Observations on Tyrese Maxey, Cassius Winston, and Ashton Hagans in the 2019 Champions Classic

November 6th, 2019

by Alan Lu

Two of the top ranked teams, Kentucky and Michigan State squared off against each other in the main event of the 2019 State Farm Champions Classic during the season opener in college basketball. There was considerable interest to see how well Tyrese Maxey, Cassius Winston, Kahlil Whitney, and Ashton Hagans would perform in this game, and Tyrese Maxey ended up being the standout performer of this contest.   Maxey starred in this match, as he showed very good scoring skills and athleticism, and Kentucky was able to get the victory. Here are my thoughts on how various prospects fared on this day, as well as how their games may translate to the NBA.

Tyrese Maxey was the star of the 2019 State Farm Champions Classic, and he could be a likely lottery pick in 2020. (Photo: UK Athletics via KY Forward.)
Tyrese Maxey was the star of the 2019 State Farm Champions Classic, and he could be a likely lottery pick in 2020. (Photo: UK Athletics via KY Forward.)

Kentucky’s freshman point guard, Tyrese Maxey had a superb performance to lead his team to a victory over Michigan State. Even though he came off the bench to start the game, he was by far the best player at this event due to his tremendous scoring skills.

Maxey did a great job of scoring on speedy drives to the basket. He has an excellent first step off the dribble, and he would frequently score on runners off the glass. He can finish plays with either hand, and he also showed a knack for quickly getting into the lane and to the free throw line by drawing hoards of fouls upon his defenders. He has terrific foot speed, ball handling ability, as well as the body control to regularly finish plays around the basket.

Plus, Maxey also has a lot of range on his shot, as he was able to make a couple of deep threes from well beyond the arc. He also was able to dribble in to make a clutch pull-up three from way out to help seal the game for his team. He tend sometimes miss from long range, but Maxey generally excelled at making shots from all over the floor.

He also is a speedy playmaker that can get to anywhere he wants on the floor. Maxey also was able to throw a lob pass off of a drive to set up a scoring chance for his teammate. But he didn’t seem to look to pass enough in this game, and sometimes he would be inaccurate with his passes, and he threw one ball out of bounds due to miscommunication.

Also, Maxey did a pretty good job of rebounding the basketball. He would leap up to get plenty of defensive boards, and he even boxed out to do so once.

He also played fairly good defense. Maxey is an active help defender that would jump passes to get steals and deflections for his team, and he would apply heavy ball pressure and contest shots to force misses.  However, he can be too aggressive in guarding his man, which can lead him to commit fouls. He also once over-helped in the paint, as he was late to rotate back, which led him to allow his opponent to score on a three-point basket.

In general, Tyrese Maxey played very well, as he was by far, the best player in the 2019 Champions Classic. He is a speedy combo guard that can really shoot and score the basketball. He really helped himself by having a terrific showing here, and he is a player that could potentially go in the top 5, as he could end up being a very good player in the NBA.

Cassius Winston could be a likely second round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. (Photo: Adam Hunger of the Associated Press, via Freep.)
Cassius Winston had a good showing in his team’s loss to Kentucky. (Photo: Adam Hunger of the Associated Press, via Detroit Free Press.)

Michigan State’s 6-1 senior point guard, Cassius Winston played fairly well in his team’s loss to Kentucky. He initially got off to a slow start and had some surprising lapses on defense on a few occasions, but Winston showed a knack to make tough shots, and he also showed off solid court vision with the ball in his hands on offense.

Winston showed a good ability to score on strong drives to the basket. He can finish plays with either hand, and he would tend to score and draw free throws on tough runners. He also used a stutter step, overhead ball fake to score on an acrobatic layup while falling away late in the game while getting an extra free throw simultaneously.

He also is a smart player that can take advantage of defenders when they take their eyes off of him, as he managed to score on a quick cut to the hoop early in this game.

Winston also was able to use a behind the back, step back move prior to making a nifty pull-up three in transition, but he struggled to knock down threes consistently from beyond the arc. Sometimes though, he would struggle to create separation between himself and his defender, which occasionally would lead him to take tough, low percentage shots from the field that would lead to misses.

Winston also displayed adequate playmaking skills. Winston is a good facilitator off the dribble, as he can throw solid interior passes and find teammates on the move to set up scores for them. He also can kick balls out to shooters to get them open looks from beyond the arc. However, Winston sometimes would make mental mistakes that led him to commit turnovers. He was called for traveling once off of a drive, and he also dropped a couple of catchable passes that led to other turnovers.

In this game, he did not play very good defense nor rebounded well. For the positives, Winston was able to poke a ball from behind to nearly get a steal, and he also contested a three-point shot to force a miss another time. However, Winston tended to foul Quickley on three-point shots, as he kept committing bad fouls when defending out on the perimeter. Other times, he would get beat off the dribble as he struggled to guard quicker players, which would lead him to allow scores and commit fouls.

In summary, Cassius Winston had an adequate showing in this game against Kentucky, as he made tough shots, and generally was able to make sound decisions most of the time when he had the ball in his hands on offense. However, he struggled with his outside shot, and he played uncharacteristically bad defense, as he had a penchant for fouling jump shooters. Right now, Winston looks to be a second round prospect, as he may be a similar player to current Minnesota Timberwolves guard, Shabazz Napier, and Winston is a cerebral table setter that could end up carving out a long career in the NBA.

Ashton Hagans is a first round prospect for the 2020 draft.  (Photo: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports via Freep.)
Ashton Hagans played very well early on, he didn’t quite play nearly as well afterwards, but his team was able to hold on for the win. (Photo: Brad Penner/USA Today Sports via Detroit Free Press.)

Kentucky’s sophomore point guard, Ashton Hagans started off playing very well, but he cooled off as the game wore on, as he struggled to consistently make shots or to take care of the basketball. He had a promising start to this game, but he ended with a rather uneven and a slightly disappointing performance, as he was unable to keep playing well throughout this contest.

Hagans showed an adequate ability to score off the dribble. He is a quick, shifty guard that was able to use a ball fake to score on a left-handed runner while getting an extra free throw early on, as he is a deft ball handler that showed off solid shooting touch that time. He also can draw free throws on patient drives off of screens. However, Hagans tended to rush shots when attacking the basket, which led him to missing wildly in traffic.

He also used a nice crossover move to knock down a pull-up, mid-range jumper, and Hagans seemed to be comfortable in making shots from that range. Plus, he also ran the floor and scored on an easy layup in transition on a separate play. However, Hagans missed on his only three-point attempt from beyond the arc, and he also missed on a put back attempt, as he struggled with his shooting touch at times in this game.

Also, Hagans displayed average at best playmaking skills. For the positives, Hagans can throw solid interior passes, and he also can find teammates on the move to set up scores for them. He is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man, but he also tended to commit turnovers, as he would throw inaccurate passes that would either get intercepted or sail out of bounds.

Hagans also played decent defense. He would play passing lanes to get steals and deflections, and he also would apply heavy ball pressure to hound his opponents, as he did so once to force an opponent to travel once. However, he also got beat off the dribble on a few plays, which prompted a teammate to have to foul on drives, and he also was called for a reach-in foul when defending on the break another time.

Overall, Ashton Hagans had some very good moments at times in his team’s win over Michigan State, but he didn’t quite play as well as expected after getting off to a fast start early in this contest. He is a speedy playmaker that has considerable potential, but he will need to be a more consistent player in games. Right now, he may project to go in the late first round range, and Hagans is a talented prospect that could end up thriving as a role player in the NBA.

Michigan State’s 6-6 sophomore swingman, Aaron Henry had an uneven performance in his team’s loss to Kentucky. He was virtually non-existent in the first half, as he did not take a single shot or score in that time span and picked up two fouls, but he played well in the second half to help keep the game close.

Henry generally excelled at scoring on hustle plays, as he would run the floor to get scores on the break, and he can score off the dribble when he is in the open court. He also was able to run off of a curl cut to get the ball prior to using a pivot move to score on a layup around the basket.

He also showed off adequate shooting skills. Henry was able to make a spot-up three off the catch, but missed on two other occasions. Henry also struggled to create his own shot in the half court, as he missed in the post once, and he did not look to score off the dribble when his team would play in a half-court offense.

Also, Henry passed and handled the ball well in this game. He showed a solid ability to drive and dish to find teammates around the basket to notch assists, and Henry throws solid interior passes when driving towards the basket. He is an unselfish player that will keep the ball moving, and he also did not commit a single turnover.

Defensively, he looked to be about average. Henry was able to deflect a pass to nearly get a steal once. However, he also bit on a ball fake on a separate play, as he fouled an opponent on a runner to give his opponent the score and an extra free throw that time.

Overall, Henry had his ups and downs, but he played better down the stretch. He can tend to be too passive on offense, but Henry is an athletic swingman that can make threes and score on off-ball motion plays. Right now, he may be a second round prospect for the 2020 draft, but if he can continue to make strides to improve on both ends of the floor, Henry could end up being an effective role player in the association.

Kentucky’s 6-6 freshman swingman, Kahlil Whitney made some good plays early on, but he tended to fade into the background, as he really just didn’t seem to do enough of anything.   His performance wasn’t really disappointing, as so much as he just didn’t seem to stand out.

Early on, he was able to drive up the court in transition, as he used a Euro-step move to draw free throws to help his team. He didn’t get continuation, but Whitney showed that he has some ball handling skills, and has the ability to finish plays around the basket.

He also ran off the ball to make a three, as he shot the ball fairly well in the limited shot attempts he had in this game. However, Whitney missed on another three, and he also missed on a pull-up, mid-range jumper. He also didn’t make many of his free throws, so he didn’t take advantage of the opportunities there once he was able to get to the foul line.

Also, Whitney ended up committing a couple of turnovers on offense. He threw an interior pass that got intercepted, and he also was called for traveling on another occasion late in the first half. On the bright side, Whitney would crash the glass to get his fair share of boards.

He did play decent defense, as he applied considerable ball pressure to hound opposing ball pressure, and his team in general played tough perimeter defense. However, there was one play where he fell down defending off the ball, as he was out of position when his man made the catch, and he ended up allowing his opponent to score on a pull-up, mid-range shot.

Overall, Kahlil Whitney didn’t stand out in this game, and he was not very assertive on offense. On the other hand, he is an athletic, tough swingman that will rebound and defend. He will need to show that he can consistently make shots and smart decisions on offense. Right now, he may be a second round prospect, but he may have the skills to be an effective role player at the next level, as he may have a similar game to former New York Knicks’ guard, Henry Walker.

Michigan State’s 6-8 junior forward, Xavier Tillman had some good moments at times in his team’s loss to Kentucky, but he didn’t make enough shots or plays to have made a memorable impact when he was on the floor.

Tillman did a good job of scoring in the post. He is a strong, bruising big man that has good footwork, as he was able to pivot to score on a quick step-through move once, and he also used a good spin move to score on another layup. He has a wide frame that makes it tough for defenders to get around him to front him, which led his opponent to be called for a foul upon the catch once.

Tillman also was able to score another time when left open around the basket. However, he was unable to score on a runner off of a high-post drive, and he was unable to connect on any of his three-point attempts.

Tillman did a good job of passing out of the post, but he also committed a slew of turnovers. When doubled in the post, he fell once to lose the ball, and he also was called for charging fouls off of drives on two occasions. He also had some trouble protecting the basketball, as he also had the ball stripped away from him shortly after getting an offensive rebound once.

In this game, Tillman generally rebounded the ball well, as he would crash the glass to get numerous boards for his team. He also played adequate defense. Tillman would play passing lanes to try to help his team get steals, and he also has very good strength that allows him to defend well in the post. But sometimes he can too aggressive in contesting shots, which can lead him to commit fouls.

Overall, Xavier Tillman had his ups and downs, and he seems to be an old-school, power forward that can score with his back to the basket, while also setting hard-hitting screens that can free up his teammates for open shots. He’ll need to improve his face-up game and decision making skills though, and there were times where he would play too recklessly that would lead him to commit turnovers. Right now, he may be a borderline second round prospect. He’s undersized to play inside, and he’s not an overwhelming athlete, but he’s a bruiser that can bully opponents in the paint to get points and rebounds. He’ll need to adjust to play a more modern style in the NBA, but Tillman is a player that will make team plays, and he may have the skills to end up making a team’s roster at the next level.

Kentucky’s 6-9 senior forward, Nate Sestina played fairly well, even though he didn’t look to shoot the ball very often. He showed off versatile scoring skills in the limited number of shots he took. Sestina was able to use a pivot move to score on a turnaround jump hook in the post, he ran the floor to score on an emphatic jam on the break, and he also made an open trail three in transition.

He also showed a willingness to crash the glass, and he also blocked a shot off of a drive to show some defensive skills. However, Sestina can be too aggressive at times on defense, which led him to pick up several fouls. Overall, Sestina is a skilled combo forward that can make shots, and he could end up being a reliable role player in the NBA, as his game may be somewhat similar to current Portland Trail Blazers’ forward, Anthony Tolliver.

Immanuel Quickley is a fairly quick playmaker that did a good job of getting Winston to foul him on three-point shots, and Quickley excelled at drawing and making many free throws in this game. He made Winston respect his three-point shot from the get go, and Quickley also later made a tough, contested pull-up three.

Plus, he also played fairly good defense, as he was able to intercept a pass off of a cut to nab a steal, and Quickley also contested a shot in the post to force a miss. Overall, Quickley is a talented player that can do a little bit of everything, and he is a second round prospect that could end up being an effective player in the NBA.

Michigan State’s 6-11 sophomore center, Marcus Bingham Jr. had some good plays in his team’s loss to Kentucky. He excelled at scoring off rolls and in transition, as he was able to score on an alley-oop dunk after diving to the rim to get the ball, as well as on an emphatic jam on the break. Plus, Bingham also managed to score on a put back dunk off of an offensive rebound, and he generally rebounded the ball well.

However, he was unable to make jumpers from just inside the arc, and he tended to be inaccurate with his passes. Overall, Bingham is an athletic big man that may project to be a defensive specialist, and he may even be the most athletic player on his own team, but he will need to expand his skill set offensively in order to improve his chances to make an NBA team’s roster in the future.

Michigan State’s sophomore swingman, Gabe Brown made a couple of corner threes early, and he is an above average athlete that can run the floor. However, he struggled to make shots down the stretch, and he didn’t shoot well overall. He will need to be a more consistent shooter in games, but he could be a player to keep an eye on down the road.

Nick Richards didn’t make a significant impact on this game, but he was active as a help defender, as he can swat shots off of drives, and he also was able to deflect a pass. Plus, he also applied heavy ball pressure to force a shot clock violation.   On offense, Richards scored on a thunderous dunk in transition and also scored on a hook shot in the post. However, Richards had trouble consistently scoring in the post, and he tended to run into foul trouble, as he eventually fouled out. Overall, Richards is an athletic big man that may project to be a defensive specialist, but he will need to improve his offensive skills and be a more disciplined defender to increase his odds to make an NBA team’s roster in the future.

E.J. Montgomery didn’t have a great game overall, but he had some good moments at times against Michigan State. He was able to score in the post after getting deep position, and he also excelled at scoring on hustle plays. Plus, he also managed to swat a couple of shots in the paint. However, Montgomery struggled to consistently score in one-on-one situations, and he missed both of his jumpers. Overall, he is an athletic big man that may project to be a defensive specialist at the next level, but he will need to refine his offensive skills to improve his odds to succeed in the NBA.

Kentucky’s freshman swingmen, Keion Brooks and Johnny Juzang were virtually non-factors in their team’s win over Michigan State, as they did not make a shot, and both struggled on defense. Brooks had some bad misses and tended to be out of position defensively, and Juzang was called for a reach-in foul out on the perimeter.