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.

Joel Embiid upgrades himself from 69% to 81%: ‘Shoutout to Jalen Rose’

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A story in three parts:

1. After posting 46-15-7-7 in a win over the Lakers, frequently injured 76ers center Joe Embiid declared himself to be 69%:

2. ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called that joke “unprofessional:”

3. Embiid upgraded his status to 81% with a “shoutout to Jalen Rose:”

In case you didn’t get the joke.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!