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Rumor: Sixers want to move into top five in draft

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Philadelphia is loaded with young talent — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz — and they are about to add to that with the No. 10 pick in the draft.

That, however, may not be enough.

The Sixers are exploring moving up in the draft, according to former Cavaliers GM David Griffin, speaking on SiriusXM NBA Radio Friday.

Who are they targeting? The expected top five (in some order) right now are DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mo Bamba. Getting the No. 1 pick away from the Suns is highly unlikely (unless you’re the Spurs with Kawhi Leonard), but it could be any of the other four that the Sixers covet. Or Michael Porter.

The other fundamental question: What would the Sixers have to give up to move up five spots? The trade would be the No. 10 pick and a player that’s good but they’re willing to surrender. Dario Saric?

The Sixers also want to keep their assets around in the chase for Kawhi Leonard, so how serious they truly are about moving up remains to be seen. But Griffin is well connected, this is not conjecture.

Report: ‘Very real chance’ Kings pick Michael Porter Jr. at No. 2

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Michael Porter Jr. is the mystery in this draft. A year ago he was considered a likely top two pick for this draft class — a 6’10” athlete who can score around the basket and knock down threes — but then he missed most of the season at Missouri due to a back injury that forced a microdiscectomy surgery. The questions about his health remain, as do questions about how much he loves the game and how much work he would put in to reach his full potential.

Yet every year at the draft teams (and fans) fall in love with the potential of the unknown. We have a better sense of who DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III and Jaren Jackson Jr. are and could be (even though any draft is always a risk), but Porter Jr. is the unknown. His cancellation of a workout for teams Friday in Chicago adds to that mystery. He’s high risk but high reward.

The Kings may be willing to take that gamble at No. 2, reports Sam Amick of the USA Today.

Amick is a former Kings beat writer who lives in the area still and is well connected in Sacramento. With a week to go before the NBA Draft, take every report and rumor you hear with a grain of salt. In some cases, the whole box of Morton’s Kosher salt. But this one deserves to be given some weight, and the Kings are nothing if not unpredictable.

We know the Suns are expected to take DeAndre Ayton No. 1. After that, it’s the Sacramento Kings and it’s wide open. Luka Doncic is probably the safest pick here — he’s a ball-handling forward who understands how to run a pick-and-roll and is a gifted passer who has already been putting up numbers against men in Europe’s top league — but the ceiling for Bagley is considered by many scouts to be higher. Same with Porter, although he comes with higher risks.

The Kings have drafted a lot of bigs in recent years — Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles, Willie Cauley-Stein — but they are at a point in the latest rebuild that they just need to get more talent. Take the best player available regardless of position, develop that talent, and figure out how to fit all the pieces together later. Watch the NBA’s elite (like that team just a 90-minute drive from Sacramento down the 80) and you see talent wins out in this league. The Kings need a lot more of it. And they need to hit on this pick because they don’t have their first rounder next year.

2018 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Is Jaren Jackson Jr. the future of the center position?

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Jaren Jackson Jr. isn’t going to be the first pick in the draft, and I’m not sure just how many mock drafts are going to have him slotted somewhere in the top two or three picks.

The hype, attention and production that comes with the likes of DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III and Luka Doncic is hard to ignore, particularly in comparison with Jackson, who averaged just 10.9 points in one year at Michigan State and bowed out of the NCAA tournament after playing just 15 minutes in a second round loss to Syracuse.

Put another way, Jackson never really has moved the needle, which makes sense for a guy that was the fifth-option for his team in college.

But it doesn’t take all that much effort to find NBA decision-makers that think Jackson might end up being the most impactful NBA player to come out of this draft class.

The reason why is fairly straight-forward: He will fit seamlessly into the modern NBA given the combination of skills that he has while the other four players projected to go in the top five this year have more question marks. Ayton’s rim-protection, three-point shooting and questionable work ethic are red flags. Bagley cannot guard the position (five) that he is going to have to play offensively. Doncic’s relative lack of athleticism makes it unclear who he can guard at the next level. Mo Bamba’s offensive repertoire and toughness will be questioned.

Jackson?

He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He shot 39.6 percent from three after shooting 43.8 percent from three on the EYBL circuit in 2016. He averaged 3.0 blocks despite playing just under 22 minutes a night as a freshman. He is as switchable as any big man in this class defensively because of his ability to move his feet. He won’t turn 19 years old until September 15th, making him 16 months younger than Bamba, 15 months younger than Michael Porter Jr., 14 months younger than Ayton and six months younger than Bagley, who reclassified to enroll at Duke a year early.

He’s everything that NBA teams are looking for as a defensive anchor in the era of small-ball fives switching pick-and-rolls.

Put another way, how much do you think Tristan Thompson (or Clint Capela) would be worth to the Cavs (or Rockets) if he could shoot 40 percent from three and 80 percent from the free throw line? What would Kevin Love‘s value be on the open market if he was a rim-protector and a better defender in space?

Jackson has a long was to go to get to that level, but when you imagine his ceiling, that’s the picture you get.

HEIGHT: 6-foot-11.25
WEIGHT: 236
WINGSPAN: 7-foot-5.25
2017-18 STATS: 10.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.0 bpg, 1.1 apg, 51.3/39.6/79.7, 38 3PM
DRAFT RANGE: Top four

STRENGTHS

When we talk about 3-and-D, typically what we’re referring to are wings, players like a Trevor Ariza or a Danny Green, but 3-and-D big men do exist. Jackson, who was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman, projects as the quintessential 3-and-D big, a perfect fit as a small-ball five in the modern NBA.

Let’s start with his ability to shoot the ball. Jackson knocked down 39.6 percent of his attempts from three in his one season at Michigan State, getting up nearly three threes per game. While that isn’t a massive sample size, Jackson shot 44 percent (28-for-64) from beyond the arc on Nike’s EYBL circuit prior to his senior season in high school and knocked down nearly 80 percent of his free throws this past season. His shooting stroke is awkward — he shoots a push shot with a low-release point that has a weird, sideways spin on it — but he has shot a high-percentage at every level he’s played at in his career. It’s not really a stretch to think that will continue onto the next level.

He’s also a capable driver — mostly to his left — when it comes to attacking closeouts, showing flashes of handle and the ability to beat bigger, and smaller, defenders off the bounce.

The defensive end of the floor is where the real intrigue lies with Jackson.

Offensively, he has a chance to be effective, a floor-spacer that can create some mismatches and beat a close-out, but I’d be pretty surprised if he ever ended up averaging more than 15-17 points in the NBA.

Where Jackson can really make his mark is on the defensive end of the floor, and I don’t think it’s crazy to say that winning a Defensive Player of the Year award in the NBA is within his range of outcomes.

Let’s start with the shot-blocking. On the season, Jackson averaged 3.0 blocks per night despite playing just under 22 minutes; he averaged 5.8 blocks per-40 minutes. Jackson’s block-rate is even more impressive, coming in fourth-nationally at 14.3. There hasn’t been a player drafted in the first round to post a better block rate in the year they were drafted since at least 2004; both Hasheem Thabeet and Larry Sanders, who were drafted after their junior seasons, bettered that block rate in limited roles as freshmen while Hassan Whiteside, who was a second-round pick, had the best block-rate of the bunch.

In fact, Jackson’s block-rate is better than just about every dominant big man that has been picked at the top of the lottery in recent years, including Anthony Davis, and that was despite the fact that he spent the majority of his minutes this season playing the four:

There’s more.

Since 2009-10, there have been just eight players — including Jackson — that have posted a block rate higher than 14 and a true-shooting percentage above 64. Jackson made 38 threes this past season. The other seven players on that list attempted one three combined.

I say all that to say this: The ability to block shots at the rate that Jackson blocks shots is a unique skill, one that is not often combined with a player that has the ability to shoot from distance that Jackson has.

Jackson, however, is more than just a shot-blocker on the defensive end. He can move his feet. He can defend guards on the perimeter when he’s forced to switch. He spent this past season covering college basketball’s small-ball fours. He got experience defending on an island and moving his feet against quicker ball-handlers.

Switchable rim-protectors that space the floor offensively don’t come around that often, and he still doesn’t turn 19 for another two months.

WEAKNESSES

Much of what ails Jackson has to do with his age.

He checked in at 236 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine, but he could still stand to add some size and muscle to his frame. His lower body strength needs work as well, as he has something of a high center of gravity. He’ll get bullied early on in his career. Jackson could also stand to improve his explosiveness and lateral quickness. At this point, he’s mobile and he’s long but he’s not an above-average athlete, particularly from an NBA perspective. That should improve as he gets into an NBA weight training program and continues to grow into his body. Remember, he was just 6-foot-2 as a freshman in high school.

Jackson needs to get most confidence in his ability to drive right and his awkward shooting stroke means he’ll probably never be a great pull-up jump-shooter, but that’s not likely to be something that he’ll be asked to do all that often.

Maturity and decision-making may be the biggest issue that he’ll face.

Let’s start with the fouls. He committed a LOT of them. Part of the reason that he only averaged 22 minutes was that he also averaged 3.2 fouls per game, or roughly 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes. Some of that is a result of Jackson still learning how to play and where to be positionally — freshman bigs are always going to be foul prone, especially when they’re being asked to defend on the perimeter more. Part of that is he is a little slow to react when defending on the perimeter. Sometimes that’s because he reads the play late, something that should change as he spends more time playing. Sometimes it’s because he’s too upright defensively, which will be helped as he develops his lower-body. Sometimes it’s because he’s over-aggressive, whether that manifests itself as a reach-in foul or getting whistled for over-the-back on a rebound he never really had a chance to get.

In theory, those are things that can be coached out. What’s a little more concerning is that Jackson is somewhat naïve and tends to have a long memory during games. He can get hung up on a referee blowing a call or him missing a shot.

But again, it’s hard to know whether that’s who he is or simply a result of an 18-year old being 18.

NBA COMPARISON

I’m not sure there really is a perfect comparison for Jackson because I’m not sure how many players have the combination of skills that he has. I think his floor is somewhere between a Serge Ibaka and a Robert Covington, depending on just how good of a shooter he develops into and where his development defensively takes him, which is part of the reason that he is steadily climbing draftboards. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t become a useful rotation player on a team that can play the way you need to play to compete with Golden State.

Jackson’s ceiling will be determined by what he becomes on the offensive end of the floor. Let’s say that his three-point shooting doesn’t take a dip when moving back to the NBA line and that he continues to add to his face-up game, I don’t think it’s out of the question that he could turn into Kristaps Porzingis-lite, but even that is far from perfect and probably an unfair expectation to put on an 18-year old.

The best way to think of Jackson’s ceiling: Clint Capela, except he adds Kevin Love’s perimeter repertoire in a role similar to the one Draymond Green plays — more on that in a second. That is an extremely useful and valuable player to have.

OUTLOOK

I have a very hard time seeing Jackson end up as a bust.

It will take some time for him to get there, but his tools defensively combined with his ability to make shots means that there will be a role for him in the NBA for a long time to come.

At the same time, I think Jackson’s upside offensively is limited to a point. Put another way, I don’t see him being the go-to guy on a team that is making runs in the playoff.

Which leads me to Draymond.

Green and Jackson are very, very different players. One is 6-foot-6 and the other is 6-foot-11. One is a terrific playmaker that ran some point in college and the other finished his college career with 39 assists and 62 turnovers. One is certifiably insane and the other is not.

But what Green does for Golden State is a pretty good template for what I think Jackson will be able to provide for an NBA franchise down the road, operating at the piece that brings everything together defensively while doing enough on the offensive end of the floor to keep defenders honest and help create space for his teammates.

Jackson will do it in a different way than Draymond does, but the effect he’ll have on the way a team can play will be similar.

Mohamed Bamba makes case to Suns

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PHOENIX — Mohamed Bamba could be the next Rudy Gobert, and that’s why he’s expected to go very high in the NBA draft.

The towering 7-footer from Harlem, who played his one collegiate season at Texas, worked out individually with Phoenix on Saturday, the third player to do so this week as the Suns weigh their options with the No. 1 overall pick this month in the NBA draft.

DeAndre Ayton worked out Wednesday and Marvin Bagley III on Friday.

“Mo had a really good workout,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said. “His wingspan, his standing reach, is off the charts. His ability to protect the rim I think will be elite at the NBA level, in addition to his ability to rebound the ball. Another thing that stood out to us in his workout today is we can tell he’s been working on his shooting.”

Bamba has been working with noted shooting coach Drew Hanlen and has made significant changes to his form.

McDonough described Bamba’s old form as “a slingshot” approach with the ball released far behind the shooter’s head.

Bamba said the changes have “made like a night-and-day difference in just my mechanics, getting the ball off smoother and having softer landing on the rim.”

“My makes are all net and my misses are landing very soft and long instead of short,” he said.

Bamba has a 7-foot-10 wingspan, the largest ever recorded at the NBA combine. McDonough said Bamba’s highest vertical jump was 12 1-2 feet, “which is crazy.”

As for the comparison with Gobert, the shot-blocking center of the Utah Jazz, McDonough said “honestly I think at 20 years old he’s ahead of where Rudy was.”

“Now Rudy’s made tremendous strides over the last three or four years,” McDonough said. “The question for Mo is can he fill out his body the way Rudy has. But in terms of measurements, they’re similar. In terms of the willingness and desire to anchor a defense and protect the rim, they’re similar. I think Mo probably is a little more mobile at the same age and Rudy is probably stronger, more physically developed at the same age.”

Bamba loves the comparison.

“He just changed the geometry of the game,” Bamba said. “When he’s not blocking the shot, he’s in the back of your mind.”

McDonough calls Bamba “a super-bright guy, one of the smarter guys I’ve seen in the last 10 or 15 years come through the pre-draft process.”

Bamba believes that intelligence will serve him well in the NBA.

“I have the natural ability to pick things up a lot faster than I think most people would,” he said, “and I think I’ve shown that in the workout that we did today. … IQ is really big. It’s something that you really want to have on and off the court and it takes your game to the next level for sure.”

Bamba weighs 234 pounds.

“He’s super-long but he’s thin so he needs to add some length to his body, especially the lower body,” McDonough said. “But I think from day one he’ll be able to step on the court and impact games defensively, block shots, rebound and then be an over-the-top lob threat and then build the rest of his game out from there.”

Bamba said he is working out for other teams but didn’t want to identify them. Ayton said the Suns were the only team he’s working out with. Bagley planned to work out with Sacramento and Atlanta, teams with the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, respectively, in the June 21 draft.

Ayton said he knows he will be the No.1 pick. Bagley said he, not Ayton, deserves to be.

Bamba was more diplomatic.

“Everyone feels entitled to it, but I have no entitlement to it,” he said. “It’s something that obviously I worked my butt off for and my whole thing is to put it in very short sentences – I do more and I require less. The Suns are more than a perfect fit for me.”

Marvin Bagley III calls Deandre Ayton talk at No. 1 ‘disrespectful’

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PHOENIX — Marvin Bagley III has heard just about enough about how DeAndre Ayton is the favorite to become the Phoenix Suns’ choice as the No. 1 pick in this month’s NBA draft.

Bagley thinks he, not Ayton, deserves to be at the top of the draft and got a chance to make his case in an individual workout with the Suns on Friday.

“I definitely believe I’m the No. 1 pick,” Bagley said, “and if the Suns take me I’ll definitely show them why.”

Ayton took it a step further when he worked out for the Suns on Wednesday, saying “I know I’m going No. 1.” He said that Phoenix would be his only pre-draft workout.

Bagley, on the other hand, said he will work out for the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks, the teams with the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, respectively.

“Deandre, he’s going to do what he’s going to do. That’s his plan,” Bagley said. “All I can do is control what I can control and do what I love to do and just show different teams what I’m capable of doing. I can’t really worry about what other people are doing at this point. This is an important time in my life right now, something I’ve been working toward my whole basketball career.”

Bagley hears all the speculation that Ayton will go No. 1 and said he uses it as motivation.

“It’s disrespectful and I use it as drive every single day,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is all talk right now. Eventually we’ll have to go on the court and we’ll have to play. That’s where all the talking ends.”

Asked if he would have a “life-long” chip on his shoulder against the Suns if Phoenix didn’t pick him, Bagley answered, “I’m a competitive person. You never want to come in last. You always put the work in to be great and to get to that next level. That’s just the type of player that I am. So, to answer the question, yes.”

Fans in Phoenix have known about Bagley for years. He grew up in suburban Chandler, leading his high school to the state championship as a ninth grader. From there, Bagley shifted to other basketball-oriented schools. He and Ayton were even teammates for a season at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix.

Bagley finished his prep career at Sierra Canyon in Chatsworth, California, before his one outstanding season at Duke.

He and Ayton are 19 years old and very big but with different games.

Ayton, 7-foot-1 and 260 pounds, is seen as strictly a center by the Suns. Bagley, 6-11 and 234 pounds, is a power forward who might someday play some at center in the NBA, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said.

So their individual workouts were different.

“We probably had Marvin do a little more ball-handling and a little more perimeter shooting and a little bit less around the basket than Deandre did,” McDonough said.

The Suns plan more workouts with No. 1 candidates this weekend. McDonough didn’t say who would work out when but he mentioned Mohamed Bamba of Texas and Jaren Jackson Jr. of Michigan State as players being considered for the top spot. Another is European sensation Luka Doncic, who is playing professionally in Spain.

“It seems like there are multiple guys who are worthy,” McDonough said. “Some years, to be honest with you, probably don’t have any guys who deserve it but somebody has to go one.”

Bagley certainly has the credentials. He was the ACC player of the year, averaging 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.

He believes he is best in an up-and-down, open-court game.

“Being able to get the ball and go off of rebounds and pushing,” Bagley said. “There’s a lot more space now than there is in college. Just being able to play in open space and getting out and running. I think that’s where my best is when we’re running and everybody’s not thinking and having fun.”

He said he wants to show NBA teams “that I’m an overall player.”

“I can do a lot inside and out, offensively and defensively,” Bagley said. “I just want to be able to have that mindset of coming in and showing everybody a full game, a full package.”