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The ‘Shop: PG Heirarchy and The Karl Conundrum

In this week’s edition of ‘The Shop, the guys discuss George Karl’s comments, top East PGs, CLE-GS, etc.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back to The ‘Shop for this week’s discussion. Jabari Davis and Lang Greene continue their NBA conversation with a few new topics from the headlines and are joined today by Josh Eberley of Hoop Mag (NBA.com) and Press Basketball:

Jabari: I hope the holiday treated you and the families well, Josh and Lang. Hopefully, a whole lot better than former NBA head coach George Karl is treating some of his ex-players with some of the excerpts coming from his upcoming book, ‘Furious George’ set to be released on January 10, 2017. “Tell-all” books are nothing new and, given the fact that Karl appears to have fizzled out of the NBA rotation of viable coaching candidates, I guess this should come as no shock.

My biggest issue with it wasn’t the fact that he went out of his way to heavily criticize some of the very players that helped him become the coach with the fifth-most wins in NBA history over the second half of his coaching career. My problem with it was the way in which he decided to personally attack these players using coded (and in some cases blatantly prejudiced) language to add the type of tone that was likely used to specifically sell books. Essentially, this has the feeling of selling the very people out that he experienced some of his greatest professional heights with, while tacking on the type of language and rhetoric that could only have been added to specifically hurt those individuals OR for the positive monetary benefits that can come from sensationalist commentary. First, did you have an issue with Karl’s decision to specifically call out Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin by essentially calling them “fatherless” and criticizing them for things completely out of their control? Second, does this feel like a “final act” for Karl as a member of the NBA sidelines or could you see a path where he would be trusted by NBA players enough to be placed in charge at some point moving forward?

Josh: I love tell-all books, I really do. We’re all NBA junkies and of course I want the behind-the-scenes tour! That said, Karl didn’t have to take it there. Nothing he said about Carmelo Anthony’s game was unfair, it’s not stuff we all haven’t heard before on Twitter or wherever. But adding in his doctor’s notes on the impact of not having a father was probably out of line and overall unnecessary.

Karl put himself in a bad situation here; people will discredit him based on his lack of tact. The truth is there’s probably some great stuff in that book. Even if you hate the guy (as many players seem to), he was an NBA coach for a lot of years. I hope people can sort through the B.S. while still enjoying the nuggets, not for Karl, but for your own NBA fandom.

Oh, Karl is done. Who in the hell would ever want to play for this guy? Boogie, Melo, Martin, Allen, Iguodala, etc. Have all blasted the man. Now he’s writing a book throwing crap on the most prestigious players to ever suit up for him? Even if some of the strictly basketball-related criticism is fair, no one wants to play for a guy who’s going to crap on them publicly and privately.

Lang: What’s up Hoop Freaks? Strong welcome to J.E. I appreciate you stopping through, my man. Let’s rock.

When guys are trying to sell books, especially in today’s climate, I already know there will be some juicy nuggets to bring in readers. George Karl just followed the normal procedure for someone heading into retirement not looking for another check. I might be taking a different approach on this, but Karl has coached some guys that most in his profession would be shaking in their boots to lead. Let’s run down some names for the Freaks: Allen Iverson, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Vin Baker, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, JaVale McGee, Ty Lawson, Chris Andersen, Reggie Evans, Julius Hodge, J.R. Reid, Sam Cassell and Anthony Mason. I mean, I can go on but you get the point.

My goodness. Most of the guys on this list are just headstrong alpha males without any off-court baggage. But some of these guys were (or are) dealing with alcohol issues and drug issues. Some were just blatantly immature and still are to this day. One of the guys got shot in the middle of the season for goodness sake. Quite a few were known to give their other coaches fits during their careers.

I found his criticism to be out of line, but maybe the man was just fed up after having to play the “bigger man” all these years while keeping things internal.

Lastly, the fatherless talk is definitely loaded in code. Make no mistake, it plays to an audience that have preconceived notions of young minority multi-millionaires. However, fatherless households in minority communities is without a doubt a big issue – a huge issue. I don’t want to dismiss that nugget, but I also feel Karl wasn’t trying to “lend a hand” or “raise awareness” when he was going after ‘Melo and Kenyon. Last thing, the exponential growth of fatherless households since the 1960s has increased in all ethnic groups in America. Just to be clear.

Jabari: I suppose we should wait for the rest of the material or perhaps a few more excerpts for additional perspective on what Karl is discussing in the book, but the first bit of information (while it will certainly snatch headlines and potentially sell some books) actually turns me off on the idea of the project, altogether.

Transitioning to a topic Josh actually brought up on Twitter, many of us came into the season with high hopes for what year-two of D’Angelo Russell might look like. The “fit” with head coach Luke Walton, his staff and the system is significantly better than last season, but Russell still hasn’t quite been able to turn the corner just yet.

Finding a consistent effort, not only on both sides of the court, but specifically when his shot is not falling, has been a challenge for Russell to this point. This is not an uncommon characteristic for young guards, but Russell was brought in under the guise of potentially being a “next-level” player among his peers and the hope has to be that he’ll at least be able to continue developing into an impact player at this level. Russell does enough on a regular basis (14.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.3 RPG in 26.3 MPG) to still make you raise your eyebrows about his potential, but remains a sub-40 percent shooter from the field for the season (39.4 percent) and still turns the ball over at an alarming rate on some nights. His current Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranking is 39th among point guards that have started at least four games in 2016-17 just behind Russell Westbrook and ahead of Beno Udrih. When adjusted to determine Real Plus-Minus Wins among the same group, Russell ranks just 25th.

I’m covering him from within the market and will fully admit that I still believe he has the “it” factor that could make him special, but I’d be interested in hearing from each of you about what his potential looks like from the outside and whether he will ultimately live up to the hype many of us have placed on him?

Josh: The “it” factor is what scared me off this kid in what appeared to be a stacked draft. I remember watching him play against Arizona in the tourney and he just kept shooting and shooting. Frankly, it was ugly. He shot a woeful 3-of-19 (16 percent) while his teammates shot a combined 17-33 (52 percent). It was one game but that’s the downside of the “it” factor, it seems to come with a lack of self-awareness. His decision-making is at times, well, not ideal.

That comes off as wholly negative, but I don’t mean it to be. Not unlike Devin Booker and Justise Winslow, the hype of the class seems to drain some of the reality. The Lakers’ hot start was in spite of Russell and not because of him. Is he still incredibly talented? Absolutely. Could he still be an All-Star? Hell yeah, he could. However, his sophomore numbers leave a lot to be desired. Playing less minutes under Luke Walton than he did under Byron Scott doesn’t seem like a red flag to you?

I think he’s going to be a good player – he’s only just creeping up to 21 years old – but I don’t see him as the franchise player many hope he could be.

Lang: Way too early to say he doesn’t have “it” in my view. I remember watching Russell Westbrook during his first season and a half and thinking, “Man, this kid is going to be really good.” But I certainly didn’t see 32-11-11 type of potential.

Honestly, from the outside it seems D’Angelo might fall into the “too-cool-for-school” crowd. The jersey always looks just right, the movements textbook, picturesque jump shots when things are rolling for the Lakers, etc. But I did a YouTube search for “D’Angelo Russell hustle play” and came up with crickets.

I’m on record with you, Jabari, saying Russell has more upside than Devin Booker. This is based on “potential” and what I believe he can become. But here is the definitive D’Angelo Russell play for me up until now – from last Christmas:

Four-on-one fastbreak, two forwards on the wing (Julius Randle and Anthony Brown, I believe) and Nick Young spotting up from three. Oh, and old man Paul Pierce as the only defender on the break. Russell double dribbles after trying to go solo. But pay attention to his teammates’ reaction. Randle is in absolute disbelief. Nick Young is befuddled. The end of the Lakers’ bench is frustrated and have a mini huddle before clapping it up. Just look at Roy Hibbert and Robert Sacre.

But I say all this to say, I think the man has All-Star potential … but it’s much more than acting or looking the part. It’s about becoming that dude.

Jabari: The decreased minutes under Walton aren’t really a shock as you’ll notice everyone within the main rotation is playing somewhere right around 22-29 minutes. His minutes were also reduced for about a week following that knee injury that sidelined him for 12 games, but I anticipate them settling somewhere between 27-30 minutes by the end of the year. It seems like we are all on the same page when it comes to Russell, although, I still think he could be a star player at some point. He’s just nowhere near that place at this stage, and the jury is still out on whether he will ultimately reach it.

Continuing on to another story… can we please take a moment to appreciate just how phenomenal that Cavs vs. Warriors game was from Christmas? At the same time, can I now rescind my “let’s appreciate everything else aside from CLE-GS” stance on the season and start getting geared up for an eventual showdown? I know there are a ton of great storylines continuing to play out (Westbrook, James Harden, the Spurs, the Raptors, etc.), but after seeing “Game 8” the other day, I am ALL in, once again! IF we get a Part 3 from these teams, is Cleveland actually the favorite? Even with the addition of Kevin Durant? Even though the Warriors appear to have at least figured out some of their defensive issues that plagued them in the early going?

Josh: Let’s start with the obvious: It was a great game. I won’t lie, I was in the danger zone early Christmas day. The girlfriend spent Christmas Eve with my family this year so it was Christmas at her place.

Genuine fear creeped into my heart that I’d have to record and watch later. I was at the mercy of the girlfriend’s family, spending Christmas afternoon with them for the first time. I was unsure if NBA basketball on mute during present opening would fly. (My own family has long accepted it at my place.)

*Walk in hug everybody.

“Can I help with anything, No? Great, I mean, umm, hey, would it be cool if basketball was on mute while we did this.”

*Five pairs of eyes fixate on the new guy, how can he be so bold?

“Yeah, for sure, Josh. No problem at all.”

That was my 60 yarder and it was cash, my full court buzzer-beater  – nothing but net. Watching the game later after knowing the result would’ve been horrid.

Can we take a second to appreciate 36-year-old Richard Jefferson cramming all over the Warriors? I broke taboo just once during the present opening, jumping up and down and screaming when Jefferson drove his flag six feet into Klay Thompson.

What was the question again? Are the Cavaliers the favorites in the tiebreaker series? Ha. No. Hell no. Steph Curry was hurt, Draymond Green got suspended, Andrew Bogut got hurt, three all-time plays were necessary to win in seven. The Warriors have to be the favorites still. They added a former MVP to a 73-win team. I WILL NOT LET ANYONE FORGET THIS. If the Cavaliers win again, it’s the best NBA Finals ever. There’s never been a better team on the paper than this Warriors squad, they are still coming together. Wait, just wait, for their post All-Star run. It’s going to be savage.

Lang: Josh, props for standing in the pocket with the future in-laws my man. You set the tone early so the next 10-15 years should be a breeze. I remember those early days…

Let me ask this, though. Do I hear excuses? Do I hear a bunch of “What Ifs”? I think I do. Since we’re at excuses making, what about 2015 … what if Kyrie Irving wasn’t hurt in Game 1 of the Finals? What if Kevin Love wasn’t hurt? It’s sports, man. I always wonder what if Richard Steele didn’t stop the first Meldrick Taylor versus Julio Cesar Chavez fight with two seconds remaining in the 12th round. Would Taylor have become one of the all-time greats?

But we’ll never know so all we can deal with is what’s the reality and the reality is, as Ric Flair said, “To be the man, You’ve got to beat the man.” The Cavaliers beat the Warriors. Period. This we know. Then beat them again on Christmas. Cleveland is the favorite until I see something different. This isn’t to say the Warriors aren’t going to show up with a can, because they will, but the Cavaliers – at full strength – might have their number.  

Jabari: Part of me absolutely wants to believe what Josh is saying, but what we’ve seen over the last four times the two teams have faced one another makes me hesitant to put anyone ahead of LeBron, Kyrie and a productive Kevin Love so comfortably. The elephant in the room when it comes to these Warriors is the specific way that game ended, in my opinion. Heading in, one of the more intriguing aspects of Durant deciding to join the Warriors was the idea of seeing him play within a system and alongside a group of guys that have won before. Whether it was a foul on the final sequence or not, why did that look so similar to the way things would devolve down the stretch of OKC games year after year?

Josh: I don’t know if I’d go there, not yet. Though, I’m sure somewhere Reggie Jackson is tickled by that notion. The Warriors just aren’t who they are going to be – not yet anyway. Comfort and custom are parts of this game, teams with the least changes usually thrive early in the season. If the Warriors are still falling apart in April, it’s time to bring back this idea. Remember, Durant has actually seen his shooting percentages drop four straight years come the playoffs, I’ll be watching for that this year.

Lang: Still too early to tell, but maybe the problem in OKC in late situations wasn’t Russell Westbrook.

Jabari: The last topic for the week is related to something I actually saw Josh discussing via Twitter (@JoshEberley, @LangGreene and @JabariDavisNBA) the other day. Josh, you were talking about the great play of Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Kyle Lowry. The debate over the top point guards will rage on for another day, but I’d actually like each of you to rank these East guards in terms of which of these guys deserve to make an All-Star team aaaaand which do you think WILL make it: Irving, Wall, Lowry, Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas?

Lang:  Interesting question. Kyrie Irving is automatic from the standpoint of being on the East’s best team and defending champion. Isaiah Thomas has been hurt so I have him pulling up the rear, for now. I give John Wall the edge over Kemba Walker. The man has been everything to Washington and I believe Walker has a bit more help on a nightly basis. So if I were ranking right now, Kyrie then J-Dub, then Kemba and then I.T. (and that’s just because of the slight injury absence). I honestly believe Kemba, for all his goodness, will be snubbed again this season. LG out.

Josh: Kyle Lowry has been the best point guard in the East this year, I don’t think it has been close. He’s on the second-best team, he’s probably the best defender of the bunch and his shooting splits are out of this damn world.

A lot has been made of Kyrie Irving being the best he has ever been, or not developing to the level of a superstar, etc. It has been an ongoing conversation, but the simple answer is that Kyrie has been great. He’s an excellent complement to LeBron James, he’s shooting very well, the Cavaliers are winning. He should come off the bench in the All-Star game behind Lowry and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he should be there.

It gets tricky here because everyone you listed is good enough to get in. John Wall is the next man up here, the Wizards are pushing at the right time and he’s having a career-year.

So chances are one of Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker are missing this year. I think it’s Walker’s turn to get in, he’s the better defensive player and they both mean similar to their teams offensively. I also don’t feel so bad because Walker was the last cut last year. Shouts to Goran Dragić, who is having a really good year but has no chance due to market coverage and team record.

Jabari: For me, Lowry has been the most consistent of the group thus far, but Kyrie will likely get voted in by the fans. As long as each of them make it, I’m fine with whichever (if any) of the other three-four candidates make it. After Wall, to Josh’s point, it could simply be a matter of which guy is up in the proverbial rotation.

Really good stuff from each of you gentlemen this week. Allow me to thank each of you for taking the time and I encourage the readers to continue providing the excellent feedback and topic suggestions in the comment section or on Twitter!

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2017-18 NBA Report Card: Third-Year Players

Among the third-year players a few budding superstars have emerged, along with some role players who are helping their teams in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs.

Mike Yaffe

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The 2015 NBA Draft has provided the league with a limited quantity of talent so far. After Terry Rozier (at 16th), it’s unlikely that anyone remaining has All-Star potential. Despite the lack of depth, the highest draft slot traded was at number 15, when the Atlanta Hawks moved down to enable the Washington Wizards to select Kelly Oubre Jr.

But placing a definitive “boom” or “bust” label on these athletes might be premature as the rookie contract is standardized at four seasons with an option for a fifth. If their employers are given a fourth year to decide whether a draftee is worth keeping, it seems reasonable to earmark the NBA Juniors’ progress for now and see how they’ve fared after next season’s campaign before making their letter grades official.

The Top Dogs

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Given the dearth of premier choices and their glaring need up front, it’s hard to envision the T-Wolves drafting anyone but KAT if they had to do it again. Although his scoring average is down from last season (21.3 vs. 25.1 PPG), that trend could be explained by the addition of Jimmy Butler and the team’s deliberate pace (24th out of 30 teams).

To his credit, Towns had career highs in three-point percentage (42.1 percent) and free throws (85.8 percent), while finishing second overall in offensive rating (126.7). His continued improvement in these areas could explain why the Timberwolves ended their 14-year playoff drought.

Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: Although he was a 2014 draft pick, Jokić’s NBA debut was delayed due to his last year of commitment to the Adriatic League. His productivity as a rookie was limited by both foul trouble and a logjam at the center position, but he still managed 10.0 PPG.

With Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic off the depth chart, Jokić became the clear-cut starter this season and rewarded Denver’s confidence by averaging 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. And by chipping in 6.1 APG, he provides rare value as a center with triple-double potential.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Although he has never played a full season since joining the league, Porzingis has provided enough evidence that he can be a force when healthy. Before his junior campaign was derailed, the Latvian was enjoying career highs of 22.7 PPG and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.

Unfortunately, the Knicks haven’t provided much support at point guard to help with Porzingis’ development. Trey Burke looked impressive down the stretch in Zinger’s absence, but that was in a score-first capacity. Meanwhile, both Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay have underwhelmed. On the plus side, Porzingis’ outside ability paired nicely in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, who prefers to bully his way underneath.

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Like Porzingis, Booker’s third year in the NBA was cut short by injuries, but that didn’t stop him from achieving career highs in points (24.9 per game), assists (4.7) and three-pointers (38.3 percent) on an otherwise moribund Suns team. Indeed, cracking the 40-point barrier three times in 54 contests was an achievement in and of itself.

While his short-term prospects would’ve been far better on a team like the Philadelphia Sixers (who might have taken him instead of Jahlil Okafor in a re-draft), Booker can still become a franchise cornerstone for the Suns if they are able to build around a young core that also includes T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.

Solid Potential

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Despite an inconsistent freshman season at Texas, Turner has become a stabilizing influence at center for the Pacers, whose blueprint consists of surrounding a go-to scorer with role players. While he hasn’t shown drastic improvement in any particular area, he has produced double-digit PPG averages all three years as a pro.

Although Turner’s shot-blocking ability fuels his reputation as a defensive maven, the reality is his 104.8 defensive rating (which is just OK) was skewed by his 110.9 d-rating in losses (it was 100.8 in wins). In order to merit consideration for the NBA’s all-defensive team, he will need to bridge the gap in this discrepancy and impact his team’s ability to win more games in the process.

D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Following their respective trades, Russell has fared better in the Big Apple than his 2015 lottery counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to cut bait to draft Lonzo Ball. While Ball has shown promise as a rookie, the Lakers’ perception of Russell may have been premature, as the former Buckeye has stabilized a Nets backcourt that had been characterized more by athleticism than consistency.

Despite missing a significant stretch of mid-season games, Russell provided similar numbers for Brooklyn to that of his sophomore season; but without a pick until number 29 in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets will have to bank on improved production from DLo and his raw teammates to contend for the eight-seed in the East.

Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics: Injuries have paved the way for Rozier to showcase his talent, most recently with a 23-point, 8-assist effort in game two against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Rozier was already making headlines as a fill-in for Kyrie Irving whenever he was injured. Now that the starting point guard reins have been handed to the former mid-round pick, he has become one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season.

The biggest impediment to Rozier’s success might be the regression to limited playing time once Irving returns. While the Celtics could “sell high” and trade Rozier on the basis of his recent performances, they may opt to retain him as insurance while he is still cap-friendly.

Best of the Rest

Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: Following the trade deadline, Nance has provided a spark for a Cavs frontcourt that has been bereft of viable options aside from Kevin Love.

Josh Richardson, Miami HEAT: A jack-of-all-trades at the small forward position, Richardson has evolved into a three-and-D player that has meshed well with the HEAT’s shut-down focus.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Thrust into the starting center role after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, WCS has provided serviceable (albeit unspectacular) play as the next man up.

Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: A key contributor for the East’s top seed, Wright was instrumental in the Raptors’ game one victory over the Washington Wizards with 18 points off the bench.

Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: The former Razorback has flashed double-double potential, but playing time at his true position (power forward) has been limited by the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen.

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NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers

The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.

Steve Kyler

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Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers

While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.

It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.

So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.

Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.

The Potential Future All-Stars

DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters

Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players

Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs

The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust

Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs

Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.

If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau.

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NBA Daily: Darius Adams, Around The World In Seven Years

CBA superstar Darius Adams talks to Basketball Insiders about dominating in China, playing with Andray Blatche and trying to prove himself.

Ben Nadeau

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Darius Adams is just like every other professional basketball player.

Every year, he works hard, tries to improve and be the best teammate possible. One day, Adams would like to earn his first-ever NBA contract, but after seven long years, he’s always fallen just short. Adams is just like you and me too — forever chasing his dreams even when the outlook is at its bleakest. But Adams’ worldwide journey has taken him from Indianapolis to China and nearly everywhere in between.

Now with a chunk of money saved up, Adams is ready to bet on himself and finally make this at-home ambition come true. Ahead lies a summer of grueling workouts and undetermined futures, but eventually, you learn to stop betting against Adams. From Los Prados to Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, Adams has made a habit of proving the naysayers wrong. As if dropping 38 points per game in China wasn’t difficult enough — Adams still must undergo his toughest challenge yet: Changing the mind of an NBA front office.

But before you can know where Adams is going, it’s just as important to understand where he’s been.

*****

Darius Adams got a late start to basketball. He never played AAU, the so-called holy grail for teenage prospects, and told me that he learned the game by watching streetball in Decatur, Illinois. So by the time he fell in love with basketball, Adams was forced to take alternate routes to the top. He spent two years in the NJCAA with Lincoln College, a small, private liberal arts school approximately 33 miles away from home. During that second season, Adams averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor — but it wasn’t enough to make the jump to a Division-I school.

After transferring to the University of Indianapolis, Adams continued to improve in each successive campaign. As a senior, he topped out with a 41-point effort against Illinois at Springfield and tallied 23.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Adams still went undrafted in 2011, officially setting off a globe-spanning adventure that would make Phileas Fogg blush.

From China to Ukraine, Adams has played in seven different countries in as many years, also adding stops in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, France, Germany and Spain along the way. Adams may have turned 29 years-old this week, but he’s never considered giving up his dreams of playing in the NBA.

“That’s the goal, that’s always been my motivation,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “I just played my hardest and kept progressing, that was my thing — I didn’t want to be content with: ‘OK, you’re playing pro.’ I want to play at the highest level, I feel like I have the talent to play at the highest level.

“At the end of the day, I just need that opportunity.”

Opportunity is a word that has come to define Adams in many ways.

Beyond that, it’s something that has constantly eluded him, even as he began winning in bigger and better leagues. Despite all his international successes, including a EuroLeague Final Four appearance and a CBA championship, Adams has been unable to turn that into an NBA contract. As far as he can tell, it’s a matter of both perception and timing.

The perception of overseas athletes, particularly those that compete in China, has always been a hot-button issue. For as long as Americans have played in the CBA, there’s an unspoken expectation that they should dominate. Generalizations abound, if you’re from the United States and not dominating in China, there’s a low chance of earning an NBA deal. But sometimes, even topping the CBA charts still isn’t enough. This season, Adams averaged a league-leading 38.7 points and added 8.4 assists (2nd-best), 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals (3rd-best) per contest for good measure. On one hand, there’s the stat-padding, empty type of scoring and then there’s this: Absolute annihilation.

But those misconceptions about Chinese basketball often remain an unforgiving roadblock for many. Heck, even Adams had them before he signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers two years ago.

“It’s different, my perception was that there would be a lot of short guys that couldn’t play,” Adams said. “Actually, I was probably one of the shortest guys out there, as far as basketball players, and they got skills. They don’t get tired and they’re going to guard you tough, maybe they’re not as skilled as [Americans] are — but they got heart.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but they impressed me.”

And although Adams experienced his fallacies in real-time, he’s still waiting for the rest of the NBA to catch up.

Of course, Adams wasn’t the only American to tear up the CBA this season. Three other Americans, Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson and MarShon Brooks, earned NBA deals this month. That trio of players all put up gaudy statistical lines as well, but none nearly as high as Adams’. Then there’s the case of Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star that moved to China back in 2010, transforming his fringe-status career into a rejuvenated international icon. Marbury’s off-the-court philanthropy and three CBA championships speak for themselves, but Adams is often left wondering why it can’t work the other way around.

“You start questioning yourself, like: ‘What’s the reason why you’re not getting this opportunity?’” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Some of the teams [I’ve worked out for] come back and say, ‘Well, he hasn’t had NBA experience.’ But when am I going to get my NBA experience if I never get my chance?”

*****

The other frustrating factor for players like Adams to navigate is timing — and as he put it, timing is everything.

To his credit, Adams has never shied away from a challenge or attempted to outmaneuver anybody on this long-winding journey. When he goes to workouts, Adams tells franchises that he’d be more than happy to go against their top guys — however, whenever, or whatever it takes. He’s impressed during private workouts before, but his most recent chance came just as Adams was getting ready to fly back to China for another season. Timing, again, had failed him.

Between workouts too late in the offseason or contracts that needed to be honored, the timing just hasn’t quite worked out for Adams. And it’s not for a lack of trying either — Adams has played two years of summer league (one with the Nets, one with the Mavericks), initially tried his hand at the D-League in 2011 and spends every offseason carefully deciding where to go next.

But when he made the all-important choice to jump from Spain to China in 2016, it wasn’t without a plan.

“Honestly, when I left Spain, I was nervous to go to China because the fans were like, ‘You’re gonna hurt your career, basketball is not as good [there] as it is in Europe,’” Adams said. “So I had that in the back in my mind. Me and my agent had a plan that I’d go to China — the CBA season is way shorter than the European leagues — and then I’d come back in six, seven months and hopefully get on a roster before the end of the season.”

It’s difficult to measure the merits of a big-time scorer overseas, particularly so in China, but Adams has now undoubtedly smashed through his ceiling. For a kid that once started out at a tiny college in Illinois, Adams followed up his Finals MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17 by nearly averaging a 40-point double-double this year. And although he challenged himself to diversify his game between those back-to-back Chinese seasons, he never once thought he would do… well, that.

“I didn’t go into the season wanting to be the leading scorer, I just wanted to win games and another championship,” Adams said. “We had a lot of adversity this season because my teammate, Andray Blatche, got injured early and the offensive role changed to me. Going against double-teams, triple-teams, that was the challenging part, because I knew my team needed me. Dealing with the adversity, it was challenging — but if you put me up to the test, I’m always going to prove myself.”

Although Andray Blatche isn’t a name heard often these days, he’s certainly well-remembered for his time in the NBA. Over his nine-year career, Blatche played for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before heading overseas to China in 2014. While he, too, was part of the winning squad that brought the Flying Tigers their first-ever championship in 2017, Adams has also used the 6-foot-11 power forward like a soundboard. Frequently peppering him with questions about life in the NBA, Adams has nothing but adoration for Blatche, whom he now considers a close friend.

“I asked him what it was like to play with DWill, KG, how were the locker rooms, what were the practices like — but he also helped me see different things on the court,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Or, like, OK, I might be frustrated and in a bad place, he’d be like, ‘OK, D, you gotta let it go, you’re the leader of the team’ and things like that. Whenever I was down, he was there — he helped me out with being in China, adjusting to the food, where to go, he treated me like a little brother, actually.”

In order to make that second season in China count, Adams decided to focus on his untapped playmaking side, increasing his assist tally from 5.9 to that aforementioned 8.4 per game. For a while, he even thought that might’ve been why he hadn’t earned a 10-day contract yet, so into the grinder it went. Additionally, Adams dared himself to become a locker room leader, the kind of vocal, lead-by-example veteran that any franchise would value.

If the jaw-dropping statistics weren’t going to pave his path to the NBA, Adams was convinced he could find another way to grab front office attention.

“Right now, I’m already developed and can help [teams] win,” Adams said. “I haven’t reached my peak, I can still learn new things and keep progressing the same way. I’m already starting higher in the learning curve [than most young players] — but I’m also a good leader. I can be a scorer, I can be a defensive guy, I got all those qualities — I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can help.”

*****

But as his season drew to a close in March (the sixth-seeded Flying Tigers were knocked out in the quarterfinals) Adams was, once again, without an NBA contract. In what Adams is now deeming one of the most important summers of his life, he’s going all-in on himself. Previously, Adams couldn’t ignore those lucrative million-dollar-plus deals, he had a family to look out for, after all. To him, it was a risk that he couldn’t take until this very moment. Sure, he could hit the G-League again — although he tried out for two teams, the Iowa Energy and Canton Charge, after going undrafted and was not selected — but there’s little money in that method.

Granted, Adams has always been motivated and hungry, but he’s got an extra push this time around.

“I’m going to all these different countries, I’m playing in their country — so why can’t play in my country?” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “If I’m one of the top players, how come I can’t get an opportunity in my country? Staying home, so my family can see me. My family has never seen me play overseas, only videos. You see all these other stories, like the guy that just played for the Lakers [Andre Ingram] — it took him ten years! It shows you to just never give up — all you need is an opportunity.

“I always tell my mom, my family, my kids that this year is gonna be the year. I’m gonna get my opportunity and I’mma be playing at home — daddy’s gonna be playing at home.”

Adams has always been a late bloomer — he’s forever the product of a once-raw teenager with no AAU experience. He’ll always be the barely 6-foot point guard that jumped into the NCJAA, quickly validated himself and then excelled in Division-II as well. But if you’re looking for a reason to disparage Adams’ hopes and dreams, you need not look further than this. How could somebody with those glaring blemishes ever play at the NBA level and against the best the sport has to offer?

Lest you forget, however, Adams is also the guy that will never stop fighting or believing in himself. Adams is the one that averaged 18 points in Ukraine and Germany and didn’t settle. The higher he climbed, the better he got. When he aced the test in France, he went to Spain and then got all of this. When Adams needed to adapt and change his game depending on the surrounding roster or culture — he did that too. But most importantly, Adams is tired of playing from behind and tired of missing his young family’s most key moments.

And now, with a whole offseason ahead of him, Adams is ready to do something about it once and for all.

“I’m staying prepared for whenever they have an opportunity, I’m betting on myself this whole summer and really taking a chance,” Adams said. “This year, I have enough saved up to really bet on myself. So, the goal is to just go to these workouts, get in front of these guys and show ‘em what I can do.

“That’s all I’ve ever needed, I don’t want anybody to just hand over a contract — I want to prove myself. I feel like I can make an impact — if you don’t think so, put me up against your guys and I’ll prove it.”

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