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2015-16 Sacramento Kings Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Sacramento Kings’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders



The Sacramento Kings underwent a change in management over the summer, with Vlade Divac taking over as general manager.  Despite rumors that center DeMarcus Cousins would be traded near the draft in June, Divac and the Kings held fast and are still planning to build around their 25-year old center.  After going 29-53 last season, the franchise still has a long way to go to compete in the Western Conference.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2015-16 Sacramento Kings.

Five Thoughts

As far as I know, I am in the minority. I am one of the seemingly few that believes that Rajon Rondo still has something left to offer an NBA team and I still believe that he has the instincts and ability to see the basketball court in such a way that can enable him to still be considered one of the top distributors in the game. I believe that Marco Belinelli has long been underrated as a talented NBA shooting guard, and overall, think that the Kings have had a phenomenal offseason. Willie Cauley-Stein is arguably the prospect whose draft stock rose most dramatically during the pre-draft process and will join Kosta Koufos as new additions in the front court in Sacramento. There is no question that DeMarcus Cousins is a top-10 talent in the NBA today, so when you look at the Kings roster in its totality, it is difficult to write them off completely. What I am concerned about with regard to the Kings is the chemistry that this team will have on the court. Rondo is already regarded as a head case, and on a one-year deal worth just $9.5 million, I wonder if he will be able to put the team ahead of his want to prove himself. George Karl has never been known to back down from a fight, so the relationship that those two forge and maintain will certainly be worth watching, as well. In the end, I would expect the Kings to be a team who wins games they seemingly have no business winning and losing to teams that, on paper, seem inferior. As talented as they are, they are not necessarily built around strong leaders, so I feel confident keeping them outside of the playoffs out West and certainly below the upper-echelon teams in the conference.

3rd Place — Pacific Division

– Moke Hamilton

The Kings will show some improvement over last year’s 29-win record, but I’m not expecting drastic progress this season. DeMarcus Cousins is the best center in the NBA and I’m excited to see what he can do in his sixth NBA season. I also expect another strong year from Rudy Gay, who quietly turned in a terrific 2014-15 campaign. But outside of those two players, I have a lot of questions. Will Cousins and head coach George Karl be able to co-exist with so much tension between them? Will Rajon Rondo be able to return to form after a horrendous stint with the Dallas Mavericks (and will he add to the coach-versus-players drama)? Was Willie Cauley-Stein really the right pick at No. 6 and how will he fit alongside Sacramento’s other big men? How much will veteran additions like Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler and Omri Casspi help the team improve? It’s going to be an interesting year for the Kings. I can’t see them coming close to a playoff spot in the brutal Western Conference, but they’ll certainly be entertaining.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Alex Kennedy

When a team is bad, as the Sacramento Kings were last year, they can either toil in that badness long enough to earn the draft picks necessary to rebuild, or they can flat-out overhaul the roster, and the Kings took the latter route this summer to mixed reviews. One thing’s for sure; they’ve built a really interesting roster around DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, and I’m convinced that they’ll either be a very competitive playoff team or one of the worst five teams in the NBA. There’s really no gray area here. Adding a sharp-shooter like Marco Belinelli and a rim protector like Willie Cauley-Stein are the kinds of moves modern front offices love to make, but the Rajon Rondo signing was a heck of a lot riskier. Good or bad, though, the Kings are going to be very entertaining this season.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Joel Brigham

The Sacramento Kings haven’t finished a season with a winning record since the 2005-06 campaign. Not surprisingly, the franchise’s absence from the postseason spans the same time period. From a talent standpoint, DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo form an interesting core at the top of the lineup. However it remains to be seen if Cousins, Rondo and head coach George Karl can find cohesion. The Kings’ supporting cast is nothing to sleep on with Darren Collison, Kosta Koufos and Marco Belinelli each establishing themselves as capable role players. It isn’t out of the question to expect a 10-win improvement over last season, but in the competitive Western Conference it won’t be enough for a playoff berth.

3rd Place — Pacific Division

– Lang Greene

The Kings will be a team to watch, and for more reasons than just basketball. The relationship between head coach George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins made waves this offseason and it will be interesting to see how this plays out as the season progresses. Throw in the addition of Rajon Rondo and there is no shortage of personalities on the team. Of course their focus is moving in a winning direction, and they have talent on the roster to do so. The question is, will they be able to succeed in spite of the outside noise?

5th Place — Pacific Division

– Jessica Camerato

Top Of The List

Top Offensive Player: DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins was a powerhouse in his fifth season, averaging 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds and 3.6 assist a game.  The Kings relied heavily on their 6’11 big-man scorer.  The team averaged a solid 101.3 points a night as a team, but the bigger issue last season was on the defensive end.  Offensively, Cousins is both versatile and relentless.  He’s a go-to scorer in the NBA, although his field goal percentage needs to improve (46.7 percent last season).

Top Defensive Player: Willie Cauley-Stein

Cauley-Stein as top defensive player is more of a projection.  The Kings drafted the Kentucky seven-footer to play alongside Cousins.  It remains to be seen how quickly the rookie will find his place in the league, let alone the team’s starting lineup.  Cauley-Stein is extremely agile for a player with his size.  If his ability to guard multiple positions transitions from college to the pros, Cauley-Stein adds a vital missing element to the Kings’ rotation.  Last season, Sacramento gave up 105 points a night – an area badly needing improvement.

Top Playmaker: Rajon Rondo

The Kings added Rondo as a free agent this summer after he struggled to fit in with the Dallas Mavericks last season.  Rondo is still regaining his form since a knee injury while with the Boston Celtics.  He’s still one of the NBA’s elite passers.  Before his injury, he was one of the top defenders at his position.  His playmaking and defense offset a missing jump shot.  Rondo needs to prove he’s back to his own standards, especially at the free-throw line, where he shot just 39.7 percent last season.

Top Clutch Player: Marco Belinelli

The Kings’ top players are Rudy Gay and Cousins, but the combination has yet to overwhelm the NBA.  Incoming free agent Belinelli, who spent recent years with the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls, has shown he has the clutch gene – enough to earn the trust of coaches Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau.  With the game on the line, the Kings are going to rely on Gay and Cousins but don’t be surprised if it’s Belinelli who is taking (and making) the big shot.

The Unheralded Player: Kosta Koufos

Koufos has been unheralded throughout nearly all of his career, playing for the Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies.  While the Kings develop Cauley-Stein, they have a very solid pro who may start next to Cousins at center in Koufos.  While his career averages of 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds a game don’t jump out, Koufos is a capable seven-foot center.

Best New Addition: Willie Cauley-Stein

The Kings have to hope that Cauley-Stein develops into their best addition.  The team used their sixth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft on the 22-year old Wildcat.  Last year, the Kings debated taking Elfrid Payton, but ultimately chose Nik Stauskas.  Payton, taken by the Orlando Magic, was one of the best rookies in the league last season.  Sacramento has already moved Stauskas in a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers.  Cauley-Stein is a bit raw offensively, but if he can reach his potential defensively, they’ll have added on a key piece after struggling through a tumultuous 2014-15 season.

– Eric Pincus

Who We Like

1. DeMarcus Cousins: Cousins is one of the best players in the NBA.  His versatility and intensity make him a very difficult cover.  The key for both the player, and the team, is to find a way to translate his individual gifts into a winning product.

2. Willie Cauley-Stein: Again, the key word is potential, which is always tricky in the NBA.  Cauley-Stein may be prove to be a high-impact defender, capable of switching onto smaller players despite standing over seven-feet tall.  The Kings have plenty of scorers.  They need their pick to make an impact on the other end of the floor.

3. Marco Belinelli: When the team needs a bucket late in games, Belinelli is the guy who wants to take the shot — and is capable of knocking them down in the final seconds.

4. Seth Curry: Whether or not Curry earns regular rotation minutes remains to be seen, but the brother of Golden State Warriors MVP Stephen Curry has taken a long road to the NBA.  After tearing it up for years in the NBA Development League, Seth Curry finally landed a guaranteed deal (two years, player option on the second season).  Now he’ll have the chance to prove himself on a bigger stage, without worrying about a looming cut-down date.

5. Kosta Koufos: Steady and solid, Koufos isn’t going to add any drama to what has the potential to be a volatile locker room this season.  The Kings have a number of strong personalities in players like Cousins and Rondo, but Koufos is an unassuming, hard worker who, within his role, is very productive.

– Eric Pincus


The Kings have brought in a number of capable players to support Cousins and Gay, including Caron Butler, Omri Casspi, Quincy Acy, Rondo, Koufos, Belinelli, Curry and Cauley-Stein.  Cousins is a monster.  Gay is a proven scorer.  Ben McLemore is growing as a player and Darren Collison should be healthy after undergoing “core muscle surgery.”  There’s enough offensive fire-power on the roster to compete in the West, provided the team can also develop defensively.  The seventh and eighth seeds in the conference may be within reach, if the Kings come together cohesively.

– Eric Pincus


The Kings couldn’t get stops last season.  Can Rondo make an impact if he can’t shoot well from the field or the line?  Will a team that has fundamentally lacked chemistry for years suddenly find it?  Will Cousins emerge as more than just a tremendous basketball player, but as a positive and generous leader in both the locker room and on the basketball court?

– Eric Pincus

The Burning Question

Will the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins stay together or end in divorce?

Cousins found trust in former coach Mike Malone, who was fired midway through last season.  He and Coach George Karl have yet to bond on a similar level, and while both sides have made public efforts over the summer, it remains to be seen if that marriage has longevity in its future.  Naturally, the team can prioritize Cousins over Karl and fire yet another coach, if the relationship disintegrates – otherwise it may be time to move the All-Star.  Heading into the 2015-16 season, both sides would like to build a future together.  It’s just a question of whether or not they are able to, with the potential pressure of losing – provided the Kings are not a contender in the West.

– Eric Pincus



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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

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

Matt John



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

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

David Yapkowitz



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

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

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

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

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

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

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

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

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

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

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

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

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

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

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

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

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

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Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca



It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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