“He’s got eyes on the back of his head.”
That was what #1 player in the 2018 class RJ Barrett said when asked about his fellow Canadian countryman and Florida Gators commit Andrew Nembhard. Having played together both internationally and at Montverde Academy Nembhard’s wizardry with the ball was no surprise to Barrett and that ability to pass the ball was on full display at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland. Suiting up for Team World against the favored Team USA, Nembhard played a pivotal role in the decisive victory for the collection of international talent as Team World won by a score of 89-76. Here is a recap of how the future Gator played.
Tale Of The Tape
One nice thing about events like this is that you get to see the official measurements of players. Here is how Nembhard stacked up.
Height In Shoes: 6’3.75”
Standing Reach: 8’2”
Though he came just shy of his listed 6’4” his great size at the point guard position was still confirmed. His wingspan isn’t particularly impressive relative to his height, rather average in fact, but with the size advantage he’ll have on most point guards it shouldn’t be a problem. It may limit his ability to play the wing positions if Coach White ever wants to put him out with another point guard but relative to his natural position he’s got a great frame.
Minutes Played: 22:17
Points: 5 (1-3 FG, 3-4 FT)
This is a case where the stat line doesn’t tell the entire story. His line might look fairly pedestrian, but his game was anything but that. All night Nembhard did an excellent job of controlling pace, taking care of the ball, and getting his team into offensive sets against the man, 2-3, and 3-2 zone defenses Team USA deployed in an attempt to confuse Team World. You can tell by his minutes played that he was trusted to play a major role and his +18 not only looks great in a game his team won by 13 but it was far and away the highest plus/minus on the team.
I can’t speak highly enough of Nembhard’s ability to pass the basketball. Tonight he was excellent in transition, pushing the ball up the wing quickly off outlet passes and forcing Team USA’s defense to scramble and not get set up properly and it lead to a lot of easy offense for Team World. If secondary “hockey assists” were handed out in basketball, Nembhard would have had several tonight on those players. Three of his assists were highlight material as two of them were alley-oops to RJ Barrett slashing towards the hoop and one was an offensive rebound where he whipped the ball behind his back as he fell out of bounds to a wide open Jaylen Hoard (a French national) for a wide open dunk, confirming Barrett’s notion that Nembhard has eyes on the back of his head. Whether it’s the non-flashy but important pushing of the ball up the wing in transition or a flashy pass to a teammate for a dunk, Nembhard knows how to distribute the orange.
This is one area where Nembhard doesn’t jump off the page. Mind you, this was a game with some of the best athletes in the world, but Nembhard was noticeably less explosive and less bouncy than pretty much anyone in the game and it really limited his ability to score (only one made field goal). Often times he makes up for this athletic deficiency with craftiness and immaculate timing but there are times he is going to struggle to create individual offense against more athletic players in the SEC. Though his athleticism isn’t above-average he doesn’t let that affect his defense as his side to side speed and wide frame is good enough to cut off dribble penetration from most players, though I’m not sure I’d ever expect him to be an all-league defensive player, at least at first. A heady player, I expect him to be positionally and fundamentally sound defensively and he should fit easily into Coach White’s defensive schemes.
An area Nembhard needs to improve. He took two midrange pull-ups tonight and they were not easy on the eyes. His first pull came up two feet short and the second attempt missed well to the left of the rim and hit the backboard squarely. Getting to the line for four attempts his free throw stroke did look pretty clean as he went 3-4 and the fluidity he showed there should bring some optimism that his jumper can improve. He didn’t attempt a three-point shot, even though the defense was daring him too, but I appreciated how he responded to this tactic. He didn’t pull a jumper trying to prove the defense wrong or apathetically pass the ball away, instead using the cushion of space the defender gave him to ramp up speed and attack in a way that got them backpedalling. Until he improves his jump shot he will have to be creative in ways like this but it was good to see that he wasn’t rendered useless even when he wasn’t confident with his shot.
Seeing Nembhard against some of the best players in the 2018 class made his basketball IQ on both sides of the floor is incredibly apparent. He looked so comfortable getting players from all around the world into offense sets and seamlessly played the defensive scheme to the specifications of Team World coach Roy Rana. Knowing RJ Barrett was the focal point he always found a way to feed him the ball in good situations with pinpoint passes and you can tell his teammates loved playing with him. He didn’t allow any one of the multitude of super-athletes in the game blow by him on defense and always played within himself on offense by not forcing anything and taking care of the ball. As I continue to watch more and more of Nembhard I continue to like him more and more.