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PBT NBA Draft Preview: Top 10 point guards

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This year continues the trend — there are a couple of potentially very good point guards at the top of the 2014 NBA draft, but they are more in the shoot first category. Think more Derrick Rose in style than Mike Conley. They are guys that will have to adapt their game some to the NBA. You have to go down the list for game managers. What you have to like as a fan (or a coach or a GM) is that this is a good defensive group.

PBT’s draft expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld is breaking down the draft for us by position, and we are starting with the guy with the ball in his hands, the point guards.

You will not see Dante Exum on this list — Isaacson believes Exum’s future in the NBA is as a two guard who can create shots, not as a point. It’s a bit of a blurred distinction, but frankly traditional positional play in the NBA is fading anyway.

Here are our Top 10:

1. Marcus Smart, Sophomore, Oklahoma State, 6’3, 227
Smart’s return for his sophomore season solidified him as the top point guard in this draft class. Carrying a big scoring load for the Cowboys hid a lot of his distributing ability, but he is very good at finding open teammates, especially when he gets into the defense. Speaking of defense, Smart is arguably the best defender in this draft, capable of guarding multiple positions and forcing opponents into mistakes. Perimeter shooting issues have been overblown as he just needs to learn to take better shots.

2. Elfrid Payton, Junior, Louisiana-Lafayette, 6’4,185
Payton is as strong as Smart in many areas, including his ability to break down defenders off the dribble and get into the lane, where he is very good at hitting open teammates or drawing fouls. He is also a very good defender, though he doesn’t have Smart’s physical strength and relies more on quick hands and feet. Payton also has some perimeter shooting woes, but he needs to put work in on his form to get them fixed to keep defenders honest.

3. Tyler Ennis, Freshman, Syracuse, 6’2 1/2, 181
Ennis established himself as one of the top point guards in this class based on his tremendous control of the floor and composure for his age. People may have bolstered his abilities in their mind a bit much because of some buzzer beating shots, but Ennis still has a bright future ahead of him. The major question is whether he can be a real playmaker at the NBA level.

4. Shabazz Napier, Senior, Connecticut, 6’1, 175
A two-time NCAA champion with the Huskies, Napier has the skill and leadership ability to step in right away as a high-level backup for almost any NBA team. He is capable of scoring at the basket or from the perimeter, can distribute the ball and plays tough defense. Napier doesn’t shrink from big moments, and he is as strong a leader as there is in this draft class. His size isn’t ideal, but he will be fine heading a second unit.

5. Jordan Clarkson, Junior, Missouri, 6’5, 186
Clarkson is one of a couple of bigger guards who would be capable of playing in either guard spot but thrives when he has the ball in his hands. He is at his best in the open floor, but in the half-court, he uses long strides to get into the lane and to the basket. His distributing skills still need some work, and he usually will defer to looking for his own shot instead of finding a teammate, but his size could provide him opportunities to find teammates. Clarkson has the athletic ability to guard multiple positions but needs to put in more work on that end to be ready for the NBA.

6. Russ Smith, Senior, Louisville, 6’1, 160
Smith made strong strides as a senior, showing that he can be much more than the wild scorer who earned the “Russdiculous” moniker. Smith has incredible speed, and he uses it well, especially turning opponents’ mistakes into easy baskets on the other end. He is much better at finding his own shot, but he has shown that he can create for teammates in the half-court with the attention he draws. Teams can use him on and off the ball, and his versatility combined with his defensive ability will make him a valuable role player.

7. Vasilije Micic, 20 years old, Serbia, 6’6, 202
Micic has very good size for the point guard position, and he has a natural ability to find his teammates in both the open floor and transition. He uses his size well to get into the lane and to the basket, but he isn’t as reliable a perimeter shooter as he will need to be. Micic will be at his best in a pick-and-roll heavy offense, and his ability to make quick decisions will help him. His lack of athleticism could hurt him on the defensive end as he tries to cover quicker guards. Micic could be a good option as a third point guard for many teams.

8. Deonte Burton, Senior, Nevada, 6’1, 193
Burton is another small, quick guard in this class, with a strong ability to get to the basket and to find open teammates off of penetration. He has a great first step, and he had to carry a heavy scoring load for Nevada, which often hid his playmaking abilities. Burton’s defensive ability is above-average, though his effort can be inconsistent. His biggest challenge will be tailoring his strengths to be maximized in shorter minutes.

9. Jahii Carson, Sophomore, Arizona State, 5’11, 180
One of the most exciting players to watch in college basketball the past two years, Carson uses his speed well to create opportunities on both ends of the floor. He is at his best when attacking the basket, though he did make strong improvements as a perimeter shooter this past season. His size can be a hindrance, but he has good body control and a nice ability to create space when he needs it.

10. Aaron Craft, Senior, Ohio State, 6’2, 192
Craft is not going to wow people when he is playing, but he leaves everything out on the floor and is as good a leader as you will find in this class. His strength is on the defensive end, where he knows exactly how to force his opponent away from his strengths. However, Craft’s offensive limitations may be what keeps him off the floor.

Report: Jimmer Fredette, playing in China, engaging NBA teams on March return

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  Jimmer Fredette #32 of the New York Knicks in action against the Toronto Raptors during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 22, 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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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It has been six years since Jimmer Fredette entered the NBA with a cult following out of BYU. After five lackluster NBA seasons, will he get a sixth?

His play in China has generated buzz among those already inclined to support him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Errick McCollum is averaging more points per game in the Chinese Basketball Association and taking fewer shots than Fredette. Also averaging 30 points per game in China: MarShon Brooks, Jared Cunningham, Jabari Brown, Jamaal Franklin, Lester Hudson, Darius Adams and Dominique Jones.

In other words, a bunch of borderline NBA players who most likely belong outside the top league.

That includes Fredette, whose selfish style doesn’t lend itself to the smaller role he’d likely have to fill in the NBA.

It takes only one team to take a chance on Fredette, but I wouldn’t bank on immediate help or upside from the 28-year-old.

Report: Jim Buss initially promised to fix Lakers in only one year before being talked into three-year pledge

Los Angeles Lakers part-owner Jim Buss attends a news conference held to introduce the team's new draft picks, Monday, June 29, 2015, in El Segundo, Calif.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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The Lakers mercifully ended Jim Buss’ lousy tenure as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, promoting Magic Johnson to run the front office.

Maybe it could have happened sooner if his siblings just listened to him in the first place.

After the 2013-14 season, Jim pledged to re-sign if the Lakers weren’t “contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship … in three to four years.”

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Jim’s much-publicized promise to step down within three years—meaning this year—if the Lakers weren’t “in contention” was not what he originally said, according to sources close to the family.

When Jeanie asked Jim what they could do to hold him accountable, what Jim actually said first was:

“I only need one year.”

The others, knowing their brother so well, chuckled a bit and gave him a chance to amend his statement. He then made it “three years.”

The Lakers went 21-61 in 2014-15 and 17-65 in 2015-16. Jim was wholly incapable of engineering a quick turnaround.

But I understand Jeanie’s hesitancy to oust Jim. Their late father, Jerry, wanted Jim to run the front office. I’m sure Jeanie wanted Jim to have a fair shot at that opportunity.

However, she also should have realized that giving Jim three years meant setting back the franchise for far longer. The Lakers owe Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov $102 million over the next three years — a substantial burden.

Paul George joining a blossoming Lakers team in 2018 is all the buzz, but Los Angeles doesn’t project to have enough cap space to sign him outright. It’d require dropping at least one positive asset, either directly or attached to Deng and/or Mozgov in a salary-dump trade.

That’s a reasonable tradeoff to land a star like George, but if Jim weren’t chasing wins late in his tenure, the maybe the Lakers could have had George and their full complement of recent draft picks.

Again, there was no simple answer here. The Busses wanted to let Jim try, and maybe family should have come first.

But Jim was too big of a dreamer, and even with his pledge extended to three years, he was still angling to keep his job after clearly failing in his stated mission. One way or another, this was bound to become a problem.

The Lakers just took a route where they’ll still feel the problem for years, even if Jim is now ousted from the front office.

 

Kings GM Vlade Divac: Pelicans were team that offered more for DeMarcus Cousins two days prior

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 13:  Vice president of basketball operations and general manager of the Sacramento Kings Vlade Divac attends the team's preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at T-Mobile Arena on October 13, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Sacramento won 116-104. 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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Kings general manager Vlade Divac, explaining his modest return in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, said, “I had a better deal two days ago.”

That statement probably made Divac look more foolish than he should have. Cousins’ agents, wary of losing a designated-veteran-player extension only Sacramento could offer, were threatening not to re-sign with any team that traded for the center. That could dissuade a team from offering as much for Cousins, because any offer for him must account for the probability of him staying long-term. It’s unclear the Kings could have pushed through the earlier offer before the other team heard from Cousins’ agents and recanted.

But, in addition to causing uproar and mocking, Divac’s statement also sparked another question: What was that “better deal to days ago”?

Divac, via Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee;

When I was first talking with the Pelicans, it was about Buddy (Hield) and two first-round picks. I talked to DeMarcus’ agents (Dan Fegan and Jarinn Akana) to inform them we were having talks, negotiating terms, and they called teams and threatened them, saying that if Cousins was traded, he would not sign an extension. (Only the Kings could offer a fifth year, at a higher percentage of salary cap, because of Cousins’ designated veteran status.) They got scared and dropped it down to a second-round pick. I thought if I waited longer, I would get less. I needed to act.

Cousins signing a straight contract extension is practically infeasible. The Pelicans almost certainly won’t have enough cap space to offer a renegotiation-and-extension. He’ll probably become an unrestricted free agent in 2018 — which presents major risk for small-market New Orleans. (It’d be a bigger risk if the Pelicans blew up a quality team to land Cousins, which they very much didn’t.)

I don’t blame the Pelicans for lowering their offer once they heard from Cousins’ camp. I especially wouldn’t blame the Pelicans if they leveraged the agents’ threat, which should have come at no surprise, into a lesser offer to the Kings.

Instead of a deal based around Buddy Hield and two first-rounders, Sacramento got Hield, a first-rounder and a second-rounder. The second-rounder is this year’s 76ers’ selection, on pace to be No. 35 in a loaded draft. So, it’s far more valuable than the average second-rounder. We also don’t know what the protections would have been on the first-rounders in the earlier offer. The first-rounder actually conveyed is top-three protected this year, top-one protected the next three year and unprotected in 2021.

Still, with the prospect of DeMarcus Cousins leaving New Orleans next year, I would have loved to get my hands on another Pelicans first-rounder after his free agency.

Instead, the Kings settled for a package with far less upside.

Report: George Hill advised he can get ‘much better deal’ this summer than Jazz offered now

SAN ANTONIO,TX - NOVEMBER 01: George Hill #3 of the Utah Jazz pushes the ball during game between Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on November 1, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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After last-day negotiations, the Jazz and George Hill didn’t agree on a renegotiation-and-extension.

Why?

Does he want to leave Utah? Do the Jazz not value him enough?

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

That doesn’t mean Hill doesn’t want to stay with the Jazz, sources tell The Tribune. In fact, Hill is fond of the franchise and Salt Lake City. He has been a leader in Utah’s locker room and is very close to Jazz star Gordon Hayward — both are from the Indianapolis area. He has developed friendships off the court in Salt Lake, and he enjoys playing for the Jazz.

The Jazz, sources say, are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep Hill with the franchise.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

A much better deal? That might be in the eye of the beholder.

The most the Jazz could have offered Hill before last night’s midnight deadline was $88,684,652 — a $13,644,808 raise this season via renegotiation and a three-year, $75,039,844 extension.

As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Hill’s max contract projects to be worth about $177 million over five years if he re-signs or about $132 million over four years if he leaves.

Here’s what Hill’s max would have been in a renegotiation-and-extension and what his maxes project to be next summer:

Season Extension Re-sign Sign elsewhere
2016-17 $13,644,808
2017-18 $23,268,169 $30,600,000 $30,600,000
2018-19 $25,013,281 $33,048,000 $32,130,000
2019-20 $26,758,394 $35,496,000 $33,660,000
2020-21 $37,944,000 $35,190,000
2021-22 $40,392,000
Total $88,684,652 $177,480,000 $131,580,000

There’s no guarantee Hill will receive a max offer in free agency. Though he’s having an excellent season, he’ll be 31. Plus, he has played through multiple minor injuries this season. If one of those becomes major, he has no safety net.

And even if Hill receives higher-paying offers, those aren’t necessarily better offers. Does he want to leave Utah for the 76ers, Kings or Knicks? Those are the type of teams that are both desperate for a point guard and have max-level cap space.

Plus, if Hill signed a renegotiation-and-extension, he still could have earned some money on a new contract in 2020-21 and 2021-22. That has to be weighed against four- or five-year options in free agency.

I would have advised Hill to take the renegotiation-and-extension if the Jazz offered the max amount, but it’s an extremely close call. There’s definitely upside in Hill’s risk of bypassing an extension.

The best hope for Hill to secure a bigger contract with a good team is the Jazz. They hold his Bird Rights, so they can exceed the cap to re-sign him. They’re winning now, and he’s a big part of that. They also might have their point guard of the future already on the roster in Dante Exum. So, while a lucrative long-term contract for Hill might become an albatross on the backend, Utah would at least have the opportunity to reduce his role and elevate Exum rather than being stuck with no options.

Because Hill will be unrestricted, the Jazz should be proactive. They can’t idly wait for the market to determine Hill’s value and then try to match or barely beat it. By then, he might be gone.

Hill can use teams like Philadelphia, Sacramento and New York — maybe to get an offer he’s truly willing to accept, but at least to gain leverage over Utah.

There are many paths to Hill coming out ahead. Let’s acknowledge, though: Rejecting an extension is the more daring route.