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.

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

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The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.