March Madness NBA prospects to watch: South Regional

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The NCAA Tournament is prime NBA draft scouting time (and it normally doesn’t fall right on the trade deadline — thanks again, NBA lockout). It’s a chance to see guys against good competition and under pressure.

For NBA fans looking at the standings and realizing they could be drafting high, the South Regional is the one to watch — at least three of the top five picks in the draft may come out of this bracket and DraftExpress has the first seven listed below going in the lottery.

We’re going to give you 10 guys to watch when you sit down Thursday and Friday to watch your brackets implode (I watched some of these guys this year and also lean heavily on the great minds at DraftExpress):

1. Anthony Davis (PF, Kentucky). He is your consensus No. 1 overall pick. Why? He has a PER of 36 this season (LeBron leads the NBA at 31). He is long (even for 6’10”), he is quick and loves to play defense — he has blocked a dozen three-point attempts this year. Unlike some NBA shot blockers, he also can rebound and is quick enough to even guard some threes. He’s athletic, can run the floor and has good hands. His offense needs to develop — he hasn’t needed to score a lot at Kentucky because they are so loaded — but he has shown a midrange shot, he can score around the basket. There’s just a lot to like, and by all reports he has a good disposition and work ethic.

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SF, Kentucky). You come to watch Davis, you fall in love with Kidd-Gilchrist (at least that’s what happened to me). Nobody will outwork this guy on the court, he is always going all out. That effort makes him a good defender. On offense he’s a slashing scorer from the wing, and while he needs a steady jumper that can be taught. Passion cannot and he has it.

3. Andre Drummond (C, Connecticut).
This guy is a real NBA center — 6’11”, 250 pounds — and with a lot of skill. Which is why he will probably move past Kidd-Gilchrist on a lot of boards (GMs love big men more and more the closer we get to the draft). He can leap out of the building and moves well for a big man. There have been questions of focus with him. What everyone wants to see is UConn win in the first round, setting up a showdown with Kentucky — Davis vs. Drummond.

4. Perry Jones (PF, Baylor). Draft Express has him going No 7, but this is the kind of player who can get a GM fired — all the talent in the world but unfocused and wildly inconsistent. (Some scouts have said that is in part on the coaching staff and personnel at Baylor that do not suit his game well.) He is 6’11”, athletic and with a good skill set. When he is on he is as good as anyone in this draft, he can play on the wing with size. But if you see a good game from him you can bet the next one he will float around and not impact it much. Not a guy who likes to mix it up in the paint.

5. Terrance Jones (SF/PF, Kentucky). Like a Dawes song he can do a little bit of everything — a good ball handler who at the college level can bang on the inside. He’s plays a smart game and can defend multiple positions. But he’s another guy who can lose focus and just coast through a game. ESPN’s Chad Ford compared him to Lamar Odom, and while he may be a poor-man’s Odom the idea of a versatile guy who can get you a win or may not show up on any given night is apt.

6. Jeremy Lamb (SG, Connecticut). He is long — 6’5” with a reported 7’1” wingspan — and very athletic. You remember him as a guy who emerged next to Kemba Walker during the Huskies run to the title last year, and he has averaged 17.6 points per game this season. His stock has taken a bit of a hit this year as UConn struggled and he was not a leader. Well, at the NBA level he doesn’t have to be, he could come in and give a team quality minutes at the two from the start.

7. Quincy Miller (SF, Baylor). Another guy who is very long (Baylor says he is 6’9” with 7’7” wingspan) and in this case is a great ball handler on the perimeter. He’s athletic and versatile; he can play a lot of positions. Baylor’s frontcourt is loaded so he doesn’t get a lot of opportunities. Likely a late lottery pick if he shows well in the tournament and in team workouts.

8 Mason Plumlee (C, Duke): He is a true big man — 6’11’ but still very athletic. Problem is he’s never been dominant on the college level and he’s been up and down game to game. Still, later in the first round some team will take a chance.

9. Doron Lamb (SG, Kentucky): Bubble first round pick, he can put the brown thing in the round thing — he shot 45.7 percent from three last season. The best pure scorer on a loaded team. Good basketball IQ as well. Not as explosive as his teammates athletically, but what team doesn’t need a shooter?

10. Mike Moser (PF, UNLV): He’s athletic, can run the floor, and what scouts like best is his defense — he can defend the two or the three. He plays and is listed as a four but at 6’8” and 230 he’s undersized for that at the NBA level. If he can defend NBA wings he’ll find a spot in the league.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.