NBA scouts and executives were out in force last week attending two draft events, the Nike Hoop Summit and the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.
Of the two, the Hoop Summit has surpassed the PIT as the draft scouting event in April. The PIT hasn't produced a great NBA player in the last decade. However, a number of terrific prospects, both American high school players and international stars, have played at the Hoop Summit over the past few years.
On the international side, future NBA first-round picks Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Andrea Bargnani, Yi Jianlian and Nicolas Batum have all played in the Hoop Summit. On the American side, they've had everyone from Kevin Garnett, Elton Brand, Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and John Wall play there.
Once again, the talent was strong on both sides of the Atlantic.
I attended Friday's practice and the game Saturday and spoke with a number of NBA scouts and executives who were at the game. Here's a take on a number of interesting future prospects.
Harrison Barnes, G/F, North Carolina Tar Heels
Barnes came into the matchup with an enormous amount of hype. Not only is he ranked as the No. 1 player on ESPNU's top 100 list, I have him projected as the top prospect in the 2011 NBA draft, and scouts have compared him to Kobe Bryant.
Barnes, for the most part, lived up to the advance billing in the game, scoring 27 points in 29 minutes and hitting a crucial 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to put Team USA back up on top.
Barnes is one of the smoothest players you'll ever come across. He glides up and down the floor, makes terrific decisions and never seems to be pressing. His calm, cool demeanor is always evident, even with the game on the line. While scouts say Barnes needs to improve his defense, aggressiveness and ball handling, there's little else he can't do.
He should be a star at North Carolina next year. While he'll have some serious competition for the No. 1 overall pick, there's little question he'll be in the mix.
Enes Kanter, F/C, Kentucky Wildcats
The Swiss native put on the best performance of the night. His 34 points and 13 rebounds broke Nowitzki's all-time scoring record at the Hoop Summit. It was a terrific all-around performance.
Kanter was a beast in the paint, muscling his way in for position and regularly clawing his way through a pair of Team USA's high-profile bigs for a whopping eight offensive boards.
NBA scouts love Kanter's toughness and his offensive versatility. Not only was he a bear around the basket, but he also showed off his ability to put the ball on the floor and hit the outside J. On Saturday night, Kanter looked like a future lottery pick.
Still, a few questions remain. While Kanter is a terrific low-post player and isn't afraid of contact, he's not particularly quick or explosive. He measured a decent 6-foot-10.5 in shoes with a 7-1 wingspan. So that will help. But he's far from the elite athlete NBA teams look for high in the lottery. He's more like an aggressive Greg Monroe.
The other issue concerns Kanter's college eligibility. Kanter played professional ball in Turkey before leaving for the U.S. While he claims he wasn't paid (an assertion some have called into question) he did play with professional athletes, a rule that has, in the past, hurt a player's eligibility. But the NCAA is in the process of changing the rule, and there are reports that Kanter has already been cleared to play for Kentucky next season. If he plays, and puts on similar performances next year, he'll be a top-10 pick.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke Blue Devils
Irving got off to a slow start, but once the fourth quarter hit, he took over the game. Whether he was slashing to the basket or playing lockdown defense on the perimeter, you had to be impressed with how he stepped up his game when it mattered.
His focus is extraordinary and not just in the waning moments of the game. Before the game, while many of his teammates were goofing around in shootaround with trick shots, Irving was locked in, working on some ball handling moves and his jump shot. He was taking this thing seriously.
Irving has the makings of a terrific NBA prospect. He's the most well rounded point guard in the class. He's quick, can shoot with range and has no problem getting to the basket. He should be a beast at Duke next year.
Scouts have him pegged as a top-10 pick in 2011.
Terrence Jones, F, uncommitted
I thought Jones was one of the most intriguing prospects, both in practice and in the game. The 6-8 lefty forward from Portland is very versatile. He's long, athletic, has a NBA body, can handle, is an excellent passer, attacks the basket and can even shoot with range.
Jones was a key player down the stretch for Team USA. They used him to guard multiple players on the floor and he showed some real toughness. I've heard scouts compare him to Lamar Odom.
He's deciding between Oregon and Washington (along with a few others, including Kentucky and UCLA) for next season. He may not be a one-and-done player along the lines of Barnes, Kanter and Irving, but I'm pretty sure we'll see him in the NBA in 2011 or 2012.
Brandon Knight, G, uncommitted
Knight came in pegged as the next Wall but didn't really live up to Wall's stellar performance last year. Knight never really got aggressive looking for his shot, though he made some nice passes and set up Barnes and Jared Sullinger well in the fourth quarter. He also showed that he can be terrific on the defensive end.
Knight is a bit of a mixed bag as far as NBA prospects go. Some NBA scouts see him as a lottery pick next season -- especially if he ends up running the point for John Calipari at Kentucky. Others feel he doesn't quite have the skill level (some see him as a 2-guard with a streaky shot and the inability to go left) or extreme athleticism of Wall and Rose, and it might take him a bit longer.
Nikola Mirotic, F, Montenegro
Mirotic was the second-best player for the World Team on Friday. The versatile forward from Montenegro looked like the classic skilled European small forward. He shot the ball with range, put it on the floor and drove to the basket and made a number of great passes.
While he's not the quickest or most athletic kid, he's good enough. His rights are owned by Real Madrid at the moment. He spent this season on loan to a second-division Spanish team. He wasn't a standout, but scouts who have watched him over the years believe he could be a potential first-round pick in a few years.
We'll be keeping our eye on him.
Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio State Buckeyes
Sullinger is a load. His legs are like tree trunks and he's a powerful player in the post. He battled all game with Kanter and, while Kanter got the best of him, he wasn't too shabby. He ended with 22 points and eight rebounds, six of them on the offensive end.
Sullinger has the makings of a dominant college big man. Few bigs will be able to match his strength or keep him off the boards. He also has a rare combination of brains and brawn. He can do just about anything on the floor but still likes to bang with the best of them.
His fate as an NBA prospect, however, leaves a bit to be desired. He's a bit undersized at the 4 and isn't an explosive athlete. He also has struggled with weight and conditioning issues throughout high school. If he sheds some pounds and gets a little quicker because of it, he could be a Kevin Love or Paul Milsap type of player. But I doubt he's one and done.
Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas Longhorns
The Canadian big man didn't dominate the way many scouts thought he would. He ended up with a respectable 14 points but grabbed just two rebounds for the World Team. In crunch time, Kanter grabbed many of his minutes. Still, he impressed scouts in practice Friday with his ball handling ability, motor and versatility.
Thompson had to be a little disappointed with his measurements, however. He came in at just over 6-8 in shoes. That's not ideal for a 4. However, it's offset by an impressive 7-2 wingspan and good athletic ability.
I'm not sure if he's a one-and-done, but he does look like an NBA player down the road.
Dejan Musli, C, Serbia
Musli was the only player at the Hoop Summit who is in the 2010 NBA draft. Musli is a true center. He measured 7-foot-1/2 in shoes and had a 7-3 1/2 wingspan. He's not the quickest or most athletic guy, but he gets things done around the basket. He has a soft touch and some nice moves in the paint. Musli outplayed Kanter in practice Friday, but in the game, it was Kanter who shined and Musli who came up a bit short.
Musli struggled against the more athletic Team USA players and ended with 11 points and six rebounds. He's a potential second-round pick this year but needs more experience. He plays a pretty small role on FMP Zelznik in the Adriatic league. He'll likely return to Serbia for another season and try again next year.
The Midrange Game
• UPDATE: I just received a copy of the official measurements for Team USA in the Nike Hoop Summit. This gives us our first real look at how big the players for the 2011 draft class actually are. Barnes measured 6-7 1/4 in shoes with a 6-11 wingspan. Irving measured 6-2 1/2 in shoes and had a 6-3 3/4 wingspan. Knight measured 6-3 1/2 with a 6-6 wingspan. Jones measured 6-8 1/4 in shoes with a whopping 7-2 1/2 wingspan. Sullinger measured 6-8 1/2 in shoes with a 7-1 1/2 wingspan. He also weighed a whopping 282 pounds. Patric Young measured 6-9 1/2 with a 7-1 1/4 wingspan.
• Ten years ago, the Portsmouth Invitational was packed with virtually every GM and scout in the NBA. Regularly, a few players there would sneak into the first round and many others would be taken in the second.
Over the past five years, however, the tournament has been in serious decline. The senior-only tournament is seen as a last-ditch effort to get noticed by agents, and virtually all of the top seniors skip it. Lately, NBA personnel have done the same. DraftExpress reported just 11 GMs attended the event this year, and most of them left halfway through to get out to Portland for the Nike Hoop Summit.
The best player to play there last year was Wesley Matthews. Matthews is having an excellent rookie season for the Jazz, but he wasn't even drafted. Not sure if that's a bigger indictment on the camp or the NBA scouts who attended.
This year, there weren't many standouts according to several scouts who attended the event. However, a few players got multiple mentions from scouts. Louisiana-Lafayette's Tyren Johnson was discussed in virtually every conversation. The Sun Belt conference player of the year is the type of athletic, versatile forward that more and more NBA coaches pine for.
Tulsa's Ben Uzoh, Alabama's Mikhail Torrence and Cal's Jerome Randle were other standouts.
• With Portsmouth in decline and the Chicago pre-draft camp turned into more of an athletic combine, NBA GMs have banded together to create large group workouts of their own. This year there are two to keep an eye on. The first is May 24-27 in Minnesota. It's followed by another big workout June 11-13 in New Jersey. Typically 30 to 40 players attend those events. Virtually every player not projected in the lottery participates in the workouts.
• One last anecdote on Harrison Barnes: Barnes has the reputation as a very polite kid who puts academics high on his priority list.
When I spoke with him after Friday's practice, Barnes did two things I've never seen from an NBA prospect. First, when I prefaced a question with the fact I had him ranked No. 1 on my big board for 2011, he stopped the interview momentarily, leaned into me, stuck out his hand and said in a serious tone, "Thank you very much Mr. Ford. I really appreciate it. " Then he shook my hand.
The second story was equally unique. Barnes told me he liked to read in his spare time. When I quizzed him on what he's actually reading, his response took me by surprise. He was reading the latest book by Warren Buffett. Barnes will major in finance at North Carolina and is getting a head start on learning from the best.