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Monday, March 3, 2014
Biancardi's Breakdown: The 'middle' game

By Paul Biancardi


When we analyze and evaluate the skill set of today's basketball player, we speak quite often about their ability to drive to the rim and finish as well as knocking down 3-point shots.

What has been forgotten and not emphasized enough from coaches and workout coaches is their middle game. The ability to score the ball inside the arc and before one gets to the rim in tight quarters is a true gift. I would love to see today's player really work on their middle game to be a more well-rounded scorer.

Let's take a look at which ESPN 100 prospects possess the all-important middle game in the senior class.

Justin Jackson
Justin Jackson is the best mid-range scorer in the 2014 class.
Justin Jackson
(Tomball, Texas /Homeschool Christian)
North Carolina
Of all the players in the ESPN 100 his middle game is the best because of this combination of athletic ability and soft touch. He not only has that pull-up jump shot inside the arc but the floater when he gets into the high painted area. He elevates with a soft touch and good bounce.

Roy Williams will set wide pin down screens for Jackson to catch and shoot at the elbows. Jackson also will benefit from screen-the-screener action along with baseline screening action to get Jackson the ball along the baseline and at the foul line.

D'Angelo Russell
(Louisville/Montverde Academy)
Ohio State
Russell is one of the best and most confident scorers in the class as he has an established 3-point shot. When it comes to a one- or two-dribble pull-up entering into a pocket of space, Russell has command of his body, a basketball IQ and a skillful touch to knock down a midrange jumper. He is a threat operating in ball screens turning the corner, getting into the elbow, or attacking on the baseline. He is equally dangerous off the ball running into his shot making a long or short two-point shot.

When the game goes up and down he knows when there is an opening to the basket or when he needs to pull up. Because he can truly score from anywhere on the floor Russell is hard to defend.

Rashad Vaughn
(Golden Valley, Minn. /Findlay Prep )
UNLV
When it comes to scoring from the middle game, Vaughn makes it look easy as he makes shots in acrobatic fashion and off balance inside the tough two area. Give this guy some space and at 6-6 he will find his way into the crease of the defense and rise up into his shot from out to 18 feet and as close as 8 feet with accuracy.

He shows the ability to attack a defender and create space from one or multiple dribbles to score inside the 3-point line.

Daniel Hamilton
(Los Angeles/St. John Bosco)
Connecticut
This big guard has the knack to score points quickly and in bunches. At times he's a volume shooter which needs to change when he gets to UConn. Anytime this long, athletic shooting guard gets into two-point land he has the pull-up jumper, a step-back jumper and can also nail shots from a stationary position inside the line.

His elevation and body control are evident on his jumper when he is in traffic and at a moment's notice in the upper half of the paint he can and will squeeze off a shot and make it.

Kaleb Joseph
(Nashua, N.H./Cushing Academy)
Syracuse
At one time Joseph was going to Syracuse to back up Tyler Ennis. With an outstanding freshman campaign by Ennis it looks like he might be the starting point guard next year.

He pushes the ball with speed and will be scoring on pull-up midrange jumpers in transition as he can stop on a dime and rise up to hit the shot. In the half court he will use his size and speed to get into the lane and pull up when his defender backs up. When you look at Joseph's overall game he is the most comfortable and confident operating in ball screens, driving his way into the foul line area for pull-up jumpers.