Draft notes from NCAA Tournament: NC State’s Brown, Leslie expected to go pro

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As we’ve said before, players performance in the NCAA Tournament doesn’t move the needle on their NBA draft position as much as fans tend to think. It’s one part of the mosaic that includes regular season games, interviews and workouts, among other things.

But it is part of the picture and guys can help and hurt their cause with their performance on the biggest stage. So with that, here are a few draft news and notes out of those games from a variety of sources.

• Two North Carolina State stars look ready to head pro: Lorenzo Brown (according to CBSSports.com) and C.J. Leslie (according to the well connected Adam Zagoria).

Brown is a 6’4” point guard with great handles and good vision, he needs a steadier shot and to show he can defend at the NBA level. He likely goes late first round. Leslie is going late first or early second, a 6’9” forward who is an incredible athlete but whose game is raw and needs work at both ends.

• Not playing may have been the best thing for Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel. There is no lock consensus No. 1 pick in this draft (no Anthony Davis or Derrick Rose type), and a few people had been touting Ben McLemore out of Kansas. Who between the Big 12 championship game and the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament has gone 4-of-21 shooting (and he’s hit one three in three games). Which might move Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel back to the top of the board despite being out for ACL surgery, reports Chad Ford at ESPN.

While most of the other top prospects have stumbled — some mightily — multiple NBA scouts and GMs remember Noel’s increasing productivity at Kentucky and say, essentially, if every player in the draft this year is going to be a major risk, why not gamble with the ultra-athletic big man and hope his knee and his offensive game both get better?

• Adreian Payne of Michigan State has long been on the radar because of his athleticism at 6’9”, but his performance against Memphis likely helped his cause. This guy was highly recruited out of high school but needed a few years of college to really bring it together, now it looks like he has. Still likely a second round pick, however.

• What about the guys from Florida Gulf Coast that everyone loves? The problem was they were on nobody’s radar before this tournament, now Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson are going to get some looks. The underclassmen on this team need to go back to college for a year and show how they can develop. Most likely they all end up playing in Europe some day, but now at least teams are taking a second look at them. That’s all you can really ask.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.