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Staying in School Paying Off for Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn discusses how returning to school paid off, why he attended the Combine, John Wall comparisons and more.

Cody Taylor

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If Providence point guard Kris Dunn would have declared for the NBA draft last year, his decision would have made sense. After all, he was projected to be a top-20 pick and appeared to be a solid option for teams.

In a time when prospects are quick to leave college as soon as the professional level becomes an option, Dunn surprised many with his decision to return for his junior year. By coming back to school, he was effectively betting on himself to improve even more. It was a risky move considering he could have suffered a serious injury or hurt his draft stock by underperforming.

While his play on the court has NBA teams excited about his potential, Dunn’s decision to return to Providence should have them equally impressed as well. He delayed the opportunity to earn an NBA salary to stick with his teammates and continue to his education.

“I’m really huge on education,” Dunn said this week at the NBA Draft Combine. “I think it’s because of my background and where I come from; there are not too many people from where I come from who graduate from college every day. I really want to be a good role model for New London, Providence, but mainly for my family.

“I wanted to come back and build my legacy at Providence. They showed so much love and support. We haven’t gotten past the first round of the tournament in almost 20 years. To achieve that goal, it was definitely an honor for me. For my teammates to help me achieve that, I really appreciated that.”

By his own admission, Dunn wasn’t ready for the NBA last season. He viewed his extra year at Providence as another opportunity to improve as a player and as a person. He was able to mature more, which is something he feels gives him an advantage over some of the other prospects in the draft.

His decision to stay in school has paid off big time. Some projected Dunn to be selected as a late-lottery pick last year, but that was the best-case scenario. Now, he’s now projected by most to be taken in the top 10 and possibly even top five. In Basketball Insiders’ latest consensus mock draft, Dunn is projected to go as high as the fourth pick, and his stock could rise even higher once the draft lottery determines where teams will pick.

Dunn averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game this past season at Providence. The highlights of his junior year included being named the Big East Player of the Year, Big East Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the All-Big East First Team among other awards.

Given his long list of accomplishments during his time in college, it should be a surprise that Dunn is even attending the Combine. It’s common for the top prospects to skip the week’s events, as players like Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Andrew Wiggins are among those that opted out in the past. This year, Ben Simmons skipped the Combine altogether. Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray attended the event, but chose to only meet with teams and sit out of everything else (on-court work, measurements and media availability).

“I’m here talking to [the media] because I have no problem talking to the media,” Dunn said. “Whatever questions you guys have, I’m going to try to answer to the best of my ability. The reason why I am here in Chicago at the Combine is to support my guys. The guys that I worked out with: Ron Baker, Damian Jones and Jakob Poeltl. We’ve all been working out in [Los Angeles]. I’m out here supporting those guys and my great teammate, Ben Bentil. I’m going to have his back throughout the whole process. I want him to do well out here. I’m just here to support my guys.”

For Dunn, it seems that attending the Combine and addressing the media can only help him. He said all of the right things too, as teams love players who put their teammates before themselves and it looks like Dunn did exactly that by showing up in Chicago. He sees the event as another chance to leave an impression on potential suitors.

Part of what makes Dunn such an attractive prospect is his ability to make an impact on both ends of the floor. At 6’4.25 in shoes with a 6’9.5 wingspan, he possesses the size and length teams look for in an elite defender. Those measurements are even more attractive in a point guard. Once he’s drafted, he’ll be one of the taller floor generals in the league and could become a match-up problem for teams.

Dunn has drawn comparisons to Washington Wizards point guard John Wall due to their similar playing styles. They were about the same height at their respective Combines (Dunn was just a bit taller), they both can dominate with their impressive athleticism and they enjoy getting their teammates involved. And like Wall, Dunn must improve his three-point shot as he continues to develop.

“I’m starting to see it more and more,” Dunn said of his comparison to Wall. “We’re both fast, we both could attack at the rim – that’s one of our greatest strengths. We could definitely get people involved; that’s what I like to do. John Wall is not a bad defender. He definitely works hard on the defensive end and that’s one of my greatest strengths.”

Each year, we often see college prospects being compared to NBA players. Fans want to know how a prospect could turn out, and it’s a fun way to project who these players could eventually play like. Comparisons can also prove to be difficult at times for prospects, especially if they bring about high expectations. Wall said the best way for players to deal with these high expectations is to just be yourself.

“Ever since I was in high school, they always try to find somebody to compare somebody to and that’s just a part of basketball,” Wall told Basketball Insiders awhile back. “They tried to compare me to Derrick Rose just because they saw him first. As a player, you can appreciate the compliments, but I think you also want to be yourself. Be known as yourself and build your character.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking something away from somebody’s game that they’re comparing you to, but you always want to leave your legacy. [I’m leaving a legacy] of being John Wall – not just being the next LeBron James or the next Derrick Rose.”

It seems as though Dunn is eager to get into the league and start his own legacy. Until the draft order is officially determined at the lottery on Tuesday, it’s hard to gauge where he’ll end up. So far, Dunn said he has interviewed with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Pelicans among others. He said he was really impressed by his meeting with the Sixers and would really enjoy playing with Anthony Davis if he was taken by the Pelicans.

Players can help their draft stock with strong performances at the Combine and, of course, team workouts. It definitely seems as though Dunn is on the right track and made a strong impression in his Combine interviews. He seems poised to be a huge addition for whichever team drafts him.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: Another 2018 NBA Mock Draft – 12/13/17

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler drops his latest 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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A little less than a month ago we dropped the first 2018 NBA Mock Draft, which was met with a lot of disdain. Which is often a good thing because it sparks the discussion in NBA circles.

Since that Mock dropped, we’ve seen a bit more play out of some of the top prospects and many of the assumptions made almost a month ago are starting to settle into place a little more clearly.

The prevailing thought from NBA scouts and executives is that the possible 2018 NBA Draft class has a lot more questions than answers. The common view is that outside of the top 3 or 4 players there could be a very wide range on who the next 10-12 players will be; so expect for the second tier to evolve a lot over the course of the college basketball season.

A couple of things have started to surface among NBA scouts and executives, there seem to be three camps emerging around the top overall player – Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and international phenom Luka Dončić, seem to be the leading names mentioned most, with Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton making a strong push into the discussion. We can safely call this a three-horse race at this point.

The prevailing belief is that none of the three is far and away better than the other as a professional prospect, making it more likely than not that the top player selected will have a lot more to do with which team ultimately lands the pick, more so than the player themselves.

This class also seems to be brimming with promising athletic point guards, which unlike last year’s draft, could provide a lot of options for teams still trying to find that impact point guard.

There also looks to be 27 players in the projected top 100 that are 6’10 or bigger, eight of which project in the top 30. To put that into perspective, there were 11 players 6’10 or bigger drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and 17 total in the 60 2017 NBA Draft selections.

As we get into the 2018 calendar year, we’ll start to do deeper dives into the tiers of players and their possible NBA strengths and weakness.

So, with all of that in mind, here is the second 2018 first-round NBA Mock Draft.

Here are some of the pick swaps and how they landed where they are currently projected:

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 Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would not convey.

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 current standings.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would not 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 is lottery protected and based on the current 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 is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

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

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Insiders Podcast

PODCAST: How to Keep LeBron in Cleveland

Basketball Insiders

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The media seems to think LeBron is as good as gone this offseason, but Joel Brigham and Spencer Davies discuss why that may not be the case. That, and conversation about whether NCAA or Euroleague success is more valuable in evaluating draft talent.

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