PBT NBA Draft Preview: Top 10 shooting guards

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If you can shoot the rock, there is a place for you in the NBA.

This year’s shooting guard class has some guys who can shoot the rock. It also has some guys that blur the lines for the position. PBT’s NBA draft expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld — the man who put together this list for us — thinks Dante Exum will end up as more of a two than point guard and includes him in this list (in reality he likely ends up a combo guard). Some people think Andrew Wiggins is a two, Isaacson sees him more as a three. Really, the lines are fairly moot in most modern offenses, which are moving toward more positionless play to match the varied skill sets coming into the league now.

However you divide it up, there are some flat out good players here. Here is PBT’s Top 10 shooting guards (you can see the top 10 point guards right here).

1. Gary Harris, Sophomore, Michigan State, 6’4, 205
Put aside concerns about Harris’ size, which some seemed to have when he was measured at the combine. He is a versatile offensive threat, who at times seemed to be handcuffed by Michigan State’s rigid offense. Harris is a better three-point shooter than the numbers (35% on 235 attempts) suggest, and he was often forced to create opportunities late in the shot clock which forced some bad attempts. Harris is also a very strong slasher to the basket, capable of finishing in a variety of ways. On top of his offense, Harris is a very good on-ball defender, capable of defending either guard spot, and he is very strong in transition.

2. Nik Stauskas, Sophomore, Michigan, 6’6, 207
Stauskas stepped up in a big way this past season with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. in the NBA. He has very good size at 6’6, and he has consistent range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Stauskas even showed that he can be a playmaker with the ball in his hands, especially in pick-and-roll situations, where he was able to make some very good reads and attack the basket or find open teammates. His defensive ability may be a concern, but he should eventually become at least an average NBA defender.

3. Dante Exum, 18 years old, Australia, 6’6, 196
Yes, there are some who believe Exum will be able to play point guard at the NBA level. I am not one of them. Also, Exum will likely be the first one picked out of this group based on what some see as his potential, but he still has a lot of developing to do and adjustments to make before he is close to many others on this list. Exum is long and athletic, with a strong ability to create shots for himself off the dribble. His perimeter shooting isn’t bad, but he needs to become more consistent, and he will need to work on getting open better off the ball. His size and athletic ability should allow him to become a good NBA defender, but again, there’s a lot of work still to do before he is ready.

4. James Young, Freshman, Kentucky, 6’7, 213
Young is another young, athletic wing, though he is not as skilled as many of the others on this list. He had a reputation coming into school as a strong perimeter shooter, but he was inconsistent all season (35%) and could only be relied upon if he was wide open and had time to get set. Young can get to the basket off the dribble but only to his left, so defenders can easily overplay him. With his length and athleticism, you would think that Young could be a good defender, but he has a long way to go before he can guard NBA players. Still, there is a lot of raw talent here which can flourish in the right circumstances.

5. PJ Hairston, 21 years old, Texas Legends, 6’5, 229
Hairston recovered well in the D-League after seeing his NCAA career come to an abrupt end when North Carolina wouldn’t restore his eligibility after some off-court incidents. Hairston is a good perimeter shooter with NBA three-point range, though the pace of the D-League game forced him into many bad decisions. He showed that his offensive game was more versatile than was seen in college and that he can be an effective scorer off the dribble. Hairston is also an average defender already, though he still has some adjusting to do to get to pro-level speed. He has faced some good competition in the D-League and should be ready to help a team immediately.

6. Jordan Adams, Sophomore, UCLA, 6’5, 209
Adams is a talented scorer with a good knack for finding holes in the defense and taking high-percentage shots. Long-range shooting is actually the weakest part of his offensive game right now, but the tools are there for him to improve quickly. Adams is also a very good on- and off-ball defender, and he has a talent for creating turnovers by always being in good position. Adams may not seem to have the upside of many other prospects his age, but he is more ready than most to earn good playing time.

7. CJ Wilcox, Senior, Washington, 6’5, 201
Wilcox built a solid college career as a three-point shooter, but he can be a versatile offensive threat when give certain opportunities to create off the dribble. Still, his NBA role will likely be as a three-point threat, but he will need to work harder on the defensive end to ensure he gets on the floor.

8. Jabari Brown, Junior, Missouri, 6’4, 202
Brown is a strong scorer, both off the dribble in the halfcourt and as a perimeter shooter, though he has trouble going to his left. He thrives when he gets out in the open floor, and he can be a very creative finisher around the basket. Brown just isn’t a very good defender. If he was, and combined with his scoring ability, he would probably be higher on the list. Still, he will give a team the kind of player who can score quickly in limited minutes.

9. Bogdan Bogdanovic, 21 years old, Serbia, 6’6, 200
Bogdanovic has very good size on the wing, is very comfortable with the ball in his hands, and with a little more consistency, he can be a strong perimeter shooter. He sees the floor well when he has the ball, and he does a good job finding open teammates when the defense is drawn to him. Bogdanovic wasn’t a bad defender over in Europe, but he may have a tough time adjusting to the speed of NBA wings. A team may be better off having him stay in Europe a bit longer and build his all-around game before coming to the NBA.

10. Spencer Dinwiddie, Junior, Colorado, 6’6, 205
Before tearing his ACL this past season, Dinwiddie played more of the point guard position for the Buffaloes, but I think his long-term future is at the shooting guard position. Dinwiddie is at his best when he looks to attack the basket, using long strides to beat defenders. He has the size to finish well around the rim, and he is very good at drawing contact (he went to the free throw line 119 times in just 17 games this year.) He is a smart passer, but he is more of a facilitator than a playmaker, so he can be moved off the ball to give a team some versatility. Dinwiddie’s length helps him on defense, though he isn’t exceptionally quick with his feet. He could be a solid role player in a few years.

LeBron James, Cavaliers hope to even series with Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James has been in this playoff position before, just not in the first round.

With Cleveland down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, James was asked if Game 4 in Indianapolis Sunday was a must win.

“It’s the postseason,” said James, who is 10-0 in his career in first-round playoff series with Cleveland and Miami. “Every game is a must win. You want to come in and play well and win no matter what. No matter if you have home-court advantage or if you’re starting on the road, that’s the mindset you have to have. I felt like (Friday) was a must win. We didn’t win, obviously, but it’s the same mindset on Sunday.”

James, who scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and delivered eight assists in a 92-90 road loss Friday night, rejected what he felt were reporters’ attempts to ask if the other players needed to do more.

“You guys think I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus? I’m not about that,” James said. “Guys just, we have to be better, including myself. Had six turnovers (Friday). I was horrible in the third quarter, couldn’t make a shot. If I had made some better plays in the third quarter, the lead doesn’t skip.”

The Pacers cut a 17-point halftime deficit to six points in the third quarter and finally took their first lead in the fourth quarter.

“We know we all gotta play better as a collective group, no matter who it is,” James said. “We got production to start the game and in the second half there wasn’t much production. We still had a chance to win. We’ve got to regroup and figure how we can be better in Game 4.”

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers were limited because George Hill‘s back “locked up” in the second half. Hill played only nine minutes in the second half, scoring two of his 13 points. Lue used James and Jordan Clarkson rather than backup point guard Jose Calderon in the fourth quarter. If Hill can’t go Sunday, Lue said he will likely start Calderon.

Hill had an MRI on Saturday, but the results weren’t back. He is listed as questionable for Game 4 with back spasms. Hill was hurt during Game 1 when Trevor Booker set a back screen and felt stiffness before Game 2, but played 20 minutes.

For the Pacers, Bojan Bogdanovic was the difference maker, scoring 15 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bogdanovic struggled shooting the first two games of the series.

Bogdanovic, who made 7 of 9 3-pointers, kept his focus after two quick fouls in the first quarter and had to leave briefly in the fourth when he picked up his fifth foul. The seven 3-pointers tied a franchise playoff record, also held by Reggie Miller twice, Chuck Person and Paul George.

“I thought it was going to be another poor performance from myself, but in the second half I started hitting shots and started feeling (much) better and I think a did a great job (Friday night),” the Croatian forward said.

Bogdanovic said he was most pleased with his defense against James.

“Everybody thought before this season that I cannot play defense,” he said. “I don’t say that I am playing great defense, but I am working hard at trying to make it tough for each offensive player that I am guarding.”

Bogdanovic said he tries to push James so he catches the ball far from the basket.

“Against those type of players you just try to stay aggressive on them,” Bogdanovic said.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan was impressed with his ability to produce both ways.

“You’re taking a pounding if you’re on the defensive end of the floor if you’re guarding LeBron,” McMillan said. “But offensively he found some energy. He got some good looks and he knocked them down.”

The Pacers came back to win eight times during the regular season after being down 15 or more points.

“We’ve been resilient,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We made an adjustment in the second half and it helped us. But it’s only one game; I’m looking forward to Sunday.”

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders. In fact, I would argue most of it is not.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts vs. the roster he has to coach?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did. The question for Blazers management is, if not Stotts then who is next? Who are they getting that’s better?

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.