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Five NBA Small Forwards on the Rise in 2014-15

Which small forwards will make a significant leap in the 2014-15 NBA season? Here are some up-and-coming small forwards to watch.

Jesse Blancarte

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In the modern NBA, the small forward position has become one of the most important for teams. Small forwards need to be more versatile than ever before. They are often asked to guard some of the NBA’s biggest power forwards, and just as often asked to shut down some of the league’s elite point guards. Many of the better ball-handling forwards, such as LeBron James and Andre Iguodala, play “point-forward” and initiate their team’s offense intermittently with the full-time point guard.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the best two NBA players in the NBA, and by the far best small forwards. Behind them are players like Paul George (who may miss the upcoming season due to his recent leg injury) and Carmelo Anthony. However, behind these top small forwards is an exciting crop of young small forwards that are climbing the ranks and are ready to take the next step in their development. Some of them have been in the league for more than six years, some have yet to play their first NBA game.

Here is a look at some of the best up-and-coming small forwards in the league:

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (Age 23. Drafted 15th overall in the 2011) –

It is hard to express just how important Kawhi Leonard is to his team. For the last few seasons, Leonard has been a do-it-all sort of player. He spreads the floor with his three-point shooting, is a great defensive player (NBA All-Defensive second team), good rebounder, and has hands that look as though they belong to a center.

Leonard, who was acquired via a trade with the Indiana Pacers in exchange for point guard George Hill, really made a name for himself in last season’s NBA Finals. In the Finals, Leonard averaged 17.8 points on 61 percent shooting and became the youngest Finals MVP since teammate Tim Duncan won the award in 1999. He routinely guarded LeBron James, and made it difficult for James to impose his will on the game like he is accustomed to.

Shortly after winning the Finals, Spurs head coach Greg Popovich spoke highly of Leonard, and praised him for his work ethic.

“He’s a great learner and he’s super competitive, has a drive to be the best that’s really uncommon in our league,” Popovich said. “He walks the walk. I mean, he’s there early, he’s there late. He wants more. He wants me and the coaches to push him. So I just talked to him about not being in that defer sort of stage. The hell with Tony, the hell with Timmy, the hell with Manu, you play the game. You are the man.”

At just 23, Leonard really is “the man” now and for the foreseeable future in San Antonio. With a drive to be the best player he can be, and a humble demeanor, Leonard is well-situated to take his game to the next level next season and help the Spurs push for another championship.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Age 19. Drafted 15th overall in 2013) –

Too often NBA media and fans casually throw around phrases like “unlimited potential,” or “unlimited upside” when talking about young prospects. However, if there is one player in the NBA today that would warrant the use of such phrases, it is Giannis Antetokounmpo, otherwise known as the “Greek Freak.”

When Antetokounmpo was drafted by the Bucks, he was listed at 6’9. By June, Antetokounmpo had reportedly grown to just over 6’10, is now reportedly 6’11, and very well may keep growing since he is only 19 and his growth plates are still open.

But height isn’t everything. Players like Hasheem Thabeet are very tall, but not top-level NBA players. However, in his rookie season, Antetokounmpo showed on several occasions that he has the skill-set to utilize his height and length against defenses.

This type of length at the small forward position is a significant part of what makes Kevin Durant so dangerous. The Greek Freak has a long way to go to start being compared to Durant, but the tools are there.

Last season, Antetokounmpo averaged 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 41.4 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from three-point range. He played in 77 games, and averaged 24.6 minutes a night. These numbers are by no means eye-catching, but last season was Antetokounmpo’s first time playing against elite basketball players after playing against what one league executive described as “YMCA” level talent.

Newly hired Bucks head coach Jason Kidd has said that he will expand Antetokounmpo’s role this season, and experimented with him at point guard during the Las Vegas Summer League. Antetokounmpo made a strong showing in Vegas, but has a ways to go before he can realistically play point guard effectively during the NBA season. Still, the possibilities really are limitless for Antetokounmpo. With an expanded role, his upcoming season could be a breakout year for Antetokounmpo.

Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz (Age 24. Drafted 9th overall in the 2010) –

Gordon Hayward has significantly improved his game each of the four seasons he has been in the NBA. While Hayward may not be great at any single thing, he is a solid all-around player that still has plenty of room to improve.

Earlier this offseason, Hayward signed a max offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets, which the Utah Jazz matched. The Jazz made a huge commitment to Hayward, who was looked to as a number one scoring option last season, as well as point forward.

Last season, Hayward averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game and shot 41.3 percent from the field, 30.4 percent from three-point range. These are very solid per game averages for a 24 year old forward. The major issue for Hayward was his shooting percentages, which plummeted from previous seasons.

To Hayward’s credit, he was adjusting to his role as the number-one option on the team and the focus of opposing teams’ defensive schemes. With young talent like Trey Burke, and Dante Exum now in Utah, there is a chance that Hayward will have less attention on him, and the opportunity to bring his shooting percentages back up next season. With Quin Snyder now coaching the team, the Jazz are more likely to increase the pace from last season, and spread the court more. With more possessions per game and more room to operate, it’s quite possible that Hayward will have a big season.

Chandler Parsons, Dallas Mavericks (Age 25. Drafted 38th overall in 2011) –

For the last few years, Chandler Parsons has been the best bargain in the NBA, making less than $1 million annually. Don’t feel too bad for Parsons, however, as he signed a three-year contract worth roughly $46 million this offseason with the Dallas Mavericks.

It is questionable whether Parsons is worth roughly $15 million annually under the new, restrictive CBA. However, Parsons enters this season with plenty of motivation to prove he is worth every penny after the Houston Rockets chose to not match the Mavericks’ offer sheet, allowing him to go to Dallas for nothing in return. Parsons knew the Rockets were looking for a third star player to put along James Harden and Dwight Howard, and thought that he could be that third star. The Rockets disagreed.

Last season, Parsons averaged 16.6 points. 5.5 rebounds, four assists and 1.2 steals per game, and shot 47.2 percent from the field, 37 percent from three-point range. He is a very good three-point shooter, a willing defender, and underrated athlete. In Dallas, Parsons will play alongside Raymond Felton, Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tyson Chandler. Under the direction of one of the best coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle, Parsons has the opportunity to expand his game from floor-spacer and wing-defender to a primary scorer and playmaker.

In Houston, James Harden handles the ball and the offense runs mostly through him. When Harden is not taking the lead on offense, Howard is looking to score in the post. This left Parsons to be opportunistic with his scoring opportunities. It will be up to Parsons to find his niche with the Mavericks and show Houston they made a mistake in letting him leave.

Nicolas Batum, Portland Trailblazers (Age 25. Drafted 25th overall in 2008) –

Nicolas Batum is one of the best two-way players in the league, and arguably the best “glue-guy.” He does a little bit of everything for the Trailblazers, and is a huge reason why they advanced to the second round of the Playoffs last season.

One of the reasons why Batum flies under the radar is due to the fact that he is not a volume scorer (just 13 points per game last season). But on a team with Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and LaMarcus Aldridge, Batum doesn’t need to score a lot. Instead, Batum spreads the floor with his three-point shooting, grabs rebounds at a high rate for a small forwards, sets up teammates as a playmaker, is great in transition both offensively and defensively, and often defends opposing teams’ best scorers, even if they happen to be a point guard. He even fills in at power forward quite often, allowing the Blazers to play at a quicker pace and add more three-point shooting.

Last season, Batum averaged 13 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 0.9 steals, and shot 46.5 percent from the field, and 36.1 percent from three-point range. Batum was one of three players in the league last year to average over seven rebounds and five assists a game last year, along with Joahim Noah and Kevin Durant.

At age 25, Batum still has room to improve his game and take another step in his development. He is one of the most versatile players in the league, but he would really turn heads if he can get his scoring average up. However, on a high-scoring Portland team, it’s not really necessary for him to do so. But for Batum, a bump in nightly scoring to somewhere near 17 points a game would put more attention on his all-around impact on the game, and earn him the recognition he already deserves.

Batum has improved his production each season and projects to continue that upward trend with the up-and-coming Blazers this upcoming season.

Honorable Mention:

Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic (Age 22. Drafted 19th overall in 2011) –

Tobias Harris is by no means a household name, but may become more familiar to casual NBA fans this upcoming season.

Harris suffered through an ankle injury early last season and reportedly never fully recovered. Nevertheless, in 61 games played last season, Harris averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds, 1.3 assists and shot 46.4 percent from the field in 30.3 minutes per game. These were career best numbers for Harris, who is reportedly now 100 percent healthy entering the upcoming season.

Harris is a gifted scorer, but will need to improve his three-point shooting to hit the next level in his development. This is especially true since teammate Maurice Harkless will be competing with Harris this upcoming season for playing time at small forward. Harkless shot 38.3 percent from three-point range last season, and successfully guarded some of the best players in the league. As a talented 3-and-D prospect, Harkless could take some significant playing time away from Harris if he is unable to stretch the floor out to the three-point line.

At age 22, Harris has a lot of potential to improve and become a major piece for the Orlando Magic moving forward. With a clean bill of health and a little bit of luck, this year may be a big one for Harris.

Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (Age 19. Drafted 1st overall in 2014) –

Andrew Wiggins has been in the headlines for the last few months because of the rumored trade that officially sent him to the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this week. With the deal done, now the focus can turn back to Wiggin’s game and potential.

Without seeing Wiggins in a real NBA game yet, it is hard to say how effective he will be this upcoming season. However, it is fair to say at this point that he will be an above average defensive player in his rookie season, and will have nights where he shows flashes of the player he may become one day.

In his one season at Kansas, Wiggins averaged 17.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals, and one block per game, and shot 44.8 percent from the field, and 34.1 percent from beyond-the-arc. These are good numbers for a first-year college player, but fell short of the lofty expectations of scouts and analysts. One of the major criticisms of Wiggins is his laid-back demeanor and reluctance to take over games as a scorer. However, Wiggins seems to want to address this issue, and, according to ESPN, conveyed that sentiment to Kansas coach Bill Self before officially being traded to the Timberwolves.

“When all this trade stuff started, I talked to Andrew and Andrew told me, ‘I hope I get traded,'” Self said. “And I’m like, ‘No you don’t.’ And he said, ‘Coach, I do. It’s better for me, knowing my personality and what I need to do, to go somewhere where I’m forced to be something as opposed to going in there where they’re going to be patient with me and I’m going to be a piece.’”

It is not clear what kind of NBA player Wiggins will be in his rookie season. But if he can prove the naysayers wrong and take on an alpha dog mentality, Wiggins will likely be much more than just another “piece” next season in Minnesota.

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks (Age 19. Drafted 2nd overall in 2014) –

Many NBA scouts and analysts believe that Jabari Parker is the most NBA ready player in this year’s rookie class. Parker is a gifted scorer who can knock down a catch-and-shoot three-pointer or just as easily score with his back to the basket in the post.

In his one season at Duke, Parker averaged 19.1 points. 8.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists, and shot 47.3 percent from the field, and 35.8 percent from beyond-the-arc. At 6’8, Parker has ideal size to play small forward, and is strong enough to play power forward as well. It will be interesting to see how Milwaukee head coach uses Parker this upcoming season, particularly with teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both Parker and Antetokounmpo have the size to play both forward positions, but each player is gifted in distinct ways.

Fortunately for Kidd and the Bucks, Parker and Antetokounmpo are both skilled enough that they should be able to find success in whatever role they are given. Parker, like all NBA rookies, will have stretches where he will struggle to assert himself– particularly on defense where he needs to improve– but will have as good of a chance as any rookie to make a strong impact next season.

These are some of the young, stand-out small forwards that are primed to have a big season. For some, next season may be a small step towards reaching their full potential. But for others, next season could be the year where they make the leap into elite echelon of the NBA.

Who do you think is going to breakout at the small forward position next year? Leave your thoughts below!

Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Trail Blazers Come Up Short and Now Search For Answers

The Portland Trail Blazers were swept in the first round of the Playoffs and now face tough questions, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The playoffs have been a wild ride so far. On Sunday, all three Eastern Conference playoff games were exciting matches that featured star players stepping up in the clutch. As a result, each series is tied up, two games each. The other game of the day featured the San Antonio Spurs, who stayed in control and never once allowed the Golden State Warriors to take the lead. The Spurs managed to get a win against the defending champs despite missing their best player and now their head coach indefinitely.

For the Portland Trail Blazers, there was no such Game 4 turnaround. In fact, with the Spurs win, the Trail Blazers have the lamentable distinction of being the only team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs. This is just one way to describe how disappointing and surprising this playoff series loss to the New Orleans Pelicans was for Portland. Many NBA observers and Pelicans fans were quick to point out that every ESPN NBA personality chose the Trail Blazers to win the series, as did select writers of the Basketball Insiders team.

The Trail Blazers’ players and front office also made it clear how surprised they were at the result. Forward Evan Turner shared his surprise.

“Obviously finishing so quickly wasn’t definitely the plan and to a certain extent it was shocking,” Turner said.

General Manager Neil Olshey chimed in as well.

“Nobody expected [the playoff sweep] to happen. It did. We had our chances in Game 1, we had our chances in Game 2. Clearly Game 3 was a setback,” Olshey stated when describing his surprise at how the series ended. “Stunned, I think disappointed.”

Credit should be given to the Pelicans and their ability to fully harness their talent and impose their will in the series. Turner was effusive in praising the talent and ability of the Pelicans.

“Unlocked Jrue is pretty dangerous and we all see how Rondo plays. He’s a homerun hitter but he is always solid. He can mess around. He’ll get two or three triple doubles. Anthony Davis is a problem,” Turner said.

When asked how he felt about the playoff exit, starting center Jusuf Nurkic stated that he is beyond disappointed.

“I mean, the way I finish the season, I feel shame. The way we have a season, like a team and group, and being in position to be third in the West, and finish like this, is not good,” Nurkic stated. “It’s not something you should be proud of, because all you do through the year, fight for playoff and to be in position to have a good postseason.”

Despite the early exit, many within the organization were quick to highlight that they continue to see the regular season in a positive light, including Head Coach Terry Stotts.

“I thought we had a very good regular season, I thought we had a very disappointing end of the season,” Stotts stated.

Damian Lillard shared a similar sentiment when reflecting on the season as a whole.

“I think I’ll always remember the way [the season] ended. But I won’t forget the kind of season we had. You can’t ignore the fact we won a division title in a division where there was some great teams,” Lillard stated. “We came out on top.”

Still, the success of the regular season makes the playoff result that much harder to grasp and deal with for some. Nurkic again didn’t hold back when comparing the success of the regular season with the team’s playoff failure.

“Very surprised,” Nurkic stated. “You definitely didn’t see the team who we are in the playoffs.”

Explaining why the Trail Blazers came up short against the Pelicans is no easy task. Clearly Portland’s attempt to feature its two premiere guards failed as the Pelicans were able to clamp down on Lillard and McCollum effectively in each game. Complicating matters further was the inability of the Trail Blazers to effectively utilize Nurkic on both ends of the court. However, there was at least some praise to be heaped on the backup bigs, Zach Collins and Ed Davis.

“I think Zach played really well for us,” Olshey stated. “He had an impact defensively.”

Also, Al-Farouq Aminu was able to do his part as an acceptable defensive option against Davis while spreading the floor with his outside shooting

Regardless, Turner shared his assessment that the team failed to have an adequate game plan for a scenario where their two best players are neutralized.

“One thing that may help, it’s no jabs or anything, but building the identity outside of our two strong scorers,” Turned stated. “[W]e sometimes go downhill when a team fully focuses on a lot of attention on our stars […] But I think we might need certain plays, certain structures that kind of prepare just in case that occurs.”

With their postseason concluded, the Trail Blazers are suddenly left trying to answer questions with no easy answers. Who, if anyone, is to blame for what happened? So far, many head coaches have been let go and unsurprisingly some speculation has turned toward Coach Stotts. Stotts, when asked, focused on the team and deflected any analysis of his performance.

“I’m not going to evaluate the job I did,” Stotts said.

Lillard, on the other hand, was effusive in his praise of his coach.

“Coach Stotts has done a great job from day one. We’ve been in the playoffs five years straight,” Lillard said.

For now, there does not appear to be strong rumblings about Stotts. With the offseason just beginning for the team there is still time to reflect and assess what went wrong. Additionally, the team has to resolve what to do regarding its own free agents. No name looms larger than Nurkic, who despite his poor showing, represents one of the team’s top talents and expressed his guarded optimism regarding a return.

“I want to be here, it’s no secret,” Nurkic stated when asked if he wants an extension in Portland. “Yes, definitely.”

Nurkic ended the thought by stating, a bit ominously, that he did his part and a deal may or may not get worked out.

“My agent and people here are going to figure out the rest, or not,” Nurkic said.

Complicating the desire to retain Nurkic is the team’s financial situation as the team is currently over the cap and under obligation to center Meyers Leonard, who has struggled to stay in the rotation and is earning roughly $21.8 million over the next two years.

“It’s our job to be measured and not to overreact. [Because] when you overreact is when you make mistakes,” Olshey stated.

Lillard was quick to emphatically shut down the notion of splitting up him and McCollum when asked if that would be a good idea.

“I mean, I don’t agree with it. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard declared.

When asked what the team plans to do going forward, Olshey expressed optimism but tried again to pay credit to the season’s effort overall.

“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade the roster as we always do but we also aren’t going to lose sight of the success throughout the course of the season,” Olshey said.

“I don’t have all the answers for you today,” Olshey surmised. “A lot of times you don’t know where your help is coming from.”

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The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’

Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?

Spencer Davies

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In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.

Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.

While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.

The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.

After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.

The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.

And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.

One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.

But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.

This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.

Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.

However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.

Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?

Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.

There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.

It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.

And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.

Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.

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NBA DAILY: Who’s the Next Donovan Mitchell?

Donovan Mitchell provided elite value at the back end of the lottery. Who might that player be this summer?

Joel Brigham

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The entire reason that so many non-playoff teams worked so diligently to blow their seasons was to get the best odds possible for the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Watching LeBron James (a former first overall draft pick) do what he’s done to the league for the last 15 years, the desire to land a top pick is understandable. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent and likely Rookie of the Year, also was a first overall draft pick a couple of seasons ago.

In fact, of the 38 former first overall picks dating back to 1980, 28 of them would evolve into All-Stars, and it seems like only a matter of time before Simmons is added to that list, too. A higher percentage of top picks have been named All-Stars than any other slot in the draft. Numbers don’t lie. There is no pick more valuable than the very first one.

But…

Donovan Mitchell is good, too. Like, really good. He’s so good that there’s just as strong an argument for him as this season’s Rookie of the Year as there is for Simmons. Mitchell, though, was not a first overall pick. He was picked 13th, at the back end of the lottery.

He isn’t alone in landing elite value for teams picking outside of the lottery’s top half. Devin Booker was picked 13th in 2015. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th selection in 2013. In 2011, Klay Thompson was picked 11th, while Kawhi Leonard was chosen with the 15th pick that same year. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010.

In other words, there are plenty of really good prospects every summer to give late-lottery teams hope. They might not generate the same hype as the guys vying for that top overall selection, but they’re also clearly a lot better than the tiers of players that start coming off the board in the 20s and 30s. All-Stars lurk in the 10-to-15 range of the draft, especially in a loaded class like the one we’re looking at this summer.

That begs the question: who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?

Here are three possibilities:

Collin Sexton

Back in November, a series of unfortunate circumstances in a game against Minnesota led to a mass ejection of Alabama players that resulted in just three players being allowed to play the final ten minutes. Sexton was one of those three players and led a Crimson Tide rally despite the lopsided Minnesota power play. ‘Bama outscored the Gophers 30-22 in those final 10 minutes despite being down two players, and Sexton finished the game with 40 points. That’s how good he is.

Of course, he could slip in this draft if only because there are so many flashier names ahead of him. It appears as though seven players (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba and Trae Young) likely will be drafted before him, which puts him in a category with guys like Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, and Kevin Knox. Sexton probably will fall somewhere in that range, which means he would fall somewhere between the eighth and 13th pick.

He is competitive, charismatic and incredibly driven, so there’s a really good chance he does well in interviews and workouts and shows how elite he is. On the other hand, if he falls to the Sixers or Hornets or Clippers, some non-tanking team could end up with one of the biggest stars of the draft.

Miles Bridges

Coming into his sophomore season, Bridges was considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball, and while that is still true to a certain extent, his stock dropped a bit this past season while several players—including his teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr.—saw their own stocks rise.

Despite a minor loss in momentum, Bridges is one of the most NBA-ready players projected to be selected in the lottery. He’s still young enough to have a high ceiling, but he’s older and more physically mature than a lot of the other players vying to be drafted in his neck of the pecking order. He does nearly everything well, from ball handling to rebounding to shooting, and he can play both ends of the floor. His athleticism is his calling card, and that added to everything else he does well makes him a lock for some measure of NBA success.

He has his flaws, but he’s probably an All-Rookie First Teamer that will be selected after ten players that aren’t. That makes him a potential steal on the back-end of the lottery.

Jontay Porter

This time last year, Porter was a 17-year-old kid deciding whether or not to reclassify and play at the University of Missouri with his older brother Michael Porter, Jr. and under his father Michael Porter, Sr., who is a member of the coaching staff there. Obviously big bro is a high lottery pick, but the younger sibling was the 11th rated prospect in his high school class (the one with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett) before reclassifying.

He has declared for this summer’s draft but hasn’t yet hired an agent. If he stays in, he’ll be the youngest player in the draft, and mid-first round is where teams start gambling on the uber-young players with mountains of potential rather than older, more proven college players.

In Porter’s case, that could mean a mid-to-late first-round team ends up with a tremendous bargain, even if it takes him a few years to grow into himself. He’s 6-foot-11 but is incredibly smart and well-rounded on offense. He shoots threes (he hit 110 of them as a freshman at Mizzou), but he’s know for his vision and passing more than anything. That’s a modern-day stretch-four or stretch-five if ever there was one, and getting him a year before his time could be a way for a team to steal a deal in the middle of the first round.

With the playoffs in full swing, most observers are focused in on the battles for conference supremacy. For many of the NBA’s other teams, though, the draft preparation process has begun.

In short order, we’ll see which teams end up snagging the next Donovan Mitchell.

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