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Now What? – Charlotte Hornets

Despite being eliminated in a blowout, there’s a lot to look forward to in the Queen City. Tristan Tucker breaks down what’s to come for the Charlotte Hornets.

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Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ “What’s Next” series. We previously covered the teams that missed both the playoffs and the Play-In Tournament. Now, we’re focusing on teams that are either on the cusp of making the playoffs or are trying to build contenders. The Charlotte Hornets, despite the outcome, had quite a fantastic season. There’s a feeling around the organization that if Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball hadn’t suffered significant injuries, the Hornets could’ve pushed for homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

That’s not far from the truth. For much of the season, Charlotte looked like a shoo-in for at least a top-six seed. However, several injuries plagued the team and sent the Hornets spiraling down the Eastern Conference standings. Even though injuries played a big part in Charlotte’s downfall, it wasn’t the only issue. So, what’s next for the Charlotte Hornets?

Strengths

At one point in the season, the Charlotte Hornets looked primed to win the Southeast Division and claim their first playoff spot since 2016. While that didn’t come to fruition, there’s no doubt that a solid framework is already laid out for the team. For the first time in ages for Charlotte, the team is loaded with young talent, which makes for difficult rotational decisions.

The elephant in the room is, of course, LaMelo Ball. Under the recently implemented lottery odds, the Hornets were able to jump up to the No. 3 selection in 2020 to acquire the young guard. Not only did Ball deliver on the hype, he flat-out dominated in his rookie season. He hasn’t even turned 20 and yet, Ball put up 15.7 points and 6.1 assists per game this year. Furthermore, the guard shot the lights out before going down with an injury, which was one of his only pre-draft weaknesses.

Charlotte also boasts P.J. Washington, who has the makings of an All-Star. Washington finished his season averaging 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds while serving as a perfect small-ball stretch five for Ball and company. Though he was relatively stagnant between his rookie and sophomore seasons, Washington has a full offseason ahead to develop. Further, Washington may already be Charlotte’s best defensive player. Washington posted the second-best defensive rating on the team while leading the team in total blocks and ranking third in steals.

Outside of Washington and Ball, there are plenty of other dominant young players. Miles Bridges does more than put up highlight-reel dunks, he’s the perfect pick-and-roll complement to Ball. Bridges even took a major leap offensively, coming ridiculously close to the elusive 50/40/90 club.

Both Malik Monk and Devonte’ Graham had their fair share of highlights and Jalen McDaniels excelled in an expanded role. The Martin twins, Cody and Caleb, faltered slightly in their play from last year, but both gave the Hornets good minutes. Vernon Carey Jr. showed glimpses of offensive greatness while Nick Richards looked great on the other end of the floor. Even two-way contract players Grant Riller and Nate Darling were two undrafted rookie steals. 

In fact, there are positive things to say about every player on this roster. Team building has been an absolute strength for general manager Mitch Kupchak and the rest of the front office. The way this roster has been built leaves the door wide open for internal growth because every young player on the team has shown potential for rotational greatness.

That’s where Charlotte’s other big strength comes in: coaching. James Borrego is from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree, which has paid obvious dividends for the Hornets. Borrego’s philosophy of playing players that earn playing time was massive for the team last season. Former head coach Steve Clifford seemed to rely heavily on former Hornets veterans like Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams, which didn’t give many opportunities for younger players to step in.

Borrego adjusts his rotations based on how players fare in practice, not their tenure. That allowed Charlotte to get a jumpstart on its rebuild and for its younger players to see the limelight much earlier.

Last but not least, the Hornets have Hayward and Terry Rozier. Both players played at All-Star levels last season and have far exceeded expectations. Many thought Hayward, earning $28.5 million in 2020-21, and Rozier, earning $18.9 million, were vast overpays. However, both gave the Hornets cornerstone options and the perfect complementary players for their young core.

Weaknesses

While there are many strengths of the Hornets, it isn’t all sunny in the Queen City. Firstly, size and the center rotation were glaring issues for the team. Part of the reason the Hornets lost so badly in the Play-In Tournament was because they had nobody that could stop Domantas Sabonis or Goga Bitadze from snagging boards.

Charlotte’s center rotation was spread between three players for the majority of the season: Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo and Carey. Starting with Zeller, it’s clear to see the Hornets were phasing him out of their rotation. A longtime starting lineup staple, Zeller appeared in just 48 games with 21 starts on the year. The Hornets actually played well in his minutes, but a change in scenery is possibly on the horizon.

For starters, Zeller isn’t able to do much defending if he’s spread out beyond the rim. Zeller is the second-tallest player on the roster and is quite slow. So if Zeller gets taken out of his comfort zone by a guard or wing, it’s an immediate issue for Charlotte.

Beyond Zeller, the Hornets did some experimentation. Biyombo actually got 36 starts on the year but ranked seventh in minutes played. Like Zeller, Biyombo is only effective at the rim on defense. But unlike Zeller, Biyombo is not able to generate any offense for himself and often finds himself at the mercy of a defender if he tries to post up with his 6-foot-8 frame.

Carey got looks at the starting center position, and put up some offensive highlights, but is ineffective on defense. Carey is slow to react to attackers with the ball and it is costly. Furthermore, Carey is just 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, so he often finds himself on the wrong end of a mismatch. While Biyombo is similarly small, his 7-foot-6 wingspan allows him to mask his size at the rim, whereas Carey is not.

Washington was the other player to see minutes at the five, and those were some of the most successful of the season. Charlotte’s fourth and sixth-most used lineups on the year both feature Washington at center and post a plus-21.4 and plus-30.4 rating, respectively. Out of Charlotte’s five-man lineups to see more than 50 minutes, only five of 11 boasted positive ratings. Three of those five featured Washington at center.

So while Washington played well in those minutes, the team suffered miserably in minutes without him at that position. For reference, Biyombo helmed the five for the first, third and fifth-most used five-man groupings and those lineups were a -10, -19.3 and -47.5, respectively. The Hornets need center help in the worst way.

Opportunities

Luckily for Charlotte, the free-agent market and draft present excellent opportunities for improvement at the five. For starters, free agent Richaun Holmes of the Sacramento Kings is expected to see significant interest from the Hornets. Holmes would present an immediate upgrade with size, and he’s a quicker defender than the Hornets’ current selection. Furthermore, Holmes is just 27 and posted 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

Outside of Holmes, the draft is rife with stellar young centers. Evan Mobley would be a pipe dream for the Hornets, as he’s one of the best defenders in the draft and has major star potential. It’s not impossible that the Hornets jump up, they moved from the eighth-best odds last year to the third pick when they landed Ball. This year, the Hornets have an 8.5 percent chance of moving into the top four.

Even if the Hornets can’t get a top pick, there will be several premium options available at No. 11, where they are currently slotted. One particular standout is Alperen Sengun, who is quickly rising up the big boards of NBA teams. Sengun stands out as a potential Hornets acquisition because he’s just 18, is 6-foot-10 and plays like a point guard at times. Sengun averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 boards, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per game in Turkey. According to Sam Vecenie of The Athletic, Sengun averaged around four assists per game in his last 14 games. Sengun currently ranks eighth on Vecenie’s board.

Other opportunities will come with how cohesive this group becomes. If Ball develops into an All-Star level player in a similar way to guards like Ja Morant or Trae Young, the Hornets could quickly become an Eastern Conference contender.

Threats

Outside of the draft, Charlotte’s offseason begins and ends with how the franchise handles the pending free agency of Monk and Graham. Both players showed the potential for greatness across their Charlotte tenures but neither has lived up to the hype.

Graham exploded onto the scene last year as a Most Improved Player candidate. Graham averaged 18.2 points and shooting 37.3 percent from range on 9.3 attempts per game last year. Graham’s performance also earned him a spot in the three-point contest last season. While Graham is a fantastic sniper, he doesn’t offer much else for Charlotte. He was one of the team’s best players last season but took a step back and saw his numbers, outside of three-point clip, dip from what they were before.

Alternatively, Monk had a lot of hype surrounding him following his selection in the 2017 NBA Draft. Monk was college teammates of Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox and became notorious for his dynamic college season at Kentucky. However, it hasn’t all clicked for Monk. He had a tremendous 2020-21 season but he also missed time the year prior due to a PED-related suspension.

Both Monk and Graham will likely earn eight figures per year when they hit free agency. Charlotte’s decision revolving around both will likely determine the trajectory of Borrego’s guard rotation and how Ball’s role develops over time. If the Hornets overpay for one or both of Monk/Graham, then it could spell trouble for the team. However, Kupchak has a history of proving doubters wrong when it comes to free-agent signings, as seen with Hayward and Rozier.

Regardless of what happens in the offseason, the Hornets clearly have the pieces necessary to compete. It’s all just a matter of figuring out which players are here for the long run and building around those. One thing is for certain: it’s a new era in Charlotte.

My name is Tristan Tucker and I am a basketball writer currently enrolled at North Carolina State University. I am the school paper's assistant sports editor and have written for SB Nation and Fansided. I joined Basketball Insiders in December of 2020.

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Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers Game 3 predictions, picks and betting tips: Bet Home Court Dogs on Friday Night

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Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals takes place at 9pm ET on Friday. Our experts have made their predictions and betting picks for the Clippers vs Suns at the Staples Center.

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

Cynics will tell you that L.A. is a city of a million shattered dreams, and if Deandre Ayton’s last second alleyoop slam-dunk is anything to go by, those cynics aren’t exactly wrong.

The Phoenix Suns marched into a 2-0 series lead vs. the Clippers as a result of Ayton’s heroics. The 104-103 victory meant Monty Williams team now takes a firm grasp of the Western Conference finals.

Despite being down 2-0 in the series, it appears the average American bettor hasn’t given up hope on the Clippers staging part one of a comeback in game 3. Indeed, why would they? We’ve seen way over 400 teams return from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs over the years. Plus, if Paul George (26 pts in Game 2) decides to wage war again, the Clippers do have half a chance, even without Leonard…

Besides, why wouldn’t you place a couple wagers on a mild underdog on the NBA betting lines?

All odds from Bovada Sportsbook. New customers get $750 free to bet on Suns @ Clippers

Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Moneyline Odds 

Phoenix Suns: -115

Los Angeles Clippers: -107

Western Conference Finals – Game 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Spread (DraftKings NBA Playoff Odds)

Phoenix Suns -1

Los Angeles Clippers -1

Los Angeles Clippers Preview

Other than the pain of a last second defeat, the big news coming out of the Clippers camp remains the fact that the team’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, is still out injured.

Leonard had averaged over 30.0 points per game during the playoffs until going down with a knee injury towards the end of Game 4 vs. Utah in the last round. The current prognosis is not good – he will almost certainly miss out again.

There is series-hope for Clippers fans in the form of SG Paul George, who himself is averaging 26.6 points per game in the postseason; not to mention the fact that L.A. has twice before returned from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs. But they have to get something going in Game 3 – no team has ever returned from 3-0 down in NBA playoff history.

Nevertheless, what hope is left is dangling by a thread at present. Up against a full-strength Phoenix team that’s riding high on the confidence of a last-minute win, it’s going to be tough evening’s work for George, Jackson and co. come Thursday night.

That said, L.A. does have home-court advantage and di just lose by the 1 point. So, it’s little surprise the two teams have been given similar odds – Game 3 is anyone’s game.

Phoenix Suns Preview

The Suns did what they needed to do, took advantage of being at home for games 1 and 2 and now take a lead to LA. Game 2 was on a knife edge throughout, so they’re not as dominant over the Clippers as some may have thought, but the 2-0 lead is huge. As mentioned above, they’ll be hoping that Leonard can’t make it to the court on Thursday night, but even if he does, they can rely upon the likes of Devin Booker, Cameron Payne and game 2 hero Deandre Ayton to stifle the Clippers. They’ve now won 9 straight in the playoffs and they’ll take some stopping to make it 10.

Chris Paul is expected back from a stint on COVID protocol soon. But Game 3 might come too early. Expect Paul to miss out again.

Other than that, the Suns are surely shining bright en route to Los Angeles following Ayton’s heroics in the previous clash. The Clippers have caused them problems throughout the first two games, but the Suns seem to have that little bit extra in the tank: more guile; more nous, and, even if Leonard could take to the court with the Clippers, – arguably – more talent.

Devin Booker has been in superb form in the series thus far, putting up 40 points over the course of the first two contests – look for him on the player prop market.

Overall, there’s a reason the Suns have been made favorites by the NBA oddsmakers, and there’s no reason to expect anything other than a continuation of the their dominance in Game 3…

Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Prediction

We’ve spent all this time waxing lyrical about Phoenix, but the Clippers deserve a result. They have pulled out all the stops in the absence of Leonard and, in our humble opinion, eventually hard work pays off.

We are vouching for the homecourt underdogs on the moneyline: Clippers to win at -107

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

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NBA Finals Betting Odds : 2021 NBA Championship Odds Update as Conference Finals Continue

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The 2021 NBA Conference Finals are now underway and so look at the updated Championships odds for the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

Few expected to see the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks L.A. Clippers, and Phoenix Suns make up the final four of the NBA Championship Playoffs. But each team has made it this far on merit, and the performances don’t lie – the cream always rises to the top.

In the Western Conference Final, DeAndre Ayton broke Clippers hearts last night when, with 0.5 seconds remaining in the fourth, he came up trumps with a sublime alleyoop dunk. Those 2 points put the Suns 104-103 ahead, as they took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.

The Hawks are all set to travel to the Bucks for the first game of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, in a game that will see two of the NBA’s finest talents, Atlanta G Trae Young and Milwaukee PF Giannis Antetokounmpo come face to face.

2021 NBA Championship Odds

With games coming thick and fast and players bouncing into and out of form and IR in this year’s epic conference finals, it’s about time to check in and see what the sportsbooks make of all the action, as we take a look at the 2021 NBA odds for the 2021 national championship.

Clippers NBA Championship Odds Continue to Dwindle Without Kawhi Leonard

It’s hard not to feel bad for Clippers fans: without their superb small forward Kawhi Leonard, and the 25 points per game he tends to put up, life was always going to be tough vs. the Phoenix, even without the Suns having their electrifying playmaker Chris Paul out on court. And so, it has proven.

After that tough final second loss, the Clippers have seen their odds drop from +440 at the start of the playoffs to between +1500 (FanDuel). If they lose again on Thursday (June 24), expect to see the odds reach into the +infinity category, since no NBA team has EVER come back from 3-0 down in the playoffs.

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue must now be thinking about just wheeling Kawhi Leonard out there in a wheelchair for one final assault. But don’t write his team off just yet: L.A came within 1point and they did that without their best player – there’s still a chance; they make it through and we’ll find out for sure come Thursday.

Los Angeles Clippers NBA Finals Odds: +1500 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

Suns’ Odds to win NBA Championship Continue to Rise

The bad news for the Clippers is that Chris Paul is expected to be back in action for the Suns quickly. The diminutive playmaker broke COVID protocol, which was stupid, but did get himself vaccinated beforehand (not so stupid) and will be available sooner rather than later as a result.

Plus, Devin Booker more than carried the mantle in Paul’s absence during last night’s second meet. Booker put up 40 points in total as the Suns asserted their dominance.

It’s the strength in depth and the team’s ability to hurt its opposition all over the court that has seen the odds on the Suns continue to shorten. Monty Williams’ team began the playoffs as massive outsiders at +2500. But their odds are now just +115.

Phoenix Suns NBA Finals Odds: +115 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

NBA Betting Lines not Favoring the Hawks

Atlanta’s incredible 4-3 series defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers is the stuff of legend and the Hawks deserve a tremendous amount of credit for pulling that result out of the bag; even if the 76ers were missing Joel Emblid for a few games.

Enough about that though. With players like G Trae Young to boast among the ranks, you’d give the Hawks a chance against anyone, including vs. the Bucks this evening.

That said, Milwaukee is a big ask for Nate McMillan’s team. During the regular season, the Bucks posted the highest field goal accuracy (91.8), the 2nd most rebounds per game, and the 5th most 3-pointers per game – they are a team that can punish you if given just half-a-chance.

Sorry Atlanta fans. But it seems likely to us that the McMillan Cinderella story ends here.

Then again… we’ve been wrong before and at +1300, it’s worth a Hail Mary for sure!

Atlanta Hawks’ NBA Finals Odds: +1300 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

The Bucks are the Betting Favorites to be NBA Champions

The Bucks began the playoffs with NBA Vegas odds of +800 on the moneyline. If you are one of the lucky ones who picked them up on those odds, hold tight: you’re looking good right now; Milwaukee fans are dreaming of being NBA Champions for the first time in 50 years.

Greek sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on fire throughout the Bucks’ postseason run, putting up 30 points in six games thus far! With Middleton and Brook Lopez, in particular, among the supporting cast, the Bucks offense puts up big numbers and rarely turns the ball over without something to show for it.

It’s not that the Hawks don’t have playmakers of their own – they do. But defensively, they don’t touch this Bucks team that features both Jrue Holiday (DPOY) and Antekounmpo (2X DPOY). That’s why the odds are so short on Milwaukee and so long on Atlanta – the sportsbooks don’t fancy the Hawks to score enough.

Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Finals Odds: +105 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

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Aamir Simms Readying Himself for His Opportunity

Clemson’s Aamir Simms is a versatile big man built for the modern NBA. Drew Maresca spoke with Simms about the draft process, Clemson’s success last season and how he thinks he fits in the league.

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Clemson has produced some very good NBA players – including Elden Campbell, Dale Davis and Horace Grant – but not too many of late. The most recent Clemson Tiger who was selected in the NBA Draft was Jason Blossomgame in 2017. Before that, K.J McDaniels in 2014, Trevor Booker in 2010 and Will Soloman in 2001. Aamir Simms hopes to be the first in a while – and he hopes to stick in the league.

Statistically, Simms has everything you’d want in a prospect. He’s a 6’8” big who can defend multiple positions and shoot it from deep. He averaged 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 2020-21, shooting 40 percent on three-point attempts and 82.5 percent from the free throw line.

Simms was also named to the second-team All-ACC this season, after being named to the third-team All-ACC last season.

But the NBA Draft is a crapshoot with hundreds of players competing for just 60 spots. Complicating matters is the fact that Simms was a four-year player – and age is not an asset in the NBA Draft.

But Simms proved a lot in his time at Clemson, and he feels that his ability and willingness to do whatever a team needs is an asset.

“My original position was the four,” Simms recently told Basketball Insiders. “But I’m comfortable playing small ball five (too). And later in my career, I want to work toward playing some three, too, like Jeff Green.”

Green, who played a major role in the Brooklyn Nets’ success this season, is among the players who inspire Simms. He obviously values what LeBron James and Kevin Durant do, but he sees the utility of players like Green, and he understands that mimicking players like this will be key in his success.

“Being a versatile four like Jae Crowder (would be ideal), Simms said. “Being able to defend guys his size. Having the mid-range and the face-up like Al Horford or Paul Milsap. The craftiness and versatility of Tobias Harris. And especially Jeff Green. He does a good job of shooting the ball, playing the post, guarding one through five.”

“And that’s something I’m excited to showcase in this combine, in workouts and even through summer league.”

Achieving that success requires serious skill and versatility, but Simms believes he’s already on his way. If you’re thinking “but there isn’t evidence that he can do that,” you’re not wrong. But it’s not uncommon for players to sacrifice their own success for the greater good of a college program – and that’s exactly what Simms did.

“My perimeter defense is something I am really ready to showcase,” Simms said. “At school, I was an undersized five, so I didn’t switch much for the sake of the team,’ Simms said.

But he can – and he knows it.

Clemson’s entire roster had only three players taller than Simms. Two of the three were Freshmen and the other – Jonathan Baehre – started just 10 games. Clearly, Clemson coach Brad Brownell had a vision for his team, which included Simms as an undersized center. And considering their entry into the NCAA tournament after the media predicted they finish 10th in the ACC in a pre-season poll, it’s fair to say it worked.

“I think there’s a lot of things that teams look at (in the draft process): winners, individual growth, changes in your stats, and consistency,” Simms said. “I think I’ve shown all those areas throughout this season.”

“Just the way I led my team, (along) with other guys on the team, I got us back to the tournament – because people didn’t really expect us to. We got ranked pretty highly. My shooting and numbers improved, especially my field goal percentage. I was a little streaky with rebounds, but I think I showed improvements in areas that would progress me in the prospect rankings.”

With Simms, shooting will initiate interest.  As mentioned above, Simms shot better than 40 percent on three-point over the past two seasons – but he wasn’t a knock-down shooter early in his Clemson career.

As a Freshmen, Simms shot a pedestrian 32.6 percent on three-point attempts. But credit Simms for identifying the problem and working to fix it

“The reason why I shot so low as a freshman was that my form was coming across the left side of my face, so when I released the ball I couldn’t see as much,” Simms explained. “From the middle of my freshmen year to Senior year, I worked with (assistant) coach Smith before he went to Florida State, as well as (assistant) coach Dean and (director of player development) Terrell Mcintyre.”

“And those guys helped me improve my form and stick with it. And then, it was just spending my summers getting up hundreds of shots – 500 every morning and 500 every night to get that muscle memory down.”

But there’s more to Simms game than just shooting, and that’s what he hopes to prove throughout the draft process – beginning on Sunday, June 20 at the G-League Elite camp.

The G League Elite camp is an opportunity for 40 players to showcase their abilities in front of NBA and G League scouts, as well as coaches and front-office executives. The camp will consist of five-on-five scrimmages, as well as strength and agility drills. Top performers will earn an invite to the 2021 NBA Draft combine, meaning the camp can catapult players into very real consideration by NBA clubs. And Simms understands the opportunity at hand.

“Getting invited to the combine (is the goal),” Simms said. “That’s where the best of the best goes. I belong, but I’m fortunate to get the invite because there are other good guys who didn’t get an invite.”

This season, Simms faced off against at least two lottery prospects in Scottie Barnes (Florida State) and Jalen Johnson (Duke). Both will probably be used as measuring sticks of Simms’ potential; but considering defensive schemes, all matchups aren’t equal.

Simms underperformed against Florida State, scoring just 5 points on one-for-three shooting. But Florida State eliminates post opportunities and is known for its swarming defense.

“Florida State gets up in you, (they) switch one through five. They sit on you and take you out from catching the ball deep in the post,” Simms said. “I understood I wasn’t going to be as involved as I wanted entering it.”

But regardless of how you view Simms’ performance against Florida State, he demonstrated a big heart in coming back and playing well against Duke just one week later. While Clemson lost by 26 points, Simms performed well in a head-to-head matchup with another high-profile forward, scoring 19 points on seven-for-thirteen shooting.

“I have shown since my junior year that your ranking doesn’t matter,” Simms explained. “You play lottery picks a few times every year. That one was more of a bounce back after Florida State. That’s another one where we weren’t together, but the individual performance was what it was. It was in a losing effort so I didn’t focus on it, but it shows that I can play with anyone. I don’t care if you’re top 10 in the draft or wherever. I always feel I perform at a high level against highly projected players, and that was an opportunity to remind people who I am.”

Having to prove oneself self after four seasons at a big-time program would probably bother a lot of prospects, but it doesn’t bother Simms. On the contrary, Simms uses it as motivation.

“I am just thankful to be in the position I am because a lot of guys work for it and don’t get the opportunity,” Simms said. “It can be frustrating to be asked to prove yourself over and over, but the majority of great guys in the game have to do that at some point, too, so that’s fine.”

“I (already) have a chip on my shoulder,” Simms continued. “I come from the worst situations you can imagine, so being asked to keep showing my game and my progression is easy. Being able to put the ball in the basket and play hard isn’t something I stress over.”

“I’ve been through way darker times,” Simms continued. “Playing basketball is fun. I’ll have to show it over and over, but at least I’m doing what I love. Passion takes care of all of that. My faith pushes me through, God pushes me through. So if they ask me to do it 100 times, I’ll do it 101. I belong in the league. I believe I’m NBA-ready. If they want me to do it this week and another week after that, I’m ready.”

Simms is focused on getting the right opportunity with the right team. He’s spoken to his friends in the NBA including Mamadi Diakite (Milwaukee Bucks) and Nic Claxton (Brooklyn Nets), both of whom speak about the mental toll of going from being “the guy” to getting DNPs. But they’re not bitter. They emphasize the importance of getting into a good situation with a patient team and how it enables players to build confidence away from the pressure of the NBA game.

Still, you never know when your number will be called and rookies have to be perpetually ready. They also have to understand a team’s needs and the system that’s run. But Simms isn’t worried about that aspect. As the 2021 “Skip” Prosser Award winner, emblematic of the top scholar-athlete in men’s college basketball, he’s always been one to hit the books – and he intends on approaching an NBA opportunity the same way.

“If I am lucky enough to get drafted, I am going to spend that time starting the first night to get a feel for the team,” Simms said. “Learn the roster, who’s the primary and secondary guys and seeing where I fit.”

“No matter what, one thing you can do is rebound and defend. So that’s something I am going to do from the jump, (as well as) doing what coach asks of me. I’ve always been very coachable.”

Getting drafted is obviously the goal. But Simms understands that there is an opportunity beyond the draft. And conversely, he knows that getting drafted doesn’t guarantee success.

“Too many guys get caught up with their name being called, and that can land them in a bad situation,” Simms said. “It takes a lot of maturity to understand that it’s OK if you’re not drafted. A lot of guys who aren’t drafted or are taken late second-round are standing out (currently). Look around the league, guys come from the G League or overseas… if you can get over the idea of getting drafted and just focus on getting your foot in the door, that’s most important. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Simms has spent at least the last four years preparing himself for this moment – now it’s time to prove that he belongs. His mix of athleticism, size and skill will get him noticed, but his patience and cerebral approach are real differentiators. Even if Simms’ name isn’t called on July 29th at the draft, this writer believes he’ll find his way onto an NBA roster for the 2021-22 season, one way or another.

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