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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.

Byron Scott expected to start D’Angelo Russell after All-Star break, but hasn’t talked to him about it

Byron Scott D'Angelo Russell
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Communication.

When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.

This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.

Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.

“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.

I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”

Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.

Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.

Kevin Durant on Warriors, Spurs: “We’re not scared of neither one of those teams”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder while facing the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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We’d seen this movie before. Against the San Antonio Spurs. Against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Golden State Warriors offensive machine got cranked up, dropped 73 on Oklahoma City in the first half, led by 14 at the break, and it was about to turn into another rout, and another statement win for the Warriors.

Except the Thunder came back. OKC held Golden State to just 18 third quarter points and got the lead down to two points — the Thunder pushed the Warriors away from the things they like to do (Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll) and made life difficult for them. It was a fantastic performance for OKC, even if Golden State still prevailed with a 116-108 win.

After the game Durant would have none of any moral victory talk — even though it was — and he said the Thunder were not intimidated by the Warriors or anyone else, via Royce Young of Oklahoma City.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Durant said of the comeback. “When we get down, we’re supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here…

“Man, we’re not scared of neither one of those teams,” Durant said, including the Spurs. “We’re going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play ’em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play ’em. We’re not ducking nobody.”

The NBA isn’t professional boxing; nobody gets to duck anybody.

But a Thunder team searching for respect gained a measure Saturday night. The Thunder picture themselves contenders and for much of the season listened to talking heads (myself included) say the Warriors and Spurs are in a different class. Saturday night was a step in showing that they belonged. There are still questions about how Golden State or San Antonio could exploit players such as Dion Waiters or Enes Kanter is a seven-game series, but the Thunder have two of the league’s top five players — they can beat and hang with anyone.

They have a shot at a title.

If Durant believes that, it would impact his decision this summer, but that is another discussion.