So much for a Timberwolves “off night.” When you’re this non-competitive, and have major chips invested in the draft, certain college basketball evenings become more engaging than when we send our starting 5 out for an exercise in (mostly) futility. Tonight was a prime example with the Ohio State@Purdue and Kentucky@Florida doubleheader on ESPN. They could have called it “Who Wants to be an NBA Lottery Team?” Or perhaps the more caustic “Drool over Evan Turner and John Wall, you sucky NBA losers.”
Since Turner played first, I guess he can go first here too. In the interest of full disclosure, this is the first time I’ve seen him play over the course of an entire game, so my opinions are largely based on what I saw tonight. I just didn’t have much time for college hoops last year, and he’s been hurt this year (but appears to be TOTALLY healthy now, BTW). I’d seen bits and pieces of him before, but tonight was quite a show. A big nod to Rumblebee for his in-person scouting report from a few days ago, as it gave me a great idea of things to look for.
Let’s start with this: Evan Turner is a hell of a player. I had heard the opinions, but until you really watch him, you don’t get just how SMOOTH he is. In fact, he’s so good we really should just call it SMOOVE!!! He runs the point almost exclusively for the Buckeyes, plays the aggressive tip of the spear in their zone, has fantastic court vision (which didn’t particularly translate to assists tonight, but you could see it) hits the offensive and defensive glass very well, and gets to the rim practically at will. What I like so much is that he slithers through defenses to get to the rim as opposed to the ugly, ridiculous, (and hopefully someday outlawed in the NBA) Bowling Ball method favored by the Dwayne Wade’s of the world. Can’t really comment on his outside shot, as he barely took any. However he nailed a huge 3 to tie the game with under 2 minutes to go, and seems to have decent form, so no reason to think he can’t develop that part of his game.
The only thing I saw on the negative side was a quite a few turnovers. He had a bit of trouble when he got trapped, but he also showed a great knack to split those double teams or find open guys crosscourt. I would have no concerns about problematic turnovers with Evan Turner because that happens when you are the primary ballhandler. I am shocked at how often and well he runs the point for 6’7” guy. You put all this together, and I was hugely impressed. He has an unbelievably well-rounded game, but also demonstrated some decent strength and athletism. I can see the Scottie Pippen and/or Brandon Roy comparisons, and those are probably the career comps I would come up with, but I think this kid could be even better. I would whole-heartedly endorse taking him anywhere after anybody named John Wall. Especially if it means we avoid someone like Derrick Favors, who reeks of Stromile Swift.
Now speaking of Mr. Wall. Well, I’m sure there’s not much I can say that would be any different or better than has already been said. His quickness, athleticism, handle, and court vision are off the charts. He plays good man D, using his quickness to pester the hell out of people, and plays well off the ball getting into the passing lanes. The “off the ball” thing also translates to offense too. Kentucky used him in this scenario way more than I realized, and he did well with it. It seemed like their offense stagnated a bit, but Wall made lots of nice back cuts, and one hell of an alley-oop dunk late in the 2nd half. He’s the complete package. But the one thing that has really stood out to me this season is that thing…that intangible thing…that sense of the moment…John Wall has “IT” in abundance.
He’s surrounded by very talented teammates, and when they are going well, Wall is happy to set up the offense and facilitate. When they are flagging a bit, he knows how to get them going. Tonight, KU was down early in the 1st half to Florida, and you could just see the kid (subtly) take over the game briefly. He pushed the pace to set up some easy buckets, hit a couple of jumpers, and just generally upped the energy of his team. Before you knew it, they went from down 8 to up 6. When Florida got within 2 points late in the 2nd half, Calipari put Wall back on the ball. Immediate result was an easy layup, then a slash and kick to a wide open teammate for a 3. The cherry on top was an absolutely awesome open court block on a FLA fast break that sealed the game. That, my friends, is IT!!! If we get the #1, we take him and never look back. And then try and figure out how to trade up to get Evan Turner too…