This was my first chance to see most of the freshmen on these two teams. There were a lot of interesting things going on and I reserve the right to change my opinion but here were my first impressions (and second and third for some of the older guys) on all the top NBA draft prospects in this game. It's a lot of irresponsible speculation based on a laughable small sample size with nothing to back it up but my own hunches but this is a blog so what did you expect really. **There's nothing here on Brandon Ingram because I have a big thing coming on him at The Cauldron.
1) Skal Labissiere didn't show all that much
He was in foul trouble for most of the night, which is understandable for a 7'0 shotblocker playing on the biggest stage of his career. He never got into much of a rhythm and Kentucky almost never featured him in the offense so it was hard to get a great feel for what he could do on the offensive end of the floor.
Skal (6'11 225) really struggled with Marshall Plumlee's (7'1 250) size and physicality. Plumlee pushed him around on the offensive glass, particularly in the first half, where he almost single-handedly kept Duke in the game.
When you make a play like that in the paint, you tell the other big man "weight room". In this one, Plumlee just pushes Skal out the way like he's not even there.
Plumlee is 23 and Skal is 19 so it's somewhat understandable that he got manhandled. At the same time, when Skal gets to the NBA, they are all going to be that big. If he thinks Marshall was a problem, wait until he goes up against Miles and Mason.
Here's where I worry about Skal. He's kind of frail and he doesn't have a really wide frame so I'm not sure he'll ever have the type of size to bang with guys like Andre Drummond much less someone like Karl Towns or Derrick Favors. He's an undersized 5 and he's not all that long (7'2 wingspan) and he's not an elite athlete. He's a good athlete but he's not bouncing off the floor and playing above the rim on the level of someone like Nerlens Noel.
And while he could possibly play as a 4, that's going to come down to his offensive game. Can he shoot 20+ foot jumpers, much less 3's? Can he put the ball on the floor and attack guys off the bounce? Can he make passes on the move and read the defense? Does he have the type of high-level post game that will allow him to leverage his size at the 4 position, especially in the modern NBA where fewer and fewer teams are trying to score with size at the 4? Those are the things I'm going to be watching with Skal because if he doesn't have great offensive game I'm not sure he has the physical tools to be a Top 5 pick type of big man.
This is pretty much the extent of how Skal was used against Duke.
A roll man:
(Also notice Tyler Ulis making a great pass to find Skal.)
You can see the combination of skills with Skal. He's long, athletic and he can finish in the paint. He'll have a long career in the NBA, no matter what. The question is what type of offensive game he can develop because if he's just going to be a roll man at his size and athleticism than maybe he's just Ed Davis. It's obviously way too early to come to any firm judgments about his game but I'm thinking that's his floor.
2) Jamal Murray isn't very athletic
Murray did a lot of really good things on Tuesday and he was a huge part of Kentucky's win but what really stood out to me initially was his overall athleticism. When I think of a John Calipari PG going in the Top 10, I think of guys like John Wall, Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight. That's not Murray at all. He's a below the rim player who isn't very explosive and isn't very fast. He's smart and crafty which makes sense given his physical limitations.
He just has very little lift off the ground. He can't finish over the top of Marshall Plumlee. Here's Murray getting blown by on defense by Matt Jones, who isn't exactly a speedster with the ball in his hands.
This was probably his best play all night. It's a fantastic move to get around Plumlee but you can still see how much work Murray has to do to finish at the rim in traffic against NBA-caliber size and length.
That's the type of play that Andre Miller has to make. There's nothing wrong with this fast break play here between Murray and Isaiah Briscoe but it does showcase the athletic limitations of Kentucky's two McDonald's All-American combo guards. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe they ain't.
Murray is so big for a PG (6'5 205) and he's such a smart player that he should be a pretty good NBA player regardless. I just wonder how he's going to be able to match-up with the elite athletes at his position at the next level and whether that puts a ceiling as to how good he can be. In terms of athleticism, you can't even compare him to a guy like Kris Dunn.
3) It's the same story for Isaiah Briscoe
Where to begin? Here's Grayson Allen, who had a terrible night in his own right, getting right around Briscoe and getting into the heart of the Kentucky defense.
Even when he gets around a guy like Ingram, there's not a ton he can do when he gets into the lane.
Briscoe can't finish over the top of the youngest Plumlee and he certainly can't finish through him. This was by far the best game I've ever seen from Marshall and he gave Kentucky trouble all night. He's pretty old (23) and unaccomplished to be an NBA prospect but Miles didn't exactly light the world on fire before his senior season either.
So as not to be accused of hating, here's Briscoe being very creative about getting his own shot in the lane and using the rim to protect him from a shotblocker. These are the type of plays that Briscoe and Murray are going to have to make all season and I'm really curious to see how they will look with the type of length and athleticism that LSU can throw at them on the perimeter.
4) Grayson Allen got a wake-up call
After rampaging through two mid major teams to start the season, Allen got a taste of what life in the NBA is like courtesy of Kentucky's interior defense. He repeatedly got into the lane and he repeatedly got his shit sent right back in his face.
Coming out of half, the sideline reporter said the Duke coaches told her these were the exact shots that Allen was getting and making in the first two games. That's the difference between playing in the NCAA and playing in the NBA. Skal and Marcus Lee are NBA big men and they aren't going to let you just walk into the lane and throw up weak garbage. Grayson better learn that discretion is the better part of valor and just pull up for the mid-range jumper or bust out a floater. This is also why you see NCAA big men put up absurd block rates. NBA guards are eventually going to stop taking the ball at you after you pack their shot 1-2 times. Grayson went 2-11 on Tuesday, mostly on shots like this.
His defense in this game was no great shakes either. He's Tyler Ulis blowing right by him in transition like he's not even there.
5) Tyler Ulis was out here doing things
Ulis was the best player on the floor for Kentucky for most of the night and he was really the difference in terms of winning the game for them. He could go wherever he wanted to go on the court and he had the sense to know when he could look for his shot and when he was better off setting up his teammates. He knows exactly who he is and he doesn't make a lot of bad decisions with the ball in his hands.
He's crazy fast and the Duke guards had a very difficult time staying in front of him.
You can never count on a guy Ulis size (5'9 160) being able to play in the league but he has done a fantastic job of maximizing his physical ability. He has everything you would want in a guard except for size and if he had Murray or even Briscoe's body he'd be a lottery pick for sure. He can shoot 3's, get his own shot off the bounce, run the offense and be a pest on defense. He might as well stay four years at Kentucky and become an NCAA legend because he'll never be as effective in the NBA as at this level.