In today’s NBA, point guards rule.
Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, so on and so forth. Some of the league’s best talents are the players who are asked to bring the ball across half court.
Along with the stars that already litter the backcourts across the league, the 2017 draft class possesses a crop of point guards who have the potential to become the next wave of elite lead guards in the NBA.
When the draft night is all said and done, five different point guard’s could very well have been taken within the first ten picks of the draft. But with such a diverse crop of high-level talent and the need for quality point guards, how do these players stack up against each other?
Here’s a look at how these future NBA point guards are ranked in terms of talent as draft night quickly approaches.
1. Markelle Fultz — Washington
Markelle Fultz is the projected No. 1 overall pick by all accounts, and more than likely will wind up a Boston Celtic.
Of all the point guards — and players in general — Fultz has the best combination of NBA-ready skills and potential for growth.
His numbers at Washington during his freshman season project a guard that is perfect for the style of player currently permeating throughout the NBA. 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 41 percent three-point shooting per game painted Fultz as a guard who not only could light up a gym with his jump shot, but also get rebounds to push a fast break and become a playmaker.
Along with his stat-sheet-stuffing ability, Fultz stands a solid 6-foot-4. In today’s NBA, point guards are a bit bigger than traditional points used to be. Westbrook, Wall, Curry, Lillard, and Irving are all at least 6-foot-3. From a physicality standpoint, Fultz checks all the boxes.
Roll up all of Fultz’s intangibles and physical attributes into one product and you wind up with not only the best point guard in this draft but the best player available as well.
2. De’Aaron Fox — Kentucky
While Lonzo Ball currently holds the consensus opinion of likely being selected with No. 2 pick in the draft, he still concedes the spot as the second-best point guard to De’Aaron Fox.
Fox is a speed demon who has drawn countless comparisons to fellow former Kentucky Wildcat John Wall for his quick feet and defensive ability. And while some eyes are focused on Ball as the next in line after Fultz is off the board, Fox has the potential to be more of an impact player at the next level.
At 6-foot-4, Fox possesses the height – and length with 6-foot-6 wingspan — to disrupt opposing point guards across the league for years to come. In their Sweet 16 matchup in this past NCAA tournament, Fox hung 39 points on Ball while containing the former UCLA point guard to just 10 points in the Kentucky victory.
The knock on Fox, however, is his inconsistent jump shot. Fox shot just 24 percent from downtown in his freshman year at Kentucky, which evidences his most glaring limitation that keeps him just outside of the “best player in the draft” conversation. Despite his most common comparison player in Wall not being a knockdown shooter by any means, the Washington Wizards point guard still managed to shoot 32 percent from deep during his lone year in Lexington.
If Fox can develop a reasonable jump shot, which isn’t out of the question considering there aren’t any glaring flaw with his shooting form, he could wind up as the best two-way player in this draft class. That potential alone puts Fox just below Fultz and just above Ball.
3. Lonzo Ball — UCLA
Perhaps the most polarizing player in the entire draft, in part because of his father, Lonzo Ball enters the NBA draft as one of the most gifted passers in recent memory.
In his lone year at UCLA, Ball navigated the Bruins’ offense to the top of the collegiate ranks while averaging 7.6 assists per game in the process. As a pure floor general, there isn’t a better point guard prospect in this draft than Ball.
Along with Ball’s boisterous father, LaVar, Ball’s jump shot is cause for concern. The point guard possesses an unorthodox shooting motion where he releases the shot from the left side of his head, as opposed to a more traditional straight away form. While Ball seemed to hit shots anyway — 41 percent from deep during his freshman year — the thought that his shot may be defended easier in the pros has given scouts around the league some pause on what his true potential may be.
Despite his funky shooting motion, Ball possesses every other skill that a team may be looking for in their point guard of the future. Standing at 6-foot-6, Ball has shown the ability to use his height and grab his fair share of rebounds. Listed at just 190 pounds he will need to hit the weight room, but at just 19-years-old, putting on size is the least of his worries.
As Ball continues to grow into his frame and see how his shooting motion adapts to professional basketball, he holds down the third spot in terms of point guards available.
4. Dennis Smith Jr. — North Carolina State
Before tearing his ACL prior to his senior year of high school, Dennis Smith Jr. was regarded as arguably the best point guard in his recruiting class. With wicked athleticism that allowed him to jump out of any gym, Smith Jr. seemed poised to make an NBA team happy in the near future.
While he isn’t the best point guard in his class anymore, Smith Jr. will be worth every bit of a top-10 pick during this June’s draft.
As the focal point of North Carolina State’s offense, Smith Jr. put up 18.1 points per game while making plays for his teammates in the process, collecting 6.2 assists per contest as well.
But what separates Smith Jr. from the first three guys in the top-tier of guard talent is his lack of size. While he stands at a solid 6-foot-3, his wingspan mirrors that number exactly, posing potential problems on the defensive end of the ball. During his freshman season, Smith Jr. struggled at times on defense and registered a 109.1 defensive rating.
Along with his potential defensive woes, Smith Jr. isn’t a knockdown shooter by any means. While that is a problem for prospects like Fox and Ball as well, their other strengths mask that a bit. After shooting just 45 percent from the floor, and 35 percent from three-point range during his freshman season, Smith Jr. will need to put work into his jump shot at the next level. While he isn’t the best shooter in the draft, Smith Jr. does display a great ability to get the basket off the dribble.
With a serious injury already under his belt and some questions about his defense and shooting, Smith Jr. heads the second-tier of point guard prospects in this draft. But with the quality and volume of point guards in this class, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
5. Frank Ntilikina — France
The mystery man of the 2017 point guard class, Frank Ntilikina has found his way onto the radar of teams selecting in the top-10 without having nearly as much information or film to study as the college prospects.
Logging his minutes for SIG Strasbourg over in France’s Pro A league, Ntilikina has been the recipient of the league’s best young player award two years running.
Standing at 6-foot-5, he is one of the tallest point guards available in this year’s draft. DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony describes Ntilikina as a “lockdown, multi-positional defender” in part because of his size and footwork. Where Ntilikina may struggle at the pro level in terms of physicality is with his sheer athleticism. Givony describes the Frenchman as lacking a “degree of quickness from a stand-still.”
While his physical limitations may keep him from being a dominant isolation player, Ntilikina displayed a degree of sniping capability with his shot, which is proving more valuable by the day in the evolving NBA. Over the course of 27 games during his last season, Ntilikina connected on 33-of-64 three-point shots. At the Under-18 championships, Ntilikina sank 17-of-29 shots from deep on his way to an MVP performance.
As this draft’s de facto foreign prospect set to go in the top-10, Ntilikina could prove to be a value pick should his game translate effectively.
6. Jawun Evans — Oklahoma State
After the top five point guards are off the board on draft night, there is a considerable drop off in talent.
In steps Jawun Evans.
The former Oklahoma State point guard opted to declare for the draft after his sophomore season where he scored 19.2 points per game while also contributing 6.4 assists.
What separates Evans from his point guard contemporaries is size. At the NBA Draft Combine, Evans was measured at just under 5-foot-11. In an NBA where size and versatility have become essential, Evans’ height certainly isn’t benefitting his draft stock.
However, there are a lot of positives to the former Cowboys game. Last season, Evans shot nearly 38 percent from beyond the arc, and his shot displays room for improvement in that department. Evans’ playmaking ability is among the best in his class as well as he registered a 42.9 assist percentage through 54 career college games.
While most of the point guard talk for this draft will focus on the five guys who may potentially be drafted in the first 10 picks, Evans knows he’s underrated, as he told Basketball Insiders’ Michael Scotto.
Although Evans may not be as physically imposing as some other lead guard prospects in this June’s draft, his play speaks for itself and he could wind up as one of the steals of the draft in the back end of the first round or beginning of the second round.
Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17
Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.
We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.
A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.
Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.
While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.
6) Joel Embiid
Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.
One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.
5) Kristaps Porzingis
Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.
So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.
4) Nikola Jokic
At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.
Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.
3) Draymond Green
In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.
Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.
2) Al Horford
The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.
He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.
1) DeMarcus Cousins
Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.
Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.
The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.
Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.
Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.
Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.
That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.
Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.
Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.
“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.
“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”
In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.
What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.
From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.
There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.
So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.
Instead, he did the opposite.
“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.
“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”
Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.
Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.
Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.
Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.
I think not.
Death, taxes and the Spurs.
So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.
Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.
But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.
NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly
Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.
It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, currently 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.
The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.
“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”
Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.
At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.
“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.
Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.
“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”
Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.
His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.
“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”
“Yep,” Bazemore replied.
“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”
Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.
“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”
With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.
Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.