Seven games/prospects for NBA fans to watch in NCAA Tournament

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For fans of a lot of the NBA’s tanking class teams, the NCAA Tournament is serious scouting time. Fortunately for those fans, their teams have been way ahead of them — scouts and GMs will be in arenas from San Diego to Pittsburgh looking to get an eye on the top college prospects one last time, but they have largely formed their opinions on the players. Or they should have. If you’re moving players way up or down your board based on the NCAA Tournament, you’re doing it wrong.

Who should you watch? What games should you catch as an NBA fan with an eye on the up-and-coming prospects? First, you should go listen to the podcast I did with NBC’s Rob Dauster where we get into way more detail on NBA prospects. But since you’re here, check out this list of seven players/teams/games to tune in for during the opening weekend.

1) Want to see the most high-level prospects in one game this weekend? Watch the (potential) second-round matchup between Kentucky and Arizona Saturday. We have to get to this one first — Davidson and its tough-to-defend offensive style have a shot against Kentucky. But if the first round games follow form, St. Patrick’s Day is going to have the best game of the first round — a classic matchup of inside vs. outside.

Arizona is led by the likely No. 1 pick in June, Deandre Ayton — an incredibly skilled and athletic 7-footer who can score inside, crashes the boards hard, and can step out and drain threes. He has the potential to be a top-five force in the NBA, and when he’s focused he can dominate a college game like no other (which makes it odd Arizona tends to go away from him for stretches).

On the other side, Kentucky is loaded with lottery-level picks on the perimeter — Kevin Knox on the wing, the very smooth Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the point, and while Hamidou Diallo at the other guard spot is not lottery bound he is likely getting an NBA look. Gilgeous-Alexander is one of the fastest risers on draft boards this year, he wasn’t even supposed to be Kentucky’s star rookie point guard coming into this season but he has impressed. He will be tested by Arizona point guard Rawle Alkins, who could well an NBA player in his own right (though more a second round guy who will have to earn his way in).

2) Just how good is Trae Young? Make sure you watch this Thursday early because Oklahoma may not last longer. If there is a fan favorite in college hoops this season, it’s Trae Young of Oklahoma — he gets the “he plays like Stephen Curry” comps from fans because of Young will fearlessly take and make 30 footers or throw playground-style passes. Scouts are not quite as high on him — he might be the third PG taken (if you count Real Madrid’s 6’8” ball handler Luka Doncic as a point) – but he’s still top 10. Young is 6’2” and is not an explosive athlete (which leads to some trouble finishing around the rim, and on defense). Still, he can do this.

Thursday, in one of the first games of the Tournament, he and Oklahoma goes up against a feisty Rhode Island team that has some real guard depth, too. That should be interesting.

3) If Young and Oklahoma can beat Rhode Island, their reward is a loaded Duke team on Saturday. To borrow (and modify) a Ben Simmons line, rooting Duke to win it all is like rooting for the house to win at blackjack. Yet, a lot of us have Duke going all the way because this team is LOADED with talent — three likely first-rounders come June, a ton of depth, and oh, and Mike Krzyzewski coaching them.

If you’re a fan of one of the teams in the tankapaloza going on at the bottom of the NBA standings, you need to catch some Blue Devils this first weekend (and likely subsequent weekends) because they have a couple of lottery picks. Marvin Bagley is going to go in the first five come June, a freak athlete who knows how to score and is a beast on the boards. Next to him along the front line is Wendell Carter Jr., a slightly more polished player than Bagley who can take over a game in his own right and been the best Blue Devil in key games this year (Carter likely goes in the 5-10 range in June). That’s not even getting into Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and… frankly, we don’t have time to get into all the Duke players who could be in the NBA in a few years. Just watch.

4) I’ll admit it, I have a man crush on Collin Sexton’s game — if he leads Alabama to a first-round win, he gets to show off against a loaded Villanova squad. I get it, Sexton was inconsistent during his freshman season in Alabama, and that should give teams pause. But his highs are so high — most recently in the SEC tournament — that it’s going to be hard not to take a chance on him somewhere around 10 in the draft. If you want to see him, you may need to tune in Thursday night, when Alabama takes on Virginia Tech in an even contest.

Win and we get to see Sexton in a real contest against Villanova on Saturday. The top seed is led by lottery pick Mikal Bridges, who will go in the lottery because he is a long, athletic defender who can step into the NBA and play on that side of the ball, plus he can knock down threes. Sexton against Bridges would be an entertaining back-and-forth.

5) Watch Michael Porter Jr. now, because you haven’t had the chance all season. At the start of the season, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. was seen as one of the top picks in the entire draft. However, spinal surgery for a 6’10” guy that kept him out almost all season — he’s played just 25 minutes — has dropped him down to the 6-8 range in the draft (he could fall further depending on how his medical reports look and how he does in interviews with teams, where there are questions). Porter and Missouri play Friday against Florida State, win that and Sunday they probably against Ohio State.

6) Michigan State isn’t getting tested this weekend, but if your team is tanking you should watch them anyway. Much like Duke, if you are a fan of a team racing toward the bottom of the standings, you should probably tune in to watch Michigan State play — they are loaded with talent that will be playing in the NBA in a couple of years.

Jaren Jackson is a prototypical modern NBA big man who will go in the top five this June, maybe top three. He can do it all — offensively score inside or hit the three ball, defensively protect the rim or switch onto guys on the perimeter. He is going to be an impact NBA player. Miles Bridges is an athletic two-way wing who can knock down jumpers, but is even more impressive is his length and work on defense.

7) Lonnie Walker IV of Miami may put on a dazzling display of athleticism. Or not. You never know, but it’s worth watching to see. Lonnie Walker IV has the skills to be an impressive NBA player, which is why he likely gets drafted in the late lottery, but he’s also the model of inconsistency. Miami will need his shot creation — he can catch and shoot, knock down threes off the bounce, and he’s a force in transition — to advance very far in this tournament. Who knows if which Walker shows up here, or in Summer League. That said, if he puts it together, he will be special.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

Karl-Anthony Towns Offseaon Workout
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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that there were not a lot of details, other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about what he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time.

Towns has been sidelined before by injury, previously it was COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.

Lakers reportedly ‘seriously considered’ Westbrook trade for Hield, Turner

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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it. So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That was Lakers GM Rob Pelinka on media day talking about the possibility of the Lakers trading the only two first-round picks they control this decade — 2027 and 2029 — to upgrade this roster around LeBron. Pelinka was clear the Lakers were committed to building a winner around LeBron, “We have one of the great players in LeBron James to ever play the game, and he committed to us on a long-term contract, a three-year contract… He committed to our organization. That’s gotta be a bilateral commitment, and it’s there.”

But should that include a Russell Westbrook trade to Indiana for Buddy Hield and Myles Turner? Shams Charania of The Athletic updated and added to the extensive previous reporting on this trade, saying the Lakers kept the door open right up to the start of training camp but didn’t pull the trigger.

Vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, owner Jeanie Buss and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis seriously considered sending Westbrook and unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to the Pacers for center Myles Turner and guard Buddy Hield, sources said. They held a series of meetings in the days leading up to camp to analyze the possible Pacers deal from every angle, with the views of Ham and Lakers executives Joey and Jesse Buss also being strongly considered in the process. The organization even delayed the midweek news conference for Pelinka and Ham as the debate continued…

If they were going to gamble on a make-or-break move of this magnitude, the thinking went, then everyone had to have confidence in the same vision. But when that wasn’t the case, sources say, the choice was made by Pelinka to remain patient and see, yet again, if Westbrook might find a way to make this imperfect fit with the Lakers work.

Hield and Turner would absolutely improve the Lakers. Turner can play the five, is an elite shot blocker who could provide a strong defensive back line next to Anthony Davis, and is a respectable 3-point shooter who can space the floor. He’s a natural fit. Hield brings shooting that the Lakers have coveted for years and need more of now.

That trade would have moved the Lakers up the ladder to a solid playoff team in the West. Would that trade make the Lakers contenders? Probably not. It still would have come back to the bubble version of Davis and LeBron being ready for the final 16-game sprint to have a puncher’s chance (that may be the case regardless of other moves). Also, it would have messed with future free agency plans in Los Angeles — the Lakers can have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase Kyrie Irving (although Shams reports that’s not in their plans) or other name players, Hield is owed $19.3 million next season and Turner will be a free agent the Lakers would need to re-sign. This deal would end the dream of a free agent taking a little less than the max to come to the Lakers (a dream not likely to come to reality anyway).

As Pelinka said, the Lakers have one shot with trading their two picks to upgrade the roster — they have to hit a home run, this can’t be a solid single. The Lakers were not convinced Hield and Turner could be that home run tandem.

So Los Angeles will go into the season with a starting five of Westbrook, Kendrick Nunn, LeBron, Davis, and Damian Jones, with a bench of Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, and Dennis Schroder. The Lakers will see if it fits, how far it looks like this group can take them under new coach Darvin Ham, and watch the market to see what other stars could become available.

The Lakers aren’t done dealing, but it looks like a deal with Indiana is now in the rearview mirror.

PBT Podcast: Philadelphia 76ers 2022-23 season preview

2022-23 Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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The Philadelphia 76ers are title contenders — if James Harden and Joel Embiid can play up to their potential on the biggest of NBA stages. That hasn’t always happened before, particularly with Harden.

Those two are now set up well. Philadelphia learned its lessons from the playoff loss to Miami last season. GM Daryl Morey rounded out the roster with more toughness and two-way players in the form of P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and DeAnthony Melton. Add in the development of Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle and you have a deep roster of quality players — down to BBall Paul.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia joins me to discuss if Doc Rivers is ready to take this team to the next level, and if all the additions can come together when it matters. Can Harden shake his history of playoff reputation and lead a team to the Finals?

You can always listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

When will LeBron James break Kareem’s all-time scoring record?

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LeBron James is trying not to think about it too much.

“The only time I’ve kind of like thought about it is when someone, you know, been posting on social and it went through my scroll, through my feed, and I’ve seen it,” LeBron said at Lakers’ media day. “And every single time I’m kind of in awe of it, like, wow.”

The wow is breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record.

It was a record thought almost untouchable at 38,387 points, but now LeBron sits just 1,326 points shy of breaking it — health willing, he should pass Kareem this season.

When? Well, that takes a little math and speculation.

LeBron scored 30.3 points a game last season, but the two seasons prior to that it was closer to 25 points a game. If we split the difference and land at 27.5 points per game, it would take 48-49 games. We have to assume that 37-year-old LeBron (turning 38 just before the New Year) will sit out at least a couple of those first games, pushing this back a few games.

Considering LeBron could slide back in scoring to close to 25 a game again, the smart bet is he breaks Kareem’s record in late January or early February. The Lakers have a five-game East Coast road trip that includes Boston and New York starting Jan. 28 and running through Feb. 4, and that’s about the window.

“To sit here and to know that I’m on the verge of breaking probably the most sought-after record in the NBA, something that people say will probably never be done, I think it’s just super like humbling, for myself,” LeBron said. “I think it’s super cool.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well. I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Having been in the spotlight for as long as LeBron has — remember he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler — he can be very practiced, very polished with the media. His brand is smooth, as are his dealings with the press in general.

However, when talking about passing Abdul-Jabbar, it felt like LeBron’s guard was down. He was raw, more reflective and genuinely moved.

“You guys always see me use my hashtag #thekidfromakron and that those are the moments where I really think about that kid from Akron. Walking those streets and, you know, playing basketball when I had actually had a basketball and the hoop, or actually just walking around and air dribbling and shooting into it and invisible hoop you know, and counting 5…4…3…2…1 and, you know, making game-winning shots.

“I’m not going to put too much pressure on it throughout the season. But I think it’s a pretty historical moment when it gets here and you know, as long as my family and friends are all there that’s that’s the most important for me.”

LeBron’s family will undoubtedly be there, and the whole world will be watching. Longevity and LeBron’s ability to be great into age 38 (and beyond) is part of his GOAT argument — and there is no better cornerstone of that argument than being the game’s all-time leading scorer.