The first game in Atlanta (in early January) was excellent, with Guillermo Diaz clearly getting the better of Jarrett Jack, but coming up short of the victory as Diaz received no support from his teammates down the stretch. This game in Miami was a must-win for both teams, as they were both hovering around .500 and needed to stay at or above that mark to guarantee themselves an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.
In terms of NBA draft prospects, there is no doubt that Diaz and Jack were the two main guys here to watch. Both are potential lottery picks, but when you compare their style of play and evaluate them as NBA prospects, they couldn't possibly be any more different.
Diaz is the epitome of what the NBA draft has become over the last 10 years. He is raw, inexperienced, not playing the same position he is projected at for the NBA, freakishly athletic, but hasn't really done anything consistent in the NCAA just yet. Jack is exactly the opposite. He is the poster boy of what old school fans love about the NCAA. An extremely intelligent player both on and off the court, a team player who is the undeniable leader of his squad. He loves to make the simple, efficient play for an easy basket.
Jack can pass, score from anywhere on the court, shoot and play great defense, and he does it all with a huge smile on his face. He is ready to produce from Day 1 in the NBA after consistently producing for the past three years. He even led his team to the finals of the NCAA tournament last year. For some reason, though, despite the huge differences between what the two players represent, I like both of them equally well as NBA prospects. This was the perfect game to watch both of these guys side by side, and both showed off all of their strengths and weaknesses perfectly.
So what did we have here?
Diaz started off the game very much under control for a change. He was handling the ball on the perimeter a lot more than we're used to see him doing, not just looking to create his own shot, but showing off some very nice court vision and patience. Diaz shows a little bit more in this aspect every time I see him play, and it makes you feel like he might have some potential as a scoring point down the road. Jack also started off the game slowly and kept making one excellent pass after another, which his teammates would only sometimes convert.
Neither player was guarding each other man-to-man in this game, as both teams like to play a lot of zone, but they did face each other a couple of times on rotations, with Jack showing very nice lateral quickness to keep Diaz out of the lane on one occasion and Diaz showing off his great hands to strip Jack and ignite the break on a nice defensive rotation. Jack showed off his smarts by faking a shot and getting Diaz in the air, and then taking a step inside the three-point line and nailing a mid-range shot. That was all the head to head action we saw between the two in that particular game, but this is nothing new in the NCAA, where coaches let their best offensive players rest on defense by putting them on weaker players.
Diaz was being guarded by B.J. Elder for most of the game and absolutely tore him to shreds whenever he felt like putting the ball in the hoop. Diaz started getting going early and was making some absolutely spectacular plays in the first half.
On one occasion, Diaz pulled out a nasty crossover on Elder and took four Georgia Tech players into the lane, finishing with an acrobatic circus shot after taking a hit; a classic Diaz move and finish. On the next couple of possessions, he buried two deep 3's with a hand in his face on both occasions. At the end of the half, Miami's supposed point guard Anthony Harris shot an off-balance three pointer and Diaz flew towards the basket, jumped in the air from outside the lane, skied over all of Georgia Tech's big men and used his skills and wingspan as a former all-world volleyball player to tip the ball into the basket from a very tough angle.
Those were his ten points for the half, and all were very typical of the player Diaz is right now. None of the baskets he scores are easy, the degree of difficulty is about as high as you can get, but he still always manages to shoot around 50%. He can get his shot off whenever he pleases, and this is both a good and a bad thing. Most of the moves he was making were straight up NBA-caliber, and even though it's obvious he's going to take you off the dribble and go right to the basket (much like Dwyane Wade does for the Heat) and everyone in the building knows it, there isn't a player in the NCAA who can stay in front of him right now.
Diaz is an athletic freak, on par with Nate Robinson from Washington, but is six inches taller. He's already one of the quickest players in the NCAA, with an incredible first step and one of the most impressive vertical leaps I have seen from anyone, on any level. Diaz seems to fly through the air and hang, combining that with great strength and body control to bulldoze his way through the lane and finish strong.
He's also developed a very nice pull-up jumper this year, showing the ability to stop on a dime and elevate (and elevate and elevate), which makes his jump shot almost unblockable. He doesn't have the same feel for the game that fellow freak Robinson does, Diaz's decision making is often poor, he forces too many shots (even if they go in) and drives the lane with his head down. Diaz doesn't quite know how to draw contact and force the refs to send him to the line yet, but he will.
Diaz doesn't know when to slow down and when to speed up, playing the game at 100 miles an hour or with the parking brake on, but this kid is 19 years old right now, and he's been playing the game for a little over two years, so you have to cut him some slack. I've watched him play at least a dozen times this year and last, and he just keeps getting better and better from week to week. It's not a stretch to say that the game comes easy to him, and that his potential is off the charts.
Pat Riley watched him play a few weeks ago against Wake Forest and afterwards said that he was the best NBA prospect on the floor -- yes, even more than Chris Paul. There isn't one person I've talked to around the league that doesn't think Diaz has the most upside and highest ceiling of any player in this draft, and it's really not even close.
We're talking about a guy who is a mix between Dwyane Wade and Ben Gordon, but without the experience and basketball IQ those two have. Like Wade, he is fearless and ridiculously quick, a natural-born competitor. He also has very good potential on defense, with above-average strength, wingspan, intensity and solid lateral movement.
He reminds one of Gordon in the way that he combines excellent athletic ability and strength with a deadly three-point shot, and the fact that Gordon is doing so well this year in Chicago despite being played as a 6-2 combo guard has to be helping Diaz out.
Now fast forward to seven minutes left in the game. The Jarrett Jack show on the other side of the floor was in full effect, and this is when the difference between Jack and Diaz became crystal clear to those who had never seen them before. At this point, Jack had only seven points in the game, and Georgia Tech was behind by eight after trailing for most of the game. Getting no help on offense from seniors Luke Schenscher, Will Bynum, Elder, Anthony McHenry and Ismail Muhammad, Jack decided that it was time to take over the game.
He started with a terrific baseline drive and an even more impressive acrobatic finish off the glass from a seemingly impossible angle. Jack doesn't possess outstanding quickness, but he has a superb knack for getting in the lane and finishing with his tremendous strength and skills.
On the very next possession, a tough call went against Miami and Diaz came close to getting a technical foul, losing his temper while complaining to the refs. This tantrum made him lose his focus and it took him out of the game mentally for the next few minutes. As you can probably imagine, Diaz still has a ways to go as a mature basketball player.
Meanwhile, Jack came right back and started working Miami's zone with some crisp perimeter passes, a trademark of his. While he's not a flashy player, he knows where and how to put the ball in order to maximize his team's possession. As the ball came right back to him, he used a nifty pass-fake to free himself for an open three, which he calmly knocked down to cut the lead to three. Jack doesn't take a whole lot of three pointers, but he is still ranked fourth in the ACC in this category, slightly ahead of J.J. Redick, at 42% on the year.
Diaz was fouled off the ball by Elder on the next possession and badly missed the front end of the one and one, looking furious about that call that went against him minutes before. There was little doubt by the look on his face as he stepped to the line that he was going to miss that important free throw.
Jack, looking somewhat bored as if he just stepped out of bed, brought the ball up the floor again for Tech and immediately threw a nasty head fake at Robert Hite, saw an opening in the lane and zoomed right through it to finish strong off the glass from a tough angle once again, this time with the foul. Jack swished the free throw to give him eight straight points in 40 seconds to tie the game up for Tech. When this guy wants to score, it is extremely hard to stop him. A lot of people think that he isn't much of a scorer because he doesn't force the issue like a lot of NCAA point guards do, but that's just not the type of player he is. Jack looks to get his teammates around him involved, but if his team needs him to put the ball in the basket like they did here, he can do it, especially at the end of games when his leadership skills really show and he seems to thrive the most.
Miami desperately needed a basket and Jack clamped down on Anthony Harris to force the ball out of his hands and into Diaz's. Isma'il Muhammad (at 6'6", an extremely athletic defensive power forward) guarded Diaz on the perimeter and Diaz foolishly tried to force his way to the basket. Unimpressed with Diaz's crossover, Muhammad knocked the ball loose and jumped on top of it. While Diaz's ball-handling was much improved this year, it's not yet up to NBA standards.
Diaz got very passive after that and hid in the corner as he tends to do at times. As mentioned, he is either engaged or he's barely present.
But on the next trip down the floor for Tech, Diaz made a nice strip on Jack on a defensive rotation and rocketed down the court. Few can keep up with this kid in a footrace. But Diaz was out of control and blew the layup, leaving it short off the glass. One minute later, after Diaz bit on a head fake, he fouled Bynum behind the arc to give the Tech senior three free throws.
McHenry (a 6'7" athletic power forward) was next in line to guard Diaz on the ensuing possession and he denied him the ball wonderfully by shadowing the Miami guard and frustrating Diaz with his physicality. Diaz got discouraged and Miami had nothing left without him, so his backcourt mate Harris chucked up another awful three.
Three classic Diaz possessions that prove that this kid is great when he's on, but when he's not, he can kill you. He's just that raw.
Conversely, Jarrett Jack came back for Tech, used up the entire possession like his coach, Paul Hewitt, loves to do, and Jack, running the clock down with the calm of an assistant coach, knocked down a monster three off the dribble with a hand in his face and a mere six seconds left on the shot clock.
At this point, Diaz showed his competitive nature by waking up from his funk and taking his team on his back. He created his own shot, took the ball strong to the hoop and got to the line on both of the next possessions for Miami, coolly hitting all 4 foul shots. But Miami couldn't get a stop on defense. The next time down the floor, with Georgia Tech's entire team peeling off to guard him, Diaz goes to the line on a foul behind the arc and knocked down all three free throws.
But, likewise, Tech just kept hitting their free throws and Jack iced the game with two big free throws to put the lead at four and finish off the Canes.
All in all it was a great ending to a terrific game, showcasing two players who will surely meet up many times in the future as point guards in the best basketball league in the world. We can only wonder how these two great guards will turn out, and who will be the better pro.
To get a better feel for Jarrett Jack's game, please read his recently completed scouting report.
Guillermo Diaz's scouting report will be completed very soon.
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