Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Canada Trip

It's all just a pre-preseason exhibition for the inexperience 2010-2011 University of Kentucky Basketball team. Don't read too much into it. Who am I kidding? Read everything into it.

Brandon Knight
Game 1: 28 minutes, 31 points (11-19 FGs, 1-5 3PT, 8-8 FTs), 7 rebounds, 4 assists
Game 2: 32 minutes, 17 points (5-13 FGs, 1-3 3PT, 6-7 FTs), 3 rebounds, 12 assists, 2 steals, 3 TOs
Game 3: 34 minutes, 27 points (10-14 FGs, (2-7 3PT, 5-6 FTs), 5 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals, 2 TOs
I know we're not supposed to compare him to John Wall, and I know this was just an exhibition game against mediocre competition ... but Knight scored 31 points in his very first outing and didn't have a single turnover. While he's most likely not the singular innate talent that John is, Brandon may actually turn out to be a bigger contributor at the collegiate level, as blasphemous as that may seem. His pull-up three is an unguardable weapon that I can't even begin to overstate how important it will be in certain situations. To make that move even more ridiculously potent is his willingness to forcefully take straight paths to the bucket and absorb any and all contact. The game commentator said early on that Knight is gonna "shoot a million free throws this year". And that's only barely an exaggeration. He's absolutely fearless, and that's something I never expected to see out of him in early season play. Hopefully it'll still be on full display when he visits legitimate Division 1 post bodies in the paint. He played the role of distributor when his shot wasn't falling as effortlessly in the second game, cranking out 12 assists (a few of them being jaw-droppingly threaded through for the score). His jumper, out to 25 feet, is silky and consistently reliable. He also has an astonishingly quick crossover that's impossible to react to when in control. My only complaint in the early going is that he's mostly stuck on one speed: superfast. While that may work perfectly in college ball 90% of the time, he still needs to sprinkle in a little change-of-speed in his floor game overtime. He got called for a few charges due to this exact thing, but I'd much rather have an aggressive point guard (as Knight has been) over a timid one. The raw figures: 31/7/7, 17/3/12, and 27/5/9. It was very apparent why he was once ranked the top recruit in the 2010 high school class. And just for kicks, he punched in two sick highly-contested dunks during the Canadian games to remind everyone that he's still a freak athlete regardless of if he's going to be dealing with John Wall comparisons all year. Brandon's the truth.

DeAndre Liggins
Game 1: 28 minutes, 10 points (5-6 FGs), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 TO
Game 2: 25 minutes, 11 points (4-5 FGs, 1-1 3PT, 2-2 FTs), 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 3 TOs
Game 3: 30 minutes, 10 points (4-7 FGs, 2-2 FTs), 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 4 TOs
Dre will be an NBA player now. There were hopes of that with his size and lead guard potential while he was initially recruited by Billy G, but those hopes were quickly shattered when everyone saw Liggins finally hit the floor and seemingly have no idea what to do at any given moment. But now those hopes are back in full force. He's reprised his role as the go-to hustle defender, but now has made himself a deadly slashing threat. No one could stay in front of the guy. With his size, vision, and newly found finishing ability, he's a lock for the pros. In Game 1, he was easily making impressive close-range finishes while never settling or letting the defense dictate his effectiveness. He had an equally effortless second outing where he once again showed the deftness of his interior touch by way of floaters, runners, and strong lay-ups. Overall, he shot a sweet 13 of 18 from the field, including knocking down his only three. It was too easy for DeAndre. In a second half sequence in Game 3, Liggins even showed off a Kobe-like baseline fake-and-go into an outstretched reverse lay-up that had the crowd and commentators in awe. He's still highly deferential to his teammates, but now when he has a mind to attack, you'll surely find him right at the lip of the rim creating a play. Liggins also showed that he can be trusted in leading the fast break, exemplified in the second half of Game 2 when he pulled a board off a missed free throw, sped downcourt, and dropped a perfect no-look feed into the hands of Harrellson taking his last stride to the rim. He made a habit of making some amazing reads in his limited play-making opportunities. He may very well be slated as the starting small forward and the back-up point guard once the season commences. He was always under control and let every aspect of the game come to him. This was so much more than just the scrappy Liggins of last season who made his contributions by way of hustle plays that never made their way onto the stat sheets.

Darius Miller
Game 1: 35 minutes, 18 points (6-13 FGs, 4-5 3PT, 2-2 FTs), 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 4 TOs
Game 2: 32 minutes, 20 points (8-16 FGs, 2-6 3PT, 2-5 FTs), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks, 5 steals
Game 3: 29 minutes, 24 points (10-12 FGs, 3-4 3PT, 1-1 FTs), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 3 steals, 2 TOs
Miller came into the collegiate ranks as a shooting guard. This year? He's probably gonna see the majority of his minutes guarding against the power forward slot. And he looks the part, too. Though his game still lies almost exclusively on the perimeter, all we can hope for in potential improvement from Darius is in the confidence department. He's always had a capable, though usually flat, 3-point stroke. He's always had a sneaky blow-by ability to go with a deft midrange floater. He's always been a high quality team-first guy. This season is all about him knowing that he's a beast and bringing those facets of his game consistently and with purpose. In Game 1 he did exactly that with a ridiculous double-double, following it up with an even more aggressive 20 and 24 point contests. And you simply can't beat his 9 makes out of 15 long range attempts. Miller can't fall into the type of uninvolved lapses that he did last year, and he didn't at all in these Canadian games. This season, he's slated to be the team's Patterson-type leader who needs to be established game-in-and-game out. He simply looked like a man on a mission, always putting the ball on the floor with purpose and intent, as well as confidently stepping into his long bombs instead of reluctantly throwing up his open looks. He had a sick move in Game 2 when he received a high post pass, faced up and read the defense, jabbed right, took one strong dribble to the left, and spun back right, absorbing a reach-in foul plus the help defender's contact and finishing with a floater. Who knows if he'll be utilized in the post once Enes Kanter is filling out the middle, but Miller also showed some promise with some very strong and well-executed post-ups, converting with some smooth hook shots that we've never seen from him before. If he can keep it up this season, his name will soon enough be in NBA scouts' notebooks along with his freshmen counterparts. It almost seasons crazy to say with the UK player hierarchy as it is, but I think Darius could contribute more dominantly and meaningfully this season as a junior than Patrick Patterson did last year as a junior. I can't wait to see this version of Miller out against the best competition in the NCAA. He killed it these last three days.

Josh Harrellson
Game 1: 25 minutes, 9 points (3-5 FGs, 3-4 FTs), 11 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 TOs
Game 2: 23 minutes, 12 points (4-6 FGs, 4-4 FTs), 8 rebounds, 6 blocks, 1 steal, 3 TOs
Game 3: 27 minutes, 8 points (4-8 FGs), 19 rebounds, 1 block, 4 steals, 3 TOs
Though Josh will most certainly be a back-up to Kanter and define his season with bench contributions, he made the most of Kanter's Canadian absence in an offense that doesn't often utilize a big low-post body in the way Harrellson needs touches. For starters, he looks like he's in 100% better shape than last season and utilizes it by being active on screens and controlling the boards for the most part, even though he did gets abused regularly by smaller players getting into his body or around him on cuts. He scrapped for a monstrous 19 board game in the final outing and rejected 12 shots total in the three contests (albeit against shorter competition). His range was never intently utilized in the play calling, so it's still undetermined as to whether Coach will ever creatively put him in high post or perimeter situations to switch up the schemes. He scored exclusively off offensive putbacks and controlled power-dribble hook shots at the rim in all three games, never even attempting a jumper (besides a dead ball fadeaway 3 that he swished). Unfortunately, he was still plagued by missed bunnies and some unforced fumbles when he did get his scoring chances. He should have been able to put up more impressive numbers against the shorter Canadian front courts, but he was only able to make his impactful contributions in the rebounding and shot blocking departments. In Game 3, he did take advantage of some shoddy entry passes while sealing off his man to get the deflection and gather in the steals, showcasing a lightness of foot which he by no means had last year.

Jon Hood
Game 1: 26 minutes, 9 points (4-9 FGs, 1-2 3PT), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 3 TOs
Game 2: 24 minutes, 8 points (2-5 FGs, 2-4 3PT, 2-4 FTs), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 3 TOs
Game 3: 24 minutes, 8 points (3-8 FGs, 0-2 3PT, 2-6 FTs), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal
I'm not sure where Hood fits in with this year's team. If Jones is fully healthy and Lamb's role is clearly understood at the start of the season, I don't see where his minutes can possibly come from. He showed purpose in his starting slot in the first game by notching a 3-pointer and punching down three open court dunks, but he still feels like the odd man out even with his newly gained assertiveness. He's obviously infinitely more confidant than what he showed in his limited freshman outing as he actually attempts ball attacks to shift the defense on his touches, which is a pivotal aspect to the effectiveness of the dribble drive offense on a possession-by-possession basis. With his still-improving stroke, hopefully he can become a dead-eye shooter for the second half of his UK career in future seasons. He knocked down a perfect baseline 3 in Game 1 and dropped two step-in 3s in Game 2. Hood had one nice fundamental heads-up move in Game 3 where he followed up his own missed 3-ball that came up short, gathering the rebound in stride, absorbing contact from a post player, and finishing the lay up smoothly despite the foul. Unfortunately, he still displayed a slight sense of anxiousness with some open court misreads and forced passes, but he definitely has stepped it up since last season. His biggest obstacle is his composure and patience in the offensive sets. Hopefully he'll clean up those mental aspects of his game as the season wears on.

Terrence Jones
Game 1: 9 minutes, 4 points (2-4 FGs, 0-2 FTs), 2 rebounds
In his pre-aggravated injury state, Jones quickly asserted his multi-faceted game. His ball handling is as good as any forward in the game is going to have and he's always unafraid to show it off. Being a lanky lefty, he makes highly creative finishes at the rim when attacking, even showing off a Rondo-esque behind-the-back fake on a fastbreak in Game 1. Unfortunately that's all we got to see of the hobbled Jones. He came down with a stress fracture in his rib that's gonna have him sitting out for about a month. It's maybe a good thing as he also had nagging ankle and shoulder issues. In his very limited appearance, you could immediately see his potential and the Lamar Odom comparisons were reinforced. He's as strong a candidate as any to flash from the perimeter to the paint and create a play with ball at any point in the drive. Now we just gotta get the boy fully recovered so he can be out on the floor discombobulating opponents' matchup schemes.

Doron Lamb
Game 1: 25 minutes, 6 points (2-9 FGs, 0-3 3PT, 2-4 FTs), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 2 steals, 3 TOs
Game 2: 36 minutes, 24 points (9-14 FGs, 1-3 3PT, 5-6 FTs), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 1 TO
Game 3: 31 minutes, 23 points (8-13 FGs, 3-4 3PT, 4-4 FTs), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 TO
Lamb is an action forcer. Though he had a slightly rough first outing missing 7 of his 9 shots, he's the potential third-option scorer that you will innately need during stretches with this squad. He showed that the slump was short lived as he notched 24 and 23 points in the final two contests, making seemingly every single one-handed tear drop on the run that he seemed to miss in the first game. He showed off a floor game comprised of worming his way around anyone in his path to the bucket and being able find some way, any way, to creatively get a quality shot off in congestion. He's simply a dynamic scorer in every way you can fathom. One great talent he possesses is his ability to make blindingly quick catch-and-releases when he receives a pass while flashing to the post, which allows him to get his shot up to glass with ease despite his immense height disadvantage. He had a tough time specifically with his jump shot altogether for the first two games, but his heralded reputation in that department leads me to believe that'll come along during the rest of the summer with no problem, as he did in Game 3. In all honesty, he's probably going to wind up being everything we'd hoped that Darnell Dodson was going to provide for us last season in the offensive department. He's not afraid to make things happen when the team offense gets a little stagnant, so it's not that big of a deal if he misses a string of shots here and there; it's all about forcing the defense to adapt and providing opportunities for possible second chance buckets at that point to get the team going. But beyond that, he'll get the junkyard credit as a baseline-to-baseline presser with super-quick instincts and a willingness to dig in defensively that you rarely see from such a young player. He's less of a gambler, in the way that Wall and Bledsoe went for anticipation steals, and more of a straight-up man-to-man perimeter barrier with quick feet. This two-way game will make him an invaluable asset in so many recurring situations during the course of the season. "Buckets". He gets 'em.

Stacey Poole
Game 1: 18 minutes, 4 points (2-6 FGs, 0-2 3PT), 1 rebound, 1 steal, 1 TO
Game 2: 16 minutes, 4 points (2-5 FGs, 0-1 3PT, 0-1 FTs), 2 steals, 1 TO
Game 3: 13 minutes, 2 points (1-5 FGs, 0-2 3PT, 0-1 FTs), 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 TO
Poole wasn't able to show very much in his limited minutes besides being an active defender. He looked the most timid of anyone out there, afraid to make mistakes and throwing up nervous air balls on three of his long range shots. His jumper is stressful at this stage. While the results weren't always on point, he did show that he already has moves in his arsenal such as a spinning pivot in the open court and a strong perimeter jab step to start his drives in the half court. Poole will take a little more time than everyone else to get used to where he can be utilized in the offense. He shot an ugly 5 of 16 from the field, a miserable 0 of 5 from downtown, and a pained 0 of 2 from the line overall in these games. He made some painful reads over the course of the games with multiple botched entry passes, forced drives, and a general sense of panic when he had the ball in congested situations. He's probably only ready to contribute as a finisher over the course of this season, as he showcased by -ooping a Brandon Knight alley in the first half of game two. Unless he makes a marked improvement in the upcoming months, he's probably more likely to not see the floor at all.

Jarrod Polson
Game 1: 7 minutes, 4 points (2-3 FGs), 2 assists
Game 2: 10 minutes, 0 points (0-1 FGs)
Game 3: 13 minutes, 2 points (1-2 FGs), 1 block, 1 TO
The non-walk-on made use of his extended preseason cameo to show his ability to push the ball in game one. He obviously had limited usage, but he's an active guy out there who's intent on making the right decisions when he sees floor time. I doubt he ever gets into the rotation this year, but the exhibitions displayed that he's an actual ball player with hops and good decision making, not just the local white kid who lucked into a roster spot. Though he had no actual opportunities with the ball in game two, he still has the potential to carve out a niche as a contributor by the end of his career. But unfortunately, in all reality, he'll probably be recruited over every year. It sucks, but ... yeah.

... and do the John Wall.

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