NBA Draft

NBA prospects shine in Thanksgiving week tournaments

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USA TODAY

NBA prospects shine in Thanksgiving week tournaments

With the Bulls off to a 6-13 start, it’s already time to start zeroing in on which college and international players could be at the top of the 2020 draft.

Guards LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton are playing professionally in Australia, so we won’t get a chance to see their games here in the U.S. Memphis center James Wiseman, the preseason favorite to be the No. 1 overall draft pick, is currently serving a 12 game suspension because his family received money for moving expenses from current coach Penny Hardaway when Wiseman was still in high school.

We did get a chance to see Wiseman play a few games before accepting the NCAA penalty, and he looks like a Marvin Bagley type big man, all the way down to his left-handed shooting. The jury is still out on whether Wiseman will be able to develop the outside shooting range NBA teams are looking for from power forwards and centers, but he is an impressive athlete, quick off his feet and capable of dominating games on both ends of the court.

Still, this week’s feast of Thanksgiving holiday tournaments gave us a chance to see some of the top players in action for a few days in a row. The most impressive performance came from Georgia shooting guard Anthony Edwards, who bounced back from a shaky start in the Maui Invitational to put up 33 points in the second half of a loss to Michigan State, draining seven three pointers, several of them in the high difficulty category.

Edwards already has an NBA body at a solidly built 6-foot-5, and is able to finish at the rim through traffic. He will almost certainly be a top five pick next June because of his strength and unlimited shooting range.

Spartans’ point guard Cassius Winston is one of the favorites to win player of the year honors after being named a first team All-American last season. But scouts are divided on his NBA potential because he doesn’t have the dazzling physical skills they’re looking for in starting point guards. Winston played well in Maui, scoring 55 points in the three games, but Michigan State lost to Virginia Tech on Monday, dropping the Spartans into the consolation round.

Another player who helped his draft stock in Maui is Dayton big man Obi Toppin. Toppin turned in three straight high quality performances in leading the Flyers to the tournament championship game. He has excellent size at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds and showed the ability to consistently knock down the college three-point shot. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas was especially impressed with Toppin’s play, calling the Dayton forward a lock to be selected in the 2020 lottery.

Kansas took home the championship trophy in Maui, thanks to the inside-outside tandem of Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson. Those two combined for 60 points in the Jayhawks’ overtime win over Dayton in the title game. The 6-foot-11 Azubuike completely took the game over in the extra period, overpowering defenders with a series of old-school post moves.

Dotson drew the attention of the 30-plus NBA scouts and executives in Maui by scoring 31 points and also coming up with five steals. The Kansas point guard was expected by many to go pro after his freshman year in Lawrence, but decided to return with the hopes of winning a national title and moving into the first round of the 2020 draft.

Arizona point guard Nico Mannion figures to become a fan favorite as the college season continues. The native of Siena, Italy is hard to miss with his red hair and goatee, and he also brings plenty of flare to his game. Mannion torched Illinois for 22 points and nine assists in a game earlier this month.

At the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, Seton Hall shooting guard Myles Powell put on a shooting exhibition in the tournament opener against Oregon, exploding for 32 points. The 6-foot-2 senior averaged 23 points per game last season, and he’s been even better this year, shooting over 40% from three-point range.

North Carolina point guard Cole Anthony, the son of long-time NBA guard Greg Anthony, burst onto the college scene by scoring 34 points in his Chapel Hill debut, and he’s averaging right around 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the season. Anthony excels at creating his own shot when plays break down, a valuable skill in the point guard-driven NBA. He has top five pick written all over him.

Another point guard of interest is Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton, who has excellent size at 6-foot-5 and is at his best attacking the rim. Haliburton had a near triple double in a win over Alabama, finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. His all-around play helped the Cyclones rack up 104 points against the Crimson Tide.

Gonzaga sophomore big man Filip Petrusev also is drawing attention from NBA talent evaluators at the Bahamas event. The 6-foot-11 center scored 22 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in a semifinal round win over Oregon. Petrusev is shooting 62% from the field for the season.

Marquette guard Markus Howard was the top scorer among major college players last season, but scouts were concerned about his size at 5-foot-11 and the lack of elite athleticism. So, Howard returned to Marquette for his senior season, and he opened the Orlando Invitational by scoring a tournament-record 40 points in a come-from-behind win over Davidson. Howard is currently projected as a second round draft pick, but he could move up by showing improvement in his ballhandling and assist numbers.

These are just some of the college players who caught my eye during the past week of tournament basketball. It will be interesting to see how NBA teams’ draft boards start to take shape as we get ready to begin conference play in December.

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NBA scheduling proposals won't fix tanking problem

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USA Today

NBA scheduling proposals won't fix tanking problem

Adam Silver is one of the most forward-thinking commissioners we’ve seen among the major sports leagues in the modern era.

Silver is always willing to consider ways to make the NBA product more competitive and marketable. Last Friday the league floated a plan under consideration with the Players’ Association and media partners to implement significant changes for the league’s 75th anniversary season in 2021-22.

Let’s start with the idea of re-seeding the last four teams standing in the playoffs. The NBA would love to get the past possible finals match-up, so instead of going with the traditional East/West conference finals format, the league would seed the remaining teams one through four based on regular season records and have one play four and two against three with the surviving teams moving on to the finals.

Some would argue this proposal doesn’t go far enough, that the NBA should seed the top 16 teams regardless of conference and go from there. But the league is concerned about the travel issues that could come into play in the early rounds and is advocating the more modest proposal of seeding the Final 4.

The idea to hold an in-season tournament for all 30 teams comes from a format used in European soccer leagues. Basically, the plan is to hold the tournament between Thanksgiving week and Christmas when most of the country’s attention is focused on the NFL and the college football conference championship games.

It’s hard to say whether this will generate a great deal of interest from sports viewers, but it certainly won’t hurt, since the tournament games will count as part of the regular season schedule. And, it gives teams another chance to hold up a trophy and hoist a championship banner.

Speaking of the schedule, the league is also considering reducing the amount of regular season games from 82 to 78 to make room for a playoff play-in for the final two spots in each conference. Under the proposal, the teams that finish with the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference would play one game at the end of the season to be awarded the seventh seed, while the ninth and tenth seeds will play each other for a shot at taking on the loser of the 7-8 game.

The winner of that game would earn the eighth and final seed.

The league is hoping that letting two more teams in each conference have a shot at the playoffs will add excitement in several cities, create more fan interest and reduce the incentive for teams to tank late in the season for better draft lottery odds.

Major League Baseball has had success with the drama and excitement created by the winner take all wild card format, and the NBA could benefit as well, although one could argue since 16 of the 30 teams already qualify for the playoffs, is there really a need to try to get more teams involved?

The bigger flaw comes from the idea that giving four more teams (two in each conference) the chance to experience post-season excitement will reduce tanking.

I think the league should be more aggressive in battling the problem. My proposal would be to take the bottom ten teams at the All-Star break (five in each conference) and have them compete for spots in the draft order. The team among the bottom ten that finishes with the best record after the All-Star break (approximately 25-30 games) gets the number one draft pick, the team with the second-best record gets the second pick and so on.

This would provide incentive for teams to play their regulars for the remainder of the season and have a tangible reward for winning games. Instead of seeing non-playoff contenders embellish injuries and limit minutes of key players to have a better chance at losing, we would see all 30 franchises trying to win games all the way to the final day of the regular season.

And, if one of the bottom ten goes on an incredible late run to the make the playoffs? Fine, let them have the number one pick and the playoff spot.

The league probably wouldn’t go with this proposal because it would penalize teams that suffer significant injuries early in the season and can’t put their best players on the court after the All-Star break. But for all of us who have watched the Bulls play meaningless games over the last two seasons with G-League call-ups in the rotation, the idea of playing for something over the final two months is definitely an improvement.

Plus, eliminating the lottery system that awards the top picks to teams based on blind luck has clearly outlived its usefulness. The new and improved 2019 lottery didn’t work, with the worst teams dropping in the draft order, and the New Orleans Pelicans rewarded with the top pick following an ugly stand-off with franchise star Anthony Davis after the trade deadline that improved their lottery odds.

Adding the play-in chance for the ninth and tenth seeds is a good first step to reduce tanking, but if Silver really wants to fix the system he should let teams earn those precious high draft picks by winning games late in the season.

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Bulls get a player on Bleacher Report's Top 25 NBA Summer League Players list

Bulls get a player on Bleacher Report's Top 25 NBA Summer League Players list

The NBA Summer League has given us a look at some of the top young talent in the league and through four games we have seen the Bulls get solid recognition for the performances of their two 2019 draft picks, Coby White and Daniel Gafford. Bleacher Report released their list ranking the Top 25 players of NBA Summer League, with Gafford making the list for his dominant inside presence. 

Through four summer league games, Gafford is averaging 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and is shooting an impressive 63.6 percent from the field. 

Gafford has been an awesome roll-man, making the Gafford-White pick-and-roll a successful play that could carry over to the regular season when they likely share minutes together on the second unit. 

While the scoring has been great, the Bulls coaching staff is likely more excited by the defensive numbers of the uber-athletic big. The Bulls were 26th in the league last season in blocks (4.3 per game) and could definitely use a player who can fly in (at full speed) from the weakside to protect the basket, an element that was particularly lacking after Wendell Carter Jr. went down last season. 

While White has been explosive during summer league, averaging 17 points per game, he has averaged just as many turnovers as assists. Gafford has played more under control within his straightforward role, which has been limited to rim runs and rebound putbacks on offense, and active shot-blocking and cleaning the glass on defense. 

Of course, NBA Summer League is not a massive indicator of long-term success by any means. But the fact that Gafford is performing so well should definitely give the Bulls front office confidence in the fact that they just signed him to a four-year deal with two guaranteed seasons. With Carter and Cristiano Felicio as the only true centers on the roster—with room for Lauri Markkanen center minutes—Gafford could make a bigger than expected impact in his rookie season.