On Thursday, I wrote Part 1 of my impressions from my time with Impact Basketball in Las Vegas. Here are five more thoughts from Sin City:
1. Josh Selby is a lottery talent
Last year I was wowed by the play of Avery Bradley and Lance Stephenson at Impact. Both Bradley and Stephenson were high school phenoms and lottery-type talents who struggled as college freshmen in their respective programs.
This year Impact has a similar player -- Kansas Jayhawks guard Josh Selby. Like Stephenson, he was considered one of the top five high school players in the country. Like Stephenson, he really struggled as a freshman. And like Stephenson, NBA teams have questions about his character.
Selby was, in a word, awesome in the workouts I saw in Vegas. At Kansas, Selby looked wild, out of control and oddly unathletic. He struggled to create space from himself and made a number of bad decisions with the ball and in his shot selection.
In Vegas he once again resembled the superstar we saw in high school. He was explosive athletically, got to the basket at will and shot the ball very well from range.
In 3-on-3 games, the UCLA Bruins' Malcolm Lee -- a terrific perimeter defender -- struggled to stay in front of Selby, who finished above the rim with a number of impressive dunks. Selby showed off an impressive floater and has the ability to create space with his crossover and then step back and nail the J. He really resembled Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis.
So how could Selby be so good here and so mediocre at Kansas? ESPN Insider David Thorpe had an excellent post concerning Selby in late January that sums up the thinking from a scout's perspective.
Selby had some answers of his own. He missed the first nine games of the season serving an NCAA suspension for taking illegal benefits as a high school player. By the time he was able to play, Kansas had a tight rotation that Selby would have to fit into. Also, the style of play wasn't a great fit for Selby. He is at his best initiating the offense and creating off the dribble. At Kansas, he was often asked to get the ball up the floor, dump it to one of the Morris twins and then spot up in the corner.
Finally, a midseason ankle injury caused Selby to miss three games at a critical juncture of the season. When he returned, he wasn't the same. He lost much of his quickness and was ineffective for the rest of the year. With point guard Tyshawn Taylor returning to school and Elijah Robinson the point guard in waiting, Selby decided he'd be better served jumping to the NBA.
"Sometimes you just have to decide what is best for your career," Selby said. "I loved the guys at Kansas. I loved that for the first time in my life, I really had some stability, a roof over my head, steady meals and a support system. But I felt like my game may be better-suited at the NBA. I know it's a risk, but my whole life has been about taking risks."
Few scouts doubt the talent. But that's not the only issue with Selby. Teams have off-the-court questions about him that play into their concerns. They've heard Selby is selfish, comes from a tough background, and wasn't popular with the other players at Kansas.
Selby defends himself. "I'm a loving kid, really I am," Selby said. "I grew up in Baltimore. Life was tough. I had to learn how to be tough. But I'm not a bad kid. I chose basketball instead of the street. Basketball was my way to escape all of that. I won't do anything to jeopardize that. Basketball saved my life. I love the game and I'm a loving kid."
That was echoed in the gym in Vegas. I asked 12 of the prospects working out which player had impressed them the most over the past few weeks. Every one that I spoke with named Selby.
I've been doing this for a long time, and after watching what Selby did in the gym the past two days, I think he could be the biggest riser in the draft if he works out well against his obvious competition -- BYU's Jimmer Fredette, Boston College's Reggie Jackson, Michigan's Darius Morris and Hofstra's Charles Jenkins. Selby's landing in the lottery isn't out of the question if he outplays those players in workouts.
I'm not sure if he's a point guard -- he doesn't see the floor particularly well yet, and his decision-making can be questionable -- and at 6-foot-2 he is undersized for the 2. But his quickness and ability to create his own shot come at a premium right now in the NBA, and few can do it better than Selby.
2. Alec Burks is smooth
I got the chance to check out Colorado's Alec Burks on Thursday and was impressed. He is a great athlete with a smoothness to his game that is really elusive. He has the ability to snake in and out of defenders and is a terrific finisher at the rim. He made several dunks in the workout on Thursday that were "wow" moments.
Questions about his jump shot have been the biggest concern for NBA scouts. He shot the ball well on Thursday both from midrange and from 3. It's still an area that needs improvement, but his form is pretty good. I think it's fixable.
One scout in attendance on Thursday compared him to DeMar DeRozan -- a great athlete who will make a living slashing to the basket even without a great jump shot. DeRozan may be more explosive than Burks, but Burks has a fluidity to his game that DeRozan still lacks and, at this point in the process, Burks is the better shooter.
His main challenge going into workouts will involve who he works out against. The next highest-rated 2 is Klay Thompson, and right now the two are very different players. I still think Burks is a mid-to-late lottery pick.
3. Want a center? Look for the sleepers
The draft may be weak on true centers this year, but two players -- Fresno State's Greg Smith and Oakland's Keith Benson -- did their best to try to make their claim that they should be first-rounders.
The two couldn't be more different. Smith is a physical specimen. He's a 6-foot-10, 250-pound power player with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and just 6.4 percent body fat. He had the biggest hands (11.25 inches) of anyone at the New Jersey workouts and recorded a 35.5-inch vertical -- a terrific number for a player his size. However, he is still pretty raw offensively.
Benson is taller and a more fluid athlete. He runs the floor well and is pretty quick laterally for a big man. He lacks the strength and explosiveness of Smith, but makes up for it with a pretty polished perimeter game for a player his size.
Motor could be an issue for both players. In college, neither played hard all the time. Smith got lost at times on the offensive end, and Benson gained a bad rep from scouts for his defensive play.
But the upside is there for both players, depending on what you're looking for. Smith is going to be a project, but his physical tools may make him worth it -- Daniel Orton went as a first-rounder with a similar tool set. Benson needs to get stronger and show a willingness to be physical, but he has unique skills for a guy his size.
Right now, neither player is listed in our mock draft as a first-rounder, but bigs tend to rise as we get closer to the draft, and both may get a look late in the first round.
4. Isaiah Thomas is little, but tough
Washington's Isaiah Thomas remains an enigma to me. He is one of the smallest players in the draft -- which is normally a really bad sign (he measured 5-foot-9 in socks, and even that seems tall for him). But he's built like a linebacker, is an explosive athlete (he measured a 39.5-inch vertical in New Jersey) and is very tough physically.
I was really impressed, in 3-on-3 action, with his ability to finish in traffic. He can take a lot of contact and still get the ball in the hoop, a la Derrick Rose. He also proved this season that, unlike Nate Robinson, he has some legitimate point guard skills. He made a number of good reads in the competitive 3-on-3 games I saw, and he played very unselfishly.
He may be another player who rises once he gets into workouts. He is super competitive, aggressive and shot the ball well in drills.
5. Best of the rest
I'm running out of space, but don't want to fail to mention players like Ravern Johnson, Xavier Silas, Mark Payne, Gilbert Brown, Derwin Kitchen, DeAngelo Casto, Tai Wesley and Kevin Galloway, all of whom I saw the past two days.
Many of them are legitimate second-round prospects and point to the depth of this draft. The draft may be a bit weak at the top, but there is a lot of talent in the second round. Of this group, Johnson stood out. He really shot the ball well and is a very good athlete. He needs to add a lot of muscle, but he was very good in both 5-on-5 and 3-on-3 play.
I'm also a Silas fan. He's been buried on a weak Northern Illinois team that has discredited some of his numbers there. But when you see him on the floor with more well-known prospects, he really looks like he belongs. He is a terrific scorer and shooter. If he were an elite athlete, it would be easier to project him ... but nonetheless, I'm a fan.
Payne also deserves mention. He's been an NBA scout's sleeper for a year as a big point guard. At 6-foot-7, he is probably a bit too big, and projects more as a point forward-type player. He's a good slasher, an aggressive scorer and sees the floor well. A number of NBA scouts remain intrigued by him as a possible second-rounder, and while I think he may be better-suited for the European game, he impressed me in workouts.