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NBA PM: Top Returning NCAA Draft Prospects

A look at the top returning draft prospects to the NCAA, including Montrezl Harrell, Willie Cauley-Stein, Caris LeVert and more!

Yannis Koutroupis

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Top Returning NCAA Draft Prospects

Earlier this week, we took a look at the top five draft prospects for the 2015 NBA Draft, all of whom happened to be underclassmen who will be making their collegiate debuts at the start of the 2014-15 season. As much hype as the 2014 freshman class received, the 2015 freshman class could produce just as many first-round picks (nine). However, there’s going to be stiff competition as a few potential first round picks passed on the NBA for a year and the upperclassmen talent-level overall is quite intriguing despite the fact that youth is such a valuable commodity in the draft. Here’s a look at the top returners who you need to keep an eye on:

Willie Cauley-Stein – 7’0, 244 lbs. Jr., Center (Kentucky)

Had he declared for either one of the last two drafts, Cauley-Stein very likely would have been a lottery pick – a mid-first round selection at worst. However, he’s passed both times, with injuries playing a factor. Now, though, he’s returning to one of the most crowded frontcourts in the country with his perceived upside far less than it was after his freshman season.

Cauley-Stein’s production actually dropped off in his sophomore season, despite playing the same 23 minutes a game he did his first year. It’s hard to imagine him getting the same amount of run with all the talent that Kentucky has coming in and returning, so it’s really going to be important for him to make the most of the minutes he does get. Scouts know that Cauley-Stein is a quality finisher and shot blocker. Improvement in his low-post game and free throw shooting, which was sub 40 percent last year, will be key.

Because seven footers with his speed, length and his athleticism are always going to have a home in the NBA, Cauley-Stein’s floor is likely somewhere at the end of the first round this year, with the potential for him to still go in the same range he could have the last two years. But that’s only with marked improvements in areas we saw very little development from his freshman to sophomore years.

Sam Dekker – 6’9, 229 lbs. – Jr., Small Forward (Wisconsin)

A strong NCAA Tournament may have pushed Dekker onto the other side of the fence and into the 2014 NBA Draft. Dekker wasn’t at his best during the Badger’s run to the Final Four, though. In fact, it was arguably his least impressive stretch of the season, after looking every bit like a lottery pick early on in the year.

Dekker has a really nice all-around skill set and more than ideal size for a NBA small forward. He’s just consistently left scouts yearning for more throughout his first two years. As a junior he has to take the next step forward and be one of the best players on the floor like he’s capable of night in and night out, especially late in the year when it matters the most.

The Badgers are going in to the season as one of the favorites to get back to the Final Four, and if Dekker can help lead them there and produce at a higher rate, there’s no reason why he should be on the board past 20 come draft night.

Montrezl Harrell – 6’8, 230 lbs. – Jr., Power Forward (Louisville)

After exploding in place of the departed Gorgui Dieng as a sophomore, everyone thought that Harrell was as good as gone. Louisville was already set to lose a lot with Russ Smith and Luke Hancock to graduation, but Harrell shockingly decided to return for his junior season.

What makes scouts love Harrell is the fact that he doesn’t have an off switch. He plays with as much energy and aggression as any player in the country. At one point when they were in danger of getting upset by Manhattan in their opening round game of the NCAA Tournament, he seemed to be foaming at the mouth as he helped lead them to victory. That’s the kind of tenaciousness he plays with.

Although he lacks ideal size for his position, Harrell’s likely going to produce at a rate that cannot be ignored. In fact, given what the Cardinals have lost, there’s the potential for Harrell to actually improve his stock if he can excel as a featured option offensively. Had he entered this year’s draft he would have been looked at primarily as an energizer whose contributions would come on the glass and defensive end. If he consistently hits the mid-range jumper and gets good shots in the low post, look for him to shoot into the top 10.

Chris Walker – 6’9, 205 lbs. – So., Power Forward (Florida)

We only got to see glimpses of Walker last year as he had to deal with eligibility issues that cost him a good portion of his freshman campaign. Now, with the Gators losing a huge part of their core to graduation, the stage is set for Walker to showcase his entire arsenal and improve his stock significantly. As a bit of a mystery with plenty of potential he probably would have been a late first-round pick or early second-round pick at worst, but this upcoming season he could easily play his way into the top 10.

What made Walker a blue chip recruit out of high school was his elite-level athleticism and defensively versatility. He’s very raw, though, and somewhat positionless. Hopefully an offseason under Florida’s training program has helped him improve in those areas. He appears to be best suited for the power forward position. With a stronger frame, refined offensive skill set and a clear cut position, Walker could lock up a spot in the lottery of mock drafts in very short order.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – 6’6, 212 lbs. So., Small Forward (Arizona)

No one would have criticized Hollis-Jefferson if he decided to leave after his solid freshman season at Arizona. He probably would have went somewhere in the 20s, as scouts loved his defensive ability and athleticism. He has all the tools to be a high-level defender at the next level, but by coming back for his sophomore season he can change the way that he is looked at completely.

Rather than just being viewed a “3-and-D” guy, Hollis-Jefferson could work his way up the small forward rankings by displaying an improved offensive game – particularly with his ability to score out on the perimeter. He wasn’t much of a threat from beyond the arc last year; he doesn’t have to become Doug McDermott or anything like that as a shooter, but he simply has to prove that he’s capable of making more than two in 960 minutes like he did as a freshman.

Late in the season it seemed like things were really starting to click for Hollis-Jefferson, who did a good job of playing within himself and simply focusing on what he was asked. With Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon gone, he’s going to have much more responsibility – so look for Hollis-Jefferson to potentially climb into the lottery with a big season.

Caris LeVert – 6’5, 170 lbs. – Jr., Michigan (Shooting Guard)

LeVert really shined in his expanded role as a sophomore, going from a seldom-used freshman to playing all but six minutes a game in year two. With the departure of Nik Stauskas, LeVert is poised to be the number one option for Michigan next season and if his next step forward is anything like his last, he could be one of the first swingmen taken on draft night 2015. He has NBA-caliber athleticism, height and length, but he needs to add a significant amount of strength. The added strength will not only help him in preparation for making the leap to the NBA, but make him a much tougher cover during what is likely his last season at Michigan. His goal should be to get to the free throw line at least six times a game in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis – 6’10, 235 lbs. So, Power Forward (Arkansas)

Nationally, Portis’ standout freshman season may have gone underappreciated, but he’s firmly on the NBA Draft radar going into his sophomore season. In fact, there was very little chance that he wouldn’t have been a first round pick had he decided to declare, but he didn’t give that option very much consideration at all.

Stretch fours have become almost more common than the traditional power forwards who prefer to play with their back to the basket than 15 feet away from it. Portis is comfortable no matter where he is on the floor and has good size and strength for the position. Expectations are going to be much higher for him, though, and he’s going to have to come close to putting up a double-double in order to improve his stock. Without top-tier athleticism, becoming more physical and welcoming of contact is going to be critical for the longevity of Portis’ NBA career.

Frank Kaminsky – 7’0, 234 lbs. Sr., Center (Wisconsin)

Beyond underwhelming his first two years at Wisconsin, “the tank” as he’s referred to really blew up at the end of his junior year. A 28-point outing against Michigan State in the Big 10 postseason tournament and a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds against Arizona in the Elite Eight pushed Kaminsky’s stock into the top eight. However, a disappointing outing against Kentucky’s younger, bigger and more athletic frontline showed that he wasn’t ready to take his game to the next level and he ultimately decided to return.

With his size and offensive versatility, which features a jump shot with deep range, Kaminsky has a long future of playing professional basketball in front of him. What’s going to determine whether that is in the NBA is how he handles the increased level of physicality that he’s going to see as a senior and his rebounding. NBA teams will look past the fact that he’s not a phenomenal athlete as long as he can find a way to utilize his high basketball IQ, improved strength and skill set to help negate that disadvantage.

Wayne Selden – 6’6, 223 lbs. So, Shooting Guard (Kansas)

Often overshadowed by his classmates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Selden opted for a featured role as a sophomore over being a fringe first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. With his size and strength, which are unique even at the NBA level for his position, he’s making a wise choice and has the potential to climb a great deal.

When Selden initially committed to Kansas there was some hope that he could develop into a point guard, where his physical advantages would be much greater than they are at the shooting guard spot. That may not ever happen, but he’ll undoubtedly have the ball in his hands more with Wiggins and Embiid’s departure. It’s going to be important for him to continue to focus on making the right basketball play as his light to score becomes greener. As a well-rounded shooting guard with improved consistency on his jump shot he could get into the top 15, which is right around where he would go if he looked capable of playing the point guard position at the next level anyway.

Aaron Harrison – 6’5, 210 lbs. So, Shooting Guard (Kentucky)

As the shooting guard version of the Harrison twins made clutch shot after clutch shot during the Wildcats’ run to the national championship game, there were very few who expected him to be back in Lexington for his sophomore season. Whereas his brother’s stock took a hit during the season, he maintained his status as a first-round pick and could have justified leaving.

Now, like his aforementioned teammate Cauley-Stein, he’s returning to a Wildcats backcourt that is much more crowded than it was last season. However, it’s hard to imagine Calipari having more confidence in anyone than Aaron late in ball games – so his minutes may not decrease like Cauley-Stein’s have the potential to.

Without great quickness or athleticism, Aaron is always going to rely on his IQ, strength and jump shot. By playing with more maturity and taking pride in his defense, two things he struggled with as a freshman, Harrison’s floor should remain late first round with the potential to climb into the 20s with a strong sophomore season.

Honorable Mentions: Andrew Harrison (Kentucky), Delon Wright (Utah) Dakari Johnson (Kentucky), Brice Johnson (North Carolina), Alex Poythress (Kentucky), Perry Ellis (Kansas), Shawn Long (Louisiana Lafayette), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Brandon Ashley (Arizona), Branden Dawson (Michigan State), A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), Jabari Bird (California), Jarell Martin (LSU) and Jordan Mickey (LSU).

Grizzlies Announce More Additions

The Memphis Grizzlies announced today that they have bolstered their coaching staff and player development team with several key additions to the organization.

Jeff Bzdelik (BIZ-del-ik), who has over 30 years of coaching experience, including 17 in the NBA, has joined Dave Joerger’s staff as an assistant coach. John Townsend, who previously served as shooting coach for the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers, has joined the staff as director of player development. The Grizzlies also added Trevor Moawad, a recognized expert in the field of mental conditioning who has led mental endurance programs for the University of Alabama and Florida State football teams, as mental endurance coach.

“True to his word in a relatively short period of time, Robert Pera has meaningfully increased the resources available to our coaching staff and players,” Joerger said. “The addition of Jeff, who brings a wealth of knowledge to our sidelines and fits seamlessly within our culture, is just one of the many moves we made over the last few weeks to accomplish our singular goal of making the Grizzlies a world class organization. We are greatly appreciative of Robert’s efforts and I am confident that the addition of Jeff and others will benefit us in preparing for the upcoming season.”

Furthermore, Jason March, who previously served as advance scout, has been promoted to assistant coach/advance scout while Drew Graham, who previously was the head athletic trainer, has been promoted to head athletic trainer and vice president of player care. Additionally, the Grizzlies have also added several player development staff, strength and conditioning coaches and a physical therapist to the basketball operations staff.

Bzdelik, after six seasons as an assistant coach for the Washington Bullets (1988-94), worked seven seasons under Pat Riley, starting as a scout for the New York Knicks (1994-95) before becoming an assistant coach and advance scout for the Miami Heat (1995-2001). Hired by the Denver Nuggets in 2001, Bzdelik spent two-plus seasons as Denver’s head coach (2002-04) and in his second season guided Denver to a 26-win turnaround and a berth in the 2004 NBA Playoffs.

The Mount Prospect, Ill. native has coached on the collegiate level as an assistant with Davidson (1978-80) and Northwestern (1980-86) and served as head coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (1986-88), Air Force (2005-07), Colorado (2007-10) and, most recently, Wake Forest (2010-14).

Townsend has been named director of player development after joining the Grizzlies last season as a shooting coach.  Townsend also worked as a shooting coach for the Toronto Raptors (2011-14) and Portland Trail Blazers (2007-10) and the NBA Development League (2002-07) and served one season as a consultant for the Continental Basketball Association’s (CBA) Yakima Sun Kings (2002-03).

Moawad joins the Grizzlies organization to serve as mental endurance coach. Moawad has recently coached under Nick Saban at the University of Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State University, helping to guide and lead the development of the players off the field to ensure they are thinking at an elite level on the field. Through the integration of advanced mindset solutions, he has played a vital role in both schools winning NCAA Championships for their football programs in his tenure.

March will enter his eighth season in Memphis.  March previously served the team as assistant video coordinator (2007-12), director of basketball information and technologies (2012-13) and advance scout (2013-14). Graham will begin his ninth season with the Grizzlies.  Graham served the previous eight seasons as head athletic trainer in Memphis.  He spent six seasons with the New Jersey Nets (2000-06) as assistant athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA Daily: Free-Agent Watch: Centers

Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by discussing the robust class of centers set to hit the market.

Drew Maresca

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The NBA is returning incredibly soon, but it definitely won’t be the same – at least not initially.

While most aspects of the game will hopefully return to normal as soon as next season – and other fun surprises like the return of Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley to the Brooklyn Nets (the latter of whom is still in negotiations) will bring some unexpected joy to an otherwise nerve-wracking situation –  the long-term financial implications of COVID-19 are very real. Immediately, players will sign lesser deals due to an assumedly smaller salary cap and teams with multiple max contracts on their books will struggle to surround their star players with the support they need to compete.

With that being said, Basketball Insiders is identifying the best free agents at each position with the new and unique realities facing NBA teams in mind. Today we turn out attention to the men in the middle. The center position has changed dramatically since the 1990s, when having an elite big man was practically a necessity. But the definition of “elite” has changed drastically between that era and this one. Historically, big men hunkered down in the post — they were burly and physical, blocked shots and grabbed rebounds. What they did not do was stretch the floor, handle the ball or defend guards like many at the position do today.

So let’s dive into the best centers available in free agency.

Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted – $25,595,7500

Gasol will be an unrestricted free agent following this season. And, from the surface, his prospects wouldn’t seem great; Gasol missed considerable time in 2019-20, playing in only 36 games due to a hamstring injury, which resulted in career lows in scoring, rebounds and blocks per game.

That said, there’s still some room for optimism – and it’s squarely rooted in his weight.

Gasol has slimmed down quite a bit since COVID-19 forced the NBA to shut down in mid-March. Returning lighter and more fit should allow him to move more seamlessly with the team on the court and further leverage his athleticism. It should also enable him to stay on the floor for longer stretches, another positive as Gasol’s presence on the court has often been positive for the Raptors; of Toronto’s six lineups that logged 100 or more minutes, Gasol is in all three that are at least +10 and didn’t play at all in the other three (which were -4.1, -10 and +3.1, respectively).

What’s more, Gasol’s a great passer, an excellent defender (he allowed the tenth fewest points per touch last season) and his three-point shooting has continued to improve dramatically (he shot 40.2% on 3.5 three-point attempts in 2019-20 – second among centers in the entire league behind only Karl-Anthony Towns).

Gasol isn’t the modern and mobile “point center,” but adding bits and pieces of that style to his game has surely made him a valuable asset on the open market, even at the age of 35 and despite the lackluster regular season. He’ll have eight games plus the playoffs to prove that he’s healthy and ready to contribute — if Gasol can step back up, he should be in line for a nice payday.

Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $27,093,018

Whiteside was meant to be a stop-gap for the Trail Blazers. Portland’s plan was always to bide their time until Jusuf Nurkic was able to return from a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula.

But the 31-year-old put forth such an impressive 2019-20 campaign that, while it’s highly unlikely the team recants their dedication to Nurkic, Whiteside has almost certainly secured himself a major deal for next season.

Just look at Whiteside’s 2019-20 output so far; he improved essentially each month, which culminated in 19.6 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5 blocks per contest across five games in March. Further, Whiteside connected on 57.1% of his three-point attempts – even if he only launched seven all year. If Whiteside can convert threes at that rate – even at such a limited volume – he remains a threat who defenders must cover all the way to the three-point line.

To put Whiteside’s season in context, he secured a career high in points per game, led the league in blocks per game (3.1) and is the second-leading rebounder in the entire NBA. Not bad, right? It may not come from Portland, but Whiteside would certainly seem to be in line for a raise, and a big one at that. And, given his age, don’t be surprised to see him jump at potentially his last chance to cash in big.

Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers – Unrestricted – $3,500,000

Howard signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Lakers last summer. Expectations were relatively low, especially considering he was a last-minute signing; Howard was signed in August after DeMarcus Cousins suffered a knee injury.

But expectations and reality are not always aligned. Despite his age — Howard turned 34 last December — and the lack of actual playtime to go around with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee soaking up most of the time at the five, Howard managed an impressive bounce-back season. In 62 games, Howard averaged 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while hitting 73.2 percent of his shots and playing strong defense in just over 19 minutes per game.

Per-36, those numbers look even better: 14.1 points, 13,8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per-36 minutes.

It could be tough for the Lakers to re-sign Howard, as they have about $75 million in guaranteed contracts next year before inking Davis to a massive new deal. That said, and while Howard will be competing with veterans like DeMarcus Cousins for a roster spot, he’s built a strong case for himself – especially if he’s willing to take another discount and continue to accept more of a reserve role.

Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers – Player Option — $28,751,774

The Cavaliers traded for Drummond for pennies on the dollar. Less than that, even.

In exchange for Brandon Knight, John Henson and a future second-round pick, the Cavaliers netted a two-time All-Star and the NBA’s leading rebounder in each of the last three seasons. It’s not like there was a major downtick in his play this season, either; in 2019-20, Drummond averaged 17.7 points and 15.3 rebounds per game.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses in Cleveland.

Drummond’s situation with the Cavaliers appears to be pretty open-and-shut. He’s been quoted as saying that he will exercise his $28.7 million player option, adding nearly $30 million in salary to Cleveland’s 2020-21 salary cap. But, just because Drummond said it doesn’t make it a guarantee. The Cavaliers could attempt to negotiate a long-term deal, bringing down their 2020-21 cap hit and guaranteeing Drummond more total dollars to appease him.

But there are a few questions that must be addressed before offering Drummond anything beyond next season. Firstly, does Cleveland believe that he’s versatile enough to play center in the modern NBA? Drummond shot just 28.6% on three-point attempts this season and he’s a sub-50% career free-throw shooter. Do those deficiencies outweigh Drummond’s strong contributions elsewhere (i.e. his scoring, rebounding and defense)?

The second question for Cleveland has more to do with his timeline rather than his play. Do the Cavaliers want to further invest in players on a different timeline to that of much of their young core (Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Dante Exum, Kevin Porter Jr., etc.)? Drummond is set to turn 27 later this year and, while surrounding youth with a veteran leader is definitely the right move, Cleveland already has two of those veteran personalities in the locker room in Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

That said, while Love is signed through 2022-23, Thompson — a similar player to Drummond — is set to hit unrestricted free agency at the end of the season.

Cleveland’s strategy as of this past February’s trade deadline didn’t appear entirely cohesive — they resisted trading Thompson (and could now lose him for nothing) only to add Drummond to the fold. And, going forward, it looks as if they have two options: either overwhelm their roster with mismatched talent and try to let it work itself out, or they can surrender Thompson now or Drummond next season. We’ll know which direction they prefer very soon.

DeMarcus Cousins, Los Angeles Lakers – Unrestricted – $3,500,000

Last we checked, Cousins was working his way back from a torn ACL suffered just prior to the start of the 2019-20 season. Cousins’ stats were very good, but not quite great; the former Golden State Warrior averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 30 games last season, still hobbled in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Before that, Cousins was averaging 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, shooting an impressive 35.4% on three-point attempts while bullying opponents at the rim (63.1%).

So, is a team willing to gamble on Cousins bouncing back to that form? It will have to wait until next season, as Cousins has stated his intent to sit out the NBA’s restart in Orlando, but the answer is probably yes, but for the right price.

Cousins was (and probably still is) an uber-talented player. But, like Howard this season, he may have to take a backseat-type deal before he can truly bounce back and earn his next big payday.

Whatever Cousins does is, ultimately, up to him, but, whether with the Lakers or another squad, it would seem wise for Cousins to ride the wave next season with a squad that could go the distance. Rather than rush himself back and risk another potential injury, Cousins could slowly work his way back and show teams that he can still get it done at a high level before hitting the market next offseason looking to cash in.

The return to basketball is inevitable. Of course, not everyone is happy with it, but that won’t stop teams from taking advantage of the remaining games in order to scout players and absorb new information. There are opportunities for players to secure future contracts, while other players will probably play their way into retirement and or out of the league. The 2020 free agent period will probably be the most chaotic version of itself, ever, and, while it may be a little rough for the front offices, it’ll be all the more fun for us to cover and watch.

And it’ll all be here in just a few short months.

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NBA Daily: Malachi Richardson Has Learned What It Means To Be A Pro

Spencer Davies catches up with Malachi Richardson about his participation in The Basketball Tournament, spending a season overseas and what it will take to get back to the NBA.

Spencer Davies

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At this time last year, Malachi Richardson had just come off a championship-winning season with the Toronto Raptors, and he was set for a five-game Summer League stint with the Golden State Warriors.

One year later, the matured 24-year-old swingman is competing for Boeheim’s Army in The Basketball Tournament to showcase his talents, ultimately poised to earn his way back into the NBA after a season overseas.

“I miss playing and being on the court with teammates to find ways to work together and win,” Richardson told Basketball Insiders. I’ve been training hard at Impact with Joe Abunassar this offseason to perfect my game. It’s going to be fun.”

Sporting a slimmed-down frame — he’s lost 17 pounds — Richardson scored 15 points and grabbed three rebounds in his TBT debut, a win over Men of Mackey. The Syracuse alum will take on Team Sideline Cancer this weekend.

Despite his short stay at ‘Cuse, playing for the Orangemen holds a special place in Richardson’s heart. It was where he capitalized on his McDonald’s All-American high school status and put it into action on a national collegiate stage for a top program, making him an attractive prospect at the NBA level. In June 2016, the Charlotte Hornets took the talented wing with the No. 22 pick.

“I wouldn’t change anything about my process,” Richardson said of his decision to enter the draft as a freshman. “Our Final Four run at Syracuse was special and I often reflect on how fun the game was for me at the time.

“Being a one-and-done put me at an advantage to be able to learn the business side of basketball early, so that I learned what it will really take for me to have a long NBA career.”

Richardson was traded a couple of weeks later to the Sacramento Kings, where he spent the beginning portion of his career. He appeared in 22 games during his rookie season, and the minutes in those were scarce.

However, he took advantage of G League assignments with the Reno Bighorns. In 11 games, Richardson averaged over 21 points and 4 rebounds per game, nailing 46 percent of his threes. Things were looking up heading into his sophomore season.

Richardson received an uptick in minutes and even earned his first four starts with the Kings, but it wasn’t for long. Sacramento dealt him at the 2018 trade deadline to the Raptors. He’d spend the next year-and-a-half with Toronto; again, he made the most impact in the G League, this time with the Raptors 905.

“The G-League is great for young guys, especially on teams that may not have as much opportunity for you to get on the floor with the NBA team,” Richardson said. “It gave me a chance to stay sharp so if I did get an opportunity on the NBA floor, I would be ready.”

The silver lining in the situation? An NBA title. During his time up north, Richardson was a part of a championship organization and had a great mentor in Danny Green. The lessons he picked up along the way can’t be replaced.

“On and off the court,” Richardson said. “Being a champion and a player that has made a name for himself as a specialist in the league he definitely helped me figure out what I can potentially be for a team.

“Being with the Raptors showed me what it takes to win at a high level in the NBA. From film, scouting reports, taking care of your body with treatment. And just coming in each day mentally prepared. From day one, it was clear that the goal was to win a championship, and being young in that locker room has put me at a serious advantage today.”

When last July’s summer league concluded, Richardson didn’t receive a training camp invite. He ended up signing with Hapoel Holon of the Israeli Premier League through mid-December. Next up was a move to Italy to join Vanoli Cremona in Lega Basket Serie A.

For the first time in his career, he was traveling from country-to-country and making a living overseas. Luckily, his loved ones were along for the ride and made the transition that much easier.

“Coming home to my son and family every day after a game or practice helped me grow because it’s made me leave the different obstacles of a professional athlete at the door,” Richardson said.

“My son looks at me as daddy. I can’t come home after a long day and not interact with him. He made me forget about a lot of the tough days at the gym as soon as I step in the door.”

Unfortunately, in late January, Richardson suffered a fractured hand and was subsequently released a couple of weeks afterward. By the same token, he took advantage of the opportunities and his hard work showed. In 21 total games (12 starts) between the two teams, Richardson averaged over 11 points and nailed a pro-career-best 43.9 percent of his threes.

“Playing overseas was a great experience for me. Being able to see the world and experience the different types of play styles was important for my growth as a player.”

While Richardson’s embryonic career has not been as straightforward as your usual typical first-round pick, hindsight is always 20-20. He’s determined to show his development as a player and a person.

“I’ve learned what it means to be a pro,” Richardson said of his improvements. “Just finding ways to make the most of my body and what I can do to be effective on the court. These were things that I did not take as seriously as I should have the first time around.”

Mental preparation is a facet Richardson is no longer taking for granted. He understands that the NBA is a business, and if you’re not at the top of your game, it can be a harsh one. So he’s going to continue to use his time wisely, mainly perfecting his craft in the gym.

“The different things I need to do basketball-wise that lets me know I’m locked in and ready to play and practice at a high level,” Richardson said.

“Scoring the ball is one thing I think I can do with the best of them, and I’m working on becoming a more complete player. I’m a better passer now and a better defender. Learning as a professional, not just a basketball player, has helped my game grow.”

An NBA return is the goal.

In the meantime, Richardson will look to add another trophy to his collection in TBT.

“I am really putting in the work with this offseason to be ready for whatever comes my way. I hope to get a chance to work out for some teams this offseason and earn a chance to get a roster spot in camp,” Richardson said. “My family has been an amazing support system for me and I’ve been locked in with my workouts, taking care of my body and waiting for the right call to show what I’ve accomplished this past year.”

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NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Power Forwards

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by examining the power forwards that could potentially be hitting the market this summer.

Matt John

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Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch series! We’re now making our way to the frontcourt players that could see a new team when the new NBA season starts in December.

On paper, the power forwards have the deepest pool of free agents talent-wise. Although, a few of these players on this list are mentioned because they potentially could hit the market. Common sense would say otherwise. Case in point — take a look at the first guy mentioned here.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers – Player Option – $28,751,775

Yeah, we *technically* had to include Davis in here because he could *technically* hit the open market, and he *technically* is listed as a power forward since he plays the majority of his minutes at that spot — 62 percent this season alone, which was his highest since 2014-15. His free agency (if he becomes one) should be pretty straightforward.

Whether he opts in or not, expect Davis back with the Lakers. LeBron James and the Lakers gave up a lot to get him to Hollywood. The Lakers will be damned if they’re going to let him go after they’ve had their best season since 2011, and LeBron will be damned if he’s going to let him go because as much as he’s defied father time; he’s only got so many years left at the top. The two of them have made up the NBA’s best pairing this season. If that breaks up, it’ll be pretty much impossible to find an adequate replacement.

Considering all the drama that led up to the Lakers acquiring Davis, it would take a 99-yard hail mary pitch against the Legion of Boom to get him off the Lakers. This is the best team that Davis has been on his entire career by far, and when you have LeBron taking a lot of responsibility off your shoulders on a team vying for a championship, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to leave. Unless you’re Kyrie Irving.

That’s where the real question lies. Davis will definitely stay on the Lakers for as long as LeBron is right there with him, but how long will that be? LeBron will be on the books for two more years after this season, and everyone knows of his plans to play with his son Bronny in the near future. Should LeBron go leave to take part in the family business, Davis’ future with the Lakers goes up in the air. LA doesn’t have to worry about that for another two years — and those two years should be prosperous — but it’s something they should keep in the back of their minds. Especially if there’s fire to these “return-to-hometown-Chicago” rumblings.

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $6,000,000

When you have a championship window, you have to do everything you can to keep it open, even if it means paying more than what a guy is worth. People give Dan Gilbert so much grief for what he paid LeBron’s supporting cast in Cleveland, but give the guy credit. He knew he had an opportunity that he could not afford to let slip through his fingers. Now, Steve Ballmer has a similar predicament with Harell’s free agency coming up.

Harrell has easily been one of the league’s best bargain contract players over the past couple of years. Not many teams have bigs averaging 18/7 off the bench. The Clippers are the only team to have such a player while paying him chump change. They may no longer have that luxury when he hits the open market.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George create a championship window that needs to have as few holes as possible. Letting Harrell walk will create one that cannot easily be filled. His energy on both sides of the floor makes him an absolute terror to deal with any opponent they go up against. He’s also going to be their best bet against Anthony Davis in what feels like an inevitable conference finals date with their crosstown rival.

Having both his bird rights and a limited market will help the Clippers in the negotiating room, but we’ve seen guys leave good teams for less money because they felt insulted by the deal they were offered. This is the chance for the Clippers to show that they truly are committed both to Harrell and the window they have.

Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets – Unrestricted – $30,000,000

Millsap is the last of a dying breed in the NBA — a pure power forward. Because of the league’s versatility, we see more and more small forwards playing a fair amount of time at the four because they are multi-faceted enough to do so. Millsap impressively has been able to stay productive at the four even as the league has embraced this change. Even more so, the teams he’s been on have pretty much always been good.

At 35 years old, it’s clear Millsap is on his last legs. Although his per-36 stats look just about as good as they were during the height of his prime both in Utah and Atlanta, Denver’s decreased his minutes for a reason. At the same time, there’s a reason why Denver opted to pick up his $30 million team option last summer.

Millsap is definitely not going to see anywhere near the kind of contract he got from the Nuggets back in 2017, but there is going to be a lot of interested parties in his services once the season ends. He’s among those players that aren’t very flashy on the court nor anything spectacular in one area, but just a good fundamental basketball player all-around. He’s a good veteran presence in the locker room, and maybe he won’t put up the All-Star numbers he once could; but as it stands, if all you’re asking him is to be a rotation big on a playoff contender, he’ll do that for you.

Denver has the advantage both because of both its competitors’ lack of available funds and the team having Millsap’s bird rights. Returning to the Nuggets seems like the most obvious path, but Millsap does have to ask himself if he can win with them with what amount of prime he has left.

Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted – $23,271,605

It’s tough to describe where Ibaka is in his career right now. He’s no longer the shot-blocking terror that he was during his time in Oklahoma City — from 3.7 blocks a game in 2011-12 to 0.8 this season — so when you hear stuff like that, you think he’s past his prime. Then you look at his numbers on the offensive end — 16/8 on 52/40/75 splits, some of his best numbers ever — and you would think he hasn’t lost a step.

The contract Toronto gave Ibaka back in 2017 may have been a bit of an overpay — who wasn’t overpaying in 2017? — but he has done what the Raptors have asked of him. He brought veteran experience, still blocks a shot or two, and spaces the floor for them most of the time. He doesn’t have the highest basketball IQ, but he knows what he can do well and sticks to it.

As far as where he goes after this season is quite the mystery. Toronto has been as awesome as a reigning champ who lost its best player could be, but even they have to wonder if it’s worth it to keep the whole band together for another run when Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol are all starting to get up there age-wise. The Raptors could really go either way, and there wouldn’t be a wrong answer. Masaji Ujiri has proven time after time that he knows what he’s doing.

Whoever gets Ibaka knows what they are getting. Besides the skills that have already been listed above, they are getting a champion. That can count for a lot in a playoff run.

Marcus Morris, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $15,000,000

Not every player gets to go through what Morris did this season. He got paid a ton of money to play for a team that was bad enough to trade him to a contender willing to pay a high price for him, and now he gets a golden opportunity to showcase his talents for a payday. His odds of getting one took a hit for reasons that were out of his control, but still. This could not have worked out any better for Morris.

Now he’s on the Clippers, where he is the overqualified third wing to spell Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, as well as be a body to throw at LeBron. His three-point percentage took a bad spill once arriving in LA, but before that he was shooting a blistering near-44 percent from three in New York. Morris is a career 36.7 percent three-point shooter, so asking him to shoot that hot from three is placing unfair expectation, but if he can be a reliable shooter from that department, the Clippers will have no regrets for what they spent on him.

Considering the other Clippers who will be hitting free agency this summer, the odds of Morris coming back to LA seem slim on paper, but who knows how the low salary figures will impact free agency. Morris has proven that he is a valuable two-way wing that can play gritty defense as well as score the ball.

Buyer beware, though — Marcus Morris is in the Russell Westbrook mold of players that will not adapt to the system. The system adapts to guys like him. It doesn’t matter if he’s got the likes of Kawhi or PG-13 on his side. If the basketball is in his hands, his first instinct is to score. If you’re bringing him in, you have to know what you’re paying for. There’s much more good than bad to Mook, but the bad is still something that can’t be overlooked.

Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings – Team Option – $8,963,640

“Uh…. what” you may ask? It’s true. Even as the second overall pick in the draft, Bagley’s rookie deal is structured to have a team option for his third year with the team for… some reason. To be honest, this is really brought up more for being a fun fact than anything else.

Because, even if Bagley has paled in comparison to some of his fellow 2018 draftees thus far — Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Jaren Jackson Jr., Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — Sacramento would be absolutely insane to let him go knowing the kind of potential he has… right?

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