One of the great things about there being so many ACC teams in the Sweet 16 this year is that casual college basketball fans will have the opportunity to watch a ton of potential first-round NBA draft picks play deep into the tournament. The teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament offer quite a few players with NBA talent. In fact, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if over a third of the players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft are players from these final 16 teams.
Knowing all that, here’s a semi-comprehensive list of players worth watching closely over the course of the next few weeks as March Madness winds down:
Brandon Ingram, SF, Duke – The fact that Ingram is still playing and top prospect Ben Simmons didn’t even make it into the field of 68 has generated a lot of momentum for Ingram. He now has the chance to further increase his draft stock, and Ingram is receiving serious top overall pick consideration. There’s something to be said about a deep tournament run putting an exclamation point on a strong season, and Ingram has certainly had one of those. As tall and long as he is, Ingram offers the sort of intangibles that others frankly cannot. Watch him create on offense as Duke takes on top-seeded Oregon in the next round and you’ll see why so many NBA scouts are drooling over the kid. He has great vision and leadership for a kid his age, and even though he doesn’t take a ton of three-pointers, he can knock them down with solid accuracy. Topping Simmons will be hard to do, but an upset over Oregon and a Final Four appearance certainly wouldn’t hurt Ingram’s chances at becoming the top overall pick.
Buddy Hield, SG, Oklahoma – There simply aren’t many players in college basketball as electrifying as Hield. And the amount of interest he’s garnering as an NBA prospect is rather special considering how little attention seniors typically get from scouts because of their perceived lack of potential. Hield, though, is arguably college basketball’s most entertaining scorer. He has averaged 25 points per game on the season, and that 36-point gem he put up in the second round to help Oklahoma advance to the Sweet 16 is exactly why fans should plan on watching No. 24 for as long as the Sooners stay in the bracket. When Hield gets hot, there’s not much opposing teams can do. Against VCU, he dropped 29 of his 36 points in the second half – and he scored 21 of Oklahoma’s final 26 points to seal the win for the Sooners. Hield’s performances have become must-see TV.
Demetrius Jackson, PG, Notre Dame – There weren’t a ton of people who had Notre Dame pegged as a team to advance this deep into the tournament, but the 6’1 Jackson’s leadership and explosiveness offensively have been instrumental in making them one of the bracket’s biggest surprises through two rounds. In the second round against Stephen F. Austin, Jackson led all scorers with 18 points in the Irish’s one-point win, but it was how he earned those points – attacking the basket pretty much at will – that makes him such a thrilling NBA prospect. He’s not a big guy, but he’s probably a lottery pick all the same, which absolutely makes the Notre Dame/Wisconsin game worth watching. Even better is that the Badgers are beatable, which means there’s a good chance we could get at least two more games of watching the explosive Jackson in action.
Brice Johnson, PF, North Carolina – Through the first two games of the tournament, Johnson is averaging 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5 blocks, which should be enough to show exactly why NBA teams are falling in love with the athletic, emotional Tar Heel forward. His monstrous block against Providence got him trending on social media pretty quickly, but his defense only tells part of the story. As a senior, he’s physically stronger than almost any other player on the floor on any given night, and the Heels are at their best when they’re running things through him. So far they’ve been pretty good about adhering to that game plan, but as for fans, the more Johnson touches the ball, the more we’re able to envision him wearing an NBA uniform by fall.
Domantas Sabonis, C, Gonzaga – Son of former NBA and international legend Arvydas Sabonis, Domantas is an absolute gift for fans simply because he’s just as fun to watch as his father was when he played. He destroyed projected lottery pick Jakob Poeltl of Utah in the second round, a matchup that showed the young man’s grit and hustle (which he’ll need to continue using to compensate for his lack of length and athleticism at the next level). Despite his physical shortcomings, Sabonis is a grinder who looks like he’ll have a long NBA career, even if he may not be All-Star material. His skill set and hustle make him an intriguing mid-first-round flier and more than worthy of watching closely for as long as Gonzaga stays in the tourney.
Diamond Stone, C, Maryland – Aside from having the sweetest basketball name since God Shammgod, Stone is a massive presence on the court and a huge reason why Maryland is back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003. He’s too big to stop offensively and too strong to keep off the boards. However, unlike some of the other players on this list, he’s not necessarily a focal point on offense so viewers may need to pay some special attention to see him at his best. Melo Trimble is the star of the show for the Terrapins, but Stone complements him well enough (and he has enough potential) that he’s receiving consideration as a potential lottery pick. When motivated, he’s an absolute monster and extremely fun to watch, and making it this deep into the tournament obviously has kept him pretty motivated.
Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland – Trimble, meanwhile, dropped 24 points and hauled in eight rebounds in that second-round win over Hawaii, showing just how dominant a scorer he could be at the next level. Actually, Trimble could have come out of school a year ago and been drafted by some team, but instead opted to stay another year. Now, he seems poised to be a first-round selection, and an even deeper run by the Terps would only solidify that and help his draft stock even more.
Grayson Allen, SG, Duke – Maybe he’s the Matthew Dellavedova of college basketball with all his questionable dirty scuffles, but one thing we have learned about Grayson Allen this year is that he has the grit and talent to make an impact in the NBA. He dropped 22 points in the second round against Yale and he absolutely has the ability to go on an offensive run that will drive a stake through an opponent’s heart. Love him or hate him, he’s headed for the NBA and there aren’t many more entertaining players to watch in college hoops right now.
Malcolm Brogdon, SG, Virginia – Brogdon has been Virginia’s best defensive player this tournament, most notably shutting down Butler stud Andrew Chrabascz to advance to the Sweet 16. However, he was also named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year this past season, showing that his tournament play is no fluke and he’s consistently this dominant and intense on the defensive end. That’s going to be Brogdon’s best attribute in the NBA, and for those fans who love watching an elite defender shut down the opposition’s best scorer in the game’s most meaningful moments, Brogdon and his top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers are a must-see for you from here on out.
Nigel Hayes, F, Wisconsin – It’s hard to make the argument that Hayes is entertaining to watch right now, as he’s been absolutely atrocious from the field (5-27) in the first two rounds of the tournament. But he’s a bubble first-rounder who really could benefit from at least one good game before the seven-seeded Badgers get bounced from the tourney. He’s drawing a lot of attention defensively, which is helping his teammates pull out tough wins, but despite his bad showings he’s a legitimate NBA prospect who typically is much better than his tournament performances would indicate. If he’s just a little bit better, Wisconsin’s surprising postseason run could easily continue beyond their next game against Notre Dame.
Cheick Diallo, PF, Kansas – There was a time not that long ago when Diallo was seen as a potential lottery pick and, at the very least, a sure-fire first-rounder. But due to a crowded frontcourt situation in Kansas, he really hasn’t gotten the minutes to consistently showcase what he can do on the floor. He’s only played seven minutes through two tournament games so far, so enjoy whatever flashes of him you may get in the Sweet 16. He would benefit tremendously from another year in school, but if he does come out early, a team would draft him based on his exciting potential rather than his track record.
Wayne Selden, G, Kansas – Unlike Diallo, Selden has received plenty of playing time for the Jayhawks and has really made the most of the opportunities granted to him. His athletic dunks have helped his popularity in the last couple weeks, but he’s a tremendous talent with skills that should translate quite well to the NBA level. He and Perry Ellis are likely second-round picks this June, but Selden in particular could jump into the first-round if things bounce the right way for him. Some more strong showings and a national championship would help him tremendously.
There are, of course, several other players left in the Sweet 16 who could realistically be drafted, but these are the top individuals of the bunch and probably the players with the best shot at eventually being selected among the draft’s first 30 picks. The NBA Combine in May and pre-draft workouts obviously matter too, but the tournament is a lot of these players’ last chance to show what they can do in a five-on-five setting and against real competition. Let’s hope they all make the most of it, which would help them as they prepare to make the jump to the NBA and also give us an even more exciting conclusion to the NCAA Tournament.
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN
NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener
Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.
“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”
That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.
While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.
Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.
While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.
Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).
While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.
Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.
Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).
“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”
Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.
Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.
“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.
For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.
“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”
Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.
The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”