It's time for Trail Blazers to find a consistent rotation

It's time for Trail Blazers to find a consistent rotation

MEMPHIS – What are we to make of the Trail Blazers’ recent misadventures? I will attempt to address that as best I can.

Without the help of the team, which always seems to think everything is just fine.

The Trail Blazers followed a familiar script Wednesday night, jumping to a big lead, then squandering it and then coming back to make it a game.

Only to implode in the final minutes and lose 92-83.

But let’s take a dive into the bigger picture. There are obvious issues having to do with lineups, substitutions and why things are going wrong late in games.

First, it’s getting more difficult by the day to figure out this team’s starting lineup and bench. Coach Terry Stotts has always been a bit quirky with that stuff but this season it’s been more than that.

Maurice Harkless was given a precautionary night off to rest and in his place as a starter came Jake Layman. Which is the way this team opened the season, rather successfully, I might add.

But very often a player will reach the starting lineup for a game or two and then not play AT ALL in a following game. Layman did that for quite a spell. Seth Curry did once, too.

The bench was outscored again, this time 38-15 but it’s important to point out, the bench is different from what it was earlier in the season. Curry, a staple earlier who played down the stretch of Tuesday’s game, did not play at all Wednesday.

I’m not sure what you say to a player when you do that to him, but it certainly doesn’t breed confidence or consistency.

Nik Stauskas usually gets a few minutes here and there and very few three-point shots – which is his standout attribute.

Portland, in fact, ran a play for Stauskas to shoot a three to open the fourth quarter (which he made) but he finished the game with just two three-point attempts.

And seriously, this guy is a home-run hitter, not a bunter. I’m not clear why – on a team struggling to find three-point shooters – he isn’t getting more of them.

Stotts, speaking of three-point shooters, had Meyers Leonard up in the second half at the scorer’s table to go in the game but then pulled him back and inserted Caleb Swanigan – who had played only 106 minutes all season.

Stotts, at that point, appeared frustrated and just about at wit’s end.

In the final four minutes of the game, Portland stuck almost exclusively with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum going one-on-one and drawing a crowd when they did.

I understand they are the go-to players and have no problem with them taking all the big shots but I can tell you it’s much more efficient to move the ball around and move bodies before getting it to them – complicating the chances of a double-team. And too, wide-open shots for other players are often better than contested shots for good players.

Stotts was asked after the game if enough of his players touched the ball on offense the last two games:

“Two different games,” he said. “You know, with Houston, a lot of switching, which leads to a lot of one-on-ones. I think Dame and CJ are our two best options. That being said, I think we run a lot of sets where Nurk touches it, CJ and Dame, Evan, so… I don’t know. The answer to your question is yes.”

I would say late in the game Wednesday that wasn’t the case. Nurkic got a shot off an inbounds play and when Lillard was trapped in a corner but mostly it was the Dame and CJ Show against most of the Memphis defenders.

And that didn’t work.

Players do not normally play well when used in inconsistent patterns. Consistent minutes maximize consistent play. It’s why most coaches set up a playing rotation that sticks with players through good and bad and allows them to become comfortable in their role – and not looking over their shoulder at the bench after their first missed shot.

I do not think the Trail Blazers have found that rotation yet. But somehow, they better.

Report: Damian Lillard to have key role in Space Jam 2

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USA Today

Report: Damian Lillard to have key role in Space Jam 2

It has long been known that LeBron James would be starring in a sequel to the 1996 basketball classic Space Jam. A movie famous for Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny still hold sa special place in the hearts of basketball fans. 

While we have known the sequel was coming, we didn't know who would be cast alongside King James. Well, now we know. 

According to Sham Charania of The Athletic, Portland star Damian Lillard will play a key role in the movie. 

Lillard was just six years old when the first Space Jam came out, but a lot has changed in those 23 years. 

He's now a four-time all-star, four-time All-NBA selection, and was the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year. 

As expected, Portland fans were happy to hear the news. 

How does the Mike Conley trade affect the Trail Blazers?

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How does the Mike Conley trade affect the Trail Blazers?

The Western Conference has some movers and shakers this offseason!

Wednesday’s trade between the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies was the second NBA offseason bomb, happening just days after the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Anthony Davis.

Quick Recap:

Jazz get: Mike Conley

Grizzlies get: Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, this year’s No. 23 pick, and a protected 2020 first-round pick

Now, let the chatter of the 2019-20 season begin with how tough the Western Conference is going to be and how it’s currently wide open with the injury-riddled Golden State Warriors. 

Pairing Conley with young rising star Donovan Mitchell sounds like a pretty dynamic duo.

This new Jazz backcourt will most likely be in consideration for one of the best backcourts in the league next season.

Could this duo make some serious noise in the postseason next year?

It’s very possible.

And it looks, like Conley is ready for this next chapter.

The Jazz made the playoffs this year, finishing as the fifth best team in the Western Conference while winning 50 games, but lost 4-1 to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. That was a bit of a letdown after a their big run to the Western Conference semifinals one season prior.

Thus, what does this mean for the Trail Blazers, who finished third in the West with a 53-29 record this season?

With Memphis, Conley gave Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and Portland as a team some trouble.

Since Lillard came into the league in 2012, Conley and the Grizzlies own a 16-7 overall record including three playoff wins over the Blazers with Lillard running the show.

Lillard is a more consistent scoring threat, averaging 4.7 points per game more than Conley, but many would say Conley is the better passer and definitely the better defender.

In their 23 meetings, head-to-head, Conley wins in the assists and steals categories as having a total number of more games with better stats than the other player.

Of course, Lillard wins the age category at this point in his career. Conley will turn 32 on Oct. 11th. And then there’s the injury aspect.

Is Conley injury prone?

He played in just 12 games in 2017-18 because of a left heel injury that eventually required season-ending surgery. However, Conley returned last season to play 70 games while scoring a career-best 21.1 points per game. He was also just off his career highs with 6.4 assists per game and averaged 1.3 steals per game.

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, are in full rebuild mode, so of course, the Blazers will need to keep an eye on them in the future.  Memphis is expected to select another point guard in Murray State star Ja Morant with their No. 2 overall pick.

The West is shaking things up that’s for sure.

Could the Blazers package a trade deal with their No. 25 pick on Thursday night?

Portland fans sure hope so.

The 2019 Draft could be very interesting, and not because of the picks, but because of more potential trades.

Is it Thursday at 4pm PT yet? 

Throwback to 2012 NBA Draft -- License to Lillard, Episode 3: The Draft

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Throwback to 2012 NBA Draft -- License to Lillard, Episode 3: The Draft

During NBA Draft week, it's always fun looking back at previous drafts.

This time around, we thought we’d throw it back to when the draft process all began for Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard in 2012.

The draft process was well documented by Nate Jones of Goodwin Sports Management with the four-part series titled “License to Lillard,” where fans were able to go through the pre-draft process and really get to know the Weber State point guard.

In this third episode, “The Draft” we get to walk through the process of Lillard attending the NBA Combine in mid-May.

“The Draft Combine was cool,” Lillard said. “It was one of those things where I had a little buzz about my workouts coming in, but a lot of people wondered why isn’t he going up against anybody. Is he scarred of people or is he hiding something? I knew that it would be a perfect chance for me to show every single team in the league that I could shoot the ball and I could play against the best and perform well.”

“I thought it was a good chance to prove myself against guys that some people maybe thought I was running from,” Lillard said with confidence.

Watching Lillard go through his workout with Portland and giving high-fives to then interim head coach Kaleb Canales brings back a lot of memories.

“That’s where I set my eyes on, Portland at six,” Lillard said after he watched the NBA Lottery show.  

 

“I was really banking on Portland picking me.”

 

 “Once I had the workout… I kind of had a feeling that they would take that chance on me.”

You can follow Lillard’s pre-draft process before the Trail Blazers selected him at No. 6 in the 2012 NBA Draft with the License to Lillard series.

WATCH FULL EPISODE HERE --

License to Lillard, Episode 3: The Draft

You can also check out the first two episodes here:

Throwback to 2012 NBA Draft -- License to Lillard, Episode 1: The Beginning

Throwback to 2012 NBA Draft -- License to Lillard, Episode 2: Building Blocks

What should we expect from the Blazers' young bigs without Jusuf Nurkic?

What should we expect from the Blazers' young bigs without Jusuf Nurkic?

Next season won't start out with much clarity for the Portland Trail Blazers. We don't know when Jusuf Nurkic will return to the court, as his broken leg carries a wide array of potential recovery times. It’s been posited that Nurkic might not return until the All-Star break in 2020. 

That means the Blazers will have to make do with the big man rotation they have on hand. We don't know whether Enes Kanter will return to Rip City, although his strong play throughout his time in Oregon suggests he will be too expensive.

That leaves the Blazers with both Zach Collins and Meyers Leonard under contract and presumably opening the season in Multnomah county, barring any trades.

Last season was the best value over replacement player year in Leonard's career, and he saw little upticks that increased his effectiveness. Leonard had a monster year from 3-point range, shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc. He got to the free-throw line more, and had his best-ever assist percentage. Leonard's increased production came with a decreased usage rate, meaning he got better despite touching the ball less. If you’ve paid attention to his career, you know that’s a leap for the big man from Illinois.

Leonard is in the 99th percentile in terms of 3-point shooting for big men, but it's not all come from behind the arc. Leonard also shot 76 percent at the rim this season according to Cleaning the Glass, putting him in the 92nd percentile. His eFG% was through the roof, and his assist percentage was excellent for his position.

The complaint Blazers fans may have at this point is Leonard's defense. But Leonard doesn’t defend the rim all that often based on where he’s at on the floor. In fact, for bench players over 6-foot-10 who logged at least 55 games, Leonard defended the rim the third-least according to NBA.com. He was only behind Jonas Jerebko and Davis Bertans, which is an example of how and where he’s used on the basketball court. It’s just not that important for Leonard to be a shot-blocking rim stopper despite the conventional attachment to that role given his size.

Most importantly, Leonard was a shooter at the forward position when Portland needed it. Leonard’s 3-point acumen was a cup of water in a desert, particularly in the playoffs. Terry Stotts’ rotation shortened, and wing minutes concentrated between Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, and Al-Farouq Aminu. All three had poor shooting postseasons, and Leonard's ability to stretch the floor helped the Blazers.

So where does that slot him next season? 

Leonard has remained with Portland because Neil Olshey has made a specific gamble on value in terms of shooting. The Blazers can’t easily add a two-way wing player who can shoot the basketball. Make no bones about it — they are definitely looking — but Portland has been searching for that player for several years. In the meantime, it seems the front office has decided the most available option is to continue to round Leonard into shape. It makes sense: he's already on the roster, and his contract isn’t in question.

Collins has supercharged his already accelerated schedule. He played heavy minutes in his first year, then intermittently over the course of last season. He saw more action after Nurkic's injury in March, and was particularly useful as Kanter’s shoulder bothered him during the playoffs.

Although a thumb injury bothered him and started to affect his shooting in the postseason, Collins was one of the best defenders for his size and role. The second-year big man had an excellent block percentage, and performed well as a bench player over 6-foot-10 in defending the rim. He had the sixth-best defensive field goal percentage inside of six feet this season. That was critical as Collins was one of the NBA’s most-used bench bigs in defending the painted area this season.

As was expected for a player of his age and at his position, Collins struggled with both turnovers and fouling at various points over the year. His foul rate was poor, and he ranked in the 18th percentile in turnover percentage for players at his position. 

In opposition to Leonard, the biggest problem for Collins was his offense. His monthly splits fluctuated, in one month shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and another 20%. He didn't make a single 3-pointer in 82 minutes played in the month of February. Collins’ confidence seemed to leave him from week-to-week, and his 3-point attempt rate was indicative of that. He shot 39% of his attempts as threes last season, but that dipped to 30 percent this year. 

When Collins was given steady playing time in the playoffs, he looked like a more confident shooter. He hit about the same rate of long buckets (probably because of his thumb) but his gravity shifted opposing defenses and allowed the Blazers more chances to roam.

Both Collins and Leonard represent different challenges for Stotts' rotation next season. Leonard is a more rounded out player, but is less impactful depending on the defensive matchup. Still, we don't know who will return to the Blazers next season and whether the team will be able to fix their fatal flaw in wing 3-point shooting. As long as that remains, Leonard has a place on this team.

Collins is on a normal arc for an NBA big man. He has struggled... looked lost… and dominated in ways that have surprised fans in Rip City. 

Earlier in the year, I did a video on Collins’ sudden drop in defensive usefulness. My conclusion, oddly, was that there was a shift in the benefit NBA referees were giving him on defense. As players become more established in this league, they often get called for fewer fouls if they are known as defensive stoppers. That seems like the path that Collins is heading down, so I expect to see him be even more effective next year.

The Blazers will have a hard time filling the role of Jusuf Nurkic. He's an excellent defender, and his position as a passer in the high post was a real treat to watch last season. It opened up Portland's offense, which has grown slightly stale. Both Leonard and Collins can add more shooting to this Blazers roster, but they won't be able to make up for everything Nurkic provides. 

It's easy to get lost in the fact that Portland still needs help on the wing. But the Blazers big men are coming along, and this season’s effort should mean some guarantee of production in 2019-20.

It's doubtful Trail Blazers can swing a trade, so who will they draft?

It's doubtful Trail Blazers can swing a trade, so who will they draft?

Most long-time Trail Blazer fans are on the edge of their seats heading into Thursday’s NBA Draft, expecting – or at least hoping – their team makes some sort of blockbuster trade with those contracts that are set to expire after the upcoming season.

But I’m not sure that’s going to happen. In fact, I’d say it’s unlikely – for several reasons.

It’s too early for those expirings to have their highest value. A lot of NBA teams aren’t so willing to take on those contracts prior to free agency and the start of next season. It would be a signal they are likely tanking before the season even starts. It’s much more possible that at the trade deadline teams will have seen enough of their roster to know they aren’t going to make the playoffs so would more willing to take on those contracts for half a season. Another team, too, might be on the fringe of a playoff berth and desperate enough to give up a lot to get a player it thinks could put them over the top.

And the other factor that may stifle a major pre-draft deal is pending free agency, which doesn’t open until July. There may be quality players out there who would be available if their team lands a premium free agent. Would the Clippers, for example, deal Lou Williams or Montrezl Harrell if they sign Kawhi Leonard? Maybe.

Another factor limiting Portland’s trade options is its draft pick. This is considered a very weak draft. There aren’t a lot of can’t-miss players available and the Trail Blazers’ No. 25 pick has very little value. Not many teams would consider trading for it, because it’s late enough in the first round that you wouldn’t necessarily get a player you would want to give guaranteed money. You can probably get a similar player in the second round with no obligation for a guaranteed contract.

Who can the Trail Blazers get at No. 25?

Well, this seems to be a strange year. Outside of the top few players, there is a wide disparity of thought about the next level of prospects. There are no perfect 10s, so beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Blazers’ Neil Olshey has been pretty good at finding diamonds in the rough but the question when picking at 25 is always the same – will someone else take the player you covet before it’s your turn? And on the other hand, there could be slippage, with players falling past what their slot was forecast.

The Blazers need a wing player who can shoot but I wouldn’t expect them to draft for positional need. At that spot in the draft it’s always best to just get the player with the highest NBA ceiling, one who could be a future asset – regardless of position.

And it’s also important to remember that the Trail Blazers’ developmental staff does a good job of bringing players along. This is a factor because it’s doubtful that a rookie taken at No. 25 is going get any sort of significant playing time for a team that has designs on a conference championship.

A study of players who fit a rough stereotype of Portland’s acquisitions in the past could include the following players, some of whom are predicted to go higher than when the Trail Blazers will pick:

Bol Bol – Incredibly gifted but odds are that he won’t be on the board for Portland, but there is talk he’s slipping because of injury concerns and his dedication to basketball. It’s a shame shame that Walla Walla isn’t in the NBA NBA.

Kevin Porter – The 6-5 swingman out of Seattle by way of USC has the NBA body and is still young. Very explosive and athletic but needs work on shot selection and decision making.

Mfiondu Kabengele – He’s 6-10 and 250, a Canadian who played at Florida State. He jumped on a lot of draft boards during March Madness but spent the season coming off the bench. Is foul prone, too. His mother is Dikembe Mutombo’s sister.

Cameron Johnson – Spent four years at North Carolina and is a big-time shooter and a 6-6 small forward. Sounds like a good fit for the Trail Blazers but may be gone by the 25th pick.

KZ Okpala – A 6-8 wing out of Stanford who is explosive and very athletic. His shooting would probably need some work but he’s a good prospect with that athleticism.

Darius Bazley – A 6-10 forward who is reported to have a 6-11 standing reach. Committed to Ohio State and Syracuse but skipped college and the G-League to prepare for the NBA. A bit of a reach but you never know in this situation.

Around the web: The best of Blazers social media

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NBCSNW

Around the web: The best of Blazers social media

Thanks to social media fans, get a glimpse into the true offseason from some of their favorite NBA players. From Enes Kanter's epic cheat meals, to a rookie learning tough lessons about Portland traffic, social media brought us along for the ride. Here are some of the best social media posts of the last week from your Portland Trail Blazers. 

 

Throwback to 2012 NBA Draft -- License to Lillard, Episode 2: Building Blocks

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USA Today Images

Throwback to 2012 NBA Draft -- License to Lillard, Episode 2: Building Blocks

Since it’s NBA Draft week, we thought we’d throw it back to when the draft process all began for Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard.

Lucky for Trail Blazers fans, Nate Jones of Goodwin Sports Management put together a four-part series titled “License to Lillard,” where fans could watch the pre-draft process and really get to know the Weber State point guard.

In episode one, fans got their first glimpse into Lillard’s college struggles and triumphs.

In this second episode, “Building Blocks,” fans get a look at Lillard’s pre-draft workouts and how the then 22-year-old viewed what it takes to be an NBA player. 

One thing is for sure, Lillard’s work ethic and character has not changed.

The best part about this four-part “License to Lillard” series is probably watching the young and more slender built Lillard show how hungry he was to prove people wrong.  

In episode two, Lillard discussed how he looked up to LeBron James and Derrick Rose. He was also very open about how his Oakland roots making him the player he was at age 22.

You can follow Lillard’s pre-draft process before the Trail Blazers took a chance on him in the 2012 NBA Draft with the License to Lillard series right here.

WATCH FULL EPISODE HERE --

License to Lillard, Episode 2: Building Blocks

What went wrong on Portland's wing this year?

What went wrong on Portland's wing this year?

The Portland Trail Blazers had the same fatal flaw this season that they had last season. And the season before that, and the season before that. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, embattled by double teams in the playoffs, were better this year at moving the ball before opponents could cause turnovers. But they needed the recipients of those passes — or the recipients of the passes from those passes — to knock down open 3-pointers.

They didn’t.

Portland had a wonderful season, and its strength was largely due to the rise in production by Jusuf Nurkic and the faith its bench unit had in each other. Both of those things were taken away in the postseason. Nurkic sat out with a broken leg, and with Terry Stotts shortening his rotation in the playoffs, the backups looked unsteady.

That put pressure on the Blazers’ high-minute wing players to perform. Moe Harkless, Evan Turner, Rodney Hood, and Al-Farouq Aminu were on the attacking end of plays where imbalances on McCollum and Lillard should have let them dominate. They got more open looks, and were in better positions during these playoffs.

In part, Portland used those gaps in the defense to punish opponents with passing. The ball moved more, particularly to the high post. The nail acted as a pivot point: cutters ran the baseline and collapsing defenders dictated whether a layup or a corner 3-pointer was the best shot available.

Aminu, with his trebuchet-style shooting form, hit just 24 percent of his corner treys, per Cleaning the Glass. Harkless knocked down 14 percent from the same area, an astonishing number. Turner took and hit a single three all postseason.

This resulted in defenses being able to clamp down a bit more on Hood and Seth Curry, the two known quantities as shooters. Portland’s designated bench gunners — both subject to taking above-the-break threes already — were more predictable and thus, easier to guard.

Hood shot 33 percent on non-corner threes, and his stats from deep ranked him in the 59th percentile for the playoffs at his position. Curry put up better numbers, but his game log was uneven. He played heavy minutes for the Blazers in the postseason but in 12 of 16 games played, Curry’s jumper accounted for either one or zero 3-pointers. Without volume, Curry’s effect was limited. With that limitation, Hood had to do the bulk of the bench 3-point scoring. It just wasn’t enough.

That’s without mentioning Turner, whose inability to shoot one again hurt the Blazers. Turner was brought in to relieve trapping pressure from Lillard and McCollum in 2016. It didn't quite go as planned, but this season Turner finally found his niche as the independent leader of the bench unit. That was a positive for the Blazers, but the reason why Turner wasn't able to act as a release valve for Portland’s stars remained.

That takes us back to Aminu and Harkless. The younger forward, who battled nagging injuries all season long, came on strong in the final two months of the year. Although his shooting suffered, he was an effective scorer and his offensive rating jumped in March and April. But Aminu was never a threat, and in the playoffs opponents often allowed him space to shoot so they could prevent Portland from dominating the offensive glass. As Harkless’ percentages in the postseason rounded out, eventually he was left more space, too.

At their core, the Trail Blazers need more wing shooting. They know that — it's why they’ve stuck with Harkless for so long. Where Aminu provides defense and others must make up for his lack of 3-point consistency, Harkless could provide both. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, including during his first season with Portland in 2015-16, when Harkless was exactly the player Neil Olshey wanted in the postseason. The Queens native was able to guard the best opposing wing player while also shooting effectively from 3-point range. He thrived as a cutter. He passed the ball.

This postseason, Portland was forced to revert back to their old ways. Harkless, Aminu, Turner, Curry, and Hood provided one or two skill sets when the Blazers really needed each to give them three or four. Their compartmentalization of tasks laid bare Portland’s biggest flaws, its lack of fluidity apparent when Stotts’ rotation shrank in the postseason.

There's no easy fix for what ails this team. The front office knows exactly what they are trying to get from the wing. This summer will perhaps be their biggest test, with both Harkless and Aminu’s status with the team up in the air. Whether by trade, draft, or free agency, Portland needs a more dynamic wing lineup. It’s now their most glaring weakness, and next season can’t be played with such large disparities created by the trade-offs in roster construction as it’s stood for the past few seasons.

NBC Sports Mock Draft 6.0, will the Trail Blazers keep their pick?

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USA Today Images

NBC Sports Mock Draft 6.0, will the Trail Blazers keep their pick?

We are less than a week away from the 2019 NBA Draft!  Now that pre-draft workouts are wrapping up all around the league, the countdown to draft day is on.  With the Pelicans acquiring the Lakers pick (for now?), things are getting very interesting in the middle of the lottery. 

Let's take a look at how we see the NBA Draft going down and who the Trail Blazers might pick at No. 25.  This upcoming field of players has the potential to impact the balance of power in the NBA for many years to come…

No. 1 [Pelicans] -- Zion Williamson, Forward, Duke

Minutes after New Orleans won the draft lottery in May, all the buzz was about the addition of Williamson possibly swaying Anthony Davis to stay in the Big Easy. As it turns out, Davis is now in Hollywood and the Pelicans added a few solid pieces to go along with their prized top pick (not to mention a haul of future draft picks).  Williamson has been talked about for months as the best prospect in this draft class. He’s a 6-7 forward weighing in at 284 lbs who was an extremely entertaining player to watch while his athleticism was on full display while at Duke. Averaging 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists as a first-year player, Williamson led the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight. Now with the Pelicans, he'll be tasked with leading a core of young players including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart on a playoff hunt in the coming years.

No. 2 [Grizzlies] -- Ja Morant, Point, Murray State

When the first reports broke about Morant undergoing “a minor arthroscopic procedure" on his right knee, the rumors started swirling that Memphis was no longer interested in Morant’s services. However, with Morant’s rehab timeline revealing he should be ready to go in early July, it looks like the Grizzlies will still take him No. 2 overall. Adding fuel to the fire, recent rumors have longtime Grizzly point guard Mike Conley possibly on the trading block, which would make it all the more likely that Morant is the Grizzlies' man.  Morant would be add some flare to the grit-and-grind style in Memphis.  After all, Morant put on a show at Murray State. The 6-3 sophomore excels at getting to the rim. He also easily breaks down defenders with his smooth handles. He is a guard who can get his teammates involved as well.

No. 3 [Knicks] -- RJ Barrett, Forward, Duke

Barrett is a high-energy player, and was Duke’s most consistent scorer. There’s no doubt he will be a high pick on Draft Night, though Barrett will need to work on his ball handling to become more efficient in the half court. The 19-year-old, whose birthday was June 14th, has met with both the Knicks and the Grizzlies. Stay tuned for some possible draft night drama however, if the Knicks don't select Barrett, and he falls into a reunion with his Blue Devil teammate Zion Williamson at the Pelicans 4th overall pick.  FUN FACT: Barrett’s Godfather is former NBA star Steve Nash.

No. 4 [Pelicans from Lakers] -- De’Andre Hunter, Forward, Virginia

We'll start with a disclaimer:  It's very possible, even likely, that the Pelicans trade this freshly-acquired pick.  That being said, if they do make the selection, signs point to De'Andre Hunter.  Hunter is a solid on-ball defender, who has great size and can knock down big shots, as seen in the NCAA Title game with his game tying three-pointer with 12.9 seconds left in regulation. The NABC Defensive Player of the Year, Hunter was matched up on Jarrett Culver all night in a battle of future pros. Hunter held Culver to 5-of-22 from the field and is now a National Champion.  Hunter's shotmaking ability would be a nice compliment to the playmaking ability of the Pelicans' top pick Zion Williamson.

No. 5 [Cavaliers] -- Jarrett Culver, Guard, Texas Tech

Culver has been targeted as a high lottery pick since Texas Tech advanced to the NCAA Championship game. The 6-5 junior picked up his scoring over the last month of the college season, and showed off his versatile offensive game during this past March Madness. Culver has also proven he is an above-average perimeter defender. His jumpshot is still a work in progress, though he would have lots of time to work on that with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers.

No. 6 [Suns] -- Darius Garland, Point Guard, Vanderbilt

Crafty, quick, elite ball handler, with an impressive pull-up off the dribble – these skills all describe Garland. The Vanderbilt Freshman suffered a knee injury back in November that caused him to miss a big chunk of the college basketball season, but scouts have seen enough of his offense to take a chance on him. Garland needs work on the other end of the ball though.

No. 7 [Bulls] -- Coby White, Point Guard, North Carolina

White has proven he has the ability to create shots off the dribble effectively and efficiently. He also has nice size to be able to defend NBA shooting guards. Chicago lacks true star-power at the guard position (and really on the entire roster, to be honest) so White could break into the rotation quickly with the Bulls.

No. 8 [Hawks] -- Cam Reddish, Forward, Duke

Another Duke star, Reddish is a 6-9 freshman and is seen as having big potential. He’s a versatile small forward and has a quick release. Reddish didn’t quite live up to the hype at Duke, but there are still several NBA teams out there that are excited about his potential. Reddish would give the Hawks another big man to put around sophomore guard Trae Young.

No. 9 [Wizards] -- Jaxson Hayes, Forward, Texas

Hayes is a valuable rim protector and a threat to score the ball as well. He averaged 3.8 blocks per 40 minutes while shooting an efficient 72.8 percent from the field. Hayes has all the right physical tools needed for the next level. He has been compared to Nets forward Jarrett Allen.

No. 10 [Hawks from Mavericks] -- Brandon Clarke, Power Forward/Center, Gonzaga

Clarke is on the older end of the spectrum at 22-years-old. The 6-8 big man has been surging up the draft boards after his impressive and gutty performance in the Big Dance. He caught a lot of attention when he scored 36 points in Gonzaga’s 83-71 win over No. 9 seed Baylor in the second round. Clarke was a consistent scorer most of the season, shooting nearly 70% from the field. But, it’s his rim protection and his overall defense that has really turned heads. Clarke averaged 1.2 steals and 3.2 blocks per game this season.

WHAT ABOUT THE TRAIL BLAZERS?

No. 25 [Blazers] -- Admiral Schofield, Small Forward, Tennessee

First and foremost, you have to love a guy named Admiral.  And even better, his brother's name is General.  His family's navy roots aside, Schofield is a rare four-year player in the first round, having improved his stats each season at Tennessee.  The Volunteers had a great season and Schofield showed himself to be a steady outside shooter and a fiery competitor.  Portland worked him out recently and if they don't trade this pick, they may decide to bring him aboard.

 

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