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NBA AM: Trade Talks Are Heating Up

Trade talk is starting to heat up… The problem with moving draft picks… The biggest cliche of the deadline… You may want Steve Nash to quit, but would you?

Steve Kyler

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This is something new we are considering for Basketball Insiders, if you like it and want more content like this, drop your comments in the comments section below.

Starting To Percolate:  With the NBA trade deadline just eight days away and the All-Star break, the unofficial vetting window for potential trades, this weekend things are starting to take some shape on the trade front. Here are a few things we are hearing:

The Magic Are Not Out, But Not In Either  Magic general Manager Rob Hennigan has been playing the trade talk surrounding his team the same way for most of the season. His team is listening, but his team is not shopping. There are a couple of players that Orlando would be open to moving, the top candidate is Glen “Big Bay” Davis. However, there seems to be virtually no trade market for Davis on his own. His long-storied attitude issues combined with his hefty remaining contract make it more likely than not that he’ll remain in Orlando beyond the trade deadline. In Davis’ defense, he has gotten a lot better and is not nearly the problem child he is often labeled to be, but for the teams that would value what he brings, his contract and the potential for issues makes him a hard sell. The Magic have also entertained offers on Jameer Nelson, but given the size of his contract ($8 million this season) and Orlando’s unwillingness to take on long-term dollars makes moving Nelson a tough sell as well. The veteran teams that could use Nelson are so close to or already over the luxury tax line that unless Orlando takes back something long-term, most deals are unworkable. The Magic continue to turn away incoming offers on Arron Afflalo. Unless something serious comes their way it looks like Orlando may sit out the trade deadline, although they are still having dialogue so you never say never in the NBA.

Knicks Ramping Up Efforts  The Knicks continue to try and strike a deal, having renewed efforts to land Denver forward Kenneth Faried and Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry. It is highly unlikely the Knicks can land either player, but they are trying. The Knicks are open to moving a number of player combinations, but still seem reluctant to include future draft considerations. There is a sense that the Knicks are going to do something at the deadline, but it’s unlikely that it’s going to be anything involving forward Carmelo Anthony. Sources close to the process say there has been a very open and candid dialogue about Anthony’s pending free agency and while there is a risk that he could get charmed out of New York, the Knicks feel like they have enough assurances to hold the line. If Anthony’s tone changes, so could the Knicks’. It will be a scenario to watch, however it seems the Knicks are trying to add to their current roster not subtract their biggest piece.

Warriors Willing To Move  The Golden State Warriors are sitting on two significant traded players exceptions from their cap clearing move with Utah this past summer. The bigger of the two is a $9 million slot, with an additional $4 million slot. Both expire this July. The Warriors are said to be kicking around trade scenarios, especially ones involving veteran players that could help them in the postseason. The Warriors seem most interested in ending or near ending contract players and have been sniffing around for point guard help. With the ability to significantly reduce someone’s luxury tax bill or to take on money in a three team deal the Warriors look primed to be involved in a deal at the deadline, especially if they can extract draft assets or a veteran player to bolster their bench. Unfortunately for the Warriors, exceptions cannot be combined with anything, so whatever player they acquire has to fit into one of those two slots. While the $9 million slot is appealing and opens up a lot of options, there is a sense the Warriors would rather use that exception around the draft or in July unless the right player surfaces.

Kings Looking At Ending Deals  The Sacramento Kings continue to kick around trade scenarios. It seems pretty clear that Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette and the ending $2.6 million contract of Aaron Gray could be had. The Kings have really stayed clear of anything involving a future draft pick, unless it yields a significant asset and it seems they are taking the same stance on long-term contract money. The Kings remain the frontrunner for Andre Miller, whenever the Denver Nuggets decide to move him. The problem is Miller isn’t going to return much for Denver, hence the lack of movement on a deal. The Kings look like they want to make a deal at the deadline, it remains to be seen if anyone wants what Sacramento is selling.

If you are looking for the latest NBA news, notes and rumors, make sure to check out the Daily Rumors section of the site.

The Problem With Picks:  There are a number of so-called tanking teams in NBA that seem more than willing to move off players that are approaching free agency, no longer fit the youth movement plan or are just flat out too good to be on a bad team.

The problem is that the teams in the NBA that want these kinds of players – players who can contribute to a playoff push – simply don’t have the assets or the cap space to make a deal happen.

Almost all of the teams considered frontrunners for a NBA title have either traded their first round picks already or need to hang on to them to replenish the talent pool too because of the NBA’s punitive luxury tax system.

There are a number of teams floating at the bottom of the NBA standings that are hoping to make a move around the trade deadline, but they want rookie scale contract players, draft picks or ending contracts in exchange for the pieces they’d move. Most of the teams that would do a deal for the players don’t have the assets. The teams that have the assets don’t want the players.

»In Related: The NBA Draft Picks Owed.

As the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline gets closer there might be some lowering of asking prices and some teams may settle for what they can get rather than getting nothing, especially teams like the Philadelphia 76ers with regards to Evan Turner, who is headed into free agency, or the LA Lakers and Pau Gasol, another soon-to-be free agent.

The problem with dealing for what you can get is a team often doesn’t get nearly the return they’d like. With the deadline approaching quickly some teams have to decide whether it’s better in the long term to hold the line and see what the offseason brings or liquidate even when the return may be less than ideal.

With so many young teams valuing what’s possible in the 2014 NBA Draft, there is going to be a dearth of lottery level picks available at the deadline, which means some team searching for draft picks in deals may have to settle for second round picks because it’s unlikely that anyone holding on to what could be a lottery pick will move it.

There is no doubting that some teams would make deals for picks, the problem is the teams holding them value the picks more than the players and the teams that value the players don’t hold the picks.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next eight days.

”We Really Like Our Team”:  The sports world is filled with fun clichés, but as the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline approaches the best of the bunch comes from NBA general managers and executives – “We really like our team”.

The phrase is often used to explain why a team is not talking trades, or isn’t looking to make moves, but the problem with the phrase is as much as teams like to use it, can they really use the opposite? – “We don’t like our team?”

There are several teams that are downplaying their involvement in trades. The Orlando Magic, the Washington Wizards, the Indiana Pacers and the Memphis Grizzlies to name a few, yet every one of them are looking at something around the February 20 Trade Deadline.

“We like our team” is really code for we haven’t found a deal we’d consider breaking up our team for. It really means we like our core guys, but we’d consider making some bench upgrades.

»In Related: Alex Kennedy Looks At The Latest NBA Trade Rumors.

In all of the cases mentioned above, each team is sniffing around for something. Orlando wouldn’t be crushed if they could move Glen “Big Baby” Davis, any more than the Wizards would like to add one more impact player to insure they are competitive in the postseason. The Grizzlies would like some help at small forward and the Pacers have eyes on a bench-based scorer.

None of those teams are willing to break up their team to make those kinds of moves, but all of them are sniffing around for a deal, even if it’s just a small deal.

As you hear executives quoted over the next eight days, watch how many tell you how much they like their existing team, then watch how many of them make deals at the deadline.

There is likely some truth to the notion that if a team didn’t do a deal they wouldn’t be crushed, but saying they wouldn’t do a deal at all likely isn’t true; it’s always about what you can get in return for what you have to give up and that’s why every team in the NBA talks to each other just before the trade deadline, because you honestly never know what another team will be willing to part with and that’s where those improbable deals get made.

Would You Quit?:  There was considerable chatter about the future of Laker guard Steve Nash after a report out of New York where Nash makes (one of) his offseason homes, suggested that Nash has told friends that he would retire after this season.

Nash was asked about the reports yesterday and while he continues to battle nerve related injuries and irritations, he made it clear that he is not thinking about hanging them up and he has not been talking about it.

“Not from me,” Nash said to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News. “I work as hard as I can every day to perform and keep going until I’m not playing anymore. But right now, I have no intentions to stop playing.”

Nash has one more year left on his contract that will pay him more than $9 million next season. If he were to simply retire, he’d leave that money on the table. If he were to attempt a medical retirement, he would need to be ruled unable to play by independent doctors and that is not a path Nash has explored at this point.

»In Related: Will The Phoenix Suns Or LA Lakers Blink First?

Nash says his goal is get passed the nerve irritations and get back on the floor, suggesting that his latest injury is more annoyance than hindrance.

“It’s frustrating more than anything,” Nash said. “It’s something I hope we can get under control quickly here. It doesn’t feel like something too serious. I had so many issues with the nerve; I’m not going to take it for granted.”

Lakers fans have struggled to understand why the 40-year old Nash continues to try and return to the court, especially for a team and a season that’s going nowhere but the draft lottery, but the truth is that for athletes like Nash who love to play, once it’s over, it’s generally over.

In talking with a number of older veteran players, it’s not just the money that continuing to play offers them, it’s the chance to continue to compete, to be part of a team and to continue a lifestyle many of them have had for more than a decade or more.

»In Related: The LA Lakers team salary page.

It’s hard for guys to give up the fame, the adulation and the respect they get as NBA players, even ones on the downside of their career. For Nash, who was as unheralded a prospect as they come when he was drafted in 1996, he turned himself into a two-time MVP and is a likely Hall of Famer. He is not hanging around for the money, because his money is fully guaranteed. He is hanging around the NBA because once it’s over for him, it’s over.

It’s easy for fans and media members to say a guy is washed up and needs to go, but ask yourself this question: Would you give up the life of a NBA player if you really didn’t have to? Neither will Nash.

The Lakers have lost eight of their last ten games and are currently 18-34 on the season, which has them sitting with the fifth worst record in the NBA.

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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca

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The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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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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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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