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Cameron Payne wants to be NBA's next Stephen Curry

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Cameron Payne wants to be NBA's next Stephen Curry

Six years ago Stephen Curry was simply a wiry point guard from Davidson.

Though he had the led the country in scoring as a junior and taken the NCAA Tournament by storm as a sophomore - helping the Wildcats to an Elite Eight berth - he was surrounded in the 2009 NBA Draft by a handful of high profile point guards, including Brandon Jennings, Ricky Rubio, Jeff Teague and Ty Lawson.

Yet tomorrow night it will be Curry, not any of the other 10 point guards selected in that first round, who will stand in the spotlight on the league's biggest stage in the NBA Finals. It's Curry who has transformed from mid-major point guard with one skill - superb outside shooting - to the league MVP and one of the game's best players.

[MORE: NBA Draft Profile - Murray State G Cameron Payne]

And it's been Curry's rise to stardom that has given Murray State point guard Cameron Payne the confidence that he, too, can be the next mid-major gem.

"He came from a mid-major, now he’s the MVP," Payne said at last month's NBA Draft Combine. "So that obviously gives you an opportunity and to know that you have a chance. You don’t always have to go to a high major. You’ve just got to be best fit. You go to the best fit, you can do great anywhere."

Payne, 6-foot-2, likely will be the first member of the Ohio Valley Conference to be selected in the first round. An unranked three-star guard - just like Curry - from Tennessee just two years ago, was named the OVC Freshman of the Year and named to the conference's first team after averaging 16.8 points and 5.4 assists per game.

[MORE: Montrezl Harrell brings talent, high energy to the NBA]

He proved his first year was no fluke as a sophomore, becoming one of two players in the country to average at least 20 points, six assists and 2.4 3-pointers per game. It vaulted himself onto the national stage as a legitimate first-round prospect. Now, in pre-draft workouts, he's faced with the task of proving the numbers he put up in a mid-major conference were just as impressive as his fellow point guards who competed at high-major programs.

There's Duke's Tyus Jones, Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell, Notre Dame's Jerian Grant and five-star recruit Emmanuel Mudiay, who opted to play in China for a year instead of attending SMU. In fact, Payne admitted at the combine he told an unspecified team in a pre-draft interview that he answered Jones when asked which point guard he's better than yet not ranked higher than, citing Jones' All-Star cast around him that included a pair of lottery picks in Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow.

"I’m a mid-major and I definitely got overlooked, so I try to do the best I can and show that I belong," he said.

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Payne's going to make his mark at the next level as a playmaking point guard. He excelled in pick-and-roll situations and shot nearly 38 percent from beyond the arc, and he was a stout defender averaging 1.9 steals per game. He still has work to do; at 183 pounds he's been working in the pre-draft process to add muscle.

Thanks to Curry, and more recently Damian Lillard (Weber State), C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) and Ray McCallum (Detroit) before him, Payne is entering the process with an admitted swagger that being a mid-major player doesn't mean he can't make a high-major impact in the NBA.

"I really have confidence in my game and I play with so much emotion and I never let anybody tell me I can’t do something," he said. "I haven’t made it yet, but I got the opportunity to make it."

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.