This week, the top high school prospects in the world are in Portland, Oregon, to showcase their skills at the 2014 Nike Hoop Summit. Sandwiched between the McDonald’s All-American Game last week and the upcoming Jordan Brand Classic on the 18th, the Summit is part of a busy month for these youngsters, but it’s also a chance for them to solidify their status as prospective lottery picks or at least prove that they can withstand the increased scrutiny from scouts and media personnel.
Some of the biggest stars of high school prep are here, including Chi-town natives Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander, who are off to Duke and Kansas this fall respectively, as well as the still-undecided Myles Turner. Then there’s Emmanuel Mudiay, the Congolese wunderkind who’ll quarterback Larry Brown’s offense at Southern Methodist University, and Canadian big man Trey Lyles, who’ll help Calipari revamp Kentucky’s frontcourt after the inevitable departure of Julius Randle. Together, these five players make up the top picks on the DraftExpress 2015 Mock Draft, with other well-established players like Stanley Johnson and Tyus Jones rounding out the field.
Unlike the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Nike Hoop Summit also offers a particularly unique opportunity for a select group of international stars who haven’t enjoyed the same level of exposure as American high school players, and at least a couple of these players are poised to see their stock rise significantly.
After a couple of practice sessions this week, here is a handful of players from both squads who might be undervalued or at least possess some sneaky potential that has heretofore gone ignored or otherwise unnoticed.
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Karl Towns, Jr., C
ESPN 100 has him ranked ninth, while DraftExpress has him at number six, but the growing perception seems to be that Towns could potentially end up as a top-three lottery pick next summer. In fact, by the second practice session this week, one scout was already half-joking that the top two prospects were actually on the World Select Team (Towns and Lyles) and not, in fact, hailing from the Windy City. I’m not completely sold on Lyles just yet, partially because I just haven’t seen enough of him, but Towns, on the other hand, is already showing signs of the type of physical maturity that will ultimately set him apart from someone like Okafor, who has a much less impressive physique.
Beyond that, Towns is arguably the most versatile player of the bunch. He has solid footwork and a soft touch around the rim (with plenty of room for improvement), unlimited range on his jump shot, and great rebounding and shotblocking instincts. Don’t be surprised if he ends up as the No. 1 pick next summer.
Justise Winslow, F
A scout I spoke to was convinced that Justise Winslow and Stanley Johnson are the two best defenders of the crop, partially because their length and athleticism allow them to cover so much territory. He was particularly high on Winslow, who he described as a “glue guy” who can play, and perhaps more impressively defend, positions one through four. Though DraftExpress has Winslow at number nine, ESPN currently has him as low as 15. It’s difficult to imagine his stock doing anything but rising from here on out. Winslow has proven that he can score at the high school level–he averaged 27.5 points as a senior this season–but he rounded out his stat line with 13.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.1 blocks and 1.8 steals.
Nikola Jokic, F
No one was sure what to expect from Jokic, the 6-11 Serbian prospect who immediately looked like the least athletic big man on the World Select Team. Seeing him move around during drills and warm-ups didn’t inspire much confidence either, but by the end of scrimmage, everyone was talking about his breakout performance. He had a game-high 20 points and went 4-for-4 from deep, including a very impressive step-back jumper that was evocative of Dirk Nowitzki’s patented, one-legged move. (But perhaps a more conservative comparison to someone like Spencer Hawes is more apt at this stage.)
Clint Capela, C
Make no mistake, the lithe center from Switzerland is a work-in-progress. His footwork and his post moves are his biggest weaknesses, but at 6-11, his length (a 7-4 wingspan) and athleticism make him a potentially imposing force on the defensive end, and his speed in the open court is truly remarkable. He has great shotblocking instincts, and he did a respectable job defending the more offensively-polished Towns during scrimmage this week. His overall speed, agility and explosiveness around the rim are immediately reminiscent of a young DeAndre Jordan. Defensively, Capela has the most upside of anyone on the World Select Team, and after an impressive season playing professionally in France, DraftExpress has the 19-year-old at No. 13 in this summer’s Mock NBA Draft, where he could end up being the biggest steal.
James Blackmon, Jr., SG
One of the scouts I spoke to was particularly high on Blackmon, calling him possibly the best shooter on either squad (he won the McDonald’s All-American 3-Point Shootout last week), and after seeing him in person, it’s clear that he has the type of range that can keep opposing defenses honest on the pick-n-roll. As a 6-2 combo guard, Blackmon can create his own shot, break down the defense with dribble penetration, and keep defenders on their heels in the open court.