Even after tournament run, Shabazz Napier remains likely second round pick

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Shabazz Napier was probably the best point guard in college basketball this year.

The senior played his best ball when it mattered most and led the UConn Huskies to the NCAA title. LeBron James watched the NCAA Tournament and said Napier should be the first point guard off the board.

NBA talent evaluators saw his tournament play… and still have him pegged as a second round draft pick.

The first two point guards off the board will be Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Australia’s Dante Exum (the order depends on who you talk to, although most have Exum a little higher). After him comes Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis in the teens. Then late in the first round/early second Louisiana Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton. Then we get into the second round and a host of guys such as Deonte Burton of Nevada, Vasilije Micic of Serbia, Jahil Carson of Arizona State, and Jordan Clarkson of Missouri.

Napier, even with his two NCAA rings, is in the mix with that last mentioned group of second rounders. Maybe behind most of them.

Coaches will love Napier’s maturity, but general managers are looking for potential, the guy who will be the best point guard three years from now. By then Smart and Ennis will more mature and their more impressive physical skills give them a much hither ceiling. Napier is a senior, age 23, and he is farther along his development curve (what you see is basically what you get). Teams love Napier’s ability to create offense and his feel for the game as he does it. If he played baseball you’d call him a crafty lefty (even though he’s not a lefty), a player who gets by on creativity as much or more than athleticism. He’s a guy you can draft and play right away.

But he is not athletic for the NBA level, not explosive, and some of his crafty moves will not work against longer, faster players. Also, his decision making is not consistent.

PBT’s NBA Draft Expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com and Rotoworld has been working on his detailed breakdown of Napier’s game. He also sent PBT these comments.

“Napier’s play through the NCAA Tournament was impressive, though it put a big spotlight on both the good and bad of his game. He has great speed and is a tremendous ballhandler, and he uses both well to either get into the lane or create space for his jumper. He has the ability to create shots when you don’t think he has a chance, and he is also a consistent perimeter shooter (though that leg kick and fadeaway drives me nuts). Napier is an excellent defender, on and off the ball, and though he may not always get a lot of steals, he disrupts the flow of the offense.

“Napier’s biggest issues are with finishing around the basket, where his lack of size and strength force him to take some pretty wild shots, and his tendency to try and force bad passes. He will often look to make the spectacular play, with mixed results.

“It was a great tournament run, but I expect his draft value remains around the early second round.”

The second round means no guaranteed contract. Because he can play now he likely makes the NBA roster of whoever drafts him, but it’s going to be a fight to stick long term for him.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.

 

Lakers make 14% of their free throws, win

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Jordan Clarkson‘s free throw rattled around the rim before falling out late in the first quarter. The Los Angeles crowd groaned. The Lakers missed their first five free throws, and the visiting Pacers led by seven.

It appeared to be one of those nights.

And it was. The Lakers shot just 2-for-14 (14%) on free throws Friday. But they still won, 99-86.

That’s the worst free-throw percentage with at least eight attempts by any team and the worst free-throw percentage regardless of attempts by a winning team in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to 1963-64.

Here’s the “leaderboard,” winners in purple and losers in gold:

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The Lakers are shooting an NBA-worst 69% on free throws, but last night took the cake. The offenders: