NBA prospects in NCAA Tournament: Seven guys to watch Friday/Sunday

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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 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 so against better competition, and under the pressure of a lose-and-go-home situation.

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.

We have to start with the likely No. 1 pick.

1) Jahlil Okafor, Duke. He’s as skilled a post player and scorer as you’ll ever find at age 19 — he is going to put up points as a rookie in the NBA. Where he’s improved as this season has worn on is his recognition and passing out of double teams. Where he continues to struggle is the defensive end of the floor.

From Ed Isaacson:  “We may have to go all the way back to Tim Duncan to see someone with such a pure, back-to-the-basket post game that Okafor has. He’s ready. Whoever ends up picking him he’ll come in and he’ll do well right away, at least as a scorer. What Okafor is really missing is that mean streak. It comes out once in a while, but on defense he really needs to learn to be a battler.”

2) Montrezl Harrell, Louisville. He’s a bit undersized at the four in the NBA, he doesn’t have a steady jump shot, his post game lacks polish, yet this is a guy that fans will gravitate toward — he plays hard every possession. Energy is a skill and Harrell has that, and it will help him at the next level.

From Rob Dauster: “No one in college basketball plays as hard or with as much emotion as Harrell. He’s an aggressive rebounder and a more mobile defender than he gets credit for, but at this point he doesn’t seem to be much more than an undersized four with a mediocre jumper and a limited post game. I think he has a future in the league in a Kenneth Faried kind of role.”

3) Justin Anderson, Virginia. He’s a junior swingman and a highly-regarded prospect who never seemed to put the entire package together at Virginia. He’s athletic and and can defend, he also can finish at the rim. His jumper has been up and down over the years, but it’s something he seemed to work on this season.

From Rob Dauster: “I don’t know if Anderson is going to be a first round pick, but I think he has quite a future in a 3-and-D role at the next level. He’s a terrific athlete that has played his college ball in a system that teaches you how to defend, before fracturing the pinky on his left (shooting) hand, Anderson was hitting 48.5 percent from three, a drastic improvement for the career 30 percent shooter. If that’s a permanent thing or just a fluky year remains to be seen.”

4) Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. He is one of the leading candidates for national player of the year, a rock solid big man who helped lead the Badgers to a No. 1 seed. He is comfortable playing on the block or out on the perimeter, which makes him a challenging matchup.

From Ed Isaacson:  “He’s a skilled seven-footer with the ability to score in the post or from the perimeter, Kaminsky posted career highs of 55 percent from the field, and 40 percent from three-point range this past season. Though not particularly strong or quick, Kaminsky uses strong footwork and nice shooting touch to create scoring chances in the post, and his ability to shoot from the perimeter makes him a great option in pick-and-pop situations. Defensively, Kaminsky is average.… As with many seniors, there may not be a lot of upside with Kaminsky, but he is the kind of player who could contribute quickly in many different NBA offenses.”

5) Kris Dunn, Providence. He is one of the most entertaining players in the nation — he will grab a rebound and push hard from coast-to-coast, putting a lot of pressure on the defense. He can make the spectacular play, but with that comes some misques and turnovers. Finally healthy, he averaged 15.8 points, 7.6 assists and 5.6 rebounds a game this season.

From Ed Isaacson:  “I think Chris Dunn would be a fantastic backup point guard at the NBA level, or the third guard in a three guard rotation…. He’s a good ballhandler with excellent vision, Dunn can be a spectacular passer, though his decisions can often leave a lot to be desired. He thrives when Providence pushes the tempo, doing a great job getting the ball up the floor quickly and finding open teammates for easy scores. He’s not as good in the half court.”

6) Kelly Oubre, Kansas. Oubre is a bit of a project as a 6’6” wing player. He is a freak athlete (as good as anyone in this class) who is long and has potential as a jump shooter. His ceiling is insanely high. However, his handles need work, he needs time on the court to get a better feel for the game. There’s a lot of work to be done here, is he willing to put in the effort? (And how patient will the team be that drafts him?)

From Rob Dauster: “I’ve soured a bit on Oubre as a prospect as the season has gone along, but I still think that he’s worthy of being a lottery pick. His height, length, explosiveness and shooting ability are all terrific for a wing, but he’s still learning how to play. He gets lost defensively at times, his handle is suspect and at this point, he’s essentially a spot-up shooter and straight-line driver. His ceiling is higher than, say, Devin Booker, but he has longer to go to get there than I thought when I saw him in high school.”

7) Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga. He is the son of Lithuania/Soviet legend Arvydas Sabonis. He is skilled and has polished footwork, he can work out of the post or hit shots out to the arc. He’s not athletic by NBA standards, and he needs to get stronger.

From Rob Dauster: “I love Domas as a college player. He’s tough, he’s athletic, he’s aggressive on the glass, he’s really good at scoring over his right shoulder (left hand). He’s a bit of a long term prospect, but he plays extremely hard and he’s not one to back down from anyone, which are two skills that are quite valuable to have.”

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart will be Team USA captains in World Cup

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Team USA is just about ready to get underway for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The United States beat Australia on Wednesday night in a tune-up game, 102-86.

Several big-name NBA players have dropped out of participating with the Team USA roster this summer, but it appears that things have solidified as we enter late August. To that end, we now have confirmation about who Team USA’s captains will be moving forward.

According to Kemba Walker, he and fellow Boston Celtics teammate Marcus Smart will be the captains for the international squad in this year’s World Cup.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“We have a bunch of guys who don’t mind being the underdogs,” Walker told reporters. “We are hungry, and we are going to go out there to try and win a gold medal…I take pride in being a leader and guys looking to me and I’m here to set the tempo and bring my experience and energy.”

This is a point of pride for Celtics fans, and Walker and Smart appear to be two excellent choices as captains of this young Team USA roster.

It’s not going to be easy for Team USA to win the World Cup. Leadership and camaraderie has often been the deciding factor in the USA’s performance in international play. The team rallied around a strong locker room after their poor performance in the 2004 Olympics, coming together to win the gold in the 2008 Beijing games.

Walker and Smart should provide leadership and calmness for a team that will have many challengers who view them as vulnerable.

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be “main contributor” to T-wolves

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Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?