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NBA Sunday: Wizards Have Turned It Around

After being left for dead, the Washington Wizards have turned their season around in recent weeks.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing we have learned about the Eastern Conference lately, it’s that it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

As the New York Knicks sputter, the Atlanta Hawks have seemed to have gotten a second wind. Despite trading Kyle Korver to the Cleveland Cavaliers back on January 7, the Hawks—a team that had lost 10 of 11 games earlier this season—enter play on January 15 as the conference’s fourth seed. Their 22-17 record and most recent 12-5 stretch show how quickly an Eastern Conference team can turn things around.

Indeed, there is true parity, and the Washington Wizards are the latest example.

* * * * * *

Entering the season, many expected the Wizards to emerge as one of the teams to beat in the NBA’s Southeastern Division. The Miami HEAT had lost Dwyane Wade, the Charlotte Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee and Jeremy Lin and Al Horford decided to leave Atlanta for the greener pastures in Boston.

Meanwhile, the Wizards replace head coach Randy Wittman with Scotty Brooks and seemed to be returning a group whose chemistry and continuity would help it improve upon the somewhat disappointing 2015-16 campaign. Last season, the squad managed just a 41-41 record, which was good enough for 10th in the conference and a trip to the draft lottery.

Over the summer, there were rumors of infighting and speculation that Bradley Beal and John Wall couldn’t play together. Over the past several weeks, trade scenarios had been floated around that suggested the Wizards would be best served by breaking up their core because the group had proven itself to be incompatible.

What a difference a few weeks makes.

Entering play on January 15, the Wizards have gone 13-6 and are currently riding an 11-game home win streak. That’s something the club hasn’t accomplished since 1965. It would appear that they have completely turned their season around.

“It’s been great,” John Wall said after the team’s 11th consecutive home win over the Philadelphia 76ers. “Other than these last two games when we get off to bad starts − we’ve never been able to get off to good starts, our bench and our starters are keying in very well and doing whatever the coaches want us to, and we play great defense, and our crowd has been amazing.”

Now at 20-19, they suddenly (and perhaps surprisingly) find themselves with the sixth seed in the conference, but also just two games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the division lead—yes, the same Hawks who were left for dead a few weeks ago.

In short, the Wizards can thank the improved health and reliability of Bradley Beal for the turnaround. Since December 5, he’s been scoring 23 points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field, while John Wall has continued to be his normally reliable self. He leads the league in fourth-quarter fast break points, a skill that comes in handy in the waning moments of games.

The Wizards have also done a fair job of altering their game plan depending on their competition. They are one of the few teams in the league that can be effective in a half court set, as well as by pushing the ball and taking quick shots.

Back when the team was 6-12, it would have been easy for a relatively young team like the Wizards to pout and for their effort to wane. Head coach Scott Brooks, though, attributes the team’s perseverance to Wall and his competitiveness. The undoubted leader of the young club, Wall shows up to play and gives maximum effort each time out. That’s all a coach can ask for.

“He loves the game,” Brooks said of Wall. “That guy, he’s a gamer. He loves to play, he loves playing here, and he loves playing with this team. He has that burning desire to compete. It’s about competition, you want guys like that, and we have a team full of guys that like to compete.”

It would appear that the faith the young team has shown in one another is paying off. Without a doubt, things haven’t been the same since Paul Pierce left for Los Angeles a few seasons ago, but maybe the young Wizards just needed time to ripen.

Maybe they’re finally ready. At the very least, they’ve shown the ability to string a few wins together, and that’s where it all usually begins.

Over the past several weeks, the Wizards, and even the Hawks have each shown us that, to a certain extent, there is true parity in the Eastern Conference.

Entering play on January 15, the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic sit in seeds 9-12, respectively. At one point during the season, each of those teams has found themselves within the East’s top eight seeds, with the Knicks—just a few weeks ago—sitting as high as fourth.

What it does serve to illustrate is that one five-game winning streak or one good stretch where a team wins seven out of 10 games can make all the difference in the world as it relates to finding themselves in the playoff hunt. As we approach the All-Star break and the February 23 trade deadline, it will make the decision of either remaining patient and sticking with one’s team versus pulling the plug for a rebuild all the more difficult.

As it relates to the Wizards specifically, though, all indications are that the team finally appears to be on the same page. And now, maybe, just maybe, we will begin to see some substantial gains.

* * * * * *

It seems as though every few weeks, there is at least one Eastern Conference team that’s sounding the alarm. As of this moment, it would be the Knicks and the Magic. After Derrick Rose’s infamous no-show earlier this week and Kristaps Porzingis’ concerning Achilles tendon soreness, the team has been struggling mightily. They have lost nine of their last 11 games and speculation has begun as to whether or not Carmelo Anthony would or should waive his no-trade clause to find himself on a contender.

The Magic, on the other hand, appear to have a lot at stake. The Magic traded Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis for Ibaka, who will be a free agent this coming summer. After spending the first seven years of his career in Oklahoma City, Ibaka has become used to making deep playoff runs and has basked in the spotlight of success. How amenable would he be to re-signing into a losing situation? How much more patience will the ownership group have in general manager Rob Hennigan? After being hired by the Magic as their general manager in 2012, the team has yet to make a playoff appearance. There are many that feel that Hennigan, this season, is fighting for his job.

Indeed, the latter seeds in the Eastern Conference have become quite interesting. But if the Knicks and Magic are fortunate, they can turn things around fairly quickly.

If they’re really fortunate, they can rally around good leadership, the same way the Wizards have. After being left for dead just a few weeks around, their turnaround has been an example of true wizardry.

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NBA

Trae Young Believes He’s NBA Ready

Trae Young has exceeded expectations since his freshman year of college, and he believes he will continue to do so in the NBA

Matt John

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Before the collegiate season started, many believed that the best players in the upcoming NBA draft were going to be bigs. DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and Michael Porter Jr., all of whom were 6’10’’ or taller, were considered to be among the top prospects coming out of the NCAA, but Trae Young had something to say about that.

Coming out of high school, Young was regarded as one of the better incoming freshmen, but not among the best of the best. Young ranked no. 23 in ESPN’s top 100 in 2017 and was ranked third among point guards, behind Collin Sexton and Jaylen Hands, which led to low expectations for him. Young proved right out of the gate that he was much better than the scouts had rated him.

Young tore up college ball as an Oklahoma Sooner, as he averaged 27.2 points and 8.7 assists while shooting 42 percent from the field including 36 percent from three. While Young’s play made him stand out among his peers, it didn’t translate into much success on the court. The Sooners went 18-14 on the season and were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Now that the season is over, Young is shifting his focus to his next stop: the NBA. With the draft coming up in just a little over a month, only one word comes to mind when describing Young’s current mindset: Confidence.

“I bring a lot of things to the next level. I think I would bring an immediate impact off the court as much as I do on the court,” Young said at the NBA combine. “I can space out the defense. I can attack defenders in multiple ways, get my teammates involved. I think I can pretty much do it all for a team and I’m looking forward to whichever team I go to and making a huge impact.”

While Young is not expected to be picked in the top five, he should be picked between the six to ten range. Any player who is selected in that range has to work his absolute hardest to live up to the lengthy expectations that he will certainly face once he enters the NBA. Young luckily sounds like he is up to the task.

“I prepared extremely hard coming into the college season and making a huge impact right away, and I’m working two times as hard this summer preparing to get into the NBA level,” Young said. “I want to make a huge impact right away.”

Young is expected to be a high lottery pick, but he doesn’t care much for where he is selected as much as he cares about going to the team that suits him best.

“My main focus is going to the right team. It’s not about going one, two, three or 30. You see a lot of guys going in the second round in certain years that make big impacts for teams,” Young said. “It’s all about the fit for me. Whether that’s one or whether that’s whatever it is, I’m going to be happy and I’m going to be ready to make an impact.”

Young’s expected high draft position stems from his electrifying play as a scorer in college. Young’s performance for Oklahoma his freshman year was impressive enough to draw comparisons to NBA megastar Stephen Curry. While Young is flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as Curry, he takes pride in being his own player.

“He’s a two-time MVP and a champion. I mean, I love the comparison but I feel like I bring a lot of different things from different players’ games to the table,” Young said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young. That’s all that matters to me. I’m just getting started in this thing so hopefully I can achieve some of those things.”

Young’s skillset may remind fans of Curry, but Young prides himself on modeling his game after his favorite player of all time: Steve Nash.

“With his size and my size, we’re pretty similar,” Young said. “He is very cerebral. He can score on all three levels and he knows how to get his teammates involved. He’s a winner so I feel like a lot of his characteristics match with mine.”

Those who have watched Young know of his offensive repertoire, but skeptics have pointed to his defensive shortcomings as a red flag. Young, however, believes his play at the combine will show that he can be a positive on the other side of the ball.

“I’m excited about having the opportunity to show people that I can play defense, and I’m excited to show that from day one,”

When all is said and done, Young may very well wind up being the most prolific scorer to come out of what many believe is a loaded draft, but Young has much bigger ambitions in mind for his career.

“I think I’m the best overall player in this draft, but my main focus isn’t necessarily to be the best player in this draft,” Young said. “My goal is to be the best player in the NBA. That’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.”

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Hands Makes Good Showing at the NBA Combine

Jaylen Hands made a good showing at the NBA Combine by displaying his offensive skills and defensive intensity.

Jesse Blancarte

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UCLA has produced a few of the NBA’s top point guards over the last decade or so, including Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Jrue’s younger brother, Aaron Holiday, has declared for this year’s draft and is projected by several NBA insiders to be selected with a first-round pick (likely in the 20-30 range). But Aaron Holiday isn’t the only UCLA point guard who may end up taking his talents to the NBA this offseason. Jaylen Hands, who is still just 19 years old and finished his freshman season, has also entered his name into this year’s draft.

While Hands has entered his name into the draft and participated in the NBA Combine, he has not hired an agent, which preserves his ability to return to college (Hands has until June 11 to make a final decision). Considering Hands’ young age and raw skill set, he isn’t projected by many insiders to hear his name called on draft night. But he certainly helped his cause in the Combine, showcasing his offensive talents, the muscle he has added to his slight frame since the end of his freshman season and aggressiveness on defense.

Basketball Insiders spoke with Hands at the Combine about his development, going through the pre-draft process, competing against familiar faces and more.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy because when we were younger, they said the exact thing: ‘You guys are going to see each other forever.’” Hands said when asked about competing against many of the same players over the years and now at the Combine. “And you don’t really believe what they’re saying. But now you go through high school, you’re a senior, All-Star activities and you go to the Combine, you see the same people. It’s crazy.”

Hands has a notable skill set but is a raw prospect that many believe would be better served spending another year in college. While Hands needs to continue filling out his frame, he did register decent measurements at the Combine in relation to a top guard prospect – Trae Young of Oklahoma. Hands weighed in at 1.2 lbs heavier than Young, and outmatched Young in height (with and without shoes), standing reach and wingspan. Ironically, Hands has the smallest hands of all players that participated in the Combine. While these measurements don’t mean that he is currently a comparable prospect to Young, they could address some concerns about his current physical profile and how it may ultimately translate to the NBA.

Hands proved himself to be a confident and aggressive player in his freshman season at UCLA – something that he believes has led to misconceptions about his game.

“I’m not a point guard,” Hands said when asked about what misconceptions people have about his game.

I wouldn’t say it’s common, like it’s the main thing. But I’ve heard that I shoot first or something like that. I just feel like I attack a lot. I think I attack a lot and I’m of size to being a [two guard], so I think some people get it misconstrued. I just think I’m attack first, set my teammates up, get what I get.”

Hands is clearly aware of the common perceptions and current shortcomings in his game, which is why he is working hard to improve his overall skill set and is testing the NBA waters to get feedback from teams.

“Before I came here, just being more steady working on my shot, making good reads out of the pick and roll, finishing.” Hands said when asked about what parts of his game he was working on before coming to the Combine.

Hands was asked to clarify what he believes is his best strength at this point. Hands didn’t hesitate and pointed toward his ability to make plays off the dribble.

“My best strength is getting in the paint. So I get in the paint and make plays,” Hands said.

Hands is also clearly aware of UCLA’s history of producing quality point guards and has a chance to one day develop into a quality guard at the NBA level. However, with Holiday heading to the NBA and no major competition for the starting point guard position at UCLA next season, it may benefit Hands to hold off on turning pro for at least another year.

Whether he stays at UCLA or commits to this year’s draft, there’s no doubt that Hands is going to keep pushing to develop into a quality NBA player.

“I want to be the best player I can in the league,” Hands said. “That’s my goal.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 5/22/18

The final 2018 NBA Draft order is set and Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler offers up his latest 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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Lots of Draft Movement

With the draft order now set for the 2018 NBA Draft, there is some sense of how the draft might play out.

The buzz coming out of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is that a number of picks could be had in trade include all three of the top selections. Word is the initial asking price is very high and more of an indication to the San Antonio Spurs that if they do want to part with disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, they are open for business.

It’s also worth noting that there is a growing sense that both the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawk may be far higher on some of the domestic bigs in the draft more so than euro sensation Luka Dončić. Both teams are expected to take a long look at Dončić, so their views on him could change as we get closer to the draft, but for now, Dončić may go lower.

Here is the latest 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft, reflecting the final draft order and the latest buzz, rumors, and intel from in and around the NBA:

Dates To Know:

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college. However, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

The 2018 NBA Draft is June 21.

The Pick Swaps:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. This pick will convey.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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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