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Top 6 NBA Draft Prospects in College Hoops

A look at six college stars who are separating themselves from the pack and climbing draft boards.

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While there are plenty of true-blue, die-hard NCAA basketball fans, many NBA devotees look to college hoops merely to get a glimpse at future pro talent and perhaps for the entertainment that comes with March Madness.

In fact, there are plenty of people who don’t really care about those burgeoning NBA prospects until spring rolls around, but that’s only because March is when all the heavy-duty press about these young stars makes the rounds.

Now – while the NCAA men’s basketball season is young – would be a great time to take a look at some of the most exciting names in the college game, if only to keep an eye on which kids might be the next Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor in the next draft.

Here’s a quick look at six of the most promising stars in college basketball this season:

Ben Simmons, LSU, Freshman – Already enjoying glowing reviews from even the largest of media outlets just a few games into his college basketball career, Simmons was a player earmarked for huge success on this level from the moment he made the decision to move to the U.S. from Australia. Over the course of his first five games for LSU, Simmons has shown a diverse skill set that’s going to work extremely well on the NBA level. At 6’10 he has the body of a stretch-four, but a lot of times he plays like a point guard. Defensively he’s extremely versatile, while on the offensive end he only is beginning to show his potential as a dangerous threat to defenders.

He’s averaging 16.2 points, 14.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks, all while shooting 53.4 percent from the floor and playing a whopping 34.4 minutes per night. He’s a generally subdued and mild-mannered dude in person, which so far has shown up in his unselfishness on the offensive side of the ball. If he ever figures out how to be more aggressive on that end and improves his jump shot, he’s going to be the best player of his draft class no matter what year he decides to come out. Right now, he looks like the No. 1 overall pick, and if he keeps up this pace all season that won’t change. For more on Simmons, check out our recent breakdown of his game.

Skal Labissiere, Kentucky, Freshman – Considering that 19-year-old Haitian immigrant Skal Labissiere has only been playing basketball for just over five years, it’s pretty incredible that he is already considered one of the top prospects in college basketball. This Kentucky big man is so good that he’s already garnering comparisons to fellow UK bigs Anthony Davis (which John Calipari has poo-pooed) and Karl-Anthony Towns (which Calipari has admitted is a much closer match).

Either way, he’s a huge prospect at 6’11 with enough raw talent to leave him plenty of room to grow in the coming years. And since he’s already so good (averaging 14.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 24.3 minutes per game), it’s easy to see why NBA scouts are drooling over him. The thing about Kentucky kids is that there is so much talent on the roster that no individual player ever gets to show his full potential. That, coupled with Labissiere’s developing understanding of the game itself, is enough to make him highly intriguing as a draft prospect. If anybody is going to challenge Simmons for the top overall pick in June’s draft, early signs point to Labissiere being the guy.

Jaylen Brown, California, Freshman – As the kid who wears the flattop and the John Stockton shorts with biker spandex beneath them, there really isn’t any question which future draftee will show up to shake hands with Commissioner Adam Silver in the flashiest tuxedo. But the good news for Brown (and his draft stock) is that his stylistic flash spills over onto the court as well. He has already put up one of the filthiest dunks of the young college basketball season and is averaging 16.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in just over 24 minutes a night.

At 6’7 and 225 pounds, he’s the perfect size to play a swing position in the NBA, and his 7’0 wingspan means he should show plenty of defensive potential this season in California. He’s a strong scorer with a good first step and impressive athleticism. Not to mention, he has the sort of confidence and charisma that lends itself to the big stage of the NBA. If everything goes as it should for him this season, he looks like he’ll be a top-five pick in the draft this summer.

Brandon Ingram, Duke, Freshman – While it should be pretty clear at this point that the freshmen are going to be the most prized prospects of the 2016 NBA Draft, Ingram is an especially intriguing case because he’s so much younger than the rest of the freshman on this list. Having just turned 18 years old in September, Ingram is 10 months younger than Simmons and more than a year younger than Labissiere.

Youth, obviously, isn’t the only thing that matters when scouting NBA talent, or else LeBron James, Jr. would be atop every team’s draft lists. What makes Ingram so interesting beyond his youth is his body. At almost 6’10 with a 7’3 wingspan, he would play small forward at the NBA, and since he’s likely to get plenty of run at the four in college, he could be a nice stretch-four type for whatever pro team drafts him. That, or he’ll be a massive mismatch at the three every night.

A Vine has circulated with Ingram showing off Earl-Manigault-type hops, and that athleticism will take him a long way at the NBA level. His numbers so far have been solid if not staggering (11.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.0 BPG), but he’s a work in progress that is going to appeal to a lot of NBA teams.

Kris Dunn, Providence, Junior – A veritable senior citizen compared to most of the other top draft prospects this year, the 21-year-old Dunn was seen as a sure-thing first-round pick in last year’s draft before he chose to play another year of college ball. As a redshirt sophomore at Providence, Dunn averaged 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals, which was more than enough to warrant him high praise and put him in the conversation as a potential lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

This season he has been even better, averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and an insane 4.3 steals through five games, and he’s doing it playing fewer minutes. In his team’s matchup against the New Jersey Institute of Technology early in the season, Dunn put up 22 points, 10 boards, nine assists and seven steals, proving his all-around value as a potential NBA player. He’s a well-liked, coachable kid with experience, which actually could play to his advantage in a lottery full of green prospects. He has looked like a star in the making for two straight seasons.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah, Sophomore – Had Poeltl stayed in the draft pool this past summer, he almost certainly would have been selected – most likely in the first round. But as a 7’0 “stiff” with only flashes of brilliance on his resume, he felt there was still more to prove before solidifying his draft stock, so he came back to Utah for another year of college ball.

So far, that has looked like the correct decision. Through six games, Poeltl is scoring 20.5 points per game on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, while also pulling down 10 rebounds per game and swatting away 2.3 shots a night. He has yet to score fewer than 15 points in a game and even has a 32-point outing to his name this early in this season, which is why there are some people calling him the most polished big in the NCAA at the moment. That’s a huge step up from the raw prospect he was a year ago, and it’s done wonders for his draft stock. Should his strong play continue, it should almost certainly place him among the top 10 players selected next June.

 

There are, of course, many other talented college players worth watching this season, but at the moment these look like the most promising NBA Draft prospects. One or two surprise breakouts almost certainly are coming, but in the meantime the new crop of top freshmen and a couple of college returnees are dominating the draft conversation. Barring injury, these six should remain at the top of most scouting boards all season long.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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NBA Draft: Déjà Vu in Detroit

Tomorrow night the Detroit Pistons will make the first overall selection in the NBA Draft for just the second time in team history. They selected a Hall of Famer with that pick 51 years ago. Chad Smith details why it might happen again, this time with a player that resembles a guy that was once the face of their franchise.

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It has been 18 years since the Detroit Pistons had a top-three pick in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, it was arguably the worst selection in the history of the event as they took Darko Milicic second overall ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. It was a night that everyone in Detroit would love to forget, and now they might be able to do just that.

Detroit will kick off the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday night in what has been labeled as a loaded draft class, especially at the top. The last time the Pistons had the top overall pick, they did well by selecting Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier out of St. Bonaventure in the 1970 draft. The organization is hopeful that history will repeat itself.

Cade Cunningham is the consensus number one pick this year, which speaks volumes when considering the other candidates. While Detroit has not publicly hinted that they will take Cunningham, it would be an absolute shocker if he does not end up in the Motor City. It is a place that Cunningham has already grown fond of.

Should things go according to plan on Thursday night, there could be some déjà vu in Detroit. Aside from the Darko debacle, the last top-three selection by the franchise came in 1994 when they took Grant Hill out of Duke. The physical attributes are quite clear. Both players are listed at 6’ 8” tall and around 220 pounds. Just as their build is the same, so too is their demeanor on and off of the court.

Both Cunningham and Hill have similar playing styles and share many of the same strengths and weaknesses. They have incredible vision and passing ability that allows them to create for teammates. They use their size and strength against smaller defenders near the basket and are incredibly versatile with the ball in their hands. They are able to initiate offense from anywhere on the floor and have a complete all-around game that includes defense.

Hill recorded 29 triple-doubles in his career. That is something that Detroit hopes to get out of the 19-year old playmaker. Unlike many situations where the top overall pick finds himself on a team lacking talent, the Pistons have done a marvelous job of transforming their roster under Troy Weaver. Most of their core is already under contract for next season and will be earning less than $6 million.

Cunningham will join Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, as well as two All-Rookies in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. With Killian Hayes missing much of his rookie season due to injury, the Pistons have plenty of talent surrounding their new floor general. With some more talent and veteran leadership possibly coming onboard during free agency, Detroit should be able to return to the postseason next year.

As gifted as Cunningham is, he is not the most explosive athlete for his size. He won’t blow by defenders on the perimeter or leap over them for a highlight dunk, but that doesn’t stop him from attacking the basket. Like Hill, he has shown the ability to either create for teammates, create for himself, or simply finish at the rim. He makes the right reads against traps and hard hedges, making him even more difficult to defend.

The versatility is on full display whether it be on offense or defense. Cunningham’s seven-foot wingspan adds another element to his game as a physical defender with active hands. His high basketball IQ allows him to capitalize on filling passing lanes and his timing on shot-blocking. His improved jump shot has also elevated him as a true dynamic threat, scoring from all three levels.

As a Freshman at Oklahoma State, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor. He plays under control and never looks rushed or uncomfortable. It may take him some time to adjust to the NBA game but he has all of the tools and attributes you would want a top prospect to possess.

The fit in Detroit is tailor-made for the versatile guard. Cunningham can do a little bit of everything and elevates the play of his teammates. Whether he is facilitating, scoring, or playing off the ball, his impact on the court is significant. Despite not being an elite athlete, he can initiate the offense and get his own shot when needed.

Detroit clearly lacked guard play last season, with Hayes out of the lineup. They relied upon Grant and Plumlee to fuel their offense, with the rookies filling in at times. With the addition of Cunningham and the return of Hayes, the Pistons will have a sensational young backcourt to go along with their already established frontcourt.

There is also the potential for Detroit to have one of the most improved defenses in the conference. With their length and athleticism, this young core fits right in with the culture of a blue-collar team built around defense. Much of their success will ride on the shoulders of Dwane Casey, as he returns for his fourth season in Detroit.

Both Hill and Cunningham are from Texas and their birth dates are just ten days apart. Hill spent his first six seasons in Detroit, where he enjoyed the prime years of his playing career that included the Rookie of the Year Award. Five of his seven All-Star seasons came as a member of the Pistons and he was often seen as the next great superstar.

While injuries derailed his career, Hill’s journey ended with a trip to the Hall of Fame. While it is too early to put those expectations on a 19-year old, it is safe to say that the Pistons are in good hands for many years to come.

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Draft Kings

Team Argentina vs. Spain – Preview, Prediction, & Betting Picks

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On Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST), Argentina will take on Spain in this Group C preliminary round matchup. The Spaniards will enter this game as the selected favorites, while the Argentinians embrace their underdog role, as they lost their opening game 118-100 against Mavericks’ guard Luka Doncic and the Slovenian team. The last time Spain won the gold medal for the men’s team was at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, where they defeated Argentina 95-75.

Game Details

Date & Time: Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST)

Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC Sports Network (delayed)

Spread: Spain -8.5 (+100) (per DraftKings Sportsbook) 

Over/Under: 167

Best Moneyline: Spain -400, Argentina +300

  • Table odds retrieved from DraftKings

Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Team Argentina’s starting lineup in Thursday morning’s game consists of Facundo Campazzo, Luca Vildoza, Patricio Garino, Luis Scola, and Marcos Delia. In the team’s 118-100 defeat versus Slovenia, in 27 minutes played, forward Scola led the team on the stat sheet, accumulating 23 points, four rebounds, one assist, and one block. Guard Campazzo also earned 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. According to Bovada’s Olympic futures odds, the Argentinians have the eighth best odds to win the gold medal, with +8000 futures odds. Argentina has the third best odds (+2000) of winning Group C.Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Moreover, the starting lineup for Spain consists of Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Hernangomez, Victor Claver, and Marc Gasol. Their bench also includes two-time NBA champion center Pau Gasol. In the Spaniards’ 88-77 victory over Japan, Rubio led the team all across the board, leading the team with 20 points, two rebounds, and nine assists. Forward Claver finished his performance with 13 points, nine rebounds, and one steal. Additionally, with +1000 futures odds, Spain has the fifth best odds of winning the gold. Spain has the second best odds (EVEN) of winning Group C.

Prediction: Spain wins by 8 points

Team Spain are the more trustworthy, superior bet in this matchup. Pau Gasol, the seven-foot-one six-time NBA All-Star, is 41-years-old. Marc, his brother, is also 36. Leading into the Tokyo Olympic Games, basketball experts and bettors were wondering if age would be a significant factor for the Spaniards. However, thus far, it has been quite the contrary. Ricky Rubio has also proven to be an important piece for helping the team to become legitimate title contenders. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Rubio averaged 8.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 6.4 assists.

As for Argentina, Scola and Campazzo are carrying the team right now. In their 18-point loss to Slovenia, the Argentinians shot 5-for-31 (16.1 percent) from beyond the arc. To add insult to injury, the team was out-rebounded 59 to 32 overall. This cannot happen against the top contenders, such as versus Slovenia, France, Spain, or the USA. Sooner or later, the wheels on the wagon will eventually fall off. There are bettors giving Spain a -12.5 point spread in this matchup, but it might be best to stick with the -8.5 spread, first provided by DraftKings. In this game, some bettors are anticipating a 20-point blowout repeat of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Final.

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NBA releases schedule for Summer League 2021

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On Wednesday, the NBA announced the broadcast schedule for the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA had to cancel the Las Vegas Summer League last year in 2020. Fast forward to today, the 17th annual NBA Summer League will air live this year in Las Vegas, Nevada from August 8-17. During the 10-day tournament, the 75 total games will be broadcasted on these network channels: NBA TV, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPNews.

Plus, the games can be watched live with the ESPN app. WatchESPN is free, but according to ESPN.com, the user must be a subscriber of a major cable service, such as AT&T U-Verse, BendBroadband, or Xfinity. Anyways, through the NBA.com website, tickets can be bought via the NBA Events section of the site. Each of the 30 NBA teams will play a total of five games over the course of the short, competitive tournament.

The Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion stadiums will host six to eight games per day. According to the 2021 schedule, for games 17-22 on Tuesday, August 10th, only six games will be played this day. The 75th game of the competition, the final matchup, will be the championship game. The 28 teams that fail to qualify for the championship game will play their fifth and final game on either August 16th or 17th. The title game is scheduled for Tuesday, August 17th at 9:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN.

The Summer League 2021 tips off with a matchup between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks at the Cox Pavilion. This game is scheduled for Sunday, August 8th at 1:00 p.m. (EST) on NBA TV. The first four teams selecting in the 2021 NBA Draft will also be playing on this day: Detroit Pistons (No. 1 pick), Houston Rockets (No. 2 pick), Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 3 pick), and the Toronto Raptors (No. 4 pick). At the Thomas & Mack Center, the Raptors vs. Knicks game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. (EST) on ESPN2. Then, the Trail Blazers will face the Hornet at 6:00 p.m. (EST) on NBA TV.

For the opening game on the second day, the Pelicans will play the Bulls at 3:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN2, followed by the Mavericks versus 76ers at 4:00 p.m. (EST) on NBA TV. There are several different games viewers can choose to watch over this 10-day span. Brandon Clarke was the most recent player to win the Las Vegas MVP award, in the Summer League of 2019. Clarke was drafted 21st overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2019 NBA Draft.

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