So, What's Your Point?

So, What's Your Point?

IlliniPlaybook was on hand to see all three major 2015 PG prospects with offers at the Minneapolis stop of the EYBL in May. Here's an in-depth look at each one, including the good, the bad, the fit, and more.

Illinois is turning their search for a point guard in 2015 up a notch now that they are approaching the home recruiting stretch. Their top point guard targets were all in action at the Minneapolis stop of the EYBL circuit in late May. I had a chance to watch all three play and we spoke with all three prospects at the event. Here's a top-to-bottom evaluation of each one of those guys starting with the home-state guy.

Jalen Brunson

Brunson is one of the most polished point guards coming out of the high school ranks in a long time as far as understanding of the game and running an offense. The term 'floor general' is often used way too loosely, but Brunson's game absolutely represents the identity of a floor general. He basically serves as a coach on the floor for his team and is the maestro of the offense as far as setting up and initiating plays.

Ball Handling:

Brunson is one of the best full-court ball-handlers in the country in all of high school. He especially proves that in the half court set as he is able to create both dribbling and shooting space for himself with a variety of jab steps, crossovers, and body moves. He won't blow by you with speed, but most of the time he doesn't need to because he is so good at judging the defense and not making any wasted moves.

He also is very proficient at shielding his defender from the ball using a strong overall body, making it difficult for defenders to swipe at the ball without committing a foul. His ability to penetrate the defense is one of his biggest assets. One area where Brunson could potentially improve his ball-handling is in transition, but that's just nitpicking on my part.

Passing:

Brunson is an excellent passer both in the half court and in transition. His stellar court vision allows him to quickly locate open teammates, and his ability to forecast the play before it happens often ends up in him hitting his teammates at just the right time and place for the finish. Brunson is able to pass his way out of a majority of the press traps he faces simply because he knows how to get the ball away. Every now and then he will telegraph a pass or two, but you live with that because of his ability to make some impressive passes that require some not-so-ordinary moves and drives.

Shooting:

One of Brunson's signature skills is his ability to hit the step back jumper. His control enables him to quickly gather and get his shot off. One particular area of struggle for him, though, has been his outside shot. He shot at a percentage in the mid 20's during the EYBL season. He was far better from beyond the arc during the high school season. His outside shooting is streaky, and he knows that. Luckily for him it's probably something that can be remedied by simply getting a lot of shots up in the gym. One other thing Brunson does well is getting to the free throw line. While technically not a "shooting" attribute, he knows how to attack and draw fouls and get to the charity stripe early and often.

Intangibles:

Not many players in the country have the same basketball IQ as Brunson. He has an unbelievable feel for not only where he is on the floor, but for where all other 9 players are and what's coming next. He thinks a step ahead of the play and it gives him a huge advantage. He serves as a coach on the floor for the team and has no problem being a vocal leader.

Jawun Evans

Evans is the speedster of this group. Not quite the athlete former Illini great Dee Brown was, he showed flashes of similar quickness and fast-break mentality when I saw him. Evans was regularly one of the lead guys on the fast break and he pushed the tempo when he had the opportunity. Evans is an exciting prospect to watch and relies on his strengths rather than forcing through his weaknesses during a game.

Ball Handling:

As I mentioned above, Evans is lightning quick with the basketball. One thing that impressed me about his overall feel for the point guard position was his discernment for when to push and when to hold up and run the half-court offense. When he pushes, he has great vision to split the transition defense and get to the rim before the defense can get set up. In the half-court, he does most of his handling near the top of the key, but he also showed occasional drive and kick ability when finding teammates for open shots. Sometimes he will dribble himself into trouble, but it doesn't happen very often. He knows how to use ball screens at the top of the key to set himself up for drives to the hoop.

Passing:

Evans doesn't quite throw the "wow" passes that some of the other elite passing point guards out there dish out, but by no means is he a sub-par passer. His fundamental approach to passing the basketball often means that he isn't telegraphing passes and committing turnovers. He takes more risks in his drives than in his passes, but he does do a great job of getting into the paint then leaving the ball off for another teammate. A couple of his AAU teammates in Matt McQuaid and Austin Grandstaff were knocking down a lot of wide open outside shots, and a lot of those were a result of an Evans drive and kick.

Shooting:

Evans, like Brunson, isn't the strongest outside shooter out there. Evans does understand that though, and will only take outside shots when he has a wide open look. He rarely forces up a bad shot, contributing to his overall efficiency. He will need to improve his outside shot at the collegiate level to earn the respect of the defense, but again, that can be accomplished by getting up a lot of shots in the gym. Evans knows his offensive strengths and works those effectively. He works off of ball screens at the top of the perimeter and attacks the rim immediately off the screen. His mid-range game is average, but can improve with added strength and shooting confidence.

Intangibles:

One thing I noticed about Evans after seeing him play against several different opponents and experiencing a handful of matchups, is that he's consistent. The stat sheet may not reflect that, but here's why I see consistency in his game. One game he may have 9 points and 8 assists and the next he may have 20 points and 2 or 3 assists, but his mentality didn't really change. If he is able to get to the hoop, he will take the layup, if he isn't he will kick it to a teammate, but his push the tempo thought process and fast break skill are present every time he gets the ball. I would like to see him speak up more often and be a voice for his team at the point, but he will grow into that given time.

Justin Robinson

Robinson often gets stereotyped as the "third wheel" of this group. And it isn't because he isn't a capable point guard, but because those other two guys are so good at their position. Robinson isn't flashy, he doesn't blow you away, but what he does do is keep a level head and keep his team steady. It was hard to get a real accurate read on Robinson since he was still not all the way back to 100-percent when I saw him, and there isn't much highlight video out there of him. The injury limited his athleticism and quickness significantly, so it's likely that he didn't have his full arsenal at his disposal at the time I saw him play. For that reason, I will approach his evaluation a little differently than the others.

Most of the time, Robinson would be the primary ball-handler for his team, but at EYBL, he played off the ball quite a bit as more of a combo guard than a point guard. When he did get the ball, he was able to create to some extent off the dribble. He wasn't nearly as aggressive as Brunson or Evans, but that was likely due to the lingering injury and subsequent lack of explosiveness and quickness. He did display the ability to hit the outside shot from time to time, though he isn't considered a frequent threat from deep.

One important factor to note about Robinson is his youth. He is slightly younger than some of his peers, so not only is his body still coming along, but also at times he does take a little longer to make decisions in the half-court set. His mental toughness can't be questioned though. Playing through the pain of the injury, he stayed focused enough to grit out a few wins with Boo Williams and help them qualify for Peach Jam. He does play with excellent confidence and is always up for a challenge. Unfortunately we didn't see him at full-strength, but that hasn't stopped schools from seeing his potential, evidenced by the group of D1 schools who have offered in the last few months.

The Takeaway

Nationally, 2015 is a down year for point guards, but Illinois is involved with three good ones. The coaches understand the importance of landing one of them in the 2015 Illinois recruiting class. A case can be made for each, but at the end of the day, it's about finding a guy who not only fits the program, but also wants to be a part of it.

Will they get their guy? I guess we will just have to wait and see, so keep it locked in at IlliniPlaybook as the point guard recruiting journey continues.

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