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Thursday, April 24, 2014
NBA personnel evaluate top recruits

By Adam Finkelstein

It’s been a busy month for the top high school seniors in America.

First, it was the McDonald’s All American Game, then the Nike Hoop Summit and finally last week’s Jordan Brand Classic.

While these all-star-style games are mostly about show and only rarely about competition, they also serve as the first real opportunity that NBA scouts have to evaluate these prospects.

With the vast majority of the NBA’s 30 franchises having a consistent presence at all three events (both games and practices), we spoke to front-office personnel from five different teams to see their first impressions of the top players in the ESPN 100.

Here’s what they had to say:

Jahlil Okafor
Jahlil Okafor solidified his top ranking with some impressive showings this month.
One general manager and two scouts on No. 1 Jahlil Okafor

“Bigs rise, and he can play immediately so he’ll go top-5 [next year].”

“He’s not explosive around the basket, so plays that need to be dunks at our level end up being blockable layups.”

“He gets his body on guys in the post and takes away their ability to elevate. I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone block his shot yet.”

Finkelstein’s take: We had some very serious deliberations about whether Okafor should retain the top spot going into the McDonald’s game, but he solidified his top ranking this month, and a lot of that is rooted to the work he’s done to improve his conditioning, footwork and mobility. From an NBA perspective, he’s starting to look more and more like a “safe pick” in that you pretty much know what you’re going to get, even if his ultimate upside may not be quite as high as top-ranked prospects in other classes.

One scout on No. 2 Myles Turner

“You guys got that right [ranking Turner behind Okafor]. He can block shots and step away, but I’m not sure what all the fuss is about just yet. He doesn’t move as well as I expected either.”

Finkelstein’s take: Injuries took their toll on Turner this month to the point that he missed the Jordan Brand Classic. The mobility issue is one we’ve considered within the last year, but it might be more a case of him being unorthodox and not completely graceful rather than any type of problem with his feet. Ultimately, he’s got a variety of tools that translate to the NBA level and a world of potential still left to discover.

One scout and a general manager on top PGs Emmanuel Mudiay and Tyus Jones

“They’re very different, but more importantly, if they’re the best two point guards in this class, it isn’t a very good class for point guards.”

“Jones is going to have to do more to compensate for what he lacks physically. There have been a couple plays when he hasn’t run back or given much effort, and that’s a surprise based on everything we heard about him up until this point.”

Finkelstein’s take: There were a lot of parallels drawn between Mudiay and Andrew Harrison this month, and had Harrison had a better freshman season, it might be easier for people to be more easily excited about Mudiay. As for Jones, his defensive limitations are a concern moving forward, but the questions of effort had a lot more to do with the setting than the prospect. NBA scouts are going to love his ability to read a pick-and-roll, but he’ll need to become an even better perimeter shooter to compensate for his lack of explosiveness inside the paint.

Alexander
According to one NBA scout, No. 3 prospect Cliff Alexander has a chance to have a long NBA career.
One scout on No. 3 Cliff Alexander

“He should have a long career because he’s strong, can defend and rebound, but he’s not going to change the face of anybody’s team.”

Finkelstein’s take: He might not ever be a guy who goes to work with his back to the basket, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a very good pro. He’s more skilled in the face-up game than he often gets credit for, not necessarily with the 3-point range he is working to develop, but he can consistently knock down 15- to 16-footers and is also a better passer than most realize.

One scout on No. 8 Justin Jackson

“[He has] been the most pleasant surprise over the last few weeks. He wasn’t somebody I heard as much about coming in, but he’s been very good. His size and length are enough for the position, but he’ll need to get stronger in his lower body.”

Finkelstein’s take: He’s been off the board for so long that he’s flown under lot of people’s radar, but the reality is that Jackson came out intent to make a statement this month and ended up doing just that. He’s uniquely qualified to make an immediate impact at North Carolina and has a variety of tools that translate to the highest level as he continues to develop physically.

One director of player personnel on No. 9 Karl Towns Jr.

“There’s no other big man here that I’ve seen who is quite like him. With that size, to already be able to shoot it to the NBA arc, he’s going to be a major asset for somebody.”

Finkelstein’s take: As we noted earlier this week, Towns is finally starting to put it all together, as his physical tools and assertiveness are starting to catch up with his advanced skill set. As crowded as Kentucky’s frontcourt looks to be next season, he’s going to demand time right away based on what we’ve seen in the past two weeks in particular.