NCAA Sweet 16 and the NBA Draft: Kyrie Irving still the man

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No scout, no NBA team is taking what they see in the NCAA Tournament as the whole picture of an NBA prospect. They’ve been following these players all season, they have a pretty complete picture before the tournament tips off.

But the tournament brings more intense competition against better opponents, and that’s always a good measuring stick. See how the guy does in a cauldron of pressure.

Duke’s Kyrie Irving has solidified his spot as the No. 1 guy to go. Even if the Timberwolves get that pick in the lottery (now that would be funny). When a guy has the skills of Irving the questions become about mental makeup — is he tough enough, does it want it bad enough.

DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony told the USA Today Irving answered those questions.

“What we can learn about Kyrie Irving is that he is a very competitive guy. Many would have decided to sit out this tournament (after his foot injury), but he wanted to help his team.”

Irving is maybe the one franchise-changing guy in this draft. He’s a point guard, a position that in the current “no hand checking” NBA is key. He’s a solid 6’2” with good passing skills. He also can score — he showed that Thursday night in Duke’s loss to Arizona hitting 9-of-15. More importantly, his decisions on when to shoot and when to pass seemed solid. He could get more looks and force shots, but he wasn’t doing that. He as making the right play.

Irving also looked like a guy who could be a solid NBA defender. No Duke player was defending well — that is why they lost — but his lateral quickness was there and he seemed to be playing well inside the Duke defensive system.

Two other guys who appear to have boosted their stock a little in the tournament:

Arizona forward Derrick Williams. A lot of people just did not see him out West this year. (Williams was a USC recruit who backed out of his commitment to that school when the O.J. Mayo sanctions came down on the program, so he switched to Arizona.) The guy is a very efficient scorer — he had 32 against Duke on just 17 shots and hit 5-of-6 threes. The concern was at the NBA level he is a tweener at the forward spots, but guys who can score like this find their way.

Connecticut guard Kemba Walker. He didn’t turn scouts heads much at summer programs but his game has taken a big leap forward this season. He dropped 36 on San Deigo state, hitting 12-of-25 shots and half his threes. His crossover and step back are wicked. He brings tremendous energy. He may not be a Derrick Rose/John Wall type of talent, but name a team that does not need a solid play at the point.

Charles Barkley on new schedule: “These poor babies can’t play back-to-back games”

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Training camp hasn’t even opened yet, but Charles Barkley is already in midseason “get off my lawn” form.

Barkley — the man who can’t stand jump shooting teams, or analytics, or LeBron James asking for better players, or your newfangled technology — went off on another tedious rant at an SMU event Wednesday, this time about the NBA’s decision to start the season a little earlier and have fewer back-to-backs and eliminate four-games-in-five-nights.

Ugh. Like a lot of former players — and a lot of non-athletes, for that matter — Barkley is convinced his peak as a player coincided with the greatest era of basketball ever. Things were never better than the way they did it in his day.

Which means facts — like pointing to the studies that show players both are less likely to be injured and play better and more efficiently when rested — don’t matter. Barkley did it, so players now should have to do it. Who cares if all these packed in games can shorten their careers?

Then again, maybe a few days off would have helped Barkley in the second half of his career.

B.J. Armstrong, former Jordan-era Bull turned agent, told me last year that if teams and players knew in his day what they know now about rest and injury, you would have seen stars like MJ rest. Over time we learn more information, and the smart people and organizations adjust.

Barkley will make far more headlines over the course of the season, he gets paid to be brash, say whatever pops into head, and be generally draw attention to himself. It makes him entertaining, and that’s what Inside the NBA is about. But I will defer to Steve Kerr’s comments from last playoffs on all these old “get off my lawn” players.

“The game gets worse as time goes on. Players are less talented than they used to be. The guys in the 50s would’ve destroyed everybody. It’s weird how human evolution goes in reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”

For a couple grand, Warriors fans can have Larry O’Brien Trophy visit their suite

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There’s so much money floating around the Bay Area right now thanks to another tech boom, this price almost seems low.

If you have a suite for the Golden State Warriors home games this season — and those are pretty much sold out, the Warriors draw big from the Silicon Valley crowd — you can have the NBA championship Larry O’Brien Trophy visit your suite. All for just a couple grand. From Gilbert Lee, via ESPN’s Darren Rovell.

The best part is it includes champagne… do you get to spray each other with it as you hold up the trophy? Now that would be perfect (goggles included, of course).

Have an issue with this? Why? To the victor goes the spoils. The Warriors may be able to sell this package for years.

Sixers new “Spirit of 76” court is fire

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First, the Sixers nailed the Nike “statement” jersey.

Now, they have announced a new “Spirit of 76” promotion, with seven tribute nights this season honoring the history of the franchise and of the Philadelphia area (and there is plenty of history to honor).

The best part — the “Spirit of 76” court with the bell logo.

Here is the promo vid

I just hope the Sixers team can live up to all the hype.

Wizards’ Markieff Morris to have sports hernia surgery, miss start of camp

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When the Washington Wizards open training camp next Tuesday, starting forward Markieff Morris will not be on the court.

That’s because he will have surgery to repair a sports hernia, a story broken by Candice Buckner of the Washington Post and since confirmed by Chase Hughes at CSNMidAtlantic.com.

While we don’t have details on the surgery, often recovery time for this is just a few weeks, and Morris could well be ready for the start of the season.

Morris averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds a game last season, and the Wizards offense was 5.7 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court last season. With him out, coach Scott Brooks can lean on Jason Smith or Mike Scott for traditional lineups, but don’t be shocked if he tries a little small ball with Otto Porter and/or Kelly Oubre at the three or four.

Morris also is in the midst of a felony assault trial in Arizona (one where he does not need to attend).