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NBA PM: Gambling on “Small-School” Prospects

Can Cameron Payne be this year’s Damian Lillard – a small-school prospect who climbs into the top 10?

Joel Brigham



2015 NBA lottery prospect Kristaps Porzingis worked out at his pro day in Las Vegas today and our friends at DraftExpress caught up with him for an interview.

Who Will Take the “Small School” Gamble This Year?

In so many ways, the draft is an absolute crap shoot. Even the top players from the top schools and top international teams don’t always see widespread success in the NBA, but at least with those players, teams can feel fairly confident that they’re making a safe selection. Jahlil Okafor, for example, was the top prospect coming out of high school a year ago and just won a national championship for one of the most storied universities in the history of college basketball.

There’s not a lot of risk involved in a pick like that, regardless of where he’s actually selected, because if he ends up failing, at least his future NBA employers can say, “Look, we made what we thought was the smartest pick at the time. It’s not our fault it didn’t work out.”

Portland, for example, can defend themselves for taking Greg Oden over Kevin Durant in 2007. It’s easy to look back on that now and berate the poor Blazers for choosing the wrong guy, but at the time that decision was considered to be one of the toughest in recent draft history. They picked a talented kid from a respected college program who had been on top of scouting sheets for years. It didn’t work out, but it wasn’t like they took some big risk. He was, at the very least, a known commodity and certainly universally deserving of the No. 1 overall selection that year.

So where does risk come from if not the big names from the big schools? Well, the lesser-known names from the smaller schools, probably, particularly because almost every year there’s at least one kid from a mid-major program that just barely made the NCAA tournament (or didn’t make it at all) who finds himself in the conversation for a lottery selection. There’s no way of knowing how these players’ skills will translate to the NBA when they’re facing much tougher competition, or whether a team would be justified in taking someone who only recently popped onto the scene as a potential star, but general managers and team presidents look for star potential (and also like to receive credit for discovering a hidden gem), so they look for players like these.

They are undoubtedly risky selections, but guys like Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry show why teams keep on looking for those diamonds in the rough. This year, that player appears to be Murray State point guard Cameron Payne, who has generated a lot of buzz in the last few weeks and, as reported by Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy, has earned a promise from a first-round team (and likely one in the lottery).

Most recently, there were rumblings that he could even be a top-10 selection, but it would be extremely surprising to see him selected among the top six picks in the draft because there are six of those big-program, little-risk players ripe for the taking at the head of this draft class: Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow (Duke), Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky), D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State) and Emmanuel Mudiay (played in China last year, but is a former top-three, five-star high school recruit and McDonald’s All-American).

Typically, these small-school kids don’t go until “sure things” like the aforementioned six players are off the board.

In 2012, Lillard was one of the most hyped up prospects in the draft, but the ballast between risk and reward didn’t break until after Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Bradley Beal (Flordia), Dion Waiters (Syracuse) and Thomas Robinson (Kansas) were off the board. It turns out Lillard is the second-best player from that draft class, but it was just too hard for NBA executives to justify taking him ahead of what they considered to be surer things and safer bets.

In 2009, then-Minnesota GM David Kahn passed up on Curry even though he had two consecutive picks at No. 5 and No. 6, both of which were used to select other point guards (Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn). Curry was the nation’s leading scorer that year and that Flynn wasn’t even 6’0 tall, and it seemed it was a matter of trusting a Syracuse product over a Davidson one.

Of course, not all small-school kids taken that high turn out to be stars. Pacific’s Michael Olowokandi is one of the biggest busts in NBA Draft history, and Jimmer Fredette (BYU, No. 10, 2011) is a recent example of a pick that didn’t work out. The jury is still out on C.J. McCollum (Lehigh, No. 10, 2013) and Doug McDermott (Creighton, No. 11, 2014), but injuries have forced both of these players to get off to slow starts. However, things haven’t looked great for either so far.

The point is that there are gems to be found from lesser-known programs, and sometimes when a player rises up the ranks quickly in the weeks leading up to the draft, it’s entirely justified. Elfrid Payton (Louisiana-Lafayette, No. 10, 2014) looks like he’ll be a very good NBA point guard, for example, while Klay Thompson (Washington State, No. 11, 2011) is one of the best scorers in the league and playing in the NBA Finals only a few short years after being drafted. Gordon Hayward (Butler, No. 9, 2010) received a max contract a year ago, and everybody loves Paul George (Fresno State, No. 10, 2010).

Any pick can break bad, regardless of school size, but taking a player from a college program that doesn’t have a long history of producing credible NBA employees absolutely is a risk. This year, it looks like Payne will be the guy that gets some lottery team gambling first. Hopefully he’s a pot worth winning.

Sixers Seriously Considering Porzingis at #3?

Mock drafts need to be taken with a grain of salt, but DraftExpress, easily the most respected source on the internet for all things NBA Draft, made some waves on Thursday by releasing a new mock draft that had the Philadelphia 76ers taking Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis with the third overall selection, ahead of guys like D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay and Justise Winslow, any of whom would appear to be a steadier building block for a team desperately in need a superstar to jump start their rebuilding process.

This isn’t a completely unfounded thing to do at this point, however, as Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie is genuinely interested in Porzingis and has been for some time. Jonathan Givony, the man who assembles those Draft Express mock drafts, reported earlier this year that the Sixers were instrumental in getting Porzingis to stay in this year’s draft pool, and he has been to Spain several times this year to see the forward play, according to SB Nation’s Derek Bodner. Russell deciding to cancel his visit and workout with Philadelphia has also turned some heads. Today, Hinkie went to Las Vegas to watch Porzingis work out at his pro day (for those interested, video of his pro day is above this post).

Despite all of this, there is plenty of reason to doubt that Porzingis would actually be the pick there, though there is plenty of interest in him from teams drafting high in the lottery. He is 7’0, can shoot the three and is pretty versatile on both ends of the floor, making him an exciting prospect for teams who think he has as much upside as any player in the draft. However, he’s rail thin and quite a bit riskier than some of the more well-known American prospects in the pool, with Russell and Mudiay both looking like surer bets.

Moreover, while it’s almost never advisable to draft to fill a need over selecting the best player available, Russell and Mudiay are both better fits and arguably stronger prospects. Philadelphia traded away Michael Carter-Williams because they didn’t think he was a franchise point guard. Now, Hinkie has two from which to choose at pick No. 3 (or one if the Lakers end up going with Russell at No. 2), and if there’s one area where that team is okay moving forward, it’s the frontcourt. Noel had a solid rookie season and Joel Embiid should be healthy entering this upcoming season. Philadelphia doesn’t need any more big man projects. They need someone who can start getting that city interested in basketball again.

Of course, all of this could be for nothing as it’s not strange for journalists to start making some changes in mock drafts that have been relatively static for weeks. Russell, for example, has long been DX’s guy to Philadelphia at No. 3. Perhaps Givony just wanted to experiment with how the first round would shake out if Hinkie selected a different player that he also appears to like.

Philly taking Porzingis would be an extremely surprising move in actuality, though if Twitter response to that mock draft is any indication, Sixers fans believe Hinkie is just crazy enough to pull the trigger. And why not? What’s one more year of bad basketball to bring aboard yet another high lottery pick in 2016?

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.


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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick Mock Draft – 6/18/2019

The 2019 NBA Draft is Thursday and things seem to be taking shape at the top of the draft board. However, the middle of the draft could be wildly unpredictable. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler



The NBA Draft is upon us, and while there still seems to be a lot of things in play in the middle of the draft, the top of the board seems to be settling in on a defined order.

Assuming the top 10 picks stay where they are, the draft could go pretty much as scripted. After the top 10, it seems this could be a wildly unpredictable draft, with what’s shaping up to be a lot of pick movement, especially as certain guys rise or fall.

Here are some of the situation to watch:

The New Orleans Pelicans, fresh off their agreed Anthony Davis trade with the LA Lakers, are still exploring moves that could involve the fourth overall pick. The prevailing thought is if New Orleans can flip the pick for a solid veteran they would, but there has also been recent talk that they would like to try and trade up to grab Duke forward RJ Barrett in front of the Knicks. It doesn’t seem likely that Memphis would do such a deal unless they were assured they would get Murray State’s Ja Morant at four. The Knicks have been pretty locked in on keeping the third pick and have made it clear to local media that they would be happy with either Barrett or Morant, likely killing any traction on a Memphis-Pelicans swap.

The Cleveland Cavaliers had been linked to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal for the fifth overall pick, but traction on that seems to have died off once the Pelicans got control of the fourth pick and seem to have zeroed in on Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver if they keep the pick. The Hawks have been exploring options on moving one of their middle first round picks, either the 10 or the 17, which they will receive from Brooklyn as part of the pending Allen Crabbe salary dump. League sources doubt the Hawks keep all of their picks, but it’s unclear where those moved picks would land as of today.

Speaking of moved picks, the Boston Celtics have been exploring options on their three first-round picks; it is believed the Celtics will ultimately deal the player they select with the 20th overall pick, although league sources say Boston is open to moving all of them if the return is right.

There could be some teams to watch in terms of trading into the draft; The Houston Rockets have explored deals that would get them into the late lottery, it does not seem like there is traction on anything as of today, but it’s a situation to watch.

The Denver Nuggets have also explored deals to get into the first round, mainly to obtain inexpensive bench players. The Nuggets could be one of the teams to watch for with one of the Celtics or Hawks picks.

With all of that in mind, here is the latest NBA Mock Draft. You can look for the Final Consensus Mock Draft tomorrow.

UPDATED: 6/18 - 4:00pm

Stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for the latest news and rumors surrounding the 2019 NBA Draft and instant reaction pieces on all the picks in the first round.

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, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Admiral Schofield Set On Building His Own Reputation

Admiral Schofield’s mindset carried him throughout his four-year career with the Tennessee Volunteers, and it will continue to take him to new heights in the NBA. Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies



Admiral Schofield lives for the late-game heroics.

“A lot of people talk about the clutch gene,” the former Tennessee forward told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago with a grin. “ I don’t think it’s a gene. I just think it comes from a mindset, comes from your preparation and how you approach the game.”

On March 9, 2017, Schofield had an opportunity. With the ninth-seeded Volunteers down by two to the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, he hoisted a shot for the victory from the left elbow.

To everyone’s dismay, Schofield’s attempt fell short. Tennessee was eliminated and their season was over. Then a sophomore, he and his teammates were scrambling to find somebody to take it. He admittedly was not ready to be in that spot.

That’s when something clicked in his head.

“I think my mindset changed to ‘I will never be in a position where the last shot is decided for me and I won’t make it,’” Schofield said in a farewell video post on Twitter back in March.

“I just want to contribute to winning,” Schofield said at the Combine. “Whether it’s defending for the last shot being on the defensive end, whether it’s taking that corner three or taking that kick-out three or making a play, I’m that guy. I want to be that guy…”

Ever since then, that mentality has stuck with him.

Do a quick Google search on Schofield. Amidst the highlight-reel flashes of athleticism, it’s guaranteed that you’ll find more than a handful of different moments where the fearless 22-year-old stepped up during crunch time.

On December 8 this past year, Schofield led then-seventh-ranked Tennessee to a win over the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs. En route to a career-high 30 points, he caught fire in the second half and knocked down the go-ahead three from the top of the perimeter with 22 seconds left in the game.

The story didn’t change in conference play. A month later with his team up by two on Florida, Schofield went to the right corner and hit a dagger with 41 seconds to play. In a one-point affair vs. Ole Miss later in the season, he took a game-clinching charge.

When the NCAA Tournament came around, Schofield stepped up once again. Tussling in the first round with an upset-minded Colgate squad, he nailed two triples from the same right corner spot with less than two minutes to go. Before getting eliminated in overtime by Purdue in the Sweet 16, he drained a deep three above the break to give the Vols the lead with five minutes left in regulation.

“I mean if you ask guys like Kobe [Bryant], they won’t tell you it’s a clutch gene. It’s just the thousands of shots. It’s another shot that he shot a thousand times,” Schofield said at the Combine.

“It’s the same thing for me. I stay in the gym. I work on my mindset. I work on situational things in the gym and [I’m] always staying ready, staying prepared for the next shot and being prepared for that big shot. And I just feel like in that moment in time, I think I’m the best option.

If you can’t tell by the infectious smile, Schofield is beaming with confidence—and why wouldn’t he be?

When he arrived in Knoxville in 2015, things weren’t great. The coach that recruited him to come to Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall, was fired after his lone underwhelming season for the program. Rick Barnes came in as a replacement and the results were poor in his first couple of seasons, too.

But over the last two years, the Volunteers are 57-15. They’ve appeared in back-to-back March Madness tournaments and won the regular season SEC Championship in 2018. For the first time in school history, they were ranked No. 1 in the country during the month of January. It was the first time they had been the nation’s top team in over a decade.

The turnaround was monumental, and Schofield realizes how big of a piece he was to that puzzle.

“It felt great because, to be honest, I was part of that foundation building that culture,” Schofield said. “And to be on top in the end really is just a testament to the hard work. And everything that we built in those first two years, it really started to pay off in those last few years.

“But to say that I was one of the guys that helped start that is a blessing. We had a great year. We had a great run.”

Transitioning to the next level, Schofield feels as ready as anybody. Under Barnes, he says everything was “pro-structured.” The Vols were constantly pushed. They were always prepared. Perhaps most importantly, everybody was held accountable, which is essential when players are going to be on their own in the pros.

Because of his experiences, Schofield believes in himself. It’s not about him simply sticking around the league. He desires much more than that.

“I think I can contribute to any team or any organization that brings me in, not just with my play,” Schofield said. “But just being a great teammate, being an ambassador for that organization and for that community, really coming in and being a positive influence, having some type of leadership. Not saying I’ll come in and be ‘the guy’ or ‘the leader.’ There’s many ways you can lead.”

In discussing his character, it’s hard not to bring up one of the most selfless moments in his college career. With Tennessee and Iowa knotted up prior to heading into overtime, Schofield—who was one hack away from fouling out—told Barnes to take him out in favor of teammate Kyle Alexander.

Cold from the field and in danger of being disqualified, Schofield made the request knowing Alexander would be a game-changer. It paid off in a victory.

“I’m a winner,” Schofield said after the 83-77 win in extra time. “At the end of the day, if I don’t have to be on the floor to win, that’s fine.”

While there’s plenty of other times he’s put his leadership on display, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect example of Schofield’s team-first outlook. Combine those intangibles with the skill set and you have yourself one hell of a basketball player.

Schofield views himself as a positionless player with the ability to guard two through four or five, switching and slowing down scorers and doing the little things on the defensive end. Within offensive sets, converting on shots from the corner, coming off pin-downs and utilizing dribble hand-offs are his forte. He also has incredible athleticism, whether it’s skying for a huge dunk or swatting an opponent.

NBA teams can clearly see the 40 percent rate from three over the last three years. Still, there’s more than meets the eye to that, according to Schofield.

“[I want to] show ’em that not only can I shoot the ball, I can defend and do multiple things – create a little bit for others and pass the ball well,” Schofield said. “I don’t credit for how well I pass the ball either because I haven’t been in many situations at Tennessee to pass the ball. But I do pass it pretty well.”

Schofield maintains he deserves to be picked in the first round. As one of three draft hopefuls from Tennessee—Grant Williams and Jordan Bone being the others—who hopes to hear his name called Thursday night, that’s what he’s aiming for.

If he gets his wish, Admiral will become the second professional athlete in the Schofield family. His older brother, O’Brien, is an NFL linebacker who was a part of the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

“He’s helped me a lot,” Admiral said of his O’Brien. “But more than anything, I’ve just been very observant seeing how he did things, even though it was football. Just got a little taste of that type of spotlight, him being an NFL Champion, playing on the Seahawks.

“Just seeing the process of that, seeing what it takes to win on that level, seeing some of the things that they did—I was able to implement that at the University of Tennessee, but I also I’ll be able to take that with me going forward when I get to the league.”

Individually, there’s always room to get better. You can develop better dribbling, improve your passing or tweak your jumper. But can you make an impact on winning?

Schofield does.

And that’s what will separate him from the rest.

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NBA Daily: What’s Next For The Lakers?

With Anthony Davis onboard to make them a contender, the Lakers must decide how they will spend their money this summer, write Matt John.

Matt John



The NBA season ended literally just days ago, and we already may have seen the most significant move made this offseason.

The Los Angeles Lakers went all-in when they traded 95 percent of the farm on Friday for Anthony Davis, pairing him up with LeBron to make up one of the most fearsome duos in the league.

There’s a lot of risk going into this. LeBron will be 35 in December, and Davis doesn’t have a whole lot of playoff success to his name. Many think the Lakers may have overshot their hand when they made this deal. They traded almost all the young talent they had – plus, three picks and two pick swaps is a king’s ransom for a guy on an expiring contract.

Let’s not mince words. LA definitely paid more than they could afford in the long run with this trade, but Anthony Davis is the type of guy you overshoot your hand for. When you have one of the league’s top players in the game, and you have the chance to add another one, you pay the piper.

Now all that remains is what to do with the rest of the roster. All props need to go to Rob Pelinka for creating a title window for the Lakers when the clock was ticking, but let’s not overlook that the roster he constructed last summer turned out to be a complete disaster. It was an intriguing idea to put a bunch of playmakers around LeBron, but the lack of spacing manifested a clogged toilet offense.

Even after adding Anthony Davis and his $25+ million contract, the Lakers will still have plenty of cap room at their arsenal this summer. If getting the Lakers their 17th title is truly his concern, he needs to build the best roster he can around LeBron and AD. In order to do that, the Lakers have two options to go to

Get The Third Star

Now it’s clear as day that this is what the Lakers are hoping for. Shortly after the Davis trade was announced, Marc Stein reported that the team will make Kemba Walker its primary target in free agency.

Having a third star has been LeBron’s MO for every destination he’s gone to since “The Decision.” First, it was Chris Bosh in Miami, and then it was Kevin Love in Cleveland. Neither matched the production that they had with their previous teams before they joined LeBron, but they did give the team an undeniable edge that helped them win a championship.

Getting that third banana takes the pressure off of James and Davis to produce on a nightly basis, and it can help stagger minutes for James who, all things considered, isn’t getting any younger.

Now, Davis can handle a fair amount of the load as James continues to age, but a third star would only make his life easier. As we all know, Davis wasn’t exactly happy that he had to carry much of the scoring burden in the Big Easy, so having someone else pick up the slack would not make it feel like a repeat of what happened with the Pelicans.

Luckily for the Lakers, this summer has one of the best free agent classes of all time. Kevin Durant, who’s still getting the max with or without a healthy Achilles, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Khris Middleton and Walker. Adding one of those names would solidify the Lakers’ odds as the title favorite (if they aren’t already).

The only problem with getting this third star on presumably a maximum contract is that, with all that money invested in James, Davis and Player X, there is little money to spend elsewhere. The only other contracts that can be handed out are the Mid-Level Exception and veteran minimum contracts. This summer, a lot of teams are going to have cap space, and not everyone is going to have that happy ending this offseason.

Because of that, expect lesser players to get paid far more than what they are worth. That’s going to make it difficult for the Lakers to get valued rotation players on veteran’s minimum level contracts.

That’s why it could be better for LA to consider the other option.

Get Reliable Role Players

The Lakers have two of the league’s best players. As long as they stay on the court, LA should be one of the best teams in the league. With the Warriors appearing to disband this summer, the NBA will have some parity for the first time since 2016. Now that the next title may be up for grabs, LeBron and Davis could be enough star power alone to power the Lakers to a title.

Emphasis on star power. Of course, they can’t win a title without any productive players in their rotation. They could get them, but that would probably mean they wouldn’t be able to add a third banana. Then again, maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.

If we learned anything from the Warriors from the last few weeks, it’s that a lack of depth can really kill you in the Finals. One of the reasons why Toronto won so handily – besides the unfortunate injuries – was because of its full-balanced attack against Golden State. The Warriors may have had the edge in star power, but Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Norm Powell took advantage of the Warriors’ lack of versatility as a team.

You need those types of players to win the championship. No one knows that better than LeBron. Things didn’t start out great in Miami, but after the team added the likes of Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, the HEAT got that extra push to win a championship.

Ditto for Cleveland. The Cavaliers didn’t have the greatest start when he came back. Then they added JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and Channing Frye- and that made a huge difference.

Something that we all know by now is that LeBron thrives when he has players who can shoot. The Lakers could bring back some of their designated “shooters” from last season, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Mike Muscala and Reggie Bullock, but there are better options this summer

Danny Green, Nikola Mirotic, JJ Redick, Trevor Ariza and Darren Collison to name a few are all guys who can shoot the rock that on paper would be an excellent fit next to LeBron. At the very least, they would help LeBron play the type of basketball that he loves to play in.

The problem is, those guys can’t be asked to do more than what their specialty is. If and when LeBron and Davis are having an off-night, you can’t rely on a sharpshooter to carry the team when it’s down.

There’s always the possibility that the Lakers, even if they don’t sign a star player, believe they have their third banana in Kyle Kuzma. That’s a lot of pressure for a third-year player, but Kuzma has been exceeding expectations since he came into the league. Maybe he’s only scratching the surface of his potential.

There is no wrong answer for the Lakers here. It’s exciting enough that with Davis on board, they now have options this summer. They no longer have to bank on the cavalry coming in the near future because the cavalry has arrived. They’re not a finished product, but they finally have a product on their hands.

All that said, which door do you think the Lakers should choose?

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