Three Stars of the Night: Stretching Out

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The stretch big man has come a long way. I distinctly remember watching Sam Perkins play with the Lakers and Sonics through the 90’s and wondering how someone so big could shoot it from the perimeter so well. It was a little jarring to see. Perkins was 6-foot-10, about 235 pounds, and his eyes always looked half asleep — he made Tracy McGrady look alert by comparison. He wasn’t the most prolific 3-point shooter, but the way George Karl used him as a floor spacer and frontcourt partner next to Shawn Kemp was way ahead of its time.

Perkins was purely a specialist, but we’ve got a few different types of big men making Three Stars tonight. Apologies to Kawhi Leonard (more on him soon), Brook Lopez and Bradley Beal among others, but tonight was a night for big guys stretching out.

Third Star: Ryan Anderson – (31 points, 5-for-9 from 3)

If we’re talking “true” stretch bigs, Anderson should be first on every list out there. The 6-foot-10 power forward is on pace to lead league in 3-point attempts and makes for the second straight season, which is pretty incredible. We’ve talked about how big men have evolved at length here, but Anderson takes it to a whole different level. His 40 percent 3-point shooting makes him the perfect offensive pair next to more traditional bigs like Robin Lopez or Anthony Davis, and you have to give him credit for accepting a bench role after signing a big contract.

Although the Hornets’ place in the standings will almost certainly keep him from serious consideration, Anderson at least warrants mentioning for the Sixth Man of the Year award. He was a nightmare tonight in the pick-and-pop game, helping the Hornets to a big time blowout with his game-high 31 points.

Also, New Orleans? Love those Mardi Gras jerseys. It’s like watching three teams on the court instead of two.

Second Star: Byron Mullens – (25 points, 18 rebounds, 4-for-5 from 3)

Byron Mullens is a pretty awful shooter. Any other 7-footer who shot 37 percent from the field on 12 attempts per game would be told to go directly to D-League jail and not collect 200 dollars, but Mullens occasionally goes off for huge nights. Tonight was one of those nights, as Mullens scored Charlotte’s first ten points all by his lonesome. The artist formerly known as B.J. has gone for 24 and 27 points already this season, but his 18 rebounds were a season-high and helped snap Boston’s winning streak sans Rondo. That’s really the interesting thing about Mullens — the Bobcats are one of the only teams in the league who are in the position to ride out his brutal shooting nights so long as he can help elsewhere.

It may be tempting to tell Mullens to stop shooting so dang much, but what do the Bobcats really have to lose? If Mullens can develop from a 30 percent 3-point shooter to a 35 percent 3-point shooter, he’ll be a pretty useful guy to have around. Nights like this against one of the league’s best defenses will certainly buy him some time to see if he can become that.

First Star: Josh Smith – (26 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 4-for-5 from 3)

The universal frustration with Josh Smith for taking so many long jumpers turned into laughter tonight, as just about everyone watching this game couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Smith has a lot of the other qualities of a stretch big man. He’s a good passer from the top of the key, and he understands floor spacing pretty well. But that jumper. Oh, that jumper. Smith is shooting 29 percent this year from 16-to-23 feet — an atrocious number made even more hideous by the fact that he’s launched 179 attempts from that range. A max player he is not, unless you locked a GM in a dark room and made him watch highlights from this game on a loop.

Smith is consistently a great defender and a strong rebounder, but it was the J that led the way against the Mavs. Smith channeled the spirit of Dirk Nowitzki in a closely contested road win by connecting on 7-of-9 shots from beyond 17 feet en route to a game-high 26 points. Check for a blue moon in Dallas.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.

Rumor: Knicks will take Villanova’s Mikal Bridges at No. 9

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Most mock drafts have the Philadelphia 76ers taking Mikal Bridges at No. 10, keeping the Villanova star in Philly.

But what if he’s not on the board?

Marc Berman of the New York Post reports the Knicks are going to take Bridges at No. 9.

Sources have indicated Bridges still is the favorite to be the Knicks’ selection at nine Thursday — even if Michael Porter Jr. falls. The Knicks are starting to get cold feet on the uber-talented Porter after his latest mishap last week, when he incurred hip spasms before his on-again, off-again, on-again public workout in Chicago….

In the big picture, president Steve Mills and (new GM Scott) Perry need to land a central building block that will contribute next season to show Kristaps Porzingis, a restricted free agent in 2019, there’s a future, and also to entice a 2019 free agent. Point guard Kyrie Irving is squarely on the Knicks’ radar.

While Kentucky freshman forward Kevin Knox opened the Knicks’ eyes with a surprising workout and has gotten consideration late in the process, Bridges is the best bet. Perry said recently adding “a solid rotational player” at nine is as important as shooting for an All-Star.

It’s unlikely Porter is on the board at No. 9. The Cavaliers like him a lot and will take him if he falls to No. 8, the Bulls could grab his one spot earlier, and there are teams farther down the draft board looking to trade up and snag Porter.

Bridges projects to be just what Mills may want — a solid rotational player, and one who can step in soon and contribute.

But the Knicks need talent, and Knox out of Kentucky has the higher ceiling thanks to elite athleticism (he has climbed a lot of teams’ draft boards during workouts). He can play some three or be a small ball four, and if he shows consistency with his jumper, he has the athleticism to be part of a team’s core.

 

Knox may have the higher ceiling, but the Knicks need not to miss, and Bridges is that.

Ayton, Young, Porter and more: PBT’s in-depth draft prospect breakdowns

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In the days before the draft, there’s more smoke clouding the picture around the NBA draft than there is at a Snoop Dogg concert.

What you need to cut through all that is someone who knows these players, has seen them multiple times over the years, spoken to them, knows their game.

That’s where Rob Dauster comes in. The lead writer at NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk, he has seen these players while they were in high school, spoken to them, followed their college careers — and he broke down their games for us at NBC. It’s what you need to know about the top guys in the draft.

Check these stories out:

DEANDRE AYTON

He has the size. He has the length. He has the athleticism, explosiveness, fluidity, and mobility. He can space the floor and, in theory, both protect the rim and handle his own if forced to guard on the perimeter. In theory, Ayton is the total package and an ideal five for the modern NBA.

Whether or not he will live up to his considerable potential is a different story.

MARVIN BAGLEY III

Offensively, he’s everything that you want from a small-ball five. He can dominate in the paint, he can space the floor and he is aggressive and productive on the glass. He was a walking double-double in college and it’s not hard to project him being the same in the NBA.

The problem is that he is not a five on the defensive end of the floor.

JAREN JACKSON JR.

He will fit seamlessly into the modern NBA given the combination of skills that he has while the other four players projected to go in the top five this year have more question marks….

He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He shot 39.6 percent from three after shooting 43.8 percent from three on the EYBL circuit in 2016. He averaged 3.0 blocks despite playing just under 22 minutes a night as a freshman. He is as switchable as any big man in this class defensively because of his ability to move his feet. 

MO BAMBA

A 7-foot-0.5 center with a 7-foot-10 wingspan — which will be the longest in the NBA as soon as he steps onto an NBA court — Bamba’s ability as a game-changing defensive presence is at the core of what makes him such an appealing prospect. He finished with freshman season with a block rate of 13.2, averaging 4.9 blocks per 40 minutes and anchoring a Texas defense that finished the year ranked 12th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric…

There are questions about his strength and his toughness and his love for the game. Does he play because he’s addicted to the game, or is it simply because he was blessed with the physical gifts that will makes NBA teams salivate and invest millions and millions of dollars into him in the hopes that he pays dividends as the NBA’s preeminent defensive anchor?

MICHAEL PORTER JR.

He is a tantalizing talent that can do things athletically and as a shooter that 6-foot-11 people are not supposed to be able to do… He was good enough at Hoop Summit and on the all-star circuit that there were people that were projecting him as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft as recently as November.

But all of that changed in the course of the last seven months. It starts with the back injury… And that’s before you get into the questions about his position and his makeup.

Porter has a ceiling as high as anyone in this draft, but when the floor is as low as his is, it makes him a scary — and risky — player to take.

TRAE YOUNG

He became the first player in Division I history to lead the nation in scoring and assists, but he did it as a player that doesn’t like to play defense on a team that couldn’t figure out how to win late in the year.

Is he the second-coming of Steph Curry?

Or is he Jimmer Fredette?