Skal Labissiere, Ben Simmons among future stars at Nike Hoop Summit
PORTLAND, Ore.—With the 2016 NBA draft lottery boards loading up with international names already, it was no great surprise the World team triumphed over USA 103-101 on Saturday at the Nike Hoop Summit in a game that went down to the wire. Indeed, the cream mostly rose to the top at the Moda Center. Highly touted prospects Ben Simmons (Australia) and Skal Labissiere (Haiti) fulfilled expectations with strong showings, teaming with game MVP Jamal Murray (Canada) to lead the international squad past a USA team that was paced by Duke signee Luke Kennard.
Here's a rundown of some of the Hoop Summit's top prospects.
Ben Simmons: 13 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, four turnovers
The 2016 No. 1 overall pick could very well come down to the LSU-bound Simmons and Labissiere, who is headed to Kentucky. As SI.com's Chris Mannix wrote recently, Simmons was raised in Australia, where his father, a New Yorker, played basketball professionally. The 6'10" point forward is most comfortable when he is initiating on the perimeter with the ball in his hands.
A willing passer who finds teammates with zip cross-court looks and timely interior dimes, Simmons's desire to seek out highlight plays still surpasses his ability to complete them. At the NBA level, he will need to reign in some of his most ambitious efforts or face serious problems with turnovers. Still, he's a strong and fluid ball-handler who is comfortable attacking both directions, and he generally has a confident, controlled feel when he draws extra attention. On Saturday, he regularly fed Labissiere down the stretch, showing a knack for getting skilled teammates high-percentage looks.
Simmons's scoring game needs work. He's not a credible perimeter threat at this stage and it goes without saying he will find it tougher to score inside against NBA length than he does at the high school level. His ball-handling and feel pop in the open court, as he showed by weaving effortlessly through USA defenders for a coast-to-coast dunk. It's easy to imagine Simmons as a lead option in pick-and-roll and spread systems, even though there aren't many players with his size/skillset combination in the league currently. Whether he plays small forward or is used as a stretch four, Simmons' will need to be surrounded by shooters to get the most out of his on-ball skills and vision.
Skal Labissiere: 21 points, six rebounds, six blocks
The 7-foot Labissiere plugs in nicely to a Kentucky frontcourt that is losing Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to the 2015 draft. Indeed, the Haiti product is a worthy successor to John Calipari's ridiculous run of bigs that has included DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel and Towns. Like those players before him, Labissiere easily has top-five talent.
[daily_cut.NBA]Offensively, Labissiere's preference for operating from the elbows and sniping mid-range jumpers recalls Davis or LaMarcus Aldridge. His touch for a big at his age is excellent. He found second-chance points on tip-ins with both hands on Saturday, he looked decisive in seeking shots when he is set up by teammates and he threw a few nice passes from the high post to the block. He projects as a versatile four who will be a matchup nightmare that can beat defenses inside and out, and NBA three-point range should be within his grasp as he develops.
Throughout the week of practices in Portland, multiple NBA scouts expressed some skepticism about Labissiere's future as an impact interior defender at the professional level due to his 7-foot-1.5 wingspan. Although he looked to be making a point to display some fiery tenacity at times, Labissiere's strength on defense is agility rather than brutishness.
Jamal Murray: 30 points, five assists
The guard crop at this year's Hoop Summit skewed more toward game-managers rather than franchise-changers, but Murray enjoyed a nice breakout on Saturday. Playing in his second Hoop Summit, the 6'5" Canadian led all scorers, finding points from beyond the arc, in the paint and from mid-range.
USA coach Eric Flannery made a point to praise Murray's confidence, and although there were some wild moments (three turnovers) and a few questionable shots, his attack mentality did stand out, particularly during a first half in which the teams were still feeling each other out. The 18-year-old Murray must decide soon whether he wants to reclassify and take his game to the NCAA level next season.
Thon Maker: Two points, 10 rebounds, one block
In his YouTube highlight reels, the 7-foot Maker occasionally looks like an impossibly-long heir apparent to Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Against top high school competition, he mostly looked like a player without a plan: He wasn't able to create clean looks for himself off the dribble, he wasn't able to make use of his size in the post against smaller defenders and he wasn't able to display any reliability from the perimeter.
Despite an extremely thin frame and the many raw elements of his game, Maker plays with commendable energy and he doesn't shy away from adversity. Still, he's far more comfortable defensively outside the paint than at the rim. His journey, which has already taken him from Sudan to Australia to Virginia to Canada, could still end up with a lottery selection, but he will be picked as a developmental project rather than an immediate franchise cornerstone.
Luke Kennard: 22 points, five rebounds, two assists
A 6'5" lefty wing from Ohio, Kennard is simply a joy to watch: He played with a high activity level all week, he has a nice understanding of spacing when the ball is in his hands and he has a way of making unexpected passes in tight spaces.
There's an "un-shake-ability" to him, as he remains poised even during broken plays or rushed situations. On Saturday, he spun away from trouble to find an assist after USA's press forced a turnover on one sequence, and he calmly stepped into a pretty mid-range jumper after allowing a closing-out defender to fly by him on another. He can be a bit of a pest on offense, too, making opponents pay for forgetting about him along the baseline, in leak-out situations or spotting up for a three on the weakside.
Isaiah Briscoe: Nine points, nine assists, four rebounds, three steals
Calipari has another nice find in Briscoe, a sturdy 6'3" guard who takes great pleasure in guarding the ball and collapsing defenses. The top-end athleticism might be absent, but Briscoe is smart, extremely competitive and he has nice technique defensively. He likes to pick up his man early and he's capable of navigating through screens and handling change-of-direction moves without getting lost. He makes ball-handlers work hard, especially if they have weak handles, and he doesn't waste time taking off for the races when he generates turnovers.
Offensively, Briscoe favors hesitation moves that help him get into the paint, where he usually looks for drive-and-kick passes to shooters. The New Jersey product will mix in some rim attacks, including a few impressive layups during practice, but he seems wired to put his team's offense before his own. Although a nice all-around effort on Saturday was marred by late free-throw woes, Briscoe's feel, IQ and doggedness make him the classic "go to war with" floor general.
Jaylen Brown: Eight points, two rebounds
Brown is the only American prospect that has generated draft buzz on the same level as Simmons and Labissiere, but he was banged up and had a pretty forgettable week in Portland. The 6'6" wing from Georgia has prototypical NBA size and the athletic tools to compete on that level, as evidenced by a quick burst through traffic to throw down a dunk on Saturday.
Malik Newman: 10 points, two steals
The 6'4" Newman might get stuck as a combo-guard tweener at the NBA level, but his natural scoring instincts fit the mold of a young Ben Gordon or fellow Mississippian Monta Ellis. On Saturday, he nailed two deep threes and found a nice runner after covering the ball while slicing through traffic.