What do Karl-Anthony Towns, Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, Ben Simmons, Zach LaVine, Marcus Smart, Stanley Johnson and Jaylen Brown have in common?
Wiggins, Towns and Simmons were the last three No. 1 overall draft picks. LaVine and Gordon have had success and put on a Slam Dunk Contest for the ages in February. Each player has a ton of potential, and some of the NBA’s next stars could emerge from this group.
However, these players have another common thread connecting them, albeit one that is lesser known: They are all clients of Graham Betchart.
Who is Graham Betchart, you ask? He’s a sports psychologist or, as he likes to be called, a “mental skills coach.” His impact is felt all over the NBA – as evidenced by his impressive client list – but very few fans know who he is since his work is done behind the scenes and doesn’t get much attention.
Betchart has a master’s degree in Sports Psychology and he’s been providing athletes with his services for over a decade. He’s very good at what he does, which is why some of the NBA’s brightest young stars feel comfortable opening up to him and sharing their insecurities, struggles and fears.
In addition to the players mentioned above, Betchart has worked with many other NBA players such as Festus Ezeli, Patrick McCaw, John Jenkins, Skal Labissiere, Anthony Brown, Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell and many others. He has worked with the National Basketball Players Association for several years, and recently started helping NFL players too. He has also assisted famed mindfulness guru George Mumford, which allowed Betchart to work with NBA legends Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
Betchart is responsible for making sure some of the league’s young stars can manage their stress, handle everything that comes with being a professional athlete in the limelight and produce at a high level on game days. If a player is going through a difficult time or is in the middle of a slump, Betchart is the one who gets the call or visits him. He provides his clients with coping skills, instructing them to stay present, meditate, recite positive affirmations, visualize success and do breathing exercises among other things.
“Mindset is such a huge part of performance,” Betchart told Basketball Insiders. “In the NBA, everyone is athletic and skilled with an incredible body, so what’s the difference? What separates players from one another? Mindset. More and more people are realizing this now.”
One reason why Betchart’s client list skews younger is that the next generation of NBA stars seem much more open to mindfulness training than those who came before them. Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma associated with mental health care, but seeking out professional help for these concerns is much more accepted today – particularly among younger people. Athletes seek out any possible edge that will allow them to maximize their performance and increase their efficiency, so it only makes sense that they are now taking time out of each day for mindfulness exercises. And not only will this help them on the court, the off-court benefits seemingly make it a no-brainer.
When New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall first heard of Betchart’s work and his app Lucid, which allows players to do mindfulness exercises on their own, he reached out and said, “Man, where has this been? We’ve needed this!” Marshall became a client and investor in the app shortly after.
While Betchart has plenty of clients to work with these days, it was much harder early on to find players and teams who were willing to give his training a shot.
“I’ve been at this for about 12 years full-time and I know of some people who have been doing this for nearly three decades, but even they say that it’s only in the last couple years that this really started to gain traction,” Betchart said. “Just speaking from my experience, when I started doing this work 12 years ago, I was going to high school teams and directly to the athletes and I had to convince them that this had value. I had to convince them that working on their mindset or working on anything mental was positive, because there used to be a real stigma attached to it. If you said you were working on something mental, all of a sudden it meant something was ‘wrong’ with you. You’d say the words ‘mental health’ and people would run away from it. I called myself a ‘mental skills coach’ because I realized that people are okay with words like ‘skills’ and ‘coach’ – everyone wants to work on a skill or be coached! Early on, I had to basically find a way to fit in and deliver this stuff without kind of letting people know what I was doing. Twelve years later, now people will tell us that they’ve been searching for this kind of service because they understand the importance of mindset and training their mind. These days, we aren’t spending any energy on convincing people that this is important. Instead, they’re looking for it and they’re finding us, which is so refreshing.
“All these years, it was like seeing someone who is really thirsty and you have water in your hand, but they refuse to drink when you offer it to them. That’s how I felt, thinking, ‘Oh my God! Let me help you!’ It’s cool that the world is now much more open to this, to the point that professional athletes are advocating for it. The pros we work with are the first ones to say that it all starts with their mindset. I don’t know if every major sports team has someone on staff doing this yet, but we’re definitely heading in that direction. Just like every team has a trainer and strength coach on staff, soon every team will have a mental strength coach or sports psychologist or whatever they want to call it. It doesn’t matter what it’s called – the important thing is having that person there who can help the athletes work on their mindset.”
Another reason today’s NBA prodigies are more open to mindset training could be because they had a much different rise to stardom than the big-name players of yesteryear. Wiggins, Towns and Simmons were being heralded as “the next big thing” from the time they were children; each of them had at least one mixtape hyping them up as a future star by the time they were 13 years old. The social media age not only promotes players at a very young age, but it also thrusts them into the spotlight when they’re barely teenagers. Mindfulness training is very attractive for a kid who is dealing with intense scrutiny, overwhelming pressure, extreme expectations and the negativity often found online.
While there are plenty of positive things that come with being a star, there’s no question that they live in a fish bowl, are scrutinized and often find it difficult to relate to others. The NBA provides structure and leadership for players, but working with someone like Betchart can help with potential pitfalls too.
“We start with focus, mainly focusing on what’s in your control,” Betchart said. “So often, athletes are focused on stuff that’s outside of their control such as results or outcomes like wins and losses. Putting your energy and focus on those things can really be derailing, so we start by having them focus on the things that are in their control and then go from there. That’s a big challenge as these athletes are coming up. I use the acronym W.I.N. and tell athletes that it stands for ‘What’s Important Now?’ What’s important now isn’t a result or outcome, it’s being in the moment – which I call ‘playing present’ – and then moving on to the next play quickly when that moment is done. That can be hard if you’re having negative results, but you have to be able to move forward. That’s sort of the initial training for athletes, focusing on what you can control, owning what you do control and then moving on to that next play quickly. We can talk about that and it sounds easy, but it’s really hard to do.”
Simmons, who was the top pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in this year’s draft, turned to Betchart for mindfulness training because he was searching for a way to handle all of the attention and pressure that emerged during his one-and-done season at LSU and leading up to the 2016 NBA Draft. Betchart met Simmons at the 2011 Top 100 Basketball Camp, which was hosted by the National Basketball Players Association. Simmons was intrigued by mindfulness training and he eventually started meditating and doing breathing exercises given to him by Betchart, who would work with the LSU star over the phone and sometimes fly to Baton Rouge so they could meet in person.
“He’s an awesome human being,” Betchart said of Simmons. “At this point, I’ve worked with so many great athletes so I tend to gravitate to great humans instead, and he’s one of those really good guys. I’ve known Ben for a few years now; he has a terrific family. With this kind of work, the more years you work with someone, the deeper it goes and the more they develop. With Ben, I’d say we are still in the early stages, but I see someone who is very open-minded to it. And he’s still only 19 years old, so he’s still super young. For him, one of the bigger challenges was that he was a big deal. Ben Simmons is a big deal basketball wise and there was a lot of noise around him coming into college and coming into the draft this year. There was all kind of stuff written about him.
“The big thing that he took to was really focusing on what he can control. He can’t control what people say about him, he can’t control if people criticize his shot, he can’t control if they say he’s the best passer since Magic Johnson, he can’t control if they say he’s the best prospect since LeBron James. You can’t control any of that. For him, he has found a lot of peace in just learning to let go of all that and focusing on what he can control. And all you can control is this very moment, trusting your skills and then going on to the next moment. That wisdom tends to help relax players. For him, it really helped a lot since he had so much noise around him – especially being part of this social-media generation. I mean, it’s a lot of noise.”
While Betchart has an impressive list of star clients, his biggest success story might be Gordon of the Orlando Magic. Gordon has been working with Betchart since he was in the eighth grade, so he’s the best example of how mental skills training can help athletes improve their performance and deal with pressure and demands. From a young age, Gordon’s parents talked to him about being mindful. However, it wasn’t until middle school that Betchart put a sports spin on it and Gordon realized how much these skills could help him with his athletic performance.
“I started working with Graham when I was going from eighth grade to ninth grade,” Gordon said. “I was basically going from being a big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a big pond. I knew that I needed something to help my game and continue to keep me on the right track. Graham introduced this to me at 13 years old and from then on, the ball was just rolling. I think it’s helped me a tremendous amount. We use basketball as a medium, but we just talk about life. He’s also helped me with situations in my life that have nothing to do with basketball. We talk about money, materialistic things, existential things – some things that normal basketball players may not talk about with their sports psychologist. He’s become a mentor for me. He’s helped me see that there’s more to life than just basketball and I’m eternally grateful for that.
“I think a lot of people just don’t know about it. A while ago, if you went to someone for ‘mental coaching’ or ‘mental training,’ you were automatically labeled as mentally weak. And that’s not true. That’s not true at all. It means you’re searching for something more – a greater sense of fulfillment. I think kids are starting to understand that more and more. They see guys like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry and they see the iciness about them, the mental toughness. You’re starting to see kids say, ‘I want what he has mentally.’ And where they find it is through coaching, mental training and the Lucid app.”
“A lot of the basketball players I’ve worked with are pretty young – either just making their way up the NBA or on the verge of being in the NBA – because I started doing this training with them when they were teenagers,” Betchart said. “Aaron Gordon, for example, is someone who I met when he was 11 years old and I started working with him when he was 13 We built a strong bond over that time and now we have eight or nine years of work to show. A lot of it is building trust. If you build trust with these guys before they’re multi-millionaires, it’s a lot easier. So that’s why the NBA players I’m working with are young, but I hope to continue working with them. And then I’m hoping that this group of guys is vocal about it and we can influence the next generation, so that the next wave of players picks up on this stuff – maybe even earlier and starts seeing the results. That way, you don’t need to be some lucky, top recruit to have this either. I mean, everyone should be doing this stuff and benefitting from it.”
Gordon loves the idea of spreading mindfulness training to the next generation.
“That would be amazing and a trend would ensue,” Gordon said. “There would be a better brand of basketball players – guys who are more level-headed, more well-adjusted, more focused. That means the level of competition will rise, which will only help the NBA and make it a more spectacular game. That would be amazing, if I could usher in this new trend.”
Betchart’s app Lucid, which features Gordon and other athletes, has 1,000 five-minute mental training workouts that focus on meditation, visualization and positive affirmations. The app will also eventually include messages for people who are dealing with a specific problem such as a slump, playing better in practice than in games and other scenarios.
“With the app, we want to meet people where they are,” Betchart said. “We aren’t asking you to go on some ‘five-day silent retreat for mental health.’ You know? All you need is a phone and headphones to do this and we tell guys, ‘Hit play every day.’ People are gravitating toward it and seem happy that there’s a resource for this. And we’re not saying we’re the only resource, but we just hope people know that there are resources for this and we want people taking advantage of them.”
“It’s incredible what it’s doing for people,” Gordon said. “I’ve always wanted to cultivate mindfulness in a younger generation and this is the perfect first step. It’s not just about basketball either. Every day, we get emails about how Lucid is helping people in everyday situations. It can help someone in business, in ballet, in tennis, whatever. It’s incredible. Anybody can do this. This is for everybody.”
Betchart does make one thing clear: It takes time to see results.
“There’s no quick fix or overnight success,” he said. “Some of these things are very gradual. Sometimes the improvement is so slow you may not even notice it, but that’s how it works. And you can’t speed through it – we only let you do one per day. You can’t go to a weight room right now and have overnight success. Mental training is the same way. We don’t want you to just put 10 minutes into this and then never do it again. We want this to be something that helps you grow over the next few years. Think of it this way: If you’re a freshman in high school, we want you to work at this and realize your goal by the time you graduate. That may seem like a long time, but there are no quick fixes for things like this. And the guys who have stuck it out and worked at it, like Aaron, have seen great results.”
As the 2016-17 NBA season tips off, keep an eye on Betchart’s players and remember that it often takes more than just physical preparation to reach that level of success.
Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective
The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.
The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?
While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.
Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.
The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.
As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.
Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.
And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.
But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.
Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.
High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.
On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?
Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.
Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.
But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.
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.
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.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
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.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
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