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Kris Dunn Helping His NBA Draft Stock

Kris Dunn has emerged as one of college basketball’s best players, filling the stat sheet on a nightly basis.

Alex Kennedy

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Orlando Magic power forward Channing Frye discusses the team’s three-game winning streak, their increased confidence, his move to the starting lineup, not getting too high or too low and more in this interview.

Kris Dunn Helping His Draft Stock

During Providence’s upset victory over 11th-ranked Arizona in the Wooden Legacy Classic over the weekend, point guard Kris Dunn showed why he’s arguably the best player in the nation and a top prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft.

In the final four and a half minutes against the Wildcats, Dunn was responsible for every point of a 15-7 Friars run. Then, with about 30 seconds left in the game, Dunn put the Friars ahead with a turnaround, fade-away jumper that looked like an old-school Kobe Bryant highlight. Finally, he delivered the dagger with 12 seconds left, getting out in transition and throwing down a one-handed dunk to put the game out of reach. Dunn put Providence on his back, finishing with 18 points on 7-9 shooting from the field as well as eight assists and two steals (despite playing just 21 minutes due to early foul trouble).KrisDunnInside

By defeating Arizona, Providence advanced to face 3rd-ranked Michigan State in the Wooden Legacy Classic title game on Sunday. The Spartans won, handing Providence their first loss of the season, but the Friars kept it close until the end. Dunn once again played very well, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds – and winning the much anticipated individual matchup against fellow Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine.

These impressive outings from Dunn are almost expected at this point. This season, Dunn is averaging 19 points, 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds, 3.7 steals and one block. He’s having a career-year, even though he’s actually averaging two fewer minutes per game than he did last season.

Dunn has had multiple dominant performances so far this year. For example, he had a remarkable 32 points, six rebounds, five assists, eight steals and two blocks against Harvard. Last week against NJIT, he had 22 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, seven steals and one block. Dunn has shown that he’s capable of filling the stat sheet every single night, which is why his season averages are so ridiculous.

The advanced analytics also show that Dunn is having a breakout campaign. He’s posting a career-high Player Efficiency Rating (33.8), Offensive Rating (117.6), Defensive Rating (81.8), True Shooting Percentage (54.7 percent), Total Rebound Percentage (11 percent), Steal Percentage (7.7 percent) and Block Percentage (4.2 percent).

While his game is becoming much more well-rounded, defense remains Dunn’s biggest strength. He’s one of the better perimeter defenders in the country, as he ranks second among all Division-I players in both steal percentage and steals per game. Dunn’s 6’4 frame and 6’9 wingspan cause a lot of problems for opposing guards. He forces a lot of turnovers by pestering opponents and disrupting passing lanes. Dunn should be able to translate his defensive success to the next level, although he’ll have to adjust to the tougher completion and more complex NBA schemes early in his career.

Dunn’s strong play has gotten him a lot of attention and it has only helped his NBA draft stock. He has shown growth in each of his collegiate seasons, which is exactly what NBA talent evaluators want to see. It seems that, barring injury, he has solidified himself as a top 10 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Some executives even believe Dunn belongs in the top five. The draft is obviously a long time from now and a lot can still change (especially once we find out the draft order and pre-draft workouts begin), but there’s no question that Dunn has significantly improved his game and impressed NBA decision-makers thus far.

The biggest knock on Dunn will be that he’s older than many other prospects in his draft class since he’s turning 22 years old in March. This is a legitimate concern, as an older player typically doesn’t have as much upside as a younger prospect. Some teams will question if Dunn is close to reaching his ceiling and instead decide to pick a younger point guard (such as Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, who will be just 19 years old on draft night and is projected to be selected around the same range as Dunn).

However, there are also some positives that come with Dunn’s age. Because he’s older and more experienced, he will be one of the more NBA-ready prospects in the draft. Rather than needing several years to develop before making an impact, he should be able to contribute at a high level right away. For a team that believes they’re one piece away, perhaps Dunn is a perfect fit. Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic are recent examples of point guards who were older than their draft peers, but still managed to be selected in the lottery and go on to play very well immediately. Lillard won the Rookie of the Year award and was named an All-Star in two of his first three seasons, while Payton started all 82 games for Orlando in his first season and finished fourth in the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year voting.

Even though Dunn has played very well and seems poised to be a high lottery pick in June, there are still some aspects of his game he must improve. He needs to work on his jump shot, as it remains his biggest weakness. His three-pointer, in particular, needs to improve. This season, he’s shooting just 27.2 percent from beyond the arc. That number has to increase significantly. If he’s struggling this much from the college three-point line, how badly will he shoot from the NBA three? That’s the question NBA executives will be asking if he continues to shoot the ball poorly.

In recent years, his other weakness had been turnovers. However, so far this year, he’s made huge strides when it comes to protecting the ball and making smart decisions. This season, his turnovers per game (2.3) and Turnover Percentage (12 percent) are career-lows. Both are down significantly; his turnovers decreased from 4.2 last season and his Turnover Percentage the previous three years had been 22.6 percent, 40.7 percent and 23.8 percent. Making his improvement even more impressive is the fact that his usage rating this year is the highest of his college career. That means the ball is in his hands way more this year, yet he’s turning it over way less than in the past. That’s huge for his development. He needs to keep that up because it makes him much more valuable as a floor general.

Dunn has worked very hard to improve his ball-handling and decision-making, and he credits former Providence star and current assistant coach God Shammgod with helping him. They first met during Dunn’s freshman year and the two bonded because they were both McDonald’s All-Americans when they were in high school. Shammgod joined Ed Cooley’s staff and they have been working together every summer since.

“He has helped me a lot,” Dunn told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve done a lot of drills to improve my ball-handling, read a ball screen, perfect my decision-making and things like that.”

Dunn loves his workouts with Shammgod and hopes to continue the sessions moving forward. The two have developed a strong bond, with each stating that they have a big brother-little brother relationship. Dunn has learned a lot from Shammgod, who is most known for his incredible ball-handling skills and the “Shammgod” crossover that he created while in college. Prior to becoming a coach, Shammgod’s professional career lasted 20 seasons and took him to many different countries around the world. He has plenty of lessons – on the court and off the court – to pass on to Dunn.

“In the summer, that’s my guy,” Dunn said. “I’ve been going to him every summer and I’ve been getting better every year because of him, so I just try to stay with him and work with him as much as possible. … I’m always picking his brain and asking him how to get better because he’s so knowledgeable when it comes to the game. But what a lot of people don’t know is the off-court stuff. He’s been a mentor to me on the court, but really I view him as a big brother who has also been there for me off the court. We’re always discussing things that have nothing to do with basketball and he has taught me a lot about life in general. There’s just so much that he has done for me and I appreciate all of it. He’s one of the first guys who I go to if I’m having a bad day or a bad game because he’s been there, knows what it’s like and how to bounce back. He has so much life experience that he can share.”

Shammgod praises Dunn’s work ethic, attitude and drive. The assistant coach believes that Dunn will be a special player in the NBA and has enjoyed watching him emerge as a star.

“We worked hard all summer, so it’s been great to see all of that work pay off for Kris,” Shammgod told Basketball Insiders. “Kris is like my little brother, that’s how I view him. Seeing him have success is the ultimate reward for me. He’s an elite player.”

Keep an eye on Dunn throughout the remainder of the season, as he’s one of college basketball’s biggest stars and capable of putting up monster numbers on any given night. NBA scouts and executives will certainly be watching closely too.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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.

Drew Maresca

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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.

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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

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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

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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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