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NBA AM: Less Than 30 Hours To The Deadline

With less than 30 hours remaining before the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline, several teams are closing in on deals… The HEAT and the Pacers know home court matters.

Steve Kyler

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On The Clock:  With roughly 30 hours remaining until the 3:00 pm EST NBA’s trade deadline, a lot of last minute chatter is leaking out as teams try and consummate deals before the mid-day cut off tomorrow. While there is a lot of talk taking place, the general sense around the league is that this may again be a very anti-climactic trade deadline with very few major players moved. With that in mind lets dig into what we know today.

Rajon Rondo:  The Boston Celtics are on the receiving end of a lot of calls from teams trying to pry Rondo out of Boston. The problem is not whether Boston would do a Rondo deal; most teams believe Boston would. The problem is that Rondo can become an unrestricted free agent in July of 2015, which has many teams on the phone with Boston wanting assurances that Rondo would agree to a contract extension or a new deal with the acquiring team and Rondo’s camp is unwilling to entertain that. The asking price for Rondo is said to be two unprotected first round draft picks and some combination of ending contracts and rookie scale players. There are a few teams that have their nose in this discussion including the New York Knicks, the Toronto Raptors and the Sacramento Kings, although it seems unlikely that they could extract Rondo from Boston. The Celtics are talking on a number of fronts and would love to part ways with Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, so there is more than Rondo on the table for Boston.

Pau Gasol:  There continues to be a belief that the LA Lakers are going to pull the trigger on a Gasol trade and that the long dormant deal with the Phoenix Suns that would send one of the lower of the four draft picks the Suns hold and injured big man Emeka Okafor to LA will be the deal that gets done. The Lakers continue to ponder if that’s the best move for them or if hanging on to Gasol into the summer for a possible sign-and-trade deal might return more long-term value than a late first round pick that consumes cap space. The Lakers continue to work other angles which include a possible deal with the Brooklyn Nets that would offload big man Jordan Hill to the Nets in exchange for a draft pick and a Disabled Player Exception. It seems that one is directly connected to the other, meaning if the Lakers move Gasol, moving Hill to get under the luxury tax line seems likely. The problem for the Lakers is that Phoenix is talking to other teams about their package with Okafor so if the Lakers wait to the wire they may find their deal for Gasol gone as Phoenix seems intent on using their chips before the clock strikes 3:00pm.

»In Related: NBA Draft Picks Owed

Kenneth Faried:  The talk of Faried being available is a little over blown according to sources near the situation in Denver. More teams seem to be calling, but Denver is being somewhat calculated. There is a sense that Faried is not nearly as valuable to the Nuggets under Brian Shaw as he was under George Karl and that with the expected price tag of $10 million a season in his next deal on the horizon this summer, the Nuggets are at least listening to offers. Sources continue to say that the odds of a Faried deal are low, but that Nuggets GM Tim Connelly has to listen and consider offers if only to better understand Faried’s market value for contract talks this summer. The Nuggets are still trying to find a home for disgruntled guard Andre Miller. As one league insider put it, the way this thing has played out with Miller and head coach Brian Shaw, it’s going to be tough to make a deal as teams trying to win are unwilling to take on Miller and the young teams that might want a leader do not view this situation as positive. The Nuggets are active, but other than Miller it seems unlikely that Denver is doing much more than that unless someone blows them away with an offer.

Kings Getting Close:  The Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets continued talks yesterday on a deal that would send volume scorer Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn in exchange for forward Reggie Evans and guard Jason Terry. The deal seems like its gaining enough traction to be close and given that both sides have been talking for a few days about it, unless something better surfaces this one might get done. The Kings have been trying to offload Thornton and guard Jimmer Fredette and are working angles on both players. The Kings seem like they have a deal for one very close, the question is can they move the other? There were also reports yesterday that the Kings would entertain offers on guard Isaiah Thomas, although sources say the asking price on Thomas is an unprotected first round draft pick this year and those are becoming hard to come by. Factor in that Thomas had an MRI that revealed ligament damage in his wrist yesterday, it’s unclear how much a team would really give for Thomas. The Kings really want to add some veteran influence to their roster and continue to be one of the teams trying to swing for the fences on a major deal.

Ben Gordon:  The Charlotte Bobcats have been sniffing around for a trade for several weeks. Word is the ending contract of Ben Gordon can be had for a combination of smaller assets that could bolster the Bobcat’s run into the playoffs. It’s unclear who has real interest in Gordon, however, it’s been said if the Suns strike out on Gasol with the Lakers they may take on Gordon with their Emeka Okafor offer that includes a first round pick. Sources close to the situation say that Charlotte would rather have a roster player in the deal, so it remains to be seen how this one will play out, but Charlotte is very much in the mix as the deadline approaches.

Orlando Magic:  If you call the Orlando Magic will answer, but getting them into a serious discussion on a deal has proven to be fruitless. A number of teams have made passes at the Magic regarding Arron Afflalo, but the Magic have turned those conversations away. Glen “Big Baby” Davis is a name the Magic are trying to find a deal for, but even with Davis there isn’t a lot of effort being put forth. The Magic could be a team that’s involved in a deal or they very well could sit this one out. The magic have not shut down trade talks, but it does not seem today that they are nearly as interested in making a deal this year as they were last year.

»In Related: The History of NBA Trades

Minnesota Timberwolves:  The Timberwolves are said to be open for business and that anyone on the roster outside of Kevin Love could be had. So, phone lines are now open. The Wolves are one of the teams trying to make a splash move for a serious player and virtually anyone could be had to make a big deal happen. There has been talk that the Wolves have entertained a Chase Budinger and J.J. Barea deal with the Memphis Grizzlies that would send Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince to the Wolves, so there is that to ponder. There have been a number of suitors that have made passes at the Wolves regarding Kevin Love, but all have been turned away. The Wolves are trying to make something happen and that generally means a deal, if a team is seriously motivated and seems like the Wolves are.

Basketball Insiders will keep you up to date on all of the trade deadline chatter with the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline Diary. That will drop later today and will feature all of the news, notes, rumors and tweets about the trades team are talking about.

Look for it to drop around 12:00pm EST.

» Are You Ready For The 2014 NBA Trade Deadline? The Basketball Insiders Magazine: 2014 NBA Trade Deadline guide has dropped – Non-App users can get it right now here (http://digital.turn-page.com/t/105910). There were some technical delays with getting the issue on the Apps, but it will start to appear on App devices over the next 24-72 hours depending on device and network. If you are an Apple user, you can grab the Digital Magazine app here. For our Android users you can grab the Digital Magazine app here. If you don’t want to add the App to your device or do not want to wait another day the web-solutions works awesome on all platforms too. We have made the pledge to keep our content free from annoying auto-play ads and content lockers, so buying the magazine is how we’ll keep up our end of the deal. So buy your copy today and get 100 pages of trade deadline knowledge, exclusively from Basketball Inisders.

Home Court Matters:  Not everyone in the NBA is focused on the NBA trade deadline, in fact the Indiana Pacers and Miami HEAT are focused on getting through the final 30 something games of the regular season without injury.

It seems inevitable that the Pacers and HEAT are almost destined to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, the big question is who will get home court?

Heat All-Star Chris Bosh says his team doesn’t talk about securing the top spot in the East, but understands that comes from playing well.

“We don’t talk about it all,” Bosh told Basketball Insiders. “We’re too busy thinking about tomorrow or today or the team in front of us. We know what happens if we continue to take care of business and try our best to put a string of wins together and win as many games as possible. If we do that we look at the standings at the end of the day, we’ll see how we fair out. “

The HEAT have been in preservation mode for most of the season trying to keep guys as fresh as possible and keep them healthy after three straight Finals runs. As a result the HEAT have not been as sharp, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting out there and competing hard every night and really start to turn the corner defensively,” Bosh said. “I think our offense is going to take care of itself; we can even take another step as far as that’s concerned. The way we move the ball I think that’ll be fine when it’s time. We just need to improve defensively. Our rebounding can get better. Not so much the margin or our total rebounds, but our rebounding percentage can get better. We need to start putting things together as we get closer to the postseason. “

»In Related: Video: Chris Bosh All-Star Weekend

The Pacers on the other hand know that they have a lot more to accomplish and that Miami won’t be the only team they have to face in the postseason. Pacers All-Star Paul George knows all too well that it’s going to be a tough journey to even get to face Miami, let alone compete for a championship.

“We are after the title,” George said. “We understand it’s not going to be easy that’s not one team that we’re going to have to face to win it all. It’s always tough matchup against them, we just got one goal and we want to win it all.”

George and his Pacer teammates know they need to be the top team in the East to have the best chance at advancing.

“It’s real important,” George said. “That’s always in the back of our mind and the reason why we want to be number one in the East. We don’t think it’s going to be easy because we’re number one, but we just like our chances playing on our floor. We have been one of the best teams in this league defending our home court.”

The Pacers have been exceptionally sharp and focused all season, in part because of how the roster has grown together, but also in part because everyone on the team understands what’s at stake.

“We came into the year with everybody knowing what their role is and what their agenda is,” George said. “Another year of us being together and having that experience of playing a tough team like Miami last year. We grew and we had a message for everybody to get better in the summer and I thought a lot of guys did.”

The Pacers are currently 41-12 on the season and hold a 2 ½ game lead over the 38-14 Miami HEAT. The Pacers are currently 26-3 at home, while the HEAT hold a 20-4 home record.

The Pacers have 29 games remaining on their schedule which includes 12 home games and 17 road games. The Pacers will also see 20 Eastern Conference teams in that span and will face 11 teams with a record above .500.

The HEAT has 30 games remaining on their schedule which includes 17 home games and 13 road games. The HEAT will face 20 Eastern Conference teams in that span which includes 12 teams with a record above .500.

The NBA regular season ends on April 16, with the 2014 NBA Playoffs set to begin on April 19.

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, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

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NBA

NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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