Assessing Keve Aluma and Isaiah Wong

March 15th, 2021

By Alan Lu

Several months ago, I decided to watch Earl Timberlake play for Miami in a game against Virginia Tech that was played on December 29th.  I found this game to be massively disappointing though, because Timberlake did not end up making a field goal, and he had a step-back three taken off the board in the second half, as he was whistled for an unfortunate traveling call instead.

Timberlake scored just one point in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech.  Instead, I found Virginia Tech to be a solid collegiate basketball team, and it was the dominant play of 6-9 junior forward, Keve Aluma that helped him propel the Hokies to get a convincing win over Miami.  Here are my thoughts on how Aluma, Timberlake, and the other prospects fared on this day.

Virginia Tech’s Keve Aluma scored 26 points to help lead his team to an 80-78 win over Miami.
(Photo:
Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times, Virginia Tech Athletics, via The Tech Lunch Pail)

Virginia Tech’s 6-9 junior forward, Keve Aluma had a strong showing in his team’s win over Miami.  He scored 26 points, and he also collected 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 1 steal in this game. Aluma showed a solid ability to score in the post.  He has solid strength, footwork, and shooting touch, and he would use pump fake moves to score inside, and he also would use a series of drop steps to score on jump hooks and step-through moves.  He also would absorb the contact and draw fouls upon his defenders to get to the free throw line often.  He did miss a few turnaround jump hooks later on, as he would sometimes struggle when he wouldn’t use ball fakes to get a step on his man.

He also excelled at scoring off the dribble as well as on hustle plays.  Aluma drove in and used an overhead ball fake to score on a strong jump hook.  He also would tend to score on timely put backs after grabbing offensive rebounds.  He also ran the floor and caught a lob pass to draw free throws on an alley-oop dunk attempt on the break. He also flashed the ability to knock down jumpers in this game.  Aluma was able to make an open, spot-up three off the catch.  However, he struggled to knock down threes consistently, as he particularly had trouble trying to make them off of pick and pop plays.  He also attempted a long two, but missed that time.

Also, Aluma displayed solid playmaking skills.  He is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man, and he also was able to pass out of the post to notch an assist once.  On the downside, he dropped an entry pass that led to a team turnover, and he also threw a hasty pass in which he led his teammate to get a ball knocked away that led to another. Plus, he also was able to grab his fair share of rebounds against Miami.  Aluma was able to leap up to get multiple boards on both sides of the ball, and he was able to provide plenty of second chance points to help his team on offense.

He also played fairly good defense.  Alumba was able to hustle to block shots off of drives to teammates, and he also swatted a shot to a teammate in the post another time.  He did a great job of directing balls to his teammates when blocking shots to help his team get possession of the basketball afterwards.  He also was able to challenge another shot in the post to force a miss.  On a separate play though, he rotated but struggled to defend a drive, which led his teammate to rotate to commit a foul.  Another time, he tried to contest a shot when defending in the post, but gave up a bit too much space, which led his team to allow the score.

In general, Keve Aluma played very well in his team’s win over Miami.  He especially played well in the first half, and his dominant showing led the way for his team to get the victory.  He is Virginia Tech’s best player, and they could be a solid team in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.  Though Aluma may not be an overwhelming athlete, he is a skilled, energetic big man that has versatile scoring skills, and he also competes relentlessly on both ends of the court.  He has flown under the radar as a draft prospect, but he could be a solid pick for an NBA team in the second round of the 2021 draft.

Miami’s 6-3 sophomore guard, Isaiah Wong also played well in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech.  He showed off versatile scoring skills, and he had a solid all-around game, as he scored 16 points, made 3 threes, and he also had 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal in this game. Wong did a good job of driving aggressively to the hoop to draw fouls upon his defenders, which would enable him to get to the free throw line often.  He also excelled at scoring on cuts.  He was able to catch a lob pass off of a cut, as he then scored on an athletic, alley-oop dunk.  He also cut to the post, and then drew free throws on an acrobatic, turnaround fadeaway jumper another time.

He also displayed adequate ability to knock down threes in this game.  Wong would use crossover moves to make smooth, pull-up threes from beyond the arc.  He also made an open, spot-up three off the catch.  Sometimes though, he would be streaky with his outside shot, and there was one three-pointer that he missed, as he ended up kicking out his legs while trying desperately to draw the foul call.  Every once in a while, he would have issues with his shooting mechanics when he would try unsuccessfully to draw foul calls, which would lead to misses.

He also showcased decent playmaking skills.  Wong is an unselfish player that can get the ball to his teammates in a variety of ways, and he can throw solid interior passes to set up scores for his teammates.  On the downside, he threw a hasty pass off of a drive that got intercepted once.  He also tried a fancy crossover and ended up losing the ball on a drive out of bounds on another possession.

Also, he did an adequate job of rebounding the basketball.  He also played adequate defense in this game.  Wong was able to intercept a pass to get a steal.  On another play though, he got back on defense, but didn’t contest a shot on a drive in transition, as he tried to take a charge, but the opponent just went around him to score the basketball.

In summary, Isaiah Wong is an agile, skilled combo guard that excelled at drawing numerous free throws, and he did a good job of scoring the basketball.  He is an unheralded prospect that showed off solid all-around skills.  He’ll need to look to pass more, as he’ll need to show that he can effectively run the point at the next level, but he is a skilled scorer that could be a solid pick for an NBA team in the second round range whenever he decides to enter the NBA draft.

Virginia Tech’s 6-7 junior forward, Justyn Mutts played well in his team’s win over Miami.  He scored 15 points, made 3 threes, and he also had 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists in this game. Mutts excelled at making quick, open spot-up threes off the catch.  He also showed a knack for scoring on left-handed drives to the hoop, and he showed good body control to score and draw fouls upon his defenders to get to the free throw line.  He also managed to score on a tip-in after grabbing an offensive rebound.  Sometimes though, he would miss on fairly easy shots around the basket.

As a playmaker, he looked to be about average.  Mutts is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man.  However, he was called for a couple of traveling violations, and he also threw a pass that got intercepted another time. Mutts also did a good job of rebounding the basketball.  He also showed a knack for intercepting passes to get steals.

Overall, Mutts played well, and he made solid plays to help his team on both ends of the court.  He has flown under the radar as a draft prospect, but he could perhaps project into a 3 and D role at the NBA level if he can continue to hone his game and progress as an overall player.

Virginia Tech’s 6-1 redshirt sophomore guard, Tyrece Radford also played fairly well in his team’s win over Miami.  He scored 13 points, and he also had 9 rebounds to help his team get the victory. Radford did a good job of scoring off the dribble as well as in the post.  He also managed to pull up to make a mid-range jump shot.  He also defended well, as he contested a three to force a miss.  On the downside, he did not make a three-point shot in this game. Overall, Radford is an athletic, skilled combo guard that excels at attacking the basket to score in the paint.  He will need to improve his jump shot and playmaking skills, but he could be a prospect to keep an eye on next season.

Miami’s 6-9 sophomore forward, Anthony Walker also showed off some interesting skills in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech.  In this game, he ran the floor and caught a long pass to score on a high-flying, powerful dunk in transition.  He struggled to knock down jumpers though. He also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  He can throw solid passes off the dribble to get assists.  On the other hand, he struggled to handle the ball when pressured, which would lead him to commit a couple of ball-handling turnovers.  He also struggled defensively, as he ended up committing fouls as a result.

Overall, Anthony Walker is a very athletic big man that can make hustle plays to help his team in games, but he will need to improve his shooting and ball-handling.  He will most likely need to stay in school for at least another season, but he could be a prospect to keep tabs on down the road.

I initially had decided to watch this game because then-Miami guard, Earl Timberlake was considered to be a potential first round pick for the 2021 draft.  However, his play in this match was so abysmal that I thought it would be unwise for an NBA team to take a chance on him in the second round if he ends changing his mind to declare to enter the draft, as he is still very far away from being ready to play in the NBA right now.  Also, Timberlake scored just 1 point on 0 for 4 shooting in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech in this game.

Timberlake showed an adequate ability to score off the dribble.  He was able to draw free throws on an aggressive drive to the hoop, but he ended up making just one of two free throws.  He struggled to knock down jumpers or score in the post. He had a couple of his shots blocked, and he would tend to take questionable shots that would lead to bad misses.  He almost had a solid make, as it appeared as if he made a nifty, step-back three to help his team rally back in the second half, but instead, Timberlake was called for committing an unfortunate traveling violation that time.

He is a pass-first, point forward that will pass the ball a lot, which can net him plenty of assists.  Timberlake tended to throw solid interior passes, as he did a good job of finding teammates on the move to set up scores for them.  He also can throw timely passes to get his teammates the basketball in prime spots where they can go up and score afterwards.  On the downside, he threw an ill-advised, inaccurate jump pass off the dribble that went off his teammates hands and sailed out of bounds.  Another time, he was called for an unfortunate traveling violation that took his would’ve been only made field goal off the board, which left him having gone the entire game without having made a field goal.

Also, Timberlake showed a solid ability to rebound the basketball.  He would chase down balls to get defensive boards, and he also would sometimes bring the ball up afterwards.  He also played satisfactory defense.  He was able to jump on a loose ball an opponent dropped to get a steal.  He also rotated to contest a shot in the post to force a miss.  He also fought through a screen to stay with an opposing ball handler.  Another time though, he sagged too far off of a shooter, which led him to allow his man to score on a three-point shot.

Overall, Earl Timberlake was able to make some team plays at times in this game, but he disappointed with his inability to shoot or score on offense.  Perhaps he was too hyped up as a prospect, and to me, he never really seemed to be much of a shooter or scorer, either at this level, or in the game that I saw when he was in high school. 

Also, I’m just not entirely sure what the fuss was that had helped build up his draft stock in the first place.  Timberlake doesn’t even look to shoot or score the basketball very often, and he tends to be entirely too passive on offense.  He’s a point forward that has trouble knocking down shots, but if he can improve his jump shot, he could perhaps end up being a rotation player similar to Golden State Warriors’ guard, Brad Wanamaker in the NBA.

Miami’s 6-5 senior guard, Elijah Olaniyi played fairly well in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech.  He excelled as a shooter and scorer on offense.  He excelled at scoring on strong drives to the hoop, and he also made an open, corner three off the catch.  He struggled more to knock down three-point shots, but he showed a solid ability to score off the dribble.  He also got the ball off of a cut, and drew a non-shooting foul on the play. He also showed off decent playmaking skills.  Olaniyi can throw solid passes off the dribble to notch assists.  However, there was one play where he telegraphed a weak pass that ended up getting intercepted.

Overall, Elijah Olaniyi is an athletic, energetic swingman that can score and rebound the basketball, but he will need to improve his jump shot and show that he can guard upper-echelon opponents in games.  After having a strong junior season at Stony Brook, he had a slightly disappointing season at Miami.  Still, he is talented prospect that could end up making his way to the G-League and/or overseas next season, and if he can improve his outside shot, he could perhaps end up making his way to the NBA sometime down the road.

Miami’s then freshman forward, Matt Cross had played for them prior to deciding to transfer, and he played well in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech.  He did a great job of shooting and scoring the basketball to help his team on offense. Cross really excelled at making spot-up threes off the catch.  He particularly showed a knack for making open corner threes, and he also ran off of a ball screen to make a quick corner three another time.  He also managed to score in the post, as well as off of a backdoor cut another time.

On the downside, he was fairly turnover prone on offense.  On one good play, he used a pump fake to drive and kick a ball out to a shooter to notch an assist.  However, he struggled to handle the ball when pressured, which would lead him to commit ball-handling turnovers, and he also was called for setting a moving screen on another possession.

Though he didn’t get many rebounds, Cross was able to get a pair of defensive boards to help his team on the glass.  He also played satisfactory defense.  Cross would intercept passes to get steals.  On another play though, he bit on a pump fake and got beat off the dribble, which led his teammate to rotate to commit the foul on that occasion.

Overall, Matt Cross played well in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech.  He actually had a pretty good freshman season, but he didn’t shoot the ball nearly enough, and he didn’t rebound the ball nearly as well as expected.  Still, he is a skilled offensive player that can be a solid floor spacer in games, and he could make an immediate impact to the next team he ends up transferring to.

Miami’s 6-11 senior center, Nysier Brooks played well in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech.  He scored 10 points on 5 of 5 shooting, and he also had 6 rebounds and a block in this game. Brooks excelled at scoring in the post.  He was able to score on a turnaround jump hook, and he also threw down a powerful dunk another time.  He also made a mid-range jumper, and he also showed a knack for scoring on hustle plays. He also showed off perhaps above average playmaking skills.  Brooks was able to set a good off-ball screen to help his teammate score on an open jump shot.  On the downside, he also can be turnover prone on offense. On one play, he threw a hasty pass to a cutter that ended up out of bounds.

He also did a very good job of rebounding the basketball.  Brooks also played adequate defense.  He did a good job of rotating to block and contest shots in the paint to force misses.  On the downside, he tended to commit fouls when defending drives to the hoop, and he also sagged a bit too far off of a shooter, which led him to allow his man to score on a mid-range jumper.

Overall, Brooks had a good game in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech.  He is a strong, mobile big man that can make energetic hustle plays on both ends of the floor.  He’s struggled to make shots efficiently or to grab rebounds in games this season, and he is not always assertive on offense.  Still, he is a fairly athletic big man that plays hard when he is on the floor, and he could end up competing for a roster spot in the G-League and/or overseas next season.

Jalen Cone had a decent showing in his team’s win over Miami.  He showed a knack for pulling up to make mid-range floaters, and he also scored on a drive in transition.  He also made a couple of open, spot-up threes, but he also missed his fair share of long-range shots, as he was too streaky with his outside shot at times. He also played satisfactory defense, and he was able to jump a pass to get a steal.  Overall, Cone is an agile combo guard that can score the basketball when he gets into a rhythm, but he can be inconsistent in knocking down shots.  He will also need to look to get more of his teammates involved on offense to improve on his assist totals.  He will most likely need to stay in school for at least another season, but he could be a prospect to watch sometime in the future.

Miami’s 6-4 sophomore guard, Harlond Beverly played fairly well, as he scored 14 points, and had 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals in his team’s loss to Virginia Tech. He showed a knack for knocking down jumpers, as he was very effective at making spot-up threes off the catch, and he also was able to score on mid-range floaters and shots off the dribble.  On the downside, he also didn’t get any free throws, and he would sometimes struggle to score in traffic.

He also generally passed the ball well.  He tended to throw crisp, accurate interior passes to find teammates on the move, and he excelled at throwing lobs to set up scores for his teammates.  He throws good passes off the dribble, and he has solid court vision.  On the downside, he threw an ill-advised hasty pass that got intercepted once.  He also committed a charging foul on a drive another time. Also, Beverly rebounded the ball very well.  Defensively, he was able to get a pair of steals, but he also was called for fouling an opposing ball handler, as he had tripped him up on that occasion.

Overall, Beverly is a skilled, agile playmaker that can reliably run the team at the point.  On the downside, he didn’t shoot the ball very well this season, and he will really need to improve his jump shot.  He will need to stay in school for at least another season or two, and he will definitely have to improve that jump shot.

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