Kurt Helin

during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 9, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.
Getty Images

NBA Draft Watch: Lucky 13 players to check out Thursday in NCAA Tournament

1 Comment

For a lot of NBA fans, the NCAA Tournament is when we get a first good look at guys who are going to go high — or at all — in the NBA draft. That’s not the case for NBA GMs and scouts, if they like a player they have watched all (or most) of his play this season, they have formed their opinions, and what happens in the tournament doesn’t move the needle as much as fans think.

Who should you be watching this first Thursday/Saturday of the Tournament? PBT’s NBA Draft expert — and Rotoworld writer — Ed Isaacson broke it down by regions for Rotoworld, listing a lot of players to watch. We have culled that into 13 guys to watch on specific days. They are listed in current projected draft order (although that certainly will change), starting with the guy from Duke who could pass Ben Simmons to be the No. 1 pick.

• Brandon Ingram, Freshman, Duke, Forward – Ingram’s name is the one most mentioned along with Ben Simmons for the number one spot in this year’s draft. A long, thin forward, Ingram has the skill to attack off the dribble or knock down long-range jumpers. Ingram shows very good form on his jumper, and at almost 6’10”, he gets a good look most of the time. While not a great ballhandler, Ingram is above-average, and his long strides into the lane make it tough for many defenders to stay with him. He can have some trouble finishing at the rim when the help rotates over, but if he gets just a little space, he can take off quickly and finish with a big dunk. Ingram still needs to work on creating more space for his jumper, but his talent is evident, especially in the open floor. Defensively, his long wingspan can make him disruptive, but in terms of actually defending his man, he still needs a lot of work on the basics.

The battle for the top spot in the draft between Ingram and Simmons should go back and forth until June, but, at worst, it’s hard to see Ingram falling out of the top three, barring something unforeseen.

• Jamal Murray, Freshman, Kentucky, Guard – After an up-and-down start to the season, Murray flourished in the second half of the season once Coach John Calipari altered the offense to run him off of screens to get open for shots instead of letting him try to create. Murray is a great spot-shooter, with NBA range, but he is much worse off the dribble, knocking down just 33 percent of his dribble jumpers. While not exactly the point guard he was touted to be, he is a decent ballhandler, though Murray has a tendency to over-dribble hoping to create something. If he can get into the lane, he can be a creative finisher, with an array of short jumpers and floaters, but he doesn’t always have the speed burst to beat defenders off the dribble, so he relies on screens to get open. Murray can also be frustrating with his passing; he has shown good vision and passing ability, but his decision making is not very good. It’s not often you see someone touted as a point guard have a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. On defense, Murray is not very good, and needs works on a lot of the basic concepts, such as positioning. Murray has shown that he can knock down spot-up jumpers, but at just 6’4”, and as a poor defender, it may take a while for him to gain traction at the NBA level.

• Kris Dunn, Junior, Providence, Guard – Dunn emerged as one of the top point guards in the nation as a junior, and even with a good chance he could have gone in the first round last season, he came back to school for another year, winning Big East Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. Due to injuries, Dunn is a redshirt junior. There were two main areas people wanted to see Dunn address this year, shooting and decision-making, but neither changed very much. He is still a very good ballhandler with excellent vision, and he can be a spectacular passer, but his decisions can still be mindboggling. He thrives when Providence pushes the tempo, doing a great job getting the ball up the floor quickly and finding open teammates for easy scores. He did show improvement in the half court, and he can be very tough to keep out of the lane. Getting to the rim and scoring is a different issue; Dunn can have a lot of problems finishing around length at the basket, but if he has just a little space, he can finish in a spectacular way. On defense, Dunn is much better as a help defender or off the ball, rather than an on-ball defender, but in certain match-ups, he can be a problem on the ball. His steal numbers are still high, and he is very good at jumping passing lanes, but he seems to have a green light from his coach to wander around looking to make plays on defense, where he won’t have that luxury in the NBA.

• Skal Labissiere, Freshman, Kentucky, Forward – Other than Ben Simmons, no freshman faced the scrutiny that Labissiere did, and except for a few bright spots late in the season, his play did nothing to dispel the negatives about his game. 6’11”, with a 7’2” wingspan, Labissiere is long and lanky, but he does possess a nice shooting touch out to 20 feet. Around the basket, his touch can be evident, but his moves are slow to develop, and he shows little aggression or determination to get to the basket. Labissiere is awkward in the pick-and-roll, though his shooting ability allows him to be a good “pop” option. His size and length should give him some advantages on the offensive glass, but he has been too timid this year and gets pushed around easily. On defense, Labissiere has a lot of potential, but he is nowhere close to realizing it yet. It was expected that Labissiere was going to be very raw coming into college, and even with it being worse than expected, NBA teams will still be intrigued by his raw talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go in the lottery nevertheless.

• Jakob Poeltl, Sophomore, Utah, Center – Poeltl built on his strong freshman season, becoming an All-American as a sophomore, though not many of his strengths or weaknesses have changed. Poeltl doesn’t have good strength or speed in the post, he is fundamentally sound and is very efficient around the basket. He plays well in the pick-and-roll, opening up well to the ball while moving to the rim. Poeltl works hard on the offensive glass, and if you don’t look to put a body on him, he can make you pay with an easy put back. Defensively, he is a good help defender around the basket, and he shows very good extension and timing as a shot blocker, but his body isn’t ready yet to truly battle in the post.

• Taurean Prince, Senior, Baylor, Forward – Coming off a strong junior season, Prince was expected to have a big year, though he was a bit too inconsistent to really take the next step. 6’8” and solidly built, Prince is a capable scorer in a couple of different fashions. His long-range jumper had improved significantly as a junior, but he didn’t seem to be getting as many good looks this year, and his numbers suffered. When he puts the ball on the floor, he can be elusive trying to get to the rim, and though not always a great finisher, he is efficient. On defense, Prince is a versatile defender who has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his length allows him to play passing lanes well.

• Domantas Sabonis, Sophomore, Gonzaga, Forward – Sabonis, the son of basketball legend Arvydas, showed this season why everyone was excited when he showed up at Gonzaga last year, finishing the season averaging a double-double. Sabonis is a skilled forward who plays with toughness that the college game lacks these days. He is an efficient scorer around the basket, with good footwork, a nice touch and an array of post moves. Though he doesn’t take many mid-range jumpers, he has looked good when he does, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do the same at the next level. Defensively, he has improved in all areas, though Sabonis still needs to work on some the little details of how to defend around the basket or on the perimeter, and he can pick up some poor fouls.

• Tyler Ulis, Sophomore, Kentucky, Guard – When discussing Murray’s emergence at Kentucky, much of the credit needs to go to Ulis, the Wildcats’ point guard, for his ability to get Murray the ball at the right time and in the right spots. Ulis, the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, was the spark that kept the Kentucky offense going, and along with his leadership, Ulis showed a penchant for hitting big shots when the team needed them. Small, 5’9”, and quick, Ulis is a tremendous ballhandler with great control. He is a threat in the pick-and-roll where he can disappear behind a screen, and he has the space to knock down the jumper or try to get into the defense. He has very good vision, and while not a flashy passer, he is a smart one, and he knows where to get teammates the ball in spots where they can score quickly. Defensively, Ulis is a pest, and he can create chaos with his ability to seal off the perimeter. As for the NBA Draft, Ulis doesn’t have the strength or athleticism of say an Isaiah Thomas, so the NBA will be a major adjustment, but he is smart and could be a decent back-up at the next level.

• Grayson Allen, Sophomore, Duke, Guard – After emerging in the NCAA Tournament last season, Allen took over the Blue Devils from day one of this season, on his way to becoming one of the top scorers in the country. Allen has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor, and his quick first step to the rim is tough to stop. He is an efficient finisher around the basket, with the need to be creative when the situation warrants it. Allen is also a good long-range shooter, almost 42 percent, but doesn’t take many mid-range jumpers, preferring to take it all the way to the basket or look to draw contact, which he is very skilled at doing. He has shown skill as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, and while his control can use some work, his ability to force help to rotate opens up teammates. On defense, Allen can be a nuisance at times, but he also can be sloppy and doesn’t show the same quickness he does on offense.

• Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina, Forward – Johnson has been an important part of the Tar Heels for the past few years, but he took a big step as a senior, becoming one of the team’s go-to offensive options. A wiry, athletic forward, the 6’9” Johnson has made great strides on the offensive end since getting to Chapel Hill, has shown much of the same low post and baseline offense that made John Henson and Ed Davis so effective in their careers there. His offense isn’t very versatile, mostly short hooks and jumpers, along with dunks, but he has improved his touch, and he shows potential to eventually move his game out to the mid-range area. Johnson is a great leaper and is quick off the ground, allowing him to be a problem on the offensive boards. Defensively, he is average at best, as he tends to lose his way if dragged out to the perimeter, and he lacks the strength to defend the low post effectively.

• Cheick Diallo, Freshman, Kansas, Forward – Diallo’s college career got off to a rough start after he missed the beginning of Kansas’ season while an NCAA investigation took place. Even once he was cleared and able to play, Diallo often had trouble with much of what the team was trying to do on the floor, but the raw ability that made him a big high school recruit would force its way through. 6’9”, with a 7’4” wingspan, Diallo is a bundle of energy on the floor, rushing around trying to make plays on both ends. There isn’t much to his offense right now, especially as a halfcourt scoring option, but he runs the floor very well for his size, and he always looks to finish strong when he has the ball around the basket. Diallo’s bigger impact comes on the defensive end where he can be a good rim protector and rebounder, though some of the finer points of playing defense are still a work-in-progress for him.

• Malcolm Brogdon, Senior, Virginia, Guard – The ACC Player of the Year, Brogdon is the leader on both ends of the floor for the Cavaliers. He is a good long-range shooter, knocking down over 40 percent of his three-point attempts this year, and he is at his best coming off the screening action in the Virginia offense. Though just 6’4”, Brogdon can be tough to stop when he looks to get to the basket, using his body well to muscle his way to the rim where he is an efficient scorer. While just an average ballhandler, he does a good job creating looks behind the arc and in the mid-range area, though he’s not a great shooter off the dribble. Defensively, Brogdon does a terrific job locking down the perimeter, even if he isn’t the quickest guy on the floor. He has a great understanding of team defense and knows exactly where his help is at all times.

• A.J. Hammons, Senior, Purdue, Center – After three inconsistent years, Hammons seemed to really put together a strong season from start to finish this year. He is a long, skilled big man, who has the potential to take games over on both ends of the floor. One of the top shot-blockers in the country, the 7-foot, 260 pound Hammons has the body and the wingspan to be a next-level post player. When engaged, he has a knack for making plays. Hammons has improved as an offensive player over the past few years, adding some secondary post moves and a reliable mid-range jumper, though I really want to see him become more aggressive on the offensive end.

Kevin Durant: “The tradition of being a Boston Celtic is second to none”

1 Comment

As if Kevin Durant saying he liked the city of Boston, combined with the obvious fact GM Danny Ainge would love to pitch Durant as a free agent, didn’t give Celtics fans unrealistic levels of hope that Durant might choose to come there this summer, we now have this.

The Thunder’s thrashing of the shorthanded Celtics was broadcast on ESPN, and in an interview with them Durant expressed his admiration for the Celtics’ tradition. ESPN tweeted this out.

In case the video isn’t working, here are KD’s full comments.

“You can feel the tradition walking in here. You see all the (Celtics’ legends) plastered on the walls as you walk into the locker room. The tradition of being a Boston Celtic is second to none. So it’s amazing playing here. The fans, they’re very energetic and they cheer for their team. It’s amazing to see as a player, to have fans that care about the game so much. It’s an amazing sports town and they have a great team to cheer for.”

Those fans started a “come to Boston” chant for Durant during the game.

It’s impossible to predict what Durant will do this summer as a free agent; even Durant doesn’t know. The buzz around league circles is he may well stay in Oklahoma City (possibly with an opt-out in a year, like LeBron James did with Cleveland), but if Durant leaves Golden State is seen as the front-runner. After that there is a drop off. The bottom line is if KD decides to leave the Thunder, 29 other teams will be lined up to make their pitch.

In that scenario, KD could do a lot worse than Boston. But Celtics’ fans may not want to get their hopes too high.

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Stephen Curry on pace for 400 threes this season

Fans celebrate after Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry scored against the New York Knicks during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Associated Press
2 Comments

By the time you read this, my bracket will already be busted. I don’t care if games have tipped off or not. Doesn’t matter. Anyway, here’s what you need to know from an NBA Wednesday.

1) With eight more, Stephen Curry on pace for 400 threes in one NBA season. And Warriors have now won 50 in a row at home. The Golden State Warriors thrashed the New York Knicks in a game that went exactly as everyone expected it would, 121-85 Golden State. That makes 50 straight regular season wins at home for the Warriors, extending their record.

And that’s not even the most interesting stat of the night.

In dropping 34 points (in three quarters), Stephen Curry is now on pace to hit more than 400 threes this season. He held the old record at 286, set last season. Curry has 330 threes, and the Warriors have 15 games left, which means he needs to hit 4.7 threes a game to reach 400. Curry has averaged 5.1 threes per game this season. The only question is if Steve Kerr will rest Curry out of the record.

2) Kevin Durant hears “come to Boston” chants as Thunder crush Celtics. Boston misses Jae Crowder, dropping their third game in a row without him 130-109 to Oklahoma City.

The story all day in Boston was how Kevin Durant loves Boston as a city and how Danny Ainge plans to go after KD this summer (if Durant doesn’t just re-sign in OKC, which is still the smart bet). After the Thunder win, Durant raved about the Celtics’ tradition. The Boston fans got in on the act, chanting “come to Boston” during his free throws.

3) After missing four games following death of his brother, Dion Waiters makes emotional return to court for Thunder. It’s amazing that he was back this fast. Waiters’ brother was murdered in Philadelphia and Waiters left the team for a week. Wednesday night he returned to the court during the Thunder win, playing 10 minutes. He looked a bit rusty, but just seeing him back on the court was heartening. Waiters also made some plays.

4) John Wall boost’s Wizard playoff dreams with triple double in win over Bulls. This was a big game for the chase for the final couple seeds in the East — and only one of the two teams looked like they were in a playoff chase. The up-and-down Bulls were down on Wednesday — plus they lost Taj Gibson to a hamstring injury — and that was enough for John Wall lead a blowout win for the Wizards. 117-96. Wall put up his third triple-double of the season with 29 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds.

This leaves Detroit and Chicago in a tie for the last playoff spot in the East (Detroit has the tie breaker), but Washington is now just 1.5 games back and with an easier schedule than either of the two teams they are chasing. This race could go down to the final days of the season. Well, unless Chicago keeps playing like they did Wednesday.

5) LeBron who? Kyrie Irving’s 33 lifts Cavaliers past Mavericks. Tyronn Lue decided to rest LeBron James against Dallas, and suddenly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love look like they can play together. Now they just have to do that when LeBron is on the court. Irving had 33 points and had the game-saving steal in the final seconds — recognizing Dallas would feed Dirk Nowitzki after Irving got switched on him, Irving jumped the passing lane and got the steal. Kevin Love had 23 points and 18 rebounds on the night.

Dallas and Houston both lost Wednesday, leaving the seven and eight seeds in the East just 1.5 games up on surging Utah. Dallas had a chance to steal one with LeBron out but couldn’t pull it off.

Stephen Curry adds to 3-pointer total with 8 more, Warriors win 50th straight at Oracle

Leave a comment

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Here’s an uncanny option for the defending NBA champions: 6-foot-10 Marreese Speights spotting up from deep and getting in on the 3-point fun right alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“He’s auditioning for that Splash Cousin, maybe,” said Curry, who with Thompson makes up Golden State’s Splash Brothers. “He’s definitely confident out there now. We love that. It adds a new element to our lineup and our rotation when he’s able to step into those 3s and knock them down. We’ll keep feeding him. Definitely a crowd pleaser, and it gets us going on the bench, too.”

Curry scored 34 points in another brilliant 3-point shooting performance and the Warriors extended their record regular-season home winning streak to 50 games with a 121-85 victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night.

Curry shot 8 for 13 from long range and 12 of 20 from the floor overall before sitting out the fourth quarter with his team up big. The reigning MVP hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions late in the first quarter and on two in a row at the end of the third as the Warriors improved to 32-0 at Oracle Arena this season.

Thompson scored 19 points with five 3s and Speights added 13 with three 3s off the bench as Golden State (61-6) stayed one game ahead of the 1995-96 Bulls’ pace in their record 72-win season.

So, how about 50 straight home wins?

“I don’t think any of us are really thinking about numbers,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re having such a good season. We’re not paying any attention to anything that doesn’t matter.”

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Knicks.

“It’s unbelievable, the way that they play. The lineups that they mess around with out there,” Anthony said. “Their record, 61-6, we’re witnessing, kind of, history here. It’s hard to give them a pat on the back when you just got your (tail) whipped.”

Curry banked in an off-balance 3 as the shot clock expired late in the third, then hit one from the baseline moments later. Already the first player in NBA history with 300 3s during a season, he has 330 with 15 games to go.

Draymond Green, who had a triple-double at New York on Jan. 31 in which he made all nine of his field goals, finished with six points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

During one stretch, the Warriors had four 3s in five trips down the floor late in the first and made eight straight shots to build a commanding lead they never relinquished in a fourth straight victory against the Knicks. Golden State wound up 18 for 37 from deep, 48.6 percent.

“It’s good to have a green light from the 3-point line when you’re open,” Speights said.

With his 1,518th 3 late in the second quarter, Curry moved past Mike Bibby (1,517) for 24th place on the NBA career list.

PRESSURE COOKER

The second time around is harder, Kerr knows that much. Even with his loose, winning bunch.

Everything was a first for Golden State a year ago, its first title in 40 years during Kerr’s first season as coach.

All the records this season and pressure to win another trophy while getting every team’s best each night, it can be a tough grind for his team.

“This year feels a little more tiresome,” Kerr said. “Trying to give them time off at the right time, trying to keep the practices short and sweet and not overwhelming them with too many film sessions and that kind of stuff.”

TIP-INS

Knicks: New York has lost 21 of the last 27 to Golden State. … Coach Kurt Rambis said G Tony Wroten won’t join the team until after the season. “We’ll see what he can bring in summer league.”

Warriors: Speights hit two or more 3s in a game for the fifth time in his career and fourth this season. … F Kevon Looney had an MRI exam that revealed right hip inflammation. He won’t go on the upcoming three-game road trip. G Andre Iguodala (sprained left ankle) and C Festus Ezeli (left knee surgery) also won’t travel. Ezeli is scheduled to be re-evaluated next week. … Golden State plays at San Antonio on Saturday in a back-to-back during a quick three-game road trip and has lost 32 straight there since 1996 – and hasn’t won on San Antonio’s home floor in the regular season since Tim Duncan arrived in the league. The Warriors return for nine of their final 12 games at home. … James Michael McAdoo hit his first career 3 on his first attempt.

 

John Wall’s triple-double leads Wizards past Bulls 117-96

Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (AP) — The week began with John Wall and the Washington Wizards on a five-game losing streak and facing a daunting margin just to reach the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

After a pair of victories by an average of 32 points over the two teams right ahead of them in the standings, the Wizards are in a far different place.

“Now we’re in it,” forward Jared Dudley said. “Before, if we lose these two, we would have been out of it. We win these two, now we’re in the thick of things.”

Finally playing as if their chance at returning to the postseason was on the line, which it very much is, the Wizards beat Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls 117-96 behind Wall’s third triple-double of the season Wednesday night.

Wall, an All-Star point guard, produced 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, outplaying Rose, who returned after missing two games with a strained left groin and finished with 16 points and four assists.

“We just couldn’t really get a stop tonight, so they got us,” said Doug McDermott, who led the Bulls with 20 points as a reserve. “We’ve got to come out with urgency. We didn’t do that tonight. That’s on us.”

Data curated by PointAfter

Wall pointed his finger at the defensive side of the ball, saying that the Wizards spent plenty of time watching video of their disastrous recent road trip and focusing on how to improve the way they deal with opponents’ pick-and-rolls.

And, he thinks, the dividends could keep coming.

“We put ourselves in this situation. And if we just keep playing defense this way, we give ourselves a great chance to beat anybody. Simple as that,” Wall said. “We simplified our defense the last two games, it showed up and it’s been a lot better.”

In their previous outing, on Monday, the Wizards beat the visiting Detroit Pistons by 43 points. Detroit lost again Wednesday, 118-114 at Atlanta, meaning Washington is still 10th in the East but now sits only 1 1/2 games behind both the eighth-place Bulls and ninth-place Pistons.

Plus, there is this: The Wizards now own the tiebreakers against both of those teams they’re chasing, 2-1 over Chicago with no games remaining and 3-0 over Detroit with only one to play.

“We knew that the teams that we’re chasing were right here in front of us,” Dudley said. “We knew it was now or never.”

Wall received plenty of help, including 20 points from Bradley Beal and 15 from reserve Garrett Temple.

Chicago got Rose back, and Jimmy Butler scored 17 points in his second game in a row after missing three with an injury. But Joakim Noah is done for the season, Pau Gasol is still out, and Taj Gibson played only 8 minutes Wednesday because he aggravated his right hamstring.

“The challenge is pretty tough right now,” Rose said, “but that’s why we’re pros.”

ROSE’S RETURN

Rose said he expects to face Brooklyn on Thursday. “I wasn’t really trying to force anything,” he said about Wednesday’s return to action. “Just trying to get a groove, get a feel for the ball.” Coach Fred Hoiberg’s take: “I thought his burst looked good, for the most part. We wanted to play him short stints, no longer than 7-minute stints.”

TEMPLE CAN’T MISS

Temple’s points all came in the first half, when he shot 5 for 5 on 3s. “Just taking what the defense gave him,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. The rest of the Wizards’ bench was a combined 0 for 11 in the half.

HOME COOKIN’

The Wizards have won seven of their past eight games in Washington. “Maybe,” Temple joked, “we need to play the rest of our games at home.”

FLAGRANT?

Wall was whistled for a flagrant foul after chasing Butler down and blocking his shot. Wittman’s postgame reaction to the call? “I’m glad I didn’t play in this (era). Jiminy Christmas, if that was a flagrant. But times have changed.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Have lost nine of 10 on the road. … Cameron Bairstow sat out with a back injury.

Wizards: C Marcin Gortat missed the first quarter because of a sore lower back after tweaking it in warmups. He wound up scoring nine points in 18 minutes. … F Alan Anderson sat out.

 

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich