Sixty of the top prospects in the 2014 NBA Draft have gathered in Chicago for the annual predraft combine. This event was originally designed for the league and prospects to all gather together in the same place so that a complete group workout, set of thorough medical examinations and interviews could be conducted. It’s supposed to be a cost efficient way for NBA teams to familiarize themselves with the incoming draft class, but it’s really become about what agents are willing to let their players do.
Agents now control the process; the absence of Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins – three guys vying to be the top overall pick in the draft – is the biggest testament to that fact in recent years. At the very minimum everyone usually participated in the measurements portion and talked to the media. Players projected to go outside the top 20 are generally full participants.
Prior to this year, it was somewhat of a rarity for players to skip out on the media part of the combine. It’s great for exposure since it’s the most publicized part and it gives them the opportunity to address anything that may be impacting their draft stock or what they’ve been working on. The drills are virtually meaningless in the eyes of many, most of their measurements are already well known and the team interviews stay private. The press stemming from it has the longest shelf life. A lot of the attention would have been on the trio mentioned above; with them gone, the following topics will be the hottest in Wednesday and Thursday’s media sessions:
Who is Dante Exum?
Exum really benefited from having a strong limited body of work while the other top prospects in this year’s draft had their struggles in the NCAA. Without having to share the spotlight with them at the combine, expect the positive press on Exum to come through in abundance as he’s introduced to a lot of the American media for the first time.
A mystery to most, Exum will win over a lot of people with his engaging personality, understanding of the game, its history and how humble he is. Exum hired an agent months ago and is undoubtedly well prepared to handle the most amount of media attention he’s ever received like a seasoned pro.
Don’t be surprised if the talk of Exum being in the mix for the number one pick peaks after this week. Without participating in competitive drills and have great physical gifts at 6’6 tall with a 6’7.25 wingspan, he can really only help himself. He may not be as strong as teams would like for him to be, but that’s not a major concern for a 19 year old with as good of a work ethic as Exum is reported to have.
How is Spencer Dinwiddie’s recovery from a torn ACL coming along?
Before going down with a torn ACL on January 12 Dinwiddie was putting up 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He led the Buffaloes to a 14-2 start overall and a 3-0 mark in Pac 12 play. They were the 15th ranked team in the country and Dinwiddie was playing his way into the first round of just about every mock draft. They were nowhere near as formidable without him.
Now almost four months removed successful surgery to repair the torn ligament, Dinwiddie’s stock is hanging in the balance. There’s precedence for guys with torn ACLs getting drafted despite not being able to participate in anything other than medical examinations and interviews. Just last season Nerlens Noel, who suffered the exact same injury around a year prior, was drafted sixth overall. In 2010 Da’Sean Butler was drafted 42nd overall after tearing his ACL in the NCAA Tournament.
Six is too high and 42 is too low for even an injured Dinwiddie, but his progression will determine where he falls in between. If he’s on track to at least be able to work out this summer and get his first live action in before the start of training camp, teams in the later portion of the first round are going to start giving him consideration again. If it looks like he’s not going to be ready to play until after the season starts, there’s going to be a lot of hesitation to give him a guaranteed contract.
Can Mitch McGary rekindle the level of interest that was there after his freshman season?
After finishing off his freshman campaign strong and playing an integral role in Michigan’s run to the national championship, there were a lot of people calling for McGary to leave while his stock was hot. He almost certainly would have been a mid-to-late first round pick in last year’s draft, but he stuck around for his sophomore season in hopes of climbing into the top 10.
Unfortunately for McGary, a back injury cost him all but eight games this season. He didn’t appear to be in any hurry to leave because of that, but a failed random drug test (marijuana) earned him a season long suspension for 2014-15 and made his draft decision for him. Set to turn 22 on June 6, McGary has a lot of ground to make up between now and draft night.
His back is still not 100 percent, so he won’t be participating in the athletic testing or drills, which he really could have benefited from, but at this point McGary needs exposure – even if it’s just from talking to teams and media.
The center position, unlike last year when there was over a dozen that garnered first round consideration, is quite thin. While Joel Embiid is going to be nearly impossible to knock off the top spot, there’s an argument to be made that McGary is the most ready to contribute center in this draft class. If teams walk away from the combine with the impression that he’s going to be 100 percent sooner rather than later, he could climb as much as anyone before draft night.
Will Randle capitalize where his peers don’t once again?
A top prospect that is willing to be a full participant in the combine is almost unheard of in today’s day and age. Yet Randle, who is unlikely to be on the draft board past eight barring an unforeseen plummeting on draft night, sounds like he is planning on doing just that.
“I’m a competitor,” Randle said to NBA.com. “I like to see how I stack up against other people.”
Last year Shabazz Muhammad participated in the drills during the first day of the combine. Due to mixed reviews and not dominating the competition as he may have hoped, Muhammad sat out day two. However, there were some teams who were impressed by the fact that he suited up alone. He ended up going in the late lottery, 14th to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
For Randle this is another opportunity to add to his body of work that easily trumps those ranked ahead of him already. Like Muhammad, he would win over a lot of people just by getting out there. It shows that he’s confident in his abilities and eager to compete. As much as top prospects run from the drills, the potential damage they can do to their stock is not as bad as their agents fear. Randle could potentially increase his value if he follows through with his comments while his top competition is watching – just like in the NCAA Tournament.
Are Hairston’s character issues behind him?
A series of bad decisions off of the court over the past year that varied from associating with a known felon, getting cited for speeding and possession of marijuana cost Hairston his eligibility at North Carolina. That’s never the kind of impression you want to make when you’re going after one of the most highly coveted careers in the country and trying to convince teams that you’re worthy of a multi-million dollar investment. However, the NBA has a track record for being a forgiving league, especially for players with the talent level of Hairston – as long as they’re convinced that his troubles are behind him.
Hairston made the wise decision to stay underneath the NBA’s microscope by immediately joining the D-League. Against a higher level of competition than he was facing at UNC, Hairston averaged 21.7 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 35 percent shooting from deep in 26 games. He didn’t have any more legal troubles either, but that’s not going to spare him of aggressive, thorough questioning regarding his past transgressions at the combine.
Teams are going to want to know beyond any shadow of doubt that Hairston has made the necessary changes in his lifestyle and circle of friends to stay trouble free. If he does so, Hairston stands a very good chance to be the first D-Leaguer to get selected in the first round.
Basketball Insiders is in Chicago covering the 2014 NBA Draft Combine with a four man team of Steve Kyler, Alex Kennedy, Joel Brigham and Yannis Koutroupis. Keep an eye out for extensive coverage throughout the next week on everything you need to know from the premiere predraft event of the summer!
NBA Daily: Are The Knicks For Real?
Ariel Pacheco breaks down the New York Knicks and their start to the season. Might they be able to push for a spot in the postseason?
The New York Knicks are on a four-game losing streak after their hot 5-3 start to the season. Yes, their play has been inconsistent, but their effort has yet to wane. And, while they are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference, the team has some solid wins under their belt and has seen, arguably, their best start in years.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau’s fingerprints are all over this team. Combined with the positive start, it begs the question: do the Knicks have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in the East?
The Knicks have been competitive mainly due to Julius Randle; he’s played like an All-Star to start the season to the tune of 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. Randle’s drastic improvement from a season ago has been a major boon to New York, as he’s kept them in close games and, at times, been their lone source of offense. His stat line would put him in elite company, as one of only four to average at least 20, 10 and 5 this season.
The other three? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis.
Behind him, Mitchell Robinson has been the Knicks’ second-best player so far. He’s third in the NBA in offensive rebounds and 10th in blocks. Beyond that, it’s hard to overstate how impactful he’s been on the defensive end — when he’s off the court, the Knicks’ defense completely craters. And, while his offensive game is limited to mostly dunks and layups, Robinson provides the team a vertical threat in the paint with his elite lob-catching skills.
Kevin Knox II has also shown signs of becoming a rotation-level NBA player. He’s shot 41.7% from three and, while he still needs work on defense, he hasn’t been nearly as detrimental the team’s efforts on that end as as he has in years past.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. First and foremost, they lack the shooting to consistently put teams away and win games. And, of course, teams have taken advantage of that, as the Knicks have faced a zone defense — an effective defense, but one that can easily be shut down by a consistent presence beyond the three-point line — in every single game they’ve played this season. Of every Knick that has shot over 20 threes this season, Austin Rivers and Kevin Knox II are the only two that have shot above 35%, while no starter has shot above league average from deep on the season. During their latest four-game losing streak, they’ve shot just 31% from deep as a team.
RJ Barrett, who has really struggled to shoot the ball from all over the floor to start the year, is arguably New York’s biggest culprit here. Currently, Barrett has shot a bad 37.2% from the field, an even worse 18.5% from three and a better but still below average 70.2% from the free throw line. He’s also struggled to finish near the basket. Of course, more spacing in lineups that feature Barrett, as opposed to the clogged lanes he stares down alongside guys like Randle and Robinson, could go a long way in improving those numbers.
But, unfortunately, the Knicks just don’t have the personnel, or depth, for that matter, that they can afford to take those guys off the floor for extended minutes and expect to succeed. There’s hope that Alec Burks’ return could provide some much-needed range and scoring punch from the bench, but Burks alone might not be enough to turn things around here.
The Knicks have also been lucky when it comes to their opponent’s shooting. Opponents have shot just 32.8% from three against the Knicks, well below league average. On three-point attempts that are wide-open, which the NBA defines as a shot in which no defender is within six feet of the shooter, opponents have shot just 33.9%. If that number sees some positive regression — and it likely will as the season goes on — New York may struggle to stay in games.
There are a litany of other issues as well. The point guard position is certainly an area of concern; Elfrid Payton’s range barely extends beyond the free throw line, while Dennis Smith Jr. just hasn’t looked like the same, explosive player we saw with the Dallas Mavericks and Frank Ntilikina has struggled with injuries to start the year. Immanuel Quickley has looked solid with limited minutes, but Thibodeau has been reluctant to start him or even expand his role. And, as there is with every Thibodeau team, there could be legitimate concern over the workload of his top players: Barrett is first in the NBA in minutes played, Randle is third.
Right now, there would seem to be a lot more questions than answers for the Knicks. As currently constructed, they certainly can’t be penciled in as a playoff team. There’s too much evidence that suggests they won’t be able to consistently win games.
That said, New York should be somewhat satisfied with their start to the season. And, if they continue to compete hard, tighten up the defense and if their younger players can take a step forward (especially from beyond the arc), they might just be able to squeeze into the play-in game in the softer Eastern Conference.
NBA Daily: Raul Neto Seizing His Opportunity in Washington
Tristan Tucker examines Raul Neto who, in the midst of a career resurgence, has provided the Washington Wizards with some much-needed stability at the point guard position in the absence of Russell Westbrook.
Washington Wizards guard Raul Neto is coming off one of the more disappointing seasons of his career. Waived by the Utah Jazz, Neto joined a Philadelphia 76ers’ roster in 2019 that had some serious championship aspirations. Unfortunately, like the 76ers, Neto’s season fell flat.
For many former second round picks, a rough season could signal the conclusion of a career. But not for Neto, who has persevered and turned his career around to start the 2020-21 season.
Neto exploded onto the scene for the Wizards and has really shown an ability to hold it down on the court, especially in the wake of Russell Westbrook’s injury. He’s averaged career-highs almost across the board so far, recording 8.9 points and 1 steal per contest on outstanding percentages; Neto’s shot 52.7 from the field and 42.4 percent from three, both by far the highest of his career and, among Wizards with at least 10 games played, rank fifth and sixth on the team, respectively.
“I think I have been around different teams and I try and do whatever the team needs on the court,” Neto said. “If it needs to play with more pace or if it needs more scoring, I will try and do whatever I can to help. I think that’s how I fit so quickly on the team.”
Neto began his professional career in Brazil when he was just 16 years old, playing for the World Team in 2010 at the Nike Hoop Summit and then heading to Spain for the 2011-12 season. After two impressive seasons, the 28-year-old point guard was selected with the 47th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta then traded Neto to the Jazz where he eventually signed on for the 2015-16 NBA season.
Immediately, Neto was cast into a big role with the Jazz, starting in the season opener and starting in 53 of his 81 appearances that season. His efforts earned him a spot as a member of the World Team in the 2016 Rising Stars Challenge.
Neto would go on to play a majority of his next three seasons in the G-League, finding a hard time sticking to a role that suited him in Utah. When Philadelphia tried to remake its roster in the 2019 offseason, Neto was called in to give the team an able-shooting ball-handler, one that they desperately needed. However, Neto was, again, miscast and, while he was getting good minutes, the team as a whole struggled to find their identity and, as a result, everyone’s play suffered.
In the 2020 offseason, Neto was able to find a roster spot on the Wizards, who saw him as a potential diamond-in-the-rough type and a player that they should take a chance on. And their gamble has paid huge dividends as, at the moment, Neto has given Washington a reliable piece to play next to All-Star Bradley Beal.
“[Neto] does a tremendous job of running the team, running the offense,” Beal said after a Wizards’ preseason game. “He gets after it, he’s a real pest. I always make fun of him because he has a strong build…he’s very strong.”
Traits that likely stood out to Washington were Neto’s calm demeanor and his ability to run the offense, something that a few of his younger teammates could learn from and, hopefully, pick up themselves. Players like Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura have shown much promise as scorers and playmakers and should continue to benefit from players like Neto that are able to get them the ball accurately and consistently.
“Deni [Avdija]’s very talented, he’s very very talented,” Neto said. “He’s young so he’s got a lot to learn and get better. He’s a very good player, he’s been playing professionally overseas for a while…Rui [Hachimura] is also a very good player. Strong, plays hard and very good defense. Probably going to be our guy, like today he was guarding [Kevin Durant], he can go against guys in this league that are tall and can score.”
While the Wizards are in the midst of a disappointing season, something that may prove worthwhile in the long run may be to give Neto, who’s averaged just under 17 minutes per game, a larger role, perhaps as the team’s sixth man. When Neto is on the floor, Washington’s already potent offense gets even better — multiple lineups that feature Neto have posted an offensive rating of at least 130 points per 100 possessions — and, while it isn’t that cut-and-dry, it would behoove the Wizards to experiment and see what he can do in a larger role.
“I just try to play my game,” Neto said. “With my new team, I’m trying to understand my teammates and play the game the way Scott [Brooks] wants us to play and just move the ball and be a player out there that tries to help the team and do whatever I have to do. If I have to shoot, if I have to score depending on who I am on the court…”
“I think, number-wise, I did great,” Neto said after the Wizards’ preseason opener. “I think there’s always room for improvement and I think I’m going to work on that and take advantage of my opportunities.”
“[Neto] has heart, he has grit, he has everything we need,” Beal said. “He can shoot the leather off the ball which is what I love about him too.”
Neto isn’t the solution to all of Washington’s problems — of which, there are many — but there’s no denying the impact he’s had, even in his short time with the team. With the turnaround he’s seen, Neto has not only proven that he belongs in the NBA, but that he can serve as a solid veteran spot-starter or bench piece. Not just for a Washington team that can use just about anyone right now, either, but for any team looking for a consistent shooter and leader on the court.
“It’s easy when you have teammates like we do,” Neto said following a preseason game. “I’m just trying to work hard and play the right way. I think we have improved…we’re still going to get better.”
Point-Counter Point: Where Should The NBA Expand?
For the first time since 2004 when the NBA allowed Charlotte to have a second go at a franchise, the NBA is seriously entertaining the idea of expansion. The NBA, like many businesses, has seen its revenue ravaged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and could look to monetize new markets as a means to recover some of those losses, the burning question remains, where to expand?
From time to time there are things that surface in the NBA landscape that requires a little debate, we call that Point – Counter Point. We have asked two our of writers to dive into the topic of NBA expansion, which for the first time since 2004 when the NBA allowed Charlotte to have a second go at a franchise, the NBA is seriously entertaining the idea of expansion,
The NBA, like many businesses, has seen its revenue ravaged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and could look to monetize new markets as a means to recover some of those losses, the burning question remains, where to expand?
The most popular candidate among cities that haven’t been home to an NBA franchise previously is Las Vegas, whihc makes a ton of sense and has to be a heavy favorite if the NBA does expand.
The market and potential for revenue have long made sense from a financial perspective, but the stigma around ‘Sin City’ was an issue. Things have changed quickly, though, and professional sports and the public, in general, are much more accepting of sports gambling than in previous years.
The NHL was the first professional league to enter the market with the Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. The team won the Stanley Cup in their first year as an expansion team and have quickly become a popular team in the league.
The WNBA and NFL have since joined the NHL in Las Vegas with the Aces (WNBA) and LAs Vegas Raiders (NFL). The NBA could soon be joining them. Vegas is the 28th most populous city in the U.S. and generates a ton of traffic from all over the world. It just makes too much sense.
Another reason it’s only a matter of time is the NBA’s already established in the city as a league. For years the NBA Summer League has been held in the area and it has become quite a popular event. Many from the industry attend, from media to players.
Finally, Vegas has a home stadium ready to go in T-Mobile Arena.
London could be a huge move for the league and sports in general, but the timing isn’t right. Given the current circumstances in the world, London doesn’t seem as likely as other cities. That’s unfortunate, as it makes a ton of sense from the league’s perspective. Not only would it be the first NBA franchise to be based in Europe, but it would also beat the other major U.S. sports leagues in getting there.
The timing would be great too, as the league has a number of up-and-coming players from Europe. That’s caused an increase in popularity worldwide, so surely fans would be excited to get a team of their own.
Given the things that would have to be worked out to have a team playing so far from most of the league, it’s hard to imagine the NBA going through those obstacles on top of the global situation as of today. Patience will be key for London, but it’s one of the best options if things were different right now.
The last two cities that come to mind in terms of contending cities are Mexico City and Louisville. While the NBA would be wise to wait to expand overseas, Mexico City could be a great option. There’s an untapped market south of the U.S. border and it would be much easier to add to the league in short order than somewhere in Europe.
Louisville makes sense as well as a city that offers a market not being maximized by the league. It’s a great basketball city for college hoops, as is the state of Kentucky in general. Residents would buy in right away and it may offer the most loyal fanbase the NBA can establish in little time.
– Garrett Brook
The city that immediately comes to mind when thinking of expansion in the NBA Is Seattle. Home to the SuperSonics from 1967-2008, the team was a staple of the city before being bought in 2006 and subsequently moved to Oklahoma City two years later.
The SuperSonics had a lot of success in Seattle during their 41-year stint, making the playoffs 22 times, the NBA Finals three times and taking home one NBA Championship in 1979. The SuperSonics have maintained national relevance since their departure.
In a poll done by the Herald Net at the beginning of the year, 48 percent of responders said it was “very important” to bring the SuperSonics back to Seattle. In a Twitter poll done by a journalist at the same newspaper, 77 percent of respondents said that it was “very important” to bring the SuperSonics back. And, because the NHL is expanding to Seattle, the city is currently building a brand new $930 million stadium.
One of the primary reasons the team pulled out of Seattle in the first place was because the team wanted a new stadium, and the city refused to invest the money necessary to build one. All of this packaged together with Seattle’s rapid growth as a city, over 400,000 people have moved to the Seattle metro area since the SuperSonics left, which means if the NBA decides to expand, don’t be surprised if Seattle is the immediate favorite.
Another city that comes to mind when speaking of expansion is Vancouver, the former home of the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Vancouver Grizzlies didn’t have much success in their six seasons, thanks mainly to poor management in the front office. If given a more successful team, Vancouver could play host to an NBA team yet again.
Attendance started in the middle part of the league in the Grizzlies opening couple of seasons in the NBA, showing that there is interest in basketball in the area, but as the team continued to struggle year after year, they slipped to the back half of the league.
Another reason cited for the Grizzlies’ departure from Vancouver was the value of the Canadian dollar at the time compared to American dollars; that is less of an issue now as the Canadian dollar has become much closer in value to the American dollar over the last 20 years. It stands to reason that a good team would draw more interest than it did in their first run in the city, especially with the sport of basketball growing in Canada as a whole.
If the NBA wants a team further east, Pittsburgh is a city with a passionate group of sports fans that would almost certainly rally around a team were they to have success early on. Pittsburgh features successful franchises in the NHL, NFL and MLB, so it stands to reason an NBA franchise would succeed in the city as well. There would also be no worries over having to build a stadium in Pittsburgh since the Penguins stadium, PPG Paints Arena, has a capacity of 19,758, which is more than the average capacity for an NBA arena.
Kansas City is another place that has a lot of basketball history, even if it was over 35 years ago. The Sacramento Kings were initially located in Kansas City from 1972-1985 and even made the Western Conference Finals in the 1980-81 season with a team that featured former Wizards’ general manager Ernie Grunfeld. Kansas City did struggle with attendance during that period, but since 1985 the city of Kansas City has grown quite a lot, with the city’s population going from 1.15 million in 1985 to nearly 1.7 million at the start of 2021. Plus, the success of the Chiefs and Royals have both had in the city in recent years – both have won championships in the last 10 years – indicates that an NBA franchise would have the ability to succeed there as well.
– Zach Dupont
EDITORIAL NOTE: While the NBA is exploring the viability of expansion, there is no timeline currently being discussed. Obviously, with the current state of the pandemic, NBA expansion is not going to happen soon, but as the world normalizes in a post-vaccine world, expansion seems more likely in the NBA than it has in almost two decades, so expect to hear more about this topic.