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2018 NBA Mock Draft of entire first round

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The ping-pong balls have bounced and the basketball gods have shined on the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and Atlanta Hawks.

Will the Suns take Deandre Ayton No. 1? Will Luka Doncic slip down the board? Where will Trae Young land?

Rob Dauster of NBC’s College Basketball Talk and myself spent hours after the lottery ended putting together a full first-round mock draft. You can listen to the two-part podcast here and see how we argued and reasoned our way into these picks. Dauster brings incredible knowledge of these college players (and an international), and I tried to think like these teams and what they will prioritize in the draft (usually just the best player on the board, but still).

Here’s how we see the first round shaking out.

Suns small icon 1. Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, 7’0” center (Arizona). The consensus No. 1 pick could be a franchise-changing player with unlimited skills on the offensive end — he can finish at the rim, face up, hit threes or midrange jumpers, is mobile and can play in transition, and just generally looks like a modern NBA five. The only knocks are consistent effort questions, which show mostly on the defensive end (he can block shots but is not consistent there). If he lives up to his potential, he will be a dominant force who will make many All-NBA teams and more. He can be the inside to Devin Booker’s outside in Phoenix.

Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Luka Doncic, 6’8” point/forward (Serbia). He put up good numbers against men in the EuroLeague and ABC League last year, leading powerhouse Real Madrid at age 19. He’s a gifted passer and playmaker who is at his best in transition or coming off the pick and reading the play. He’s the most NBA-ready player in this draft. The only question is his ceiling, he’s not al elite NBA-level athlete and struggled some when defended by NBA-level athletes in Europe (the NBA’s speed and length will be an adjustment). Will make a strong playmaking combo with D’Aaron Fox.

Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks:. Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). Just a pure scorer who is an elite athlete and may have the fastest second jump in this draft. He has the full bag of tricks on offense — can shoot the three and is strong around the rim — and is going to be able to score at the NBA level right away. There are real questions about his defense (Duke went to a zone last season in part because of how he got torched in pick-and-rolls). Bagley and John Collins can be Atlanta’s front line of the future.

Grizzlies small icon 4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., 6’11” forward/center (Michigan St.). The Grizzlies have a center (Marc Gasol) but can’t pass up the best guy on the board right now and a prototypical center for the direction the NBA is going — 7’5” wingspan, a good rim protector who can block shots but also can switch on the perimeter and stay in front of smaller players, can finish around the rim with either hand, and can shoot the three (despite a slightly odd shot). He’ll need to get stronger and prove he can be consistent (and stay out of foul trouble) on defense, but he’s young and some scouts think he could be the best player in the draft eventually.

Mavericks small icon 5: Dallas Mavericks: Mohamed Bamba, 7’0” center (Texas) The Mavericks have been looking for a center ever since the DeAndre Jordan debacle, this can be there answer. Bamba has the potential to be an elite rim protecting center with his 7’9.5” wingspan and instincts, plus he moves well enough to cover on the perimeter on pick-and-rolls. A lot of comparisons to Rudy Gobert here, and like Gobert he’s got a lot of work to do to get strong enough to make this work.

Magic small icon 6. Orlando Magic: . Trae Young, 6’2” point guard (Oklahoma). The Elfrid Payton era is over, the Magic are in the midst of another rebuild, and whoever the new coach ends up being he is going to need a point guard to lead the squad (and the Magic need a name to help them sell tickets). Young has shooting range out to 30 feet and isn’t afraid to show it off, he also sees the court well and makes entertaining passes — he also commits a lot of turnovers by not making the simple pass. There are questions about his defense. A lot of fans want to compare him to Stephen Curry, but if he doesn’t put in a lot of work and accept his role there is Jimmer Fredette potential here.

Bulls small icon 7. Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter Jr., 6’10” center (Duke). Long term, Carter can be the more traditional big man the Bulls play next to Lauri Markkanen on the front line. He has an NBA body and a varied offensive game — he can post up back-to-basket, has a variety of moves, can face up, and can hit a three. Carter is strong on the glass, too. The big concern is defense, where he’s slow footed and (along with Bagley) struggled so much on that end Coach K was forced to play zone at Duke. What happens when he gets dragged into NBA pick-and-rolls?

Cavaliers small icon 8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn): Miles Bridges, 6’6” forward (Michigan St.). Koby Altman and the Cavs front office is not going to know LeBron James’ plan when they pick, which puts them in a very tough spot. Bridges is a guy who can help on the wing now if LeBron returns. He’s very athletic, can knock down threes, can guard either wing spot, and knows how to play a role. He could step right into a “3&D” role. If LeBron leaves Bridges can be part of the future, but he’s not a franchise cornerstone guy (there are none left on the board at this point).

Knicks small icon 9. New York Knicks: Michael Porter Jr., 6’10” forward (Missouri). This would be a roll of the dice by the new Knicks front office, but a good one at this point in the draft. Coming into this season Porter Jr. was projected as a top-three — potentially No. 1 — pick but a back injury sidelined him for most of the season, and he didn’t look 100% upon his return. The medical reports on him will play a key role in where he goes. He’s also rumored to have a real ego. That said, the man when healthy is an elite athlete who can score inside and out and will just get buckets on the NBA level. Potentially a good pairing with Kristaps Porzingis on the front line.

Sixers small icon 10. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers). Mikal Bridges, 6’7” forward (Villanova) The Sixers need shooting from the wings — Marco Belinelli, Ehsan Ilyasova, and J.J. Redick are free agents and not the long-term answer — so they will take the guy already beloved in Philly who is a perfect fit. Bridges shot 43.5% from three last season, although he needs to improve his defense he has the athleticism and length (7’2” wingspan) to do it.

Hornets small icon 11.Charlotte Hornets: Collin Sexton, 6’2” point guard (Alabama). Whether new GM Mitch Kupchak decides to keep Kemba Walker or trade him and start a rebuild, they still could use depth and playmaking at the point (the Hornets fall apart with Walker off the floor). Sexton is a hard-working, exceptional athlete who loves to drive the lane (but needs to work on his decision making) and could be an elite defensive point guard in the NBA. Fans are going to love his aggressive style of play that borders on reckless, new coach James Borrego maybe not as much.

Clippers small icon 12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Pistons): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6’6” guard (Kentucky). While Los Angeles has a lot of guys at the point — Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic — none of them are the future for the franchise at that position (unless you’re a much bigger Austin Rivers fan than the rest of us). With Gilgeous-Alexander Los Angeles gets a big point guard who has a nice jump shot and can hit threes, and who is crafty and slithery more than classically explosive, and he knows how to manage a game. He will fit in well with this team (whatever DeAndre Jordan decides and what direction the franchise goes).

Clippers small icon 13. Los Angeles Clippers: Robert Williams, 6’10” power forward/center (Texas A&M). If DeAndre Jordan leaves in free agency the Clippers will want a new big man, if he stays they could use some depth behind him (or next to him at the four if Doc Rivers wants to play big). Williams is an elite athlete, long and can jump out of the building, and he should become a strong rim-protecting center. He’s also a bit of a development project, particularly on the offensive ends. Will Williams put in the work to get where he needs to? If so, this becomes a good pick.

Nuggets small icon 14. Denver Nuggets:. Kevin Knox, 6’9” forward (Kentucky). He has the potential to be the kind of switchable forward NBA teams covet these days, with good shot mechanics (despite hitting just 34% of threes in college) and good athleticism. His defense needs to improve to cover smaller wings at the NBA level. One of the youngest players in this draft, so a lot of room to grow.

Wizards small icon 15. Washington Wizards: Aaron Holiday, 6’1” point guard (UCLA). When John Wall sat last season, the Wizards were 4.7 points per 100 possessions worse, and coach Scott Brooks doesn’t seem to fully trust Tomas Satoransky in the backup PG role (hence too much Ty Lawson in the playoffs). Enter Holiday (the younger brother of Jrue Holiday), he is a very smart game manager who can light it up and averaged 20.3 points per game and shot 42.9 percent from three last season. Can play well off the ball, too (as he had to next to Lonzo Ball the season before). Not a high ceiling, but will be a quality backup PG in the NBA for a long time.

Suns small icon 16. Phoenix Suns (via Heat): Lonnie Walker IV, 6-‘4” shooting guard, (Miami). The Suns have wings, but for a team looking for high-upside players to develop this is their guy at this point in the draft. One of the best athletes in the draft, he’s a good shot creator who can get to the rim and finish. He has the skills to be a very good NBA defender, but he needs to put them to use. To thrive at the NBA level, his jumper has to be more consistent and his handles need to improve. He may not have been used properly in Miami and could thrive in an NBA setting, but he needs to put in the off-season work.

Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks. Zhaire Smith, 6’5” small forward (Texas Tech). The Bucks love to draft long, high-upside projects, and Smith is all of that. 6’11” wingspan, crazy athletic, and he has show the potential to be a very good defender. He needs to show consistency with his shooting (he hit threes at a 45% clip but didn’t take many) and his handles need to improve. He’s a project but could develop into a steal and another long athlete for the Bucks.

Spurs small icon 18. San Antonio Spurs: Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7 forward (Ohio St.). The guy is a shooter, although his three-point percentage in college may not show it. Not an explosive athlete but smart, still he’s going to have to become a better defender to earn regular minutes at the NBA level.

Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks (via Timberwolves):. Troy Brown, 6-7, wing (Oregon). A top high school prospect who didn’t blow people away in college, he is a valued NBA commodity — a shot creator on the wing who can play and guard multiple positions. He’s not an elite athlete and his shooting has to improve, but he’s young and can develop into a quality wing.

20:Minnesota Timberwolves: Chandler Hutchison, 6’7” wing (Boise St.) Minnesota has Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins on the wing, but Hutchinson can bring scoring off the bench behind them. He’s a fluid athlete whose shot needs to get better, but he’s got the potential. A four-year college guy he can likely help right away, he just needs to add some range to his shot.

Jazz small icon 21. Utah Jazz: Melvin Frazier, 6’6” small forward (Tulane). This may be a little high for Frazier (most teams have him later first or early second), but we’re a little higher on him than most. With a 7’2” wingspan he has the potential to be a very good NBA defender. The question is his shooting — he hit a respectable 38.5% on threes, but a lot of people are convinced he’s not that good a shooter (which is why he could fall to the second). If the Jazz can develop that shot they will have a player who will fit what they do on the wing.

Bulls small icon 22. Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans): Khyri Thomas, 6’3” shooting guard (Creighton). He’s going to be kind of a “3&D” two guard who can cover both wing spots (thanks to a 6’11” wingspan) and he can hit spot up jumpers. This is not a high ceiling player, but is a high-floor one — he’s not going to be a bust, he will be part of an NBA rotation.

Pacers small icon 23. Indiana Pacers: Jacob Evans, 6’6” wing, (Cincinnati). In an NBA where versatility on the wing is what all 30 teams are seeking, Evans will fit right in. He’s a good defender at multiple positions and can hit the three. He’s an NBA role player, coming off the bench at first, but has real value for the Pacers.

Blazers small icon 24. Portland Trail Blazers: Mitchell Robinson, 6’11” center (Western Kentucky) An elite recruit coming out of high school who never played at Western Kentucky because he wanted to transfer but would have had to sit out under NCAA rules, he’s still got the size and physical tools NBA teams want in a center. He can be a shot-blocking rim-runner with a couple of years of development. It’s a good risk at this point in the draft.

Lakers small icon 25. Los Angeles Lakers (via Cavaliers): Anfernee Simons, 6’4” shooting guard (IMG Academy). A top-10 prospect who decided not to go to college and headed to prep school instead (ala Thon Maker). He is a project who is going to take a couple of years to come around, but could be worth the wait. He’s a versatile combo guard who should play off the ball mostly (which is fine next to Lonzo Ball). This is a good spot in the draft to roll the dice, and the Lakers did just that.

Sixers small icon 26. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers). De’Anthony Melton, 6’3” guard (USC). He sat out this season with Southern California due to being at the heart of the FBI investigation into college basketball, which means workouts will be huge for his standing. He needed to improve as a shooter with the season off, but he was a very good defensive guard who could do some playmaking when called upon.

Celtics small icon 27. Boston Celtics: Bruce Brown, 6’3” shooting guard (Miami)He has the versatile skills set that Brad Stevens likes and could fit into the Celtics’ rotation. He’s a very strong defender who is physically gifted, but he needs to work a lot on his shot and handles to really impact the NBA game.

Warriors small icon 28. Golden State Warriors: Jalen Brunson, 6’2” point guard (Villanova). The point guard who led Villanova to a national title, he’s a high IQ player who is polished, can manage the game, and is a good facilitator of the offense. He’s not going to be elite (not athletic enough) and could struggle some defensively, but coming off the bench for the Warriors and feeding their shooters is something he can do. Brunson will stick in the NBA a long time.

Nets small icon 29. Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors): Tyus Battle, 6’7” wing (Syracuse). He had to carry the Syracuse attack last season as their only good shot creator, so his efficiency should go up in the NBA. He has NBA size, can play with the ball in his hands, and he has the potential to be a good NBA defender.

Hawks small icon 30. Atlanta Hawks (via Raptors:. Shake Milton, 6’6” guard (SMU). A tall point guard who can play the two as well, he’s got a good shooing stroke. He battled injuries last season, which kept his production down. This guy could be a steal this deep in the draft.

Backed into must-win Game 4, here are three things Rockets must do to even series

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Three years ago, the Houston Rockets came back from 3-1 down in a playoff series to defeat a Los Angeles Clippers (and give that franchise a punch to the gut from which it has not recovered). It was one of the great Rockets’ moments of the last decade.

Houston is not going to be able to do that against these Golden State Warriors. Go down 3-1 after Game 4 Tuesday at Oracle and the series is all but over.

Which means after the Rockets’ blowout loss in Game 3 Sunday night, Houston finds itself in the same must-win spot it did after Game 1. And unlike Game 2, the Rockets will not get helped out by an arrogant Warriors team not playing at its peak — the Rockets are going to need a near perfect game to beat a full-force Warriors team on Tuesday.

Here are the three key areas the Rockets must improve to win Game 4:

1) Just shoot better — finish shots at the rim and hit some threes. It’s rather obvious and simplistic, but it’s the reality: Houston just has to shoot better in Game 4.

The Rockets took a full one-third of their shots at the rim in the restricted area in Game 3, but they struggled with those making just 13-of-27 (48.1 percent). The Rockets took 42 percent of their shot attempts from three but hit just 11-of-34, and they were 7-of-25 on above the break threes. That’s not good enough, the Rockets are going to need at least 15 made threes in a game to win.

“Those are double whammies,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said of the missed shots at the rim. “It’s like we missed layups first half especially and they go down and score. So in transition, you’ve got to keep them out of transition, you’ve got to make layups. We didn’t do that. When they did miss, we didn’t box out all the time, and then we turned it over 20 times. It’s a formula for losing, and for us to correct that, we can’t turn it over. Got to make layups for shots, and get back.”

To be fair, the Warriors contested shooters well all game, especially guys driving the basket, but still, the Rockets need to knock down more of their shots contested or not. It’s the most basic premise of basketball.

2) Houston has to play faster. D’Antoni said it above, the Rockets and their missed shots let the Warriors get out in transition and control the pace. It’s also a simple fact that the team that controls the pace — the team that gets transition opportunities and gets into its offense earlier in the shot clock — will win the games.

Golden State had 26 transition opportunities to 12 for the Rockets, according to the Synergy Sports stats breakdown.

Or, look at it this way (via Cleaning the Glass), in Game 3, Houston started just10.4 percent of their possessions in transition (and scored a dreadful 0.89 points per possession on those plays). For comparison, in their Game 2 win, the Rockets started 18.7 percent of their possessions in transition. On Sunday night in Game 3 Warriors started 19.8 percent of their plays in transition, nearly one in five trips down the court, and they scored 1.44 points per possession on those plays.

The Rockets need to make more shots and then, even when they miss, get back in transition and not let the Warriors get rolling early in the clock. Houston also needs to defend better and force more Warriors misses, which will allow them to run. It’s all tied together, the Warriors were making shots so the Rockets were taking the ball out of the basket and coming up against set defenses; the Rockets were missing shots that let the Warriors come up fast and forcing the Rockets to scramble on defense (Golden State tears apart teams in those situations). It’s a holistic thing, but the evidence it’s working is which team controls the pace, and the Rockets need to do that in Game 4.

3) Houston needs more out of Chris Paul. It’s easy to point to the Stephen Curry eruption in the third quarter as the time the Warriors ended the game, and there is truth to that. Golden State started the third on a 10-0 run (where Curry had five of those points) and the fire was lit, then Curry started hitting 30-foot threes and quickly the game was out of reach. Those Warriors runs are crushers.

However, to me the turning point in the game was when James Harden went to the bench for his usual rest with 2:46 left in the first quarter — the Warriors outscored the Rockets by nine before the quarter was up (part of an 11-0 run to end the quarter). By the time Harden returned with 9:16 left in the second quarter, the Rockets were down 10, a hole they never could get out of (they were down 11 at the half).

CP3 has to be better in that stretch. The Warriors threw bigger, switchable guards at him on defense — Shaun Livingston, Nick Young, and then Andre Iguodala — and Paul couldn’t get separation and make plays against them. Without Harden, the Rockets offense stalled out, and doing that led to the Warriors getting to push the pace and get their transition buckets. Paul looked slowed at points, reaching on defense and not as explosive as we’ve seen.

This isn’t the Utah Jazz. Harden was off in Game 5 against Utah, but Paul picked up the slack (his 41-point, 10 assist game) and Houston got the win. Against Golden State, both Paul and Harden must have good games for Houston to have a chance. The Warriors are too good, too deep, there is no margin for error anymore.

The Rockets have an elite game in them — we saw the blueprint of what they have to do in Game 2. Houston can do that again. The only question is can they do it in the face of Golden State’s pressure, because the sharks on the Warriors smell blood in the water and will be coming hard in Game 4.

Shaun Livingston crossed James Harden so hard it made Greg Anthony mispronounce “meme” (VIDEO)

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The Golden State Warriors embarrassed the Houston Rockets on Sunday night. Stephen Curry scored 35 points, didn’t miss a shot in the third quarter, and helped the Warriors win Game 3 and take a 2-1 series lead by a margin of 41 points.

Not too shabby.

But it wasn’t just Curry who turned the Rockets into shrinking violets. Shaun Livingston, who added 11 points off the bench while shooting 4-of-4, took his turn putting Houston to task.

During one play, Livingston crossed up James Harden on his way to a wide-open dunk. Livingston’s crafty dribble moves also shook commentator Greg Anthony’s brain up a little bit, so much so that Anthony forgot how to say the word “meme”.

Via Twitter:

Even during a 41-point decimation the NBA is still the funniest league on the planet.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.