Observing Jabari Smith, TyTy Washington, and Walker Kessler

January 23rd, 2021

By Alan Lu

Yesterday, I managed to watch Jabari Smith and Auburn take on TyTy Washington and Kentucky in a tough, competitive SEC basketball game, and I was able to see this game with thanks to YouTube via O__BALL__O.  Kentucky took the early lead, but the tide turned when TyTy Washington landed on his teammate’s ankle after making a shot, and ended up missing the rest of the match.  From there, Auburn pretty much dominated after that to get the win.

Jabari Smith took over as he made a slew of strong plays on both ends of the floor, and he made his presence felt by showing off his superb skills and versatility in crunch time.  Walker Kessler did a great job of scoring on dunks and blocking shots to help shore up the paint for his team.  Auburn’s guards, K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. shot the ball very well, and they showed a knack for making deep pull-up threes from way out.  Kentucky was overmatched by Auburn’s second half run, and Auburn ended up getting the win.  Here are my thoughts on how Smith, Kessler, Washington, and other various prospects fared on this day.

Jabari Smith scored 14 points, and he played very well in his team’s win over Kentucky yesterday.
(Photo:
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images, via Fansided’s Busting Brackets)

Jabari Smith had a strong showing in his team’s win over Kentucky.  It may not have been reflected in his box score stats, but he made a number of really good plays down the stretch to help his team run away with the victory.  He made big shots, he made a really nice pass to notch an assist, and he also made numerous stops to help his team defensively. Smith did a very good job of knocking down mid-range jumpers.  He can quickly use either hand to get to his spots, and he showed a knack for scoring on pull-up, mid-range jump shots.  He can use a quick pump fake to get defenders in the air, and he can dribble off screens with ease.  He also managed to score on a tough, fadeaway jumper from the mid-range effortlessly to get a big bucket for his team down the stretch.

He also managed to score on a quick backdoor cut after getting the ball on a back screen.  Smith was able to make some very good reads in this game.  He struggled to consistently knock down his three-point shots, but he was able to use a jab step to make a three once.  He also drew three free throws on a pull-up three, and he was able to really sell the foul call to get to the free throw line.  On the downside, his primary defender, Brooks didn’t bite on jab steps very often, and Smith ended up missing his fair share of threes in this contest.

Also, Smith showed off satisfactory playmaking skills in this game.  He passed the ball very well, especially in crunch time.  He was able to throw an accurate entry pass early on.  Also, he drove to his left, and he used a hesitation move and a pump fake to get two defenders in the air, and he then threw a crafty wraparound pass to find an open teammate to notch his second assist, in what may have been Smith’s best pass of the season.  On the other hand, sometimes he would try to do too much and overtly try to force the issue, which can get him into a little bit of trouble on offense.  He would try to push the pace and handle the ball quite a bit, but it also led him to commit a couple of ball-handling turnovers.  He ended up getting the ball ripped away from him once.  He also tried to split a double team, but he fell and lost the ball in the backcourt that time. He also showed a solid ability to rebound the basketball.  Smith would often chase down balls to get defensive boards, and sometimes he would push the ball quickly up the court afterwards.  Early on though, he didn’t box out his man, and it led his team to give up a tip dunk to an opponent.

Also, Smith played solid defense in this game.  He did a very good job of blocking shots when defending in the paint.  He moved his feet well as he would look to cut off the penetration, and he would stay with his man to swat shots.  He was also able to swat a ball to himself on his second shot block.  Plus, he also showed a knack for poking balls away to get steals and deflections when defending opposing ball handlers, and he also deflected a pass another time.  He also did a good job of contesting jumpers to force misses.  Sometimes though, he would over-help in the paint and over-rotate, which led him to be too aggressive on a close out once, and it also led him to be unable to get back to defend his man on a cut another time.  Early on in this game though, he didn’t effectively communicate a screen to his teammate nor cut off penetration, which led his team to give up a score to an opponent on a baseline drive.

In general, Jabari Smith played very well in his team’s win over Kentucky.  Even though he didn’t score nearly as much as expected, he made big shots, made good reads and passes, and he was a shutdown defender in crunch time, and he was poised and absolutely unflappable.  I think he has really strengthened his case to be the top pick in this year’s draft, and Smith has the drive to both be a superstar and to help get an NBA team a championship at the next level.

Kentucky’s freshman point guard, TyTy Washington played nine minutes before injuring his ankle in his team’s loss to Auburn.
(Photo:
John Reed/USA Today Sports, via SB Nation’s A Sea of Blue)

TyTy Washington had a solid showing prior to getting hurt in his team’s loss to Auburn.  He had made big plays on both ends of the floor.  He was comfortable in knocking down mid-range jumpers, and he also proved to be a speedy playmaker that thrived at passing the ball out on the break.  He also defended well, and he was active in pressuring his man and getting stops for his team. Washington did a very good job of scoring on mid-range jumpers.  He was at his most comfortable in making mid-range jumpers off the dribble, as he did so with ease, although he ended up landing awkwardly on his teammate’s foot on the way down midway through the first half. 

He used a pump fake and dribbled to his right to swiftly take an open, pull-up three, and he effortlessly was able to create separation and get his shot off, although he missed it that time.  He ran the floor to get the ball on the break, and he drove hard to the hoop on the break.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have the numbers and over-dribbled as multiple defenders were already back there, and so he ended up getting his shot blocked. Also, Washington displayed good playmaking skills.  He is a fleet-footed guard that can quickly get into the lane, as he would effortlessly make passes off the dribble and in transition, and he also threw a lob to set up a score for a teammate on the break.  He did telegraph an inbounds pass that was deflected out of bounds, but it did not lead to a turnover for him on that possession.

He didn’t grab a rebound in this game.  He also played decent defense against Auburn.  He managed to rotate on a drive to poke a ball away to a teammate to get a steal.  He also fought through a screen and contested a drive to get a stop another time.  On the downside, he would sometimes shade too far to his right, and on one play, he over-pursued an opposing ball handler and got beat off the dribble, which led to a scramble situation for his team.

In summary, TyTy Washington proved to be an important and vital player for his team, and they sorely missed him when he went down to an ankle injury.  While his teammate, Sahvir Wheeler was able to drive to the hoop to provide scoring and playmaking skills, Wheeler’s lack of size combined with his aggressive tendencies made it tough for him to defend or get stops, and he would gamble too much and wind up out of position.  Conversely, Washington seemed to be a more disciplined defender, and he consistently threatened the defenses with his foot speed and versatility as an offensive player.  Overall, Washington will need time to get healthy, but he is an agile, skilled point guard that could be a solid pick for an NBA team in the late lottery range of the 2022 draft.

Walker Kessler had a strong showing in his team’s win over Kentucky.
(Photo:
Matthew Shannon/AU Athletics, via Rivals)

Auburn’s 7-1 center, Walker Kessler played very well in his team’s win over Kentucky.  Though he’s not an overwhelming athlete, he’s a tall, energetic center that continues to be very productive on the basketball court.  He thrived as the roll man and scorer in the post, and he often would use off-ball motion to get open to score on powerful dunks.  He continued to demonstrate his shot-blocking prowess, but mostly it was his strong ability to set screens and score on rolls to the rim that made him really effective as an inside scorer throughout this contest.

Kessler did a great job of scoring on hustle plays.  He would often set screens, roll to the rim, and score afterwards.  He would catch lobs to score on powerful alley-oop dunks, and he also managed to score on emphatic jams.  He also caught an interior pass off of a roll, and managed to score on a tough, flip layup off the glass.  He also scored on a strong put back dunk off of an offensive rebound.  He tried to score on a backdoor cut off of a smart misdirection play, but he went too far underneath the hoop and ended up missing the shot at an odd angle.

He also showed a solid ability to score in the post.  Kessler did a great job of scoring on powerful dunks.  He was really effective at being at the dunker spot to get the basketball around the basket, which would enable him to score on strong jams afterwards.  Kessler also drove to the hoop and used a drop step and an overhead ball fake to draw free throws on a leaner another time, as he was effective in using his footwork and ball moves to draw a foul on his defender.

Also, Kessler showed off satisfactory playmaking skills.  He is an unselfish player that would find the open man, and he can throw timely passes to get his teammates the basketball.  He also set a really good, physical on-ball screen that laid out the other team’s point guard, and it enabled his teammate to dribble to score on an open jump shot.  On the downside, there was one play where Kessler telegraphed a lazy pass that ended up getting picked off.  Plus, he did a decent job of rebounding the basketball.  Kessler was fairly active at crashing the glass, and he was able to get boards on both ends of the floor.  Early on though, there was one play where a ball went off his hands that ended up going to the other team. 

Kessler also played satisfactory defense.  He did a good job of rotating to block shots to help his team protect the paint due to possessing solid length, timing, and instincts.  He was active in contesting shots in the paint to force misses.  He also defended well in the post, as he had the strength to hold his ground down low, and he also wouldn’t often bite on pump fakes, so he would be in good position to get stops for his team.  Plus, he also would deflect passes.  On the downside, he would tend to sag too far off of shooters and give up too much space to them, which would lead him to allow opponents to score on jumpers.  Other times, he would be too aggressive in trying to make plays, which would lead him to commit hard fouls.

Overall, Walker Kessler is an energetic big man that excelled as a finisher and shot blocker in his team’s win over Kentucky.  He didn’t really have to do more in this game specifically, but for the next level, he’ll need to extend his shooting range and improve his jump shot, and also show that he can consistently guard opponents out on the perimeter.  Still, Kessler has been a very productive player this year, and he could be a solid second round pick that could be a similar player to Sacramento Kings’ center, Damian Jones in the NBA.

Kellan Grady had a good showing in his team’s loss to Auburn.  He shot the ball very well, and he also passed and defended well in this game.  He did a great job of knocking down threes to provide floor spacing for his team on offense.  He used a pump fake and dribbled to make a smooth, pull-up three on the break early on.  He also would run off the ball to make quick, spot-up threes, and he also has a lot of range on his shot.  He also ran off of a ball screen and drew free throws on a pull-up, mid-range jumper.  Another time though, he missed on an off-balanced, pull-up jumper from the mid-range, as he struggled to get his shot off in the half court that time. 

Also, he was able to score on a thunderous dunk on a quick drive in transition.  Plus, he also passed and handled the ball well.  Grady would throw crisp, accurate interior passes to find teammates on the move, and he can make swift drive and kick passes.  He tended to make good reads, and he showed that he can make quick decisions on offense.  Plus, he was able to get a pair of defensive rebounds in this game.  Also, Grady played satisfactory defense.  He would jump on loose balls to get steals, and he also would poke balls away to help his get additional steals and deflections.  Plus, he also would challenge three-point shots to force plenty of misses.  On the downside, sometimes he would struggle to defend quicker players, as he would get beat on quick moves to the hoop.  He also struggled to fight through a screen and took a bad angle to try to do so, and it led to a scramble situation and to his team to allow a score that time.

Overall, Kellan Grady is a fairly athletic, skilled guard that can shoot and score the basketball, but he also quietly had a solid, all-around game in his team’s loss to Auburn.  He could project to be a 3 and D type of role player at the NBA level, and he has been a very good player for Kentucky this season.

Jacob Toppin had a solid showing in his team’s loss to Auburn.  He is a very athletic, high-motor forward that thrived at scoring on hustle plays, and he also was able to make some solid defensive plays before fouling out of this contest.  Toppin was able to run in to score on an athletic tip dunk.  He also picked off a pass to get a steal, and drove up court to score on a high-flying, 360 breakaway dunk.  Plus, he also managed to score on a powerful dunk off of a backdoor cut.

He also played satisfactory defense.  Toppin would get his hands on passes to get steals, and he also successfully drew a charge another time.  However, he also would be too aggressive in trying to get stops at times, which would lead him to commit touch fouls.  Overall, Toppin played well in this game, and he showed much more athleticism than previously thought, and he could be a sleeper prospect to watch later on this season.

Keion Brooks quietly had a decent showing in his team’s loss to Auburn.  He showed the ability to score on hustle plays, and he also generally defended well.  He scored on an athletic tip slam early on, and he used a Euro-step move to score on a drive in transition late.  Though he was inconsistent as a scorer in the post, he used a drop step move to score on an off-balanced layup once.  He didn’t shoot the ball well from the outside, and he also missed his only three-point shot. Brooks was fairly turnover prone, as he struggled to consistently create separation or handle the ball when pressured, which would lead him to commit ball-handling turnovers.  He did manage to set a solid on-ball screen to help his teammate get an open driving lane to set up a score for him.

Plus, he also rebounded and defended well.  Brooks tended to be disciplined when guarding jump shooters, as he would tend not to bite on jab steps or ball fakes, and he would timely contest outside shots to force misses.  Every once in a while, he would be too aggressive, which led him to bite on a pump fake to give up a mid-range basket once, and it led him to rotate to foul an opponent on a drive another time.

Overall, Keion Brooks played fairly well in his team’s loss to Auburn, even if the box score may suggest otherwise.  He played solid defense, and he was active and alert in getting stops for his team.  He is an athletic forward that needs to improve his jump shot and his handles, but his defensive skills could enable him to compete for a roster spot in the NBA someday.

Oscar Tshiebwe played fairly well in his team’s loss to Auburn.  He was able to make some powerful plays to score around the basket, but he was inconsistent as a low post scorer, and he was up and down as a defender throughout the game.  While he excelled as a shot blocker, he often struggled to defend in screen situations, and his inability to get his team to defend in those situations made it really tough for them to try to get stops in this game.

Tshiebwe excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  He ran the floor and caught a lob to score on a powerful alley-oop dunk.  He also ran in to score on a tip-in off of an offensive rebound.  Plus, he was able to make an open, long two-point shot quickly, and he also showed a smooth shooting stroke in the process.  He displayed adequate low post scoring skills.  He was able to use drop step moves to score around the basket.  He also managed to score on a contested right-handed hook shot, as well as on a powerful dunk another time.  However, he sometimes had trouble finishing plays against taller, longer players, which would sometimes lead him to miss shots in traffic.

He looked to be fairly average as a playmaker in this game.  For the positives, he threw a bounce pass to a teammate on a cut to notch an assist.  However, sometimes he would take too long to make a play off the dribble, and it would lead him to commit shot clock violations.  Another time, he threw a rushed outlet pass that got intercepted.  Also, he did a tremendous job of rebounding the basketball.  Tshiebwe was quite active at crashing the boards to get them on both sides of the ball, and he would sometimes push the ball quickly up the court after helping his team get defensive rebounds. 

He also played satisfactory defense in this game.  Tshiebwe did a great job of rotating to block shots, as he would sometimes swat balls to his teammates, and he also managed to block a three-point shot to a teammate due to possessing good timing and instincts.  He also would jump on loose balls to get steals, and he also deflected a pass to help his team get another.  He applied pressure to a roll man to force his man to drop the ball in order to force the turnover, and he also excelled at contesting shots from both out on the perimeter as well as in the post to get stops for his team.  On the downside, Tshiebwe really struggled to defend in screen situations.  He would often over-hedge and over-rotate, and he would be unable to get back to the roll man in time, which would often lead his team to give up easy baskets at the rim.  Other times, he would not effectively communicate to his teammates in screen situations, and it led his teammate to get blasted on a pick midway through this match.

Overall, Oscar Tshiebwe had a decent showing in this game.  He was effective as an interior player overall, but his main weakness and his team’s weakness appeared to be their inability to defend rolls or in screen situations against Auburn.  Walker Kessler absolutely carved up Kentucky’s defense by being able to set screens for ball-handling guards, and he often would catch interior passes and easily score on dunks and layups on strong rolls to the rim. 

Tshiebwe will need to trust his jump shot more, but he will need to communicate more on the defensive end and help his team defend screens better.  Currently, Tshiebwe has been a very productive player in college basketball, and he projects to be a borderline second round candidate in the 2022 draft.

Allen Flanigan also played fairly well in his team’s win over Kentucky.  He excelled at attacking the basket to score, even though he didn’t take many shots in this game.  On the other hand, he wasn’t always attentive on the defensive end, and he has continued to not shoot well from beyond the arc this season. Flanigan did a good job of scoring in the post.  He was able to use a quick drop step to score early on.  He also used a spin move to draw free throws on a turnaround jumper.  He also showed that he can ably score on strong drives, both in the half court and in transition.  On the downside, he struggled to knock down threes, as he missed on both of his three-point attempts in this game.

He displayed decent playmaking skills.  Flanigan can throw crisp, accurate interior passes, and he would get the ball to teammates on rolls to the rim to set up scores for them.  He also was able to push the pace and get the ball to an open corner shooter on the break.  However, he can be careless with the basketball, which can lead him to be turnover prone at times.  He would struggle to protect the ball when handling it at times, and he lost the ball on a spin move that led to a turnover.  He also threw a careless interior pass that got intercepted another time.

He was fairly active at crashing the glass to get defensive rebounds for his team, and Flanigan would sometimes look to bring the ball up.  Defensively though, he generally struggled in this game.  On one good play, he deflected a pass out of bounds to nearly get a steal.  However, he can tend to be late to pick up a man, and in scramble situations, he can get confused as to who to guard.  On one play, he was late to pick up a man, and he then ended up wildly biting on a pump fake and giving up a three-point basket on the break.  He generally struggled to defend shooters, as he wasn’t always in the right spots to defend them, and he would either sag too far off of them, or overcompensate by closing out too hard and winding up out of position.

Overall, Allen Flanigan played a solid team oriented game on offense, and he also was active on the boards.  He didn’t shoot well from the outside nor defend well though.  He is an athletic, energetic swingman that will need to improve his jump shot and be a more consistent defender in games.  He may need to spend another year in school to hone his game, but he could project into a 3 and D type of role in the NBA if he can make adjustments to do so.

Other Notes:

Kentucky’s newest basketball player and freshman guard, Shaedon Sharpe did not play in his team’s loss to Auburn. In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Ledger, his mentor Dwayne Washington basically said that Sharpe is all in to play for Kentucky not only for this year, but also for the 2022-23 college basketball season, and that Sharpe will most likely bypass the 2022 draft to stay another year at Kentucky, even though he’s eligible for the 2022 draft. His mentor stated that Sharpe allegedly passed on millions offered by the NBA G-League, and instead will be playing for the Kentucky Wildcats. If Sharpe indeed decides to stay at Kentucky next season, that will come as a great relief for Kentucky fans, and that could lead to some mild consternation for NBA draft fans.

It will be interesting to see how Shaedon Sharpe will play in college basketball and in the future. In seeing him play in a high school game against TyTy Washington, Sharpe looked to be a big-time athlete that thrived as a scorer in transition, and he showed the potential to be a shutdown defender, but to me, it appeared that he will need to improve his jump shot and show that he can be a consistently solid scorer in the half court. In watching his playing style, Sharpe is a very athletic, high upside prospect that will still need time to learn the game at the collegiate level, but if things go as expected, he could project to be a solid player at the NBA level, similar to Denver Nuggets’ current swingman, Will Barton in the association.

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