2019 Nike Hoops Summit Notebook
Over the years, the Nike Hoops Summit has been a scouting and marketing (which are sometimes the same thing for poorly-run franchises) springboard for players that are on the cusp of stardom, or on the cusp of entering the zeitgeist of the casual basketball fan. Guys like Jamal Murray. Tony Parker. Dirk Nowitzki. We’ve been introduced to some lasting faces in this event over the years.
I wanted to trek to Portland this year to cover this in person, but did not get to. This is actually a week-long event where instruction, drills and various other workouts happen. The game is sort of the cherry on top at the end. There are lots of sites that go in-person, see a lot more and go much deeper in detail than we’ll be able to here, so I’d recommend checking those out. I’ll hit mainly the finer points here for time’s sake.
Will this be remembered as the game where the basketball community met Nico Mannion? He didn’t make a historic splash, but he definitely extended his hand, dragged his pale fingers through his quaff (coif? I never know) of red hair and said ‘Hello. I’m Nico.’
Nico is the son of former NBA player Pace Mannion. Now, does Pace Mannion sound like the day-to-day name of some throwaway Spider-Man villain, or maybe some old timey TV detective that had lots of punny quips that also wrapped up the episode? I vote ‘yes,’ but that’s not to distract from his son, who’s a steady, balanced 6’3” point guard that’s headed to Arizona to pair with his backcourt mate in this game, a player named Josh Green.
Mannion doesn’t appear to be a vertically or laterally explosive athlete, but has terrific pace and dictated the game for a lot of the first half, and in terms of distribution he seemed to do just about everything, aside from creative finishing in traffic. He’s not a tremendously small guy, but he’s not particularly long (does not have a plus wingspan), so you’d have to imagine that his marketable skills are going to have to come on the Trae Young front. That’s become the talking point for guys like Nico, but it’s not an easy thing to do.
You’re not going to hear much about stats from this game, because frankly I don’t give much of a shit about that. I do care that Nico appeared to have a good idea of how to annoy Cole Anthony, riding his right hip to force him towards the sideline and taking away that left-to-right momentum that he seems love, because he favors shooting out of that action.
A lot of what he took advantage of in this game was a result of his peers being immature as positional defenders, but the inverse perspective on that would be that he has the ability to seize the opportunity. Mannion has an eye-test quality that I just call the hooper gene. Might this be a result of him literally having the genetics of a guy who played at the highest level for a long time? It’s not a rule, but it’s often an explanation for the guys who have it. He showed some ability to comfortably get in the lane and create from the inside-out, and even showed some high-paced kick-and-relocate-for-three stuff that I liked. His ball skills and IQ appear to be high enough to give him a shot be a Fred Vanvleet/Tyus Jones—that kind of guy player at the next level, and in my opinion that’s likely a baseline. I like him. I’m not going to commit to a tier, but I like him.
Cole is the son of former UNLV star and longtime NBA player Greg Anthony, a guy that I actually like to hear on TV broadcasts. Cole’s an aggressive, explosive score-first lead guard that is much more solidly built than Mannion, but their contrast of player makeups was fascinating to watch.
Cole seemed to struggle to guard Nico for the entire first half. We went from: Okay, Cole is guarding with his hands and arms too much and Nico totally has him on the puppet strings to now he’s pissed that Nico’s made a fool of him early and he’s playing too aggressively and fouling to Cole’s picked up some fouls and now he’s afraid to pick up more. At that point Mannion was running wild and free within the teeth of the USA’s defense. Switching Anthony off of Mannion and having Scottie Lewis—a son of mine—switch onto Nico seemed to be the real shift in the flow of the game.
This is a general aside, but an important one in my opinion: this is a gargantuan ‘duh’ for people that follow prospects, but defense is a tough thing to judge, at this stage. After spending a lot of my waking hours writing about young players in the past year, you’re very much taking the results with a silo of salt and reading between the lines. I would contend that there are only a few dependable signs that you can go by in a setting this informal and at a stage this early.
First: effort. Would seem simple, but does the dude take it personally? Just competing in and of itself would seem like an obvious desirable trait for a basketball player, but it’s amazing how many of the guys who are considered top players end up lacking here. How a guy competes on the defensive end says a lot about their agenda as a player. Do you think guys like Marcus Smart or Tony Allen just wake up one day and choose to be maniacal competitors that would bite both of your ears off and spit them in your face if it meant getting a loose ball? No.
Second: raw physical tools. Just because you check the first box does not mean that you’ll check the second, and this is what starts to filter out some of talent as it tries to ascend from level to level. What physical tools are there to work with? You can slap the floor all you’d like, but if a 6’6” guy with a 7’2” wingspan and a 40” vertical is giving that same level of effort, the bar has been raised a tad. Wingspan, body-type, standing reach, vertical leap, lateral explosion, balance, hand size – we talk about these things because they are massive differentiators.
Third: instincts. There are plenty of guys that try plenty hard and were born in Ferrari body-types, but their ability to react to a play might negate both of those qualities. This is the one area of the triumvirate that can see some development, because competitive personalities with gifts do occasionally come to the game later in their lives and hop on the learning curve after their peers. Take a look at someone like Pascal Siakam: not a normal thing to happen at all, but he’s a tireless worker and a dogged competitor with freakish measurements that started really focusing on the game a little later than normal. The more he learns the game, the more lethal he becomes.
This is the reason you hear the basketball hipsters of the world (I SWEAR TO GOD I AM NOT ONE OF THESE, AND YES I KNOW THAT HIPSTERS ALWAYS DENY THAT THEY’RE HIPSTERS) talk about these names that make you go ‘who in the blue left-handed hell is that?’ These types can be mixed in throughout all levels of basketball. It’s like going to a vintage store: you’re an idiot if you spring for the $50 Bart Simpson Denver Broncos shirt instead of thumbing through every rack in the store. Goddammit, I just inadvertently confirmed that I’m a hipster.
Whew, okay, what were we talking about? Cole’s defense? Right. In this game it was caught between positional immaturity and effort. He’s got the physical tools to be a bullish, pestering defender, and that’s something that I’m going to keep an eye on. He did hit some shots off the bounce and seemed to have a one-track mind in this game, but he strikes me as a scoring-driven guy. He got 25 points on 8-18 shooting, but it wasn’t the most dynamic shot sample. I get the impression that he has some middle of the floor floater game, but I’ll have to investigate that further in the coming year.
Speaking of scoring-driven guys! Achieuwa is a 6’9” (nice) wing with a 9-foot standing reach, 7’2-.25” wingspan and big hands. So, sort of approaching Brandon Ingram measurements but with opposite wiring. Precious was all over the place in this game, and I do not mean that flatteringly. He showed glimpses of what that length and athleticism could be capable of, and basically made Matthew Hurt look like a reanimated corpse any time he got him one-on-one in space, but he looked very out of control at times, displayed some questionable decision making and threw a lob pass that was one of my highlights of the night.
Maybe we should call these #PreciousMoments? Just spit-balling.
I’m not out on Achieuwa, but I definitely had more ‘what is happening’ moments than ‘I’m impressed’ ones.
Scottie is a fun kid to watch. When it comes to physical raw materials, in this particular game, nobody stood out in the way that he did. I’m not sure if he gained any muscle at all in the year since I made a deep dive on him, but Lewis’ pop on the defensive end was startling at times. I think in this upcoming college season, we’re going to see numerous viral moments from Lewis at Florida. Watch the clock here: on this play, he’s standing totally still off the ball, sees that the ball is being swung to the top of the key to an open shooter, and he explodes to the play and nearly makes a block. He does this in nearly a single second.
On another play he broke up an out-of-area roll to the rim from the top! Just absolutely bonkers corrective ability on defense, with some signs that the positional intelligence is growing, too.
Offensively he still seems to lack feel, and he’s still a mess when he’s trying to create his own offense off the dribble, but in straight line situations, he’s capable enough as an athlete to finish. I had hope that he could become something as an unassisted creator in spots, but I’m less hopeful about that now. The ball skills really, really need to come along so that he can keep those other pluses on the court.
N’FALY DANTE & KOFI COCKBURN
All three of the bigs for the World team have this in common: they’re physically bruising, old school-type players with crazy measurements. Kofi Cockburn, whose name also serves as a cautionary tale, has a 9’3” standing reach, a 7’6” wingspan and enormous hands. What he does not have is anything resembling an intuitive offensive game away from or near the bucket, and he often looked like he was shooting a medicine ball.
Dante is much of the same. 6’11”, 250 pounds, 9’5” standing reach and nearly a 7’6” wingspan – he’s absolutely huge, with extremely long arms and big hands, but he’s still offensively raw.
TYRESE MAXEY, VERNON CAREY & DE’VION HARMON
This happens frequently in this event, but there are always a few guys that get screwed by the distribution of minutes or their pairing within the game. Tyrese Maxey is a 6’3” scoring guard with a good motor and reasonably good athleticism, but he is probably one of the guys that is suffering from some on-court dissonance. That is: he and Cole Anthony don’t exactly schematically mesh in the way that you would like. Both guys like to create off the bounce, and neither would be considered playmaking-focused players. Question: if you’re that size and you insist on being score-first, are you always going to have a great chance of running into the same dissonant situations? Just saying.
I’m really hoping that we get to see Maxey handle the ball and work in ball screens at Kentucky, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Cal will probably play him in one those dual-lead guard lineups that he fell in love with after Wall and Bledsoe.
Vernon Carey weirdly only got four minutes in this game? I’m not sold on Vernon as a star beyond college, but I do think that he’s going to be a great college player. Just confused as to why he didn’t play much? I might’ve missed something.
De’Vion Harmon had some moments where I rewound the tape and went ‘now hold on!’ He’s got the physical resemblance of someone like Eric Bledsoe (might be the lack of a neck and the broad shoulders), but he had a nice long-strided righty finish in traffic, and found a weakside shooter out of a lefty pick-and-roll that I liked a lot. Going to be watching him more closely at Oklahoma.
I detailed James Wiseman a year ago in one of the first deep dive videos I ever did. I was really pleased with his activity around the rim and motor. James could stand to get a little stronger (not necessarily bulkier), but I saw some improvement from a year ago. I might be imagining things, but he seems quicker? Wiseman doesn’t have a deep bag of tricks around the rim, and that area is still coming along. It’s power dribble right, spin the opposite way into a left baby hook, or its spin left into a fall-away jumper. The former is more effective than the latter.
I’m not sure he’s going to be a heavy-load player at the NBA level in terms of post-ups or even isolations, so those weapons will likely be icing on the cake for him. He’s most striking to me as a hard rolling pick-and-roll partner with some blossoming pick and pop potential. I mean, hey, I get it, we say the same things over and over again and snap players into existing templates that we see across the league. Imagine if Wiseman were paired with someone like Luka? I like him. I’m not ready to say he’s a star, but I like him.
JOSH GREEN, ISAAC OKORO & MARCOS LOUZADA
To me, Green really popped in this game a year ago, and primarily playing off the ball as a promising catch-and-shoot guy with seemingly good feel and overall presence. His measurements are strong. At 6’6” he’s got a 6’10.25” wingspan, but average hand size. That’s not a damning factor, but that could impact how much he develops past a catch and shoot guy and into something more, like a secondary playmaker (something he struggled with here) and a finisher, an area where he was much more erratic this year as opposed to last year. He and Mannion will be very fun to watch this year at Arizona.
Marcos Louzada actually declared for the NBA draft today, so he’s a guy that I’m hoping to spend some more time watching as we had towards the draft. He didn’t strike me as terribly dissimilar from Green, in terms of player makeup. Physically he’s not as long as Green, but I’m going to need more of a sample to really have an opinion.
Isaac Okoro has the look a versatile, switchable defensive piece for Auburn. His instincts and timing were on display a few different times in his spotty minutes. His energy on defense is infectious, and really popped. This is a guy to keep an eye on in the coming year.