NBA Draft and the Final Four, here’s a few guys to watch

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Your bracket is toast. Don’t lie to me and say you had Butler in the Final Four, let alone VCU. You’re not winning any money in the office pool this year, that is going to the guy three cubicles over who hasn’t watched a college hoops game in years and made his picks based on mascots and where his friends went to college.

No, you’re going to watch the Final Four to check out NBA prospects. Particularly in the Connecticut vs. Kentucky game.

Here are a few guys to keep an eye on this weekend. (The DX number is their ranking as a prospect in this draft by the wise men at Draft Express.)

Kemba Walker, 6’0” guard, Connecticut (DX No. 7): He’s the kind of small, quick guard that has been in vogue in the NBA. He comes with an increasingly rare NBA skill — the midrange game. And he uses the threat of it very well to create shots for himself and teammates. His crossover and step back is wicked. Also, he has been a big game player (two 30 point games in the NCAA Tournament, plus big plays in the Big East Tournament and the Maui Invitational). If the game is on the line for UConn the ball will be in his hands.

Scouts will be watching to see how he does against another lottery pick in Kentucky’s Brandon Knight.

Brandon Knight, 6’3” guard, Kentucky (DX No. 8): He has moved up draft boards with a good tournament and a contested game winner for the Wildcats. He projects as a shoot-first combo guard in the NBA. And he can shoot, hitting 38 percent from three plus knocking down contested midrange shots all season long. Some scouts are concerned about fit, but his performance is winning people over.

Terrence Jones, 6’8” forward, Kentucky (DX No. 12): He may or may not be coming out after his freshman season and he’s taken a little step back during the tournament as his outside shot has not been consistent. He’s got a real NBA body but there are questions about his energy game in and game out.

Shelvin Mack, 6’3” point guard, Butler (DX No. 65): He has taken on more of the scoring role this season at Butler and boosted his stock some with this run to the Final Four. He has range on his shot and has looked good running the pick-and-roll. But he’s not as quick as the PGs he will often see at the next level, and his shot is not consistent. Still, some team may take a shot on him in the second round

Doran Lamb, 6’4” guard, Kentucky (DX No. 67): A freshman who may return to what will be a loaded Kentucky team next season. He has a wide range of shots and hit 48 percent from three this season, plus he can defend. A lot to like here going forward, but there may be a ceiling with him not as high as some other guards around his age.

Alex Oriachi, 6’9” power forward, Connecticut (DX No. 78): He’s very athletic but considered a work in progress, although he took some steps forward this season. Don’t expect him in the draft this season but keep an eye on him.

Jeremy Lamb, 6’5” shooting guard, Connecticut (unranked by DX): The freshman is not coming out this year but the raw potential he has had is really starting to come through in the Tournament (he had 24 against San Diego State). He needs to put on some muscle and refine his game, but he’s a guy to watch in a year or two.

Joel Embiid upgrades himself from 69% to 81%: ‘Shoutout to Jalen Rose’

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A story in three parts:

1. After posting 46-15-7-7 in a win over the Lakers, frequently injured 76ers center Joe Embiid declared himself to be 69%:

2. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called that joke “unprofessional:”

3. Embiid upgraded his status to 81% with a “shoutout to Jalen Rose:”

In case you didn’t get the joke.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!