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NBA Sunday: Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony’s Looming Legacies

Entering the 2014-15 season, both Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony face questions regarding their legacies.

Moke Hamilton

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The horn sounded. The third quarter ended. Chris Paul sat on the bench, forlorn. His bright red jersey, now burgundy and drenched in sweat, clung to his frame.

He took a deep breath and looked up at his head coach. Searching and hoping for a diatribe that would light a fire under his listless teammates, he got the opposite.

“We’ll regroup for Game 2,” his coach said, mentally forfeiting.

“We’ll be ready,” he said.

But alas, this was Game 1 and there were still 12 minutes remaining.

And as he sat down and looked up at the scoreboard, he saw the 85-64 score. He didn’t need an abacus to tell him that his team faced an insurmountable deficit. That this was Game 1 on the road made the task of accomplishing the impossible all the more daunting.

Lesser men would have rationalized the defeat, waved the white flag and reasoned that they simply needed to win Game 2.

Instead, Paul opened his mouth.

“You have to give us a chance,” he pleaded with his coach.

And against his better judgment, Vinny Del Negro relented. Paul peeled himself up for the game’s final 12 minutes and went out and made history.

His Los Angeles Clippers didn’t just defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, they practically robbed them at gunpoint, erasing a 24-point fourth quarter deficit to win Game 1 of a series that would eventually see them prevail in seven.

Yes, it was a heist, and afterward, Blake Griffin said so himself.

“We put a mask on and robbed that one,” Griffin told The Los Angeles Times.

So as Paul closes in on his 30th birthday and the questions about his durability and lack of bling persist and polarize, I ask you:

What will you remember him for?

Will you remember him for having the heart of a champion? Will you remember him for controlling and dominating games, despite often being the smallest competitor on the court? Will you remember him for single-handedly turning two franchises into contenders in the ever-tough Western Conference?

Or, will you, like those who cannot see past their own noses, simply boil his legacy and place in history down to the simple question of whether he was able to capture a championship over the course of his career?

Would Kevin Garnett not be as great of a player in your eyes if he never had the good fortune (and sense) to be traded to the Boston Celtics to team up with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen?

Would Dirk Nowitzki not be arguably one of the greatest shooters and offensive forces in NBA history if his 2011 Dallas Mavericks weren’t able to pull off one of the biggest NBA Finals upsets in history?

Are they, Garnett and Nowitzki, better players because they were able to accomplish that?

Through that lens, I ask you, even deeper, will you remember any of the NBA’s superstars who walk away from the game without ever having the pleasure of cradling the Larry O’Brien trophy?

If Kevin Durant is unable to lead his Oklahoma City Thunder to the promise land, will that diminish his greatness? Will you pretend as though he is not a transcendent basketball talent who, amazingly, has the stature of a beanstalk, the grace of a gazelle and the dead-eye of an eagle?

Will you brush their accomplishments aside and forget to mention them along the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade?

Will you cast their legacies aside and include them in the list of “others” that were unable to accomplish the game’s ultimate feat?

The gross majority of the basketball-watching public will, but you should not, because the ultimate measure of one’s greatness should not be boiled down to whether or not they were able to win a championship. Prudent and intelligent management is an integral part of accomplishing that and players have little control over it.

Yes, the bling sings, but it should be in pianissimo.

*****

Let’s talk about irony.

Let’s talk about a player whose own fan base is torn on him and his talent.

Let’s talk about a player who has been expected to live up to an unattainable standard and is largely unappreciated as a result.

Yes, let’s talk about Carmelo Anthony and his self-appointed designation as being the game’s most underrated superstar, even after signing a five-year, $124 million contract to remain a member of the New York Knicks.

And then, let’s talk about the fact that Anthony is correct.

Perhaps somewhat naturally, in a culture that has come to worship the World Series of Poker and other winner-take-all endeavors, we have learned how to ignore all but the brightest shining star.

You’re either the best, or you’re not. You’re either the man, or you’re not. You’re either LeBron James, or you’re not.

I know LeBron, and Mr. Anthony, you are no LeBron.

But I know that Anthony is still an amazing basketball talent worthy of universal reverence from all-corners of the league (and the basketball-watching world, for that matter). But I also happen to know that Anthony is being simultaneously judged while his immense talents are disrespected and overlooked. Not only because he’s considered the peer of LeBron, and not only because of the dearth of playoff series victories, but also because of Allen Iverson.

Collectively, we were sold on the idea that Iverson, a “volume scorer,” who was both ball-dominant and inefficient, was impossible to win with. Over time, we soured on Iverson. We overlooked the fact that he would leave everything he had on the floor in pursuit of winning. Instead, we focused more on the fact that he was unable to win more and do more, despite the likes of Derrick Coleman, Matt Geiger, Toni Kukoc and Theo Ratliff being his wingmen.

Instead of talking about how he played hurt and was a one-man wrecking crew that was small enough to fit in Shaquille O’Neal’s pocket—and revering him for that—we would rather spend our time talking about practice and why Iverson was “only” able to lead his Philadelphia 76ers to one NBA Finals appearance.

Because of Iverson and his faults (and he did have quite a few), we were eventually taught to buy into the myth that a man whose most capable asset on the floor is his ability to score points is impossible to succeed with. We have been taught that anyone lacking the all-around skill set of LeBron James isn’t worthy of our respect.

And so what if Mark Cuban was able to finally win with Nowitzki?

Nowitzki was far more efficient than Carmelo. He’s never even sniffed the 50/40/90 club, so clearly, he’s not of Nowitzki’s caliber

We will continue to overlook the fact that since 2011, Anthony has become a more efficient shot maker, become a more willing passer and has flat-out played harder than we had grown accustomed to seeing him in the past.

We will continue to not believe that the correct offensive system—the triangle, in this case—can find a way to utilize his unique skills while hiding the weak points.

We will continue to overlook some of his more amazing accomplishments. Like that time when he finally got a capable running mate in Denver and he and Chauncey Billups gave an in-prime Kobe Bryant a valiant fight for the 2009 Western Conference Championship. Or that time in the 2011 NBA Playoffs where, without Billups and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire, being flanked by the likes of Bill Walker, Toney Douglas, Jared Jeffries and Shawne Williams, Anthony put together one of the most amazing playoff performances many of us have ever seen.

After he single-handedly gave his New York Knicks an opportunity to win with a 42-point, 17-rebound, six-assist effort, Doc Rivers called him one of the best players he’s ever seen and said his Boston Celtics were “lucky” to have won that night.

The 33 points he scored in a single quarter back in 2008? We will brush that aside as quickly as we have the fact that he is one of the greatest and most accomplished players to ever play for USA Basketball. We will brush them aside just like we did his amazing performance in the 2012 Olympics, where he emerged as the alpha scorer for Team USA and set the USA Men’s Olympic team record for most points (37) scored in a game.

Those 62 points he scored against the Charlotte Hornets back in 2014 in Madison Square Garden? Most call that meaningless in the grand scheme.

Instead of holding Anthony in high esteem, we will continue to boil his usefulness and legitimacy down into one simple question…

How many championships has he won?

And until that number changes, if it changes, the answer to that questions equals how much respect he will get from the masses, because honoring, respecting and appreciating players like Anthony and Chris Paul requires more than a passive look. It requires actually watching.

It requires one to do more than simply look at a stat sheet or an accolades list to make a determination about a player’s worth.

It requires basketball education, and frankly, that’s a little too difficult for most of us to attain.

So yes, let’s talk about irony and let’s discuss what it is.

In short, irony is becoming a better player while your team regresses. Irony is making it through 11 years in the NBA without ever simultaneously having a coach that could fully utilize your skills and a Robin that fully complements them.

Since arriving in New York, like his salaries, Anthony’s game has risen while his stature in the league has seemingly gone on a descent.

That’s life as Anthony, though. The $124 million underrated superstar.

Ironic, isn’t it?

*****

Since 1999, each NBA Finals has had at least one of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan or Dwyane Wade in it.

Duncan has had R.C. Buford and Greg Poppovich by his side for his amazing run. Bryant has served under Jerry West, Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson and Wade owes almost everything to Pat Riley.

Behind every great champion is a great executive and a great head coach. Winning requires an immense amount of talent on the basketball court, but it requires an immense amount of brainpower above it, as well.

In the end, no matter how great the player, he himself cannot single-handedly win the ultimate prize. In the end, reducing someone’s legacy and the amount of respect bestowed upon him to a single question as to whether he was able to win is an insult.

Although there are more chapters to be written in the books of Paul, Anthony and even Durant, eventually toppling LeBron’s reign atop the NBA is something that should enhance the legacies that they leave on the game. But if none of those three are able to, it should not detract or distract us from seeing them for the special talents that they are.

Success in the NBA is no accident. It requires an alpha-male, but it requires so much more.

Falling short of accomplishing that ultimate goal should not be a black mark against any player who changes the culture of a franchise and gives it an opportunity to compete at the highest level.

I’ll take Paul or Anthony on my team any day. I’ll take their strengths and their weaknesses and I’ll do my best to utilize them and hide them, respectively. I’d do my best to be the Mark Cuban to their Dirk Nowitzki.

And when it’s all said and done, win or lose, I’ll take their accomplishments and their shortcomings.

I just won’t take their credit.

When it’s all said and done, win or lose, after observing their growth over the years and their transforming of two franchises, I’ll take their legacies, too.

I’ll take their legacies and defend them, because unlike many, I understand that winning in the NBA never was and never will be about just one player.

But one’s legacy? It should be.

And at the end of the day, it is important to know the difference. Being an inlier is a natural byproduct of competition, but by no means should it reduce the esteem anointed to some of the greatest players we have had the pleasure of watching.

So no, neither Paul nor Anthony is LeBron. But at the end of the day, they’re still pretty damn good.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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NBA

NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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