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Just messing around, getting triple doubles
Tag Archives: High School Basketball
May 14, 2021Posted by on
Over the course of a few days in May, a collection of top-ranked high school basketball players descended on Memphis for the Allen Iverson Roundball Classic, an NBA-sanctioned event (meaning NBA personnel could attend to whet their appetites for future employees) hosted by one-time Memphis Grizzly, Allen Iverson.
This time of year is typically the season for post-season all-star/All-American games with the McDonald’s game, Jordan Brand Classic, and probably some others that aren’t coming to mind. In this second year of global Covid disruptions, most events are on hiatus, but not the Iverson Classic which stood alone as the sole national event this year. Spread across three days, there were (allegedly) competitive scrimmages withheld from the masses, dunk and three-point contests, a one-on-one tournament, and finally, the main event, an all-star game on Saturday night (May 8th) 28 of the top high school players in the country (27 boys and one girl). The game was streamed through SUVtv for a not unreasonable $9.99 and is available on-demand. Before I get into the players, notes on the stream and game:
- SUV, as usual, provides competent and mostly knowledgeable announcers.
- For viewers who enjoy rewind/fast forward hot key features (think five-second forward/back), SUV’s video player does not include these features. This is inexplicable.
- The white jerseys have light-colored (light gold? White?) numbers making it difficult at times to determine who’s who. Similar to the video player, this is a small nuisance likely only impacting a handful of viewers, but even the announcers were tripped up at times.
- The rosters (and all players are included below) are accurate
- The head coaches of each team were Stephen Jackson and Rasheed Wallace. Both were engaged and vocal. From my lens, the gravitas of these former players contributed to sustained energy and competitiveness from the players. All-star games have long been the domain of coasting, but imagine your 18-year-old self defying Sheed or SJax.
Black Team (number next to each player is their jersey number):
- #1 Paolo Banchero: Seattle kid with 11/12/02 (18.5 years old) b-day, somewhere between 6-9 and 6-11 (he’s not 6-11 despite what ESPN has listed) depending on source, 5* Duke commit, mocked #2 in 2022 ESPN mock, consensus top-3 high-school rank:
- All we heard all week was how him and Chet Holmgren competed hard against each other all week and, for me, they’re the most tantalizing players and prospects.
- Banchero settled for a lot of jumpers in the game, both off-the-catch and off-the-bounce, but I’m not too concerned as he has sound mechanics and some of the shots felt like they in search of rhythm.
- Banchero’s combination of size, movement and ball skills are somewhat mesmerizing. So many bigs his age are rail thin, still growing into their bodies and creating uncertainty as long-term prospect, but Banchero already has a solid frame complimented by a clean handle, tight cross and effective hesitation. Combined with strong body mechanics and mobility, the aggregate is extraordinary.
- Given his general focus/engagement and build, I was surprised to see him pummeled on the o-glass by Holmgren who’s length, timing, and underestimated strength caused Banchero problems all day. Holmgren had at least four o-rebs that were a direct result of out-working Banchero.
- Banchero’s defense doesn’t worry me because he’s a smart player who has a solid motor, but I don’t necessarily see him as a high-impact defender long-term; particularly with him going to Duke where Coach K seems to have given up on teaching defense to big men.
- #21 AJ Griffin: son of former NBA player and current assistant coach, Adrian Griffin, 8/25/03 (17.7) b-day (2nd youngest player in game), 6-7 or 6-8, listed at 200 pounds but there’s no way he’s that light, 5* Duke commit, mocked #6 in 2022 ESPN mock, no consensus on HS rank due to not having played in over a year, but pre-hiatus, was consistently top-10 in national ranks and top-3 in Draft Twitter circles:
- Griffin looks like he spent the past year locked in the weight room alternating between shoulder presses and lat pulldowns. He’s fucking huge and gives off some Kawhi Leonard vibes as a power wing – although he’s nowhere near weaponizing that power right now.
- The handle is slick and he hit someone with a nasty inside out that I should’ve clipped, but didn’t. My bad.
- Range extends beyond NBA three line without effort.
- In love with pull-ups and it’s a pretty shot with a variety of dribble moves to set it up, but lot of settling.
- Could see the rust from long time off, but both the current ability and long-term potential outstrip any lack of rhythm.
- #2 JD Davison: Alabama native with 10/3/02 (18.6) b-day, 6-2 or 6-3 (I’d lean to 6-2), with a solid 180-poundsd, 5* Alabama commit, not included in 2022 ESPN mock, consensus top-13 in class:
- Got a coveted Givony tweet about his play
- Showed some flair for passing/reading floor that hadn’t popped as well in other viewings.
- Power guard who used his strength/athleticism well a couple times including shrugging off Jaden Akins on a dribble drive and recovering on a Nolan Hickman ball fake to get the block on second jump.
- Not sure if he shot a jumper.
- #26 Johnathan Lawson: member of Memphis basketballing Lawson family, 10/7/02 (18.6) b-day, listed at 6-6 170 but looks taller, 4*Memphis commit (de-committed from Oregon), mostly a top-100 rank:
- Jersey number was strangely a different color from teammates
- Didn’t focus too closely on him, but lack of physical development seems to be holding back better body control
- #11 Tyrese Hunter: Wisconsin kid with 8/11/03 (17.8) b-day, listed at 6-1 175, high 4* Iowa State commit, consensus top-40:
- My first viewing of Hunter
- Able to breakdown primary defender with handle/quickness; handle is tight, improvisational
- Good speed, fluid movement
- Good feel, able to read/react to defense both on/off ball à low-key, probably the secret ingredient to his effectiveness
- In part because I hadn’t seen him before, but walked away really being impressed by him
- #15 TyTy Washington: big time rankings riser with 11/15/01 (19.5) b-day, 6-3 or 6-4, 5* de-commit from Creighton with crystal balls pointing to Kentucky, #13 on ESPN 2022 mock, ranks between #12 and 21 depending on source:
- Able to create for self and others as lead guard – can beat the primary defender and make plus-decisions at second and third levels à drive-and-kick game solid, floater game solid
- Totally in-flow here, comfortable as primary or off-ball; plays well with others which was important to see after seeing him force things a bit at Geico
- Good range and shoots an easy ball
- Showed some defensive awareness with early rotation/anticipation
- In general, a joy
- #5 Peyton Watson: Cali kid with 9/11/02 (18.7) b-day, listed 6-8 but could be taller, 5* UCLA commit, #6 on ESPN 2022 mock, consensus top-10 in class:
- Am generally a big-time Watson fan, but he was quiet in this one – some of which could be attributed to normally being a ball-dominant offensive player and needing to find place alongside three high-level guards (TyTy, Hunter, Davison).
- Lanky kid with long strides
- Showed good body control/concentration with off-hand finish against Chet Holmgren contest
- Not a player I typically think of as big-time athlete, but pulled out an impressive windmill on breakaway
- #5 Hunter Sallis: from Omaha with 3/26/03 (18.1) b-day, listed at 6-5 but could be taller, 5* Gonzaga commit, N/A on ESPN 2022 mock, ranks between 7 and 14:
- Like Tyrese Hunter, this was my first time seeing Sallis, but like Watson, seemed like struggled a bit to get into an off-ball role.
- I don’t know what I was expecting, but Sallis’s athleticism exceeded my expectations; he gets up well off two feet, had an electric windmill in transition, and showed some impressive speed/burst getting out in a sprint.
- I’m intrigued, but not wowed.
- #23 Bryce McGowens: out of South Carolina with 11/8/02 (18.5) b-day, listed at 6-6, high 4* or low 5* depending on who you ask committed to Nebraska after de-committing from FSU, N/A on ESPN 2022 mock:
- McGowens is a slender wing who’s still growing into his body. In this game, similarly to Sallis and Watson, he played more off-the-ball than he’s accustomed to, but unlike the other two, it felt like a more natural fit.
- Had couple of read/reacts and improvisations on a help side steal and drive into Chet’s chest for free throws that were good to see as in-the-flow, unforced impact. (This idea of in-rhythm, organic impact versus forced impact is something that I’ll return to throughout. In an all-star setting like this where you have 28 players who are accustomed to being focal points, getting a feeling for how players assimilate into team construct in unfamiliar capacities isn’t a panacea for scouting or projection, but it is helpful to get a feel for how a player will adapt in different situations.)
- His shot and mechanics are fluid and polished, but I often find myself wanting more with the overall output.
- #0 Benny Williams: DMV kid born on 4/30/02 (19), listed at 6-8 (was 5-9 as a frosh in HS), high 4*/low 5*, committed to Syracuse, N/A on 2022 ESPN mock, consensus top-35:
- I believe Williams was the last guy off the bench and in my imperfect notes and memory, he had a comparable role; forced to nibble around the edges and get shots/make plays as opportunity presented itself.
- His jumper has always been a strength at his size and while I didn’t see him make one, the mechanics still look good.
- Flashed some plus-awareness/BBIQ with a quick dump-off on an offensive rebound à it’s a small thing, but making heady plays in limited opportunity is about all you can ask.
- #35 Matthew Cleveland: Atlanta native born 9/15/02 (18.7), listed at 6-7, high 4*/low 5* FSU commit, N/A on 2022 ESPN mock, consensus top-30, much higher in draft Twitter communities:
- Big, strong, athletic, engaged, Cleveland has long been a draft Twitter darling that I’ve been closer to mainstream on (15-20ish) than draft Twitter and a lot of my reservation is revealing of my own limitation in focusing on his HS/AAU role as an on-ball, high-usage player where, in my viewings, he’s been over-aggressive with questionable decision making and shot selection.
- If Watson and Sallis struggled towards total all-star integration, Cleveland was impressively in his element repeatedly making plays (backcutting an over-laying defender, combining awareness and athleticism on an emphatic help side block, making quick reads with the pass) and making a positive impact.
- Showed impressive touch/concentration finishing through/over contests at rim.
- Seems like a Florida State guy.
- #4 Terquavion Smith: North Carolina kid with 12/31/02 (18.4) b-day, listed at 6-3, 4* NC State commit, N/A on 2022 ESPN mock, consensus top-100 player with top-rank of #73:
- First experience with Smith and regrettably don’t have much to offer. He hit a nice floater, showed some touch, and defended well on-ball.
- #33 Brandon Huntley-Hatfield: 8/6/03 b-day (17.8), listed at 6-9 230 but wouldn’t be surprised if he’s heavier, 5* Tennessee commit, not included on ESPN 2022 mock, anywhere from #5 to #20 in class:
- Big, thick forward without a ton of explosiveness
- Deep love for jab steps to setup sidestep and step-back threes – competent shooter; opened this game with back-to-back threes; shot 39% on 43 attempts in 2019 UAA season. 61% from FT on 23 attempts in same UAA sample.
- Not a quick decision maker, ball tends to stick to his hands while he jabs/surveys.
- Big body, but not particularly effective utilizing it; not a banger, was out-worked/out-physicaled by Michael Foster.
White Team (number next to each player is their jersey number):
- #34 Chet Holmgren: Minnesotan with 5/1/02 (19) b-day, listed at 7-0, 195 pounds, 5* Gonzaga commit, #2 on 2022 ESPN mock, consensus #1 player in class:
- Offensively, spent much more time in post/around paint than he did with his Minnehaha team. Unsurprisingly effective around basket with length and soft touch.
- Coordination/handle continue to impress given size/build/age and reveal ability to create off bounce which he showed with drive-and-dish.
- Despite frame, appears to be stronger than he looks as he was able to dislodge heavier/thicker Paolo on more than one occasion.
- Combination of strength, length, and positioning made him a nightmare on offensive glass – much of which was at Paolo’s expense.
- #11 Michael Foster: Milwaukee native played high school ball in Phoenix at Hillcrest, 1/16/03 (18.3) b-day, listed 6-9 233, 5* G-League Ignite signee, #32 on 2022 ESPN mock, consensus top-20 in class ranging from #7 to #17:
- Burly and physical with elite production (32-points and 18-rebounds-per-game as a senior), the biggest knock on Foster is that he doesn’t know how to play and makes dumb decisions and while it was an all-star exhibition, early on Foster helped off of Huntley-Hatfield when he didn’t need to and gave up a wide open three.
- Additionally, he struggled with his handle forcing dribble drives and getting stripped for TOs.
- The burly physicality was evident though as he was a bully on the offensive glass, repeatedly pummeling Huntley-Hatfield under the hoop for putbacks.
- Flashed nice passing/awareness with a cross-court hook pass with a ton of velocity and accuracy to wide open shooter.
- Unable to contain or deter Paolo in space.
- #4 Kowacie Reeves: 1/31/03 (18.3) b-day, listed at 6-6 170, 4* Florida commit, N/A on 2022 ESPN mock, ranked between #27 and #69 in class:
- First time seeing Reeves, a long, bouncy wing out of Georgia
- Jumper didn’t fall and didn’t see enough or close enough to get a feel for mechanics
- Could see his well-regarded athleticism attacking the closeout for an and-1 dunk
- #0 Jaden Akins: Michigan native with 2/25/03 (18.2) b-day, listed at 6-3 160 though assume that’s an outdated weight, 4* Spartan commit, N/A on 2022 ESPN mock, consensus top-55 recruit:
- Fluid, smooth athlete; movement in general is pleasant and balanced
- Maybe overly reliant on jumpers and if it’s not falling, struggles to impact game especially in this setting
- By my unofficial and incomplete tracking, was 0-4 from field with a pair of missed pull-ups, a missed catch-and-shoot, and a blown lob.
- #8 Josh Minnot: Florida kid with 11/25/02 (18.5) birthday, listed 6-8 but lot of indications he’s 6-9 or 6-10, 4* Memphis commit, N/A on 2022 ESPN mock, ranked between #35 and #68:
- First time seeing Minnot; he’s slim, long, tall; saw he has a 7-2 wingspan but not convinced from eyeballs
- Showed good body control and functional usage of aforementioned length with balance on change of direction and scoop finish around AJ Griffin
- Aggressive in attack though occasionally forced the issue on rim attacks that resulted in off-balance attempts
- Not prettiest form/release, hips seems slightly turned inwards, release on the abrupt side, but was able to at least a pair of threes
- #2 Nolan Hickman: Seattle native with 5/7/03 (18) b-day, listed 6-1 180, high 4*/low 5* former Kentucky commit who’s currently undecided, N/A on 2022 ESPN mock, roughly in 20-40 range in class:
- Recently decommitted from Kentucky and building on a strong performance at the Geico Nationals
- Decently put together with solid athleticism, high-level awareness, quick processing/decision making, and oodles of skill. Awareness and processing allow him to anticipate and react in ways that frequently put him in the right place at the right time – these aren’t accidents are evidence in clip below.
- I’m not much for superlatives, but am mildly confident that Hickman was the best passer in this event though JD Davison was at least flashier on this day.
- Mostly average shooter with a floater and maybe a bit better off catch at present
- #32 Daimion Collins: hailing from the Lone Star State, born 1/23/02 (19.3), listed 6-9 210, 5* Kentucky commit, N/A on 2022 ESPN mock, generally accepted as a 10-15 recruit:
- Collins is a lanky, bouncy 4/5 with defensive upside for days and a bit of a jump shot who maybe thinks it’s an excellent jumper.
- He’s a good case study for my particularly haphazard scouting technique as an example of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. To wit, last summer I witnessed the lithe Collins thoroughly outplayed and out-toughed by 2022 Vincent Iwuchukwu, a near-seven-foot big in a much more traditional back-to-the-basket model. Collins had his moments, but they were few and far between and he was generally mauled. Unfortunately, this left an indelible mark on me as a character defining defeat, not dissimilar to a thumping Scottie Lewis once put on Jaden McDaniels which upturned my whole idea of McDaniels or, from what I’ve heard of others, the merciless roasting Jaden Springer put on Jalen Suggs and his soft handle a couple summers ago. For my process, I have to consciously guard against the Iwuchukwu battle being a character-defining moment for Collins.
- Contextual baggage aside, Collins was active and engaged in this game where he strung together deflections, hit ahead passes, and length-revealing dunks. The ill-advised jumpers (contested pull-up straddling the three-line) were still there, but largely overshadowed by his athleticism, length, and effort.
- #10 Kendall Brown: another elite Minnesota native, born 5/11/03 (18), listed 6-8 205, 5* Baylor commit, N/A on ESPN 2022 mock, top-15 in class:
- Strong forward, with well-built frame, elite leaper, two-way playmaker who gives me Shawn Marion vibes.
- Didn’t show a ton of new this game, but that’s not a bad thing either: caught a pair of lobs, knocked down a pull-up from 16-feet, was a tad wild (spinning jumper and errant no-look pass) at times, remains a favorite of mine.
- #24 Trey Alexander: Oklahoma native listed at 6-4 185, 4* recently decommitted from Auburn because the program allegedly “didn’t keep their word,” N/A on ESPN 2022 mock, ranked between #55 and #83:
- Bit of a ball-dominant combo guard, mostly smooth with handle and pull-up game, good, not great as athlete
- Alexander was put in a bit of a weird spot as the opponent matched him up with Raven Johnson, the only female player in the game. Johnson is a 5-9/5-10 5* committed to South Carolina. Alexander attacked the matchup with vim and vigor, attacking the smaller opponent on both sides of the ball, coming up with steals and beating her off the bounce multiple times.
- It’s hard to take much away from this type of scenario except that Alexander played hard and his 55-83 slot feels accurate.
- #23 Jordan Longino: Pennsylvanian listed at 6-5 195, 4* Villanova commit, N/A on ESPN 2022 mock, ranked as high as #39 and low as #81:
- My first experience with Longino, a thickly-built off-guard/small wing – his build could be somewhat confused based on an undershirt that possibly made him look bulkier than he actually is.
- Showed plus-awareness and ability to quickly process/react to openings/opportunities with quick pass/reads; played a step ahead of the game.
- Plays at measured pace, under control
- Jay Wright had to be pleased see him make an early rotation and force a TO
- Good body control with step-thru in transition.
- Didn’t note him shooting any jumpers and I don’t have any shooting %s for him.
- Walked away a fan, but patience is always the virtue with Villanova kids.
- #12 Ahamad Bynum (Black Cat): Chicago kid with 2/21/03 (18.2) b-day, listed at 6-3 175, 4* committed to DePaul (since 2019), N/A on ESPN 2022 mock, consensus top-100:
- Nicknamed “Black Cat,” my first time seeing him
- Have seen him listed at both 6-3 and 6-1 but felt more in the 6-1/6-2 range
- Aggressive instincts were there, but struggled to find any rhythm
- #1 Daeshun Ruffin: Mississippi native listed at 5-10 160, 4* committed to Ole Miss, N/A on ESPN 2022 mock, generally a top-55 recruit:
- Surprisingly my first time seeing Ruffin as he’s been on the scene for several years.
- Smaller lead guard, not just height, but build as well. Plays point, but loads of aggressiveness and scoring/attack instincts.
- Good quickness with a low handle and electric spin move; showed some ++touch with a high-banker off the glass on the move
- Able to hit threes off catch and bounce
- Targeted in post by TyTy and beaten handily
- #26 Bryce Hopkins: Illinois kid with 9/7/02 (18.7) b-day, listed at 6-7 220 but looks thicker than 220 and not in a bad way, 4* Kentucky commit after a Louisville decommit, N/A on ESPN 2022 mock, top-30 recruit who got that coveted Givony love:
- Thick-bodied, highly skilled forward with great feet and feel
- Like Kendall Brown, didn’t see a lot of new stuff from Hopkins à he’s skilled/polished with a clean handle, a willingness to pass, and ability to grab-and-go off the board
- Able to create space off-the-bounce with a tight cross and get to pull-up or rim
- Don’t have stats on him and don’t have a good feel for his jumper. In other settings, he’s struggled to hit off the catch, but I haven’t noted any wonky mechanics.
- I like Kentucky as a landing spot
- #5 Trevor Keels: DMV kid with 8/26/03 b-day (17.7 – youngest player in game), listed at 6-5 210, 5* committed to Duke, N/A on ESPN 2022 mock, top-20 recruit:
- Just second time seeing Keels as a senior after seeing several games of his previous years
- Has outgrown some of baby fat and looks strong/thick; not an explosive athlete, but a good one with burst off the catch.
- Was slow to get going in this game, but found confidence in second half with variety of drives and threes of catch and bounce.
- Showed some creation with a drive-and-dump dime
- Bit of a ball stopper with a penchant for pounding the ball in search of openings at the expense of decisively moving/attacking
A final note, despite being physically overmatched and somewhat targeted, the previously mentioned Raven Johnson was sound in effort and execution with quality passing/reads. She struggled to finish/hit shots, but was game as a competitor.
January 5, 2019Posted by on
Somewhere in Florida, at a prep school called Nova Southeastern University, aka The University School, play two of the best non-NBA basketball players in the country of the United States of America. Scottie Barnes, a 17-year-old high school junior and Vernon Carey Jr, a 17-year-old senior, are runaway barrels tumbling down the hill of high school basketball, flattening obstacles that impede their inevitable progress. This isn’t about winning or losing, but about a unification of ability and skill that arrives before its time and lays waste – except when it doesn’t which is some of the time because teenagers, high school, imperfection.
Within their respective graduating classes, these players are ranked second (Carey in 2019) and third (Barnes in 2020). Theirs are games that flash with the brightest of lights like when Carey Jr goes coast to coast bulldogging his way through 175-pound, underdeveloped high school bodies, leaving carnage and hurt feelings in his wake. Or when Barnes pulls off the kind of interior pass that makes one think Draymond Green, not a high school junior. But, and probably less so, their games are littered with peculiar teenage funk and I don’t mean funk in a good kind of way, but in the kind of way where Carey Jr’s coast to coast forays are ill-advised with his handle too high, rumbling, bumbling, stumbling towards turnover town. Or you cringe when Barnes convinces himself that the pull-up contested three is the right decision even though there’s no shot clock and his shot is kind of broke and his release is something preceding the work-in-progress stages. This appears to be high school basketball and even the best players aren’t exempt.
I’m lumping these two together simply because they’re teammates. Beyond them being highly talented teammates, as players they have very little in common: Barnes, a 6-8 combo forward with guard skills, has innate ability and feel. When I first saw him as a sophomore against prep juggernaut Oak Hill Academy, his passing immediately popped and had me like Whoa (h/t, Black Rob). He’s an instinctual player whose shot looks like it’s never been loved though I’m sure it has been loved and tended to. Carey Jr, by contrast, is a combination of highly refined skill mixed into the human form of a freight train: he’s listed as 6-11, 275-pounds. He has the jawline of a boxer and the shoulder-neck of a football player which makes sense since his dad is a 6-5, 340-pound former NFL player named Vernon Carey who had an 8-year career as an offensive lineman.
The giant Carey Jr is already committed to Duke for the 2019-2020 season. How his game translates at both the collegiate and pro levels isn’t difficult to imagine, but the degree to which he improves his game is harder to predict. Carey Jr’s already more offensively skilled than a lot of NBA big men – he’s highly coordinated, light on his feet with sound footwork and a fluid jumper. He has no issue playing the role of bully, muscling straight through or over shorter, weaker high school opponents. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a mean streak, but he’s happy to use his size and strength as a weapon. More often though, he defaults to catching in the post and then turning and facing. From the face up range, he has a variety of attack options, most of which involve putting the ball on the floor. While his handle exceeds that of many NBA centers, his decision-making and decisiveness do not. At times, it appears that he’s already decided he’s going to shoot before he ever assesses the defense which is unfortunate as he’s a capable passer with above average vision. Carey Jr negates all this well-developed skill when he lulls himself into pounding the ball and bailing out defenders with contested fadeaways.
Carey Jr’s biggest challenges as a senior have been against elite teams full of D1 players and athletes: IMG, Sierra Canyon, and Gonzaga-bound Anton Watson. The challenges aren’t all his fault. The University School lost two high D1 guards last season and there’s a thinness to the roster that has shifted much of the offensive load to Carey Jr and Barnes, neither of them equipped as primary initiators. The result of that imbalanced load, for Carey Jr in particular, has been forced attempts and default isolations. This is all well and good when he’s competing against Central Catholic of Oregon, pushing the grab and go and Earl Campbelling and Julius Randling through the entire opposition for monster dunks. Against the better teams and athletes though, the lack of facilitators leads to indecisiveness and contested attempts. While his handle is solid and he has some shake for a near-7-footer, on the move the handle gets looser and higher, making him vulnerable to swipes and strips. Against Villanova commit, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl of IMG, a versatile and sturdy 6-8 combo forward, Carey struggled to put the ball on the floor as the smaller player encroached on his space. Against more complex college and pro defenses, these types of weaknesses will quickly be exploited.
On the face up, Carey Jr is at his best when being decisive: catching, turning and attacking, usually to his left as he did against the aforementioned Watson at the Les Schwab Invitational over the holidays when he attacked hard to his left off the catch, never giving help defenders a chance to settle, and dunking straight through the 6-10 Watson. His footwork and tight spin move are advanced even for college kids. If and when he’s able to use the handle and footwork to create space, he has a fluid mid-range jumper that he shoots with confidence. Carey Jr can improve upon his decision making which will lead to greater efficiency and less isolation. This could be mitigated by better guard play and a more balanced court, but he can go a long way to improve his own reads and timing.
I struggle to assess high school defenders in part because the talent gap can be so massive, but so far Carey Jr’s defense could best be described as opportunistic disinterest: IE; if he can pick up a highlight help side block, he’s there. If not, sorry. He’s not the most expressive player, but his facial expressions and defensive effort and awareness call to mind another Duke Blue Devil, Jabari Parker and his “they don’t pay players to play defense” ethos. Going back to games I’ve seen of his as a junior, there’s a lackadaisical tendency to stand around and almost look bored on the defensive end. Against Watson and Gonzaga Prep’s cutting offense, he was easily beaten backdoor more than once and one occasion, he saw Watson cutting and didn’t react, giving up an easy score in the process. Part of the frustration around his defensive effort comes from his obvious ability. At his size and with his athleticism, he’ll occasionally get his shit together long enough to destroy shot attempts on help side blocks and based on how well he moves with the ball, it’s clear he can move well laterally. The lack of focus and effort are decisions he’s making or bad habits he’s forming. I’d expect these lapses to be directly addressed at Duke, but Coach K’s had plenty of players who never learn or commit to that end of the court and if Carey Jr produces offensively, it won’t be a surprise if he cruises on defense.
Stylistically, Barnes couldn’t be much more different from Carey Jr. At 6-8 with a 7-2 wingspan, per ESPN, his measurements compare to Al-Farouq Aminu and Jerami Grant; a pair of long, versatile, defensive-minded NBA forwards. Barnes, as a high school sophomore, was a better passer than both of those players are now as seasoned pros. He’s long, strong, and athletic with an ability to think the game. If Carey Jr plays with a poker face and obscured emotions, Barnes is expressive and plays with high energy. During the Geico Nationals telecast last season, he was described as the “alpha dog” of the team (as a sophomore) and in October, ESPN wrote of him at the USA mini-camp that “players gravitate to his joyful nature.”
Last season with University School, he was able to facilitate without having to be the primary ball handler. This year, Barnes has been forced at times to act as the primary initiator, a role that’s revealed more weaknesses to what’s an otherwise strong all-around game (jump shot notwithstanding). While he has a quality handle for a front court player, bringing the ball up against smaller, peskier defenders, Barnes is forced to turn and put his body between himself and the defender to protect the ball, Mark Jackson style but without the intent or ability to back the opponent down from 30-feet. Barnes is much more effective catching the ball in the half court set and attacking off the dribble or pushing in the full court. Off the dribble, he’s adept at driving and kicking or driving and dumping. His first step is quick enough and his handle tight enough that he can regularly get a step on defenders and when help comes, he’s elite at recognizing where the open man is before defenders have a chance to respond – be it on the perimeter or around the rim. No-looks and look-away passes are functionally executed and commonplace for Barnes.
Defensively, his engagement and effort are superior to Carey Jr’s in that he’s more physically capable and he tries. Physically he has the tools to be an excellent defender, but technique-wise, there’s room for growth. On the interior, he’ll lean on his man with arms straight up in the air and just stand there like a 6-8 turnstile hoping or expecting opponents to shoot the ball into his outstretched hands. He doesn’t move great laterally, but he’s long enough that as he develops his defensive awareness, his length can be used as a cushion against quicker opponents. As a high school underclassman, it’s not surprising that he can wind up out of position defensively, but against current opponents (many of whom include high-level D1 players) he’s still long and athletic enough and plays with enough effort and pride to recover.
The biggest cause for concern, and it’s visible in every game I’ve seen of his, is the shot. Be it the free throw line, on catch-and-shoot 3s, on pull-ups. It doesn’t matter where the shot’s coming from or even if it goes in, it’s just mangled and hasn’t improved much in the year I’ve been watching him. In four games at Les Schwab, he was 2-10 from 3 and one of the makes was an ill-advised side-step attempt that defenses would love for him to take. And his misses are bad misses: airballs, bricks, shots that are woefully short. I’m not a shot doctor, so I’ll borrow from ESPN on his shot description: “he’s a non-shooter who doesn’t show much potential to improve at this stage, with side spin and unconventional shooting mechanics.” Shooting is a critical skill necessary to fully unlocking his passing and creation. He’s not on Ben Simmons’s level as a passer, but he may end up getting the same type of treatment as Simmons at upper levels as teams just sag off and dare him to shoot. He’s also not as bad a shooter as Simmons. In 17 games of Nike EYBL play in 2018, he shot 12-33 (36%) from deep which, on its own, hardly constitutes a destitute shooter, but when viewed alongside his game tape, gives pause as a possible fluke. How his shooting potentially limits his playmaking is of interest at the next levels. Smart coaches will find ways to take advantage of his passing similarly to how Golden State’s continued to do with Draymond Green despite him shooting a career-worst 24% from deep. Less coherent teams will struggle to maximize his game and this is the risk of any player who has a massive hole in his game.
In an ideal world, Carey Jr commits to learning the defensive side of the ball the same way he’s clearly committed to honing his offensive craft. Barnes becomes a high-energy, high-IQ player who can impact the game on both sides of the ball and at least keep defenses honest with 30-35% 3-point shooting. What I’m asking for from either player is no small thing, but they are addressable things. Both players already have the requisite physical tools and skills for NBA ball which already place them in the upper echelons of a craft that our society places a massive monetary value on. They’ll both make the NBA, but the nits I’m picking at (defense, effort, shooting, and decision making) differentiate rotation players from starters, starters from All-Stars, and All-Stars from All-NBA players. As 17-year-olds, their destinies aren’t completely in their own hands. Team and scheme still matter and we’re already seeing how a departure of skilled teammates is affecting their current games, but Carey Jr and Barnes are complete enough already to chart their own courses, shape their own trajectories, land on their own moons. Whether they do or not is a burden they shoulder as minors beset with in-demand, cash-generating talents. What could possibly go wrong?