After plenty of way-too-early discussion about the 2016 NBA draft class, last night gave us our first real glimpse at what some of the lottery hopefuls have to offer. This wasn't the first game for either Duke or Kentucky, but both teams had crushed gadflies in their first few games, so this was the first chance to see how the freshmen stack up against NBA-level competition. Some players impressed, some disappointed, and all of them showed off their idiosyncrasies.
Here's what we saw from the draft hopefuls:
Jamal Murray, PG/SG
An awful lot of good! Murray continues to look composed under pressure, displaying a high basketball IQ that allows him to play both on and off the ball. It was evident early on that Calipari intends for this iteration of Kentucky to be Tyler Ulis's team, and Ulis saw the majority of the time on the ball because of it. Still, Murray looked good in his minutes. He had perhaps the most jaw-dropping moment of the night with this bit of fancy dribbling to evade a trap:
He also showed off his ability to stroke the 3, knocking down two of his three attempts, and looking smooth while doing so.
Most importantly for Murray, his first step looked good, as he went by Ingram practically at will with the ball in his hands. It's unclear at the moment which player that says more about, but zipping by a clear NBA-caliber athlete can only portend positive things for Murray.
Still, he could attack the basket with more authority than he did last night. Murray only attempted two free throws despite having an advantage over every Duke perimeter player, and benefitting from having two other point guards to get him the ball in good spots. His free throw rate is a number to keep an eye on as the year progresses.
Skal Labissiere, PF/C
The prospect that Sixers fans are probably least excited about, simply because it would absolutely wreck us as a fan base to wind up with yet another big man in a draft with fewer of them. Skal didn't exactly cover himself in glory last night, fouling out in only 13 minutes and struggling on the boards against the more mature Plumlee and Jefferson combo.
It wasn't a terribly enlightening outing for Skal overall, but a few things were made clear. The first is that he doesn't appear to be a prospect on the same level as Towns, Noel, Davis, and Cousins. He's a year older as a freshman and doesn't impact the game as much on either end of the floor as those four did.
Still, Skal didn't play badly last night. Projecting his numbers over 40 minutes, Skal would have put up 21 points and 12 rebounds, an impressive number. The only real "scouting" nugget I noticed was how well he moves in space. This is becoming more and more important for big man defenders as the entire league moves towards a 4-out, spread pick and roll offense, and it looks like Labissiere will not have trouble adjusting to that in the long run. He is agile and quick on his feet.
And I would be so devastated if he were the Sixers' pick next summer.
Brandon Ingram, Wing
Ingram's stat-line looks pretty bad, but the outing was actually encouraging for him overall. His physical tools are just so insane that there's no way he won't at least become a useful starter at the next level. His most promising stretch came at the beginning of the second half, when he had a chance to create a bit of his own offense. He showed great footwork and fluidity on a spin dribble to the hoop, and his extension prevented any Kentucky defenders to even contest the shot.
In fact, that's going to be the theme with Ingram all season-- he can always get a good look at the hoop because defenders are just too small to affect his shot. I mean, look at this release:
Even while he struggled on offense, you could see the potential dripping out of him. Ingram's going to have rough nights this year, but it's not going to affect him to drop out of the Top 5 next June.
More worrying was his poor work on defense. His length compensated for a mistake or two and really affected Isaiah Briscoe, but his lateral speed looked really poor. He also seems lost on that end, so perhaps he just needs to figure out assignments a bit better before we start worrying. Still, this is something to keep an eye on.
Isaiah Briscoe, PG/SG
Briscoe had a strong showing, using his great body to bully the Duke guards, and taking advantage of the scrambled defense that having three shot creators can help to create. He doesn't seem likely to become much more than a future NBA backup, but he had a solid showing to start the year, and will look to build off of it.
Grayson Allen, SG
Allen had the toughest Tuesday of anyone. I watched the Duke-Bryant game over the weekend, and was slightly worried about how Allen's game might translate to the next level.
6. Not sure what to make of Grayson yet. FT rate is driving his #'s, and that seems unsustainable at the moment.— Marc Whittington (@MWhittington13) November 16, 2015
Allen has one move-- drive at the hoop, hard. It was wildly effective against the poorer competition Duke saw in the first two games, but against athletes who can match his athleticism and had the length to protect the rim, it looked woefully impotent. He needs to improve his handle so that he can work hesitation into his drives, and he needs to improve his body control so that he can pull-up. His vision, too, was lacking, as he only created one assist, but threw the ball away four times.
It looks like he's got a long way to go before he can be considered true first round value. We'll see if he can improve his slashing game before the end of the season.