Kansas’ Top Freshmen Face Wavering NBA Draft Status

Now a month into the college hoops calendar, with the 2015 NBA draft conversation in full swing, the Kansas’ projected one-and-done freshmen are quietly slipping out of it.

Kelly Oubre, a wing, and Cliff Alexander, a power forward, entered the year with enormous expectations. And based on what we’ve seen so far, those expectations just weren’t very fair. 

Maybe we can place some blame on Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid—Kansas’ top freshmen last year who quickly emerged as impact players and top-three draft candidates. 

Like Wiggins and Embiid, Oubre and Alexander were both viewed as elite recruits and talents out of high school. From the McDonald’s All-American game and Jordan Brand Classic to the Nike Hoop Summit and Adidas Nations, they’d been building up their images as top-of-the-line NBA prospects.

Given the recent impact of some of the more highly touted freshmen in the college game, it was only natural to think Oubre and Alexander could start making noise right off the bat.

Only that hasn’t been the case through nine games, which included a few big ones NBA scouts likely had highlighted on their schedules. 

Oubre played 13 minutes against Kentucky, six against Michigan State, eight against Florida and a season-best 17 against Utah. Alexander has at least gotten some time, though he totaled just five made field goals on 19 attempts in those four games combined.

 

Kelly Oubre

Oubre‘s lack of playing time is probably the bigger surprise. Prior to the season, he had just generated all sorts of positive buzz for himself during the summer, starting with the LeBron James Nike Skills Academy:

A month later, he put up 20 points on Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, another highly regarded prospect with top-10 draft aspirations, in one of the camp games at Adidas Nations, per Scott Phillips and Raphielle Johnson of CollegeBasketballTalk

In terms of the scouting report, Oubre is an ultra-athletic wing with a sweet lefty jumper and tremendous scoring instincts. On paper, his physical profile and skill set scream next-level potential. 

But judging one’s talent and his ability to exploit it are two separates facets of the evaluation process. And Oubre is going to have a tough time selling himself for the 2015 draft unless he finds a way to make an impact before it. 

Unfortunately, he just hasn’t earned the trust of coach Bill Self early on.

“Yeah, I’ve gotten that a lot lately…because, you know, I’ve never been in a situation like this,” Oubre said when asked how he’s doing with such a reduced role, via CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish. “I’ve always been at the top. But just keeping my confidence 100 is all I can do right now, and I’m just going to continue to do what coach needs me to do.”

Even when he has played, Oubre hasn’t looked overly comfortable, particularly at the defensive end. 

Although it hasn’t been much better on offense, where he’s shooting 34.8 percent and averaging 3.4 points per game. 

To his credit, he’s looked more confident as of late. He scored nine points against Utah last Saturday, having nailed a baseline pull-up jumper and top-of-the-arc three-ball. Although the fact we’re using this mini breakout as a sign of encouragement just speaks to how far away Oubre really is. 

For what it’s worth, coach Self has defended both his freshmen and his strategy early on:

Mario Chalmers didn’t play till Christmas [of his freshman year], Julian Wright didn’t play till Christmas, Joel [Embiid] didn’t start until like the eighth game of the season. So there’s a process everybody has to go through, and we have a couple of guys—obviously Kelly but also Cliff—who are going through it.

Cliff Alexander

On the other hand, Alexander’s case is a little different. He’s averaging a respectable 19 minutes per game (Embiid played 23.1), and he’s had some nice moments early on, most notably his 12-point, 10-rebound, 8-of-8 from-the-line showing against Florida and a 16-point performance against Tennessee.

Alexander ultimately has a terrific motor and plenty of athletic ability. And it’s led to strong finishes and an impressive 19.35 rebounding percentage.

But at 6’8″ without the ability to do much outside the paint, Alexander has looked undersized inside, where his post game is limited to begin with. 

“He’s not tall enough, and it was very evident tonight, to score over that length,” Self told the Chicago-Sun Times Steve Goldberg after Alexander shot 2-of-7 against Kentucky’s NBA-caliber front line.

He recently failed to record a field goal in 14 minutes against Jakob Poeltl and Utah last Saturday. 

With a raw skill set and questionable size for his preferred style of play, Alexander hasn’t quite jumped out as a guy worth reaching on in the draft—at least not in 2015. 

And ironically, despite his superior production, it’s Alexander’s draft stock that might be more vulnerable. 

Oubre hasn’t been given much of a chance to build any rhythm or confidence on the floor. Not much has really changed with regard to his NBA ceiling, which is still top-10 worthy. 

For the most part, we’ve seen the package Alexander offers in full, and it just hasn’t been overly convincing from an upside perspective. 

Regardless, both prospects will have something to prove in order to restore some of their lost believability as can’t-miss NBA prospects. 

At this current stage in their journey to the pros, Alexander and Oubre have each found themselves in two different holes. And quite frankly, unless we see some changes, it might take a second year at Kansas for both of them to get out. 

 

Advanced stats courtesy of realgm.com.

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What’s Behind Kevon Looney’s UCLA Breakout as a Top-10 NBA Draft Prospect

UCLA freshman big man Kevon Looney has made it tough to look away through the first month of the season. 

And he’s become a major talking point in the 2015 NBA draft conversation.

It’s not just the numbers—Looney immediately aces the eye test based on his physical approach and appearance.

Between the 7’3″ wingspan, physical athleticism and inside-out skill set for a big, he’s loaded with mismatch potential on paper. And it’s been convincing, given the production those attributes and offensive versatility have translated to early on. 

Through 11 games, Looney is averaging 13.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, two assists and 1.6 blocks. 

He’s been a double-double machine and a mad man under the boards. Looney is constantly putting pressure on the glass, particularly at the offensive end, where he’s pulling down 4.7 rebounds a game.

He grabbed seven offensive boards last Saturday against Gonzaga’s giant front line consisting of 7’1″, 288-pound Przemek Karnowski, 6’10″ Domantas Sabonis and 6’10″ Kyle Wiltjer.

Looney has already managed to convert a whopping 21 putbacks (two per game), or points scored within four seconds of grabbing an offensive rebound, per Hoop-Math.com.

Of course, his size and length project favorably, but Looney has a terrific nose for the ball, along with the motor and willingness to go after it. And this is something he ultimately established early in his high school career. 

Per Rivals.com’s Eric Bossi from 2012:

Looney recently spoke to Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News regarding his consistent presence on the glass:

“It’s something you can control. I know I can rebound, That’s something I feel I can do with anybody. When the opportunity comes to have a big game offensively, I know I’ll be able to do that. But the one thing I know I can do game to game is rebound.”

Looney‘s rebounding tools and instincts play a bit to the certainty he offers as a prospect. It’s an area of the game that tends to translate for those built to hold their own inside.

Per ESPN.com stat man Ryan Feldman

Among big men in the last five NBA Drafts [not including 2014], the top three in rebound percentage in their final college season have an NBA career rebound percentage better than 15 percent – Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson. 

The five worst players are nowhere near a 15 percent rebound percentage. Four of those five players have never even started a game in the NBA. 

Looney currently sports a solid 18.1 percent rebounding percentage, and assuming he’s able to add some bulk to that 220-pound frame, you’d like to think this is a strength that should carry over to the pros. 

Offensively, Looney is a bit raw in terms of working one-on-one. The Bruins don’t exactly run their offense through him in the post given his light 20.6 percent usage rate. 

But despite the lack of touches, he’s still scoring at an impressive rate for a guy who’s fourth on the team in shot attempts per game. 

He’s shooting it 48.5 percent from the floor, and that’s with 46.7 percent of his attempts coming on two-point jumpers or threes, per Hoop-Math.com.

Looney has a high comfort level on the perimeter, where he’s got a confident jumper and capable handle for a big man. 

Against Gonzaga, he finished with 14 points, with four of his six buckets coming from outside. Looney drilled a three-pointer and three other jumpers—one facing up, another off a catch-and-shoot and the last off a pull-back he created himself off the dribble. 

He’s got a natural stroke, and though it’s a stretch to think he might emerge as a long-range shooter, his mid-range mechanics look textbook. You get the impression he’ll evolve into an everyday option off pick-and-pops and drive-and-kicks. 

Around the rim, Looney isn’t the most explosive player in the world, and his post moves aren’t quite clean yet. But he’s got giant hands and a nice feel for the basket over his shoulder. And he’s drawn a ton of fouls—he averages 7.3 free-throw attempts per game—for a guy who’s rarely featured in the offense. 

Between his size and length, Looney just takes up a ton of space inside, while his ability to consistently position himself in the right place at the right time leaves defenders no choice but to hack. 

At the end of the day, Looney excels in areas of the game you just can’t teach—physical tools, energy, rebounding instincts—while showing enormous promise in places where there’s plenty of room for growth, like shooting and post scoring.

He’s essentially already established both a high ceiling and high basement floor, which is really just another way of saying Looney offers little risk and big potential reward.  

In just a month of college hoops, Looney has undoubtedly entered the top-10 conversation for the 2015 draft. And regardless of what numbers he puts up the rest of the way, at 18 years old, the safety and upside he’s flashed early on are going to stay with him until June.

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Report: Lakers offered Nash, draft picks for Rondo

It reportedly will take a rather hefty offer to convince the Boston Celtics to part ways with Rajon Rondo. This one probably won’t get the job done.
The Los Angeles Lakers have offered the Celtics a package of point guard Steve Nash and “multiple draft picks” in exchange for Rondo, sources told ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne on Thursday.
Rondo obviously would help the flailing Lakers, but that return is … less than favorable, to say the least. Nash is basically retired — he’s 40 and hasn’t played all season — and L.A.’s upcoming crop of draft picks isn’t a particularly appealing one.
The Dallas Mavericks appeared to be the front-runners in the Rondo sweepstakes as of Thursday afternoon.
Thumbnail photo via Jae C. Hong/Associated Press
Filed under: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Top Stories, Zack Cox

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D’Angelo Russell Emerging as Top 2015 NBA Draft Guard Prospect in College Hoops

Though no doubt a terrific talent out of Montverde Academy, there were some questions prior to the season regarding freshman D’Angelo Russell’s outlook as an NBA prospect. But those questions have become less pressing after a month at Ohio State, as they’ve been overshadowed by the upside his versatility and potent attack ultimately fuel. 

Russell has looked like an offensive tornado through nine games, averaging 17.7 points, 5.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds on 47.5 percent shooting. 

And there’s just something convincing about his early-season production and strong first impression, even if he has had a few hiccups along the way. 

Russell operates with a ton of confidence, which plays to his believability. But his sales pitch to the pros revolves around his unique blend of strengths—the size and scoring arsenal of a 2 to match the floor game of a lead guard.

With Shannon Scott running the point on a more exclusive basis, Russell has spent a good amount of time off the ball so far this season. And he’s been effective in that role, thanks to a refined perimeter game and what’s been a lethal outside stroke.

He’s averaging 2.2 three-point makes at a scorching 43.5 percent clip. Russell doesn’t get much elevation, but at 6’5″, he’s got a quick release and the ability to connect with defenders in his face.

The fact that he’s 6’5″ and can shoot speaks to the safety he offers as a prospect, but it’s the firepower he’s capable of unloading off the dribble that really drives his potential.

Russell is a scoring playmaker. He reminds me of a mix between Goran Dragic and Monta Ellis—guys who could go out and get their own, on or off the ball, as well as set the table for teammates as their facilitator.

He certainly proved he can get his own against Sacred Heart, when he went for 32 points in just his third career game. “I just told myself whoever was guarding me I was gonna destroy them,” Russell told Cleveland.com’s Bill Landis. 

From pull-ups off two feet and floaters off one to hard drives and finishes on the break, he’s flashed the ability to generate offense in a variety of different ways. 

As a point guard, Russell tends to get a little reckless, but his passing instincts look legitimate. 

He’s got excellent vision on the move, whether he’s driving off a screen or pushing the ball off a defensive rebound. 

Russell displays a tremendous command of the ball in terms of his ability to get to his spots on the floor. And with point guards nowadays almost required to shoot and score, you get the impression that could be the position where Russell’s future lies in the pros.

Given his physical tools and quickness, Russell could offer some serious mismatch potential at the point. 

Right now, he’s turning the ball over a little too much (3.2 times per game), although feel free to place some blame on his monster 32.08 percent usage rate, an incredibly high number for an 18-year-old freshman on a top-15 team.

But that’s the level of trust and responsibility Ohio State’s coaching staff has given to Russell, who has the ability to impact a game in more ways than anyone else on the squad. Even in Russell’s worst outing of the year (6-of-20 from the floor, as his jumper just wouldn’t fall) against a tough Louisville defense, he still managed to put up 17 points, seven assists, six boards and two steals. 

Russell won’t blow anyone away with above-the-rim hops or explosiveness, but he’s no stiff out there, while his feel for the game and skill level are both far ahead of the curve. 

Looking down the list of eligible guards for the 2015 draft—well, there just aren’t many exciting ones outside of Emmanuel Mudiay, who’s finishing up in China, and Mario Hezonja, who plays for Barcelona in Euroleague and the Spanish ACB. 

This year’s projected field appears to be heavily populated by 4s and 5s, while I’d consider guys like Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Duke’s Justise Winslow more as small forwards or wings. 

In what looks like a weak class of guards, Russell has quickly made the case for being the most promising of those playing at the Division I level. 

And it’s a little unexpected, given the traditional fear tied to combos. But Russell is one of the rare ones—a guy with the physical tools to play either position along with a balanced offensive repertoire built to score, create and orchestrate. 

He’s immediately entered the 2015 lottery conversation, where I’d imagine he’ll stay until June 25.

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Arizona’s Stanley Johnson Making Case for Top-10 Consideration in 2015 NBA Draft

Stanley Johnson’s NBA sales pitch just continues to strengthen.

He’s been making it for a few years now, and it only seems to get more convincing by the month, from April’s 24-point showing at the Jordan Brand Classic, to the summer’s FIBA Americas, which he was named MVP of, to the LeBron James Skills Academy in August, where he generated all sorts of positive buzz.  

“If you’ve watched Stanley as a ninth- and 10th-grader like we did, he was a far cry from where he is today. That’s a true testament to his work ethic,” coach Sean Miller told Bleacher Report’s C.J. Moore.

But Johnson’s case for top-10 NBA draft consideration got even stronger late Saturday afternoon, following Arizona’s 80-53 beatdown on Michigan, when he went for 17 points, seven boards, three assists, a pick-six steal and a big-time block.

It was Johnson’s signature performance so far on the season, despite having already entered the game as Arizona’s leading scorer:

Against Michigan, Johnson ultimately flashed the entire two-way package that fueled the hype and his potential in the first place. 

He only missed two shots. There was just no answer for him in any aspect of the game, a good reminder of the mismatch his physical tools create at the wing position. 

Except for a spot-up three-pointer, which highlighted his current 40.7 percent long-range stroke and shooting potential, his seven other buckets came off drives, cuts or transition opportunities. 

Johnson is a train out there—fast, strong and explosive. While contact bothers most 18-year-olds, Johnson plows right through it.

Early in the first half, he converted an and-1 in the paint on a one-hander. Later, he finished a lefty layup off a baseline drive after taking a bump in the air and remaining balanced. 

With that diesel 245-pound frame, Johnson is as physical of a small forward as any out there. And that’s comforting from an NBA standpoint, given the size of today’s pro wings. Just to put it in perspective, he plays the same position as Andrew Wiggins, 2014′s No. 1 pick, and weighs 45 pounds more.

Against Michigan, Johnson’s other five buckets came in the open floor, either in transition or the secondary break. He had a number of pretty highlights, but none looked prettier than his one-handed alley-oop that showcased his next-level athleticism and body control. 

Offensively, he flashed everything but a one-on-one attack—the drive-and-slash game, potency on the break, outside touch. But much of the appeal tied to Johnson stems from his two-way capability—not just his offensive upside—and that was never more evident than it was against the helpless Wolverines.

He didn’t guard him exclusively, but Johnson certainly contributed to Caris LeVert‘s 2-of-9 showing—another wing projected to trigger lottery consideration. 

While having a 45-pound advantage obviously helps, Johnson also displayed some crazy quickness for a guy his size. On one play, Johnson forced LeVert into a travel after beating him to the spot and keeping him from turning the corner. 

Johnson was just as effective off the ball. He jumped in a passing lane and took an interception the distance for one of three slams on the afternoon:

And on the first possession of the second half, he rotated down for a monster block on Michigan’s big man.

In terms of defensive tools, you won’t find many better sets than Johnson’s. The fact that he plays with such intensity and energy only enhances its effectiveness and his overall likability. 

Through three weeks, he’s made some mistakes, whether it’s been getting caught up on screens or fouling a three-point shooter, which he did against Michigan. But you just can’t teach this blend of strength, foot speed and motor. 

And that plays to the safety he offers as a 2015 NBA draft prospect. Even if his offensive game eventually plateaus, Johnson’s defensive versatility and competitive edge are sure to translate and hold some value. 

As we get closer to conference play in January, the Ron Artest and Kawhi Leonard comparisons are starting to look even more on point.  

Johnson has emerged as one of the best bets in June’s projected draft field, given the immediate impact he’s had for one of the top teams in America and the lack of questions or red flags surrounding his outlook.

Following his hot start at Arizona, it’s safe to permanently cement Johnson’s name into the top-10 conversation. It’s not leaving there.

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How Many Kentucky Wildcats Will Become Future NBA Draft Picks?

Word on the streets is that this Kentucky roster is deep. It’s actually unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

The Wildcats smoked North Carolina Saturday afternoon 84-70, and Karl-Anthony Towns, a top-three overall candidate for the 2015 draft, didn’t even record a shot attempt. 

It was the rest of the guys in Kentucky’s ridiculously deep rotation who stepped up. The blowout was simply a reminder of the endless talent on this team.

And that raises the big question—just how many of these Wildcats will eventually get drafted?

The following Kentucky players are guys who can expect to hear their names called in the draft, whether it’s this June or in 2016.

Begin Slideshow

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Magic Johnson wants Lakers to lose for high draft pick

Coming into the season, the Los Angeles Lakers weren’t expected to be good, even after the acquisitions of familiar names Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer. And to this point, they haven’t been. The Lakers are currently 5-16 and mere percentage points ahead of the Timberwolves for worst record in the Western Conference. At this pace,…Read More

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Duke Wing Justise Winslow Emerging as a Potential Top-5 NBA Draft Pick

Relative to last June’s draft, the projected 2015 field might not offer the same caliber of star power or depth. Outside the consensus top three—Duke center Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns and point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, who could be finishing up his time in China soon—the “wow” factor drops off significantly.

This is a year when the “safe” label could actually help a lottery pick’s stock.

Duke freshman Justise Winslow has emerged as one of the safest yet potentially most rewarding prospects in the country. He entered the season with a reputation as a high-energy, do-it-all, two-way wing, and he’s lived up to the billing. 

Through eight games, his numbers won’t blow you away—12 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 45.6 percent shooting—but the impact he’s had has been immeasurable early on.

Winslow’s value also stems from his defense and motor. That was most recently evident in Duke’s 10-point win over Wisconsin on Dec. 3. You didn’t hear Winslow’s name much, but he was there, making plays that mostly never made the final box score.

Winslow has been making a name for himself at the defensive end for years now, from the Under-17 World Championships in 2012 to this past summer as a starter for the Under-18 FIBA Americas team that took gold in Colorado Springs. 

He plays an aggressive style of pressure defense. And he’s been a hound so far on the ball, consistently taking away or containing an opposing ball-handler’s dribble.

At 6’6″, 225 pounds, Winslow packs an overwhelming punch of athleticism, quickness and strength. He certainly looks the part of an NBA wing. 

He’s a diver, a chaser, a jump-into-the-stands type of hustler.

Winslow has minimal bust potential. An NBA general manager is getting a super athlete and versatile perimeter defender. 

He reminds me a bit of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist when he was at Kentucky and Victor Oladipo at Indiana—guys who climbed up draft boards and won over scouts with their defense, energy and explosiveness, along with offensive flashes that hint at room for growth down the road. 

Offensively, Winslow looks a bit raw, but in doses, he’s flashed encouraging ball skills as an attacker and outside shooter.

The most eye-opening development so far has been his jumper. He’s hit at least one three-pointer in every game now while shooting 38.5 percent from downtown. 

And Winslow’s mechanics look clean. Even if his percentage falls off over the course of the season, you get the impression that he can eventually evolve into a legitimate catch-and-shoot threat. 

At this stage, Winslow is still clearly at his best in the open floor, where he can really fly in transition and finish on the move.

Against a set half-court defense, though, he’s limited as a one-on-one scorer. Winslow is dangerous attacking open lanes—just not creating them off the bounce. That’s partly why he ended up with just six shot attempts against Wisconsin. And that’s why his scoring numbers will likely fluctuate as the season rolls along. 

But Winslow’s all-around versatility gives him a little extra cushion and margin for error. For Duke, he doesn’t necessarily need to score to contribute.

The idea is that the same will hold true at the NBA level—even if his offensive game never comes around, he’ll always have defense and intangibles to fall back on. 

“Whatever we need. Block out, block a shot, knock down a shot. Get in the post, feed the post. I just try to do it all,” Winslow told ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan. 

Still, at just 18 years old, I’m willing to bet the offensive flashes, even if sporadic, will ultimately look convincing enough to suggest there’s more to come with NBA coaching and time, whether it’s a slash from the wing:

Or a sweet spot-up jumper:

The promising vibes he’s given off have made it easy for evaluators to overlook his current flaws and (potentially) temporary weaknesses, which stem from his youth and lack of polish one can always add with practice.  

At this point, I’d say the entry door into the top-three tier has been sealed off to Okafor, Towns and Mudiay. But that No. 4 spot should be up for grabs on everybody’s draft board, and Winslow’s chances of grabbing it are as good as anyone’s. 

Look for the buzz around Winslow to build, along with his image as a low-risk, high-reward option. That image could hold a lot of weight in a draft without obvious answers to choose from. 

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Willie Cauley-Stein Making Legitimate Push Toward 2015 NBA Draft Lottery

Kentucky Coach John Calipari didn’t fully stick to his platoon system Friday night against Texas. There was just no possible way he was taking out Willie Cauley-Stein, who ended up playing a season-high 33 minutes, the most anyone has logged in a game for Kentucky this year. 

Cauley-Stein was the difference-maker in the Wildcats’ 63-51 win on a night when nobody was really feeling it offensively. 

He filled up the box score across the board, covering two-way ground while giving off the impression there were two of him out there on the floor. 

Cauley-Stein entered his junior year with something to prove after two promising yet unconvincing seasons. Though his physical tools always screamed first round, inconsistency seemingly weighed on his stock.  

Now, finding the lottery is starting to look more like a probability than long-shot possibility.

Friday night, I’d like to imagine that most scouts in attendance initially had their eyes set on the matchup between projected one-and-done centers Karl-Anthony Towns and Myles Turner. Scouts have been watching Cauley-Stein for over two years now, while his strengths and limitations have already been well defined. 

He ended up stealing the freshmen stars’ thunder and ultimately the entire darn show. You couldn’t have a conversation about the game at the office water cooler the next day without leading it by mentioning Cauley-Stein’s dominance. 

And quite frankly, he needed this from a stock perspective. Given how easy it is to get lost in Kentucky’s 10-man shuffle, Cauley-Stein needed to remind everyone just how naturally gifted he is and how valuable those gifts can be on both sides of the ball. 

Still, to no surprise, his sales pitch will continue to revolve around defense and energy.

Just based on his size, length and mobility, he’s going to pick up blocks by accident if you leave him out there long enough. Cauley-Stein racked up three and changed a number of other shots around the basket.

But it’s not even just the rim protection. As a 7-footer, his ability to move effortlessly from baseline to baseline, arc to the rim and elbow to block holds tremendous defensive value, whether he’s guarding pick-and-rolls away from the hoop or rotating down under it.

It’s just a rare blend of range and versatility that allows him to disrupt the opposing offense from all different angles. 

Each of the five steals he collected highlighted the enormous ground he covers defensively. 

He jumped in front of two passes in the post, intercepted a pass on the perimeter and another at half court as a result of full-court pressure. 

In terms of energy, you can sum up his performance in one signature play—a defensive challenge that led to a rebound, which he grabbed and took down the floor and eventually finished off on a two-on-one alley-oop.

But we all knew about his defensive capability and motor when revved. What we haven’t seen is the offensive production—Cauley-Stein’s 21 points were a career high, and they weren’t all just on above-the-rim cupcakes. 

He converted two soft jump hooks in the lane, and he got to the line 12 times on the night, making nine of them. Cauley-Stein is no Hakeem Olajuwon, but he’s at least become a threat with the ball when operating one-on-one in the paint. 

Against Providence the previous game, he recorded five field goals with three of them coming on calculated post moves. 

Cauley-Stein surprised a lot of people last year by choosing to stay in school. Prospects tend to lose a little margin for error with every year they come back, and that was especially true in this case when you take into account how many big men were expected to compete in Kentucky’s rotation. 

But it’s starting to look like Cauley-Stein made the right call, with his offensive game showing signs and defensive impact at full force. Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal quoted Cauley-Stein:

Breaking down June’s projected field, there really aren’t many guys who stand out in the sure-thing or can’t-miss department. And Cauley-Stein has put himself in position to capitalize.

At this rate, the 2015 lottery is looking like a strong possibility for him. He certainly appeared to have made the necessary strides during his outburst against Texas, whose monster front line of 285-pound Cameron Ridley, 6’10″, 260-pound Prince Ibeh and 6’11″ Turner was ultimately no match. 

It’s a ceiling comparison, but Tyson Chandler is the guy he resembles—a big man who can anchor a defense and change a game without needing the ball. Robin Lopez is another potential comparison that comes to mind. 

And it may have taken three years, but the time and work seem to have paid off. If you’ve waited to hop on the Cauley-Stein wagon, now is the time to make your move. He’s on the rise.

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Frank Kaminsky’s Rise to 2015 NBA Draft Lottery Prospect Nearing Completion

Frank Kaminsky came out of nowhere in 2013-14. It started with a 43-point explosion against North Dakota four games into his junior year, and from then on, he had our attention. 

You’ve heard the story before. He’s not the first late-bloomer. Unheralded out of high school, Kaminsky has risen from “nobody” status to a legit NBA prospect in four years at school. 

He averaged just 7.7 minutes as a freshman and 10.3 as a sophomore. And then it clicked.

Over the course of a summer, we saw his body get stronger. Bumps by defenders weren’t knocking him off track. Contact didn’t keep him from finishing down low.

At the same time, Kaminsky had suddenly evolved into a knock-down shooter from just a capable one. He hit 37 three-point attempts at a respectable 37.8 percent clip—and the stroke looks good. Kaminsky gives off the impression he’s a natural stretch big man.  

He’s off to an even better start for the Badgers in 2014-15, both statistically and fundamentally.

Take a look at Kaminsky‘s numbers through eight games:

One of the big takeaways from Kaminsky‘s breakout senior year: The shooting stroke he flashed last season doesn’t appear to be a fluke. He’s sinking 1.6 three-pointers a game at a 41.9 percent clip. Obviously, there’s more to his game than just shooting, but Kaminsky isn’t going anywhere without a reliable jump shot. And it’s looked even more convincing to start the 2014-15 season. 

Against Duke, he opened the game by sinking a catch-and-shoot three in the face of Jahlil Okafor, who at 6’11″, 270 pounds, doesn’t have the foot speed to play up tight and risk getting beaten off the bounce. 

A few possessions later, Kaminsky answered with a textbook pick-and-pop three-pointer on the opposite wing.

It’s a simple combination, but NBA teams will pay for big men who can consistently knock down shots outside—even if they’re limited elsewhere. 

But Kaminsky isn’t limited elsewhere. He might not win any athletic awards or strong-man competitions, but his footwork and ball skills have gotten awfully good. 

Though his legs may have given out toward the end of the game, at one point in the second half, Duke had no answer for Kaminsky, who got to the line eight times over a six-minute span.

He’s a tough cover for any center with the ability to shake, bake and finish on the move. Kaminsky ultimately makes up for a lack of athleticism with slick feet, body control and shot-making ability, whether he’s back-to-the-basket or facing up.

Hooks, spins, one-dribble pull-ups, floaters in the lane—Kaminsky can create or separate into balanced looks from all different spots and angles on the floor.

It took all four years, but offensively, he’s flashed the entire package from post to perimeter. We’ve seen him score, shoot and dish. And he’s given Wisconsin some defense and rim protection as well. 

“Frank has become probably as complete a player as we’ve ever had—inside, outside, passing, defense, rebounding,” Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard told Jeff Potrykus of the Journal Sentinel. “He can do so many different things and that is always that final step that you hope players take as they go through their career.”

The big question that’s bound to be on every general managers’ mind is how well his offensive game will translate to the pros without much bounce or burst fueling it?

The good news for Kaminsky—he’s going to essentially enter the NBA draft with a life preserver around his waist. That blend of shooting touch, 7-foot size and passing instincts should ultimately keep him afloat no matter how rough things get.  

And that should play to the safety he offers as a prospect. 

Turning 22 years old in April, you won’t see him enter the conversation with the elite center prospects and projected one-and-dones like Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns from Kentucky and Myles Turner from Texas. 

But Kaminsky‘s “safe” label could go a long way in what might be a draft that runs out of star power rather quickly.

If he can continue improving his offensive fluidity while maintaining his sweet outside stroke, you’re not going to see too many teams let Kaminsky slip by once all the upside prizes are off the board. There’s just too much value tied to his particular skill set in today’s NBA game.

I’ve got Kaminsky cemented into this year’s late lottery to mid-first round.

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