Shaq’s surprise pick for greatest player ever

Exciting? Yes. Greatest ever? No.

      
 

 

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Wiggins: rare No. 1 pick traded before rookie year (Yahoo Sports)

FILE - AUGUST 22, 2014: According to sources, the Minnesota Timberwolves will acquire Thaddeus Young from the Philadelphia 76ers in a deal that will send Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for first overall pick Andrew Wiggins. TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 03: Andrew Wiggins #21 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot at MSG Training Center on August 3, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The blockbuster trade that will send Kevin Love to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland will be completed on Saturday, making the Cavaliers an instant favorite in the Eastern Conference and turning Andrew Wiggins into something of an anomaly. When Wiggins is moved from the Cavs to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the deal, he will become just the second No. 1 overall draft pick to be traded without playing a game for the team that drafted him since the ABA and NBA merged in 1976. The only other time it happened was in 1993 when the Orlando Magic traded Chris Webber to the Golden State Warriors for a package headlined by Penny Hardaway.


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Shaq’s surprise pick for greatest ever

Exciting? Yes. Greatest ever? No.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NBA Top Stories

JR Smith Kills Competition At Secret Pick Up Game

Some Knicks players got in on some off season fun at Terminal 23 Monday in New York.

A group of NBA players got together for a quick pick up game at Terminal 23 and it seems as if JR Smith showed up and showed out. JR was dunk city and even threw a smooth two handed reverse for the competition.
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Can Knicks fans expect more of this play this upcoming season?
(TMZ)
The post JR Smith Kills Competition At Secret Pick Up Game appeared first on Geeks & Cleats.

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Grizzlies sign draft pick Jarnell Stokes to deal (Yahoo Sports)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies have signed their second-round draft pick Jarnell Stokes to a multi-year contract.

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NBA Draft Expert’s Notebook: Can Karl Towns Jr. Blossom into No. 1 2015 Pick?

The day will come when Karl Towns Jr. emerges as a topic to discuss on every national sports talk show. It”s going to happen sometime early next season, when he inevitably goes off during one of Kentucky’s nationally televised games.

I could see it now—a stretch that includes a hook shot followed by a three-pointer capped off by a dunk on a break he led himself. You can already hear the announcers highlighting his extraordinary versatility and potential as an NBA prospect. 

Towns, a consensus top-10 recruit and Kentucky’s prized freshman center, has an unusually high skill level and natural feel for the game. He turned heads in Portland at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit and followed Andrew Wiggins in 2014 by winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year award.

His talent has been well documented by scouts over the past 18 months or so. And now Towns will be looking to make his case for the top spot on 2015 draft boards.

I wouldn’t call him the favorite at this point three months prior to the season. Based on buzz from scouts and personal opinion, I’d give that honor to Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor, whose 6’11″, 272-pound body, dominant inside game and basketball IQ help create a sense of certainty and assurance you don’t get from any other prospect. 

Okafor is your more traditional center. Towns is not, and that could ultimately work for or against him. Towns has to ultimately convince the NBA guys his loose but diverse offensive game is more attractive than the concentrated one Okafor masters as an inside force. 

And Towns’ margin for error might not be very big. Given the ridiculous depth of Kentucky’s current squad—ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman (subscription required) called it the ”deepest I’ve seen in the past decade”—his scoring and playmaking chances won’t exactly be unlimited. 

Towns will be competing for minutes and touches with junior Willie Cauley-Stein and sophomore Dakari Johnson—two older 7-footers expected to play significant veteran roles. And don’t forget junior Alex Poythress, sophomore Marcus Lee and fellow top-shelf recruit Trey Lyles are all expected to log minutes at the 4. 

Coah John Calipari will find minutes for Towns—he’s just too talented and useful, even as a teenager, to keep on the bench for long. But there’s no question he’ll have to find a way to stand out on an insanely crowded stage. 

There are going to be games where Towns ends up with duds in the box scores. It just comes with the territory of playing alongside All-American teammates. 

Lack of opportunity to dominate, coupled by his specific weaknesses as a prospect could lead to inconsistency next season—inconsistency we’re unlikely to see from Okafor as Duke’s top gun. 

Towns’ weaknesses center around his on-and-off interior presence. Despite possessing a 7’0″, 248-pound frame, he doesn’t always use all of it. 

I wouldn’t consider it a major concern—we’ve seen Towns do his fair share of bullying around the rim.

The question is whether or not Towns’ draft stock can handle the wavering production likely to result from a reduced role and an interest in proving he’s a threat on the perimeter. 

Meanwhile, Okafor might as well set up a La-Z-Boy couch in the lane, because that’s where the Duke guards will be feeding him all day long. There’s no question as to where he’s most effective on the floor. 

Okafor is going to be putting up double-doubles on off-games. He’s just got too much size, skill and opportunity. The points and boards will be there for him regardless—like they were for Jabari Parker last year.

On the other hand, Towns won’t be featured the way Okafor projects to be in Duke’s offense. 

Kentucky is currently playing exhibition games in the Bahamas against legitimate international competition, and though it’s obviously early, we’ve gotten a sense at how Calipari will be using each player.

Towns has played 18 minutes, 21 minutes and 21 minutes through three games, respectively. 

The offense didn’t quite feature Towns, but when in the game, the ball did find him for the most part. Still, with so much sharing going on, it’s easy to see how Towns could go quiet from time to time. 

He did look awfully good against older, more experienced frontcourts in the Bahamas. Though Towns will run into a few college and plenty of NBA centers that can match up with him physically, few can do as many things as he can with the ball.

Offensively, his skill set is just so well-rounded. 

Towns has excellent touch in the post, with a good idea of what he’s doing in terms of creating his own shots. He’s shown the ability to turn over his shoulder for jump hooks and the agility to slip off his man and separate with jukes or spin moves.

When he’s able to get position and there’s space for him to operate, Towns can serve as a viable go-to option for offense with his back to the rim. 

He also finished a number of pick-and-rolls as the roll man in traffic. Towns has good body control on the move—he’s able to catch, duck and weave for buckets while improvising on the fly. And if there’s a lane, he’s shown he can put it on the deck and attack the rim off a dribble or two. 

Towns also showcased his vision and passing instincts on a number of different occasions. His ability to see the floor and facilitate from the elbows will certainly play to his appeal over the course of next season. 

Athletically, Towns is nothing to drool over, but for a guy his size, he moves pretty effortlessly out there, both as a leaper and runner.

And it certainly didn’t look like he’ll have much difficulty taking contact inside, though it’s something he’s been dogged for in the past. He ripped down a couple of tough offensive boards by outworking and outmuscling opposing big men in the paint. 

On the downside, Towns missed all of his three-point attempts, as it looks like it could be a while before he’s regularly stretching the floor or pick-and-popping like a pro. 

He’s also not the most explosive—he came up short around the hoop or failed to separate a couple of times from his defender. 

And he hasn’t blocked a shot through three games despite his size, mobility and 7’3.5″ wingspan. Defense and rim protection don’t come as naturally to Towns as they do to guys like Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid—two high-profile centers from the past two drafts. 

The good news is that Okafor isn’t overly dominant defensively, either. And though I hate to compare the two, you kind of have to when debating who the top pick will be. 

I’ll throw in Kansas freshman Cliff Alexlander’s name as well, though despite his towering upside powered by elite-level athleticism, I’m not sure he’s polished enough to take the cake over Okafor and Towns. 

Relative to the field, Towns has the all-around package to trigger No. 1 overall interest. He might not be the favorite to start, but he’s certainly established himself as a candidate. 

“He’s very skilled and has a very good feel for playing the game of basketball,” one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears. “He’s strong. He plays his position well. There are not a lot of basketball players with his feel for the game. He can face up and make jump shots. He’s special.”

For Towns to leapfrog the field and take over the No. 1 spot, he’ll have to silence the critics who’ve questioned his toughness on the interior. He’s going to have to match Okafor’s and Alexander’s presence in the paint and then move the needle with his versatility as a passer and shooter. 

It’s not an unrealistic goal by any means for Towns, who I’d vote today as Okafor’s biggest draft-day challenger amongst Division I NBA prospects. 

We’re going to have to see frequent enough flashes of greatness to make up for what could be an up-and-down season in the box scores, given the number of mouths Calipari will have to feed. 

But there’s no question Towns has the skills and upside to pull it off. 

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Fellow rookies pick Jabari Parker to win ROY

The vote wasn’t even close.

      
 

 

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Why Jahlil Okafor Is Early Favorite for No. 1 Pick in 2015 NBA Draft

It clicked early for Jahlil Okafor. You can just tell that he gets it. He understands his overwhelming strengths and recognizes how to exploit them.

And chances are he’ll be exploiting them at Duke against helpless ACC frontcourts on his journey toward becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. 

With Okafor, it’s not necessarily all about upside the way it was for the top pick in 2014. Andrew Wiggins’ appeal stemmed from the potential his spectacular athleticism drives in the long run. With a guy like Wiggins, you’re hoping the skills eventually catch up to the hops, quickness and explosiveness. You’re hoping one day it finally clicks. 

And there’s always some uncertainty attached to guys whose allure is tied mostly to potential. Who knows whether or not a prospect’s shooting stroke will improve, his handle will tighten or his in-between game will develop? 

Okafor is a little different in that the fundamentals and feel for the game are already there. Of course, he’s an absolute monster physically, but Okafor hasn’t just leaned on his physical tools to dominate at the high school and international levels.  

However, there’s no hiding his minimal bounce and burst. He’s just not as light on his feet, and without the athleticism that powers so many of today’s All-Stars, his ceiling isn’t perceived as limitless. 

Only Okafor’s most attractive feature isn’t quite his towering ceiling—it’s his high basement floor. There’s really not much risk at all attached to Okafor. 

ESPN recruiting analyst Adam Finklestein nailed it (subscription required) with his take following this year’s showcase period featuring the McDonald’s All-American game, the Nike Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand Classic:

“From an NBA perspective, he’s starting to look more and more like a ‘safe pick’ in that you pretty much know what you’re going to get, even if his ultimate upside may not be quite as high as top-ranked prospects in other classes.”

This isn’t the typical reputation of a No. 1 overall favorite. “Safe pick” and “franchise centerpiece,” something lottery winners are usually looking for, don’t normally go hand in hand. 

But the fact that Okafor doesn’t have that visible superstar ceiling may not matter too much next June. Safe could go a long way in 2015, as the projected field looks to be a bit short of obvious No. 1 overall candidates. 

Emmanuel Mudiay is likely Okafor’s biggest challenger at the top of the board, but his decision to play in China could make him tougher to evaluate and ultimately justify as the No. 1 prospect. 

And though safe isn’t overly exciting, the potential reward Okafor offers is still worthy of a top pick in the draft. We could be talking about a go-to option in the frontcourt and a double-team magnet who pounds the glass and clogs the lane.

When you take into account his particular style of play, video-game athleticism isn’t quite a must-have attribute. Okafor fits the mold of a Tim Duncan, Al Jefferson or LaMarcus Aldridge type of big man—someone whose precise moves, high IQ and touch help compensate for their athletic limitations.

These guys didn’t have trouble reaching All-Star levels without above-the-rim springs or blow-by speed. 

At 6’11″ with a massive 7’5″ wingspan and an enormous 272-pound frame, Okafor has the body to carve out space along with the footwork to separate and deliver. His blend of imposing strength, nimble feet and soft hands is just too much. 

From spin moves into jump hooks to face-ups into flip shots, he’s been unstoppable at times with the ability to create high-percentage looks for himself in the paint: 

After being named MVP of the 2012 Under-17 FIBA World Championships, he made the 2013 All-FIBA Under-19 World Championship Team, having averaged 10.8 points and 4.8 boards on a whopping 77.2 percent shooting in just 14.2 minutes. In nine games, only once did he miss more than two shots.

It’s as if the rim looks bigger to Okafor, whose touch and instincts help expand it. 

His basketball IQ is also right on point. He’s got this level of awareness that allows him to pinpoint the best route to take and where the defense is most vulnerable. 

Okafor always seems to have a good feel for where his defender is leaning and when to take advantage. It could be something as simple as kicking it out of the post to re-post for better position closer to the rim:

Down low, Okafor really uses his mass, strength and length, whether it’s during a back-to-the-basket bully session or on the offensive glass. 

He’s tough to move inside—contact appears to just bounce off his enormous body.

Take a look at how easily he pushes around incoming freshman Karl Towns, a potential top-five pick and true 7-footer at Kentucky:

He’ll end up making a few respectable college big men look completely inferior as a 19-year-old freshman. Okafor was probably ready for Division I as a junior in high school.

But over the past year, Okafor, who’s built on the heavier side, has drawn rave reviews for his improved conditioning and mobility.

“His body is shaping up into where he can run the floor in consecutive trips like never before,” said (subscription required) ESPN’s Paul Biancardi following the Jordan Brand Classic. “Okafor is strong and physical and in the best shape I have seen him, and his motor is hitting on all cylinders,” added (subscription required) ESPN’s Reggie Rankin.

Okafor told Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy:

Right now, I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been in – in my entire life. It all has to do with changing my diet. … It’s really helping me. I’m already seeing the improvement on the floor when I’m playing, working out or playing with some of my friends. I think I’m definitely far and away better from where I was last year.

Defense will be a point of emphasis for Okafor and scouts next season. While he’s got the tools to evolve into an effective rim protector, he hasn’t earned that reputation as a routine defensive game-changer.

And there will always be the skeptics who’ll tell you his underwhelming athletic ability will prevent him from dominating in the pros. 

Okafor isn’t a lock to go No. 1, but between a lack of standout competition, his expected immediate impact at Duke and the favorable risk-to-reward odds he offers as an NBA prospect, he’ll enter the 2014-15 season as the favorite.

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Former top pick Oden released after battery arrest (Yahoo Sports)

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 5: Greg Oden #20 of the Miami Heat in Game One of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center on June 5, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Police arrested former NBA No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden on battery charges early Thursday, alleging that he punched his ex-girlfriend in the face during a fight. The free agent center, who played for the Miami Heat last season, was arrested early Thursday at his mother’s suburban home in Lawrence on two preliminary counts of misdemeanor battery.


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Former top pick Oden arrested on battery charges (Yahoo Sports)

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 5: Greg Oden #20 of the Miami Heat in Game One of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center on June 5, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Police arrested former NBA No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden on battery charges early Thursday, alleging that he punched his ex-girlfriend in the face during a fight at his mother’s suburban Indianapolis home. The free agent center, who played for the Miami Heat last season, was taken into custody at the home in Lawrence on two preliminary counts of misdemeanor battery.


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