Royce O'Neale

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Ten best players not taken in 2019 NBA Draft

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Fred VanVleet hounded Stephen Curry in the NBA Finals, hit big shots, and played an important role in the Toronto Raptors winning their first ever NBA title.

VanVleet was undrafted.

So was his teammate Jeremy Lin. And the Warriors’ Quinn Cook. Then there’s Seth Curry, Robert Covington, Kent Bazemore, Joe Ingles, Yogi Ferrell, Allonzo Trier, Jonathon Simmons, Langston Galloway, Matthew Dellavedova, Royce O'Neale, Maxi Kleber… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of undrafted players making an impact in the NBA.

Who are the guys overlooked in the 2019 NBA Draft that teams may regret not snapping up? Here are our top 10:

Luguentz Dort, 6’4” shooting guard, Arizona State. He was the Pac 12 Freshman of the Year and his value at the next level is as a defender, he was tenacious as an on-ball guy (although not every scout is so sure about that). Some people thought he was a late first-round pick. What scared teams off? He’s a shooting guard who shot 30.7 percent from three last year. That has to improve (and reportedly has in workouts). OKC quickly locked him up after the draft.

He also has to become a better finisher at the rim, he was inconsistent there. But with his potential, it’s a surprise to see him go undrafted.

Naz Reid, 6’10” center, LSU. He has a world of potential, and while he’s a project big man, there were a lot of project bigs taken in this draft. Minnesota locked him up after the draft.

Reid 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. However, he seemed disinterested in defense (and occasionally offense) this season. Does he love basketball? That may have been the biggest reason he fell, but he has a chance to prove guys wrong.

Brian Bowen, 6’7″ wing, Sydney Kings. It didn’t take long after the draft for the Indiana Pacers to lock Bowen up.

Rather than play in college, Bowen went to Australia and played against men (and alongside Andrew Bogut). He’s got an NBA shooting touch, more confidence now, and knows how to play a physical game. It’s a surprise a team didn’t give him a shot before the Pacers.

Shamorie Ponds, 6’1” point guard, St. Johns. He’s got a lot of playground in his game, both for good and bad. He’s got impressive handles and uses that and some hesitation moves to get space and get to the rim or pull up for a jumper. After that, he’s got work to do. He has to get stronger, he has to be better at setting up teammates, his shot needs to be more consistent, and his defense needs to improve. A project, but if he puts in the work he could be a rotation guard in a few years.

DaQuan Jeffries, 6’5” wing, Tulsa. He has the raw tools to be a 3&D role player in the NBA — he’s very athletic, shooting range, he has a 7-foot wingspan — but it’s going to take a lot of development to get him there. Orlando is going to give him that chance.

Jeffries’ ball handling has to improve, and he has to be far more consistent. He had a good showing at the Portsmouth Invitational, which helped boost his draft stock, but just not enough.

Jontay Porter, 6’11” center, Missouri. The concern here is obvious — he has two ACL tears. He wasn’t the most athletic prospect to begin with, but the medical reports are the reason he fell out of the draft. Porter has skills as a shooter out to the arc and he plays a high IQ game, plus he fights hard for rebounds and tries on defense. Some team should bring him in this summer and give him a chance.

Terence Davis, 6’5” shooting guard, Mississippi. A guy who has moved up draft boards as the day got closer, but apparently not enough. He a good athlete he has been a decent shooter, if a bit streaky, but if he can become a more consistent shooter and add a little playmaking to his game, Davis can be a role player in the NBA. He’s got to improve his defense and accept a role, but if he can do that he can develop into a scorer off the bench in the league.

Louis King, 6’8” forward, Oregon. Teams see the potential for a stretch four in him, he shot 38.6% from three last season, but he’s just got to get stronger. He’s not quick enough to be a very switchable defender. That said, he can become a role player if he puts in the work — and that’s the big question. Reports have teams concerned about his work ethic and love of the game, and that likely doomed his chances. He has to repair that this summer.

Jalen Lecque, 6’4” guard, Brewster Academy. This is all about the potential. Lecque played last season at a prep school, not in college, he’s a top-shelf athlete with NBA wingspan (6’8.5”) who could be an impressive NBA defender. That’s why the Suns gave him a non-guaranteed contract.

Lecque is very, very raw, his shot isn’t there yet, the game seemed to move too fast for him at the Draft Combine, and there is a lot of development to do here. Still, gambling on a guy with athletic upside is a smart play.

Zach Norvell Jr., 6’5″ shooting guard, Gonzaga. In a league that needs shooting, Norvell can get red-hot and has ridiculous range. Yes, there were questions about his athleticism, and with that who he could defend, but considering who was taken it’s surprising to see a good shooter left on the sidelines.

• One Bonus note: Teams were not nearly as high on Tacko Falls as fans. Maybe he proves everybody wrong and pans out, but he has no range to his game. He’s an old-school style center in a league getting away from those kinds of players, and teams were concerned he cannot keep up with the pace of the NBA. This isn’t college where he can just be planted near the rim, plus he needs to get a lot stronger to compete inside in the NBA. He’ll get a Summer League invite, no doubt, but he has a lot of work to do to get where he wants to be.

Rockets set up rematch with Warriors

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Bring on the Warriors.

The Rockets did their part to set up a highly anticipated rematch by dispatching the Jazz 100-93 in Game 5 Wednesday. With a 4-1 series victory over Utah, Houston enters the second round to face the winner of Warriors-Clippers. Golden State leads 3-1 entering its own Game 5 tonight.

Houston pushed these Warriors harder than anyone has, falling just short in last year’s seven-game Western Conference finals. James Harden said he thinks about losing Games 6 and 7 every day.

Will the Rockets supplant Golden State this year?

Harden is better. Chris Paul is healthy. The Warriors – their veterans a year older, Kevin Durant‘s impending free agency causing more drama – look somewhat vulnerable.

But Golden State is still favored in the second-round series before even winning its first-round series. The Warriors have historic top-end talent, and that usually wins out in the playoffs.

It did for the Rockets against the Jazz.

Harden (26 points, six rebounds, six assists, four blocks and three steals) and Paul (15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals) weren’t great tonight. But they gave Houston enough considering Utah’s best player was Royce O'Neale (18 points on 8-of-13 shooting).

Donovan Mitchell (12 points on 4-of-22 shooting, including 0-for-9 on 3-pointers, with only one assist and five turnovers) had an awful game I doubt he’ll forget. His competitiveness and self-awareness are so impressive. I bet this only fuels him.

The Rockets are ready now.

They’ve won 24 of their last 29 games, going back to the regular season. They like to play a high-scoring style, but they’re versatile enough to adjust. P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela keyed a strong defensive performance tonight.

Houston probably won’t beat Golden State. But the Rockets have the opportunity they’ve desired for the last 332 days.

James Harden struggles, Rockets still beat Jazz 104-101 for 3-0 series lead

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SALT LAKE CITY — James Harden never worried.

In fact, he didn’t know he had missed his first 15 shots.

Through it all, he never changed the attacking style that made him the NBA’s leading scorer.

Harden overcame a poor shooting performance and scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Houston Rockets to a 104-101 win Saturday over the Utah Jazz for a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

“Keep shooting. Keep being aggressive,” Harden said of his only thoughts. “My job is to go out there and produce. Be aggressive and in attack mode. Nothing changes.”

Not much has worked against Harden for the Jazz, and even when they thought they had him trapped, they weren’t able to control The Beard for a full game.

“You’re going to give something up. The best thing you can do with him is just try to make it hard on him. Even when you do that, there’s times where he’s going to make plays,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.

The Jazz didn’t take it easy on Harden, and took every opportunity to knock him down, even when it sent him to the line. For one of the rare times this season, Harden passed up some shots. But he did take them – and make them – when they counted most.

Though the victory was hardly a thing of beauty, Houston coach Mike D’Antoni was grateful for the way it went down.

“Sooner or later we have to win games on defense. We did this time,” D’Antoni said of his team which is known for Harden’s lethal 3-point attack but has drastically improved on the defensive end since mid-season.

Harden made a 3-pointer and added two free throws with 42.4 seconds left to give the Rockets a 101-97 lead. After Donovan Mitchell made two free throws, Harden missed another 3-point attempt, but P.J. Tucker, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, grabbed the rebound, was fouled, making one of two free throws.

Chris Paul said: “You trust (Tucker) to make those plays. … He’s going to do anything and everything to help the team win.”

Mitchell had a wide-open look at a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, but like so many of his shots in the hard-fought contest, it was off the mark.

Game 4 of the best-of-seven Western Conference series is Monday night in Utah.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well and we still won. That just gives us more confidence,” said Harden, who was 3-for-20 shooting with 10 assists. He was 14 for 16 from the line.

Paul scored 18 points and Clint Capela had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets, who shot 38.4 percent from the field and 67.6 percent from the line.

Mitchell scored 34 points, but struggled shooting, too, making just 9 of his 27 attempts. Derrick Favors had 13 for the Jazz.

Royce O'Neale, who played tenacious defense on Harden, made a 3-pointer for Utah’s last lead at 89-88. In fact, the Jazz led most of the game, but never by more than eight.

The Rockets made their move in the fourth quarter.

Gerald Green made back-to-back 3-pointers and Harden added a pair of free throws with 8:33 remaining put the Rockets up 84-80.

After two slow starts in Houston, the Jazz came out energized with a deafening crowd hanging on every basket. Utah led 11-3 and Harden picked up two fouls in the first 94 seconds, but stayed on the court. He couldn’t find his rhythm until the stretch run.

The Rockets have made no secret they are keying on Mitchell and Ingles to take away their playmaking and make other Utah players beat them. So far, no one else has made them pay.

Mitchell vowed to be more aggressive and apologized for being a “no show” early in the series. He re-introduced himself to the series in an exuberant show of shot-making and open emotion after big plays. But it didn’t last.

“I just started missing shots,” Mitchell said. “I can’t miss 16 shots (after the first quarter). That’s my role and I can’t miss makeable shots.”

Prior to Saturday’s big game, Mitchell was shooting 32.6% and had more turnovers (nine) than assists (six). After his hot start, Mitchell missed 11 straight field goal attempts but never stopped attacking.

Harden was missing 3-pointers and floaters, including two that were rejected by Rudy Gobert early in the game, and didn’t convert one until his emphatic fast-break dunk with 7:34 to play. But then he made a step-back 3-pointer to give Houston its largest lead at 89-83.

The leading MVP candidate did get to the line – something the Jazz have tried desperately to avoid.

Gobert had 10 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.

 

Hawks stop Jazz win streak at five thanks to Trae Young

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ATLANTA — Trae Young scored 23 points, including a go-ahead three-point play, and the Hawks beat Utah 117-114 on Thursday night to end the Jazz’s five-game winning streak.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 34 points.

It was a costly loss. The Jazz entered the game fifth in the Western Conference but only a half-game ahead of a pack of three teams tied for sixth.

Utah led 110-109 before Young’s basket and free throw with 1:47 gave the Hawks the lead.

The Hawks stretched the lead to four points when an officials’ review confirmed a goaltending call against Rudy Gobert on Dewayne Dedmon‘s shot.

A slam by Gobert, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds, cut Atlanta’s lead to 114-112. Dedmon made two free throws. Following a layup by Mitchell, Dedmon made only one of two free throws with 6.2 seconds remaining to give Utah, trailing 117-114, a chance.

Vince Carter fouled Kyle Korver on what was initially ruled a three-shot foul. A review determined Korver would only shoot two free throws. Korver missed both free throws, the second one intentionally, and Mitchell missed a last-second 3-pointer from the corner.

Hawks rookie Kevin Huerter, who had 14 points, sank a 3-pointer to cut Utah’s lead to 99-98 midway through the final period. Ricky Rubio answered with two straight jumpers, including a 3-pointer, and set up a layup by Derrick Favors that pushed the lead to 106-98.

After going 12 of 21 on 3-pointers, Atlanta led 65-54 at halftime.

Mitchell opened the second half with a steal and jam to start a 9-0 run. Gobert had a tip-in and made a free throw in the run. A three-point play by Rubio tied the game at 71-all. Utah took the lead on Royce O'Neale‘s 3-pointer and stretched the lead to 82-73 – capping a 28-8 run to open the half.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Derrick Favors had 15 points and 15 rebounds. Rubio had 17 points and seven assists. … Each of Utah’s five straight wins had been by margins of at least 15 points. … Korver, who played for Atlanta from 2012-17, was honored with a video tribute and received an ovation during a first-period timeout.

Hawks: Kent Bazemore sank three 3-pointers in the final four minutes of the third period to cut Utah’s lead to 91-86 entering the fourth. … Dedmon had 18 points. … Huerter has been overshadowed by fellow rookie Young but also has become a starter with a role in the team’s long-term future. “I think the beauty is he’s a modern day perimeter player,” coach Lloyd Pierce said. Huerter has five games with at least five 3s. Only Young, with six such games, has more among the league’s rookies this season.

UP NEXT

Jazz: Visit Chicago on Saturday night.

Hawks: Host Philadelphia on Saturday night.

Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell receive, Jayson Tatum one vote shy of, unanimous All-Rookie first-team selections

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The 76ers’ Ben Simmons, Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma were locks for the All-Rookie first team.

The final seemingly up-for-grabs spot? It went to the Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen, and it wasn’t close.

Here’s the full voting for All-Rookie teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, total voting points):

First team

  • Donovan Mitchell, UTA (100-0-200)
  • Ben Simmons, PHI (100-0-200)
  • Jayson Tatum, BOS (99-1-199)
  • Kyle Kuzma, LAL (93-7-193)
  • Lauri Markkanen, CHI (76-21-173)

Second team

Others receiving votes:

The first team matches our choices.

Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Jackson are the only selections I’d quibble with. Those two were just so destructive with shooting efficiency and defense. To be fair, they were pressed into larger roles than they were ready for on bad teams. But if the goal is picking the rookies who had the best seasons (what I aim to do), Smith and Jackson didn’t cut it.

However, some voters give more credence to long-term potential, and Smith and Jackson both have plenty of that. Other voters are drawn by bigger per-game numbers, which Smith and Jackson produced in their larger roles. So, it’s minimally surprising they made it.

That one first-team vote for Jackson, though? That’s odd – and it was enough to get him on the second team by one voting point over Heat center Bam Adebayo.