PBT NBA Draft preview: Top 10 small forwards

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Freakish athletes.

If you’re going to be the swingman in today’s NBA you better be a good athlete, but this draft class is loaded with some flat out freaks. That starts at the top but continues all the way to the bottom of the list and the Greek Freak’s brother.

PBT’s draft expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld compiled this list for us (check out our point guard and shooting guard lists).

1. Andrew Wiggins, Freshman, Kansas, 6’8, 197
Wiggins dealt with overblown expectations all season and he still managed to put together a very impressive season. His next-level athleticism is what wows people, but he is also a very skilled player on both ends of the floor. Concerns about having the “tenacity” factor is probably overblown, and he handles himself maturely on and off the floor. Wiggins is still the #1 overall prospect in this draft and he will make an instant impact wherever he goes, while still having plenty of upside to justify a top pick.

2. Rodney Hood, Sophomore, Duke, 6’8, 208
Hood had a very strong season in his one year at Duke, showing the ability to score in a variety of ways, including range beyond the NBA three-point line. Hood shot almost 43% from three-point range and was often the Blue Devils’ only consistent perimeter threat. He isn’t a very strong defensive player, but he has the length and athleticism to improve if he works at it.

3. T.J. Warren, Sophomore, North Carolina State, 6’8, 220
One of the best scorers in the country, Warren is a terror in the mid-range area. He does a great job finding holes in the defense and getting off good, quick shots. Warren also has the body to score around the basket, and the athleticism to get out in transition. Long-range perimeter shooting is his biggest offensive weakness right now, but the tools are there for him to improve sooner rather than later. He’s an average defensive player, but he has no trouble playing physical defense in the post if necessary.

4. Kyle Anderson, Sophomore, UCLA, 6’8, 230
Figuring out where to put Anderson on this list, or even on the small forward list at all, was as tough a decision as there was. Anderson was UCLA’s point guard this past season and he has remarkable vision and passing ability. He uses his body and ballhandling skills to get to the basket, even without very good speed. Anderson improved his jumper immensely this past season, and he can be a very good option in pick-and-pop situations. While not a great defender, Anderson uses his length well to make plays and to rebound very well. A smart coach will find ways to use Anderson at different spots on the floor to maximize his ability.

5. K.J. McDaniels, Junior, Clemson, 6’6, 196
McDaniels was known mainly for his defensive ability and his athleticism, but he has become a good offensive threat over the past few seasons. Though he has improved as a perimeter shooter, he is inconsistent, and is much more effective looking to get to the basket off the dribble or hitting the offensive boards. McDaniels can guard multiple positions and his 2.7 blocks per game is a remarkable number for a 6’6 player. He would thrive in a system that likes to push the ball quickly up the floor.

6. Glenn Robinson III, Sophomore, Michigan, 6’7, 211
Robinson, the son of a former #1 overall pick, didn’t have the big season many expected after a strong freshman campaign, but he did show improvement in some key areas and will likely continue to get better in the near future. Robinson is at his best when making strong cuts to the rim or looking to attack off the dribble within 10-15 feet. His time at Michigan has taught him the value of spacing well, and he doesn’t force many bad shots. His perimeter shooting needs to improve, but he has shown some consistency in the mid-range area. He is athletic enough to guard out on the perimeter and he has the strength to play more physically if needed.

7. Cleanthony Early, Senior, Wichita State, 6’7, 209
Early improved his game in almost every way from his junior to senior season, and he was a major part of the Shockers’ team which made the Final Four two seasons ago, and lost just one game this past year. Early has lost weight since the season and is showing more quickness, but he was at his best when he was using his body on offense to create mismatches. He has developed into a semi-consistent perimeter threat and he should have little trouble adjusting to the NBA three-point line. Early can be a very good defender on the perimeter, using his strength to overpower other forwards, and his added quickness should help him guard other NBA small forwards.

8. Jerami Grant, Sophomore, Syracuse, 6’8, 214
Grant is still very raw skill-wise, but he is long and athletic with a lot of potential. On offense, he is at his best within 8 to 10 feet of the basket, though he started to show a decent mid-range jumper this past season. He can be a terror on the offensive boards, using his length well to get to balls or keeping them alive for teammates. His impact early on will likely come on the defensive end where his long arms allow him to alter many shots and his athletic ability will provide coaches some flexibility on who he guards.

9. DeAndre Daniels, Junior, Connecticut, 6’8, 196
This past season, Daniels finally started to show some of the promise many expected of him with his high school reputation. He is a good athlete with length that can make an impact on both ends of the floor. He has improved his shooting from most spots on the floor, though he is often plagued with poor shot selection. Daniels is an average defender at best, though his length allows him to challenge shots inside and out. Daniels is still learning many facets of the game and it may be a few years before he has any kind of impact at the NBA level, but he is worth a shot for a team with strong development.

10. Thanasis Antetokounmpo, 21 years old, Delaware 87ers, 6’6, 205
The brother of Milwaukee’s first round pick last year, and fan-favorite, Giannis, Antetokounmpo took the D-League route this season to work on his game. Like his brother, he is still raw in most areas of his game, but he is very good athlete and always looks to improve his game. His reputation has gotten a bump due to his brother’s potential, but he was really just an average D-League player this past season, and will likely need to spend another year or two there before he is close to showing he is an NBA player.

Like Shaun Livingston, JaVale McGee perfect fit on Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — JaVale McGee practices 3-pointers from all around the arch, just in case. He sits with assistant coach Jarron Collins and a laptop to study film, long after practice and his shooting workouts are complete.

The 7-footer’s rugged professional path has landed him at seemingly the perfect stop: in the Bay Area with the NBA’s best.

Just don’t call him a journeyman.

“I’ve never considered myself a journeyman in the first place,” McGee said after a practice this weekend. “Whatever y’all want to call me y’all can call me. The number of teams I’ve been on was in like one year. I’ve been with three teams in two years.”

Yet McGee must not look far to find someone else who has learned to thrive as a well-traveled NBA role player. Just a quick glance a couple of lockers down to where Shaun Livingston dresses at Oracle Arena, defying the odds yet again this season as a regular reserve contributing to another Warriors championship chase, is all it takes.

McGee has never made it this far, an NBA Finals first-timer when Golden State hosts defending champion Cleveland in Game 1 on Thursday night. Livingston never should have made it this far, and here he is back to the final round seeking his second title in three seasons – and 10 years after a devastating injury that could have sidelined him for good. Doctors thought they might have to amputate his left leg.

Fourteen teams between them, over 21 combined seasons. Each has found a great groove in Golden State’s rotation, called upon to take pressure off the big stars while maintaining the highest level.

“We just kind of follow suit, but it’s up to everybody to come in and lock in on the details. It’s the playoffs,” Livingston said. “Obviously the stars help, they get all the headlines deservedly so, but the small things, the details, that’s what we lock in at and that’s how we win ballgames.”

McGee has discovered the ideal place to shine as an alley-oop specialist in a pass-happy offense, and even Stephen Curry admits it’s so easy to target the sure-handed big man perhaps the Warriors do so too often at times.

“We almost get in trouble because we try to do it too much even if it’s not there, because he has the ability to catch it really anywhere around the rim, around the backboard,” Curry acknowledged. “You kind of see it developing when he gets a free lane to the rim, and as a passer in that situation literally feel the most confidence that if I just get it anywhere up there, he’ll go get it, and usually he does.”

With great efficiency, too.

In Game 3 against the Spurs, McGee scored a postseason-best 16 points, all in the first half to get Golden State going as Zaza Pachulia sat out with a bruised heel. He made all seven of his shots in Game 2 of a first-round win against Portland, shooting 18 for 23 in all in the four-game sweep of the Trail Blazers.

“That’s my whole thing, I just try to be efficient out there,” McGee said. “I don’t try to do too much. I just try to do what’s necessary for me in the minutes that I’m out there.”

Livingston has unselfishly dealt with a diminished role, a rotation change late in the season that altered when he’s used, and then a hand injury in the first round of the playoffs.

In February 2007 with the Clippers, Livingston tore three major ligaments in his knee – the anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral as well as his lateral meniscus, then required extensive surgery. Though the injury could have ended his career at age 21, he still believed he would play again. First he had to walk again.

“Shaun, that story isn’t really the same now. He’s become a staple of this franchise, he’s helped us win a title, he’s done some great things here,” Draymond Green said. “For JaVale, it’s still fresh, to where I think it’s a great situation for him. He’s finally been put in a position where he can do what he do. He’s finally come to an organization, a first-class organization, that has embraced him for him and not tried to make him something that he’s not. I think that has been pretty special, just seeing his growth over the course of the year, how he’s been able to thrive. … It’s special to see when you take the path that they’ve taken to get to this moment.”

McGee will have to help keep Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson off the boards. His teammates know he’s up to the task.

“It just speaks to his kind of character and perseverance and work ethic and his belief in himself that when he’s out there on the floor he deserves to be out there on the floor, he belongs and can make an impact,” Curry said. “When he showed up here, he understood the opportunity and he’s taken full advantage of it. It’s great to see.”

 

Cool Hand Lue: Cavs coach keeps NBA champs cool amid chaos

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Moments after the Eastern Conference championship banner was raised by the Cavaliers for the third straight time and the obligatory postgame interviews ended, Tyronn Lue slipped quietly away.

Cleveland’s coach ducked into the shadows, his preferred location.

“I don’t like the attention,” he said.

But Lue, once a journeyman point guard who steered the Cavs to an NBA championship last season, has grown more accepting of his frontman role. He’ll again be at center stage this week as Cleveland meets Golden State in the third installment of their title trilogy.

If the unassuming, easygoing Lue had his preference, the teams would duke it out for the Larry O’Brien Trophy on a playground court in a stifling hot gymnasium, with only a handful of onlookers present. A student of the game, he’s old school with a fresh perspective.

Of the many juicy subplots between the Cavs and Warriors, one that frequently goes overlooked is Lue, the former assistant who has blossomed in no time into one of the league’s brightest young head coaches and a playoff savant.

He’s 28-6 in two postseasons with Cleveland. His players credit Lue’s soothing, steady influence – on and off the floor – as nearly as vital to their success as a clutch Kyrie Irving 3-pointer.

“It’s just his level of calmness no matter what’s going on,” LeBron James said following practice. “He always talks about, at the end of the day, he’s already won in life, so whatever else happens after this is extra credit. And I feel the same way. That’s why I relate to him so much. Lose here, or you win a game here, it’s like, `All right, cool. I’ve already done so much more than anybody ever gave me credit of doing or thought I can do, so there’s no reason to get too high or too low.’

“So it’s the even-keel mentality about our coach and it definitely helps us as players when we’re going out into a war.”

Lue has been preparing for the biggest battle of his basketball career this week.

From the moment he returned home from Boston following the Cavs’ win in Game 5 of the conference finals, Lue has immersed himself in the Warriors, a virtual All-Star team featuring two league MVPs (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry), a dead-eye shooter (Klay Thompson) and a triple-threat performer (Draymond Green).

Lue’s defensive strategy to this point in the playoffs has been to neutralize the opponents’ top player. The Cavs were able to do that with Indiana’s Paul George, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who aggravated a hip injury in Game 2 and missed the remainder of the series. Cleveland blitzed, double-teamed and did all it could take away the other team’s offensive threat.

Lue was asked if it’s more difficult to identify who that is on Golden State.

“Hell yeah,” he said, his voice rising. “It’s tough.”

There are few weaknesses in these Warriors, the first team to head into the final round 12-0 and winning by an average of 16.3 points per game.

“They have so many weapons,” Lue said, “having four All-Stars and now adding KD to the mix who I’ve always loved as a scorer, just how he scores so easy. They have a lot of options. It’s going to be tough, but we have to lock into what we have to do defensively, and sometimes you can play great defense and it doesn’t work. Steph is making tough shots, Klay is making tough shots and KD is making tough shots. But all you can do is play your defense, stick to your principles and just make it as tough as possible.”

The Cavs know Lue won’t panic.

He stayed cool last spring when Cleveland fought back from a 3-1 deficit to win its first title. Lue made subtle tweaks to his rotation, drew up key inbounds plays, then isolated Irving late in Game 7 on Curry. The Cavs All-Star guard made his now famous go-ahead, step-back 3-pointer.

Pressure intensifies in the postseason, when possessions, turnovers and rebounds are magnified.

As the drama builds, Lue stays composed, setting the tone for his players.

“Throughout the postseason there’s so many different emotions,” James said. “Going high, going low. And if you’re a coach able to just stay even-keeled throughout the whole thing, it relaxes the rest of the group.”

Lue is a stickler for detail, and he won’t cut any corners preparing for another dance with the Warriors. He’ll have the Cavs ready, and they can also count on him to keep them relaxed.

“When you’re prepared and you do the best you can do and you put it out there on the floor, you’ve just got to live with the results,” Lue said. “I’m doing my homework, I’m doing every possible thing to put this team in every situation to win. When you’re doing that, things you go over every day, end-of-game plays and things like that, either they work or they don’t.”

 

Byron Scott: Lakers made me feel ‘betrayed, lied to and deceived’

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Byron Scott lost 77% of his games with the Lakers, alienated their young players and failed to deliver on his big talk about defense.

Yet, Scott said he was blindsided when the Lakers fired him last year.

How did he possibly get the idea he’d return for a third season?

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

Scott said he “felt betrayed, lied to and deceived” by former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and former executive Jim Buss. Though he had only two guaranteed years on his four-year contract, Scott contends that Kupchak and Jim Buss previously promised him they would exercise the team option for his third year. Scott also believes the Lakers used him to manage Bryant during his final seasons and farewell tour before making the coach a scapegoat for the franchise’s struggles.

“If I asked him to do certain things, Kobe would do it because of his respect for me,” said Scott, who mentored Bryant during his rookie season in 1996-97. “Basically, you just wanted me there to help you guys get through the next two years, so Kobe doesn’t go crazy on you guys. I would be the one that can handle it. They know me. I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to be intimidated by anybody.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if management said something Scott could have reasonably interpreted as a promise to keep him. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Scott heard what he wanted to hear.

The Jim Buss Lakers didn’t always feature the best lines of communication, and Scott was delusional.

Either way, the Lakers did the right thing in firing Scott. If he were hired to manage Kobe Bryant’s final seasons, Kobe retired. There was no more need for Scott, who neither related well to young players nor implemented a winning scheme – pretty much everything beyond handling Kobe.

The strangest part of Scott’s criticism is how it reflects on Kupchak, who has now been accused of both being too dishonest and too honest.

Tony Parker tells French publication he plans to return in January

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Back on May 5, Tony Parker has surgery to repair a ruptured left quadriceps tendon, an injury some thought could be career ending for the 35-year-old point guard.

He plans to be back and is aiming for January, he told the French publication L’Equipe, as transcribed by EuroHoops.net.

“I will play my best basketball when I return in January”, Parker told L’Equipe….

“The first thing that came in when I got injured, was frustration. I was super good and we had the chance to go until the end and get the title,” Parker said.

“The coach’s plan worked like a clock. I was consistent, playing for twenty to twenty-five minutes per game. My series against Memphis was good and I had a good start in the season,” he added.

Paker’s return in January (if he can meet that timeline) will have him coming off the bench, meaning the Spurs will still need a starting point guard and some depth at the position.

No, that doesn’t mean Chris Paul is coming to San Antonio, that was always a long shot as Adrian Wojnarowski noted. It’s not like the Spurs to kick guys like Parker to the curb (Bill Belichick does not run the franchise) nor do the Spurs gut their roster, and that’s what they’d have to do. Beyond that, Paul is president of the players’ union and one of the things he/the union got in the new CBA was to turn the over-36 rule (which restricted how much LeBron could get on his last deal) to the over-38 rule — meaning the Clippers can give 32-year-old Paul one more five-year max deal. You really think he’s walking away from that?

Hopefully, when Parker returns he can give us all glimpses of his old self.