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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.

Rudy Gobert on dynamic with Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell: ‘I’m the a—hole’

Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell
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Rudy Gobert is the Jazz’s best player.

Donovan Mitchell is the Jazz’s biggest star.

That situation naturally creates tension. Gobert and Mitchell testing positive for coronavirus exacerbated it.

Mitchell was upset with Gobert, whose reckless actions made him more likely to contract and spread coronavirus. Now, Mitchell sounds ready to move on.

But other issues remain.

Mitchell quickly became Utah’s go-to offensive player. He’s a sensational scorer with a magnetic personality and electrifying dunks. But he’s still developing as a playmaker, which can frustrate Gobert.

Most famously, Gobert cried when discussing his All-Star snub last year. Gobert plays a complementary style that can be underrated. He’s an elite defender who cleans up for his teammates. On offense, does all the little things – screening, finishing, rebounding. Yet, all that diligent screening isn’t always rewarded with passes when he gets open.

Should Mitchell pass more to Gobert? Yes. But Gobert has also let his effort slip this season when not getting touches, and that’s not the right solution, either.

Gobert, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“I understand that I’m annoying. I can be very annoying,” said Gobert, adding that he knows Mitchell’s job is difficult as the focal point of defenses. “I think maybe because he was really good really early, I’ve been very demanding and maybe in not always a positive way. Sometimes you don’t realize it.

“Like with me, people can be hard on me and I can handle it, but for some guys, it can become very frustrating. I can understand that 100 percent. Donovan has gotten better every year since he’s gotten here. I think he’s going to keep getting a lot better. It’s pretty much, I’m the a–hole.”

“If I was 12 years old, I wouldn’t want to be watching f—ing Rudy Gobert. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell. I wouldn’t want to watch Rudy Gobert get dunks and alter shots. I’d want to watch Donovan Mitchell cross people up and do crazy layups, crazy dunks, of course.

“I totally understand how it works, and I’m fine with it.”

There’s an endearing amount of self-awareness in these quotes.

Gobert and Mitchell have a chance to form a highly successful partnership in Utah. Winning could bond them. On the other hand, losing could push them further apart. Another potential complication: Mitchell – with all his talent and about four years younger than Gobert – will probably soon surpass Gobert as a player. Then what? How will each handle that?

The future is unpredictable, but it’s worth understanding the current relationship between Gobert and Mitchell. To do that, I highly recommend reading MacMahon’s excellent article.

Nets’ Taurean Prince tests positive for coronavirus, will sit out restart

Taurean Prince Nets
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Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Nicholas Claxton all had pre-existing injuries and were never expected to play in the NBA’s restart in Orlando. Wilson Chandler opted out of the restart to spend time with his family.  DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie both tested positive for the coronavirus and did not join the team headed to Orlando on Tuesday. That’s six players from the Nets roster not playing in the restart.

Make that seven — forward Taurean Prince tested positive for coronavirus and will sit out restart as well. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Prince started at the four for the Nets and averaged 12.1 points and six rebounds a game.

The Nets are free to sign a substitute player to fill in for Prince, however, that player must have fewer than three years of NBA experience. Whoever the Nets line up, it will be a drop off in quality from what Prince brought to the table.

Expect the Nets to look at big men for substitute players because they need size. Jarrett Allen is the only true center on the roster, and there are only two other players — Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa — are taller than 6’9″. Amir Johnson is one Nets’ big man target, according to Marc Stein of the New York Times.

Brooklyn enters the restart as the seven seed in the East, but just half a game up on eight seed Orlando, a team that is largely healthy and bringing its full roster. It’s likely the Nets slide back to the eight seed, but likely make the playoffs (Washington, playing without Bradley Beal or Davis Bertans, would have to make up two games on the Nets during the eight seeding games, then beat Brooklyn in a two straight play-in series games, a tall order). The Nets reward for making the playoffs? Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee.

WNBA players call for ouster of Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Georgia senator

U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)
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NBA players showed their power by getting Donald Sterling removed as Clippers owner.

WNBA players might be having a similar moment with Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia.

Sterling committed incredibly harmful racist and sexist acts for years. Ironically, something far more benign – telling his girlfriend not to post pictures with black people or bring them to games – did him in. But he went too far in a time of growing sensitivity to speech.

Now, there’s even less tolerance for people saying the “wrong” thing. And Loeffler has said things lately that range from disagreeable to offensive.

The WNBA announced its plans for promoting social justice during its upcoming season:

The WNBA will begin its season in late July with a weekend of competition centered around the Black Lives Matter movement, during which teams will wear special uniforms to seek justice for the women and girls, including Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Vanessa Guillen and many more who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence. Throughout the season, players will wear NIKE-branded warm-up shirts that display “Black Lives Matter” on the front.   Additionally, “Say Her Name” will adorn the back of the shirts.  “Black Lives Matter” will also be prominently displayed on courts during games.

In response, Kelly Loeffler wrote a letter to WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. A portion of that letter, via Greg Bluestein and Bria Felicien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

All of us have a constitutional right to hold and to express our views. But to subscribe to a particular political agenda undermines the potential of the sport and sends a message of exclusion.

The truth is, we need less—not more politics in sports. In a time when polarizing politics is as divisive as ever, sports has the power to be a unifying antidote. And now more than ever, we should be united in our goal to remove politics from sports.

The lives of each and every African American matter, and there’s no debating the fact that there is no place for racism in our country. However, I adamantly oppose the Black Lives Matter political movement, which has advocated for the defunding of police, called for the removal of Jesus from churches and the disruption of the nuclear family structure, harbored anti-Semitic views, and promoted violence and destruction across the country. I believe it is totally misaligned with the values and goals of the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream, where we support tolerance and inclusion.

Amid the recent unrest in many American cities, this movement advocated the creation of lawless autonomous zones in places like Atlanta. I denounced these zones of violence—for which I have been criticized. However, this same group fell silent over the fourth of July weekend when an 8-year-old girl was murdered under the “mob rule” that I warned about days earlier. This is not a political movement that the league should be embracing, and I emphatically oppose it.

Though I was not consulted about—nor do I agree with the League’s decision in this matter, I am proposing a common-sense recommendation to ensure we reflect the values of freedom and equality for all. I believe we should put an American flag on every jersey. Include it in our licensed apparel for players, coaches and fans.

Women’s National Basketball Players Association:

WNBA:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“The WNBA is based on the principle of equal and fair treatment of all people and we, along with the teams and players, will continue to use our platforms to vigorously advocate for social justice.  Sen. Kelly Loeffler has not served as a Governor of the Atlanta Dream since October 2019 and is no longer involved in the day-to-day business of the team.”

That is a strong statement from the union. Several players previously criticized Loeffler, especially in the wake of a recent interview.

She was asked, “It is not every day you see people carrying long guns in big cities in America. What is happening on the streets of Atlanta this morning?” While Fox News showed armed black men, Loeffler said, “This is totally unacceptable. We cannot allow mob rule. We’re a nation of the rule of law.”

If Loeffler – a self-avowed Second Amendment advocate – were specifically denouncing legal gun carrying because the carriers were black, that’s racist, hypocritical and completely unacceptable. But it’s unclear whether Loeffler could see the images and videos as she answered. It’s also unclear whether she was answering more generally about everything happening in Atlanta.

Regardless, backlash spread.

Renee Montgomery of the Atlanta Dream:

Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm:

Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Washington Mystics:

Natasha Cloud of the Phoenix Mercury:

Layshia Clarendon of the New York Liberty:

Sydney Colson of the Chicago Sky:

There is room for legitimate debate on the issues raised in the tweets and articles they link, including gun control, abortion and the best tactics for fighting racism. Loeffler shouldn’t be forced out simply because she disagrees with some vocal players. (I suspect, in a league as large and diverse as the WNBA, some players agree with her on some of these issues.)

But Loeffler’s letter to Engelbert is particularly off-putting.

Disagreeing with some elements of the Black Lives Matter organization would be one thing. But condemning the Black Lives Matter political movement is something else. Within that movement, there are disagreements on methods and goals. The unifying thread: Believing black lives matter. That’s why Black Lives Matter, despite some extreme views, holds such mass appeal.

It’s also gross for Loeffler to use a false claim about Secoriea Turner to fit her agenda. Protesters have decried the girl’s killing.

The players who are using their platforms to promote racial justice deserve praise. Their plan is good for the WNBA. It’s good for the United the States.

The truth is there has always been politics in sports. White people can more easily ignore it, but that’s their privilege. The many black players in the WNBA still live in a country with systematic racism. Their humanity doesn’t end when they show up to work, and they shouldn’t be told to be quiet and just wear an American flag on their jerseys.

It’s telling that Loeffler’s solution to politics in sports is to put a political symbol on jerseys.

She doesn’t want politics out of sports. She wants politics she disagrees with out of sports.

Now, the WNBA will determine whether it wants her out of its sport.

 

Celtics’ Jayson Tatum on playing at Disney World: ‘Still not excited, not thrilled’

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum
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Celtics forward Jayson Tatum wasn’t going to sit out the NBA’s resumption due to injury concerns. Players like Tatum got the enhanced insurance they wanted, anyway.

But that doesn’t mean Tatum is eager to go to Disney World.

Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

I don’t blame Tatum one bit. Players are facing tight lifestyle restrictions, including be separated from their families and friends for weeks. Coronavirus is an ever-present threat. There’s a very important protest movement sweeping the country.

Who can easily focus on basketball at a time like this?

Of course, Tatum decided the pros outweigh the cons. The money is substantial (for players collectively more so than Tatum individually, though there’s a case for all players to do their part for each other), and the Celtics have a chance to win a championship.

But before coronavirus, Tatum thought he’d get that money and title opportunity. The only new aspects are the downsides.

I appreciate Tatum’s openness about the situation. He’s certainly not alone in feeling this way.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. It’s just the unfortunate reality of the pandemic.