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NBA AM: Who Still Has Cap Space?

A look at which teams still have cap space as well as which teams are paying the luxury tax.

Steve Kyler

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Who Can Still Play In Free Agency?:  While the bulk of the deals have been finalized, there are still a few NBA teams with salary cap room to play with. Here is who has cap cash left:

Portland Trail Blazers – $19,477,606 Under The Cap

The Blazers currently have the most available cap room of any team in the NBA and have 17 players currently on the roster. There is a good chance that swingman Mike Miller will be bought out at some point, and the Blazers do hold three players with non-guaranteed deals.

There is no question that when LaMarcus Aldridge opted to leave in free agency things changed. As Blazers GM Neil Olshey has explained a few times, the plan in Portland is to surround Damian Lillard with players in his age range so that they can grow into something together, and most of the team’s free agent moves and trades have lined up with that.

With so much cash left to spend, the Blazers can leverage that space to extract assets, much like they did with Cleveland and the Brendan Haywood contract. It’s unlikely the Blazers throw cash at anyone left in the market place, but if a large salary guy becomes available in trade the Blazers have the resources to make a deal.

Cap space is a commodity and, as the Philadelphia 76ers have proven for the last two years, having room to park a contract can help you collect a lot of assets. That seems to be the Blazers’ plan for the immediate future.

Philadelphia 76ers – $13,907,212 Under The Cap

The 76ers come in second to the Blazers, and surprisingly they may use some of it for an offer sheet on restricted free agent Norris Cole. The 76ers’ plan for the last two years was to amass assets and talent, and this year seems to be the year they plan to put that talent on the floor and try and compete.

The 76ers have made leveraging cap space into assets an art form, so even if New Orleans opts to match an offer sheet on Cole (which is still in discussion), the 76ers will continue to work the field as long as they have room to do it.

Playing the cap game as Philadelphia has done isn’t overly sexy, but when you look at what they were able to extract in payments for parking players on their cap, they have done as good a job as anyone in the NBA at stocking up the cupboard. If Cole doesn’t pan out, you can expect more of it, as this may be the last year where that tactic yields fruit.

Utah Jazz – $6,738,065 Under The Cap

The Jazz have some real cap space available, but it’s unlikely they are going to use much of it. With 17 players under contract and 13 fully guaranteed deals, there isn’t much room on the roster for more guys.

While improving and competing for a playoff berth is something the Jazz are expecting this year, there is a belief that the biggest gains will come from internal growth not external additions.

Having space is always a good thing, especially when the trade market opens up in December, but as things stand the Jazz’s free agency is mostly complete. The question becomes which guys at the end of the roster make the team? There is a real debate on who gets those final roster spots.

Denver Nuggets – $2,643,907 Under The Cap

The Nuggets’ cap number likely goes up if they follow through on waiving Kostas Papanikolaou, who has an October 4 guarantee date on his $4.8 million. The Nuggets have some time to try and re-trade him for an asset, especially for a team trying to shed cap cash or create some roster flexibility.

As things stand in Denver they have 16 roster players including Papanikolaou and a partial guarantee on Erick Green. It’s unlikely that the Nuggets are going to add much more to the roster than they already have and will likely have flexibility around the trade deadline, which could make them buyers, especially if they waive Papanikolaou as expected.

Cap flexibility in and of itself is an asset, especially for a Nuggets team that’s always mindful of cash flow.

Orlando Magic – $1,889,998 Under The Cap

The Magic have a little bit of breathing room under the cap, but not enough to make a splashy move. The more likely scenario is Orlando uses some of the cash to guarantee some money to camp invites with the intention of stashing them in the D-League like they did a last year with Seth Curry, Peyton Siva and Kadeem Batts.

The Magic currently have 14 players under contract not including second rounder Tyler Harvey or guard Keith Appling who they were reported to have reached a contract with, so there isn’t much room on the roster for more.

The Magic could trigger a trade or two to open up spots, but the general belief is this is the group that’s going to open the season. How the parts fit together will tell if it stays that way throughout the season.

While the number of teams with space is fairly small, the number of teams staring at the luxury tax is significantly bigger; here is what to watch for with each:

Oklahoma City Thunder – $12,417,411 Over The Tax

As things stand today, the Thunder are over the cap more than any other team in the NBA. That’s a little surprising considering how many assets the team has given up over the last few years to stay under the tax line, but it’s clear that the Thunder are all the way in on this roster.

All 15 roster spots have a guaranteed salary, so there won’t be any relief or reductions via camp cuts.

There are a couple of contracts that could be movable to reduce the tax bill, but in talking with sources close to the Thunder there isn’t a lot urgency to cut cost and there is a belief it’s now or never with this roster. Given the looming free agency of star Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s future not that far behind, this is the window the Thunder have been waiting for and they are ready to spend to prove it.

Now if the injury bug resurfaces or the parts just don’t fit under new head coach Billy Donovan, things could change but it’s more likely than not that the Thunder stay where they are which means a tax bill of more than $22.293 million, when you factor in the gradually increasing tax penalty on over spending.

Los Angeles Clippers – $10,765,710 Over The Tax

Given how little the Clippers had to work with this summer in terms of cap space, they did a great job re-tooling their roster. There is almost no scenario in which the Clippers are not tax payers, and given the moves they have made they are fairly locked into this current roster.

The lone exception might be swingman Jamal Crawford. With the arrival of Lance Stephenson and the re-signing of Austin Rivers, it’s unclear how big a role Crawford will play. This one could go both ways, moving off his $5.675 million contract might return a decent lower priced player and reduce the tax bill a little. But given how quickly the Clippers ran out of gas in the postseason, hanging on to Crawford for the playoffs might make more sense.

It’s unlikely the Clippers do anything before training camp; if Crawford gets traded its likely because guys like Stephenson and Rivers live up to expectations making Crawford expendable.

Golden State Warriors – $10,747,927 Over The Tax

The Warriors look fairly locked into their tax overage, as there really isn’t any combination of players that could be offloaded to clean up their books. The Warriors recently flipped Gerald Wallace for Jason Thompson to reduce their tax burden, and there may be one more smaller move to get the number lower as the season goes on, but this seems like the roster the Warriors are bringing to camp.

A little luxury tax is a small price to pay for a NBA championship, and if healthy it’s hard to imagine the Warriors won’t be in the hunt for a repeat.

Cleveland Cavaliers – $10,668,795 Over The Tax

The Cavaliers will be monster tax payers, the question becomes how much will they ultimately pay? There are still two roster spots under negotiation, the biggest being restricted free agent Tristan Thompson. Word is the two sides are still having on-going conversations but the gap between what was originally agreed to be workable – five years, $80 million – seems to have been tabled after others in the free agent class received more. The problem with more for the Cavaliers is that every extra dollar given to Thompson gets taxed at a much higher tax rate. For example, Thompson’s $6.77 million qualifying offer costs the Cavaliers $12.085 million in new tax. If Thompson signs a deal at $13 million, the tax cost jumps to $29.05 million, and that’s just the cost of Thompson. Not the other $88.63 million owed to the rest of the roster or the $5.83 million in tax they owe to that spending.

While having Thompson pick up the qualifying offer is risky, as it would make him an unrestricted free agent next summer, is he really worth more than $13 million in salary and $29.05 million in tax? Next summer when the tax ceiling rises tremendously, fitting a big deal for Thompson likely makes more financial sense even if it means bidding against a much higher salary cap environment. Waiting could shift more of that expense into Thompson’s pocket.

The sense from the Cavs is either they’ll do a deal in the $80 million range, or Thompson plays out his qualifying offer; there seems to be almost no interest is trying to solicit an offer sheet from another team.

The last chip for the Cavaliers is guard J.R. Smith. Sources close to the situation say the value of his deal will be based on how much the team has to pay Thompson, but there continues to be a sense that Smith will be back with the Cavaliers and that he’s not overly interested in other situations. Given the Cavs’ tax situation, it’s hard to imagine they offer a ton to Smith in a new deal.

Miami HEAT – $7,133,745 Over The Tax

Not only are the Miami HEAT $7.133 million over the tax, they also qualify as “repeater” tax payers which almost doubles their tax penalty. To put that into perspective, the HEAT’s current tax bill as a “repeater” is $18.367 million. That’s not an insignificant number. The HEAT have been linked to situations involving forward Chris Andersen, who is poised to make $5 million this season. Point guard Mario Chalmers has also been talked about as a trade candidate; he is set to make $4.3 million.

The problem with moving money and not taking any in return is it usually costs draft picks and young talent, something the HEAT don’t really have to spare. Luol Deng’s $10.151 million ending deal could become a reasonable trade chip, especially closer to the trade deadline when the HEAT has paid the bulk of the salary.

The HEAT have ways to reduce their tax bill, and it seems likely they will do that as the trade deadline gets closer, but their message is that if healthy, they believe they are a contender and want to see if that’s true before making any more cost cutting trades.

Chicago Bulls – $4,284,375 Over The Tax

The Bulls as a franchise have been somewhat resistant to paying the luxury tax which puts their current $4.28 million overage on center stage. Combine the pending tax burden with a log jam in the front court and the proverbial clock seems to be ticking on Bulls forward Taj Gibson. Long considered the odd man out, the Bulls have until the trade deadline to reduce their tax bill and moving off most of Gibson’s $8.5 million salary would get it done in one transaction.

Sources close to the Bulls say there have been no decisions made on anyone’s future as they want to bring everyone to camp and see who really fits in new head coach Fred Hoiberg’s system. But with rookie Bobby Portis and second year scorer Doug McDermott expected to see more minutes, someone may not play the role equal to their salary and the Bulls do not like to pay the tax.

San Antonio Spurs – $2,331,718 Over The Tax

Considering the offseason the Spurs had, it’s amazing they were able to work the cap rules as they did to not only land LaMarcus Aldridge but get the bulk of their guys re-signed and stay relatively close to the luxury tax line. There isn’t a single non-role player that could clean up the projected $2.331 million tax overage, although Patty Mills’ $3.578 million could do it and then some. The guy to watch is Kyle Anderson; while the cap value of Anderson is only $1.142 million, combined with partially guaranteed guys like Jimmer Fredette, he could get the bill significantly lower if neither finds a role in training camp.

Houston Rockets – $493,113 Over The Tax

The Rockets are over the tax line with all fully guaranteed contracts so there is no room for relief in partially guaranteed players. What’s worse is the Rockets are only carrying 12 players at this point so the odds are pretty strong that Houston will add to their tax bill before it’s said and done. Being over the tax in a minor way isn’t a terrible thing, but it does restrict what a team can to in trade construction.

If the Rockets wanted to get out from under the tax line, they do have guys like Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas that could clean up the cap and return reasonable assets. With both headed into restricted free agency next summer, those might be the names to watch.

Brooklyn Nets – $184,480 Over The Tax

The Nets get under the tax line after training camp. The Nets have five players on partially guaranteed deals, and cutting almost any of them in camp gets them below the tax line, so it’s highly unlikely Brooklyn faces the tax this year. Considering where they were two seasons ago, that’s pretty impressive cap work.

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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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