show basketball fans what to expect next season at the collegiate level. Though Turner hasn't been the offensive force people expected in this tournament so far (only 7.8 ppg), he has been a force on defense, averaging a team high 3.5 blocks per game.

Turner is a beast at 7'0 and 240 pounds and it is easy to see why ESPN rated the McDonald's All-American and Jordan Brand Classic participant as the no. 2 rated recruit in the class of 2014. Turner has been a matchup nightmare for most of the Latin American competition, highlighted by a dominant opening game against Uruguay where he scored 14 points, nabbed 8 rebounds and had four blocks. Unfortunately for Turner, his performances have declined, as he has failed to reach double digits in any game since his dominant opening game performance.

Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to see if Turner can raise his game on the biggest stage against arguably the best non-American post player in the tournament. If Turner can put his past three performances behind him and step up and have a good game similar to his opening performance, Team USA will cruise with this easily. Of course, it won't be a cakewalk, as Egi brings some skills to the table for Canada. ESPN rated Egi as the no.1 rated player out of Canada in the class of 2014 and the 24th best center prospect in the Nation. However, Egi will be outmatched physically as he gives a lot of size to Turner (Egi is only 6'8, 205 pounds) in the post. That being said, Rana is a resourceful and creative basketball coach, and it should be expected that Rana will utilize Egi in different ways to help Canada overcome the size disadvantage in the post not only on the offensive side of the ball, but defensively as well.