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PBT’s first-round NBA mock draft

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There’s no secret for the first two picks of the 2016 NBA Draft — Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are locks.

After that it is up in the air — expect a lot of trades and a lot of surprises. There are guys deep into this draft who can make an impact in the NBA with a little time and proper development. Who goes where? NBC/PBT’sNBA Draft expert — and Rotoworld writer — Ed Isaacson took a crack at the first round.

First Round

1. Philadelphia: Ben Simmons, PF, LSU – As we get closer to the draft, it’s looking more and more like Simmons will be the Sixers’ pick, and I agree with this. His problems with perimeter shooting are well-known, and his demeanor down the stretch last season didn’t win him any fans, but he is a unique talent with his ability to see the floor, handle the ball, and pass for his size. Defensively, it may cause some issues if he has to defend on the wing, but having two potential rim protectors in Nerlens Noel and, hopefully, Joel Embiid, could help there.  Simmons has backed away from the idea that he doesn’t want to go to Philadelphia, but expect a lot more rumors to surface in the next week, as he isn’t going to work out for them.

2. Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke – The only real challenge I saw to Simmons at the top, it looks like Ingram will fall to a good spot for him in Los Angeles. Ingram will give them something they sorely need, an athletic shooter on the wing, who can also get to the rim. He still needs to work on developing his body, and while having long arms, he’s not a very good defender, unless in position to block a shot, but there is a lot of potential here for Ingram to be the Lakers’ go-to guy for the future.

3. Boston: Dragan Bender, PF, Croatia – Bender stays at number three for Boston, though I still think they will hope they will get the kind of trade offer which would allow them to unload this pick. If they choose to keep the pick, Bender could be a good project for Brad Stevens and staff. Bender has great size, and good skill for his age, but he just hasn’t had the court time he has really needed yet to make a big jump. Getting into the Celtics’ system should help him acclimate to the NBA game, while developing both his game and physical abilities.

4. Phoenix: Marquese Chriss, PF, Washington – Like Boston, Phoenix also has multiple first-round picks, and may consider a deal here for the right player, but if not, getting a power forward who can stretch the floor could be a priority. Chriss is still somewhat raw skill-wise, and he doesn’t quite understand the game yet, but he is a high-level athlete who can run the floor, block shots, and knock down jumpers. He could turn into a good starter down the road.

5. Minnesota: Kris Dunn, PG, Providence – While another shooter to put around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins could also help, taking Dunn can create some other scenarios.  A strong defender and excellent in transition, Dunn could create scoring chances on both ends of the floor, plus he has the passing ability which will make those around him better, as long as Dunn can cut down on his mistakes. Also, if Dunn does develop well, it suddenly can make Ricky Rubio an attractive trade chip when the Wolves are ready to take the next step.

6. New Orleans: Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma – Eric Gordon is a free agent, and Jrue Holiday has a year left on his deal, so looking to either backcourt spot is the way to go. In Hield, the Pelicans can add a very good long-range shooter who can help open up the floor some more for Anthony Davis. Jamal Murray is also an option here, though Hield’s competitiveness on the floor should make a good impression on his teammates.

7. Denver: Jaylen Brown, SF, California – Denver added their point guard, Emmanuel Mudiay, in this spot last season, but with the health of Danilo Gallinari always a question, looking to add one of the few top-tier wing prospects could be a smart move. I’m not sold on Brown, as he didn’t really stand out as a freshman, and his lack of perimeter shooting ability hurts, but he has an NBA body and is a good athlete, both which he uses well to get to the basket. Like Boston and Phoenix, Denver also has three first-round pick and may also explore a trade here for a player who can help them now.

8. Sacramento: Jamal Murray, PG/SG, Kentucky –Dave Joerger will hopefully get things moving in the right direction in Sacramento, and they can really use some help in the backcourt. I don’t see much of a chance that Rajon Rondo is re-signed, and off-court issues with Darren Collison are a question mark, so a point guard could make sense. I’m not in the camp that Murray should, or could, play the point at the NBA level, but he does have some ability to create. What he can do is knock down threes extremely well, another thing that the Kings could use.

9. Toronto: Skal Labissiere, PF/C, Kentucky – Bismack Biyombo is going to test free agency after his surprising year, and the Raptors could use a rim protector behind Jonas Valanciunas. Labissiere is more of a project at this point, but he can knock down mid-range jumpers and block shots, so he could be a good project for the Toronto development coaches.

10. Milwaukee: Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah – Poeltl sticks at the number ten spot again. Greg Monroe hasn’t really seemed to gel with Jason Kidd’s offense and defense, but Poeltl has the potential to step in and help on both ends. He has above-average potential as a rim protector, and though not the most athletic player, he is skilled on the offensive end, comfortable in the pick-and-roll, and can make an impact on the offensive boards.

11. Orlando: Deyonta Davis, PF/C, Michigan State – The Magic are another team with an exciting young core, but there are still some holes to fill, and shoring up the defense around the basket is one major area. Nikola Vucevic still has a few years left on his contract, but he doesn’t bring a major defensive presence, especially as a rim protector. Davis is young, has good size, is an improving scorer around the rim, and is a strong defensive presence, including the ability to block shots.

12. Utah: Wade Baldwin, PG, Vanderbilt – The Jazz enjoyed a breakout season from Rodney Hood last year, and with a solid group of young players, aren’t too far from getting back to the playoffs. The point guard position has been a concern, and even though Dante Exum will be back, he hasn’t exactly shown that he is the answer, especially coming off missing a season. Baldwin is a high-level athlete, good perimeter shooter, and can be a problem in transition, though he does have some issues with control and decision-making. With long arms and sped, he has the tools to be a good defender, though seems to have mental lapses. Still, even backing up Exum, he will provide some excitement.

13. Phoenix: Furkan Korkmaz, SG, Turkey – This is Phoenix’s second pick, and after taking Chriss at number four, they can look to add some shooting with Korkmaz. Korkmaz has good size for the shooting guard spot, and he’s shown a good shooting touch, and a bit of versatility to his offense. Still just 18 years old, Phoenix can let him stay over in Turkey for a bit to gain more high-level experience, especially since Devin Booker is coming off a solid rookie year.

14. Chicago: Denzel Valentine, SG, Michigan State – Chicago is going through a transition phase, as the Gasol/Noah era is coming to an end, and Derrick Rose has never been the same after his injury issues. Fred Hoiberg likes smart players who can shoot and create shots for others, and Valentine does both of these things very well. He may not be the most athletic player in the draft, but he knows how to play, knows what his coaches need from him, and is an underrated defender.

15. Denver: Henry Ellenson, PF, Marquette – This is Denver’s second pick in the first round, and while a versatile forward may not be at the top of their list, it’s hard to pass on Ellenson if he is available here. A strong scorer around the lane, Ellenson has also shown improvement in his ability to stretch the floor, to go along with strong rebounding on both ends of the floor. He may have some issues on the defensive side, but Coach Malone should be able to help him improve.

16. Boston: Domantas Sabonis, PF, Gonzaga – This is Boston’s second pick of the first round, and after taking a long-term project in Bender at number three, they can add a frontcourt player who could contribute right away. Sabonis is a physical power forward who can be a force around the basket and on the boards, something that Boston will need to take another step forward in the Eastern Conference.

17. Memphis: Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame – Mike Conley has been with the Grizzlies since the start of his career, but he’s a free agent now, and could command more than Memphis wants to pay going forward. With that possibility, they should take a long look at Jackson, who impressed on both ends of the floor during his three seasons with the Irish. Even if Conley is convinced to come back, Jackson will immediately provide better depth at the position than Memphis has had.

18. Detroit: Malachi Richardson, SG, Syracuse – The Pistons have a strong nucleus of young players, led by Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson, and Tobias Harris. Caldwell-Pope, especially, has made strong improvement, though will be a free agent soon, and, if he continues to improve, could command a great deal of money. You can never have enough shooting, and even with Caldwell-Pope sticking around, Richardson has that knack for scoring, even if inconsistent right now, and if he learns how to play defense, his freakish length could help Detroit on the perimeter.

19. Denver: Timothe Luwawu, SF, France – This will be Denver’s third pick in the first round, and assuming they haven’t swung a deal to give up any of them, they can look to add some long-term depth on the wing, especially with Gallinari being a constant injury risk. Luwawu has good size for an NBA wing, with long arms, and a constantly improving offensive game. Playing at a fast pace in Europe, he could eventually become a good transition mate for Mudiay and company, though he still has to polish up some of the rough edges in his game, especially handling the ball and creating shots off the dribble.

20. Indiana: Taurean Prince, SF, Baylor – Though Prince didn’t meet a lot of the high expectations for his senior season, he is a long, athletic wing who can make an impact on both ends of the floor. Prince can knock down threes and get out in transition, and he has the experience where he can find a role fairly quick in Indiana.

21. Atlanta: DeAndre’ Bembry, SF, St. Joseph’s – The Hawks are facing a few question marks this off-season with Al Horford and Kent Bazemore both free agents. Bembry could eventually slide into Bazemore’s spot, and has some similarities to his game. Bembry is a hard-nosed defender on the wing, and can be a versatile scorer inside the arc. He needs to work on his long-range shooting, but that could come with some more experience.

22. Charlotte: Damian Jones, C, Vanderbilt – Charlotte is another team facing a lot of questions with free agency this season, but in any case, they still could use some help in the paint on the defensive end. Jones was inconsistent during his time at Vanderbilt, but he is a strong defender around the basket and a good shot-blocker. His offensive game needs work, but he can be a force on the offensive boards, and if he can avoid foul trouble, on the defensive end as well.

23. Boston: Ante Zizic, C, Croatia – This would be Boston’s third pick in the first round, barring any deals they make. Zizic has good size, works hard, and is just 19 years old. He’s not ready to come to the NBA now, so Boston can leave him over in Europe to gain more experience, especially with his offensive skills, and hopefully moving up to better competition.

24. Philadelphia: Dejounte Murray, PG, Washington – Yes, Murray may give Sixers’ fans flashbacks to Tony Wroten, and there are a good deal of similarities, both good and bad. Murray has good size for the point guard position, sees the floor well, and is a high-level athlete. He isn’t much of a shooter, and his decision-making could be mind-boggling. Murray may not make a big impact at the NBA level, but if brought along slowly, he could turn into a solid NBA point guard.

25. Los Angeles Clippers: Cheick Diallo, PF, Kansas – Diallo never really got on track after an NCAA investigation caused him to miss a part of the early season. Long, athletic, and with a motor that doesn’t quit, Diallo may be short on skill, but he makes things happen with his energy on the floor. While not exactly what the Clippers need, they get a great value this late in the first round.

26. Philadelphia: Malik Beasley, SG, Florida State – With their third pick in the first round, Philadelphia could look to shore up one of their real needs, perimeter shooting. Beasley showed a consistent stroke and NBA-range as a freshman at Florida State, and is even a bit more versatile on offense than just a shooter.

27. Toronto: Ivica Zubac, C, Croatia – 7’1 and a solid 265 pounds, Zubac is a semi-skilled offensive player, with the potential to be a real low-post or pick-and-roll scoring threat. Though he has great size, he isn’t much of a rim protector, post defender, or rebounder, but with some development, he could be passable. This is more of a long-range selection for Toronto to work towards securing their frontcourt for the future.

28. Phoenix: Juan Hernangomez, PF, Spain – This is Phoenix’s third pick in the first round, and I would expect them to take a player they can leave overseas for a bit longer. Hernangomez is a skilled power forward, with the ability to step away from the rim a bit, and he has played a good amount of minutes overseas already. He could be ready to come over in a year or two at the rate he is developing.

29. San Antonio: Brice Johnson, PF, North Carolina – With Tim Duncan’s future still up in the air, Johnson can at least add some athleticism to the frontcourt. While not the most skilled offensive player, he has improved a lot over the past few years, and his ability to run the floor and rebound could make him a very good value this low in the first round.

30. Golden State: Diamond Stone, C, Maryland – As the league’s dominant franchise right now, the Warriors can look to the future a bit when drafting in this last spot. They got Kevon Looney here last year, and now with a good chance that Festus Ezeli will be somewhere else next year, a young big could be what they need. Stone has a big body and can be efficient around the rim. While not really ready for the NBA level, some time down in Santa Cruz could have him ready to contribute in his second season.

LeBron James one win away from history: 10th NBA Finals apperance

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — LeBron James can reach a 10th NBA Finals, done by only three greats of the game.

Anthony Davis is on the verge of his first.

The final step for the Los Angeles Lakers shapes up as the toughest.

They have to knock out the Denver Nuggets, who have been on the brink of dismissal from the bubble six times and every time refused to go.

“You can never be comfortable around this team,” Davis said. “They have been in this situation twice. We’ve been in the situation twice. But both teams are familiar with these situations, but this team is not going to go away.”

Game 5 is Saturday. The Lakers have ended both their series thus far in five games.

But the Nuggets were also down 3-1 against both Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, fell far behind in Game 5, and then battled back to not only win the game but eventually the series.

No team had ever erased two 3-1 deficits in one postseason and now the Nuggets need to do it a third time. It’s a predicament they could have avoided, if they’d gotten one more defensive stop in Game 2 or given up a few less second-chance points in Game 4.

“These are all close games we’re playing,” guard Jamal Murray said. “Going to keep battling it out.”

Murray was sensational again in Game 4, though James slowed him enough down the stretch after taking on the defensive assignment to help the Lakers pull out a 114-108 victory.

One more win, and James ties NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third on the career list with 10 NBA Finals appearances. Only Hall of Famers Bill Russell (12) and Sam Jones (11) of the Boston Celtics have gone to more.

It would be James’ first with the Lakers after five appearances in Cleveland and four in Miami, and the Lakers’ first trip to the finals since winning the last of their 16 championships in 2010.

James and Davis have been the unquestioned catalysts of this run, and they’re good strong support from some playoff-tested veterans. Dwight Howard had 12 points and 11 rebounds Thursday in his first start of this postseason, helping send Los Angeles to its overwhelming 25-6 advantage in second-chance points.

Rajon Rondo contributed 11 points and moved into eighth place on the career list with seven more assists.

“In the postseason, every possession is so important,” James said. “When you can have guys that have been in the moments and can understand and also be able to make adjustments on the fly, and know that you can count on them down the stretch, it just makes the team and you individually feel so much more confident in the outcome.”

The younger Nuggets don’t have those type of veterans, but they have the experience of this historic postseason run that could have ended on Aug. 25, the night of Game 5 against Utah. A month later, they are still at Disney World, still trying to prove that hope is not lost until four games are.

“I think people out there probably think this is exactly where we want them. It’s not. We would much rather be up 3-1, but it is what it is. We put ourselves in this position,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.

“Our team has shown tremendous resiliency and grit in getting out of these before. I have no doubt that tomorrow night we’ll bring that same fight to the game and hopefully we can keep this series alive.”

If they do, Game 6 would be Monday night. If not, the Lakers will be preparing to face Miami, in its first appearance since James left in 2014, or the Celtics, their greatest rival they could tie with a 17th NBA title.

The Lakers won’t think about any of that until the Nuggets are finally gone.

“Like I said last game, we’ve got to put them away,” Davis said. “They are going to continue to fight, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is. We just have to make sure we counter everything they do.”

Report: Mutual interest in Cavaliers keeping Tristan Thompson

Tristan Thompson
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Tristan Thompson has played every one of his nine NBA seasons in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform.

There have been questions about where the free-agent big man will play his 10th season. The Cavaliers traded for Andre Drummond to become their starting five, limiting both Thompson’s role and the money Cleveland would spend for the backup center role.

There is still “mutual interest” in a return, Cavs GM Koby Altman told Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“I think it’s fair to say there’s mutual interest for sure,” general manager Koby Altman said about the possibility of re-signing Thompson. “He’s been with this franchise his entire career since we drafted him. He’s won a championship here. Obviously, he means a lot to the players on the team right now, but it has to make sense. There are some events coming up — the draft, free agency — where we have to see if it makes sense for him. He’s earned the right to be an unrestricted free agent and explore opportunities at this point in his career. So, we’ll see.”

Tristan Thompson, 30, has battled nagging injuries in recent seasons but started most of the Cavaliers’ games before the shut down of the league last season, stayed healthy, and averaged 12 points and 10.1 rebounds a game playing 30 minutes a night.

How much of a market there will be for Thompson remains to be seen, especially in uncertain financial times around the league, but it will not be anywhere near the $18.5 million he made this season. He brings rebounding, defense, and a veteran presence to a team, but in general teams are not spending on the center spot right now, seeing that as a mercenary position where they can get a solid player at a cheap price. Thompson may have other suitors offering a larger role than Cleveland can, but the money is not likely to be much different.

Thompson’s camp asked for a trade at the deadline this past season (Cleveland couldn’t find a deal it liked), but when it comes time to decide this offseason he may want to stay with the organization he knows not a new one, if the money is the same. It’s going to be an interesting offseason for Thompson and the Cavaliers.

 

Bam Adebayo: “I played like s***… I’ll put that game on me.”

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The Miami Heat were one half of basketball away from the NBA Finals when a desperate Boston team cranked up its defensive intensity, started attacking the rim, and started playing at a level Miami didn’t match. The Celtics dominated the final 24 minutes of Game 5, forcing a Game 6 and keeping the Heat out of the Finals for now.

Bam Adebayo took the blame for the Heat loss. Via Manny Navarro of The Athletic.

“I played like s***. Bottom line: I can’t. I’ll put that game on me. It’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s not my coaches’ fault. It’s me. I missed too many shots I should have made… I wasn’t being the defensive anchor I should’ve been. I don’t think I was communicating fast enough. I feel like I was a step behind today. I wasn’t a difference-maker today. I didn’t get us into fast enough triggers. That’s on me.”

Game 5 was not Adebayo’s best outing: 13 points, eight rebounds, and Boston did a better job with its scheme pulling him away from the basket to defend smaller players on the perimeter, opening up the paint. Adebayo and the Heat as a whole struggled to slow the Celtics’ pick-and-roll actions, and Boston has figured out how to play against Miami’s zone (so the Heat have gone away from it).

“It’s not (Adebayo’s fault). It’s on everybody,” Jimmy Butler said after the game. “He does so much for us that it can feel like that at times but it’s definitely not on him. It’s on us as a whole. We all understand that because nobody was playing the way that we are supposed to play; the way that we have to play in order for us to win, nobody. And for him to say that, I respect it. I love him for it. But he can’t do it by himself. We’ve got to be there with him.”

Bam Adebayo was wearing a sleeve over his left arm, where he aggravated a wrist injury at the end of Game 4. Both Adebayo and coach Erik Spoelstra said that was nothing and not what led to his off night.

Miami needs a lot of things to go differently in Game 6: It needs to start hitting its threes again (19.4% from beyond the arc in Game 5, and below 30% from deep in each of the last three games). Miami has to take care of the ball and it has to get back in transition defense — Boston ran right past the Heat in the second half and got a lot of easy transition buckets. Mostly, however, it comes back to Miami shooters hitting more of their threes — the Heat halfcourt offense needs that.

The Game 5 loss was not on Adebayo. But he can be part of the solution.

Backs against the wall, Celtics play dominant half to beat Heat, force Game 6

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For Boston, it was the worst of halves, it was the best of halves. It was a half of foolishness, it was a half of wisdom. It was a half of tight play, it was a half of free-flowing offense. It was a half of despair, it was a half of renewed hope.

With its season on the line down 3-1, Boston came out tight in the first half of Game 5, with guys trying to do everything themselves, showing no patience, no ball movement, players gunning from three, and nobody in green was defending well. Boston shot 5-of-20 in the first quarter, and while things settled down Boston was lucky to be only down seven at the half.

Then a different Boston team came out in the second half — a team that was defending with intent, pushing the pace, and watching their best player, Jayson Tatum, attack to the tune of 17 third quarter points. At the end of the third, Brad Stevens told his team, “with all sincerity, that’s the first time I’ve seen Celtics basketball in the past few games” (via the ESPN mic’d up segment of the broadcast).

The Celtics pulled away in the fourth to win 121-108. The Heat still lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 coming on Sunday.

“We did not compete hard enough defensively and we paid the price for that,” Erik Spoelstra said of his Heat team.

“I thought we played with great tenacity defensively, and I think our offense followed suit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the second-half turnaround.

That defense included much more ball pressure out high on Miami and it worked. The Heat shot 19.4% from three, that’s the third straight game under 30% from three for the Heat, but Tyler Herro wasn’t able to bail them out this time around.

For Boston, Tatum finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds, and his third quarter helped save the Boston season.

Boston needs that Tatum from the opening tip on Sunday, not after 24 minutes (as we have seen the last couple of games). Boston is a good team but it needs Tatum to play at an All-NBA level to look like a contender.

Jaylen Brown added 28 points for the Celtics, while Daniel Theis proved an important role with 15 points and 13 rebounds plus some critical defensive plays down the stretch.

Miami may have led at the half, but when Boston started playing better out of desperation the Heat had no answers.

“No one was playing the way we’re supposed to play, the way we have to play for us to win,” Butler said.

Miami got 23 points from Goran Dragic and 20 from Duncan Robinson, who was a big part of Miami’s strong first half.

Miami was up 3-1, and they have seen how little that lead has meant in the bubble.

“I don’t think those series have anything to do with this. Our guys are well aware,” Spoelstra said. “We have great respect for Boston. We’re not expecting it to be easy. You have to earn it.”