Georgia Tech v Syracuse

The Extra Pass: Seven NBA Draft prospects to watch Thursday in NCAA Tournament


For NBA scouts and general managers, they have pretty strong opinions formed about players long before the NCAA Tournament tips off. A monster tournament is still just a handful of games and is not going to move the needle much. If it does that team’s decision makers are doing it wrong (*cough* Michael Jordan *cough*).

But for us fans, this is a rare chance to see all these future NBA players really get tested against top talent. This is when we make our big impressions.

With the help of Ed Isaacson of Rotoworld and (check out his regional previews of the East, South, Midwest and West) we give you seven guys to keep an eye on this Thursday as the NCAA Tournament tips off (we will have another group for Friday, so check back… also check out the PBT Podcast coming soon with Isaacson talking guys to watch).

• Tyler Ennis, point guard, Syracuse. We are drawn to guards with poise and this guy has it — he took over for Michael Carter-Williams and the Syracuse offense didn’t miss a beat. More than that, late in games Ennis makes big plays. A lot of teams have come around to him and he is likely to go in the teens — Isaacson isn’t as sold as most, however. “He’s everything you want in a backup point guard.” Is he a playmaker really worthy of a lottery pick? Like all Syracuse players it’s hard to read how good he is on defense, he gets to play center field in their zone and jump passing lanes. Where he can really make a mark is not Thursday (vs. Western Michigan) but Saturday when they likely face Ohio State and Aaron Craft. Look good in that game and Ennis can win over some detractors.

• Nik Stauskas, guard, Michigan. You remember him going bombs away last tournament, saving or blowing up your bracket with threes. He’s back and he’s more than that now.

Here is Isaacson on Stauskas: “This year with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. in the NBA, he has stepped up his offensive game, showing a much more versatile player. Still a deadly shooter from 3 (45% on 183 attempts), but has also shown that he can attack the basket and is a pretty good playmaker as the ballhandler in high screen situations. He has good size (6’6) at the 2, but his defense is still a work-in-progress.

• T.J. Warren, Forward, North Carolina State. Nobody doubts he can flat out score the rock — he was the reason NC State beat Xavier the other night. He can score in transition, he works well off the ball, plus he hustles on defense. What worries teams is that he doesn’t create his own shot all that well and he gets a large chunk of his buckets from the midrange, shooting just 27 percent from three this past season. NBA teams are not looking for guys to shoot from the midrange much (unless you hit 50 percent or better) so he needs to extend his range as a shooter. Still, a good tournament can help his stock a little.

• Patric Young, center, Florida. He caught scouts’ eyes early because he entered college with a man’s body, an NBA body. What he’s done with that body has been less impressive — good but not dominant — and he is now considered a second round pick.

From Isaacson: “Young has spent 4 years as the post player in an offense that is perimeter-oriented. He has one or two go-to moves in the post, but his offensive game is all about being physical, creating lanes and crashing the boards. He has an NBA body and strength, and 4 years under Billy Donovan has turned him into a good defender in the post and on the perimeter.”

• Adreian Payne, power forward, Michigan State. If you want to bet on one thing draft night, it is that someone on the broadcast will say, “Payne has a great motor.” Fans love guys like that and scouts have come around to him.

Isaacson: “A great combination of size, athleticism and skill, Payne finally put all of those together to have a great final season. He is a skilled enough post player to play with his back to the basket, but also has the ability to face up and knock down jumpers or drive by his man to the basket. Payne has the shooting ability to used in pick-and-pop situations. No one would call him a great defender, but he has worked hard over the past 4 seasons to be a good one.”

• Gary Harris, Michigan State. This is the guy everybody has been watching for the Spartans — he is the leader of the team the President picked to win it all (no pressure). In an injury riddled season for the Spartans he has been the one guy who was solid and there for them nightly. He’s athletic but doesn’t always use that to his best advantage. The guy can shoot the rock and he’s a strong defender. But there are questions about how he will do against the longer, better athletes of the NBA. Still, you watch him and know there is a place for him in the NBA (he is projected to be drafted in the middle of the first round.

• Montrezl Harrell, power forward, Louisville. I’m picking Louisville to win it all this year so you know I am counting on him to have a big tournament. He’s got plenty of physical tools and he plays hard on both ends (he can switch picks onto guards because he is fast and mobile). He’s going to have a couple big dunks in the tournament — very possibly in transition as he loves to run — and do it through contact (he’s a finisher). He’s still a bit raw but if he goes to a team that can develop players in a few years they may have a guy they like a lot in their rotation.

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson on Jeremy Lin’s new responsibility: ‘You’re the Eli Manning’

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13:  Jeremy Lin #7 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles up the court during first half of the preseason game against the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center on October 13, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Jeremy Lin was briefly the biggest thing in the Big Apple, maybe in all of basketball, the last time he played in New York.

Linsanity didn’t last long and neither did Lin’s time as a starting point guard. He mostly came off the bench while playing for three teams over the last three seasons, but now he’s getting another shot.

The Brooklyn Nets are giving Lin the keys to their team and believe he’s ready to run it.

“He came off the bench in Charlotte last year and did a heck of a job, but this is a little different deal now,” new coach Kenny Atkinson said. “You’re kind of the quarterback. You’re the Eli Manning, those guys, so there’s a different level of responsibility.”

The Nets better hope Lin is ready for it, because there isn’t much talent around him.

They begin their fifth season in Brooklyn absent the high-priced star power they lined the roster with in their early years after moving from New Jersey. All-Stars such as Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have given way to the likes of Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton, Randy Foye, Luis Scola, Joe Harris and former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, players signed this summer by general manager Sean Marks.

Marks also tabbed Atkinson to be the coach, and together they are talking about building for the long term. That may be a better solution, though it means the Nets won’t win much now.

But Lin brings some buzz from fans who remember his captivating stretch with the Knicks in 2012. The NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese decent started all 82 games for Houston the next season, but lost his job the following one and remained a backup as he moved to the Lakers and the Hornets, where he played behind Kemba Walker last season.

The Harvard product was mainly a pick-and-roll guard when he burst on the scene five seasons ago, without much else to go to when teams took away his drives to the basket. He believes he returns with a more well-rounded game, with Atkinson urging him to trust a jump shot that wasn’t previously part of his arsenal.

“Now if guys are forcing me left, I can go left,” Lin said. “If guys want me to shoot, I’m not saying I’ll make it every night, but I’ll gladly shoot them. I’ll gladly shoot open ones if they give them to me.”

Here are some other things to watch with the Nets:

BAD BROOKLYN: At 21-61, the Nets missed the playoffs last season for the first time since moving to Brooklyn in 2012. They may not be any better this season.

ATKINSON AT HOME: A respected assistant with the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, Atkinson comes back home for his first NBA head coaching job. The Northport, New York, native will be coaching not far from the courts where he grew up playing.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Brook Lopez averaged 20.6 points as the Nets’ top player last season but has been quiet in exhibition play, creating some questions about the 7-foot center’s fit in Atkinson’s system, which will be predicated on quick ball and player movement of the successful Hawks teams of the last few years.

BOGIE BALL: Bojan Bogdanovic returns from a strong summer to an unclear fall. The top scorer in the Olympics while leading Croatia to a surprising quarterfinal spot hasn’t even been starting in the preseason after averaging 11.2 points and starting about half the games last season.

GROW UP FAST: The lack of veteran stars should mean plenty of opportunities for second-year players Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough, and eventually rookie Caris LeVert, who is still recovering from a left foot injury that cut short the first-round pick’s final season at Michigan.

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LeBron James calls Cavaliers ‘still pretty much uptight,’ Kevin Love describes increased comfort

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Kevin Love #0, LeBron James #23 and Kyrie Irving #2 during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND — LeBron James took one last look over his shoulder at the scoreboard in Oracle Arena just to be sure.

It was all so surreal, unimaginable.

When James eyes saw only zeroes on the clock, he threw his arms around Kevin Love and time seemed to stand still. Game 7 of the NBA Finals was over as was a comeback for the ages. Golden State’s one-year reign and dream season ended and so did Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.

James delivered on his personal pledge to bring home a title in June. And although it’s one he can never duplicate personally or for a fan base that had its heart broken and healed by him, the Cavaliers superstar and his teammates aren’t resting, getting comfortable or complacent. They want more.

“We’re still pretty much uptight,” James said. “We’re not satisfied with what we did.”

A three-time champion, and at 31 still the most complete player on the planet, James, who has acknowledged wanting to chase down Michael Jordan and his six league crowns, will again lead a Cleveland team expected to win the Eastern Conference and make a third straight finals trip. There doesn’t appear to be much in their way.

Cleveland’s Big 3 – James, Love and Kyrie Irving – have finally meshed after two turbulent, strange seasons when the trio of All-Stars were often disconnected. But whatever kept them from uniting seems to be resolved and they’re determined to add to their legacy.

“The mindset of this team is a lot different than maybe the first couple years,” said Love, whose odd relationship with James and Cleveland fans is finally in a good place. “From the onset you come in every year and want to compete for a championship, but we feel like we know exactly what we want to get done. I think just from a comfort standpoint it’s pretty different. We are a ways ahead of where we were the first two years.”

That’s one of the things often overlooked about the Cavs – their core is only entering its third year together. And, this is the first one where they’ve been at full strength from the start and guided by a coach they adore.

Tyronn Lue’s promotion after David Blatt was fired in January transformed the Cavs. Lue earned their respect by holding all of them – even James – accountable and making them understand nothing would be gained without sacrifice.

They rallied from a 3-1 deficit to stun the Warriors, and with a title, Lue expects his team to play with more freedom.

“Once you get the monkey off your back and you’re crowned champions, you’re at the top of the mountain, I think it’s a lot easier,” said Lue, who on a championship in 2001 with the Lakers. “Now you can exhale and play the way you’re capable of playing.”

Now, as the first Cleveland team since 1964 to defend a title, here are some other things to watch with the Cavs:

BANNER NIGHT: The Cavs will receive their diamond-studded championship rings before hosting the New York Knicks on Oct. 25. A banner will be unveiled in Quicken Loans Arena on what promises to be an emotional night in the city as the Indians will open the World Series next door at Progressive Field.

“It’s great times for all of us,” said James, who has been attending baseball playoff games with his teammates. “Not only the people playing, but everyone that lives around the area. They deserve it.”

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: James, who has been to six straight finals, knows what it takes win back-to-back championships after doing it in Miami.

“Don’t become complacent,” he said. “Our GM has put together a great team, our owners have done what they needed to do. For us, it’s up to us to continue to work our coaching staff’s system and just play our game.”

SWISH ON BOARD: Cleveland was delayed in having all its pieces in place during training camp until last week when shooting guard J.R. Smith signed a four-year, $57 million contract.

Smith, who made a franchise record 204 3-pointers last year, spreads the floor for James and he’s one of Cleveland’s best defenders. With his tattoos and carefree spirit, Smith has also become an unlikely fan favorite in Cleveland, a 180-degree turn from his time in New York.

GOLDEN DATE: Put another circle around Dec. 25 on your calendar. For the second straight year, the Cavaliers and Warriors will exchange elbows rather than presents on Christmas. This will be their first matchup since last season’s epic Game 7 and first since Kevin Durant took his talents to the Bay Area.

NEW FACES: The Cavs let free agents Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov go and replaced them with Mike Dunleavy and Chris “Birdman” Andersen, a pair of proven veterans who blend in and give Lue more depth.

LaMarcus Aldridge says he’s happy with Spurs, doesn’t buy into trade rumors

LaMarcus Aldridge
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The Spurs reportedly could trade LaMarcus Aldridge amidst his unhappiness with taking a backseat to Kawhi Leonard.

They deny holding trade talks about Aldridge, but even if they haven’t, that means little. If the bigger concerns about Aldridge’s fit and happiness in San Antonio are rooted in reality, a deal could come together in due time. I doubt the Spurs are rushing to trade him at the first sign of trouble.

For his part, Aldridge denies trouble, initial or otherwise.

Aldridge on The Jim Rome Show, as transcribed by Jeff Garcia of News 4 San Antonio:

“I didn’t buy into it. I haven’t heard anything about it. I talked to Pop (head coach Gregg Popovich) daily and he’s always telling me that I’m doing great,” Aldridge said. “Trying to be a more of a leader. He’s put me in positions where I can be more of a leader. As long as the guys here aren’t saying bad things to me. All my teammates have said nothing but great things to me.”

“Yeah for sure I am (happy in San Antonio). We made history last year. They’ve incorporated me into the family. Try to make me one of the big pieces.”

“I’m winning. Of course I’m happy. That’s why I don’t buy into the rumors. I feel like I do my job here and I feel like I’ve done everything that they’ve asked. That’s why I haven’t bought into the rumors.”

If Aldridge is unhappy to the point he’d prefer to leave San Antonio, the Spurs will know that. What he says publicly probably won’t sway their opinion nearly as much as his behind-the-scenes actions and attitudes.

San Antonio could also trade Aldridge without him inviting it. The initial report about the Spurs possibly trading him came from a different source than the one about him being unhappy. There could be truth in one and not the other. If Aldridge believes San Antonio will keep him, that’s prerogative. He wouldn’t be the first player to mis-evaluate his team’s loyalty to him – or he could be spot on.

Really, Aldridge didn’t reveal much that we can accept with certainty – except that if there is turmoil, it’s no so great that he’s unwilling to put on a happy face. That counts for something.

JaVale McGee apparently makes Warriors regular-season roster

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  JaVale McGee #1 of the Golden State Warriors brings the ball up the court against the Los Angeles Lakers during their preseason game at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Steve Kerr warned us, but it’s still difficult to digest.

The NBA’s best team will have the league’s most foolhardy player.

Yes, the Warriors are apparently keeping JaVale McGee.

Golden State waived its other three players without guaranteed salaries today: Elliot Williams, Phil Pressey and Cameron Jones. That drops the Warriors’ roster, including McGee, to 15, the regular-season limit. Unless Golden State prefers to open the season with a vacancy, McGee made the team.

McGee earned the job with a strong preseason. No Warriors match his rim protection, giving him clear value in certain matchups

Zaza Pachulia remains Golden State’s starting center, and Draymond Green will play plenty at the position. But I wouldn’t be surprised if McGee outperforms an aging Anderson Varejao (whose primary skill is flopping) and a rookie Damian Jones (who’s recovering from injury) to become a rotation regular.

McGee also has potential to add comic relief to what’s already a tremendous viewing experience.