The Big Time Event in Las Vegas, Nev., pitted four of its top teams Spiece Indy Heat, D-1 Greyhounds, SoCal All Stars and the New York Panthers in a super pool for the ages. A number of future pros make up these squads, but it was two point guards that stood out Saturday morning with their ability to score and distribute the ball.
Brandon Jennings played a floor game well beyond his years in the SoCal All Stars' win over the D-1 Greyhounds. From the get go, Jennings got the ball to Kevin Love repeatedly in primary scoring position off of Love's high ball screen.
When Love is the strongest player on the court, which is almost always the case, he is nearly unstoppable with his ability to leverage position and score with either hand. Players like Greg Oden and Derrick Caracter can match his strength, causing him problems.
Jennings' penetration in the open court against the ill advised press of the Greyhounds also set up his wing shooters Taylor King and Chase Budinger with quality looks.
Over the summer, Jennings, a 2008 prospect, has significantly improved the consistency of his outside jumper. He has always had a strong midrange scoring game with his ability to hit pull ups, floaters and step back shots. The next two steps for the left handed Jennings to improve his game is to improve his strength and improve his ability to finish around the basket with his right hand.
Along with Jennings' strong play Saturday morning, Mike Conley of the Spiece Indy Heat scored a game high 25 points against the New York Panthers on 9 of 14 shooting from the field, including 3 of 3 from the arc, and 3 of 3 shooting from the line. Besides his scoring, Conley also pulled down 5 rebounds, dished out 5 assists to 1 turnover, while also recording a blocked shot and a steal.
Defensively, Conley held Doug Wiggins to 2 of 9 shooting from the field and Edgar Sosa to 1 of 6 shooting. It should be noted that the Spiece Indy Heat spent at least half of the game in a 2-3 zone which gave the slashing perimeter players of the Panthers trouble.
The most interesting match up of the Spiece Indy Heats' man to man defense was Greg Oden guarding the slashing Lance Thomas. Thomas did score 18 points on 4 of 6 shooting from the field and 10 of 12 shooting from the line, but he was only able to manage 2 rebounds, all offensive, for the game. Perhaps the key to the Panthers' win Friday over the SoCal All Stars was Thomas' 9 offensive rebounds, the majority of which resulted in putbacks for points.
The most encouraging aspect of Thomas' game has been his accuracy from the free-throw line. Blessed with a wicked first step to the basket, Thomas easily gets into the lane with one dribble from the wing or baseline, typically drawing fouls along the way and on the finish. His free throw shooting also bodes well for his ability to improve as a perimeter shooter in college.
Greg Oden has not looked that good from the free throw line in Vegas. His follow through is very low, and he is shooting a very flat free throw. With his follow through so low in front of his face and his left foot placed way behind his right foot, it looks as if he is throwing darts at the cylinder.
Back to strong guard play, Conley was not alone in the back court against the Panthers. 2007 combo guard Eric Gordon had an efficient scoring game from the wing. He netted 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting with 3 of 5 from the arc. Gordon is a multifaceted scorer who can do damage in a number of ways.
O.J. Mayo has been less than his spectacular self here in Vegas, primarily because he has settled for too many contested jumpers well beyond the three-point line. Against the SoCal All Stars he went a miserable 1 of 12 from behind the arc Saturday morning.
Heath White and Deonta Vaughn have had the ball in their hands as the primary handlers, and neither of them have been able to create scoring opportunities with penetration or by pushing the tempo. Both guards are score first type of guards as opposed to guards looking to distribute the ball.
Mayo is special when he has the ball in his hands, making decisions, pushing the tempo and running the team. He is not so special when he is on the wing desperate for the ball and pressing to score.
The SoCal All Stars came out of the gate playing off of Bill Walker daring him to shoot. The strategy worked well, limiting his penetration to the basket. Walker did display his improving shot by making 2 of 3 from the arc. His rotation is sound, but it is an inconsistent arc on his shot that he needs to remedy. The scary thing is that it looks like he just needs more reps for the freak athlete to become a good shooter, at least good enough to make him unstoppable.
Besides developing his shot, Walker could also put more effort into rebounding the basketball. There is no way that an athlete like Walker should only come up with 4 rebounds in a game where he plays almost the entire game.
As good as other players are on the circuit right now, the fact is that none have the upside that Walker has. His athleticism is unparallel, his ball handling and passing are rapidly improving, he locked down Daequan Cook Friday with his defense and his shot is coming along as well. Walker is on his way to being a magnificent small forward.
Another small forward who should make a living one day playing basketball is Chase Budinger. A deadly shooter, Budinger is also a bouncy athlete with a lively body. Gaining strength will do a lot to improve his ability to defend and handle the ball against pressure.