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NBA PM: Analyzing Prospects in 2017 Draft

Jake Rauchbach breaks down some of the top prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft class.

Jake Rauchbach

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The NBA season is underway, and rookies around the league are looking to live up to lofty expectations. As they get adjusted to the league, there is another crop of very talented youngsters with their eye on making the leap to the NBA. The 2017 draft class has several players who seem poised to eventually make a huge impact after their names are called in the draft.

The 2017 class is full of talent so let’s take a look at some of these players and how their skill sets cmight transition to the next level.

Markelle Fultz

Freshman, Point Guard, Washington

Stats: 22.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.6 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 54% FG, 48% 3PT

Comparison: Brandon Roy/C.J. McCollum

Fultz is putting up the most impressive stats so far this season and a number of credible mock drafts have him projected as the top overall pick. He is shooting 54 percent from the field and 48 percent from three while carrying most of Washington’s scoring load. Fultz reminds many of a combination of Brandon Roy and C.J. McCollum because of his smooth game. The 6’5, 185-pound point guard is a slender scorer, who excels in the open court and off the dribble by using change of pace and craftiness in ball-screen action to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. His size should also create mismatches against opposing point guards. Also, Fultz’s size allows him to be a strong rebounder from the guard position. Fultz is an improving shooter, who has the ability to stretch the defense with solid catch-and-shoot opportunities. In the mid-range, Fultz looks to get his pull-up and will use step back/spin variations to get into his shot. He also adds good vision and solid passing ability to his offensive repertoire. On the defensive end, Fultz uses his size and anticipation to apply ball pressure, “down” ball screen action, and hit the gap for steals. If the 18-year-old can improve his sense of urgency, look out. If he can continue to produce the way that he has thus far, many believe Fultz will be a lock for a top pick come draft day.

Harry Giles

Freshman, Power Forward, Duke University

Stats: N/A

Comparison: Chris Webber

Prior to a series of knee injuries, Giles seemed like a lock to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. The versatile forward has a great motor and an impressive frame to match. Standing 6’10 and weighing in at 230 pounds, Giles runs the floor like a deer and plays above the rim. He also has the ability to rebound on one end and go the length of the floor off the dribble to either score it for himself or set up his teammate. His rebounding really sets him apart from other players in this class. His ability to get off of his feet quickly, his 7’3 wingspan and his jumping ability allow him to attack both the offensive and defensive glass and grab rebounds that would be out of range for most players. Giles has the potential to eventually be one of the better rebounders in the league. His athleticism gives him the ability to guard perimeter forwards and also match up against true centers in the post. Offensively, Giles has developed strong left shoulder finishes and has the ability to turn over his right shoulder to finish via hook shoot. He also mixes in an array of push shots and floaters around the basket. At times, he lacks poise and rushes post and perimeter moves, which cause him to make too many unforced errors and miss shots. On the perimeter, Giles is still developing and currently is mostly a straight line driver with a tendency to hard drive right. He is fairly effective shooting the ball out to 15-feet, but struggles beyond the three-point line. Giles has a lot of room for improvement. Look for him to continue to refine his offensive game. If he can stay healthy, his natural skill set, athleticism and size give him a chance to make a huge impact in the NBA.

Josh Jackson

Freshman, Small Forward, Kansas

Stats: 14 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 50.6% FG

Comparison: Andrew Wiggins

Jackson made an immediate impact for the Jayhawks this season. The long and wiry, 6’8, 203-pound freshman’s build and game mirrors that of former Kansas prodigy Andrew Wiggins. Because of his raw athleticism and frame, Jackson fits the Wiggins’ mold. He is still developing many parts of his game, like his ability to remain disciplined on the defensive and offensive ends of the floor. His decision-making and poise are sometimes questionable. However, his overall potential and ceiling has NBA executives salivating. Jackson uses his explosiveness to slash to the basket and can do so either off the dribble or via ball-screen action. Off the ball, Jackson does a good job running off screens and freeing himself up. Jackson may do some of his best work in transition, where he uses his length and speed to slash to the rim. One of Jackson’s greatest attributes is his competitiveness, which especially benefits him on the defensive end and on the glass. Despite being slightly undisciplined, which sometimes gets him out of position at times, Jackson shows great potential on defense. His length, lateral quickness and versatility allow him to guard multiple positions. At this stage in his progression, Jackson tends to be a streaky shooter. However, as he becomes more consistent, this will help him round out his game even further. As Jackson’s feel for the game improves, so will his overall game. He could be scary good considering all the tools he already possesses. Jackson has a chance to be a very high pick in the upcoming draft.

Frank Ntilikina

Point Guard, Strasbourg, Germany

Stats: 4.4 PPG, 5.1 APG, 59% FG, 50% 3PT

Comparison: Dennis Schroder/Devin Harris

Ntilikina is a pass-first point guard with a good feel for the game and an incredible 6’11 wing span. He combines his length with solid lead guard skills and an explosive first step. Ntilikina also has an excellent handle and good decision-making skills. Because of this, he is highly effective distributing the ball out of ball-screen action. Ntilikina does an effective job getting to the rim and finishing. At this point in his career, Ntilikina is a capable shooter who finds rhythm in his shot off of the dribble. His length, athleticism and tenaciousness give Ntilikina the potential to be an elite-level defender in the league. However, the 18-year-old still struggles with shooting consistency and, at times, looks like he doesn’t trust his outside shot. It also looks like Ntilikina will have the chance to to put on more muscle, which is a plus because he currently struggles with contact. Because of his skinny frame, Ntilikina also struggles with his post defense. For Ntilikina to really take his next step in his progression, he will need to work on his body and improve his shooting ability. Despite some of the flaws in his game, Ntilikina has the upside NBA general managers are looking for in the draft.

Dennis Smith Jr.

Freshman, Point Guard, N.C. State

Stats: 18.3 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 40.9% FG

Comparison: Steve Francis/Jeff Teague

Smith can score the ball as an explosive 6’3 combo guard and he’s looking to help put N.C. State back in the ACC Championship hunt. Smith relies on his elite athleticism to play above the rim, change directions and get by defenders off the dribble. He also uses his explosiveness on defense to pester opposing ball handlers. Offensively, he combines his slashing with a solid mid-range game comprised of pull-ups and floaters, which make Smith a potent scorer. Smith jumps high enough to finish over defenders and he’s also strong enough to finish through contact as well. Smith tore his ACL and underwent surgery prior to his senior season in high school. Because of his average size and his reliance on athleticism, his ability to remain healthy may be a concern for NBA teams. Smith is not consistent enough from the perimeter yet, which at times makes him a tentative outside shooter. In ball-screen action, Smith struggles to make the defense pay when opponents go under the screen. His decision-making is somewhat questionable as well. Smith has the potential to become a solid starter and maybe even a potential All-Star in the NBA.

Which 2017 draft prospects have impressed you? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.

After playing four years of college basketball at Drexel University, Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach writes about the NBA and college basketball for Basketball Insiders and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University's men's basketball team.

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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