Ready for something a little different? We’ll continue our extensive coverage of the Iguodala acquisition soon, but the long-awaited conclusion to the Dwight Howard saga presents a great opportunity to change gears a bit and recap the recently concluded 2012 adidas Nations.
As I mentioned in my earlier reports, this year’s Nations had plenty of Denver Nuggets connections despite not being an official NBA event. I caught up with high-school senior Isaac Hamilton, Jordan’s little brother and one of top recruits in the Los Angeles area. On a more somber note, I also witnessed Arron Afflalo attend one of his last official functions as representative of the Denver Nuggets. Here’s the full rundown of these stories and my impression of the talent showcased at the 2012 adidas Nations.
Isaac Hamilton forging his own path
At first glance, the younger Hamilton looks like a glimpse five years into Jordan’s past. Physically, he looks just like a mini-Jordan and has the same quick release and buttery smooth jump shot.
On the court however, Isaac’s crafty game is a stark contrast to Jordan’s more physical, athletic style of play. He does have good athleticism at 6-5 and 185 pounds, but he plays below the rim more often than Jordan and has a good feel for where to be in terms of running a team offense. He has a good handle and his passing skills are advanced for a high school player.
“I guess I’m more of an all-around type of player” said Isaac when asked to compare himself to Jordan. “I don’t really have to score the ball to impact the game. I think Jordan, he’s a better scorer and a lot taller and stronger than me — so that’s a slight advantage.”
I would say Isaac’s biggest strength right now is his pull-up jumper and his ability to quickly change directions, elevate and shoot over his defender. There are very few players at his level with the type of mid-range game Isaac has. He definitely needs to add strength and improve his overall feel for the game, most notably in terms of moving without the ball.
Isaac is one of the most heavily recruited high school players in Los Angeles, having received offers from UCLA, USC, Colorado, Louisville and a host of other top-flight programs. He told me he’s continuing to work on his overall skills and wants to develop his floor game as a point guard. When asked what it’s like going against his NBA brother Jordan, Isaac had a heartwarming, classic response.
It’s fun, competitive. Jordan, whenever he comes back home — even if it’s an away game and they’re playing the Lakers — we play one-on-one. It’s always competitive. Sometimes we can’t finish because there’s either a fight or arguments, but it’s just fun.
Andre Roberson scouting report
It’s no secret I like Roberson a lot, as I spent a ton of time getting acquainted with his game in my first two days of covering the camp. He’s a very solid NBA talent coming out of Colorado, a state which hasn’t been known for producing NBA-caliber basketball players.
Roberson burst onto the scene as an energetic, do-everything forward in his freshman year for Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes. Since then, he’s made himself into a dominant rebounder in the NCAA and one of the best all-around talents in the Pac-12.
Roberson may lack the strength and physical tools to play the four in the NBA, but his body is developing nicely and his underrated perimeter skills should allow him to play the three as well. At the adidas Nations, Roberson wasn’t featured in the pick-and-roll heavy NBA sets, but he somehow found his way to the ball with hustle, grit, and determination.
As Kenneth Faried showed last year, playing hard is a skill. Being able to sustain a high level of effort is something that can be developed and translated to NBA success. Roberson has that. He’s a tireless worker and often finds a way to make good things happen due to the energy he plays with on both ends of the floor.
Roberson gets almost all of his offense off back cuts, offensive rebounds and off-ball movement, but he does know how to shoot and can knock down an open jumper. Defensively is where Roberson could be truly special. His long arms, excellent shot blocking instincts and quick lateral movement provide all of the tools he needs to be a Kenyon Martin-type terror on the defensive end. He was far and away one of the best perimeter defenders I saw at the adidas Nations, able to apply solid ball pressure despite being a 6-7 post player.
Keep an eye on Roberson and the Buffs this year, as he’s sure to be on the 2013 NBA draft radar all season. He’d be a great fit in Denver with his tireless work ethic, ability to run the floor and defend multiple positions.
Aussie Aussie Aussie!
Australia has a proud sporting history and a long-standing tradition of professional basketball. For whatever reason, it’s produced hardly any quality NBA talent in the modern era. Andrew Bogut was supposed to be a star — which sort of happened — but outside of fringe NBA players Patty Mills and David Andersen, Australia hasn’t produced an exciting basketball prospect in quite some time.
I believe that’s about to change in the next few years with Dante Exum and Ben Simmons set to explode on the college basketball scene. Exum will be a high school senior next year and is already rumored to be attending the University of North Carolina in 2014. Ben Simmons, however, is just 15 years old and has dual citizenship in the USA. He could come over for a year or two of prep before hitting the college recruiting trail, where he’d no doubt be among the most coveted prospects in the country.
Dante Exum is a stud. Everything about the long, athletic 6-6 combo guard tells me he’s destined to be a big-time player. He gets to the basket so easily against high-schoolers it’s almost unfair. He’s also the best playmaker on his team and one of the more skilled all-around players at the entire camp. There may be better scorers out there, but not by much and Exum does everything else at an elite level for his age. If I had to bet money on one player here becoming a star, I’d probably lose my money. But if I did I’d bet it all on Exum. He has the full package of tools to make it happen – smarts, athleticism, all-around skills and intangibles.
Ben Simmons is the other Aussie to watch. He’s a 15-year old, 6-8 combo forward whose physical tools and all-around game have drawn early comparisons to a recent two-time MVP. Simmons told me he doesn’t like to compare himself to other players, but teammates and fellow writers likened his game to Lebron’s. He’s extremely young and already physically outclasses most everyone else in high school basketball. The smooth lefty has a great feel for running the floor, dunking with force and shooting with range. There are very few things he can’t do at this level. The true test will be to see if he can translate it to the college level against better competition.
Australians and worldwide hoops fans alike should keep an eye on these two most interesting of high school prospects. If either played in the US, they might be ranked as the very top players in their class.
Afflalo leads the right way
As part of adidas’ efforts to provide guidance and learning resources to the college counselors, Arron Afflalo joined Alec Burks, Luc Mbah a Moute and others to act as NBA ambassadors for the event. Most of the other NBA guys showed up in street clothes, watched the games and mingled with the coaches and campers in attendance.
In typical Afflalo fashion, Arron went above and beyond the call of duty, choosing to get down and dirty in the actual scrimmages. He joined one of the undermanned college squads and led them to an impressive victory in the final scrimmage of the event. Afflalo played with his signature effort and unselfish demeanor, providing a prime example of how to lead by example and play the right way.
I talked to New York Knicks assistant Kenny Atkinson, who coached Afflalo’s team, about what that experience meant to the rest of the campers. “What was really cool is he didn’t come in with a cocky attitude. It was a very dignified, subtle leadership” said Atkinson. “A lot of NBA guys would have come in and just started jacking shots. He fit in with everybody and then took over at the end. I don’t even know the kid and I love his personality.”
Players to watch
Here are a few guys, in no particular order, who stood out to me or caught my eye during the camp.
Ed Daniel, 6-7 PF, Junior at Murray State
Daniel wears his hair in a Ben Wallace style afro and has a huge personality on and off the court. He’s a Kenneth Faried style bruiser who could rise up draft boards this season. He’s a very physical player with great leaping ability and NBA athleticism.
Isaiah Austin, 7-0 C, Freshman at Baylor
He’s listed at 7-foot, but looked taller to me. He’s pretty skinny but could be a game changing force on defense. He’s athletic and very mobile for a 7-footer, but he’s somewhat clumsy and likely won’t do much on offense. I loved how hard he played throughout the camp, giving all-out effort every minute he was on the floor.
Noah Vonleh, 6-8 SF/PF, Class of 2014
Canadian Andrew Wiggins is widely assumed to be the best player in high-school basketball right now, but guys like Vonleh are proof he could have some competition down the road. Vonleh has the strength and athleticism of a 21 year old and physically overpowered just about everyone at the adidas Nations. He also made the game winning three to win the whole tournament and put himself on the map as a future top recruit and legit NBA prospect.
Zack LaVine, 6-3 SG, Class of 2013
Do you like dunks? Zack Lavine is an incredible leaper and one of the most stylish dunkers I’ve seen in person. He was pulling off 360’s and Eastbay variations of all kinds with ease. Not only does he dunk with force, he really gets up and hangs in the air just oozing with style. He’s known as a deadly scorer and the athletic dunk-machine has already committed to UCLA.