Julius Randle

The Extra Pass: Six NCAA Sweet 16 match-ups NBA fans should pay attention to

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Your bracket has gone the way of the Dodo, so now you can just watch the NCAA Tournament to root for teams trying on the glass slipper… and to see players your team may try to draft this June.

There are a few match ups in the Sweet 16 that should interest NBA fans — interesting showdowns of players who names Adam Silver (or Mark Tatum) will call in June.

Here are six to watch.

Julius Randle (Kentucky) vs. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville). This is the matchup everyone will be talking about — it could be one of the best of the weekend (in a rivalry game, just to add to the fun). Randle played well for Kentucky opening weekend and was the one guy in the predicted top four picks to perform up to expectations (unreasonable though they are). Harrell (projected mid to late first round) is a high energy defensive guy who has a lot of physical tools — length, quickness, strength — enough to really challenge Randle. They are separated in the draft because Randle is the far more polished offensive player with a higher ceiling, but right now Harrell has the fast first step on offense to make this a great matchup. Harrell could force the turnover-prone Randle into mistakes that could swing the game, or at least make Randle really work for his points.

Kentucky’s backcourt vs. Louisville’s backcourt. This is what will determine the outcome of the best game in the round of 16 and it’s a matchup PBT’s NBA Draft expert — Scott Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com and Rotoworld — will be watching closely. Here is what Isaacson said:

“When these two teams played in December, the Harrisons and James Young turned the ball over 9 times against the Louisville guards, namely Russ Smith and Chris Jones, and it was a pretty good performance. None of the Kentucky guards are great ballhandlers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitino set Smith loose to harass Andrew Harrison as far out as Smith is comfortable. With real point guard, any disruption to the Kentucky offense can cause a lot of problems. On the flip side, the Harrisons and Young’s size could cause problems for Louisville if they are able to consistently get into their half-court offense, and their size can also hamper Smith’s ability to get good perimeter looks on offense.”

Nik Stauskas (Michigan) vs. Jordan McRae (Tennessee). If you like buckets, this is the matchup to watch — both of these guys may well lead their teams in scoring. Our man Isaacson brakes down the matchup, and thinks it could favor Stauskas and Michigan.

“Here’s a matchup where each player will have trouble guarding the other. Stauskas is a threat to knock down long jumpers or act as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations. He is a strong passer, so McRae will need to have a strong plan to defend the high screens. McRae loves to attack the basket, but if he sees Stauskas giving him room, he’ll start shooting jumpers. Stauskas best chance to win this matchup is to have McRae shooting jumpers.”

Aaron Gordon vs. San Diego State defense. Gordon turned a lot of heads of people who didn’t watch much (or any) Arizona this year — he is a freak athlete. Watch him and where you often see that athleticism on display is defensively (guys at the college level just don’t know how to handle that). However Gordon has no steady jumper and no reliable offense that isn’t dunks — San Diego State was seventh in the nation in defense (adjusted points per possession, via Ken Pomeroy). Can Gordon score on them, enough to lead his team to victory? This will be entertaining.

Florida backcourt vs. UCLA Backcourt. Kyle Anderson looked good opening weekend (as did everyone on UCLA) as he used that 6’9” frame to get off shots over the top of his defenders. UCLA and Anderson were just physically superior to everyone they faced. That will not be the case Thursday night. Which makes this a contest Isaacson said he is looking forward to in particular in the round of 16.

“The size of the UCLA guards vs. the speed of the Florida guards. Kyle Anderson has a reputation for being very steady under pressure, but Scotty Wilbekin and Michael Frazier, are both capable of extending the defense out where Anderson will have a tough time making plays. Jordan Adams will be pressured on the perimeter all game, so Anderson will need to find a way to break down the Florida defense. When Florida has the ball, expect UCLA to play plenty of zone if they can get away with it. The guards will have trouble containing Wilbekin, which in turn opens up the floor for everyone else. If UCLA goes zone, Frazier and Wilbekin are the only thing close to consistent perimeter shooters for Florida and if they aren’t hitting, Florida’s offense can be in some trouble.”

Shabazz Napier (UConn) vs. DeAndre Kane (Iowa State). From the NBA Draft perspective, this is a battle of two guys trying to get picked later in the second round — these are the kinds of games that can help that cause, can help a GM think “this guy is worth the gamble.” Isaacson talks about this one as well.

“Two of the most exciting point guards in college basketball this year, bot Napier and Kane are comfortable looking to get into the lane or shooting threes. Kane is stronger and he likes to get physical with smaller guards on both ends of the floor. Guarding Napier is a team chore and Kane will need all the help he can get. Napier’s speed and body control allow him to create space pretty much whenever he needs it. The winner of this battle will likely be the one who gets his teammates better touches.”

Locker room drama? Player recruitment? Paul Millsap, does that go on All-Star weekend? “Rarely ever”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 17:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks speaks with the media during media availability for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans on February 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant spreading tension throughout the locker room. Players trying to convince Carmelo Anthony he should agree to a trade to their city. Players coming up and trying to recruit free agents to be this summer like the Hawks’ Paul Millsap.

It’s how some fans picture it is inside All-Star weekend locker rooms, all sorts of palace intrigue playing out like a soap opera.

“Rarely ever,” Millsap said of these kinds of things coming up. “For us, we get away from regular season basketball. It’s not about our respective teams, it’s about what’s going on now. You may share some stories, but we’re not talking about (regular season drama).”

Fans can be deeply invested in what happens during the regular season — heck, Eric Gordon heard boos from frustrated Pelicans fans before he won the Three-Point Contest Saturday.

But for the players, it’s a vacation. A chance to get away from all that drama.

“No, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter at all,” Millsap said of the regular season minutia that can dominate the league. “Once you get down here we’re all teammates. That’s how guys treat it. To get here, we’re enemies, but while we’re here everybody’s teammates and are fun to have in the locker room. It’s just a good time.”

They’re more likely to talk about the parties around town.

“Some,” Millsap said with a laugh. “But it’s just more general conversation, almost nothing about the season.”

Most of the recruitment comes in the summer, and most via text. Some players don’t like each other, just like nearly everyone reading this has someone at their office/job they don’t like working with (except me, all my bosses should be canonized they are such good people). Come the office Christmas Party, people put that aside and just get along. Same thing All-Star weekend for the players. Everyone just gets along and tries to enjoy the experience.

When play starts up again next week, the drama can return.

Draymond Green: ‘Shaqtin A Fool’ treats JaVale McGee unfairly

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) is greeted by forward JaVale McGee in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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NEW ORLEANS — JaVale McGee has fired off at Shaquille O’Neal about “Shaqtin A Fool,” TNT’s blooper segment. Now, the oft-mocked Warriors center has someone else sticking up for him.

“I think JaVale is unfairly treated on Shaqtin,” Golden State forward Draymond Green said. “This year has given me a little different outlook on it.

“I just think there’s some stuff that goes on there about JaVale that really shouldn’t be on there. But, because it’s JaVale…”

That is true. McGee goofs that wouldn’t register if they were by other players make Shaqtin. But McGee still produce plenty of worthy candidates.

And it’s not as if Green is completely turned off.

“I like the show,” Green said. “It’s funny as hell to me. But that aspect of it has kind of given me a little different view.”

PBT Extra: Despite Russell Westbrook’s triple-double pace, James Harden is MVP frontrunner

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The NBA’s MVP race is down to two men. Sure, you can make a case for Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James, some even want to throw Isaiah Thomas in the mix, but the best any of them is going to do is down the ballot in the final three slots.

The top two are reserved for James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

In this PBT Extra, I discuss that while Westbrook is on pace for a historic season — averaging a triple-double of 31.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 10.1 assists a game — it is Harden who is lifting his team to higher heights, and that very well could win the beard the award.

As Texas legislature considers it’s own “bathroom bill,” Adam Silver hints it could cost Houston All-Star Game

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 18:  NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks with the media during a press conference at Smoothie King Center on February 18, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — The 2017 NBA All-Star Game is co-existing with the start of Mardis Gras in New Orleans right now because of the North Carolina legislature.

When that state passed bill HB2, commonly called “the bathroom law,” the NBA owners and Adam Silver rightfully drew a line in the sand and said, in so many words, “we’re not bringing our All-Star Game to your city if that discriminatory law is on the books.” Of course, there was no way a Republican-controlled legislator and governor were going to cave on a red meat issue for their base like that one in an election year. So the NBA joined numerous businesses that pulled out of the state, as well as some musical acts planning concerts, and took their business elsewhere.

Right now, the Texas legislature is considering a similar bill.

Houston is considered a frontrunner to land the 2020 or 2021 All-Star Game, the NBA has opened the application process for those games and Houston is interested.

Could the bill kill Houston’s application before it even gets to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s desk? Silver is too smart a lawyer and negotiator to box himself in a corner and say there is no way Houston gets the All-Star Game if the law passes, but he made it clear it could.

“You know, I’m not ready to draw bright lines. Clearly, though, the laws of the state, ordinances, and cities are a factor we look at in deciding where to play our All-Star Games,” Silver said at his annual All-Star Weekend press conference.

“I think the issue is we’d have to look at the specific legislation and understand its impact. I mean, I’m not ready to stand here today and say that that is the bright line test for whether or not we will play All-Star Games in Texas. It’s something we’re, of course, going to monitor very closely. What we’ve stated is that our values, our league-wide values in terms of equality and inclusion are paramount to this league and all the members of the NBA family, and I think those jurisdictions that are considering legislation similar to HB2 are on notice that that is an important factor for us. Those values are an important factor for us in deciding where we take a special event like an All-Star Game.”

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is headed to Los Angeles, and there is no concern that California is going to pass such a law. The 2019 game is officially unscheduled right now, but the NBA’s hope is to give it to Charlotte if HB2 is rolled back or eliminated. The uproar over the law is part of the reason the former governor Pat McCrory lost his re-election bid last November to Democratic challenger Roy Cooper.

“I have talked to Governor Cooper, the new Governor of North Carolina since he was elected, really to express our desire to return to North Carolina [in 2019] for our All-Star Game,” Silver said. “We have a team in North Carolina. We have a development team, soon to be a G-League team, in North Carolina. And 20 other teams will visit North Carolina this season. So we’d very much like to get back there.

“We had a discussion so I understood, certainly, his position, when he was running for office, was anti-HB2, the bill that ultimately led to our leaving. So I really was talking to him more to understand, from his standpoint, how he was hoping to move forward in terms of changing that law. My pain purpose of talking to him was to express our desire to return.”

The HB2 law covered a variety of issues, but what drew the most attention was that it restricts transgender bathroom use — you have to use the bathroom for the gender with which you were born. The law also superseded anti-discrimination ordinances put in by the city of Charlotte and other North Carolina cities, laws that tried to block discrimination against gays and lesbians. 

While any state has the right to put on the books laws it sees fit (within the framework of the Constitution), those actions can come with consequences. Just like Texas has the right to put the law on the books (not a sure thing, there has been pushback from the business community in the state), the NBA has the right to decide where it will do business. And bringing an All-Star Game to a city is a big economic boost — Charlotte lost an estimated $100 million in spending without the game, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.