Essential The Official ESPN Insider Thread (ESPN+)

Discussion in 'The Coliseum' started by track 1, Oct 9, 2012.

  1. Flight

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  2. Derek Lee

    Derek Lee #thunderup Supporter

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    10 men's college basketball prospects to watch at Geico Nationals
    Caleb Houstan, the No. 7-ranked prospect in the Class of 2021, is part of Michigan's top-ranked recruiting class. AP Photo/Gregory Payan
    8:45 AM ET
    • [​IMG]
      Paul BiancardiBasketball Recruiting
    After Geico Nationals was canceled last year due to COVID-19 concerns, the nation's premier high school basketball event returns this weekend.

    This year's tournament will have the deepest field ever, with 10 nationally ranked teams featuring over 30 ranked prospects competing for a championship.

    The tournament begins Wednesday in Fort Myers, Florida, and will end on Saturday. All 12 games will air on the ESPN networks.

    Here are 10 players -- one from each team -- that you need to know ahead of the tournament.


    SF Caleb Houstan
    Montverde Academy (Florida)
    2021 ESPN 100 ranking:
    7
    Signed with: Michigan

    Houstan, who is part of Michigan's No. 1-ranked recruiting class this cycle, is a pure shot-maker from anywhere on the court. He has pure mechanics as a stationary shooter or a spot-up shooter, as he can cut off a screen to catch and shoot or use his rhythm dribble and pull up. His 6-foot-8, 200-pound size and length make him difficult to guard.

    C Nate Bittle
    Prolific Prep (Oregon)
    2021 ESPN 100 ranking:
    9
    Signed with: Oregon

    Bittle is a hard worker with 7-foot height and wingspan that reaches over 7 feet, 5 inches. He utilizes his frame on both ends of the floor. Offensively, his face-up skill package consists of open 3s, straight-line drives and footwork and touch in the mid-post. Teams can run offenses through him, as he is a strong decision maker and passer. Defensively, his presence shrinks the floor for his opponent. He will bring plenty of upside to Oregon.

    PG Kennedy Chandler
    Sunrise Christian Academy (Tennessee)
    2021 ESPN 100 ranking:
    10
    Signed with: Tennessee

    Chandler combines speed with the mental make-up needed to be a high-level point guard. He displays the innate abilities to be an elite playmaker, change and control the tempo with his dribble and be a scoring threat when needed. He is best in the conversion game, as he pushes the ball with speed dribbles or will make the hit-ahead pass. He also understands to pause at the free throw line and make a decision if he doesn't have a clear path. A big improvement has come with his 3-point shot; the ball comes out of his shooting pocket with ease.

    Nolan Hickman
    Wasatch Academy (Washington)
    2021 ESPN 100 ranking: 28
    Signed with: Kentucky

    Skilled, smart and determined best describe the Kentucky commit. Hickman possesses natural scoring instincts, as he can stretch out the defense with range or go one-on-one and create for himself all within the flow of the possession. He knows when to move the ball, and his vision and willingness to pass make him a top-notch facilitator. What makes him different and successful is his will to make quiet and unspectacular plays that lead to team success. His skill set is reminiscent of former Wildcat Emmanuel Quickly.

    SF Matt Cleveland
    Pace Academy (Georgia)
    2021 ESPN 100 ranking:
    30
    Signed with: Florida State

    Cleveland is one of the best overall athletes in the Class of 2021 who displays high-end body control. He is most dangerous filling the lane and finishing on the fast break. In the half court set, he can make open (and some contested) shots, as well as hit the glass with consistency. He is a capable 3-point shooter but shines as an opportunistic scorer by cutting, rebounding, posting and driving. At Florida State, he will reach his defensive potential and polish his jumper as well.

    PG TyTy Washington
    AZ Compass Prep (Arizona)
    2021 ESPN 100 ranking:
    34
    Uncommitted

    Washington has built the reputation a four-level scorer: 3-pointers, mid-range, layups and free throws. He will score in the open floor or against a set half-court defense. His range is impressive with nice release quickness, but he does not settle for shots. Effective with his dribble, he will find an open pocket of space and take advantage. On the defensive end, he has no issues when it comes to taking charges. He recently decommitted from Creighton and is now looking at Arizona, Auburn, Kansas, LSU, Oklahoma State and UCLA.

    SG Tamar Bates
    IMG Academy (Florida)
    2021 ESPN 100 ranking:
    53
    Uncommitted

    On a loaded IMG team that also features No. 8 Moussa Diabate, Bates is the hidden gem. He plays with an infectious energy and a high production level. He affects the game with his scoring versatility and his alert defensive play. He is dangerous from a triple-threat position, as he can beat opponents with his natural skill, or he will rebound and make hustle plays. He is a prime example of how players impact games when they keep the focus on improvement. He recently requested to be released from his national letter of intent with Texas.

    [​IMG]
    SF M.J. Rice
    Oak Hill Academy (North Carolina)
    2022 ESPN 60 ranking:
    10
    Uncommitted

    Rice is a physically imposing and improving prospect who utilizes his powerful 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame to score points, gather rebounds and defend. He dominates the game best in the paint and at the rim. His perimeter jumper and drive game keep defenders off balance. A sweet spot for Rice is at the pinch post. He is comfortable and confident scoring, passing and driving after making an elbow catch. Rice is a hard matchup when he produces inside-out, as he shows double-double potential. He has been Oak Hill's top player over the course of the season.

    C Vincent Iwuchukwu
    La Lumiere School (Texas)
    2022 ESPN 60 ranking:
    29
    Uncommitted

    With his 7-foot, 205-pound size, as well as his good running ability and soft hands, the big man is starting to develop on the both ends of floor. His early calling card is his shot blocking and shot altering skills, as he utilizes his length, positioning and elevation to challenge and change attempts. As a ball-screener, he is a major target on a dive to the rim, as well as a short roll shooter. Defensively, he provides hard hedge mobility. He continues to evolve his post-up and face-up games under coach Pat Holmes.

    PG Kanaan Carlyle
    Milton High School (Georgia)
    2023 ESPN 25 ranking:
    24
    Uncommitted

    Carlyle is a talented guard who is quick and shifty with the potential to explode for a scoring burst at any time. At a young age, he has shown he can take a broken play and turn it into points without hesitation by way of his offensive instincts. A legitimate and deep 3-point shooter, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound sophomore will also catch lobs for highlight-reel finishes.
     
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  3. Skooby

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  4. 954UAlreadyknow

    954UAlreadyknow All Star

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  5. Flight

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  6. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    Ten NBA things I like and don't like, including the Milwaukee Bucks mixing things up


    We're back with more 10 things, this time featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo's improved playmaking, an impressive rookie, gasp-inducing Zion Williamson moves and some deep NBA design analysis.

    1. Milwaukee's stars, playmaking
    The Bucks are racing the calendar: Can we master the new things we're trying and integrate new guys -- including P.J. Tucker, who hasn't played in more than a week -- before the postseason?

    Milwaukee is down to sixth in points per possession after a middling March, but when they are humming and healthy -- with Jrue Holiday appearing almost all the way recovered from the coronavirus -- the Bucks show signs they might be more adaptable against playoff defenses.

    That starts with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who might have just wrapped the best passing month of his career. Every game now, Antetokounmpo throws one or two passes he didn't have last season.


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    He maps the floor out of post-ups faster. His efficiency on those plays is at a career-best level, per Second Spectrum. (It helps that he has hit 75% on free throws over the last two months.)

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    Mike Budenholzer's early-season adjustment was shifting one shooter into the dunker spot. Those guys are figuring out how to make themselves available. Antetokounmpo has improved the timing and variety of his drop-offs. The Bucks have scored 1.21 points per possession when an Antetokounmpo pick-and-roll leads directly to a shot -- tops among almost 200 ball handlers who have run at least 100 such plays, per Second Spectrum.

    Antetokounmpo has become a more frequent screener -- a potential game-changer. The results have been scattershot, but piling up reps is huge. Khris Middleton is posting the best assist numbers of his career, and slipping passes to Antetokounmpo a beat earlier -- dishes that ignite swing-swing-swing sequences in which the Bucks are at their most Bucksy:

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    We have to see if Milwaukee will have faith in these things -- plus the switching they do on defense now -- when it matters. Budenholzer needs time to experiment with Tucker as the fifth cog in Giannis-at-center closing lineups. Milwaukee has been inconsistent at times, and it can't afford any slippage against the East's beasts.

    2. The Clippers' "other guys" driving change
    The Clips' red flag all season has been their inability to get to the rim or the foul line (though you can add Paul George's comments about his toe injury Thursday). They're an elite offense anyway -- No. 2 overall -- but you need to scrounge some grimy points against postseason defenses. We have to see how Rajon Rondo might change things, but I still don't think the Clippers are going where they want to go unless they diversify their offense.

    The happenstance of injury has unlocked minutes for three bit players who dragged the Clippers in that direction during their recent 6-2 uptick. Center Ivica Zubac is starting in place of Serge Ibaka, reinjecting the Clippers with force around the basket -- and bundles of offensive boards.

    Point guard Reggie Jackson, starting for Patrick Beverley, has been attacking the rim with more vigor than we've seen since his Detroit Pistons peak. He's shooting 42% from deep, and making subtle connecting plays in the flow:

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    Terance Mann once had the NBA's least glamorous job: come in to play defense on the last possession of a quarter, and if you happen to get the ball, please heave a field goal percentage-killing buzzer-beater.

    Mann has seized his chance, and supplanted Luke Kennard in LA's rotation. Half his shots have come at the rim -- a monster number for a perimeter player. He has worked both ends of the pick-and-roll with Kawhi Leonard, knifing into the lane with change-of-pace guile and powering through contact:

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    He's a smart passer on the move:

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    Mann defends well across three positions. He has meshed with George and Leonard in the limited chances he's had to play with both; Tyronn Lue used him briefly in Jackson's place alongside LA's other four starters Thursday night, and that lineup has huge defensive potential.

    Teams will dare Mann to shoot in the postseason; He has hit 45% on corner 3s, but only 23% on longer wing 3s, per Cleaning The Glass. Mann may melt under the spotlight, but he has earned a chance in the playoffs.

    3. Portland, finding new ways to spring Damian Lillard
    Norman Powell's new team has already ripped one set from his old one:

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    The Toronto Raptors ran Powell off screens like that a lot. On the play above, Portland runs Powell and CJ McCollum off mirror-image screens -- allowing Lillard to pick his preferred attack location.

    If one pick springs someone for a layup or corner 3, great! But the real point of Robert Covington's back screen is forcing Pascal Siakam to linger in the paint -- cutting off any pass to McCollum.

    Siakam is then behind the action when Covington screens for Lillard, and Lillard with daylight is a five-alarm fire. Siakam knows that, and rushes forward. That makes him easy prey for a Lillard blow-by; he can't reverse momentum to wall off Lillard's drive.

    Expect more of this. The Blazers set more flare screens than anyone, so this Canadian import is really a cousin to several of their pet actions.

    Coverage of Lillard tends to focus on his limitless shooting range. But as has been the case with Stephen Curry, drooling over Lillard's 35-footers has obscured all the brilliant ways he leverages the threat of those 35-footers.

    Lillard doesn't stand out as an all-world dribbler. He doesn't have the liquidy razzle-dazzle of Curry or Kyrie Irving. His style is more mechanical, less improvisational. But every season, Lillard returns with something new. Move by move, counter atop counter, he has built a calculated and lethal off-the-dribble game.

    He also has made continuous strides as a passer. He recorded the biggest assist numbers of his career when McCollum was injured this season, and it wasn't only because his co-star was missing. Lillard sees everything now, and is more confident threading riskier passes. This one looks mundane, but it's not:

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    That's a lefty over-the-top lob delivered off-the-dribble.

    Portland will probably be an underdog in the first round, provided it avoids the play-in tournament or advances out of it. But no defense is excited about facing Lillard in a series. It is nonstop anxiety.

    4. Justise Winslow, fading away
    The Memphis Grizzlies gave up a solid starter and major cap space to take a shot on Winslow. I didn't love it then, but I didn't mind it either. No big free agents were going to Memphis, and the Grizz would have had trouble duplicating the magic they pulled in snaring a first-round pick to absorb Andre Iguodala.

    I also expected something from Winslow, and he has delivered very little in his first 16 games after recovering from injury. Don't panic yet. Winslow's all-position defense is as stout as ever. He's shooting 12% from deep, but his accuracy has always fluctuated wildly; he'll work his way back to the mean just like Kelly Oubre Jr.

    A ball handler with a shaky jumper was always going to be a tricky fit with Ja Morant, but the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. will blow open the Grizzlies' spacing.

    One concern that might linger: Winslow is getting to the rim and the line at career-low rates. Winslow is a maddeningly unreliable finisher, but attacking is still better than settling for floaters and fadeaways. In Memphis, Winslow has shied from contested finishes -- and moonwalked into low-percentage reclining jumpers.

    5. Is it time to talk about Sekou Doumbouya?
    It might be too soon to worry about Doumbouya. He just turned 20, and had limited professional experience abroad before the Pistons selected him at No. 15 in 2019. The entire roster around Doumbouya has turned over. That's not an exaggeration. Doumbouya is the longest-tenured Piston.

    You'd just like him to do something -- to give a glimpse of how he might someday fit on a good team. He had one such stretch in Jan. 2020 -- seven double-figure outings in eight games -- but there has been almost nothing since.

    The closest thing this season was one game in which the Pistons had to deploy Doumbouya at center, and he looked comfortable screening and diving to the rim. (Doumbouya will throw the occasional pass -- even some trivial swing pass -- that hints at some feel.) He has the tools to be an impactful defender.

    He's shooting 34% overall and 24% on 3s, and it feels like kind of a miracle when one of Doumboya's triples is on line. He has more turnovers than assists. He barely plays anymore.

    The Pistons can withstand Doumbouya busting. Three rookies -- Saddiq Bey, Saben Lee, Isaiah Stewart -- are playing well, with Stewart now shooting 3s and looking like a sure-fire rotation big. Killian Hayes looms. Detroit could land a major prospect in the draft.

    But everything matters. It would be great to see progress from Doumbouya.

    6. The Tyrese Haliburton-Richaun Holmes connection
    I've given up figuring out the Sacramento Kings. They were the worst, then they got hot and De'Aaron Fox won Player of the Week, then they were the worst again, and then they got hot again and Fox won Player of the Week again and they are in the thick of the play-in race again.

    Ten days ago, there was a four-game gap between Nos. 10 and 11 in the West -- between the play-in and the first team out. It looked like the standings might stratify. But the Grizzlies have hovered around .500 since, the Golden State Warriors slumped, and two teams chasing them -- the Kings and Pelicans -- have surged. If the San Antonio Spurs keep falling -- and they were vulnerable given their jammed schedule -- we could have a five-team fight for seeds Nos. 8, 9, and 10.

    One factor behind Sacto's push: Marvin Bagley III's latest injury forced them to lean harder into what has been their best lineup -- a small-ball group with Haliburton in Bagley's place. (In fairness, the Bagley version of Sacramento's starting five has outscored opponents by seven points per 100 possessions; the Kings were getting killed with Bagley at center in reserve units.)

    Alongside Haliburton, Fox can work more off the ball -- including running the wings in transition, where Haliburton is an ace conductor. Haliburton brings old head craft to the pick-and-roll, with a special knack for ultra-soft lobs:

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    Haliburton is shooting a ridiculous 52% on floaters, which he flicks one-handed right out of his dribble. Backpedaling defenders have no idea what Haliburton is going to do. Haliburton exploits their uncertainty with an expert level of disguise.

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    That is very, very rude. It looks like Haliburton might loft a floater before he winds up for an apparent lob to Bagley -- a ruse so convincing, Joe Harris sprints in from the corner to pounce on Bagley. But the lob never comes. Haliburton turns his wrist and whips a one-handed laser to Harris' man.

    The Kings have scored almost 1.1 points per possession when Haliburton shoots out of the pick-and-roll, or dishes to a teammate who fires -- 24th out of 184 guys who have run at least 100 such plays, per Second Spectrum.

    Finally, the Kings have a direction. Is it a direction to the top? Who knows. Odds are always against that. But Sacramento fans will take any upward trend.
     
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  7. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    7. Phoenix, adding layers
    Most team executives give four teams at least a puncher's chance to win the West: the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Utah Jazz, and newly fortified Denver Nuggets. (I am loving the Aaron Gordon fit in Denver even more than I expected I would -- and I expected a lot.) Most such conversations then proceed the same way: Oh, yeah, the Phoenix Suns. I guess we should count them, right?

    Some executives have the Suns squarely in the first tier. Some in the "oh, yeah" group struggle to explain their skepticism. Phoenix has a three-game lead for the No. 2 seed, and the league's second-fattest net-rating. They are one of only three teams -- along with the Jazz and Bucks -- in the top 10 on both ends. You can debate the usefulness of that designation; is it better to be No. 8 on offense and No. 5 on defense -- as Phoenix is now -- than to sit as the Clippers do at second on one end (scoring) and 12th on the other?

    Some doubt stems from Phoenix's newness, and their relative lack of postseason experience beyond Chris Paul and Jae Crowder. (Thank the basketball gods Monty Williams decided to start Crowder again, and scrap the Frank Kaminsky experiment.)

    Some of it is the fear that playoff defenses will swallow Paul and Devin Booker with size. There is also the notion that some Paul teams don't have that extra gear -- that Paul's maniacal desire to win every game, every possession pushes his teams to their ceiling before the games really count.

    But whatever gear the Suns are at now is really freaking good. Phoenix is rugged on both ends. They do not beat themselves. You have to earn everything.

    The most encouraging trend is the increasing motion and unpredictability in Phoenix's half-court offense. Early in the season, the Suns were stuck in "your turn, my turn" mud. That sluggishness can still infect them, but the three players around Booker and Paul are doing more stuff to confuse help defenders.

    It can be as simple as two shooters exchanging places:

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    You'd be surprised how often that flip-flop surprises defenses.

    Elements of this were baked into Phoenix's roster. Mikal Bridges might be the league's smartest cutter. Crowder is always up to something, and he's an underrated extra-pass guy. They've all dabbled more in this as the season has progressed -- adding layers atop layers.

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    Crowder's flare screen for Booker forces a switch, but Crowder doesn't stop there. He senses a chance to cut backdoor.

    Don't dismiss these guys. Dario Saric is killing it off the bench. (The most productive pick-and-roll partnership on a per-possession basis, according to Second Spectrum: Booker and Saric.) They are getting something from Torrey Craig. Maybe they do have one playoff upgrade: staggering Paul and Booker so that one is always on the floor. (That said, their bench mob has done well lately.)

    8. Zion Williamson's craft
    Williamson goes from cornered under the rim to scoring with ease faster than almost any player I can recall:

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    Remember Muhammad Ali's famed "anchor punch" -- the alleged phantom punch that felled Sonny Liston? It was (in some tellings) so fast, most people didn't see it -- a rare combination of technique, power, and all-world athleticism. That's somehow what I thought of watching Williamson pivot his way out of a straightjacket and lay the ball in as if he had never been in trouble. Williamson moves with alarming suddenness.

    He's evolving every game. He is already a skilled pick-and-roll ball handler in basically any two-man combination. He's adding moves and countermoves. I audibly gasped when he did this:

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    You're supposed to send Williamson right. That's the whole strategy -- the only strategy. If he's busting out righty in-and-out dribbles, I'm not sure what you are supposed to do.

    Williamson is shooting 62%! Bonkers box score lines -- 13-of-17 from the floor -- seem ho-hum now. New Orleans averages 1.13 points when Williamson shoots out of an isolation, or passes to a teammate who launches -- tied with James Harden for eighth among 127 players who have recorded at least 50 isos, per Second Spectrum.

    The Pels are up to 7th in points per possession, and they're No. 1 by a lot since Feb. 1. They're still a bottom-three defense, but all that scoring has been enough to propel them into the play-in race. Their offense gives them a chance almost every night.

    9. Miami's "trophy gold" uniforms
    It might be time to scrap bonus alternate uniforms for incumbent playoff teams -- dubbed with apparently genuine and therefore mockable seriousness as "earned edition" uniforms. This year's crop is uninspired, to be polite. Half look like jerseys already in circulation. Two are gray, and they are terrible. Ditching the Blazers' red-black-white color scheme for a black-on-gray pajama set is a crime against art.

    The Boston Celtics' features green-on-green, and even I learned in my teenage years that green-on-green is a fashion no-no. (Perspective: I did not know what tapered jeans were, let alone that I was wearing them, until a decade later.)

    At least Miami tried something with this trophy gold conceit, which comes across on TV more as mustard yellow.

    [​IMG]

    It's not bad. It's just confusing. It doesn't strike you as a Heat jersey. Wait, I wasn't planning to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. Why is this Lakers game starting so early?

    All new jerseys take some getting used to before your brain accepts them as part of a team's iconography. Some radical departures -- like the Orlando Magic's orange uniforms -- fit in because they retain design elements (fonts, pinstripes) of the team's core jerseys. These Heat jerseys feature the team's classic lettering, but the unfamiliar color overwhelms everything.

    Some team-jersey connections cement faster because the new jerseys resemble nothing else in the NBA. The Utah Jazz "red rocks" set has nothing to do with any prior Utah uniform, but became identifiable with the Jazz almost right away because they are unique in the NBA.

    Teams and design artists have only so much brain space for new jerseys. Fans have only so much money to buy them. We may not need the "earned edition."

    10. Charlotte's mint look
    We absolutely need this:

    [​IMG]I worried this would be too much mint. Nope. It rules. It is the exact right amount of mint. Mint is close enough to Charlotte's turquoise that your mind immediately accepts this as a Hornets court.

    It works because the mint is not too bright. It's muted -- almost glazed. Shading half of each honeycomb darker mitigates any potential for searing brightness. Who knew that mint meshed so well with black? The gold trim pops beautifully against the black background. I love the little golden hornets in the corners.

    The contrast between new-school mint and old-school wood rendered in different shades lands right in my court design sweet spot. It's like a perfect combination of tastes you never thought to try together.

    My favorite touch: that sliver of mint around the black hexagon at center court. You notice it, and it's awesome, but it's not distracting.

    This might be an instant top-ten NBA court.
     
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  8. Skooby

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    The potential NBA prospects who impressed at the Geico Nationals


    The Geico Nationals concluded over the weekend after four days of action in Fort Myers, Florida. Ten of the top high schools in the country participated, with many of the best prospects in America going head to head in one of the most competitive settings we've seen at this level of basketball since the onset of the pandemic.

    Montverde Academy defeated Sunrise Christian 62-52 in the final to win its fifth Geico Nationals championship.

    This model of elite high school teams competing against one another in organized settings is rapidly emerging as the preferred method for showcasing the top prep stars of the future for companies such as Nike. A new league starting next season featuring at least a dozen teams is expected to be announced in the near future.

    Which prospects moved the needle? Here's our look at the standouts.


    Jalen Duren | Jr. | C | Montverde Academy
    No. 2 in ESPN Class of 2022

    The 17-year-old Duren, who stands 6-foot-10, had a quietly productive showing. He averaged 13 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in 24 minutes per game, earning a spot on the all-tournament team for the event champions.

    One of the most physically gifted big men in the high school game, Duren is still figuring out how to consistently use his ability to his advantage. Sometimes he goes through stretches in which he isn't assertive enough at making his presence felt. Like many big men his age, he can be a little mechanical with his moves at times as he continues to work on his coordination and balance.


    While he doesn't play above the rim as frequently as you might hope, Duren has excellent hands and is a terrific target for lobs, showing impressive power when he can catch the ball with a head of steam and explode off two feet. He also shows flashes of touch on short-range jumpers that hint at good things to come down the road.

    Duren gets criticized at times for not playing hard enough. There's some truth to that, particularly in his lack of physicality while setting screens and sealing off opponents. However, that's not the case on the defensive side of the ball, where he really shines at the moment. He has excellent feet and overall mobility, shows impressive versatility hedging and switching on ball screens and is extremely difficult to shoot over both on the perimeter and interior.

    His size, wingspan and solid timing make him a consistent presence as a rim-protector, and he's very difficult to post up due to his strong frame and patience staying down on fakes. A tick slow to react at times, Duren will need to continue to improve his technique and maintain a high level of intensity to reach his potential as a defensive anchor, but he's well on his way to doing so and is already far more impactful on this end of the floor than similar prospects, such as James Wiseman, were at the same stage.

    Becoming a more modern big man, especially as a passer and shooter, should be considered a long-term goal as his career moves on. Duren is expected to be a major target of the G League Ignite program in a year's time but is also exploring college options, where he'll have his pick of suitors.

    Caleb Houstan | Sr. | SF | Montverde Academy
    No. 8 in ESPN Class of 2021

    The Michigan-bound Houstan earned a spot on the all-tournament team by leading Montverde in scoring and coming up with several clutch baskets in both the semifinals and finals, something that has become routine for him over the years. He made a name for himself early in his career for his perimeter shooting ability and backed that up by making 41% of his 3-pointers and 82% of his free throws in the 25 games this season for which we have data (per Synergy Sports Technology).

    Where Houstan really shined most vividly was with his work on the defensive end, where he displays the maturity, technique and awareness of a player in his late 20s rather than someone who just turned 18. With the size to defend guards, wings and forwards alike, Houstan covers ground extremely well, plays with strong intensity and shows an excellent understanding of his team's schemes, particularly with the rotations he makes off the ball.

    While not quite the same player, Houstan will remind Michigan fans of Franz Wagner with the pace, efficiency and approach he brings to the table. Due to his role and the amount of star power on Montverde, Houstan doesn't see all that many opportunities to create for himself or others out of a ball screen or in one-on-one situations, something scouts will want to see more of as his career moves on.


    Kennedy Chandler | Sr. | PG | Sunrise Christian
    No. 10 in ESPN Class of 2021

    Chandler capped off an outstanding senior year by leading his Sunrise team to the championship game while earning a spot on the all-tournament team, delivering plenty of fireworks along the way.

    Chandler proved to be arguably the best pick-and-roll point guard in the high school game while playing a brutal schedule that pitted his team against elite-level competition on a nightly basis. He's one of the quickest end-to-end players you'll find outside the NBA ranks, and he significantly improved as a perimeter shooter, hitting 41% of his 3-pointers on the season, per Synergy, with a significant chunk of his attempts coming off the dribble when opponents went under on ball screens. While not blessed with great size, Chandler has the ability to get anywhere he wants on the floor. He can stop and start with a change of pace and has elite footwork and ballhandling skills. That, paired with the fact that he can make every pass in the book using either hand and on both sides of the floor, gives him significant potential to grow into. He's disruptive and engaged on the defensive end as well, often using his quickness and anticipation skills to get in passing lanes and generate turnovers and surprising at times getting off his feet for blocks.

    Like many smaller point guards, Chandler will need to continue to fine-tune his game, be it seeing the floor in traffic, finishing around the basket in a crowd or adding bulk to not be pushed around by stronger players. His physical abilities, the way he sees the game and his mentality will lead him very far regardless, drawing comparisons to the likes of Mike Conley.




    TyTy Washington | Sr. | PG | AZ Compass Prep
    No. 34 in ESPN Class of 2021

    Washington has had arguably the biggest breakout season of any player in high school basketball, going from borderline top-100 recruit to a five-star-caliber prospect. Based on what he showed in Fort Myers, that might still be underselling his potential. Washington had a far bigger impact and looks to be a superior prospect than several of the top-10 recruits who were in attendance. He led AZ Compass Prep to a 28-2 record and its first invitation to the Geico Nationals, where Washington was named to the all-tournament team.

    Washington has excellent size for a point guard, standing 6-foot-4 with a strong 190-pound frame and long 6-foot-9 wingspan. While not blessed with elite quickness or explosiveness, he plays with a natural pace that allows him to get anywhere he wants on the floor, especially operating out of pick and roll using changes of speed and hesitation moves. Washington does a great job of reading defenses and making the right basketball play, showing the ability to get teammates involved unselfishly using both sides of the floor while also scoring from all over the court. He has deep range on his pull-up 3-pointer, plays out of step-backs naturally and excels in midrange spots.

    As talented an offensive player as Washington is, there's a casual aspect to his game that can work to his detriment at times on both ends of the floor. Many of his shots come with a high degree of difficulty, and he can get sloppy with the ball at times. It took him time to get going in both of the Geico games he played in, and, like many players his age, he isn't the most committed or intense defender. He stands around off the ball, doesn't display enough urgency getting over screens and has a tendency to gamble excessively for steals. With the size, length and instincts he displays, he has the potential to be very impactful on this end of the floor as his career moves along, but that isn't the case at the moment.

    Having decommitted from Creighton last month, Washington is considered one of the top available recruits and is also reportedly considering professional options, including the G League Ignite. Wherever he elects to play, he'll enter next season as a strong one-and-done candidate.




    Stefan Todorovic | Jr. | SF | Prolific Prep
    Unranked in ESPN Class of 2022

    The 6-foot-8 Todorovic, who arrived in the U.S. from Serbia last summer, led Prolific Prep in scoring in their two games at Geico. He also displayed some other notable parts of his game that could bode well for his future.

    Nearly automatic with his feet set, Todorovic is also adept at running off screens and getting into his jumper effortlessly with impressive footwork and balance -- a great skill to have from a player his size. When defenses close out too aggressively on his jumper, he can attack a closeout and pull up sharply in midrange spots or find the open man on the move. His team runs a decent amount of offense through him, and he showed the ability to make good decisions, though that aspect of his game is still a work in progress.

    Defensively, Todorovic is a mixed bag. On one hand, he has the size, strength and competitiveness to be very effective. However, he doesn't have the quickest feet, the longest arms or the best overall physical skills, struggling to turn his hips and stay in front of smaller or faster players he'll encounter on the wing.

    Todorovic is currently a high school junior but might opt to return to his original high school class and enroll in college this summer. He was recently named to the Nike Hoop Summit World Team.



    Adem Bona | Jr. | Center | Prolific Prep
    No. 24 in ESPN Class of 2022

    Bona arrived in the United States from Turkey this past summer after he'd established himself as one of the top international prospects in his class with outstanding showings at the FIBA level. If his play at Geico is any indication, he's en route to doing the same among his stateside peers. He posted 10 blocks in 47 minutes of action along with several impressive dunks.

    Quick off the ground, with outstanding end-to-end speed and the agility and fluidity needed to consistently use his physical skills on both ends of the floor, Bona is a rare type of player. While he's listed at 6-foot-9 and doesn't have the biggest frame at 210 pounds, his huge wingspan allows him to play much bigger than his size when combined with the incredible energy he displays.

    He's not only a terrific presence as a rim-protector, but he has the ability to defend on the perimeter as well. He can cover ground quickly, hedge on ball screens and recover back into the paint to make plays with excellent timing. He proved capable of defending smaller players on switches as well in small doses, even blocking 3-pointers at times in impressive fashion.

    Offensively, Bona is a major work in progress. His hands aren't incredibly reliable, his touch around the rim is inconsistent, and he can be very sped up with his decision-making, looking out of control trying to make too many things happen at once. He is a major target for lobs, an outstanding finisher around the rim as a cutter or roller, and shows promising mechanics from the free throw line that can hopefully be harnessed over time.

    Players in Bona's mold are difficult to come by, even if he doesn't possess prototypical size for a center. He has a chance to develop into a very interesting NBA prospect over time if he can iron out the rough edges and add some polish to his skill set.
     
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    Milos Uzan | Jr. | Point Guard | Prolific Prep
    Unranked in ESPN Class of 2022

    Ranked outside of the top-100 by all major recruiting services, Uzan isn't the type of player who would normally expect to find his name on this list. His performance at Geico wasn't particularly notable, posting 10 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds and 5 turnovers with inefficient shooting in 56 minutes over a pair of games. And yet, Uzan really stood out, displaying several key traits NBA scouts actively seek out in young prospects long term.

    Standing 6-foot-3, Uzan impresses with the fluidity he displays playing out of a ball screen, changing speeds elegantly and showing the ability to pass off a live dribble with either hand. He has excellent timing and creativity with the way he gets others involved, using bounce passes or lobs while whipping the ball to both sides of the floor, sometimes looking overly unselfish to a fault but showing an excellent feel for the game.

    Still at a very early stage of development physically, Uzan has a thin frame that lacks strength. He doesn't do a good job of playing through contact at the moment, actively avoiding it at times. Inside the lane, he mostly settles for floaters, which he can knock down with very soft touch. However, his heavy reliance on them prevents him from getting to the free throw line.

    His jump shot is not very consistent either. He sports a low release and would much rather probe with the ball despite showing solid mechanics and overall touch, especially when defenders go under a ball screen.

    Defensively, Uzan is a little too casual with his approach and can get taken advantage of by stronger players, but he does show some instincts and occasional fight when challenged.

    Projecting as a likely multiyear college player, Uzan has a long ways to go to reach his potential but could emerge as an interesting prospect in time as his body develops and his skills evolve.





    Matt Cleveland | Sr. | SF | Pace Academy
    No. 30 in ESPN Class of 2021

    Cleveland's Pace Academy team was invited to the Geico Nationals after winning the Georgia championships, one of the few invites that went out to non-basketball factories. Cleveland responded with an outstanding showing against traditional power Oak Hill Academy, posting 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting, 8 rebounds and 3 assists in a narrow loss.

    At 6-foot-6 with long arms and a strong frame, Cleveland is somewhat of a prototype for a Florida State commit. He barely needs any dribbles to make an impact, scoring mostly in the open floor, off cuts, while attacking closeouts and when crashing the offensive glass. Sporting long strides and excellent body control, he's a creative and reliable finisher around the basket, using both hands and soft touch off the glass.

    Not known as an outside shooter, converting just 14-of-41 3-point attempts in 30 games this season per Synergy, Cleveland hit several jump shots in his lone game at Geico, showing a glimmer of hope in that facet. His mechanics will need some work long term. He has a fairly stiff release through his elbow, struggling to reliably make jumpers with his feet set. Just an average ball handler, Cleveland isn't much of a shot-creator in the half-court either.

    Cleveland's willingness to do the little things and his role-player potential are what should get him on the floor early in his career as his offense evolves. He's a multi-positional defender with the strength and length needed to defend most power forwards, and has quick enough feet to contain guards and wings alike. He's also an active and engaged rebounder who makes the extra pass willingly and is happy to operate within a team concept.





    Caleb Foster | So. | Point Guard | Oak Hill
    Unranked in ESPN Class of 2023

    One of the youngest players to see major minutes at the Geico Nationals, Foster had an outstanding showing. The 16-year-old dropped 42 points on 26 shots to go along with 14 assists and just 3 turnovers in 63 minutes in a pair of games for Oak Hill.

    Foster looked like one of the purest shooters/scorers at the event, making eight of his 15 3-point attempts, many coming off movement pulling up off the dribble, operating off step-backs or running off screens. When defenders closed out aggressively on his jumper, he showed the ability to attack off closeouts too, changing speeds off hesitation moves and mixing in midrange jumpers or floaters while also getting all the way to the rim and finishing with either hand around the basket. Playing with a unique pace for a player his age, rejecting screens skillfully and finding angles to the rim using crafty ballhandling skills, he showed he can make the extra pass as well, finding shooters or cutters on the move, mostly in simple fashion.

    Despite possessing outstanding size for a point guard, Foster has some questions to answer about his long-term upside due to his lack of elite quickness or explosiveness, which forces him to play mostly off the ball. Still, you don't normally see players his age demonstrate this level of feel and skill, and he has two more years of high school basketball left to continue to improve.





    Ryan Nembhard | Sr. | PG | Montverde Academy
    Unranked in ESPN Class of 2021

    Nembhard had a similar showing to what we saw in January at the St. James NIBC Invitational, posting 22 assists against just 9 turnovers in 3 games, and going 5-of-6 on 3-pointers to earn MVP honors at the Geico Nationals.

    He rarely puts up big scoring numbers but always somehow ends up making big, winning plays on both ends of the floor that help decide games, helping Montverde finish the season 24-1 with a national championship under its belt.

    Considered a streaky shooter earlier in his career, Nembhard made major progress in that area this season. He converted 46% of his 3-pointers in 25 games, according to Synergy, mostly in catch-and-shoot situations. His 3.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season is another accurate reflection of the role he plays, as he's incredibly sure-handed with the ball and takes his responsibility of getting the many stars on his team involved very seriously. He's also an outstanding defender thanks to his toughness getting after opponents on the ball and the awareness he shows off it.

    While Nembhard doesn't ooze NBA upside and will surely be winning games at Creighton for quite some time, it would be a mistake to rule him out as a prospect entirely. We've seen players in his mold -- think Monte Morris, Tyus Jones or Jordan McLaughlin -- find ways to make an impact with similar attributes.
     
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    Ten NBA things I like and don't like, including the Nuggets' devastating stars


    Let's roll with this week's 10 things, including the Denver Nuggets reaching legitimate contender status, a Utah Jazz dilemma and one rookie flashing a little bravado.

    1. The simple devastation of the Jamal Murray-Nikola Jokic two-man game


    The Nuggets have obliterated everything in their path since acquiring Aaron Gordon, whose seamless fit I discussed on the Lowe Post podcast this week. The Nuggets are a legit contender. They could also lose in the first round -- almost anyone in the West could -- but they have graduated from "puncher's chance" to "actual chance."

    Gordon has changed their team, but the main reason for Denver's ascent is their two best players reaching new levels -- both individually, and in amplifying each other.


    Jokic is the MVP frontrunner. Murray has quietly (outside Denver, anyway) established himself as a reliable All-Star-level player after a blah first 15 games. He's averaging a career-high 21 points on 48% shooting -- and 41% from deep. The gap between playoff Murray and regular-season Murray is shrinking.

    Denver's new starting five is plus-61 in 90 minutes. Egads. The Nuggets are averaging 117 points per 100 possessions -- a hair behind the top-ranked Brooklyn Nets offense, and a mark that would (if not for Brooklyn) rank No. 1 in history. That leaps to an unreal 123 points per 100 possessions with Murray and Jokic on the floor.

    They have an answer for every scheme. Drop back, and Jokic rains pick-and-pop fire. Blitz Murray, and Jokic flares for 3s or gathers slip passes for 4-on-3s. Switch, and they pick the tastiest mismatch: Murray roasting a big, or Jokic mashing someone on the block.

    The Nuggets average almost 1.2 points per possession when Jokic shoots from the post or passes to a teammate who launches -- ninth among 106 players with at least 25 post touches, per Second Spectrum.

    Neither guy blows you away with straight-line speed or volcanic explosiveness. They have dozens of subtle tricks to open small windows of space. They prod those windows, exploring the empty space with moves and countermoves until the windows expand to the point that the defense is broken.

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    Jokic flips his pick to the sideline, catapulting Murray into open space. Murray bounces it back to Jokic once he draws Jonas Valanciunas deep enough to provide Jokic one of those windows. They build upon that advantage until gifting Will Barton -- Denver's X-factor now -- an easy 3.

    Murray is a master of mini-moves designed to crack those small windows -- hesitation dribbles, shoulder feints, that one extra bounce into the paint that bends the defense.

    He senses when to play against expectations:

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    Murray is a daring entry passer capable of finding Jokic from any angle.

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    These two could be the next generation's John Stockton and Karl Malone -- no-frills stars who empower each other, and stick together in a non-glamour market.



    2. Utah's Bojan Bogdanovic dilemma


    Bogdanovic is something of a barometer for the Jazz. He is the weakest defensive link in their starting five. Some postseason opponents are well-equipped to hunt him. Others offer safe havens.

    Bogdanovic is also a deadly catch-and-shoot gunner who rounds out Utah's starters with size and craft -- plus an ability to exploit mismatches that will be critical when postseason defenses switch more to stall Utah's pick-and-roll blender.

    A lot of opponents stash power forwards on Royce O'Neale, leaving wings to defend Bogdanovic. When the Jazz swing those matchups in their favor, they are really hard to beat.

    Bogdanovic was the league's most efficient post-up threat last season, per Second Spectrum, and Utah has scored 1.1 points per possession this season when he shoots from the post or dishes to a teammate who fires -- 22nd among 106 players with at least 25 post touches.

    He has proved a more willing inside-out distributor; Bogdanovic is passing and recording assists from the post at career-high rates, per Second Spectrum:

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    Utah sometimes has O'Neale and Bogdanovic screen for each other, pouncing when opponents switch slower bigs onto Bogdanovic:

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    Bogdanovic has played almost two-thirds of his minutes with Rudy Gobert, and the Jazz have allowed only 104.6 points per 100 possessions in those minutes -- below the Lakers' league-best mark, per NBA.com.

    Against ultra-big teams -- i.e., the Lakers in some alignments -- the Jazz can pair Gobert and Derrick Favors for spot minutes. They are also sitting on one lineup -- Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, O'Neale, Gobert -- that may represent their best two-way balance.



    3. Miami, still searching


    The Miami Heat have been searching for two-way balance since Jae Crowder left for the Phoenix Suns. Maurice Harkless, one potential Crowder replacement, never fit #HeatCulture. Kelly Olynyk was too slow. Trevor Ariza, their current starter, is almost 36 and didn't play in an NBA game for a year before joining Miami; he's 11-of-42 on 3s.

    Miami's revamped starting five (Victor Oladipo, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Ariza, and Bam Adebayo) has managed 109 points per 100 possessions -- below league average. (They have been excellent on defense.) Miami last season mostly avoided lineups featuring three shaky shooters, aside from some (very good) closing stints with Butler, Adebayo, and Andre Iguodala.

    On some nights, this lineup might feature four shaky shooters. Defenses aren't guarding Ariza. Oladipo has hit 32% from deep over the past two seasons. Butler is an unthinkable 16-of-72 this season, which means he'll probably shoot 60% on 3s in the playoffs.

    Robinson is a one-man floor-spacer, and the Heat shift him around in ways that make help assignments difficult -- including positioning Robinson as the only shooter on the weak side of a pick-and-roll. But on lots of two-man actions, the paint is over-cluttered:

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    Collective smarts can make up for a scrunched floor. This lineup is overflowing with high-IQ cutters and passers, and dangerous midrange shooters who can navigate tight confines. But it's hard to execute with such five-man precision over and over against great defenses.

    I'm not sure what Miami should do -- if anything. The Heat need Oladipo's north-south quickness, provided he can return healthy after an apparent leg injury Thursday night. Starting Goran Dragic has been Miami's failsafe. He adds even more north-south oomph, and has the best pick-and-roll chemistry with Adebayo. Swapping him for Ariza would make the Heat really small, transforming Butler into a power forward. Butler and Iguodala slide there a fair amount, but Erik Spoelstra is cautious overburdening them. Dragic also has not looked quite the same over the past two months.

    Miami has used Nemanja Bjelica mostly as Adebayo's backup rather than pairing them -- likely fearing that starting Bjelica would compromise their defense. (Ditto for flipping Tyler Herro in for Ariza or Oladipo.)

    Miami leaned into an ultra-aggressive blitzing defense over the past two months. You almost expect to see Chris Bosh trapping pick-and-rolls. The Heat's execution has been solid, but they walk a tightrope against great shooting teams.

    Never doubt the Heat's ability to coalesce. They have time, just not much.



    4. Zach LaVine, telegrapher


    LaVine was a deserving All-Star, but he's still too turnover prone for undisputed alpha playmaking work.

    LaVine is miles better than he was as the kid the Minnesota Timberwolves shoehorned into point guard duty. He knows the fundamental reads, and (sometimes) sees and executes them earlier than he used to.

    But he still telegraphs passes, and tries a lot that just aren't there.

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    That's a nice idea -- feeding Nikola Vucevic against a switch -- but Dejounte Murray sniffs it out.

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    Ingles is there, waiting. He seems almost insulted LaVine throws the pass. LaVine's only chance is to loft it high, but he tries threading an impossible needle.

    Vucevic is a good playmaking center; the Bulls can run lots of offense through him, freeing LaVine to work more as an off-ball cutter.

    Meanwhile, Thaddeus "Thadgic" Young has been Chicago's best passer all season. The Young-Vucevic frontcourt should absorb enough playmaking for LaVine to find his ideal water level between finishing and creating.

    The Bulls are minus-1 in 87 minutes with LaVine, Vucevic, and Young on the floor. How well they can defend is an open question, though their key reserve guards getting healthy should vaporize those disastrous minutes with Lauri Markkanen at small forward.

    One thing to watch: Vucevic is rolling to the rim slightly more often in Chicago now that he has a ball handler in LaVine who regularly draws two defenders, and he's a good passer on the move. Vucevic doesn't have as much space with Young lurking around the paint, but the floor is wide open with Markkanen at power forward.



    5. Tobias Harris, in full


    Anyone glancing at Harris' stats would assume he is basically the same guy, and happens to be draining more long 2s -- a blip that will subside. Harris is probably taking too many midrangers and not enough 3s, and it might be hard for him to continue hitting half those midrangers.

    But watch, and you know he's different -- more poised, in command. He hasn't made a giant leap in any one skill. He has inched forward in everything, the sort of gradual all-around improvement that is almost imperceptible.

    Harris is having his most efficient season in basically every play type, per Second Spectrum: post-ups, pick-and-rolls, isolations. He has not changed much about how he operates in any of those plays. He's just more polished. He doesn't rush, or veer out of control, but he acts with decisiveness when required.

    He's pulling catch-and-shoot 3s in semi-transition without hesitation:

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    My favorite Harris thing: when he gets the ball on the wing in transition, discovers a smaller player on him, and bulldozes for a layup. He is doing that more this season.

    Philly has scored 1.34 points per possession on any trip featuring a Harris post-up -- fifth among 105 players who have recorded at least 25 post touches, per Second Spectrum. He has coughed the ball up on only 3.6% of those post-ups -- tenth lowest in that same group.

    Harris is 23-of-41 in the last five minutes of close games, emerging as the second tentpole of Philadelphia's crunch-time offense -- the outside counterpart to Joel Embiid's interior bashing.

    Harris has never been a plus passer, but he's getting off the ball a beat earlier and making snappier reads. Doc Rivers has installed a snazzy set that gets Harris the ball on the move in the middle of the floor, shooters in both corners:

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    (The Suns run a version of this centered around Devin Booker and Dario Saric.)

    Harris was Philly's best player during Embiid's recent absence. The Sixers are 8-4 in their past 12 games without Embiid after going 1-5 in such games earlier in the season. They enjoyed an easy-ish schedule over the past month, but Harris deserves huge credit for keeping Philly afloat -- especially given Ben Simmons' recent slump on offense.
     
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    6. Time Lord, jolting Boston into action


    Brad Stevens loves running offense through an Al Horford-style hand-off fulcrum, but he hasn't had great veteran big man candidates since Horford's departure.

    Daniel Theis was the most reliable facsimile, but Robert Williams is a better passer -- and much more dangerous slicing inside for dunks. Part of being a good passer is posing a threat to do other things -- to make the defense worry you might do something other than pass.

    With Theis in Chicago and Williams starting, Stevens is entrusting Williams with the Horford role. Williams is dishing 3.5 dimes per game as a starter. Boston's assist rate leaps from worrisome to acceptable with Williams on the floor. He gets teammates moving, and jolts the Celtics out of isolation mode. Williams might unlock a new sub-system of offense for Boston -- the junior varsity version of Miami's Adebayo-centric offense-within-the-offense:

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    Those split-style actions are even more effective when they involve Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. (Boston's new starting five is plus-12 in 66 minutes. Williams can still be erratic on defense and on the glass -- Embiid tortured him Tuesday -- but Boston has allowed only 105 points per 100 possessions when he shares the floor with the team's two star wings.)

    With Evan Fournier aboard, Stevens can keep at least two of Fournier, Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart, and Kemba Walker on the floor at all times -- huge relief for a team that has been too dependent on one-dimensional stand-still types to fill minutes.

    Williams also can manipulate small gaps in the defense:

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    His pass fake gets Olynyk backpedaling -- exposing a corridor to the rim. Williams saunters through, keeping his head up and his options open. That doesn't sound like much, but a lot of young bigs don't have the handle and feel to pull it off.



    7. Deni Avdija, getting over the jitters


    For the first two months of the season, you could watch an entire week of Washington Wizards action and not notice Avdija.

    But imagine being 19, in a new country, playing (starting!) against the world's best players -- and alongside two ball-dominant superstars in Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook. You might be intimidated.

    Since his promotion back into the starting five two weeks ago, Avdija has shed that meekness and flashed a little bravado -- and even some nasty. Avdija has attempted 10 or more shots in each of Washington's past five games after reaching that mark only three times before that.

    He's launching 3s when appropriate, and attacking scrambled defenses off catches and handoffs from (the kind of on fire!) Robin Lopez. He's a decent passer on the move. Avdija hasn't recorded many assists, but he dots some of Washington's best possessions with little connecting plays -- extra passes, impromptu screens, well-timed cuts.

    Avdija is a feisty rebounder. He seems to relish physicality, and outworking brutes who might underestimate his competitiveness.

    There is a long way between here and Avdija being a jack-of-all-trades complementary starter on a good team, but step one is believing he belongs -- and playing like it.

    Meanwhile, Rui Hachimura is averaging 18 points on 52% shooting over his past 13 games. His development is on course. Hachimura could (could!) turn into an All-Star someday -- not a perennial one, but perhaps a fringe candidate who makes one or two teams in the East. (Mike Conley just felt a shudder down his spine.)



    8. The Mavs' other bench guard


    Jalen Brunson has received adulation as the Dallas Mavericks' most consistent reserve, but don't overlook Tim Hardaway Jr. just because he makes 11 times Brunson's salary. Hardaway has been really good. He's averaging 16.5 points per game, third on the Mavs, and shooting 39% on more than nine triples per 36 minutes.

    He's also moving the ball in the flow. When Luka Doncic rests, the Mavs trigger possessions with Hardaway flying off two foul line screens and catching on the move.

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    Dallas has been bad when Doncic sits, but it's hard to read much into those numbers given how the coronavirus and associated protocols decimated their roster. The Mavs are about even in 264 minutes when both Hardaway and Kristaps Porzingis play without Doncic.

    Before the season, I thought the five-man group of Doncic, Hardaway, Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Porzingis represented Dallas' best hope of two-way excellence. That lineup is somehow minus-38 in 66 minutes. Richardson has been wildly uneven on offense. Finney-Smith doesn't bring much off-the-bounce dynamism, though he's up to 37% from deep.

    Brunson and Hardaway give Rick Carlisle flexibility tilting lineups a little toward offense -- with or without Doncic on the floor. The Mavs' second-most-used lineup has Porzingis with Hardaway, Brunson, Finney-Smith, and Richardson -- and the Mavs are a monstrous plus-51 in 98 minutes with that group. Their starting five with either Hardaway or Brunson in Richadson's place -- or even in Finney-Smith's if Dallas can risk going small -- holds promise.

    Hardaway and Doncic have formed a nice two-man partnership as Doncic looks to bully small guards who defend Hardaway. The Mavs have scored 1.3 points per possession when a Doncic-Hardaway pick-and-roll leads directly to an attempt -- No. 2 among almost 275 combinations who have partnered for at least 100 such plays. (The number balloons to an absurd 1.429 -- No. 1 overall -- when you include entire possessions featuring the Doncic-Hardaway dance.)

    The Mavs are 20-8 since early February. One of the biggest subplots left is whether they can escape the play-in tournament. Regardless, no one is excited to see these guys -- to joust with Doncic -- in a seven-game series.



    9. The coolest pass in basketball?


    Lots of NBA passes are inaccessible to pickup hacks. They don't come up much in the flow of way-below-amateur 3-on-3 or 5-on-5. But of passes regular humans might try in their regular human games, I submit this species is the very coolest:

    not supported

    The diagonal, long-distance lead bounce pass tossed right out of someone's dribble is so satisfying. It looks amazing -- demands a rewind every time. The level of timing, dexterity, and accuracy required is incredible.

    In any full-court game, I hunted that pass. My hit rate was (shockingly!) not great. But when you even get close, you want to walk off the court and enjoy the postgame beer right away.

    Who are some of the NBA candidates for best-ever -- or most stylish -- at this specific pass?



    10. How are dumb challenges still happening?


    If I ran a team, I would fine my coach for blowing challenges before crunch-time. Not all-pre-clutch challenges are wastes. There is value in keeping a superstar out of severe foul trouble, or (very rarely) contesting a 3-point play (or 3-shot foul) at some pivotal moment.

    But in Year 2 of the challenge era, it is astonishing how many coaches barf their challenge up on innocuous early plays when it could prove so valuable in the final minutes.

    Sometimes, players browbeat coaches into it. Players whirl their fingers over their heads after almost every semi-questionable call and non-call. It is the new version of screaming "and-1" even when you miss. Coaches shouldn't cave.

    I get the theory behind potentially rewarding coaches a second challenge if they win their first, but given how heedless coaches are using them -- and how many things referees can already change via initiating replays on their own -- I'm not sure the extra delays are worth it.
     
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  13. DPresidential

    DPresidential The Coli's Ralph Ellison Supporter

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    Da_Eggman Can't trust every face you gotta watch em

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  15. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    NFL draft 2021 winners, head-scratching picks, reaches from Rounds 2 and 3: Mel Kiper's Day 2 recap

    There were some really good prospects left on the board entering Rounds 2 and 3 of the 2021 NFL draft. My top prospects were wide receiver Elijah Moore (No. 16 overall in my rankings), defensive tackle Christian Barmore (22), linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (23), safety Trevon Moehrig (24), offensive tackle Teven Jenkins (25) and running back Javonte Williams (31).

    A couple of them dropped further than I thought they would, but each could be a Day 2 steal. This is the day in which teams can find value in the draft. There are going to be a lot of second- and third-round rookie starters in 2021, and this is where the good general managers and scouting staffs find gems. It's also where the smart teams make trades to get even more value, and we saw a flurry of them Friday.

    Just as we did out of the first round, below are the picks I liked and didn't like from Day 2. I'm basing these on my rankings and how I have prospects graded, along with whether teams got value with their selections.

    Winners and my favorite picks from Rounds 2 and 3
    [​IMG]

    New York Giants
    The picks: Azeez Ojulari, OLB, Georgia (No. 50); Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF (No. 71)

    Dave Gettleman did it again. That's back-to-back trades down in the first two days, and now the Giants have extra first-, third- and fourth-round picks in the 2022 draft. And to get Ojulari, my third-ranked outside linebacker, at No. 50 is stellar value. Ojulari is a perfect fit for New York's 3-4 defense, and he'll be a speedy rusher off the edge. He had 8.5 sacks for the Bulldogs last season. He also has some coverage ability, so he'll be able to disguise in Patrick Graham's defense.

    Gettleman & Co. also got a versatile and physical corner in Robinson, who could compete for early playing time. It was a good Day 2 for the Giants.



    [​IMG]

    Miami Dolphins
    The pick: Hunter Long, TE, Boston College (No. 81)

    Long was one of the most productive tight ends in the country last season, and he's probably already a better blocker than Dolphins starter Mike Gesicki. He's a complete tight end. I love this pick for Miami, which is trying to help Tua Tagovailoa in Year 2.

    I also like the Dolphins' selections of safety Jevon Holland (No. 36) and offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg (No. 42) in the second round, though they both went a little higher than I thought they would. I'm also knocking Miami just a little bit because it had to trade a 2022 third-rounder to take Eichenberg. Getting a steal with Long, though, is good enough to have the Dolphins here.

    [​IMG]

    Las Vegas Raiders
    The picks: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU (No. 43); Malcolm Koonce, OLB, Buffalo (No. 79)

    I was tough on the Raiders after they reached for offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood in Round 1, but if you swapped their first-round pick with their second-rounder, there wouldn't be any complaining. Now, there's something to be said about value, but there's no doubt that they could have one of the steals of the draft in Moehrig, my top-ranked safety who will immediately upgrade this defense. He always finds the ball; he had 19 pass breakups over the past two seasons, most among all college safeties. (Las Vegas did have to trade up five spots to get him, however, sending the 49ers Nos. 48 and 121 while adding a seventh-rounder.)

    I'm also a big fan of Koonce, an underrated edge rusher who plays hard. He's a natural pass-rusher, though I thought he was a better fit for a team that runs a 3-4 defense. He can be a situational pass-rusher as a rookie. The Raiders' second third-round pick -- safety Divine Deablo -- was lower on my board, and they reached for him at No. 80. Still, it was a good day for my old pals Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock.

    [​IMG]

    New York Jets
    The pick: Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss (No. 34)

    What did I say after Round 1? If the Jets are going to start over with another quarterback, they have to get more help around Zach Wilson. That's what general manager Joe Douglas did with his next two picks, and I love this one. Moore was my best available prospect headed into Day 2 -- 16th on my Big Board -- and he knows how to get open. He's the best slot receiver in this class. Wilson will be able to hit him on easy throws, and Moore will pick up yards after the catch.

    If you read what I wrote Thursday, you know I didn't love the Sam Darnold trade. Take the quarterback situation out of the equation, though, and let's use my rankings as a guide. The Jets got Nos. 9 (Wilson), 10 (guard Alijah Vera-Tucker) and 16 (Moore) on my Big Board. That's good value. This was their only pick of Day 2 after they traded up for Vera-Tucker.

    [​IMG]

    Cleveland Browns
    The picks: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, OLB, Notre Dame (No. 52); Anthony Schwartz, WR, Auburn (No. 91)

    General manager Andrew Berry is off to a great start again in this draft. Why in the world did Owusu-Koramoah drop? I can't figure this one out. He's my top-ranked outside linebacker and is 23rd overall on my Big Board. He's not a pass-rusher, but he's a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can cover tight ends. In fact, Notre Dame used him as a slot cornerback at times. And when he hits running backs, they feel it. This is a fantastic pick for Cleveland, which let B.J. Goodson walk and needed to get younger in the front seven. (I should also note that the Browns traded up for this: They gave up the Nos. 59 and 89 picks to move up to No. 52.)

    Schwartz, meanwhile, has elite speed and was used strangely at Auburn; he essentially got touches only around the line of scrimmage. I think he can be used on more go routes, though the Browns still need to get him the ball on bubble screens. He could be an early-impact slot wideout for Cleveland.


    [​IMG]

    Atlanta Falcons
    The picks: Richie Grant, S, UCF (No. 40); Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan (No. 68)

    Grant is one of my favorite prospects in this class, and he's so versatile that he could play as a deep safety or as a box safety. The Falcons gave up a franchise record in passing yards (4,697) and passing touchdowns (34) in 2020, and taking Grant is a step toward improvement.

    Mayfield, meanwhile, is my sixth-ranked tackle, and Atlanta got him about 20 spots lower than I thought he'd go. He's only 20 years old -- he's going to need some time before he's a quality NFL starter -- but he does have some traits that intrigued scouts. Could he move inside to guard as a rookie while learning both positions? I like Mayfield's potential.
     

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