Posts Tagged ‘2013 draft’

New situations for second-year players

VIDEO: Learn more about the Greek Freak on ‘Inside Stuff’

What a difference a year makes. And another 60 draft picks. And coaching changes. And trades, free agency and retirement. And medical updates. Especially medical updates.

Paul George getting hurt creates an unexpectedly large opportunity for Solomon Hill with the Pacers, C.J. McCollum gets a training camp in Portland and a running start into 2014-15, Alex Len tries to keep up with the other Suns after missing almost all of a second consecutive summer league because of health problems, and that’s just a partial list. Many of last season’s rookies to watch are this season’s special intrigue, second-year players who will be under a spotlight beyond the usual tracking.

We’re talking playoff implications here and serious questions about career direction. Including:

Victor Oladipo, Magic — Oladipo greatly enhanced his draft stock by dramatically improving his perimeter game as a junior compared to the first two seasons at Indiana, then regressed to 32.7 percent on 3-pointers and 41.9 percent overall as an NBA rookie. That was either a typical difficult transition to the pros, compounded by playing a lot more point guard than before, or the start of chatter that he was a one-hit wonder as a college shooter.

That, in turn, matters in a big way in Orlando. The potential impact of the No. 2 pick in 2013 who at the time projected as a two-way player, based on that final season with the Hoosiers, would be stunted if opponents don’t need to break a sweat when he gets the ball 18 feet from the basket. Beyond that, the Magic need shooters. If Oladipo isn’t one, they need them even more.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — New coach Jason Kidd wants to give Greek Freak, a small forward as a rookie, a look at point guard, despite Kidd’s many options at the positions. There isn’t the same need after adding Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall later in the summer — in addition to returnees Brandon Knight, Ramon Sessions and Nate Wolters — but the implications of Antetokounmpo succeeding or failing at the point are big. If it works, Milwaukee could throw a matchup problem of historic proportions at a opponents and projected power forward Jabari Parker, the No. 2 pick of 2014, would have more of an opening to show versatility at small forward.

Cody Zeller, Hornets — When Josh McRoberts went from Charlotte to Miami as a free agent, Zeller went from likely backup to the new starter after a 2013-14 of 17.3 minutes per game and a drop to 13.3 in the first round. He is a good fit next to center Al Jefferson, an athletic power forward to offset the center’s slower pace and post game, a good passer who will find Jefferson and new offensive threat Lance Stephenson, but Zeller needs to produce no matter what to help make the Hornets in a playoff a regular sighting.

Alex Len, Suns — Ankle problems last summer, a fractured right pinkie this summer. The 2014 issue isn’t nearly the concern in Phoenix, but the No. 5 pick in ’13 needs to show he can stay healthy. He played 42 games as a rookie, mostly watching as Miles Plumlee, just acquired from the Pacers, took complete control of the starting job at center. Len has a lot of ground to make up.

Anthony Bennett, Timberwolves — The good news is that the first pick in 2013 does not face the same pressure in Minnesota as he did in Cleveland, not with Andrew Wiggins, No. 1 this year, headlining the package that went to the Twin Cities for Kevin Love. Of course, that’s also the bad news. People are expecting that little of Bennett.

Counting him out after one season, even a season of 4.2 points and 35.6 percent from the field, is a mistake. Bennett may have been the top choice only because it was a bad draft and likely would have gone somewhere around the middle of the lottery this June, and there may still be questions about whom he defends, but this is a bounce-back opportunity. Then it’s up to him.

Gorgui Dieng, Timberwolves — Speaking of Minneapolis big-man watches. The difference is Dieng went No. 21, was always going to be a good value pick in that range, and showed the kind of improvement the second half of his rookie season that makes a team look forward to what comes next. Nikola Pekovic, Dieng, Thaddeus Young, maybe Bennett — Minnesota has a chance for a center/power forward rotation.

Ben McLemore, Kings — Sacramento officials couldn’t stop celebrating its good fortune a year ago that McLemore was still on the board at No. 7. Then he was given a clear path to the starting job at shooting guard and couldn’t hold it, finishing at 37.6 percent from the field. Then the same Sacramento officials used the 2014 lottery pick on another shooting guard, Nik Stauskas. While saying all the right things about remaining committed to McLemore, of course.

Solomon Hill, Pacers — Even if Chris Copeland gets the start at small forward in place of the injured George, any measurable bench production from Hill, the No. 23 pick a year ago, will be important. To Indy, of course, in trying to turn longshot hopes for another playoff run into reality, but also to Hill in the wake of getting just 8.1 minutes in 28 regular-season appearances.

C.J. McCollum, Trail Blazers — Limited to just 38 games by a broken left foot, a repeat injury from college, he is now an integral part of hopes in Portland. A solid (or better) contribution from McCollum and the Trail Blazers have a proven backup shooting guard who could play emergency point guard. Poor production and the Blazers have more depth problems with a bench built mostly on players trying to squeeze another season or two out of their career or prospects all about unrealized potential.

Trey Burke, Jazz — From the third-leading vote getter for Rookie of the Year, behind Michael Carter-Williams and Oladipo, to possible transition mode within months after Utah spent its 2014 lottery pick on Dante Exum, who has made it clear he is a point guard and wants the ball in his hands. Maybe Burke and Exum play together, especially with Exum projected as being able to defend shooting guard, although he has yet to show the consistent perimeter game to handle the role on offense. Maybe Burke’s relative experience and leadership skills keep him first on the depth chart as Exum makes the jump from high school ball in Australia. But one of the best parts of the Jazz last season is far from locked into the job.

Bucks’ Antetokounmpo Keeps Eating Everything He’s Force-Fed

VIDEO: Giannis goes high to block Durant

As bad as it’s been, lugging around the albatross of the NBA’s most miserable W-L record, the Milwaukee Bucks can take solace in knowing that the 2013-14 schedule is nearly half over and they’ve only been caught using the word “tanking” in a few sentences, each time in close proximity to “not” or “no.”

Regardless of what might or might not be unfolding before our eyes, coach Larry Drew and general manager John Hammond have stirred enough new faces through the new system and into plucky moral victories to obfuscate the onerous. Staking out the higher ground of continued mid-level competitiveness, while tunneling toward the draft lottery, might earn somebody Exec of the Year consideration.

And so might this: Hammond and the Bucks, drafting from the first non-lottery spot (No. 15) last June, landed a player who has had a bigger impact than the No. 1 pick overall. A player, 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo, who – if that draft were redone tomorrow – probably would be chosen before most of the 14 guys in front of him, certainly in the top five and definitely ahead of the pole-sitter, Cleveland’s Anthony Bennett.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Antetokounmpo has been the Bucks’ great Greek hope, the biggest reason (besides elbow room) to drop by the BMO Harris Bradley Center. On the right nights, Antetokounmpo’s coltish potential and unbridled enthusiasm turn the town into a Kentucky horse farm; sunshine, bluegrass and thoroughbred greatness in the making.

He has arms that reach till next Tuesday, hands like jai-alai cestas. The Bucks produced a Giannis growth chart for a giveaway and it was obsolete almost immediately; the kid reportedly has grown 1 1/2 inches since he was drafted, his warm-up pants starting to look like Capris.

Antetokounmpo’s stats are solid – 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 45.6 percent shooting, 23.1 minutes – given his age, his experience, the players around him and the malaise, too. Which makes you nervous that someone so tender, so fragile, might get knocked off course through a lousy season for his team.

Is Antetokounmpo being force-fed too much too soon? Might all the losing and lack of foundation hurt him? Is there anyway to sequester him from Larry Sanders, Milwaukee’s spirited but stormy center who has been setting the don’t-do-this examples lately?

Antetokounmpo seems to be answering the questions affirmatively with his performances and a resilient personality.

As expected, he’s had some roller-coaster stats lines – double-doubles at Brooklyn and Oklahoma City the past couple of weeks, sandwiched around a 50-minute, three-game stretch against Phoenix, Golden State and Chicago in which he shot 1-for-10 with two points, eight rebounds and eight turnovers. He has broken plays on the Bucks, his halfcourt game way behind the havoc he can wreak in transition.

But Antetokounmpo has played 30 minutes or more in 11 games; Bennett, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller and Alex Len – four of the 2013 Class’ top five – have combined for zero such nights. The NBA’s youngest player has started 13 times, the Bucks have been about 10 points better when he’s on the floor and he has averaged more minutes in the fourth quarter (7.5) than in any of the first three.

“I think he’s earned it,” Drew said the other day. “When he’s on the floor, the thing that really intrigues me about him is, he does not have to score necessarily to impact the game. He’s rebounding, he can block shots, he gets in the open court, he makes plays. He’s energy – that’s something we need more than anything. I think besides Larry, he may be the most energetic guy on our team.”

Said the rookie: “I’m very happy that my coaches and my teammates are not forcing me to come in slowly, that I can come in and play. I’m very happy that the team trusts me to throw me in there. I love what I’m doing. Of course it’s my dream, and I’m just having fun. I try to learn from each game as much as possible.”

Drew and his staff are trying to fold Antetokounmpo more into the offense, drilling him in his “attack areas.”

“Right now, I can see he’s a lot more comfortable just spotting up at the [3-point line],” the coach said. “I don’t want him to fall into that type game, because he’s just too long and too athletic. … Anything on the perimeter, he’s a bounce away from the basket. Once he develops his mid-range game where he has consistency in his shot, it’s going to open up the other parts of the game.”

Antetokounmpo, the most tireless chaser in the game who doesn’t play for the Miami Heat, hasn’t wilted from all the losing or picked up bad habits from any unhappy souls in Milwaukee’s locker room. Good thing for Bucks fans: He’s still two years from accompanying anyone to nightclubs.

One area in which Antetokounmpo has been tested has been the traditional hazing that goes on by established opponents. He didn’t play well against the Suns earlier this month but handled the banging he got from P.J. Tucker. Against big names such as Carmelo Anthony and Vince Carter, Antetokounmpo has shrugged off physical and mental challenges.

“I enjoyed seeing that. If Giannis is going to take that next step, he’s going to have to learn how to balance,” Drew said. “He’s got to find ways how to play against them. I think he’s figured it out against the finesse guys. … but physical [small forwards], the strong ‘threes,’ he’s going to have to figure that out.”

Guard Gary Neal added: “I’ve seen guys bump him and he’ll bump ’em back. The one I remember, him and Carmelo were going at it a little bit. And with Carmelo being an All-Star and challenging him, he didn’t back away from that. That’s big. … If you thought about it, there probably are some guys who folded it up and went home. We just don’t know ’em because they’re not around anymore.”

Asked about intimidation by certain stars’ reputations, Antetokounmpo said: “Aw, no. Most of the players in this league, I don’t even know them.”

That’s not entirely true. Antetokounmpo recently lauded Kevin Durant, a player to whom he’s been compared in build, as his “idol” for his drive and focus more than his skills. By the time their meeting Saturday was over, with the kid logging 13 points and 11 rebounds, Durant was returning compliments.

“He’s just sneaky athletic; he’s quick,” the Oklahoma City star said. “He plays extremely hard. I can definitely roll with a player like that.”

Milwaukee can, too, if it is careful. The road to the draft lottery and a brighter future is bumpy, narrow and long, with nasty ditches on either side. But given Antetokounmpo’s reach and stride, he looks to be about a bounce away.

A Draft Night Unlike Any Other


NEW YORK – We need to wait for the Earth to stop spinning three times the speed of light for the official analysis. But for now, there is the detailed breakdown of the draft in technical terms:


Everyone knew going in the only predictable part about Thursday night at Barclays Center would be the unpredictability, and still it was a jolt. It was so swirling that the player the NBA previously referred to as Giannis Adetokunbo became Giannis Antetokounmpo by the time he, Giannis A., went to the Bucks at No. 15. It was so upside down that Hakeem Olajuwon, the first player announced by new commissioner David Stern in 1984, was back on stage — famous red bow tie and all — either as the full-circle sendoff to Stern’s final draft or because Olajuwon could still get backup minutes for about 60 percent of the teams.

There has never been a hectic draft like it. The line of possibilities for Cleveland, with the wide-open first pick, were long in a year with no obvious choice — which is a kind way of saying no one deserved it. Then, when his name was called, Anthony Bennett was taken aback anyway.

“I’m just as surprised as everyone else,” said the UNLV power forward with the versatile offensive game. “I didn’t really have any idea who’s going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I’m just real happy, glad that I have this opportunity, and I just got to thank God for everything.”

It was a surprise because most other front offices had it down to a race among Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore and Alex Len, but hardly a reach. Bennett was the third-best prospect on the board in the estimation of some teams, and the Cavaliers do have a history of making the bold move, as in Tristan Thompson at No. 4 in 2011. Now, Bennett and Thompson will be competing for at least a portion of the minutes.

There were the trades. Dallas, trying to shave as much money as possible to build the war chest for free agency, moved from 13 to 16 and then from 16 to 18 before keeping Shane Larkin. How very NFL draft of them. Golden State went from not having any picks to buying No. 26, trading back to 29 and then trading back to 30 and taking Nemanja Nedoovic.

Then there were the surprises. No one could have imagined the Bobcats spending No. 4 on Cody Zeller until word of the possibility leaked earlier in the day. Noel, arguably the best prospect of all, lasting until the Pelicans at No. 6. McLemore, ditto, lasting until the Kings at No. 7.

There was also the really big surprise. Noel to the 76ers for Jrue Holiday as the point-guard solution in New Orleans and a pick in the loaded 2014 draft that is only top-three protected. Nice work by the Pelicans.

Hectic? On what would have been one of the busiest nights for the league anyway, the seismic shift of the Celtics continued with reports of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry being traded to the Nets, who play in the arena where the draft was being held. Two future Hall of Famers and Brooklyn redoubling efforts to make a push in the Eastern Conference, that’s all.


Meanwhile, out on the main stage, Trey Burke had been taken ninth by the Timberwolves. Unexpected, number one. And traded to the Jazz? Unexpected part two.

“Well,” he said, “it was kind of a shocker that the Timberwolves selected me. So I was kind of thrown off a little bit. I was happy at the same time. I was excited. I got to walk across the stage that I’ve been watching since I was a little kid. Once I found out I was getting traded, it was kind of like, ‘What do I do?’ I had the hat on and everything. So I really didn’t know what to do. They told me to sit in the back room until it was confirmed. Now that it’s confirmed, I’m happy to be in Utah.”


Being settled is a good thing, too. Especially on this night.

The Previous Noel-Len Showdown


NEW YORK – Nov. 9, 2012, in Brooklyn of all places in a great alignment of history. Kentucky vs. Maryland.

Nerlens Noel vs. Alex Len.

It was the first game of the season for both schools and the first step in Len blossoming into a top-10 pick… and the first head-to-head showdown with Noel. The second is in a few hours, with both big men vying to become the Cavaliers’ choice for the No. 1 pick in a very uncertain draft to be held in the same Barclays Center as the meeting in 7 1/2 months ago.

To say the November matchup will become a defining moment for what happens tonight is wrong. That would be overstating a situation that also includes reviewing important medical reports and the obligatory background checks. But it would be fair to say the tape has received a very, very thorough review by teams picking in the top five.

Len, a sophomore center, had 23 points and 12 rebounds, both career highs at the time, in 32 minutes. Noel, a freshman power forward, contributed four points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes in his college debut to Kentucky’s 72-69 victory.

“It seems like a long time ago,” Len said. “But it was a great game. It was the first game of the season. I was mad because we lost, but it was a great game for me. I could show that I had potential to be an NBA player.”

He didn’t stop showing it. Len averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in 26.4 minutes while shooting 68.6 percent and leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in blocks. He played his way from promising big man to certain top-10 pick to a very good chance for the top five and maybe even the first choice, starting with Nov. 9 in Brooklyn.

Porter The Right Choice For Cavaliers


NEW YORK – Say it out loud. Write it in Comic Sans.

Georgetown small forward Otto Porter is the best fit for the Cavaliers with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

He isn’t the popular choice. He isn’t the best prospect in the wide-open field, a title that belongs to Kentucky power forward Nerlens Noel or Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, according to a consensus of front offices, with Maryland center Alex Len also in the conversation. By that assessment, he isn’t even the best prospect coming out of the D.C. area.

But Porter is the best call.

He knows because he has studied it. He has looked at the Cavaliers roster and come to the accurate conclusion. Rising star Kyrie Irving at the point, Dion Waiters at shooting guard, Tristan Thompson heading toward averaging double-digit rebounds at power forward leaves one spot in particular.

“They’re missing a piece,” Porter said Wednesday at a Midtown hotel during a media session with top prospects prior to the draft Thursday night in Brooklyn. “I feel like that’s where I come into play.”

The Cavaliers could also be missing a starting center, depending on the development of Tyler Zeller after a rookie season of 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 25.4 minutes, not to mention the boost to the big-man rotation with the expected return of Anderson Varejao. That’s where Len comes into play. But Len, for all the praise that has come his way in the vacuum of the underwhelming 2013 class, wouldn’t have been close to the debate for No. 1 a year ago or, likely, a year from now. He might not be a dramatic upgrade from Zeller/Varejao, and Cleveland could have the chance to go power forward-center among several possibilities that will realistically be on the board at 19.

Porter at No. 1 also makes sense because the Cavs don’t worry about public opinion, a reality never more obvious than ignoring conventional wisdom in 2011 by using the fourth pick on Thompson. Not caring about winning the news conference would be especially beneficial during the reaction to a lottery regular using the first pick on someone other than the best player.

The best perspective? If Cleveland had No. 3 instead and took Porter, it would be commended for making the right move, just as the Wizards, also needing a small forward, will be if they take Porter. Two spots is not a reach.

And it’s not like the Cavaliers would be turning their back on some super-prospect to take him, given the concerns surrounding the players at the top of most ratings. The solid pick isn’t such a bad concept in a year when the lottery picks have big holes, and that is solid in a good way. Teams are not projecting Porter as an All-Star, usually the minimum return on a No. 1, but he defends, passes, rebounds, has three-point range, a good basketball IQ, is 6-foot-8 and 200 pounds, and had two seasons as a prominent part of a major program that faced top competition, including 2012-13 as Big East Player of the Year.

“I feel like that my game and my versatility, what I do, I feel like it deserves No. 1,” Porter said. “I feel that I have the best fit to be No. 1.”

There. Someone said it out loud.

Nogueira Finally Ready To Make NBA Mark

Two days until the draft, and….

Lucas Nogueira is ready to learn his NBA future. At last. Without further delay.

The moment has been two years and, as of Thursday night, three drafts in coming. He was in the 2011 field, then withdrew just before the deadline. He stayed out last year. Now, after several calendars worth of scrutiny from front offices, Nogueira will hear his name called in the first round, maybe as high the teens, as the selections unfold at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“He feels like in the past two years he needed to grow in several different areas,” Nogueira’s agent, Aylton Tesch, said. “His maturity, his knowledge for the game. And after the season that he had, he feels like he has accomplished some of it and he feels ready mentally to take the next step.”

The concern is whether the power forward-center from Brazil has grown enough, which is why Nogueira isn’t a lock for at least the middle of the first round as a rim protector who runs the floor, has quick reflexes combined with extensive international experience. All this time later, teams still have questions about his focus and whether Nogueira is capable of actually being a difference maker or will continue to be adrift in inconsistency.

“He had heard that before, like two years ago,” Tesch said. “But ever since, he changed his attitude on and off the court. Things have changed.”


“His personality overall, about being more serious and more professional on the court,” Tesch said.

It’s not just the mental. Nogueira needs to get stronger at 220 pounds, and there may be language issues: the Brazil native does large portions of interviews in Portugese. He is asked if he is comfortable with English.

“No,” Nogueira  said. “So so.”

He may use a translator as a rookie. On the other hand, if he comes to the NBA rather than spend another season in Spain in the second-best league in the world, at least Nogueira will be a rookie. Finally.

Bobcats’ 2011 Draft Could Shape This One


Three days until the Draft, and….

The Bobcats have a very interesting decision on Draft night that is about more than this pick. It could be about the selection two years ago as well.

Bismack Biyombo, the defense and rebounding specialist taken seventh in 2011 as part of a pre-arranged deal with the Kings and Bucks, has gone from 23.1 mpg and 5.8 rpg as a rookie to 27.3 mpg and 7.3 rpg last season as part of what everyone knew going in would be a long-term project for a prospect with no offense and little previous basketball experience. Charlotte believed, and the ultra-confident Biyombo did as well, that he could become a game-changer just by his work around the rim, but that would take time.

While there was an ongoing internal assessment, the June 2013 read on Biyombo is particularly relevant as the Bobcats stare at a Draft board that would take them in two directions: Use the No. 4 choice Thursday night on Alex Len of Maryland as the new starting center and a much-needed infusion of post scoring. Or, go with Anthony Bennett of UNLV for the kind of offensive boost that is necessary for a power forward playing alongside the one-dimensional Biyombo.

Len makes sense because centers are always hard to find and he is the best one on the board this year. Maybe Biyombo’s best fit is as an energizing defensive force off the bench, able to spark a team the same way other coaches typically rely on a scorer for that role.

But, Bennett makes sense because Biyombo is clearly progressing in some areas. Plus, the Bobcats hired Patrick Ewing as an assistant coach and just maybe he knows something about playing center that can help a project develop. No one expected Biyombo to be making a major impact after two seasons anyway, and his rebounding numbers are encouraging.

Bennett is also a good fit with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the lottery pick a year ago. Kidd-Gilchrist can’t hit a jumper, so the Bobcats need someone with range. That’s Bennett. There are questions about who Bennett guards — not strong enough to handle power forwards, not quick enough to stay with small forwards — but Biyombo and MKG have the potential to become elite defenders and compensate.

Charlotte will be facing a lot of scrutiny by the end of Thursday night no matter what, just because owner Michael Jordan is the name at the top of the masthead. The potential Len-Bennett internal debate, with Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo worth putting in the conversation as well after his improved perimeter game last season, makes for an intriguing decision in the Bobcats’ future.

Shooter Crabbe Aiming For Milwaukee


Four days until the draft, and….

Allen Crabbe to the Bucks at 15 just became a realistic consideration. That is higher than most teams have the shooting specialist from California projected. He is currently at No. 27 to the Nuggets in the latest mock based on conversations with dozens of executives and scouts, yet it makes sense on some levels.

It makes so much sense, in fact, that Crabbe is doing his best to make sure it happens. Now that he is ready to resume limited workouts after cancelling four auditions because of painful tendinitis in the right foot, he re-scheduled only the Milwaukee visit for Tuesday with mostly shooting drills to avoid more hard pounding on the foot.

The injury had forced Crabbe to cancel with the Celtics, who pick 16th, yet he has no plans to be in Boston before the draft. (There was also a missed visit with the Jazz, but that more likely would have been for the Utah pick at 21, not 14.)

His eyes are clearly drawn to the Bucks, aware they will be picking four days before Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and J.J. Redick go from the backcourt to free agency.

“You look at their roster and see that they have three guards that are going to be free agents,” Crabbe said of the Bucks. “I just feel like I’d be a good fit for them. I’d come in and develop early. I’d just need to get some experience.”

His other scheduled stop is the No. 22 Nets, but that is tied into the fact that Crabbe expects to attend the draft in Brooklyn, N.Y., even without an invitation to the green room as one of the projected top 12 picks. He has the same light shooting scheduled for the day before with the team that plays there, rather than workout in Boston with more than enough time to make New York by Thursday night.

The Clippers are the other missed stop for the Los Angeles native that apparently will not be made up. He had visits for the Bulls (20), Timberwolves (26, in addition to 9), Pacers (23), Cavaliers (19, in addition to 1) and Knicks (24) and a partial appearance for the Nets before getting hurt there.

Crabbe needs to get stronger at 6-feet-6 and 200 pounds, but his height, range and ability to score in transition or as a catch-and-shoot threat put him in position to become an important complementary piece in the NBA.

Saric Officially Withdraws From Draft

After months of vasciliating over his future — from saying he would only come to the NBA as a top-10 pick to applying for the Draft when it seemed unlikely he would be top 10, to statements he would not be in the 2013 pool — Croatian small forward Dario Saric officially removed his name from consideration.

draft-13-blog-logoProjected to be chosen in the middle of the first round and possibly get to the end of the lottery, Saric was among 18 players who filed before the Monday deadline, the NBA announced Tuesday. The other notable was Mouhammadou Jaiteh, likely headed for the second round.

Two players from the United States withdrew, Norvel Pelle, trying to jump start his career after going from a top prospect in high school to being unable to find stability in college, and Joshua Simmons.

The 16 others were from overseas: Francois Affia AmbadiangNemanja BesovicBogdan BogdanovicMatias BortolinLinos ChrysikopoulosDorde DrenovacViktor Gaddefors, Jaiteh, Louis LabeyriePhilipp Neumann, Artem PustovyiMarko Ramljak, Saric, Walter TavaresAxel Toupane, and Adin Vrabac.

The Draft is June 27 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In Defense Of Shabazz Muhammad


Time passed, team workouts progressed, the reality of the draft set in, and suddenly Shabazz Muhammad isn’t so toxic.

The new perspective heading into the last full week before the draft is that Muhammad is still a possibility for the top 10, still appreciated for his scoring potential, and maybe even appreciated more than any time during his one-and-done UCLA career. Welcome to the recovery. Or at least the stability.

This isn’t nearly the early-season conversation of Muhammad on course to be one of the first three picks in the draft and possibly even No. 1 itself, but it’s also a lot different than a month ago, when it wasn’t hard to find a front office hammering Muhammad for selfish play while predicting Muhammad would plummet entirely out of the lottery.

What changed?

The view, for one thing. There are concerns about Muhammad’s ability to fit into a team, but good luck finding a player in this draft who doesn’t have big holes. The closer the draft got, the more players went under the microscope in workouts for individual teams, the more the realization set in that he is still one of the better options in an underwhelming class. Nothing has changed on one important front: He remains one of the top scoring threats on the board and a player eight months ago considered to have tremendous upside, and those are commodities that cannot be overlooked.

The auditions, for another. Muhammad got directly in front of executives and scouts for individual team workouts.

“Say what you will about him, but his work ethic is great,” one personnel boss said. “He might have the best work ethic in the draft. Seriously. He’s one of those guys you have to drag out of the gym.”

The talk of top three is long gone, but top 10, a possible outcome, would be a nice save. There are several safety nets in place for Muhammad to avoid that other potential finish, dropping out of the lottery. One of those, in the latest mock draft, is No. 13 to the Mavericks, a team with O.J. Mayo possibly leaving as a free agent and Vince Carter getting closer to retirement.

Other draft notes as the push to June 27 continues:

  • St. Mary’s point guard Matthew Dellavedova is making an under-the-radar move. Though hardly one of the big names, the Australian has enhanced his chances for the second round and assured at the very least that he will get a chunk of guaranteed money for summer league and training camp as an undrafted free agent if it comes to that. Point guards who can run pick-and-roll always have value to the NBA, and Dellavedova can do it with precision. Good showings at group workouts hosted by the Nets and Timberwolves boosted his stock.
  • Great, and unique, praise, for Maryland center Alex Len, at No. 4 to the Bobcats in the latest mock despite not being able to work out for teams because of injury. Said one executive: “He should touch the ball every possession. He’s very smart.” Charlotte is a tough read because it has so many possible directions to go, but there is one important factor to keep in mind. Logically, Michael Jordan & Co. can’t have two non-scoring forwards, and 2012 lottery pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the future at small forward without being able to hit a shot yet. That makes Anthony Bennett, UNLV’s talented stretch-four, an excellent fit. Some front offices have Bennett as high as No. 3 on their prospect rankings, if not their actual mock with teams needs factored in.
  • Monday is the deadline for international prospects to withdraw from the draft. Dario Saric remains the focus of the waiting game, with his agent having said the Croation small forward projecting to the middle of the first round and possibly late-lottery will wait until 2014, but some NBA clubs are not entirely convinced.