West Squad Practice Report

We make no pretense about our focus in San Diego this week - it is all about watching the West squad, which owns not only the Stanford-bound Lopez Twins but also three other Pac-10 signees. Sitting under the basket for the entirety of Tuesday morning's practice afforded a good look at the skills, athleticism and competitive aspects of some very talented players. Pull up a chair for reports on Brook & Robin, Spencer Hawes, Chase Budinger, Kevin Durant and more.

I camped out on the West squad's court for the entire practice Tuesday morning, so as to maximize my time watching the Lopez twins (and the other Pac-10 signees - Spencer Hawes, Chase Budinger and James Keefe).  The team started off with shooting drills, with a lot of reps for all the guys from a variety of spots, including in close, foul line jumpers and threes.  That was a good opportunity to check out the players' strokes in a controlled setting, which may be of only limited value, but then again, it's not often that you're going to get an opportunity to watch Brook and Robin Lopez shoot two or three dozen threes (not with Stanford's closed practice policy, anyway).  They ran some half court and full court drills, including some 3-on-0 breaks that afforded a very good opportunity to gauge foot speed.  The practice concluded with about 40 minutes of 5-on-5 - a good, hard run without a lot of substitutions.  All in all, it was a tightly run practice and a pretty good opportunity to scout the players.  Here are my impressions:

Brook Lopez:  The first thing that jumped out about Brook (and Robin) is that they are noticeably bigger than they were last year.  They're listed now at 7-0, 255, and they look every bit of it.  (As an aside, being on the court with all these guys at the same time afforded a great opportunity to judge actual heights.)  The added weight is all good weight, and both twins looked strong but lean.  They may add some pounds at Stanford, but it won't be a necessity.  Brook looked very smooth and comfortable shooting foul line jumpers during drills (I should mention that the players were moving and cutting pretty hard, so this was no casual shootaround).  When the drills moved out to the arc, Brook continued to show a nice stroke.  Check that.  For a guys of his size, it's a very nice stroke.  His percentage seemed good but not great (I didn't keep track), and Brook was visibly miffed at himself anytime he missed (audibly cursing his one bad miss); it struck me as a nice sign that he fully expects to make those shots.  Brook ran the court very well in the 3-on-0 drills and on some fast breaks when they ran 5-on-5.  In the 5-on-5 session, Brook showed nice variety on the offensive end, with mid-range jumpers and a variety of back-to-the-basket moves.  Some of those moves were executed against Robin or Hawes, and the interior battles were fierce.  Were it not for Hawes, Brook's versatility would have stood out among the bigs.  Defensively, Brook was very physical on the interior, moving some big bodies, including Hawes' around, but showing good footwork and lateral movement.  The physical defense is both good and bad, in my opinion.  The extent to which the Pac-10 refs let Brook (and Robin) be physical next year will be something to keep an eye on to be sure.  I honestly don't think the twins commit that many actual fouls, but when you are by far the biggest dudes on the court, you sometimes draw unwanted attention.

Robin Lopez:  If Brook is the consummate all-around big man, Robin's strengths are definitely more focused on the defensive end.  In other words, he played as you might expect given the conventional scouting wisdom from last summer.  During drills, Robin showed pretty good shooting form (at least by big man standards), and while the results were actually respectable, even behind the arc, it's apparent that Robin doesn't yet possess the accuracy of his brother.  During the 5-on-5 period, Robin had some difficulty consistently handling entry passes, and when he did, he was able to finish only sporadically.  It will be very interesting to see how quickly Robin develops an ability to score consistently.  With his decent shooting stroke, there seems to be some real upside, and he may not be limited to scoring predominantly on put-backs and point blank shots.  Robin ran the floor very well in transition and in drills.  As expected, Robin shined on the defensive end.  He showed nice fundamentals, including bending well at the knees (I know that sounds silly, but look at how many college big men don't and can't move well laterally as a result), and good quickness and bounce off the floor.  As Mike Eubanks aptly pointed out, Robin's head is on a swivel when he's on defense, and that helps him see the court and play good help defense.  He did as good a job on Hawes and his brother as one could hope for, which means that while he couldn't stop them, he did effectively challenge some shots and manage a few blocks.  One thing that stands out watching Robin up close (much of the time I was sitting on the baseline right under the basket Robin was defending) is just how intense he is on defense.  It really stands out relative to some other players, despite the fact that all seemed to be putting in good effort (playing time is on the line, after all).

Much of what I saw from the twins as described above is about what I expected or what you would probably expect based on scouting reports.  However, if there's one thing missing from the scouting reports I've seen on the twins it's this:  they are tough.  As I mentioned elsewhere, I was fortunate to watch much of the practice with Kevin Durant's father, Wayne, who is a hard critic.  The four players that elicited the most positive spontaneous comments from him were his son (of course), Spencer Hawes (more on that below) and Brook and Robin Lopez.  The comment he kept making regarding the twins was "Man, they are tough!"  It was after uttering that line on about seven or eight separate occasions that he opined that he's seen Greg Oden play several times; he didn't think Oden was ready for what the twins are going to throw at him Wednesday night.  That may be hyperbole (although he was dead serious when he said it).  Nevertheless, as I write this, my biggest take away from the practice was not Brook's offensive arsenal or Robin's defense, which were quite impressive, but the toughness of both of them.

Spencer Hawes:  Hawes displayed a freakish variety of scoring moves both in drills and when they ran 5-on-5.  "That's just too good" or "there's nothing you can do about that" were phrases I found myself uttering several times.  He was comfortable scoring with either hand in the paint, and, simply put, I've never seen a high school player with anything approaching his array of post moves.  He also showed an ability to shoot beyond the arc, although his form seems to get just a little loose from deep.  Frank Burlison pointed out in his column Tuesday morning that Spencer has added some weight, and it's noticeable.  The Lopez twins got slightly the better of the banging inside, but Hawes wasn't at as much of a disadvantage as I had expected.  At one point, the twins and Hawes ran 3-on-0 breaks together, and while the twins looked a bit faster, it was a damn impressive display of mobility by the three seven-footers.  (Or, more accurately, two seven footers and a 6-11 guy. Standing on the court next to the three of them, I'd say the twins have just about an inch, not much more, on Hawes.)  Hawes is exceptionally good at delivering quick, accurate outlet passes, which will serve him well at Washington.  If there's any one downside to Hawes' game, it's that he's not a great defender.

Chase Budinger:  If Hawes is the player with the most freakish skills, Budinger might be the most freaky athlete.  His jumping ability was on full display in the dunk contest (just wait til you see the video - scary!), and he showed a great ability to run the floor in transition Tuesday morning.  You know a guy is an exceptional athlete when all the other players at the event go nuts before, during and after his dunks.  I caught Bad Thad, Thaddeus Young himself, just shaking his head in disbelief and commiserating with a fellow dunk contest contestant after Budinger's windmill jam that brought down the joint.  Unfortunately, Budinger also has a nice stroke, and there's a lot of substance to his game.  If you're waiting for some good news from a Stanford perspective, you can forget it.  This guy is a very good fit for Arizona and is going to cause some problems for the Cardinal.

James Keefe:  The overriding impression I got from Keefe is that he's "solid."  He doesn't do anything exceptionally well, but is reasonably good at just about everything.  He's definitely a four-year player.  He looks to be approaching 6-8, like 85% of the UCLA roster.  I could see him playing some 'three' at UCLA; he's likely to have more issues on the defensive end than the offensive one if he does.  At the 'four,' he would give Ben Howland a considerably different look than his current fours.  For better or worse (and it's hard to know which it will be), Keefe doesn't have any single obvious role.  Still, he looks like a solid player, even if he never causes Stanford headaches like Hawes will immediately and Budinger will before long.

Jon Scheyer:  This isn't the best showcase for what Scheyer can do, but even adjusting for that fact, I just don't see it.  In my opinion, he's a reasonably accurate shooter, but one who has neither a quick release nor the ability to elevate.  I'm not convinced he's going to be able to get his shot off consistently at the next level.  He strikes me as being far more likely to be a poor man's Trajan Langdon (emphasis on poor man's) than the next J.J. Redick.  And anybody who compares him to Pistol Pete (as Sports Illustrated suggests some have), needs to put on a pointy hat and go sit in the corner for a good long time.  I'm no scout, but even I can see that's just crazy talk.

Kevin Durant:  Durant is an intriguing prospect.  He's up to 6-10.5, according to his father, and he certainly looks to be in that vicinity.  But, he has some genuine guard skills, which is less surprising when you learn he was 6-3 less than three years ago.  He can lead a fast break and break down defenders with a cross-over dribble.  Durant has an effortless stroke, despite a skinny frame, thanks to ridiculous length and good form.  The one downside to his game is that he can get pushed around because of his lack of bulk, but you really do need to put a body on him because his length and leaping ability can cause problems.  I can see why scouts have him rated as high as #2 in the 2006 class.  He can shoot right over smaller defenders and take bigger ones off the dribble.  In short, he's a mismatch when he walks into the gym.  The $64,000 question for his pro prospects is whether he can gain weight/strength.  I'll be rooting for him, because he and his dad are good people.  In the type of game we're likely to see Wednesday night, Durant could excel.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him take home some hardware if the West wins.

Darrell Arthur:  At 6-9, Arthur competed in the dunk contest and also showed a very nice stroke from three in Tuesday's practice.  He was relatively passive in the 5-on-5 run, but this kid has some serious tools.  He may join Durant at Texas.  If he does, UT is going to have a devastating pair of long, athletic forwards who can also shoot it.

Sherron Collins:  Incredibly strong and explosive at about 5-10 or 5-11.  I love the way this guy competes and his enthusiasm.  Bonus points for being really good with young kids at the JamFest last night (this whole event is a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House, by the way).

Speaking of such things, a nice side benefit of attending these events and observing these players on and off the court is that you get some sense of how they interact with and relate to the other players as teammates.  Both Robin and Brook created the impression that they are affable guys who get along well with their teammates.  Hawes created a similar, positive impression, and he seems to have some real leadership qualities.

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