PBT’s final mock draft: Wiggins, then Parker, then it gets nuts

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This is maybe the most unpredictable NBA Draft of the last 10 years. A lot of players on the same tier talent wise, disagreements among scouts on just how good particular players can be, and finally there will be trades. Maybe many, many trades.

Still, we’ll try to predict it.

PBT’s NBA Draft expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld has his final mock draft out on the day of the draft. Here’s how we see it breaking down.

FIRST ROUND

1) Cleveland – Andrew Wiggins, F, Kansas
The top prospect in this class, Wiggins has a combination of skill and athleticism which will allow him to make an immediate impact in the Cavaliers’ lineup, while still having a lot of untapped potential to make him a strong pick at number 1. The combination of Kyrie Irving and Wiggins, with a hopefully improved Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, could give Cleveland a dominant scoring group.

2) Milwaukee – Jabari Parker, F, Duke
Parker will give the Bucks an instant boost in scoring, and the ability to play him inside or out should give the coaching staff plenty of lineup options. The attention he will receive from defenses should allow some of Milwaukee’s other young players to have the space they need to score themselves, and they have enough long basket protectors to hide Parker on defense.

3) Philadelphia – Joel Embiid, C, Kansas
Since the last mock draft, a foot injury was also uncovered, and I still believe the Sixers will roll the dice on Embiid. I’ve mentioned before that offensively, he and Nerlens Noel are different enough that they could complement each other, and they would form an imposing defensive duo. Plus, the return of a healthy Noel with Embiid out will give Noel time to develop his game on the court aside from being with another big man, and allow Embiid to take his time getting healthy.

4) Orlando – Noah Vonleh, F, Indiana
I had Marcus Smart here through the first two mock drafts, but think Vonleh’s potential and size could win out in the end. It helps that has the Magic have a solid core of young players, including frontcourt players, who can ease the transition on Vonleh, though he could help in some areas right away. Smart or Dante Exum could still be in play here, but the Magic can fill the guard needs a little later.

5) Utah – Dante Exum, G, Australia
The lottery’s mystery man this year, Exum has good size and he is skilled for his age. He hasn’t really faced top-level competition and many teams will be getting a real close look at him for the first time in the coming weeks. As mentioned above, I’m not sold on Exum as a point guard, but he could become a solid complement next to last year’s first round pick, Trey Burke, in the Jazz backcourt, with the potential for maybe some short stints running the point.

6) Boston – Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
As Boston continues to rebuild, it’s a smart idea to find the eventual successor to Rajon Rondo at point guard and Smart seems to be a perfect fit for coach Brad Stevens, as well as having an ability to slide to the 2 to play alongside Rondo as needed. Smart’s ability to defend will get him plenty of time early, and his offensive game should adjust fairly well to the NBA, as long as he refrains from taking some of the bad shots he did in college.

7) Los Angeles Lakers – Julius Randle, F, Kentucky
The Lakers are looking at a complete rebuild during Kobe Bryant’s final years with the team, and while a higher pick could have secured their future a bit more, Randle has the ability to make an immediate impact next season. Randle is a strong post player who is very agile for his size, and he can be a terror on both the offensive and defensive boards. He won’t give a very good defensive presence yet, but he will be a double-double threat from the get-go and a nice piece to start the Lakers’ rebuilding.

8) Sacramento – Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
This is a stretch in terms of where I have McDermott’s value, but Sacramento would be an ideal spot for him to bring his scoring strengths. He can provide a much needed consistent perimeter shooter, which would open up space for the ever-improving DeMarcus Cousins to operate in. Concerns about McDermott’s defensive ability have been blown out of proportion and he understands the game well enough to cover up his deficient areas.

9) Charlotte – Rodney Hood, G/F, Duke
Hood will give the Hornets some much needed size on the wing, to go along with strong shooting ability and athleticism. The big key to getting the real value from this pick will be Hood buying into coach Steve Clifford’s defensive mindset and putting in the effort to improve.

10) Philadelphia – Nik Stauskas, G, Michigan
Having taken Embiid at number 3, the Sixers can still improve their backcourt here with Stauskas, a tremendous perimeter shooter and a good enough ballhandler to help take some of the point guard pressure off Michael Carter-Williams. The threat from three-point range is the key, and Stauskas’ ability to stretch the floor will help everyone else on the floor with him.

11) Denver – Dario Saric, F, Croatia
Saric has to spend two more years over in Europe, but he is a highly-skilled offensive player who will fit into many different roles. With no real glaring needs heading into next season, it’s easy for the Nuggets to roll the dice on Saric and wait two years for the possible payoff.

12) Orlando – Elfrid Payton, G, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Magic shored up their frontcourt with Noah Vonleh at number 4, and they can still address their need at point guard with Payton. He’s a strong defender, rebounder and distributor, and though he needs to improve as a perimeter shooter, he has a great ability to put pressure on defenses with his penetration ability. In a few years, a Payton-Oladipo backcourt could be one of best young ones in the league.

13) Minnesota – Aaron Gordon, F, Arizona
Kevin Love is certain to find his way out of Minnesota at some point in the next year, and while Gordon isn’t really a replacement; he will provide an extremely athletic forward who can run the floor and rebound, as well as guard multiple positions. He still has a lot of work to do on the offensive end, but he will certainly bring a little excitement to the Timberwolves.

14) Phoenix – Gary Harris, G, Michigan State
This season’s surprise NBA team, the Suns were supposed to be in rebuilding mode, and fell just shy of the playoffs. The status of Eric Bledsoe returning to the team is unknown, so Harris could immediately step in and provide a versatile scorer in the backcourt who can run the floor and defend well.

15) Atlanta – Kyle Anderson, F, UCLA
Anderson is the toughest player to project in this class with his unique skill set. He has high level vision and passing skills to go along with an improving jumper, but at 6’9, he will be playing at the forward position. What he does provide coaches is the ability to mix and match lineups to find him spots on the floor where he can be most effective. To get the most out of Anderson, a coach who is willing to think outside of the box is needed, and Mike Budenholzer could be that coach.

16) Chicago – Shabazz Napier, G, Connecticut
Napier will help provide stability at the point guard position for the Bulls as Derrick Rose comes back from another knee injury. A strong leader, Napier could take total control of the team’s second unit and his ability to defend should be very appealing to coach Tom Thibodeau, plus he has shown he can score when needed.

17) Boston – James Young, G, Kentucky
The Celtics drafted their point guard of the future in Marcus Smart earlier and now they can address a need on the wing with the athletic, but raw, Young. He has shown, at times, that he can shoot as well as get to the basket, but doesn’t do either one consistently enough to be effective. Also, he isn’t a very good defender, but hopefully coach Stevens will help him there.

18) Phoenix – Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia
With the second of their three first round picks, the Suns could take a shot at the big-bodied Nurkic, who at 6’11, 280 pounds, already has NBA size. Nurkic is still developing on both offense and defense, but he moves very well for his size, and in a few years, he could give the Suns an intriguing option in the middle

19) Chicago – TJ Warren, F, North Carolina State
With their second first-round pick, the Bulls can address a need for scoring with one of the college’s best in Warren. He loves to find holes in the defense to get his shot and a healthy Derrick Rose should create many for him. He is also able to seek out mismatches when he has a smaller defender on him, setting up in the low or mid-post area for a quick shot. Long-range shooting still needs to be worked on, but he will put up points quickly regardless.

20) Toronto – Tyler Ennis, G, Syracuse
Kyle Lowry may be on his way out of Toronto and the Raptors may be able to get their point guard of the future in Toronto-native Ennis. Ennis will bring a steady influence to the point position, and he showed in his one year of college that he doesn’t shy from big moments. Whether he can guard at the NBA level will be a big question going forward.

21) Oklahoma City – Glenn Robinson III, F, Michigan
The first of two first-round picks, the Thunder could add some depth to their bench, with the son of a former number 1 overall pick. He didn’t seem to take the step forward many expected this past season, but he still has a good mix of skill, athleticism and upside to make this a pick worth making at this point.

22) Memphis – Adreian Payne, F, Michigan State
Payne will give Memphis a strong inside-outside scoring presence with very good size and the underrated athletic ability. Payne showed steady improvement throughout his college career and while his ceiling may not be much higher, he is ready to contribute from Day One for a Grizzlies team that may not have Zach Randolph next season.

23) Utah – PJ Hairston, G, Texas Legends
The Jazz added some talent to their backcourt at #5 with Dante Exum, and now they can add some strong shooting at the wing with Hairston. He showed great scoring ability in his D-League stint last season, and he should be able to step into the rotation quickly at least as a shooter to stretch the floor.

24) Charlotte – KJ McDaniels, F, Clemson
McDaniels is one of the more underrated players in this draft class, and he could end up being a steal for the Hornets here. He will provide a tremendous defensive presence on the wing for a team that emphasizes defense. McDaniels is also a strong slasher and rebounder, as well as an improving shooter.

25) Houston – Zach LaVine, G, UCLA
LaVine may be one of the most polarizing picks in this year’s draft. Some see his elite athleticism and see a huge future. Others, like me, see an AAU player who happens to be out of high school now. There’s no doubting that there is potential in LaVine, it’s just very far off. Houston has built a strong D-League team that knows how to develop players to fit the Rockets’ system. LaVine could benefit from a learning environment like that.

26) Miami – Jordan Adams, G, UCLA
The third player from UCLA taken in this first round, Adams is the best scorer in the group with the type of game that will allow him to get plenty of points at the NBA level. He loves to operate in the mid-range area, but he has the skill to post up smaller guards and get easy buckets. He’s improving as a long-range shooter and he can be a major part of the Heat’s backcourt down the road.

27) Phoenix – Jerami Grant, F, Syracuse
This is the Suns’ third first-round pick, so they can afford to take a shot at the raw Grant. Grant isn’t going to contribute much right away, but he is a high-level athlete who should help some on defense and on the boards. If he can develop his offensive skills well down the line, he will be a nightmare match-up for many defenders.

28) Los Angeles Clippers – Mitch McGary, C, Michigan
Coming off a back injury that erased most of his season, McGary could be a solid rotation player down the line for the Clippers. He plays with a lot of energy and he doesn’t mind doing all of the little things teams need to wing games. At worst, he will help on the defensive side and with rebounding.

29) Oklahoma City – Clint Capela, F/C, Switzerland
The Thunder will look to plan for the future a bit with their second first round pick. This is a great place for them to take a chance on a draft-and-stash candidate with strong potential. He has very good size and athletic ability, though he needs time to continue to develop his skills and toughness for the NBA level.

30) San Antonio – Jordan Clarkson, G, Missouri
The Spurs can really go in many directions here, but they can look to add to their backcourt for the future with the versatile Clarkson. He can give them a big guard with some point guard abilities who can get to the basket easily against smaller defenders. If he can be a more consistent shooter, he may find a home eventually at the 2.

SECOND ROUND

31) Milwaukee – Cleanthony Early, F, Wichita State
32) Philadelphia – Bogdan Bogdanovic, G, Serbia
33) Cleveland – Jarnell Stokes, F, Tennessee
34) Dallas – Artem Klimenko, C, Russia
35) Utah – CJ Wilcox, G, Washington
36) Milwaukee – Markel Brown, G, Oklahoma State
37) Toronto – Jabari Brown, G, Missouri
38) Detroit – Patric Young, F/C, Florida
39) Philadelphia – Spencer Dinwiddie, G, Colorado
40) Minnesota – Cameron Bairstow, F, New Mexico
41) Denver – Russ Smith, G, Louisville
42) Houston – Dwight Powell, F, Stanford
43) Atlanta – Roy Devyn Marble, G, Iowa
44) Minnesota – Joe Harris, G, Virginia
45) Charlotte – Thanasis Antetokounmpo, F, Delaware 87ers
46) Washington – Nick Johnson, G, Arizona
47) Philadelphia – Damien Inglis, F, Australia
48) Milwaukee – Johnny O’Bryant, F, LSU
49) Chicago – DeAndre Daniels, F, Connecticut
50) Phoenix – Nikola Jokic, C, Serbia
51) Dallas – Deonte Burton, G, Nevada
52) Philadelphia – Vasilije Micic, G, Serbia
53) Minnesota – Khem Birch, F/C, UNLV
54) Philadelphia – Josh Heustis, F, Stanford
55) Miami – Jahii Carson, G, Arizona State
56) Denver – DeAndre Kane, G, Iowa State
57) Indiana – Jordan Bachynski, C, Arizona State
58) San Antonio – Melvin Ejim, F, Iowa State
59) Toronto – Jordan McRae, G, Tennessee
60) San Antonio – Cory Jefferson, F, Baylor

Three questions the Boston Celtics must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season:
53-29, lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.

I know what you did last summer: Sent Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons, a move they could potentially regret after dealing Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. The Celtics also signed big time free agent Gordon Hayward away from the Utah Jazz. Finally, Boston took Jayson Tatum in the 2017 NBA Draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE CELTICS MUST ANSWER:

1) Can Irving lead without diminishing the role of other starters? I think it’s a complete misnomer to think that Irving is solely a one-on-one, isolation type player. However, fans do like to get in a very black-and-white mode when analyzing players, and bias can show strongly here.

Irving has said that he wants to be more of a team player when it comes to the Celtics, which is good news for Brad Stevens and company. Irving is an excellent offensive player, and his talents should not be wasted, but there is some concern that he might dominate too much of the ball and won’t give a guy like Hayward and enough room to operate. That might’ve worked okay last season when Thomas was the engine that made the Celtics go, but Boston arguably has a better starting five this season than last.

I think there is real issues here when it comes to fit moving forward, and it is going to center around whether Irving can play team defense and handle the leeway he will be given on offense. Remember, the other thing here that hasn’t been talked about much is the extra operating space that Irving will be granted now that he is out of LeBron James‘s shadow. It might be very tantalizing to take advantage of that situation, but for Boston’s success he will need to find a happy place in between.

2) What kind of bench depth can the young players produce? Boston didn’t want to trade Avery Bradley away, but they also didn’t want to pay him. That issue becomes doubly as important now that they used Jae Crowder, the successor that wing spot, to deal for Irving.

The Celtics are a top-heavy team this season even if they did get better. They will rely more and more on guys like Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and the rookie Tatum.

Marcus Morris will be a huge part of their rotation as will Aron Banes with Kelly Olynyk in Miami. Danny Ainge is playing the long term look here, so it won’t necessarily matter if the team isn’t on par next season to him. However, a championship style run for this season will depend on immediate production from the three young wing players.

3) Are they good enough to get past the Cavaliers this time around? This is the big question that everyone in Boston wants to answer. The Cavaliers are their longtime rivals in the Eastern Conference, and now that they have swapped roster pieces it will be more than just basketball on the floor. It will be a social curiosity.

Whether or not the Celtics will be good enough to get past LeBron James will really depend on the answers to questions one and two above. The only way that Boston can replicate their production from last season will be to jell together quickly. That means getting a real rhythm on offense between Hayward, Horford, and Irving.

It also means finding a way to play defense with Irving at the point guard position. It’s all well and good to say that both Thomas and Irving have been liabilities on defense, but now teams have game tape on what Stevens did with his squad on that end of the floor come playoff time. This team will need to stiffen and do some things to mix it up to make sure they aren’t beat by their own game film next spring.

Bill Russell takes a knee while wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom

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When we talk of Bill Russell, it’s often the on-the-court accomplishments — an 11-time NBA champion and five-time MVP who anchored the Boston Celtics through the greatest dynasty in NBA history, one of the best defensive players ever to set foot on the court. He’s more than simply a Hall of Famer, he is one of the game’s all-time greatest players.

With that, we often overlook Russell the activist, who took part in the Civil Rights movement. A man who faced plenty of racism as a player — being jeered by white students in college while he played, not being allowed to stay in the same hotel as white players in North Carolina during an All-Star tour in 1958, and much more — he was public in his refusal to tolerate any of it. It was his efforts on that front as much as basketball that led then President Barack Obama to award Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Russell tweeted out this photo of himself wearing that medal and supporting the NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

Russell is not going to be silenced. Not now, not ever. He remains a strong voice that the NBA should heed.

Following in the footsteps of Colin Kaepernick’s protests against violence and social injustice last season by taking a knee during the national anthem, more players were doing so this season. When President Donald Trump called on NFL owners to “fire” the players taking a knee during the anthem, it led to a backlash among players and a much more widespread adopting of players taking a knee this past weekend. Even backers of the president — Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, both of whom donated to Trump last election — called Trump out for his comments.

It will be interesting to see how NBA teams handle anthem protests this season. Last season teams linked arms in a show of solidarity (the NBA has a rule that players must stand during the anthem) but you can be sure the league and players union are already discussing this. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was among the multitude of voices calling out Trump for what he said, let along high-ranking union members such as Chris Paul and LeBron Jamesthe latter of whom called the president a “bum.” Those slams of the president continued on media day Monday.

Report: T.J. Warren agrees to $50 million extension to stay in Phoenix

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T.J. Warren has potential — he’s an athletic wing who averaged 14.4 points per game last season, who loves to play in transition and can finish when he gets to the rim, plus he can defend multiple positions. Part of the motivation for the Suns in trading P.J. Tucker was to open up more time for Warren. However, injuries have held that potential back, he played in just 66 games last season and that is the most in his young career (he suffered a broken foot that required surgery the season before and it delayed his entry into last season).

The Suns bet on that potential Monday, agreeing to a four-year, $50 million rookie contract extension, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Phoenix Suns forward TJ Warren has agreed to a four-year, $50 million contract extension, league sources told ESPN…

Warren has shown tremendous potential as a versatile wing with significant scoring potential. He had his best — and healthiest — pro season in 2016-17, averaging 14.4 points and 5.1 rebounds while starting 59 of his 66 games played.

That $12.5 million average salary — basically fourth/fifth starter money — is higher than the market for Warren likely would have been, to put it kindly. That the Suns were willing to pay it speaks to how high they see his potential. If he can develop a more dangerous jumper he becomes is worth that money, but he has yet to show real shooting range. A lot of people saw the drafting of Josh Jackson last summer by Phoenix as a sign they were not sold on Warren, but GM Ryan McDonough clearly isn’t one of those people

The Suns have an athletic young core on the wings that they like with Warren, Jackson, and second-year players Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. This is a team with a couple of veterans such as Jared Dudley and Eric Bledsoe (the latter of whom is available via trade) to help guide that young core. The Suns were less sure about how big man Alex Len fits into that mix, and he just signed a $4.2 million qualifying offer and will be a free agent next season.

The Suns were less sure about how big man Alex Len fits into that mix, and he just signed a $4.2 million qualifying offer and will be a free agent next season.

Lakers are happy with the hype surrounding rookie Lonzo Ball

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) He has a Facebook reality show and a family shoe brand. His dad talks big on ESPN. He was the No. 2 overall draft pick and expects to transform one of the NBA’s glamor franchises.

Other than that, Lonzo Ball is an ordinary teenager.

The 19-year-old guard comes with otherworldly expectations, with the Los Angeles Lakers having fallen on hard times. They hope the local product can help them rejoin the NBA’s elite.

Ball’s journey officially begins Tuesday when the Lakers open training camp, but he appears to have already won over his new teammates during summer workouts.

“When you play with a pure point guard like that, it just makes it easier for everyone,” center Brook Lopez said. “He elevates players to a whole other level.

“I know it’s going to be great for me, just being on the receiving end of his passes. He’s going to gift-wrap baskets for me. He’s so good at turning other players into impact, amazing players. He’s going to be a transcendent talent.”

That has been the plan all along, particularly from his outspoken father LaVar Ball, who almost seemed to will his son’s journey from Chino Hills High School to UCLA to the Lakers.

If Lonzo Ball seems to arrive with the trappings of circus, he appears the calm in the center of the storm.

“Honestly, Zo is relaxed,” forward Julius Randle said. “Zo is chill. He’s one of the guys. For as much as he has going around him, you would never know.”

Ball doesn’t say a lot himself, and what he does say comes out in rapid-fire fashion. Reporters circled around some eight deep Monday at the team’s media day, but Ball appeared to take it in stride.

“I’ve been kinda like this my whole life, so I really don’t feel anything to be honest,” he said. “It’s just playing a game, the game I love.”

That approach has hardly gone unnoticed by legendary point guard Magic Johnson, now the Lakers’ president of basketball operations.

“I told him, he’s just like me,” Johnson said. “When I came here there were a lot of expectations put on my shoulders and the Lakers as an organization. Now I’m his boss, but I’m also his big brother.”

When those comments were relayed to Ball, the rookie responded: “More like an uncle. He looks older than my brother.”

It was a rare glimpse of the sense of humor that teammates say is not uncommon when the cameras are off.

As for those lofty expectations? Like most everything else, Ball just shrugs and flashes a hint of his confidence.

“I think I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and I’m pretty good at it.”

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