Three Stars of the Night: Justified Jumpers

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Play enough basketball and chances are you’ll run into a player who likes to justify his relentless jump shooting with a catchy phrase like, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take” or “there’s a reason it’s called feeling it instead of thinking it” or maybe “I was open.” These people, of course, are the worst. But when they do catch fire, you kind of have to laugh and just take the points.

Now, I’m not insinuating our Three Stars are relentless jump shooters, or bad jump shooters, or chuckers of any sort. That’s wrong. It’s just sometimes their shot selection when they start to feel it can be a little…questionable? Tonight though, with the shots falling, we can appreciate a good “no..no..no…YES!” bucket just like everyone else. To the stars:

Third Star: Jrue Holiday – (26 points, 10 assists)

It’s not tough to torch the Lakers backcourt these days. Whether it’s due to their inexperience (Darius Morris), too much experience and creakiness (Steve Nash) or energy and attention being devoted elsewhere (Kobe Bryant), they tend to let up a lot of points. But let’s not discount the effort Jrue Holiday showed — he’s a guy who is quickly becoming one of the most prolific and efficient isolation scorers in basketball. The 76ers pretty much run everything through Holiday, and he’s responded by scoring off his own dribble quite often, usually on tough pull-up jumpers. Holiday’s drive right down the middle of the paint late in the game, when the Lakers once again failed to foul in a situation they very obviously needed to foul in, served as the dagger and a nice cap to a night where he displayed some really nice scoring instincts. Holiday is a legitimate Most Improved Player candidate this year — he’s made a huge jump from last year.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony – (45 points, 14-for-24 shooting)

There was obviously a lot of concern with how Carmelo Anthony would play in Amar’e Stoudemire’s first game back…but so far, so good! Anthony started off ridiculously hot from the outside, as he’s done quite a bit this year, and looked every bit as comfortable as he has all season. With no help from New York’s typically sweet shooting role players, Melo really took the load and carried the day offensively with a season-high 45 points. It will be interesting to see how he works with Stoudemire going forward, but since Anthony has played with so much confidence and aggression all year, it’s hard to imagine his numbers suffering much. Losing to Portland at home is a bad, bad loss, but Anthony scoring nearly half of his team’s points on only 24 attempts is pretty impressive.

First Star: Josh Smith – (23 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks)

As you may already know, Josh Smith is not a very good spot-up shooter. It’s his one real blind spot in an otherwise pretty complete offensive game. Smith actually knocked down a few spot-up attempts tonight, which can sometimes cause more harm than good, but he didn’t let it deter his real value as a slasher and as a creator on a night his guards couldn’t get it going offensively. Smith showed the frontcourt chemistry with Al Horford that New Orleans is trying to develop with Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, but the Hawks’ duo benefitted from the familiarity that comes from all the years next to each other. I’m not sure what the ideal center next to Smith looks like since his skill-set is so varied, but Horford sure seems like a perfect match. Very quietly, Atlanta is a team to watch in the Eastern Conference now that they’re off the treadmill of good, but not great. This team has some sneaky sleeper appeal, especially when Smith is doing it all on both ends.

PUMA signs likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, hires Jay-Z

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When it was announced that likely top-three pick Marvin Bagley III signed a shoe endorsement deal with PUMA, we noted that they were going all in and spending big (Bagley’s contract is about three times the average high draft pick first shoe deal).

We didn’t know the half of it.

On Monday word came the German-based shoe manufacturer had also inked a deal with likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, had signed their original endorser Walt “Clyde” Frazier to a lifetime deal, and hired Jay-Z to help with the branding and on the business side.

That’s a heck of a day. And a massive commitment to the market.

Winning over people to buy PUMA basketball shoes is going to take a few things (including making great shoes), but getting high-profile endorsers is part of it. Ayton can potentially be that for them, a global brand ambassador.

Nick DePaula of ESPN broke the Ayton news and had details from the player himself.

For Ayton, there was plenty of interest in pursuing a shoe deal with Puma, although the brand has been out of the basketball landscape for 20 years since signing Vince Carter in 1998. Ayton shares a connection to two of its biggest ambassadors, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and pop star Rihanna of Barbados, after growing up in the Caribbean.

“Puma is pretty popular in the Bahamas,” Ayton said. “I’ve always seen the brand growing up. [Bolt] is one of the first people I saw with the brand. It’s important to me that someone I identify with and admire as an athlete is with the same brand.”

PUMA also reached an endorsement deal with NBA rookie to be Zhaire Smith.

Going old-school with Frazier was a classy touch.

But the surprise news was the partnership with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation organization. Complex had the story.

On top of that, JAY-Z has joined as the company’s president of basketball operations. “We’ve been working with Roc Nation for quite some time. They’ve been great partners to us for several years. We’ve done many different deals with many different ambassadors,” Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, told Complex. When Puma approached him about this opportunity, JAY-Z felt it “was something he wanted to be a part of,” according to Petrick.

Hov will have a hand in the players selected to join Puma’s basketball division, as well as assist in the art design and overall concept and direction of the brand.

Will this work?

Maybe, despite Nike’s stranglehold on the basketball shoe market (through the Jordan brand as well as endorsers such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant), there is room to get a foothold in the space. However, this needs to be a long-term commitment from PUMA where they not only design quality products but keep doing it for years and years. It’s one thing to maybe buy a pair of retro low-top Clydes to wear around, it’s another to get people to change the shoes the play in. People trust Nike and their products (and, to a lesser extent, Adidas and UnderArmor). PUMA has a lot of work to do to earn that level of respect.

But you can’t fault them for coming back with a big splash.

PBT Podcast: Risers. Sleepers. Who should go No. 2? Final full draft breakdown.

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Luka Doncic? Marvin Bagley III? Jaren Jackson Jr.?

If you were in the shoes of Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings, who would you draft No. 2?

In this latest PBT Podcast, Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster (who has been writing the in-depth prospect profiles such as Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton, and others — of NBC Sports try on those shoes — and go an unexpected direction with it — as well as breaking down the rest of the draft such as the risers, the sleepers, and is Michael Porter Jr. worth the risk?

Also, in the bigger picture, are we focused too much on the bigs at the top of this draft — the majority of guys who will go in the top six — when we just saw in the last two rounds of the NBA playoffs that a lot of bigs can’t stay on the court in those situations? Which of these draftees can?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.