Florida fans antsy to see their team that’s likely going to enter the college basketball season in the top 5 of the AP Poll have had a great opportunity to get a glimpse at what’s ahead with point guard Andrew Nembhard suiting up for the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team.
Following a productive freshman year with the Gators Nembhard was asked to attend Canada’s training camp alongside a roster of mostly NBA talent. This was already an honor for the 6’5” floor general but just being there wasn’t enough as he worked his way into a rotation role on the team and when the NBA players started to drop out to focus on their pro seasons Nembhard continued to climb in the depth chart.
Canada’s summer schedule has already consisted of 7 exhibition games in preparation for the FIBA World Cup Of Basketball taking place in China. These 7 games were against some strong competition including 2 games against a veteran Nigerian team, 2 against a New Zealand team that’s as physical as any team in the world, 2 against an Australian team with a handful of NBA players, and a contest against USA. This means we got to see Nembhard play a ton of minutes against outstanding opponents, teams that were bigger, stronger, and frankly better than what he’s going to see playing in college.
Seeing Nembhard play so much already was a tremendous opportunity to scout what he has developed in his game since last season ended. You don’t often get to see this much of a college player in the offseason and considering the quality of the players he did it against I was filled with thoughts. Here are the takeaways from Nembhard’s summer with Team Canada so far.
I thought I’d get this one out of the way early because I’m sure some of you are holding your breath.
If any of you missed it Nembhard had a scary moment in the second game against Australia where he drove to the hoop and had what looked to be a knee on knee collision with a defender who was sliding over late. Nembhard dropped to the ground in obvious discomfort. He then tried to get up and walk it off before he winced in pain and went back to the ground. That, mixed with the long time he spend on the floor getting checked out by trainers and topped off with him getting helped off the floor made for a terrifying cocktail of fear that had all of us extremely nervous.
Luckily it seems like the injury wasn’t actually that bad and wasn’t actually a knee injury even though it may have looked like there was knee on knee contact at first. He played in the next game (against USA) and looked no worse for wear moving really well and not looking hindered at all. He had a sleeve covering the leg that was hit in the collision but considering there wasn’t any knee support and was just had compression on his calf I’d say he’s doing well and we don’t need to be worried about any further injury.
One of the biggest things that struck me about seeing Nembhard play is that he looks a lot stronger. Driving to the hoop he was powering through defenders, and I’ll remind you that he was playing primarily veteran overseas players that will be much stronger than who he’ll see in college. Against USA he had some great moments driving to the hoop and brushing Kemba Walker off like he was nothing and those moments had me extremely intrigued. The improved strength made him a much bigger threat driving the basketball than he was last season and I think we’re going to see him attacking a lot more this year. The strength also manifested itself when it came to explosion and Nembhard looked a lot more bouncy. That extra lift should really help him when it comes to finishing at the tin and this improved ability as a slasher should mean a lot more easy points for him this season.
Another place I really saw physical improvement was on the defensive end where Nembhard looked much stronger in his lower body. The improved strength he appeared to have allowed him to get deeper in his defensive crouch and stay in it longer and when he needed to burst side-to-side he seemed to do it much quicker than what I saw last season. Improving his initial movement allowed him to stop dribble penetration and work around screens and while I think he was a solid defender last year he looked like he’s made a major step on that side of the ball with his play so far this summer.
Last season Nembhard was a reliable ball handler who could get to his places on the floor and protect the rock against pressure. His ability to handle the rock was definitely better than the average freshman and I saw no problem with his abilities there.
That was Nembhard last season. This summer playing in this FIBA exhibition matches I saw a player looking to break ankles and destroy his man. There was far more sizzle in his game and the crossovers and between the leg dribbles he was using to beat his man one-on-one were unlike anything I saw from him last year. This was so exciting to see because not only did he display that he’s got those weapons in his arsenal but he had the confidence to do it against great competition including against USA when he was going hard at elite defenders like Marcus Smart, Donovan Mitchell, and Derrick White. If he had the confidence to stare down those guys and try to sauce them up with a dribble move I can’t wait to see what he does when he sees Florida State or Kentucky. I think you can see a theme here so to tie it together….
…it is very clear Nembhard made scoring the focus of his offseason workouts and it’s also clear those workouts were effective. His ability to go to work one-on-one is head and shoulders above what we saw last year and his finishing around the rim is also a step ahead. His passing may still be the focus and rightfully so since he’s likely going to be the best passer in college basketball next season but he is going to have a scoring mindset unlike anything we saw in him as a freshman. Seeing the way he was able to put up points made me breathe a sigh of relief after the way the Gators struggled to put up points at times last season and after these 7 FIBA games I’m expecting Nembhard to easily be much improved from his 8 points per game from last season.
A Potential Snag
Nembhard’s jumper looks a bit smoother but he’s still not a major threat from behind the arc when shooting off the dribble. I still think he’s a good catch and shoot guy but when he’s dribbling his man down I think he’s better served to try to attack him with the newly-developed dribble moves than pulling up with a jumper. Considering how much he’s improved every other aspect of his game, improved shooting could still come.
Canada’s coach Nick Nurse (of the Toronto Raptors) had Nembhard playing away from the ball at times with former Gonzaga Bulldog Kevin Pangos manning the point. It was interesting to see Nembhard play a role so different than what we’re used to seeing with him as the quarterback but I thought it was a nice look for what we might see at Florida as Kerry Blackshear and Tre Mann will require the ball a decent amount. With such high basketball IQ Nembhard was fine playing away from the ball and flowed nicely into soft spots of the floor where he could be a threat. After playing with the ball in his hands so much last season it’s good to see he’s more than comfortable playing away from it as well.
Pick And Roll Reps
Florida’s offense wasn’t super pick and roll heavy last year but with Kerry Blackshear incoming we could see it a lot more and luckily for Nembhard he got a ton of practice in the pick and roll playing for Canada. Nick Nurse was running an NBA-style continuity ball screen offense that saw pick and roll after pick and roll and Nembhard got to run a ton of them. His excellent passing is perfect for pick and rolls and he had great chemistry with Orlando Magic big man Khem Birch. I think we could see that same chemistry with Nembhard and Blackshear and that would be a focal point of Mike White’s offense.
It’s looking like Nembhard is going to stick with Team Canada for the FIBA World Cup in China and that means he’ll be away from Florida for a few more weeks. Florida will hopefully be playing in a lot of important games in March and the experience Nembhard gets playing in the World Cup could be valuable.