The Jordan Brand Classic is one of the premier showcases of top high school talent and this year’s iteration included Florida Gators commit Andrew Nembhard. Taking place at the esteemed Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Nembhard was able to play alongside some of the top players in the country including Emmitt Williams, Bol Bol, Darius Bazley, and Nassir Little. Previously this week in an interview with Adam Zagoria Nembhard had revealed he felt slighted by not being invited to the McDonalds All-American game (the showcase event considered to be the cream of the crop) and the Jordan Brand Classic, with multiple players that also played in the McDonalds game, was an opportunity for Nembhard to prove that he belongs in the conversation around the best players in the 2018 recruiting class. Here is a recap of how he played.
9 Points (4-10 FG, 1-1, FT, 0-3 from 3)
Let’s get this straight, the format of a talent showcase like the Jordan Brand Classic doesn’t properly demonstrate the abilities of a player like Andrew Nembhard. As we all know, these games are where defense is put on the back burner (err, not even set out) and offensive sets are often ignored to instead let players go one-on-one against an apathetic defender. Nembhard is a player who brings more substance than flash on the basketball court and though he wasn’t out there throwing down windmill dunks he was still able to showcase his abilities with smooth ball handling and shifty passes that lead to highlight reel slams from the high flyers the event is designed to spotlight. Though Nembhard’s excellence would be shown more in a game with tough defense and half court offense being ran, his ability to handle the ball and push things in transition was particularly evident and his 9 rebounds showed a player with a nose for the ball that will translate to run-out opportunities. The Gators didn’t play as fast as Mike White would have liked this season and though speedster Chris Chiozza is now departed, Nembhard will be fully capable of running a high octane offense if the rest of the roster has the depth and ability to play an up-tempo game. As well, even though the actually Jordan Brand Classic game is more target practice than basketball, the days leading up to the main event are filled with practices and workouts that more resemble true basketball and this is where Nembhard really showed out in front of national media and NBA scouts.
His most electrifying skill is definitely the ability to use 2 or 3 dribbles to create a lane before rifling a pass to a cutting opponent for an easy bucket at the rim. He also has the ability to get a smaller defender on his hip as he goes to the goal, protecting the ball with his wide frame before throwing a skip pass on a dime to a wide open three-point shooter. We saw this in the game with his 6 assists but it was during the practices leading up to the event that saw him really make a name for himself as a distributor. Wrap passes, pocket bounce passes, lasers in transition, whatever pass needs to be made he can do it with both hands which is an underrated ability for a point guard. A feel for the game like Nembhard’s can’t be taught and that basketball intelligence in his DNA should make his transition to college even easier than the average 5-star player who is largely still figuring out the game.
Going 0-3 from behind the arc the jump shot wasn’t kind to him and it looks like he is still in need of developing some fluidity in his stroke. I liked how he had his elbow straight and wrist cocked back, but he needs to bring his elbow out in front a little more to elevate his release point to a more comfortable angle. It’s not a broken jumper but it will need some work if it’s going to pressure SEC defenses next season.
In terms of individual offense it’s going to be Nembhard’s ability to get into the paint that gets him buckets at the college level. He isn’t the prototypical driving point guard that uses straight line speed to get into the lane, but one that uses a pump fake or a jab step on the catch to get his defender turned the wrong way even a few degrees where he can then get his shoulders past them to get to the hoop. With the size advantage he has on most guards he can shield the ball on his way to the tin where he can finish with contact (we saw him do this to super-athlete Darius Bazley for an and-1) or drop in a teardrop floater. The way that he drives to the hoop is great for both his individual offense and the team offense as that ability to shield the ball while driving is going to attract help and give him passing angles to find open teammates.
Playing With Talent
Playing his high school ball at powerhouse Montverde Academy, Nembhard is used to having elite players alongside him and that has really helped him learn the craft of primary ball handling. Many high school guards are attack first players that don’t know how to balance when to call a set or when to go at a weaker matchup but Nembhard has the maturity of a much older hooper. We saw this on full display at the Jordan Brand Classic when he was never in a hurry, instead looking to the bench for a play call and moving his running mates into the proper spots before initiating the set. He made a concentrated effort to feed the ball into the game’s leading scorer (Emmitt Williams with 44 points with 20 dunks), often hitting him on backdoor cuts where he could finish with a thundering slam. Nembhard’s ability to understand what it’s like to play with elite players and balance the offensive load with multiple weapons is a wonderful trait and it should make him the perfect point guard for the Gators, particularly if gunner Jalen Hudson returns. I can see Nembhard spacing the floor perfectly for Hudson’s weak side isolations, hitting KeVaughn Allen in the shooting pocket when he comes off a screen, and finding Keith Stone on a pick and pop for a rhythm jumper. Whatever Coach White needs from him on offense, he should be able to provide.
The game was filled with Southeastern Conference commits as Tyler Herro, E.J. Montgomery, and Keldon Johnson of Kentucky, Emmitt Williams and Javonte Smart of LSU, and Simi Shittu and Darius Garland of Vanderbilt all joined Florida’s Andrew Nembhard. Emmitt Williams, a central Florida native who the Gators were all over in recruiting until he got into legal trouble, was particular impressive with him ability to finish around the hoop with ferocious power. Scoring a record 44 points, he was the beneficiary of several gorgeous dimes from Nembhard and their work together in the pick and roll had to make you think about what could have been. Vanderbilt might be the most unlikely of schools to have 2 top-15 commitments, and though Simi Shittu couldn’t play due to injury watching Darius Garland was a treat. It also should be noted that they are in the final three schools for top-10 recruit Romeo Langford. If Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew was able to pull off a Langford commitment and get 3 of the top-15 players in the 2018 class to Nashville it would be one of the more incredible recruiting stories of recent history, though even his ability to land 2 top-15 players is already an incredible accomplishment. The SEC was a beast of a league last season and with the way the league is recruiting it will definitely keep up that level of achievement.