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2017 NBA draft prospect watch: De'Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball exit NCAA Tournament

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: De'Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball exit NCAA Tournament

The college basketball season has just three games and very few top NBA prospects left. With that fact, this will be the final prospect watch for the season as the remaining top-10 prospects saw their teams lose in a hectic second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Fittingly, this series began and now ends with an epic Kentucky-UNC game. 

But before we get to De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Co., let's take a peek at the point guard their Wildcats eliminated Friday night.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
If you didn't watch Kentucky-UCLA on Friday night, you missed out. While Kentucky won handily at the end, it was a showcase of NBA-style playmaking that is sorely missing from most NCAA Tournament games. Unsurprisingly, the player that has been compared favorably (by his dad) to Stephen Curry was at the center of the action. Lonzo Ball saved some of his best for his last college game as he declared for the draft directly after the game.

Ball seemed calm, cool and collected while dishing out highlight assists throughout the first half. When the pace of the game picked up in the early second half, the Bruins' freshman was at home in the fire of a back-and-forth affair as well. He finished with 10 points and eight assists, although he made just one of six from three. Kentucky forced him to commit four turnovers, in large part because of this next prospect. 

De'Aaron Fox, guard, Kentucky (6-4/171)
Wow, Fox has surely shot right up draft boards in recent weeks. After playing second fiddle to Monk at times this year, Fox took the lead down the stretch and has vaulted himself into top-5 pick consideration. The 6-foot-4 freshman plays with a whirling speed and rushes past opponents heading to the basket or uses his solid handles to leave defenders on the ground before pulling up in the mid-range. 

Friday night was Fox's top showcase. He shot 13 for 20 en route to 39 points, a record for a freshman in the NCAA Tournament. If that wasn't enough, he dished four assists, made 13 of 15 free throws and limited Ball by staying on him all night. It was a dazzling display.

Unfortunately, on Sunday, Fox was limited by foul trouble. He picked up two quick fouls and spent most of the second half on the bench. UNC limited him to 13 points on 14 shots, although he still picked up two steals and had three assists. His biggest play came with Kentucky down seven late when he hit a corner three to inch the Wildcats closer. They would tie it thanks to Fox's backcourt mate.

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
For a while this weekend, Monk was a willing Robin to Fox's Batman. So be it. The sharp-shooting Arkansas native was more than willing to take a slight back seat and lay the dagger into opponents this year, using his next-level shot-making to close teams out. He added 21 points against UCLA, making 4 of 9 from deep, and proved himself adept defensively. He had a few turns at guarding Ball and used his speed to stay on him.

And it was more of the same Sunday vs. Justin Jackson. Jackson, the ACC Player of the Year, nearly matched Monk shot for shot in December, but Monk was able to stay on top of the taller opponent, forcing him to pass the rock or take shots with a hand in his face. Monk was also limited by foul trouble and struggled to score with just 12 points in the contest.

However, the best players, even when in a slump, come through when needed most. Monk proved worthy of his prospect status with two clutch threes to tie up UNC. It was not enough with Carolina burying a jumper to end Kentucky's season, but anyone who watched will not soon forget Monk's shot-making prowess.

Josh Jackson, forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Kansas' top freshman ended his stay in Lawrence with two solid efforts, although the Jayhawks' season came to a close with an upset defeat to Oregon. On Thursday night, Jackson was, well, himself, taking apart Purdue on both ends. He pumped in 15 points, drained two threes and had 12 rebounds against a Boilermakers squad that can rebound the ball. His four steals and adept transition game were on display as well.

In Saturday's loss, Jackson saw little time in the opening stanza due to foul trouble (see a trend?). With the Jayhawks down 11 at the break, Jackson kicked it into another gear to try and bring his team back, finishing with 10 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, including an assist on Kansas' final basket of the game. If you want to watch highlights of Jackson before June's draft, check out his game vs. Michigan St. last week, even if he wasn't half-bad this weekend.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
Like Ball, Markkanen saw action in just one game this weekend with his Wildcats' falling to No. 11 Xavier. It's a shame: Arizona was just two games from a Final Four on a homecourt. Markkanen, the Finnish frosh, brought his best to the NCAA Tournament … last week. He was solid in the second round, but Xavier essentially made him disappear in the Sweet 16.

The Musketeers' zone took Markkanen out of the game for the most part, even though he played all 40 minutes. He had just nine points on 3 of 9 shooting (1 for 6 from three) while reeling in eight boards. He didn't attempt a shot in the last 11 minutes of game time with Allonzo Trier taking the offensive burden. Markkanen won't see too much zone at the next level and should excel with more spacing as a stretch-four in the NBA.

Quick Hits
North Carolina forward Justin Jackson has earned lottery consideration with his play this season. He put up 43 points in wins over Butler and Kentucky even with his three-point shot missing in action (3 for 13 from range). He also had 10 boards and nine assists in the two games.

Oregon forward Jordan Bell had the game of his career in the Elite Eight against Kansas. He nearly had a triple-double with 11 points (5 of 6 shooting), 13 rebounds and eight blocks, terrorizing the Jayhawks near the rim while also putting up four assists. With his rim protection and interior game, he's a possible second round pick.

South Carolina guard Sindarious Thornwell is another potential draft pick and has shown up with authority on the national scene in the last two weeks. He put up 50 points in upset wins over Baylor and Florida, punishing both squads inside and out with his physical game. 

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

Sixers show they're ready to take over the world

LOS ANGELES — The Sixers made their mark among the NBA’s top young talent on a global scale.

Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Ben Simmons (Australia) and Dario Saric (Croatia) all started for Team World Friday in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game. They helped kick off All-Star weekend with a 155-124 victory over Team USA. 

Simmons recorded a double-double, which is becoming clockwork for the point guard (22 in the regular season, six triple-doubles). He posted 11 points off a perfect 5 for 5 from the field and 1 for 1 from the line. Simmons added 13 assists, six boards and four steals. 

This game was, in a way, a double statement for Simmons. It was an an opportunity to make a case for Rookie of the Year, with fellow contender Donovan Mitchell competing on Team USA. Mitchell notched seven points (3 for 10 from the field, 1 for 6 from three), seven assists, two rebounds, five steals and two blocks.

The Rising Stars contest also was a chance for Simmons to start an early bid for the 2019 All-Star team. He was popular among the fan votes but was not selected as one of four replacements required because of injuries. 

Simmons projects he will be playing in the All-Star Game “hopefully next year.” When it came down to why he was not on this season’s list, Simmons replied, “I think just votes.” 

Saric continued his offensive momentum with 18 points, including 4 for 7 shooting from three. He has scored in double digits in his last 35 games leading into the All-Star break. Saric also grabbed three rebounds and dished five assists. 

“I’ve always got the wish or dream in my life one day to be part of something big like this, even if it’s the Rising Stars game,” Saric said of participating in All-Star weekend. “I think it makes my family proud, my friends from my hometown, or all the people who were around me during my [growth as] a basketball player.”

Embiid logged the least playing time of the Sixers’ trio as he prepares to compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge Saturday and start in the All-Star Game Sunday. He missed the Sixers’ last game on Wednesday because of right ankle soreness. Embiid scored five points and two rebounds in less than nine minutes. 

“On Sunday, I expect to go harder,” Embiid said (see story). “I’m going for that MVP. Guys better make sure they find me because I’m looking to have a good game.”

Not listed on the box score: Embiid and Simmons going 2 for 2 as roving reporters. Check out their journalistic skills when they got the mic Friday to interview each other (see video).

Embiid's ankle better as he embarks on lofty ASG goals

Embiid's ankle better as he embarks on lofty ASG goals

LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid isn’t just going to play Sunday in the NBA All-Star Game. He is aiming to be named Most Valuable Player.

“On Sunday, I expect to go harder,” Embiid said following the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game Friday. “I’m going for that MVP. Guys better make sure they find me because I’m looking to have a good game.”

Embiid is participating in three days of events, including the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday. His availability had been in question after he missed Wednesday’s game against the Heat because of right ankle soreness. That night, Brett Brown said the decision would be based on a collaboration between Embiid and the Sixers’ medical staff.

“The other night, my ankle didn't feel so good,” Embiid said Friday morning. “I've been pushing in the previous games, so it was a little bit [sore]. But the last two days it's been feeling better. But there was never really a thought about missing out on any of these events. It's my first time, so I'm going to have fun.”

Embiid took it easy Friday, clocking the least amount of minutes (8:41) of the 20 participants. He scored five points (2 for 6 from the field, 1 for 4 from three) and pulled down two rebounds.

The Sixers' big man has much more than that to show. He is averaging 23.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. He plans to double that in order to accomplish his goal of MVP honors.

“Score about 40 points and 20 rebounds,” Embiid outlined. “I’ve gotten close before, so it’s possible.”

Embiid was victorious on Day 1 of his competitions. Team World beat Team USA, 155-124. His teammates from the Sixers chipped in for the victory. Dario Saric scored 18 points with five rebounds. Ben Simmons recorded an 11-point, 13-assist double-double along with six rebounds and four steals (see story).

Next up for Embiid is the skills challenge on Saturday before he steps into the starting lineup for Team Stephen on Sunday. With the way he has been playing in less than two full seasons, Embiid is likely to be a familiar face at All-Star weekend. He is already thinking about which other events he’d like to showcase his versatile skills.

“At some point in my career, I want to do everything,” Embiid said. “The dunk contest, that’s a long, long shot, although I’ve got bounce. I can jump, but it doesn’t look as good because I’m too tall. But the three-point contest in the future, definitely, I’ve got to do that.”