Nike Hoop Summit Team USA Player Recap (Part One: the Guards)

Nike Hoop Summit Team USA Player Recap (Part One: the Guards)
Apr 13, 2007, 11:55 pm
O.J. Mayo, 6’4, PG, committed to USC
20 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 turnovers, 2 steals, 6-12 FG’s, 6-6 FT’s, 2-5 3-Pt

O.J. Mayo has been up and down on the spring all-star game circuit, looking phenomenal in the McDonald’s practices all week only to lay an egg in the game, but bouncing back with an MVP performance at the Roundball Classic. So it was nice to see a Hoop Summit performance from Mayo that fell in between the two extremes. Mayo didn’t do anything in this game to distance himself from the rest of the 2008 challengers, but he did lead Team USA in scoring. There was an occasional rushed shot, but the 4/5 Ast/TO ratio he was credited with in the box score doesn’t accurately describe the impact Mayo was able to make with his passing.

While Mayo still doesn’t provide the unrelenting lock-down defensive presence that his Hoop Summit backcourt mates do, this is an area that Mayo has clearly made strides in over the past year. He has worked on moving his feet effectively, and has started becoming more physically aggressive as well. This really showed itself in the practices as well, where Mayo was matched up against Derrick Rose much of the time and aggressively contested Rose at every opportunity.

Mayo has always been a phenomenal anticipator, and this really shines through now that he is putting forth adequate effort as a team and half-court defender. Mayo may never be a feared defender, but this was one weak point that needed to be cleared up before his NBA career begins. Looking at the defensive development of players like Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young since Tim Floyd arrived at USC, it is a safe assumption that Mayo’s year as a Trojan will only help him continue to develop here.

As for the offensive side of the ball, Mayo was his usual dominant self. It was nice to see him take the ball hard to the basket several times early in the game, where he went up strong and drew contact instead of attempting to avoid the defense and come up with a spectacular finish. Mayo got to the foul line six times, and has all the tools necessary to become a volume free throw shooter at the NBA level. He continues to show the ability to create offense just about anywhere, converting on one particularly fancy drive and leaner in the lane and whipping highlight reel passes to open teammates for finishing opportunities on countless occasions.

In terms of shooting, there were several times where Mayo could have pulled the ball back out instead of firing away early in the shot clock, but it was interesting to note that several of these quick shots were taken with Team USA big men headed into the lane and in good position for an offensive rebound. Mayo gets fabulous elevation on his jumper and is capable of pulling up off the dribble at any time when defenders will already be on their heels because of his explosive slashing and passing abilities. When he gets that midrange jumper going, NCAA defenses might as well just give up.

Mayo didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his point guard abilities with all of the ball-handlers on Team USA, and he has never really proven his ability to control a game as a floor general in this type of setting. There can be no denying his elite level court vision, however. He sees the floor at a level that can’t be taught, and has a special flair for the dramatic pass that is very rarely seen on any level. While his tendency to fire up quick shots has been well-documented by just about everybody, his ability to thread the needle in the blink of an eye often gets overlooked. He is a constant threat to burn a defense, and loves to throw the no-look pass in the lane after a series of dribbles when everybody is expecting a shot to go up. Mayo certainly will dominate the ball at times, but it is hard to see him not emerging as an all-around offensive force in an NBA that is still quite isolation-happy.

2007-2008 Outlook: People putting out “pre-preseason” All-America teams and not including Mayo just aren’t thinking clearly. Mayo is an instant 20-5-5 presence, and you can be sure that Tim Floyd will find a way to make the most out of his immensely talented recruit – both in terms of Mayo’s development, and the overall success of his program. There is a lot of uncertainty out there about exactly who will be suiting up for the Trojans in the fall, but the return of Gabe Pruitt or Nick Young to go along with Mayo, Daniel Hackett, Davon Jefferson and Taj Gibson would make USC worthy of a preseason national Top 5 billing and would probably give Floyd the best team of his NCAA coaching career. As far as the draft goes, Mayo isn’t on a different level compared to the other 2008 Top 5 hopefuls in the way that Oden and Durant were this year, but his NBA eligibility will still give league bottom feeders plenty of reason to think about tanking come next spring.

Derrick Rose, 6’3, PG, committed to Memphis
8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover, 4 steals, 4-5 FG’s, 0-0 FT’s, 0-1 3-PT

The statistics don’t appear to be particularly impressive, but make no mistake about it – Derrick Rose impressed in this game. He isn’t going to dazzle the crowd on a regular basis the way that O.J. Mayo is, but that isn’t because he lacks the talent. Few point guard prospects have emerged in recent memory with Rose’s size and vertical explosiveness. Rather, Rose doesn’t force the issue when it comes to his offense – or individual accomplishments, period. He focuses on making his teammates better, and winning basketball games. So even if Rose won’t be receiving accolades for his eight points and 4 assists in this contest, his impact on this game was huge – just like it will be at Memphis this fall.

Rose made his mark early in this one, coming up with a series of steals and deflections in that allowed Team USA to blow the game open almost immediately after the opening tap. While International floor general Petteri Koponen handled the US pressure very well, his teammates weren’t prepared for Rose’s cat-like defensive strikes in the backcourt. Opposing guards didn’t bother trying to put the ball on the floor against him, and his strength all but neutralized whoever he was guarding.

It was almost hard to get a read on Rose’s dominance in the open floor, because of the speed with which he turned transition opportunities into points with a crisp lead pass or explosive open floor finish. He finished with four steals and four assists, but could have really filled up the box score if he wasn’t so willing to give up the ball early in transition.

The Memphis-bound floor general, hounded all week by local media and fans eagerly anticipating his arrival next fall, still has one critical weakness – his outside shot. Teams aren’t going to defend him honestly in the half-court until he gets rid of that awkward release from the side of his body, and while he knocked down open looks fairly consistently in practice, he took (and missed) just one outside shot in the game. If he ever gets to the point where he is comfortable seeking out his own offense from the perimeter, things are going to get really scary, really fast.

While Derrick Rose’s recruitment was every bit of high-profile with the presence of his brother Reggie and the involvement in Eric Gordon’s situation, Rose has won his admirers by doing the little things that every pro-level point guard must learn how to do at some point. His game is shockingly complete and quietly lethal, a stark contrast from the way Rose has often been portrayed by the media. The relentless, near machine-like efficiency with which he goes about running a team is quite rare to see in a point guard so young, making Rose a prized commodity even without the spectacular athleticism and other natural gifts. He just never lets up, a trait that has led many to compare Rose with Jason Kidd. After watching the future Tiger in action for the better part of a week, it is hard to argue with that comparison.

2007-2008 Outlook: Derrick Rose is about to take the nation by storm, and so are his Memphis Tigers. It was fascinating to watch a young Memphis team come together over the latter half of the season, with the guards playing an unselfish brand of basketball that really hadn’t been seen since John Calipari’s arrival. With few anticipated losses from last year’s elite eight squad, it just doesn’t seem fair to add a player like Rose to an already formidable mix. If this group plays the way it did in March and Rose fits in the way that he should, this is a team with “Final Four” written all over it. With all Greg Oden and Kevin Durant did for their respective teams, it could be Rose that picks up the Carmello Anthony banner and leads his team to a national title as a freshman. Rose could probably be starting for plenty of NBA teams right now, so expect a spot in the Top 5 of the 2008 draft to follow shortly thereafter.

Jerryd Bayless, 6’2, PG/SG, committed to Arizona
15 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 5-10 FG’s, 4-7 FT’s, 1-3 3-PT

Bayless wasn’t particularly impressive in the practices leading up to last weekend’s Hoop Summit game, but that makes sense considering his competition. Not many players are going to out-quick and out-jump Derrick Rose and OJ Mayo. Bayless had to put everything he had into just keeping up, which left him pressing on his jumper and less than involved mentally. But the Arizona-bound combo guard came put on a much better show on Saturday when matched up against less physically dominant opponents. The full range of Bayless’ appeal was on display, from the outstanding elevation on his jumper and ability to penetrate to a handful of rim-rocking open court dunks and some impressive defensive potential.

Bayless had it going from the outset, spotting up for an outside jumper and getting loose in the open court for a rousing windmill dunk that really got the crowd into it. While the presence of his talented teammates kept him from really going off, he would still get into the lane for the occasional acrobatic score. Bayless doesn’t have the physical maturity of a Rose or Mayo, but is still an accomplished slasher and already elevates like an NBA player when it comes to his jumper. His first step is lightning quick, and he knows how to hang in the air to draw contact.

He didn’t get much of a chance to run the team either, though it appears that this would be the one area he must firm up before his NBA aspirations can begin in earnest. He isn’t a very polished ball-handler at the moment, and prone to the occasional unforced miscue. This is something that could be quickly resolved in Arizona’s up-tempo system, but it could take some time before he is ready be Lute Olson’s full time floor general.

The one area where Bayless certainly impressed was on the defensive end. He has yet to entirely fill out his frame, but he already moves his feet quite well and isn’t afraid to get physical. He did a great job of recognizing where he stood in matching up against the taller International group of wings, and was able to successfully draw several charges by cutting off drives in isolation situations. This type of defensive awareness and intensity is just what the doctor ordered for an Arizona program that has struggled on that end of the floor in recent seasons.

2007-2008 Outlook: Bayless might not be an immediate impact star on the level of Mayo or Rose, with the depth and talent of the Arizona backcourt and the fact that he still has some maturing to do in terms of his body and his floor general tools. But he fits in quite well with Arizona’s up-tempo brand of basketball, and should be able to match the freshmen seasons of recent Wildcat standouts like Marcus Williams and Chase Budinger, both in production and overall impact, without much trouble. At the moment, expect Bayless to be a 2-3 year player. If he adds a bit more strength, polishes up his point guard skills and is willing to bide his time for a feature role within Lute Olson’s system, Jerryd Bayless will someday find himself in the green room.

Jonny Flynn, 5’11, PG, committed to Syracuse
2 points, 10 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 steals, 0-3 FG’s, 2-2 FT’s, 0-1 3-PT

Jonny Flynn might have been the least-known player on the Team USA roster headed into the event, but those who watched the game saw a player who was absolutely deserving of his spot. He did a great job of pushing the tempo and exploiting Team USA’s athletic advantage, continually pestering International guards on the defensive end and almost always finishing a fast-break or ball-handling foray by setting up a teammate for an open look.

Flynn finished the game with 10 assists, and really made an impact with his ability to set up his teammates in transition. The International team had no guard capable of keeping in front of him defensively, and Flynn was content to exploit this by kicking the ball to a teammate upon drawing help. He clicked particularly well with future Syracuse teammate Donte Green, finding the fluid athlete both in transition and in the half-court on several occasions. His ability to hound the international guards into turnovers and generally disrupt their offense, combined with unselfish play and relentless pushing of the tempo on the offensive end, meant that there was little visible drop-off in play when Team USA’s second unit entered the game.

In terms of weaknesses, Flynn still has a ways to go as a scorer. He isn’t a complete liability as a shooter, but has work to do with the mechanics and consistency of his jumper. Flynn is lighting quick off the dribble, but hasn’t shown the ability to be a big time scorer/slasher in the half-court just yet.

2007-2008 Outlook: It should be interesting to see how Jim Boeheim utilizes his electric young floor general. Flynn should infuse the Syracuse perimeter rotation with a much-needed dose of toughness, but Flynn belongs at the head of a pressure-based defensive scheme, not sitting back in a zone. If Boeheim insists upon keeping the ball in the hands of Eric Devendorf and playing Flynn on the wing in his zone the way that he did with Paul Harris this past season, it may be hard for Flynn to make the type of immediate impact he is capable of. But all X’s and O’s aside, Flynn is the type of player who should emerge as a 4-year standout at Syracuse, with a good chance to someday take his game to the NBA.

Nolan Smith, 6’2, PG/SG, committed to Duke
4 points, 4 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 turnover, 2 steals, 2-8 FG’s, 0-0 FT’s, 0-2 3-PT

It wasn’t a particularly impressive showing for the Duke-bound combo guard, but is that really a surprise given the amount of talent on the US roster? Smith was invited to be a part of this team to be a role-player, not a star.

As far as positives, Smith scored his four points on a nice slashing move from the wing, and converted a thunderous put back dunk early in the second half. Smith didn’t stand out as an athlete in this group, but is going to be Duke’s most explosive backcourt performer from day one. He has a mature, muscular frame and the athleticism to effectively break down defenses off the dribble on the Division One level. Smith’s outside shot wasn’t clicking in this game, but he gets plenty of elevation on his mechanically sound jumper. It should be a serviceable weapon for him at Duke.

In terms of running the offense, there was no opportunity for Smith to show off what he can do here. He was the third ball-handler for the US team virtually at all times, but Smith has proven in the past that he can run a team well enough for what he will be asked to do at Duke.

2007-2008 Outlook: Smith isn’t going to be featured on any mock drafts anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have an impact in the ACC next season. In fact, Duke is desperately in need of a player with Smith’s skillset. The Blue Devils were missing that athletic, defense-minded ball-handler with the graduation of Daniel Ewing and Sean Dockery the past two seasons. Expect Nolan Smith to play early and often in 07-08.

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