While teams that missed the playoffs anxiously await the results of the ping pong ball lottery on May 20 to finally learn where they will be selecting in next month’s NBA Draft, the good news is the lottery is loaded with talent.
Many personnel people and scouts believe this year’s draft could be one of the strongest of the past 20 years. And the emerging consensus is there will be a three-player race to be the top overall pick.
Kansas wing Andrew Wiggins was widely considered to have been last year’s top pick had he been eligible to declare, and he is the front runner this year. Jayhawks teammate big man Joel Embiid and Duke’s Jabari Parker are also strong considerations depending on which team wins the No. 1 selection.
The talent won’t be limited to just the top picks, with an influx of underclassmen providing young talented players throughout the first round and into the second.
The top 50 prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft:
1. Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Fr., Kansas. Had Wiggins been allowed to enter last year’s draft he was widely considered to be the top pick. After a year at Kansas, he still has a tentative hold on the top spot with Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas teammate Joel Embiid looming as possible competition.
2. Jabari Parker, SF/PF, Fr., Duke. After just one year at Duke, Parker’s size/skill combination has drawn comparisons to Carmelo Anthony.
3. Joel Embiid, C, Fr., Kansas. Athletic 7-footer with 7’5″ wingspan, Embiid has scouts salivating over his already proven shot blocking ability and potential on offense.
4. Julius Randle, PF, Fr., Kentucky. Randle was considered a potential top 5 pick entering this past year due to his size and finesse. After a standout year at Kentucky he has solidified that position.
5. Dante Exum, PG/SG, Int., Australia. Exum is considered a wild card by many because he is not well known. His size and athleticism has people around the NBA intrigued, but look for pre-draft workouts to play a big part in where he lands.
6. Marcus Smart, PG/SG, So., Oklahoma State. After a volatile year that included a suspension, Smart is still one of the top guards in the draft and should go top 10.
7. Noah Vonleh, PF, Fr., Indiana. Vonleh is just 18 years old and sports a 7’4″ wingspan; he is considered by many as having the best natural rebounding instincts in the draft.
8. Aaron Gordon, PF, Fr., Arizona. Also just 18 years old, Gordon is extremely athletic for his size and has drawn some comparisons to Blake Griffin.
9. Doug McDermott, PF, Sr., Creighton. McDermott’s stellar senior year combined with his size and offensive polish should land him in the top 10.
10. Dario Saric, SF/PF, Int., Croatia. Would have been a first-round pick in last year’s draft but withdrew to stay in Europe. At 6-10 and extremely coordinated, many people believe he is the most versatile player in the draft.
11. Gary Harris, SG, So., Michigan State. A very good all-around guard whose stock was helped by a good end of the year and tournament run by Michigan State.
12. Kyle Anderson, SF, So., UCLA. A unique 6-9 jack-of-all-trades type. Scouts love his ball handling and passing for his size.
13. Nik Stauskas, SG, So., Michigan. Sharpshooting guard from Michigan whose stock increased due to an increased role in Michigan’s offense last season.
14. Tyler Ennis, PG, Fr., Syracuse. After one year at Syracuse, Ennis’ natural instincts and maturity are what make him stand out as one of the best point guards in this class.
15. T.J. Warren, SG, So., North Carolina State. An elite wing scorer with nothing left to prove at the college level.
16. James Young, SG/SF, Fr., Kentucky. Highly touted freshman whose play during Kentucky’s deep tournament run aided his decision to declare for the draft.
17. Rodney Hood, SF, So., Duke. The 6-8 southpaw from Duke has the look of a prototypical NBA wing player.
18. Jerami Grant, SF, So., Syracuse. An intriguing athlete whose combination of size, quickness and explosiveness around the basket separates him from other wing players.
19. Adreian Payne, SF, Sr., Michigan State. Payne’s ability to shoot the college 3-pointer at his size was a big reason why Michigan State was so successful last season.
20. Jusuf Nurkic, C, Int., Bosnia. Not well known but a surprise player in Europe earlier this year. Has been ranked as high as a lottery pick by some and as low as late second round by others.
21. Elfrid Payton, PG, Jr., Louisiana Lafayette. Coming from Louisiana Lafayette he’s flying under the radar for most, but his almost 20 ppg average and above average defense have caught the eyes of scouts.
22. Zach LeVine, SG, Fr., UCLA. A wildly athletic prospect who probably should have stayed at UCLA for another year. Will most likely take a couple years to develop, but the payoff could be huge.
23. Clint Capela, PF, Int., Switzerland. Nineteen-year-old 6-11 Swiss born big man currently playing in France. Not a lot of scouts have seen much of him, but his ability to block shots stands out.
24. Shabazz Napier, PG, Sr., Connecticut. Nobody benefited more from a strong tournament than Napier. Considered a second rounder most of last season, Napier’s hot tournament looks to have propelled him into the first round.
25. Spencer Dinwiddie, SG, Jr., Colorado. Had he not tore his ACL midway through last season, Dinwiddie would probably be higher on this list. Has the potential to jump up with a healthy knee and good pre-draft workouts.
26. C.J. Wilcox, SG, Sr., Washington. One of the best pure shooters in the draft, Wilcox is deadly in spot up and catch-and-shoot situations.
27. P.J. Hairston, SG, Jr., Texas Legends NBDL. Played in the NBDL after being dismissed from North Carolina. Has NBA 3-point range and can score in bunches.
28. Cleanthony Early, SF, Sr., Wichita State. One of the elder statesmen in the draft at 23 years old, Early clearly benefited from Wichita State’s success the past two seasons.
29. Deonte Burton, PG, Sr., Nevada. Not well known coming out of Nevada, Burton has a pro style game and is a 20 ppg scorer.
30. Mitch McGary, PF/C, So. Michigan. An important piece to Michigan’s 2012-’13 team, McGary had last season cut short with a back injury and declared following a positive test for marijuana.
31. Glenn Robinson III, SF, So. Michigan. Son of former NBA player the “Big Dog,” Robinson is an above average scorer who does most of his damage from the perimeter.
32. K.J. McDaniels, SF, Jr., Clemson. Very good athlete and high flying leaper; possesses an all-around game that should translate well in the NBA.
33. Isaiah Austin, C, So., Baylor. Gangly 7-footer from Baylor who has the size and mobility NBA teams are looking for but needs to add some weight.
34. Jordan Adams, SG, So., UCLA. A natural scorer who plays with a high basketball I.Q. Finds ways
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.