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Toronto Raptors 2016-17 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Toronto Raptors.

Basketball Insiders

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In each of the past three seasons, the Toronto Raptors have set a franchise record for most wins in a season – from 48 victories, to 49 to 56. Led by DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and head coach Dwane Casey, general manager Masai Ujiri has slowly built a contender North of the Border.

Last season, the Raptors took the team that would eventually go on to win the NBA championship—the Cleveland Cavaliers—to six games before succumbing to LeBron James and company. Now, for the Raptors, anything less than returning to that point would probably be considered a disappointment. Coach Casey received a three-year extension while DeRozan, the franchise’s cornerstone, was re-signed on a five-year maximum contract worth $137.5 million.

Without question, we are currently witnessing the Golden Age of Canadian basketball. The only question is whether the Raptors have enough to truly contend with the Cavaliers or if they will be stuck being a bridesmaid yet again.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 Toronto Raptors.

FIVE GUYS THINK

With the moves made by the New York Knicks and Al Horford finding his way to the Boston Celtics, the Raptors won’t be able to sleepwalk to the division title this season, but I see no reason to pick against them. I am a big fan of continuity and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dwane Casey. More than anything else, the Raptors will need DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to each prove that they are franchise cornerstones and they will have to prove that in the playoffs. Getting to the postseason, though, is a foregone conclusion. I see no reason why the Raptors won’t reign atop the Atlantic once again. My main concerns are around their ability to remain healthy for a full season and with how they will respond to losing the defensive edge that Bismack Biyombo provided. Truth is, I could see the Knicks or Celtics winning the Atlantic this season, but at this point, I’m not willing to bet against the Raptors.

1st Place – Atlantic Division

– Moke Hamilton

The biggest move for the Raptors this offseason was re-signing DeMar DeRozan to a five-year, $137.5 million deal. Keeping DeRozan means the Raptors can continue to work off of their dynamic duo in Kyle Lowry and DeRozan. The Raptors also have pretty good talent at just about every other position, but they’ll need a breakout year from someone like Jonas Valanciunas to have top-end talent on par with the elite teams in the league. Getting a healthy season from DeMarre Carroll could definitely help with that as well. Also, look for Norman Powell to build off of his solid rookie campaign and to be a significant part of the Raptors’ success. After years of having the same general core in place, the Raptors’ greatest strength may be their chemistry. However, it’s still not clear that this team can get past the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

– Jesse Blancarte

The Raptors had a breakthrough last season by reaching the Eastern Conference Finals after two consecutive disappointing first-round exits where they entered the playoffs as favorites. The talent is there to make another run, but the team’s move this summer didn’t do much to inspire a belief that the team can take the throne away from LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry spent the summer winning a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics and there should be some lift with forward DeMarre Carroll fully healthy. But there are new challengers emerging in the East, namely their division rival Boston Celtics, so the Raptors need to capitalize on their window of opportunity.

1st Place – Atlantic Division

– Lang Greene

It’s probably fair to say that there’s a consensus that Toronto is the preseason No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference, mostly because they lost exactly zero players of import after back-to-back monster seasons that finally saw them make some headway in the 2016 playoffs. Jared Sullinger was a sneaky-good acquisition, but for the most part fans should just expect business as usual for the Northerners this year. They’ll be right in the mix for another deep playoff run.

1st Place – Atlantic Division

– Joel Brigham

I will have to disagree with Joel, and Toronto fans won’t like it. I’m a big believer in the Boston Celtics – as I stated in their 2016-17 season preview – and I have them winning the Atlantic Division. With that said, I do think it’ll be very close and I think both squads are top three teams in the Eastern Conference. The big problem for Boston, Toronto and every other East team is that I still see a very large gap between the Cleveland Cavaliers and everyone else in the conference. I like this Raptors squad and expect them to win a ton of games in the regular season once again. But are they a legitimate contender to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in the 2016-17 campaign? I don’t see it. I just can’t put them on the same tier as the true contenders around the league like the Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. With that said, Toronto is beautiful and Drake is my favorite musician! Please go easy on my mentions, Raptors fans!

2nd Place – Atlantic Division

– Alex Kennedy

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: DeMar DeRozan

Since entering the league in 2009, DeMar DeRozan has slowly but surely improved his overall game. However, his most drastic improvements have come on the offensive end. DeRozan is coming off of a season in which he turned in a career-high scoring average of 23.5 points per game. He managed to increase his scoring average from the previous season by 3.4 points and did so while also raising his shooting percentage more than three points. Today, he boasts a very effective midrange game that has been augmented by a respectable three-point touch. Upon entering the league, DeRozan wouldn’t even consider taking three-point shots; now, after connecting on 34 percent of his looks downtown last year, he is able to stretch defenses and keep the opposition honest.

Despite the newly developed shooting prowess, DeRozan remains most effective at finishing around the basket. An explosive and dynamic finisher, he has no shortage of highlight-reel plays and creates the same sort of anticipation that Vince Carter once did when he breaks away for an uncontested finish.

Anyone who knows Dwane Casey knows how important it is to him that his players take care of the basketball, and the coach himself would tell you that this is a very underrated part of being a “good” offensive player. Even for someone who is as demanding as Casey, DeRozan’s 2.2 turnovers per 36 minutes leaves little room for more to be demanded, especially when one considers the amount of offensive repetitions and bailout plays DeRozan receives.

Top Defensive Player: DeMarre Carroll

General manager Masai Ujiri made quite a splash during the 2015 free agency period when he showed up to a meeting with DeMarre Carroll armed with a four-year, $60 million contract. Carroll signed with the Raptors and was thought to be a major piece for them, but injuries limited him to just 26 games in his first season with Toronto. What made Carroll a coveted free agent in July 2015, though, was his rare combination of size, foot speed, strength and agility. Standing at 6’8, Carroll has the height required of a small forward in the league, but his on-ball instincts and ability to read passing lanes make him effective at guarding opposing point guards and shooting guards. In today’s NBA, where pick-and-roll and motion offenses dominate most offensive schemes, having versatile players who can switch and effectively cross-match is a necessity for any contender. So long as Carroll can stay on the court, he will be a net-positive for the Raptors on both ends of the court, but particularly on the defensive end.

Top Playmaker: Kyle Lowry

Since arriving in Toronto in 2012, Kyle Lowry has truly come of age. It took Lowry nine years and four teams to eventually become an All-Star, but he has proven that he is among the league’s top point guards. Lowry was once regarded as a score-first point guard, but since arriving in Toronto, he has managed to change the perception of his game. He is two years removed from averaging a career-high 7.4 assists per game, but Lowry has become a floor general, and last season’s 6.4 assists per game is still respectable. He has greatly improved his ability to read defenses, especially while playing pick-and-roll as the ball handler.

Last season, Casey installed a fair amount of off-ball and backdoor action in his offense and Lowry found his teammates and created opportunities for others. In terms of athleticism, Lowry isn’t the most light-footed point guard. His first step isn’t exceptionally quick and he is more likely to create space for himself on a step-back than his is by blowing past his defender. Still, he is quite effective at orchestrating an offense and has excelled as the lead guard for a team that is a rising and improving contender in the increasingly competitive Eastern Conference.

Top Clutch Player: DeMar DeRozan

Over the years, there have been more than a few instances where DeMar DeRozan has come up big for his teammates. A buzzer-beating that sunk the Orlando Magic a few years ago immediately comes to mind, while last season, the Washington Wizards walked away from the Air Canada Center with a loss thanks to the heroics of DeRozan. There is a dearth of statistical evidence to support the notion that one player happens to be more “clutch” than another, but if and when the game has been on the line, Dwane Casey has been consistent in affording DeRozan the opportunity to determine his team’s fate. For the most part, DeRozan has made the right play and the correct decision.

What makes DeRozan especially valuable in late-game situations is his offensive versatility. He has proven capable of hitting a big midrange shot as well as getting to the basket. Best of all, he is a reliable free-throw shooter, evidenced by his career shooting percentage of 82.5 percent. Best of all, he is a willing passer in late-game situations. He rarely makes poor decisions with the basketball and is certainly the best option that Casey has when the game is hanging in the balance.

The Unheralded Player: Cory Joseph

After seeing Anthony Bennett’s time with the Raptors come and go, solace can be found in the fact that Cory Joseph’s homecoming has been much more productive. After spending four years as a member of the San Antonio Spurs, Joseph had a front row seat to Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the gold standard of NBA franchises. He experienced the gut-wrenching defeat the Spurs suffered at the hands of the 2013 Miami HEAT and the bliss of avenging that defeat in 2014. Having only recently celebrated his 25th birthday, the Toronto native has brought great experience with him back home, and it was something that was apparent at different points of last season. Although his numbers aren’t eye-popping, Joseph has slowly but surely become a solid rotation guard in the NBA and should only continue to improve as the years progress. A member of the Canadian national basketball team, the young point guard continues to ply his trade and should continue to serve as an efficient, consistent, careful point guard whose best days are still ahead.

Jonas Valanciunas deserves a mention here as well. Though not widely regarded as one of the more talented big men in the league, Valanciunas’ footwork and ability to see the court from the post are overlooked. If he can remain healthy, he can help the Raptors get to the next level.

Best New Addition: Jakob Poeltl

The Austrian Jakob Poeltl is easily the best addition to the Raptors this season. Despite winning 56 games this past season, the Raptors had the No. 9 pick in this year’s draft. That’s because of the 2013 trade that saw Andrea Bargnani dealt to the New York Knicks. Toronto exercised New York’s pick and selected Poeltl ninth overall.

Poeltl has an impressive collegiate and international basketball resume, and he will likely receive playing time from day one. Like most big men entering the league, Poeltl will need to add some size and strength in order to be able to compete everyday against the bigger and stronger veterans patrolling the interior. Already with solid footwork and good rebounding instincts, Poeltl brings a wealth of basketball experience with him to the NBA, and it’s likely to pay immediate dividends. It’s not every day that a successful team like the Raptors adds a talent like Poeltl, so he is easily their best new addition.

– Moke Hamilton

WHO WE LIKE

  1. Jonas Valanciunas

I’ve been on the Valanciunas bandwagon for a long time. Although still trying to improve his consistency, Valanciunas has a very smooth, fluid back-to-the-basket game and he can see the floor exceptionally well for a man his size. He is a hard worker, who puts a lot of time and effort into improving his craft. Coach Casey has compared Valanciunas to Zydrunas Ilgauskas. However, Valanciunas’ footwork, athleticism and mobility are far superior, and the 24-year-old’s ceiling remains incredibly high.

  1. Terrence Ross

Since being selected with the eighth overall pick of the 2012 draft, Terrence Ross has slowly but surely carved out a place for himself in Toronto. A fairly versatile player, Ross connected on a career-high 48 percent of his shots last season, including 39 percent from three-point range. His growth epitomizes two of the things we like best in Toronto: growth and continuity.

  1. Dwane Casey

My feelings about Dwane Casey and the job he’s done are well documented. After a brief and uneventful tenure as the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Casey eventually found his way to the bench of the Dallas Mavericks and was one of the of the ringleaders of the 2011 championship squad. With him on the bench, Casey helped the Mavericks pull off one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history and, since then, he has worked tirelessly to deliver similar success in Toronto. Although the Raptors are still a few steps away from being a true championship contender, Casey has been there and done that and is working to deliver even better results to the fans of Toronto.

  1. Masai Ujiri

Masai Ujiri made a name for himself as the executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets and famously orchestrated the trade of Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. In 2013, Ujiri became the first non-American to win the Executive of the Year Award and, shortly after, agreed to take over in Toronto. Since then, it is impossible to argue with the results. If Ujiri’s track record is any indication, the Raptors will continue to be in good hands.

  1. The fans of Toronto

We can say with certainty that the game of basketball has become the passion of Ontario. Vince Carter helped to birth an entire generation of great Canadian basketball players and the passion is evident. Good fans are an asset, especially in late-game situations and big moments. Players routinely feed off of the energy given off by their fans, and Toronto basketball fans are among the best.

– Moke Hamilton

SALARY CAP 101

The Raptors are one of the few teams that did not go under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap.  Instead, Toronto used their $5.6 million Mid-Level Exception on Jared Sullinger, and re-signed DeMar DeRozan to a five-year, $137.5 million contract via his Bird Rights.  The team still has the $2.2 million Bi-Annual Exception, but the roster has 14 guaranteed players with five vying for the one remaining spot (E.J. Singler, Fred VanVleet, Jarrod Uthoff, Yanick Moreira and Drew Crawford).

Next summer, the Raptors may have up to $13 million in spending power under a projected $102 million salary cap.  That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale options on Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo and Delon Wright before November.  It also presumes that Kyle Lowry opts out of his final year at $12 million.  The Raptors are also likely to get the Los Angeles Clippers’ 2017 first-round pick, provided L.A. makes the playoffs.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

Continuity and Chemistry: The Golden State Warriors will be an interesting team to watch this coming season. Kevin Durant has effectively replaced Harrison Barnes in the team’s rotation, and that disruption—and how Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson adjust—will be interesting to observe. Indeed, chemistry and continuity are among the most important things an NBA team can have on its side, and the Raptors certainly do have that. DeMar DeRozan is entering his eighth season and has spent the duration of his career in Toronto, while Dwane Casey is entering his fifth season on the job. Long ago, Casey was thought to be a lame duck coach after he was inherited by Masai Ujiri in 2013, but since then, Casey has become the franchise’s sideline general. Casey has earned a reputation as being a defensive taskmaster who impresses his players with an encouraging but firm demeanor. Those who have played under Casey in the past have praised his remarkable people skills and his “open door, open question” policy as it relates to his players. Since taking over in Toronto, Casey has been instrumental in helping the franchise find consistency and strength and it has been reflected in the team’s success over recent years.

Jonas Valanciunas, Terrance Ross and, of course, Kyle Lowry have also found consistent productivity in Toronto. If Casey and Lowry can succeed in incorporating some of the newer faces into the culture and playing style that has become synonymous with Toronto basketball over the past few years, then the forecast in Toronto will continue to be bright.

– Moke Hamilton

WEAKNESSES

Depth and Toughness: The 2004 Detroit Pistons will likely be the gold standard for teams that depart from the typical construction of being built around one or two superstar players. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have each experienced their fair share of playoff disappointments, and despite achieving success last season, each has been outplayed by the likes of other players who are clearly a tier above them. Dwyane Wade and Paul George each immediately come to mind.

For the Raptors, true success will be judged by how they perform in the playoffs, and as it currently stands, the team appears to be built around too many “what if” performers. Lowry performed miserably in the playoffs last season and both DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas need to prove that they can remain healthy enough to make a difference when the games truly matter. In that regard, the team appears to lack depth, especially if and when an opposing coach successfully implements a strategy to take either DeRozan or Lowry out of the game. Can Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross or Patrick Patterson deliver when it counts most? Perhaps they could, but that’s not something that a wise bettor would gamble on.

In the final two minutes of an important playoff game, Casey and the fans of the Raptors need big-time players that can be depended on to lead the troops to victory. Based on each of their performances last season, and especially in the case of Lowry, there is room for concern.

Overall, the favorites in the Atlantic Division have a solid team capable of performing well, but if there is one concern in Toronto, it would be their lack of depth, especially considering the departure of Bismack Biyombo.

– Moke Hamilton

THE BURNING QUESTION

What are the Raptors missing?

Call it the curse of success. The Raptors are coming off of a 56-win season in which they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals and took the eventual NBA champion to six games. From this point forth, accomplishing anything less would be viewed as regression, so the most pertinent question in Toronto now seems to revolve around what it will take to truly put the team in the class of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The short answer there would appear to be a dominant frontcourt player. It was hoped that Valanciunas could have become that type of player, and though he still may, it is not often that we see players take monumental leaps in their productivity after their fourth season. If the Raptors managed to walk away from this summer with a marquee post addition like Al Horford, Paul Millsap or Kevin Love, they would’ve had a legitimate shot at knocking LeBron James off of the top of the conference. Until then, they are still probably a step below.

Of course, it would help if DeRozan or Lowry were able to contribute at a consistently high level during the playoffs, but unless a team has superstar production from other positions – like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in Golden State, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook previously in Oklahoma City or LeBron James and Dwyane Wade previously in Miami – being successful at the highest level requires dominant and efficient frontcourt play. The Raptors still seem to have a void in that regard.

– Moke Hamilton

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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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