Which NBA team has best under-23 players?

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The Bucks finished an NBA-worst 15-67 last season.

Being bad stinks, but it’s a lot worse when you’re trying to be good. That’s why Milwaukee’s season was much more problematic than that of the 76ers, who went a similar 19-63.

But the Bucks realized the hole they’re in, so now they’re truly rebuilding. And owner Marc Lasry thinks they’re doing a good job.

Is Lasry right? Do the Bucks really have the best collection of players under age 23?

Here’s how I rate the NBA’s top dozen teams by the collective value of their under-23 players:

12. Thunder

  • Jeremy Lamb
  • Steven Adams
  • Perry Jones
  • Andre Roberson
  • Mitch McGary
  • Josh Huestis
  • Grant Jerrett
  • Semaj Christon

This is a deep group of players who could become long-term NBA starters, but Adams is the only one I think gets there. Still, there’s a lot of talent between McGary, Lamb and even Jones. And maybe Roberson, who has a knack for doing the little things, ends up better than all three.

11. Raptors

  • Jonas Valanciunas
  • Lucas Nogueira
  • Bruno Caboclo
  • DeAndre Daniels

Valanciunas is on track to become an All-Star, but there’s no guarantee he gets there and he’s the only under-23 Raptor of significant value. It’s not ideal to put all your eggs in one basket.

10. Hornets

  • Bismack Biyombo
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • Cody Zeller
  • Noah Vonleh
  • P.J. Hairston

This list includes multiple players – Vonleh, Kidd-Gilchrist and Biyombo – I know I’m higher on than most. So, I struggled to rank Charlotte, and I’m not sure whether I overcompensated or undercompensated for my personal preferences. Zeller really looked more comfortable late last season, and between him and Vonleh, I think the Bobcats have a strong future at power forward.

9. Jazz

  • Enes Kanter
  • Trey Burke
  • Rudy Gobert
  • Dante Exum
  • Rodney Hood

Burke and Exum could each become one of the NBA’s better guards, though it’s unclear whether they can reach that level together. Kanter hasn’t panned out as hoped, though it’s soon to close the book on him. Gobert, as Zach Lowe of Grantland detailed, has intriguing upside, though he didn’t play much last season. Essentially, it’s easy to find reasons for optimism, but just as easy to find reasons for pessimism.

8. Wizards

  • Bradley Beal
  • Otto Porter

It might not be long until Beal is the NBA’s best shooting guard, and though I don’t think he ever hits that level, he’s still very good. Porter had a rough rookie year, but I’m not giving up him yet.

7. Magic

  • Tobias Harris
  • Maurice Harkless
  • Victor Oladipo
  • Evan Fournier
  • Aaron Gordon
  • Elfrid Payton
  • Roy Devyn Marble

Outside of Oladipo, I’m not that high on any of these players – and I’m not even totally, absolutely, 100 percent sold on Oladipo. But it’s a deep collection of young talent, and I bet at least one other player emerges as quality.

6. Timberwolves

  • Shabazz Muhammad
  • Anthony Bennett
  • Andrew Wiggins
  • Zach LaVine
  • Glenn Robinson III

Wiggins has incredible potential. He went No. 1 in a loaded draft, after all. LaVine has tremendous upside, but he’s extremely raw. Maybe Bennett, who was awful last season, capitalizes on his impressive summer and turns around his career.

5. Bucks

  • Brandon Knight
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Jabari Parker
  • Damien Inglis
  • Johnny O’Bryant III

Lasry’s Bucks didn’t quite make it to the top spot. There’s a major disconnect between Antetokounmpo current production (not great) and potential (great), and I want to see more from him before I’m convinced he’ll bridge that gap. I would have taken Parker No. 1 in the draft, though I essentially viewed him and Wiggins as a tossup. Knight made major strides next year, and I’m interested to see whether he continues progressing as he settles into a larger role.

4. Pistons

  • Andre Drummond
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • Tony Mitchell
  • Spencer Dinwiddie

Drummond is a singular force individually lifting Detroit so high on this list. Underrated for what he already does, Drummond has potential to become the NBA’s top center – and it’s not a far climb. Caldwell-Pope, who could be a nice 3&D threat next to Drummond, boosts the Pistons, too.

3. Cavaliers

  • Kyrie Irving
  • Dion Waiters
  • Joe Harris
  • Alex Kirk

Irving is already a two-time All-Star, a true offensive game-changer. I think his defense could come around to at least competent now that Cleveland is ready to win. I’m not big on Waiters, but he has talent, and the Cavaliers are here due to Irving anyway.

2. 76ers

  • Michael Carter-Williams
  • Tony Wroten
  • Nerlens Noel
  • Joel Embiid
  • Dario Saric
  • K.J. McDaniels
  • Jerami Grant
  • Pierre Jackson
  • Adonis Thomas

Carter-Williams just won Rookie of the Year, and he’s a good athlete with great size for his position. Noel, for my money, was the best prospect in the 2013 draft ignoring his injury. We’ll soon see how much that affected him long-term. Embiid would have gone No. 1 in this draft if healthy. And Saric has impressed in the World Cup. The 76ers might be years away, but I like where they’re going.

1. Pelicans

  • Anthony Davis
  • Austin Rivers
  • Patric Young

Davis is just that good. He could be the NBA’s third-best player as soon as this season, so if you can get him, you do. Worry about depth or hedging bets later. Davis is the real deal.

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.