Foot surgery placed a swirl of uncertainty around Kansas’ Joel Embiid, who went from the presumed No. 1 overall pick to a big wild card with the news he will miss at least 4-6 months. He remains the only likely lottery pick among centers, leaving teams in need of talented big men sifting through a crop of talented but largely unknown players from overseas.
= The top center prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft.
1. (No. 3 overall) Joel Embiid, C, Fr. Kansas
Overview: Last season’s back injury is a big concern, but many believe if Embiid can prove he’s healthy, his 11.2 ppg, 8.1 rebs and 2.6 blocks per game at KU make him the likely No. 1 pick to Cleveland. At 7-feet with a 7’5″ wingspan, Embiid has scouts salivating over his already proven shot-blocking ability and potential on offense.
Analysis: Many had teammate Andrew Wiggins pegged as the No. 1 pick, but by midseason the talk had shifted to Embiid before he suffered a back injury. Embiid likely will take a few years to start making the offensive impact he’s capable of, but his athleticism and ability to block shots should translate immediately into the NBA.
2. (21) Jusuf Nurkic, C, Int. (Bosnia)
Overview: Standing 6-11, 280 pounds with a 7’2″ wingspan, Nurkic was not well known but turned into a surprise player in Europe earlier this year. His balance and footwork are very good for his size and he excels in fundamental situations like the pick and roll.
Analysis: Nurkic’s touch and feel for the game set him apart from other big men. He’s very good below the rim, can shoot with both hands in the paint and isn’t scared of contact. His biggest flaws are a lack of great athleticism and defensive skills. However, he’s a very skilled offensive big man and those are hard to find.
3. (32) Walter Tavares, C, Int. (Cape Verde)
Overview: Raw 7-3 prospect with a long wingspan and big hands. His defensive prowess and shot blocking has people interested. Tavares has only been playing organized basketball a few years and has been making his way up the ranks in Europe. He’s a project, but there is definite potential.
Analysis: In the short amount of time Tavares has been playing, he has shown he can clearly be a defensive presence. His athleticism, along with his height and long arms allows him to not just block shots but cover anywhere around the basket. He’s steadily improving, which has earned the attention of NBA scouts.
4. (49) Artem Klimenko, C, Int. (Russia)
Overview: Athletic, rangy 7-footer has emerged from obscurity since announcing his intention to enter the draft. Since declaring, he has generated enough interest to probably get drafted.
Analysis: The first thing you notice about Klimenko is how fluid he is for someone almost 7-feet. He’s extremely mobile and runs exceptionally well for a guy his size. The rest of his game, along with the competition he has been playing against, are pretty much a mystery at this point, but the NBA loves athletic big men, and Klimenko is just that.
5. (50) Nikola Jokic, C, Int. (Serbia)
Overview: The 6-11, 19-year-old Serbian stands out on the offensive end of the floor, where he possesses a natural feel for the game. He’s not overly athletic but excels below the rim, where his balance and footwork set him apart from other big men his size.
Analysis: The term “old school” comes to mind when watching Jokic play. He’s extremely creative for a guy his size when he has the ball in his hands. Jokic is also a nightmare to guard 1-on-1 in the low block because of his offensive skillset and ability to score. At just 19, Jokic’s potential has people taking notice.
6. (57) Jordan Bachynski, C, Sr. Arizona State.
Overview: The solid but not spectacular Bachynski stands 7-2 with a long wing span, and over his four years at Arizona State he steadily improved and finished his senior year with a NCAA tournament berth. Bachysnki’s size coupled with his fundamentally sound game will get him looks from some NBA teams.
Analysis: Bachynski’s size alone will get him looks, but the best part of his game is in the areas you normally wouldn’t look at. He moves well without the ball, sets great screens and plays with a high IQ. The Canadian big man is a coach’s dream and could find himself in a backup role somewhere.
7. (74) Sim Bhullar, c, Soph. New Mexico State.
Overview: The massive 7-5, 360-pound Bhullar decided against returning to New Mexico State for his junior year, but he will need lose weight and focus on conditioning to have any shot in the NBA. He is skilled, led New Mexico State to a WAC title and if he can drop some weight he’ll definitely have interested people in the NBA watching.
Analysis: Bhullar has talent but staying in school would have been far better for his NBA prospects. He’ll get looks because of his size, but his weight and conditioning are big red flags. He’s a talented big man who can score and used his size to his advantage in college, but he’s not ready for the NBA just yet.
8. (76) Alec Brown, C, Sr. Wisconsin Green Bay.
Overview: A Horizon League First Team selection and Defensive Player of the Year winner, Brown has shown a smooth shooting stroke that extends out to the NBA 3-point line. Outside Wisconsin fans likely wouldn’t know who Brown is, but the big man is making a name for himself in pre-draft workouts.
Analysis: Brown has made the most of his pre-draft workouts; he’s 7-1, can shoot from the perimeter and people are starting to notice. The NBA loves big men who can shoot and space the floor, and Brown does just that. The big question is if he can handle himself down low in the paint.
9. (80) Eric Moreland, PF/C, Jr. Oregon State.
Overview: After leaving UTEP due to a coaching change and being forced to redshirt after injury his first year at Oregon State, Moreland turned himself into an intriguing big man prospect last season and has performed well in pre-draft workouts.
Analysis: He probably should have stayed for his senior year but at 6-10 with a reported 7’4″ wingspan, Moreland’s size alone is something any NBA team would take a look at. He has NBA size, is athletic and can finish around the rim with both hands.
10. (82) Richard Solomon, PF/C, Sr. California.
Overview: Not overly flashy offensively or defensively, Solomon possesses NBA size with a good motor that could translate into some looks from NBA teams. He’s fundamentally sound, has long arms and plays smart.
Analysis: Solomon steadily improved in his four years at Cal; he entered as a raw prospect and by his senior year was a leader for Cal’s NCAA Tournament team. He can score on the low block and is athletic defensively.
11. (92) Nikola Milutinov, C, Int. (Serbia)
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Irving leads Cavaliers to rout of Magic
ORLANDO — Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving is in the midst of an incredible shooting zone. And he’s loving every minute of it. Irving followed his NBA-best, 57-point scoring burst on Thursday with a more-efficient, 33-point effort Sunday, leading the Cavaliers to a 123-108 victory over the outmatched Orlando Magic.
Irving was sensational again.
In the last two games, Irving has made 12 of 13 shots from 3-point range. He has made 32 of 47 shots overall. He made the Cavs look unstoppable.
“It’s just a feel, an overall body feel right now,” Irving said. “The basketball feels a little bit better. It’s a fun game right now, and it’s fun to be part of something like this.”
Irving made 12 of his 15 shots Sunday and hit five of six from 3-point range, finding time to add four rebounds and four assists in leading the Cavs (43-25) to their fourth consecutive victory.
“Someone did ask me (before the game), what does he do for an encore (after his 57 point effort),” said Cavs coach David Blatt. “I didn’t have a good answer, But 12 of 15 from the field, in 34 minutes. That’s a pretty good encore. And he played right, which is the most important thing. It’s not the scoring as much as it is him just being engaged, locked in.”
LeBron James happily provided the perfect complement and setup man. He had 21 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds, and three steals, creating opportunities for everyone else. The Cavs buried the Magic by making 18 of 35 3-point shots, most of which were wide open.
Guard J.R. Smith scored 25 points, leading the 3-point onslaught by making six of his 10 from long range.
“I thought LeBron seemed to be seeing everyone in the gym tonight,” Blatt said. “And he threw it to them in the shooting pocket, and it seemed like that made every one. It seemed like he found guys in the eighth row that could make an open shot tonight.”
The Cavs received a brief scare midway in the third period when James went up to contest a shot and landed awkwardly, twisting his right knee. He continued to play and looked fine, but he raised the issue about his availability for Monday’s game in Miami.
“A scary moment for myself obviously,” he said. “I’ll see how I feel tomorrow and go from there. I haven’t had one of those falls in a pretty long time. I was happy to stay in the game.”
The Cavs made 45 of 76 shots (59.2 percent). The Magic (21-47) made 42 of 88 (47.7 percent, but they never seriously challenged in the second half, even though they closed to nine points twice in the fourth quarter.
Magic guard Victor Olidipo had 25 points and seven assists. Center Nikola Vucevic had 22 points and 15 rebounds. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton had 13 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. Forward Tobias Harris had 24 points and eight rebounds. Reserve guard Luke Ridnour had a season-high 15 points.
Irving made his first four 3-point attempts, giving him 11 consecutive 3-pointers without a miss, dating back to his 7-for-7 effort Thursday against San Antonio. He finally missed from 3-point range midway in the third period.
The Magic twice fouled Smith while he was shooting beyond the 3-point line, accounting for all five of his free throws.
“That’s a tough team. You have to give them credit,” Harris said. “They have a lot of options out there, and guys who can make tough shots. It’s just overall tough for us against a team like that.”
The Cavaliers led 100-86 going into the fourth quarter. Smith made a trio of 3-pointers in the third period, helping hold off every Magic charge in the period.
Smith hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Cavaliers a 84-68 lead. Irving hit a pair of 3-pointers earlier in the period.
The Cavaliers led 66-55 at intermission, riding a red-hot shooting start and a 40-point second quarter. They made 26 of 42 shots (61.9 percent) and eight of their 16 3-point attempts in the first half.
Irving hit both of his 3-pointers in the first half. The Magic held a 28-16 rebound edge in the first half, but they couldn’t keep pace with the Cavaliers, who exploded in the second period when they made 16 of their 20 shots.
The Magic led the entire first quarter. Forward James Jones gave the Cavaliers their first lead when he opened the second with a 3-pointer.
Vucevic and Harris each had 14 points by halftime. James had 15 points and six assists before intermission. Irving made six of his first seven shots for 14 points.
NOTES: The Cavaliers were without PF Kevin Love (sore back), but they were helped by the return of veteran Shawn Marion, who missed the past three weeks with a strained hip muscle. F Tristan Thompson started in Love’s place. … The Magic were without reserve G Willie Green, who missed his third consecutive game with lower back spasms and F Evan Fournier, who missed his eighth consecutive game with a sore right hip. … A quirk in the schedule gave the Cavs two-plus days in balmy Orlando before the game Sunday. The extra time gave one fan of James the opportunity to invite him Friday to his wedding reception Saturday night at the posh hotel where the Cavs were staying. James politely declined.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.