Dan Feldman

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) reacts following a basket against North Carolina State during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. Duke won 88-78. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Potential first-round pick Grayson Allen to stay at Duke another season

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We’ve seen plenty of potential first-round picks declare for the NBA draft this year. Thanks to a new rule, declaring no longer ends a player’s collegiate eligibility. There’s practically no downside to entering the draft, participating in the combine and then evaluating options.

So, Grayson Allen is bucking a pretty strong trend.

Duke release:

Sophomore All-American Grayson Allen will return to Duke University for his junior season in 2016-17, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced Wednesday.

This will receive an inordinate amount of praise from fans who value keeping kids broke, who find virtue in Mike Krzyzewski chastising an opponent for celebrating a made shot late in a win (and lying about doing so), who see Allen’s cheap trips as a sign of his toughness. Miss me with all that. If Allen is happy at Duke and wants to spend another year at Duke, good for him. I hope he made the best decision for him. That doesn’t mean there’s something noble about it – or, by extension, dishonorable about other players declaring early.

Allen projected as a late first-round pick, though he wasn’t a lock to go in the top round. He’s an impressive shooter with deep range.

But his problem is that he’s a 6-foot-4 shooting guard. While that’s not too small, he’s shorter than ideal. Another year at Duke won’t make him any taller. Maybe he can develop the passing and ball-handling skills to become a point guard, where his size would be an asset, but that seems like a longshot.

More likely, Duke’s point guards play better (both through development and recruiting) and ease the burden on Allen. That could allow him space to score even better. More time in college also allows Allen a chance to develop his other skills.

Report: Domantas Sabonis declaring for NBA draft, likely hiring agent

Gonzaga forward Domantas Sabonis (11) celebrates as his team leads Gonzaga in the final seconds of a West Coast Conference tournament NCAA college basketball game Monday, March 7, 2016, in Las Vegas. Gonzaga won 88-84. (AP Photo/John Locher)
AP Photo/John Locher
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Arvydas Sabonis spent his best seasons playing overseas, not joining the Trail Blazers until he turned 30. What Sabonis could have done in the NBA in his prime is a huge “what if?” that we’ll never know.

But the NBA is getting a Sabonis bonus.

Arvydas’ son, Domantas Sabonis, is declaring for the draft.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

The younger Sabonis projects as a mid-first-round pick.

The 6-foot-10 big man uses his strength and skill well in the post, for both scoring and passing. His strength and effort also show in his elite rebounding. Add mobility that helps him finish on pick-and-rolls and defend the perimeter, and there’s plenty to like.

But there are major questions about Sabonis’ ability to protect the rim. He’s an unspectacular leaper. That’s a major drawback for a player of Sabonis’ size, especially if he can’t space the floor on the other end. Sabonis has an emerging mid-range game, though his jumper is far from reliable.

His style – not ability – reminds me of Marc Gasol. Sabonis’ athletic limits mean he’ll have to play smartly to thrive at the next level, but there are signs he can do that.

Draymond Green: ‘Bored’ Warriors ready for regular season to end

Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green celebrates after scoring against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Just a couple weeks ago, Draymond Green was talking up how much he embraced the pressure of chasing 73 wins.

Now – after the Timberwolves dropped the Warriors to 69-9, forcing Golden State to win out to top the 72-10 Bulls – Green is singing a different tune.

Green, via Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

“Right now, we’re just at a point where, it’s human nature, where it’s like, we’re kind of ready for the regular season to end,” Draymond Green summarized. “You’re talking 82 games. You get bored with that after a while. That’s no excuse. I’m going to always give it to y’all real, and that’s about as real as I can be. It’s at a point now where we’re ready for the regular season to be over.

This is what makes Chicago’s record so incredible. It’s mentally exhausting to compete every game over an 82-game season.

Teams often give less than full effort – on the back end of a road trip, after a long night out, when they fall behind early. At this point in the season, several teams are sitting their top players, either to tank or rest in advance of the playoffs.

Golden State can’t afford to do that and win 73.

The Warriors didn’t look bored to me during their loss to Minnesota. They look taxed by a long season of meaningful games.

Players spoke openly about their desire to win 73, and that means taking every game seriously. Though the late regular season can often bore dominant teams, there’s nothing boring about games highly important to achieving the stated goal. The Warriors, at their own discretion, created a circumstance where an April game against the lowly Timberwolves was a big deal. Then, they blew it.

So, I don’t buy that they were bored. To me, this just sounds like Green coping with the fact that Golden State is now unlikely to win 73 games.

The Warriors could still get there by winning out, and I wouldn’t rule it out. This team is talented enough to win four straight while coasting. They could even buckle down.

But it doesn’t sound like Golden State has the mental commitment to see this out.

Aaron Gordon trying to make jump from great dunker to great player

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon competes during the NBA all-star slam dunk skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP
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Two Aaron Gordon stories:

1. The first comes from Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson, who played with and against Gordon growing up in California. They were AAU teammates when Gordon attempted a 360 windmill dunk but over-jumped it, spun too far around and missed the slam with his arm at a crooked angle.

“I was puzzled, like, ‘Why didn’t you just lay it up?'” Johnson said. “That’s just the way he is. He’s competitive. Every time he goes out, he wants to prove that he’s one of the guys. And that’s why I think he’ll be successful in the league, because he’s going to work hard, and he’s obsessed with being great.”

2. The other comes directly from Gordon. After his captivating performance in the dunk contest, he missed a couple layups in the Magic’s next practice.

“Everyone looked at me like, why aren’t you dunking it?” Gordon said. “I kind of looked at myself like, why am I not dunking it?”

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Gordon smiled wide and nodded confidently, lifting his built arms up and down to urge the crowd to get louder. I’m not sure it could’ve. Led by a group of delirious All-Stars in the front row, everyone was going wild.

All for Gordon.

For a moment on All-Star Saturday Night, Gordon might have been the NBA’s most popular player. Though he’d eventually lose in a second extra round to Zach LaVine, Gordon’s under-the-legs dunk after grabbing the ball from the Magic’s mascot highlighted the dunk contest and pushed Gordon onto the national stage.

But, for the all the popularity he gained that night, Gordon is still just a role player averaging 9.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on a bad team. As the dunk contest showed, he has potential to do so much more.

His great challenge is finding a balance between unleashing and harnessing his athleticism.

“I have a lot of tools in my bag,” Gordon said. “I just want to polish them.”

The Magic appear more committed than ever to helping Gordon do just that. The No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft, Gordon moved into the starting lineup late last January. A few weeks later, Orlando traded two others who were taking minutes at power forward, Tobias Harris and Channing Frye. Combined with his dunk-contest showing, it’s been a whirlwind for Gordon.

“That’s what makes the NBA so much fun,” Gordon said. “It’s always new for me, and I think it always be. That’s what’s exciting about life, not knowing and then embracing the challenge head on.”

The dunk contest often includes up-and-coming players, and Gordon fits the profile. He could follow a well-worn path of players who participated in a dunk contest then reached their first All-Star game in a future season:

Yet, there’s a major disconnect between Gordon’s potential and production.

With his athleticism, Gordon could terrorize opponents defensively, clean up on the glass and hammer dunk after dunk. At times, he does. But it’s definitely not a regular occurrence yet.

Here’s how Gordon ranks in a few key stats that he could theoretically dominate, ties represented by the range of tied players. Among 281 regulars this season (minimum: 40 games and 15 minutes per game), Gordon’s ranks:

  • Block percentage: 62-64
  • Steal percentage: 112-136
  • Offensive rebound percentage: 44
  • Defensive rebound percentage: 45-46
  • Field-goal percentage at rim: 73

Gordon has been tremendous one game, dismal the next. He’s too often passive, floating on the perimeter offensively or guarding conservatively defensively. The result is middling total production.

“He’s too good of an athlete,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “And he and I talk about it all the time, and he readily admits he’s still getting used to the pace of the season and back-to-backs. There’s all kinds of stuff going on.”

Skiles even said it could take Gordon “a handful of years” to develop proper consistency.

Thankfully for Gordon, time is on his side.

Just 20, the second-year pro is younger than most 2015 first-round picks. He’s still the 17th-youngest player to play in the NBA this season. Here are the league’s 30 youngest players – rookies in blue, second-year players in silver and a third-year player (Giannis Antetokounmpo) in black:

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The only second-year player younger than Gordon is Bruno Caboclo, and the Raptors barely use him. Heck, the other four second-year players who are still 20 – Noah Vonleh, James Young, Damien Inglis and Caboclo – have combined to play fewer minutes this season than Gordon.

Gordon could use the experience.

He missed 32 games as a rookie with a foot fracture, and a fractured jaw slowed him during the offseason.

“You’re very lucky if life goes according to your own plan,” Gordon said. “Obviously, my rookie wasn’t how I wanted it to go, but it was exactly what I needed.

“I got to see the game from a different perspective. I understand more now how to take care of your body, how to work smarter as opposed to harder.”

Gordon comes across as incredibly level-headed, a trait that has helped him after the dunk contest. He says people tell him every day that he should’ve won the dunk contest, but he leaves it at: “It could’ve went either way.”

“It’s cool, because I got called the people’s champion,” Gordon said. “It was a little controversy over the dunk contest. It’s alright. Nobody lost.”

It’s a wise assessment.

LaVine took the hardware, but Gordon gained so much. The spotlight is on him now, road fans cheering when he’s introduced as a starter. Expectations are already soaring for next year’s dunk contest.

Will Gordon’s production match his dunking by then? Odds are against it, but maybe by the following year or the year after. Gordon’s youth works in his favor, as does Orlando’s commitment to developing him.

“We’ll stick with him,” Skiles said. “We think he’s getting better all the time”

Ricky Rubio says Milt Newton told him Timberwolves ‘almost traded’ him before deadline, GM denies

Milwaukee Bucks guard O.J. Mayo, right, fouls Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 4, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)
AP Photo/Darren Hauck
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Ricky Rubio entered his fifth NBA season at a crossroads.

The Spanish point guard had carved a reputation as one of the best passers and defenders in the league, yet he still had so much to prove.

As he started a new four-year, $56 million extension, Rubio had to show that he could stay healthy and knock down the open jump shot.

As the Timberwolves head down the home stretch of a 12th straight season that will end without a playoff berth, Rubio has gone more than four months without missing a game and has started to see his shooting percentages climb as a result.

It’s a relief not only to the Timberwolves and their fans, but to Rubio himself. He had a major knee injury as a rookie and a major ankle injury last year, both stunting his ability to work on his game in the summers.

And when he reported to training camp this season still experiencing some discomfort in his surgically repaired ankle, he started to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy.

“It’s like damn, can my body handle it?” Rubio told The Associated Press. “I’m actually pretty happy how I handled the season. … It’s something I’m really proud of.”

He has not missed a game since Nov. 29, and is just five games away from his first summer without some sort of injury rehab since he came over from Spain in 2011. And he sees a direct correlation between his health and his improved shooting since the All-Star break.

A career 36 percent shooter, Rubio is shooting 42 percent in the past 24 games and 38 percent on 3-pointers. He is also shooting 51.3 percent at the rim this season, a dramatic improvement over the first four years (33.9).

“I think quietly Ricky has had an unbelievable year,” coach Sam Mitchell said. “He’s in the weight room, working on his body. He’s been resilient. He’s taken care of himself. I think Ricky likes playing with this core of young guys that we have. And he is included (in that young core). He’s only 25.”

He has worked with Arnie Kander, a renowned physical therapist, to strengthen his core and base and has flown in a trainer for Spain several times this season. He has also worked tirelessly with personal shooting coach Mike Penberthy and Wolves assistant Ryan Saunders to address his biggest weakness.

“This is the best I’ve felt,” Rubio said of his shooting stroke. “The last (12) games I’m making one or two 3s a game. It’s showing up. It’s not just that. I’m not afraid to take the shot. Every time I take the shot, even when I miss, it feels like it’s going in. It’s a feeling that I’ve never had before.”

Saunders has focused on simplifying the shooting process, dropping notes in Rubio’s locker that emphasize being shot ready, shooting in one fluid motion, holding the follow-through and sticking the landing.

“One thing that I think is important to Ricky is to let him know you care and have confidence in him,” Saunders said. “His mechanics have not been terrible or anything like that. He just needs confidence.”

It’s something Rubio has always yearned for – the show of faith from the organization, especially after his name came up in February as the trade deadline approached. The Milwaukee Bucks made several overtures to Wolves GM Milt Newton, and the rumors stung Rubio.

Rubio said Newton told him that he was “almost traded, but we didn’t because the other team didn’t offer what we wanted.”

“When the GM comes to you and says that’s what happened, it hurts, but you’ve got to be professional,” Rubio said. “You’ve been here all your career and thinking they were supporting you. At some point, they weren’t. But I’m professional. I’m going to give it my all. I love playing basketball and every time I step on the court I want to win.”

But Newton believes Rubio may have misinterpreted the conversation the two had after the trade deadline passed.

“I told him we’ve never, ever called another team to trade you, but it is my job to listen,” Newton said. “I even shared that with his agent. I never told him we almost traded you, because we didn’t almost trade him.”

Newton said he would have further conversations with Rubio to clear up any misunderstanding. He called Rubio “extremely valuable to the organization” and said he has already run some possible roster moves by him to get his point guard’s input.

“I know that he needs a little bit more communication,” said Newton, who took over as the team’s front office leader after Flip Saunders died in October. “If that’s what it takes for a player to play to the best of his ability, those are things I’ll have to realize and facilitate.”

What Rubio wants most is stability. The roster changes in his five years have been dizzying, but now he sees a promising young core that includes Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine that he wants to grow with.

“I understand it’s a business,” Rubio said. “I really like playing with these guys. We have a chemistry. We’re building it. And I’m having fun playing with them.”