Andrew Wiggins

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.

Kevin Durant says Nike didn’t influence his free-agency decision

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Many different factors went into Kevin Durant‘s decision this summer to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors — basketball fit, location, his friendships with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, and more. But one thing he wants to make sure you know didn’t influence him is Nike. Durant told reporters this week that the shoe company, which he endorses, didn’t steer him one way or another in free agency, and they didn’t even know his plans beforehand.

It’s a little hard to believe that Nike had zero advance knowledge of Durant’s plans — if not a hard answer, at least a strong indication of which way he was leaning. Durant was one of the most popular players in the league in Oklahoma City, so Nike would have been fine either way. But his presence in Golden State, a much bigger market and the dominant story in the NBA this season, will only help them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they now have one of their biggest athletes in the same market as Stephen Curry, who had been taking advantage of all the attention on the Warriors to raise Under Armour’s profile. Now, Nike can get some of that spotlight back in the Bay Area.

Barnes, Bogut highlight latest round of changes for Mavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Martinez/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are in, Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia are out and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has a retooled roster for the sixth consecutive time since winning a championship.

“Well, we love it,” Carlisle said at media day this week as someone chuckled. “What’s more exciting than getting seven new guys? New blood. It’s fresh every year.

“Really, that wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he added. “If you view it as a negative, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a negative. I don’t look at it that way.”

The Mavericks have made the playoffs all but one season since the constant turnover started after owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over keeping a few key players when a new labor agreement was reached six months after his team won the title in 2011.

But Dallas still hasn’t won a postseason series since beating Miami in six games in those NBA Finals.

Repeated efforts to land big names in free agency failed, which this year led to the additions of Barnes and Bogut from 2015 champion Golden State after the Warriors lured Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City and had to unload both starters to make cap room for the four-time NBA scoring champion.

Barnes headlines the group of newcomers because he’ll be a top option on offense after signing a four-year, $94 million max contract. Over his four seasons with the Warriors, he was always a role player behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team,” Barnes said. “I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year, either coming back off injury, guys who are motivated, have a lot to prove. So hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

There’s actually some stability in the starting five because point guard Deron Williams is back for a second season with his hometown team.

Nowitzki, going into his 19th season at age 38, says Williams was the best player on the team at times last season, and the Mavericks missed him in their five-game loss to Oklahoma City. He was limited by a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery.

Parsons signed a max deal with Memphis, and Pachulia went to the Warriors after the trade that landed Dallas the 7-footer Bogut, who should be a much stronger shot-blocking presence than his predecessor.

The changes fit the formula of at least two new starters each season going back to the title year.

“There are similarities to other years,” Carlisle said. “The ability to add Bogut and Barnes was huge for us. We caught some good luck on that.”

The other notable newcomer is Curry’s younger brother, Seth Curry, who is on his fifth team in his fourth season but finally had a more prominent role last season in Sacramento. Former Baylor standout Quincy Acy is in Dallas after bouncing around his first four years.

The Mavericks are deep at guard with holders J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind Williams and Wes Matthews, in his second season as the shooting guard and now more than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon his final season in Portland.

Also returning are athletic young forwards Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell along with 7-2 Tunisian center Salah Mejri, a surprising shot-blocking presence last season as a 30-year-old rookie.

“They’re definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out,” said Nowitzki, poking fun at his defensive skills. “I think we have a (backup) lineup out there that could be really, really good, and obviously youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Barnes wanted to be a part of it even though the Mavericks appear further from championship contention than other Western Conference teams.

“I think when you look at what this franchise has done year in, year out, stable on their ship,” Barnes said. “And be able to learn from a guy named Dirk who’s done it year in, year out. He’s pretty much built this place through his work ethic.”

And now Nowitzki is getting used to another new collection of teammates.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Jazz’s Dante Exum says his knee is completely healed from 2015 ACL tear

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the lane during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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After a promising rookie season, Dante Exum missed all of 2015-16 rehabbing a torn left ACL he suffered during an exhibition game with the Australian national team in summer 2015. As the Jazz kick off training camp, Exum says he’s fully recovered after his year off and he’s ready to go.

Via Jody Gennessy of the Deseret News:

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Exum said after the first of two practices Tuesday. “I was feeling good. … I was just ready to come out there, talk when I can and run between every drill.”

Both his attitude and his body were at 100 percent as he returned from a yearlong rehab that followed his September 2015 surgery on his left knee that had been injured in a friendly international game with the Australian team.

With the Jazz’s trade for George Hill over the summer, Exum won’t have to be the starting point guard, which will take some pressure off of him to get back to full strength right away. A torn ACL is something that usually takes time to return from, and having guard depth to ease his workload will help with the transition. If the Jazz get good production out of Exum, it will be a bonus for what looks to be one of the most exciting young teams in the Western Conference.

Improving Hornets G Walker has sights set on All-Star season

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 26:  Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets points to the bench during their game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Time Warner Cable Arena on November 26, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kemba Walker wants to be an NBA All-Star.

But the Hornets’ steadily improving 6-foot point guard knows he has to get healthy first, which means resting his surgically repaired knee a little longer. Walker was limited to non-contract drills as the Hornets opened training camp on Tuesday at their downtown arena.

“I hate it. … You know how much of a competitor I am. But it’s the smart thing to do at this time (because) I don’t want to have any setbacks,” said Walker, adding that he hopes to be 100 percent for the start of the regular season.

The 26-year-old Walker is coming off the best season of his five-year NBA career, averaging a 20.9 points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game in 2015-16 while shooting a career-best 42.7 percent from the field.

But the stat that pops out the most is his improved 3-point shooting. Walker made 37.1 percent from beyond the arc last season after making less than 33 percent his first four years in the league.

Walker finished second in the voting for Most Improved Player, battling through knee pain near the end of the season and leading the Hornets to a 48-win season that culminated in a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Teammate Marvin Williams said Walker could have easily “shut it down” due to a torn meniscus in his left knee, but elected to keep on playing.

Walker has surgery in May to repair the problem.

“I feel like he was (an All-Star) last year,” teammate Marvin Williams said. “And that’s not taking anything away from any of the guys that made it in the East. They are very, very good. The guards are big time. But I feel like Kemba was right there. He was beat up and he continued to fight through it every night. If he is healthy and has a year like he did last year I think he will definitely be there in February.”

It’s that kind of dedication to the team that has made Walker a favorite in the locker room.

Nicolas Batum, the team’s highest-paid player, said he’s made it his personal goal to help get Walker into the All-Star game this season.

“He’s special. He’s really special,” Batum said. “People don’t understand how good he is. He had a breakout season last year. He’s a franchise guard.”

Walker is dramatically more confident in his shooting than this time a year ago when he working with shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer to tweak his mechanics, according to coach Steve Clifford.

There were times Walker contemplated scrapping the changes, but he stuck with it and the results followed. Now he doesn’t even think about the altered shooting motion anymore.

“If you go back to the last 21 games of the year, his 3-point shooting put him in a different place,” Clifford said.

Clifford said with Walker’s improved shooting and range it makes it more difficult for teams to defend him.

“His range takes away the under in the pick-and-roll,” Clifford said. “And he’s such a good pick-and-roll player anyway. I think he is really maturing as a player.”

Perhaps enough to be an All-Star.

“I was pretty close last year,” Walker said. “I’m getting the hang of things in this league and playing really well. I want to continue to play well and win. But in order for me to be an All-Star we have to win. That’s what it is going to take.”

NOTES: Along with Walker, Cody Zeller (shoulder) and Perry Ellis (sports hernia) weren’t able participate in contact drills during practice.