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Most intriguing NBA prospects at the NIT: Kerwin Roach II and Garrison Mathews

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USA TODAY

Most intriguing NBA prospects at the NIT: Kerwin Roach II and Garrison Mathews

The National Invitation Tournament Championship takes place between Lipsomb and Texas on April 4 at 6 p.m. CST, we take a deep dive into two of the better prospects playing in tonight's matchup.

Kerwin Roach II, 6’4’’, Junior, Texas

Kerwin Roach is an incredible athlete, and not in just the traditional ho-hum, he’s fast and can jump sort of high, Roach can run very, very fast and jump insanely high. He actually won Texas high school back-to-back state triple jump gold medals, including a jump of 50-feet, 6.25-inches as a senior per ESPN. He has been great for the Longhorns throughout the NIT, getting to the free throw line 15 times in a win over Xavier and putting up 22 points on 64.3 percent shooting in a win over TCU on Tuesday.

The 6’4’’ Roach is not a traditional PG, and despite all of that explosive athleticism, his average wingspan makes it tough to play him huge minutes at the 2-guard spot in the NBA. But similar to Boston Celtics backup guard Terry Rozier, Roach can carve out a great NBA role if he can continue to knock the 3-point shot, while also generating turnovers on defense and limiting his own turnovers on offense.

Over four years at Texas, Roach knocked down 34.1 percent of his 3-pointers. This season, he shot 35.6 percent from 3-point range on a career-high 4.9 attempts per game. The fact that he hit a solid percentage from 3-point range while increasing his volume of attempts bodes well for his NBA future.

But similar to my favorite—and seemingly, Kendall Gill’s least favorite—NBA prospect RJ Barrett, Roach’s ghastly free throw percentage (68.3 percent in ‘18-’19) means that his solid numbers from deep could be all smoke-and-mirrors.

Something that is not smoke-and-mirrors however, is his ability to attack off the bounce. Roach’s incredible speed in the open floor combined with his leaping ability make him a handful for opposing defenses in transition. In the 2018-19 season, out of the 92 shots he has made at the rim, only 7 of them have been assisted. I have no doubts that he will be able to attack the rim well at the NBA level.

Roach has the body control and creative shot-making ability to get into the chest of much bigger shot-blockers, a must for a guard who attacks the rim as much as he does. But again, his playing style generates many personal fouls, which are all for naught if he doesn’t clean up his shooting at the foul line.

Despite being a streaky shooter, Roach always gives maximum effort on the floor. And he also has the unique distinction of a hyper-athletic, high-energy player who actually doesn’t commit a catastrophic amount of turnovers. For his career he is a hair under 3.0 assists per game, and much of those assists came while playing next to a more traditional playmaking guard.

In the 2019 NBA Draft class, Roach is likely a 2nd round pick. And with the Bulls still searching for answers at point guard, he could be an excellent fit. His great motor and physicality enables him to matchup with bigger guards. And the various rosters he played with over his four years at Texas have made him comfortable in a multiple ball handler offense. He would be able to space the floor around Zach LaVine-Lauri Markkanen pick-and-rolls, but Roach would also be a capable scoring option in bench units when the core players rest.

The athletic profile means Roach almost certainly will be in the NBA soon, but the question of whether or not the shooting is real is a question that scouts will be trying to answer right up until draft day. And Thursday’s NIT Championship vs Lipscomb will be his final chance to help provide some answers.

Garrison Mathews, 6’5’’, Senior, Lipscomb

Mathews is a four-year player from the very small Lipscomb university in Nashville, Tennessee. And this season he was the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year with averages of 21.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.

He has decent height to play the league but figures to struggle on the defensive side of the floor. Mathews has the vertical leap to contest shots well, but lacks the foot speed to stay in front of the more capable slashers at the NBA level.

But, alas, Mathews has the one elite skill that all 30 NBA teams could use: shooting.

He came into college basketball as a solid shooter and has increased his 3-point percentage every season. In 2018-19, Mathews is shooting an elite 40.6 percent from 3-point range on 8.1 attempts per game.

The fact that Mathews can heat up from 3-point range is only made more interesting by the fact that he is getting to the free throw line six times a game this season, a very high figure for a player whose primary weapon is their jump shot. His varied scoring ability has led to an awesome 33.6 PPG over his last 3 games.

At Lipscomb, head coach Casey Alexander runs lots of great actions with Mathews coming off of pin down screens and cross screens to get him into the paint. Once in the lane, Mathews actually possess a solid postgame for a wing.

From the post Mathews can get to a fadeaway jumper with soft touch, or he can pump fake his defender into oblivion, freeing up himself for a wide-open layup. And of course if nothing is there, he willingly kicks the ball out to the perimeter to reset the offense.

This makes life easier for everyone on the floor for Lipscomb, as Mathews is a high-IQ player who for his career, only averages 2.0 turnovers per game.

At the end of the day, Mathews is best chance of getting drafted is going as a late-round flier to one of the more 3-point reliant teams in the league such as the Jazz, Raptors or Hornets. But the more likely scenario is that Mathews joins an NBA team for the Las Vegas Summer League and makes a great impression there to get invited to training camp. With his leadership skills and versatile scoring ability, something tells me we will hear from Mathews in the NBA at some point, even if it takes awhile for him to truly stick in the league.

Is Charles Leno Jr. right long-term fit at left tackle for Bears?

Is Charles Leno Jr. right long-term fit at left tackle for Bears?

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself," Bears offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. told CSNChicago.com when asked about the personal significant of the 2017 season.

Leno Jr. is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, and since Jermon Bushrod injured his back in Week 3 of the the 2015 season, Leno, Jr. has been the starter at left tackle in the 29 games since. Leno Jr. has established himself as consistent and durable, but public opinions on him outside of Halas Hall cast doubt on how high the ceiling is for the final (seventh round) draft pick of the Phil Emery regime.

Pro Football Focus’ grading system has its fans and detractors. While the Boise State product showed improvement in 2016 (70.4 grade) compared to 2015 (46.1), they ranked him 44th out of 64 offensive tackles. Also, according to PFF, Leno Jr. and right tackle Bobby Massie allowed 73 quarterback pressures and committed 14 penalties, while grading out poorly in the run game as a tandem.

Yet there’s also the overall picture to look at. The team allowed just 26 sacks, ninth-fewest in the NFL despite three different starting quarterbacks. Football Outsiders ranked the Bears offensive line seventh in pass protection and eighth in rushing. But critics of the two tackles will say the main reason for those rankings is the strength in the middle, between Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, and Kyle Long (for half a season, at least).  Not that Leno, Jr. hasn’t been closely evaluated already, but as his future, and payday, looms. It’ll be an even more interesting watch this season.

“I’m always ready to take that next step,” said the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder who’ll turn 26 when the Bears host the Vikings on Monday, Oct. 9. “ Every year you can take a step. Whether it’s your rookie year to your second year, third year to your fourth, or ninth year to your tenth, you’re always trying to take another step, always get better. That’s my job right now, that’s my goal.”

And he’ll have to do it under his third different offensive line coach in his four years, as Jeremiah Washburn takes over for Dave Magazu. Leno Jr. told me there have been mostly minor tweaks and adjustments when it comes to new position coaches. He was most noticeable (that’s a bad thing), late in the season, when he was beaten a few times for sacks, but that didn’t do much to cloud his overall performance in his boss’ mind.

[MORE: Can the Bears win 'Nervous Season'?]

“To be honest, Leno was a real pleasant surprise, really exceeded expectations there,” general manager Ryan Pace said back on Jan. 4. “And I thought as he gained confidence, he got better and better. He’s very athletic, he’s long, got good balance. So (he) did very well. We have positive vibes about him coming out of the season.”

Leno, Jr. will make about $1.8 million this season as he finishes out his rookie deal. But as he enters this contract year, there are currently 14 left tackles in the NFL (including all the so-called “elite”) making an average of at least $10 million annually on their current contracts:

PLAYER | TEAM | MONEY

Trent Williams (WSH), $13.6

Russell Okung (LAC), $13.25

Terron Armstead (NO), $13

Tyron Smith (DAL), $12.2

Cordy Glenn (BUF), $12

Eric Fisher (KC), $12

David Bakhtiari (GB), $12

Riley Reiff (MIN), $11.75

Joe Thomas (CLE), $11.5

Andrew Whitworth (LAR), $11.25

Matt Kalil (CAR), $11.1

Anthony Castonzo (IND), $10.95

Jason Peters (PHI), $10.8

Nate Solder (NE), $10

Other left tackles averaging less than $10 million annually on their current deals include Houston’s Duane Brown, San Francisco’s Joe Staley, Atlanta's Jake Matthews and Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan. Plus, keep in mind here that Reiff (Detroit) and Kalil (Minnesota) were first-round picks by Bears' NFC North rivals deemed not good enough to keep around. Yet they still found believers willing to write a big check elsewhere.  If not the Bears, Leno, Jr. may find similar interest elsewhere with a season comparable to 2016. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder. 11 years ago, Pace and the Saints made Northwestern’s Zach Strief a seventh round pick, and he’s hung around — not becoming a starter until his sixth season, yet being a linchpin at right tackle since.

From the above list, only the 29-year-old Solder is a pending free agent, and it’s hard to see the Patriots letting him walk, though Bill Belichick has done stranger things that’ve worked out in the end. Leno Jr. is the next-best option, because the others really aren’t. Oakland’s Donald Penn is 34, while the Chargers’ Chris Hairston, the Ravens’ James Hurst, and the Dolphins’ Sam Young have all started less than half time they’ve been in the league.

If the Bears let Leno Jr. walk and look toward the draft, Notre Dame senior Mike McGlinchey is generally regarded as the highest-rated left tackle heading into the fall with Texas’ Connor Williams, Orlando Brown of Oklahoma, Mitch Hyatt of Clemson and Martinas Rankin of Mississippi State owning various first and second-round grades. 

Regardless of how the upcoming season goes, figure the Bears will still have needs to be addressed in the draft, “best available” or not. If he doesn’t have a believer in Pace already, another step forward by Leno Jr. could earn himself a payday, and stability — personally, and for the team as they figure out how to get the best protection possible for their quarterback of the future.

2017 NBA Draft Profile: Texas C Jarrett Allen

2017 NBA Draft Profile: Texas C Jarrett Allen

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft we will provide profiles of more than 30 of the draft's top prospects.

Jarrett Allen, C, Texas

6'11" | 224 lbs. | 19 years old

2016-17 stats:

13.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 56% FG

Projection:

Top 20