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NBA PM: Executives in Love With Joel Embiid

NBA executives love Joel Embiid and he may end up being the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft … LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant tonight

Alex Kennedy

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Several months ago, nobody thought that Joel Embiid would be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He wasn’t even expected to be the No. 1 prospect on Kansas’ campus.

In a loaded draft class that’s expected to include potential stars Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart and Dante Exum among others, Embiid was an afterthought prior to the start of the season. After all, the Cameroonian seven-footer just started playing organized basketball in late 2011. Whenever Embiid’s name did come up, the word “raw” was sure to follow.

However, 20 games later, Embiid has been a monster. He has developed much quicker than expected, showing significant progress from game to game. He’s averaging 11.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 22.5 minutes while shooting 66.7 percent from the field.

Embiid has shown glimpses of brilliance throughout the season. Two weeks ago, he had 16 points, nine rebounds, five blocks and two steals in a win over No. 8 Iowa State. The very next game, Embiid nearly recorded a triple-double in a win over No. 9 Oklahoma State, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. It’s remarkable how far he has come as a player in such a short amount of time.

NBA scouts and executives are blown away by the center’s development. Many teams now view Embiid as the best prospect in the 2014 NBA Draft. Some are so high on the center that they say the gap between Embiid and the rest of the pack – Wiggins, Parker, Randle, Smart, Exum, etc. – is significant. That’s why Embiid has climbed to No. 1 in most mock drafts in recent weeks. More and more teams are moving the big man up their draft board, and believe he has the highest ceiling of all the 2014 prospects.

This would’ve sounded crazy until very recently, but NBA decision-makers have fallen in love with Embiid. When an executive starts talking about things they like about Embiid, they can go on forever. They drool over his graceful movements, soft touch, exceptional footwork, incredible instincts, high basketball IQ, 7’5 wingspan, extraordinary athleticism and, of course, limitless potential. He’s drawn comparisons to Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, which may seem crazy, but you can’t help but notice a lot of The Dream’s traits in Embiid when watching him play.

In 2011, Embiid played organized basketball for the first time when Luc Richard Mbah a Moute traveled to his native Cameroon to hold a basketball camp. Embiid hadn’t even watched much basketball at that point, but he was able to pick up on the game quickly.

According to Jason King of Bleacher Report, Embiid was able to translate skills he learned from other sports over to basketball. His footwork was honed on the soccer field, while his aggression and blocking ability originated on the volleyball court. Embiid’s father, Thomas, actually wanted his son to pursue a professional volleyball career in Europe, and had to be persuaded to let his son attend Mbah a Moute’s alma mater, Montverde Academy, to pursue his professional basketball dreams.

At this point, it’s looking like Mr. Embiid made the right decision. If his son is the top pick in this year’s draft, Embiid would make $4,592,200 in his first year and potentially more than $20 million on his first contract. Embiid is a strong candidate for the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and he won’t slip much further if another prospect ends up going first overall.

Not bad for a kid who just recently started taking basketball seriously.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant Set to Face Off

Tonight on ESPN, LeBron James’ Miami HEAT and Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder will go head-to-head, putting arguably the two best basketball players on the planet against one another. Both players are looking forward to the match-up.

“Oh yeah, it’s a challenge,” James said of covering Durant, according to Fox Sports. “It’s not secondary it’s first-dary. He’s one of the toughest coverages. It’s between him and (Carmelo Anthony) for me individually. It’s a game within a game. You want to win, but you also want to try to do your part in who you’re going against. I like going against the best and K.D.’s definitely up there.”

“I’m looking forward to just going up against him,” Durant said James, according to NewsOK.com. “Everybody wants to see the one-on-one matchup. I know that’s the big thing. But we’re going to matchup together, so I’m sure you guys are going to get what you want. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the Thunder versus the HEAT, and it’s going to be fun playing against them.”

James said that it’s impossible to guard Durant one-on-one, which Durant said was “flattering.” Durant returned the compliment, saying that James is one of the most difficult players to cover in the league.

“He’s a tough guy to cover,” Durant said. “But I’m going to go out there and play with extreme effort every play and just give it my all and rely on my teammates. I know I can’t do nothing on this court by myself. I just got to rely on my teammates.”

Right now, Durant and James are locked in a race for this season’s Most Valuable Player award. James has taken home the trophy in four of the past five season, with Durant finishing second three times. Both players downplayed the importance of winning MVP.

“It doesn’t rank too much,” James said. “It’s a great accomplishment and I thank my teammates every time I get a chance to be part of that. But like I said, I love being the MVP of our team. If it results in me being MVP of the league from among your peers, it’s a great achievement.”

“You guys pump that up,” Durant said of the media hyping up the MVP race. “Fans pump that up more than the players, I think. Every day is a process for me. I’m just trying to work every single day to get better. And at the end of the year, I guess, we’ll see where we’re at. But every single day, I just try not to look past it and just keep working and see where we are. I try not to worry about that because I can’t control none of that. All I can control is how I play, how I approach the game and how I prepare and the rest will take care of itself.”

This season, James is averaging 26 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists. Durant is averaging 31.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Lessons From The 2018 NBA Draft

After a wild 2018 NBA Draft, here are four lessons and storylines worth watching over the next few years.

Ben Nadeau

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Now that the dust has settled on an unpredictable NBA Draft — what exactly have we learned? In amongst the unrelenting rumors, refused workouts and surprise reaches, there are a few key takeaways from Brooklyn. Of course, some of these are one-off instances, but others are definitely part of modern-day draft patterns. While draft night may sometimes seem like complete chaos or chance, each scenario on this rundown has been boiling over for weeks. Between passing on a talented prospect to letting an injured one slide, here are four important lessons from the 2018 NBA Draft.

Luka Dončić… Not The No. 1?

For months and months, it appeared as if Luka Dončić was poised to become the No. 1 overall pick in this draft. Even today, it’s hard to believe that somebody with Dončić’s age and resume wasn’t the top selection. In 2017-18 alone, the Slovenian took home EuroLeague MVP and Finals MVP plus ACB MVP, with championships in both leagues to boot — but here we are. Dončić averaged 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals over just 25 minutes per game, quickly transforming into the most well-rounded overseas prospect of all-time. But as impressive as Dončić was throughout the spring, the potential ceilings of both DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III eventually won out.

At 7-foot-1, Ayton’s 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game were undeniably worthy of a top selection too, pairing well alongside Devin Booker and Josh Jackson for the foreseeable future. While the jury is still out on Bagley III — his defense needs some major fine-tuning — he won’t take key touches away from De’Aaron Fox either. More or less, nobody wants to be the organization to miss on such a franchise-altering pick. The Suns, Kings and even the Hawks may eventually regret passing on Dončić, but when general managers’ entire careers can depend on making the right choice at the right time, it’s not difficult to understand why the top of the draft unfolded as it did.

Playing Hard To Get Doesn’t Always Work Out…

As draft boards began to take shape, there was one particularly interesting situation sitting at No. 4 overall. Jaren Jackson Jr., solidly leading the second tier of prospects, was looking like a lock at the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick — but with one major caveat: Jackson Jr. reportedly didn’t work out or give his medical information to the franchise. After he was drafted, Jackson Jr. called those rumors “a tad out of context” — but, obviously, those are some massive red flags. Either way, Memphis went with their gut and selected the talented forward anyway.

But beyond all that, Memphis absolutely made the right move by sticking to their guns. Putting a modern three-point shooting, defensive-minded athlete next to Marc Gasol should prove to be an absolute nightmare for years to come. Naturally, Jackson Jr. will get plenty of easy looks from the stellar Mike Conley Jr. too — so if the draftee was once apprehensive, surely that will pass soon. Still, it reflects on a larger NBA pattern, wherein which prospective athletes sensibly look to mold their own path out of college. With players trying to control their draft narratives more than ever, it’s reassuring to see that some franchises will take their target first and then figure out the rest.

We may never know Jackson Jr.’s full thought process behind not working out for the Grizzlies, but there’s a great chance that the former Spartan was made for Memphis’ tough brand of basketball — and we should all be glad we’ll get to see it.

…But Injuries Will Lead To A Slide

Michael Porter Jr. — what a year for him, huh?

After missing out on much of his only collegiate season due to back surgery, Porter Jr. promised that he was feeling better than ever. But over the last month, scouts and front offices were treated to canceled workouts and hazy uncertainty. And, at the end of the day, it probably scared a handful of franchises away from the talented scorer. Just this week, the Kings heavily considered Porter Jr. at No. 2 overall — but even with that sudden unlikelihood passing by, few thought he’d drop out of the top ten altogether. Outside of the guaranteed money that Porter Jr. will miss out on, redshirting his rookie year may also be on the table as well.

The inherent upside with Porter Jr. is obvious, but — similarly to the Dončić issue — it’s tough to ask franchise officials to stake their livelihood on the prospect’s health. If Porter Jr.’s lingering issues stay with him and he never reaches his mountain of potential, that’s a tough pill to swallow. The 19-year-old would fall all the way down to No. 14, where the Denver Nuggets gladly scooped him up. During the combine in May, Porter Jr. called himself the best player in the draft — but it’s now up to him to prove them all wrong.

The Mysterious Men Nearly Miss Out

Let’s rewind to early April. Villanova had been just crowned NCAA champions for the second time in three years, the NBA playoffs were soundly on the horizon and mock drafts had begun to consistently pour out. Early on, there were two athletic big men that looked like shoo-ins as first-rounders: Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson. Despite their undercooked skill-sets, both players pulled out of the combine and then waited for the hype to build — except, well, it didn’t. Williams, who was typically projected in the early teens, slipped out of the lottery entirely, only to be rescued by the Boston Celtics at No. 27. Williams is a booming, powerful prospect, but he could’ve really benefited from competing against the other top prospects in May.

Although he’s now landed in an ideal situation with Brad Stevens, Al Horford and a process-driven Celtics squad, Williams likely cost himself a whole load of money over the last 30-plus days as well.

In Robinson’s case, many believed his floor was the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 — rumors swirling that the 7-foot-1 center even received a promise from the illustrious franchise. Instead, Robinson dropped to the New York Knicks at No. 36 overall. Robinson had originally committed to Western Kentucky in July of 2017 before dropping out to prepare for the draft. After skipping the combine last month, Robinson indeed exhibited the potential to be both a steady shot-blocker and three-point maker during his individual evaluations. But with little to go off of but high school highlight reels and small session workout tapes, he understandably fell.

Sometimes the hype is impossible to ignore, but not participating in the combine and staying as mysterious as possible hurt these ultra-talented prospects.

While the 2018 NBA Draft wasn’t quite the trade-heavy, drama-laden extravaganza much of the world expected, there are plenty of narratives to reflect upon. At the end of the day, the ink is barely dry on this year’s festivities and it’ll be some time before there’s any indication of these successes or failures. Still, there are lessons to be learned from every draft, workout or injury process and these are four conversations worth considering as the NBA quickly rolls into the summer league season.

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VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Winners

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may have done better than expected.

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Insiders Video

VIDEO: 2018 NBA Draft Losers

Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Benny Nadeau and Moke Hamilton break down the 2018 NBA Draft, including the teams and players that may not have done as well as expected.

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