Five NBA Draft sleepers to watch

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Admit it, this is one of your favorite parts of the NBA draft — picking out the guy nobody is watching because you think he’s got that special something. You want to find the next Isaiah Thomas. You know he can help your team. And you pull for him because you want to be right, even if he turns out to just be guy number eight on the bench. He’s your guy.

Here are five guys that might be your guy. Five sleepers. Five guys out of the lottery and down the draft board who could contribute, now or in a few years.

Scott Machado (6’2” point guard, Iona): In an up-tempo offense (or as a change-of-pace guy off the bench) he can do damage. He plays fast and fans will love him. The Brazilian is a pure point guard with fantastic court vision, some scouts say second best in this draft (behind Kendall Marshall of North Carolina). He knows how to make plays, especially in transition. He’s not a great athlete by NBA standards but he scored at a pretty good clip in college (13.6 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting). Put him in the right situation and he can thrive.

Terrence Ross (6’7” shooting guard/small forward, Washington): A sleeper because nobody watched the dreadful Pac-12 last year. He’s an excellent athlete who lives and dies by the jump shot (40 percent of his shots last season were threes) but if you close out he can blow by you. He can finish at the rim. He needs some handles, he needs some midrange game, but he has the athletic tools and could put it together. He could be at least solid and maybe special in a few years.

Darius Johnson-Odom (6’2” shooting guard, Marquette): He can flat out shoot the rock, and at the end of the day that is still the name of the game. He showed pretty well at the Nets combine workout, according to reports. He’s undersized for the two in the NBA (and he’s not a point guard) but he is strong and defends hard. He’ll be a catch-and-shoot guy in the league, but he can do a lot of damage that way.

Royce White (6’8” power forward, Iowa State): On paper he seems perfect. He has an NBA power forward’s body plus has excellent handles and passing skills. In college he played a point-forward where he led the team in points, assists and rebounds. He can score inside or out. But there are red flags — first his shot is very inconsistent. Plus, there are off-the-court legal issues, and on top of that he also has an anxiety disorder with a fear of flying. Lots of risk, could be high reward.

Tony Wroten (6’6” combo guard, Washington): Yes, another guy from the Huskies. He comes with more risk than Ross because his problem is style of play — he tends to just be out of control. He certainly has an NBA body — he’s got good size for a guard and is very athletic. He can drive the lane and finish through contact (but only with his left hand, he needs to get a right fast). He’s a good passer. But he takes bad shots and his jump shot is not at all reliable right now. He’s a project. But he has the tools to be a quality guard in this league if he can learn to make better decisions and get a steady jumper.

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.

 

Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.

 

76ers coach Brett Brown: Markelle Fultz didn’t mean to insult Philadelphia coaches

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After getting traded from the 76ers to the Magic, Markelle Fultz said, “It just excites me really to know that I have coaches that’s going to push you to be better and not just going to tell you what you want to hear.”

I don’t know whether Fultz intended that to sound like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. But it sounded like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Brown said Fultz “didn’t mean that.”He said the two have spoken back and forth.

“He’s a good kid,” he said. “He’s a good young man, and, truly, we wish him well.”

I’d prefer to hear that directly from Fultz. But I doubt he’ll do any more interviews this season until he plays again – and who knows when that will be?

Still, it can be difficult for a player to compliment his new team without sounding like he’s admonishing his old team. There was always a good chance that’s all that happened with Fultz. Brown’s explanation makes that even more likely.

Report: NBA formally submits proposal to lower draft age to 18, end one-and-done

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It’s coincidental this happened the day after Duke star and likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson sprained a knee in a much-hyped, nationally televised game. This is been in the works for a while and is now becoming realty:

The NBA formally submitted a proposal to the National Basketball Players Association (the players’ union) to lower the draft age from 19 to 18. Meaning players could be drafted to the league straight out of high school. While that will not come until likely 2022, the formal proposal starts the project, reports Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today.

The NBA has submitted to the National Basketball Players Association a formal proposal that will lower the draft-eligible age to 18 from 19, a person with knowledge of the proposal told USA TODAY Sports…

The league and union have had informal discussions about lowering the age limit, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver is on record saying the current 19-year-old age limit is not working for the league or college basketball.

This is the first step in formal negotiations to lower the age limit by the 2022 draft. The issue is collectively bargained between the NBA and NBPA, and both sides need to agree to any rule change.

There have been sticking points during those informal discussions between the sides. Specifically, the league wants to require that agents provide every team with full medical reports on players, and the league wants players to be forced to participate in some level of the NBA Draft Combine. As of now, agents often withhold medical info from teams they don’t want to draft their players (that doesn’t always work) and elite players often do little more than get measured at the combine. It’s a fight over information and the sides will need to find a compromise.

Silver had told reporters over the summer that the NCAA’s own report from Condoleezza Rice’s Commission On College Basketball called for an end to one-and-dones, and that has motivated him to end the practice. However, to give teams ample time to gear up scouting and get development programs in place, nothing will happen before the 2022 draft.

This has been a long time coming, the one-and-done rule is a compromise neither the NBA or colleges liked much, and it has made players resentful. What exactly the process will look like on the other side remains to be seen, but it should be better than the mess we see right now.