-Mcdonald's All-American Week Player Evaluations (Part One)
Alex Poythress, 6-9, Power Forward, Northeast High School
Committed to Kentucky
Alex Poythress had as good a week relative to expectations as anyone in Chicago, opening the eyes of recruiting gurus and NBA scouts to his considerable long-term potential.
Poythress' intrigue begins with his excellent physical tools. He's measured out consistently between 6-8 and 6-9 in shoes in a number of different settings over the past two years, and has a nice 7-1 wingspan to go along with a frame that should be able to add plenty of weight over time.
He's an outstanding athlete as well, explosive around the rim with good agility for a player his size, allowing him to make his presence felt on a regular basis in transition, crashing the offensive glass, and as a playmaker defensively.
Offensively, Poythress is still searching for an identity, as he's clearly not a post player, but doesn't appear to have the skill-level to play on the wing full time either. He shows nice form on his jump-shot, and has the ability to make shots with range out to the 3-point line, even if he was somewhat streaky in this area over the course of the week. His ball-handling skills are similarly a work in progress, and his decision making skills are still catching up to his overall talent level, as he made a handful of questionable plays over the course of the week that demonstrated his lack of experience playing on the wing.
Nevertheless, Poythress' athleticism, instincts and aggressiveness help him find ways to impact games, and he has plenty of time to continue to polish up his skill-set as he's still only 18 years old.
Defensively is where Poythress might be most intriguing right now. He has the size, length and mobility to guard either forward position effectively, as he's able to stay in front of smaller players on the perimeter and is competitive enough to handle himself on the block as well. With a year (or more) of experience underneath his belt playing for a coach like John Calipari at Kentucky, he has a chance to really develop this part of his game, which would make him even more interesting for the NBA.
Also an excellent student reportedly sporting a 3.9 GPA, Poythress had pretty much every college coach in America calling him trying to recruit him over the past few years. It will be interesting to see what kind of role he plays at Kentucky next season as he appears tailor-made to replace Terrence Jones as a face-up power forward. He mentioned in Chicago that he's been recruited to play similarly to the way Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did on the wing.
Brandon Ashley, 6-8, Power Forward, Findlay Prep
Committed to Arizona
Brandon Ashley had a bit of a non-descript week here in Chicago, which has become somewhat of the norm in the occasions we've watched him play over the past few years.
From a physical standpoint, it's not difficult to see what the recruiting services like about him as he's a very fluid and mobile power forward who can play above the rim and shows very good quickness for a player his size. His frame is underdeveloped at the moment but should fill out very nicely in time.
Offensively, Ashley has terrific instincts and shows the potential to do a bit of everything. He likes to step out onto the perimeter where he can knock down shots with range or attack his matchup in a straight line and draw plenty of fouls. He can also go into the post and use his quickness, agility and soft touch to score effectively and get to the free throw line.
While Ashley's versatility is intriguing, he isn't always able to impact the game the way you'd expect a player of his caliber to. He tends to fall in love with his jump-shot at times, which isn't consistent enough at this stage, and is a little turnover prone handling the ball on the perimeter. If unable to simply beat his man off the dribble with his first step he doesn't have much of a plan of attack, showing a limited feel for passing to teammates or utilizing countermoves.
Perhaps the worst thing that can be said about Ashley is that he doesn't always show a great sense of urgency in his time on the court. His intensity level fluctuates greatly and he seems to let games come to him, which isn't rare considering his age. The place where that shows up the most right now is in his work on defense and as a rebounder. His fundamentals here aren't great, as he rarely boxes out his opponent or gets into a real defensive stance.
To Ashley's credit, he readily admits that these are issues he must address. This is one of the reasons he decided to commit to Sean Miller at Arizona, whose teams at Xavier were always known for the intensity and toughness.
If Ashley can address his shortcomings and continue to expand his all-around game over time, there's little doubt he'll emerge as a very intriguing NBA prospect, possibly similar to former Arizona power forward Derrick Williams, whose name undoubtedly came up in Miller's recruiting pitch.
Isaiah Austin, 7-0, Center, Grace Preparatory Academy
Committed to Baylor
A player who has made some serious strides both physically and in terms of his mentality, Isaiah Austin had a strong week here in Chicago, even if it's clear that he still has a long ways to go to reach his significant potential.
A legit 7-footer with a gigantic 9-3 standing reach, Austin has obviously put a great deal of work into developing his extremely lanky frame. His upper body looks noticeably stronger, and he continues to move extremely well, even if his high hips and very thin legs remain a concern.
Offensively, Austin has the makings of a versatile skill-set, thanks to his excellent fundamentals. He has some basic post moves in his arsenal which are very effective if strength isn't too much of a concern, as he keeps the ball up high, has solid footwork, and shows excellent touch around the basket, releasing the ball from a vantage point that few can contest.
Additionally, he has good instincts as an offensive rebounder, having the wingspan, hands and agility to go out of his area on a regular basis and secure his team extra possessions.
On the perimeter, Austin has the ability to knock down shots with range out to about 18 feet, as well as solid ball-handling skills for a player his size, at times showing the ability to create his own shot and pull up off the dribble in impressive fashion. He has a good basketball IQ and appears to understand how to play within a team concept, which should make him very easy for Scott Drew to integrate into Baylor's offense next season.
Defensively, Austin is an incredible presence inside the paint with his combination of length and mobility, being extremely difficult to shoot over when rotating from the weak-side when dialed in. He blocks and alters plenty of shots both on and off the ball, which will make him a commodity throughout his career at the center position.
A large part of Austin's development will hinge on the continued development of his frame, particularly his lower body, which is very thin and makes it difficult for him to hold his ground effectively at times inside the paint. This is compounded by the fact that he's not the toughest or most physical big man around, while his high center of gravity makes it difficult for him to bend his knees and move his feet laterally effectively at times.
Obviously still in a very early stage of development, Austin suffers from lapses in intensity on occasion and is still learning how to make his presence felt on both ends of the floor on a consistent basis. He's not always the first to offer up his body and scrap for extra possessions, particularly on the defensive glass, where he could still become more effective boxing out.
A player who is likely many years away from reaching his full potential as a prospect even now, Austin is showing consistent improvement, which is all you can ask for at this stage. It's easy to see why he's so highly regarded, and considering his excellent off-court demeanor and intelligent nature, it appears likely he'll find a good amount of success in basketball eventually.
Marcus Smart, 6-3, Shooting Guard, Marcus High School
Committed to Oklahoma State
Previously unknown to us heading into the event, Marcus Smart had a strong week here in Chicago, and looks like a great get for Travis Ford at Oklahoma State.
Undersized for a shooting guard at around 6-3, but with a chiseled frame, long arms and solid athleticism, Smart is surely big enough to be effective at the college level, but may give some scouts pause with his lack of size.
Smart makes up for that with what appears to be great versatility on both ends of the floor, as well as a winning spirit and a real competitive streak.
Offensively, Smart shows the ability to make shots both with his feet set and off the dribble, from the 3-point line as well as in the mid-range area. He's at his best using his superior strength to overpower opponents en route to the basket, though, finishing through contact and drawing plenty of fouls in the process.
Smart is also extremely effective on defense, playing with a real chip on his shoulder here and being very effective with his combination of length and aggressiveness.
A good, but not elite athlete, it will be very interesting to see how the different parts of Smart's game translate to the college level. He's a surprisingly complete player for his age, and is known as a great leader and a winner on every stage he's played at. While he's unlikely to become a full-time point guard, it may not be a surprise to see him take on more of a combo guard role in college, as he clearly has the basketball IQ and unselfishness to do so, which would likely improve his NBA prospects considerably.