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.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

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After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

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Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.

Annual GM survey predicts Bucks vs. Warriors Finals, Doncic MVP

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The NBA’s annual GM survey is more of a snapshot of the conventional wisdom around the league than a good predictive tool — last season the GMs overwhelmingly picked the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Durant as MVP. Didn’t exactly work out that way.

Still, it’s an interesting view into where things stand — and where it stands is a Bucks vs. Warriors NBA Finals. When asked who would win the NBA title, 43% predicted the Bucks, 25% the Warriors, 21% the Clippers and 11% the Celtics (a number that unquestionably fell since the news of Ime Udoka’s suspension came out).

Here’s how the GMs see the top six in each conference, courtesy of Jon Schuhmann and NBA.com who did the survey:

EAST
1. Bucks
2. Celtics
3. 76ers
4. Nets
5. Heat
6. Cavaliers

WEST
1. Clippers
2. Warriors
3. Suns
4. Nuggets
5. Grizzlies
6-T: Mavericks and Timberwolves

Here are some other highlights from the survey:

• Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP and the choice of the GMs, with 48% of them picking the Dallas star to win the award. Second was Giannis Antetokounmpo (34%) followed by Joel Embiid (14%).

• But ask GMs if they were starting a franchise today and could sign anyone, and they take Antetokounmpo (55%) over Doncic (45%). Those are the only two names on the list.

• Asked the player most likely to have a breakout season and the Cavaliers Evan Mobley led the way with 21% of the vote, followed by Cade Cunningham and Anthony Edwards tied for second (17%).

• The most athletic player in the league? The GMs voted for Ja Morant (38%) over Antetokounmpo (31%) and Anthony Edwards (24%).

• When asked which team had the best offseason, 41% of the GMs picked the Cavaliers, with Donovan Mitchell being named the player changing teams who would have the biggest impact this season.

• The most underrated offseason pickup: Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, according to the GMs (28%).

• Most surprising move of the offseason for the GMs was Rudy Gobert to Cleveland (47% of the vote), but Mitchell to the Cavaliers was a close second (43%).

Paolo Banchero is the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year (79%).

• Antetokounmpo was voted the best defensive player in the NBA (45%), with Draymond Green a distant second (24%).

• Gobert, however, was the runaway winner of the best interior defender (83%).

• Best coach in the NBA? Erik Spoelstra led the way with 52% of the vote, followed by Steve Kerr at 22%. The Clippers’ Tyronne Lue, however, won the vote for best in-game adjustments by a coach.

• The Toronto Raptors were voted the team with the best home court advantage (21%), with Boston and Denver tied for second (17%).