Assessing Quentin Grimes, Udoka Azubuike, and Dedric Lawson in the Champions Classic

November 7, 2018

by Alan Lu

Recently, I was able to watch Kansas play against Michigan State as they faced off against each other in the 2018 Champions Classic.  Though Michigan State’s prospects may pale compare to last year, Kansas still has some solid players, as Quentin Grimes could be a potential lottery pick in 2019.  Kansas cruised to a considerable lead early on, but Michigan State made it a game in the second half.  Still, Kansas hung on for the win, and Grimes, Udoka Azubuike, and Dedric Lawson played the best out of this bunch.  Here are my thoughts on how they fared as well as how their games may project into the NBA.

Quentin Grimes is a 6-5, sharpshooter that can really space the floor to help his team on offense.  He did a great job of knocking down open threes, and he has a quick release as well as a lot of range on his shot.   He also runs the floor well, as he also was able to score in transition.  However, he’s not an explosive athlete, as he struggled to get all the way to the rim off the dribble, and he also was unable to make pull-up jumpers.  He also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  Grimes is an unselfish player that will make the extra pass, and he will generally keep the ball moving.  Plus, he also was able to hit a cutter on the move after driving to the hoop, but sometimes he can struggle to protect the basketball, and he can drop catchable passes that can lead his team to commit turnovers.

He showed off average at best defensive skills.  Grimes has adequate anticipation skills, as he managed to jump a pass to nearly get a steal, and he also contested a corner three to force a miss.   However, he does not have great lateral quickness, and he tended to struggle to defend off the dribble, and he would also occasionally bite on a pump fake.  Even more troublesome was that he struggled to consistently defend Matt McQuaid in this game, a player who is considered to be considerably less athletic than him.  In summary, Quentin Grimes had a very good showing to help Kansas get a narrow win over Michigan State.  He is a gifted shooter that can make a plethora of threes, and he also is a ball mover that can be a facilitator on the floor.  However, he will need to improve his position defense.  Still, he excelled against Michigan State, and he could end up being a lottery pick in 2019.

Udoka Azubuike also played very well for Kansas, as he excelled as an inside scorer and interior defender to help get his team the win.  He was a strong interior presence on both ends of the floor.  He even appeared to also have improved his free throw shooting considerably at first, but then he started missing more of them late in the contest.  He did a good job of scoring in the post.  Udoka Azubuike has great strength, along with having a reliable set of moves, footwork, and a nice shooting touch down low, as that enabled him to score often on jump hooks.  He also showed off a nifty up and under move, and he also used a quick spin move to also score on a drop step.  But sometimes, Azubuike can be a bit too mechanical when operating on the block, and sometimes he may not always have his shooting touch or may set up too far away, which can lead to some misses.

Also, he showed a good ability to score using off-ball movement.  Azubuike rolled to the rim to catch a lob pass on one play, and he promptly scored on a powerful alley-oop dunk.  He also displayed some playmaking skills.  Azubuike primarily looked to score on offense, but he did manage to tip a ball out to a teammate to help set up a score.  But sometimes, he can be inaccurate with his passes, and he also committed an offensive foul when backing his man down in the post, as his opponent may have gotten away with a flop on that possession.

Oddly though, Azubuike didn’t actually grab many rebounds in this game, but he was able to collect multiple offensive boards, as he can chase those balls down due to possessing a good motor and awareness to do so.  He also played solid defense.  Azubuike did a great job of blocking shots, as he can swat shots in the post, he blocked a shot ferociously off of a cut, as well as one off of a drive.  He has very good length, timing, and footwork to swat many of them in the paint.  Generally, he did a great job of contesting and altering shots, as he can change the shot trajectories of his opponents to force a wealth of misses.  He did have a few miscues on this end, though.  He was called for an off ball foul when defending in the post.  Another time, he didn’t get back to his man as he over-hedged, as this led his team to allow a score on a roll.

In summary, Udoka Azubuike had a good showing to help his team get a tough win over Michigan State.  He’s a tall, mobile big man that can bang inside, and he showed off strong inside scoring and interior defensive skills in this game.  He could project to be a solid rim protector at the next level, and right now, he may end up being a good find for a team in the late first to the second round range on draft day.

Dedric Lawson started out slowly, but he quietly had a good game, as he played well in virtually every facet of the game to help his team get the win.  He showed the ability to score off the dribble as well as in the post, he scored on energy plays, and he played solid defense in this game.  Lawson excelled at scoring on hustle plays, as he would often score and draw free throws using off-ball motion.  He showed a knack for getting to the line off of cuts, he scored on a tip-in and off of a put back, and he also would run the floor to draw free throws on a drive on the break.

While he initially struggled to score in the post as some of his moves down low can look awkward, Lawson regained his footing, as he was able to score on a drop step, right handed jump hook, and he was able to draw some free throws.  Plus, Lawson showed a decent ability to score off the dribble, as he can do so on aggressive, left handed drives to the hoop.  However, he struggled to knock down jumpers outside of the paint area, as he was unable to make threes or mid-range shots in this game.

Lawson also exhibited good playmaking skills.  He is an unselfish player that is willing to make the extra pass, and he can find roll men on the move, but sometimes Lawson can struggle to protect the basketball, as he can be prone to having the ball ripped away from him.  He also once threw an inaccurate lob pass to a cutter that also led to a turnover.  Also, he did a very good job of rebounding the basketball.  Lawson was quite active at crashing the glass, as he would haul in numerous boards on both ends of the floor.  However, he was called for committing an over the back foul once when going for an offensive board.  Another time, he got beat to the ball to allow an opponent to score on a tip-in.

He also played good defense.  Lawson showed a proclivity for blocking and altering shots off of drives, and he has good length, athleticism, and timing to do so.  He also managed to jump a pass to get a steal, and Lawson is a rangy defender that excelled at playing help defense for his team.  But another time, he sagged too far in the paint, which led his man to score on a long two-point shot.  On a separate play, he trailed his man off of a screen, which caused him to allow a corner three score to his opponent.

In summary, Dedric Lawson put forth a solid performance to help lead his team to a win over Michigan State.  His play wasn’t flashy or stylish, but Lawson contributed in a number of ways to help get his team the victory.  He will still need to work on his shooting and on his shot creation ability when matched up against upper echelon players, but Lawson is a skilled player that could end up being drafted in the mid to late first round for the upcoming draft.

Kansas’ 6-2 freshman guard, Devon Dotson had a decent showing in his team’s win over Michigan State.  He is a young, athletic combo guard that can quickly get to the rim, and he showed some promise defensively, but he will need to learn how to play more under control.  He did a good job of making threes, as he was quite effective at spotting up to knock down long-range jumpers off the catch.  Dotson also showed a good ability to score off the dribble.  He can split a double team after handling the ball off of a screen, and he did so once to score on an acrobatic layup.  Dotson tended to score on drives in transition, but sometimes he can go in too wildly, which can cause him to miss badly around the basket.

On the downside, he did not show off great playmaking skills, though.  Dotson had more turnovers than his assists, and his tendency to play to recklessly can get him into trouble.  He will drive the ball into traffic, as he can be prone to getting the ball ripped away from him, and he also can be inaccurate with his passes, but sometimes, he will find the open man to set up scoring chances for his teammates.

Defensively, he looked to be fairly average.  Dotson does a good job of playing passing lanes, and he jump on passes to get deflections and steals due to possessing good lateral quickness and instincts.  However, he did not look to be a very good individual defender, as he had a tendency to get beat off the dribble, and he would usually commit reach-in fouls, in which on one play he ended up giving up a score and an extra free throw.  Right now, Devon Dotson looks to be a second round prospect for the NBA.  He is not a polished player at this stage, but he is an athletic combo guard that can score the basketball in a variety of ways.  However, he will need to improve his decision-making and position defense, and he will have to show that he can effectively run the point to increase his odds to succeed at the next level.

Michigan State’s 6-7 senior combo forward, Kenny Goins was the surprise star of their team at this event.  After being regarded as a non-prospect for the first four years of his collegiate career, Goins really turned some heads with his ability to stretch the floor due to his impressive shooting ability.  Goins showed off good scoring skills, as he can score the basketball inside and out.  He excelled at spotting up to knock down three-point shots to space the floor for his team, and he also managed to score on hustle plays, as he also scored on a tip-in.  Plus, Goins also did a good job of getting to the free throw line.

He also displayed a willingness to make the extra pass, and he also played good defense in this game.  Goins made a chase down block on a drive in transition to prevent Vick from scoring on the break, and he also deflected a pass out of bounds.  Overall, Kenny Goins’ play in this game was a revelation, and he is a skilled basketball player that could be a prospect to keep an eye on, especially if he can keep shooting and scoring as well as he did in this match.  With his strong play here, he could surely end up making an NBA team’s summer league roster in 2019.

Michigan State’s 6-5 junior guard, Joshua Langford did a good job of shooting the basketball, as he showed a knack for making spot-up threes to space the floor for his team.  He is an athletic, powerful wing player that can knock down plenty of jumpers, and he also managed to use a jab step to make a pull-up, long two on one possession.  However, he doesn’t have an elite first step to the hoop, and he had one shot blocked on a drive.  Langford did manage to haul in some rebounds, as he would leap up to get offensive boards for his team.  Overall, Joshua Langford helped himself by making shots, and his shooting ability combined with having above average gifts could make him a second round prospect in 2019.

Cassius Winston quietly had a good showing in this game, as he showed a good ability to score and distribute the basketball on offense.  Winston excelled as a shooter from beyond the arc, as he made a quick three in transition, and he also used a step back move to knock down a pull-up three while getting an and one.  He also showed the ability to score on drives to the hoop, and he even used a spin move to score on a nifty fadeaway jumper while also obtaining an extra free throw, but sometimes, he would miss wildly on drives in traffic, and he can struggle to score against longer, taller players.

Winston did show a good ability to distribute the basketball, and he can kick it out to shooters off the dribble to set up scores for them.  He looked to be okay defensively.  He knocked a ball away to almost get a steal, but was unable to corral it in bounds.  However, there was one play where he was called for committing a foul on a drive.  In general, Cassius Winston put forth a solid performance in a loss for his team, and he is a smart, skilled floor general that could be a potential second round pick whenever he decides to enter the NBA draft.

This game was actually kind of interesting, and it picked up in the second half when Michigan State was surprisingly competitive before falling just short to Kansas.  However, there were a couple of duds that greatly disappointed, and two of these prospects that significantly failed to meet expectations in this game were Kansas’ Lagerald Vick and Michigan State’s Nick Ward.

Lagerald Vick’s play was quite disappointing, and he scored a measly two points on 1-of-7 shooting.  Despite scoring off of a cut, Vick was unable to get going on offense.  He struggled mightily in his attempts to knock down jumpers, and after using a nifty Euro-step move, he ended up getting his shot swatted on a drive in transition by Goins.

His playmaking skills were perhaps average at best.  Vick did show a willingness to make the extra pass, and he was able to rack up some assists.  But he did commit some boneheaded turnovers.  He slipped and fell on a drive to commit a traveling violation, and he had some trouble handling the basketball in this game.  He also hot potatoed a pass after getting the ball off of a cut, and he chucked the ball so far that it sailed out of bounds.  He did show off some pretty good defensive skills, though.  Vick showed a strong ability to jump passes to get steals for his team, and he is a quick player that can jump the routes.  But there was one play where he lost track of his man on a cut, which caused him to eventually commit the foul that time.

In summary, Lagerald Vick did not play well in this game, and he did not help himself with a poor showing in this contest.  He will need to play considerably better than how he did here.  Right now, he may be a borderline second round prospect.  He is an athletic combo guard that is an active help defender, but he will need to be a better shooter, shot creator, and ball handler in order to move up draft boards in the future.

Nick Ward did not have a great game on this day for Michigan State.  He did make a few good plays at times, but overall, he turned in a poor performance in this game.  For the positives, he will run the floor to score and get free throws in transition, though it was a bit odd that he would run to post up on the break at times.

He also managed to score on an awkward bank shot off of a roll to the rim.  However, Ward was terrible at posting up in this game, as his attempts to score on jump hooks against Kansas’ big men down low proved to be very ineffective.  He also did not shoot the ball well or show much of an ability to score off the dribble in the half court.  Ward also was turnover prone, especially when he would look to set up in the post.  He lost the ball when posting up on one occasion, and he also was called for an off-ball foul when jostling for low post position on another.

Defensively, his play was terrible.  He played awful low post defense, and there were multiple times where no resistance when defending Azubuike in the post, which would result in him allowing scores to his man.  Ward also tended to commit fouls inside, and he was a straight up defensive liability in this game, and Michigan State seemed to defend better when he was not defending inside the paint.

In general, Nick Ward played poorly in this game, and he did not help himself at all in this event.  His lack of size and mobility showed as he struggled mightily to play in the post on either end of the floor, and he also does not seem to possess much perimeter skills.  Though he has been productive in college, his game looks to be a poor fit for the NBA, and he should probably go undrafted in 2019, especially if he keeps playing as badly as he did against Kansas when matched up against top competition.