Nerlens Noel didn't have his best game in the Jordan Brand Classic, but he did some nice things. (via SportsAngle.com)
I just got finished watching the tape on the 2012 Jordan Brand Classic, and it was a remarkably exciting game, despite being very poorly played, even for an all-star game. Ballhandling in this year's JBC was simply loathsome, and almost 22% of possessions resulted in a turnover for both teams. 3-point shooting was generally abysmal by both teams, and the East team managed only 37.5% free throws.
Despite that, there was some good play by the Kentucky guys. Let's look at them in turn:
Related: Jordan Brand Classic Game Stats
Archie Goodwin - Goodwin showed exactly why Calipari recruited him. He had a game-high 4 assists to go along with 14 points on 4-10 shooting. Goodwin also had 3 turnovers, so it's pretty clear that his point-guard skills could use some refinement. 4 assists, though, is pretty good for a 2-guard doing duty as a combo in this game. I really liked his motor and his aggressiveness, but as I already knew, his shooting stroke needs quite a bit of work. I hesitate to call it broken, but it's pretty unconventional.
Defensively, he registered 2 steals, which is about average for an all-star game. He did show a lot of effort on defense, more than most players, which indicates his commitment to defense is high for a high-school all-star. Goodwin also has a terrific left hand for a high school player, and even some pros would be envious of it. That is a gigantic advantage in high school and college, and will serve him well at Kentucky.
Alex Poythress - Poythress was terrific in this game, showing his offensive skill as his remarkable athleticism on several plays. Poythress is, in my view, the best offensive player in this class next to Shabazz Muhammad, and he is far more efficient, scoring all 16 of his points on 7 of 8 shooting, making both his free throws. Poythress didn't attempt a three, but he made a couple of perimeter shots inside the line.
I really love this kid's game. He understands that every shot you can get off is not necessarily a good shot, and is willing to give up the basketball to teammates. Poythress is a high-energy player, and even though his shooting form needs refinement, he has a very nice touch from the outside.
Nerlens Noel - The ESPN #1 player did not have a particularly impressive game, although he did block a game-high 3 blocked shots, changed many more, and created a number of steals with his quick hands. Offensively, he only took 4 shots (all-star contests are notoriously guard-dominated), but made 2 of the 4, a dunk and a lefty hook in the lane that left me excited about the potential of this raw but incredibly gifted player. Noel also took a full-force charge by Shabazz Muhammad, a bit of a scary moment. You almost never see charges taken like that in an all-star game.
Noel is going to require a lot of coaching in two main areas; how to keep his feet rather than leap on every move to the basket, and how to keep the ball high and not put it on the floor in the post. He has a nice touch out to about 6 feet with both hands, but his jumpshot is broken and needs to be rebuilt. He also only got 5 rebounds, which I think is kind of low for a player of his size and athleticism. But his commitment to defense surpassed that of every other player on the floor, and that is impressive.
Anthony Bennett - I know Bennett is still uncommitted, but we'll look at him anyway since he's down to UK and Florida for his services. Bennett had a very quiet game compared to his performance in the Nike Hoops Summit, but he made some plays and showed off his athleticism and size. Bennett is a big-bodied 4 who, like Poythress, can face as well as post. He has very good form on his jumpshot but is right-hand dominant, like so many high school players. Bennett's highlights were 6 rebounds and 3 steals.
This class has a lot to offer in terms of athleticism and raw basketball skill, but lacks shooting and ballhandling in a fairly big way. I thought UK's recruits and commitments played really well overall, and even though none of them is ready to compete for a national championship right now, they will be much more ready after some coaching up by Calipari and the Kentucky coaching staff.
The one big question mark in my mind (and maybe it shouldn't be that big) is Kentucky's backcourt next year. Goodwin is a nice compliment to Harrow with his combo-guard skills, and Noel, while not as accomplished offensively or in overall skill as Anthony Davis, has tremendous potential as both a one-man zone defense and as a post scorer. Noel needs to put on at least 20# before the season begins, if possible. Goodwin just needs a bit of help from the shot doctor to get his form in college shape, and Poythress could use a little as well.
But overall, these guys, along with Ryan Harrow, Kyle Wiltjer, and maybe Doron Lamb are going to be a contender next year, if not quite as sure a thing as this year's team was. If Lamb comes back, I expect UK to be ranked #1 by most authorities pre-season, because he adds two elements largely absent right now - outside shooting and experience in big games.
No matter what, though, it's hard not to be excited about these guys.