PBT’s NBA 2016 Draft Prospect Preview: Marquese Chriss

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Marquese Chriss is the ultimate lottery ticket in this year’s NBA Draft, a physical specimen that is a year away from being two years away.

He’s also one of the most fascinating stories in this draft. A football player throughout middle school, Chriss turned to basketball after a shoulder injury in eighth grade. He was nearly cut as a freshman, but quickly turned into one of the most promising high school players in California.

He wasn’t a top 50 prospect in the country, according to Rivals, but after just one season in college, he may end up being a top five pick in this year’s draft. That hasn’t happened before during the one-and-done era; Zach LaVine, the No. 44 recruit in 2013 and the No. 13 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, is the closest.

So what should we make of Chriss as a prospect, and just how likely is it that he’ll reach that potential?

Height: 6′ 10″
Weight: 233
Wingspan: 7′ 0.25″
2015-16 Stats: 13.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 35.0% 3PT

STRENGTHS: I’ve always hated when people refer to the small-ball revolution in basketball. Small-ball is a symptom of the change in how we understand the game. A better grasp of efficiency has taught us that the best way to score is through threes, layups and free throws, which puts an added value on the spacing created by three-point shooting and perimeter skill. It just so happens that, given the nature of basketball over the past 70 years or so, the players with the ability to shoot from the perimeter happen to be small players, which why there is now such a premium on players that can let a team play “small” offensively and “big” defensively.

Or, in other words, bigs that can make threes.

Enter Chriss, who is the prototype forward for what many believe to be the future of basketball. When it comes to physical tools, there really isn’t more that you can ask for in a prospect. He’s 6-foot-10, he has a wingspan that stretches over 7-feet, he’s athletic enough to get his head above the rim and he’s mobile enough that he can hold his own defending guards on the perimeter. He’s already 233 pounds and is one of the youngest players in this draft, both in terms of age (he turns 19 on July 2nd) and experience (he’s only played basketball for four years).

He does have a long neck — functionally, he’s than his 6-foot-10 size — and his somewhat-narrow frame means that there’s a limit to just how much more muscle mass he can put on, but that’s nitpicky. He’s a phenomenal athlete who is something of a blank canvas, although, as you’ll see, he has some bad habits that he’ll need to break.

And that’s before you consider what he’s actually able to do on a basketball court beyond catching lobs, throwing down tip-dunks and making Sportscenter in transition. Offensively, his skills are already pretty advanced. He shot 35.0 percent from beyond the arc, he showed off good mechanics in limited pull-up opportunities and he already has developed a really nice fadeaway jumper. He’s mobile enough to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and the spin moves you’ll see in the edit below inspires confidence in the idea that he won’t be simply a straight-line driver:

Chriss also has a knack for getting to the offensive glass, where his athleticism always makes him a threat to posterize someone that forgets to box him out. He’s still developing in his ability to read ball-screen actions, but he’s got the shooting range and the athleticism to be both a pick-and-pop and a pick-and-roll threat. Considering his size and age, that’s a terrific baseline to be working with.

Defensively, he has a lot to improve on (we’ll get to that in a minute), but he’s a playmaker on that end. He has the anticipation to jump passing lanes and averaged 1.6 blocks on the season, showing a sense of timing coming from the weakside and the kind of athleticism to … take a shot off the glass with two hands. (This is ridiculous, by the way):

In other words, we’re looking at a freak athlete that hits threes, that can score in the post and off the dribble, who blocks shots and, in theory, can guard point guards on switches and small-ball fives?

No wonder he’s spent the spring rocketing up NBA Draft boards.

WEAKNESSES: There are a lot, but almost all of them center around the idea that Chriss’ feel for the game is about as lacking as you would expect from a guy who has been playing for just four years.

Let’s start with the defensive end of the floor, where Chriss led the NCAA in fouls committed. Seriously. He fouled out of 15 of the 34 games he played and had four fouls in ten others. The problem is one of over-aggressiveness. He bites on pump fakes far too often and he reaches for steals against ball-handlers when he really has no chance to get them. He’s the kind of defender that tries to make a play to get the ball back as opposed to getting in a stance, moving his feet and playing the kind of defense that will force an opponent into missing a tough shot. He can play those plays, but he gambles far too often when he doesn’t have a chance to get there.

The issue isn’t his ability to defend, as he has the lateral quickness and size to be really good on that end of the floor. The issue is discipline and fundamentals. He has bad habits that someone is going to have to coach him out of. That’s a bigger problem to deal with than a player that just has no clue what he’s supposed to be doing on that end, but it’s not insurmountable.

By the end of the season, this fouling issue seemingly had gotten into his head, as he was demonstrative in his frustration — with himself and with the officials — when he would get whistled for fouls.

The other issue for Chriss defensively is that he was a truly terrible defensive rebounder, averaging just 2.9 per game this past season. He far too often tried to outjump opponents for rebounds, and while that may have worked at the high school level, it was a major reason that Washington was one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country this past season. He often took himself out of position by trying to make highlight reel weakside blocks, leaving his man wide open for a putback. Hell, it’s not that hard to find instances on film where Chriss takes a step towards the ball as a weakside defender, realizes he’s not going to get there to make the block and fails to get back into position defensively, watching as the guy he was guarding throws down a tip-dunk of his own:

Offensively, there are times that it’s quite obvious Chriss has not played all that much high-level basketball. He had 26 assists to 69 turnovers this season, many of them the result of simply throwing terrible passes. Perhaps more telling is the fact that his left hand is almost non-existent around the rim. He’s actually quite adept at driving left, but he’s almost always going to spin back to his right or try to finish at the rim with his right hand. You’ll see in the clips below that he costs himself numerous and-ones because he can’t finish with his left through contact.

Chriss also has a habit of dribbling into two or three defenders, likely because he simply doesn’t have the feel to understand or recognize where the help is coming from or when it is coming:

Again, this is something that he can be taught, but it is just another necessary step Chriss needs to take to be able to contribute to an NBA team.

And that is probably the most relevant “weakness” we can mention. If you’re drafting Chriss, you’re drafting a guy that could end up in the D-League and likely won’t help your team for two years.

NBA COMPARISON: This one is tough because much of it depends on how he is molded by the team that drafts him. The comparison that gets made quite often is to Rudy Gay, which is largely because Chriss told reporters at the NBA Combine that Gay is the guy that he tries to model his game after. Personally, I’m not a big Gay guy, mostly because I think that Chriss projects as more of a combo-forward than a pure small forward. I think Jeff Green might be a better comparison, both in terms of how he gets used and the kind of impact that he’ll have, although Green is just an average NBA three-point shooter and isn’t the same kind of athlete or rim protector that Chriss is. Marvin Williams is another name that I’ve seen mentioned.

Neither of those guys are great comparisons, but that’s kind of the point with Chriss. He’s a guy whose value is tied to the fact that he can play an important role if the NBA continues in the direction that it has been heading the last few years.

OUTLOOK: Chriss is the kind of prospect that gets GMs fired. Pass on him for Jaylen Brown or Dragan Bender and you might look like the guy that picked Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry. But if you gamble on him and he flops, you’ll have to explain how you’re decision was different than the guy that took Andrea Bargnani over LaMarcus Aldridge or Brandan Wright over Joakim Noah.

For Chriss, any NBA team that is considering drafting him has to ask themselves two questions:

  • Does Chriss have the work ethic and the desire to make himself into the kind of player that can impact a franchise in the NBA?
  • Does our organization have the locker room stability and player development capacity to get the best out of him?

If the answer to either of those questions is no, then that team should not even consider selecting Chriss. He’s a gamble whose payoff won’t be seen for years and will require quite a bit of coaching and development. Given that his ceiling is probably short of being an NBA all-star and his floor is of a guy that we never hear from again, you better be certain if you make the pick.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.