Ten prospects NBA fans should watch in NCAA Tournament

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We fans place a lot more weight in evaluating players on what they do in the NCAA Tournament than do NBA teams scouting the draft. They have already watched the tape on every game the guy has played this season and likely been to some practices. Then later they will measure him at the combine and likely see him in private workouts.

But the Tournament is a piece in that puzzle, and for some players a bigger piece than others. Here is a quick look at 10 guys for whom how they play this weekend (and they hope the next couple) could play a part in their draft status. (If you’re trying to scout the NCAA Tournament, our sister site CollegeBasketballTalk has a lot of great content, such as the tournament’s best big men and guards to watch out for).

Also, it’s a list of guys NBA fans (particularly if you root for a lottery team) may want to get to know.

Kelly Olynyk, 7’0” center, Gonzaga. He’s more than just that guy with long hair — he has size, moves well and has a really good scoring touch. In a league that values efficient scorers, Olynk is that (he shot 65 percent this season). But coming out of a small conference there are questions about how he deals with the size and athleticism he will see in the NBA. The Tournament will start to be a test of that. He’s a late lottery pick right now, but that could rise or fall depending on how he does in big matchups.

Ben McLemore, 6’4” shooting guard, Kansas. Fans need to familiarize themselves with him — he is going to be a top 3 pick. Going No. 1 is possible. He’s athletic and has a silky-smooth shot that has led some to use a Ray Allen comparison. That’s a little steep for my taste, but he’s a late bloomer and a guy you can say the most overused of draft buzzword about — upside — and be right. But because he isn’t great at creating his own shot McLemore has disappeared in some big games and at the end of other key games. Do that in the tournament and he doesn’t help his cause.

Anthony Bennett, 6’7” power forward, UNLV. Guys coming out of smaller conferences always get watched closely in the tournament to see how they do against the bigger and better players that they are likely to face. Bennett is a beast in the paint, a big physical frame who has thrown down some of the best dunks of the college season. He’s shown flashes of an outside shot and handles, but can he do that consistently? Against better talent? He’s already a top 10 pick and can help his cause.

Shabazz Muhammad, 6’6” shooting guard, UCLA. A year ago he was the guy battling Nerlens Noel for the top spot in the draft on projected boards. Now he has fallen back — not out of the top 10, maybe not even the top 5, but he’s seen more as a role player than a guy who can be a franchise cornerstone. He’s athletic and strong, he can score and defend, and his effort isn’t in question. But he doesn’t use his right hand well and doesn’t create off the dribble well. He has a lot of questions to answer for teams and the tournament needs to be the start of it or he could slip down draft boards.

Patric Young, 6’9” center, Florida. He was highly recruited coming out of high school, but he’s been up and down (at best) in college. He passes the eye test, he looks like a powerful NBA inside player, but Kwame Brown passes the eye test, too. Young just disappears for games, he’s very inconsistent. He’s a late first, early second round pick in this draft, a big tournament could help him get the guaranteed money of the first round rather than the make-good contract of a second rounder.

Mike Muscala, 6’11” center, Bucknell. He’s a senior who has developed into a good inside/outside scorer that is the focus of the Bison offense. He’s got a lot of polish on his game, like you expect from a senior. But coming out of the Patriot League, what can he do against bigger, more athletic NBA players? Right now he’s considered an early second round pick. A good tournament and good workouts and he can move up.

Jamaal Franklin, 6’5” shooting guard, San Diego State. He isn’t just a guy who can dunk. Although he does that quite well. He’s an athletic high-flier that is the kind of guy who can shoot up draft boards with a few good games against quality competition. Particularly games where he shows a stead jump shot, because if he had that he wouldn’t be a late first round pick. He’s be much, much higher.

C.J. Leslie, 6’9” forward, North Caronia State. He’s long, athletic, quick, the kind of tools teams look for in a modern forward. He’s also very inconsistent (much like the Wolfpack). If he can string together some big games on the big stage it can raise his stock, but he is a lottery-level talent who will not be taken there.

James Michael McAdoo, 6’9” power forward, North Carolina. He was a projected high lottery pick early on who has fallen to the middle of the first round with his inconsistently. It’s not just that he’s had to play center in the Tar Heel’s small ball lineups, he needs a more consistent perimeter shot at the next level. He needs to show he can score and facing two good defensive teams (Villanova and Kansas) would be a good test.

Gorgui Dieng, 6’11” center, Louisville. He’s a raw offensive player who at 23 is older for the NBA draft. Those things usually make you a second round pick, at best. But Dieng has been the defensive anchor for a top-seed Cardinals and that has pushed him into the bottom of the first round. He can rebound and is a good passer, just not a shooter. But the defense is selling him — NBA team doesn’t want a guy who can protect the rim and allow them to pressure more on the perimeter? A few good games in the tournament can help cement his first round status.

Knicks’ Jeff Hornacek brushes off concerns about job security

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We saw this pattern earlier this season with the Lakers. Young team gets off to a better-than-expected start, shows real promise, but as things move toward the middle of the season they take a step back. As happens with young, developing teams, they are up and down. However, major market media and an impatient fan base wants to blame someone, so the coach is suddenly discussed as having “lost the locker room” and that his job was in jeopardy (a coach not hired by the current GM). Even though in Luke Walton’s case, it wasn’t (and isn’t).

Now that same pattern has come to New York and the Knicks with Jeff Hornacek. The Knicks started 17-14 and had fans prematurely thinking playoffs thanks to a home-heavy schedule. Reality has hit them the past month.

Hornacek tried to brush off questions about his job security in New York, speaking to Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

Hornacek also believes he has the backing of GM Scott Perry and president Steve Mills, despite being inherited by them as Phil Jackson’s hire.

“We were talking about rebuilding and we got off to a good start because we had a lot of home games,” Hornacek said. “Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities. We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support…

“I think the expectations come from the players where all of a sudden you hear them talking about, ‘Oh we can make the playoffs.’ We never said that,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.”

Is Hornacek the long-term answer in New York? I don’t know. However, finally unchained from the pseudo-triangle disaster Phil Jackson imposed, he has done a solid job this season, putting Kristaps Porzingis in better spots to lead this roster. The Knicks are projected to win around 38 games at this point (according to Cleaning the Glass), and they have about a 14 percent chance of making the playoffs still (according to fivethiryeight.com). Heading into the season, that would have been about anyone’s best-case scenario for this team.

Not that it matters when you’re coach of the Knicks — job security speculation comes with every paycheck. It just isn’t deserved in this case.

Steve Kerr has “regrets” over time as Suns GM with Mike D’Antoni as coach

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Saturday night, Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni will square off as the coaches of the two best teams in the NBA this season (the Warriors and Rockets), teams loaded with offensive talent that play fast — Kerr and D’Antoni have some of the same basic philosophies about the game. Right now they have a mutual admiration society going.

But remember when Kerr took over as the general manager of the “seven seconds or less” Suns? Then traded for Shaq, which was the first step in D’Antono going out the door to New York.

Kerr opened up about his regrets from that era to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I have some regrets,” Kerr said. “I think we had a few differences that I probably didn’t handle very well as a GM that I could’ve probably handled better, especially given that we really like each other and have a lot of similar viewpoints on the game.”

The Suns were a contender, but not one that could get over the hump of the peak San Antonio Spurs of the mid-2000s (it was more than just the year Robert Horry hip-checked Steve Nash into the boards and A’mare Stoudemire got nailed for leaving the bench). Kerr felt the need to do something, so he traded Shawn Marion for an over-the-hill Shaquille O’Neal who did not at all fit the Suns’ style. That move ended an era, and the next summer D’Antoni signed in New York (with a front office that never gave him the pieces for his style of play).

“I should have let Mike know, ‘It’s okay, keep kicking [butt] and keep going, and we’ll make some moves that aren’t so radical that fit more with who we are as an organization,” Kerr said. “We swung for the fences, and it was not the right move to make as an organization. I didn’t envision that as GM. I didn’t have the macro view of what we needed to do….

“I needed to tell Mike, ‘It’s okay if we don’t win the championship,’” Kerr said. “We were so desperate to win. But not everybody can win. But what you can do is keep putting yourself in a position to get there. Then maybe the breaks fall your way.”

Kerr said he’s matured in the way he views the game and team building since then. That is evident in the way the Warriors have been built, with a big-picture view of everything that gets done — they win not only because they are loaded with talent but how that talent fits together. However, they are really an extension of the changes D’Antoni brought to the NBA in Phoenix, just with better defense and some ridiculous shooters.

After stints in New York and Los Angeles with rosters that were ill-suited for his style, D’Antoni is winning big again in Houston because James Harden was really a point guard and GM Daryl Morey has put the right pieces around him to play D’Antoni’s style.

But once again D’Antoni seems just short of a ring because a legendary team — and Steve Kerr — is in the way.

Reports: Jazz might trade Rodney Hood before deadline

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Rodney Hood has been a solid shooter for the Jazz this season, averaging 16.7 points per game and shooting 41.3 percent from three. Of course, you remember him better for this.

Hood is in the final year of his rookie contract, and with the rise of Donovan Mitchell it’s not exactly clear what Hood’s role would be for the Jazz going forward.

Which means Utah might trade Hood, according to multiple reports.

Hood isn’t going to net much in return because he’s in the final year of a contract and because he misses time with nagging injuries (he was out the end of Friday’s game against the Knicks with a lower leg contusion), but considering the number of teams who could use another shooter in the mix there will be interest. More than the big name deals — Kemba Walker, DeAndre Jordan — this is the kind of trade likely to get done at the deadline.

Lowry scores 24 points as Raptors beat Spurs 86-83

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TORONTO (AP) — Kyle Lowry scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, DeMar DeRozan added 21 and the Toronto Raptors beat San Antonio 86-83 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak against the Spurs.

Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 11 rebounds as the Raptors improved to 17-3 at home, the second-best home record in the NBA behind San Antonio’s mark of 19-2.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Pau Gasol scored 15 points and Patty Mills had 13 as San Antonio lost for the fourth time in six road games. The Spurs are 11-15 away from home.

It had been more than two years since Toronto last beat San Antonio. The Raptors won 97-94 at home on Dec. 9, 2015.

San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili missed his second straight game because of a sore right thigh. Ginobili returned to Texas after the Spurs won at Brooklyn on Wednesday.

The Spurs trailed 70-69 after a 3-pointer by Bryn Forbes at 6:52 of the fourth, but DeRozan and Lowry connected on back-to-back possessions, giving Toronto a 74-69 lead with 5:11 remaining.

After a jump shot by Mills, Toronto reeled off a 6-0 run including baskets by Lowry, Valanciunas and DeRozan to lead 80-71 with 2:40 left.

Another 3-pointer by Forbes made it 86-83 with six seconds left. DeRozan was fouled but missed both free throws, giving San Antonio a chance to tie, but the Spurs couldn’t get a shot off in time.

After making seven of 23 shots in the first quarter, the Raptors hit 11 of 20 attempts in the second, including a buzzer-beating jumper from DeRozan that gave Toronto a 44-37 lead at halftime.

Toronto led 55-41 on DeRozan’s three-point play at 7:33 of the third but Aldridge did all the scoring in an 8-0 Spurs run that cut the gap to 63-60 heading to the fourth.