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Looking Toward The NBA Draft: Point Guards

Drew Maresca examines the talented crop of point guards in the 2020 NBA Draft.

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The NBA Draft is a transformative moment for franchises as it provides them with the opportunity to jump-start a lost roster or continue building one on the rise. With the ever-increasing importance of the point guard position – which is as sought after as ever – teams are constantly on the lookout for their next, great floor general. Well, the NBA Draft is the place to find one.

Sadly, it’s not that simple: Most point guards take time to develop and there are already loads of stellar point guards in the league, meaning that rookies face an even tougher time securing a role. Further, early successes are not indicative of longevity or greatness. Just look at Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Dennis Smith Jr. – all of whom were highly touted prospects entering their respective drafts. While none are out of the league, none achieved nearly the levels of success that was expected of them.

But it’s not all bad, either. A number of young point guards have flourished in recent years including Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Ja Morant, De’Aaron Fox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – all currently in their first, second or third year in the league. It’s those kinds of success stories that serve as the fuel in the fire that either powers teams to championships or burns them to the ground.

But wait, there more. As though the process wasn’t hard enough, 2020 upped the ante. In-person workouts are disallowed in the NBA Draft process this year, so teams will have significantly less intel to base decisions on than ever before. There will be a virtual combine held in October, but it’s unclear which – if any – of the top prospects will attend.

And while the 2020 NBA Draft’s talent pool is viewed by many as being underwhelming, it is quite deep at the point guard position. With all of that in mind, let’s review the best point guard prospects entering the 2020 NBA Draft.

LaMelo Ball, NBL (Australia) – 19 years old

Ball enters the draft season with the most buzz of all of the boom-or-bust prospects. He has so many positive attributes: he’s an incredibly creative passer, has good size (6-foot-7) and defensive instincts, plus he desires the big stage. His up-and-down style makes him a valuable commodity in the modern game and he’s incredibly comfortable working in the pick-and-roll – a major plus for any player entering the league today. Further, his 7-foot-3 wingspan is a significant positive for any defense he joins.

But Ball has negatives, too – namely, shooting. Ball shot only 25 percent on 1.7 three-point attempts per game, and he – like his brother, Lonzo – has a unique release on his shot, which is predicated on an excessive motion.

Still, Ball looks the part of a star. He’s a playmaker who can wheel-and-deal in transition and see over many opposing guards. He’s already familiar with the spotlight that goes along with being a winning player. Having turned 19 fairly recently, he possesses a significant upside. There’s not too much tape on Ball – but in this draft, he’s the clear first point guard off the board.

Killian Hayes, Germany – 19 years old

Hayes is a 19-year-old stud. He’s a 6-foot-5 point guard who is a gifted passer and an above-average shooter. He also possesses impressive footwork, displaying an array of moves including a step-back jump shot, a polished euro-step and an array of spin moves. He averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 assists in just under 27 minutes per game last season for Ratiopharm Ulm, a German club in the EuroCup.

He’s seen as an underwhelming athlete – but the notion is something that has certainly blown up in the faces of scouts before. Some point to his youth as a way of supporting a case for additional upside in terms of athleticism – but above-average athletes typically stand out, so he’s probably average at best.

Still, Hayes has an It Factor that few point guard prospects possess. He also has a 6-foot-9 wingspan that will give opposing offenses fits. Like many others on this list, he’ll require a leap of faith – but his familiarity with professional basketball could benefit him in his interviews, and his extensive resume might separate him from the pack in terms of reading defenses. Hayes should be gone by the No. 10 overall pick, but who knows.

Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State – 20 years old

While Iowa State is a major program that plays in the Big 12, it’s not necessarily a breeding ground for NBA players. It’s produced only a few dozen NBA players, with Jeff Hornacek as probably its best yet. Still, Haliburton got on our radar earlier this season and continues to make his case to be one of the highest-selected Cyclones ever.

Haliburton is an exceptional shooter, a good facilitator and a capable defender. And most importantly, he translates well to the modern game given his creativity in slipping in pocket passes in the pick-and-roll.

But he has some flaws, too – namely, shooting form. Yes, he posted good numbers (15.2 points, 6.5 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game on 41.9 percent three-point shooting), but his form is seen by scouts as awkward, restricting his ability to shoot off the dribble. What’s more, Haliburton does not project as a player who will get to the rim. He lacks burst and doesn’t manipulate the defense well when in isolation.

Still, Haliburton is a gifted scorer and distributor. It’s actually surprising that the 6-foot-5 playmaker isn’t viewed even more positively. If there were a traditional draft process, this writer imagines that Haliburton’s stock would be on the rise.

Cole Anthony, UNC – 20 years old

Anthony is another high ceiling, low floor prospect. He comes in with a reputation as a three-level scorer with a shot that should translate well to the NBA. Anthony successfully gets to the rim and is a capable defender – albeit an inconsistent one. And while North Carolina suffered its first losing season in years, Anthony led the Tar Heels to a 6-3 start before being sidelined for 11 games due to a knee injury.

On the whole, he averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, but his efficiency was an issue. Anthony shot 40 percent on two-point attempts and 35 on threes, and he committed 3.5 turnovers per game.

Initially, Anthony was viewed as being injury-prone after suffering his setback, but the recent success of Michael Porter Jr. (back) has quieted the chatter around that. Still, his overall profile has fallen a bit. He’s seen as a lesser distributor than most guys listed above and he’s the smallest with the slightest wingspan, which hurts his defensive projections; but Anthony’s upside could outweigh all of that – and in this draft, that could make the difference between going No. 6 and 16.

Kira Lewis Jr., Alabama – 19 years old

Lewis is very possibly the fastest player in this draft class. He played two seasons at Alabama, where he followed another point guard lottery pick – Collin Sexton.

Lewis exhibited an ability to take over games in college, where his athleticism, ball-handling, ability to get to the rim and create his own shots set him apart. He plays with a tremendous motor and won’t be accused of playing with a lack of desire.

But Lewis must overcome two major hurdles. First, he’s too small. He’s not exactly undersized – Lewis is 6-foot-3, 165 lbs – but he’s certainly not big. Lewis will have to add considerable bulk, but adding size will come with time. And considering that college kids don’t spend nearly as much time and energy on eating right and working out as do their professional counterparts, it’s not a huge issue – and it’s not terribly uncommon, either.

The second challenge that Lewis must overcome is one of perception. As noted above, Lewis played at Alabama, a major program. And while he shined in his Sophomore season (18.5 points, 5.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds, he took scouts by surprise in doing so. He had a significantly less impactful Freshmen season (13.5 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds) after entered Alabama as the No. 47th ranked prospect in his high school class, according to ESPN.

While 47th is impressive, it’s not indicative of a future lottery pick– and that’s exactly what Lewis has morphed into. Lewis must impress teams in his individual interviews to set himself apart from his higher-profile competition, but he’s already proven himself to be worthy of this moment.

Honorable Mentions:

Tre Jones, Duke – 20 years old

Theo Maledon, France – 19 years old

Nico Mannion, Arizona – 19 years old

Yam Madar, Israel – 19 years old

This year’s crop of prospects might not feature the elite talent of recent years, but there sure are a good deal of point guards. For those in the market for a lead guard, there are tough decisions ahead – and with less tangible information on this year’s prospects than ever before. Good luck and godspeed to the scouts and league executives tasked with choosing between the above players!

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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