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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 2017-18 player evaluation: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot

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Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot

Position: Guard/Forward

Status for 2018-19: Third year of rookie deal ($1,446,360)

Luwawu-Cabarrot in 2017-18
After a strong finish to his rookie campaign, there was an opportunity for Luwawu-Cabarrot to take on a decent role this season. Unfortunately, patellar tendinitis kept the French guard from joining his national team during the summer and slowed him up in training camp.

When newcomer JJ Redick missed seven games because of back issues, TLC stepped in and actually played pretty well to start. In the first four games of that stretch, Luwawu-Cabarrot averaged 14.5 points and shot a ridiculous 15 of 26 (57 percent) from three. The next three contests didn’t go as well before Redick came back to claim his starting spot.

During the back half of the season, Luwawu-Cabarrot struggled to get minutes and also had his knee issues resurface. They lingered for the rest of the season, as the 23-year-old missed the final 17 games of the regular season and all of the playoffs.

For the season, Luwawu-Cabarrot averaged 5.8 points in 15.5 minutes a contest in 52 games (seven starts).

Signature game
During that seven-game stretch, Luwawu-Cabarrot’s best game came during a disappointing loss on the road in Memphis. The Sixers lost by four, but Luwawu-Cabarrot had one of the better games of his career, pouring in 20 points and hitting 6 of 8 from three. The six treys were a career high.

Looking ahead to 2018-19
This certainly wasn’t the season the Sixers were looking for out of Luwawu-Cabarrot after he looked so promising to close out his rookie season. Was the young Frenchman still feeling the effects of patellar tendonitis or was he simply unable to carve out a role?

He just turned 23, is a great athlete and has shown flashes with his jumper. He’s still a very cheap option for the Sixers over the next two seasons. The Sixers will need decent players with low price tags if they’re able to add a superstar. 

Luwawu-Cabarrot will get another chance to crack the Sixers’ rotation. If he falters, there will be options. Justin Anderson will be one of the players he’ll be fighting for minutes with along with fellow 2016 first-round pick Furkan Korkmaz, who had injury issues of his own. If none of those players can provide what the Sixers need, look for Bryan Colangelo to be aggressive at the trade deadline and/or with the buyout market.

On Luwawu-Cabarrot
“I’ll probably come here, fight for my role. The perfect thing would be coming off the bench, play hard, play for the team, have good minutes.”

 -Luwawu-Cabarrot on his expectations for next season

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: JJ Redick

Sixers 2017-18 player evaluation: JJ Redick

JJ Redick

Position: Shooting guard

Status for 2018-19: Unrestricted free agent

Redick in 2017-18
It’s OK to admit it now. When you first heard how much the Sixers were giving Redick on the free-agent market last summer, you were a bit alarmed. 

Sure, Redick was always going to be a valuable addition, and the fact that a big-time player chose to join the Sixers was a huge feather in their cap. But paying him $23 million — the sixth-highest mark among NBA two guards in 2017-18 and the 25th-largest sum in the entire league — is a huge investment, even if it was for only one season.

However, the Sixers made it clear that they were finally ready to contend, and getting the best possible fit in free agency was a top priority. In Redick’s case, his game meshed with the Sixers like a glove.

The 33-year-old had arguably his best season as a pro. Redick scored a career-high 17.1 points per game on 46.0 percent shooting from the field and 42.0 percent from three. He also contributed 3.0 assists a night and a personal-best 2.5 boards.

Redick, an up-and-down playoff performer to this point in his career, made the most of his postseason stint with the Sixers. He upped his scoring average to 18.2 points a contest and topped the 20-point plateau in five of the team’s 10 playoff games.

Of course, Redick’s defensive deficiencies showed at times throughout the season, but his dead-eye shooting from long range and veteran leadership more than made up for those issues.

Signature game
Redick had plenty of highlights to choose from this past season. In just his eighth game with the team, he went bonkers from beyond the arc late in a 121-110 win over the Indiana Pacers. Redick finished that night with 31 points (eight three-pointers), six assists and three rebounds.

The marksman also contributed another eight-trey performance in a 130-111 victory over his former team, the Orlando Magic, on Nov. 25.

Still, Redick’s best showing of the season came when it mattered most. With the Sixers threatening to advance in the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, he took things into his own hands as he scored a game-high 27 in the team’s series-sealing win over the Miami Heat in Game 5. Not to be denied, the typical jump shooter got to the free throw line 10 times and made each of them to propel the Sixers into the next round.

Looking ahead
You know the situation by now. Redick has stated several times that he wants to be back in Philadelphia, but it’s much more complicated than a simple desire.

First, the Sixers plan to go superstar-hunting in the offseason with the main target being LeBron James. That would almost certainly mean Redick would be shown the door. To his credit, Redick admitted that if a team has the chance to land James, it has to take that opportunity (see story).

Secondly, even if the Sixers swing and miss on James, the numbers to get Redick back in a Sixers uniform could be tricky. He will certainly be looking for a multi-year deal and his numbers suggest he deserves one, but how many years and how many millions are the franchise willing to give a shooting guard who will be 34 when next season tips off?

On Redick
“I don’t want to offend any of the other places I’ve been or teams I’ve been on, but this was probably my favorite year of my career. Playing in Philly is its own experience. Our fans, the city, the buzz about sports and about this team was amazing. I think I said this on media day, it’s the first time I’ll ever play in a real sports town. That definitely lived up to those thoughts. It was awesome to play in Philly.”

- Redick on his experience playing in Philadelphia