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NBA AM: Why The NBA Wants A New Age Limit

The NBA is headed towards a 20-year old age limit to enter the NBA and it has nothing to do with the ability to play the game… Dell Demps talks future of the Pelicans.

Steve Kyler

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Some Thoughts On The Age Limit:  By now you have likely heard that new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants to push through some changes to the NBA Draft eligibility process. Asked recently at the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference in Boston if there was one thing he could change in the NBA with the complete support of the owners and the players, Silver labeled increasing the age limit to enter the NBA as his top item.

Before we dig into the subject, there are a couple of things to know: The NBA currently requires a player to be 19 years of age (or turn 19 in the year he is drafted) and one year removed from his graduating class in high school. This is commonly referred to a “one-and-done” as it lends itself to players going to college for one year and then leaving for the NBA.

During the last round of collective bargaining talks between the players and the owners, the age limit was an intense topic of discussions. As the talks lead to a player lockout and in the interest of getting the lockout lifted both sides agreed that they would revisit the age limit and the draft at a later date and then the Players’ Association imploded amid scandal and those tabled talked never resumed.

One of Silvers’ top objectives this summer is to get those talks going, whether the Players’ Association is ready or not.

There are a few things to know about the logic of the age limit and why the NBA wants to increase it:

It’s Not About Ability To Play

The first rebuttal to the age limit discussion almost always surrounds ability to play. The NBA age restrictions are not about on-court ability, rather off-the-court ability. The 48-minutes of game action you see on the court are only the smallest fraction of what a NBA player goes through in a day. There are demands and responsibilities placed on professional athletes that younger players struggle with.

No one can argue that Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James who all turned out to be great hall-of-fame caliber players, couldn’t play in the NBA. That’s not the question. The question is would those players have become more marketable stars after a year or two in college?

Equally for every James there is a Gerald Green or a Korleone Young or a Ndudi Ebi. All three players had the skill and ability to play in the NBA, but all three struggled in their own way to become true professionals in the sport.

The current age limit was aimed at helping remove the fail rate, not only for the teams that drafted them, but for the players themselves.

In the ‘straight from high school’ era of the NBA, there was rampant corruption and manipulation of high school players who were incentivized to choose high exposure AAU tournaments over real development or structure. As a result an entire generation of players came into the NBA that struggled with being coached, the rigors of practice and professionalism. Those players excelled on the court but often struggled with integrating into a team environment and in the end that became problematic for the NBA.

The “one-and-done” rule has helped, which is why the belief that going to a “two-and-through” rule would be better.

»In Related: The Modern History of The NBA Draft By Pick.

The idea of a new, tougher age limit is not at all about a player’s ability to play the game. It’s about making sure that the players coming into the league are ready to be part of a team and that they have the life skills and maturity to overcome some of the obstacles that have claimed player’s careers.

From a self-preservation point of view, the NBA wants to ensure that its players do not fail and giving teams and players a larger window to understand what it takes to be successful is something Commissioner Silver feels has to change.

A Healthy College System Helps Everyone

Whether you like the idea or not, the NBA believes it is the caretaker of basketball. They have the funding, the star players and the resources to influence the game in ways almost no other single entity can.

To that end there is has been a long standing commitment from the NBA to make the game better and more accessible. The NBA spends millions on international basketball, on grass roots basketball and in support of college basketball through its funding of Team USA.

The NBA wants to improve the college game. Having players that have had more development time, coaching and exposure is good for the NBA. Having players enter the NBA slightly more polished and marketable is a good thing.

Commissioner Silver said he believes the NBA should have an advisory relationship with college basketball and said as part of a new higher age limit that maybe the NBA providing insurance and medical coverage options for players in college might be something the NBA would look at.

One idea that Silver admitted to liking was the idea of a player being able to be drafted by a NBA team, but being allowed to return to college. Currently NCAA rules prohibit a player from being eligible for college basketball if they are drafted.

It is common place in international circles that a player could enter the draft, be drafted and return to the international game until they feel they are ready for the NBA.

The NBA wants a healthy and successful college system and seems open to providing support and funding to make college better.

A “two-and-through” rule would surely benefit college basketball, but in Silver’s mind it would improve basketball in general on many fronts.

Teams Are Paying Millions On Players That Don’t Play

Outside of the maturity and social issues of drafting young players, there is an economic side too. Look down the roster of any team in the league and count how many players play little to no minutes but have large guaranteed contracts.

NBA teams are no longer drafting players that can contribute on day one. In fact, a lot of times they are drafting knowing full well a player can’t contribute in the first year at all. They are drafting players they know will need a year or two of development time and as a result veteran players that can help a team today are being hedged out in favor of guaranteed roster spots going to players that spend more time in the development process than on the floor.

Remove the teams that are clearly rebuilding this year, and look at the salary number of players that sometimes do not dress. There is a lot of money being paid to players in the NBA that do not play. Clearly that’s a team choice, but the system in place makes that choice somewhat difficult for teams trying to win now.

Some of this is on the teams for drafting them, but it’s also about the fact that so many drafted players have NBA ability, but not refined NBA skills. An additional year of college may or may not improve that, but the belief is more time in college will allow teams to scout and scrutinize players more and allow the players more time to development themselves both physically and mentally for what an 82-game season means in the NBA.

For some time there has been a lot of discussion in the NBA about making sure that the dollars spent on players is being spent on players who can play and contribute as professionals today.

The NBA’s Development League was supposed to help in this department. With the addition of an extra year needed before being NBA draft eligible there is some talk that maybe the D-League would be used more by up and coming players as a means to help them transition to the NBA more quickly.

The D-League currently allows players to enter the league right out of high school, so there are alternatives to college for those players that want to be paid to play.

As part of a compromise on an age limit, increasing the salary cap and funding of the D-League might be a reasonable trade off from the Players’ Association. Currently the D-League offers three salary slots for incoming players that range from $24,000, $21,000 and $19,000 per season. Increasing what a player can earn in the D-League might strengthen the D-League’s appeal and become a real alternative to college basketball for those players that genuinely don’t want to be college players.

Being Able To Market Your Rookies

The NBA is a business. You can never lose sight of that, especially when you are talking about broad process changes. Changing the age limit in the NBA is about business too; specifically the ability to market and promote its players and in turn convert that marketing into sales: season ticket sales, jersey sales and sponsorship sales.

The Sacramento Kings traded for college stud Jimmer Fredette, who was drafted with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. There were far better prospects on the board at #10, but Fredette’s appeal as a known commodity and a personality that could be sold, found him drafted significantly higher than maybe his basketball talents justified.

NBA teams want to be able to market their young players. They want their fans to know and understand their draft day additions. Orlando Magic fans were excited to get Victor Oladipo this past summer. He was a known commodity and it was easy for them to get excited. If you rewind to last year’s pre-draft hype the names fans talked about were Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore. They were the stars of college basketball. They were known commodities. There wasn’t a lot of hype surrounding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Tony Snell, because they were not huge national TV darlings in college.

»In Related:The History Of The Draft By Team.

Having guys play on a bigger stage for a longer period of time not only increases their probability for success on the court in the NBA, it increases their value off the court for the teams that draft them.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a great addition to the Milwaukee Bucks, but on draft night most Bucks fans couldn’t pronounce his name, let alone describe his game.

Increasing the age limit isn’t going to solve all of the problems surrounding unknown talent, but increasing the age limit will likely improve marketability for more players than not.

Thinking Big Picture

The age limit is also about the big picture. There is a social statement that says the NBA is a multi-billion dollar profession that requires maturity to be successful. How many teams are three years away because the bulk of their roster is 21 years or younger? There is a professional statement that says you have to learn to play the game before you come to the NBA. Not using your rookie scale contract as on-the-job training. There is the message to the fans that says we will draft more players that will have a chance to be successful.

The miss rates on draft picks, especially as of late, are extremely high. There are 11 players from the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft that are no longer with the teams that held their rights on opening day in October of 2011. Of those 11 two are completely out of the NBA. Five of them did not have their rookie scale contract extended. The 2010 NBA Draft gets even worse. Seven players drafted with first round picks are no longer in the NBA.

The best way for a franchise to struggle to succeed is missing on first round draft picks. Teams that have sustained success tend to hit on more picks, especially late first round picks. Again some of that is on the teams and the executives making the decisions, but there is a real belief that the longer a players plays, the more you can learn about him both as a player and a person.

How differently does Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart look as a NBA prospect today, after two years of college basketball scrutiny than he did after one season of college basketball?

You may not agree with the concept of an age limit in basketball, but when you hear the conversation about it understand that it’s really not a discussion about ability to play. It’s about making sure that the NBA is giving players a chance to be successful. The belief, right or wrong, is that a more mature player will have a better opportunity to succeed, develop the tools needed to handle the burdens of being an athlete away from the court, be more open to coaching and structure and be able to do more with his fame.

A new, tougher age limit won’t solve all the NBA problems, especially not all their draft-related problems, but like all rules the broader scope of the change is about making the game better for the fans. Better for the teams and better for the players.

No one has a right to play in the NBA. The NBA choses very selectively who gets in and who does not. There are high paying jobs playing basketball all over the world. The NBA views itself as the elite of the elite and restrictions on entry are simply part of that process. Whether a kid wants to go to college or not is completely his choice, but it’s clear that the NBA is moving towards a 20-year old age limit in the NBA, so you might as well get used to the idea because its coming.

» Have your own thoughts on the NBA’s age limit and the possible change to a new 20-year old limit? Drop them in the comment section below.

Demps Talks Pierre and The Future:  The New Orleans Pelicans were supposed to be better than they have been this season. Some of it can be blamed on injuries, some of it on so many lineup combinations and some of it on personnel and coaching.

Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps sat down with Pelicans broadcaster Sean Kelley and covered a number of topics including the injury status of several Pelican players, what the team plans to do with D-League sanitation Pierre Jackson and a lot more. Here are some of the highlights.

“Coming into the season we knew we had a lot of new faces and we put in a lot of new parts. We wanted to see how they would gel together,” Demps said. “My thinking was, let’s see how the first 15-20 games, let’s see how this group looks and then Ryan (Anderson) breaks his toe so you don’t really get a true evaluation. Tyreke (Evans) comes in and doesn’t get to play in the preseason because of his ankle. Then we got the group together and we go on a stretch and we go 12-10. We are feeling pretty good. We are thinking like we are going to make some noise and then the next thing you know, the injury bug hits us. Ryan gets the injury then Jrue gets the injury and Jason (Smith) and Tyreke and then bam, you lose nine in a row.

“I thought we had just gotten right back in that mix and we are about to make a run and the injuries hit us. It has been unfortunate. I still want to see this group play together. I believe in this group and we still want to add more pieces to this group. I think we are a fun group to watch. We are explosive. We can score a lot of points and I think moving forward we want to add a couple more pieces on the perimeter and interior and improve our defense. I think we will be able to score with anyone in the league.”

The Pelicans have lost both forward Ryan Anderson (herniated disc) and guard Jrue Holiday (fractured shin) for the balance of the season. Their future going forward is still a little cloudy according to Demps.

“We are hoping by the end of the week to get a little more clarity on those guys,” Demps said. “They are tough injuries, one with a tibia and the other with a herniated disc with Ryan. We have been getting some checkups. He has gone through some testing. He has done some light workouts, a little bit on the bicycle and treadmill kind of things. He has another test coming up at the end of this week and the same with Jrue. The tibia is a tough thing. It is one of those injuries where for the lay person I will say it is right on the shin and you are wondering has it healed. Will it heal? Do you need surgery? Those decisions we think will be made in the upcoming days.”

»In Related:The New Orleans Pelicans Team Salary.

Demps admits he received a ton of phone calls around the NBA trade deadline and holding firm wasn’t easy.

“Whenever you make a trade on the most part, you are trading an asset for an asset, a player for a player,” Demps said. “That is the first way of looking at it.

“If you trade a guard for a center or a small forward for a guard, on the most part you are keeping pretty even. Now every once and while there is going to be a trade where it is a home run where guys say ‘man he made this trade for this player for that player, how did that happen?’ But that’s rare.

“A second way of looking at it is, sometimes a team will give up an asset to acquire talent. A good example would be is that if you give up a draft pick and you might take on a player for that draft pick. Now you added talent and the other team added an asset for the future. A lot of times those things happen. I think for us at this trade deadline we were only looking to add to our core. We weren’t really looking to make any adjustments. We were looking to add. We didn’t want to give up any more assets to acquire any more players at this point. We did that last summer. We gave up a draft pick in this upcoming draft to acquire Jrue Holiday. We feel like Jrue Holiday is going to be our point guard for the future. We have him under contract for four years and we hope that he grows old here and his kids graduate from high school in New Orleans. We didn’t feel comfortable giving up any more assets for players at this time.”

One of the assets other teams were calling about was former Baylor guard Pierre Jackson, who the Pelicans hold the draft right to.

“Pierre is a player that we acquired on draft day last year. The kid had some bad luck to start with,” Demps said. “When we acquired him, we were stacked at the point guard position. Before we drafted him, we had conversations with him asking, ‘If we did draft you, we don’t know where you would fit on this year’s roster. Would you want to go overseas?’ He said yes.

“When we drafted him, we asked him to play summer league, but because of the trade he wasn’t cleared to play summer league until the third game. He didn’t get to come to the practices. Some guys had practiced for four or five days and they had a couple of games. We kind of just threw him into the fire. Then he catches pink eye, so he misses the next two days recovering from that and he comes back for the last game. He didn’t get a good opportunity to show what he could do. Like I said, our roster was filled at the time with guards, so he would end up going overseas, got homesick, came home, went to the D-league, and has played great. He’s had a number of 40-point games and even a 58-point game. We’ve been monitoring. I’ve even watch him play. We’ve sent some of our scouts and management personnel to watch him as well. We’ve been in constant communication with his representatives and with Pierre. Recently, he just signed a deal to go to one of the top teams in Europe. He’s going to go play for a team named Fenerbahçe in Turkey, which is arguably one of the top five teams in Europe. He’s already left; he’s in Turkey right now. We will continue to monitor him over there. Our plan moving forward with him is that he plans to play summer league with us this summer. I think that as we’re putting our roster together, we’ll get a true evaluation of where he fits in with us.”

The Pelicans traded their first round pick, top five protected, to the Philadelphia 76ers to obtain Jrue Holiday, so the plan all along was for Jackson to possibly be that kind of talent infusion for the team next season.

“When we talked to him last year about going overseas for a year, that was the plan, “ Demps said. “(It was), ‘Hey, we’re not going to have a draft pick next year to draft. He’s going to be our draft pick.’ He’s still a young player, you love his story. Coming out of high school not highly recruited, goes to junior college, plays great in junior college, goes to Baylor. I still remember the first time I saw him play. I went to watch a number of players at Baylor – they had four potential first round picks on their roster. I remember walking out of the practice and saying that he was the best player on the floor. Going to a couple of games, I kept saying he was the best player on the floor. He ended up being the Big 12 player of the year, leading the league in scoring and assists. He’s done a magnificent job of, every place he’s gone, he’s played well and his teams have won.”

The Pelicans are currently 26-37 on the season and a full 11 games out of the playoff picture in the west with 19 games left on the schedule. While not technically eliminated from the post-season, their odds of reaching the eight seed are astronomically low. So the balance of the season in New Orleans will be about development time and their younger guys on the roster.

»In Related:The 2014-2015 NBA Free Agents.

The Pelicans have $54.08 million in guaranteed salary commitments next season and are looking at roughly $8 million in useable cap space. The Pelicans do have a couple of key free agents which likely will bite into that number including forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith as well as center Greg Stiemsma.

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.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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2017-18 NBA Report Card: Third-Year Players

Among the third-year players a few budding superstars have emerged, along with some role players who are helping their teams in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs.

Mike Yaffe

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The 2015 NBA Draft has provided the league with a limited quantity of talent so far. After Terry Rozier (at 16th), it’s unlikely that anyone remaining has All-Star potential. Despite the lack of depth, the highest draft slot traded was at number 15, when the Atlanta Hawks moved down to enable the Washington Wizards to select Kelly Oubre Jr.

But placing a definitive “boom” or “bust” label on these athletes might be premature as the rookie contract is standardized at four seasons with an option for a fifth. If their employers are given a fourth year to decide whether a draftee is worth keeping, it seems reasonable to earmark the NBA Juniors’ progress for now and see how they’ve fared after next season’s campaign before making their letter grades official.

The Top Dogs

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Given the dearth of premier choices and their glaring need up front, it’s hard to envision the T-Wolves drafting anyone but KAT if they had to do it again. Although his scoring average is down from last season (21.3 vs. 25.1 PPG), that trend could be explained by the addition of Jimmy Butler and the team’s deliberate pace (24th out of 30 teams).

To his credit, Towns had career highs in three-point percentage (42.1 percent) and free throws (85.8 percent), while finishing second overall in offensive rating (126.7). His continued improvement in these areas could explain why the Timberwolves ended their 14-year playoff drought.

Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: Although he was a 2014 draft pick, Jokić’s NBA debut was delayed due to his last year of commitment to the Adriatic League. His productivity as a rookie was limited by both foul trouble and a logjam at the center position, but he still managed 10.0 PPG.

With Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic off the depth chart, Jokić became the clear-cut starter this season and rewarded Denver’s confidence by averaging 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. And by chipping in 6.1 APG, he provides rare value as a center with triple-double potential.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Although he has never played a full season since joining the league, Porzingis has provided enough evidence that he can be a force when healthy. Before his junior campaign was derailed, the Latvian was enjoying career highs of 22.7 PPG and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.

Unfortunately, the Knicks haven’t provided much support at point guard to help with Porzingis’ development. Trey Burke looked impressive down the stretch in Zinger’s absence, but that was in a score-first capacity. Meanwhile, both Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay have underwhelmed. On the plus side, Porzingis’ outside ability paired nicely in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, who prefers to bully his way underneath.

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Like Porzingis, Booker’s third year in the NBA was cut short by injuries, but that didn’t stop him from achieving career highs in points (24.9 per game), assists (4.7) and three-pointers (38.3 percent) on an otherwise moribund Suns team. Indeed, cracking the 40-point barrier three times in 54 contests was an achievement in and of itself.

While his short-term prospects would’ve been far better on a team like the Philadelphia Sixers (who might have taken him instead of Jahlil Okafor in a re-draft), Booker can still become a franchise cornerstone for the Suns if they are able to build around a young core that also includes T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.

Solid Potential

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Despite an inconsistent freshman season at Texas, Turner has become a stabilizing influence at center for the Pacers, whose blueprint consists of surrounding a go-to scorer with role players. While he hasn’t shown drastic improvement in any particular area, he has produced double-digit PPG averages all three years as a pro.

Although Turner’s shot-blocking ability fuels his reputation as a defensive maven, the reality is his 104.8 defensive rating (which is just OK) was skewed by his 110.9 d-rating in losses (it was 100.8 in wins). In order to merit consideration for the NBA’s all-defensive team, he will need to bridge the gap in this discrepancy and impact his team’s ability to win more games in the process.

D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Following their respective trades, Russell has fared better in the Big Apple than his 2015 lottery counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to cut bait to draft Lonzo Ball. While Ball has shown promise as a rookie, the Lakers’ perception of Russell may have been premature, as the former Buckeye has stabilized a Nets backcourt that had been characterized more by athleticism than consistency.

Despite missing a significant stretch of mid-season games, Russell provided similar numbers for Brooklyn to that of his sophomore season; but without a pick until number 29 in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets will have to bank on improved production from DLo and his raw teammates to contend for the eight-seed in the East.

Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics: Injuries have paved the way for Rozier to showcase his talent, most recently with a 23-point, 8-assist effort in game two against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Rozier was already making headlines as a fill-in for Kyrie Irving whenever he was injured. Now that the starting point guard reins have been handed to the former mid-round pick, he has become one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season.

The biggest impediment to Rozier’s success might be the regression to limited playing time once Irving returns. While the Celtics could “sell high” and trade Rozier on the basis of his recent performances, they may opt to retain him as insurance while he is still cap-friendly.

Best of the Rest

Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: Following the trade deadline, Nance has provided a spark for a Cavs frontcourt that has been bereft of viable options aside from Kevin Love.

Josh Richardson, Miami HEAT: A jack-of-all-trades at the small forward position, Richardson has evolved into a three-and-D player that has meshed well with the HEAT’s shut-down focus.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Thrust into the starting center role after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, WCS has provided serviceable (albeit unspectacular) play as the next man up.

Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: A key contributor for the East’s top seed, Wright was instrumental in the Raptors’ game one victory over the Washington Wizards with 18 points off the bench.

Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: The former Razorback has flashed double-double potential, but playing time at his true position (power forward) has been limited by the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen.

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NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers

The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.

Steve Kyler

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Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers

While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.

It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.

So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.

Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.

The Potential Future All-Stars

DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters

Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players

Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs

The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust

Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs

Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.

If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.

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

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NBA Daily: Darius Adams, Around The World In Seven Years

CBA superstar Darius Adams talks to Basketball Insiders about dominating in China, playing with Andray Blatche and trying to prove himself.

Ben Nadeau

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Darius Adams is just like every other professional basketball player.

Every year, he works hard, tries to improve and be the best teammate possible. One day, Adams would like to earn his first-ever NBA contract, but after seven long years, he’s always fallen just short. Adams is just like you and me too — forever chasing his dreams even when the outlook is at its bleakest. But Adams’ worldwide journey has taken him from Indianapolis to China and nearly everywhere in between.

Now with a chunk of money saved up, Adams is ready to bet on himself and finally make this at-home ambition come true. Ahead lies a summer of grueling workouts and undetermined futures, but eventually, you learn to stop betting against Adams. From Los Prados to Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, Adams has made a habit of proving the naysayers wrong. As if dropping 38 points per game in China wasn’t difficult enough — Adams still must undergo his toughest challenge yet: Changing the mind of an NBA front office.

But before you can know where Adams is going, it’s just as important to understand where he’s been.

*****

Darius Adams got a late start to basketball. He never played AAU, the so-called holy grail for teenage prospects, and told me that he learned the game by watching streetball in Decatur, Illinois. So by the time he fell in love with basketball, Adams was forced to take alternate routes to the top. He spent two years in the NJCAA with Lincoln College, a small, private liberal arts school approximately 33 miles away from home. During that second season, Adams averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor — but it wasn’t enough to make the jump to a Division-I school.

After transferring to the University of Indianapolis, Adams continued to improve in each successive campaign. As a senior, he topped out with a 41-point effort against Illinois at Springfield and tallied 23.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Adams still went undrafted in 2011, officially setting off a globe-spanning adventure that would make Phileas Fogg blush.

From China to Ukraine, Adams has played in seven different countries in as many years, also adding stops in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, France, Germany and Spain along the way. Adams may have turned 29 years-old this week, but he’s never considered giving up his dreams of playing in the NBA.

“That’s the goal, that’s always been my motivation,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “I just played my hardest and kept progressing, that was my thing — I didn’t want to be content with: ‘OK, you’re playing pro.’ I want to play at the highest level, I feel like I have the talent to play at the highest level.

“At the end of the day, I just need that opportunity.”

Opportunity is a word that has come to define Adams in many ways.

Beyond that, it’s something that has constantly eluded him, even as he began winning in bigger and better leagues. Despite all his international successes, including a EuroLeague Final Four appearance and a CBA championship, Adams has been unable to turn that into an NBA contract. As far as he can tell, it’s a matter of both perception and timing.

The perception of overseas athletes, particularly those that compete in China, has always been a hot-button issue. For as long as Americans have played in the CBA, there’s an unspoken expectation that they should dominate. Generalizations abound, if you’re from the United States and not dominating in China, there’s a low chance of earning an NBA deal. But sometimes, even topping the CBA charts still isn’t enough. This season, Adams averaged a league-leading 38.7 points and added 8.4 assists (2nd-best), 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals (3rd-best) per contest for good measure. On one hand, there’s the stat-padding, empty type of scoring and then there’s this: Absolute annihilation.

But those misconceptions about Chinese basketball often remain an unforgiving roadblock for many. Heck, even Adams had them before he signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers two years ago.

“It’s different, my perception was that there would be a lot of short guys that couldn’t play,” Adams said. “Actually, I was probably one of the shortest guys out there, as far as basketball players, and they got skills. They don’t get tired and they’re going to guard you tough, maybe they’re not as skilled as [Americans] are — but they got heart.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but they impressed me.”

And although Adams experienced his fallacies in real-time, he’s still waiting for the rest of the NBA to catch up.

Of course, Adams wasn’t the only American to tear up the CBA this season. Three other Americans, Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson and MarShon Brooks, earned NBA deals this month. That trio of players all put up gaudy statistical lines as well, but none nearly as high as Adams’. Then there’s the case of Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star that moved to China back in 2010, transforming his fringe-status career into a rejuvenated international icon. Marbury’s off-the-court philanthropy and three CBA championships speak for themselves, but Adams is often left wondering why it can’t work the other way around.

“You start questioning yourself, like: ‘What’s the reason why you’re not getting this opportunity?’” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Some of the teams [I’ve worked out for] come back and say, ‘Well, he hasn’t had NBA experience.’ But when am I going to get my NBA experience if I never get my chance?”

*****

The other frustrating factor for players like Adams to navigate is timing — and as he put it, timing is everything.

To his credit, Adams has never shied away from a challenge or attempted to outmaneuver anybody on this long-winding journey. When he goes to workouts, Adams tells franchises that he’d be more than happy to go against their top guys — however, whenever, or whatever it takes. He’s impressed during private workouts before, but his most recent chance came just as Adams was getting ready to fly back to China for another season. Timing, again, had failed him.

Between workouts too late in the offseason or contracts that needed to be honored, the timing just hasn’t quite worked out for Adams. And it’s not for a lack of trying either — Adams has played two years of summer league (one with the Nets, one with the Mavericks), initially tried his hand at the D-League in 2011 and spends every offseason carefully deciding where to go next.

But when he made the all-important choice to jump from Spain to China in 2016, it wasn’t without a plan.

“Honestly, when I left Spain, I was nervous to go to China because the fans were like, ‘You’re gonna hurt your career, basketball is not as good [there] as it is in Europe,’” Adams said. “So I had that in the back in my mind. Me and my agent had a plan that I’d go to China — the CBA season is way shorter than the European leagues — and then I’d come back in six, seven months and hopefully get on a roster before the end of the season.”

It’s difficult to measure the merits of a big-time scorer overseas, particularly so in China, but Adams has now undoubtedly smashed through his ceiling. For a kid that once started out at a tiny college in Illinois, Adams followed up his Finals MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17 by nearly averaging a 40-point double-double this year. And although he challenged himself to diversify his game between those back-to-back Chinese seasons, he never once thought he would do… well, that.

“I didn’t go into the season wanting to be the leading scorer, I just wanted to win games and another championship,” Adams said. “We had a lot of adversity this season because my teammate, Andray Blatche, got injured early and the offensive role changed to me. Going against double-teams, triple-teams, that was the challenging part, because I knew my team needed me. Dealing with the adversity, it was challenging — but if you put me up to the test, I’m always going to prove myself.”

Although Andray Blatche isn’t a name heard often these days, he’s certainly well-remembered for his time in the NBA. Over his nine-year career, Blatche played for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before heading overseas to China in 2014. While he, too, was part of the winning squad that brought the Flying Tigers their first-ever championship in 2017, Adams has also used the 6-foot-11 power forward like a soundboard. Frequently peppering him with questions about life in the NBA, Adams has nothing but adoration for Blatche, whom he now considers a close friend.

“I asked him what it was like to play with DWill, KG, how were the locker rooms, what were the practices like — but he also helped me see different things on the court,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Or, like, OK, I might be frustrated and in a bad place, he’d be like, ‘OK, D, you gotta let it go, you’re the leader of the team’ and things like that. Whenever I was down, he was there — he helped me out with being in China, adjusting to the food, where to go, he treated me like a little brother, actually.”

In order to make that second season in China count, Adams decided to focus on his untapped playmaking side, increasing his assist tally from 5.9 to that aforementioned 8.4 per game. For a while, he even thought that might’ve been why he hadn’t earned a 10-day contract yet, so into the grinder it went. Additionally, Adams dared himself to become a locker room leader, the kind of vocal, lead-by-example veteran that any franchise would value.

If the jaw-dropping statistics weren’t going to pave his path to the NBA, Adams was convinced he could find another way to grab front office attention.

“Right now, I’m already developed and can help [teams] win,” Adams said. “I haven’t reached my peak, I can still learn new things and keep progressing the same way. I’m already starting higher in the learning curve [than most young players] — but I’m also a good leader. I can be a scorer, I can be a defensive guy, I got all those qualities — I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can help.”

*****

But as his season drew to a close in March (the sixth-seeded Flying Tigers were knocked out in the quarterfinals) Adams was, once again, without an NBA contract. In what Adams is now deeming one of the most important summers of his life, he’s going all-in on himself. Previously, Adams couldn’t ignore those lucrative million-dollar-plus deals, he had a family to look out for, after all. To him, it was a risk that he couldn’t take until this very moment. Sure, he could hit the G-League again — although he tried out for two teams, the Iowa Energy and Canton Charge, after going undrafted and was not selected — but there’s little money in that method.

Granted, Adams has always been motivated and hungry, but he’s got an extra push this time around.

“I’m going to all these different countries, I’m playing in their country — so why can’t play in my country?” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “If I’m one of the top players, how come I can’t get an opportunity in my country? Staying home, so my family can see me. My family has never seen me play overseas, only videos. You see all these other stories, like the guy that just played for the Lakers [Andre Ingram] — it took him ten years! It shows you to just never give up — all you need is an opportunity.

“I always tell my mom, my family, my kids that this year is gonna be the year. I’m gonna get my opportunity and I’mma be playing at home — daddy’s gonna be playing at home.”

Adams has always been a late bloomer — he’s forever the product of a once-raw teenager with no AAU experience. He’ll always be the barely 6-foot point guard that jumped into the NCJAA, quickly validated himself and then excelled in Division-II as well. But if you’re looking for a reason to disparage Adams’ hopes and dreams, you need not look further than this. How could somebody with those glaring blemishes ever play at the NBA level and against the best the sport has to offer?

Lest you forget, however, Adams is also the guy that will never stop fighting or believing in himself. Adams is the one that averaged 18 points in Ukraine and Germany and didn’t settle. The higher he climbed, the better he got. When he aced the test in France, he went to Spain and then got all of this. When Adams needed to adapt and change his game depending on the surrounding roster or culture — he did that too. But most importantly, Adams is tired of playing from behind and tired of missing his young family’s most key moments.

And now, with a whole offseason ahead of him, Adams is ready to do something about it once and for all.

“I’m staying prepared for whenever they have an opportunity, I’m betting on myself this whole summer and really taking a chance,” Adams said. “This year, I have enough saved up to really bet on myself. So, the goal is to just go to these workouts, get in front of these guys and show ‘em what I can do.

“That’s all I’ve ever needed, I don’t want anybody to just hand over a contract — I want to prove myself. I feel like I can make an impact — if you don’t think so, put me up against your guys and I’ll prove it.”

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