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.

Jimmy Butler leaves game with apparently serious right knee injury

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The Basketball Gods have not been appeased, and apparently have dealt the NBA another serious injury to a star player.

Jimmy Butler — Minnesota’s leader, an All-Star, and a guy having a fringe of the MVP ballot NBA season — went down grabbing his knee on this play against the Rockets Friday night.

Butler reportedly said “it’s torn” while being helped off the court.

After the game, Tom Thibodeau said it was a right knee injury that would be re-evaluated with an MRI tomorrow.

This is a non-contact injury that has the appearance of an ACL tear (hope that is not the case). Butler had ripped an offensive rebound away from Nene and was making a move to go back up when he went to the ground grabbing his knee.

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game. He was selected an All-Star but chose to sit out that game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, has a reputation for running players into exhaustion with heavy use (ask Joakim Noah) and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other elite programs trying to keep players fresh.

This is troubling for a Timberwolves team looking to end an 11-year playoff drought — Minnesota is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. While tied for the three seed going into Friday night, Minnesota is just four games from falling out of the playoffs in a competitive West.

Jimmy Butler to Lou Williams on All-Star snub: put up $100K for 1-on-1 game

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Jimmy Butler earned his spot on the All-Star team — he’s had an All-NBA, bottom of the MVP ballot level season. He deserved the trip to Los Angeles.

But when he got there, Butler didn’t play in the All-Star Game itself, saying he needed to rest. That frustrated a few All-Star snubs, and Lou Williams called him out on it.

Butler fired back before the Timberwolves took on the Houston Rockets.

“My thing is this, to Lou or anyone else who thinks they’re an All-Star, with all due respect, LeBron and them got $100,000 for winning, so if you got $100k to put up, you guard me I guard you, I’ gonna show you why. All this talk, put $100,000 up and I’ll show you why and where I’m at.” (That may have been paraphrased)

Butler earned his spot, he deserved to be there. He can do as he sees fit.

But if you’re not going to roll out there for even five minutes (LaMarcus Aldridge played four and nobody is saying anything to him), then give the spot up to someone else. You don’t need the $100K that badly.

Kevin Durant no fan of one-and-done, says he would have come straight to NBA

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With the money funneled to future NBA players through agents in the spotlight thanks to a FBI investigation (one that doesn’t even get into the money from boosters and shoe companies), the one-and-done rule the NBA has for players sending them to college for a semester of cakewalk classes one year has come back in the spotlight.

The league and players’ union are discussing changing the rule — with some input from the NCAA. If they want Kevin Durant‘s advice, scrap the whole thing — he would have come straight to the NBA if he could have.

“You want these players to go out there and play on the biggest stage. The Final Four is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in sports, and they don’t get a dime for it. I don’t think it’s right

“If they want to come out of high school, it should be on them. You know what I mean? You can’t control everything. So if they feel as though they’re ready, that’s on them. They want to make a decision on their life, that’s on them. If they don’t get drafted, it’s on them. You can try to control it, but you’re still not really doing anything.”

Would Durant have come out from high school rather than spend a season at Texas?

“Yeah, probably. I needed the money.”

The NBA is discussing changes, and they want to see the recommendations from Condoleezza Rice’s NCAA commission. But the league’s owners are not all on the same page.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said All-Star weekend. “And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there? And there is also recognition that for some of these elite players, there is no question that they can perform in the NBA at 18 years old.”

There seems to be some momentum toward a “baseball rule” compromise — players can come to the NBA straight out of high school, but if they go to college they have to stay for at least two years. Unlike the last time high schoolers were rushing into the NBA, most teams are far better prepared to develop young players and be patient with them. There will still be busts — there are even with guys who spent years in college — but teams are in better positions to make it work.

The other thing I would want to see: If a player signs with an agent out of high school, does not get drafted, give him the chance to go to college still. Some young men are going to get terrible advice (from family, AAU coaches, friends, a whole lot of people) and they deserve a chance to choose a better path.

Report: Hawks near buyout with Ersan Ilyasova; Bucks, Raptors interested

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This is about as big a surprise as my wife crying during “This Is Us,” but it sounds like it’s about to go down.

The Hawks and Ersan Ilyasova are close to a buyout, reports Michael Cunningham at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Hawks and forward Ersan Ilyasova tentatively agreed to a buyout of the remainder of his contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiations. Once Ilyasova accepts a buyout and clears waivers, as expected, he will be free to sign with any other team for the rest of the season.

Ilyasova’s contract expires at the end of the season and he is eligible to become a free agent in the summer. Earlier this month, Ilyasova invoked his right to reject the trade offers the Hawks presented to him.

Where might he land on the buyout market?

A lot of teams could use a 6’10” guy who can space the floor as a shooter. Ilyasova signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Hawks this season. He’s averaged 10.9 points per game, shooting 35.9 percent from three this season, and missed some time with a shoulder injury.

Ilyasova is solid as a spot-up guy but is more dangerous as a screen setter where he can pop out and space the floor, or roll and use his size inside. He’s also good at cutting and working off the ball, plus will get a team a few offensive rebounds. He’s not a game changer, but in certain matchups, he could help teams a lot.