WCC Basketball Tournament - Championship Saint Mary's v Gonzaga

Ten prospects NBA fans should watch in NCAA Tournament


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.

It’s time: Russell Westbrook looks to fill void after Durant’s exit

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4), head coach Billy Donovan, guard Russell Westbrook (0) and center Steven Adams pose for a photo during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — There were few indications before August that Russell Westbrook would be so willing to be the hero downtrodden Thunder fans needed.

For years, the sometimes combustible Westbrook toiled in Kevin Durant‘s shadow. He often was viewed as the talented, selfish player who was as likely to get in Durant’s way as he was to make a winning play. His flashy style seemed at odds with small-market Oklahoma City so when Durant, who seemingly was a better fit in OKC, left for rival Golden State, fear that Westbrook would bolt for a larger market increased.

He didn’t. He chose to re-sign with the Thunder and now that he has answered the call, it’s time to deliver.

“We know a few things about Russell at this point,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “He’s going to bring his lunch pail every day. He’s going to compete. He’s going to inspire. He’s going to show great conviction and courage to his teammates, to the city, to the organization. And from there, we have to figure out how that comes together.”

That trek begins Wednesday in Philadelphia when Oklahoma City officially tips off the post-Durant era in its season opener against the 76ers.

Westbrook is now the unquestioned leader of the Thunder and player folks behind the scenes knew – the thoughtful, humble, giving man – has more readily come to the surface. He has gone to great lengths to connect with Thunder fans in recent months.

Among other things, he unveiled his new line of True Religion clothing near downtown Oklahoma City and he attended an Oklahoma home football game against Louisiana-Monroe wearing a custom-made Sooners jersey. When he was introduced to the crowd before the Thunder’s preseason home opener, he got the kinds of cheers normally reserved for a return from injury.

Westbrook seems more at ease on the court, too. His preseason play seemed more effortless than electric, with an occasional flourish.

“I want the team to play how they want to play,” Westbrook said. “I mean, it’s not totally up to me how we play. You have to adjust to the team you have and adjust on a night-in, night-out basis on how you want to play. You want to play fast some nights and you want to play slow. I think it depends on the game, on the situation, who is on the floor.”

He is poised to put up astronomical numbers this season as he tries to keep the Thunder among the NBA elite.

Last season Westbrook averaged 23.5 points and career highs of 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds. He posted 18 triple-doubles, the most for a player since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. The two-time All-Star MVP and former scoring champion could do more damage without Durant, but the Thunder don’t want too much pressure on him.

“I think we have to be able to play in a way that’s not just relying on him to do everything and create every single shot, whether it’s him making the shot or making the play for another guy,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said.

Westbrook already has left an impression on his new backcourt mate Victor Oladipo, who was acquired in the trade that sent defensive enforcer Serge Ibaka to Orlando.

“After working with Russ, I can see the intensity in how serious he was about his craft,” Oladipo said. “But one thing that I realized that after guarding him for three years – I can see why he’s so effective at what he does. I definitely stole that from him, and I’m going to take it and run as fast as I can with it.”

How Oladipo and the rest of the Thunder do in keeping up with Russell will determine how much success the team will have. Oklahoma City is no longer considered the team to beat in championship conversations, and that’s fine with Westbrook. He said the team embraces the underdog role.

“I love it,” he said. “I love it, man. I think it’s a great challenge, not just for myself, but for our whole team. I think just from talking to the guys throughout the summer, they understand that. They want to win. They want to get better.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP .

Memphis’ Chandler Parsons says he’s playing 5-on-5, hopes to be on court soon

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies in July. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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When the Memphis Grizzlies get their full starting five on the court, that lineup is going to be a handful.

But the Grizzlies enter their opener Wednesday night likely without Tony Allen and certainly without Chandler Parsons.

Parsons is being brought along slowly following his latest knee surgery, but in an update on the team’s Twitter account notes he is now playing 5-on-5 and hopes to be on the court “soon.”

Parsons also says he hasn’t lost a step. We may need to see that before we fully buy in.

Memphis needs him — and Allen — on the court as soon as possible. While their starting five can be a force, there is not a lot of depth on the Grizzlies’ roster. Plus Parsons provides the floor-spacing shooting and second shot creator the Grizzlies desperately need.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant


You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee


This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.