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Ten future NBA players to watch in NCAA Tournament on Thursday

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There is talent in this draft beyond Zion Williamson.

Not “franchise cornerstone” talent, probably not even the level of talent usually seen in slots two through six in most drafts, but there are quality future NBA players out there who will spend this weekend — and they hope the next couple of weekends — playing in the NCAA Tournament. Players that NBA fans may want to get a glimpse of now as they dream about the draft.

Here are 10 future NBA players to watch on Thursday, all expected to be part of this year’s NBA Draft (if they come out).

Ja Morant, 6’3” point guard, Murray State. You’ve seen the highlights, now it’s time to watch what he can do for a whole game. And he knows this is a showcase, that there are questions with him coming out of a small conference about what he might be able to do against better talent. Morant should be motivated might go off for 50 on Marquette.

He’s an explosive athlete, has a tremendous handle, impressive court vision and he knows how to make every pass you can think of. However, mostly he is a scorer who can get to the rim. The jumper is going to need work at the NBA level (as we can say about most guys coming out of college), it has to improve or he runs the risk of being another athletic guard everyone goes under the pick against. But he might have the second highest ceiling of anyone in this draft.

Brandon Clarke, 6’8” forward, Gonzaga. At this point, we know who Brandon Clarke is as a player, but what he brings is what a lot of teams need — a forward who can defend the three and the four, can switch onto guards, blocks shots, and plays with a high motor. He’s scoring 17 points a game in a crazy efficient way, which has turned heads this season, although his handle and jumper still need work to be NBA ready. While Clarke will get drafted behind teammate Hachimura, Clarke may be the better long-term prospect to fit in the modern NBA.

Rui Hachimura, 6’8” forward, Gonzaga. He’s averaged 20.1 points a game on 62.1 percent shooting, and he’s the guy a title contender in Gonzaga runs everything through. Hachimura has impressive athleticism and at the college level that’s enough, he just overpowers players and shows off his spin move. At the NBA level he will need more than that. There are teams that don’t have him in the lottery on their boards, he’s controversial. He doesn’t shoot the three with any confidence (he takes just one a game), his handles need work, as does his defense. He can help his cause — and maybe get a team to fall in love with him — with a strong tournament.

Bruno Fernando, 6’10” center, Maryland. Watch Maryland against Belmont and you will see an NBA-style center at work — a big man who can sprint the floor and rim run, who sets good picks, can roll to the basket, and defensively is a big body in the paint who can block a few shots and alter more. In the modern NBA, there is a role for this kind of center, but it’s shrinking, he needs a midrange jumper at the least to stay on the court and have real value at the next level. However, against Belmont in the first game of the NCAA Tournament, he should have his way in the paint.

P.J. Washington, 6’8” forward, Kentucky. UPDATE: He will not play in the opening game due to a sprained foot.

NBC’s own Rob Dauster said on the PBT Podcast last week he thought Washington would be the best pro out of this Kentucky class. He’s not the guy that blows you away with elite athleticism (despite a 43-inch vertical), but has a 7’3” wingspan, is physical in the paint and getting space, and plays a high IQ game that opposing coaches have said make him tough to go against. Why scouts like him is you can see a stretch four in his game, Washington shot 41.9 percent from three. He may not have a monster NCAA tournament game, but he will do things that help the Wildcats win.

Keldon Johnson, 6’6” wing, Kentucky. If Kentucky can get Abilene Christian out and running on Thursday (and Kentucky should be able to do whatever it wants in this first-round matchup), Johnson will put up some highlights. He’s fantastic in transition, or anytime he is playing downhill because he is a classic slasher. He also has a solid jump shot. What NBA scouts will want to see from him is improved defense and, as the tournament moves on, how he matches up against other top wings.

• Naz Reid, 6’10” center, LSU. There are questions about whether he should come out (he’s a second round pick right now), but with LSU getting caught up in the FBI recruiting scandal he may decide not to return. If so, he needs a big tournament to convince teams to take a shot with him. He needs to find a team that will fall in love with his potential — and he has that. He can put the ball on the floor, shot better than 35 percent from three, has a good touch, and is the kind of big who could grab the board and bring the ball up himself. The challenge is he has seemed disinterested in defense (and occasionally offense) this season. Does he love basketball? Will he put in the work to reach that potential? If not he will not stick, just okay centers are a dime a dozen in the NBA right now.

Eric Paschall, 6’7” forward, Villanova. NBA scouts look at Paschall and see a potential NBA role player: He’s athletic, has good elevation on a jump shot that has come together, he’s a switchable defender who can guard twos through fours, and he comes out of the Villanova system so coaches trust he’s learned how to play the right way. A good tournament, followed by strong workouts for teams, could see him climb up in the draft higher than the early-to-mid 20s range he’s at now.

• Ignas Brazdeikis, 6’7” power forward, Michigan. He needs to show scouts he has the athleticism to stick in the NBA. He has the shooting touch to play at the next level — he can hit threes, he can score inside and finish with either hand, plus he’s got a good midrange game. There is potential as a stretch four. But the lack of athleticism leads to serious questions about his defense and who he would guard at the next level. Brazdeikis is a freshman and a likely second-round pick if he comes out, which would mean no guaranteed contract. He may want to stay in Ann Arbor another year or two.

• Jordan Poole, 6’5″ combo guard, Michigan. While there are teams that like him, Poole needs a good tournament to convince at least one team he should go in the first round (if not he may well return to Michigan). He’s a good shooter coming out of John Beilein’s system where he was asked to take and make a lot of threes. He can do that, and he can keep the ball moving on offense. He feels like a microwave scorer teams could bring off the bench to get a flurry of points. That said he needs to drive a little more, be a more consistent playmaker, and remember that every shot is not a good shot.

Report: Cavaliers hire J.B. Bickerstaff to John Beilein’s staff

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are still trying to figure things out. LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and now the team has hired John Beilein to be its head coach. The team doesn’t have a top pick the way it has in years past, and barring any trades they will select 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But at least they are figuring out there coaching staff Issues.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be its top assistant coach. Bickerstaff was apparently also in talks with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.

Via Twitter:

Bickerstaff previously headed the Houston Rockets from 2015 to 2016, and was the top man for the Grizzlies over the last two seasons after the team canned David Fizdale.

This is a solid hire for the Cavs. Bickerstaff has been a respected assistant in the league for the past decade-and-a-half, and he should give some veteran NBA oopmh behind Beilein, who most recently coached at Michigan for 12 years and is headed into his rookie season.

Raptors outlast Bucks in 2OT to take Game 3 of ECF

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Don’t count the Toronto Raptors out yet.

On Sunday, Kawhi Leonard and his bench mob outlasted Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, 118-112, in 2OT.

Finally back at home, Toronto showed up in the biggest way possible, and in exactly the way they had been needing in Games 1 and 2. Pascal Siakam, a non-factor in those contests, scored 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, grabbing 11 boards to go with three steals. Norman Powell scored 19 off the bench, including hitting three 3-pointers.

Of course, the Raptors were led by none other than Leonard, who had 36 points and dominated at the free-throw line, going 12-of-13. Toronto’s best player also had nine rebounds and five assists.

As a team, Game 3 was about Toronto finally hitting on all cylinders from the 3-point line. Where before almost no players outside of Leonard were able to get it going from deep, Game 3 was a much different story. Eight Raptors combined to make at least one three each, and Toronto shot 37.8% from the arc.

By the same factor, the Bucks struggled. As the home crowd pushed Toronto forward, Antetokounmpo and his squad just couldn’t get it going. The first half only treated the Raptors right, who scored 58 points. And although Antetokounmpo started to come on a bit better in the third quarter, the game eventually developed into a bit of a rock fight by the fourth.

Toronto looked like it had sealed up the win the end of regulation. Fred Van Vleet came up with a crucial block on Khris Middleton on the final possession, but the Milwaukee guard scooped up the loose ball and put it back in the hoop to push it to extra time.

By the time the second overtime rolled around, Antetokounmpo only had one foul left to give. The Bucks’ superstar then fouled out just 36 seconds into the second overtime while trying to draw a charge on Siakam.

That allowed Leonard score eight of Toronto’s 15 points in the second OT en route to the six-point victory.

It took a wondrous night on defense for the Raptors to force Antetokounmpo to shoot just 5-of-16 from the field. Even still, Milwaukee’s star had 23 rebounds and seven steals, and it took until he fouled out in the second overtime for Toronto to grab a win.

The Raptors should be happy about what they were able to accomplish on Sunday night. Getting wins at home in a crucial playoff games is what championship hopeful teams should do. Still, it took every single ounce of what Toronto had, and even then it was only just barely enough to grab their first win of the series at home.

Nick Nurse will need to build on what he learned from Game 3 and see if they can improve upon it to level the series in Game 4 on Tuesday night.

Report: Grizzlies interviewed Igor Kokoskov for head coach gig

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The Memphis Grizzlies now have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Many believe that Memphis will trade Mike Conley and draft Ja Morant as a means to move the franchise forward.

The only problem? The Grizzlies still don’t have a head coach.

Memphis fired coach J.B. Bickerstaff and demoted general manager Chris Wallace to scout back in April. The Grizzlies are moving forward with some non-traditional front office hirings that include Jason Wexler, Zach Kleiman, Rich Cho, and Glen Grunwald.

According to one report, at least one inquiry has been made about the head coach position: former Phoenix Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov got a shot to interview with Memphis.

Via Twitter:

Memphis is taking its time selecting their coach, and it’s not necessary that the team has someone in place leading into the draft. Whether the next guy will be “the guy” or simply “the guy who helps them rebuild in the future” we aren’t yet sure.

Kokoskov got a raw deal in Phoenix, with many feeling as though the Suns wasted their hiring of the Slovenian national team’s coach by not drafting Luka Doncic with the No. 1 overall pick last year. It would be nice just to see him back on an NBA bench at the start of next season.

Draymond Green on techs: ‘I was doing more crying than playing’ (VIDEO)

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Draymond Green believes he’s the best defender ever. The Golden State Warriors star was certainly incredible against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night, with the Warriors beating the home team, 110-99.

But one thing that has bothered Green’s detractors over the years is how much he speaks to the referees, particularly to his own detriment. It’s one thing to work referees the way that Chris Paul or Damian Lillard or James Harden does. It’s another to continuously antagonize refs en route to a whole mess of technical fouls, which have been a problem for Green in the playoffs in the past.

But Green has been pretty subdued when it comes to technicals this postseason, and that’s apparently in due to a concerted effort by the Golden State forward to curb his attitude and realize that he’s doing more damage than good.

Via Twitter:

This postseason, and particularly this Western Conference Finals, have been an interesting shift in the narrative around Green. Where before it seemed like haters could glom onto how much Green whined, at this point he’s simply dominating the Trail Blazers from a play standpoint and nothing else.

It’s been impressive to see, and I think all of us are happy to watch Green play the way he has without flapping his gums and putting the Warriors at a disadvantage because he wants to yell at the boys in gray.