kurthelin

Getty Images

10 future NBA draft picks to watch in NCAA Final Four

2 Comments

The guys who are going to be taken at the top of the NBA Draft this June are done with their NBA seasons. Lorenzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and the rest of the top 10  have seen their teams eliminated.

But there are guys still playing who may well be snapped up by NBA teams, either this year or next. With the Final Four set to tip-off this weekend, here’s a look at the top 10 players still going in the NCAA Tournament in the eyes of scouts (not necessarily the guys most valuable to their teams, we should add). We broke it down by team.

NORTH CAROLINA

Justin Jackson, 6’8” small forward (junior). The All-American wing man with the all-around game has shown just that through this tournament — he’s averaged 19.8 points and 4.3 assists through four games, plus has drawn major defensive assignments such as Malik Monk against Kentucky. He can shoot the three and hits from the midrange, is good on the catch-and-shoot now, and is just a guy who has a knack for scoring and a soft touch. The concerns at the next level are he needs to get stronger, plus he’s not a great pick-and-roll ball handler. He’s likely to land just outside the top 10 in the draft, in the second half of the lottery. He’ll be the highest drafted player out of this Final Four.

Toney Bradley, 6’10” center (freshman). He doesn’t play a ton for North Carolina (14.5 minutes per game this season), and he’s seen as a project at the next level. That said, when you’re tall, long (7’3” wingspan), and have the athleticism Bradley has, teams are interested in taking on the project. He’s raw, but you can see potential in his shooting stroke and just his overall feel for the game. He is expected to spend another year in college and come out in 2018 when he could be a late first round pick.

Joel Berry II, 6’0” point guard (junior). He is of vital importance to North Carolina and how its Final Four weekend goes, but in a draft deep with point guards Berry likely would not get selected at all if he comes out this summer (maybe late in the second round at best). By NBA standards he’s not tall and not particularly athletic, but he brings a great defensive intensity that coaches love, which may land him a Summer League spot down the line. That said, UNC needs him to be a guy considered for the Outstanding Player award to win it all.

Isaiah Hicks, 6’8” forward (senior). He’s considered a bubble pick if anything (maybe somebody takes him at the end of the second round, although probably not). He’s more likely to get a Summer League team invite then, if he can prove himself there, get an invite to a camp to at least get his shot. That said he could have a big game Saturday because he’s a power player who will likely have a smaller man on him all game.

OREGON

Dillon Brooks, 6’7” forward (junior). If Oregon is going be playing Monday night (and winning) it will lean on Brooks — North Carolina rolls out two-big lineups and plays power ball, Oregon uses Brooks as a small-ball four to space the floor. If he has a big Saturday night, the Ducks have a chance. Brooks is a player who is good at everything but not really great at any one thing, which makes NBA teams cautious about drafting him. If he enters are this draft he would likely go high in the second round, but he has to think about that because it’s a non-guaranteed contract at that point.

Jordon Bell, 6’8” power forward (junior). If he’s trying to sell himself to NBA scouts based on his defense, his performance against Kansas was a big step in the right direction — he was dominant on that end. Do that again against the big front line of North Carolina and he will more than turn a few heads. While he has an NBA body, he is offensively very raw and unpolished, so his defense has to be spectacular. If he comes out this draft, he’d be expected to go in the upper half of the second round (a non-guaranteed contract).

GONZAGA

Zach Collins, 7’0” forward/center (freshman). We know how the NBA loves big men who can space the floor, and Collins is that — he is shooting 45 percent from three this year. It’s the future direction of the NBA and he will get drafted because he can fill that need. That said, Collins can score a little inside but isn’t physically strong enough to bang in the paint at the next level, and that hurts him defensively. He’s not athletic or fleet of foot, so if teams can draw him defensively out on the perimeter it’s an issue. He would be a late first round pick this year who could move up to the lottery if he waited a season and got stronger/better.

Nigel Williams-Goss, 6’4” point guard (junior). He is a high-IQ player who orchestrates the Gonzaga attack, he’s also a natural leader who has a crafty game. He’s got the intangibles teams look for in a point guard. The challenge is he’s not terribly athletic for the position by NBA standards (something West Virginia exposed in the last round). South Carolina likes to take teams out of their flow, so how Williams-Goss handles that is something worth watching (because at the next level everyone is long and athletic). Williams-Goss is trying to show to scouts his athleticism will not hold him back at the next level. He also needs to improve his shooting. That said, whether he came out this season or after the next one, he’d be a second-round pick fighting to make a roster.

SOUTH CAROLINA

P.J. Dozier, 6’6” shooting guard (sophomore). He passes the eye test, he has all the physical tools you want in a quality NBA two guard, but has yet to string all that potential together consistently. He shows it in flashes, most recently against Florida, but NBA teams are not going to go for him based on flashes. Right now he’s expected to return to college for a year, do that and show growth in his game and he could make a leap into the first round next year. But we’re a long way from there right now.

Sindarius Thornwell, 6’5” shooting guard (senior). He’s a guy who was considered a bubble guy to get picked in this draft, and his fantastic play in the tournament — he’s a key reason South Carolina is still playing — likely gets him drafted in the second round. He’ll get his chance. He’s strong, plays a physical game, has three-point shooting range, and plays hard. That might make him a fan favorite at Summer League, but can it land him a roster spot? Because he’s a senior, will teams will be looking for guys with more upside? He’s still got a lot to prove.

LeBron James after latest Cavaliers loss: “We’re just in a bad spot right now”

Associated Press
2 Comments

For the first 24 minutes Thursday night LeBron James had been brilliant, the Cavaliers as a team hit 5-of-11 from three, their maligned defense held the Bulls to 34 percent shooting, and Cleveland was up by 9.

Then in the second half, the Cavaliers returned to playing like the worst defensive team in the NBA hin the month of March — which they are — and watched Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic go off. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers offense stumbled. The result was a come-from-behind Bulls win.

Cleveland has lost three straight, they are 6-10 in March, and now trail Boston for the top seed in the East. There’s a lot of questions around the Cavaliers, and LeBron himself has some of them. He expressed his concern after the game to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

“We’re just in a bad spot right now. Not disappointed with the effort. We’re just in a bad spot,” James said following the Cavs’ fifth loss in the past seven games. “We’re going to try to figure it out. … I think the effort was there. I just don’t think the concentration for as close to 48 minutes is there yet. Which is unfortunate.”

To a man, the Cavaliers say they will be okay. There certainly has been a malaise over the team, some of those losses stem from a lack of effort, and the team is finding that tougher to shake off then they thought it would be.

The defensive struggles are concerning, but unless it carries over for a full round of the playoffs it’s hard to think Cleveland will not turn it around — this is the same core group that won the NBA title last year playing good defense, and the Cavs remain the most talented team in the East. Flipping the switch has not been as simple as some Cavaliers seemed to think, but you get the feeling they will get the light to go on soon.

Three Things We Learned Thursday: Is it time to worry about Cavaliers?

Associated Press
8 Comments

If you spent Thursday worried that Sharknado is real, we understand. Here is what you missed around the NBA as you prepped for that looming disaster.

1) Is it time to worry about Cavaliers?
First, let’s give credit where credit is due: There is no stopping the TNT Bulls — Thursday night made 20 straight home wins for Chicago when the game is broadcast on TNT. Nikola Mirotic is lighting it up of late, and he dropped 28. The Bulls needed the win, they remain a game back of the Pacers and Heat for the final playoff slots in the East, however, the Bulls have a much easier schedule the rest of the way. They should get in, and this win helps.

That said, the Bulls are not the big story out of that game. Rather, it’s the stumbling Cavaliers — they have lost three straight, and will finish March 6-10 with the worst defense in the NBA during that month. They have fallen behind Boston as the top seed in the East and simply look nothing like a contender. After this loss, LeBron James said “we’re just in a bad spot right now.”

Is it time to worry if you’re a Cleveland fan?

There are plenty of reasons to shoot that idea down: The Cavs remain the most talented roster in the East, and getting to the playoffs healthy is what matters most because if they do they are still the favorites. This is the same core roster that won the NBA title last year, they are just a little bored, but they can flip the switch (see LeBron’s first half against the Bulls for example). Also, getting the No. 1 seed is not that big a deal — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, but four of those years his team did it out of the two seed.

Still, there is real reason for concern. The Cavaliers defense has been flat-out a disaster since the All-Star break. It feels like that switch might be harder to flip in the postseason. Part of it is effort, but if the team is not building good habits now what will they fall back on in the playoffs. Some nights the offense can still cover up the bad defense, but Thursday night Kevin Love fouled out with eight points on 10 shots, and Kyrie Irving going cold if he got chased off the arc (2-of-13 on twos). Those guys can’t be off and have this team win when they defend like matadors waiving their cape at the bull going by.

It still comes back to this for me: Which team in the East can beat a healthy Cavaliers team four times in seven games? I still don’t see one. But if they are still defending poorly by the start of the second round, that may change.

2) LeBron James passed Shaq for seventh on the All-Time NBA scoring list. Shaquille O’Neal just got a statue put up outside Staples Center in Los Angeles, he’s been riding high, maybe he needed to get knocked down a peg.

While LeBron was trying to will his team to play better against the Bulls, he passed former teammate Shaq and moved into seventh on the all-time NBA scoring list.

Next up on that list for LeBron is Dirk Nowitzki, although he remains a moving target.

3) Houston Rockets set record for most made three pointers in a season. When you think about how they’ve played this year, it seemed inevitable. With this vintage James Harden jab step then step-back three, the Houston Rockets hit their 1,078 three-pointers on the season, passing the record set last year by the Warriors.

It’s an impressive feat, but considering the direction of the NBA it likely lasts about as long as the Warriors’ record did. Here’s a look back at the best threes from the Rockets this season.

Ricky Rubio dropped a career-high 33 points, plus 10 assists, on Lakers (VIDEO)

2 Comments

Since the All-Star break, Ricky Rubio has been on the hottest shooting streak of his career, averaging 16.8 points per game, shooting 43.8 percent from three and shooting eight percentage points better overall than he did before the break.

Just ask the Lakers, who watched him drop 33 on them Thursday, hitting from all over the floor. Check out the video above or his shot chart.

Rubio also added 10 assists.

This hot streak, plus the fact Kris Dunn has not panned out as hoped, means Rubio likely remains the point guard in Minnesota next season. We talk about this in some detail in the latest PBT Podcast.

Scottie Pippen throws blame for Knicks woes at feet of his former coach Phil Jackson

Getty Images
11 Comments

Apparently, it’s not “be kind to your former boss month.”

Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on ESPN’s “The Jump” — the Rachel Nichols hosted NBA show on each afternoon — and the topic turned to how much the Knicks stink. And why. Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around for just about everyone on that front, but Pippen threw his former coach under the bus (transcription via the New York Daily News).

“To be honest with you, I’m going to have to go at my old coach Phil Jackson,” Pippen said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I think he just hasn’t put the right pieces on the floor. I give a lot of credit to Carmelo who is being very professional in getting through these 82 game season. And now he’s being benched to some degree, they’re taking a lot of his minutes away. But this team just hasn’t had it. They haven’t had it since Phil Jackson landed there. There hasn’t been any upside.”

After saying “fans would love to see Carmelo in New York and Phil out,” Pippen was asked by host Rachel Nichols if he believes Jackson “should be out.”

“Yes,” Pippen replied emphatically.

Most of Jackson’s former players have his back, most recently Shaquille O’Neal who laid blame at the feet of the Knicks’ players. The ones that Jackson assembled into a mismatched team.

Phil Jackson’s record may be 77-162 since taking over the Knicks, but reports are he isn’t going anywhere. While owner James Dolan can flip like a pancake on a griddle, the sense is that Jackson will keep collecting his $12 million annual salary and will keep trying to build a triangle-offense team. That means Carmelo Anthony likely gets moved this summer.

Jackson has seemingly fallen into the trap the Knicks have been unable to climb out of for years — since James Dolan took over as owner seemingly — of not just picking a system, sticking to it, being patient and avoiding quick fixes. Triangle, Rhombus, pick-and-roll heavy, whatever offense the Knicks use should be built around getting Kristaps Porzingis touches and playing to his strengths. Get younger players who fit that system to go around him and let it grow together. Be patient. Instead, it’s Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Jackson deserves blame. A significant amount. So do the players. So does Jeff Hornacek as coach. But make sure Dolan gets a big slice too, this team has struggled since he was given control, and he is the one constant.