In the final day of practice, the Memphis Grizzlies practice facility was filled with more NBA personnel than ever, many of them getting their first look at the group of international prospects who will participate in the Nike Hoop Summit tomorrow afternoon. Though the practice was harder than people expected it to be, the players seemed to lose focus many times, and the coach stopped practice numerous times to try to bring back the concentration and effort.
played better than anyone else on the international team today, and was surprisingly aggressive in looking for his own offense. In the past, he seemed timid when it came to establishing himself as a scorer, but he made it a point to attack the basket off the dribble today. Starting in the half court drills, Batum started to take it to the hoop in certain situations, and attempted a few pull-up shots from mid-range with mixed success. As practice continued, he made a few drives where he made it all the way to the basket and tried to dunk over Solomon Alabi
and Alexis Ajinca
. He missed these attempts because he was fouled and it was a good chance to see how Batum uses his physical advantages on the basketball court. It was more of the same for the French small forward on the defensive end as well. He uses all of his physical advantages in addition to good instincts to pressure the opposing players on the court.
It was an average day for Nemanja Aleksandrov, who didnt really stand out much throughout the practices. The movement up and down the floor was a little better for him today, yet he still runs the court at a slower pace than youd like to see from an NBA big man. In the 5 on 5 scrimmage situation, he displayed surprisingly quick hands by knocking the ball away from smaller and quicker players on a few occasions. Offensively, he hit a few jumpers and made a few solid finishes inside, but didnt do anything that impressive overall. He is one of the more experienced and mature players on the international squad, and his success or lack thereof may be a key factor in the performance of the international team tomorrow.
Alexis Ajinca had an up and down day, displaying immense potential but some glaring weaknesses as well. Offensively, his finishing inside was better today though the play was less physical than in the previous days. Ajinca also displayed the ability to step out and hit the jumper again, and did so in the offensive set while being guarded. At the same time, he struggled to catch the ball a few times, and turned it over under the hoop while in traffic. As we have emphasized in previous articles, strength and experience will be necessary before the French big man becomes close to achieving his potential.
The play of Aleksandar Ugrinoski was one of the more impressive aspects of the practice today. His decision making in the half court must mature, but he did break down the defense a few times while making some really nice passes to the open player. Ugrinoski has good quickness and will be tough for smaller, less physical point guards to play against. As a shooter, he must improve his consistency, but he has the stroke to someday become proficient in this area. Defense is another area where Ugrinoski has some potential but must learn to harness it.
again displayed some good potential, but struggled in the paint at times. Sometimes he gets caught in traffic with no place to go and this has led to a number turnovers over the past couple days. Casspi was knocking down the mid-range jumper today in the scrimmage, but his accuracy decreases when he tries to shoot off the dribble. In transition, the young Israeli has developed great chemistry with Nicolas Batum
, and the two of them operated several fast breaks where the ball didnt touch the floor until after it had passed through the basket. He has the ability to have a good showing in the game tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see how his game translates against the U.S. high schoolers.
Solomon Alabi had his worst practice to date, struggling with nearly everything he attempted on the offensive end. He has rarely used his hook shot since the first day of practice, and it rimmed out the one time it was attempted today. On the block, he continues to try the turnaround jumper as a main offensive threat. Unfortunately, this wasnt working out for him today either, and the accuracy of this shot increases greatly outside 12 feet. Alabi continued to show good potential as a shot blocker and his length and explosive leap came in handy defensively throughout the week.
Petteri Koponen continued to show great maturity running the offense and knocking down jump shots from behind the three point line. Though he struggles to finish near the basket against bigger players, the young point guard can usually make something happened when able to penetrate past the free throw line. Tomorrow will be a big game for Koponen, where he will get the chance to prove he has the physical tools to compete against American players.
Chen Jianghua played well today, though he hasnt exactly lived up to expectations this week. After arriving late and missing the practice where the players were measured, the officials in charge decided to list Chen at 62. Despite his listed height, the Chinese guard appears to be an inch or two shorter. He has a nice shooting stroke, and can penetrate to the basket from time to time, but he will need to vastly improve his point guard skills before he can run a team at this level. From a standstill, he struggles to penetrate to the hoop, and usually scores when he can receive a pass and give a shot-fake. Physically, his lower body seems to be well developed, but upper body strength is an area that will need improvement. The language barrier could be a big factor here though, and it has to be a tough adjustment for Chen to developing chemistry with people he cant talk to without a translator.