Five Observations from the Peach Jam

(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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NORTH AUGUSTA, SC — The Nike Peach Jam is the best event of grassroots basketball as the incredible atmosphere and top-notch talent makes for some memorable games. This year’s event was no different was the top 24 teams from the Nike EYBL did battle before the Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young-led MoKan took home the title.

CBT’s Rob Dauster broke down some of the top players from Peach Jam here, but here are some more observations from the week.

1. DeAndre Ayton is improving at handling adversity (but it’s still a concern)

DeAndre Ayton sits at the top of the Class of 2017 in-part because he has a ridiculous amount of upside. The 7-footer moves incredibly well for being nearly 240 pounds and he has the type of skill level and frame that NBA franchises crave.

But there have been times during his career when Ayton got hit in the mouth (so to speak) and he didn’t respond well. After going head-to-head against other elite big men at Peach Jam, it’s safe to say that Ayton is staying at No. 1 for now, but he’s also getting better at handling situations that don’t necessarily go his way.

Ayton outplayed highly-touted big men like Marvin Bagley, Mitchell Robinson and Wendell Carter in head-to-head matchups but the Robinson matchup is what was particularly eye-opening. In the first half of that one, Robinson came out the aggressor and it helped lead to Ayton picking up three quick fouls and sitting on the bench for most of the first half. Visibly frustrated, Ayton roared back in the second half and had a monster 16 minutes of basketball, as he gave Robinson everything he had on both ends of the floor. Robinson still got some things done (more on him in a moment) but Ayton showed why he’s the top dog in the class.

In the past, I’m not sure Ayton would have responded that way because he had a tendency to kind of fold when that sort of thing would happen. There are still some questions about his motor and how he’ll handle a prolonged period of adversity, but Ayton answered some of those with a solid Peach Jam.

2. Michael Porter Jr. remains a polarizing figure

After another monster week at Peach Jam, Class of 2017 wing Michael Porter Jr. is still firmly in the discussion as the  potential No. 1 prospect in the class, but he remains a polarizing figure among the basketball community.

Speaking with other media members, talent evaluators and college coaches, they all recognize how good Porter is as a player, but they always seem to have some kind of condescending remark about his toughness or the way he plays.

I’m not really sure why this is the case.

Maybe it’s backlash from Porter likely following his dad — recently-hired assistant coach Michael Porter Sr. — to Washington or maybe it is because Porter has been a top-five prospect during his whole high school career? But there seems to be some sort of underlying animosity towards him as a player that I haven’t seen a lot of top prospects face the last few years.

At USA Basketball’s U18 tryouts in June, Porter was one of the best players on the floor even though he was also playing with a lot of players a grade level older than he was. At Peach Jam, Porter was sensational and put on a title-game performance that will be remembered. But despite all of those great performances, people don’t seem to be embracing Porter’s game as much as others in the past. It’ll be interesting to see if Porter continues to play this way the rest of July and how he’ll ultimately be viewed entering college basketball as a one-and-done freshman.

3. Mitchell Robinson has a chance to be scary good

After leading the EYBL in blocked shots this spring, Class of 2017 center Mitchell Robinson flew up the national rankings and now finds himself hovering around the top ten in many of them. At Peach Jam, Robinson proved that he might be even better than the back-end of the top ten as his athleticism and improving skill level left a lot of people surprised.

The matchup with DeAndre Ayton, in particular, was eye-opening as Robinson stole one inbounds pass and raced past everyone on the floor for an easy finish. Not many big men make DeAndre Ayton look like an average athlete, but Robinson did on that play with his pure speed and change of direction. At 6-foot-11 with a 7’2.5″ wingspan and 9-foot standing reach, Robinson has the measurables to be a great shot blocker and his lateral quickness and speed means that he can cover an insane amount of ground.

He also has the best instincts as a shot blocker in the class. During Peach Jam, Robinson had many plays that left observers shaking their heads because they didn’t think he would be able to close ground that quickly. Robinson has a lot of upside, but there are also some concerns about his offensive game, skill level and general basketball IQ. He’s still very much a project who needs a lot of reps before he can step in and dominate at the college level and beyond. But Robinson has had some ridiculous stretches of play this year and he keeps improving every time out, so he’s one to keep an eye on these next few weeks.

Western Kentucky and new head coach Rick Stansbury have already landed a commitment from Robinson, and if Robinson does end up playing in Conference USA, he could be a major problem.

4. Mohamed Bamba is still raw in a lot of ways

Entering July, many believed that Mohamed Bamba could push for the No. 1 spot in the Class of 2017 because of his insane measurables and increasing skill level. Let’s face it: there just aren’t many dudes playing basketball that are pushing 7-feet tall with a 7’9″ wingspan that move so well. He’s a freak.

But for as much upside as Bamba has, he’s still way more raw than anticipated after not being at his most productive during bracket play in Peach Jam. The biggest problem for Bamba comes with his offense. Because he lacks the strength to play on the block against some stronger post players, he can get knocked off-course in the paint rather easily before he even catches the ball. It also seems as though Bamba just doesn’t have a feel for what he is or what he can do offensively yet. And there’s nothing wrong with that; he has plenty of time to figure things out there.

Defensively was the surprising part. Bamba didn’t appear to have the natural rim-protecting instincts that many believed and that was backed up by him only recording only two blocked shots during 89 minutes of bracket play. Bamba jumped at inopportune times during pump fakes and didn’t wall up as effectively as he could have at the rim. Again, strength absolutely plays a factor in that and he will improve as he grows. And you have to applaud Bamba for being able to guard smaller players on the perimeter, something I watched him do very effectively against top-end prospects like Brian Bowen and P.J. Washington during crunch-time situations.

When Bamba had to face the best of the best at Peach Jam in those three bracket play games he only averaged 9.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and he looked like he was still finding himself on the court. Keep in mind that Bamba has been out a good chunk of the spring and early summer with a lingering ankle issue, so that could have also played a factor in him not being as good as we’ve seen in the past.

There’s still plenty of time for Bamba to develop his skill level over the next few years, but he definitely remains a prospect at this point in his career.

5. Trae Young looks like a different player than the spring

I’m not sure if it’s a comfort thing playing with a team he is familiar with, or some other factor, but Trae Young looked so much better at Peach Jam than he did during the month of June at the Pangos All-American Camp and USA Basketball U18 tryouts.

Always known as a long-range specialist who can also make plays for himself or others off the dribble, Young was red-hot at Peach Jam as he looked like the best player on the floor multiple times over the course of the week. The biggest difference came in his three-point efficiency. Young only shot 30 percent from three-point range during the spring in EYBL play and that went up to 47 percent from three-point range during Peach Jam. And Young was dropping some deep threes in North Augusta.

Besides the perimeter shooting coming through for him, Young also was crafty finishing around the basket and did a great job of running the offense and setting up teammates for each finishes. If Young can knock down threes at a 40 percent clip, he’s going to be incredibly tough to defend at any level, because he can shoot from anywhere within 27 feet off the dribble and isn’t afraid to take those kinds of shots. It’ll be interesting to track how he shoots the rest of July.