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

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NBA scouts and front office personnel already have strong opinions about guys they want (or don’t want) to draft come June, although a good tournament run can move a guy up a few slots.

For us fans, the NCAA Tournament is when we watch 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 NBADraftBlog.com and Rotoworld (check out Ed’s regional previews of the EastSouthMidwest and West) as we give you seven guys to keep an eye on this first Friday of the NCAA Tournament — and Friday is loaded with future NBA talent.

• Jabari Parker, forward, Duke. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up as the Rookie of the Year next year — he is more ready than any other guy in this draft to walk in and start scoring in the NBA next season. He has an NBA ready body with good length, more important he is an incredibly versatile scorer — he can score with the jumper, with his back to the basket, catch-and-shoot, off the bounce, likes to get out in transition and can finish at the rim. The NBA comps are guys who can fill it up with versatile games like Carmelo Anthony and a young Paul Pierce. That’s good company.

Here is Isaacson on Parker: “A highly skilled scorer for a freshman, Parker is a tough matchup for most college defenders. He is comfortable in the post and on the perimeter, can attack of the dribble, and can the run the floor as well as most guards. As good as he is on offense, his defensive lapses can be that bad. Needs to learn a lot of the defensive basics, but still finds a way to be a good rebounder.”  

• Doug McDermott, forward, Creighton.  One guy on this list I got to see in person (he dropped 21 points in 11 shots on my Long Beach State 49ers). Another guy who just knows how to put points on the board and can do it a variety of ways — he is a threat from the post all the way out to the three point line. He moves very well off the ball and he has a quick catch-and-shoot stroke — things that will transfer well to the NBA. He’s not going to be an NBA All-Star but he is potentially a quality starter/rotation player for many, many years. He’s not athletic by NBA standard and that will limit his ceiling — there are guys that can stick with him at the next level and guys he will not be able to stick with. But he can score and at the end of the day if you can put the leather ball through the round hole you will stick around for a long time.

•  Andrew Wiggins, small forward, Kansas. Just sit back and enjoy the show with him. Everybody’s No. 1 pick coming into the season took some lumps from fans and some media early in the season as he didn’t live up to unrealistic expectations, as he adjusted to Bill Self’s team-first system (Wiggins really bought in) and to the NCAA game. Isaacson noted the same thing happened to Ben McLemore last year. But while some talking heads were down on him NBA scouts really never were — they were seeing growth in his game where they wanted to see improvement. Once he got comfortable (and with Joel Embiid out) he really started to assert himself and look like the No. 1 pick — he is incredibly athletic, can create his own shot, can rebound and defend. His shot needs to be more consistent (35 percent from three) and his handles need to improve, but he has a good work ethic and as those things get better the sky remains the limit for him. If he doesn’t go No. 1 it’s because one GM loves his teammate Embiid more.

• Kyle Anderson, small forward, UCLA. This is the guy NBA scouts can’t agree on. He’s a 6’9” point guard who will not play point guard at the next level but more likely will be a three who can handle the ball and is pass first minded. He’s a playmaker. That versatility intrigues teams. Problem is he’s also not athletic by NBA standards and with that struggles to create his own shot or finish at the rim when he gets there. His jump shot is not consistent. Isaacson compared him to Royce White — put aside the mental illness part of White’s NBA time and focus on his game. Where exactly does White fit in on the court? He’s got skills but has not been able to find his niche on the court and it could be the same for Anderson. Some scouts like him, some want their teams to avoid him like the plague. If UCLA gets to the second round and faces a good defense in VCU that would be a good test that could sway a few minds one way or the other depending on how Anderson plays.

• Julius Randall, power forward Kentucky. He’s the No. 4 pick in this draft on most boards, although if one guy slips a little it could be him (some teams are falling for Dante Exum and he could lead Randall, for example). Still, the guys is big, strong and can score inside. He can rebound, he can defend, he can flat out play at the next level.

Isaacson on Randall: “A bull in the paint. He can use his body to clear space on two defenders at a time, but has a surprisingly soft touch around the basket. Has a great understanding of using angles around the basket, though he has shown that he can also muscle shots up through defenders. For most of the season, almost exclusively used his left hand for everything, but he has started trying to make moves to his right. On defense, he knows how to use his body well to keep players away from the basket and to box out for rebounds, but needs to work on moving his feet.”

• Willie Cauley-Stein, center, Kentucky. You tune in to watch Randall but sometimes you get drawn to Cauley-Stein because he makes athletic plays. Sometimes you don’t even notice he’s on the court. Let’s just say he’s not consistent. You could see either version of him this weekend (or both, one great game and one where he floats through the game). That said NBA teams love bigs with potential and the very raw (especially on offense) Cauley-Stein likely will go in the late lottery area because of that potential.

Isaacson on Cauley-Stein: “Long and athletic, and has shown some nice improvement from last season when he was forced into major minutes after Noel’s knee injury. Great rim protector with uncanny timing on his block attempts, and he has also turned into a good defender in pick-and-roll situations. He is still very raw on the offensive end, though a lot better than he was last year. Has added a go-to post move, but his best offense comes from running the floor in transition. He was very inconsistent the last 4 or 5 weeks of this season, to the point of being benched.”

Aaron Gordon, forward, Arizona. He is arguably the best athlete in this draft (which is saying something), but he also plays a pretty smart game. He is a potential lock down defender. The problem is he’s got a long way to go on his shot — for example, he hit 43.5 percent from the free throw line this season. That’s worse than DeAndre Jordan.

Isaacson talks Gordon: “High-level athlete with ridiculous leaping ability and great energy. Uses those things well to be a force on the boards. Gordon is a very strong defender, especially out on the perimeter, for a freshman forward. Offense, other than catching lobs, is still a work in progress. He thinks he is a better ballhandler than he actually is and this leads him to force plays he probably shouldn’t. Jumper is inconsistent and his free throws are as bad. Still, he has a great feel for the game, is a good passer for his size, and is capable of making plays out of nowhere.”

Report: Knicks owner James Dolan used to play guitar on team flights after losses

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Knicks owner James Dolan is widely regarded as one of the worst owners in sports.

He’s also defiantly himself.

That came through in a lengthy profile by Ian O’Connor of ESPN. Dolan is still defending his organization after losing a sexual-harassment lawsuit. Dolan is still blaming Charles Oakley for an ejection from Madison Square Garden last year. Dolan is still trying to contextualize his relationship with Harvey Weinstein.

But Dolan won’t concede one eye-opening claim.

O’Connor:

Jim is the owner who years ago, on occasion, would play his guitar on the Knicks’ team plane — even after losses, according to several witnesses. “It was the last thing the players and coaches wanted to hear,” says one regular on those flights. “I just remember the looks on their faces.” (Dolan denies this claim and calls it “somebody’s fantasy.”)

Dolan has made a lot of enemies over the years. It wouldn’t be shocking if one made up a story to make him look bad and others corroborated it for the same reason.

Because it’s quite believable.

Dolan is more passionate about his music than owning the Knicks. This also wouldn’t be the first time he subjected players to his musical interest.

Occam’s razor suggests Dolan did this rather than a conspiracy existing to frame him. Besides, believing he did it is way more fun.

Ahead on Nets fastbreak, Rodions Kurucs whips pass… farther ahead (video)

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With D’Angelo Harris to his left, Rondae Hollins-Jefferson to his right, Joe Harris trailing and only Hawks in front of him, Nets rookie Rodions Kurucs passed ahead. Confidently. That was a bullet.

But to nobody – except maybe the referee. It looked high for the ref, though maybe an NBA player would have snagged the throw.

At Brooklyn still beat Atlanta, 144-127.

Wizards, Suns, Grizzlies blame each other for failed Brooks trade

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A three-way trade between the Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies fell part due to Brooks confusion. Phoenix thought it was getting Dillon Brooks. Memphis thought it was sending MarShon Brooks.

In the aftermath, the Wizards and Suns agreed to a simpler deal, swapping Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers for Trevor Ariza. But the saga was embarrassing.

So, it’s time to assign blame.

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“[Memphis owner] Robert Pera did not have any conversation with Suns owner Robert Sarver about the reported three-way trade. Our front office also didn’t have any conversations with Phoenix regarding the reported three-way trade prior to it leaking during our game tonight.

“We were floored to learn of the reports involving Dillon Brooks in the reported trade. We never discussed Dillon as part of this trade with Washington — which was the only team we spoke with concerning this proposed deal.”

Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

The Wizards entered into discussions about Ariza over the last 2-3 days. By that point, the Suns and Grizzlies were deep into conversations about a potential move with Memphis concerning Dillon Brooks. The two sides talked at least a half-dozen times over 7-10 days including at least one directl chat with owners of both teams.

With Dillon Brooks currently sidelined by a knee injury, the Suns requested the guard’s physical from the Grizzlies. Enough information and dialogue were exchanged during the process between all three teams that there was clear understanding of the players involved, at least for the Suns and Wizards. It’s possible what all witnessed was a bad case of nerves by the Grizzlies at the buzzer.

Gina Mizell of The Athletic:

Here’s how it all unfolded according to a source familiar with the Phoenix end of the night:

There never were any discussions between the Suns and Memphis about MarShon Brooks. And the Suns never had any interest in discussing that Brooks.

However, there were discussions for about a week between Phoenix and Memphis about Dillon Brooks. Washington was not involved in the discussions with either team at that point.

The Wizards inquired with the Suns late in the week about Ariza

Despite reports to the contrary, there were no discussions on Friday involving Suns owner Robert Sarver, according to the source. He was at the team’s holiday party for employees.

James Jones and Trevor Bukstein, co-interim general managers, were working together on talks with several teams and worked through Washington on the three-way proposal.

I don’t know who discussed whom. Maybe the Grizzlies really made up this Brooks excuse because they got cold feet at the last minute.

But I’ll give Wallace way more benefit of the doubt, because he spoke with his name attached. The spin from Washington and Phoenix is coming anonymously. If it’s shown he’s lying, Wallace will face the consequences of that. If the Washington and Phoenix reports are shown to be inaccurate, the leakers are protected by their anonymity.

For what it’s worth, I would have done the trade as the Grizzlies with either Brooks. I wouldn’t have done it as the Suns for either Brooks. Phoenix is better off now just getting Oubre, the most valuable player in the trade. Oubre is rough around the edges and headed into restricted free agency next summer, but the 23-year-old is still quite intriguing.

Russell Westbrook and Jamal Murray scuffle (video)

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The Nuggets had a productive weekend. A good way to tell: How aggravated their opponents got.

First, Russell Westbrook initiated a confrontation with Jamal Murray late in Denver’s win over the Thunder on Friday.

Royce Young of ESPN:

“I was standing in my spot, he tried to step over me, and then he shoved me first,” Murray said. “I guess they were losing or whatever, so I don’t know, ask him.”

Said Westbrook: “He was in my way.”

Then, after the Nuggets’ win over the Raptors yesterday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse lashed out at how Kawhi Leonard is officiated.

Nurse, via Eric Koreen of The Athletic:

“You can’t tell me that one of the best players in the league takes 100 hits and shoots four free throws, and they handed him two for charity at the end,” Nurse said in a two-part rant that will earn him a fine from the league office. “So he was going to have two free throws for the game with all the physical hits and holding and driving and chucking and doubling and slapping and reaching and all the stuff. It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everyone play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand it.

“Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

Westbrook and Murray each received technical fouls. Nurse will probably get fined.

But there’s only so much anyone can do about the Nuggets. They’re very good. Teams should get more prepared to handle frustration when facing Denver.