If Florida fans weren’t already excited enough for incoming freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard before the FIBA U-18 Americas, they certainly are now after the steady lead man guided his Canadian squad to a silver medal on their home court. Named a tournament all-star for his work as the primary ball handler for the red and white Nembhard turned a lot of heads with his otherworldly passing ability and a scoring touch he didn’t have the chance to showcase all the time in high school. I wrote about his play in the group stage of the tournament previously and if you haven’t read that yet I would encourage you to go back and do so before revisiting this article where I discuss his work in the playoff rounds. Here is how he did in the quarter-final, semi-final, and final.
Game 1 (Quarter-Final, Panama)
3-6 FG (1-2 3FG)
Game 2 (Semi-Final, Puerto Rico)
6-14 FG (0-3 3FG, 2-3 FT)
Game 3 (Final, USA)
4-13 FG (2-4 3FG, 2-5 FT)
Tournament Total Averages
45.7 Field Goal Percentage (37-81)
48.1 2-Point Percentage (26-54)
40.7 3-Point Percentage (11-27)
56.2 Free Throw Percentage (9-16)
27.0 Minutes (162 Total)
All together, a truly fantastic tournament for Nembhard and you can easily see why he was named an all-star based on those robust numbers. One individual game number that may have really stood out to you was the 17 assists he put up against Puerto Rico. Putting up 17 assists is never easy at any level of competition and the way he was able to spoon feed teammates for layups and wide open shots was masterful to watch. Particularly encouraging to me was the way he was able to get his big men easy looks at the bucket. Canada’s frontcourt wasn’t very strong and finishing inside was a struggle for most big men in the rotation. Despite their deficiencies Nembhard was able to give them such open looks by drawing defenders and passing the ball off at the perfect time that they couldn’t miss. We know the Gators struggled to score inside last season and watching Nembhard get buckets for interior players that didn’t have great hands makes me think that he will really be able to work with Florida’s frontcourt in a way that will be really successful. Believing that Isaiah Stokes will be a good finisher and the returning guys will be improved with a year of experience and some individual coaching from big man sage Al Pinkins, expect there to be a lot more plays with a point guard dishing it to a big man for a layup this season.
His turnover numbers may appear a bit unsavory at first glance but I actually don’t find them concerning. First of all, his 3.7 turnovers is countered by his 8.8 assists which still makes for a mighty fine assist to turnover ratio. Secondly, he was an extremely high usage player for Canada that was relied upon to initiate nearly every set. Being relied upon to handle a load that heavy, 3.7 turnovers is manageable to me. He did struggle against the length and muscle of the American team, sometimes finding it hard to deal with physical defenders on the ball. We know Nembhard isn’t an elite athlete and considering the fact he was originally a class of 2019 player he isn’t a finished project physically so he may have issues with certain matchups in college where he’s facing a particularly strong defender. He might get bumped off the ball from time to time but his basketball IQ is so strong that he isn’t loose with the ball or giving away too many foolish turnovers so I don’t expect this to be a major issue when he comes to Gainesville.
After shooting the three well in the trio of round robin games Nembhard was able to keep up the pace and finish the tournament shooting over 40% from deep. One of the knocks on Nembhard as a prospect was his shooting ability and these 6 games against solid competition should be an encouraging indicator that he could be better than advertised. I’ll also remind everyone that since this tournament was a FIBA sanctioned event the 3-point line was 15 inches further back than the college line, meaning all his long balls would have been from a stride back of the college arc. Shooting 40% on what would amount to deep college threes over six games? Not too shabby. I still think his stroke needs some work and I still don’t imagine him as a plus shooter as a freshman, though I also thought that of Michael Okauru who proved me wrong. One thing I loved about Nembhard’s 3-point shooting is that he had great recognition of what was a good shot to take. He didn’t force up tough attempts and only took the good ones which really helped out his percentages and really helped out his team. If he gets minutes alongside offensive weapons like Jalen Hudson, Keith Stone, and KeVaughn Allen he should be able to continue to pick his spots and that should help him be a decent shooter.
Finishing inside remains a really interesting aspect of Nembhard’s game. Watching him in high school I was worried his lack of explosion would hinder his ability to finish at the tin. At this tournament he really impressed me with his ability to protect the ball and take contact before laying it in, sometimes even with his left hand (a left hand I marveled at in my last article on Nembhard). However, just like how he struggled a bit with the American athleticism on the perimeter he struggled to finish inside against longer, stronger, and bouncier American counterparts. I understand that he was playing against some of the best of the best so it’s not like this was a poor performance but it’s a reminder that Nembhard is still going to be a young freshman at Florida and may have a few issues at times. His floater game looked pretty refined and he should have some other ways to finish but when he’s attacking the hoop finding an open teammate for a layup or open three may still be the best outcome when going against some of the monster shot blockers of the SEC. However, Nembhard has continued to add to his game at a rapid pace and some work with Preston Greene in the weight room mixed in with his personal work ethic and development could have him finishing at a high rate inside sooner than later.
The steal numbers are certainly nice to see and the way he picked pockets was particularly entertaining. He wasn’t super explosive in passing lanes or really pesky in the way he got into ball handlers but used his heightened basketball sense to decipher when a passer didn’t have him in their line of sight and jump to the area they wanted to move the ball. Under control and not taking himself out of plays to gamble for steals his ability to read offenses and anticipate their next move was incredible. His basketball IQ clearly doesn’t just manifest itself on the offensive end and it should help him pick up team defensive concept quickly which should, in turn, quickly earn him Mike White’s trust.
This was an excellent showing by Nembhard and it was a great opportunity for the coaching staff and fans to get an even better idea of what the Gators have in the Canadian phenom. With the experience of playing a grueling high school schedule at Montverde to being the captain of the Canadian team in international competition his variety of experiences before setting foot on the O’Dome court should mean he is ready to be a contributor right away.
Photo via Canada Basketball and FIBA.