By Ian Powers
The LeBron James Skills Academy wrapped up and a number of players left a lasting impression in front of NBA scouts and the majority of the top 40-50 college coaches on the planet. It’s an extremely talented group of players in the next 3 classes, something that is music to the ears of draft fans. Here is a look at the top prospects who competed in Las Vegas.
Deandre Ayton 7’0" 220 C Balboa Prep Nassau, Bahamas 2017
A couple of weeks ago we had Ayton as our #6 high school pro prospect in the country, mainly we hadn’t seen him in a couple of years and wanted to be cautious with his ranking until we were able to see him live. That issue has been rectified and we now believe that he is the best prospect in the country. Ayton was fantastic. He has a 7’4" wingspan, huge hands and a body that is developed and will continue to develop more as he gets older. He showed off an emerging skill set with his ability to shoot the ball from mid range to go along with his tremendous physical tools. He runs the floor like a guard, has great hands, blocks and alters shots around the rim, rebounds in and out of his area and gets off the floor like he’s been jumping on a trampoline. Their isn’t anything this kid hasn’t been blessed with and a number of things will have to go wrong for him not to end up in the league one day. He is the best high school big man prospect since Greg Oden. Every college coach and NBA scout in attendance were amazed at his talent and even more so by the fact that he was just entering his sophomore year in high school. To say the sky is the limit for this kid might be an understatement.
Ben Simmons 6’9" 230 SF Montverde Academy Melbourne, Australia 2015
Simmons was his usual productive self. He showed his diverse skillset and feel for the game. He was a notch above the other prospects in attendance. While Ayton is the best prospect in the country, Simmons is the best player and it’s by a good margin. He is able to play on the perimeter and also is strong enough to post up and take advantage of mismatches. In his matchup with Ivan Rabb he was able to use his superior strength to give Rabb some problems and really seemed like he was out to prove that he was the better player. He’s at his best in the open floor where he can use his ball handling and terrific passing ability to make plays for other people. All of the scouts in attendance were in agreement that he was the best player there and the scary part is that he still has areas that can use improvement. LSU is getting the best recruit they have had there in quite some time.
Cheick Diallo 6’9" 220 PF Our Savior New American Bamako, Mali 2015
The Mali native did what he does best at LeBron and that’s play hard. He does what football coaches call playing through the whistle. You can put take his energy and effort level to the bank every time out. He showed an improving offensive game with his back to the basket as he’s developed a jump hook over his right shoulder that was pretty consistent. He ran the floor well and finished lobs and dump off passes. Where he really stood out was defensively highlighted by a blocked shot against Malik Monk in a Saturday afternoon game that caught the attention of the NBA scouts in attendance. You know what you get out of Diallo and his skill level is catching up to his motor.
Ivan Rabb 6’10" 210 PF Bishop O’ Dowd Oakland, CA 2015
Rabb was his usual steady self in Vegas during the week. He was among the most productive bigs there. He showed his improved face up ability and finished well off penetration with both hands around the basket. His back to the basket game was reliable as well when he wasn’t being pushed around by stronger guys. He was active on both glasses and blocked his share of shots. The two elements of his game that often goes unrecognized is his ability to handle the ball in the open floor and his terrific passing ability in the open floor and out of the post. You can run things through him in the half court and he will make the right play. He has to continue to expand his game in order to keep defenses honest and use his quickness to get by slower bigs. He has to get stronger and be more consistent with his effort in order to take the maximize his great talent.
Jayson Tatum 6’8" 193 SF Chaminade St. Louis, MO 2016
A number of scouts in attendance were impressed by Tatum’s versatility. He can play 3 positions and his best position may be the point guard spot. He was able to use his handle to get in the lane for layups or make plays for others. His jump shot looked to be more consistent. He had a good head to head battle with Ben Simmons and seemed to relish the opportunity to go at the best player in America and did nor back down from the challenge. In order for Tatum to maximize his talent, he’ll need to add strength and play with a little more dog in him. He’s a great kid off the floor and has the makings of a superstar at the highest level if he wants it.
Henry Ellenson 6’10" 240 PF Rice Lake Rice Lake, WI 2015
Ellenson has been on the rise all spring and summer and did nothing to damage his reputation in Vegas. He has a diverse and unique skill set for a guy his size. He’s not great athlete, but he can shoot the ball like no other big in the class. He is a good area rebounder and has done a tremendous job losing weight and getting himself in better condition and his recruitment and ranking have risen because of it. He has to continue to refine his ball skills and build on his ability to be a pick and pop big. He would be a perfect fit as a stretch 4 at the next level and beyond.
Troy Brown 6’6" 184 PG Centennial Las Vegas, NV 2017
After Ayton, there was probably no other player in attendance more talked about than Brown. He is a consummate floor general with great size and length for the position. He played off the ball quite a bit at the camp, mainly due to some selfishness from his teammates, but when he was able to play with the ball in his hands, he was nothing short of fantastic. He runs a team like a senior and he can score the ball when needed. His jump sot has improved, but it still is somewhat inconsistent and needs to continue to be a focus of improvement moving forward. He and Ayton were on the same team and they played well off of each other and had coaches and scouts in attendance daydreaming about the possibilities that lie ahead for these two precocious youngsters.
Zach Brown 7’1" 255 C Miami Beach Miami, FL 2017
This was my 2nd time seeing Brown and he was just as impressive as he was the first time I saw him. He’s a kid with a pro body with great length. He is not the most athletic guy on the floor, but he makes up for it with sound fundamentals. He always keeps the ball high and has impeccable footwork. He is also great and knowing how to pass out of a double team and repost, a lost art among young bigs. On the defensive end, he’s a solid rim protector and rebounds the ball at a high rate both in and out of his area. He could use to tone his body up a little, but if he keeps improving he’l be one of the elite players in the country.
Miles Bridges 6’6′ 217 SF Huntington Prep Flint. MI 2016
At first glance you would think Bridges was a football player because of his big legs and strong upper body. He is a superb athlete who can score down on the box using his strong lower body and shoulders and has a nice lefty stroke out to the 3. He’s also surprisingly nimble and can put the ball on the floor and score in tight spaces. He has been impressive all spring and summer and has cemented his status as a top 10 player in the class.
Omari Spellman 6’9" 270 PF MacDuffie North Royalton, OH 2016
Spellman is another kid whose body will fool you into thinking he belongs on the gridiron. Spellman is very agile and athletic for his size and has proven herself against the top players in the country. He has a nice back to the basket game, rebounds the ball and can finish in traffic either through you or over you. He can also be effective in the pick and pop situations or as a trail big because of his ability to shoot the ball to college 3. He has a solid IQ and can make plays out of the double team. The next step for him will be in the conditioning department. He still needs to get in better cardiovascular condition and could stand to tone his body more, but make no mistake about it, he is one the more promising big men in the country.
By Rick Fois
Malik Monk 6’4 180 SG Bentonville Bentonville, AR 2016
An unbelievable athlete. Malik was a beast in Vegas. In front of the top coaches in the Nation he attacked the rim, finishing well above it, many times in spectacular fashion. Explosive doesn’t really do justice to how Monk plays. He had the best dunks of the Camp, but that was just a part of his game. A 6’4 SG, This kid can shoot and score in many ways. He needs to learn how to play under control and be more consistent and steady sometimes but has the talent and athletic gifts to stand out. With better decision-making he could transform into a combo guard by the time he gets to college. He’s becoming a really interesting NBA prospect.
De'Aaron Fox 6’4 164 PG Cypress Lakes, Katy, TX
The best PG player in the camp, though that’s not saying a lot since the level of the points was extremely low. De’Aaron’s athletic gifts are absolutely tailored to the position. At 6’3’’with a 6’6’’ wingspan, he has great quickness, very good change of speed and great lateral moves. One of the top defenders in the class who can be a nightmare for opposing PGs. On the negative side he doesn’t seem to play hard all the time, and definitely needs to improve his decision making, which right now is very poor for a PG. Offensively he should be more of a floor general, attacking the basket more instead of settling for jumpers. All this said I’m very intrigued with Fox’s upside.
Aaron Holiday 6’1 187 PG Campbell Hall Studio City, CA 2015
He is improving his playmaking skills. You can tell playmaking isn’t in his DNA, but when you are 6’1 you don’t have a lot of options. If he was 6’4’’ the world would look at him in a totally different light. He has natural talent for scoring and creating for himself but he showed at Lebron he can do it for his teammates as well. The UCLA recruit displayed his speed and leadership, but he needs to learn how to play more under control and read the game more like a PG. If he grows a couple of inches and follows Steve Alford’s suggestions he could become a really nice player, and he’s also got the right genes.
Jayson Tatum 6’8 193 SG Chaminade St Louis, MO 2016
My thought on him is very simple. Wait 2 years after he puts weight on, as he’s still improving his upper body and lower body strength. Than, he will likely cement his status as one of the top prospects in high school. A 6’8’’ SF or SG, his main problem right now is that he weighs 193 pounds. But the way he moves is exceptional as he can create his own shot when he wants, thanks to his athleticism and quick release. He needs to improve his mechanics, but if he can do it maintain the same quickness, we are talking of a special player.
Jamal Murray 6’5 199 PG/SG Orangeville Ontario, Canada 2016
The 6’5 guard from Canada continues to improve and his IQ didn’t go unnoticed at LeBron. Since the first time I saw him at the Jordan Classic, Murray has gotten in much better shape, without losing his quickness. He really understands the game. He can play every position (1-2-3) and knows how to play with or without the ball, something rare in today’s basketball. Murray is a big guard who can shoot really well with deep range, and create for his teammates, not too explosive but knows how to use his body to finish. In the right program he could be a very good player.
VJ King 6’6 187 SG SVSM Akron, OH 2016
The rising junior who plays at the same school that LeBron made a name for himself, King is a very good athlete who impressed scouts with his all around scoring ability. While he doesn;t get the hype of some other wing players, scouts came away raving about him. He’s already a tremendous scorer with a nose for the basket, and that should only improve as his skill level increases.
Antonio Blakeney 6’4 177 SG Oakridge Orlando, FL 2015
Pure scorer. 6’4’’ who will hit three pointers in your face, score in transition, beat you left and right going to the rim. He is a good athlete, not quite as explosive as Monk, but probably a better overall scorer at this point in time. He knows how to create shots for himself and how to find opportunities to get his points. He needs to improve his defense and shot selection, but very entertaining to watch play.