Monday, April 15, 2013
Jordan Classic: Five things we learned
By Paul Biancardi
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The Jordan Brand Classic is annually an exciting and unique all-star showcase because of the talent and matchups featured, and Saturday’s game at the Barclays Center did not disappoint. The West beat the East 102-98, but more important than the outcome was the chance to see the future stars of college basketball and be reminded that there is a strong class of players entering college next year.
Here were five things we learned from the 2013 Jordan Brand Classic.
1. The Class of 2013 is loaded with versatility, athletic ability and skill
This class will be remembered for those three traits, and they were each displayed throughout the game. All year long we knew that No. 2 recruit Jabari Parker (Duke) had an advanced skill set. At 6-foot-8, he is an accomplished shooter, passer and ball-handler, which is a big reason why he is so unique. Parker earned West team MVP honors with 16 points and seven rebounds and showcased his array of skills. One possession he would nail a jumper and the next time he’d use a spin move to score.
Meanwhile, No. 3 recruit and East squad MVP Julius Randle (Kentucky) tallied 19 points and seven rebounds. He reminded everyone of his enormous power and explosion by attacking the glass and driving the ball from the mid-post area to the rim and scoring inside with a soft touch. With time and practice he will become more effective with his shooting and footwork in his face-up game and with his low-post skill set. His domination in the second half of the Jordan Classic displayed why he’s such an elite prospect.
No. 1 recruit Andrew Wiggins (uncommitted) also continues to display his jaw-dropping athletic ability as he finished through contact, threw down several dunks, created fouls on his drives and blocked a shot on defense.
Finally, No. 8 recruit Noah Vonleh (Indiana) is a prime example of a guy who can be effective inside or outside the arc as he made 3s in practice and did a great job on the offensive glass in the game.
Power forward Chris Walker, the No. 14 recruit in the ESPN 100, is starting to develeop from prospect to player.
Walker, a Florida-bound power forward ranked No. 14 in the ESPN 100, is heading in the right direction as his senior year comes to a close. His approach and work in both practices and the game at the Jordan Classic was definitely noticed.
A quick big man who utilizes his length, spring and touch around the basket to score, rebound and block shots, Walker was coachable, focused and hard-working. He made back-to-the-basket moves with a dribble under control and was also ready to finish drop-off passes in the lane. In an all-star game setting, it can be hard for big men to play well unless they get touches. Walker not only got some touches, but when the ball didn't come to him, he went to the glass to get the ball.
Consistency is what Walker should be striving for. If he can provide that type of production in his first year at Florida, it will help ease the departure of Erik Murphy and give the Gators an inside rim protector on defense and finishing threat on offense.
3. Potential vs. production
No. 2 senior center Joel Embiid (Kansas) represents potential, while No. 1 center Dakari Johnson (Kentucky) represents production.
Embiid showed flashes of what he can become as he had a couple of big-time blocks and put-backs in the game, but his real performances came in the practices. Embiid is an example of hard work and patience combined with great size, developing footwork and a soft scoring touch. In the practices against Johnson, who is hard to score over, Embiid made some jump hooks and short jumpers. After practice and in shooting drills he would step out to short range on his jumper with comfort or practice his dunks running in from half court, which is scary to see from an athletic 7-footer.
As far as Embiid has come in the past year, he still hasn’t put it all together. However, his development is happening so rapidly that he shows improvement at the end of every single workout. By the time it’s all said and done, he could easily be one of the best big men Bill Self has ever coached.
Johnson, meanwhile, has improved tremendously in his senior year after sitting out last season. He was extremely productive and at times dominating this year for national No. 1 Montverde Academy (Fla.). During the Jordan Classic, Johnson scored with a post move or a short jumper over a defender while also working the glass.
Johnson will be a fixture at the center spot for Kentucky as he brings the Wildcats a proven inside performer with the consistency and heart to rebound and defend while his offensive game continues to grow. He knows his success is all from hard work and will continue to approach his next challenge with the same or greater effort. For his future Kentucky teammates and coaches, that means they can count on him.
4. The numbers
Despite being generally well played for an all-star game, there were still a few stats that stood out as needing to improve. Notably, the teams combined to shoot 31 percent (11-for-35) from 3-point range and 54 percent (27-for-50) from the foul line. Which proves once again that today’s players need to invest more time in their shooting. It doesn’t matter if it’s an all-star game or a pick-up game -- more practice and concentration will fix those numbers.
Otherwise, almost everyone played a little more than half the game, and some of the stats were yet another example of their potential and production. Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington) finished with 17 points, nailed one 3-pointer, and made the key play of the game on a steal and three-point-play layup with the score tied in the final 20 seconds.
Matt Jones (Duke) had an excellent shooting night with 14 points on 3-for-5 field goals, 2-for-3 from beyond the arc and 6-for-7 at the line. Kasey Hill (Florida) had a team-high seven assist and shot 2-for-3 from 3-point range. And quietly but efficiently, Andrew Harrison (Kentucky) had eight assist and no turnovers to go along with shooting 2-for-2 from behind the 3-point line.
5. Final impressions
As the players in the Class of 2013 come to the end of their high school days, it is just the beginning of the next phase of their basketball careers. We were fortunate to witness some great players who competed, impressed and surprised us throughout their careers.
But as talented as this group is, the elite players must not rest on their giftedness. After studying their skill sets and traits, it's obvious they all still have areas of growth as they enter the college game.
For Wiggins, who had 19 points and five rebounds in the game but went 0-for-2 from 3-point range, he needs to improve his shooting from a stationary position with range and staying engaged in the moment. For Parker, it’s staying at a high level of fitness and improving his defense away from the basket.
It will be vital that the 2013 class continues to love the game and stay coachable, especially when they get tested and are told “no” for the first time in a college practice. For some, next year begins immediately as they need to prepare with that mindset.