NBA prospects in NCAA Tournament: Seven guys to watch Thursday/Saturday

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The NCAA Tournament, with its orgy of games the first weekend, is a hoops junkie’s dream. It is also when a lot of fans of an NBA team — particularly lottery-bound NBA teams — fall in love with a particular player they hope their team can draft come June. NBA scouts and GMs already have far more formulated opinions on players by this point; they want to see how players react to better competition, and under the pressure of a lose-and-go-home situation.

While watching your bracket disintegrate (you know it will), here seven NBA prospects to keep an eye on from the Thursday/Saturday games. We reached out for some expert opinions from Ed Isaacson of Rotoworld and NBADraftBlog, as well as Rob Dauster of our NBC sister site CollegeBasketballTalk.

Of course, any tour of potential draft picks starts in Kentucky.

1) Karl Towns, Kentucky: Half of the most-watched front line in college ball, Towns is a potential No. 1 pick (depending on who lands the top spot in the lottery). He’s got an NBA body, and defensively is solid on-ball, plus can block shots and protect the rim. Offensively he knows how to score in the post, but also he shoots 82 percent from the free throw line and shows that he could have an impressive midrange game (or beyond) game as well. He could take a couple years to develop but in three to five years could be the best player out of this class.

From Ed Isaacson: “He can move. In a lot of ways, he moves like a wing when he gets the ball in his hands. And he’s skilled. He’s a very skilled player, especially on the offensive end. When he gets the ball, he has a lot of options. He can back you down, he can face you up.”

2) Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: It’s hard not to love his athleticism and defense — he’s a 7-footer who can show out off a pick and switch onto a guard without losing a beat. He is the key reason Kentucky’s defense is fearsome, plus he can get back and block shots. His offense is raw, but think of Cauley-Stein like a more athletic Nerlens Noel.

From Ed Isaacson: “If you’re going to have him on the floor at the NBA level you’re going to have some things you have to work around. But in terms of a raw, long, athletic big guy it doesn’t get any better than him in this draft.”

3) Devin Booker, Kentucky: This is a 6’5” two guard who could slip down draft boards after the combine — he’s not long, he’s not mind-blowingly athletic. But the name of the game is getting the leather ball through the metal ring, and that Booker can do that — he is a pure shooter. He provides the floor spacing that the Wildcats need with those bigs.

From Ed Isaacson: “He’s probably a better athlete than people give him credit for. He’s a very good defender, especially out on the perimeter he can contain…. What makes Booker so attractive is the guy can shoot. There are very few shooters like him in this draft. Whether it’s off the dribble, off the catch, coming off screens, he’s as competent a shooter as you’re going to see in this group.”

4) D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: He is a guy who can score — 19.3 points a game, shoots 41 percent from three — but also is a gifted passer with great court vision. He’s also a big guard at 6’5” and it’s easy to put him in the Russell Westbrook mold of combo guards (although he’s not Westbrook athletic).

From Ed Isaacson: “I’m not as high on him as a lot of people. A lot of teams have found ways to be successful in pretty much stopping him — in all aspects, whether it be distributing the ball or scoring…. In games against the top 60 we’re talking about a guy who was shooting 36-37 percent, even less from three, was getting his assists but also was turning the ball over a lot more…. On the bright side, in a big spot he wants the ball, very aggressive, always looking to make something happen.”

5) Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. He’s one of the top two seniors in this NBA draft (along with Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin), and his game seems to have matured after missing the end of last season due to academic issues. At ND, he has shown both the ability to score and set up teammates.

From Ed Isaacson: “The Notre Dame offense runs through him, and after he had to leave for a year he definitely came back with a different mindset, becoming more aggressive. He’s done very well in pick-and-roll situations, especially finding guys — although it helps a lot when you have the shooters Notre Dame has on the perimeter… The problem with Grant is there is still a lot of that dribbling around, waiting to make something happen, which you see more in younger point guards. The thing that separates Grant though is you can move him over to the two — he’s a very good perimeter shooter, he can attack from the wing… the problem is he doesn’t have a lot of those natural point guard skills.”

6) Stanley Johnson, Arizona: At 6’8”, 240 he comes with an NBA body, and that plus his defensive skill set will make him a Top 10 pick for sure (DraftExpress has him No. 5 currently). This is not a guy with the perimeter shot or finishing skills to come in and put up numbers immediately in the NBA, but he has the potential to get there.

From Rob Dauster: “Stanley is a tough, versatile and physical wing. I think he has he potential to be an excellent defender at the NBA level, and his perimeter stroke has looked better as the season has progressed. He had a bit of an attitude issue early in the year, but he’s seemed to embrace the role he’s been asked to play now. My biggest concern with Johnson is his ability to finish around the rim. He tends to struggle finishing against length.”

7) Myles Turner, Texas: This guy passes the eye test as an NBA big at 6’11” and with a solid frame. He has a good shooting touch and plays a very high IQ game — he reads plays well. What holds him back is a lack of athleticism that could be exposed at the next level.

From Rob Dauster: “I love Turner’s skill set. He’s 6-foot-11 with long arms and solid timing when it comes to blocking shots, but he also has a nice stroke for someone his size. He hits three at the college level and can probably extend that range to the NBA line. He’s never going to be a bruising low post player, but he’s got a good feel for where he is around the paint and has shown off a nice turnaround/faceup jumper. But the concern with Turner is that he just doesn’t move all that well. He runs like it’s painful, and that’s never a good thing to hear about a freshman you’re going to invest millions into.”

DeMarcus Cousins on returning for Warriors in 2019 NBA Finals: ‘I had no business on the floor’

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We spent considerable time discussing whether the Warriors mishandled Kevin Durant‘s injury.

What about DeMarcus Cousins‘?

Cousins tore his quad in the second game of the 2019 playoffs. Golden State coach Steve Kerr said Cousins would likely miss the rest of the postseason. Cousins – who’d spent most of the previous year rehabbing a torn Achilles suffered with the Pelicans – later revealed he was ready to quit.

But Cousins played and even started in the NBA Finals

Cousins on All The Smoke:

I was terrible in the Finals. One leg, was a one-legged bandit on the floor. But you know what I’m saying? I wanted to be a part of it. Not only that, this is – in the Finals, you play hurt. If you can go, you can go.

That’s where you lay your body on the line. So, I went out there and gave it what I had. I mean, the results were unfortunate.

I helped. I helped in spots.

I wasn’t supposed to be on the floor.

I rehabbed a torn quad in six weeks.

And came back and played.

I had no business on the floor. None whatsoever.

I just kept telling myself, “This is what I’ve played for my entire career, to be on this stage, to have this opportunity. Whatever I’ve got to do to be able to be a part of that, I’m going to do it.”

I don’t even know how I did it, honestly, through the rehab. I went in there – s—, the first week, I laid in an oxygen tank, the first week, for like four hours a day, just laid there, ears, brain feels like it’s about to explode, bro. But it was supposed to promote healing and all this. So, I did that the whole first week. After that, rehabbed every single day. Maybe twice a day.

So, just to be a part of that moment. And I got the chance. Do I regret it? Hell no. That’s what I hoop for. Win or loss, I was a part of that. I’m OK with the results. Guess what? I got a little taste of it. I want it again. So, it’s all good.

I appreciate Cousins acknowledging that he pushed himself harder because of the stakes. It’s always dangerous playing hurt. But the cost-benefit analysis changes in the NBA Finals. This is the time players preserve their health for – especially Cousins, who spent years toiling with the Kings. It’s the time to more aggressively risk aggravating an injury.

That said, there are still limits. Teams should be somewhat responsible for protecting players from themselves. After everything with Durant and Andre Iguodala saying he broke his leg but the Warriors called it just a bruise, this raises more questions about Golden State’s handling of injuries.

Cousins felt the consequences hard.

Durant still got a potentially max four-year contract. Cousins settled for just $3.5 million for one year. Then, he tore his ACL over the summer. I definitely can’t say that’s related to rushing back from the quad injury, but it’s at least reasonable to wonder whether these leg injuries are building on each other. The Lakers waived Cousins, and though they might re-sign him, that’d probably be for the minimum.

Cousins said he has no regrets, and we should salute his competitiveness. We can also feel sympathy for his predicament and question the Warriors for playing him. We don’t have to choose a single takeaway from a complex situation.

Draymond Green gets ejected, LeBron James tries to hide smirk (video)

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Steve Kerr vented after the Warriors’ loss to the Lakers last night.

Draymond Green did it during the game.

Green got a technical foul midway through the second quarter. Eleven seconds later, he got another tech and automatic ejection.

LeBron Jamessidelined due to a groin injury – sure enjoyed the spectacle from the Lakers’ bench.

Green might have also enjoyed the aftermath, getting an early exit from Golden State’s 30-point loss.

Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid out at least a week, Sixers shift focus to getting healthy

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Joel Embiid will be out at least a week, Philadelphia shifts focus to getting healthy. Clippers coach Doc Rivers was asked about this Monday night, in the wake of his team having a rash of injuries this season while also making sure guys got to rest during the 82. If forced to choose, Rivers wants his team fully healthy entering the playoffs and would give up good seeding to get it.

That’s where the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves now. Coach Brett Brown may not want to have to choose, but ultimately he and his Sixers need to get healthy before the playoffs start. That has to be the priority.

Joel Embiid will be out at least a week with a sprained shoulder, although the MRI reportedly showed no structural damage. As much as Embiid will push to get back on the court, he’s been playing through a few minor injuries and this is the time the Philly staff should make sure he is right before the physicality of the playoffs comes.

Embiid being out is on top of Philly’s other All-Star, Ben Simmons, being out weeks with a pinched nerve in his lower back. The timeline on Simmons’ return is harder to predict because backs and nerves are more unpredictable. He could miss more than a couple of weeks getting this right.

The Sixers responded well on Thursday with a 115-106 win over lowly Knicks, behind Tobias Harris’ 34 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. The Sixers are now 28-2 at home.

Next up is a stiffer test: Doc Rivers’ Clippers out in Los Angeles, the start of a four-game road trip through the West.

2) Anthony Davis steps up with LeBron James out, the Lakers rout the struggling Warriors. For Golden State, the cavalry — in the form of Stephen Currycould ride over the hill as soon as Sunday to help save the day.

Thursday night, however, the Warriors looked every bit the worst team in the NBA going against one of the best in the Lakers.

Things went frustratingly poorly for Steve Kerr’s squad: Draymond Green got ejected in the second quarter, the Warriors turned the ball over 27 times, the Lakers won the third quarter 40-17, and after that there was a lot of garbage time on the way to a 116-86 Los Angeles rout of Golden State.

For the Lakers, this was the kind of win they need to keep a cushion on the top of the West (they currently have a 5.5 game lead over the second-seeded Nuggets, six games in the loss column). It’s the kind of cushion that lets them rest key players down the stretch before the playoffs — LeBron and company will call it something other than load management, but they shouldn’t worry about the semantics and just make sure guys get fresh before the postseason. That’s going to be a tough grind for everyone.

3) The NBA fines Minnesota $25,000 for resting a healthy D’Angelo Russell. Minnesota shrugs. The NBA knew that when it came to flopping, warning players and then, after three violations, fining them $5,000, was not the kind of financial hit that would get players to stop doing it. The hope was that making it public every time would shame them into doing it less. In the aggregate, it worked.

It’s not going to be the same with fining teams $25,000 for resting healthy players. It’s just going to lead to a semantics dance.

Thursday the league slapped a $25K fine on Minnesota for “violating the league’s player resting policy.” The league is very sensitive to the “load managment” PR issues.

The Timberwolves’ response was essentially a shrug.

The new management team in Minnesota is very focused on modernizing the health and player development programs in the organization. Resting Russell was part of that, and if they felt the need to make sure Russell was good to go for future games they were not going to be dissuaded from sitting him.

Especially if the cost is just $25,000.

Every other NBA team is going to feel the same way. At this point in the season (and much earlier than this, in reality), every NBA player has bumps/bruises/strains/aches that could use a little rest to get healthy. It is not a stretch for teams to say, “Player X is out due to a sore ankle” (or whatever body part they choose) as opposed to listing him out for rest. It’s a loss for transparency, but teams aren’t going to do things differently. Nor should they. Player health — and, in some cases, making sure they are rested and right for the playoffs — should be the priority.

Frustrated Steve Kerr vents a little after Warriors loss to Lakers (VIDEO)

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Nothing that happened should have been a surprise: The Lakers are one of the NBA’s best teams this regular season and even without LeBron James should have had little trouble with the worst team in the league this season, the Warriors. They didn’t. Draymond Green got ejected in the second quarter, the Warriors turned the ball over 27 times, the Lakers won the third quarter 40-17 and from there cruised to a 116-86 rout of Golden State.

After the game, Kerr was frustrated with his team’s effort in its eighth straight loss. Via Logan Murdoch of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“We understand where we are record-wise,” Kerr said. “But we still have a standard that we need to play to and we didn’t do that…

“Tonight was a step backward in the second half,” Kerr admitted. “I was very disappointed with all of the turnovers. We just let things slip away from us…

“For the most part, this year has gone well in terms of our level of competition and energy,” Kerr said. “But that second half was not up to our standards…

“I think you can probably attribute the lack of continuity to that,” Kerr said. “We’re putting some lineups that haven’t been together all year. Having said that, a lot of careless one-handed passing, cross-court, right into the defender’s arms. A lot of plays that just had nothing to do with continuity and everything to do with fundamentals.”

The Warriors have some hope on the horizon in the form of the return of Stephen Curry, which could happen as early as Sunday against the Wizards. That is what Curry wants, Kerr is being a little more cautious, but it should happen soon.

That should bring a few more wins. Not enough to move the Warriors far up in the lottery, but enough to keep Kerr sane.