San Diego, Calif.-The McDonald's All American Game practices began Sunday afternoon at the San Diego State University Recreation Center. Both squads worked their way through some warm up drills, X's and O's and scrimmaging. Let's go over first impressions, beginning with the West squad:
Kevin Durant proved once again that he is a very difficult match up. With his deep range and ability to create his own shot off the dribble, he must be guarded by a player with the lateral quickness to get into him and get into him early. James Keefe just couldn't get it done as he gave Durant the room to be comfortable with the ball. Durant was able to take him off the bounce with a terrific crossover dribble and shoot over him. Still very in need of more strength to thrive against physical play and become a better defender and rebounder, Durant is tremendous skilled with the ball as a handler and passer as well as scorer.
James Keefe impressed with his touch from outside. He is also a player willing to grind it out on the boards and run down a ball. Looks like a player ready to thrive at UCLA. Not a great athlete laterally or vertically, Keefe does have a penchant for beating his man down the floor.
Chase Budinger looked awful comfortable playing ball in his hometown. Such a bouncy athlete, Budinger thrived in the West squad's up and down practice. He hit three's and attacked the basket in transition and came up with several steals in the open court. Gave the impression that he was priming for a big night.
Sherron Collins pushed the tempo in practice and consistently found the open man with crisp passes. Extremely strong and fast with the ball, Collins appears ready to take over at Kansas with the potential of a potent backcourt of Collins, Chalmers and Rush.
D.J. Augustin plays with a controlled pace similar to a right handed Marcus Williams. He consistently hit the open man in transition as did Collins, but Augustin also had a handful of spectacular passes. Showed a great feel for the game both on offense and defense. Not always the most athletic, Augustine uses his intelligence and instinct similar to Reynolds and Scheyer to hold their own against better athletes.
Daequan Cook took advantage of his match up with Demond Carter with his polished midrange post up game and ability to rebound above the rim. Looked strong and athletic and kept Carter in front of him defensively.
Spencer Hawes had some nice baseline spin moves to the basket. Not overly athletic, but Hawes is able to covert difficult finishes. Ran the floor well and finished on the move. He will log heavy minutes next year for Washington.
Darrell Arthur didn't play with a tremendous amount of energy, but he was very good in flashes. Knows how to score from midrange on the baseline.
Brook Lopez did not score much and struggled with his face up jumper, but looked good defensively. Expect more scores in coming days.
Demond Carter struggled initially in his attempt to think pass first and shoot second in his first practice. Early on he didn't connect on a few passes when he should have been shooting. As the practice wore on, he became more comfortable and found his rhythm as a passer.
Jon Scheyer stood out on a couple pays with a baseline drive for a reverse lay up and a one handed, no look pass resulting in a Hawes dunk. Otherwise he played a solid offensive game but struggled to keep up with Budinger on the defensive end.
Robin Lopez rebounded the ball well and attacked the basket from the low post with mixed success, once having his shot blocked by his brother and once scoring over Spencer Hawes.
The East Squad focused more on shooting drills and 5 on 0 work than the West squad and did not provide the same amount of evaluation material as the West. Nonetheless, here are some observations:
Tywon Lawson looked comfortable with the ball in his hands during the East practice. Hit a nice floater from 12-feet, which is the distance where he will do a lot of his scoring next year. Shot well in the shooting drills although he doesn't have the quickest release on what is more of a set shot than a jump shot. But like quiet a few other quick guards, he'll blow by his defender if he plays his shot.
Thaddeus Young scored in all three areas, at the basket, in the midrange and from long range. Gerald Henderson, a very good defender, had trouble keeping him in check. Young's ability to score the ball stands out above his ball handling and passing skills right now.
Gerald Henderson was extremely active and impacted the practice on both ends of the court with his scoring ability in the midrange, offensive rebounding prowess and knack for coming up with loose balls.
Lance Thomas shot the ball better than expected during the first practice although there was not much different with his technique. Can struggle as a passer, but he always plays with maximum energy.
Greg Oden arrived around 15 minutes late for practice along with Mike Conley and Daequan Cook and never seemed to fully get into the flow of practice. Felt his way through things and spent a good deal of time sitting out.
Vernon Macklin struggled in his first practice against Oden and Brandan Wright, but so would most. Offensively he looked raw compared to his teammates. Yet, he did have a very nice score over Wright with a jump hook to the middle.
Brandan Wright did not play with the aggression he demonstrated during his senior season as he was surprisingly scored on a couple times in the low post. He had his moments offensively, but it appeared that he and Oden were lying in the woods a bit.
Mike Conley has put on a good deal of muscle on his upper body since this summer. Played a typical solid offensive and defensive game.
Javaris Crittenton is a overwhelming rebounder and presence around the rim as a rebounder. He is at his best in a fast wide open style of play, and he looked a little frustrated with the East's slower style of play compared to the West. Forced a number of difficult passes that did not pan out.
Scottie Reynolds spent the practice at the shooting guard position. Is not the quickest, fastest or best jumper, but he plays with strength and finds a way to make plays. Blessed with a solid skill set and a superior mind set and feel for the game.
Wayne Ellington looked good but did not make the any spectacular plays that he is prone to make. Whether or not he can be a dominant player in the future depends a lot on how much stronger he gets.
Earl Clark sees the floor and handles at an exceptional level for a player with his size. Passes the ball best in the open court on the move. He's not as good with a body on him in the half court because of his lack of strength. He looked more comfortable passing the ball than scoring the ball.