Garden Grove, Calif. -- Once again, the adidas Nations event was stacked full of high quality basketball prospects from all around the world. After a long summer evaluation period, this event was a great end to the competition season. In attendance were 10 of the top 25 incoming senior class players, with another 7 top 10 underclassmen (class of 2018 and 2019) participating in the event.
Between the Pangos All-American, Under Armour Association, and adidas Nations events, this reporter has seen 8 out of the consensus top 10 players (and 17 of the top 30) on multiple occasions, and the one thing that has stood out has been the consistency of their performances from event to event. At this point, the top seniors in the Class of 2017 clearly knew and felt secure in their rankings, and could now just relax and hone in their skills.
What became obvious very quickly at the 2016 adidas Nations was the following: Trevon Duval is a versatile and powerful point guard; Gary Trent Jr. is a complete basketball player and a great shooter; Hamidou Diallo is the next slam dunk champion; Jaylen Hand is probably the fastest player in high school; and the number one player in the country, DeAndre Ayton, is now playing consistently hard.
These players, except for Ayton, played at the 2015 adidas Nations as well, and have clearly improved over the past year. The most important aspect of their growth was mental, as they all seemed to make the right moves most of the time. Such improvement from junior to senior year reveals that these players understand how to breakdown their own skills and practice efficiently to make it at the next level.
There were two Class of 2017 teams at the event, Team Harden and Team Rose, the former being far more talented, with top 40 players up and down the roster. The lowest-rated player on that squad, Makai Ashton-Langford at number 35, probably never in his life has been considered the "12th man" on any team. That said, he was quite effective in the few times he saw the court.
Interestingly, the top two big men, DeAndre Ayton and Wendell Carter, played on the same frontcourt. The contrast between the two was readily apparent, with Ayton having the greater height (seven-footer), athleticism, smoothness to his game, and, perhaps higher ceiling, and Carter, although shorter (6'9"), displaying the greater physical strength, assertiveness, and shooting range.
On their way to an undefeated championship, however, there was a moment where Team Harden was behind the less-talented Team Canada by 6 at halftime (the final score would be 123-96 in favor of Team Harden). This underachievement was culminated by PJ Washington missing two free straight free throws, the first one being an airball. Much like the deep Kentucky teams of recent seasons, Team Harden had two units, and the second team was the one that gave up a lead and was under pressure the latter portion of the first half. Part of the problem was that none of the players on that unit would consistently step up, until Troy Brown took charge. Sensing the timidity among his teammates, Brown drove to the basket and forced the issue with a dunk that provided a spark. Brown proved that he can not only score in a variety of ways, but also is versatile enough to play both shooting guard and small forward.
The underclassmen were the most exciting players overall because they still had a lot to prove. Although the underclassmen-filled Teams Lillard and Wiggins performed badly as a squad, their best players did quite well individually. Unfortunately, Romeo Langford, the number two player in the Class of 2018 was present on day one, but did not play.
Here is our assessment of some of the 2016 adidas Nations' top players:
Zion Williamson, Small/Power Forward, Class of 2018, 6’7”
Williamson, who is reminiscent of Charles Barkley, plays hard all the time and is a strong and skilled player. With a variety of effective post and perimeter moves, he displays good knowledge of the game. He still needs to work on his body, but all the other components are of the highest quality.
Immanuel Quickley, Point Guard, Class of 2018
Quickley is a fast player and great long range shooter. He rebounds well for his position, mixing it up with taller post players and then quickly starting his team’s transition game. He is also a vocal leader, which is desirable for a point guard.
Rechon Black, Point Guard, Class of 2018
The North Carolina commit is tall for his size, can slash to the basket in a controlled manner, and has an above average stroke. He is versatile enough to play shooting guard and small forward, but needs to be more complete with his playmaking ability.
Onyeka Okongwu, Power Forward, Class of 2019
Okongwu has a strong, mature game for a rising sophomore, and always seems to be in the right place and position to make plays for his team. His interior scoring should improve as he shoulders more responsibility, since he was only the third or fourth option for Chino Hills High School, the number one team in the country last year. Furthermore, he should compete with Charles Bassey for the honor of being the best big man in his class for the next two years.
Chol Marial, Center, Class of 2019, 7’1”
Marial has a very high upside. He had a few bad performances, but shined in the third place game, scoring 18 with a variety of post moves, and even making a jump shot.
Matthew Hurt, Power Forward, Class of 2019, 6’9”
A top 25 player in his class, Hurt has shown his potential by finding ways to contribute even without having plays run for him. He competed hard to grab rebounds and scored on putbacks. He does need to get stronger and add muscle to his frame.
Tyler Herro, Point Guard, Class of 2018, 6’4”
Herro is a great shooter with high elevation on his shot. In addition, when he wasn’t shooting, he also showed his playmaking ability, finding teammates for easy scores down low. His hustle and competitive spirit allowed him to hold his own on the defensive end. One time he got back on a fast break, met his opponent at the rim, and came up with a clean block.
By Christian Siagian
Contributing Writer for TheDailySportsHerald.com