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Associated Press

2017 NBA Mock Draft, the first round

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Tuesday, myself and Rob Dauster from NBC’s College Basketball Talk talked through a first round 2017 mock draft. You can listen to how we came to these conclusions (also at the bottom of this post).

Teams tend to take the best player on the board, but if it’s close between guys — and in spots this draft is very bunched up — teams take need and other factors into account. We looked at it the same way, and here is what we projected.
 
Celtics small icon 1. Boston Celtics: Markelle Fultz, Washington. The top player on nearly everyone’s draft board because he can do it all: Make threes, finish above the rim, play in transition, elite on the pick-and-roll, hits midrange pullups, great size for his position. The only questions are defense and how far he can lead a team.
 
Suns small icon 2. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, Kansas. Great physical gifts for a wing, strong defender who could become lock-down guy, great motor, needs to improve his shooting but form is strong.
 
Lakers small icon 3. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, UCLA. Fantastic court vision and high IQ, incredible in transition. Can he score in half court (he mostly dished on P&R)? Shooting motion is odd but the ball goes in.
 
Sixers small icon 4. Philadephia 76ers: Jayson Tatum, Duke.: Phenomenal isolation scorer, he can face guys up or post up smaller players. How will his game translate to NBA where everyone has size and athleticism? Is he a small ball four?
 
Magic small icon 5. Orlando Magic: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky. Good size, speed, and athleticism, strong defender and could be elite on that end. Has a lot of work to do on his shot.
 
timberwolves small icon 6. Minnesota Timberwolves:
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona. He’s a 7-footer that shot 42.3% from three, and not just spot-ups. Floor spacing backup behind Karl-Anthony Towns.
 
Knicks small icon 7. New York Knicks: Malik Monk, Kentucky. Guy just knows how to score, and can get red hot for stretches. Not fantastic at anything else. Future sixth man in the Jamal Crawford/Lou Williams mold?
 
Kings small icon 8. Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Isaac, Florida State. One of the best athletes in the draft and already a strong defender with elite potential. Very raw on offense.
 
Mavericks small icon 9. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State. Strong playmaker, good handles good in the open court, but was up and down and didn’t seem consistently interested in defense.
 
Kings small icon 10. Sacramento Kings: Frank Ntilikina, France, Tall 6’5″ point guard who is a good two-way player, someone with a lot of offensive potential.
 
Hornets small icon 11. Charlotte Hornets: Zach Collins, Gonzaga. Fantastic performances on big stage of NCAA Tournament, he can make threes, score in the post, blocks shots, rebound. Came off bench at Gonzaga, still a work in progress.
 
Pistons small icon 12. Detroit Pistons: Terrance Ferguson, Australia. A 6’6″ wing with insane athleticism, good spot up shooter but has work to do on both ends. Chose to play in Australia rather than college last season.
 
Nuggets small icon 13. Denver Nuggets: O.G. Anunoby, Indiana. Great physical tools for an NBA wing, 6’8″, athletic, can be impressive defender, needs to work on his shot and handles.
 
Heat small icon 14. Miami Heat: Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Can shoot the three, and when he gets in the lane has a fantastic floater. Not great at creating his own shot. Good size, but will he defend at next level?
 
Blazers small icon 15. Portland Trail Blazers:
Jarrett Allen, Texas. Great size — 6’11” with 7’6″ wingspan — and he’s a great athlete. Could develop into Clint Capella like NBA big, but will he put in the work to do it?
 
Bulls small icon 16. Chicago Bulls: Luke Kennard, Duke. Incredibly efficient offensively, he can shoot, work off the ball, even get buckets in the pick-and-roll. Real questions defensively.
 
Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton, Creighton. A lot of potential, he’s a 7-footer with length, can shoot some but needs shots created for him, and defensive tools needs work.
 
Pacers small icon 18. Indiana Pacers: Donovan Mitchell, Louisville. Big time athlete and can use that to defend. Can create his own shot but will he work off the ball well.
 
Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks: John Collins, Wake Forest. A bit of a late bloomer (young for his grade,), he’s an efficient scorer but will he pass? 6’11” but how will he defend, rebound at the next level.
 
Blazers small icon 20. Portland Trail Blazers:
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA. He’s got good size — 6’10” with long arms, strong — and is quick off the floor, which helps with rebounding and shot blocking, but the rest of his game needs polish.
 
Thunder small icon 21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Semi Ojeleye, SMU. Played as a stretch four last season and showed to be a good shooter, but he’s undersized for that role in the NBA. Can he play the three?
 
Nets small icon 22. Brooklyn Nets: Isaiah Hartenstein (played in Lithuania). Great size at 7’1″ and a solid athlete who can do a little bit of everything.
 
Raptors small icon 23. Toronto Raptors: Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky. The most explosive athlete in the draft, fantastic physical tools, but very raw and is a real project. Never played for Kentucky.
 
Jazz small icon 24. Utah Jazz: T.J. Leaf, UCLA. Great size at 6’10”, fluid athlete who excelled in transition and can shoot the three. Needs to get stronger and round out his game.
 
Magic small icon 25. Orlando Magic: Tyler Lydon, Syracuse. Can shoot the three and was a good rim protector (but in the Syracuse zone). Was a good stretch four in college but is undersized for that at the next level.
 
Blazers small icon 26. Portland Trail Blazers:
Ivan Rabb, California. Would have gone a lot higher last year, but returned to college for a season. Put up better numbers this season but was less efficient.
 
Nets small icon 27. Brooklyn Nets: Harry Giles, Duke. Was the top of this class early in high school then injuries robbed him of some athleticism and development time. Is he past that, or is he forever diminished (and if so how much)? Good roll of dice this late in round.
 
Lakers small icon 28. Los Angeles Lakers: Bam Adebayo, Kentucky. Will be more of a four, he can defend on perimeter and is good athlete, but not a shooter. Could be a Julius Randle backup?
 
Spurs small icon 29. San Antonio Spurs:. Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona. Athletic wing with good size out of a top European program. We won’t hear from him for two or three years, then Gregg Popovich will put him in and he’ll be fantastic. Because that’s what the Spurs do.

Check out the highlights of Manu Ginobili’s throwback, game-saving plays vs. Rockets (VIDEO)

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“Manu reached back and gave us one of his Manu performances from past years. He was a stud.”

That was how Spurs coach Gregg Popovich described Manu Ginobili‘s Game 5 performance. With Tony Parker out they Spurs leaned on Ginobili, who turns 40 in a couple of months, to be the team’s secondary playmaker. With Kawhi Leonard sidelined through most of the fourth quarter and all of overtime due to an ankle injury, even more was asked of Ginobili.

From a dunk — that Danny Green said surprised everyone — to a game-saving block, Ginobili was making plays. Check out his highlights.

Danny Ainge’s leadership in spotlight as Celtics chase 18th title

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BOSTON (AP) — When you work for the Boston Celtics, there’s no need for daily reminders about your motivations. They’re constantly casting shadows overhead.

“There’s only one goal in Boston,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens recently said. “There’s 17 banners hanging above us. We only go for one goal here.”

And few people are as keenly aware of that chase as Danny Ainge.

Boston’s front office chief has already been to the NBA’s mountaintop; first as player winning a pair of championships in the 80s and then as the architect of the Big 3 that brought the Celtics their 17th NBA championship in 2008.

He’s since progressed from Kevin Garnett’s triumphant “Anything’s possible” declaration in `08, to believing in the possibilities of the present with a corps of young talent that’s two wins away from returning the franchise to the conference finals for the first time since 2012.

But with the East’s top seed locked in 2-2 tie with Washington, the outcome of this series could go a long way toward affirming the recent moves Ainge has made, or exposing the holes that still exist as his team chases banner No. 18.

Ainge, who has shown willingness to make big moves, stood pat at February’s trade deadline despite holding a wealth of coveted assets. It’s a decision Ainge hasn’t second-guessed.

“Make no mistake that we did try to improve our team,” Ainge said. “But we do have a lot of confidence in our team and the guys that don’t get a chance to play. It doesn’t seem really fair when we have guys that are healthy and that we like and aren’t even getting on the court to bring in other guys just because they’re playing and everyone assumes they’re better.”

After brushing off initial overtures, Ainge was lured back to Boston as the president of basketball operations in 2003 with the endorsement of none other than Celtics’ legend Red Auerbach.

The way Ainge once told the story to a church group, Auerbach called Ainge “the luckiest guy I know” in recommending him to owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca.

While Ainge has acknowledged some fortunate outcomes to get the Celtics back to this point, such as the rise of Isaiah Thomas into an All-Star, there have also been plenty of pivotal moves by Ainge.

One of the league’s most-tenured front office heads, he has recently used that experience to his advantage.

It started with the hiring of Stevens, then just a 37-year-old college coach at Butler, in 2013. That was followed by the trade of Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, which netted the Celtics three first-round picks and the right to swap picks with the Nets this season.

That led to the drafting of rookie Jaylen Brown last summer and a wealth of possibilities with this year’s Brooklyn pick, which has the best odds of being No. 1 overall.

It’s a bargaining chip that only still exists because of Ainge’s decision to not make any trade deadline in each of the last two years.

Though Boston did miss on wooing Kevin Durant to town last summer, it was able to land big man Al Horford, who has since credited Ainge’s vision as one of the major factors that swayed him to sign.

Horford’s addition has not only has provided the Celtics with needed veteran leadership, but he’s been one of the sustaining elements for a group that was able to rally behind Thomas after his sister’s sudden passing on the eve of the playoffs.

“I think that that showed the character of all the players involved,” Ainge said. “I think the first two games (of Chicago series) there was a little bit of a cloud because one of our family was hurting really, really bad…It was like no one knew how to really react to the whole situation. Credit goes to Isaiah, first and foremost, for inspiring his team and the team for fighting for Isaiah.”

TNT analyst and former NBA coach Kevin McHale played alongside Ainge as a player and later saw him in action as an executive. He said while the word patient didn’t used to be one he’d have used to describe his friend, it is one example of how his style has evolved.

McHale said Ainge has also shown a willingness to bring tools like analytics into how he looks at his roster – even if at the end of the day he ultimately still relies on his instincts.

“He’s not a pigeonhole guy,” McHale said. “He uses everything and I think you have to…He has a good eye for grit and toughness. None of that analytics can show that.”

Whether it’s luck or skill, Ainge isn’t waiting for an 18th banner to fall in his lap.

“It’s like being player…You don’t sit around and wait for luck,” Ainge said. “You work your way into having good fortune go your way. You behave and act certain way with integrity and character so that when opportunities present themselves you’re ready.”

 

Report: Clippers find sponsor, to start own D-League… er, G-League team

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The Los Angeles Clippers are about to become the 26th team in the NBA to have their own D-League team… er, I mean G-League team as Gatorade has become the title sponsor of the league.

The Clippers have found their own title sponsor — Agua Caliente Casino Resort — and an arena about an hour drive from Staples Center that will host the team. Marc Stein of ESPN broke the story and has the details.

The LA Clippers are working toward introducing their new NBA Development League franchise as the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Clippers are closing in on an announcement that would establish Agua Caliente Casino Resort — one of the club’s most prominent sponsors at the NBA level — as the title sponsor of the club’s looming D-League affiliate in a unique naming arrangement.

Ontario, California, is roughly 50 miles away from Los Angeles, which would enable the Clippers to assign and recall players whose D-League rights they hold on an expedited basis.

This is a good thing for a few reasons. One, the new NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement calls for two-way contracts so having an affiliate nearby where a couple of players can develop then be called up if needed/ready is a smart thing.

However, this is more key for the Clippers in a bigger picture — they have been poor at developing talent to go around their stars. While the franchise developed Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, look at the other top teams in the West — San Antonio, Golden State, Utah — and you see franchises that round out their rosters with quality young players they draft then groom. The most obvious example, the Clippers had Joe Ingles in training camp but cut him loose three years back, the Jazz picked him up and took the time to develop him. In the first round, Ingles was key for Utah in the matchups that beat the Clippers.

Doc Rivers has the Clippers in a “win now” place, but with that he has been like the guy who goes to the grocery store and buys the pre-prepared meals rather than the ingredients to make his own dinner. After a while, the cost of that catches up with people — the Clippers have disregarded their draft picks for years, and it shows. Look at the Clippers roster, there aren’t the kinds of guys developed in house that populate the Spurs bench, or Utah, or many top NBA teams. Los Angeles needs those kinds of players, that is part of the reason they lack depth.

Maybe adding a nearby D-League team will start to change that. Although not in the short term as the Clippers have traded away all their picks in this draft.

With Nene out, Rockets will start Eric Gordon, make Ryan Anderson backup center

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Mike D’Antoni’s default move in the face of adversity is to go smaller.

So with Nene out for the rest of the playoffs and his rotations thrown off, the Houston Rockets’ coach is taking Eric Gordon off the bench and starting him in Game 5 against San Antonio. Ryan Anderson will lose his starting spot and become the backup center.

What Popovich is doing for Game 5 is moving Patty Mills into the starting lineup. Dejounte Murray played about as well as could be expected once Tony Parker went out, but this move was destined to happen.

I like starting Gordon for Houston. D’Antoni started the second half of Game 4 with that lineup — Patrick Beverly, James Harden, Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capella — and it was +14 in a little over six minutes of court time. D’Antoni experimented with some Ryan Anderson at center lineups and combined they were +1. Overall, going smaller made it hard for the Spurs to go with what had worked for them, keeping Pau Gasol in the paint under the basket to take away drives, allowing the other defenders to be more aggressive on the perimeter.

The moves comes with risks, too. For one, James Harden will have to take on either Pau Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge (because they don’t want to take Trevor Ariza off of Kawhi Leonard). Look for the Spurs to try to exploit that matchup.

Then there is the foul risk, as D’Antoni told Jonathan Feigin of the Houston Chronicle.

“The biggest thing, if Clint would get in (foul) trouble, or you get quick fouls on somebody, you don’t really have (off the bench) what we want to get to,” D’Antoni said of the decision to bring Anderson off the bench.

Despite the risks, this is the way the Rockets have to go. It allows them to run, and if the threes are falling it will force Gregg Popovich to match the small lineups, something he has the players to do but has been loath to do.