Top 10 standout players from NBA Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — For NBA teams, Summer League is less about whether a young player is good or not, and far more about benchmarking where they are and seeing what areas that player needs to work on going forward. It’s a first step.

But some of those first steps are more impressive than others.

After watching a dozen days of Summer League games — in person in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas — here are 10 players who stood out to me. This list is not all-inclusive by any means — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Grayson Allen, and Trae Young would get an honorable mention here — nor is it just a list of the best players I have seen. Instead, this is a list of players that turned my head, or those of scouts/team executives that I spoke with, because of their success and what they have shown in Summer League. It’s a list of guys who caught my eye.

Here is my Top 10 for 2018:

1) Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies). From the minute he stepped on the court in Salt Lake, he looked like the future of the NBA five — he can drain threes, runs the court, is strong and physical inside, and can get up and block shots. In Utah he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night. Interestingly, through much the summer games the Grizzlies tried to pair him with a true center, seemingly getting him used to playing the four next to Marc Gasol come next season. Jackson looked a little tired and struggled some in Las Vegas — especially the night he battled Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba on his fifth game in seven days — but he worked hard and still made plays. The Grizzlies may have something special with him.

2) John Collins (Atlanta Hawks). Everyone already knew he was  good — he made NBA All-Rookie second team and averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game shooting 57.6 percent last season. However, after watching in Las Vegas and Salt Lake, he has shown the potential to be a future star, his game is improving. He’s averaging 24 points and 8 boards a game in Vegas, playing good defense in the paint, but more importantly he has shown improved three-point stroke and handles. He’s done for the summer, but in limited games he showed he should be on this list.

3) Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns). Yes, the No. 1 pick should be good, but he has looked like a man among boys going up against some of the other rookie big men in Las Vegas. Ayton pushed Bamba around all game long, for example. He’s averaging 16 points a game on 67 percent shooting, plus 11 boards a contest, and he’s got versatility to his game. There’s work to do on defense and passing, but he has the potential to be special.

4) Kevin Knox (New York Knicks). He’s looked like a rookie at points, he’s blown everyone’s doors off at others. Tuesday’s game against the Lakers was the perfect example: He started 0-of-6 from the floor and finished the night with seven turnovers. He’s got work to do. However, he finished that Laker game with 22 points and was 5-of-7 from three, he’s got the athleticism to get by guys with a first step and he can finish. And he’s just 18. The Knicks may have another crucial rebuilding block with Knox.

5) Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic). He was a roll of the dice at No. 6 in the 2017 draft, a guy with a lot of potential but a project, then he missed most of his rookie season with injuries. Nobody seemed exactly sure what Orlando had. In Vegas he has turned heads with his play —14.3 points and 7 boards a game, he’s physically a lot stronger and his shooting stroke is smooth. He has banged inside and held his own with Memphis’ Jackson, and has just been a better athlete than everyone he’s gone up against. Pair him along the front with Bamba and Aaron Gordon, and that is an interesting team in Orlando. And when was the last time we said that?

6) Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers). He might be the MVP of Summer League so far, averaging 23.3 points per game and just running the team like a pro. Which he is — he showed he could do this with the Lakers last season, but asked to take on more of a scoring role in Vegas he has stepped up. Bottom line, there’s a reason every time a team talks to the Lakers about a trade they want Hart thrown in the mix. He’s got a lot of fans around the league, and that has only grown this summer.

7) Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago Bulls). I will own it: I was not high on Carter Jr. coming into the draft, but he has impressed in Las Vegas. As expected, he has a versatile and polished offensive game with a nearly unstoppable turnaround from the post, ability to score with either hand, range on his jumper, plus he is a surprisingly good passer. The book on him coming into the draft was defensive questions, but he has been better on that front than expected — he works hard and is athletic enough to be disruptive. We will see how he fares against NBA-level competition on that end, but the work ethic and tools are there.

8) Harry Giles (Sacramento Kings). He was a low-risk gamble pick by the Kings at No. 20 in 2017, a guy who was maybe the top player in his class as a high school sophomore until the injuries hit (ACL, MCL and a meniscus tear in his left knee, plus another surgery on his right knee). The Kings took him and red-shirted him last season, but in Vegas he has been impressive and solid (12 points and 7 rebounds a game in Sin City). He looks like he could be a rotation NBA big man (at least, the Kings think he can be more than that), someone Sacramento can count on besides Marvin Bagley III. Giles has been a pleasant surprise.

9) Jordan Bell (Golden State Warriors). He’s only on this list for one reason. Yes, he’s looked good in limited Summer League run — the guy was playing serious minutes in the NBA Finals a month ago, of course he looks good going against a bunch of non-NBA players. What got him there was this one moment against the Jazz.

(To be clear, Bell and Donovan Mitchell are tight, and Mitchell thought this was funny.)

10) De'Anthony Melton (Houston Rockets). He could end up being a second-round steal for the Rockets. Melton didn’t play last season at USC (he was the guy at the heart of the FBI probe) so he slid down to 46th overall. In Vegas he has looked like a quality rotation guard, averaging 16.3 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.7 steals a game. Guard minutes are tight to come by on the Rockets this season, but he’s going to make the opening night roster and will get his shot.

Report: Grizzlies shopping trade package of Chandler Parsons, No. 4 pick

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The Grizzlies have one of the NBA’s best assets in the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft.

They also have one of the NBA’s worst assets in Chandler Parsons, the injury-prone forward who has two years and $49,209,769 remaining on his contract.

What if Memphis combined both those?

Michael Scotto of The Athletic:

The Memphis Grizzlies have gauged the trade market on a package of Chandler Parsons and the No. 4 overall pick, league sources told The Athletic.

The No. 4 pick’s value is probably more positive than Parsons’ value is negative. Rebuilding teams with cap space like the Hawks and Bulls would likely jump at paying Parsons if it meant landing such a high pick.

But would anyone send the Grizzlies enough value to bridge the gap? Depends what they’re looking for.

Robert Pera just completed an expensive buys-sell process to keep control of the team. He might want to unload salary. It’d be a real shame for Memphis fans if that meant sacrificing the No. 4 pick, though.

The Grizzlies – partially by their own choosing, partially by their contracts – are pretty locked into a Marc GasolMike Conley core. Dumping Parsons wouldn’t create a massive amount of flexibility to upgrade the roster. It’d just cost whatever sweetener, No. 4 pick or otherwise, is necessary to dump his contract.

It can be tough to tell when a team is just exploring its options. Memphis should want to know the value of Parsons and the No. 4 pick, as it’s helpful to know the value of all assets.

But the possibility the Grizzlies would use the No. 4 pick to rid itself of Parsons – rather than use it to add a top prospect – is concerning.

2018 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Marvin Bagley III is tweener of modern NBA

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The difference between Marvin Bagley III and DeAndre Ayton in terms of production was marginal.

Bagley shot better from three. Ayton was a better rim protector. Both scored at will, overwhelmed opponents in the paint and on the glass and needed to be graded on a learning curve as passers and positional defenders, particularly against pick-and-rolls.

The difference in what they can be projected doing at the next level, however, is fairly significant, and it’s the reason why you are seeing all the hype for Ayton as a potential No. 1 pick and none of it for Bagley.

That’s because Bagley is the perfect example of a tweener in the modern NBA.

Offensively, he’s everything that you want from a small-ball five. He can dominate in the paint, he can space the floor and he is aggressive and productive on the glass. He was a walking double-double in college and it’s not hard to project him being the same in the NBA.

The problem is that he is not a five on the defensive end of the floor. He’s not a rim protector by any means, and his relatively short wingspan coupled with the fact that his skinny frame makes it easy to overpower him in the paint makes it hard to figure how he can defend that position at the next level.

As the saying goes, you are the position you can guard, so what should NBA teams do with a top four pick that plays the five but will have to guard fours?

HEIGHT: 6-foot-11
WEIGHT: 234
WINGSPAN: 7-foot-0.5 (measured two years ago)
2017-18 STATS: 21.0 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 61.4/39.7/62.7
DRAFT RANGE: Top four

STRENGTHS

We can’t talk about Bagley without first talking about the level of athleticism that he has. He’s at the upper-echelon, even when weighted by NBA standards, and that is integral into the player that he is and what he can be at the NBA level. Bagley is an explosive leaper with a terrific second-jump, which is part of what makes him such an effective rebounder, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. Rebounding translates as well as any ability between levels, and it’s hard to imagine a world where Bagley isn’t able to get on the glass in the league.

Bagley is not just a rebounder, however. He’s a big-time scorer that was utterly dominant for long stretches of his freshman season, and the list of things that he’s able to do on that end of the floor is impressive and versatile. He’s at his best around the bucket — his PPP is 96th percentile nationally scoring at the rim — and while he was very left-hand dominant in the post while at Duke, some of that could simply be the result of opponents being unable to keep him from getting to his right shoulder.

More importantly, Bagley showed the ability to be able to stretch the floor. He shot 39.7 percent from three, and while that was a small sample size (58 attempts) and his free throw shooting was not great (62.7 percent) his stroke makes it possible to project him as a capable three-point shooter from the NBA strip. He can attack a closeout and his handle and mobility make him a threat to go coast-to-coast should he grab a defensive rebound. Throw in his ability in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop actions, and he covers all the bases for what is asked of small-ball fives on the offensive end of the floor. He’s developing enough as a passer that it he is projectable as functional in that area at the next level.

While most everyone agrees that Bagley is a fit offensively for the way the NBA is headed, the defensive side of the ball is a different story.

WEAKNESSES

The crux of the issue for Bagley is that he simply is not built to defend fives at the next level.

He, quite frankly, is not a rim protector. The physical tools back that up. He’s 6-foot-11 but he has just a 7-foot-0.5 wingspan — for comparison’s sake, Ayton’s wingspan is 7-foot-5 — and he weighs at least 25 pounds less than the elite modern fives. He’s not built to block shots and he’s not built to bang.

The numbers back that up. His collegiate block rate, when compared to some other elite big men that have been drafted in recent years, is laughable. It doesn’t even compare with players like Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor, who have proven to be defensive liabilities in the NBA:

Okafor is a dinosaur, a relic of a past area whose skill-set simply does not fit in the modern NBA and is not all that comparable with that of Bagley. He’s probably not worth using in this discussion. Kaminsky is nowhere near the athlete that Bagley is, but he’s super-skilled offensively, which has allowed him to be an effective NBA rotation player.

Which leads me to my next point: Bagley can shoot but he hardly proved himself to be a great shooter. That 39.7 percent he shot looks great from the college line, but free throw shooting has been proven to be a better indicator of potential as an NBA three-point shooter and Bagley, even dating back to his high school days, has been a low-to-mid-60s free throw shooter. He might end up being a good three-point shooter, but that is anything-but a guarantee.

Athletically, Bagley has the tools to defend on the perimeter and in space. Duke was a disaster defending pick-and-rolls this past season. It’s the major reason they were forced to play zone exclusively. As one Duke staff member told NBC Sports, “we tried a lot of different things in man […] and none of it worked,” but that is something that has to be taken in context.

  • There were a lot of bad individual defenders on Duke’s team, and they all were freshmen — Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., Bagley.
  • Bagley himself only played three seasons of high school ball and was allowed to do whatever he wanted at every level. His AAU program was run by his father and he never participated in any USA Basketball events. Has he ever truly been coached defensively?

Bagley’s issue on that end of the floor isn’t because he can’t defender but because he doesn’t know how to be a good defender. Ball-screen coverages can be taught, particularly when a player can move the way Bagley moves. Defensive rotations can be taught. His instincts are never going to be great on that end, but there’s no reason that Bagley cannot at the least be an average defender at the NBA level …

… as a four.

In an era where fours in the NBA are just bigger wings — where P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza are squaring off with Kevin Durant and Draymond Green in one conference final while LeBron and is battling with Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown at the four, assuming that those defenses aren’t switching everything — is Bagley really skilled enough to play that role?

I’ll leave you with these facts and figures to chew on:

  • Ben Simmons was the only player 6-foot-10 or taller in the NBA this past season to average at least 15 points without averaging more than 1.0 blocks or 1.0 made threes. Bagley averaged 0.9 blocks and 0.7 threes in college.
  • Since 1996, there have been just five big men selected in the lottery that have averaged less than 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per 40 minutes: Lauri Markkanen, Trey Lyles, Domas Sabonis, Julius Randle and Derrick Williams.

NBA COMPARISON

Earlier on in the season, the comparison that I liked the most was John Collins, the Atlanta Hawks rookie that put together an impressive first season after a super-productive sophomore year at Wake Forest that was plagued by defensive issues. As the season went on, Domas Sabonis started to look like a better comparison as he grew into a contributor for the Pacers. I think Julius Randle and the role that he plays for the Lakers — something of a back-up five — makes a lot of sense now.

Bagley is a better prospect, and athlete, than all three of those players; we can use that as his floor. His ceiling? There’s an element of Amare Stoudamire in his game as well, and I don’t think it’s crazy to think that he could post numbers similar to what Stoudamire put up in his prime; his best season came in 2007 when he averaged 25.2 points, 9.1 boards and 2.1 blocks.

OUTLOOK

I think Bagley is going to end up being a very good NBA player. I think he’ll make some all-star teams, depending on which conference he ends up playing it. I think that he’ll post numbers that will make him a popular fantasy asset.

But I don’t think that he’s ever going to be the cornerstone of a franchise, not without quite a bit of help.

Let’s compare him to Deandre Ayton, because it’s easy and relevant and the two of them are dueling for a spot at the top of this year’s draft. Ayton has a defined skill-set and a defined position on both ends of the floor, one that should allow him to thrive in the modern world of the NBA where bigs are asked to protect the rim, switch onto guards, catch jobs and make threes. You take Ayton and figure the rest out because there are no requirements for who you need to put around him.

With Bagley, that’s not the case.

At the NBA level, for a team that he is featured on to win, he’s going to have to play alongside someone that can protect the rim and that can stretch the floor. If he falls to Memphis at No. 4, that might be a perfect situation for him. Marc Gasol is aging, but he’s still a guy that makes threes, can pass the ball and protects the rim. Bagley is freed up to do what he does best: Overpower people in the paint, use his athleticism to defend those smaller players on the perimeter and catch lobs at the rim. The same thing goes if he ends up on the same team as Kristaps Porzingis. Or Giannis. Or Draymond Green or DeMarcus Cousins or any of those other elite big men. Just about anyone can fit alongside players that can do what they do. That’s what makes them so good and so valuable.

Bagley will thrive if he finds a team with players that he fits alongside.

But he’s a piece to the puzzle, not the anchor you build around.

And there is a difference.

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.

5 Up, 5 Down: Team basketball is finally going to beat LeBron James, isn’t it?

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.
LeBron James looked like the destroyer of worlds. Right up until he didn’t. The Boston Celtics were all over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 despite LeBron being perhaps the main reason that Dwane Casey was fired from the Toronto Raptors.

Nothing in the NBA stays steady, which has made these playoffs supremely interesting even if some storylines — like the Raptors — seem to follow the path of years past.

Now we’re deep into the playoffs, with the conference finals taking shape and there’s more than ever to get to. So without further ado.

5 Up

The Boston Celtics beat LeBron James using good old teamwork

The Celtics have been great this postseason, and Brad Stevens has been praised both for his strategic game plan against major stars like LeBron James and for his in-game tactics. But while SLOBs are fun to watch when they’re drawn up by Stevens, the big thing that’s happening in Boston is just how well this team is playing together, unselfishly, in the face of this generation’s greatest star.

The Cavaliers dropped Game 1 by double-digits to the Celtics on Sunday, and it appeared Stevens finally had a plan for LeBron, who has been on an absolute tear during these playoffs. It felt representative of LeBron’s time in Cleveland — during both stints — that a roster with some talent wasn’t living up to their potential and instead had to be carried by James. Boston is a Team with a capital T, and the Cavaliers are not. It’s only one game, but it doesn’t look good for LeBron in Ohio.

LeBron’s photographic memory

While James didn’t have a good Game 1, scoring just 15 points, he did have perhaps the best moment on the podium with reporters after the game.

When asked about a sequence to open the fourth quarter in which the Celtics clearly got the better of Cleveland, James responded by perfectly recounting several possessions on each side of the ball.

It was uncanny:

The Philadelphia 76ers want to sign everybody

Who doesn’t want to sign LeBron or trade for Kawhi Leonard? The problem is not many teams can make those things happen, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Philadelphia 76ers. Reports out of Pennsylvania have the Sixers targeting James in free agency this summer, when they’ll have space to sign him.

Foregoing that, Philly is also apparently interested in trading for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. How that deal gets done without significantly hurting the Sixers is less clear, but the fact that Philadelphia isn’t going to stand pat this summer is exciting given the leap they took year-over-year.

Dwane Casey’s goodbye letter to Toronto

Just go read it. I’m not even going to try to do it justice.

Even SNL is bagging on Cleveland’s roster construction

The rosters around LeBron have always been oddly strange during his time in Cleveland, a fact lampooned in a cut sketch from Saturday Night Live with Donald Glover. The clip mostly focuses on this year’s roster and their uneven performances.

5 Down

Dwane Casey getting fired

Judging by the amount of coaches who voted for Brad Stevens to win NBA Coach of the Year, it seems very likely that Casey will win the award this season. Unfortunately, Casey is no longer employed after being canned by the Raptors following their playoff sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers.

Contextually it’s not that crazy to see Casey leave, although that in no way excuses the roster construction in Toronto. Because the Raptors don’t have the flexibility to get better, and because their pillars are stuck where they are in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the only way at getting better this year is to take a stab at changing the coach.

It’s just a complete bummer and in any case it still feels like the wrong move.

The Raptors, just generally

What is Toronto doing? They got one season of thinking an offense could work by fundamentally changing how DeRozan attacks the game, then got proven wrong when everyone reverted under pressure in the Cavaliers series.

If you think teams like the Portland Trail Blazers are in a tough spot, they aren’t the only one. Toronto is in an equally weird position, all capped out with nowhere to go.

It’s doubly disappointing that things didn’t work out for the Raptors because their fanbase is completely devoted, DeRozan and Lowry seem fun, and getting a non-traditional team in the Eastern Conference Finals is always more fun than watching two blue bloods duke it out. It’s not really clear where Toronto goes from here, even with a new coach.

If the idea is Toronto needs a better in-game tactician, I think there’s a real question about whether the next person in that position will be able to replicate the strategic-level things Casey did this season. That’s directly related to changing how the Raptors offense works, by the way, and dictates DeRozan’s efficiency and usefulness.

What a mess.

The discussion about Becky Hammon

To be fair, Pau Gasol did come out strongly against naysayers regarding San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon. That’s excellent. But the fact that dudes think it’s still a good idea to speak from a position of ignorance while being primarily motivated by innately sexist thoughts about American sport is wild. When Hammon gets a job, it won’t be given to her, she’ll have earned it.

Ben Simmons‘ jumper situation

OK, just to recap: Ben Simmons’ jumper wasn’t really a problem this year until he ran into the Boston Celtics and Brad Stevens. They aren’t going anywhere, so Simmons will need to make himself some kind of threat outside of 12 feet just for the sake of gravity.

Meanwhile, Simmons has said his jumper won’t undergo a complete re-tooling despite the advice of guys like Kobe Bryant. That doesn’t seem like the best choice, and it’s actually sort of in contradiction with what his own coach said.

There’s no working around it, and enough teams are trying to make square pegs fit in round holds. If Simmons wants to be a point guard in the modern NBA he needs to be able to shoot a basketball. Any argument contrary to that is just noise.

Whatever is happening with Marc Gasol in Memphis

This felt like it sort of flew under the radar, but we’ve now had Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol apparently at extreme odds with his last two coaches. We heard about the back-and-forth between Gasol and now-New York Knicks coach David Fizdale. That was jarring enough, and followed a report we heard back in December that former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger apparently thought Gasol was trying to get him fired back when he was heading the team.

My gut tells me that Gasol isn’t a bad dude, but who is to say for certain? It’s also possible that Gasol is simply worn out in Memphis and doesn’t want to spend the twilight of his prime with a team that’s almost certainly in rebuilding mode. Juicy.