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Miami HEAT 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Miami HEAT’s 2016-17 season.

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After failing to qualify for the playoffs two seasons ago, the Miami HEAT returned to the postseason last year. The HEAT finished as the Eastern Conference’s third seed and would eventually advance to the second round.

However, as we set to begin the 2016-17 campaign, a lot has changed in Miami. Gone are Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson. The team added several players through free agency in an attempt to replace the outgoing veterans and move on to life without Wade. But what can we expect from the HEAT this season?

Basketball Insiders previews the Miami HEAT’s 2016-17 campaign.

FIVE GUYS THINK

Back in 2010 when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to join forces, who would’ve thought that Bosh would end up being the final piece remaining from the trio? Yes, things appear to have fallen apart quite quickly in Miami. And even if Bosh is able to play, he will likely make the difference between the HEAT battling for a late playoff spot or tanking their spring away. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Each season, there are surprises and if Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow can find some sort of synergy with Goran Dragic, Miami might be in business. While I like Hassan Whiteside’s story, I am not sure that he is ready to lead a team the way that the HEAT would likely require in the wake of Wade’s departure. The conference is getting tougher around them, so I’m not too keen on the HEAT. It could be a long season in South Beach.

4th Place – Southeast Division

– Moke Hamilton

Heading into the 2016-17 campaign, the HEAT are one of the toughest teams to peg. On one hand, the team’s identity is built on being mentally tough and defensively focused year in and year out – regardless of the constructed roster. On the other hand, the team has plenty of wildcard questions that almost makes it impossible to predict where Miami will finish in the standings. How will the squad adjust to life without future Hall of Fame guard Dwyane Wade? How will center Hassan Whiteside, who has never made over $1 million in a season up until this point, respond to making nearly $25 million annually? Can second-year forward Justise Winslow make a significant jump after the team lost veteran wings Luol Deng and Joe Johnson in free agency? Will All-Star Chris Bosh be able to return to action after a series of medical setbacks? Buckle up HEAT fans, the ride along this route could be filled with plenty of turbulence.

2nd Place – Southeast Division

– Lang Greene

Well, that got ugly really quickly, didn’t it? Miami lost two of their most important veterans in Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng for nothing, and there may come a time in the not-too-distant future when Chris Bosh also exits stage left – perhaps calling it a career because of his blood clot issues. Hassan Whiteside and all of his questionable advanced metrics now serve as the franchise cornerstone, which doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in this team as a title contender. Even in a summer of big contracts, Tyler Johnson’s $50 million feels exorbitant, but he, Josh Richardson (minus the knee injury) and Justise Winslow are where hope in the future lie. For the sake of Pat Riley’s coronary health, let’s hope they (and Whiteside) live up to expectations.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Joel Brigham

Get ready for the Hassan Whiteside show. Last year, there were plenty of times when the big man put up monster numbers even when his minutes and role were relatively limited. Miami typically didn’t run plays for Whiteside, so he had to produce based on hustling and making the most of his limited opportunities. Now, with so many changes in Miami, head coach Erik Spoelstra will need the 27-year-old to play his best basketball on both ends of the floor and show that he’s capable of being a franchise cornerstone. But even if Whiteside produces, who knows if Chris Bosh will play this season? Will Goran Dragic continue to show signs of decline? Are Miami’s young players like Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson ready to take on increased roles too? Will the fact that Miami has so many players in contract years become a distraction since each player – especially those who haven’t gotten a significant pay day yet – may be looking out for themselves first and foremost? It feels strange to do this, but I have the HEAT ranked last in the division simply because there are a lot of questions that need to be resolved before I buy in on this squad.

5th Place – Southeast Division

– Alex Kennedy

It’s tough to get a good read on the Miami HEAT. Losing Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng leaves them awfully thin on the wing and now Miami will need more production from young players like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and, most importantly, Hassan Whiteside. Between Whiteside, Gordan Gragic and Chris Bosh, this team does have notable talent to work off of. However, Bosh’s status is uncertain and if he can’t suit up for a majority of Miami’s games this season, the HEAT could take a big dip in the standings. While there are obvious concerns with this team, I believe Erik Spoelstra is an adaptive coach who can rework his systems based on the talent available to him.

3rd Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Chris Bosh

While it looks like Bosh is the top offensive player on the HEAT, it could ultimately be Goran Dragic who has to take over go-to scorer duties if Bosh isn’t quite ready to return to action. When healthy, Bosh has proven to be a great scorer and leader for this HEAT team. Last season, Bosh averaged 19.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 53 games. His 19.1 points per game led all players on the HEAT last season, just edging out Dwyane Wade’s 19 points per game. Lately, Bosh resumed basketball activities and posted videos of his offseason workouts, which is a good sign. He said recently that he’s ready to play and that he’s done everything he needs to do to return. It’s unclear at this time when a return could happen, but his recent comments are a step in the right direction for Bosh and the team.

Top Defensive Player: Hassan Whiteside

After leading the league in blocks last season, it should be no surprise to see Whiteside as the team’s best defensive player. He averaged a career-high 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game last season. He was recognized for his defensive efforts by finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting and being named to the All-Defensive Second Team. With his ability to block and alter attempts, he has demonstrated that he will be a force in the paint for a long time. He held opponents to 54 percent shooting less than five feet from the rim, which places him among the best centers in the league. Whiteside led the league in contested two-point shots (13.5 per game) last year, while also ranking first in defensive rating (94.5), first in block percentage (9.7) and fifth in defensive win shares (5.3). Whiteside recorded three point-rebound-block triple-doubles last season, including his 19-point, 17-rebound, 11-block performance against the Denver Nuggets in January. With Whiteside and backup center Willie Reed, post defense shouldn’t be an issue for Miami.

Top Playmaker: Goran Dragic

Even with Wade on the roster last season, an argument could’ve been made that Dragic was the team’s top playmaker. As the point guard on the floor, it’s Dragic’s job to run the offense and set up his teammates. Last season, he averaged 14.1 points, 5.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds. He isn’t going to be a guy who averages double-digit assists every night, but he’s still great at initiating the offense and getting others involved. He ranked inside the top 15 in the league with 9.4 drives per game and second with 4.6 passes off of those drives. When Dragic didn’t play at a high level last season, the team generally didn’t perform well, which was evident while watching the HEAT in the playoffs. It’s obvious that the HEAT will need Dragic to continue to produce in order to be successful. Dragic will have the ball in his hands more this season, so we’ll see what he does with the increased responsibilities.

Top Clutch Player: Goran Dragic

With Wade now on the Chicago Bulls, Miami will be searching for a new go-to player. Wade established himself as one of the best clutch players in the league and there was never any doubt about who would get the ball in past late-game situations for Miami. Now, it appears Dragic could be next in line to take over clutch duties. Miami’s top scorers in the last five minutes of five-point games were Wade, Deng (who is now a Laker), Whiteside, Bosh and Dragic. Dragic scored 38 points in those situations and shot 42.9 percent from three-point range. It’ll be interesting to see if Dragic will be able to capitalize more in those situations now that Wade is gone. He’s a guy who can create his own shot and get to the rim. He’s also one of the better shooters on the team and can be counted on to hit big shots. Head coach Erik Spoelstra could also opt to go with a committee approach that utilizes Dragic, Bosh, Whiteside and others based on who has the hot hand and best match-up.

The Unheralded Player: Josh Richardson

Richardson is another example of a HEAT player who put in work and became a meaningful role player. He is a former second-round draft pick out of Tennessee who made the most of his opportunity when given increased minutes. He essentially stepped into Tyler Johnson’s role when he went down with a shoulder injury. Even Richardson was surprised when his number was called; he told Basketball Insiders over Summer League that he was expecting to be in a developmental role for most of the season. In 23 games before the All-Star break, Richardson averaged 1.9 points in 11.5 minutes per game. In 29 games after the All-Star break, he bumped up his production to 10.2 points in 29.1 minutes per game. Richardson has proven to be the team’s best three-point shooter, knocking down 46 percent of his attempts from long distance last year. Richardson showed that he can be a meaningful contributor on this team and he should continue to take on a bigger role moving forward.

Top New Addition: Dion Waiters

Throughout Miami’s busy office, Pat Riley and his staff added six new players to the roster. The biggest story of the summer was obviously the departure of Wade, but the HEAT were able to add some quality players through free agency too. The team signed Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Willie Reed, Beno Udrih, Dion Waiters and Derrick Williams. Considering they’ll pay Waiters just $2,898,000 this season (with a player option for next year), it looks as though he’s the best new addition of that group. Not only was he a bargain, he has been productive at times throughout his young career. He averaged 9.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and two assists per game last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Adding Waiters seems like a great move because the team won’t need him to play a huge role in their offense. Waiters has shown that he can thrive as a supporting piece whose job is to just check in and play his style of basketball. It’s also worth noting that Waiters has every reason to be on his best behavior and deliver a breakout campaign, since he can hit unrestricted free agent again next summer if all goes well. It remains to be seen if he’ll be starting, but he should give Spoelstra an added scoring punch either as a starter or as a reserve.

– Cody Taylor

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Erik Spoelstra

Spoelstra has already solidified himself as one of the best head coaches in the league. The HEAT have seemingly always been in contention under Spoelstra’s watch. Even when Miami has battled through some unfortunate injuries and Bosh’s health scare over the past two years, the team has still managed to compete at a high level. It seems as though the team keeps finding these diamond-in-the-rough players like Whiteside, Johnson and Richardson among others. While Riley deserves credit adding these individuals, Spoelstra is one who has developed them into significant contributors, gotten them to buy in and put them in positions to succeed. The fact that the team was able to stick around in the playoff race and advance to the second round without Bosh last season was very impressive. While Bosh’s health comes first, it really makes you wonder how good the team could have been had he stayed healthy and this group had been at full strength.

  1. Justise Winslow

Winslow falling to the HEAT at No. 10 in last year’s draft was, at the time, viewed as a steal. Fast forward one season later, and it still seems as though the HEAT lucked out in that draft. Winslow’s numbers from his rookie season don’t necessarily jump off of the page, but he proved that he can impact games in a number of different ways. He’s a good rebounder at his position and his defense has been pretty solid thus far. It seems reasonable to think that he’ll have more opportunities to produce this season with Bosh’s status still in question and Wade leaving. One of the biggest differences with Winslow this season is that he looks noticeably bigger compared to last year. He played in three games during Summer League and did well, averaging 16 points per game. Don’t be surprised if Winslow makes the most of his larger role and delivers a strong sophomore campaign.

  1. Tyler Johnson

Whether you agree with Miami’s decision to give Johnson a four-year, $50 million contract, the work ethic that he has displayed to get to this point can’t be ignored. Johnson went undrafted out of Fresno State two years ago and grinded his way through the HEAT organization to earn a significant role in the offense. Johnson was having a career-year last season prior to undergoing shoulder surgery in February. He averaged 8.7 points, three rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Spoelstra experimented with him running the point at times, which gave the team some additional versatility. Johnson comes into this season completely healthy and ready to go. He figures to compete with Richardson and Waiters for the starting shooting guard spot. Regardless of where and when he plays, he’s shown that he can be effective.

  1. Willie Reed

The HEAT have liked Reed for a while now and nearly signed him last offseason after he played for their Summer League team. After his first full season in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets, Reed joins a Miami team that figures to give him a great chance to showcase what he can do. His playing time with the Nets last season was sporadic, but he did play really well when he was on the court. His per-48 stats were incredible: 20.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. Reed can be counted on to do the dirty work whenever he’s on the floor. He’s going to be one of the most active players on the court and is a bit similar to Whiteside when it comes to his ability to defend the paint and score at the rim. Reed has been waiting patiently for a chance to prove that he can be a difference maker in the NBA, and this season could be a breakout year for him.

– Cody Taylor

SALARY CAP 101

The HEAT had an interesting summer, rushing through a number of free agent signings before deciding to match Tyler Johnson’s $50 million, poison-pill offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets. With Dwyane Wade off to the Chicago Bulls, Miami went under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to acquire players like Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson and Luke Babbitt. The team also used their cap space to re-sign Hassan Whiteside to a four-year, $98.4 million contract. Their $2.9 million Room Exception was used to ink Dion Waiters.

Now over the cap, Miami has 15 guaranteed players, which doesn’t bode well for players like Briante Weber, Rodney McGruder, Stefan Jankovic and Okaro White.  Assuming the team picks up the rookie-scale option on Justise Winslow before November, Miami could have roughly $22 million in cap space next summer, under a $102 million projection. Should Chris Bosh prove unable to return due to his health issues, his $75.9 million salary would come off of Miami’s books on Feb. 9. That presumes Bosh does not play in 10 games this season, and that the NBA signs off on a forced medical retirement. Currently, Bosh is preparing for the season like he’s completely healthy, but this situation remains up in the air.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

The HEAT seemingly always have talent waiting in the wings within the organization. As previously mentioned above, they have found rotation players like Whiteside, Johnson, Richardson and now even Briante Weber. The team’s D-League affiliate won a record number of games last season, which just shows how strong of an organization they really have. Despite the loss of Wade, the backcourt is deep heading into this season. They have Dragic and Udrih at point guard and Waiters, Richardson, Johnson and Ellington at shooting guard. Of course, the coaching staff is a strength as well. Spoelstra is very good, and his staff is expected get a big addition back as Dan Craig will return as an assistant after coaching the Sioux Falls Skyforce last season. Spoelstra also has Juwan Howard and Keith Smart on his staff as well.

– Cody Taylor

WEAKNESSES

One of the biggest areas of concern for the HEAT has been their three-point shooting. Miami finished 27th in the league in both three-point percentage and three-pointers made per game last year. Richardson led the team in three-point shooting last year, converting 46 percent of his shots, but the next-best HEAT player was Tyler Johnson at 38 percent. In today’s NBA, with three-point shooting and spacing being so important, the HEAT desperately need to improve in this area.

– Cody Taylor

THE BURNING QUESTION

How will the HEAT fare without Dwyane Wade?

One of the most surprising storylines of the summer was Wade opting to sign with the Bulls. Wade had spent all 13 seasons of his NBA career with the HEAT and is one of the best players to ever play for the organization. Things reportedly went south between Wade and the front office, causing him to sign back home. Much was made about Wade’s health and how many games he would play last season, but he proved everyone wrong by suiting up in 74 contests and averaging 19 points a night. With Wade now gone, how will the HEAT do without him? They must replace his production and leadership, which is much easier said than done. Don’t be surprised if the HEAT fail to improve on last season’s 48-win mark.

– Cody Taylor

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NBA

NBA Daily: LiAngelo Ball Fighting For Place in the NBA

LiAngelo Ball has the name recognition but is trying to prove he belongs in the NBA based on his skills and abilities.

James Blancarte

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NBA fans are currently being treated to competitive Western and Eastern Conference Finals. The postseason is coming to a close and in roughly two weeks, the eventual 2018 NBA champion shall be crowned. With the NBA season nearly over, NBA draft season is revving up. On June 21, exactly sixty young men will hear their name called on draft night. This group will include highly sought-after NCAA collegiate prospects, international players and U.S. born players that have spent time improving their respectives games overseas.

Attention is most often focused on the top few picks. However, one name has had a conspicuous tendency to stick out, LiAngelo Ball. Like his older brother Lonzo Ball, Liangelo was recruited into the UCLA program amid the heightened attention surrounding the Ball family. Unlike Lonzo, Liangelo was unable to showcase his game on the U.S. collegiate level following a widely covered theft scandal overseas, his subsequent suspension from the UCLA program and the Ball family’s decision to then place LiAngelo and his younger brother LaMelo Ball into the Lithuanian league.

Now removed from overseas play, LiAngelo Ball is fighting to prove that his game (and not just his name) warrants the attention of NBA team officials. Many critics are quick to look past Lonzo’s clear NBA talent and whatever potential LaMelo Ball might have to quickly dismiss LiAngelo. LiAngelo Ball made it clear he sees himself as an NBA player. Ball spoke to Basketball Insiders recently to discuss a wide range of topics.

“I’m an NBA player, that’s why I declared for the draft. That’s why I’m here also,” Ball stated.

While those who question the potential for Ball to make the league via the draft, Ball has been busy doing his best to make a good impression in person. Ball spoke about the interviews he’s had so far.

“Team interviews were great. It wasn’t really an interview for me. I just started talking, vibing with the coach really. I felt like it went good for me,” Ball said and confirmed which teams he had spoken to. “I had two with [Oklahoma City] and the Suns.”

Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype confirmed that Ball also has private workouts scheduled with the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors.

Ball gave some insight into his approach to the workouts and whether there is a specific approach regarding the teams in attendance.

“I’m going to work out hard. I’m not really familiar with what they do so, I don’t know but I’m going to knock down my shots and show my endurance. Stuff like that,” Ball said.

Numerous videos have been posted of Ball shooting well in these workouts. The videos, as his past play would indicate, show that Ball is at least a capable outside shooter. Ball was quick to point this out, along with his defensive potential, as skill sets that make him a viable NBA prospect.

“I feel like I bring the team, I can knock down shots for a team. I’m real confident in that,” Ball said. “I feel like my defensive game is good. With the right coach and somebody lets me know the techniques, I feel like I’ll be a good defender in the league.”

Young players and prospects are often asked which players they have looked up to or emulated as it helps to give a bit of insight into the young player’s mentality. Ball didn’t admit to copying a particular player’s game but did name a few players he likes to watch while slipping in a flattering comparison he says he has heard about himself.

“I don’t really model my game after other players. I always just play my own way, my own style. I like to watch players as far as James Harden, LeBron [James], Klay Thompson. People say I play like [Thompson] sometimes. So, I just like watching that type of stuff. Pick up stuff from the game,” Ball said.

Ball also highlighted his time in Europe as a plus to his resume.

“I feel like it translates good into the NBA. I mean, I got a year of experience over in Europe, Europe basketball. [Because] they do a lot of the same sets, like I said, as far as coming off the screens, pull-ups and all that. I feel like it helped me out there,” Ball stated.

Also, Ball didn’t hesitate to show his interest in playing for any team beyond the Lakers, if that opportunity presented itself.

“I’m saying I’d like to play for the Lakers [because] my brother is on the team. I want to play with him. I’d love to play for any other team really. I don’t have like a set choice.  Any other team, I’m ready to play for,” Ball stated

Ball needs to keep all options open. There are only so many spots in the draft and as Ball stated, he will have to be prepared to explore every opportunity in the draft, free agency or perhaps through the G-League. For now, he is focusing his attention on the task at hand and doing whatever he can to ensure his name is among the sixty called on draft night.

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Mock Drafts

2018 NBA Consensus Mock Draft – Ver 4.0

Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ experts take a look at the draft class and weigh in on what they are seeing and hearing in the march up to the 2018 NBA Draft.

Basketball Insiders

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Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ top writers will break down the latest news and notes surrounding the 2018 NBA Draft. Included is an updated mock draft that reflects how each writer sees the draft landscape based on the latest news, workouts, and information from the pre-draft process.

Version: 1.0 | 2.0 | 3.0

Moke’s Notebook: One thing I can say for sure is that this is the most unpredictable draft I’ve seen in many years. The Kings and Hawks are each rumored to be open to moving the second and third pick in the draft, and I have a feeling that’s due to the intrigue surrounding Luka Dončić. At this point, the expectation is that the Suns will select DeAndre Ayton first, and I get the sense that there are many that believe that the risk of selecting Dončić is too great. Aside from that, Michael Porter, Jr. (whom I’ve been told is the “dream” scenario for the Knicks) and Mo Bamba each saw their stock rise pretty dramatically during the Combine in Chicago. I’ve seen some mocks having Porter as highly as third.

Aside from those two, there are a lot of questions about Trae Young. It was once thought that Stephen Curry and even Kevin Durant weren’t strong enough to make it in the NBA, and similar questions have been asked of Young. Between Dončić, Bamba, Porter and Young, we might be looking at four of the biggest risks that are consensus top seven picks in quite some time. Of the batch, I’d feel most comfortable selecting Bamba, whose maturity and outside shooting are both better than advertised, but again, with teams at the top willing to discuss dealing their picks and the appetite for risk playing a major role in how the draft shakes out, I only have confidence in my top seven, not necessarily where they’ll land.

As we get closer to the draft, I’d keep an eye on a few names: Aaron Holiday, Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo. Each of those guys have a shot to move up into the late teens, with Holiday, in particular, having lottery potential. Keita Bates-Diop and Jevon Carter are two second rounders who I wouldn’t be surprised to see sneak into the top 30, either.

Over the coming weeks, some guys will be called in for more individual workouts and as the weeks progress, our intel will get stronger.

Jesse’s Notebook: Though the NBA Lottery and Combine are behind us, there are still a lot of questions about how things will shake out on draft night. While Luka Dončić has been considered a consensus top-two pick for some time, some are now questioning whether he will drop a spot or two. I still believe that by draft night, Dončić will likely be picked either first or second, but that doesn’t seem to be a foregone conclusion anymore.

The mystery man of this year’s class continues to be Michael Porter Jr. Porter Jr. checks off all of the boxes for a top-tier draft prospect, but his injury history and long-term health are still major issues that teams need to consider. No one in the draft has a larger range of outcomes. Porter Jr. recently said at the Combine that he is the best player in the draft and it will only take one team with a top pick to agree with his assessment to roll the dice and take a shot on him. But if it looks like his athleticism or burst is limited because of his previous injuries, he could drop toward the end of the top-10.

As of now, there is a good sense of who will be picked with the top 15 picks or so. Once we get outside of that range, things become somewhat less clear. There is very little consensus on how teams will draft from 16-30, so I expect the upcoming workouts and other pre-draft processes to help add clarity on that front.

Benny’s Notebook: Since Basketball Insiders’ last set of Notebooks, much of the draft landscape has changed. From lottery leaps to combine crushers, we’re finally at the point in the process where things start to happen. I still believe Luka Dončić is this draft class’ best player — he literally won both the EuroLeague MVP and Final Four MVP this weekend — but we must deal with the reality that Phoenix (and perhaps others) may look elsewhere. Outside of swapping No. 1 and 2, most of my adjustments come in the lower half of the first round.

I’d banked high on Mitchell Robinson showing out at the Draft Combine and, instead, he pulled out of everything completely. Allegedly, this is because Robinson has earned a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25, according to Aran Smith of NBADraft.net. So, with little else to go off of on Robinson, he slides for me. Additionally, after the strange week of Dennis Schröder news, it’s possible that the Atlanta Hawks could search for a future guard — and the stock-rising Aaron Holiday certainly fits the bill.

Lastly, I’ve begun to come around on Zhaire Smith, the 6-foot-5 prospect from Texas Tech that averaged 11.3 points and five rebounds per game. In the modern, positionless NBA, Smith can already guard multiple spots and his athletic abilities have been rated at the top of his class. He may need some G-League time next season, but he turns just 19 years old in early June. While he probably won’t rise much higher than I’ve had him in mocks thus far, he makes sense for plenty of rebuilding rosters.

Steve’s Notebook: With the official NBA Draft Combine in the books there has been a lot of draft chatter. While it’s important to state clearly that its still very very early in the process and lots of things can change, there is a sense at least in a few places where some teams seem to be heading and where some players might end up landing.

The Phoenix Suns did land the top overall pick, and there was almost no executive in Chicago who thought Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton wouldn’t be Phoenix’s pick. While there is real validity to the idea that new Suns head coach Igor Kokoškov has experience and a relationship with euro sensation Luka Dončić, the belief is the Suns will make their decision based on talent, not relationship.

There was also a buzz that both Sacramento and Atlanta seemed more interested in the domestic big men available at the top of the draft rather than Dončić. That could always change, but the thought process there was the risk that Dončić could opt to stay out of the draft if he didn’t like where he would land, and both teams seem to be higher on other players.

There were a few players who clearly had fans among NBA talent evaluators.

Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr, could go significantly higher than expected with Dallas being his likely ceiling. The Mavericks are far from locked in on anyone, but the belief is the Mavericks are looking at versatile bigs.

Kentucky’s Kevin Knox was something of a mystery in Chicago opting to do very little publicly and left town early. According to several teams, Knox could go as high as six to Orlando and has strong interest from the Bulls, Cavaliers, and Knicks.

UCLA’s Aaron Holiday is said to have a “soft” commitment in the late teens and has, at this point, turned away workouts with teams in the 20’s. There is a sense he could be gone before by the 19th pick.

Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison pulled out of the Combine with NBA Draft.net’s Aran Smith tweeting that he is believed to have gotten a commitment from the Chicago Bulls at 22. Smith also tweeted that Mitchell Robinson also got a promise from the Lakers at 25. One veteran executive labeled this draft class as being the most aggressive draft he can recall where agents were calling and pressing for commitments.

Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo wowed athletically during combine testing and several executives before the testing sessions not only nailed where he’d measure and perform, they also suggested he’d be gone in the 20’s.

Executives were especially critical of the two notable international prospects Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, suggesting that both could slide into the second round.

IMG Academy’s Anfernee Simons has several fans, but the word on him is that he’s a long-term project that would need time. There was a considerable amount of fact-finding by scouts on Simons. A team to watch could be Orlando if Simons is there is there when the Magic select at 35 or 41.

Tulane’s Melvin Frazier came away with mixed reviews, some love his length and athleticism and see him as a defensive presence, other teams saw him as lacking defined NBA skill sets.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter has some fans. One executive offered a friendly wager that Huerter would be gone by 40.

West Virginia’s Jevon Carter looks like he has a real shot to be drafted in the first round, with several teams at the bottom of draft expressing real interest.

There are a couple of sleeper types that seemed to have turned some heads through the process in Chicago, namely Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, Louisville’s Ray Spalding, Dayton’s Kostas Antetokounmpo and West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. All of them could go significantly higher than currently projected.

Who are these guys anyway? Steve Kyler is the Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 19 years. Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders and has covered basketball for the last eight years. Jesse Blancarte is a Senior NBA Writer and Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last four years. Benny Nadeau is an NBA Writer and finished his first season covering the NBA for Basketball Insiders.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA

NBA Daily: Porter Jr. Ready to Make Up For Lost Time in the NBA

Michael Porter Jr. played just 53 minutes of basketball in his lone college season, yet believes he’s the best player in the draft now that he’s seemingly healthy.

Dennis Chambers

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When Michael Porter Jr. stepped foot on Missouri’s campus, he was supposed to inject life into a basketball program that hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since the 2012-13 season.

After receiving his release from the University of Washington, following the firing of Lorenzo Romar, Porter Jr. decided to return home and play under Cuonzo Martin for the Tigers. The No. 2 ranked recruit in the nation, the near 6-foot-11 small forward possessed the scoring and versatility traits to suggest he would be a star at the college basketball level before making his jump to the NBA.

But that would not be so for Porter Jr., as a back injury and subsequent surgery would limit him to just 53 total minutes in three games coming at the end of the season.

In his brief stint as a student-athlete, Porter Jr. played how many would expect a teenager coming off of months-long injury rehab: rusty.

Thirty points and 20 rebounds in three games, on 10-for-33 shooting from the field, and 7-for-20 from beyond the arc. It was clear Porter Jr. was not up to the speed he expected to be on the college court just several months prior. But no matter, he wanted to get out there anyway, regardless of risking re-injury, so that he could help his teammates.

“I knew that I wasn’t gonna put on a show, or be the Mike that they saw in a few months,” Porter Jr. said at the NBA Combine. “The way I was thinking about was just, you know, they’ll know the player I am in a few months. Just trying to help my team and not be selfish with the decision. We had like six players on scholarship at the time because two had gotten injured. So, I was just trying to do what I could to be a part of the team.”

Porter Jr.’s return didn’t lift his team the way he had hoped, as Missouri fell to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA tournament 67-54. When the clock hit zeros, the smooth shooting swingman with a questionable injury history set his sights on the NBA.

However, Porter Jr.’s projection at the game’s highest level is much different in May than it was 10 months ago. From positioning himself to battle for the top overall pick, Porter Jr. is now somewhat of an enigma. His game is a bit of a mystery, and so are his medical records. Once considered a no-brainer to be picked top-three, Porter Jr. could find himself sliding near the back end of the top 10 on draft night.

Noting that he originally injured his back a few years ago in high school, when the injury finally caught up to him just before his college career was ready to tip off, Porter Jr. took a unique approach to otherwise disappointing news.

“When I had to have the surgery I kind of viewed it as a blessing,” Porter Jr. said. “A new start, and I could really reach my full potential. They had me as the number one player in high school, but I didn’t even feel like I was at 100 percent, and I do now.”

Being at 100 percent, as Porter Jr. says in his own words, just before he begins his NBA career has the forward excited for his future. Despite missing time on the court and falling behind other prospects in the draft conversation, Porter Jr. hasn’t lost his self-confidence.

“I’m just excited to show everybody the player that I am,” Porter Jr. said. “I’m still the best player … I played against all these guys, they’re all great players. But I’m the best player in this draft.”

Though his back is still a mystery, and his sample size is small, if Porter Jr. were to reach the potential scouts and NBA personnel pegged him as having when he was on the doorsteps of college basketball, then he has the makings of a franchise-caliber player.

With the opportunity of getting that kind of upside at a potentially discounted selection, Porter Jr. was one of the most popular names at the Cmbine. The forward mentioned meeting with just about every team picking in the top 10 come June’s draft. One team that Porter Jr. has been frequently linked to, the Chicago Bulls, were not exclusively mentioned on his list. But Porter Jr. noted the Bulls and his agent were in contact and he hoped to get a workout scheduled with Chicago.

No matter who Porter Jr. meets with or works out for from now until draft night, the versatile and skilled forward projects to be one of the most interesting players to follow. Could he impress throughout the draft process and reclaim his spot within the top-three? Or will he slide down draft boards and become a potential steal for a team in the back half of the lottery?

Whatever the outcome is, Porter Jr. will be ready.

“I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down like a lot of these players,” Porter Jr. said. “But this is just a step in my process in becoming the best player that I can be. It’s a little different, but I’m more ready than ever. I’ve been dreaming about this NBA stuff for so long, I feel like I’m ready.”

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