The Extra Pass: Seven NBA Draft prospects to watch Thursday in NCAA Tournament

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For NBA scouts and general managers, they have pretty strong opinions formed about players long before the NCAA Tournament tips off. A monster tournament is still just a handful of games and is not going to move the needle much. If it does that team’s decision makers are doing it wrong (*cough* Michael Jordan *cough*).

But for us fans, this is a rare chance to see all these future NBA players really get tested against top talent. This is when we make our big impressions.

With the help of Ed Isaacson of Rotoworld and NBADraftBlog.com (check out his regional previews of the East, South, Midwest and West) we give you seven guys to keep an eye on this Thursday as the NCAA Tournament tips off (we will have another group for Friday, so check back… also check out the PBT Podcast coming soon with Isaacson talking guys to watch).

• Tyler Ennis, point guard, Syracuse. We are drawn to guards with poise and this guy has it — he took over for Michael Carter-Williams and the Syracuse offense didn’t miss a beat. More than that, late in games Ennis makes big plays. A lot of teams have come around to him and he is likely to go in the teens — Isaacson isn’t as sold as most, however. “He’s everything you want in a backup point guard.” Is he a playmaker really worthy of a lottery pick? Like all Syracuse players it’s hard to read how good he is on defense, he gets to play center field in their zone and jump passing lanes. Where he can really make a mark is not Thursday (vs. Western Michigan) but Saturday when they likely face Ohio State and Aaron Craft. Look good in that game and Ennis can win over some detractors.

• Nik Stauskas, guard, Michigan. You remember him going bombs away last tournament, saving or blowing up your bracket with threes. He’s back and he’s more than that now.

Here is Isaacson on Stauskas: “This year with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. in the NBA, he has stepped up his offensive game, showing a much more versatile player. Still a deadly shooter from 3 (45% on 183 attempts), but has also shown that he can attack the basket and is a pretty good playmaker as the ballhandler in high screen situations. He has good size (6’6) at the 2, but his defense is still a work-in-progress.

• T.J. Warren, Forward, North Carolina State. Nobody doubts he can flat out score the rock — he was the reason NC State beat Xavier the other night. He can score in transition, he works well off the ball, plus he hustles on defense. What worries teams is that he doesn’t create his own shot all that well and he gets a large chunk of his buckets from the midrange, shooting just 27 percent from three this past season. NBA teams are not looking for guys to shoot from the midrange much (unless you hit 50 percent or better) so he needs to extend his range as a shooter. Still, a good tournament can help his stock a little.

• Patric Young, center, Florida. He caught scouts’ eyes early because he entered college with a man’s body, an NBA body. What he’s done with that body has been less impressive — good but not dominant — and he is now considered a second round pick.

From Isaacson: “Young has spent 4 years as the post player in an offense that is perimeter-oriented. He has one or two go-to moves in the post, but his offensive game is all about being physical, creating lanes and crashing the boards. He has an NBA body and strength, and 4 years under Billy Donovan has turned him into a good defender in the post and on the perimeter.”

• Adreian Payne, power forward, Michigan State. If you want to bet on one thing draft night, it is that someone on the broadcast will say, “Payne has a great motor.” Fans love guys like that and scouts have come around to him.

Isaacson: “A great combination of size, athleticism and skill, Payne finally put all of those together to have a great final season. He is a skilled enough post player to play with his back to the basket, but also has the ability to face up and knock down jumpers or drive by his man to the basket. Payne has the shooting ability to used in pick-and-pop situations. No one would call him a great defender, but he has worked hard over the past 4 seasons to be a good one.”

• Gary Harris, Michigan State. This is the guy everybody has been watching for the Spartans — he is the leader of the team the President picked to win it all (no pressure). In an injury riddled season for the Spartans he has been the one guy who was solid and there for them nightly. He’s athletic but doesn’t always use that to his best advantage. The guy can shoot the rock and he’s a strong defender. But there are questions about how he will do against the longer, better athletes of the NBA. Still, you watch him and know there is a place for him in the NBA (he is projected to be drafted in the middle of the first round.

• Montrezl Harrell, power forward, Louisville. I’m picking Louisville to win it all this year so you know I am counting on him to have a big tournament. He’s got plenty of physical tools and he plays hard on both ends (he can switch picks onto guards because he is fast and mobile). He’s going to have a couple big dunks in the tournament — very possibly in transition as he loves to run — and do it through contact (he’s a finisher). He’s still a bit raw but if he goes to a team that can develop players in a few years they may have a guy they like a lot in their rotation.

Dallas who? Yogi Ferrell reportedly quickly agrees to new contract with Sacramento

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Yogi Ferrell has been a solid backup point guard for the Mavericks the past couple of years, and this summer he wanted to re-sign with them — but he did so on a bad contract for him. He didn’t take the one-year qualifying offer for $2.9 million on the table, instead agreeing to a $2.5 million contract with a team option for $2.7 million the next year — he took less money and gave Dallas all the power.

Ferrell backed out of that deal — not a good look, even if it was the right move for him.

Quickly, he found a better one with the Sacramento Kings, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

That’s more money, but we do not yet know if the second year is fully guaranteed.

In Sacramento, Ferrell will come off the bench behind De'Aaron Fox at the point, and he should get plenty of run. Guys like Buddy Hield will love playing with him, and Ferrell is not big, but he is durable (he played all 82 games last season in Dallas).

This is a solid signing by the Kings, and for Ferrell it appears to be a better deal.

Dallas has had more than one player back out of a deal with them. It’s unlucky.

New 76ers big Mike Muscala in February: I don’t like the 76ers because they, especially Joel Embiid, talk a lot of trash

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The 76ers are trading for the Hawks’ Mike Muscala, which makes sense on multiple levels.

1. Philadelphia wanted a stretch four after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal.

2. Muscala, on an expiring contract, carries no long-term drawbacks.

3. Because Muscala can also play center, that allowed the 76ers to dump Richaun Holmes and clear a roster spot for Jonah Bolden.

But Muscala might have to answer for these February comments about Philadelphia and Joel Embiid.

Muscala on the Road Trippin’ podcast (hat tip: Jeff McMenamin):

I don’t like the Sixers.

I just don’t like them. I just feel like they talk a lot of s—, especially Embiid.

I understand there’s going to be some trash-talking. But I just feel like – I don’t know. Sometimes, I just – I respect players that just let their play do the talking. And I think sometimes, it just gets excessive, especially with Embiid.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the league. I think it’s entertaining, and I think people can feed off of that. In a weird way, I respect him for being to do that, because it takes a lot of guts and confidence, at the same time.

This is a deal, but it’s not necessarily a big deal. The NBA has a long history of players clashing as opponents then meshing as teammates.

The biggest difference here is Muscala’s comments were public.

Sometimes, it takes a conversation to clear the air. Occasionally, the grudge lingers. But usually, this is just dismissed as just the byproduct of competition and moved past.

I doubt Embiid – who, for what it’s worth, is an excessive trash-talker – holds this against Muscala, save maybe a few jokes. I’m even more confident Muscala isn’t joining Philadelphia loudly espousing his anti-trash-talk stance.

Besides, trash-talking is way more fun when on a winner like the 76ers rather than a loser like the Hawks.

Report: After deal with Warriors leaked, opposing players called DeMarcus Cousins about reneging

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DeMarcus Cousins agreeing to sign with the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA.

But a few astute players noticed he hadn’t yet put pen to paper.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

As soon as word leaked that Cousins was Bay Area-bound, players around the league began calling him to gauge his mindset, and some even attempted to influence him to change his mind.

Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was one of the players who wanted to know what was going on.

“Shout out to my dog CJ,” Cousins said with a laugh. “I mean, it’s funny of course. But me and CJ have that type of relationship where we rap about all that type of stuff. In a way he was congratulating me, but at the same time he was dead serious [about what I was going to do]. But at the end of the day, I think he understood my situation and kind of where my mindset was with the whole situation. That’s my dog for sure.”

To be fair, it’s unclear whether C.J. McCollum encouraged Cousins to sign with the Trail Blazers.

I find this especially interesting as players are lining up to criticize the Raptors for their handling of DeMar DeRozan. Apparently, not all players find verbal agreements binding. Yogi Ferrell and Nemanja Bjelica clearly don’t, and I doubt only those two called Cousins about backing out with the Warriors.

Everyone is trying to get an edge, and people’s boundaries differ. I believe in honesty as a mandate, but I’m perfectly fine with misleading people and hiding behind technicalities in these situations. To some, I go too far. To others, I don’t go far enough. It can get messy when our ethical boundaries don’t neatly align.

Cousins upheld his pledge, maybe because he believes in standing by his word – but at least because he probably still viewed the Warriors as his best option. Which is mostly the point. The easiest way to remain honest in these situations is having a thorough understanding of all relevant factors before promising to sign somewhere.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri apologizes to DeMar DeRozan for ‘maybe a gap of miscommunication’

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DeMar DeRozan has made his stance clear: The Raptors lied to him before trading him to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.

Today, Raptors president Masai Ujiri explained himself.

Eric Koreen of The Athletic:

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

Ujiri should have not have lied to DeRozan. If he did, Ujiri should face immense criticism for it.

But I don’t know whether Ujiri lied and am definitely not assuming he did.

He didn’t necessarily owe it to DeRozan to explain exactly where negotiations with San Antonio stood. If Ujiri said he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan and truly meant that but was also trying to trade DeRozan, saying he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan wouldn’t have been a lie.

There’s no point in upsetting a player you might keep – as long as it doesn’t require dishonesty. I’m OK with misleading technicalities. That’s on players and agents to decipher.

As Ujiri said, his job is to win. That’s sometimes a messy and upsetting process.

There is some room for kindness, but it’s often at times like this – after the player is traded. I believe Ujiri went out of his way today to praise and try to placate the likable DeRozan. That’s why I don’t take Ujiri’s apology as an admission of wrongdoing. Better just to be nice now.

A couple weeks ago, Ujiri’s role was different. He was trying to negotiate a high-stakes trade, not please a potentially outgoing player.

As long as Ujiri did so honestly, I’m OK with that.