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

23 Comments

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.

Report: Rockets’ Brandon Knight underwent knee surgery, will miss ‘some time’

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Though Rockets general manager Daryl Morey talked up Brandon Knight‘s ability to contribute on the court, I’m unconvinced Houston saw Knight as anything other than a necessary burden to dumping Ryan Anderson‘s salary via trade.

But if the Rockets wanted Knight to play, they won’t have him anytime soon.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Knight missed all of last season with a knee injury. He struggled on the court the two years before that.

It’ll be a long road before Knight helps a team with Chris Paul, James Harden and Eric Gordon as ball-handling guard. Heck, it might be a while until Knight can even eat up minutes while allowing those superior players to rest.

But at least Anderson’s contract is gone.

Rumor: Tom Thibodeau would rather leave Timberwolves than trade Jimmy Butler for young players, picks

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
2 Comments

Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau reportedly doesn’t want to grant Jimmy Butler‘s trade request, which mostly sounds like Thibodeau trying to preserve leverage.

But maybe Thibodeau would actually put his money where he is mouth is.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

According to multiple league sources, coach Tom Thibodeau has no intention of letting Butler go for young, rebuilding-type pieces.

Thibodeau has zero interest in taking a step back with Minnesota, even, according to sources, if it means he ultimately parts ways with the team.

“No one expects Tom to coach a 25-win or even 35-win team,” one front-office executive told Sporting News. “Even if he has to agree to dissolve the contract, they’d do that before they go and trade Butler for draft picks.”

It’s unclear how much of this is hearsay. Thibodeau has a reputation for being unrelentingly competitive, and maybe people around the league are just supposing how that applies to his situation in Minnesota.

Remember, Thibodeau went 31-51 his first season with the Timberwolves – by far his worst record as a head coach. He didn’t quit.

He did trade for Butler after that season, though. And that fast-tracked Minnesota to 47 wins and a playoff berth. It would be disheartening to step back after last season’s breakthrough.

But trading Butler wouldn’t mean losing him for nothing. Thibodeau could get helpful veterans in return. They probably wouldn’t match Butler’s contributions. The Timberwolves are operating from a position of weakness considering Butler’s trade request. But trading Butler wouldn’t necessarily mean just subtracting him from this season’s team.

Besides, Minnesota already has franchise-player Karl-Anthony Towns and other solid vets. It’s too late for a full teardown. Minnesota should compete next season no matter how this Butler situation unfolds.

If Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor somehow feels he must force Thibodeau into trading Butler for unready young players and picks, that would signal Taylor has lost faith in Thibodeau running the team. At that point, it might be Taylor – not Thibodeau – ending the relationship.

So, I doubt Thibodeau ever must choose between the scenarios laid out here. But if he faces that choice, I’ll believe he leaves that much money on the table when I see it.

Markelle Fultz reveals new jumper (video)

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Described by his trainer, Drew Hanlen, as having the yips, Markelle Fultz essentially stopped shooting jumpers last season. Hanlen has posted offseason workout videos of Fultz without showing the 76ers guard’s jumper.

How does the former No. 1 pick’s shot look now?

We can finally see.

The Players Tribune:

Fultz:

There was a lot of things going about changing shots and all this and the third. But, for me, I’m a hooper. So I was like, man, this ain’t going to stop me.

People really didn’t understand. They thought, “He was just being soft. But it was really an injury. And now I got a chance to just sit down and pick apart all these doctors. We figured it out, and I’ve been back to work this summer. And everything’s back to even better than what it was.

Hanlen said Fultz will be All-Star next season if 100%. It’s hard to see that from this video.

Fultz’s shot looks way smoother than the glimpses we saw last year, but questions remain:

Is his release point too low and his mechanics too slow to get the shot off during NBA games? How he is he shooting off the dribble? Will he shoot confidently in real games?

This is clearly progress, but it’s only a small step toward Fultz getting back on the track of a No. 1 pick.

Can Mike Budenholzer lift Milwaukee to top of East?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, with today the Bucks and their new coach in the spotlight.

Jason Kidd was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame just more than a week ago, and with that came the flood of memories (and videos) of what a legendary player he was at his peak, leading the New Jersey Nets to the Finals in the early 2000s.

Unfortunately for the Milwaukee Bucks, coach Jason Kidd’s offensive and defensive philosophies seemed stuck in that same era. The Bucks’ corner offense was run at a slow pace and lacked much strong-to-weak ball movement or shooting that would have created space for stars to operate. Kidd’s defense was ultra aggressive to the point teams turned that against the Bucks with a couple of passes, which led to quality shots. In spite of that Milwaukee kept winning because of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and the talent on the roster, but talk to other teams around the league and they did not fear the Bucks. What they feared was the day the Bucks started using that talent in a modern way.

Enter Mike Budenholzer.

The former right-hand man to Gregg Popovich who went on to coach the Hawks to a 60-win season was brought in as an Xs and Os guru who would simplify the defense, then put Antetokounmpo and other Milwaukee players in a faster offense that worked to get their stars better looks.

How much can a coach and a system lift a team? Milwaukee is going to find out, and they are betting it’s a lot.

The Bucks don’t want to waste seasons of a top-10 player, a potential MVP such as Antetokounmpo (plus they are moving into a new arena in the heart of the city, this is win-now time in Milwaukee). Budenholzer has never had a talent like this on his roster as a head coach, and one of the first things he did was have a breakfast with the Greek Freak and talk about how together they would get him to take the next step.

“There’s a lot of reasons to be excited about coming to Milwaukee, but there’s no doubt that Giannis is one of them,” Budenholzer said at his introductory press conference this summer. “He’s so important to our success, I think he embraces his leadership role and how he needs to grow, improve and get better along with all the rest of us. So the excitement is through the roof, and how we can use and implement him defensively and offensively, it started some at breakfast and it will continue into the weight room today, tomorrow and the next day.

“And those are conversations I look forward to having with Giannis, and listening to Giannis too. I think he’s a smart player at 23, and he has an IQ and an understanding of the game. Together, I think he and I will push each other, but I look forward to pushing him. He believes it and I believe it, but he’s going to get a lot better as we watch him over the years.”

“A lot better” Antetokounmpo should scare the rest of the league.

Budenholzer’s offensive philosophy and motion offense fit better with the Bucks’ talent. He wants to run and get the ball out in transition, then use pace, misdirection, and side-to-side ball movement to create space for their stars to work in the half court. Then there’s the floor spacing, the Bucks were 25th in the league in percentage of shots from three, but a new philosophy and adding Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova this offseason should help change that. The Bucks are going to shoot threes and that should open up lanes for Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe to get to the rim. This should look like a different Bucks team.

However, the bigger changes and improvements need come on the other side of the ball. Despite the dated style under Kidd, the Bucks still had an offensive rating in the top half of the league. The defensive side, however, was the Bucks’ biggest weakness.

“The thing that probably stands out to me first is the potential on the defensive side of the ball,” Budenholzer said. “I would say that’s been always something that’s prioritized. We want to be great on both sides of the ball, and whether it be the last five years in Atlanta as a head coach or San Antonio at the end of the day has always been great defensively.”

Budenholzer has talked about simplifying the system and reads on defense, something that should be welcomed in the Bucks’ locker room. The team has good defenders on it, just put them in better positions and understanding the system should improve the Bucks on that end of the court.

Can Budenholzer make the Bucks a threat to Boston this season? Unlikely. But if everything comes together in a new system, how good can this Bucks’ team be, if Antetokounmpo looks like an MVP candidate again and the defense is improved. Philadelphia and Toronto may want to look over their shoulder and keep an eye on the Bucks.

This team might finally start living up to its potential.