PBT Draft preview: Dieng can help your defense now. The offense….

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PBT continues profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Today we look at a key member of the NCAA title team in Louisville.

Rim protection matters. It mattered in college at Louisville and it matters in the NBA.

And that is what Gorgui Dieng brings to the NBA — and can bring it right away. He is 23, a college junior, a more mature player who can give you something right now.

Sometimes as we get ready for a draft we pick apart what a player cannot do well, and there are plenty of things Dieng cannot do well — he is not good on much offensively (except pass). And because he is older at 23, what you see is much closer to what you get with him, he’s not a guy you throw the word “upside” at.

But he can defend in the paint, he measured with great length. He will end up getting used more in a Joel Anthony type way, but that can have real value in the NBA. DraftExpress has him going No. 17 in the coming draft (pre-lottery).

STRENGTHS

First off, he is NBA center sized — he measured 6’10.75” tall in shoes with a 7’3.5” wingspan and a standing reach of 9’3.5” standing reach at the NBA Draft Combine. Teams care about standing reach for bigs (how tall you are with your hands straight over your head) because that impacts shots taken around the rim. Dieng was second biggest at the combine (behind Rudy Gobert of France, who turned a lot of heads there.) Dieng did not do other drills at the combine due to a sprained ankle.

He can defend — he blocked a lot of shots at Louisville and protected the rim like you’d expect. But he also is quick and out on the perimeter can show out on a pick-and-roll and cut off a guard and recover — something key in the NBA game. He really works hard on the defensive end.

What’s more is he is mobile as a defender and rebounder — he can rebound outside his position. Meaning he doesn’t just box out and occupy a little space, if the ball comes off the rim somewhere else he can get to it. Rebounding is a stat that correlates well to the NBA (guys who can rebound in college can usually do it in the NBA) and Dieng averaged better than 9 rebounds a game his last two seasons at Louisville. That mobility makes him a good defender coming from the weak side as well (plus he can get out in transition).

On offense, he’s a pretty good passer and he has soft hands — he can catch and make plays right around the rim.

WEAKNESSES:

Pretty much everything on the offensive end. He shot 28 percent when he got the ball in the post last season, which is frighteningly poor. He can score right around the rim on open shots but at the NBA level he cannot create and is not of much use on that end. He is a nice passer, we should note, but teams will dare him to shoot.

He is just raw and at age 23 there is not going to be a ton of improvement that way. But if he can – if he can say find an 18-foot baseline spot or the elbow where he can become a threat to hit a jumper, his value as a guy who can keep offenses honest. He is never going to be a great scoring threat, he just needs to occupy a defender.

WHERE DOES HE GET DRAFTED?

Usually you say big men move up the draft board late, and in the case of young bigs like Rudy Gobert that will be the case. But Dieng is 23, his game is not going to change much from now going forward, he’s never going to give you much on offense. So don’t expect him to climb. DraftExpress has him at No. 17 and I would say somewhere just after the lottery makes sense. But unlike some of the guys taken then he can really help a team in certain ways next year.

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

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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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

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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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.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.