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June 29, 2006

2008 Debate: Who's No. 1?

Is the top prospect in the 2008 class a skilled power forward like Greg Monroe or Samardo Samuels? How about an explosive backcourt talent like Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings or Jrue Holiday?

Rivals.com National Basketball Recruiting Analyst Jerry Meyer breaks down the candidates for the nation's No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2008.

Tyreke Evans, Shooting guard, 6-5, Aston (Pa.) American Christian School
Strengths: Defensive rebounding; ball handling; passing; getting to the basket and the free throw line; length for point guard; confidence; feel for the game
Weeknesses: Lateral quickness; shooting off the pass; finishing with left hand

A rangy and fluid athlete at the point guard position, Evans can dominate a game with his defensive rebounding and skills with the ball. As a rebounder, he is not an explosive jumper, but he does have a knack for being in the right position and is quick to the ball with his sure hands. Capable of getting to the basket seemingly at will off the dribble, he also shoots the contested jumper off the dribble well. He also draws a number of fouls with his ability to slash to the basket and score off one foot. Yet, Evans' best skill is his ability to see the court and convert his dribble into a quick pass. With the ball in his hands, he is a threat to deliver the assist pass from any position on the court.

Despite some of his dominating talents, Evans' does have areas of his game that need refining. He would much rather shoot the ball off the dribble than off the catch. He is a rhythm shooter, and his shooting mechanics off the catch need work. Off the catch, he has a slower release and more static release. His backward lean on his shot, which serves him well off the dribble to create space, seems more pronounced and detrimental to his accuracy. Also, the arc of his shot off the catch is inconsistent. Defensively, his length coupled with his great instincts and quick hands serve him quite well. Off the ball, he has a knack for picking up the anticipatory steal. He is not as good, however, at moving his feet laterally against a hard drive to the basket. He tends to use his hands to impede the dribbler and picks up hand checking fouls.

Along with his ability to dominate offensively with the ball in his hands and his ability to control the defensive boards as a point guard and come up with steals off the ball, Evans has the alpha mentality of a number one player. He carries himself with the swagger of the best player on the court and does not shy away, but yet relishes a challenge to his dominance. He does need to tighten up his shot and improve his movement without the ball on offense, but Evans embodies the developing future of the NBA as a long point guard with nose for the ball, impeccable ball handling skills and total vision of the court.

Samardo Samuels, Power forward, 6-9, Newark (N.J.) St. Benedict's Prep
Strengths: Rebounding; scoring with back to the basket; motor; physical strength; passing; feet and hands
Weaknesses: Shooting range; scoring to his right shoulder

A physical specimen, Samuels is explosive off the floor, has sure hands and quick feet, and plays with a big time motor for an interior player. Never lagging behind the play, Samuels is quick to gain prime posting position and knows how to sit down, move his feet and hold that position. In an area of basketball where post players struggle to get touches on the block, Samuels commands such good positioning and demands the ball with such focused intensity, his teammates are practically forced to give the ball up to him. Once he has the ball on the block, Samuels is decisive and covers a great deal of ground with his power dribble. His lethal go to move is a bounce or two to his right shoulder and then a quick, tight spin back to his left shoulder for a right hand finish. When he is not scoring off post moves, Samuels is corralling offensive rebounds and scoring put backs through contact with a soft touch. He loves contact and spends a lot of time at the free throw while dominating the glass at both ends of the court.

Although he has a soft touch, Samuels shooting range needs to extend farther from the basket to be a totally dominant offensive player. Diversifying his post game and becoming more comfortable finishing off moves to his right shoulder will also round out his offensive game. As a ball handler, Samuels does put the ball on the floor fairly well and is an adequate passer. Defensively, he has the feet and motor to defend the ball screen well, and he has the bulk and explosiveness to defend down low.

A big time rebounder and scorer around the basket, Samuels has the tools and upside to be a force for many years in the NBA. As far as being a number one player in his class, he needs to extend his dominance farther from the basket.

Greg Monroe, Power forward, 6-9, Harvey (La.) Helen Cox
Strengths: Speed; length; frame; ball handling; passing; offensive rebounding
Weaknesses: Physical strength; shooting range; aggressiveness; driving with right hand

With broad shoulders and impressive length for a combo forward, Monroe puts together around five jaw dropping plays per game. A left handed fluid athlete, Monroe can face the basket and put the ball on the floor with precision. He has a sure shot around the basket and can finish off difficult spin moves and off offensive rebounds. Monroe is also an impressive passer. He puts tremendous pressure on the defense when he has the ball in the high post and when he is posting in the mid-range area. Not a physical defender, Monroe does have the foot speed and length to give opponents a lot of difficulty scoring around the basket and on the perimeter. He is also a dangerous shot blocker from the weakside. Monroe also puts pressure on opponents with his ability to snatch a defensive rebound and initiate the break by busting out with the dribble.

A skilled player with the potential to play either forward position at a very high level, Monroe does need to extend his shooting range and fill out his frame with some more bulk. Both of these aspects should naturally take place. What is more vital for Monroe's progress is the development of a hunger to dominate the game. Monroe tends to slip into passivity and go for minutes on the court without making much of an impact on the game. Whereas Samardo Samuels hungers for the ball and will get in a teammates face when he doesn't deliver him the ball, and whereas Tyreke Evans seems to constantly come up with the ball and dominate with his skills with the ball, Monroe too often is just out on the court as a guy with a huge upside but without enough presence in the present.

Nonetheless, Monroe is a great talent and certainly a potential number one player. With perhaps as much upside as any player in the 2008 class, Monroe needs to impact the game for longer and more regular stretches than he does right now to be the top player in his class. Some of the blame might rest on his teammates' inability to get him the ball consistently, but the truly great players dominate games regardless of any obstacles.
Click here for video of Monroe in action

Brandon Jennings, Point guard, 6-0, Los Angeles Dominguez
Strengths: Speed and quickness; ball handling; passing; scoring; pressuring the ball in the backcourt
Weaknesses: Finishing with right hand; physical strength; defending close to the basket

A fluid athlete with an explosive burst to his game, Jennings is a jet with the basketball. The lefty can score from all three levels and has a quite reliable jumper off the dribble. Although his ability to score when necessary is a tremendous asset, Jennings is at his best when he is knifing into the creases of the defense and setting up his teammates for scoring opportunities. Also adept at making the pass up the court, it is his dribble game that puts so much pressure on defenses and gets defenders on their heals. Defensively, Jennings can be a terror in the backcourt. He is exceptionally quick laterally and has the hand quickness to pick pocket ball handlers.

It is when Jennings has to defend closer to the basket that he can have problems. Still in need of more physical strength, strong drivers can muscle by him into the lane. Offensively, it is difficult to find a weakness, but Jennings can improve at finishing around the basket with his right hand. He is fully capable of penetrating with either hand but he tends to force his way back to his left hand for his finishes. Also, even though he is a capable scorer from behind the arc, Jennings' jumper does tend to travel flat from his high release point above his shoulder.

Jennings is certainly a top floor general with game changing attributes as more of a pure point guard, which is quickly becoming a dying breed. Yet with the growing physicality of the game and the NBA's taste for larger, stronger point guards with post up game, rebounding capabilities and versatility on defensive, Jennings' size makes him a risky choice as the number one player in his class.
Click here for video of Jennings in action

Jrue Holiday, Point guard, 6-4, North Hollywood (Calif.) Campbell Hall
Strengths: Finishing at basket (either hand); Physical strength; three level scorer; overall skills with the ball; feel for the game; defense; rebounding; explosive athleticism
Weaknesses: Assertiveness as a scorer

A true combo guard in that he is either a legitimate point guard or shooting guard, Holiday has the most complete game in the 2008 class. He has all the makings of a future NBA point guard with size, explosiveness and vision, and he is also a potent scorer working off screens away from the ball. Defensively, he has the potential to lockdown any perimeter position and also has the powerfulness and grit to grind it out on the block with bigger forward.

Holiday shoots the ball very well off the catch coming off screens, scores from the mid-range and finishes very well with either hand around the basket. Very strong with the ball, he can get wherever he needs on the court and has the strength and vision to deliver the difficult pass on the move.

Extraordinarily enough, it is virtually impossible to find a weakness in Holiday's game. As talented a scorer as Holiday is, perhaps he defers to often to his teammates. Yet, his unselfishness is also one of his most refreshing qualities. He is an intelligent player who creates for his teammates, a multi-positional player with good size for a point guard, a physical player who rebounds, an efficient scorer, a strong defender and an explosive athlete.

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