PBT NBA Draft preview: Top 10 power forwards

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This draft is deep at the power forward spot — four of these players are likely to go in the top 10, including possibly the No. 1 slot, and the national player of the year in college has a few guys in front of him.

What you’ll notice is most of these guys are more the modern power forward — they can score in the paint with power but also have a good midrange game and use their athleticism to run the floor. They blend in better with a positionless style of play.

Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld put this list together for PBT, as we have leaned heavily on him through this draft.

1. Jabari Parker, Freshman, Duke, 6’8, 241
Parker may eventually move to the 3 after a few seasons, but for now, he will be his most effective as a 4 who can play inside or out. He is a tough match-up for defenders at either forward spot, having ballhandling and footwork at his size way beyond his years. He is very good facing up out of the low post or finding holes in the defense caused by penetration. While he is capable of hitting NBA-range threes, Parker showed a tendency to settle for guarded long-range shots instead of playing where he was more effective. He is a strong rebounder on both ends of the floor, though he is a below-average defender, even when he puts in the effort. Parker will be the freshman most likely to make a quick impact for his new team.

2. Julius Randle, Freshman, Kentucky, 6’9, 250
Randle is a beast around the basket, using his body as well as anyone in this draft to clear space for good shots. He has strong footwork, and though he prefers to overpower players, he does show some nice moves when he gets the ball deep in the post, along with excellent shooting touch around the basket. Randle does need to continue to work on using his right hand, both handling the ball and shooting around the basket, as he goes almost exclusively to his left and defenses caught on later in the season. He’s an average defender, but he uses his body well to clean up on both the offensive and defensive boards.

3. Noah Vonleh, Freshman, Indiana, 6’9, 247
Vonleh has good length, athleticism and developing skill, but he still has to improve significantly on both ends of the floor before he can become a factor in the NBA. He needs to be more aggressive when he gets the ball around the basket, and though he has shown an ability to knock down jumpers, he needs to show he can be a consistent threat in the post. Vonleh has potential as a rim protector, but he gets taken out of plays defensively by opponents who out work him around the basket. Not even 19 years old, Vonleh has plenty of potential, but whatever team takes him will need to put in a lot of development work with him.

4. Doug McDermott Senior, Creighton, 6’8, 218
The best scorer in this draft class, or probably any draft class the past few years, McDermott will give any team an instant boost in offense with his ability to put up points from anywhere on the floor. McDermott is a career 46% shooter from three-point range, and many of the shots he was hitting would have been good from beyond the NBA arc. He is also capable of getting position in the high or low posts and making strong moves to the basket. McDermott is a capable rebounder and though he will never likely be an all-defensive player, concerns about his ability to defend in the NBA are likely exaggerated.

5. Adreian Payne, Senior, Michigan State, 6’10, 239
Payne was finally able to put together his athletic ability and skill this past season to show everyone what kind of player he can really be. He is a capable scorer in the post and the perimeter, and with a little more freedom on the offensive end, he has the potential to be a mismatch for many defenders. Payne needs to be more aggressive on the boards and when defending in the lane area, but his length helps him to alter shots, even if he isn’t blocking them. Even though he is 23 years old already, there is still some room for his game to grow before he likely hits his ceiling.

6. Aaron Gordon, Freshman, Arizona, 6’9, 220
While he is limited skill-wise so far, Gordon can be a relentless worker on the offensive end and can create a lot of opportunities on the offensive boards. He is at his best when he plays around the basket or gets out in transition, but he spends too much time out on the perimeter, either trying to create off the dribble or shoot jumpers, neither of which he is very good at. Gordon is extremely tough on defense and has the ability to guard multiple positions. Right now, he relies on his athleticism too much, but at 18 years old, there is a lot of long-term potential as he continues to develop.

7. Dario Saric, 20 years old, Croatia, 6’10, 223
Saric is an extremely skilled offensive player, able to handle the ball well for his size, showing good court vision and passing ability, and the ability to create scoring chances in the halfcourt or transition, though he needs to continue to work on his jumper. Defensively, he is going to have problems adjusting to the NBA as he needs to get stronger to defend power forwards, but lacking the lateral quickness or skill to defend small forwards. He is an intriguing prospect who can thrive in the right system, but he may need another year or two in Europe before he is ready to come over and compete in the NBA.

8. Jarnell Stokes, Junior, Tennessee, 6’8, 263
Stokes is a power forward in the classic sense, using his big body well to clear space around the basket on both ends of the floor. He is a skilled offensive player in the lane area, and he is able to absorb contact and still finish at the basket, even against longer players. One of the nation’s best rebounders, Stokes does a good job sealing off opponents, but he will also outwork everyone to make sure he secures the missed shot. Stokes moves well for his size on defense, though he is at his best when defending the post.

9. Clint Capela, 20 years old, Switzerland, 6’11, 220
Capela is coming off his breakout season in France’s Pro A League. He has good length and moves well for his size, but he needs to become much tougher before he is ready for the NBA. Capela is a good finisher around the basket and he can be a force on the offensive boards. He also has potential as a good post defender with his ability to move his feet well and defend the rim. Being outplayed in the Nike Hoop Summit showed he isn’t ready yet to play here, but if he continues developing at his current rate, he should be good to go in two to three years.

10. Khem Birch, Junior, UNLV, 6’9, 209
Birch is athletic and a skilled defender, though his offense still has a long way to go to catch up. His offense is mostly limited to offensive put backs and transition buckets, and he runs the floor as well as any big man in this class. Rebounding and shot-blocking is what he excels at, and he should be able to add a defensive presence off the bench rather quickly for teams, though he does need to add strength to compete effectively at the NBA level.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.