The 2014 World Team suffered an 84-73 loss at the hands of a team led by the trio of eventual NCAA Champions from USA squad, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor. Though last years team featured three picks in that summer’s NBA Draft, this team is bigger and definitely more talented from top to bottom. Featuring four consensus Top 10 prospects in the high school class of 2015 in Thon Maker, Cheick Diallo, Skal Labissiere and Ben Simmons, this looks to be an incredibly competitive game. Coach Roy Rana brings a 2-2 record into his fifth appearance as World Team coach. He and fifteen-time Hoop Summit veteran Marin Sedlacek run a practice that gives the numerous NBA personnel in attendance a great look at prospects that will be on the draft radar over the next few years. Here are first impressions after seeing this World Team in the three days of practices open to the media.
Ben Simmons, Australia 1996 (6-10, 239 lbs, 6-11 wingspan, 8-7 standing reach)
After missing Monday’s practice following a busy week including the McDonald’s AA game, plus leading Montverde to their 3rd DICK’S National High School Invitational title, Simmons showed his great combination of size, strength, athleticism and court vision. He is an incredible passer at 6’10, it’s his best attribute, constantly looking up the floor and having a great sense of knowing where to get teammates the ball to set them up for easy baskets. He had a number of spectacular plays in scrimmages, and he made them look effortless. He can play above the rim, was aggressive as a rebounder and he even played the point at times. It would not be a surprise to see him doing so during Saturday’s game and it seems to be the plan at LSU. Considered by many to be a 4 man, and he may present great match up problems there, but his skill set is probably best utilized playing on the wing. Given his strength, speed and ball skills, he should absolutely be able to be a versatile combo forward who can do damage both inside and out. Right now, Simmons is deadliest when establishing post position over smaller defenders or being a terror in the face-up game. He is about as close to ambidextrous as a player can be at this stage. Defense will be something to monitor, especially given he likelihood of him becoming more perimeter oriented in the NBA. His jump shot can certainly be a bit more consistent and if he becomes more of a long-range threat, then he will be one of the more feared wing prospects to enter the league in quite some time. He certainly does a number of things that help teams win right now and if he puts in the work, he has a chance to become a superstar.
Skal Labissiere, Haiti 1996 (7-0, 216 lbs, 7-1.5 wingspan, 9-0.5 standing reach)
It is not very often that you see a 7-footer (or near 7-footer) with good strength that moves as fluidly as Labissiere does. He gets incredible elevation on his jump shot given his size, with good ball skills and court awareness to boot. Also armed with agility and body control, he has a variety of ways to get his shot off. He should be a terror on both pick-and-roll, as well as pick-and-pop, plus he has a nice, high release on his jumper. One of the moves he seems to be developing is something we have dubbed the “Skal Hook”, which is a throwback to one of the great moves in NBA history. He has a really soft touch and seems to have some nice post potential. At only 216 pounds, he is still not afraid to mix it up a bit, plus he does seem like he will add strength in time. It already seems like he has done work on his body over the past year, having recovered quite well after missing a majority of his junior season with a back injury. He had some tenderness in his calf on the first day of practice, though he came back immediately and has not really seemed affected by it. With Kentucky becoming the favorite landing spot for many tall, talented athletes, Skal will demand immediate playing time and should be a contributor on both ends. He also seems to have the skill and lateral quickness to play either the 4 or 5, with his length and reach more than likely having him suited to play the PF in the NBA. He is very competent facing the basket, has communicated well and seems quite confident in his offensive ability. He has been blocking shots on a regular basis and has been praised by a high number of scouts so far. He has the look of yet another one-and-done high pick coming from John Calipari’s program and should contribute right out of the gate next season.
Cheick Diallo, Mali 1996 (6-9, 220 lbs, 7-4 wingspan, 9-1 standing reach)
He still needs to gain some weight, though he works incredibly well with what he has and brings an intense demeanor to the court. If it were not enough that he had an absurd wingspan for his height, he also runs the floor like a gazelle and moves very well laterally. His shot is not a thing of beauty, as he has an awkward release from behind his head, though he seems to have a bit of touch from the 10-12 foot range. Diallo has been an active part of scrimmages and is a terror in transition, with some fancy finishes in the process. He has mainly been matched up with Tai Wynyard, giving the young Kentucky commit fits with his length and overall gritty play. It will be interesting to see what he does against the more seasoned US players. Just do not expect him to be outworked, Diallo’s energy level is high octane. He needs refinement in his post moves and you do not really want him to put the ball on the floor at this point, but he does is great at doing the dirty work one wants from their big man.
Thon Maker, Australia 1997 (7-0, 218 lbs, 7-3.25 wingspan, 9-3 standing reach)
The Thon Maker/Skal Labissiere match-up has been an absolute pleasure to watch over the past few days, as both are skilled big men with some solid athleticism and agility. Skal has strength on him and seems to be the more fluid of the pair and really makes Maker work for his points, while also gaining positional advantage a majority of the time. Nonetheless, Maker has not backed down, has relished the competition, maintained a high level of energy and has been an overall great teammate. His attitude is really top notch, he has been enthusiastic during every portion and is quite coachable. He does exhibit perimeter skills and is trying to develop more as a post player. He has had a difficult time keeping position and seems to be the big man who is most easily knocked off his center of gravity. He is working on keeping the ball higher, though he does still sometimes try to take the ball up the floor when it might be better off in the hands of a guard. He is a nice prospect who has a competitive fire and an ability to stretch the floor. It is uncertain what he plans to do as far as next year is concerned, though he certainly does possess ability that will keep scouts interested.
Jamal Murray, Canada 1997 (6-5, 204 lbs, 6-7 wingspan, 8-2.5 standing reach)
The lone returnee from last year’s World Team, Murray has put on around 10-pounds of muscle while seeming to be even more explosive athletically. His speed and athleticism is still not necessarily the standout part of his game, but he seems to be the team’s best shooter and can run the offense. He had a great sequence in practice today with a running floater, a nice baseline fade and a beyond half court heave during preparation for late game scenarios. He also seems to have improved upon his point guard skills, though he is much more of a combo guard and more adept at creating for himself. Murray is another intense competitor and should not be overwhelmed at all playing against the US guards come Saturday.
George de Paula, Brazil 1996 (6-6, 202 lbs, 6-11.75 wingspan, 8-6.5 standing reach)
While the Hoop Summit tends to focus on future drafts, scouts also love to get a look at some immediate possibilities to either bring over or stash. De Paula is one of the few players (along with Zhou Qi that could potentially make himself eligible), which makes him extra important for scouts to get a bead on. He is quite raw at this point, though he has tremendous measurements for a guard. He might be a tad shorter than 6’6, yet his wingspan and standing reach are closer to that of a 3 as opposed to a 2. He also possesses enormous hands, which helps him control the ball. His decision making has been lackluster and he has a slight hitch in his shot, which are just a couple of things that will need to be addressed over the next few seasons. His biggest impact has been on defense, where he has been disruptive in the passing lanes and has strong potential as a perimeter pest. He has a ways to go and needs a lot of seasoning before getting to the NBA.
Federico Mussini, Italy 1996 (6-1, 154 lbs, 6-2 wingspan, 7-9 standing reach)
He is most definitely the smallest player in this game, but he has a toughness to him, along with a craftiness that has gotten him some nice buckets inside against the redwoods. Mussini has a great change of speed and has been the most competent of the guards at running a team. He has solid range on his jump shot and uses the basket to seal off defenders as he has finished some very nice drives. His lack of size makes the NBA a long shot, though it does seem that he could be a nice possibility at the D1 level.
Zhou Qi, China 1996 (7-2, 209 lbs, 7-6.5 wingspan, 9-6.5 standing reach)
It was well known that Qi was tall, however his length and reach are pretty much out of this world. He was the Chinese Basketball Association’s defensive player of the year and is an absolutely massive target to shoot over. He grabbed a few shots out of the air with two hands in half court defensive drills, while he also had some range out to 18-feet. What he also showed was some touch in the post, with an ability to use either hand close to the basket. He does not have much lift on his shot, though at his size, it does not seem to be a huge requirement. He still is quite slight, while also being somewhat deliberate and mechanical in his motions. Qi was only available for Monday’s practice, as he injured his left ankle and limped off of the court near the end. He sat out both Tuesday and Wednesday as a precautionary measure. It certainly seems possible that he returns and it would be a great test to see how he stacks up against the American big men.
Nedim Buza, Bosnia & Herzegovina 1995 (6-8, 199 lbs, 6-11.75 wingspan, 8-8.5 standing reach)
Buza seems to be a jack-of-all-trades type player without really being a master of any particular area. He has been physically outmatched by Ben Simmons, however has had the occasional three-point basket and a few runners in scrimmages. He does seem to possess the ball skills and some of the athleticism necessary to be a future wing. He still needs to gain some girth and show more of an ability to guard the perimeter before being considered a NBA level prospect. He still has time, though it seems like he has work to do to be on the early entry radar.
Stefan Peno, Serbia 1997 (6-6, 200 lbs, 6-7.25 wingspan, 8-3.25 standing reach)
Peno has some combo guard ability as well, though he does not seem like he will be playing much point once the game rolls around. He can shoot a tad and has decent SG size, but he has lacked confidence and does not seem to play at the same speed as the other guards. You see some creativity as a passer and a bit of shiftiness, though he also has made his share of poor decisions. He is one of the younger players here, so he has some time to gain confidence and put everything together. As of right now, he has not done much to raise his status.
Tai Wynyard, New Zealand 1998 (6-10, 263 lbs, 6-10 wingspan, 8-10.5 standing reach)
The biggest thing young Wynyard has going for him is his strength; he is filled out and has some athletic ability to go along with it. Still, the youngster is very raw and has been blanketed by the defensive shadow that is Cheick Diallo. Length has bothered him, he has had a difficult time catching passes and is struggling in finding his way on both ends. Even while immersed in this overwhelming scenario, his attitude has been fantastic and he has not backed down. He does not sulk, he communicates and he really wants to get better. His shooting touch is not bad from out to 15-18 feet and he has thrown some people out of the way at times. Definitely is not afraid to mix it up and use his considerable strength. He does not have the look of the stereotypical “one-and-done” Kentucky recruit. Wynyard still has the body and size to be a really difficult box out, along with a developing skill set that could make him a nice college player in time.