Reggie Jackson, Verdell Jones

Five NBA Draft sleepers to watch


Really, this is almost an entire draft of sleepers.

After the first two picks — Duke’s Kyrie Irving and Arizona’s Derrick Williams — there are enough questions and risks that a lot of guys could be considered sleepers. Teams will tell you the difference between picks No. 10 and No. 25 in this draft is not that great. And you know one guy who falls in this draft is going to rise up to be a star (it happens almost every year; this season is primed for it).

One guy is going to unexpectedly answer all those questions asked about him. Who? Here are a few ideas.

Reggie Jackson, 6-foot-3 point guard, Boston College: He’s a guy that plays smart, steady and within himself, a guy who could become a good NBA point guard. He’s got length — at the combine he turned scouts heads with his freakish wingspan (7 feet). Jackson is not an explosive athlete, but he’s quick enough to play the point in the NBA (and his key is being smart enough to know when to attack). He uses space well and is a good passer. The issue is you can’t just drive and kick, you’ve got to shoot and he struggled some with that (27 percent from three). Guys will play off Jackson.

But there is a player in there. There is a steady floor leader in there. He’s never going to be Derrick Rose, but he could be a steady floor general for a lot of years in the league and the kind of smart player that could be valuable to good teams.

Jeremy Tyler, 6-11 power forward, Japanese league: Remember a couple years ago when one of the nation’s top college prospects skipped his high school senior season to play professional ball in Europe? That’s Tyler. He struggled overseas, but he has real NBA size and athleticism. He has a bit of a faceup game. There are real questions about his maturity and his internal drive — will he put out the efforts in practices and every game? If Tyler can do that, he will be a good NBA player, but it is a real gamble.

In a draft filled with gambles, do you gamble on the guy with real talent? If it comes together, he is a great sleeper.

Malcolm Lee, 6-5 shooting guard, UCLA: Here is what you need to know about Lee — when teams brought in Kemba Walker or Jimmer Fredette to work out, they often tried to bring in Lee to work out against them so they could see how those guys dealt with a good NBA defender.

Guys who have come out of UCLA in recent years have been able to defend and play smart basketball. Lee is long and athletic, but he’s a shooting guard who shot 29.5 percent from 3-point range last season. But if his offense does come around, he could be an important piece on the right team.

E’Twaun Moore, 6-4 shooting guard, Purdue: A lot of teams like him in the second round. He’s a very good shooter with NBA range (40 percent from three) and is a well-rounded player. He’s not an explosive athlete and a is bit small for the position, but he plays tough and smart. Again, teams can see him fitting into their rotation and be one of those second rounders that ends up being a key contributor.

Bismack Biyombo, 6-8 power forward, Congo: Can a guy in the lottery be a sleeper? In this case it seems appropriate. There is no more physically gifted player in this draft, no better athlete. He was the leading shot blocker in Spain last year and he can rebound.

But he is sliding down draft boards. Biyombo looked raw… well, actually all reports are he looked bad at Eurocamp. His workouts are about the same. Teams thought he could be a Joel Anthony type, but Anthony looks like Pau Gasol next to him. There also are questions about his real age (he says 18, the papers say that, but many teams think more like early 20s). Another guy with red flags all over the place, but with a ton of athletic gifts. He’s a risk, but if he does pan out he could be a monster in the league.

51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.

LeBron says “get it done” message was for both Cavaliers, Thompson

LeBron James
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Everything LeBron James does and says gets magnified and scrutinized.

So when he put out this photo on Instagram standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tristan Thompson and the caption “get it done” it seemed a message to the Cavaliers.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron clarified that on Sunday, saying this has become a distraction, and the message was for both sides to bend, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN and Chris Haynes of the Plain Dealer.

When Thompson didn’t sign the qualifying offer he surrendered a lot of leverage, the Cavaliers don’t have to raise their five-year, $80 million offer — but reportedly they still would, a little. Thompson and his agent Rich Paul have pushed for a max contract, but that’s not happening.

At some point, the two sides will come to an agreement. For the Cavaliers, this is a distraction, their star is unhappy with that, and ultimately if they are going to make a title run they need the energy and rebounding Thompson brings (even if it is just off the bench). For Thompson, he can’t make up a year of lost salary, he has to come in and start getting paid at some point.

The two sides will get it done. Eventually. Likely before the season tips off.