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NBA PM: Kris Dunn Excited for Draft Process

Kris Dunn is excited to turn his NBA dream into reality and hopes to make an immediate impact.

Alex Kennedy

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Kris Dunn Excited for Pre-Draft Process

The pre-draft process is getting underway for the 2016 class and former Providence point guard Kris Dunn is excited for the journey that lies ahead. Dunn’s lifelong dream of playing in the NBA is on the verge of becoming reality and he can’t wait to showcase his game and meet with teams.

“This is really exciting,” Dunn told Basketball Insiders. “I think the whole process is exciting. Every player in the draft wants to show what they can do and prove all of their doubters wrong. I’ve been doubted my whole life – on and off the court. I’m used to that and it definitely fuels my fire. If someone doubts me, I just take what they said and bring it to the gym. You can’t get down on yourself – you just have to play and get through any adversity and prove the doubters wrong.

“I’ve been dreaming of this moment for a long time. I mean, I’ve always wanted to play in the NBA. I really don’t know how I’ll react to hearing my name [on draft night]. I’ll definitely be excited, but I might cry just because of all the hard work I put in. I really don’t know what my emotions will be.”

KrisDunnInsideDunn is projected to be one of the top picks on June 23. In Basketball Insiders’ most recent mock draft, he is slotted at fourth overall. Our good friends at DraftExpress currently have Dunn going fifth overall. Once the lottery order is decided, team needs can be factored in and it’ll be easier to project where he’ll land. However, both mock drafts have one thing in common: Dunn is the first point guard to come off of the board.

With his 6’4 body, 6’9 wingspan, terrific athleticism and stifling perimeter defense, Dunn was a match-up nightmare at the collegiate level and he drove opposing point guards crazy. He was Second Team All-American this season and finished his Providence career as a two-time Big East Player of the Year, two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year and two-time First Team All-Big-East selection.

This past season, Dunn averaged 16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.5 steals while leading Providence to 24 wins. He shot 44.8 percent from the field and a career-high 37.2 percent from three-point range (on 3.4 attempts per game). He finished the season with the third-highest assist percentage (41.8 percent) and sixth-highest steal percentage (4.3 percent) in the nation. Not to mention, he ranked 16th among all players in Box Plus-Minus (11.3) and had an impressive 23.5 PER. Out of DraftExpress’ top 100 prospects in the 2016 draft class, Dunn averaged the most steals per game and the fourth-most assists per game.

Dunn had a number of jaw-dropping performances throughout the 2015-16 campaign. In the first game of the season against Harvard, he filled the stat sheet with 32 points, eight steals, six rebounds, five assists and two blocks in the win. Three games later against NJIT, Dunn had 22 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, seven steals and a block in the win. In a December win over Hartford, he had a triple-double (16 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds along with three steals and a block) while shooting 8-12 from the field. When all was said and done, he scored 20 or more points in 11 games and recorded three or more steals in 13 games.

Former Friars point guard God Shammgod, who played 20 seasons professionally and is currently on Providence’s coaching staff, has trained Dunn throughout his collegiate career and expects him to be superstar in the NBA.

“I’m biased, but I really think he’s a first-pick-caliber player. I think Kris can be a guy who makes 13 to 14 All-Star appearances,” Shammgod told Basketball Insiders. “He’s so talented on both ends of the floor and he does the little things that people don’t notice too. He throws the advance pass as well as any player I’ve seen since Jason Kidd. That may not jump out to others, but little things like that separate him from other players. With his game, leadership and personality, he’s a face-of-the-franchise type of player. He’s the guy you want to build a team around. Not only is he a great player, he’s a great leader and great person off the court. Everyone loves who he is and loves his personality. When he sits down with NBA executives, they’re going to be impressed.”

It remains to be seen how high Dunn can climb in the upcoming draft. It’s worth noting that Dunn recently turned 22 years old, making him one of the oldest players projected to be picked in the lottery (which is typically littered with one-and-done prospects). While his age may scare some teams that want to go with a younger player, it also means he is one of the most NBA-ready players in this draft class. That should help him during the pre-draft process and in his rookie year since he’s the kind of player who can step in and make an impact from day one.

“Even though I didn’t play all four years due to my injury, I’ve been around the college game for so long that I think I have more knowledge than the other guys [in the draft],” Dunn said. “I definitely think that will help me. One reason why I stayed in college another year is so that I can come in and make an immediate impact.

“I learned a lot as a person [by staying in school]. I think that’s what college is for; it allows you to grow and it allows you to make mistakes that you can learn from. Staying this past year to finishing up school is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I got my college degree and also because I improved a lot on the court. Now, I can be the kind of player that I want to be in the NBA. My four years have been unreal and amazing. I wish I could do it all over again. There were so many great moments.”

Dunn has drawn some comparisons to a young John Wall, who is one of many players that the Providence product studies. Shammgod gives him game film to watch of Wall, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo (who was Dunn’s favorite player entering college), Gary Payton, Jamal Crawford and Michael Ray Richardson among others. Shammgod wanted Dunn to take bits and pieces from each individual’s game and study a diverse group of guards. For example, Ray Richardson was selected for Dunn because, as Shammgod said, “They’re the same height and he was a great dribbler, rebounder and defender. Kris told me, ‘That old guy was nice!’”

Dunn speaks highly of Shammgod and gives him a lot of credit for his development.

“He helped me improve my dribbling and my confidence,” Dunn said. “He had seen me play before I got to college, back when I was a McDonald’s All-American. He always told me to be confident and play like that McDonald’s All-American he saw. He has brought so much to the game – nobody can deny that. His dribbling and the actual Shammgod move are part of the game’s history. I learned a lot from him. A lot. I also learned how to be a point guard from him. He played that position and did a great job at Providence. We watched a lot of film together and he helped me implement things from certain players who I want to play like such as John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and others. Without him, a lot of this probably wouldn’t even be happening. He taught me so much.”

Shammgod enjoyed teaching Dunn and watching the floor general make huge strides each season.

“It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work with him over the past four years,” Shammgod said. “I’ve watched him grow up, as a player and as a person. He has overcome adversity, dealing with his mother’s death, dealing with injuries and more. His support system at home helps; his dad is a very hard worker and his step mother is too. For them to trust me to guide him, it is an honor. For him to listen, since I’ve been in a similar position, that’s been great. He is willing to listen and be coached. He is humble and shows his appreciation to me as well as the other coaches, team managers and everyone he comes across.

“I also think he couldn’t have done a better job picking his school. Coach Ed Cooley is a players-coach. Our AD, Robert G. Driscoll, Jr., has been Athletic Director of the Year. The assistant AD, Steve Napolillo, is incredible. Those guys have been a big part of Kris’ success too. Their leadership has been terrific. Providence was the right place for him, and I think more kids will look here to see what the school embodies and see what they did for Kris.”

Providence big man Ben Bentil, who starred alongside Dunn this past year and is testing the NBA waters, had nothing but excellent things to say about his former teammate.

“It was an unbelievable experience to play with him because he’s such a great player,” Bentil told Basketball Insiders. “When he made the decision to come back to school, I appreciated it a lot because I knew he could lead us and really make the whole team better. He’s such a great player and he makes sure that everybody eats and everybody succeeds. He is a team-first guy and I really appreciated having him as a teammate. I’ll always remember the memories from this season with him and I’ll cherish them forever.”

Dunn’s shooting, particularly from long range, is widely regarded as his biggest weakness. However, it’s important to note that he improved his shot each season he was at Providence and has worked extremely hard to raise his three-point percentage. It’s clear that his confidence in his shot grew each year he was in college. Now, he must expand his range to the NBA three-point line. While this is an area of his game that he needs to improve, many other point guards have entered the NBA with a jumper that needs work. For example, look at Kidd, Rondo, Wall and, most recently, Elfrid Payton – all of whom failed to match Dunn’s 37.2 percent from beyond the arc in any season of their college career.

And one thing that’s apparent when talking with Dunn is that he has an intense work ethic, suggesting that his shot will only continue to improve with time. Without any prompting during our interview, he talked about seeking out the help of his team’s veterans next year so he could maximize his potential.

“Whatever team I’m on, I’m just going to look for the veterans who can teach me the most and learn from them,” Dunn said. “Everything at the next level will be a learning experience for me and I want to gain as much knowledge as I can from the older guys because they’ve been in the league and around the game for so long.”

Dunn is one of those guys who just seems to “get it” and he has the potential to become a franchise cornerstone for whichever team drafts him in two months.

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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