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10 Players Who Shouldn’t Have Stayed in School

Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker may not enter the 2014 draft, but they wouldn’t be the first players to surprisingly stay in school

Joel Brigham

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If it seems like there are more NBA fans this year rooting for their teams to lose than there are NBA fans rooting for their teams to win, the 2014 NBA Draft class is probably to blame. With so many potentially franchise-altering players up for grabs, teams view this season as the one to blow in favor of young talent in the draft, but a couple of recent reports indicate that the pool of talent may get a little shallower.

According to Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com, University of Kansas star Joel Embiid, considered by many to be the most likely No. 1 overall selection in this summer’s draft, could return to the Jayhawks for at least another year, while Sam Smith of Bulls.com believes that many NBA executives are getting the impression that Duke’s Jabari Parker—another top-three hopeful—also will not declare for the 2014 draft.

Both guys have their reasons. Embiid, for one, is extremely raw and can’t even drive a car yet. Parker, meanwhile, is not a typical blue-chipper in that he sincerely values education more than many realize.

Whatever the case may be, these are two guys who could opt out of heading into the draft despite a near-guarantee that they’d be top-three picks. Chances are, they’d be top-three picks again next year, but history has proven that this isn’t always the case. Here is a look at a handful of players that lost money and slipped down draft boards because of where they were selected.

1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State – Selected 21st in the 2012 draft by the Boston Celtics, Sullinger was targeted as a top-three pick after the 2010-11 NCAA season in which Ohio State was the No. 1 team in the country, but with a love for college life and the uncertainty of the 2011 NBA lockout, Sullinger ended up returning to the Buckeyes just long enough for a back ailment to knock him two-thirds of the way down the first-round draft board.

2. Perry Jones, Baylor – Like Sullinger, Jones would’ve been a high lottery selection had he come out after the 2010-11 NCAA season, but even ignoring the lockout issues, Jones was coming off a postseason in which he was not able to play in the NIT because of a rules violation involving an AAU coach assisting Jones’ mother financially while the son was still in school. He thought an extra year would show how much better he’d gotten on the court and that he’d be able to redeem his reputation, but that decision knocked him from top-five one year to almost out of the first round completely the year after. He and teammate Quincy Miller were the saddest faces in the room that night, by a mile.

3. Terrence Jones, Kentucky – Obviously, Jones is having a pretty incredible season with the Houston Rockets, but the kid went from potential lottery pick after his freshman campaign to the 18th pick the following year, due largely to the fact that 2011-12 was the year in which John Calipari brought in four of that year’s top 25 high school prospects. More depth meant lower numbers for Jones, whose draft stock suffered as a result of his wanting to win an NCAA national championship (which, for the record, he did).

4. Chase Budinger, Arizona – Despite the fact that Budinger actually had a better junior season in 2008-o9 than he did sophomore season in 2007-08, Budinger slipped to the 44th overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft after being projected as a mid-first rounder the year before. He even declared for the draft in 2008, but pulled out at the last minute. He’s had a respectable career despite being picked so late, but he could’ve seen a lot more guaranteed money earlier in his career if he had come out when his stock was at its highest.

5. Roy Hibbert, Georgetown – Because of his size (7’2) and talent, Hibbert had lottery potential in 2007 after being named to the All-Big East First Team. He had a huge game in the Big East Conference Championship that year and even helped lead the Hoyas to the Final Four, but he always wanted to play four years at Georgetown because that’s what all the great centers had done before him at that school. If four years were good enough for Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, four years were good enough for him. Indiana has been a great fit for him, clearly, but he could’ve been a top-10 pick in 2007 and instead was the 17th overall selection the following year.

6. Joakim Noah, Florida – After winning his first national championship with Florida back in 2006, Noah was pegged as a top-three pick in the following summer’s draft, with the Chicago Bulls particularly eager to bring him aboard with their No. 2 overall selection. Noah, however, comes from money and loved college life in a way that few young men in the history of college have ever loved college life, so there was zero pressure for him to do anything outside of his own desires, which at that point was to win another championship for the Gators. He ultimately did, then declared for a much more stacked draft the following year. It was a year late, but the Bulls got their guy, this time with the ninth overall selection rather than the second.

7. Glen Davis, LSU – Tigers teammate Tyrus Thomas was certainly able to capitalize on the Final Four success of LSU the summer following their impressive 2006 tournament run, but Davis, unconditioned and exposed at integral times in that playoff, decided that another year in college would solidify him as a sure-thing first round pick in 2007. The Boston Celtics selected him at the top of the second round the following year, so it didn’t work out quite the way he’d planned. Despite that, his career has lasted longer than Thomas’, who was the No. 4 pick in the 2006 Draft.

8. James White, Cincinnati – It’s not that James White got worse over his five (count’em… five!) seasons loitering around college basketball facilities in Florida and Ohio, but after 2003-04, his first full season with Cincinnati after redshirting the previous year, the legendary leaper’s stock was probably at its highest. He may have been a lottery pick that following summer based on potential alone, but the longer he played, the more he showed exactly what he was. And let’s face it; teams aren’t always stoked about drafting players that are almost 24 years old. It’s no wonder he dropped to the second round.

9. Chris Duhon, Duke – After the Blue Devils won the national championship in 2001, Duhon looked like the kind of smart young point guard a team could build around, and as such he was regarded as a potential lottery pick at the time. Coming out of high school, Duhon was considered a much more electric and exciting player than people likely remember him now, and at that age his talent and promise almost certainly would’ve landed him a first-round gig somewhere. He’s one of the best point guards in Duke history with some incredible career numbers, but despite the fact that he got better with age, scouts saw his ceiling lower every year he stayed in school, and that’s why he ended up getting picked in the second round back in 2004.

10. Toby Bailey, UCLA – Unlike some of the other guys on this list, Bailey did not have anything even remotely resembling a successful NBA career. After scoring 25 points as a freshman starter in the 1995 Championship game, Bailey would have been a likely lottery pick the following summer had he opted for the draft. Instead, he played his full four years as a Bruin, got drafted by the L.A. Lakers in the second round of the 1998 NBA Draft, and averaged 3.3 PPG over two seasons with Phoenix before falling out of the NBA forever.

Would Embiid and Parker regret waiting another year or more to enter the draft? There are certainly players on this list who would tell them not to wait, but there are others who are perfectly happy not only with what they did in their extra year(s) of college, but also with the team that ended up drafting them. Noah and Hibbert, for example, wouldn’t trade their college experiences and wouldn’t want to play for any other team in the world. Bailey and White, in retrospect, may have chosen to do things a little differently.

Whatever happens, Embiid and Parker returning to school would shake up the 2014 draft class significantly, potentially setting up the 2015 class to be even more exciting and tanktastic than this current one is.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

Bobby Krivitsky

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

Drew Maresca

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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