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PBT’s close look at eight top NBA Draft prospects

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It feels like just five days ago it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and already the NBA Draft is here… wait, it was just five days ago. The NBA doesn’t have the spacing of the draft down to a science.

Through the Finals and before, our friend Rob Dauster of NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk has been helping us prepare for the draft — he’s seen these guys and followed them for years. He knows their games. For example, he swung by for a fantastic PBT Podcast breaking guys down. 

He also did eight detailed breakdowns of eight of the top picks in this draft. Here are highlights from each of those stories, with a link to check them out — and you should read the longer, detailed breakdowns. (These are in alphabetical order, in a nod to Sesame Street.)

• Jaylen Brown, 6’7” small forward (California): Brown is everything that you could possibly want out of an athlete at the small forward spot. He’s 6-foot-7. He has a 7-foot wingspan. He’s athletic in every way you would need to be athletic: He can run in transition, he’s explosive in space, he’s explosive in traffic, he’s a one-foot and two-foot leaper, he’s quick laterally, he’s strong. It’s all there, and it’s easy to look at him and see a guy who can eventually be an elite perimeter defender in the NBA.

Brown is essentially going to have to be taught how to be an NBA player. He doesn’t have a great feel for the game at this point, and he doesn’t quite understand how to use his physical tools.

• Marquese Chriss, 6’10” power forward (Washington): When it comes to physical tools, there really isn’t more that you can ask for in a prospect. He’s 6-foot-10, he has a wingspan that stretches over 7-feet, he’s athletic enough to get his head above the rim and he’s mobile enough that he can hold his own defending guards on the perimeter. He’s already 233 pounds and is one of the youngest players in this draft, both in terms of age (he turns 19 on July 2nd) and experience (he’s only played basketball for four years).

Chriss’ feel for the game is about as lacking as you would expect from a guy who has been playing for just four years. Let’s start with the defensive end of the floor, where Chriss led the NCAA in fouls committed. Seriously. He fouled out of 15 of the 34 games he played and had four fouls in ten others. The problem is one of over-aggressiveness. He bites on pump fakes far too often and he reaches for steals against ball-handlers when he really has no chance to get them.

Kris Dunn, 6’4” point guard (Providence): What Dunn does well he does at an elite, borderline all-star level. Let’s start with the defensive end of the floor, where I think Dunn has a chance to make an all-defensive team before his career comes to an end. Physically, he has all the tools you want to see in a defensive terror. He’s 6-foot-4 with a better-than 6-foot-9 wingspan. He’s got quick hands and quicker feet. He’s strong, he’s athletic, he can move laterally, he can jump a passing lane.

It’s alarming to see a 22-year old point guard making some of the mistakes that Dunn has made the last two years. He averaged 3.5 turnovers last season, which is an incredibly high number for anyone, let alone a point guard, regardless of their usage rate or the fact that it was an improvement from the season before, when he coughed the ball up 4.2 times-a-night. Those turnover numbers would be higher if bad shots were counted as well. Dunn really has the full-range of turnovers in his arsenal: He tries to make the highlight reel play instead of the simple play. He forces the action against a set defense with wild drives into the lane. He throws lazy passes and he’s sloppy with the ball in his hands.

• Henry Ellenson, 6’11” power forward (Marquette): Ellenson’s offensive skill-set for someone his size is ridiculous. He’s a shade under 7-feet but capable of snagging a defensive rebound and going coast-to-coast. His handle and mobility in the open floor is not something you see that often from 19-year olds that are that tall.

He’s just plain bad on the defensive end of the floor. There’s really no other way to put it. He did averaging 1.5 blocks this season, but that had far more to do with his 7-foot-2 wingspan than it did his ability as a rim protector. Because Ellenson is not that. He lacks the vertical explosiveness to challenge at the rim, and more than that, he seemed to simply shy away from it at times. He’s just not a guy with the sense of timing or the desire to be an elite shot blocker.

• Brandon Ingram, 6’9” forward (Duke): He’s a prototype “big” for what many think the future of the NBA looks like, because in addition to those physical tools, he happens to be a terrific perimeter scorer. Ingram started the year in a bit of a slump, but in December, Duke’s starting power forward suffered a season-ending injury and Ingram was forced into the front court. He became borderline-unguardable for long stretches, as there were times where he was the biggest player on the floor for the Blue Devils. He’s too tall for wings to guard and he’s too quick and mobile for bigs.

At this point, the single biggest weakness in Ingram’s game is his weakness. Duke listed him at 190 pounds this season, and that was after he put on nearly 20 pounds his first summer on campus. But it’s important to remember here that Ingram is a “young” freshman. He doesn’t turn 19 until September — half of the class of 2016 is older than he is — and he’s already a late-bloomer. He grew nearly eight inches during high school and was never really considered this caliber of prospect until Coach K unleashed him a month into the season.

• Jamal Murray, 6’5” shooting guard (Kentucky)That jumper, man. It’s something else. When he gets into a rhythm, it’s over. He can make five or six threes in a row. He made at least four threes in 13 games this season — including four games where he made at least six threes — and he became just the second freshman in college basketball history to make 113 threes in a season. The other guy to do that? Curry, Stephen.

The biggest concern with Murray is that his physical tools leave something to be desired. At just over 6-foot-4, he doesn’t have the ideal size for a shooting guard or the wingspan to make up for it, but he doesn’t have the quicks or the explosiveness to be a point guard. He struggled at times to turn the corner and get all the way rim when he put the ball on the floor, and that’s partially evident in the fact that he only shot 50 percent from two-point range. The reason he has to be crafty in the paint is because he has to rely on using footwork and his body to create space to get a shot off.

• Jakob Poeltl, 7’1” center (Utah): Poeltl was one of the most efficient low-post scorers in the country (1.092 PPP) while averaging better than ten post touches per game when you include the possessions when he passed out of double teams. He is not Tim Duncan — his skill-set is not that advanced and, while he shot 69 percent from the free throw line, his touch is not all that great — but he is quite effective. He can score over either shoulder and he’s developing some pretty effective combo and counter moves.

For a guy that is 7-foot-1, Poeltl was not all that great of a rim protector in the collegiate ranks. This past season, he averaged just 2.0 blocks per 40 minutes. Part of that is his length, as he has an average wingspan and standing reach for his size. Part of it is that he lacks explosiveness off of two-feet; he’s a far better jumper off of one foot when he’s got a head of steam than he is when he is trying to defend at the rim.

Ben Simmons, 6’9” forward (LSU): Simmons is 6-foot-10. He’s quick. He’s agile. He’s fluid. He can move laterally. He runs the floor like a deer. He’s got some bounce to him. He checks in somewhere around 230-240 pounds. (He didn’t get his physical profile measured at the combine.) He moves like a player six inches shorter than him and he’s built like typical power forward. When combined with ball-handling, his elite-of-the-elite vision and ability throw no-look bullet passes all over the court, he becomes him a constant highlight reel. Simmons is better than anyone that I can remember watching at the college level at grabbing a defensive rebound and leading the break, and his phenomenal ability to clean the glass (he averaged 8.8 defensive boards) is a major reason that more than a quarter of his offense came in transition, according to Synergy’s logs.

Weakness: Shooting. Simmons made just one three his freshman season. He attempted just three. He was 14-for-45 on jumpers, per Synergy. He shot 67.0 percent from the free throw line. That isn’t terrible, but his jump is ugly enough that there are scouts out there that believe he should follow in the footsteps of Tristan Thompson and switch which hand he shoots with; he’s currently a lefty, although he’s always coming back to his right hand around the rim.

“I think I’m ready:” Ben Simmons hopes to be NBA draft top pick

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NEW YORK (AP) — Ben Simmons has the sneaker deal and the TV show, so off the court he already has the look of a star.

The only questions seem to be about what he can do on the floor.

Assuming the Philadelphia 76ers are satisfied, they will make Simmons the No. 1 pick Thursday night in the NBA draft.

He has been considered the choice for months, and there are plenty of reasons why. The 6-foot-10 forward’s versatility is perfect for the modern NBA, and he has been getting advice about how to make himself even better from his favorite player, a certain champion named LeBron James.

Yet after an up-and-down season at LSU, Simmons arrived in New York on Wednesday with more scrutiny than usual for a player whose named is expected to be called first by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.

“It was a roller coaster but I think everything that I went through has helped mold me into the player that I am now,” Simmons said. “But I think I’m ready.”

He averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, the only SEC player ever to finish in the top five in all three categories. But the Tigers were only 19-14, failing to make the NCAA Tournament, and with all his talent Simmons sometimes left the impressive that he could’ve – made should’ve – done more to lead his team.

“That’s always going to happen when you’re one of the best guys. They try to bring you down, but honestly it was a rough season,” Simmons said. “We had guys that were hurt, were out, but it wasn’t the perfect season that we wanted.”

If critics want to put the blame on Simmons, LSU coach Johnny Jones thinks they’re looking in the wrong place.

“People have spent a lot of time this past season trying to break his game down in a negative way, taking a lot of unnecessary shots at him,” Jones said. “And I’m glad at the end of the day, his performance at LSU, his growth there, the decisions he made as he continued to grow as a basketball player, has put him in a situation where he’s going to be the No. 1 player taken in the draft.”

Simmons insists he doesn’t actually know if he will go first, but Madison Ave. seems convinced. Simmons has already inked a sneaker deal with Nike and will be the feature of a Showtime documentary film called “ONE & DONE” that will debut in October, just before Simmons debuts in the NBA.

That could be in the uniform of the 76ers, who went 10-72 in their third straight dismal season. Simmons didn’t work out for Philadelphia until Tuesday but there was familiarity with him long ago, as 76ers coach Brett Brown coached Simmons’ father in Australia. Simmons said Brown told him that someday he might play in the NBA.

And Simmons said he would be happy doing it for Brown, even though his delay in meeting with the 76ers created speculation that he hoped to scare Philadelphia from taking him so he would fall to second and get to play in Los Angeles for the Lakers. But Simmons said that was never true.

“Definitely not, just because I want to be the best player,” he said. “There’s only one No. 1 pick of the year.”

Duke’s Brandon Ingram is the other player mentioned for that spot and also worked out for the 76ers. But even with whatever questions there are about Simmons’ skills – he took only three 3-pointers, making one – he grades higher in the eyes of many talent evaluators.

“He’s incredibly productive. They just don’t make guys like that very often that have that kind of size and skill level,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “He’s not perfect, he doesn’t shoot it the way you would hope he would. In every other area he’s the best in the draft.”

That’s how Simmons feels, and he believes he’s already getting better. He’s put on 20 pounds over the last three months, moving him into the low 240s and making him more ready to bang with NBA forwards.

When the jumper gets better and eventually so do the 76ers, there won’t be any questions left to ask.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for honestly,” Simmons said. “I’m willing to work hard and put in the time.”

AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this report.

LeBron James confirms he’s leaning toward skipping Rio Olympics

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LeBron James has played in six straight NBA Finals, plus you can throw in the 2012 Olympics in London (his third) — the man has put his body through a lot in recent years.

Nobody should question if he wants to take the Rio Olympics off. Which apparently he does.

That rumor started after the Finals and LeBron confirmed it to Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

He’s not made a final decision yet, but we should expect that in the coming days. And I doubt he changes his mind — he’s not taking his family to Rio with all the potential health issues, and he also is filming Space Jam II in late August and September. He’s got plenty on his plate.

With all due respect to LeBron being the best player on the planet, whether or not he plays will not change the fact the USA is winning gold. Already the team reportedly has locked in Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, with Jimmy Butler and Damian Lillard also likely to make the cut. No team in the world can come close to matching the USA’s talent and depth, most of the teams they will face have one or two NBA level players. Spain, which earned the silver medal the last two Olympics, will be without Marc Gasol and maybe without Pau Gasol, and the rest of their core has gotten old. This go around, nobody can come close to the USA.

So LeBron can take the summer off and relax. At least until he gets a look at that Space Jam II script.

PBT Extra: LeBron James makes it clear he’s staying in Cleveland. For now.

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LeBron James is going to be a Cleveland Cavalier next season.

Which shouldn’t be a surprise — he can take a victory lap with the Cavaliers, then that team will again be heavy, heavy favorites to make it back to the NBA Finals. Why bolt?

But don’t be shocked if sometime in the next several years LeBron’s wanderlust grabs hold and he moves on again. I talk about it in this PBT Extra, and how he may want to play with his friends or in a new situation.

PBT Extra: What does Derrick Rose trade mean for Bulls, Knicks?

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While this trade had been rumored for a while — the Bulls were shopping Derrick Rose, the Knicks needed an upgrade at point guard — it coming on the eve of the NBA Draft was a surprise (and it kicks off what will be a wild night of draft trades).

How does this trade work out for both sides? I break it down in this PBT Extra.

For the Bulls, this trade makes them better because they picked a direction. With Rose and Joakim Noah treating Jimmy Butler like their little brother, the dynamic around the team was awkward — especially since Butler got a max contract and was clear-and-away the best player on the team. Even if they don’t get better in the short term (depending on other free agent moves) this is the team moving toward how coach Fred Hoiberg wants the roster.

But this is an upgrade for a Knicks team that suddenly looks like a playoff squad. Rose isn’t the MVP version of himself, but he’s a lot better than the guys they had last year (Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant are now Bulls as part of the deal). A Kristaps Porzingis/Derrick Rose pick-and-roll will be hard to defend, especially with Carmelo Anthony on the floor. Plus they still have the money to chase a free agent such as Pau Gasol (who will not be back with the Bulls). And if Rose doesn’t work out, he’s in the last year of his contract.

Jeff Hornacek should be a happy man today.