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Abdel Nader Impresses at Portsmouth

After a strong showing at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, Abdel Nader is turning heads.

Cody Taylor

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Around this time each year, former college players spend the bulk of their time preparing for the NBA draft process.

These prospects are working out as often as three times a day in order to be in peak physical condition ahead of potential workouts with NBA teams. With just over two months to go until the 2016 NBA draft, every day is another opportunity to get better.

One of the first events each year in which prospects can showcase their game is the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. This four-day event in Virginia brings in 64 of the nation’s top seniors, with 12 games in front of representatives from NBA franchises and international teams.

One player who helped boost his draft stock at Portsmouth this year was former Iowa State forward Abdel Nader. In three games last week, Nader averaged 17 points (seventh-most among all players), five rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He also showed that he can put the ball on the floor and drive to the rim, as he got to the line 10 times during the week (and made all 10 free throws).

Nader led all scorers during the first game on Wednesday, recording 25 points (on 10-of-16 shooting), four steals, three rebounds, one assist and one block in 22 minutes. He was recognized for his strong play by being named to the 2016 Portsmouth Invitational All-Tournament Team.

“I think I’ve shown glimpses of my athleticism,” Nader told Basketball Insiders. “I could do a lot more things athletically like finishing around the rim [and] I can handle the ball. I can do a lot of things, I think I’m very versatile.

“I haven’t been able to show that as much just because in the college system, you have to play as a team and guys have different roles. I think I played more of my role in college.”

While Nader was able to flash some of that athleticism last week in Portsmouth, another aspect of his game that will translate well at the next level is his shooting. In Basketball Insiders’ exclusive look at his pre-draft preparation at Elite Skills Training in Miami, Nader was easily the best shooter in the gym among several other Division I prospects.

However, it didn’t always seem that would be his strength. Nader shot less than 30 percent from three-point range during his first three years in college (two years at Northern Illinois and one year at Iowa State). The transformation seemed to happen in between his junior and senior years at Iowa State, as he improved his three-point percentage from 22 percent to 37 percent.

“I think I’m a pretty good shooter,” Nader said. “I remember before I got to Iowa State, people were saying that I was a hot head and things like that, but I think I’m a very laid back guy – very easy to coach and very easy to train with.

“I’ve always felt that I can shoot the ball, ever since I was in high school. But sometimes in college you have different roles and things happen so a lot of it is confidence and right now I’m playing with a lot of confidence.”

Nader played small forward during his time at Iowa State. He averaged 12.9 points, five rebounds and 1.5 assists in 35 games for the Cyclones. He shot 48.7 percent from the field, including 37 percent from three-point range.

He turned in some of his best performances of the season during a three-game stretch in February. Against No. 25 Baylor, TCU and No. 14 West Virginia, Nader averaged 24.3 points per game while connecting on 56 percent (15-of-27) of his three-point shots. Following the season, he was named to the Big 12 All-Conference Honorable Mention team.

At Portsmouth, he measured in at 6’6 and 221 pounds. He also has an impressive 7’1 wingspan, which was one of the best among all players at the tournament. Teams love players with that kind of length, especially on the perimeter. Given his ability to defend and shoot the three-ball, Nader could be a steal for an NBA team come draft time.

We’ve seen in the past few years how important three-point shooting has become. Floor spacing is critical to having success in the NBA. Nader’s performances last week in Portsmouth have already started drawing attention, as he’s now gaining interest from several teams around the league.

“I can defend and I can play on offense,” Nader said. “I bring a motor and I think I bring a lot of intangibles to the table. I think if I play my game and show my versatility, I could do a bunch of things. I’m a very good defender. I think [NBA teams] will fall in love with me. I don’t think I’ll have to do much out of my character.”

Now that the tournament in Portsmouth is complete, Nader will continue his pre-draft training. He has been working out with other draft prospects like Taurean Prince, James Webb III, Derrick Jones, Angel Rodriguez and Jameel McKay (his former teammate at Iowa State). Training with and playing against other draft prospects will only continue to prepare him for the competition he’ll face at the next level.

For many prospects like Nader, the next objective is to earn an invite to the NBA Draft Combine next month. Players who are invited to the combine have a great opportunity to improve their draft stock through the on-court drills, physical measurements and interviews.

A great showing in Chicago at the combine can be the difference between being drafted or falling off of the radar altogether.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland

Basketball Insiders

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The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.

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