Here are some notes from Saturday’s Nike Hoop Summit, an annual event that pits 10 of the top high school seniors in America against 10 similarly aged players from around the world. The World Select Team actually pulled off the improbable upset, winning 84-75 (boxscore) after controlling nearly the entire game until a helter skelter final period. A lot of these players will be drafted in 2013 after completing their one-and-done obligation at the college level, but plenty others will still end up in the NBA at a later date.
--Shabazz Muhammad looked very much like the top high school player in America and like a future #1 or #2 draft pick, which is what he’s projected to be in 2013. He was the only American capable of consistently scoring points against a feisty World Select Team. He notched a Hoop Summit record 35 points on 12-for-27 shooting (7-for-15 at halftime – it got worse in the 2nd half since the USA was throwing up some desperation shots in an attempt to come back); the rest of the squad shot an abysmal 16-for-51 (32%). Not only does he play like Dwyane Wade circa 2006 with a jumpshot (yes, that aggressive), but Muhammad really doesn’t force the action. He doesn’t dribble out the clock or stymie the offense; he gets the ball and goes for blood right away with an infinite array of lightning-quick drives, spins, crossovers, and shot types. Throw in 9 rebounds for a club that got slaughtered on the glass, and he certainly lived up to the hype.
--Nerlens Noel is America’s next great defensive center – but that’s it. Noel blocked 4 shots and grabbed 4 steals in only 24 minutes, but his offense was nonexistent (1-for-4 from the free throw line doesn’t do justice to how bad his freebies looked) and he only snagged 4 rebounds (all defensive), which 6 members of the World Team topped. Don’t get me wrong, it was his intimidation on defense that caused the World team to avoid shots near the bucket in the second half and held them to only 23 points over the final two quarters after opening an 18-point lead at the break, but he really could only muster a couple wide open dunks for his offense; even the super-raw Bismack Biyombo showed much more than that last year. Noel has a lot of work to do, and a lot more rebounds to grab, if he intends to remain the likely #1 pick next summer.
--Kyle Anderson really is a very smart, very versatile F/PG (yeah, that’s right), but this game showed he’s at best a homeless man’s Magic/Kidd type of player currently. He’s able to hit lots of different shots, but right now he’s not a polished shooter from anywhere. He’s able to make smart passes, but right now he’s not a polished table setter. He’s able to fight for tough rebounds, but right now he’d get swamped by the much more athletic rebounders in the NBA. His “Slow Mo” moniker and style of play is truly intriguing to see work (and it does), but how will it pan out in a league where virtually everyone will be faster than he is?
--USA centers Kaleb Tarczewski, Mitch McGary, and Tony Parker (the first two of whom are supposed to be certain future pros) were all complete non-factors who did nothing positive. The three played a total of 22 minutes and scored 2 points (1-for-5 shooting), grabbed 1 rebound, and blocked 0 shots. McGary is certainly a spirited cheerleader on the bench, but he committed 4 boneheaded fouls (only 3 on the official tally, but I remember all 4) and missed at least 5 dunks while screwing around in warm-ups, so I question where his head is and how much he’ll develop in college, especially since he's about to turn 20 in less than two months.
--Canadian-born American high school SF’s Anthony Bennett (#7 senior in America) and Andrew Wiggins (top-2 sophomore) both looked great for the World Select team, but Wiggins really stood out. The 17-year-old did damn near everything for the much more aggressive yet poised side, scoring 20 points from everywhere (7-for-18 overall, 2-for-6 from deep, and 4-for-6 FT), grabbing 7 rebounds, and blocking 2 shots. He’s athletic and fearless and was involved in a really high amount of hustle plays – imagine a skinnier, more-offensive-and-less-defensive version of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. And oh yeah, he was the only player on the court born in 1995 (he's nearly 3 full years younger than McGary). Bennett was also very aggressive and versatile (can fly on the fast break or crash the offensive glass equally well), but his shots weren’t falling. Apparently he’s a very capable shooter, and I believe it, but he needs to tighten up the consistency a little bit, along with his dribble-drive ability.
--The International player who most impressed me was SF/PF Dario Saric. He’s great with the ball in his hands (aggressive and very poised – in fact I felt like he set the tone for the World Select team) and he goes after everything – ended up with a game-high 14 rebounds, including a game-high 4 offensive. Think of him as the 6-feet-10 version of Manu Ginobili if Ginobili was also an adequate defender. He hit 5-of-10 shots, including 1-for-3 from deep, making him one of only two players to shoot 50% or higher on at least 5 attempts. Saric also dished out a game-high 5 assists, although his 4 turnovers show he needs to distribute the ball more discriminately. He really did it all for his squad while playing with no fear whatsoever in the face of a much more athletic and hyped team, and considering he’s been plenty productive in the Adriatic League (and did decently in last year's Hoop Summit) and turns 18 today, I think he’ll end up as a lottery pick in whichever draft he feels like entering from 2013 on.
--Two other players worth mentioning who helped set the World Select team’s tone with the ball in their hands are SG/PG Leo Westermann and PG Aleksandar Cvetkovic. Neither one was a complete player by any stretch of the imagination (LW shot 1-for-6 and had only 2 assists, AC turned it over 5 times), but neither were intimidated by the USA guards at all. They drove with purpose, slowed things down and settled the troops when things got crazy in the 4th quarter, and did not look intimidated at any point. Despite the numbers, neither was sloppy and both look like potential NBA PG’s (next Goran Dragic alert). PF/C Marcos Delia also showed some nice skills and aggression (7 rebs in 12 mins), and helped set the tone in the front court; Delia has an outside chance of someday making the league.
--Chinese C Wang Zhelin recorded 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Obviously those numbers look great, but he really wasn’t that special. He had some nice pump fakes with the ball, but his offense was basically the result of really adept team passing and some overzealous block attempts on Noel’s part. Wang seems weak (especially his hands) despite being 7-feet and 250 pounds, and I find it really hard to believe he’d match those stats again if both teams played another 10 times. He was in the right spot for numerous uncontested buckets that were set up by his teammates and only had to face one American PF or C who played worth anything resembling a damn. Nice game that will get him some notice, but he’ll be a 3rd-team center at best in the league.