Getty Images

Ten future NBA players to watch Friday in NCAA Tournament

2 Comments

Zion Williamson is something special.

However, there is talent is this upcoming NBA Draft class beyond him. Not “franchise cornerstone” talent, maybe not even the kind of talent usually seen in slots two through six in most drafts, but there are quality future NBA players who will spend this weekend — and they hope the next couple of weekends — playing in the NCAA Tournament. Players NBA fans may want to get a glimpse of now.

Here are 10 future NBA players to watch on Friday, starting with the big three from Duke (because you’re going to watch them anyway).

• Zion Williamson, 6’7” forward, Duke. Multiple NBA front office people have told me he is their highest rated prospect since Anthony Davis (some put Karl-Anthony Towns in there, too).

Williamson is an insane athlete, strong (lots of Larry Johnson build comparisons), can leap out of the building, but also shows a point guard’s feel for the game and he defends very well. His shot is improved but needs to get to an NBA level, however, with his work ethic it should come along. What some scouts like best: He plays hard, he doesn’t just coast on all that natural talent.

Cam Reddish, 6’8” wing, Duke. His stock has slipped a little lately, but he’s still a top-five selection. When Williamson was out a lot of watchers expected Reddish to thrive, instead he was inconsistent. He shows flashes that has coaching thinking “if he just…” because he’s an explosive but fluid athlete, he can space the floor as a shooter, he’s long and can defend, and he can create a little off the dribble (although his handle needs work). There are backers that think he’ll be better in an NBA system where there is better floor spacing, and once he gets stronger.

R.J. Barrett, 6’7” wing, Duke. With all the talent on this roster, Barrett is the guy Coach K runs the offense through, which should tell you a lot. He was incredibly efficient this season: He averaged better than 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a game, and as Sam Vecenie of the Athletic said, the last guy with those numbers in college was Penny Hardaway. How his game fits in the NBA, where he will play more of a role, will be the test. Barrett likely goes No. 2 or 3 in this draft, but as NBC’s own Rob Dauster said if he was in last year’s draft he might be 7 or 8. How will he handle those raised expectations?

• De’Andre Hunter, 6’8” wing, Virginia. He has been shooting up draft boards all season long because he is one of the best defensive players in this draft, he’s got good athleticism, he’s physical and long at 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan. He’s not going to be a future superstar, but what he can be is a quality starter/rotation player who is a defensive stopper and can knock down threes (better than 45 percent from deep this season) and score some as needed on the offensive end. He is a willing role player, and likely a top 5 pick.

Jarrett Culver, 6’6” wing, Texas Tech. He passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he can shoot from the outside (that has improved), he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he plays a high IQ game. You’re not going to find a guy with a better feel for the game in this draft, and he likely shows that off in the tournament. The primary concern is he’s not an explosive, elite athlete and on the wing in the NBA that’s what he’s going to be up against nightly.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 6’5” guard, Virginia Tech. He’s a guard who over a couple of years has learned to let the game come to him a little, something he needs to do because he’s not an explosive athlete. However, he can shoot the rock (nearly 40 percent from three), is an improved playmaker off the pick-and-roll, gets boards, and is just a steady player. Scouts will be watching his defense during the tournament, it’s been an issue although he has improved. There is an NBA rotation swingman in his game if he keeps working.

Cameron Johnson 6’9” forward, North Carolina. In every draft, one of the best shooters falls farther than they should because teams fall in love with the potential of other players and overlook the guys who can just put the ball in the hole. Johnson also is a senior, often a strike against guys in the draft. But watch him this weekend — he’s a forward who is one of the best pure shooters in the draft (46.5 percent from three) who knows how to get in position and hit shots in big games (23 against Duke in the ACC Tournament). There are questions about his defense, something scouts will be watching as the Tar Heels move through the tournament.

Coby White, 6’5” guard, North Carolina. The more scouts and GMs have watched UNC play this season, the more Nassir Little has fallen down draft boards and White has climbed up them. White is lightning quick and used that and a good jumper to get a lot of points, but as the season has moved along he’s become an improved playmaker (his decision making still needs to improve, but he’s on the right track). He’s impressive in transition and loves to push the ball, but in any setting when he gets playing downhill he’s hard to stop. Can play the one or the two. There’s a lot to like here.

Grant Williams, 6’7” power forward, Tennessee. He’s a physical, nasty player, something that certain NBA franchises are drawn to in prospect. He can hit the three well enough that defenders have to respect it (he hits about a third of his threes, although that percentage needs to go up) but his game is really playing some bully ball around the rim. He is strong and plays smart angles down on the block. How he fits in the NBA game is a question worth asking, but he plays hard and those kinds of guys tend to find a way.

• Matisse Thybulle, 6’5” wing, Washington. He’s a potential defensive stopper, the guy you throw on the best perimeter player of the other team and know the job will get done. The kind of player coaches love. Thybulle gets steals, he blocks shots well for a guard, and he’s not just good on ball he’s a smart help defender. That we know. On offense, he can shoot fairly well but doesn’t really seek out his own shot. It’s the offensive end scouts will be watching, because if he can be good enough you just have to be careful helping off him then Thybulle is an NBA rotation player.

James Harden plays in Rico Hines games at UCLA and destroys people

Dennis Jerome Acosta/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
1 Comment

Elite NBA defenders, with a team and a game plan behind them, can’t slow down James Harden.

So imagine what happens when he shows up for an open run.

One spot a lot of NBA players head in the summer to get some games in is Rico Hines’ games at UCLA. Harden showed up and, well, you know what comes next. Via Ball is Life.

The man is so smooth, so under control, and just able to get buckets however he wants. It’s just fun to watch. Unless you’re an opposing coach.

Could Kevin Durant return from torn Achilles, play for Nets this season? Maybe…

Getty Images
1 Comment

Every case is different, but many players return from a torn Achilles in about nine to 10 months. Kobe Bryant pushed and did it in eight. Other players will take a full year.

If Kevin Durant returned in nine months it would be March, enough time to get in game shape and be ready for the Nets’ playoff run.

There’s a growing sense from teams we could see just that scenario, and Spencer Dinwiddie talked about it with Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Though Nets GM Sean Marks refused to rule Durant out for the season, the feeling within the league is trending toward him potentially playing this season.

“I know KD is taking the rehab process ultra-serious. He wants to come back as soon as it’s appropriate, and healthy and the right decision for him, and then also subsequently that would also be the right decision for,” said Dinwiddie, who points out that even a slightly-diminished Durant could still be a superstar.

“The beautiful part about this is, the man is 7-foot and one of the best shooters of all time. At worst you get Dirk [Nowitzki], and Dirk was a monster. So we’re ready for him to come back whenever he wants to and whenever he’s ready to do so, and we know that he’s going to be a phenomenal major piece of our roster.”

Durant is an intense competitor who wants to get back on the court. He pushed to get back from a calf injury and play in the NBA Finals only to suffer the Achilles tear. He’s smart enough to be sure he’s all the way back before he steps on the court, if that means he sits out a full season so be it. However, he absolutely could return this season.

If he’s back, the Nets go from interesting team to potential threat to the Bucks and Sixers at the top of the conference. Durant was the best player in the world the past couple of years and he could return to that status quickly, and lift Brooklyn up with him.

Will Toronto give Pascal Siakam max extension?

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

In his third year in the league last season, Pascal Siakam made a leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, became a shot creator, played quality wing defense, and he was a key part of the Raptors earning the right to have a parade and hoist a championship banner. He earned that Most Improved Player trophy.

Siakam is Toronto’s future after a summer where Kawhi Leonard left.

Siakam also is eligible for an extension right now.

Should the Raptors give him the max of five years, $170 million? A number of executives around the league told Frank Urbina of Hoopshype that Siakam may be worth that number.

A Western Conference coach agreed: “With Toronto in the situation that they’re in, no longer having Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green, Pascal Siakam may be a safe bet for them and they may want to give him a max extension to lock him up. I’ve been impressed with his development; he’s improved into a highly, highly serviceable player who’s very efficient and does a lot for that team. From the outside looking in, it seems like he’ll be able to continue his development too. He seems highly motivated and very grateful to be in the situation he’s in and he doesn’t take anything for granted.”

Is “highly serviceable” worth the max? The two players who got that money this summer were Ben Simmons in Philly and Jamal Murray in Denver. Most of the GMs spoken to for the article would try to extend him for less than the full max.

“I think they’re going to try to extend him,” one current Eastern Conference GM said. “I haven’t talked to Toronto, but he’s obviously a huge piece for them, helped them win a championship, he’s getting better, he’s young, he’s athletic and he can shoot. They’re going to try to extend him. Do I think he’s a max player? No. Do I think he’s a good player? Certainly. It’ll come down to what he thinks he’s worth, and I’m sure his agents have called around to see what kind of offers he could get if he enters restricted free agency.”

Another Western Conference executive agreed that he’s not worth the max, telling HoopsHype: “Out of Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Buddy Hield, [the main candidates remaining for a rookie-scale extension], I don’t think any of them will get the max or deserve the max. If I was running each team, I would force them to play it out. In some situations, keeping their cap holds is so much more beneficial. You should only extend if you get a below-market-value deal or if it’s a no-brainer extension.”

If the Raptors come in at less than the max with an offer, Siakam may just want to play out this season and head into restricted free agency next summer. If he has another strong season, when he hits the market in a down year for free agents he may find a team willing to make a max or near max offer and Toronto will have to match or let him walk. Essentially, Siakam would bet on himself.

We’ll see if Toronto and Siakam’s people can find a number that works for both sides, the deadline is Oct. 21. The sides are talking, but its more likely this rolls into next summer.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

Getty Images
3 Comments

Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.