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Hairston: D-League is Tougher Than College

P.J. Hairston made a name for himself this year punishing NBDL defenders, which he says were tougher than those in NCAA.

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P.J. Hairston has not taken the traditional road to the NBA Draft’s first round, where he is expected to be selected next month in Brooklyn, NY.

He didn’t play a single game at the University of North Carolina this season, nor did he notch a single minute overseas. Rather, Hairston followed up a falling out with UNC by catching on with the NBA Development League’s Texas Legends, and what happened next was enough to put the D-League in national headlines almost immediately.

That’s because in Hairston’s first handful of games with the Legends he scored 40 or more points twice, proving his prowess as a scorer against defenders that are more accomplished than the ones he would have faced at Chapel Hill.

“Playing against [D-League players] really prepares you for that next level,” Hairston said at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “You play against other pro guys, guys that have played in the NBA that were sent down to play in the D-League a few games. For example, I had Bernard James, Jae Crowder and Shane Larkin come down and play on our team. Just playing with those guys, you can tell how their mentality was and how they have such a pro outlook on things.”

In other words, despite the stigma that D-League defenders are no good and points scored in D-League games don’t matter, Hairston’s belief is that the defenders there are even better than in the NCAA, meaning his scoring binge was even more special in the NBDL than if he had done something similar in the NCAA.

That, he believes, is what will make him the first player to be selected in the first round coming out of the D-League.

“It’s professional,” Hairston said. “It’s not college. You don’t have anyone holding your hand telling you not to shoot this or not to shoot that. It’s basically up to you.

“In Texas I put the ball on the floor a lot more. I became a better finisher – not perfect – but a better finisher. One of the other things I’m also working on is being able to take the ball through the court, coast-to-coast and finish. Things that I didn’t do a lot at North Carolina that I did in Texas is where I really showed my improvement and became a versatile player.”

Of course, if Hairston had had his druthers, he would have accepted a lesser punishment from the university for his questionable off-court associations and returned to the Tar Heels later in the season. In fact, he didn’t enter that season even considering the fact that he’d end it in a D-League uniform.

“It was a real big shock. I was expecting, ‘Hey, P.J. in 8-10 games you’ll be back,’” Hairston admitted. “When I was told I couldn’t play, it was probably the worst thing I could hear in my life.”

He’s not the kind of player to sit and sulk, however. Almost immediately after getting the news that UNC would not seek his reinstatement, Hairston was already game-planning how to finish out his year in preparation of this summer’s draft.

“I couldn’t sit around and sob and cry and be mad at myself,” Hairston said. “I had to figure out what my next step was, and transferring was an option, but I couldn’t do that. Overseas was an option, but I couldn’t take my online courses and couldn’t take my classes to graduate on time. The D-League was the last option where I could still take my online courses and still be able to graduate on time.”

So that’s what he did, and he did it pretty well.

“I took a communications class this spring and I actually got a B+ in the class,” he said. “That’s my main thing, I really want to graduate and have a degree. Like they say, the ball will stop bouncing one day and I always wanted to have something to fall back on where I could have a good job.”

It looks like he’s about to have a pretty good job as it is, though where he ends up in this upcoming draft is still anybody’s guess. Glen Rice Jr. took a similar path last season and ended up getting chosen by the Washington Wizards with 35th overall pick after his stint with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Hairston would much rather enjoy the guaranteed money that a first-round pick provides, but he’ll have to wait several more weeks to see whether he ends up there or not.

In the meantime, he can do nothing but count his blessings that things worked out okay in the end. Leaving North Carolina wasn’t his plan, but if the end result is getting to wear some team’s snapback while shaking NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand this summer, very little else is likely to matter.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

NBA

Aamir Simms Readying Himself for His Opportunity

Clemson’s Aamir Simms is a versatile big man built for the modern NBA. Drew Maresca spoke with Simms about the draft process, Clemson’s success last season and how he thinks he fits in the league.

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Clemson has produced some very good NBA players – including Elden Campbell, Dale Davis and Horace Grant – but not too many of late. The most recent Clemson Tiger who was selected in the NBA Draft was Jason Blossomgame in 2017. Before that, K.J McDaniels in 2014, Trevor Booker in 2010 and Will Soloman in 2001. Aamir Simms hopes to be the first in a while – and he hopes to stick in the league.

Statistically, Simms has everything you’d want in a prospect. He’s a 6’8” big who can defend multiple positions and shoot it from deep. He averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 2020-21, shooting 40 percent on three-point attempts and 82.5 percent from the free throw line.

Simms was also named to the second-team All-ACC this season, after being named to the third-team All-ACC last season.

But the NBA Draft is a crapshoot with hundreds of players competing for just 60 spots. Complicating matters is the fact that Simms was a four-year player – and age is not an asset in the NBA Draft.

But Simms proved a lot in his time at Clemson, and he feels that his ability and willingness to do whatever a team needs is an asset.

“My original position was the four,” Simms recently told Basketball Insiders. “But I’m comfortable playing small ball five (too). And later in my career, I want to work toward playing some three, too, like Jeff Green.”

Green, who played a major role in the Brooklyn Nets’ success this season, is among the players who inspire Simms. He obviously values what LeBron James and Kevin Durant do, but he sees the utility of players like Green, and he understands that mimicking players like this will be key in his success.

“Being a versatile four like Jae Crowder (would be ideal), Simms said. “Being able to defend guys his size. Having the mid-range and the face-up like Al Horford or Paul Milsap. The craftiness and versatility of Tobias Harris. And especially Jeff Green. He does a good job of shooting the ball, playing the post, guarding one through five.”

“And that’s something I’m excited to showcase in this combine, in workouts and even through summer league.”

Achieving that success requires serious skill and versatility, but Simms believes he’s already on his way. If you’re thinking “but there isn’t evidence that he can do that,” you’re not wrong. But it’s not uncommon for players to sacrifice their own success for the greater good of a college program – and that’s exactly what Simms did.

“My perimeter defense is something I am really ready to showcase,” Simms said. “At school, I was an undersized five, so I didn’t switch much for the sake of the team,’ Simms said.

But he can – and he knows it.

Clemson’s entire roster had only three players taller than Simms. Two of the three were Freshmen and the other – Jonathan Baehre – started just 10 games. Clearly, Clemson coach Brad Brownell had a vision for his team, which included Simms as an undersized center. And considering their entry into the NCAA tournament after the media predicted they finish 10th in the ACC in a pre-season poll, it’s fair to say it worked.

“I think there’s a lot of things that teams look at (in the draft process): winners, individual growth, changes in your stats, and consistency,” Simms said. “I think I’ve shown all those areas throughout this season.”

“Just the way I led my team, (along) with other guys on the team, I got us back to the tournament – because people didn’t really expect us to. We got ranked pretty highly. My shooting and numbers improved, especially my field goal percentage. I was a little streaky with rebounds, but I think I showed improvements in areas that would progress me in the prospect rankings.”

With Simms, shooting will initiate interest.  As mentioned above, Simms shot better than 40 percent on three-point over the past two seasons – but he wasn’t a knock-down shooter early in his Clemson career.

As a Freshmen, Simms shot a pedestrian 32.6 percent on three-point attempts. But credit Simms for identifying the problem and working to fix it

“The reason why I shot so low as a freshman was that my form was coming across the left side of my face, so when I released the ball I couldn’t see as much,” Simms explained. “From the middle of my freshmen year to Senior year, I worked with (assistant) coach Smith before he went to Florida State, as well as (assistant) coach Dean and (director of player development) Terrell Mcintyre.”

“And those guys helped me improve my form and stick with it. And then, it was just spending my summers getting up hundreds of shots – 500 every morning and 500 every night to get that muscle memory down.”

But there’s more to Simms game than just shooting, and that’s what he hopes to prove throughout the draft process – beginning on Sunday, June 20 at the G-League Elite camp.

The G League Elite camp is an opportunity for 40 players to showcase their abilities in front of NBA and G League scouts, as well as coaches and front-office executives. The camp will consist of five-on-five scrimmages, as well as strength and agility drills. Top performers will earn an invite to the 2021 NBA Draft combine, meaning the camp can catapult players into very real consideration by NBA clubs. And Simms understands the opportunity at hand.

“Getting invited to the combine (is the goal),” Simms said. “That’s where the best of the best goes. I belong, but I’m fortunate to get the invite because there are other good guys who didn’t get an invite.”

This season, Simms faced off against at least two lottery prospects in Scottie Barnes (Florida State) and Jalen Johnson (Duke). Both will probably be used as measuring sticks of Simms’ potential; but considering defensive schemes, all matchups aren’t equal.

Simms underperformed against Florida State, scoring just 5 points on one-for-three shooting. But Florida State eliminates post opportunities and is known for its swarming defense.

“Florida State gets up in you, (they) switch one through five. They sit on you and take you out from catching the ball deep in the post,” Simms said. “I understood I wasn’t going to be as involved as I wanted entering it.”

But regardless of how you view Simms’ performance against Florida State, he demonstrated a big heart in coming back and playing well against Duke just one week later. While Clemson lost by 26 points, Simms performed well in a head-to-head matchup with another high-profile forward, scoring 19 points on seven-for-thirteen shooting.

“I have shown since my junior year that your ranking doesn’t matter,” Simms explained. “You play lottery picks a few times every year. That one was more of a bounce back after Florida State. That’s another one where we weren’t together, but the individual performance was what it was. It was in a losing effort so I didn’t focus on it, but it shows that I can play with anyone. I don’t care if you’re top 10 in the draft or wherever. I always feel I perform at a high level against highly projected players, and that was an opportunity to remind people who I am.”

Having to prove oneself self after four seasons at a big-time program would probably bother a lot of prospects, but it doesn’t bother Simms. On the contrary, Simms uses it as motivation.

“I am just thankful to be in the position I am because a lot of guys work for it and don’t get the opportunity,” Simms said. “It can be frustrating to be asked to prove yourself over and over, but the majority of great guys in the game have to do that at some point, too, so that’s fine.”

“I (already) have a chip on my shoulder,” Simms continued. “I come from the worst situations you can imagine, so being asked to keep showing my game and my progression is easy. Being able to put the ball in the basket and play hard isn’t something I stress over.”

“I’ve been through way darker times,” Simms continued. “Playing basketball is fun. I’ll have to show it over and over, but at least I’m doing what I love. Passion takes care of all of that. My faith pushes me through, God pushes me through. So if they ask me to do it 100 times, I’ll do it 101. I belong in the league. I believe I’m NBA-ready. If they want me to do it this week and another week after that, I’m ready.”

Simms is focused on getting the right opportunity with the right team. He’s spoken to his friends in the NBA including Mamadi Diakite (Milwaukee Bucks) and Nic Claxton (Brooklyn Nets), both of whom speak about the mental toll of going from being “the guy” to getting DNPs. But they’re not bitter. They emphasize the importance of getting into a good situation with a patient team and how it enables players to build confidence away from the pressure of the NBA game.

Still, you never know when your number will be called and rookies have to be perpetually ready. They also have to understand a team’s needs and the system that’s run. But Simms isn’t worried about that aspect. As the 2021 “Skip” Prosser Award winner, emblematic of the top scholar-athlete in men’s college basketball, he’s always been one to hit the books – and he intends on approaching an NBA opportunity the same way.

“If I am lucky enough to get drafted, I am going to spend that time starting the first night to get a feel for the team,” Simms said. “Learn the roster, who’s the primary and secondary guys and seeing where I fit.”

“No matter what, one thing you can do is rebound and defend. So that’s something I am going to do from the jump, (as well as) doing what coach asks of me. I’ve always been very coachable.”

Getting drafted is obviously the goal. But Simms understands that there is an opportunity beyond the draft. And conversely, he knows that getting drafted doesn’t guarantee success.

“Too many guys get caught up with their name being called, and that can land them in a bad situation,” Simms said. “It takes a lot of maturity to understand that it’s OK if you’re not drafted. A lot of guys who aren’t drafted or are taken late second-round are standing out (currently). Look around the league, guys come from the G League or overseas… if you can get over the idea of getting drafted and just focus on getting your foot in the door, that’s most important. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Simms has spent at least the last four years preparing himself for this moment – now it’s time to prove that he belongs. His mix of athleticism, size and skill will get him noticed, but his patience and cerebral approach are real differentiators. Even if Simms’ name isn’t called on July 29th at the draft, this writer believes he’ll find his way onto an NBA roster for the 2021-22 season, one way or another.

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Mock Drafts

2020 NBA Mock Draft – The Final 60-Pick Mock

What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

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What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Here is a final look at the 2020 Draft, and how it may play out in this final 60-pick Mock Draft of the 20202 NBA Draft process:

 

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Mock Drafts

2020 NBA Mock Draft – First Round – 08/21/2020

The 2020 NBA Draft order is now locked in, however, there are tons of additional questions to be answered in the coming weeks. Here is a look at the first round, in this Basketball Insiders Mock Draft.

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To say the 2020 NBA Draft has been chaotic is an understatement, however with last night’s NBA Draft Lottery out of the way, things are starting to at least trend in a positive direction.

That doesn’t mean there are not challenges ahead, namely when the actual NBA Draft will take place.

There is a growing sense that the NBA and the players are going to push back the start of the next cap year, which will likely impact when and how the NBA Draft plays out.

Typically, the Draft is a major transaction window for NBA teams, and with so much unknown surrounding how the salary cap will be set, and when trades and transactions typically consummated around the draft would become official, there is a lot of uncertainty, making the 2020 NBA draft wide open on many fronts.

The hope among teams is that some clarity on all of this will surface in the coming weeks, but for now most teams are operating in uncharted waters.

With all of that in mind, here is a look at the 2020 NBA Draft First round, which will be the first of many weekly Mock Drafts we’ll be dropping all the way up to the draft, whenever that finally gets set.

The Basketball Insiders Annual Consensus Mock Drafts will begin in September, as will full 60-pick mocks starting next week, so stay tuned.

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