Day 3 of the Nike Hoop Summit confirmed a surprise addition to the international squad, as well as the debut of Nemenja Aleksandrov in practice. It has been confirmed that 15 year old Ryan Richards
will be in uniform for the game on Saturday, and if he plays he will become the youngest player ever to participate in the Nike Hoop Summit. He was brought over to fill in as a practice player, but his performance throughout the week has created somewhat of a buzz with the scouts in attendance.
Nemanja Aleksandrov was an interesting guy to watch in his first practice of the week. He looked timid running through the first couple drills as if he either was afraid of injuring himself again or else lacked confidence. In terms of physical attributes, it has appeared that Aleksandrov may have bulked up a bit, but he appears much less athletic than he was before ACL surgery. As he ran through the drills, he knocked down spot-up jumpers from the three point line with ease, but anything near the basket appeared to be awkward and done without effort. He did put in good effort in the half court defensive rotation drill, but he struggled with his recovery speed closing out at times. As the drill turned into a 5 on 5 half court scrimmage, Aleksandrov took advantage of most of the open looks he received on the perimeter by knocking down the jumper, but was unwilling to go inside and make a play.
The afternoon practice for the international team was a scrimmage against the local Memphis high school all-stars, who will be playing in an exhibition game before the Hoop Summit. Against the high schoolers, Aleksandrov was slow getting up and down the court. He took a few jump shots in the first half of the scrimmage, but they werent falling for him. Instead, his first basket came on an unimpressive dunk in transition, followed by a tip-in of a missed shot at the rim. In the post, he made one move in the first, half, but missed a step-back jumper from about 12 feet. The second half was better for Aleksandrov, as he discovered his shooting stroke. He knocked down numerous spot-up jumpers both open and contest, and was the leading scorer for the U.S. team during the half. He also made a hesitation move going to the basket before finishing with a dunk, and a nice lay-up in transition. Though he appears to be less athletic than he once was, his three point shot remains a good weapon, and it will be interesting to see if he can put it to use in the game Saturday.
Nicolas Batum continued his smooth play on the offensive end and lockdown defense on the other end of the floor. The power he uses near the rim has been impressive throughout the week, and his body helps him greatly in this area. Due to his physical features and athletic abilities, Batum displayed the ability to cover a lot of ground with little effort. Going to the rim, he can start at the three point line and get in position to finish with just one dribble towards the hoop. In the scrimmage he didnt look for his own shot off the dribble very often, though he was fouled on a drive early on, and made an impressive finish. Many of his points came off of nice cuts and good position near the basket. He only took 2 jumpers throughout the scrimmage, and displayed nice form despite the fact that neither of the shots found the bottom of the net. Defensively, he continued to put his physical attributes to full use. His quick hands lead to multiple steals, and he was able to block 2 jump shots out on the perimeter. Once he established himself as a shot blocking threat, the high school players stopped trying to shoot over him. It was just an average day of practice for Batum and he hasnt really displayed anything new, but his wide array of skills continue to make him the most intriguing international prospect on the team for the short term.
Solomon Alabi sat out part of the morning practice with a headache, but played well during his minutes in the scrimmage. He displayed great vertical leaping ability on both ends of the floor. On offense he can catch nearly any pass inside, and this led to several aggressive dunks throughout the game. Defensively, he displayed better shot blocking instincts than he showed earlier in the week, and effected a number of shots while playing help defense. Alabi didnt really do anything in terms of creating his own offense today. The turn-around jumper that had been solid for him in the post the past couple days wasnt falling, and he didnt attempt a hook shot at any point during the scrimmage.
Alexis Ajinca had his worst day of practice by far. On the offensive end of the floor, even catching the ball was a struggle for him. On a few occasions he did receive the ball on the perimeter, and he made a few nice passes to cutting teammates near the hoop. As a back to the basket guy, Ajinca seems out of his element and most of his great flashes of potential throughout the week have come facing the basket. The one time he received the ball open on the perimeter during the scrimmage, he displayed a good shooting stroke despite the fact that he missed. On the defensive end Ajincas great length came in handy on numerous occasions, as it can be hard for 6 foot guards to try and get around a 94 standing reach. The big thing for the French big man over the next year will be growing into his body. His coordination appears to be a work in progress at this point as well, but he remains a very interesting guy to watch considering the skills he possesses.
Omri Casspi struggled with his shot during the morning practice at the Nike facility, but knocked down a number of threes in the scrimmage back at the Fedex Forum, including a couple from NBA range. The Israeli forward also made a nice play in transition by giving the ball up to Nicholas Batum early, and cutting right to the basket for an easy layup. He created a number of nice scoring opportunities off the dribble throughout the game but will need to work on finishing against more athletic players once he gets to the rim. At the basket, Casspi kept getting caught in the air with no place to go and this led to a number of forced layup attempts. Defensively, he played with great effort throughout the scrimmage, but he will need to stop gambling for steals so often, and getting caught out of position.
Petteri Koponen continued to stand out in the practices today, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. He displayed the ability to break down the defense in the halfcout and pass with good success. He understands the right time to attack, and generally will cycle through the various options of the offensive set before trying to create a play himself. On the perimeter he continued to sink the three point jump-shot with great consistency, showing a quick release despite the lack of lift. The most enjoyable part of Koponens game came when the ball wasnt in his hands, but instead when hed end up in the paint setting a screen in the offense. He isnt afraid to lay a hard hit on bigger players and gave out many John Stockton
type of hits in the paint to anybody who crossed his path. Even if Koponen doesnt have the quickness to play the point in the NBA, he probably has the size to play the 2.