Pressure Is on New Orleans Pelicans to Make the Leap Alongside Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis is already a star. The next step is putting that stardom to use. 

Davis graced the surface of greatness last year, his second NBA season, averaging 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and a league-leading 2.8 blocks per game while making his first (and certainly not last) All-Star appearance. Still, New Orleans struggled all year, finishing 12th in the West and winning just 34 games. 

Tuesday night, the 21-year-old Davis began his season wowing anyone who was willing to turn off TNT and head over to NBA League Pass for a New Orleans Pelicans-Orlando Magic game. Davis scored 26 while pulling down 17 boards and blocking a career-high-tying nine shots.

Now, though, Davis’ team, which hasn’t been competitive since trading away Chris Paul, needs to catch up to him to avoid the dreaded (and almost-always unwarranted) criticisms that’ll be sent Davis’ way if he fails to make the playoffs for the first few years of his career. Just ask Kevin Love what that treatment is like.

With Davis on the brink of making his second “leap” in as many years, New Orleans general manager Dell Demps set out to get him some help over the summer.

The Pelicans acquired Omer Asik, John Salmons and Jimmer Fredette, but still had their fair share of losses. New Orleans saw Brian Roberts, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Morrow and Jason Smith walk to other teams, skimming their bench thinner than Davis’ scrawny waistline. 

Still, the Pelicans stand to improve if only because the acquisition of Asik allows Davis to be Davis. In actuality, the man whom many consider to be the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year hurt his team’s defense in some ways a season ago. Davis was overly aggressive at times.

Now, with one of the NBA’s best rim-protectors behind him, Davis doesn’t have to tread the line between free safety and anchoring middle linebacker. He can, in effect, roam the floor, guard multiple guys on single possessions, close out hard, jump passing lanes and—in every way—play to his strengths. 

While AD is as talented as they come, he was closer to 2010 Serge Ibaka last year than he was to 1963 Bill Russell. He’d block your shot, but sometimes, that would end up being a bad thing. He tended to get block happy, fly around the floor, overhelp and end up prone to leaving the rim uncovered. 

The presence of Asik masks those flaws, and a year after leading the league in blocks, Davis, the NBA’s manchild, could be due for even more swats.

It’s not just about the blocks, either. Davis isn’t the type of Roy Hibbert-style defender who belongs around the rim. He needs to be all over the floor. Look at how far from the hoop he ranges to close out on a three-point shooter, even after blocking a shot, during the Magic game:

That’s a facet of Davis’ play we didn’t see last year: instant awareness. A season ago, the block would’ve happened. The immediate recognition to find Kyle O’Quinn on the three-point line and scurry over in time to defer an almost-open three is new.

Part of such an improvement is natural progression. The longer you play in the NBA, the more the game slows down for you and the quicker you’re able to make decisions. But you have to imagine there’s more to it. Davis feels safe straying from the paint knowing he has a world-class rim-protector in Asik backing him up. 

Hesitance is gone, and assertiveness is apparent.

Nikola Vucevic may end the possession with a made shot, but it’s contested. That’s how defenses improve. They make sure to contest shots, and Asik is as good as almost anyone when it comes to getting a hand in a shooter’s grill.

The Asik effect on Davis isn’t just about blocking shots, either. Davis is cutting off passing lanes, too, comfortably leaving the paint, knowing that his counterpart is always there to help:

It’s a different culture in New Orleans with the addition of Asik, not necessarily in the locker room, but on the defensive side. You’re not scoring at the rim on a combo of Davis and Asik, and the Pelicans defense is poised to make a jump from 26th in points allowed per possession a season ago.

Davis and Asik aren’t the only ones who guard effectively, either. 

Eric Gordon is an underrated, physical defender when healthy. Tyreke Evans has defensive potential when guarding 2s if he works in the right system. Jeff Withey can even give a few quality defensive minutes a night off the bench.

In an opening night when Asik and Davis combined for 14 blocks, it was actually the man who casually (and confusingly) goes by “E.J.” who had the swat of the evening.

Let that play run a little longer and you can see the potential this defense has, even if it was so porous a season ago.

Gordon fights around a Vucevic screen to rock Ben Gordon on that stuff, and Davis follows by giving rookie Elfrid Payton his welcome-to-the-NBA moment. The possession may end on a Ryan Anderson blocking foul (which could have easily been a charge), but the takeaway here is the aggression the Pelicans have shown, especially with Davis.

On that play alone, Davis guards Tobias Harris in the corner, plays free safety in the middle of the floor, mans Payton at the rim, swats Payton on a second attempt and then heads back out to the perimeter to defend Evan Fournier

Asik isn’t even on the floor here, but Davis’ defensive aggressiveness is carrying into permanent territory.

Don’t necessarily let the numbers from last year fool you. At full strength, there’s defensive potential in this starting lineup (although Tyreke Evans may have some bumps guarding small forwards), especially if Monty Williams can stagger minutes so that Asik or Davis is almost always on the floor.

Still, even if the defense makes a big jump this year, that doesn’t guarantee a successful season. Major improvement could still mean New Orleans churns out a middle-of-the-pack defense.

The Pels have their issues in other parts of the game, as well. Most off, they have to remain healthy.

You could make that criticism of any team, but it’s especially true for New Orleans, who has plenty of guys on the roster with injury histories.

Gordon has averaged just under 43 games a season over the past four years. Jrue Holiday missed 48 contests last year with a stress fracture in his right tibia. Anderson, one of the absolute best shooters in the league, regardless of position, got into only 22 games last year and has played more than 64 in a single season just once. Even Davis has had his share of injury troubles.

The Pelicans can’t afford to lose those guys this year, considering they don’t have many impact players on the bench after Anderson.

Austin Rivers of all people was the second-most-used bench player during the season opener. Fredette-Rivers backcourts look like they’re going to be a mainstay even when New Orleans is at full strength. If any perimeter players go down, the team runs into further trouble.

Health isn’t the only potential flaw holding the Pelicans back from garnering a playoff spot in the brutal Western Conference. There’s also the issue of scoring. Such problems can arise when you group three dribble-happy perimeter players to run your offense.

Gordon, Evans and Holiday are all similar players—mainly, they enjoy the sensation of repeatedly flicking a basketball toward the ground so that it bounces back up back into their hand. Yes, Gordon, Holiday and especially Evans are overdribblers, and overdribbles tend not to get along with their own species.

Last year’s New Orleans squad may have finished 13th in points per possession, but its offensive style was particularly ugly, running a heavy amount of unsuccessful isolation. Because of that, the offense was prone to long cold stretches which saw close games get away from them.

Monty Williams didn’t always have control of the offense a season ago, and he’s gained criticism because of that. Williams’ offense finished plays with isolation—the second-most of any attack in the league last year, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). Still, New Orleans had loads of injuries, so it’s hard to see exactly what Williams had in mind for this squad.

Ultimately, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote back in May, Demps may be in more trouble than Williams if this season goes poorly.

Folks around the league have been wondering for weeks whether the team would bring back Dell Demps, the GM, for the final year on his deal after a disappointing 2013-14 season. The consensus is growing that Demps is likely safe, though ownership needs to see progress next season — and perhaps a playoff berth in the ultracompetitive West.

But Demps and Monty Williams haven’t always seen eye to eye, according to several league sources, and ownership is more committed at this point to Williams as a long-term organizational pillar.

So, what happens if New Orleans runs a similar attack this year—not all that unlikely considering Williams has been in the Big Easy for four-plus seasons—and yields similar scoring results? The Pels probably wouldn’t be a playoff team in the West. Actually, they likely wouldn’t even be in the top-nine considering the Phoenix Suns, who finished ninth last season, won 48 games and stand a chance to be even better this year.

Let’s say the defense vastly improves, the offense stays stagnant, and New Orleans makes a massive jump because of an improvement from Davis, better health and the addition of Asik. That leads to what? 40 wins? 42, maybe?

Where do the Pelicans go from there?

There isn’t much flexibility on this roster going into 2015-16, when Demps‘ team should have about $57 million on the roster. With Asik entering free agency though, you’d have to imagine the Pelicans will do everything they can to re-sign him—especially if he performs as expected—and thus, New Orleans is set with its current nucleus for the next two years. But what if this core isn’t good enough?

Considering the difficulty of the West, the Pelicans could theoretically become the would-be third-best team in the Eastern Conference and still miss the playoffs. With Davis vaulting into the Top 10 NBA’s Best Players List and possibly top five by the end of the season, how long does he have to wallow in the NBA’s non-playoff picture before he becomes the next Kevin Love?

Love, now a Cleveland Cavalier, spent the first six seasons of his career rotting away in Minnesota. He never made the playoffs with the Timberwolves. He never even saw the right side of .500. Eventually, the mainstream began to question if Love, one of the league’s best rebounders and certainly one of the NBA’s two best-shooting big men (along with Dirk Nowitzki), was a top-10 player.

(HINT: He was.)

But that’s what happens when you don’t win. You give the public the opportunity to question your worth, even if losing couldn’t be further from your fault. 

Davis is now the NBA’s darling, but Blake Griffin fit that description back in his rookie 2010-11 season, and he eventually was taken down by overexposure and a casual fanbase that is near impossible to please.

We always have a “Next Great One” who ends up becoming the “Next Great Publicly Criticized Player.” It would be sad to see Davis head down that road, and unfortunately, whether he’s slapped with that label or not is completely out of his control.

If the New Orleans offense remains similarly ineffective, the defense doesn’t improve as much as the organization would like and guys like Holiday, Anderson and Gordon end up injured once again, the Pels will struggle to play into April and May.

At what point would that start to hurt Davis’ reputation? When would people begin to question his basketball heroism?

Hopefully, we’ll never have to know.

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at WashingtonPost.com or on ESPNs TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Oct. 30 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com 

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Bulls Have Carmelo Anthony to Thank for Roster Ready to Make NBA Title Run

NEW YORK — NBA free agency is a wicked game of musical chairs, a wild rumpus of dollar signs and tangled destinies, each player’s decision affecting the next one down the line.   

The results, and the resulting what-ifs, never cease to fascinate.   

The Chicago Bulls wooed Carmelo Anthony in July, offering limited money but unlimited possibilities, an invitation to play with All-Stars and a chance to compete in May and June. When Anthony turned them down, electing to stay in New York for a greater payday, the Bulls settled for their second choice, Pau Gasol.

Before choosing Chicago, Gasol heard pitches from title contenders (in Oklahoma City and San Antonio), and one impassioned plea from Knicks president Phil Jackson, his mentor and friend, who badly needed a trusted hand in New York.

They all reunited Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden to open a new season, and the results were illuminating.

The Bulls, with a healthy Derrick Rose and a talent-rich roster, and bolstered by Gasol’s interior scoring punch, thoroughly humiliated the Knicks, 104-80, throwing into sharp relief the decisions made in the heat of summer.

Anthony recommitted himself to the Knicks, choosing a hefty contract ($124 million over five years) over the chance to contend in Chicago. In doing so, he tied himself to a franchise in transition and a roster in disarray. Jackson and his new coach, Derek Fisher, might eventually return the Knicks to respectability, but it will not be anytime soon. There are too many holes, too many mismatched pieces and a frightful dearth of talent beyond Anthony.

The Knicks are struggling to adapt to Jackson’s famed triangle offense, but they could master it tomorrow and it would not erase their obvious structural flaws. This team needs an overhaul that cannot happen until next July.

The Bulls’ time is clearly now, and they have never looked more ready to chase the crown. Though they coveted Anthony, they should perhaps thank him for turning them down.

An Anthony pact would almost certainly have meant jettisoning one or more key pieces. Instead, the Bulls quickly pivoted to Gasol, signing him to a three-year, $22 million deal that represented a fraction of what Anthony would have cost. They retained their core of Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, re-signed Kirk Hinrich, brought over Nikola Mirotic from Europe and signed Aaron Brooks, giving them the deepest team in the Eastern Conference.

None of that would have been possible had the Bulls signed Anthony to a deal averaging at least $20 million.

Gasol fits the Bulls as seamlessly as expected, and his debutan effortless 21 points and 11 reboundshad to send goosebumps through general manager Gar Forman and his staff.

“Huge,” said Rose. “It’s huge. It eased the game.”

And that, after all, is what the Bulls’ greatest objective was this summer, with Rose coming back from knee surgeries and a dire need for an offensive boost, someone to ease Rose’s burden. For the last two years, Chicago survived, and even thrived, on defense alone, while ranking among the worst scoring teams in the league.

Gasol represents the interior scoring threat the Bulls have never had and remains an effective option, even at age 34.

“Plays where you need a great shot and you know that anything isn’t rolling for you, you can easily dump it down and space out,” Rose said. “If you double-team, it’s going to be a wide-open shot, a wide-open three. … It makes the game easy for everyone.”

When Gasol was on the bench, Gibson kept up the assault, with a mix of layups and mid-range jumpers and a final line of 22 points and eight rebounds. Chicago now boasts the best big-man rotation in the NBA, and Gibsona sixth man who could start for most teamsis superior to any big man in the Knicks’ rotation.

“It was really their interior presence that caused us some problems,” Fisher said, sounding a bit wistful, and understandably so.

For nearly five years, Fisher and Gasol were Los Angeles Lakers teammates, advancing to three straight NBA Finals and winning two championships. Jackson coached those teams. Few people know Gasol’s talents and character better, which is why Jackson made Gasol one of his top priorities in July.

But the Knicks had neither the salary-cap room nor the competitive appeal of Gasol’s other suitors. Choosing between Chicago, San Antonio and Oklahoma City was “probably the most difficult decision that I made in my career and in my life,” Gasol said, but turning down the Knicks’ offer was purely practical.

“I considered it,” Gasol said. “But I thought the team was not at the level of others, other contenders and options that I had. I’m coming down to my last few years of my career, and I want to maximize them. And it was difficult to leave L.A. in the first place. But now I feel like I’m in a great position, and we have a great opportunity, and now let’s see if we’re lucky and we deserve to do something special.”

That depends, as ever, on Rose and his surgically repaired knees, but it may be time to stop placing that qualifier on every Bulls assessment. Rose was a tad erratic Wednesday, going 3-of-7 from the field with three turnovers, but the old explosiveness was back.

He was a blur in transition and split Knicks defenders repeatedly in the half court, tagging Iman Shumpert with two early fouls and earning eight trips to the foul line for the game.

This is what Anthony passed up in choosing the Garden’s riches once more. The Bulls offered a perfect complementary cast, an elite playmaker in Rose, dedicated defenders in Noah and Gibson, a decorated coach in Tom Thibodeau. Instead, Anthony found himself complimenting that group for bottling him up all night, holding him to 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

The Knicks offense should improve with time and familiarity with the triangle, and they surely missed point guard Jose Calderon (out with a strained calf), who might just be their second-best player. But as Lakers legend Shaquille O’Neal said earlier this week, in his ever-colorful way, the triangle functions best with “two bad mothers” (i.e. two superstars), and the Knicks only have one.

When the music stopped in July, this is the fate Anthony chose, and we are just beginning to see the ripples and the consequences. The Knicks won the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes. But in getting their second choice, the Bulls won the summer.

 

Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @HowardBeck.

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Anthony Davis En Route to Cementing Elite Status After Monster 2014-15 NBA Debut

New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis is just 21 years old, yet he may already be on the way to becoming one of the NBA‘s greatest players this season.

Look no further than Davis’ sensational 2014-15 debut in the Pelicans’ 101-84 victory over the Orlando Magic. Although expectations are quite low for the young Magic this year, youth is no excuse for Davis, who had a game for the ages.

Davis put up 26 points and 17 rebounds, which are impressive enough—not to mention a whopping nine blocked shots to go with two assists and three steals in only 36 minutes.

The big man, chosen No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft, indeed appears to be the next “chosen one.”

After the game, Davis noted how his defensive expertise helped the Pelicans soar.

“Our defense kind of picked up our offense,” said Davis, per NOLA.com’s John Reid. “We got a lot of easy transition plays. We just got to make sure we rebound like we did, even the guards, it will make our team better. I just made sure I rebounded, hustled, defend the paint and try to run the floor.”

Well prior to Tuesday’s monster outing, Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck made the case that Davis may already be the third-best individual in the Association behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant:

Fox Sports Detroit’s Mateen Cleaves argued the same point Tuesday:

ESPN Stats & Info observed how such a performance as Davis recorded at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans was unprecedented:

CBS Sports’ Zach Harper offered context to note that most of Davis’ damage was done before the fourth quarter commenced:

Averages of 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and almost three blocks per contest last season may have already been enough for Davis to garner the “elite” label among frontcourt players. Tuesday hinted at something more—something truly special.

With how tremendous Davis already is as a defender, how well he runs the floor in transition and the room he has to improve all facets of his offensive game, he could become unstoppable someday.

If Tuesday’s season opener is any indication, perhaps that day has already arrived.

In an era that has put so much emphasis on the perimeter game and has seen a dearth of big men emerge as franchise cornerstones, Davis is different. What should help his cause to remain an absolute terror in the paint is the presence of fellow frontcourt mate Omer Asik.

Both New Orleans bigs are exceptional rebounders and excel on defense. They will be helping out each other, and while Asik will draw the stronger players in the post, Davis can effortlessly rotate over to swat shots.

As Davis continues to develop with his back to the basket and as a post player, perhaps by acquiring more strength, the fast-break opportunities he and Asik create will see him score easy buckets in bunches, too.

Asik may be overshadowed, and rightly so, but he pitched in 17 boards and five blocks against the Magic.

For those immune to overreaction after Davis’ effort versus Orlando, he will face plenty of quality competition in a stacked Western Conference to show off his skills. If he is able to lift the Pelicans into relevancy and spark them to a playoff appearance, Davis can then be promoted as a legitimate top-tier stud.

Until then, fans, pundits and even casual basketball observers can appreciate the unique brand of basketball Davis will treat everyone to as he continues his ascent toward superstar status.

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Carmelo Anthony Disputes Notion That He Doesn’t Want to Play with Kobe Bryant

Carmelo Anthony may ultimately have spurned the Los Angeles Lakers during his foray into free agency this offseason, choosing to re-sign with the New York Knicks rather than move across the country and throw on a purple-and-gold uniform. However, his decision didn’t have to do with avoiding Kobe Bryant

“If I thought that was the right situation for me from an overall perspective as far as having a team there, then I would have looked at that situation more in-depth,” the oft-shooting forward told ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk. “I just felt more comfortable staying here in New York. But as far as playing with him…I’m here now but I would always love to play with Kobe.”

The justification is only necessary because of an ESPN the Magazine piece on Bryant, one that sparked up plenty of conversations after anonymous inside figures were quoted as saying the superstar shooting guard was driving away potential free-agent signings. 

Mitch [Kupchak] did his homework,” an unnamed NBA executive told Henry Abbott for that article. “He can’t get a marquee player to play alongside Kobe, cap space be damned.” 

And how about this one from a source close to Lakers decision-makers: 

He wants to win. But only as long as he’s the reason we’re winning, as long as the performance is not affecting his numbers. No one works harder than Kobe. And no one sabotages his own efforts more. He’s scaring off the free agents we’re trying to get. We’re trying to surround you with talent and your ego is getting in the way.

The piece led to quite a few rebuttals from central figures and journalists around the basketball-watching world. Even Phil Jackson, who coached Bryant during his three-peat runs and is now working in the New York front office that re-signed Anthony, is getting involved:

Now, Anthony is the latest to explain that his decision had other motivating factors, ones like the Knicks being a better fit for him. And while he won’t directly say it, the five-year, $124 million contract he signed probably had quite a bit to do with his choice as well. 

The Lakers were the only other team to offer Anthony a full maximum-level contract,” Shelburne and Youngmisuk explain. “Due to the rules of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, their offer could only be for four years and $95 million—one year and $29 million less than the Knicks signed Anthony to.”

There were just other factors, as Sean Highkin detailed for NBC Sports

Indeed, it’s hard to pin Anthony’s decision on Bryant. Signing with the Lakers never really made sense for him, and all along it seemed like he let them make their pitch more as a courtesy than out of any serious intention of going there. The two most viable contenders in the Melo sweepstakes both offered something the Lakers couldn’t. The Bulls had the best roster and the clearest path to immediate contention for a championship out of any of the teams vying for his services. The Knicks could offer him more money than anyone else, as well as a fifth year on his contract and long-term security for his family. The Lakers, coming off a disappointing year and figuring to be a lottery team again this season, could offer neither. Melo chose the money, and it’s hard to blame him for it.

Maybe Anthony wanted to play with Bryant, and nothing else about the situation in Tinseltown made sense for him. Maybe he wasn’t completely sold on sharing the rock with another shot-happy superstar, and that factored into his decision. Maybe he didn’t want to play with Anthony, purely for basketball reasons. 

But the notion that Bryant drove off Anthony and scared him away from choosing the Lakers as the next location for his basketball talents? 

The Knicks star won’t agree with that. 

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Just how good can Anthony Davis be?

Just how good is Anthony Davis? That’s not really a fair question. See, for the past two years, New Orleans has stuck him with a mishmash of ball-dominant guards, shoot-first big men, one-dimensional wings, and Austin Rivers. As far as thoughtful roster construction went, New Orleans was at the bottom of the barrel. But now? Things have changed. Davis played over 40 percent of his minutes last year at center, and even when he was the nominal power forward he more or less acted as the defensive center. But Davis is only 237 pounds. That’s the approximate weight of an average small forward, and it shows: Davis is one of the skinniest big men in basketball. His ideal defensive construction is as a roamer, someone whose size and agility allows him to cover pretty much everything within the three-point line, disrupting passing lanes and blocking shots without banging down low with the Zach Randolphs of the world. Think of what LeBron James does on defense when he’s trying, move it in a …

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Searching for the Next Anthony Davis: Which NBA Prospect Could Change the Game?

Anthony Davis seemingly cut about 10 guys in the line that leads straight to the top of the NBA superstar pyramid. 

He’s gone from five-star recruit to national champion and Player of the Year at Kentucky to the game’s next big thing at the highest level. 

In a recent survey conducted by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, NBA general managers were asked who they’d sign first if they were building a franchise from scratch, and behind LeBron James, Davis tied with Kevin Durant for 25 percent of the votes. 

He’s still got a long ways to go at only 21 years old, which seems like a joke, but he’s right on track to eventually join the game’s elite tier of players.

Now that we’ve got that figured out, the only move to make is locating the next NBA game changer. 

The upcoming high school recruiting classes are lined up with some pretty special prospects at the top. And between FIBA, all the camps and showcase events, fans, scouts and writers get the chance to track their development from when many are just 15 and 16 years old. 

We’ll take a look at some of the draft-eligible prospects up until 2017 who might just be next in line after Anthony Davis.

 

Draft Eligible: 2015

Jahlil Okafor, Duke, 6’11″, C, 1995

The consensus No. 1 recruit, MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game, co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic and gold medalist for USA’s FIBA Under-17 World Championship team, Jahlil Okafor has quite the resume for an 18-year-old.

You can’t miss him—at 6’11″, 272 pounds with a 7’5″ wingspan, few players at high school or college level can take up as much space around the basket. And none of them have Okafor’s footwork, hands or post skills, which when combined with his size and strength, can lead to some easy buckets and high-percentage offense.

He’s a guy you can feed the ball down low, someone who can go to work as a one-on-one scorer. 

But Okafor lacks the kind of standout athleticism that propels a guy like Anthony Davis coast to coast—from a defensive board to a finish on the break. 

It doesn’t mean he can’t be the next big star—Tim Duncan wasn’t exactly a “freak” back in his prime—it just makes his upside tougher to spot.

Just a few weeks prior to college basketball tip off, Okafor will start off at No. 1 on our big board, though I’m not sure his ceiling comes close to the towering height of Davis’.

 

Karl Towns Jr., Kentucky, 7’0″, C ,1995

Karl Towns Jr. might actually have the most upside of any prospect in the projected 2015 draft class. At 7’0″, his skill set dips into every category across the board, from scoring and shooting to passing and rebounding. 

It’s the type of versatility that could create quite the mismatch in the pros; the type that drives All-Star upside long term. 

A fluid athlete, Towns is a threat in both the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop games, as well as from the elbows, where he likes to dish or put the ball on the floor.

As a freshman, he’ll be playing in one of the deepest frontcourts that college hoops has ever seen. Towns won’t get the chance to dominate like Okafor will at Duke, but there’s no question regarding his outlook as an elite NBA prospect. 

The only issue relates to how much better he’ll get.

 

Emmanuel Mudiay, China, 6’5″, PG, 1996

Emmanuel Mudiay certainly has the look of an NBA star, standing 6’5″ with smooth athleticism at point guard. But he’s spending the year in China, where he will be tougher to evaluate in a different game against grown men.

No matter, Mudiay did enough damage under the high school spotlight to justify No. 1 overall consideration in 2015. 

He resembles John Wall in more ways than one, from his size, athleticism and playmaking ability to his capable yet uninspiring jumper.

There actually aren’t that many standout point guards coming up through the high school ranks over the next few years. If any of them are going to emerge as an NBA superstar talent, Mudiay is probably the best bet.

 

Draft Eligible: 2016

Jaylen Brown, 6’6″, SF, 1996, Wheeler High School, Georgia

From the Nike Global Challenge, Elite 24 and Adidas Nations to the Under-18 FIBA World Championships, Jaylen Brown has been arguably the hottest name at the junior level over the past couple of months. 

He’s establishing himself as one of the real potential prizes of the 2016 draft.

A terrific athlete with a toned body and textbook size for the wing, Brown fits the physical profile of an NBA small forward. And fundamentally, he’s as complete as they come. 

Brown is quick off the bounce and tough in traffic, where he plays through contact and always maintains effortless body control at the rim. He’s also a willing passer and looks fairly natural as a shooter, which should mix well with his excellent defensive tools.

Brown went for 32 points and 15 boards on national television against fellow elite prospect Thon Maker this summer.

He’s now a can’t-miss name at the junior level entering his senior year in high school. Mark him down as a No. 1 overall candidate in the 2016 draft and a potential NBA star down the road. 

 

Ben Simmons, 6’8″, SF/PF, 1996, Montverde Academy (Committed to LSU)

Ben Simmons’ awesome versatility and impact at the high school level have pushed him atop the majority of recruiting services’ big boards. 

At 6’8″, he plays a face-up style of ball in the form of a point forward. Simmons is a terrific passer, as well as a standout athlete and crafty finisher at the rim.

He’s also a smooth lefty who can just as easily take his man and finish with the right. 

Simmons’ true NBA position isn’t quite clear just yet, as he’ll have some strides to make in order to successfully transition to the wing, but if he’s able to carve out a niche for himself and exploit his unique versatility, watch out. 

 

Draft Eligible: 2017

Thon Maker, 7’0″, PF, 1997, Athletes Institute

There probably isn’t another prospect with a ceiling that reaches the height of Thon Maker’s. At 7’0″, he’s got the size of a center, the mobility of a 4 and the ball skills of a wing. The mismatch potential here is really through the roof.

Born in Sudan and raised in Australia, Maker spent his early high school years in the U.S. before he decided to take his talents to Canada, where he’ll be training at the Athletes Institute.

Maker has turned heads with this ability to handle the ball, work from the perimeter and knock down shots from outside. The Kevin Durant and Kevin Garnett comparisons are a little much, but that’s the type of outlook his physical tools and face-the-rim skill set project. 

“My game is built inside-out,” Maker told Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin. “I’ve got to attack first, weaken the defense and just foul the team out, basically, is what I’m trying to do. That opens up the lanes and also it sucks the defense in and leaves the outside open.”

With Maker, the possibilities are essentially endless. He’s as fascinating to watch as any prospect in the country, and that will likely continue to be the case as he builds up his body and all-around game. 

Expect absurd hype when he chooses to declare for the NBA draft, whether it be in 2016 or 2017, depending if he chooses to reclassify or not.

Either way, Maker’s potential star power reaches Anthony Davis-like levels, although it’s a little too far away to declare him next in line. 

At such a young age, a lot can happen in a short amount of time. Davis grew from roughly 6’3″ to 6’10″ over a two-year span. 

By October 2015, there could three or four more guys who propel themselves into the conversation. 

Regardless, as of October 2014, we’re looking at some exciting up-and-coming talent for the near future. It’s tough to say who it will be, but odds are one of these world-class prospects breaks through and follows Davis’ path to the top of the NBA.

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Anthony Morrow Injury: Updates on Thunder Guard’s Knee and Return

The Oklahoma City Thunder suffered another blow during their already rough offseason. With Kevin Durant already out for the first part of the regular season, Anthony Morrow may be joining him.  

According to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Morrow suffered a sprained MCL on Thursday:

Mayberry also reported the 29-year-old shooting guard/small forward could miss four to six weeks:

Morrow averaged 8.4 points and shot 45.1 percent from three-point range last season with the New Orleans Pelicans before signing with the Thunder in the offseason.

Signing Morrow provides the much-needed depth that was sorely lacking last season.

Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals illustrated the biggest problem for Oklahoma City last year. Only five different players scored in OKC’s 112-107 loss to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.

Morrow alone won’t help the Thunder get over the hump, but his three-point shooting will be invaluable to their offense. Opposing defenses won’t be able to sag off of him, which will in turn open the floor for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

To a certain extent, Oklahoma City is in a holding pattern until Durant returns. Westbrook can ensure that the drop-off isn’t too significant, but the real Thunder won’t arrive until head coach Scott Brooks has his full complement of stars.

Now with Morrow out, an already difficult opening few weeks of the 2014-15 campaign became a little more treacherous.

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Can Carmelo Anthony fit into Knicks’ offense?

Phil Jackson gets defensive about his 11-title system. But Carmelo Anthony is different.

      
 

 

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Anthony scores 30 as Knicks beat Wizards (Yahoo Sports)

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 22: DeJuan Blair #45 of the Washington Wizards looks to pass around Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks in a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 22, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Carmelo Anthony scored 30 points, including a tiebreaking three-point play with 13.9 seconds left, and the New York Knicks overcame a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter to beat the Washington Wizards 103-100 on Wednesday night. John Wall scored 29 points, hitting 10 of his 16 shots from the field, and Otto Porter Jr. added 22 points in the loss for the Wizards, who wrapped up their preseason schedule. With the Knicks leading 100-97 with 1:22 left on the clock after a 3-point shot by Pablo Prigioni, who scored 11 points, Washington’s Damion James evened it 100-all on a 3-pointer with 33.2 seconds left. He made the free throw to give New York a three-point lead.


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Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Bennett making waves in preseason

The Minnesota Timberwolves are a week away from the first game of the regular season, and one of the players really standing out so far in preseason play is Anthony Bennett. The Timberwolves have played six games so far in the preseason, getting three wins and two losses. Overall, the Timberwolves have a whole have been pretty inconsistent in their play, but Bennett has done well in all the games. So far, Bennett looks like a great addition from the Kevin Love trade.
There were a lot of questions about Bennett after last season, as he had a terrible rookie campaign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many people questioned his effort and talent at times, and some even questioned if he was fit enough to play. However, after going through a tough workout schedule in the off season Bennett appears much fitter, and he also is no longer having the sleeping troubles he had last season, which led to some of his health troubles.
In game, Bennett has been a force, averaging over 10 points and six rebounds in limited minutes

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