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The Race to Eight In The East

A look at which teams in the East have the best odds of securing the final playoff spot.

John Zitzler

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The landscape in the Eastern Conferences has shifted dramatically from just a season ago. The days of the LeBron James-led HEAT battling the Pacers for Eastern Conference supremacy are a thing of the past. James’ return to Cleveland left the HEAT scrambling to replace him and, along with addition of Kevin Love, immediately made the Cavs a favorite to win the East. While the Cavs’ acquisition of James made the biggest splash, they weren’t the only team in the East to make some noise during the offseason. Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls added another talented piece to an already proven group in Pau Gasol. Gasol has fit in seamlessly and the Bulls are off to a terrific start. Elsewhere the Raptors, Wizards and Hawks have all impressed early on and look to be legitimate threats in the East.

The waters are get a little bit murkier outside of the top five in the conference. Currently the Bucks, Nets and HEAT hold the final three playoff spots, however with so many games remaining all three teams still have plenty of work before they can feel confident about their playoff chances. On the outside looking in there are still a number teams that have a chance at working their way into the playoff picture. In Orlando, the feisty Magic have surprised and kept themselves within arm’s reach of the HEAT. The Pacers, even though they have been short-handed for much of the season, continue to be one of the best defensive units in the league and as they get healthy, have a chance to climb back in the playoff race. Lastly, coming off a playoff berth the Hornets have started slowly, but with the talent the have can’t be counted out quite yet. Record wise, the Celtics are is the mix as well, but after the departure of Rajon Rondo its clear they are looking towards the future and will likely unload other pieces prior to the trade deadline.

Lets take a closer look at the figures to be a hotly contested race for the final playoff spot in the East. Teams will be ranked on their chances of securing the eighth seed based off what they have shown thus far and what’s in front of them during the final 5o games of the season.

4) Indiana Pacers (11-21) – Games Remaining: 50 (26 Home, 24 Away)

Record: 11-21

Games Remaining 50 (26 Home, 24 Away)

Remaining Opponents: +.500 teams: 18, vs East: 36, vs West: 14

Strength of Schedule: .524

Record over their last 10 games: 4-6

Efficiency: Offensive 97.9, Defensive 101.1, Net -3.2.

The outlook of the Pacers season changed dramatically following the horrific leg injury suffered by Paul George this summer. Not only have they been without George, but other key players like David West and George Hill have missed time as well. They have continued to play their physical brand defense, allowing only 96.3 points per game but have struggled scoring the ball.

Despite missing a number of key players the Pacers have continued to battle under coach Frank Vogel. They have been very resilient even when shorthanded. While they continue to play stingy defensive, things have been much more difficult on the offensive end. Their biggest issue is the lack of a true go-to scorer. Their most consistent threat on that end of the court has been David West, yet West is averaging just under 13 points per game. Offseason acquisitions Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles were expected to help fill the scoring void left by George but have been inconsistent thus far.

Looking ahead, 36 of the Pacers remaining 50 games will come against Eastern Conference opponents, which should offer a glimmer of hope. Their longest remaining road trip is a five game set that will come at the end of January from the 17-25. Although they won’t have to make any more multi-game trips West after January 7 when they return from Golden State. Of the teams in the hunt for the eighth seed the Pacers have one of the more favorable schedules, but the question remains as to whether they have enough firepower on the offensive end. If they can play at or above .500 against the East they might just have a shot at eight seed depending on how things play out. It may be a long shot but at this point, but they’re still alive.

3.) Charlotte Hornets

Record: 10-22

Games Remaining: 50 (23 Home, 27 Away)

Remaining Opponents: + .500 teams: 22, vs East: 35, vs West: 15

Strength of Schedule: .512

Record Over Last 10 Games: 4-6

Efficiency: Offensive 98.8, Defensive 104, Net -5.2

Expectations were high at the start of the season for the Hornets. The addition of Lance Stephenson to a team that was coming off a playoff berth gave fans reason to believe they were on the road to contending. Unfortunately, things have not played out nearly as well as Hornets’ backers hoped. Stephenson hasn’t been a good fit and point guard Kemba Walker has been unable to find his shooting stroke. Both players were expected to be major contributors in the Hornets’ bid for a back-to-back playoff appearances. Thus far Stephenson is shooting only 38.6 percent from the field and Walker has not been much better at 39.6 percent. Inefficient play for the backcourt has hampered their offensive attack all season and is a major reason for their lack of wins. That is something they will have to improve on going forward if they hope to catch Miami.

Also concerning for the Hornets, is their inability to compete with opponents above .5oo. Thus far this season they have played 18 games against teams with a winning record and have only been able to win four. With 22 games against above .500 opponents looming they will have to find a way to win higher percentage of those contests.

While the chances of Hornets making the playoffs are this slim, there is still plenty season left. They’re only four games behind current eighth seed holder Miami and with the talent they have, they may be able to make push to finish the season. Twenty eight of their remaining games will come against teams under .500, which should help them close the gap. The Hornets appeared poised to go on nice winning streak after notching four straight W’s prior to Christmas, only to follow that with a three game losing streak. They’ll have to find a way to be more consistent if they want to make run at a playoff berth. One stretch they can look forward to is a four game home set from January 14-21, concluding with a game against the HEAT. They’re in survival mode with Al Jefferson out for the next four weeks due to a groin injury. The best case scenario for them now is simply to still be alive until he comes back.

2) Orlando Magic (13-22) – Games Remaining: 47 (27 Home, 20 Away)

Record: 13-22

Games Remaining: 47  (27 Home, 20 Away)

Remaining Opponents: +.500 teams: 20, vs East: 27, vs West: 20

Strength of Schedule: .489

Record Over Last 10 Games: 4-6

Efficiency: Offensive 99.2, Defensive 104.5, Net -5.3

Going into the season it seemed highly unlikely that the young Magic would have a shot a playoff berth. However, with the way things are shaping up in the lower half of the conference that doesn’t seem nearly as unlikely anymore. They are currently just 2 1/2 behind the HEAT, despite having only 13 wins. Versatile forward Tobias Harris is having a break-out season, averaging 18.5 points, seven rebounds and shooting 47.6 percent from the field. The Magic have been getting significant contributions from Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo as well. Vucevic is one of the more productive young bigs in the league with his ability not only rebound at a high rate, but score the ball as well. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton looks to have a bright future and is already making an impact. He will have to improve his jump shot, but has already proven to be a serviceable defender.

Their first major obstacle will come in just over a week. They have a four-game road trip starting January 7 in Denver, followed by games against the Lakers, Trail Blazers and Bulls. It doesn’t get any easier when they return home on January 14 as the face the Rockets, then take on the Grizzlies and Thunder respectively. If they can come out of that stretch with three wins, they should be very happy.

If the Magic can make it through that tough stretch in January the rest of their schedule is very manageable. They will play the vast majority of their remaining games at home. However, the Magic have been better on the road (9-12), then when playing at home (4-10). If they have any hope of competing for the final playoff spot that is something they must address as they still have 27 home games remaining. One thing that has surprised about the Magic is how good they have been in close games. Usually young teams struggle to finish tight contests, but the Magic have thrived, going 5-2 in games decided by three points or less. They have a winning record (10-7) against teams under .500 and with 27 remaining games against teams with a losing record that is one thing they can be optimistic about.

Miami (14-18) – Games Remaining: 50 (23 Home, 27 Away)

Record: 14-18

Games Remaining: 50 ( 23 Home, 27 Away)

Remaining Opponents: +.500 21, vs East: 31, vs West: 19

Strength of Schedule: .503

Record Over Last 10 Games: 4-6

Efficiency: Offensive 103.6, Defensive 106.5, Net -2.9

As expected the loss of LeBron James has really taken its toll on the HEAT. Even with Dwyane Wade having a very solid year and the addition of former All-Star Luol Deng, the HEAT are four games under .500. December in particular has been tough on the Heat as they have won just five of their 16 games played this month. They will have to snap out of this funk quickly before giving up too much ground.

They have relied heavily on Chris Bosh down low, as he is their only legitimate low post threat. Bosh is leading the team in minutes played, logging just over 35 per night. He has been very productive in those minutes, leading the team in rebounding and ranking second in scoring, but you have wonder if he will start to wear down later in the season. He’s already missed some extended time this year. Losing Josh McRoberts has really hurt their frontcourt depth. It will be on Bosh and Wade to do much of the heavy lifting for the remainder of the season to as the HEAT look to hold onto to the eighth seed.

Like the Magic, another issue for the HEAT has been than their their inability to win at home. In 18 home games thus the far the Heat are only 6-12. Surprisingly they have actually been much better on the road, going 8-6. They have to be happy with the way they are playing away from home, but need to do a much better job protecting their homecourt. The HEAT have two four-game road trips and one five game road-trip remaining, spread over the next three months, with the five gamer coming in the middle of January where they will take on the Trail Blazers, Clippers, Lakers, Warriors and Kings. Both the Magic and HEAT face significant tests in the next few weeks; whoever fares best will likely have a leg up on the eighth seed race.

The first 32 games of season for the HEAT included 17 against above .500 opponents and they were only able to salvage five wins in those games. Although, when you compare that to the teams above them in the standings, it doesn’t look so bad. The Bucks are only 4-11 against +.500 teams, and the Nets just 2-11 against +.500 teams. When they have played teams under .500 the HEAT have done well, going 9-6 in those contests. With 29 of their remaining 50 games against opponents under .500, if the HEAT can continue to take care of business against those teams holding onto the eight seed becomes much less of a challenge.

The race for the last spot in the East will almost certainly be a tight one. As of today the HEAT are the favorites to land the eight seed, but a lot could change between now and the end of the season. While the Heat may hold a slight lead over the rest of the pack they have done little to prove that they will run away from their competition, leaving the door wide open for a team like the Hornets, Pacers or Magic to sneak in. It will be interesting see which teams step up during the more difficult parts of their schedule and which teams fold when faced with a little adversity.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca

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The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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