Nik Stauskas, drafted No. 8 by Kings, exceeds everyone’s expectations but his own

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BROOKLYN – Nik Stauskas, upon being drafted No. 8 by the Sacramento Kings, completed an elaborate handshake with his dad. They slapped hands three times, and both did Stauskas’ signature 3-point goggles. “It was a little pressure, but he got it right,” Stauskas would later say.

Then Stauskas poked John Beilein in the  nose.

A little awkward remains as Michigan ascends back among the premier NBA-player-producing college programs under Beilein, and nobody signifies the rapid change more than Stauskas, who extended his arms a bit too quickly while hugging his coach.

Few, even just before the draft began last night, predicted Stauskas would go so high. When he committed to Michigan, it would have seemed impossible.

The six college players drafted ahead of Stauskas Thursday all ranked significantly higher in their recruiting class, according to rivals.com:

PK Player Rivals
1 Andrew Wiggins 1
2 Jabari Parker 4
3 Joel Embiid 25
4 Aaron Gordon 3
6 Marcus Smart 10
7 Julius Randle 2
8 Nik Stauskas 71

Stauskas is the fourth Michigan player drafted in the first round the last two years, joining Mitch McGary (No. 21 to the Thunder this year), Trey Burke (No. 9 to the Jazz after trade last year) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (No. 24 to the Knicks last year). No college program has produced more first rounders in that span.

Beilein is clearly doing something right.

When Michigan hired Beilein in 2007 – full disclosure, I’m a Michigan alum and was on campus at the time – one of the biggest concerns was his ability to attract top recruits. His history had been at small colleges, and he never sent anyone directly to the NBA while at West Virginia.

But Beilein has developed players better than his peers. Burke ranked No. 142 in his recruiting class, and Hardaway wasn’t rated at all. (McGary, the No. 30 recruit, was a blue-chipper unlike any Beilein had ever landed.)

Maybe Beilein has also identified players primed for development. Burke and Hardaway sure didn’t stop growing once they reached the NBA.

Burke, the No. 9 pick, finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. Hardaway, the No. 24 pick, made the All-Rookie first team.

And that should give the Kings confidence in Stauskas.

Despite his humble roots, at least relative to the quick path taken by his top-10 counterparts, Stauskas is extremely confident. He wore the lottery’s most outlandish suit this side of No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and was asked who chose it.

“This is all me right here,” Stauskas said, grabbing the jacket.

Nobody, including Beilein, deserves more credit for Stauskas’ development than Stauskas himself.

He famously shot long-distance jumpers on his backyard hoop in his native Canada, and that earned him a college scholarship. In the last year, he’s transformed his body and gotten more athletic. Stronger and quicker, he’s expanded his game far beyond spot-up shooting.

No. 8 might have been the top of his range, but Stauskas was a bona fide lottery-level prospect.

“I always believed it,” Stauskas said. “I believed in myself, and I don’t think many other people did.”

It’s time to believe in Stauskas and, even more firmly, Beilein’s ability to send players to the NBA.

Only Kentucky and UCLA have matched Michigan’s first-round output during the last two years, but they’re accustomed to producing NBA talent like this. In the 12 prior years, Michigan had no first-round picks. Kentucky had 12, and UCLA had six.

Beilein, whose name is now being mentioned in wide NBA coaching searches, will likely return to the draft next year, making it three straight for him. Caris LeVert is pegged as a potential 2015 lottery pick, and the way things have gone, another Wolverine – Zak Irvin? – could emerge. If you’re an NBA draft fan, Michigan is a program to watch for the first time since the Fab Five and the aftershock recruiting classes the legendary five-some produced.

In addition to Stauskas and McGary, Beilein also gave a standing ovation for Glen Robinson III, picked No. 40 by the Timberwolves. Beilein even stuck around into the 50s in the hopes of Jordan Morgan – an undersized fifth-year power forward – getting drafted, even though that seemed like a huge longshot.

Beilein never stopped believing, and Stauskas has always believed.

I don’t know what will become of Stauskas in the NBA, but the Kings are getting a confident player who was taught well by a confident coach.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.

 

 

Twins Marcus, Markieff Morris each fined by league for separate instances

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Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have a special bond, one that includes doing so much together on the basketball court — playing at the same high school, the same AAU team, then going to college together at Kansas, and even playing together in the NBA for a while together with the Suns (they are now on separate teams).

That includes them both getting fined Saturday by the NBA for recent actions during the playoffs.

Washington’s Markieff Morris picked up a $25,000 fine for “attempting to escalate an altercation and pushing a game official,” the league announced. Here is the play in question, just minutes into Game 3.

Toronto’s OG Anunoby draws a foul knocking Morris to the ground, but Morris starts the incident with an elbow to Anunoby’s back, and he does push referee Kenny Mauer. Considering all that, a $25,000 fine is not that severe.

His twin Marcus Morris picked up a $15,000 for “public criticism of the officiating,” which he certainly did following the Celtics’ Game 3 loss to the Bucks. Here are his comments, and they are NSFW.

That $15,000 fine is pretty much the going rate for ripping the referees after the game.

Markieff outdid his brother on this one… if you consider getting the larger fine the “win.”

As expected, likely top-three pick Luka Doncic files to enter NBA draft

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Luka Doncic — the 6’8″ point forward who is putting up impressive numbers against men at the highest levels of European basketball — is bringing is game to the NBA. As expected.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the expected is now official.

Doncic, 19, submitted draft paperwork this week to formally enter his name, league sources said. Doncic is arguably the most decorated European player to make a jump to the NBA, a wunderkind who’s been playing in the EuroLeague since 2015. He is currently leading Real Madrid in the EuroLeague playoffs, averaging 14.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists this season.

The 6-foot-7 Doncic has the ability to play multiple positions, from being a primary ball-handler to shooting and playmaking off the ball. His season in Europe could continue into late May or June. NBA executives have long been intrigued by Doncic’s potential stardom, and several are continuing to make scouting trips for him.

Doncic is expected to go in the top three (likely the top two) come this June’s draft.

If you’re about to bring up Darko Milicic or some other European bust, just stop. This Slovenian has proven he can play — in 54 games this season between Liga ACB (Spain’s league, second best in the NBA) and the Euroleague, Doncic is averaging 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. He has shown a gift for passing that should blossom in the more open play of the NBA, plus he just knows how to run a team and make plays. He can score when called upon and has three-point range, can shoot off the bounce, and if you switch a smaller guy onto him, Doncic can just post him up.

He’s not going to be a bust.

However, what his ceiling is remains the debate. He’s not an elite athlete by NBA standards who has struggled at points for Real Madrid when guarded by borderline-NBA level Americans in Europe. Can he defend at the NBA level? Can he be consistent with his jumper? He may be elite, but it’s no given.

He’s going to be good, and his floor is higher than a lot of the other top prospects in this draft class. However, if a GM thinks that Marvin Bagley III or Mohamed Bamba both have a higher ceiling and can reach it, they may go with the Americans. Doncic is going to put some GMs in an interesting position.