Marvin Bagley III

Blakely: An early look at some early exits

Blakely: An early look at some early exits

BOSTON – Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. will undergo back surgery that’s expected to keep him out for the rest of this season, giving him a college career that will likely consist of two points in two minutes of action.
 
Projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick in next June’s NBA draft, his injury sent shock waves throughout the college basketball landscape as well as among NBA executives, who now must weigh the injury in their evaluation regardless of how well he recovers or even he aces the physical tests he’ll surely undergo leading up to the draft.

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You can count the Celtics among those to pay close attention to what’s happening with Porter Jr., a player that may be available to them in June courtesy of the first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers (via Philadelphia) that Boston received as part of the Markelle Fultz-Jayson Tatum trade.
 
As talented as Porter Jr. is, he won’t be the only high draft pick counted on to make an impact at the next level.
 
In this week’s Starting Five, we’ll take a look at the top five college freshman (most of whom are expected to turn pro and be in the draft in June) as well as MVP candidates; the top backcourts; the top rookies and my top five teams on the rise.

TOP 5 COLLEGE FRESHMEN
1. Marvin Bagley III, Duke: Has a double-double in four of Duke’s six games this season, averaging 19.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.

2. DeAndre Ayton, Arizona: Has impressive numbers, but back-to-back losses by the Wildcats? Not a good look for this future lottery pick.

3. Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: Depending on how his recovery/workouts/physicals go, no shocker if he winds up as the No. 1 pick when all is said and done.

4. Collin Sexton, Alabama: Big-time scorer, Sexton is a tough, tough cover in the half court or in transition.

5. Mohamed Bamba, Texas: 7-footer with a 7-9 wingspan, think Rudy Gobert with better athleticism.


TOP 5 NBA BACKCOURTS 
1. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State: NBA champions two of the last three seasons, Curry and Thompson are the gold standard all NBA backcourts are measured against.
 
2. Chris Paul and James Harden, Houston: The sample size is small, but the three games since Paul’s return have been by an average of 26 points per game which speaks to how well this all-star backcourt has come together.
 
3. John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington: Wall’s end-to-end speed coupled with Beal’s elite shooting has made this one of the game’s most deadly backcourt duos.
 
4. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: They’re the next best thing backcourt-wise to Wall/Beal in the East, but Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown are right on their heels.
 
5. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland: You don’t hear a ton about these two because Portland has been a good-but-not-great program that doesn’t garner a ton of attention. But don’t be fooled. Lillard and McCollum are two of the league’s most dynamic scorers.
 
 
TOP 5 MVP CANDIDATES
1. James Harden, Houston: A prolific scorer, Harden leads the NBA in scoring (31.1 points) and assists (9.8) per game while boasting the best record in the West.

2. Kyrie Irving, Boston:  The best player on the team with the best record who has been at his best in the clutch – that’s Kyrie Irving this season.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland: The Cavs are starting to roll up the wins and it is once again due to LeBron James doing LeBron James things.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee: The MVP front-runner the first couple of weeks of the season, the Greek Freak is still a load for teams to deal with.

5. Kristaps Porzingis, New York:  Among the NBA’s top-5 in scoring and blocked shots, Porzingis’ biggest achievement has been leading a far more competitive Knicks team than what we’ve seen the past couple of years.
 

TOP 5 ROOKIES
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia: A triple-double in the making, his statistics combined with Philly winning make him a no-brainer if he can stay healthy.

2. Jayson Tatum, Boston: His numbers are solid, but he moves to the forefront of those being considered because of his two-way play and his team’s success.

3. Donovan Mitchell, Utah: His 14.3 points leads all rookies who average less than 30 minutes played per game.

4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers: Only Simmons is averaging more points among rookies than Kuzma (16.8 points per game).

5. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago: The Bulls are bad, but Markkanen’s inside-outside is impressive regardless of how his team has fared this season.
 

TOP 5 TEAMS ON THE RISE
1. Cleveland: With Boston’s loss, the Cavs have the longest current winning streak which stands at six wins in a row.

2. New Orleans: Currently with the seventh-best record in the West, the Pelicans have won seven of their last 10 games.

3. Indiana: Only Cleveland has been hotter than the Pacers, winners of four in a row.

4. Philadelphia: Joel Embiid has the Sixers three games above-.500, trending towards entering league MVP conversation.

5. San Antonio: After 4-4 start, Spurs are 7-3 since and very much in the thick of things out West.

Change in top recruit Marvin Bagley's status would put him on Celtics' radar

marvin-bagley-nba-draft-2018.jpg

Change in top recruit Marvin Bagley's status would put him on Celtics' radar

BOSTON – Marvin Bagley III has proven himself to be among the best high school basketball players in the country, a 6-foot-11 left-handed power forward whose skills are as close to NBA-ready as you will find in the prep ranks.
 
Sensing his jump to the NBA might be sooner rather than later, he’s attempting to re-classify himself and play college basketball this season rather than play another year in high school.

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It is a complicated process, one that becomes even more convoluted when you consider the 18-year-old has already attended three high schools (two in Arizona, one in Southern California), meaning there will be at least three different paper trails the NCAA must take into account if he is to have clearance to play Division I basketball this upcoming season.
 
And that doesn’t even take into account that for most universities, the school year officially begins in a couple of weeks.
 
If he does manage to get the green light to play from the NCAA, it has potential ramifications for both the college game (whatever team he signs with will likely be the odds-on favorite to win a national championship this season) and NBA teams, such as the Celtics, who are likely to have one of the top draft picks next year courtesy of yet another first-round pick from the Brooklyn Nets as part of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade in 2013.
 
As much as the Celtics would love to be in position to draft a player with Bagley’s talent, having him start the one-and-done process this year rather than the fall of 2018 has other benefits as well.
 
It provides yet another talented option near the top of the 2018 draft board for the Celtics to choose from, just in case they don’t get the No. 1 overall pick.
 
And if they do get it, maybe they will trade it, which is exactly what they did in June.
 
In return, they slid down two spots to No. 3, where they selected Jayson Tatum from Duke in addition to acquiring a future first-round pick.
 
And while the Celtics get plenty of praise for landing top-tier free agents each of the past two summers in Al Horford and most recently Gordon Hayward, championships are won by teams with both stars and a supporting cast that learns how to become stars in their respective roles.
 
We’ve seen that with Golden State and Cleveland as they’ve gone back and forth with the Larry O’Brien Trophy the past three years.
 
And we see Boston in the early stages of assembling a team with similar growth among its youth, such as second-year wing Jaylen Brown, whose play steadily improved with him earning a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie second team while playing on the team that finished with the best record (53-29) in the Eastern Conference.
 
Boston still has some pieces to add on before they are firmly entrenched as a championship contender, but they know the quickest way to get there is to draft a player with superstar talent from Day One.
 
The 2018 draft, more so than the past couple of draft classes, appears to have a handful of players many believe can come in and contribute significantly to any team – even one that’s a legitimate title-chaser like Boston – in part because of their size and versatility.
 
Bagley III would join an elite top-of-the-draft class of big men that includes 6-foot-11 Missouri-bound forward Michael Porter, 7-footers DeAndre Ayton (Arizona) and Mohamed Bamba (Texas) and Texas A&M big man Robert Williams. The top international prospect is Luka Doncic, a 6-7 wing from Slovenia.
 
Of course, Boston’s chances of landing one of those players rests heavily in the hands of the Nets, who are once again projected to struggle this season.
 
If the Nets have the kind of season most anticipate, the Celtics will be in line to use that pick from the Nets and add one of those players next June to help strengthen a roster that’s trending in the right direction in its quest for what truly matters to this franchise – Banner 18.