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NBA AM: What’s Real With Kyrie, Boozer and Melo

The NBA rumor machine is running at full tilt, so whats really going on with Kyrie Irving, Carlos Boozer and Carmelo Anthony?… Up Close With Tyler Ennis.

Steve Kyler

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Mythbusters – NBA Style:  Yesterday in this space we covered some of the misguided thoughts surrounding the Miami HEAT and their Big Three. As Miami inches one game closer to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, there are other topics that have some questionable storylines surrounding them, so let’s jump into some of those:

Kyrie Irving’s Extension:  For whatever reason there is this prevailing thought that the Cleveland Cavaliers won’t offer Irving a maximum contract extension and that he wouldn’t sign it if they did.

Neither one of those concepts is completely true, but they are fun concepts to kick around.

Let’s look back a little. First and foremost the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows an exclusive window for teams and players to reach an early extension without free agency and other teams being involved. This window usually produces a few things: massive contract commitments or bargain deals that favor the team.

When you hear that there may not be an extension for Irving this summer, that’s not all together surprising at this point, because the Cavs would be negotiating against themselves and they really can’t have those kinds of discussions until this summer.

Last season six of 18 eligible players signed early extensions – John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Derrick Favors, Larry Sanders and Quincy Pondexter. Of those six, Wall, George and Cousins received max deals.

The season prior eight players signed early extensions – Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, Taj Gibson and Ty Lawson. Of those deals, only two were max contracts – Griffin and Harden. In 2011, five players reached early rookie scale extensions and the year prior to that is was also five players.

Not signing an extension in the early window really does not mean much, except that the Cavs may be unwilling to open their wallet and tell Irving to take as much as he wants.

Curry, Holiday and Lawson all signed early extension deals that started in the $11-$12 million per season range. Today those few extra million saved are what’s allowing their respective teams to add more talent in free agency.

Irving’s camp likely points to his top pick status and Wall’s max deal as the starting point guard for his team, but the truth is Irving’s value might be closer to that of Curry or Lawson at this point.

Because a max extension is being debated in and of itself is not a bad thing, is Irving truly a max player? Some would say he is not, some would say he is almost a max player and that’s clearly something the Cavaliers have to decide.

The other part is that do you really give a max deal to someone who may or may not be committed to your team? There have been enough stories of Irving not being happy to make that a talking point in a new deal. If Irving is totally buying in, then back up the Brinks truck, but if he has his eyes elsewhere and this deal is simply a placeholder until he can get where he may ultimately want to be, the Cavs need to know that.

The lesson to be gleaned from all of this is that a small number of early extensions get done each year. The ones that do get done are the no-brainer deals and the deals that are just below market value and usually in the teams’ favor. Deals that have doubts associated or questions surrounding them often get pushed into restricted free agency where someone else sets a price and the home team has the option to match it.

The Cavs not reaching a deal this summer means very little except that they may not be willing to just blindly throw money at Irving.

Sources close to the process say it is more likely than not that a deal gets reached, but there will be conversations and a process that plays out which would need to involve Irving being all-in for the Cavs game plan. If he is not, then playing out the season and seeing where things land could very well be outcome.

If the talks go badly, being traded could be one of those outcomes too.

The Cavaliers are in the driver’s seat here. They do not have to do anything this year unless it makes sense for them in the long-run, and given how the team itself has underperformed, taking their time on who stays long-term might not be a bad idea, even if the final answer is a long-term deal for Irving.

»In Related: Team By Team: NBA Salaries At A Glance.

Carmelo’s Free Agency:  There are two numbers to think about as Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony prepares to enter free agency: 30 years old and $22.5 million.

The first is Anthony’s age. The second is the amount of money he is eligible to receive as a first year salary in a new deal. That figure is not exclusive to the Knicks; he can receive that from any team he signs with either as an unrestricted free agent or in a sign and trade deal.

To run the numbers, Anthony can get a maximum five-year, $129 million deal from the Knicks, or he can get a four-year $96 million deal from another team. For most players that fifth year is somewhat moot as the expectation is they’d get that money in their next deal; however in Anthony’s case that fifth year might really matter as its unlikely anyone is giving a 35-year old another $25-$28 million, although crazier things have happened.

There are a few teams that get linked to Anthony the most – the LA Lakers and the Chicago Bulls.

The Lakers look like they’ll have something in the neighborhood of $24.8 million in maximum salary cap space. They would have the chance to make a run at Anthony, but even if he shaved a little cash of the deal to be a Laker, landing Anthony at even $18 million a year (a $16 million total contract discount), leaves the Lakers married to Bryant and Anthony as their core players with little else to work with in free agency. It all but removes the Lakers from free agency in 2015 unless the salary cap goes way up next year.

The Lakers’ stance on Anthony all year has been that he is not a primary free agent target and that the idea of blowing all their free agent money on him is not the goal. If he shows up on their door step willing to talk $14-$15 per year they’d absolutely sign him, but getting Anthony a deal anywhere close to what he can and likely will get offered from the Knicks may be too rich for the Lakers’ taste, especially as they look towards life without Bryant.

The Bulls are another team that gets mentioned and the fact that Chicago is now sitting on a best case salary commitment figure of $63.95 million means they have zero cap space to work with even if they renounced everything they can renounce.

The Bulls do have the option of using the one-time Amnesty roster cut on the final year of Carlos Boozer’s contract ($16.8 million) but even paying him to go away does not get the Bulls anywhere close to $22.5 million. It might get them to $16 million. The Bulls could try and trade away a contract like Mike Dunleavy Jr ($3.32 million) and get themselves to $19 million, but then the team is locked into Anthony, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson with little else.

It is absolutely do-able, if the Bulls want to eat those costs, but Bulls sources have said from the beginning that they doubted ownership would approve paying Boozer $16 million to go away and then paying Anthony close to $100 million.

If the Bulls could find a way to trade Boozer in a deal that returns Anthony, or Anthony would sign for something in the $15-$16 million range they would do that, but does Anthony really give Chicago a $21 million discount on a four-year deal?

There are a couple of dark horse suitors that could gum all this up and those are Dallas and Houston.

Dallas has the cash to go after Anthony straight up. Dirk Nowitzki has already told the team he’ll work with them to get them the cap space to sign another significant player. So Dallas could get to the $20-$22.5 million number the Knicks are expected to offer. They could present a team built around Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and Nowitzki with a proven coach in Rick Carlisle.

Houston would trade almost anything not named Dwight Howard and James Harden to get at Anthony and they would go all in on a contract too. There has been talk that Houston has offered up Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in a “give away” trade that could include their draft pick in the first round or a roster player like Terrence Jones to get those salaries off the books.

If the Rockets can find a taker for those contracts they’d go from a best-case $56.9 million in salary commitments to $40.2 million, which means $22.7 million in cap space. That’s more than enough for Houston to get into the game in a serious way for Anthony.

With three teams offering what could be full max contracts, it’s hard to imagine Anthony leaving $16-$20 million in total compensation on the table to be a Laker or a Bull, especially when New York is likely offering a fifth year and Dallas and Houston may be offering better fitting rosters.

It seems the Bulls and Lakers have eyes on other guys too (read that to be Kevin Love), and that may play into how aggressively they go after Anthony, if they go after him at all.

»In Related: 2014 NBA Mock Draft: Consensus Ver 3.0

Boozer And The Bulls:  As mentioned above, as much as Bulls fans would like to see the team write Boozer a check and be done with him, there is a real sense that is not going to happen. It might, but the sense among teams is the Bulls would be far more willing to give up a young guy on their roster or the lesser of their two first round picks in the 2014 Draft as a sweetener to trade Boozer rather than eat his contract.

There just does not seem to be a willingness to pay Boozer off. As much as Chicago would like to get into free agency, using the Amnesty provision on Boozer seems to be the last option and that almost everything else will be considered before paying him off.

Boozer’s production this season plummeted, so finding a taker for his remaining $16.5 million is not going to be easy, but given how many teams project to have cap space the question becomes would someone like Philadelphia or even Orlando trade a roster player for Boozer and the 19th pick?

The 76ers may likely find themselves stuck with Jason Richardson’s $6.6 million player option this summer; would swapping him for Boozer work for Chicago?

The Orlando Magic have the partially guaranteed $8 million contract of Jameer Nelson and shooting guard Arron Afflalo, who would be a perfect addition for the Bulls. It’s doubtful the Magic trade Afflalo for so little in return, but the Magic do have the means to be a player in this department if the return is right.

Unlike some of the bad contracts that get moved, Boozer is in the final year of his deal, so it may not be nearly as hard to find a trade partner as some of the other Amnestied contracts and with the Bulls seemingly adverse to a buyout, it’s more likely the Bulls make a trade than write a check unless there is simply no other recourse, even then it seems 50/50 at best.

»In Related: The Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects.

Icing Out The Bucks:  There has been a lot of speculation that agents for players in the 2014 NBA Draft might be trying to freeze out the Milwaukee Bucks in terms of access to and workouts with their players. The biggest is of course Joel Embiid, who has concerns about the long-term status of his back.

Bucks sources said that reports of them having issues with players is completely untrue and they expect to meet with and workout the players projected at the top of the draft. They also feel like they have enough information today to make a solid and informed decision, but that it’s still very early in the process, especially for the top tier prospects who usually don’t work out for a lot of teams.

On the subject of getting medical information on a player in the draft, the source said is not overly difficult as teams do often share information as no one likes to see agents steer and control the process. While clearly there is some tactical advantage to having information others don’t have, there is a reason its important to have a well-connected general manager and front office.

There is no doubting that some situations are more desirable than others and being bad enough to have a top three selection means there are generally bigger issues at play, but the sense that Milwaukee or even Philadelphia is being “iced” out by agents is not exactly true.

There does seem to be a sense that the agents for Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are trying to control the process, but there is not a sense from either the Bucks or the 76ers that they won’t get to look at the players they have on their board.

»In Related: Who Should Go No. 1?

Up Close With Tyler Ennis:  The race to be the third point guard taken in the 2014 NBA Draft might be one of the more heated races in the draft. Syracuse’s’ Tyler Ennis looks to be the front runner, but he knows he has a lot to prove.


Six Things You May Have Missed:  Every so often we like to map out some of the things from the previous couple of days that may have gotten lost in the shuffle. Make sure to give these stories a look:

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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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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