NBA Draft Watch: 10 players to keep an eye on Friday/Sunday in NCAA Tournament

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For a lot of NBA fans, the NCAA Tournament is when we get a first good look at guys who will fill up the NBA draft boards next June. For the record, that’s not the case for NBA GMs and scouts. If they think they may take a player they have watched all (or most) of his play this season, they have formed their opinions, and what happens in the tournament doesn’t move the needle as much as fans think.

Who should you be watching this first Friday/Sunday of the Tournament? PBT’s NBA Draft expert — and Rotoworld writer — Ed Isaacson broke it down by regions for Rotoworld, listing a lot of players to watch. We have culled that into lists of players to watch (here is the Thursday/Saturday version). They are listed in current projected draft order (although that certainly will change).

• Jaylen Brown, Freshman, California, Forward – The 6’7”, 225 wing was a consensus top five high school recruit last year, and though he has had typical freshmen rough patches this year, he didn’t disappoint. Solidly built, Brown loves to use his body to attack the basket, often leading to an above-average amount of free throw attempts. He relies on his physical ability more than skill right now, but once he has some momentum on the way to the rim, he is hard to stop. His shooting, both mid- and long-range, isn’t particularly strong right now, but it’s not like his shooting form and motion are broken. With his body, Brown is also able to move to the low post in the right match-ups, using his strength to bully his way to the rim. Brown has improved as a defender this year, and is capable of guarding multiple positions, though he still needs some work on the basics.

• Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma, Guard – Hield, the two-time Big 12 Player of the Year, was also one of the top two players in all college basketball this past season. Last year, when writing about Hield, I noted that he wasn’t a strong perimeter shooter, but he took care of any problems over the summer, emerging as one of the top long-range shooters in the country, hitting 127 threes at a near-47 percent clip. He can hit his jumper in a variety of ways, and it doesn’t matter how closely he is guarded, Hield is confident he will knock it down. While jumpers are much of Hield’s offense, he is also capable taking the ball off the dribble to the basket, showing a quick first step and a nice speed burst, though he can have some troubles finishing. On the defensive end, Hield has the potential to be good, though the focus and effort aren’t always there.

• Demetrius Jackson, Junior, Notre Dame, Guard – Jackson shared the backcourt a year ago with Knick first-rounder Jerian Grant, but he took over the sole point guard duties this season, and the results have been almost as good as expected. At 6’1”, Jackson doesn’t have great speed, but he has a solid build, and he uses his quickness and body well to attack the basket. He does a very good job running the Irish offense, and he is an excellent distributor in the pick-and-roll offense. Jackson’s shooting has been inconsistent this year, but in prior years, he did show the consistent ability to knock down the long-range shot as well as the mid-range jumper off the dribble. His decision making still needs some work, including in transition, but he has the playmaker gene. Defensively, Jackson has some lapses on the ball, but he has improved each season, and larger point guards don’t cause a significant problem for him.

• Deyonta Davis, Freshman, Michigan State, Forward – A long, athletic freshman, Davis became a major piece for the Spartans as the season went on. He has been effective in the low post, using his good footwork and length to create some easy looks around the rim. Davis is also great working along the baseline, cutting to the rim off of penetration and using his reach to get the ball and finish up around the basket. He has a nice feel for hitting the offensive boards. Defensively, Davis has been solid defending in the post, but he has been very good as a rim protector, again showing a nice feel for being able to get into position quickly and extend to get at the shot.

• Ivan Rabb, Freshman, California, Forward – Another heralded freshman in Berkley, Rabb made steady progress throughout the season to become an important part of the Bears’ rotation. While his low post offense is decent at this stage, he uses his long frame to hit the offensive glass to create extra possessions and easy second-chance opportunities. Rabb hasn’t shown much offensive ability stepping away from the basket area yet, but he hasn’t looked terrible on his few opportunities shooting the mid-range jumper. Rabb has the potential to be a force on the defensive end with his long frame and 7’2” wingspan, though he can get pushed around in the post by stronger offensive players.

• Diamond Stone, Freshman, Maryland, Center – As the season went on, Stone became a force in the middle for Maryland, giving them strong play on both ends of the floor. 6’11” and 255 pounds, Stone can be an imposing figure in the post, and he showed impressive skill and footwork for his age. He uses his body well to make his way to the basket, and he has no problem getting physical when hitting the offensive boards. Stone built a good on-court rapport with point guard Melo Trimble, and the duo became very tough to stop in pick-and-roll situations, as well as Stone getting open space around the basket off of Trimble’s penetration. Defensively, other than what seemed like normal freshman lapses, Stone more than held his own in a conference with some quality big men.

• Melo Trimble, Sophomore, Maryland, Guard – Trimble burst onto the scene as a freshman last year, and while there were some rough patches throughout the season, he showed decent growth. Trimble has good size, 6’3”, and great speed. He is a strong pick-and-roll ballhandler, both as a scorer and passer, though his decision-making can be questionable at times. Trimble is a better shooter than his numbers show, especially from long-range, with poor shot selection being a big culprit. He has the speed to beat defenders off the dribble in isolation, and while a creative finisher around the rim, he isn’t afraid to take some contact, drawing fouls at a good rate. On defense, Trimble can be a pest with his activity, though he can be prone to taking risks, and as a result, can find himself out of position. Still, don’t get sloppy with the ball around him.

• Tyrone Wallace, Senior, California, Guard – Wallace, the senior leader for the Bears, battled injuries this season, but came up big down the stretch as the team made a big run towards the postseason. The 6’6” point guard doesn’t dazzle you in any particular area, but he does a great job running the California offense, while adding a scoring punch when needed. Wallace uses his size well against opposing defenders, especially when looking to get to the basket, where his long strides are an advantage. Perimeter shooting has never been a strength, but he is capable of knocking down mid-range jumpers consistently, especially off the dribble. Defensively, Wallace’s size and long arms can cause problems for opponents’ passing lanes, and while he doesn’t have great speed, he has very good instincts.

• Gary Payton II, Senior, Oregon State, Guard – Payton, the son of the NBA Hall of Famer, made an immediate impact last year after moving to Oregon State from junior college, and he followed it up by leading the Beavers to the tournament this season. At 6’3”, Payton has decent size, but he has good speed and control, which allows him to knife through the defense almost at will. He is at his best as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, using great pace to beat primary and help defenders, and either getting to the basket or finding an open teammate. Payton can have some problems finishing around the basket, so he relies on angles to try and find his shots. His jumper is a problem for him, even though he does a great job clearing space for good looks, and he’ll often hesitate on open looks because he’s not confident in the shot. Payton can be a very good defender, though he is better off the ball than on. .

• Prince Ibeh, Senior, Texas, Center – Used sparingly in his first three seasons, Ibeh stepped up as a senior to become a defensive force for the Longhorns. 6’11” and 265 pounds, Ibeh showed the ability to defend the low post well, while also being able to protect the rim as well as anyone in the country, averaging two blocks per game in just 18 minutes per. Ibeh moves well for his size, evident in his improvement defending the pick-and-roll, and he is a quality rebounder on both ends of the floor. There isn’t much to say about him on the offensive end other than he still needs work. He doesn’t show many moves in the low post, and his touch isn’t very good, but he does a good job scoring when a couple of feet from the rim.

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

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves
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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.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.