NCAA to NBA: Prospects to watch Friday

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Hope after one day your bracket is better than mine, which now should be used to line birdcages. The St. Johns and Louisville losses hurt me, got to stop picking teams from cities I like just because they’re from cities I like. And big favorites. Oh well….

We’re supposed to be watching for some NBA draft potential — and some big names are coming up on Friday. We spoke with our man Joe Treutlein, Assistant Director of Scouting for DraftExpress.com, leaned heavily on their great scouting (plus some of our observations on the guys we’ve seen) and put together a guide.

Here are some guys to watch Friday:

Kyrie Irving, 6’2” guard, Duke (DX No. 1): This may be your No. 1 pick (especially if the team that wins the lottery needs a point guard, think Cavs). He has been out due to torn ligaments in his toe since Dec. 4 and he will be on limited minutes. This guy is a classic pure point guard, the kind of player who has had success in the league in recent years. According to Draft Express, this is the one franchise changing guy in this draft. Other scouts disagree, thinking he’s good but not Wall/Rose good. We’d say watch for yourself and decide, but he likely will not be that guy, he’s got three months of rust to shake off.

Nolan Smith, 6’3” guard, Duke (DX No. 23): He’s had to step up with Irving down and his performance in that role has helped his draft stock. Good athlete with a quality shot, he can attack the rim, but there are questions about how he fit. He’s done a good job running a team, but can he do it at the next level? He may be too small for a two guard in the NBA. Tweener. But the guy can play.

Jared Sullinger, 6’8” power forward, Ohio State (DX No. 3): He could be a Paul Millsap kind of guy — a bit undersized, not terribly athletic but long and he just gets boards and scores points in the paint. He’s got a very polished game (sort of the way Kevin Love was so polished in college, way ahead of his peers). He’s got soft hands and is developing a midrange game. He’s got a real motor and is the reason Ohio State is a No. 1 seed. How will he do against better competition in the tournament?

Harrison Barnes, 6’8” small forward, North Carolina (DX No. 4): He was considered the likely top pick before the season, but he struggled early in the season (shooting 37 percent through 15 games) and his stock fell. In the ACC tournament, he dropped 40 on a good defensive team in Clemson. He has a lot of skills, although in the NBA he’s going to run into a lot of superior athletes at the three. He is a guy who can prove he deserves to move up during the tournament.

John Henson, 6’10” power forward, North Carolina (DX No. 11): He has been a very good defensive presence, shot blocker and rebounder at the college level. He however is thin and against the men in the NBA would get pushed around. His offensive game needs work. He’s a big man project who can impress scouts with his play gainst quality bigs as the Tar Heels move through this tournament.

Marcus Morris, 6’9” power forward, Kansas (DX No. 19): There are two Morris twins on Kansas, his brother Markieff plays as well. To use the easy and obvious comparison, Marcus is more the Brook Lopez, Markieff the Robin. Marcus can score inside and out (he has a good jumper), face up or back-to-the-basket, and is simply just very efficient on the offensive end The question is how well he can defend more athletic fours at the next level.

Derrick Williams, 6’8” forward, Arizona (DX No. 6): This may be the guy you want your team to take a risk on — he’s a smart player and can play on the wing or in the paint. A real versatile forward who can fit a lot of systems. Most importantly, he’s a very efficient scorer. He can put up points on the next level. He’s the one guy I saw who really blew my doors off this season (I did not get a good look at Irving). A lot of people out east have not seen him, you should.

Report: 76ers trade No. 39 pick to Lakers

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The 76ers have too many 2018 draft picks – Nos. 10, 26, 38, 39, 56 and 60.

Philadelphia already has 11 players under contract for next season. Plus, the 76ers have the space to add premier players. There just isn’t room for everyone on the roster.

So, Philadelphia unloaded one of those selections.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is good return for the 76ers, who everyone knew had to trade a draft pick. The rebuilding Bulls could easily land a higher second-round pick than No. 39 next year.

Why do the Lakers want an extra second-rounder this year? Second-round picks don’t count against the cap until signed, and they can always slightly sweeten a trade offer. They’re helpful for a team with big plans and little wiggle room.

Kyle O’Quinn opts out of Knicks contract

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The Knicks have the No. 8 pick, and tomorrow’s draft will be the most important part of their offseason.

Will they also have cap space to add talent in free agency? That hinges on Enes Kanter‘s player option.

If Kanter opts out, New York will have even more room to operate thanks to Kyle O'Quinn declining his $4,256,250 player option.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Knicks expected this for a while, and they’re probably not disappointed. Steve Mills and Scott Perry want to put their stamp on the franchise. O’Quinn is a leftover from the Phil Jackson era and a reminder of the recent tumult in New York.

O’Quinn’s combination of block percentage (6.1) and defensive-rebounding percentage (27.8) was unmatched last season. He just really struck a nice balance between contesting shots and remaining in position on the glass. He’s also a smooth mid-range shooter with an improved ability to distribute.

How much is that player worth?

It’ll be a tight market, especially for bigs. For his sake, I hope the 28-year-old O’Quinn already has assurances from other teams. He might get a similar salary or, more likely, a larger overall guarantee on a multi-year deal. But it’s also possible he comes out behind by testing free agency.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.