Rudy Gobert

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Tony Bradley becoming North Carolina’s first one-and-done in nearly a decade

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North Carolina hasn’t had a one-and-done player in eight years.

Since Brandan Wright declared for the 2008 NBA draft after his freshman year, the Tar Heels have emphasized player development over multiple years. That practice has yielded two national titles, including this year’s, in that span.

It also limited freshman center Tony Bradley’s playing time this season, as he was stuck behind seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

But Bradley shined enough in 15 minutes per game to follow Wright as one-and-done from Chapel Hill.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

Bradley is a borderline first-round pick, though this late decision when many expected him to return to school indicates he believes he’ll go in the first round. There’s certainly logic in turning pro before scouts pick apart his game over a larger sample.

Bradley is huge – 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan – but he’s not explosive. The hope is someone in the Rudy Gobert mold.

Whomever drafts Bradley will hope his elite offensive rebounding is a harbinger. But why is his defensive rebounding and rim protection so forgettable?

He moves and passes fairly well for his size, but considering he’s so big, those aren’t necessarily skills for him to hang his hat on. If a teammate sets him up, he uses his size to finish well at the rim.

Beyond his size and offensive rebounding, Bradley doesn’t set himself apart one way or the other. Whether that’s good or bad depends how deep in the draft it is.

Westbrook, Harden, Leonard MVP top three as NBA announces award finalists

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We are not going to know who is MVP — or any other NBA award winner, outside of the All-NBA Team — before the June 26 award ceremony. That’s after the Finals, and after the Draft.

But we do know who the top three finalists are in the major individual categories, those were announced on Friday on TNT. Here are all the finalists (listed in no particular order).

Most Valuable Player
Kawhi Leonard
James Harden
Russell Westbrook

Defensive Player of the Year
Draymond Green
Kawhi Leonard
Rudy Gobert

Rookie of the Year
Joel Embiid
Dario Saric
Malcolm Brogdon

Sixth Man of the Year
Andre Iguodala
Eric Gordon
Lou Williams

Coach of the Year
Erik Spoelstra
Mike D’Antoni
Gregg Popovich

Most Improved Player
Rudy Gobert
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nikola Jokic

Remember, the votes were turned in before the playoffs started.

I don’t see any real surprises in there. Certainly not with MVP where Westbrook/Harden/Leonard will be the top three vote getters, with LeBron James fourth, then a pretty wide open race for fifth. Some people will argue LeBron was snubbed, but while he had a strong regular season his Cavaliers took the month of March basically off, particularly on defense, and in a close race that matters.

On down the list, those likely are the top three vote-getters in each category, and while you can try to make a case for people outside this group to be included (was Isaiah Thomas one of the most improved? Scotty Brooks for Coach of the Year?) there are no shockers in there.

Drake will host the NBA’s first ever awards ceremony on June 26, shown live on TNT from New York City. I doubt they do it, but the NBA should treat this like the Golden Globes, with big round tables and flowing alcohol for the nominees and others in the audience. It would make a more lively show.

Gordon Hayward misses All-NBA, making opting out inevitable

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All-NBA voters just pushed Gordon Hayward into free agency.

There was a narrow path to Hayward exercising his $16,736,710 player option with the Jazz for next season, but that’s out the window with Hayward missing this season’s All-NBA teams. Not eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension this offseason, Hayward is a virtual certainty to opt out and hit unrestricted free agency, where he could command a max deal projected to start at more than $30 million.

Because Hayward has played just seven seasons, he would have had to opt in to be eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension. But Hayward making an All-NBA team was another requirement of the super max deal – projected to pay $224 million over the next six years, including the option year – so there’s no good reason to opt in.

Here’s how much Hayward could have earned with a designated-veteran-player extension (green) or can earn by re-signing (yellow) or signing elsewhere (blue):

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Hayward, coming off a career year, will have an abundance of good options available.

The Jazz, who beat the Clippers in the first round, have an impressive young core centered around Rudy Gobert. Keeping Hayward and George Hill could make Utah a real threat to win multiple playoff series annually for years to come.

The Celtics – coached by Hayward’s former Butler coach, Brad Stevens – are already in the conference finals and just landed the No. 1 pick. As much as the Jazz’s breakout 51-win season gives them a selling point to Hayward, Boston’s future looks even brighter.

Beyond the two teams to which he’s most commonly linked, plenty of other suitors will throw their hats in the ring if Hayward indicates a willingness to look around. Remember, he never picked Utah. The Jazz drafted him then matched an offer sheet he signed with Charlotte during his first free agency.

Hayward could sign a 1+1 deal with Utah, which would allow him to sign a designated-veteran-player contract next year if he makes an All-NBA team next season. That’d be a substantial bet on himself, but the upside his high – an extra $13 million next season plus the same designated-veteran-player rate he could’ve qualified for if he made All-NBA and opted in this year.

Will the 27-year-old make All-NBA next season? He finished eighth among forwards this year – behind LeBron James (first team), Kawhi Leonard (first team), Giannis Antetokounmpo (second team), Kevin Durant (second team), Draymond Green (third team), Jimmy Butler (third team) and Paul George.

Here’s betting Hayward locks into a long-term deal this summer, but where? The Jazz, without the ability to keep Hayward from free agency altogether with a designated-veteran-player extension, will have to sweat it out.

NBA to announce All-NBA teams Thursday

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The NBA will televise an award show June 26, but All-NBA teams are coming sooner – as in Thursday.

NBA release:

The All-NBA Teams and NBA Awards finalists will be revealed this week, the NBA announced today. On Thursday, May 18, the league will announce the All-NBA First, Second and Third Teams. Ahead of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on TNT, the finalists for the NBA Awards will be unveiled during a special 90-minute edition of the NBA Tip-Off … pre-game show on Friday, May 19 at 7 p.m. ET.

The two major questions:

Will Paul George make an All-NBA team? If he does, the Pacers could sign him to an even bigger contract extension this summer – or at least get a fateful tell on his plans if he rejects that extension. If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team and accept a designated-veteran-player extension, trade rumors will heat up in a hurry.

Will Gordon Hayward make an All-NBA team? If he does, he could opt into the final year of his Jazz contract and sign a designated-veteran-player extension himself. Opting out would be a borderline call. If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team, opting out becomes a virtual certainty.

There are smaller questions – Is Rudy Gobert or Anthony Davis first-team center? Who will be finalists for the other major awards? – but George’s future in Indiana and Hayward’s in Utah might rest in the balance of the voting revealed Thursday.

This is why Warriors wanted Kevin Durant, he takes over to get Warriors win, 3-0 series lead

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Utah checked a lot of boxes from their pregame scouting report. The tempo was slowed. Gordon Hayward was making plays and finished with 29 points. Rudy Gobert had a huge game with 21 points, 15 boards, and a couple blocks. The Jazz defended the arc well and the Warriors shot 9-of-30 from deep (30 percent). Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were a combined 7-of-29 shooting.

And it wasn’t enough.

Because the Warriors have Kevin Durant. This is why they went after him. On a night Curry and Thompson were cold, in one of the most hostile environments he had seen all season, Durant owned Utah on the pick-and-roll all game. That kept the Warriors in it most of the night allowed him to take over late in the fourth, finishing with 38 points.

Golden State went on a 17-5 run midway through the fourth and pulled away for a 102-91 win and now lead Utah 3-0. Game 4 is Monday in Utah.

The Warriors got a lot of quality offense having Gobert’s man set a screen for Durant with the ball, because the Utah defense calls for Gobert to play back off the ball.

“If whoever Gobert is guarding sets a solid screen, KD’s going to come off wide open,” Warriors coach Mike Brown said. “KD can shoot from 25 feet, 17 feet, or get to the rim it doesn’t matter. So that puts Gobert in a perdicerment, we’ve got a seven footer who is coming at him downhill.”

Gobert actually did a good job when Durant drove, he was just 4-of-10 shooting in the paint. However, his jumper was falling and Durant was 7-of-8 from the midrange and 4-of-8 from three.

Durant and Gobert event got into it a little after a play, one where Gobert pushed Durant out of the way going for a board and Durant came back with a shove. That got Durant a Flagrant 1.

In spite of Durant’s heroics, this was another game where the Jazz defense was good, but they couldn’t generate enough offense against the Warriors defense. Utah shot just 39 percent as a team, and if you take Hayward and Gobert out of the equation the rest of the Jazz shot 31.4 percent.

Still, that felt like it would be enough for a while.

After a slow start by both teams — Warriors started 4-of-10 and the Jazz 2-of-8 — the Warriors pulled away for a double-digit lead. Then the Jazz played their best quarter of the series. Utah took its first lead for the first time in the series 48-47 when Rodney Hood buried a wide-open corner three with 1:01 left in the second quarter. It didn’t last long, but they regained the lead before the half on a couple of Gobert free throws and led 50-49.

At the start of the second half Hayward knocked down a three, the Jazz got some stops and makes, but could never pull away. Mostly because Durant — Curry/Thompson/Draymond Green had combined for just 21 points on 30 shots through three quarters.

Still, the Warriors led by two. It was a bad omen. JaVale McGee gave the Warriors good minutes in the fourth as well, the 17-5 run came led by Durant, and it was all over.

This is exactly why the Warriors brought in Durant.