Almost three years ago, some of the top 16 and 17 year-old high school players gathered in Colorado Springs for the USA U17 tryouts. There was talent galore in the gym with the likes of Malik Monk, Dennis Smith, and TJ Leaf all getting cut. Two players from that team were drafted in Henry Ellenson and Diamond Stone and now six more are expected to hear their name called Thursday night. Here are my notes from three years ago on:
- Jayson Tatum
- Josh Jackson
- Harry Giles
- Caleb Swanigan
- Terrance Ferguson
- Ivan Rabb
|Giles-Tatum talking about college|
Standing at 6’7” and probably still growing, there isn’t a whole lot that Jayson Tatum can’t do on the basketball court. While he is the second youngest player on the team, Tatum is the most skilled from an offensive stand point. Not just on the USA team though, in all of high school basketball. He is comfortable playing point guard (and will probably handle the ball a fair amount for Team USA) and on the wing. Tatum also uses both his strong (right) and weak hand (left) interchangeably while dribbling or finishing shots in the paint. He likes to take advantage of miss-matches and can post up smaller defenders and either shoot over them or hit a fade-away. He can drive by slower defenders and finish at the rim or pull-up from 15 feet as well. Tatum dominated AAU at the 16U level last year and averaged 18.9 points in the 17U EYBL this year. Tatum came off the bench for Team USA last year, but he will definitely be one of the focal points this year.
Strength and shooting are the focal points even though he’s already shown improvements in both areas from his freshman to sophomore season. Tatum has a thin frame, but he has definitely put on muscle in his upper body and will continue to do so over the next two years. The only time I’ve seen Tatum bothered on the offensive end, was when a team put a strong and athletic 6’5” wing on him who tried to rough him up. Tatum still did what he wanted, but had to work a little harder than he was accustomed to. As for shooting, Tatum shot just 28% from three and 42% from the field in the EYBL. During the USA tryouts he was draining three’s from the international line on the first night and continues to improve in this area. One other note, he does not exhibit freakish athleticism like some players but with his height, guard skills, and offensive repertoire it isn’t easy for anyone to slow him down.
A top 5 player in the junior class, Jackson is a smooth and skilled wing (although almost one year older than Giles and Tatum). Last year he averaged 11.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a game during USA play. Athletic with a good first step, Jackson is the prototypical wing at the next level. He is very strong in one on one situations and can use his left to right spin move to finish aggressively at the rim. He can break people down off the dribble and is tough to stop once he gets in the lane. Jackson is the type of player that likes to get up and down the court for high flying dunks, but he also uses his length and quickness to lock down defenders on the wing.
For all his talent, Jackson has a tendency to blend in more than he should. At times you can forget that he is on the floor as he can float from offense to defense aimlessly without making an impact several minutes at a time. His jump shot is also a work in progress. He shot just 2-15 from three during the Under Armour Finals in July, but was very effective from inside the paint. Jackson has the tools and just needs to stay aggressive to fulfill his talents while continuing to hone his jump shot to turn into a threat from all areas on the court.
Giles is the best pro prospect on the USA team although he still has a way to go before being fully healthy again. After starting two games last year in the FIBA Americas, Giles tore his ACL and missed his entire sophomore season. He returned to the court in May and the beginning months were rough as he tried to return to the player he was as a freshman. After looking tepid during the first USA tryout, Giles suddenly started flashing the skill-set that made him the No. 1 player in his class. With a 7’2” wing span, Giles started throwing down vicious one and two hand dunks in traffic. Giles noted he is at about 90% right now and he is still lacking that quick first step; however, he is able to play in isolation from 15 feet out or in the post. His jump shot is still a work in progress but he can hit off the dribble, from mid-range, and the three point line on occasion. With his length and athleticism, Giles resembles a player in the Chris Webber mode. While not the passer Webber was, his aura on the court is similar. It is going to take time for Giles to fully trust his knee, but when that time comes he could reclaim his top spot in the class of 2016. Oh yeah, he is also the youngest player on the team.
Getting healthy and working on the outside shot. Right now, Giles is still gaining confidence in his movements. An ACL tear takes time to come back from, but Giles is getting more confident as the days go by. Once his first step improves and he regains a little bit more of his athleticism Giles will be tough for any opposing big to guard. As noted above, Giles hit several outside jump shots in the tryouts although he miss-fired badly on a few as well. He has the range and touch to stretch the defense but needs to continue to hone his form and release going forward. While coming off a knee injury, he lacks vertical explosiveness.
A late addition to the USA tryout roster, Swanigan quickly made a name for himself and earned a coveted spot on the 12-man team. The big man out of Indiana brings a toughness to Team USA and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. In the first four tryouts, Swanigan was often seen man handling taller big men down low. He did his best work on the offensive glass and after grabbing the board, Swanigan usually used his upper body mass to get the defender underneath the rim and effectively out of the play. He knows he is a beast down low and doesn’t stray from his bread and butter after leading the EYBL in rebounds with 11.9 per game. While not an outside scorer, Swanigan did show a nice touch and soft feet throughout the drill work in tryouts.
At 6’7” / 6’8”, Swanigan could stand to have another inch or two, although his 7’1.5” inch wing span sometimes makes up for that fact. While he dominated the boards and often scored on put-backs he also got blocked when going straight up a fair amount. When long defenders are in his face he has a hard time scoring without moving them out of the way. While it’s great that Swanigan knows his strengths he will need to improve his face-up ability and propensity to turn the ball over in the post going forward.
Another repeat member on the USA team, Ferguson is a long and lean 6’6” with a solid shooting stroke. He excels in the mid-range whether it is a shot off the catch or off the dribble. He gets good elevation and with his long arms and he can usually extend above the defender. His elbows are locked in tight and his misses are usually short or long (a sign of a good shooter per Larry Bird). He has range beyond the international three point line even though his percentages would suggest otherwise. There was a lack of pure shooters at the USA tryouts and many observers thought that Ferguson might have the nicest stroke of them all. Ferguson is a strong run and jump athlete although his forays to the basket are usually limited to highlight dunks on fast breaks. Ferguson came off the bench last year for the USA team and will do so again this year looking to become the zone buster for team USA.
Ferguson is a strong shooter, but he is also trying to develop other parts of his game such as his ball handling and slashing abilities. With an increased handle, Ferguson will be able to do more damage than just pull-up jump shots. Also, at just 170 pounds Ferguson can get tossed around by defenders that are stronger or more aggressive. Ferguson has a good tool set to work with and can become a dangerous player off the bench in Dubai, but needs to continue to focus on getting stronger and turning into more than a jump shooter and dunker on the break.
Using an NBA comparison, I would compare Rabb to a younger Chris Bosh (Updated note: YIKES), although Rabb is a bit shorter at 6’10” and a 7’1” wing span. Last year Rabb started three games on the U16 team and led it in rebounding at 9.8 per game. Rabb is a lean big man that can often get pushed around down low due to his lack of weight, but on the offensive end he can finish with either hand. A natural righty, it isn’t uncommon to see Rabb hit shots with his left hand outside of the paint. He can handle the ball adequately and likes to sprint the floor on the break. Rabb can also hit a 12-15 foot jump shot, although his consistency remains a question. He grabbed (close) to double digit rebounds the past two years in the EYBL. There is also a strong possibility that he is not 100% healthy while in Dubai.
Due to his skinny frame, Rabb can get pushed around down low by stronger defenders. When he has a bigger defender on him, he should be able to use his quickness to his advantage, but is routinely cut off short on his drives. He needs to learn how to start and stay aggressive for an entire game as he sometimes plays more passively than one would like. Rabb also has a soft touch but needs to continue to work on his mid-range and face-up jump shots to make him a consistent scoring threat from outside of the post area.