Five NBA Draft sleepers to watch, including Gary Payton II

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We know that Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are going to be good, that’s why they will be the first two off the board at the NBA Draft Thursday night. But that’s just a couple picks in a 60-pick draft.

Each year a couple of players emerge from the second round — or are undrafted — then later carve out a nice niche for themselves in the NBA. Sleepers. Guys scouts and GMs looked past for some reason who develop late or have skills that overcome their weaknesses. There will be a few of those in this draft.

Rob Dauster of NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk laid out a couple on the PBT Podcast breaking down the draft. Ed Isaacson of NBA Draft Blog and Rotoworld gave us three more guys to watch. Here is our list of sleepers that you should be happy if your team grabs.

• Gary Payton II, 6’3” point guard (Oregon State). Yes, the son of that Gary Payton. The younger Payton has speed and fantastic body control, which combined with good handles lets him drive through defenses and get to the rim. He’s a strong pick-and-roll ball handler. He’s not the defender his father was (who is?), but he’s good, particularly off the ball. He needs to work on his jumper, but this is a guy who just gets the game.
—Rob Dauster

• Tyler Ulis, 5’10” point guard (Kentucky). The obvious knock on Ulis is his height, which is officially 5’10” but that is generous. He has fantastic ball handling skills, is quick and uses that to get into the lane off the pick-and-roll, he has good vision and passing skills, and he is a quality floor general. He’s also a pesky defender (he was the SEC defensive player of the year). He’s not a future All-Star, but he can be a very good backup point guard off the bench.
—Rob Dauster

• A.J. Hammons, 7’0” center (Purdue). There may not be a big man prospect as ready to come in and make an impact than Hammons, the seven-footer from Purdue. His ability to defend in the post and the pick-and-roll is very good, and he averaged two blocks or more all four of his college seasons. Hammons’ offensive game has also developed well, including showing the ability to step out and knock down 15 to 18 footers. He’ll be 24 in August, but I’m not so sure any of the younger big men in this draft will develop his skill set on both sides of the ball.
—Ed Isaacson

• Isaiah Cousins, 6’6″ shooting guard (Oklahoma). Cousins played in Buddy Hield’s spotlight last season, but he is another versatile guard who can allow a coach to play around his line-ups. He has good size at 6’4.5, hit 41 percent from three, and plays solid defense. Add his ability to create in the pick-and-roll, and Cousins will be a very good value in the second round.
—Ed Isaacson

• Isaiah Whitehead, 6’5″ shooting guard (Seton Hall). Whitehead can cause a coach to lose his mind at times, but he has a special ability to create off the dribble, whether for himself or a teammate, plus has the versatility, size, and scoring ability to play either backcourt spot. If a coach can get him to reign in his inner-Lance Stephenson, Whitehead could be a great addition to any guard rotation.
—Ed Isaacson

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.