Adam Woodbury (2012 - Center)
Strengths: As a legitimate 7-footer, Woodbury's length changes things defensively for his team, particularly at this level of ball. While not a great overall athlete, he gets up and down the floor more smoothly than a guy like Sasha Kaun, for example. He showed a nice array of hook shots and turnaround J's over the weekend, and also a willingness to get in there and scrap for rebounds and loose balls. He's not physically strong yet (Still just a sophomore), but he's tough. Friday night he showed a bit of a mean streak late in a tight game against the KC 76ers 16's, muscling his way in for a couple of tough buckets. It'll be interesting to hear how he fares against fellow 2012 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski at KU's elite camp next month.
Areas for Improvement: Physical strength is tops on the list. He's very skinny, as is to be expected, and settles for layup attempts in traffic at times when a dunk would be so much better. Not really a natural shot blocker, smaller, stronger posts were able to muscle him a bit at different times throughout the weekend. While he's got a nice basic skillset, because he's not a super athlete like some of the other emerging posts in his class, he's going to need to continue to refine those skills if he wants to stay effective. Better footwork and a larger array of moves will go a long way toward equalizing strength and athleticism advantages in his defenders.
Marcus Paige (2012 – Point Guard)
Strengths: Because they played on Friday and deep into Sunday, I probably saw Paige, Woodbury and their Martin Brothers AAU team more than any other squad this weekend – and I'm still trying to find something Paige doesn't do exceptionally well. He's a slick and savvy ball-handler who doesn't rely solely on his natural quickness to get past defenders, showing a variety of crossover and hesitation dribbles that help him get into the lane. He's got a wonderfully quick step-back jumper and a very smooth shot all the way around. Plus, he's an excellent passer, capable of threading the needle when possible on the break and in the half court, and also penetrating to create kick-outs and easy scoring chances for his teammates.
Though he stands just 6-feet tall, he's a very good athlete, able to dunk without difficulty and displaying wonderful coordination, agility, quickness and speed. I wouldn't describe him as an explosive leaper, but he's clearly "high level" in the athlete department.
He's just as intelligent defensively as he is offensively as well. Slithering under and over screens, he was able to stick with a few very quick opposing guards all weekend long. He's got long arms and quick hands, and while he isn't prone to gamble for steals he still gets his fair share – many by hunting passing lanes on fast breaks and suckering opponents into poor decisions on the break.
But above all else, this guy is clutch. Some hoopsters just have an innate ability to take their game to another level with the going gets tough, and that's Marcus Paige. Twice this weekend against quality opponents – late in the game and with the decision still in doubt – the smooth lefty simply took control by scoring himself and getting easy buckets for his teammates.
Areas for Improvement: If there's one flaw I see in Paige's game, it's that he's too passive at times. He prides himself on being a true floor general, through whom the offense flows, but one has to wonder what he'd be like if he found a way to crank up the late-game afterburners for a full 40 (or 32, as is the case with AAU ball) minutes a game. In the first half of Sunday's semi-final game against the Spiece Mo-Kan 16's Paige attempted a bare handful of shots, and perhaps not-so-coincidentally Martin Brothers was struggling to find its rhythm.. It wasn't until the final quarter of game time that he exploded to life, pushing his team to an insurmountable 10-point lead late.
Paige's size could be an issue as well. Though 6-feet is plenty tall for a high-major college PG, he still weighs a couple of pounds shy of 160. He's only a sophomore, however, and one would assume additional weight will come with time, training, and a few (dozen) cheeseburgers a day.
Nino Jackson (2012 – Point Guard)
Strengths: Jackson's name has been the talk of Jayhawk Nation during the past week, because of the Oklahoma native's outspoken love for the University of Kansas. He's earned favorable first reviews from every major talent scout to have seen him – including Scout.com's National Director of Recruiting, Dave Telep – and after seeing him up close it's not hard to understand why.
First and foremost, Jackson is an explosive, game-changing athlete. At maybe a hair shy of 6-foot-1, he's able to throw down circus dunks and catch alley-oops with ease, and as Ryan saw in an Athletes First loss today, isn't afraid to try and dunk on any number of defenders. In addition to that leaping ability he is a yellow-and-blue blur in the open court and lightning quick in the half court. He knows he has a quickness advantage over anyone trying to guard him, and will exploit that advantage at every opportunity. In three games I saw of his this weekend, nobody was able to keep him out of the lane.
His basketball skills are top-notch, too. Jackson possesses tight handles and is capable of crossing over – and scoring – with either hand. His jumper is streaky, but his form is solid and he showed range beyond the three-point line. A skilled passer as well, he's as capable of leading the break and slipping a bullet to an open teammate underneath the goal as he is finishing with a thunderous jam. In the half court, he feeds the post effectively and shows excellent vision of the entire court.
Defensively, as long as he can continue to get stronger (Jackson is almost as skinny as Paige), his potential is through the roof. His arms are reminiscent of someone like Mario Chalmers or Rajon Rondo, with big hands at the end of them. The best part? He doesn't rely on those arms to disrupt his man defensively. His lateral quickness is such that he can simply move his feet to shadow opposing ball-handlers, while keeping those wings out, ready to disrupt passes at the first sign of a mistake. He's a terror on opposing fast breaks, too, taking great joy in hunting passes and intercepting them.
Areas for Improvement: The biggest thing I noticed was that Jackson has a tendency to play recklessly at times. There were moments when he would decide to go to the rim, and that was that. Though he'd beat the first defender easily, when the lane collapsed in on him he would still charge towards the hoop, often leading to a charging foul or another turnover.
So much of his game is about excitement and flash, and while that is a huge part of what makes him great, there are also times when it's unnecessary. Every pass doesn't need to be a no-look dazzler, and Jackson can make things too difficult out there when he really gets the ball rolling. Sometimes, simple can be more effective.
Those are two pretty small nit-picks, however. The bottom line is that this kid is a stud, a scoring point cut out of the mold of Sherron Collins and Josh Selby. Oh, and he sported a Jayhawk hoodie almost the entire weekend; one that he purchased specifically to wear to this event.
Zach Peters (2012 Power Forward)
Strengths: It's almost hard to describe Peters' game. Right off the bat, one has to mention his physique. He's a year old for his class at 17, but he's got the body of a college senior. Standing what looks to be a legitimate 6-foot-9, Peters' frame is packed with muscle, and he knows how to use it. More on that in a second.
What was probably most surprising to me this weekend was seeing just how good an athlete he is. He's a good leaper, rising effortlessly for rebounds and powerful dunks, but his quickness and coordination are both outstanding. Because most teams at the tournament seemed to lack a great deal of size, Peters spent a significant portion of the weekend guarding much smaller players on the perimeter – and doing so with a great deal of effectiveness. He routinely kept guards out of the lane with a combination of athleticism and sound fundamentals. He's clearly been taught how to use his feet when shadowing an opponent away from the low block.
Offensively, he's got a big arsenal at his disposal. Capable of scoring with either hand, he showed quick spins to the bucket, up-and-under moves and a couple of fadeaways. Plus, he can be an absolute terror on the offensive glass when he puts his mind to it. He runs the break like a guard, even going coast-to-coast after snagging a defensive rebound a couple of times this weekend, crossing over defenders with the ball for smooth layups in transition. He's a capable ball-hanlder – more than capable for a four – and a solid passer as well.
Areas for Improvement: There are a number of caveats that need to be taken into consideration here, before I get into the Areas for Improvement of Zach Peters. First and foremost, Team Texas is exhausted. They only brought seven players with them this weekend after last weekend's EYBL event in Houston, and they played four games yesterday with no more than an hour or so between them, before getting up for a 9:15 tilt this morning. The fatigue was really showing by the end of their weekend, and because he plays so physically he was a little beat up. I talked to him for a few minutes, and he said he felt like he'd "been hit by a car."
Because they were so limited in personnel, Zach didn't spend the entire weekend in the post. In fact, it looked as if Team Texas was playing pickup ball most of the time, with some kind of four-out-one-in offensive system. Zach was on the perimeter at least as much as he was in the post, and that's where he's clearly most effective. He has some wing skills, but he's decidedly not a wing. He's a kid with the potential to be an absolutely outstanding power foward.
All of that said, he wasn't flawless at the Kansas City Classic. While he's capable of making so many different moves down low, he also has a nasty tendency to bring the ball down low when spinning, resulting in guards coming in and swiping the ball away from him before he can get a shot up.
Additionally, his focus appears to go in and out. Sometimes he's a terror on the glass and outworking everyone in all phases of the game. Other times he's spacing out and getting boxed out by short, smaller, less athletic players for boards. I suspect Coach Self will cure him of both ailments rather quickly, but for someone with his physical gifts he just didn't dominate for large stretches of game clock that he really should have.