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NBA Saturday: Will Kobe Bryant Return to Form?

Will Kobe Bryant return to superstar form and carry the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014-15 season? He’s confident he will. … A closer look at the NBA players competing in the FIBA World Cup.

Alex Kennedy

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Will Kobe Bryant Return to Form?

“You can always just be average or do what’s normal. I’m not in this to do what’s normal. It’s a decision you’ve got to make if you want to accomplish anything that’s significant and have a serious impact. You’ve got to make those sacrifices. You have to make that choice. I made that choice a long time ago.” – Kobe Bryant

That’s what Bryant says in the trailer for his new documentary, which is titled “Kobe Bryant’s Muse.” The short trailer shows Bryant going through a rigorous workout and he’s clearly determined to bounce back in the 2014-15 NBA season.

A torn Achilles prematurely ended Bryant’s 2012-13 campaign and then a fractured left kneecap ended his comeback after just six games in the 2013-14 season, so it’s been awhile since we’ve seen The Black Mamba in elite form.

KobeBryantInsideImage1He’s hoping to change that soon. Bryant has spent this offseason training hard, determined to silence his critics who say that he has nothing left in the tank. At 36 years old, Bryant knows that his career is winding down and that he only has a few more years of basketball left in him, but he’s optimistic that he can return to form and still be one of the league’s stars before he walks away from the sport for good.

Bryant has two years remaining on his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he intends to dominate every time he steps on the court during those two seasons. That’s the only way Bryant knows how to approach the game that he loves.

“I’m going to max [my last two years] out too, to do whatever I can,” Bryant said in an in-depth interview with Sports Illustrated. “Leave no stone unturned, no water left in the sponge.”

Bryant acknowledges that he has certain physical limitations at this point in his career, but he doesn’t believe those will affect his overall productivity.

“There are certain things that my body can’t do that I used to be able to do, and you have to be able to deal with those,” Bryant said. “First, you have to be able to figure out what those are. Last year when I came back, I was trying to figure out what changed. And that’s a very hard conversation to have.

“So when I hear the pundits and people talk, saying, ‘Well, he won’t be what he was.’ Know what? You’re right! I won’t be. But just because something evolves, it doesn’t make it any less better than it was before. I’ll be sharper. Much sharper. Much more efficient in areas. I’ll be limited in terms of what you see me do, versus a couple years ago. But very, very methodical, very, very purposeful.”

In an effort to further evolve his game and make up for those physical limitations, Bryant has been studying fellow 36-year-old Paul Pierce and is focused on being “more efficient” going forward.

Many people don’t realize the hard work that Bryant puts in during the summer and the season in order to stay on top of his game. He is one of the hardest working players in the NBA. His all-night workouts are legendary and there’s nothing scarier than a motivated Kobe.

Right now, it’s safe to say that Bryant is hungry, after suffering two serious injuries and watching the Lakers finish last season with a franchise-worst record of 27-55. As if he didn’t have enough fuel in his fire, ESPN recently released a list of the top shooting guards in the NBA and Bryant didn’t even make the top 10. Instead, he was listed as an honorable mention, alongside two-guards like Danny Green, Wes Matthews and J.R. Smith.

Meanwhile, Bryant just continues to work and prepare for the season.

“It’s the journey,” Bryant said. “These are the difficult times. I think it’s important to show that. Because it’s very easy for the public to look in October and November and say, ‘Oh, Kobe’s back to the way he was.’ Kids look at that and say, ‘It was just voilà!’  No, it wasn’t just voilà. It wasn’t.

“It was a lot of self-doubt and self-conversations and coming up with a plan, a strategy, trying to find the best people in their fields, nutrition and training and bringing them in and coming up with a plan and working at it day by day. It’s the journey. The journey excites me. I like doing the work. This is my passion. Love doing it. It’s not a job to me. And that’s 90 percent of it.”

Ask any of Bryant’s opponents and they believe he’s going to be back in superstar form in the 2014-15 season. They know better than to bet against Bryant. Tony Allen and James Harden believe that Bryant will be back with a vengeance and ready to put the Lakers on his shoulders, as he has done so many times in the past.

“Even 75 percent Kobe, you got to be wary of,” Allen told SI. “I’m not playing him any different. … He’s the closest thing to Michael Jordan in my era. His game is limitless. Not just a slasher or a shooter. He’s gonna get his. There’s no saying, ‘You’re going to stop Kobe.’ You got to not get discouraged.”

“I want to know what he’s going to come back like; I know he’s been working,” Harden told ThePostGame. “We talked a few times and he’s ready. He’s 20-year-old Kobe [again]. It should be a crazy environment. I’m ready for the upcoming season, it should be a good one.”

Allen and Harden may be right. Keep in mind, before tearing his Achilles in 2012-13, Bryant was having a monster season in which he averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals. His efficiency rating was an impressive 23.1, which was ranked ninth-best among all NBA players. He was incredibly productive and didn’t seem to be showing any signs of decline.

KobeBryantInsideOnly2The question is, can he return to that level of play after these injuries? One of the worst things about an Achilles injury is that it makes the body vulnerable to many other injuries. Just ask Chauncey Billups. The veteran point guard hasn’t been the same player since he tore his Achilles with the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2012, mainly because various other injuries kept nagging him long after his Achilles was healed.

“The thing that held me back a lot last season was my peroneal tendon on the side of my foot and bottom of my Achilles,” Billups told InsideSoCal.com last November. “That is what ailed me. My Achilles was fine. My Achilles,  I had no issues. I had a successful rehab with that. It was other things with that peroneal tendon that set me back and enabled me to play 20 something games. It was no issue for me. It wasn’t the Achilles at all.

“I think it was all [related]. You have so much time off from that foot and that side of your body. Of course your leg is not as strong and your left leg. Mine wasn’t that strong as my right leg when I first came back. You have to deal with that and compensating a little bit because it’s not as strong. That’s probably what led to my peroneal tendon being overworked. That’s how I can relate those. It all stemmed from my Achilles.”

Bryant’s health will obviously determine just how productive he can be. He’s hoping that his injuries are behind him, so he can walk away from the game on his own terms rather than being too hurt to continue playing.

In the past, Bryant had said that these last two years would be his final seasons in the NBA. However, now he admits that he could change his mind and he’s leaving open the possibility of continuing his career beyond this current contract.

“Yeah, if something inside of me changes and I want to play some more, and go after it some more… yeah [I’ll keep playing],” Bryant said. “But where I sit right now, I don’t know if I want to do that.”

As long as Bryant is able to play at a high level, he’ll likely be on the court. He’s unsure how long he’ll continue playing, but it’s hard to imagine Bryant retiring if he can still contribute to a team since basketball is his life and he’s so obsessed with the competition.

As one general manager told Sports Illustrated: “You know how it’s been hard for Jordan in retirement? It’s going to be way worse to be Kobe. He has fewer friends and the same competitive drive. At least MJ likes to golf and play cards.”

Over the final years of Bryant’s career, one thing is certain: Bryant is going to push his teammates and never hold back. He expects them to work just as hard as he does and his expectations are always lofty (and sometimes unrealistic). For example, Bryant is entering this season with championship aspirations, despite the fact that the Lakers would be lucky to make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference with their roster as currently assembled. But that’s just how Bryant is and he’s not shying away from it. He says that his title within the franchise is ‘asshole in chief’ and it’s something he embraces.

“You can’t afford to placate people,” Bryant said. “You can’t afford to do that. You’re a leader. You’re not here to be a social butterfly. You’re here to get them to the promised land. A lot of people shy away from that because a lot of people want to be liked by every­body. I want to be liked too. But I know that years from now they’ll appreciate how I pushed them to get us to that end result.”

Nobody wants to think about it, but Bryant’s retirement is just around the corner. With five championships, two Finals MVP awards, one NBA MVP trophy, 16 All-Star selections, 15 All-NBA nods, three gold medals and 31,700 points scored (the most of any active player and fourth all-time), Bryant has had a hell of a career.

Let’s hope that he can return to superstar form so that he can keep dazzling us and dropping our jaws until the curtain falls. Bryant’s days in the NBA are numbered, so let’s enjoy the show while it lasts.

Record Number of NBA Players Competing in World Cup

The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gets underway today in Spain and a record 45 current NBA players will be featured on national team rosters, which is up from 44 in 2010.  The tournament features a record 75 players who have played in the NBA.

The World Cup will showcase 17 former NBA draftees whose rights are currently held by NBA teams, bringing the total number of current NBA players, former NBA players and NBA draftees participating in the tournament to a record 92.

Twenty-one of 24 national teams feature at least one current NBA player, former NBA player or NBA draftee, and 22 NBA teams are represented on national team rosters.

The Cavaliers and Rockets each have four current NBA players in the tournament, while the Bulls, Jazz, Nets and Timberwolves each have three.  The Grizzlies, Kings, Knicks, Pacers, Pelicans, Raptors, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Warriors each have two current NBA players in the tournament.

Outside of the United States, Spain has the most current NBA players with six.  France and Australia feature four current NBA players, while Brazil and Greece each feature three.  Argentina, Croatia and Lithuania each feature two current NBA players.

Here’s a list of current NBA players on 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER NBA TEAM
Argentina Luis Scola Indiana Pacers
Argentina Pablo Prigioni New York Knicks
Australia Cameron Bairstow Chicago Bulls
Australia Matthew Dellavedova Cleveland Cavaliers
Australia Dante Exum Utah Jazz
Australia Brock Motum Utah Jazz
Brazil Anderson Varejao Cleveland Cavaliers
Brazil Tiago Splitter San Antonio Spurs
Brazil Nenê Washington Wizards
Croatia Bojan Bodgdanovic Brooklyn Nets
Croatia Damjan Rudez Indiana Pacers
Dominican Republic Francisco Garcia Houston Rockets
Finland Erik Murphy Cleveland Cavaliers
France Evan Fournier Orlando Magic
France Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers
France Boris Diaw San Antonio Spurs
France Rudy Gobert Utah Jazz
Greece Kostas Papanikolaou Houston Rockets
Greece Nick Calathes Memphis Grizzlies
Greece Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee Bucks
Lithuania Donatas Motiejunas Houston Rockets
Lithuania Jonas Valanciunas Toronto Raptors
Mexico Jorge Gutierrez Brooklyn Nets
Puerto Rico J.J. Barea Minnesota Timberwolves
Senegal Gorgui Dieng Minnesota Timberwolves
Slovenia Goran Dragić Phoenix Suns
Spain Pau Gasol Chicago Bulls
Spain Marc Gasol Memphis Grizzlies
Spain Ricky Rubio Minnesota Timberwolves
Spain José Calderon New York Knicks
Spain Serge Ibaka Oklahoma City Thunder
Spain Victor Claver Portland Trail Blazers
Turkey Omer Asik New Orleans Pelicans
United States Mason Plumlee Brooklyn Nets
United States Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls
United States Kyrie Irving Cleveland Cavaliers
United States Kenneth Faried Denver Nuggets
United States Andre Drummond Detroit Pistons
United States Stephen Curry Golden State Warriors
United States Klay Thompson Golden State Warriors
United States James Harden Houston Rockets
United States Anthony Davis New Orleans Pelicans
United States DeMarcus Cousins Sacramento Kings
United States Rudy Gay Sacramento Kings
United States DeMar DeRozan Toronto Raptors

 

Here’s a list of NBA free agents on 2014 FIBA World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER MOST RECENT NBA TEAM
Australia Aron Baynes San Antonio Spurs
Brazil Leandro Barbosa Phoenix Suns
Mexico Gustavo Ayon Atlanta Hawks
Philippines Andray Blatche Brooklyn Nets
Serbia Miroslav Raduljica Los Angeles Clippers

 

Here’s a list of former NBA players on 2014 FIBA World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER MOST RECENT NBA TEAM
Argentina Walter Herrmann Detroit Pistons
Argentina Andres Nocioni Philadelphia 76ers
Australia David Andersen New Orleans Hornets
Australia Nathan Jawai Minnesota Timberwolves
Brazil Alex Garcia New Orleans Hornets
Brazil Marcus Vinicius New Orleans Hornets
Croatia Oliver Lafayette Boston Celtics
Croatia Damir Markota Milwaukee Bucks
Croatia Roko Ukic Milwaukee Bucks
Finland Hanno Möttölä Atlanta Hawks
France Mickael Gelabale Minnesota Timberwolves
Greece Andreas Glyniadakis Seattle SuperSonics
Iran Hamed Haddadi Phoenix Suns
New Zealand Kirk Penney San Antonio Spurs
Puerto Rico Carlos Arroyo Boston Celtics
Puerto Rico Renaldo Balkman New York Knicks
Puerto Rico Daniel Santiago Milwaukee Bucks
Senegal Hamady N’Diaye Sacramento Kings
Serbia Nenad Krstic Boston Celtics
Slovenia Uroš Slokar Toronto Raptors
Spain Rudy Fernandez Denver Nuggets
Spain Juan Carlos Navarro Memphis Grizzlies
Spain Sergio Rodriguez New York Knicks
Ukraine Pooh Jeter Sacramento Kings
Ukraine Slava Kravtsov Phoenix Suns

 

Here’s a list of draftees whose rights are held by NBA teams on World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER RIGHTS HELD BY
Australia Brad Newley Houston Rockets
Brazil Raul Neto Utah Jazz
Croatia Dario Saric Philadelphia 76ers
Croatia Ante Tomic Utah Jazz
Finland Petteri Koponen Dallas Mavericks
France Joffrey Lauvergne Denver Nuggets
Greece Georgios Printezis Atlanta Hawks
Iran Arsalan Kazemi Philadelphia 76ers
Lithuania Renaldas Seibutis Dallas Mavericks
Serbia Nemanja Bjelica Minnesota Timberwolves
Serbia Bogdan Bogdanovic Phoenix Suns
Spain Alex Abrines Oklahoma City Thunder
Spain Sergio Llull Houston Rockets
Turkey Cenk Akyol Los Angeles Clippers
Turkey Furkan Aldemir Philadelphia 76ers
Turkey Emir Preldzic Dallas Mavericks
Ukraine Sergii Gladyr Atlanta Hawks

 

Check back throughout the week for more World Cup coverage from Basketball Insiders.

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

NBA Daily: LiAngelo Ball Fighting For Place in the NBA

LiAngelo Ball has the name recognition but is trying to prove he belongs in the NBA based on his skills and abilities.

James Blancarte

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NBA fans are currently being treated to competitive Western and Eastern Conference Finals. The postseason is coming to a close and in roughly two weeks, the eventual 2018 NBA champion shall be crowned. With the NBA season nearly over, NBA draft season is revving up. On June 21, exactly sixty young men will hear their name called on draft night. This group will include highly sought-after NCAA collegiate prospects, international players and U.S. born players that have spent time improving their respectives games overseas.

Attention is most often focused on the top few picks. However, one name has had a conspicuous tendency to stick out, LiAngelo Ball. Like his older brother Lonzo Ball, Liangelo was recruited into the UCLA program amid the heightened attention surrounding the Ball family. Unlike Lonzo, Liangelo was unable to showcase his game on the U.S. collegiate level following a widely covered theft scandal overseas, his subsequent suspension from the UCLA program and the Ball family’s decision to then place LiAngelo and his younger brother LaMelo Ball into the Lithuanian league.

Now removed from overseas play, LiAngelo Ball is fighting to prove that his game (and not just his name) warrants the attention of NBA team officials. Many critics are quick to look past Lonzo’s clear NBA talent and whatever potential LaMelo Ball might have to quickly dismiss LiAngelo. LiAngelo Ball made it clear he sees himself as an NBA player. Ball spoke to Basketball Insiders recently to discuss a wide range of topics.

“I’m an NBA player, that’s why I declared for the draft. That’s why I’m here also,” Ball stated.

While those who question the potential for Ball to make the league via the draft, Ball has been busy doing his best to make a good impression in person. Ball spoke about the interviews he’s had so far.

“Team interviews were great. It wasn’t really an interview for me. I just started talking, vibing with the coach really. I felt like it went good for me,” Ball said and confirmed which teams he had spoken to. “I had two with [Oklahoma City] and the Suns.”

Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype confirmed that Ball also has private workouts scheduled with the Lakers, Clippers and Warriors.

Ball gave some insight into his approach to the workouts and whether there is a specific approach regarding the teams in attendance.

“I’m going to work out hard. I’m not really familiar with what they do so, I don’t know but I’m going to knock down my shots and show my endurance. Stuff like that,” Ball said.

Numerous videos have been posted of Ball shooting well in these workouts. The videos, as his past play would indicate, show that Ball is at least a capable outside shooter. Ball was quick to point this out, along with his defensive potential, as skill sets that make him a viable NBA prospect.

“I feel like I bring the team, I can knock down shots for a team. I’m real confident in that,” Ball said. “I feel like my defensive game is good. With the right coach and somebody lets me know the techniques, I feel like I’ll be a good defender in the league.”

Young players and prospects are often asked which players they have looked up to or emulated as it helps to give a bit of insight into the young player’s mentality. Ball didn’t admit to copying a particular player’s game but did name a few players he likes to watch while slipping in a flattering comparison he says he has heard about himself.

“I don’t really model my game after other players. I always just play my own way, my own style. I like to watch players as far as James Harden, LeBron [James], Klay Thompson. People say I play like [Thompson] sometimes. So, I just like watching that type of stuff. Pick up stuff from the game,” Ball said.

Ball also highlighted his time in Europe as a plus to his resume.

“I feel like it translates good into the NBA. I mean, I got a year of experience over in Europe, Europe basketball. [Because] they do a lot of the same sets, like I said, as far as coming off the screens, pull-ups and all that. I feel like it helped me out there,” Ball stated.

Also, Ball didn’t hesitate to show his interest in playing for any team beyond the Lakers, if that opportunity presented itself.

“I’m saying I’d like to play for the Lakers [because] my brother is on the team. I want to play with him. I’d love to play for any other team really. I don’t have like a set choice.  Any other team, I’m ready to play for,” Ball stated

Ball needs to keep all options open. There are only so many spots in the draft and as Ball stated, he will have to be prepared to explore every opportunity in the draft, free agency or perhaps through the G-League. For now, he is focusing his attention on the task at hand and doing whatever he can to ensure his name is among the sixty called on draft night.

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Mock Drafts

2018 NBA Consensus Mock Draft – Ver 4.0

Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ experts take a look at the draft class and weigh in on what they are seeing and hearing in the march up to the 2018 NBA Draft.

Basketball Insiders

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Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ top writers will break down the latest news and notes surrounding the 2018 NBA Draft. Included is an updated mock draft that reflects how each writer sees the draft landscape based on the latest news, workouts, and information from the pre-draft process.

Version: 1.0 | 2.0 | 3.0

Moke’s Notebook: One thing I can say for sure is that this is the most unpredictable draft I’ve seen in many years. The Kings and Hawks are each rumored to be open to moving the second and third pick in the draft, and I have a feeling that’s due to the intrigue surrounding Luka Dončić. At this point, the expectation is that the Suns will select DeAndre Ayton first, and I get the sense that there are many that believe that the risk of selecting Dončić is too great. Aside from that, Michael Porter, Jr. (whom I’ve been told is the “dream” scenario for the Knicks) and Mo Bamba each saw their stock rise pretty dramatically during the Combine in Chicago. I’ve seen some mocks having Porter as highly as third.

Aside from those two, there are a lot of questions about Trae Young. It was once thought that Stephen Curry and even Kevin Durant weren’t strong enough to make it in the NBA, and similar questions have been asked of Young. Between Dončić, Bamba, Porter and Young, we might be looking at four of the biggest risks that are consensus top seven picks in quite some time. Of the batch, I’d feel most comfortable selecting Bamba, whose maturity and outside shooting are both better than advertised, but again, with teams at the top willing to discuss dealing their picks and the appetite for risk playing a major role in how the draft shakes out, I only have confidence in my top seven, not necessarily where they’ll land.

As we get closer to the draft, I’d keep an eye on a few names: Aaron Holiday, Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo. Each of those guys have a shot to move up into the late teens, with Holiday, in particular, having lottery potential. Keita Bates-Diop and Jevon Carter are two second rounders who I wouldn’t be surprised to see sneak into the top 30, either.

Over the coming weeks, some guys will be called in for more individual workouts and as the weeks progress, our intel will get stronger.

Jesse’s Notebook: Though the NBA Lottery and Combine are behind us, there are still a lot of questions about how things will shake out on draft night. While Luka Dončić has been considered a consensus top-two pick for some time, some are now questioning whether he will drop a spot or two. I still believe that by draft night, Dončić will likely be picked either first or second, but that doesn’t seem to be a foregone conclusion anymore.

The mystery man of this year’s class continues to be Michael Porter Jr. Porter Jr. checks off all of the boxes for a top-tier draft prospect, but his injury history and long-term health are still major issues that teams need to consider. No one in the draft has a larger range of outcomes. Porter Jr. recently said at the Combine that he is the best player in the draft and it will only take one team with a top pick to agree with his assessment to roll the dice and take a shot on him. But if it looks like his athleticism or burst is limited because of his previous injuries, he could drop toward the end of the top-10.

As of now, there is a good sense of who will be picked with the top 15 picks or so. Once we get outside of that range, things become somewhat less clear. There is very little consensus on how teams will draft from 16-30, so I expect the upcoming workouts and other pre-draft processes to help add clarity on that front.

Benny’s Notebook: Since Basketball Insiders’ last set of Notebooks, much of the draft landscape has changed. From lottery leaps to combine crushers, we’re finally at the point in the process where things start to happen. I still believe Luka Dončić is this draft class’ best player — he literally won both the EuroLeague MVP and Final Four MVP this weekend — but we must deal with the reality that Phoenix (and perhaps others) may look elsewhere. Outside of swapping No. 1 and 2, most of my adjustments come in the lower half of the first round.

I’d banked high on Mitchell Robinson showing out at the Draft Combine and, instead, he pulled out of everything completely. Allegedly, this is because Robinson has earned a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25, according to Aran Smith of NBADraft.net. So, with little else to go off of on Robinson, he slides for me. Additionally, after the strange week of Dennis Schröder news, it’s possible that the Atlanta Hawks could search for a future guard — and the stock-rising Aaron Holiday certainly fits the bill.

Lastly, I’ve begun to come around on Zhaire Smith, the 6-foot-5 prospect from Texas Tech that averaged 11.3 points and five rebounds per game. In the modern, positionless NBA, Smith can already guard multiple spots and his athletic abilities have been rated at the top of his class. He may need some G-League time next season, but he turns just 19 years old in early June. While he probably won’t rise much higher than I’ve had him in mocks thus far, he makes sense for plenty of rebuilding rosters.

Steve’s Notebook: With the official NBA Draft Combine in the books there has been a lot of draft chatter. While it’s important to state clearly that its still very very early in the process and lots of things can change, there is a sense at least in a few places where some teams seem to be heading and where some players might end up landing.

The Phoenix Suns did land the top overall pick, and there was almost no executive in Chicago who thought Arizona big man DeAndre Ayton wouldn’t be Phoenix’s pick. While there is real validity to the idea that new Suns head coach Igor Kokoškov has experience and a relationship with euro sensation Luka Dončić, the belief is the Suns will make their decision based on talent, not relationship.

There was also a buzz that both Sacramento and Atlanta seemed more interested in the domestic big men available at the top of the draft rather than Dončić. That could always change, but the thought process there was the risk that Dončić could opt to stay out of the draft if he didn’t like where he would land, and both teams seem to be higher on other players.

There were a few players who clearly had fans among NBA talent evaluators.

Duke’s Wendell Carter Jr, could go significantly higher than expected with Dallas being his likely ceiling. The Mavericks are far from locked in on anyone, but the belief is the Mavericks are looking at versatile bigs.

Kentucky’s Kevin Knox was something of a mystery in Chicago opting to do very little publicly and left town early. According to several teams, Knox could go as high as six to Orlando and has strong interest from the Bulls, Cavaliers, and Knicks.

UCLA’s Aaron Holiday is said to have a “soft” commitment in the late teens and has, at this point, turned away workouts with teams in the 20’s. There is a sense he could be gone before by the 19th pick.

Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison pulled out of the Combine with NBA Draft.net’s Aran Smith tweeting that he is believed to have gotten a commitment from the Chicago Bulls at 22. Smith also tweeted that Mitchell Robinson also got a promise from the Lakers at 25. One veteran executive labeled this draft class as being the most aggressive draft he can recall where agents were calling and pressing for commitments.

Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo wowed athletically during combine testing and several executives before the testing sessions not only nailed where he’d measure and perform, they also suggested he’d be gone in the 20’s.

Executives were especially critical of the two notable international prospects Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, suggesting that both could slide into the second round.

IMG Academy’s Anfernee Simons has several fans, but the word on him is that he’s a long-term project that would need time. There was a considerable amount of fact-finding by scouts on Simons. A team to watch could be Orlando if Simons is there is there when the Magic select at 35 or 41.

Tulane’s Melvin Frazier came away with mixed reviews, some love his length and athleticism and see him as a defensive presence, other teams saw him as lacking defined NBA skill sets.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter has some fans. One executive offered a friendly wager that Huerter would be gone by 40.

West Virginia’s Jevon Carter looks like he has a real shot to be drafted in the first round, with several teams at the bottom of draft expressing real interest.

There are a couple of sleeper types that seemed to have turned some heads through the process in Chicago, namely Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, Louisville’s Ray Spalding, Dayton’s Kostas Antetokounmpo and West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. All of them could go significantly higher than currently projected.

Who are these guys anyway? Steve Kyler is the Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 19 years. Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders and has covered basketball for the last eight years. Jesse Blancarte is a Senior NBA Writer and Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last four years. Benny Nadeau is an NBA Writer and finished his first season covering the NBA for Basketball Insiders.

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

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NBA Daily: Porter Jr. Ready to Make Up For Lost Time in the NBA

Michael Porter Jr. played just 53 minutes of basketball in his lone college season, yet believes he’s the best player in the draft now that he’s seemingly healthy.

Dennis Chambers

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When Michael Porter Jr. stepped foot on Missouri’s campus, he was supposed to inject life into a basketball program that hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since the 2012-13 season.

After receiving his release from the University of Washington, following the firing of Lorenzo Romar, Porter Jr. decided to return home and play under Cuonzo Martin for the Tigers. The No. 2 ranked recruit in the nation, the near 6-foot-11 small forward possessed the scoring and versatility traits to suggest he would be a star at the college basketball level before making his jump to the NBA.

But that would not be so for Porter Jr., as a back injury and subsequent surgery would limit him to just 53 total minutes in three games coming at the end of the season.

In his brief stint as a student-athlete, Porter Jr. played how many would expect a teenager coming off of months-long injury rehab: rusty.

Thirty points and 20 rebounds in three games, on 10-for-33 shooting from the field, and 7-for-20 from beyond the arc. It was clear Porter Jr. was not up to the speed he expected to be on the college court just several months prior. But no matter, he wanted to get out there anyway, regardless of risking re-injury, so that he could help his teammates.

“I knew that I wasn’t gonna put on a show, or be the Mike that they saw in a few months,” Porter Jr. said at the NBA Combine. “The way I was thinking about was just, you know, they’ll know the player I am in a few months. Just trying to help my team and not be selfish with the decision. We had like six players on scholarship at the time because two had gotten injured. So, I was just trying to do what I could to be a part of the team.”

Porter Jr.’s return didn’t lift his team the way he had hoped, as Missouri fell to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA tournament 67-54. When the clock hit zeros, the smooth shooting swingman with a questionable injury history set his sights on the NBA.

However, Porter Jr.’s projection at the game’s highest level is much different in May than it was 10 months ago. From positioning himself to battle for the top overall pick, Porter Jr. is now somewhat of an enigma. His game is a bit of a mystery, and so are his medical records. Once considered a no-brainer to be picked top-three, Porter Jr. could find himself sliding near the back end of the top 10 on draft night.

Noting that he originally injured his back a few years ago in high school, when the injury finally caught up to him just before his college career was ready to tip off, Porter Jr. took a unique approach to otherwise disappointing news.

“When I had to have the surgery I kind of viewed it as a blessing,” Porter Jr. said. “A new start, and I could really reach my full potential. They had me as the number one player in high school, but I didn’t even feel like I was at 100 percent, and I do now.”

Being at 100 percent, as Porter Jr. says in his own words, just before he begins his NBA career has the forward excited for his future. Despite missing time on the court and falling behind other prospects in the draft conversation, Porter Jr. hasn’t lost his self-confidence.

“I’m just excited to show everybody the player that I am,” Porter Jr. said. “I’m still the best player … I played against all these guys, they’re all great players. But I’m the best player in this draft.”

Though his back is still a mystery, and his sample size is small, if Porter Jr. were to reach the potential scouts and NBA personnel pegged him as having when he was on the doorsteps of college basketball, then he has the makings of a franchise-caliber player.

With the opportunity of getting that kind of upside at a potentially discounted selection, Porter Jr. was one of the most popular names at the Cmbine. The forward mentioned meeting with just about every team picking in the top 10 come June’s draft. One team that Porter Jr. has been frequently linked to, the Chicago Bulls, were not exclusively mentioned on his list. But Porter Jr. noted the Bulls and his agent were in contact and he hoped to get a workout scheduled with Chicago.

No matter who Porter Jr. meets with or works out for from now until draft night, the versatile and skilled forward projects to be one of the most interesting players to follow. Could he impress throughout the draft process and reclaim his spot within the top-three? Or will he slide down draft boards and become a potential steal for a team in the back half of the lottery?

Whatever the outcome is, Porter Jr. will be ready.

“I was hoping to turn college basketball upside down like a lot of these players,” Porter Jr. said. “But this is just a step in my process in becoming the best player that I can be. It’s a little different, but I’m more ready than ever. I’ve been dreaming about this NBA stuff for so long, I feel like I’m ready.”

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