For a college basketball fan and draft junkie like me, the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy is the beginning of the new season because it comes about a week after the NBA draft. In addition to coaching 80 of the top high school players in the country and watching them compete in front of college coaches, I get to evaluate 20 or so of the top college players in the country working as a counselor, as well.
The college players were on the court twice a day and, while there were no NBA teams watching this year because of the lockout, they got to compete and compare their skills as they get ready for the upcoming season. By the end of the camp, I believe we saw three future lottery picks there and a few others who impressed, as well.
Here are some of my observations:
The Three Lottery Picks
Anthony Davis, 6-foot-10, Freshman, Kentucky
While Davis wasn't the best player at the camp, he certainly has the most long-term potential and will likely be the first of these players selected in next June's NBA draft. The high school late bloomer from Chicago will be a mainstay immediately for the Wildcats because of his immense guard-like athleticism and 7-foot-4 wing span.
First of all, as ESPN colleague Jay Bilas pointed out as we were watching a workout, Davis catches everything around the basket. In addition, he runs like 400-meter guy, covering 94 feet effortlessly. It means he will be the beneficiary of lob passes, "over the top" passes in transition and way above-the-rim offensive rebound opportunities before John Calipari ever runs a play for him.
While Davis doesn't handle the ball well enough to play in the backcourt, he is above average for his size and his shooting stroke is more than adequate. However, it is not likely that Calipari will allow him to roam the perimeter much. I expect that his size will allow him to have a positive impact on Kentucky's defense, especially at the rim.
If there is a particular weakness, at the moment, for Davis, it is his overall strength. It won't be an issue very often for him next season but will impact how early he helps his NBA team, presumably, a season from now.
Thomas Robinson, 6-10, Junior, Kansas
Based on Robinson's performance, I expect this season to be a major coming out party for him. After backing up three NBA first-round selections in his first two years and dealing with major personal tragedies this past year, he looked ready to go at the camp.
Robinson combined a "Body by Jake" with a ferocious intensity that impressed me at the camp. He was dunking everything with ease and was sticking 10-foot jumpers. It should translate to him being one of the toughest players to guard in the country around the basket. In fact, Robinson had better get used to passing out of double-teams in the post this year because it will happen often.
Jared Sullinger, 6-10, Sophomore, Ohio State
If Jared Sullinger is 281 pounds, he is wearing it well this summer because the Wayman Tisdale Award winner as college basketball's top freshman last season is in great shape. And, while he was experimenting with his face-up jump shot at the camp, he showed that he is at his best in the paint.
While Sullinger is never going to be an above-the-rim low post player, he has great footwork, great hands, a 7-foot-1 wing span and a feel for how to use his huge frame around the basket. In addition, while he didn't need to show it much last week, he is an excellent passer out of the post and plays with a terrific basketball I.Q. Crafty often is not a flattering term but it fits, in this case.
There are Kevin Love-like comparisons here with Sullinger from an athletic standpoint. That doesn't necessarily insure instant stardom for the Buckeyes' sophomore, but his body of work already indicates a likelihood that he'll perform well in the NBA someday.