Even after tournament run, Shabazz Napier remains likely second round pick

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Shabazz Napier was probably the best point guard in college basketball this year.

The senior played his best ball when it mattered most and led the UConn Huskies to the NCAA title. LeBron James watched the NCAA Tournament and said Napier should be the first point guard off the board.

NBA talent evaluators saw his tournament play… and still have him pegged as a second round draft pick.

The first two point guards off the board will be Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Australia’s Dante Exum (the order depends on who you talk to, although most have Exum a little higher). After him comes Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis in the teens. Then late in the first round/early second Louisiana Lafayette’s Elfrid Payton. Then we get into the second round and a host of guys such as Deonte Burton of Nevada, Vasilije Micic of Serbia, Jahil Carson of Arizona State, and Jordan Clarkson of Missouri.

Napier, even with his two NCAA rings, is in the mix with that last mentioned group of second rounders. Maybe behind most of them.

Coaches will love Napier’s maturity, but general managers are looking for potential, the guy who will be the best point guard three years from now. By then Smart and Ennis will more mature and their more impressive physical skills give them a much hither ceiling. Napier is a senior, age 23, and he is farther along his development curve (what you see is basically what you get). Teams love Napier’s ability to create offense and his feel for the game as he does it. If he played baseball you’d call him a crafty lefty (even though he’s not a lefty), a player who gets by on creativity as much or more than athleticism. He’s a guy you can draft and play right away.

But he is not athletic for the NBA level, not explosive, and some of his crafty moves will not work against longer, faster players. Also, his decision making is not consistent.

PBT’s NBA Draft Expert Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com and Rotoworld has been working on his detailed breakdown of Napier’s game. He also sent PBT these comments.

“Napier’s play through the NCAA Tournament was impressive, though it put a big spotlight on both the good and bad of his game. He has great speed and is a tremendous ballhandler, and he uses both well to either get into the lane or create space for his jumper. He has the ability to create shots when you don’t think he has a chance, and he is also a consistent perimeter shooter (though that leg kick and fadeaway drives me nuts). Napier is an excellent defender, on and off the ball, and though he may not always get a lot of steals, he disrupts the flow of the offense.

“Napier’s biggest issues are with finishing around the basket, where his lack of size and strength force him to take some pretty wild shots, and his tendency to try and force bad passes. He will often look to make the spectacular play, with mixed results.

“It was a great tournament run, but I expect his draft value remains around the early second round.”

The second round means no guaranteed contract. Because he can play now he likely makes the NBA roster of whoever drafts him, but it’s going to be a fight to stick long term for him.

Stephen Curry cleared for contact, goes through full scrimmage with Warriors

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Stephen Curry is not sitting out the rest of the season. He wants back on the court — he’s targeting the first week of March — and the Warriors are not holding him out.

That got a step closer on Saturday when Curry went through a full scrimmage with the Warriors. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this after practice, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Yeah he scrimmaged today, first day of scrimmaging,” Kerr told reporters at the Chase Center practice facility. “We only had seven other healthy players, so there were two coaches out there scrimmaging too, it was not pretty, but Steph looked great.”

The March return for Curry seems on track. Klay Thompson will not return to the court this season.

The Warriors are not playoff bound, but there is no reason to sit out Curry and tank, either.

First, that’s not the kind of culture the Warriors have built, coming off three titles in five years. Second, the fan base could use the boost of watching Curry drain deep threes after a disheartening season to this point. Third, and maybe most important, what exactly would they need to tank for, better draft position? This is a down draft to begin with, so anyone the Warriors select likely can’t help them much next season anyway (which is why there’s a lot of speculation the Warriors may try to trade the pick). Also, with the flattened out lottery odds, they don’t gain much anyway. The Warriors have the worst record in the NBA, but the three worst teams all have a 14 percent chance at the top pick, and the fourth worst is at 12.5 percent, fifth is 10.5 percent. Curry’s return for a month isn’t lifting the Warriors to the point teams will not want the pick.

We could all use to be reminded just how special Curry is as a player. Hopefully, we get to see that in a couple of weeks.

Kings return to Staples Center, beat Clippers for second time in a month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kent Bazemore scored a season-high 23 points, Bogdan Bogdanovic added 20 and the Sacramento Kings beat the Los Angeles Clippers on the road for the second time in less than a month, winning 112-103 on Saturday.

De’Aaron Fox had 20 points and eight assists for the surging Kings. They have won two straight out of the All-Star break and eight of 12 overall.

Sacramento blew a 14-point lead in the second half to a Clippers lineup missing injured stars Paul George and Patrick Beverley. But the Kings then shut out Kawhi Leonard and the Clips for more than five straight minutes down the stretch, making a decisive 10-0 run capped by Harry Giles’ percussive dunk with 58 seconds left.

Leonard scored 31 points in his return from his MVP performance in Chicago, but the Clippers returned from the All-Star break with their first three-game losing streak of the season. Lou Williams added 24 points, and Montrezl Harrell had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Sacramento had a big lead late in the third quarter, but the Clippers took their first lead of the day on Harrell’s leap-and-lean bucket with 8:30 to play.

The Kings reclaimed the lead on Harry Giles’ putback score with 4:17 left, and Bogdanovic hit a clutch 3-pointer two minutes later.

With the Clippers comfortably in third place in the Western Conference, George and Beverley are both getting extra time off to rest persistent injuries.

Reggie Jackson scored eight points in his Clippers debut two days after the Pistons bought him out, while Marcus Morris had six points and five turnovers in 32 minutes in his home debut nearly two weeks after the Clippers acquired him in a three-way trade.

With George and Beverley sidelined, Clippers coach Doc Rivers used his 28th starting lineup in 56 games, putting newcomers Morris and Jackson in the mix. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these unfamiliar Clippers returned from eight days off and missed 13 of their first 14 shots on their way to a 4-for-24 first quarter with five turnovers.

Sacramento wasn’t much better, but Bazemore scored 15 points in the first half. Los Angeles had more turnovers than field goals until late in the half, but Jackson’s first basket for the Clippers was a 3-pointer in the final second before halftime.

Tonight Miami retires Dwyane Wade’s number, time to watch some career highlights

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Next stop: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

But first, the Miami Heat will retire Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 jersey tonight, the highlight of a weekend-long celebration.

That seems like a good reason to sit back and watch some vintage Wade highlights. His best play from every one of his NBA seasons is above.

Or, here are the top 35 plays of his career.

Also, just a reminder that Wade’s influence in Miami goes well beyond the court.

Miami’s No. 3 deserves every bit of love he will get from the Miami crowd.

No tanking for Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns wants to return to court this season

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Karl-Anthony Towns will be sidelined a couple of weeks, at least, with a fractured left wrist. When he returns, there will be 15-17 games left in the season, at most (and the Timberwolves are not headed to the playoffs).

Time to shut him down and tank for a lottery spot?

Not in Minnesota. Towns wants back on the court when healthy,  sources told Jon Krawczynski at The Athletic, plus it’s the right move for the franchise.

“When he’s healthy enough, we’ll be able to make those decisions, but make no mistake, we’re a group that is competing,” coach Ryan Saunders said before a 127-117 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday night. “You get better and you grow by doing the right things. That’s by, (no matter what) your record is, you’re not looking at the record.”

The translation: The Wolves don’t plan to let their place in the standings dictate their decision with Towns. League sources told The Athletic that Towns desperately wants to return to the court this season to play with Russell, Malik Beasley and the rest of a completely revamped Wolves roster.

There are a few reasons this is the right move for Minnesota.

• It has been a frustrating season for Towns, he is the franchise player, he wants to play, it’s best to keep him happy (and not dreaming of greener pastures elsewhere).

This is not a draft with elite talent at the top of it, so what exactly are the Timberwolves tanking for?

• Towns and Russell could use the time on the court to become more accustomed to each other’s games.

• The coaching staff and front office could use the time to evaluate the fit of players they have around Towns and Russell.

There are times that tanking makes sense, although the viability of that as a strategy has decreased some with the flattened out lottery odds. However, considering this draft and the value of having Towns and Russell on the court together, it doesn’t make sense for Minnesota.