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.”

Reactions from NBA players to White’s game-winning putback for Celtics

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It was an all-time classic game, one that could be part of a legendary chapter in Celtics’ lore. Boston was on the verge of being sent home for the summer by the Miami Heat when Derrick White‘s putback as time expired won the Celtics Game 6 and forced a Game 7 Monday night.

NBA players were as stunned and excited as fans everywhere. Check out the reactions from players around the league — and a few others — to the Celtics’ dramatic win.

Three takeaways from wild night where Celtics force Game 7 thanks to Derrick White

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You were not alone in being stunned, blown away or whatever other description you can conjure up for the finish to Game 6. Look at the reaction from around the NBA.

The Celtics won 104-103 on a dramatic putback from Derrick White to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1) What. An. Ending.

When was the last time any of us saw a game this entertaining, this dramatic? Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, highlighted by the LeBron James chase-down block on Andre Iguodala? Game 7 of the 2019 second-round series between the Raptors and 76ers, the one with Kawhi Leonard‘s corner shot that bounced around on the rim three times before falling? There are others on the list, but whatever game you choose, this one enters the conversation of all-time greats.

On a night where they struggled from 3 — 7-of-35 for the game — the Celtics were still up 10 midway through the fourth quarter and seemingly in control. Then Boston gave it all away, slowing the pace down and not executing — or Miami seized the moment, depending on your perspective. While the Celtics got tight and struggled with their shot in those final five minutes, the Heat went on a late 15-4 run sparked primarily by Jimmy Butler (15 points in the fourth) and Duncan Robinson, with Miami attacking and pushing the pace, drawing fouls and getting to the line. It was a stunning turnaround.

Those drawing fouls included Butler drawing a three-shot foul on Al Horford with :03 seconds remaining. Butler drained all three free throws to put the Heat up one. Boston called a timeout to set up the final play, which didn’t go to plan — Marcus Smart took a turnaround 3 — but worked out thanks to Derrick White.

“I was passing it in. [Gabe] Vincent was on me, and he kind of was up top denying [Jayson Tatum], so I couldn’t get him the ball,” White said of the play. “And they did a good job of denying [Jaylen Brown], too and [Marcus] Smart flashed, hit him, and there really was nobody on me, so I just spaced to the corner, and when he shot it just tried to crash. Ball came to me, I made the shot.”

If Boston wins Game 7, White’s putback will be remembered in Boston sports lore like Dave Roberts stealing second for the Red Sox in their legendary 0-3 comeback against the Yankees. It was that kind of moment, that kind of play which capped off the wildest of nights.

2) The Heat will need more from Butler, Adebayo in Game 7

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. They were going to win because their role players stepped up — Caleb Martin (starting over Kevin Love) was the Heat’s best player on the night scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

All of that made up for the fact Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not good enough for the first 43 minutes of this game. The two Heat stars shot a combined 7-of-35 up until that late run where Butler got a 3 to fall and got to the line a few times. It was almost enough, but the Heat need Butler to set a better tone in Game 7.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

“Jimmy leads with everything — his spirit, his soul, his competitive nature,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler pregame. “It’s all out there on his sleeves. That’s what we love about him.”

Butler looks a little tired and a little less explosive, but give the Celtics’ defense credit, they have packed the paint and cut off Butler’s drives, and their length clearly bothers his shot inside. Joe Mazzulla, who drew the wrath of Celtics fans early in this series, deserved credit for his adjustments.

Butler and Adebayo have to rise above them in Game 7. Caleb Martin can not again be the best Heat player on the floor. Spoelstra is right, everything with the Heat starts with Butler and he has to summon up one more elite game.

3) Jayson Tatum owned the first half as Celtics’ best players stepped up

While Miami’s best players struggled, Boston’s best players stepped up.

At the front of that line was Jayson Tatum, who 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting with two assists in the first half. While he wouldn’t score in the second half until some free throws midway through the fourth, Tatum hit some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with 31.

Jaylen Brown added 26 points despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart finished with 21.

All of that made up for a dreadful night shooting from 3, the Celtics were 7-of-35 on the night. Shoot 20% from 3 in Game 7 and they will lose, that Boston got away with a win on an off-shooting night like that is lucky.

However, their stars are used to stepping up in elimination games, they have just done it three times in a row, and they did it in Game 7 against these same Heat a year ago. Do Boston’s stars have one more great game in them?

 

Watch Derrick White putback force Game 7 as Celtics edge Heat

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What. A. Game.

In the best game of these playoffs — as good as one in any postseason — it looked like the Miami Heat were going to get a culture win on a night their star Jimmy Butler was off his game until the final minutes. Three Butler free throws with :03 remaining put the Heat up by one, but the Celtics got one last chance. Marcus Smart short-armed that chance, but Derrick White was hustling along the baseline.

Miami gets the 104-103 win to even the series 3-3 and force a Memorial Day Game 7 back in Boston.

This was the kind of ugly, gritty game the Celtics tend to give away. They were certainly not at their peak in this one, shooting 7-of-35 from 3 as a team — usually a stat that leads to a loss for this Celtics team, which leans into the 3-pointer.

What saved them was a brilliant first half from Jayson Tatum, some solid play from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in the second half, and an off night at the worst time for the Heat stars.

The first half was the Tatum show as he scored 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 11 free throws and a couple of assists. He was attacking and aggressive, and the rest of the Celtics offense flowed off that and they got the lead up to 11.

However, the Heat closed that lead down to four at the half, 57-53, thanks largely to 9-of-15 shooting from 3.

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not the stars the Heat needed — they shot a combined 7-of-35 until the final minutes of the game — but the Miami role players stepped up. Caleb Martin got the start over Kevin Love and was the Heat’s best player on the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting plus 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

With their stars off their game the Heat struggled to score in the third, starting the quarter shooting 5-of-24 (20.8%), yet by the time the quarter was over the Heat were still only down seven. Miami was hanging around in a game they should have been blown out of.

That’s because the Celtics shot 5-of-25 from 3 through 3 quarters, plus Boston had 11 turnovers through three (compared to four for the Heat).

Tatum finished with 31 points to lead Boston, Jaylen Brown had 26 despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart added 21.

Boston had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter but gave it away with missed shots and sloppy play under pressure. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler hit a big 3-pointer, kept attacking, and got to the free throw line with the chance to put his team ahead in the final seconds. And did. It looked like a classic, gutty, Heat culture win.

And then Derrick White happened.

And now there is a Game 7.

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
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Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.