NBA Draft prospect matchups to watch in NCAA Tourament this weekend

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What are NBA GMs and scouts looking for come the NCAA Tournament? What are they going to learn they didn’t in the other 30-60 (or more) college games they have watched of these prospects?

How guys do against better competition. And how they do under the pressure of a one-and-done situation.

With that in mind, there are some very interesting matchups this Thursday and Friday in the NCAA Tournament that will peak scouts’ interest. Below are six to follow.

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.

Wichita State vs. Notre Dame (Thursday, 7:15 pm ET)

What to watch for: Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant vs. Tekele Cotton/Wichita State perimeter defense. Grant is a borderline lottery pick and one of the top two seniors in this NBA draft. He knows how to score, he sets guys up, but we get a chance to see how he will deal with real pressure.

From Rob Dauster: Cotton is one of the best perimeter defenders in college hoops, and I expect him to get matched up against Grant, who was arguably the most dynamic guard in the country this year.

From Ed Isaacson: While Grant can hit form long-range, he’s at his best when he get into the defense and either get to the rim or kick it out to the perimeter shooters. Wichita State’s defense, led by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, does a very good job containing on the perimeter. Restricting Grant’s movement can slow down Notre Dame’s offense as a whole, but if Grant can get into the defense consistently, the Irish perimeter shooters should have a very good day. Also, worth watching is any one-on-one match between VanVleet and ND’s Demetrius Jackson. Two very smart point guards that just know how to make the right plays.

Kentucky vs. West Virginia (Thursday, 9:45 pm ET)

What to watch for: Andrew Harrison/Kentucky’s back court vs. West Virginia’s press. Kentucky is loaded with talent and shooting guard Devin Booker is a borderline lottery pick if he comes out this year. But on guard is not enough against the Mountaineers and Wildcat sophomore Andrew Harrison is on the bubble of getting drafted period (he likely returns) — how he deals with West Virginia’s aggressive defense will be interesting.

From Rob Dauster: Harrison has had a nice NCAA tournament thus far, to the point that some think he may have a shot of getting picked late in the first round. West Virginia plays an all-out, trapping press that will challenge Kentucky’s ball-handlers. Will Andrew be up to the test?

From Ed Isaacson: West Virginia probably has one real hope in this game, and that’s with their full court pressure. Freshman Tyler Ulis should end up with a lot more minutes for Kentucky, as he’s their best, and smartest, ballhandler, by far. Still, it usually takes two good ballhandlers to beat West Virginia’s pressure and that’s where Kentucky can have problems. Andrew Harrison has always been sloppy against pressure, and I expect West Virginia to target him. Kentucky will need to get the ball up the floor quickly to avoid the pressure, so expect guys like Devin Booker and Aaron Harrison to be a lot more involved in ballhandling. West Virginia doesn’t have the interior size to compete with Kentucky, but they are tough, and expect Karl Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, etc., to have some frustrating moments.

Xavier v. Arizona (Thursday, 10:17 pm ET)

What to watch for: Arizona’s has a lottery pick Stanley Johnson, how does he fare against another strong defense?

From Ed Isaacson: Johnson is coming off a bad performance against Ohio State, shooting just 1-of-12 from the field, and Xavier has the defenders to make him have to work just as hard to get good shot attempts. Arizona’s biggest advantage should come on the boards, both attacking the offensive glass and keeping Xavier from the same,and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (a potential first round pick) will be Arizona’s most important player in this regard. Xavier will need to be very conscious of him when shots go up. Luckily, they don’t have to worry much about him as an offensive weapon away from that.

North Carolina v. Wisconsin (Thursday 7:47 pm ET)

What to watch for: The Badgers’ big man Frank Kaminsky is a lottery pick, but he can help his standing with a big game against a high profile program.

From Ed Isaacson: With Kennedy Meeks likely out for UNC, Frank Kaminsky could have a really big game against back-ups Joel James and Isaiah Hicks. The Tar Heels may try to put Brice Johnson and his length against Kaminsky, but that could open opportunities for Sam Dekker to get to the basket if Kaminsky brings his man out to the perimeter. Johnson’s athleticism could be a problem for whoever Wisconsin has guard him, plus Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson are both capable of scoring points quickly, and UNC can be relentless attacking the offensive boards. This should be the best game on Thursday night.

Gonzaga vs. UCLA (Friday, 7:15 pm ET)

What to watch for: UCLA’s Kevon Looney vs. Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer — does the Zags’ power forward have the defensive chops to keep up with a first rounder.

From Rob Dauster: We know how good Wiltjer is scoring the ball, but his issue is on the defensive end of the floor. Looney is long, lanky and athletic with the ability to do damage around the rim and from the three-point line. It will be a good test for Wiltjer, who is trying to prove that he, like Looney, is worthy of a first round pick.

Duke vs. Utah (Friday 9:45 pm ET)

What to watch for: Jakob Poeltl vs. Jahlil Okafor, a battle of two bigs who will be drafted in the lottery.

From Rob Dauster: This one works both ways. Poeltl has a high-upside, but he’s been bullied at times in the paint this season. What happens against the nation’s best low-post scorer? And for Okafor, the biggest issue he has is on the defensive end of the floor, and one thing Poeltl does really well is work with Delon Wright in ball-screen actions. Has Okafor gotten better defending the pick-and-roll from the disasters he had in January?

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.

Billy Donovan to choose Bulls’ starting PG during training camp

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Speaking at Chicago’s media day, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said he will choose his starting point guard over the course of training camp. Lonzo Ball was expected to reprise his role as the starter, but he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee and raised some eyebrows at media day when he said he couldn’t run or jump. Simply put, there is no guarantee we even see him at all this season.

Donovan is fortunate that he has a plethora of options though, as Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White will all battle it out. “We’ll have to see how these guys gel and mesh once training camp starts and we start practicing,” Donovan said. “But I think we have enough back there that we can get the job done from that standpoint.”

Dragic is the most “seasoned option” to use Donovan’s own words and would be the safe pick, but at 36 years old, he doesn’t exactly raise Chicago’s ceiling. Plus, Donovan already hinted at managing his minutes throughout the season.

Alex Caruso is Chicago’s best defender and is going to play a massive role whether he starts or comes off the bench, although the latter seems more likely since he’s not a natural point guard.

Coby White showed improvement as a shooter last season, hitting 38% of his triples. However, it’s no secret that his name has been in the rumor mill and the Bulls hardly mentioned him at media day.

With that said, I think Ayo is the dark horse to start after showing some serious promise during his rookie season. In 40 starts, Ayo put up 10.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 triples and 1.1 steals and was one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. Zach LaVine went out of his way to hype up Dosunmu at media day as well, so you have to love his chances of running away with the job.

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

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Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.