David Griffin says one-and-done rule in part to blame for draft “misses”

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Utah’s Donovan Mitchell may win NBA Rookie of the Year this season, and he fell to 13th on the draft board. Last year’s winner was Malcolm Brogdon, taken 36th (albeit in an odd, down year).

Last year’s All-NBA teams featured Kawhi Leonard (drafted 15th), Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th), Rudy Gobert (27th), Jimmy Butler (30th), Draymond Green (35th), and Isaiah Thomas (60th).

That’s a lot of the league’s best players who have fallen down the draft board out of the top 10, and occasionally into the second round. There have always been draft busts (Michael Olowokandi,  Darko Milicic, it’s a long list) and guys who slipped deep into the draft that shouldn’t have (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, etc.), but are there more of them now?

Rockets GM Daryl Morey said at the Sloan Conference a week ago that “as a league, we are getting worse at drafting.” Former Cavaliers GM David Griffin agrees. And he thinks he knows the reason — the provision in the one-and-done rule that David Stern wanted, keeping NBA scouts from going to high school gyms. Griffin explained his this on Mark Deeks’ “Give Me Sport” NBA podcast (as transcribed at The Athletic).

“(Fifteen years ago) you weren’t seeing a preponderance of guys going later than, say, nine or 10 that were moving the needle. And now you’ve got Donovan Mitchell [drafted 13th] going later in the draft. And you’ve had Giannis [drafted 15th] go later in the draft, and Rudy Gobert [drafted 27th]…

“What’s happened is because of the proliferation of the one-and-done, teams are making more mistakes in drafting than we really ever have because we know less about the kids than we ever have. Back when you could come directly out of high school, because everyone was going to be in a situation where they could declare out of high school, we were allowed in high school gyms. And what that meant was we saw far more of the kids during that year leading up to the draft than we do now.”

It’s easy to make the call on an Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns, taking them No. 1 is fairly obvious. The guys at the very top have separated themselves. The challenges come farther down the draft board when the teams need more information.

Analytics have a role in drafting, but more than anything scouts and GMs still need to watch a kid play. A lot. The more time watching him — in person — the better. In practice, in games, everywhere they can. While Stern didn’t like the optics of NBA scouts flooding high schools to watch guys, in solving that problem he created another one.

The NBA seems to be coming around on the idea of letting youth go directly from high schools to the NBA again — teams are far better equipped to develop players than they were 15-20 years ago, including using the G-League — but there are a lot of details to work out. It’s not clear exactly how it will go down. But one of the benefits will be to give teams more information, more eyeballs in person on games, than they had before.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.