How he got here
He competed for the Columbia (S.C.) Hammond varsity squad as an eighth grader, and it wasn’t a gimmick. Woods made believers out of local fans excited that the Palmetto State might have another superstar warming in the incubator.
As a sophomore Woods gained national attention — not just on a recruiting basis, either — at the Chick-Fil-A Classic. He threw down a dunk at the Peach Jam that made ESPN’s top plays and continues to define his reputation as a player.
Just in case you missed it:
Woods then proceeded to the HSOT Invitational, where he scored 42 points in a head to head matchup against now-top 10 guard Dennis Smith, including seven threes in the fourth quarter alone.
To someone who didn’t already know, at this point that person is under the impression that this player is a top-five national talent. It’s a fair assumption based on his tangibles and moments of greatness.
And yet, it isn’t actually true. At least not at this moment. Woods slots in at No. 31 in the class and actually fares better by us than some others. His game has drawn a level of scrutiny uncommon for high school juniors, largely because of the disconnect between his dazzling physical ability and his relatively lagging esteem.
|Woods would be a marvelous track athlete as well|
He didn’t perform consistently well on the travel circuit last year or at the NBPA Top 100 Camp. He underwent surgery for a fractured wrist shortly thereafter and subsequently missed the July live period.
Woods returned to action as a junior and has been up and down, affirming both his perceived strengths and perceived weaknesses. Let’s examine the dimensions more fully below, with an eye toward college and beyond.
To 2015. …
Woods might be one of the fastest players you’ll ever see. He doesn’t possess a long, loping stride like John Wall, for example, but he nevertheless can get to that same top speed. He tends to run normally and then occasionally shorten his stride (as he did in the clip above) and then explode down the court.
Even when Woods isn’t dunking on someone, just the rapidity with which he advances through the terrain is jaw-dropping. He makes other great athletes look slow by comparison. It’s an oppressive speed for a defense anytime he employs it.
And there’s my first remark for 2015. I’d love to see Woods play to his strengths, all the time. If he were to dedicate himself to running at full speed as much as he can (stamina obviously limiting any human), the rest of his game will become so much easier. Defenders panic at the sight of such athletic prowess, and typically it creates avenues for teammates to get open and especially jump shooters.
We list Woods as a SG/PG because he doesn’t handle or run the offense like a point guard. That said, however, he’s generally not an effective jump shooter. He did have the huge game as a sophomore and has enjoyed some other fine outings, but jump shooting cannot be called a strength.
So you have a player who isn’t really a point guard yet doesn’t perform well as a scorer off the ball, because defenders can simply back off. Woods is too talented to get shut down, mind you, and his drives and finishes to his left at times are exceptional. But that conundrum has limited his productivity.
What he must do is force himself to play on the ball, yet do so in a way that serves him and his team best. The more he trots upcourt or passes the ball around in the halfcourt game — though he actually is a pretty good passer — the less effective he is.
When he generates aggressive momentum by halfcourt, however, look out. That’s when the fear factor kicks in for the defense, and his ultimate college coaches no doubt will implore him to take advantage of his driving lanes at all times.
Woods also is a potentially devastating defender. He makes some great plays already, but of course like most young athletes he’ll have to tighten up his technique and concentration. Still, with his reflexes and a solid frame as well, he could advance to the NBA nearly on that basis alone.
We’ll have much more on Woods over the course of the next several months, and who knows — maybe his ultimate stock will mirror more closely his natural gifts. I wouldn’t bet against it.