NBA Draft Grades: Yes, New Orleans gets an A+

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Yes, this is very premature. I know that, you know that. But neither of us like to wait.

So here are my draft grades from 2012. We can look back on this together in three years and have a good laugh.

Atlanta Hawks: B
They got the best pure shooter in the draft in John Jenkins out of Vanderbilt, and Mike Scott is good value in the second round. There are a whole lot of big questions in Atlanta — like why didn’t you trade Josh Smith? —but these guys are solid picks.

Boston Celtics: B+
Jared Sullinger is a great value pick at 21, a guy whose high hoops IQ and game around the basket will be a fantastic fit with a veteran team. Fab Melo is a good gamble as a shot blocker.

Brooklyn Nets: F
The grade is not for their picks — I like getting Tyshawn Taylor and Tornike Shengelia in the second round — but for trading away a first rounder at the deadline rent Gerald Wallace who is leaving as a free agent. That No. 6 pick would have helped more.

Charlotte Bobcats: B+
Surprised they kept the pick after all the rumors (although I wouldn’t have moved it for Derrick Williams either). I like this pick because this is a team that needs to change the culture on the court and the hustle and leadership of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a step in that direction.

Chicago Bulls: C
They get a nice backup point guard in Marquis Teague out of Kentucky. Not thrilling, but nice. They played an iron shot off the tee into the middle of the fairway.

Cleveland Cavaliers: D
I don’t love the reach for Waiters (could they not have moved down to No. 7 and got the same guy?). To be fair it comes down to this — how good is Dion Waiters in a three years? A lot of scouts were high on him, and if he pans out it’s good pick. I’m not sold. I think they picked for need over the best player available. Adding Tyler Zeller via trade a solid move, but could they have used those picks better to round out the roster?

Dallas Mavericks: B-
They trade down, they sold off a late pick for cash to the Lakers. They got a few nice picks who may give them some minutes, but I like getting Bernard James out of Florida State. Everyone is rooting for him to succeed.

Denver Nuggets: B
I like the pick of Evan Fournier from France, he’s pretty athletic, has handles and does a lot of things well. Which is a good fit on that roster.

Detroit Pistons: A
They get an “A” not because I think Andre Drummond pans out — I hope I’m wrong but I think he ends up pretty average, or worse — but because it was a good gamble at No. 9. I also like the Khris Middleton roll of the dice.

Golden State Warriors: B+
Harrison Barnes falls to them and that is a great fit, he can be the three that they really need to round out the starting lineup — if he lives up to potential. Like the Draymond Green pick also.

Houston Rockets: C
GM Daryl Morey dreamed big but couldn’t pull it all off, so they are still stuck in the middle. I like the Jeremy Lamb and Royce White picks, one may really pan out for them.

Indiana Pacers: C
Meh. If they are lucky Miles Plumlee is the Jeff Foster for a new generation.

LA Clippers: C
Drafting Furkan Aldemir then trading him is neither here nor there. Big move was getting Lamar Odom back… we’ll see if they keep him or buy him out.

LA Lakers C+
Didn’t have many picks, but made a decent gamble buying Darius Johnson-Odom from Dallas. Not a game changer, may not pan out, but a decent gamble at that spot.

Memphis Grizzlies: B
Picked up one of the better sleepers in the draft in Tony Wroten. It may take a couple years but could develop into good rotation player in Memphis.

Miami Heat: B-
They traded their only pick, Arnett Moultrie, to the 76ers for potential backup big Justin Hamilton and a future No. 1. It’s moot, they don’t need rookies they need guys who can help now.

Milwaukee Bucks: B
They made a couple of quality picks. I’m higher on John Henson than most, and he can give them some defensive presence inside lost when Andrew Bogut was traded. Lamb can shot the rock, which is always handy.

Minnesota Timberwolves: C
They only had one pick at 58 at and Robbie Hummel is a feel good story who will barely if ever see the court.

New Orleans Hornets: A+
It was a no-brainer but they are still the night’s big winner. Taking Anthony Davis gives them the franchise player they need to build around. Austin Rivers is more of a gamble, I’m not convinced he’s the point guard you put next to Eric Gordon, but they could form nice backcourt for the future.

New York Knicks: C
The Knicks get an average grade for their “stash” pick of Kostas Papanikolaou who will stay in Europe a few years at least. Knicks fans at the draft get an A+ for their freak out reaction to the pick.

Oklahoma City Thunder: A
Baylor’s Perry Jones fell all the way to 28 and he is a great pick there. He’s got fantastic talent and this is a locker room that will make sure his head is screwed on right.

Orlando Magic: C
Don’t read anything into the Dwight Howard situation with the Andrew Nicholson pick. Nicholson may develop into a nice backup center, very different thing.

Philadelphia 76ers C+
A small gamble on St. John’s Maurice Harkless, but if he pans out he would be another athletic wing who fits their system well as a role player.

Phoenix Suns: B
Kendall Marshall is a solid pick as the point guard of the future — whether that future is next year or a couple years from now after Steve Nash retires.

Portland Trail Blazers: B+
I like the Damian Lillard pick a lot as a point guard of the future and Meyers Leonard will be solid. Not a bold stroke but some good picks.

Sacramento Kings: A
Thomas Robinson fell into their laps but they get a guy some GMs picking above them will regret not taking in a couple years. Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins form a formidable front line.

San Antonio Spurs: C
They picked Marcus Denmon at 59. I’d say a guy picked that late never makes the team but this is the Spurs so, who knows?

Toronto Raptors: B-
I like the Terrence Ross pick, he was one of the real sleepers in this draft and a great athlete. But could they have traded down a few spots and still gotten him?

Utah Jazz: C+
They took a gamble on small-school Kevin Murphy at 47, but that’s what you should do at 47. It’s a place for risks.

Washington Wizards: A
They get Bradley Beal, the shooting guard a lot of scouts thought was the second best player in this draft. He’s a great fit next to John Wall. I like the Tomas Satoransky pick as well.

Kevin Knox won over Knicks and now expects to win over their fans

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Kevin Knox took a call from someone who knew exactly what he experienced on draft night.

New Yorkers didn’t welcome Kristaps Porzingis with open arms, either.

“He asked me how the fans reacted and I told him I got the same amount of boos as he got,” Knox said Friday. “He just laughed and he said it’s all motivation and fuel to the fire, and he said just work and he said sooner or later they’ll be cheering for you.”

That’s what happened with Porzingis, who quickly won over those who loudly booed his selection in 2015 with his talent, competitiveness and work ethic.

The Knicks see the same traits in Knox, convincing them that the Kentucky freshman was not only the player to take with the No. 9 pick but that he’s ready to start and match up with the NBA’s best small forwards next season.

That’s why they decided a day before the draft they were taking Knox if he was available and didn’t waver from that even when Michael Porter Jr. was still on the board – disappointing some at Barclays Center who chanted for Porter and then booed Knox.

“I love the fact that he wanted to be at Kentucky, that he wanted to be a Knick,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “Says a lot about that kid that he wants challenges and so I think he’s going to fit exactly the way we want to build our culture.”

Beyond the 15.6 points he averaged last season while sharing SEC Freshman of the Year honors with Collin Sexton – drafted one pick earlier by Cleveland – Knox impressed the Knicks with his confidence. He chose to play at Kentucky out of Tampa Catholic in Florida and compete for playing time with the other talented players in Lexington, then agreed to play 3-on-3 in workouts when many top prospects prefer to do them individually.

And the annual outsized expectations faced by John Calipari’s teams should help Knox prepare for the pressure of New York, perhaps giving him a quicker adjustment period than Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ lottery pick last season, had after coming to the U.S. from France.

“That actually is going to be up to Kevin, what the learning curve is and how long the adjustment takes,” team president Steve Mills said. “But what I will say is that while all college basketball programs prepare guys to play in the NBA, the sort of pressure and the limelight and the spotlight you’re under when you make a decision to play at Kentucky I think does prepare you in a different way to play in a place like New York. So I think some of the things that are tougher for rookies to make adjustments to are some things that he’s already been through.”

The adjustment is likely much longer for 7-footer Mitchell Robinson, who the Knicks took with the No. 36 pick. A high school All-American in 2016-17, he enrolled at Western Kentucky but never played, instead leaving school and opting to train for the draft. He said he worked out daily, but hasn’t played competitively in a year so it’s unknown how soon he could contribute.

But Fizdale sounds ready to put Knox on the court right away on a team that used Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee as undersized small forwards last season.

“They’re both 6-5 and he’s got to guard LeBron and (Kevin) Durant and those are the 3s in our league,” Fizdale said. “So I feel like it’s a very good opportunity to have a chance to start.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

As expected, Denver’s Wilson Chandler to opt into $12.8 million next season

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Wilson Chandler played a workmanlike role for the Nuggets last season — more than 30 minutes a game (in 74 games), 10 points a night, shot 35.8 percent from three. His efficiency and value slipped from previous seasons but he still played a role for the team.

Not the kind of role that’s going to earn him a big payday as a free agent, so he will opt into the $12.8 million for next season, a story broken by Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler will exercise his player option for the 2018-19 season, league sources tell ESPN.

Chandler, 31, is opting into a $12.8 million salary instead of entering free agency this summer. Denver was notified of his decision on Friday.

Chandler’s name has come up in trade discussions in recent years, and no doubt the Nuggets would be happy to move his salary now, too. However, in a tight financial market it’s unlikely that’s happening without Denver throwing in a sweetener, and that’s not likely either. So it will be another season of Chandler in Denver.

Deandre Ayton arrives as symbol that Suns are on the rise

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PHOENIX (AP) — Since the heady days of Steve Nash came to an end, there have been few signs of joy from a dwindling fan base that watched the Phoenix Suns tumble to the bottom of the NBA standings and miss the playoffs for the eighth year in a row.

Then came the announcement that Deandre Ayton would go to the Suns with the first overall pick. A huge cheer went up from the several thousand fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday night for the draft party. General manager Ryan McDonough, owner Robert Sarver and coach Igor Kokoskov came out of their meeting room to watch and bask in that rare moment of sheer joy from the fans.

“It was a pretty special moment for our franchise,” McDonough said.

Not only that, but McDonough engineered a last-minute trade for swingman Mikal Bridges of Villanova, the 10th pick. It was a spendy move because Philadelphia demanded and got Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. But the Suns are weary of stockpiling assets. It’s time to cash in, they figured, and did it with that trade.

“We weighed the pros and cons of trading it heavily and carefully,” McDonough said. “We were only going to put it in play if we had a chance to get a special player and that’s how we feel about McKell.”

All four of the Suns’ picks showed up on a crowded dais in Phoenix on Friday – Ayton, Bridges, French point guard Elie Okobo (chosen 31st) and forward George King of Colorado (the 59th selection).

The 7-foot-1 Ayton towered over the others, in a white unbuttoned collared shirt and a sharp blue suit, but he looked and sounded a bit weary from the whirlwind of being the No. 1 draft pick. His only sleep lately, he said, was a couple of hours on the plane ride from New York on Tuesday.

“I’m just excited to finally get a jersey on and be able to play five-on-five again,” Ayton said.

Ayton had been the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick ever since the draft lottery and any doubts were erased when he went through an individual workout with the Suns, the only team which he did so.

McDonough said that Ayton’s workout “in and of itself was as impressive as I’ve ever seen in my 16 drafts in the NBA.”

Ayton is seen as strictly a center, so how does he fit in the modern style of the NBA, when center plays is diminished and players are essentially interchangeable, is a question. Ayton replied that he’s no ordinary center.

“I don’t like it when people think I’m just a guy down low,” he said. “They haven’t watched me shoot the basketball.”

Ayton and Bridges say they got to know each other well at the college awards ceremony in Los Angeles but never figured they’d be on the same team.

“It’s like I’ve known him my whole life,” Bridges said.

Now comes the hard work, molding a team with Ayton, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. A billboard of those three already has been erected downtown.

The Suns, so bad for so long, seem on the brink of being relevant.

“We’re very hungry,” Ayton said. “I think the great team chemistry and the work ethic that we have, especially us guys coming in, we’re going to bring it to the next level. We’ve got young lets. We can run all day. … We can really start a winning legacy.”

And Ayton is the reason for the sudden leap in optimism, even though he won’t turn 20 until next month.

“I embrace it a lot,” he said of the expectations placed upon him. “Through my career I’ve always had that on my shoulder, the expectations. I represent a whole nation (Bahamas) I just do that the best that I can and just help this community start over and be the best player I can possibly be. I just want to be the best great player.”

Kokoskov says Ayton possesses “a unique talent for the decades.”

Ayton said he wants “to be the best person on and off the court.”

Now the Suns move on to the next phase. Free agency starts July 1 and McDonough wants some veteran players to add to this very young core. He said the team should have $15 million to $20 million to spend.

“We were aggressive last night with the picks and the trade up to get Mikal,” McDonough said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive for the next couple of weeks in free agency. We’ve got some money to spend and we’re looking to spend it on the best players we can get.”

Hornets GM Kupchak: Kemba Walker focal point of franchise going forward

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — General manager Mitch Kupchak wants point guard Kemba Walker to end his NBA career right where it started — with the Charlotte Hornets.

Kupchak said Friday that Walker is “revered” in the Charlotte community, and that he and owner Michael Jordan look at the two-time All-Star as “the focal point of this franchise going forward.”

The 28-year-old Walker has been the subject of possible NBA trade talks as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract with the Hornets. That speculation has amped up recently because it is a practical impossibility for Charlotte to sign Walker to an extension before he becomes a free agent in July of 2019 since the Hornets are so tight under the salary cap.

“I think everybody is aware of the situation, if you follow basketball a little bit, it is unique that he is on an extension that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak said.

At $12 million per year, Walker well underpaid when compared to the other top point guards in the league.

But that doesn’t mean Kupchak is giving up hope the team can keep Walker in Charlotte.

“I don’t think it is anybody’s goal to lose him in free agency,” Kupchak said. “But going forward, in the community, in the franchise, this is a player that we hope is with us – not only for the next couple of years, but ends his career here.”

The Hornets don’t have much experience behind Walker at point guard.

They have last year’s first-round draft pick Malik Monk and drafted Devonte Graham from Kansas in the second round on Thursday night.

Graham said he is excited to pick Walker’s brain when it comes to basketball.

“I have never met him, but I remember watching him play when he was at UConn though,” Graham said. “I’m just excited man to learn from someone like that and just be around someone like that who is winner, and knows how to win and compete. I am looking forward to being able to learn from him.”