By Rob Fraser
Canadian High School prospect Ivan Chiriaev is the type of NBA prospect that everyone loves to hate. The public perception of him after his much scrutinized media debacle has been a major topic of conversation amongst basketball fans in the weeks following his declaration for the draft. His misguided sense of self-importance, his inflated ego, and the brand of narccisism usually reserved for established NBA veterans have all coalesced-and formed a major undercurrent of pressure and high expectations leading into the most important game of his amateur career. If there was ever a player with something to prove, the young, Russian-born Chiriaev is him. So how did the controversial draft hopeful do with the weight of over a dozen NBA scouts eyeing his every move?
The start of the game found both teams trying to establish early rhythm, and Ivan trying to assert himself in the flow of a game that didn't fit his strengths. The transition-oriented style of an All-Star game had Ivan trying to keep up with players much more mobile, and with better overall speed. Ivan appeared to labor to keep up with the fast tempo, both offensively and on defense. Defensively, he was slow to follow turnovers and get back, and was even caught a few times getting back off of defensive rebounds. It was not uncommon to see the game passing him by, as the position of the ball changed on the court- his teammates trying to defend the net, and Ivan struggling to make it into the play before the shot went up. On more than one occasion, Ivan struggled to make it past half-court before the ball was headed the other way.
On offense, Ivan is out of his element on the break. He doesn't have the speed to be effective in a running game, and as the game wore on, conditioning became a major issue. Given his preference for the perimeter, and his self-anointed desire to be a primary ball-handler, this hole in his game contrasted greatly with his perceived strengths. He is more suited to initiating a break with a pass, and trailing the play- then pushing it down the middle of the floor with his dribble. In fact, one of his strengths lies in his ability to find outlets off of rebounds.
His court vision is good. He's able to find players up-court, but with an important caveat. He is much more comfortable passing the ball while stationary, whereby he can use his height to survey the court and find the seams in the defense. He can find players cutting off the ball in the half-court, but his passing strength lies in getting the ball up-court. He displays good ball placement, in terms of putting the ball in a spot that is comfortable for the receiver of the pass. However, on the few occasions when he attempted transition passes after picking up his dribble, he turned the ball over. The commentators suggested that the arena venue may have played a role in the depth perception of players not used to that environment- but this facet of his skill-set seemed to show itself on more than one occasion.
His performance in the first half of the game was poor. He brought the ball up a couple of times, albeit without ball pressure. He can cross it over going right, but there remains some question about his ability to use his left. On one play, he had it outside the three-line, and made a dribble-drive to the right corner of the foul line and dished for a converted jumper...which was good, considering he showed he could maintain awareness of the players around him while putting it on the floor.
He made a long three from the top that rattled in after hesitating on the front of the rim. Ivan displayed good form on his jumper, albeit very little lift. Was able to show some post up ability off the left blocks- but his post up game didn't really manifest itself until the second half. Air-balled a turnaround fade into the middle, but the mechanics of the move were alright. He seems like a 'straight-ahead' player, someone that feels more comfortable going North/South on the court.
The only positive I think you could say, defensively, is that he was able to get his hands on a couple of shots right underneath the hoop, although I'm not sure if I would credit him with the block on one of them. This might represent his biggest weakness. He is unable to play effective perimeter defense. Cannot stay with quicker players on the outside, and isn't able to effectively use his length to offset the deficit.
He's able to rebound when he establishes early position, but he's absolutely not an 'out of position' rebounder. His rebounding skills are a definite cause for concern. Often he's able to find a body underneath, but loses him as the ball goes up, and is unable to move or shift weight/position to accommodate. His instincts for the ball, in terms of angles and timing, appear average at best- and more likely poor, when the level of competition is factored in. He displayed a tendency to slap at the ball more than you'd like, and you wonder whether he will get himself into foul trouble as a result. His vertical is weak.
To give a less analytical feeling of his style- He's like that guy in the pick up game that's camped out at the three line, calling for the ball, while the rest of the players are moving on the court in a way that is parallel to the position of the ball. He'll get a kick-out or see the ball in the early part of the offense, dribble the ball at the top, and either shoot it, or pass it off from the perimeter. He's not a one-on-one player at all, when it comes to creating off the dribble. He has a tendency to pick up his dribble when he shouldn't, and I would imagine against NBA players he would represent a giant red flag whenever he puts it on the floor.
The issue of Ivan's court disposition is going to be an important topic in the eyes of scouts. In the first half of the game, he seemed passive and reactionary. His ability to identify things out on the court is questionable. The overall sentiment amongst observers has been that he's SLOW. A big part of this impression is based on his sub-par athletic ability, but some of it stems from his inability to read things and respond quickly. Couple these elements with his poor conditioning, and you begin to gain a picture of his molasses-like movement on the court.
He's slow to identify even in the half court- things like back screens (he got burned a couple of times), rotations defensively and when to crash. Offensively, he plays like a guard, but doesn't have much 'in between' game, in terms of the ability to cut, move off the ball, or use a midrange game to keep perimeter defenders honest. You're watching him and wondering why he isn't trying to capitalize on his size, regardless of his skill set.
Ivan looked much more comfortable in the second half of the game. He was able to get into the post a little more, offensively, and was able to show his ability to use head and shoulder fakes, as well as up-and-unders, to free himself inside. He doesn't attempt to take the ball strong, and either fades or goes up straight- even when the circumstance would suggest he try for the foul.
The structure of the game became more fluid in the second half- as you'd expect with a High School All-Star game. Ivan hits another three, this time from the left wing. Next play down, he gets the ball off of a turnover in the same spot (didn't cause the turnover), fakes the three, and drives to the corner for a jumper- he misses, but good identification. Looks comfortable off the bounce going right. It should be noted that the three-point line was moved back to NBA regulation for this game.
Tried a turnaround jumper off the left blocks and missed, but had good arc on the shot. Took a quick three at the top again, but missed. Too early for that shot, but he seems to give the impression that he knows he's got to shoot it with the scouts there. Saw him lineup for the other teams' free throws on the low block- first time he's done that, which again, is weird considering his size. Certainly playing more within his skill set in the second half. He's able to pick up a charge on an opposing PF after a turnover, but was only in position because he had been late getting back to get into the offense.
After the game, he made a directed effort to congratulate his teammates, but during the game there were a few occasions that he called for the ball and was looked off. The attempts to be self-deferential seem very forced. His style of game requires others to set him up, and there is some palpable resentment when he takes an ill-advised shot early in the offense. In the last two minutes of the game, he took a poor three (air-ball), and immediately picked up a frustration foul in the opposing back-court.
As the game went on, he started to settle down some, playing a little more under the basket defensively. It's hard to imagine how he would begin to play at NBA speed. It's the speed thing more than anything else. When he's out on the perimeter, whether on O or D, he's got a greater range of ground he's got to cover, and he's really exposed- both physically with his lateral quicks, as well as identification-wise, which seems a second slower than the pace of the game. Real flat footed.
Bill Duffy might think long and hard about allowing Chiriaev to participate in the Combine. Athletically, he's got very poor lateral quickness, but also suspect conditioning- something that became more and more apparent as the game progressed. It looks like he's carrying extra weight in his upper-body, and while that might be beneficial if he played on the interior, it doesn't seem to give him any advantage given his skill set. I can't imagine that his vertical is more than 24 inches, and his overall speed is poor.
Chiriaev wins the MVP for the game, finishing with 17 points and 4 rebounds. An altogether mediocre performance, but there is some legitimate reason for the intrigue. We'll have to wait for individual workouts to know whether his dreams of being a first-round pick are based in reality- but at this point it would seem likely that he'll end up a late-first to mid-second round pick. He is the quintessential player you would like to have to a developmental system for- NBA teams are going to hesitate before commiting a roster spot to a player that is not going to contribute for his first couple of seasons in the League.