Kyrie Irving

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.

Kings pick up option on G Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore, Rodney Hood
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento have picked up the 2016-17 option on guard Ben McLemore‘s contract.

General manager Vlade Divac announced the move Saturday.

McLemore was Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2013. He averaged 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.

Paul George reiterates “I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot”

Paul George

In the Pacers first exhibition game of the season Saturday against the Pelicans, Paul George started at the power forward spot and looked healthy — that should be the big takeaway. He also showed off his offensive game in the first quarter, eventually finishing the night with 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting. He forced some shots in the second half and had some defensive challenges, but it was a solid outing for a first preseason game.

George did not see it that way, and that will end up being the big takeaway.

He complained about playing power forward during training camp and given the chance after this one game he did it again, as reported by Candace Buckner of the Indy Star.

“I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot,” George said after the Pacers’ 110-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, a game in which he started matched up against 6-foot-11 All-Star Anthony Davis.

“I don’t know if this is my position. We’ll sit and watch tape and I’m sure I’ll talk with coach (Frank Vogel). I’ll talk with Larry (Bird) as well to get both their inputs on how the first game went but…I’m still not comfortable with it regardless of the situation. It’s still something I have to adjust to or maybe not. Or maybe it’s something we can go away from.”

George sees himself as a wing, where he has played his entire career. He doesn’t like defending traditional fours, as a scorer he doesn’t like expending all that energy defending pick-and-rolls and banging with bigger bodies. He’s been clear about that.

He still needs to be open to the idea. How much time George gets at the four on any given night should depend on the matchup — and Anthony Davis is about as rough a matchup as he is going to see. Davis scored 18 points in 15 minutes, and the Pelicans controlled the paint against the small-ball Pacers. George had a hard time defending Davis — welcome to a rather large club, PG. That said, George scored 12 points in the first quarter mostly with Davis on him, he pulled the big out in space and got what he wanted.

Back to the matchups point, George will struggle defensively against the best fours in the game (most of whom are in the West). But what about the nights in the East when George would be matched up on Thaddeus Young from Brooklyn, Jared Sullinger (or David Lee, or whoever) from Boston, or Aaron Gordon with the Magic, or Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks when they play small? There are a lot of lineups the Pacers will see where George at the four makes sense.

The Pacers are transitioning from a plodding and defensive-minded squad to a more up-tempo style, and that’s going to take time— a lot more than one preseason game. However, if George is throwing cold water on the plan after this one effort, it might take a lot longer and be a lot bumpier to make that transition than we pictured.