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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.

Bulls fire coach Jim Boylen

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
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Maybe the Bulls, despite a report otherwise, never actually planned to keep Jim Boylen for financial reasons. Maybe they did plan to keep him but saw the intense negative reaction to that report among Chicago fans.

Either way, Boylen is gone now.

Bulls release:

Chicago Bulls Executive Vice President – Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas announced today that Jim Boylen has been relieved of his duties as head coach.

MICHAEL REINSDORF: “No one could question Jim’s passion for our team and our organization. We sincerely appreciate his tireless efforts and contributions during his time with the Bulls, and we wish him and his family the very best.”

ARTURAS KARNISOVAS: “After doing a comprehensive evaluation and giving the process the time it deserved, I ultimately decided that a fresh approach and evolution in leadership was necessary. This was a very difficult decision, but it is time for our franchise to take that next step as we move in a new direction and era of Chicago Bulls basketball. Jim is a great human being that cares deeply about this organization and the game of basketball. I want to thank him for his professionalism and commitment to the franchise.”

A formal coaching search will begin immediately.

76ers assistant Ime Udoka was reportedly frontrunner to become Chicago’s next coach. A full search could yield other candidates. However, the Bulls must overcome a reported poor reputation among coaches and possible financial limitations in these economic times.

Chicago still has other problems, but Boylen was one. His tenure began with a near-mutiny when he took over for Fred Hoiberg during the 2018-19 season. To his credit, Boylen improved while on the job. But coming from such a low starting point, he often looked in over his head.

His players continued to dislike him. His signature coaching move was ill-timed timeouts. His record was just 39-84 (.317).

Firing him should have been obvious, especially once the Bulls hired Arturas Karnisovas as team president. Let Karnisovas hire his own coach.

Chicago’s roster is lacking, though not necessarily hopeless.

Zach LaVine is more near-star than All-Star – not an ideal centerpiece – but the 25-year-old could continue to improve. Youngsters Coby White, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. have had too many downs to feel great about their futures, though enough ups to at least be intrigued. Veterans Otto Porter, Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky have underwhelmed but have prior records of success.

A new coach will have pieces to work with.

Karnisovas has more work ahead to upgrade those pieces.

Three Things to Know: Let’s pour one out for Phoenix, San Antonio

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Portland, Memphis win and advance to play-in series. As expected.

On a day where we expected high drama, Portland and Memphis entered with a simple and clear path: Win and you’re in.

So they did. And with that, the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers advance to a play-in series for the eighth seed in the West. As the eighth seed at the end of the eight “seeding games” in the bubble, Portland need only win one of the two to advance. Memphis has to sweep them both — a tough task.

Memphis had little trouble advancing on Thursday, taking on a Bucks team without Giannis Antetokounmpo (suspension) that was just going through the motions and waiting for the playoffs to start. Memphis won 119-106, Dillon Brooks scored 31 points, while Jonas Valanciunas scored 26 and pulled down 19 boards. There was little drama in the Grizzlies win.

Portland, however, had all the drama it could handle, barely outlasting a scrappy Brooklyn team — and it took Damian Lillard playing like an MVP to get the win.

Lillard scored 42 points and carried the Trail Blazers for stretches when their offense faltered. CJ McCollum added 25 — and moved well for a guy with a fractured back — and Jusuf Nurkic added 22 and 10. Caris LeVert had 37 for a Brooklyn team that had a balanced attack, but LeVert’s potential game-winner bounced off the rim and Portland moves on.

Portland and Memphis played in the bubble back in July in the first restart game for both teams. Portland barely won in overtime, but Memphis was led in that game by Jaren Jackson Jr., who had 33 points. He is now out of the bubble recovering from a torn meniscus. Also in that game, Lillard targeted Valanciunas in the pick-and-roll and played the Memphis big off the floor — the Grizzlies do not have a good answer for that. Portland is not going to coast to a play-in game win, but it’s difficult to picture how the Grizzlies win back-to-back games.

2) Phoenix goes 8-0, but perfect wasn’t good enough

Memphis earned their spot in the play-in — they got the win Thursday, and more importantly, they were impressive in the first 65 games before the shutdown (those games still count). It was those pre-mask days when the Suns were terrible that did them in.

On Orlando, Phoenix was perfect — 8-0 behind Devin Booker playing like an MVP. The Suns outscored opponents by 12.5 points per 100 possessions in the bubble, with an elite offense and a solid defense anchored by Deandre Ayton. The bubble isn’t going to be the same without them.

Every young entering the restart said the same thing: It was about development. It was about using bubble games to grow a young core. Except most teams — Sacramento and New Orleans, for example — threw that opportunity to the ground and went fishing. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams, did what they said and got better. The Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs, but more importantly, they set themselves up for next season.

3) San Antonio’s playoff steak ends at 22 years

The last time the Spurs didn’t make the playoffs, “Titanic” was sinking in movie theaters, “Un-Break My Heart” was being belted out on your radio by Toni Braxton, and Allen Iverson was the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. It was the 1996-97 NBA season — which you just relived through “The Last Dance” because it was in the middle of the Bulls’ second three-peat.

For 22 straight seasons, Gregg Popovich led the Spurs to the NBA playoffs — and they picked up five titles along the way — but that ended in the bubble. San Antonio played well behind DeMar DeRozan, Derrick White and a four-guard lineup, but it couldn’t climb out of the hole it dug before the league was shut down.

The always sentimental Popovich was very broken up about it.

“Looking at the past doesn’t do much good,” Popovich said, via the Associated Press. “Any success we’ve had has been because we’ve had some great players.”

Popovich also shot down speculation he was going to retire, saying, “why wouldn’t I?” coach next season.

Tim Duncan. David Robinson. Tony Parker. Manu Ginobili. The list goes on and on over 22 seasons (and even includes Steve Kerr), there were great players in San Antonio. But it was the mind and personality of Popovich that brought all those ingredients together and made it work.

The Spurs playoff streak is no more. Here’s to something we may never see the likes of again.

Spurs historic run of 22 seasons in playoffs ends in bubble

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Gregg Popovich didn’t put much thought into San Antonio’s playoff streak when it was rolling along.

He’s not thinking about it now, either.

The Spurs’ record-tying run of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is over, and the longest season in team history – almost 300 days from the first game to the last – is also, strangely, over earlier than the NBA is used to seeing. The final outcome was a 118-112 loss to the Utah Jazz on Thursday night, a game that was meaningless in the standings.

“Looking at the past doesn’t do much good,” Popovich said. “Any success we’ve had has been because we’ve had some great players.”

Rayjon Tucker had 18 points for the Jazz, who finished with eight players in double figures and used their regulars either sparingly or not at all.

“You can’t say enough about the Spurs,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “They’ve been the premier franchise in the NBA for a long time.”

Keldon Johnson scored 24 points to lead seven Spurs in double figures. Marco Belinelli and Luka Samanic each had 16 for San Antonio.

The Spurs were officially ousted when Memphis beat Milwaukee, and Phoenix completed an undefeated eight-game run in the NBA’s restart bubble with a victory over Dallas.

Those games went final shortly before San Antonio-Utah started. The Spurs needed the Grizzlies or the Suns to lose to have any chance of getting into the West play-in series that begins Saturday to decide the NBA’s final postseason berth.

“It’s tough,” Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s more so tough putting your faith in somebody else’s hands.”

Popovich’s routine seemed normal. He met with assistants to discuss strategy before addressing players during timeouts. When someone needed a little 1-on-1 instruction, he approached and offered a word or two.

It looked just as it always does. Only this time, it was very different.

For the first time since April 1997, the Spurs played a game knowing that the playoffs were out of reach. The 22-year run of playoff spots tied the Philadelphia 76ers’ franchise for the longest in NBA history. The 76ers, starting as the Syracuse Nationals before moving to Philadelphia, went to the playoffs every year from 1950 through 1971.

With San Antonio out, the longest active postseason streak now belongs to the Houston Rockets. They’ll be in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year starting next week.

This is how long the streak went: David Stern wasn’t even halfway through his 30-year run as commissioner when it started. The Charlotte Bobcats – that’s what today’s Hornets went by then – were still 6-1/2 years from playing their first game. Pat Riley was still coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.

And now, for the first time since 1981, the playoffs will happen without either Riley or Popovich as head coaches.

The Spurs won five championships during the streak. They played 284 postseason games over those years; the only franchises within 100 of that were the Lakers (218), Miami (196) and Boston (192). And the Spurs won 170 playoff games in that span; only seven franchises have more playoff wins in their entire history.

All 170 of those wins for the Spurs came under Popovich, a total that gives him more career playoff victories than any two current coaches combined. There were 102 players who got into at least one Spurs playoff game during the streak, including current NBA head coaches Jacque Vaughn, Steve Kerr and Monty Williams.

The Spurs came into Disney as playoff long shots and felt the eight games they were guaranteed of playing during the restart would be ways to have young players grow from competition. They made it to the last possible day of contention.

“At this point, it’s been a huge success for our team and our young players, the development that we’ve talked about from the beginning,” Popovich said. “We’re very happy with what’s gone on here.”

He has given the restart rave reviews, both on and off the floor.

Popovich – an Air Force Academy graduate and the coach of USA Basketball’s men’s national team – wore a shirt pregame that read “Vote Your Life Depends On It.” He has remained outspoken on the need to end racial injustice and police brutality during the Spurs’ time in the bubble, talking about that perhaps as much if not more as he has about basketball.

“It’s important to bring these up, painful as they are,” Popovich said. “Some people talk about getting tired of hearing about it. But that’s the point. It has to change.”

 

Portland survives against Nets 134-133, advances to play-in; Suns out

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Damian Lillard looked every bit the seeding games MVP — he carried Portland for critical stretches against a scrappy Nets team and was a leader on the biggest night of the Trail Blazers season.

Portland is going on the West play-in games as the eighth seed — win one of two games against Memphis on Saturday or Sunday and the Trail Blazers will face the LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round.

All because Portland held on for a 134-133 win against Brooklyn.

The Portland win means the Phoenix Suns — the darlings of the bubble at 8-0 behind Devin Booker‘s play — are going home. As impressive as the Suns were in the bubble, they could not climb out of the hole they dug the first part of the season, before the coronavirus shut the league down.

Monty Williams — very likely the winner of the “Coach of the Seeding Games” award — deserves credit for getting his team to take advantage of the extra games and practices to get better in a way that Sacramento, New Orleans, and other teams did not.

Thursday night, however, belonged to Lillard.

Lillard finished with 42 points on the night, bringing him up to a 37.5 points per game average in the bubble.

Brooklyn tried, they threw two guys and Lillard and blitzed trying to force the ball out of his hands and anyone else to beat them. Enter CJ McCollum, who did not play like someone with a back injury on his way to 25 points.

Both Lillard and McCollum played every minute of the second half — and Portland might not have won if they didn’t.

Brooklyn’s effort and scrappy style of play has caught teams off-guard all restart long, and it pushed Portland. Caris LeVert added to his “sure we have Kyrie and KD, but I should get some touches too next season” case with 37 points.

Portland came into the restart with the goal of making the playoffs, and it is now just one win away. The first game between Portland and Memphis is on Saturday at 2:30 Eastern. If the Grizzlies win, it forces a second game, Sunday at 4:30 Eastern.

Memphis is an impressive young team, but it’s tough to beat Lillard when he is playing like an MVP.