Top NBA Prospects at the Legends Classic

By DAN KELLY

Special to ZAGSBLOG

There were some future professional basketball players competing into the wee hours at Barclays Center this week.

Some 47 NBA scouts and executives — including Knicks GM Glen Grunwald and assistant GM Allan Houston — were on hand for Monday’s action, and many returned Tuesday.

The players are young and the season is younger so there’s no use getting too carried away with any evaluations (especially considering how much zone was played) but we definitely learned some things about a few guys who might hear their names called this June or the next.

1. Cody Zeller, Indiana: Playing despite battling asthmatic bronchitis, the 7-foot sophomore center, and potential No. 1 overall pick, did not play his way out of the top five this week, but he didn’t cement his name in there either. His box scores left a little to be desired (6 points, 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers vs. Georgia / 17 points, 8 rebounds vs. Georgetown) but he did show us one big important thing: Cody Zeller is a natural basketball player.

He’s not just a big man with good genes and well practiced post moves. He has a good sense of timing and spacing on offense. He can get people open with screens and can see over the defense to make accurate skip passes.

There is a fine line between “blending into” an offense and “disappearing.” Even when Zeller wasn’t scoring he stays active enough going to the glass and flashing to the post that he doesn’t disappear. The fact is that both defenses he faced this week were built to stop him. He was surrounded on every catch but he didn’t get frustrated or annoyed at his lack of clean looks at the hoop. He just stayed active and kept playing hard.

Zeller is not going to see any double-teams in the NBA, at least not until he earns them. Going forward keep an eye on Zeller’s ability to develop counter moves to his initial post move.

2. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA: High expectations awaited Muhammad on the court at Barclays Center. He is often projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft. Whether or not Muhammad met those expectations is unfair to ask because we didn’t see enough.

What we did see is this: Muhammad is extremely active and physical. He may not have an ideally sculpted NBA body type, but he has big shoulders and a physical mentality. If he gets a smaller defender he will bully him in the post and score with instinctual style post moves. If he gets a bigger defender he might post him up, too, and bully him just the same.

Muhammad is a little smaller than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist but they have similar approaches to the game. They are going to be tough and physical and more active than everybody else. Muhammad scored 21 points Wednesday night in a win over Georgia in his second college game ever. It wasn’t the most glamorous 21 point night because he got a lot of “right place, right time” kind of buckets. But that isn’t an accident. He was in the right place because he’s active and has good instincts.

What we didn’t see is this: Rarely did Muhammad catch on the perimeter and attack off the dribble. This is why it’s too early to define his draft potential. With Larry Drew II and Anderson doing most of the perimeter ball handling we never saw whether or not Muhammad has the skill and creativity to attack off the dribble at this level.

Will Muhammad ever get enough minutes at shooting guard to prove his perimeter worth? Is that compact, low-release jump shot going to be a problem? East Coast hoops fans will have to stay up late this year to watch Shabazz develop.

3. Otto Porter, Georgetown: The fact that Porter was left off the All-Tournament team makes you wonder if the voters were even watching the games. Over the course of two games, Porter dramatically improved his draft stock.

Porter does a little bit of everything and he showed it on both nights. Against UCLA in the semifinals, he went for 18 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 blocks. Then, in the championship against Indiana, he grabbed 5 rebounds, handed out 4 assists, blocked 2 shots, and scored 15 points, including a tough driving leaner to send the game into overtime.

Porter’s ability to affect the game as a scorer, passer, rebounder, and shot-blocker is the most impressive thing about him. But it was the variety of ways he scored that could really move him up draft boards. He is very similar to Tayshaun Prince because he can shoot it from the outside, he can drive around you, or he can post you up.

Porter is the unquestioned leader of this Georgetown team that came into the week unranked. A deep run into the NCAA tournament looks likely for this squad and could be very valuable for Porter and his rising draft stock.

4. Kyle Anderson, UCLA: Bob Hurley compared Anderson to Magic Johnson. High praise from a Hall of Fame coach. He’s also been compared to Lloyd “Sweet Pea” Daniels, the former New York City playground legend. At 6-9 and long as a sleepless night he is undoubtably an unusual point guard. Coach Ben Howland has played Anderson at power forward and small forward but there is no doubt he looks most comfortable with the ball in his hands.

To me, Anderson plays like a young Hedo Turkoglu. He looks slow, deliberate and awkward enough to make you wonder how effective he could possibly be. Then he reaches around a defender and throws a one handed bounce pass through the key to hit a cutter for a layup. He can step back and shoot jumpers over smaller defenders. He’s going to get better at rebounding and on defense his 7-2 wing span will make up for his relative lack of athleticism.

Anderson’s unorthodox pace and style go hand-in-hand with his superior vision and creativity. As the season develops it will be interesting to see whether Anderson can figure out how to be effective without the ball.

***Other intriguing players to keep an eye on: Georgetown F Greg Whittington (who reminds me of Dorell Wright); UCLA G Jordan Adams (pure scorer who had 20+ points in his first four games, marking the first time a freshman had ever done that at UCLA); Georgetown G Markel Starks (who might have some Mike Conley Jr. in him); and Indiana G Jordan Hulls (Mark Price 2.0?).

Dan Kelly covers the Knicks, Nets and college basketball for brooklynfans.com. He has coached select teams, high school teams and individual players on the West Coast and in South America.

Follow Dan on Twitter

Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter

And like ZAGS on Facebook