NBA Draft Profile: Damian Lillard

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Nobody is moving up the draft board like Damian Lillard.

You didn’t see him unless you were a Weber State fan (and we know you’re not), but most teams now have him ranked as the best point guard in the draft — better than UNC’s Kendall Marshall, better than Kentucky’s Marquis Teague, better than all the bigger names.

And according to DraftExpress he has really impressed people during the interview portion of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this week (and the interviews are by far the thing that matters most there). Which means he is going up the boards, not down.

Lillard was a scoring guard in college because he had to be, and he will look to shoot first in the NBA. He is a dynamic penetrator who has good lateral movement, but if you back off him he will knock down the jumper with range. This is a guy who shot 46.7 percent overall and 40.9 percent from three when everybody in the building knew he was going to take every shot — teams schemed for him and he still killed them. He only turned the ball over once every 8.9 possessions.

DraftExpress says he could have a George Hill like impact.

The concern was Weber State — he played in the Big Sky against inferior competition. Which is why his individual workouts and interviews matter more for him. He has to answer those questions.

And multiple reports have him impressing in the gym and in the interview room. Here is what ESPN’s Chad Ford wrote:

Lillard put on one of the most impressive workouts I’ve seen in a while. The grueling 1½-hour session had Lillard going full speed for the entire workout. He ran the length of the floor repeatedly, shuffled side to side with medicine balls, shot jumpers with a huge tether around his waist and, as the sweat poured down his face, he just kept hitting shot after shot after shot.

Lillard is going in the lottery, the only question is how high.

DraftExpress right now has him going No. 10 to the Hornets. (That would be a quality young team suddenly — Anthony Davis in the middle, Eric Gordon at the two and Lillard at the point. You could build around that.) But he may go higher. Toronto at No. 8?

Bottom line from everyone is this — forget about where Lillard played, just know that he flat out can play.

Knicks say they scouted Giannis Antetokounmpo in Greece

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s agent, Giorgos Panou, said the Knicks were the only team not to scout Antetokounmpo in Greece before the 2013 NBA draft.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

If the Knicks indeed scouted Antetokounmpo that thoroughly, it’s a shame they were smeared for not doing so.

Milwaukee took Antetokounmpo No. 13. New York had the No. 24 pick and kept it to draft Tim Hardaway Jr.

Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma scores 35, wins MVP, leads USA to victory in Rising Stars dunkfest

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CHARLOTTE — Nobody comes to the Friday night Rising Stars Challenge — the All-Star weekend showcase of first- and second-year stars — for the defense. Which is good, because there isn’t any. Zero. Nada. Your Saturday blacktop pickup game at the local park has guys that care more about defense than you see in this game.

What the Rising Stars has are dunks. A lot of big dunks. And some threes. Then more dunks.

For example, the Hawks’ John Collins was showing off why he was in the dunk contest, complete with a pass off the backboard to himself.

As for the game itself, the USA won 161-144 over the World.

The Lakers Kyle Kuzma raced out to 23 first-half points and finished with 35 to earn MVP honors.

“Last year I didn’t really play that hard,” Kuzma said of his first time in this game. “This year I just came out, one, I wanted to get some conditioning, and, two, why not MVP? You’re in the game. So might as well just try.”

Kuzma also broke out the windmill.

D’Aaron Fox said before the game he wanted to break the assist record for the Rising Stars, and while he fell short of that number he had 16 for the USA. Boston’s Jayson Tatum had 30 and Donovan Mitchell had 20 for the USA. Ben Simmons led the Word team of 28 points.

As for highlights, there were plenty.

Atlanta’s Trae Young hit six threes and had this dime.

He also had the play of the night, nutmegging Deandre Ayton.

Philly’s Ben Simmons had a couple of throwdowns.

The Timberwolves Josh Okogie had the putback of the night (teammate and All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns sat courtside wearing an Okogie jersey).

Hawks’ John Collins passes to self off backboard for dunk in Rising Stars

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CHARLOTTE — The NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge — the Friday night showcase of first- and second-year players during All-Star Weekend — has less defense than your lunch run pickup game at the Y. Even less than the All-Star Game itself.

Which leads to some monster dunks.

Enter Atlanta’s second-year big man John Collins, playing for the USA (vs. The World), who went off the backboard to himself for the best throwdown of the game.

That wasn’t Collins’ only quality dunk in this game.

He looks ready for Saturday’s Dunk Contest.

Report: Nuggets extend president Tim Connelly’s contract

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On the same day the Pelicans fired general manager Dell Demps, the Nuggets extended the contract of president Tim Connelly, who went to Denver from New Orleans.

Nuggets release:

Nuggets President and Governor Josh Kroenke announced today that the Nuggets have extended the contracts of President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and General Manager Arturas Karnisovas as well and also provided multi-year extensions for the entire basketball operations staff.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I don’t know whether Connelly used the threat of the Pelicans job as leverage. But he deserved this extension, anyway.

The Nuggets have only continued to rise since his previous extension three years ago.

Denver has yet to make the playoffs under Connelly, and he declared this season postseason or bust. Denver (39-18) is second in the Western Conference.

Connelly made a second-round pick so good in Nikola Jokic, it altered the course of the franchise. Connelly has done well to lock Jokic onto a five-year extension, surround him with young talent like Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez and get them a good coach in Michael Malone.

If Denver weren’t stuck barely missing the playoffs in the loaded West the last couple years, we might have been singing Connelly’s praises sooner. But his success is undeniable. The Nuggets are in great shape now and in the future, and Connelly should see that through.