Five NBA Draft sleepers to watch

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Really, this is almost an entire draft of sleepers.

After the first two picks — Duke’s Kyrie Irving and Arizona’s Derrick Williams — there are enough questions and risks that a lot of guys could be considered sleepers. Teams will tell you the difference between picks No. 10 and No. 25 in this draft is not that great. And you know one guy who falls in this draft is going to rise up to be a star (it happens almost every year; this season is primed for it).

One guy is going to unexpectedly answer all those questions asked about him. Who? Here are a few ideas.

Reggie Jackson, 6-foot-3 point guard, Boston College: He’s a guy that plays smart, steady and within himself, a guy who could become a good NBA point guard. He’s got length — at the combine he turned scouts heads with his freakish wingspan (7 feet). Jackson is not an explosive athlete, but he’s quick enough to play the point in the NBA (and his key is being smart enough to know when to attack). He uses space well and is a good passer. The issue is you can’t just drive and kick, you’ve got to shoot and he struggled some with that (27 percent from three). Guys will play off Jackson.

But there is a player in there. There is a steady floor leader in there. He’s never going to be Derrick Rose, but he could be a steady floor general for a lot of years in the league and the kind of smart player that could be valuable to good teams.

Jeremy Tyler, 6-11 power forward, Japanese league: Remember a couple years ago when one of the nation’s top college prospects skipped his high school senior season to play professional ball in Europe? That’s Tyler. He struggled overseas, but he has real NBA size and athleticism. He has a bit of a faceup game. There are real questions about his maturity and his internal drive — will he put out the efforts in practices and every game? If Tyler can do that, he will be a good NBA player, but it is a real gamble.

In a draft filled with gambles, do you gamble on the guy with real talent? If it comes together, he is a great sleeper.

Malcolm Lee, 6-5 shooting guard, UCLA: Here is what you need to know about Lee — when teams brought in Kemba Walker or Jimmer Fredette to work out, they often tried to bring in Lee to work out against them so they could see how those guys dealt with a good NBA defender.

Guys who have come out of UCLA in recent years have been able to defend and play smart basketball. Lee is long and athletic, but he’s a shooting guard who shot 29.5 percent from 3-point range last season. But if his offense does come around, he could be an important piece on the right team.

E’Twaun Moore, 6-4 shooting guard, Purdue: A lot of teams like him in the second round. He’s a very good shooter with NBA range (40 percent from three) and is a well-rounded player. He’s not an explosive athlete and a is bit small for the position, but he plays tough and smart. Again, teams can see him fitting into their rotation and be one of those second rounders that ends up being a key contributor.

Bismack Biyombo, 6-8 power forward, Congo: Can a guy in the lottery be a sleeper? In this case it seems appropriate. There is no more physically gifted player in this draft, no better athlete. He was the leading shot blocker in Spain last year and he can rebound.

But he is sliding down draft boards. Biyombo looked raw… well, actually all reports are he looked bad at Eurocamp. His workouts are about the same. Teams thought he could be a Joel Anthony type, but Anthony looks like Pau Gasol next to him. There also are questions about his real age (he says 18, the papers say that, but many teams think more like early 20s). Another guy with red flags all over the place, but with a ton of athletic gifts. He’s a risk, but if he does pan out he could be a monster in the league.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns GM: ‘Overwhelming likelihood’ team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.