Thanksgiving week has come and gone, and our hearts and stomachs are full of basketball and food (respectively, you’d hope). The Crossover's Front Office spent the entire week attending college games in New York and kept a pulse on the holiday tournament action around the country. This week, we highlight the PK80 and dive in with a pair of lottery-level prospects.
THE PK80 BELONGED TO MARVIN BAGLEY III
Nike’s 16-team, double-bracket bonanza was a resounding success, producing many of the week’s best games and giving NBA executives a one-stop shop to scout high-level talent. Between the UNC–Michigan State and Duke–Florida finals, compelling semis between Duke–Texas and Florida–Gonzaga, a potential No. 1 pick in Marvin Bagley III and another breakout freshman in Oklahoma guard Trae Young, it amounted to a win for all parties. Prospects get exposure, programs get prestige, scouts get a great environment to work in and of course, Nike profits.
Speaking of profits, enter Duke freshman and potential No. 1 draft pick Marvin Bagley, who averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds while leading the Blue Devils to a title in the Motion Bracket, beating Portland State, Texas and Florida. With Michael Porter Jr. injured and DeAndre Ayton’s Arizona team going a shocking 0–3 in the Battle 4 Atlantis, the weekend was a major opportunity for Bagley to perform in front of high-level NBA decision-makers. He didn’t disappoint.
We’re often quick to forget that freshmen are freshmen, that there’s an adjustment period to college basketball and that these kids improve. Bagley has caught on quickly and displayed the immense value of his positional versatility and nonstop effort. He led Duke in a huge comeback over Florida and an overtime win against Texas and fellow top prospect Mohamed Bamba, making an impact on the glass and applying himself better defensively. The Bagley vs. Bamba matchup was the most hyped game of the entire tournament, and the former came up huge down the stretch in his best game of the season.
Bagley’s willingness to compete for every ball is a skill. The extra possessions he creates and teammates’ mistakes he consistently covers for are what set him apart right now. His points have come easily and in the flow of the game. It’s easy to nitpick Bagley’s severe left-handedness as a scorer and lack of shooting touch, but it’s a testament to his physicality that he can go back to it nearly every time and still be effective. His overall skill development over the next few months will be worth tracking, but it’s hard to knock how otherworldly his production has been.
Meanwhile, Bamba struggled to get involved offensively (9 points, 10 boards) and eventually fouled out. He did make an impact on the other end, with a highlight block on Bagley and the alteration of many others. Bamba isn’t a guy who commands post touches yet, but he’s an exceptional defensive prospect and easily corrals difficult rebounds. That said, it’s clear from his early play that he’s a step or two behind Bagley, Ayton and Luka Doncic in terms of NBA readiness. Better days are undoubtedly ahead, but Bamba sits behind that top group in our eyes.
The other cool subplot: Trae Young took center stage for Oklahoma with a trio of big games, with 28, 33 and 43 points. He’s been turnover-prone, but he can stroke threes and get to the line, and is the clear focal point of Lon Kruger’s offensive plan. His ability to create shots and make plays has put him among the top point guards in college hoops early on, and has already garnered some unfair Steph Curry comparisons. An All-American who stayed local, he will be showcased all season long and his scoring production could be hard to deny. He deserves a little more national attention as a prospect, to say the least.
THE COLLIN SEXTON ROLLERCOASTER HITS BROOKLYN
By now you’ve likely heard about the bizarre Alabama-Minnesota game in Brooklyn that was headlined by the Tide going three-on-five for the final 10 minutes of the game (it’s complicated). The subtext of that twist was Bama guard and potential lottery pick Collin Sexton going for 19 of his 40 points…with just two teammates on the floor.
It goes without saying that Sexton put on an impressive display that affirmed his toughness and shot-making ability. After watching him scuffle against BYU (10 points on 3 of 11 shooting) 24 hours earlier and wrestle with Minnesota’s stout defense for much of Saturday, it was a welcome sight and reminder of his scoring potential. He’s a big-time trash talker, and love it or hate it, Sexton got far enough under the skin of Gophers leading scorer Nate Mason to get the senior ejected, which amounted to a net win before the game fell off the rails.
It’s certainly possible that Sexton will be the first guard drafted in June, and The Front Office has him ranked as such on our most recent Big Board. But his early ups and downs do raise fair questions about his long-term ceiling. He’s very much a freshman, and while he competes at a high level when locked in, his focus can come and go throughout the run of play. Sexton has always been a shoot-first player and tends to put his head down while going to the basket, looking to bully his way into contact rather than find teammates. If his ability to score and draw fouls pales against NBA length and his decision-making doesn’t progress, he’ll profile as more of a high-volume combo guard than a scoring point.
Sexton has all the tools to be a capable defender, and maximizing that will be essential to his ability to stay on the floor for long stretches. His intensity doesn’t always translate to effective on-ball play, and he relies more on his athleticism than his positioning at times. That will need to level out to some degree in the pros, but he strikes me as an intelligent, capable player who can defend well in a system. If Sexton solidifies that component of his game, his scoring and intangibles give him a nice floor as a change-of-pace guard, with potential to be more. Still, when you consider that he might go in the top 10 and that Donovan Mitchell fell to No. 13 in July, the fact Sexton may be the top ball-handler in this class speaks to a dearth of high-level point guard prospects.
ROBERT WILLIAMS DUNKS, DUNKS SOME MORE
It was quite a long week of games, but I still can’t shake the image of a murder I witnessed firsthand at the Barclays Center.
If you look closely you’ll catch me recoiling in shock on the baseline. More importantly, it’s a neat introduction to Texas A&M’s Robert Williams, who lived up to his top–10 billing as he made his season debut in Brooklyn. The sophomore big had double-doubles in wins over Oklahoma State and Penn State, scoring 21 easy points in the latter as NBA scouts lined the stands.
At a glance, the ease with which Williams rises above the rim is astonishing. He’s 6’9” with a 7’4” wingspan and gets off the ground quickly and with force. He’s often been labeled as a rawer prospect skill-wise, but is by no means a low-IQ player, able to make good passes and intelligently cover ground on defense. He has some touch and could eventually become a mid-range shooter, but that’s icing on the cake. In a rim-running role with shooters around him at the next level, Williams has definite upside.
It’s all about consistent effort for Williams the rest of the way, as he doesn’t grab every ball he should and struggled to rebound out of his area. His overall anticipation skills need improvement, as he doesn’t read shots off the rim as much as he just goes up to get the ball afterward. It’s a trait nearly all elite rebounders possess and can be more inherent than learned, and it’s possible he’s simply a good-but-not-great rebounder at the next level. His shot-blocking is a work in progress in a similar vein, but should improve as he learns to position himself better. Williams’s natural talent and improvements from his freshman year are still shining brightly. He just needs polish.
Highlight tape of the Week: R.J. Barrett, Montverde Academy
Get to know the Duke-bound Barrett before we start discussing him as a top player in next year’s draft. That’s all for now.
THREE TO WATCH
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota
The Gophers’ 6’6” junior forward has enjoyed a strong start to the season to say the least, with a double-double in each of Minnesota’s first seven games and averages of 22 points and 12 boards, plus 64% shooting. He’s also averaging more than a block and a steal per game. He rose to the occasion against a strong opponent in Alabama and showcased some ability to step out and make threes during his two games in Brooklyn. Murphy has nice instincts around the interior and is a high-functioning cleanup big, requiring few post touches to make an impact. He’s undersized with a bit of a hunched frame, but is on track for NBA attention if he dominates conference play.
D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M
An effortless set shooter from outside, Hogg has greatly improved his lanky 6’9” frame and has established himself as a potential floor-spacer at the next level. He’s making threes at a 54% clip right now and averaging 17 points while helping across the board as a key piece of a tough Aggies team. Hogg still struggles when putting the ball on the ground, and becomes less effective as a shooter when pulling up. He knows his strengths though, and has done a great job playing off of teammates. Hogg’s not an incredible athlete and must continue to rebound and demonstrate which positions he can defend. His length and sweet stroke give him a chance to stick as specialist.
Tony Carr, Penn State
Carr has impressed with his early play and looks ready to emerge as a sophomore after a solid under-the-radar freshman campaign. At 6’5” with length, he has nice tools for a lead guard and physically resembles Rajon Rondo with his boxy shoulders and substantive reach. Carr is an intuitive passer, able to find players across the court as well as drive and kick. He’s also been quite a scorer out of the gate, averaging 20 points, making 13 of his first 20 three-point attempts and showing ability to shoot it off the bounce or the catch. He appears to be developing rather quickly and deserves a place in the long-term draft conversation.