NEW YORK – Some of the 2016 NBA draft’s top prospects were in town for the 2K and Legends Classics with executives drooling over their potential, including Philadelphia’s Sam Hinkie and Boston’s Danny Ainge.
With Brooklyn holding the third-worst record in the league (3-12), Ainge should give Nets GM Billy King a Thanksgiving turkey for sending him Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick next summer as part of the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
However, Hinkie – the man who puts the “tank” in tanking – has the early lead in the Ben Simmons sweepstakes with the 76ers at a league-worst 0-16, two shy of the NBA record. The Sixers also own the top pick of the Los Angeles Lakers (2-12), provided it does not land in the top three.
The LSU freshman forward stole the show at the Legends Classic with 21 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists and two steals against Marquette on Monday. On Tuesday, Simmons proved he affects a game without scoring with 14 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocks as North Carolina State packed the paint and limited him to four points.
Another heralded recruit, Marquette freshman forward Henry Ellenson, also shared the spotlight with Simmons. Ellenson, a potential first-round pick, averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in the Legends Classic.
In the 2K Classic, Duke sophomore guard Grayson Allen lit up the Garden like Times Square on New Year’s Eve by averaging 31 points. Allen shot 67 percent (18-of-27) from the field and 64 percent (9-of-14) from the arc.
Allen stole the spotlight from teammate Brandon Ingram, a top-three recruit according to ESPN and Scout. Ingram underwhelmed by averaging 6.5 points and 6.0 rebounds in the 2K Classic while struggling from the field at 29 percent (4-of-14) and the foul line at 38 percent (5-of-13).
In addition, Georgetown’s future looks promising thanks to sophomore forward Isaac Copeland and freshman center Jessie Govan. Copeland had his best offensive game of the season against fifth-ranked Duke on Sunday with 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including three 3-pointers. Govan showed his all-around potential with 13 points, five rebounds, three blocks and three assists in just 26 minutes against Wisconsin on Friday.
With that in mind, here is a detailed breakdown of those players mentioned:
Ben Simmons, LSU, F, 6-10, 240 pounds, freshman
“He’s a very difficult matchup,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said Monday. “Obviously he’s a very unique player; he’s a very talented player. Because of his size, athleticism and his ability to handle the ball, he’s unique. He’s a unique matchup.”
In transition, Simmons is a freight train when he attacks the rim and can switch hands mid-air while dunking. Or he can thread the needle with a one-handed bounce pass between two defenders on the break, as he did Tuesday to Antonio Blakeney. Heck, his outlet passes would make Kevin Love nod in approval.
“I thought in the open floor Ben did a great job of getting the guys and putting them on their heels,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said Monday. “He was able to push the basketball and get inside their defense, get to the rim and made plays. He actually got fouled enough tonight to shoot 11 free throws.”
After watching Simmons attack the paint relentlessly against Marquette, North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried had a plan to slow down the heralded freshman on Tuesday.
“Our plan was really to crowd the lane, flood the lane and put everybody to sink and clog it up and not let him get going with his penetration,” Gottfried said. “What happened was he’s so tall and he’s such a great passer that a lot of times he skipped it to the corners and they made some threes. It’s almost like you’ve got to pick your poison a little bit.”
Despite being limited to four points, Simmons became the only freshman in the last 20 seasons – and 13th overall – with 10 assists and 15 rebounds in a single game. A reluctant shooter, Simmons did not take a jumper beyond the foul line despite making several 3-pointers in warmups.
“I think Ben has a really great basketball IQ,” Jones said. “I think he played the game the way it’s supposed to be played. He doesn’t force action. I think he’s always very aggressive and he looks for opportunities for his teammates.”
Sound familiar? These were similar criticisms of James early in his career, too. His teammates were the recipients of crisp passes every time they were open. Simmons totaled 17 assists in the two games but easily could have had 30 if his teammates converted the open looks.
Henry Ellenson, Marquette, F, 6-11, 245, freshman
Ellenson showed some versatility offensively by hitting a turnaround jumper over Simmons, dribbling to the edge of the foul line and converting on a floater in the lane, hitting a 3-pointer from the top of the key and moving the ball quickly when doubled in the post, where he prefers to play with his back to the basket. At times, Ellenson struggled to get deep position in the post against LSU but was able to do so against Arizona State.
On defense, Ellenson struggled to stay in front of Simmons, who blew by him on almost every isolation possession. Despite the daunting challenge, Ellenson didn’t back down. After struggling with foul trouble in the first half, Ellenson adjusted and was able to remain on the floor in the second half to help propel Marquette to victory.
Some scouts have compared Ellenson to a young Kevin Love.
Brandon Ingram, Duke, F, 6-9, 190, freshman
“I couldn’t take my eyes off him,” the scout told SheridanHoops. “He does so many things in a variety of ways and I was pleased to see the weight he gained since the McDonald’s All-American Game.”
One of the reasons the scout couldn’t take his eyes off Ingram was due to the freshman’s wingspan. There were also flashes of his ability to get to the rim and finish with the finger roll if needed.
Due to his skinny frame, Ingram has struggled to adjust to the physicality of the college game. On defense, Ingram must learn to become a better on-ball defender and get lower in his defensive stance when switched on smaller players.
Guys like Russell Westbrook and Andrew Wiggins struggled mightily at times during their freshman seasons in college but have gone on to make a significant impact at the pro level. Conversely, players such as Wesley Johnson and Jimmer Fredette thrived in college but couldn’t translate their games to the pro level.
Generally, scouts are looking for those “it” factors that translate to the NBA. Ingram’s wingspan is something that can’t be taught. As he fills out his frame, he will eventually be able to show what made him a top-three recruit.
Grayson Allen, Duke, G, 6-5, 205, sophomore
After coming up big in the 2015 national championship, Allen has become the go-to player and leader for the Blue Devils. With Allen averaging 24.4 points while shooting 52 percent from the field and 54 percent from distance, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski admitted he will ride the sophomore to victory.
“As much as I can,” Coach K said. “I’ve leaned on my great players my whole career. It’s not about coaching — it’s about allowing your great players to be great, putting them in position to do things you can’t orchestrate.”
Allen was able to get to the rim at will against VCU, including an in-and-out dribble that had his defender falling out of his shoes, and was able to finish in traffic.
Looking forward, Allen’s ability to penetrate will be the key to Duke’s offensive success and any hope of repeating as champions. After putting himself on the map with NBA executives last season, Allen is picking up right where he left off.
Isaac Copeland, Georgetown, F, 6-9, 220, sophomore
With the league coveting stretch forwards more than ever, Copeland is a guy who is starting to register on the radar of NBA executives. Copeland stretched the field during the tournament from the wings and top of the key without hesitation. On the season, Copeland is shooting 55 percent from the field and 47 percent from the arc.
On defense, Copeland was able to rebound well in traffic and played particularly solid on-ball defense against Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes during the 2K Classic.
“I think the main thing is he worked very hard in the offseason,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “He worked extremely hard in the weight room and in the gym. If I had to point to one thing, I think his understanding of what I want and what we’re doing. Freshman year, you’re trying to figure out what’s going on and ‘What am I supposed to do here? What’s he want from me?’ Now I think he understands and he’s just playing. Once he’s settled into a feel for what we want, he’s not thinking as much. He’s just going out there playing and he’s getting a chance to see a small glimpse of what Isaac can bring to the table.”
After making the Big East All-Rookie Team and averaging 6.8 points and 3.8 rebounds off the bench, Copeland has become a full-time starter, averaging 15 points and 5.8 boards.
Jessie Govan, Georgetown, C, 6-10, 270, freshman
Against Wisconsin, Govan’s full arsenal was on display. On offense, he hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, made a hook shot from the edge of the paint on the right side of the lane and made two impressive assists – one from the high post to a cutter backdoor and the other to an open shooter across the court with a lightning pass out of the post.
On defense, Govan routinely boxed out his man whenever the ball went in the air for a potential rebound and contested any shots near the rim.
“He’s settling in,” Thompson said. “He came back home playing in the Garden and he showed up. He played very well. He showed just a glimpse of what you guys are going to see from him. It was a small glimpse of what’s coming from big Jessie.”
Could Govan be the next great center in the lineage of Georgetown big men? That was one of his goals as he told SheridanHoops back at the Jordan Brand Classic in April.