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Six Prospects Who Helped Their Draft Stock

These players are using March Madness to help build their résumé for the NBA, writes Dennis Chambers.

Dennis Chambers



College basketball in March represents the culmination of countless hours spent by players throughout the season honing their craft.

The NCAA Tournament provides Cinderella stories, feel-good program “firsts,” and usually the postseason savvy of blue-blood programs looking to continue their dominance. When it is all said and done, however, only one team can be crowned champion.

For this reason, the Big Dance also serves as a platform for a handful of players to impress decision makers at the next level. A solid stretch of play on college basketball’s biggest stage can do wonders for a prospects NBA draft stock.

Throughout this season’s NCAA Tournament there hasn’t been any shortage of draft stock boosting. Here are the players who have helped themselves the most heading into draft season.

De’Aaron Fox

Despite not helping Kentucky advance to the Final Four, Fox’s play in the tournament has vaulted him from his already lottery-projected status into potential top-five pick territory. currently has Fox listed as the No. 6 pick.

The knock on the 6-foot-3 point guard this season was his inability to consistently knock down a jump shot. Over the last four games Fox played, he was able to shoot 50 percent from the field. In the process, he displayed decent shooting mechanics and that he could hit shots once he got into a groove.

Averaging 21.2 points per game in the tournament and being the catalyst behind Kentucky’s near Final Four appearance, Fox’s Sweet 16 matchup against Lonzo Ball will largely be considered the game that helped his draft stock the most.

Going head-to-head with Ball, the projected No. 2 pick in the draft, Fox was smothering defensively and imposed his will offensively. En route to a 86-75 Kentucky victory, Fox dominated Ball by scoring 39 points and committing just one turnover. Even more impressively, the pesky defender disrupted Ball all night, allowing him to only score 10 points and turn the ball over four times.

While Fox’s elevated play in the tournament is crucial to where he may land in the draft, teams will also be impressed with the level of commitment and heart Fox has to winning. After falling to North Carolina on buzzer-beating shot in the Elite Eight, Fox was filmed breaking down in the locker room over the outcome.

Devastation that pure certainly suggests a player that will work hard enough to make sure they don’t feel that way again.

Sindarius Thornwell

The SEC Player of the Year and catalyst behind this year’s Cinderella story, Thornwell has turned heads during South Carolina’s run all the way to the Final Four.

Averaging 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game, Thornwell keeps impacting the game on both ends to the point where it may be hard to ignore the senior guard as a legitimate NBA prospect.

Age is always a factor in the NBA draft, and while Thornwell’s experience seems to be helping him in March, it may wind up hurting him in June. But after putting up 24 points, six rebounds, and five assists against a freshman-laden Duke team to propel South Carolina into their first ever Sweet 16, Thornwell showed signs that he could more than keep up with the heralded one-and-done picks.

Over the course of the season, Thornwell shot 39.7 percent from the beyond the arc. During the tournament, that figure has increased to 42.3 percent. At 6-foot-5 Thornwell brings decent size to an off-ball guard position. Coupled with his skill and high-level intensity on the defensive side of the ball, Thornwell could project nicely into the coveted “3-and-D” player in the NBA.

Currently projected the No. 49 pick on, Thornwell’s play this March should help him get consideration from drafting team’s well before that pick.

Justin Jackson

Another conference player of the year winner, Jackson is battling the similar age problem as Thornwell, despite being named the best player in the ACC this season.

At 6-foot-8, Jackson possesses the necessary size from an NBA wing player, but the fact that he is a junior at North Carolina may keep Jackson out of the lottery. However, if there is any way to sway an NBA front office that your age is an issue, it would be to keep winning. In the Final Four yet again, should Jackson deliver the Tar Heels a national championship he may surpass his current No. 12 projected selection by DraftExpress.

Throughout the tournament, Jackson has turned in impressive numbers. By averaging 19.8 points and 6.3 rebounds a game Jackson continues to show his consistency, but as the game’s importance continues to climb in the tournament, so does Jackson’s performance.

In North Carolina’s Sweet 16 matchup with Butler, Jackson poured in 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists. Against Kentucky in the Elite Eight, Jackson delivered 19, five and four in those same categories. But most importantly, in each game, the latter decided by just one possession, Jackson turned the ball over just one time.

Playing three seasons under head coach Roy Williams seems to have developed Jackson into a prospect with the ability to stay cool under mounting pressure. A quality like that can always find a home in the NBA.

Dillon Brooks

Not only is Brooks battling the age question as a junior at Oregon, but he also doesn’t necessarily have a true position. At 6-foot-5, Brooks is slightly undersized to play the wing in the NBA and his athleticism isn’t really up to NBA standards either. A backcourt position is unlikely for Brooks as well, as he isn’t much of a playmaker. Paired with his below-average rebounding ability and previously mentioned lack of size, a stretch-four position seems out of the question as well.

Despite all of the knocks against Brooks, none of it has seemed to matter.

The junior has his team in the program’s first Final Four since 1939. Projected to be drafted No. 38 this June by DraftExpress, Brooks is dispelling the documented negatives against him by just going out there and playing basketball.

Averaging 16.5 points per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range in the tournament, Brooks has delivered in big spots for the Ducks when they have needed it the most. While trailing lower-seeded Rhode Island in the second half of their second round tournament matchup, Oregon turned to Brooks to help pull them back. The positionless upperclassmen delivered 19 points and seven rebounds to help Oregon live to see another day.

Against Kansas Brooks delivered once again, notching 17 points along with five rebounds and four assists to upend the No. 2-seed Jayhawks and send Oregon to the Final Four. Brooks doesn’t seem too worried about his clear lack of position on the basketball court, and with continued performances like those, it may be hard for an NBA team to worry about it too.

Trevon Bluiett

Few players in the tournament have proved as much as Bluiett did by dragging No. 11-seed Xavier all the way to the Elite Eight. After losing their starting point guard and projected NBA draft pick Edmond Sumner to a torn ACL, the outlook was bleak for the Xavier Musketeers. Then, in stepped Bluiett.

Averaging 21.3 points per game while shooting 41 percent from downtown during the tournament, Bluiett displayed his full offensive repertoire against higher-seeded opponents each night.

Scoring over 20 points in three of his four games, Bluiett produced two back-to-back dominant performances. He scored 29 and 25 points against Florida State and Arizona, respectively. Beating the No. 3-seed and No. 2-seed in consecutive games showed that Bluiett was up to the challenge going head to head with blue-chip prospects.

While not currently projected in DraftExpress’ 2017 or 2018 mock drafts, and with a year of eligibility remaining, it isn’t a guarantee Bluiett declares for the NBA. However, should he test the waters, the junior guard certainly has a beefed up resume to show teams after his performance this March.

P.J. Dozier

The second player from South Carolina’s Cinderella squad, Dozier’s second fiddle role this March has shown the impact two-way player he can be at the next level.

Averaging 15.3 points and 1.5 steals a game during the Gamecocks’ tournament run, Dozier has delivered consistency alongside Thornwell’s dominance. Just a sophomore, the 6-foot-7 guard is currently projected No. 39 in the 2018 draft by

In the game that started South Carolina’s run to the Final Four, a first round matchup with Marquette, Dozier scored 21 points while shooting 9-of-14 from the field. His shooting percentage from the two-point range this tournament sits at an impressive 66.7 percent. With his length advantage for his position, Dozier should be able to consistently do damage from the mid-range at the NBA level.

Whenever South Carolina’s improbable run comes to an end, Dozier should have a legitimate decision on his hands whether to declare for the NBA draft or not. With a few more impressive performances under his belt, Dozier could make waves in the 2017 draft class and skip another year of school altogether.

With all of the attention that winning the NCAA Tournament brings each March, it’s hard to see anybody else as a winner besides that final team left standing. But for those programs and players that don’t get to the hoist the trophy after the madness subsides, March is a great opportunity to audition for their next team.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.


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NBA Daily: What Is The Hurry To Deal Leonard?

The San Antonio Spurs don’t seem any closer to a Kawhi Leonard trade than they were in mid-June. The real question is, what is the rush to make a deal?

Steve Kyler



What’s The Hurry?

The San Antonio Spurs and disgruntled forward Kawhi Leonard don’t seem any closer to a resolution today than they were back in mid-June when ESPN’s Chris Haynes dropped the bomb that Leonard no longer trusted the Spurs and wanted out.

While it seems fairly clear that Leonard is going to be dealt, the artificial sense of urgency from the outside doesn’t seem to be bothering the Spurs, as word in NBA circles is they continue to listen to offers but don’t seem anywhere close to making a decision. That can always change.

There are a few things that have started to leak out about the situation worth talking about, and some of it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

Kawhi Wants His Own Team

It is a common belief among fans that players should covet the chance to compete for a championship even if it means checking their own egos at the door. What’s become clear in this Leonard saga is that he has way more ego and bigger individual goals than anyone might have thought a year ago.

According to a source close to Leonard for a number of years, Leonard has always coveted his own team. He wants the chance to be the focal point on a group built around him. The idea that Leonard would openly welcome being second or third fiddle seemed unlikely to this source, which brings into question how seriously Leonard would pursue the chance to play with LeBron James in LA as a Laker.

There have been reports already suggesting that Leonard may not want the sidekick role with the Lakers, and that seems to line up with things sources were saying in Las Vegas last week.

If Leonard truly doesn’t want to share the spotlight with a bigger star, that could make this whole process a lot more interesting.

Kawhi Is Leaving A Lot of Guaranteed Money

Leonard became extension-eligible yesterday, reaching the third-year anniversary of his current contract. Because Leonard has made All-NBA in two of the past three seasons, he became eligible for what’s been commonly dubbed the “Supermax” contract extension, which would allow him to jump into the 35 percent of the salary cap max contract tier.

Based on the current cap, that extension could be worth as much as $221 million if he signs this summer. That money is only available to Leonard if he stays with the Spurs and gives him almost $30 million more money than he could receive becoming a free agent in July, even if he is traded to a new team that could obtain his Bird Rights.

While some have suggested that Leonard could make up some of that money being in a bigger market, it’s hard to imagine that he’s gaining $30 million more than his current marketing value, especially given his reclusive personality.

If by some miracle the Spurs and Leonard do reach an extension agreement, he would be untradable for one year from the date of his extension, so the idea of giving it one more year in order to salvage the contract money isn’t out of the question. The question becomes, would the Spurs do it without a full-throated pledged to be a Spur for the duration of the deal?

Lakers And Sixers Seem To Have Lost Interest

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, on a recent ESPN podcast, suggested that the Lakers and the Sixers may have taken themselves out of the race for Leonard after making what most insiders believe was their best efforts to secure Leonard in trade. According to sources near both situations, the Spurs simply listened and didn’t really openly engage in negotiations sort of ended things where they started.

That’s not to say either team couldn’t jump back into the fray; there is a sense in NBA circles that the Lakers simply won’t give away the farm for Leonard, knowing they could be the favorite to sign him outright next July, so why give up too much?

The 76ers pursuit of Leonard was more about going all in, but only to a point. The 76ers were said to be reluctant to include Markell Fultz in a deal for Leonard, and that they were equally unwilling to let trade talks derail their upcoming season.

Are The Raptors The front Runners?

In the same podcast, Windhorst suggested that with the Lakers and Sixers likely bowing out, the Toronto Raptors may have jumped into the driver’s seat on a Leonard trade.

That would line up with the notion of the Raptors wanting to do something aggressive to better match up with Boston, and potentially clear some cap space should it not work out. It’s unclear exactly what the Raptors would be offering San Antonio to cement a deal, but they have no shortage of young promising players and a few proven All-Stars in DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry that could be the centerpiece of a deal.

League sources said as many as eight teams started doing due diligence on Leonard after the NBA draft, and there was a growing sense that teams other than the Lakers were willing to pony up for a shot at Leonard, even in a rental.

The hope on a Leonard trade is similar to what played out in Oklahoma City with Paul George: that Leonard lands in a new environment and falls in love with the situation enough to commit long-term. There is clearly a risk in that thinking, but it seems several teams were at least open to the idea.

Training Camp Is The Real Deadline

While most of the basketball world has “Kawhi Fatigue” and simply wants it over already, the truth is the Spurs have a much longer runway.

The next milestone opens next week when Team USA opens mini-camp in Las Vegas. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is set to coach the men’s Senior Nation Team, and Leonard is among the 35 players selected to compete for a shot at the 2020 Olympic squad.

There has been talk that Leonard may opt not to attend until his situation is resolved, which would make the optics of the situation that much worse. There are many in the NBA that believe the Spurs are waiting to see if time together in Las Vegas might bridge the gaps between Popovich and Leonard, so how both handle the Team USA camp is worth watching.

While the outcome of a few days in Las Vegas likely won’t seal a deal, either way, the real window for a deal is the week of training camp in late September. That’s when things will start to get ugly and real for both the Spurs and Leonard. Neither are going to want to open camp with this situation hanging over their heads, so that’s the real date to watch.

The New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony had a similar situation last year; it came to a resolution literally the day training camp opened, despite weeks and weeks of trade talks.

It may take exactly that long for the Spurs to finally agree to their own deal, so don’t expect closure quickly. There isn’t anything motivating a decision, beyond everyone being ready for it to be over already.

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NBA Daily: Jaren Jackson Jr. Adapting As He Goes

Memphis Grizzlies rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. has put on a show this summer. Spencer Davies dives into what’s been behind the success and how it bodes well for the future.

Spencer Davies



Meeting Jaren Jackson Jr. for the first time, you won’t find an ounce of doubt in him.

Instead, you’ll be introduced to a high-spirited man oozing with charisma and an obvious love for the game of basketball, which likely factored into why the Memphis Grizzlies were so keen on taking him with the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Then there’s the big reason—quite literally—that came into play. Standing at 6-foot-11 with over a 7-foot-5 wingspan and hands that are the size of most people’s heads, Jackson Jr. is the term “matchup problem” personified.

We’re seeing the evidence in front of our very eyes already. In eight summer league games between Utah and Las Vegas, the versatile Jackson Jr. is averaging 12.9 points and seven rebounds. He is shooting 41.3 percent from the field and has knocked down half of his attempts (14-for-28) from beyond the arc.

It didn’t take long for the JJJ bandwagon to get established. In his first taste of NBA action against the Atlanta Hawks in Salt Lake City, he scored 29 points and cashed in on eight triples to kick off July. He hasn’t tried more than four perimeter shots since then, but he’s been plenty busy doing other things just as important on the floor.

“I think I’m surprised by how well I’ve been doing,” a smiling, candid Jackson Jr. said. “You’re surprised at yourself sometimes, especially like the first game.”

You can look at these aforementioned offensive stats and take them with a grain of salt since the level of competition is a step below what the real professional ranks bring to the table. However, seeing the anticipation, reaction time, and natural awareness on the defensive end makes the lengthy forward a true gem of a prospect.

In all but one game thus far, Jackson Jr. has recorded multiple rejections every time he’s stepped foot on the court, including two occasions where he swatted four shots. It’s added up to an average of 3.3 blocks per contest to this point.

So since the outside potential, the athleticism and the rim protection are all there, what else is there to hone in on?

“I think just my aggressiveness,” Jackson Jr. said. “Making sure I play tougher, go harder longer. And my shooting…kind of—make sure I get my form right and all that stuff.”

Adjusting to a new pace at the next level can take some time. It depends on how fast of a learner a player is and how quickly that person can apply that knowledge in a game setting. Jackson Jr. thinks he’s started to pick it up as he’s gone along.

“It’s getting a lot better,” he said. “It’s a lot more spacing so it’s pretty cool. But they’re definitely stronger and faster players, so you have to adapt to that.”

Thanks to contributions from Jackson Jr.—in addition to Jevon Carter and Kobi Simmons—the Grizzlies have had loads of success in Sin City. They are one of the final four teams standing as summer league play wraps up in a day.

Whether the result goes in the favor of Memphis or not, the last couple of weeks in Las Vegas have impacted Jackson Jr. in a positive manner in more ways than one as a student of the game—and he’ll be better off because of it.

“It’s been cool,” Jackson Jr. said. “It’s a lot of stuff going on. It seems like more of an event when you’re here as far as watching it on TV over the years. You get like a new historic player sitting on the sideline every day talking to people. You meet people in your hotel. Bunch of stuff like that. It’s been a good experience just having everybody here before we all leave and go to our own cities.

“I kinda went into it [with a] clear head. I didn’t really didn’t want to put too much into it ‘cause I’m learning everything new. Everything is new. Being a rookie, everything’s gonna be a new thing.”

As the youngest player in his draft class at 18 years old, Jackson Jr. has a ways to go to familiarize himself with the NBA.

But by the looks of things, the NBA had better prepare to familiarize itself with him as well.

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NBA Daily: Antonio Blakeney Hoping For A Big 2nd Year

After an impressive rookie stint, Antonio Blakeney gives us a tale of hope and potential.

David Yapkowitz



The Chicago Bulls are in the midst of a rebuilding project. This summer, they held on to one of their key young players in Zach LaVine and drafted two guys in Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson whom they’re hoping can be part of that rebuild.

But there might be one player on the roster already who could play a big role in the team’s future. A year ago, Antonio Blakeney used a big summer league performance in Las Vegas to earn a two-way contract with the Bulls.

This time around, with his NBA future a little more secure, he’s working on becoming more familiar with the team.

“Just learning and getting better,” Blakeney told Basketball Insiders his goals are. “Obviously being able to play through my mistakes, go out here and learn and get familiar with the coaching staff. Keep building our relationship with the coaches and stuff.”

Blakeney went undrafted last summer after declaring for the draft following two years at LSU. He lit up Las Vegas to the tune of 16.8 points in four games before the Bulls signed him. Under the two-way contract, he split time between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, their G-League affiliate.

His summer success carried over to the G-League where he exploded on the scene averaging 32 points per game and being named the G-League Rookie of the Year. Being shuffled back and forth between leagues was a bit of an adjustment for Blakeney, but it was an experience he ended up learning a lot from.

“It was an up and down roller coaster from the NBA to the G-League and stuff like that. Starting in summer league, going to the big team, going to camp, preseason games and going to the G-League. It was an up and down experience,” Blakeney said.

“Overall, it was great. I think I learned a lot in the G-League. A lot of rookies play in the G-League now. Going down there it’s kind of tough. For some guys, the travel is different. It’s just staying motivated and working hard.”

It’s no secret that Blakeney can put up points in a hurry, as he was the Tigers third-leading scorer his freshman year behind Ben Simmons and Keith Hornsby with 12.6 points per game. His sophomore year, he led the Tigers in scoring with 17.2 points.

He knows though that he’ll have to be able to do other things if he wants to stick in the NBA. While he’s been lighting up the stat sheet scoring wise this summer in Vegas, he’s been working on other aspects of his game. He’s been charged by the Bulls summer league coaching staff with initiating the offense.

“Obviously I got to be a combo. I got to be able to move over to the one and make plays and stuff like that. So just working on making that simple play,” Blakeney said. “Obviously, I’m a natural scorer so I’m not really a pass-first guy, but I’m more when the simple play presents itself, to make it.”

While his future may be more secure, the majority of the guys in summer league don’t have that luxury. The two-way contract Blakeney signed last summer was for two years and based on his play this summer, it would be shocking to see the Bulls let him go.

For his summer teammates who don’t have that security, he understands what they’re going through. Having been in that situation a year ago, he’s got plenty of advice for them.

“Just go work hard, learn from the veteran guys, but compete,” Blakeney said. “Go at the guys that’s supposed to be the best. If you think you’re that good, go at guys. Just compete, that’s the main thing I did, I just competed.”

And although nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA, especially regular rotation minutes, Blakeney is confident that he can be a regular contributor. The league is filled with guys who come off the bench and provide instant offense. He knows if, given the opportunity, he can do that too.

“I think next season my goal is to try to crack the rotation and just be a guy who brings energy off the bench,” Blakeney said. “I can get buckets fast, get it going, bring energy and get buckets off the bench, just do my thing. That’s something that in my young career I’m trying to get in to.”

He’s certainly off to a good start.

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