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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Full-Strength Chicago Bulls Flashing Their Potential and Sunday NBA Takeaways

Homebound for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Chicago Bulls are a team on the rise.

A 102-84 win over the Brooklyn Nets means Chicago will finish its annual circus road trip with a winning record, and this latest victory offered glimpses of the run that could be coming.

Jimmy Butler continued his ascent toward stardom, leading the Bulls with 26 points on an ultra-efficient 7-of-12 effort from the field. His 13 free-throw attempts bumped his season total up to 132, the third-most in the league.

Once a defensive specialist, Butler is now performing on the other end in an appropriately Chicagoan, blue-collar manner.

With Derrick Rose chipping in 26 solid minutes and Pau Gasol posting his third consecutive double-double (25 points and 13 rebounds on 9-of-12 shooting), the Bulls’ scoring attack was plenty productive. Steady reserve contributor Nikola Mirotic added 12 points and 12 boards as well.

Defensively, well…let’s just say the Nets won’t be in a hurry to watch tape of the 37.2 percent shooting Chicago held them to.

At 11-6, Chicago hasn’t been hurting for success this season. But this win had a little extra significance. It added more evidence to the growing pile indicating that, if healthy, Chicago is as scary a team as there is in the league.

Per Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com: “The health of their starters has played a big role in their success on this trip. The Bulls improved to 5-0 on the season when their intended starting lineup of Rose, Jimmy ButlerMike DunleavyPau Gasol and Joakim Noah start.”

The problem, of course, is that the Bulls’ greatest weakness is their vulnerability to injury. It’s great that Chicago hasn’t lost any of the five games it’s played with a healthy first unit. It’s less great that said unit has only been fit enough to play five times in a month.

Rose hadn’t started and finished two consecutive contests all year until he survived against Brooklyn on Sunday. And it’s still not known when Taj Gibson, Chicago’s most important reserve, will return from an ankle injury.

Toss in the accumulated nicks and bruises always afflicting Noah, Butler and Gasol and you’ve got a collection of talent whose potential is surpassed only by its frailty.

We know all that, though. Chicago has dealt with significant injuries for nearly all of Tom Thibodeau’s tenure at the helm. The next one—whenever it comes—won’t catch the team unprepared.

What we also know is that the Bulls aren’t satisfied with their start. And they’re not getting too full of themselves either.

I just wanted to be on the (opponent) scouting report,” Butler told reporters after his game-high 26 points, via Sam Smith of Bulls.com. “I don’t think I was on the scouting report last year. Maybe I made it onto people’s scouting reports this year. My mindset (in 2011) was just to stick in this league, find a way to help the team win. You’ve got to show the organization and your teammates you are here to play.”

Butler’s teammates and his organization know what he’s about. The rest of the league is finding out, too.

Brooklyn, now 6-9 on the year, is headed in the opposite direction. If not for the good fortune of facing the depleted Oklahoma City Thunder and the amateur-hour Philadelphia 76ers in the past couple of weeks, the Nets would be sitting on a nine-game slide.

It seems things are getting desperate.

That’s right, Kevin Garnett literally added some bite to his world-renowned bark.

No harm, no foul, apparently.

As for the Bulls, they’ll enjoy four of their next five tilts at home. And observers throughout the league will be paying close attention, hoping to find out if the East’s sleeping giant is waking up for real. The homestand will feature contests against some of the superior West’s top ranks, including the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers. 

A winning circus trip is a big deal. But that achievement will pale in comparison to a strong showing against real competition.

Chicago looks ready.

 

Around the Association

Dubs Own the East

The Warriors stomped out the reeling Detroit Pistons by a final score of 104-93—a misleading margin that doesn’t indicate the truth: The game was essentially over by halftime.

Saginaw native Draymond Green enjoyed his Michigan homecoming, hitting five triples on the way to a team-high 20 points. Stephen Curry dampened spirits briefly when he suffered a worrisome left ankle tweak in the third quarter, but x-rays came back negative.

On a nine-game winning streak and heading home with a 5-0 road trip complete, the Dubs have reached cruising altitude.

 

Kobe Bryant Can’t Get Call, Gets Triple-Double and Win Instead

Beating the Toronto Raptors to end a four-game losing streak would have been impressive enough, but Kobe Bryant didn’t stop there.

He piled on with a triple-double, finishing with 31 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 129-122 overtime victory.

Kyle Lowry led Toronto with 29 points.

Kobe couldn’t draw a blocking call on Jonas Valanciunas when he attacked the basket at the end of regulation, which pushed the game into the extra period. There, Kobe added six points and the two boards he needed for his 20th career triple-double.

And what Kobe-centric evening would be complete without a new Bryant meme?

L.A. is now 3-0 against the East and 1-13 against the West.

Good news: The Lakers hit the road for a three-game sojourn against Detroit, Washington and Boston this week.

 

Kings Can’t Dance Without Boogie

Out for the second straight game due to illness, DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t available Sunday to help the Sacramento Kings avenge their controversial last-second loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The first defeat came on Nov. 13 when Courtney Lee flipped in a buzzer-beater with tenths of a second remaining. The Kings protested the result and lost.

Memphis’ 97-85 margin of victory in this one didn’t leave any room for debate. Zach Randolph got loose for 22 points and 12 rebounds, while Marc Gasol tossed up 18 points, six boards and five assists against an overwhelmed Kings interior.

The Grizz have won five straight and lead the West with a sterling 15-2 mark.

 

Pop Pops In, Rondo Rims Out

Gregg Popovich rejoined the San Antonio Spurs after two games off to deal with an undisclosed medical procedure. His replacement, assistant Ettore Messina, led the Spurs to a 2-0 record in the interim.

Based on the easy 111-89 win over the Boston Celtics, Pop didn’t screw anything up by returning to the plug-and-play (plug-and-dominate?) Spurs.

Rajon Rondo, on the other hand, continued his struggles with what should be the easiest of shots. He went 0-of-2 from the foul line, dropping his season-long conversion rate from the charity stripe to a “there’s no way that’s right” 9-of-30.

Good thing he can pass.

 

D-Wade Still Seems Good; Melo Can’t Fix Knicks

Hey! Remember Dwyane Wade?

Well, it turns out he’s still good—when he decides to take the floor, that is.

Wade suited up for the Miami Heat for the first time since Nov. 12, and his 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting led Miami to a 86-79 win over the host New York Knicks.

Carmelo Anthony’s return after two games off to rest his aching back wasn’t enough to get New York going. He had 31 points in the losing effort.

The Heat’s offense took on some new dimensions with Wade back on the floor, and though it’s hard to know how often he’ll be able to play going forward, it’s encouraging to see him looking very much like the D-Wade of old when he’s out there.

Meanwhile, the Knicks have lost four straight, and unless you count an Oct. 30 victory over a very shaky Cleveland Cavaliers team as a quality win, have yet to defeat a decent opponent. This is going to get worse before it gets better.

 

The Gerald Green Scouting Report Is Simple

Phoenix Suns’ high-flying wing Gerald Green broke out the self-alley-oop in a 93-90 loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday.

If the play looks familiar, it’s because we saw something very similar from Green last season.

Be advised: When Green picks up his dribble and looks stuck at the right elbow, he’s got you right where he wants you.

  

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Kansas Adopting Defense as the Best Way to Play to Its Potential

Watching Kansas corral, spook and intimidate Michigan State over the final 20 minutes of Sunday’s Orlando Classic was strangely surreal.

It was a role reversal from 12 days prior, when Kentucky—much more emphatically—did the same to Kansas and had the general basketball population questioning if Bill Self was finally going to have a down year in Lawrence.

Three wins at the Orlando Classic—finished off by the gritty 61-56 victory over Michigan State in the championship game—proved any such questioning of the 11th-ranked Jayhawks to be wildly premature.

Kansas took its whooping and learned from it. 

The product that Self has put on the floor since the Kentucky loss has looked much more like his typical teams. The Jayhawks move the ball, they play hard and they defend. 

In a way, they play like Kentucky. 

That’s not to say Kansas is even on the same stratosphere as UK right now—only Wisconsin, Duke and Gonzaga seem to be within earshot—but Self’s team has potential to get much closer than it looked at the Champions Classic. 

The key on Sunday against the Spartans was a defense that operated the way dominant defenses of Self’s past have operated.

The narrative of this Kansas team, one that Self himself has created, has been that it needs to be sound on the defensive end and learn how to play without a rim protector like Cole Aldrich, Jeff Withey or Joel Embiid. Those big fellas allowed the Jayhawks to pressure the ball and funnel drivers into a shot-blocking web. 

The Jayhawks showed shades of that kind of defense on Sunday, and their ceiling on the defensive end is raised if freshman Cliff Alexander provides the type of shot blocking that he provided against the Spartans.

Alexander had four blocks and helped hold Michigan to 31 percent shooting inside the arc. Sparty missed 11 of their 19 attempts at the basket. 

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo believed those misses were self-imposed. 

But, much like the mind tricks UK’s length has on opponents, Alexander’s and KU’s challenges in the interior had something to do with such poor shooting. 

The shot-blocking presence of Alexander allowed the Jayhawks to apply pressure on the perimeter, force guarded shots and run the Spartans off the three-point line—they made five threes in the first half and only one after halftime. They had one more attempt from deep after halftime but had much better looks in the first half. 

This is how all of Self’s great defenses operate and why Alexander is such an integral part to this team’s success. He is the one intimidating presence in the paint Self has in his arsenal, and even though Alexander scored only six points, he had his biggest impact yet. It’s only a matter of time before Self trusts the big man enough to make him a starter. 

Alexander wasn’t the only one in Orlando who started to understand his role either. 

Perry Ellis has emerged, as expected, as KU’s go-to scorer, and he averaged 19.3 points per game in Orlando. Ellis is aggressively getting to his scoring spots on the floor off pick-and-pops or strong post-ups. His confidence is back after scoring only four points on 1-of-6 shooting against Kentucky.

Freshman wing Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk has shaken off early-season nerves and has started to make shots—3-of-6 from deep against Michigan State—and is even making plays off the dribble. Point guard Frank Mason is playing more like a point guard and getting better at picking his spots to attack the rim instead of driving with reckless abandon like he did against UK.

Even Wayne Selden, who went 0-of-10 against MSU and is struggling with his shot, is providing leadership with effort plays and extra passes.

The Jayhawks are far from a finished product and still had some sloppy segments in Orlando, but it’s not surprising that it has taken a few weeks for a team with four freshmen in the rotation to start to find its way.

Give Kansas credit for not sulking after the UK loss and even adopting some of the Kentucky blueprint. 

This is still a team that could play to its preseason ranking, especially if the Jayhawks play with the kind of effort on the defensive end they used to finish off the Spartans. 

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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What Stands Between Lance Stephenson and His Star Potential?

As the Charlotte Hornets‘ shiniest offseason acquisition, Lance Stephenson entered the 2014-15 campaign with high expectations—perhaps too lofty for his own good.

After several weeks of woefully inefficient shooting and underwhelming impact, it’s clear the free-wheeling shooting guard has a long way to go before reaching his star potential. An 11-point, six-turnover outing during Charlotte’s 106-101 loss to the Golden State Warriors is his latest uninspiring handiwork.

The Hornets, who are coming off a satisfying run to playoff status in 2013-14, are now 4-13 in 2014-15. Stephenson has done little to help them move in the right direction and has actually been counterproductive in many areas.

While the five-year pro is rebounding the heck out of the ball (7.9 boards per game) and dishing 5.6 dimes per contest, he hasn’t found his rhythm yet from the field (37 percent) or three-point line (20 percent). He’s struggling to consistently score the ball, and Hornets skipper Steve Clifford has benched him for two straight fourth quarters.

Clifford openly acknowledged that Stephenson is several steps from becoming a dependable NBA star, per Michael Wallace of ESPN:

To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar. He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years. …

It’s different. It’s not easy. He started two years before he got here. He played on a really good team, so everybody saw him play when no one else was playing. When Al Jefferson came here, he’d [averaged] 19 [points] and eight [rebounds] for like 10 years. You knew what you were going to get. And that’s what Lance needs to become.

Born Ready’s start has been uglier than expected, and it looks like he might not be a great fit with this Charlotte squad. However, as Clifford suggests, he does possess the time and talent to become a standout player.

What exactly is stopping him from shining as a reliable featured scorer, and what can he do to develop into a bona fide star?

We could just say “he’s shooting poorly” or “he takes bad shots,” but that doesn’t sufficiently illustrate his deficiencies vividly.

Stephenson can create his own offense off the bounce, but his tendency to over-dribble and try to make the tricky play often backfires. Only 33 percent of his 2014-15 points are assisted, per 82games.com, which means he works by himself for roughly two-thirds of his buckets.

The problem with him creating that many of his own shots is that he’s not good enough to sustain it night in and night out. He’s not on the same level as James Harden-types who can regularly find high-percentage chances on their own.

One thing that would make him more of an on-ball threat is upgrading his off-ball game. Stephenson was a good cutter with his Indiana Pacers comrades, but he needs to become a better catch-and-shoot weapon with the Hornets. According to NBA.com’s SportVU player tracking, he’s shooting just 17.9 percent from the floor on all catch-and-shoot jumpers this season.

Increased off-ball savvy and perimeter accuracy would keep defenses honest and open up his slashing and shot-creating avenues. He needs to use Kemba Walker more and connect with him as a receiver.

It’s great that he’s comfortable putting the ball on the deck, but he must learn possession-by-possession moderation and shot selection. This season, 38.8 percent of his shots come after three or more dribbles, and he’s shooting just 39 percent on those attempts.

Stephenson’s aggressive style of play can produce brilliant highlights, and it’s also often his downfall. If there isn‘t an open teammate, he has no qualms about forcing up a shot in traffic or firing up a contested outside shot.

Count Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated as one of the prognosticators who didn’t set the bar too high for the free agent entering 2014-15. He explained how Stephenson’s brand of basketball isn‘t to be trusted yet:

Stephenson takes even the slightest opening in the defense as an invitation to drive headlong, often losing sight of the help defense and open teammates along the way. It’s no surprise, then, that Stephenson turned the ball over more often than all but four players at his usage level (in 2013-14). His wild play also led to a ridiculous turnover rate (22.8 percent) in transition, which is generally a reliable source of hyper-efficient offense.

In order to reach the top tier of shooting guards, he doesn’t need to completely revamp his game and change who he is. However, he must operate with less wasted movement and take quality, balanced shots.

When you watch young, upper-echelon guards like James Harden, Klay Thompson and Bradley Beal (who are all stars or much closer to stardom than Stephenson), they take advantage of every stride. There’s no squandered motion on drives, pull-up shots.

Stephenson must begin to adopt this more advanced approach to the game, one that involves smoother aggression and a more discerning shot selection.

The other facet of the game that stands in between Stephenson and stardom is consistent defensive intensity. He was a solid defender and a key component of Indiana’s stellar unit, but it looks like he is too content this year and may be even regressing on that end.

One NBA scout explained the defensive woes to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix. ”He is passing and rebounding. But his defense is terrible because he is out of shape. He looks like all he did was hang out this summer. I’m not seeing the same intensity. [Hornets coach] Steve Clifford wants him to defend, and he isn’t doing it.”

As Clifford mentioned, Stephenson isn‘t going to instantly turn into a star with one or two quick fixes. He must apply several key adjustments by creating better habits on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, he must learn to use his aggressiveness within a proper balance of off-ball shooting and efficient driving. On the other end, he can’t rely solely on his talent and physical tools; he must be focused and intense every night.

It’s not impossible for him to reach another level in his career. Take Monta Ellis, for example: He’s a 2-guard who needed to sharpen rough edges in his game and learn how to fit in a team system, and he’s successfully evolved into a much more efficient asset.

Being a star in the NBA is no cinch, and Stephenson and Hornets fans are learning the hard way. He has to earn that elevated place in the league’s food chain.

 

Dan O’Brien covers the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.

Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR

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Earl Clark Rumors: Breaking Down Potential Los Angeles Lakers Impact

The Los Angeles Lakers are searching for some options to solidify a roster that’s been crushed by injury woes in the early going. It sounds like a familiar face in the form of Earl Clark might be the first reinforcement to arrive.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reports the Lakers are looking to sign Clark out of the D-League, where he was playing for the Houston Rockets‘ affiliate. He also notes the forward would be getting a deal to cover the rest of the season:

Clark has averaged 29 points per game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA Development League, and the eventual finalization of a deal could bring Clark back to the Lakers in the next few days, sources said.

His scoring average is good enough to rank third in the league behind Brady Heslip and Manny Harris. The Louisville product has also averaged better than seven rebounds and three blocks in four games at the development level.

Clark played for the Lakers during the 2012-13 campaign. He appeared in 59 games, starting 36, and averaged seven points while shooting 44 percent from the field. Offensive woes have prevented him from making a bigger impact in the NBA with a career shooting percentage of 40 in 251 contests.

He’s connected on 45 percent of his shots during the hot start with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Whether he can carry that over to provide the Lakers with some valuable minutes is a question mark.

What Clark does bring to the table is a player who can play both forward positions and stretch the floor offensively. Jory Dreher of Laker Nation thinks that’s the main reason they are likely bringing him in:

He could be in line for some serious minutes, at least for awhile. Julius Randle is out for the season due to a leg injury and Ryan Kelly is currently sidelined with a hamstring issue. Add in a banged-up Carlos Boozer, who’s trying to overcome a shoulder problem, and the Lakers need healthy bodies up front.

Ed Davis has filled in admirably alongside Jordan Hill. Robert Sacre has also been serviceable in limited minutes. But Clark would give Los Angeles a different type of player at the power forward spot to help stretch defenses, and the fact he’s been with the organization before helps.

Back in July, when he was looking for a landing spot, Clark talked with Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders about his previous stint with the team:

When I was with the Lakers, I got the opportunity to get out there and play some big minutes–I didn’t have to look at the bench every possession to see if I was coming out. It was the first time where I felt good, where I was comfortable playing basketball again. That’s something that I’m looking for.

Although he probably won’t get as much run as he did the last time around, it’s still a golden opportunity. A chance to prove his lackluster stays with the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks aren’t representative of what he can provide to a rotation.

Clark isn’t going to turn the Lakers—who currently rank 18th in offensive efficiency, according to ESPN—into a juggernaut on that end of the floor. Instead, he’ll just provide a little more balance to a team that can’t really be too picky given the options at this stage.

All told, it’s a signing that makes sense. Now the wait is on until it becomes official barring any late setbacks in the process.

 

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Arizona Basketball: Backcourt Must Improve for Wildcats to Reach Potential

The Arizona Wildcats handled the Missouri Tigers just fine in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational. But during their victory, the Wildcats exposed to opponents what their fatal flaw is.

In the 72-53 victory at the Lahaina Civic Center, the starting guard combination of Gabe York and T.J. McConnell combined to shoot 3-of-15 from the field and 1-of-9 from beyond the arc. The numbers did not get any better for the reserve guards, as Elliott Pitts and Parker Jackson-Cartwright combined to score five points. 

The lack of production from the backcourt is not an issue that has popped up out of nowhere. In the first three games of the season, only two guards found their way into double digits. McConnell scored 12 in the opener against UC Irvine, while Pitts scored 10 points against Cal State Northridge

This may not seem like a major concern now thanks to the strong frontcourt, which includes Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Stanley Johnson, but it will hurt the Wildcats if the issue isn’t fixed soon. 

The numbers produced by the big guns down low should be enough for Arizona to win the Maui Invitational. But looking further down the schedule, the problem at the guard position will be exposed sooner rather than later. 

Sean Miller’s team faces a big early-season test against Gonzaga on December 6. If York and McConnell fail to keep up with the contributions of Kevin Pangos and Byron Wesley, the Wildcats could be handed a reality check by Mark Few’s Bulldogs. 

Pangos and Wesley have combined to average 22.8 points per game in their first four games. McConnell and York entered Maui with a total of 15.3 points per game. 

The other big nonconference game on the schedule for the Wildcats is the December 13 clash with Michigan, which also possesses a dangerous backcourt led by Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. 

Through three games, the Wolverines duo has scored a combined 33.4 points per game. If a big gap in scoring production still exists by the time the two teams meet, Arizona could be in for a rude awakening.

On the defensive side of the ball, there are few reasons to be worried about the play of the guards. McConnell produced three steals and pulled down three rebounds against Missouri. In his previous three games, McConnell recorded 19 rebounds and 12 steals. York’s defensive numbers are a bit more concerning, as he has just four steals and four rebounds this season. 

Despite the low numbers to start the season, York is a solid defender. McConnell will be the player who catches everyone’s attention because of his steal numbers, but York is able to hang with some of the nation’s best when he plays at the level he is expected to. 

Throughout the game against Missouri, McConnell did distribute the ball well with nine assists, but he could not become a consistent scorer. York was almost nonexistent, as he scored three points in his time on the court. The lone basket from York came with six minutes and 16 seconds left in the game. 

The two guards saw their respective offensive failures covered up by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who started in place of York to begin the second half. Hollis-Jefferson ignited the Wildcats offense with five quick points to start the second stanza. 

The performance of the potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate and freshman Stanley Johnson were the two big positive takeaways for Miller. If York continues to struggle on the offensive end, Miller could enter Hollis-Jefferson into the game to provide a spark like he did Monday. Hollis-Jefferson is being asked to embrace the sixth man role this year, and if he comes up big in York’s spot, he will hand Arizona a massive boost. 

At some point in the season, we could see Hollis-Jefferson take over for York in the starting five, especially if the sophomore continues to score as much as he has in the first four games.

But it would take a massive struggle throughout nonconference play for York to lose his position. The junior guard brings a veteran presence to the lineup, and playing with four big men may lead the Wildcats to focus too much on their play in the paint. 

Because the Wildcats have Hollis-Jefferson waiting on the bench to play in key situations, they may be able to live up to their potential. Arizona is expected to take care of business in the Pac-12 and make a deep run when March rolls around. 

There is a chance the guard trouble will continue into the Pac-12 regular season if the Wildcats lose to Gonzaga and Michigan. But given Miller’s past as a point guard, we should expect him to find a fix to get McConnell and York out of their respective slumps before the games that matter most. 

 

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90. 

All statistics obtained from ESPN.com

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5 Potential Solutions to Los Angeles Lakers’ Obvious Small Forward Problem

The Los Angeles Lakers face a number of problems this season, not the least of which is a lack of quality depth at nearly every position.

Minus a quality starting center, Lakers management loaded up on power forwards with the hope that Jordan Hill, Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis and Robert Sacre would address that deficiency. Teams are still destroying the Lakers in the paint.

That left a gaping hole at small forward, despite the presence of starter Wesley Johnson and super sub Nick Young. In Johnson, the Lakers have a 27-year-old former first-round draft pick who continues to underperform, most notably on offense.

So far in 13 games, Johnson has spent 32 minutes on the court, scoring less than eight points per game. His 26.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc is the worst of his five-year career.

Having Nick Young back has helped strengthen the bench, especially on offense. In his first two games following rehab on his injured thumb, Swaggy P averaged 16.5 points on 48 percent shooting in 28 minutes.

By his third game, however, Young disappeared, scoring just five points in 19 minutes against the Mavs.

After Johnson and Young, the small forward cupboard looks pretty bare. The Lakers do have Xavier Henry, but he’s been a non-factor who was injured to start the year and has offered little.

In fact, there is reason to believe if and when the Lakers make a roster move, it will be Henry who gets the pink slip.

Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding wrote earlier this week:

No massive talent upgrade is coming, though if 6’9″ forward Quincy Miller fares well in a tryout this week, expect to see him replace Xavier Henry on the team. Miller, who turns 22 on Tuesday and has rare upside despite no sense of how to reach it after two years with the Denver Nuggets, would at least give the Lakers a little more youth and hope in Julius Randle’s absence.

With a recently awarded $1.5 million Disabled Player Exception (DPE) as compensation for Randle’s broken leg, the Lakers have until March 10 to sign or trade for someone to fill that roster spot. 

The pickings are slim, but the Lakers are mining for any help they can get.

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On the rise: Texas shows its depth, potential

The Longhorns, coming off wins in New York, are relevant in the Big 12 and nationally.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NCAA Top Stories

On the rise: Texas shows its depth, potential in N.Y.

The Longhorns, coming off wins in New York, are relevant in the Big 12 and nationally.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NCAA Top Stories

Bucks’ Brandon Knight Misses Potential Game-Winning Layup, Sends Game to 2OT

Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Knight went from hero to goat in a matter of seconds against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.

With the game tied in the final seconds of the first overtime, Knight intercepted a pass by the Nets’ Joe Johnson. Knight was able to get a look at a wide-open layup, but he put a little bit too much on the ball and missed.

Check out the reaction from the Bucks’ bench:

The miss was pretty tough to believe.

The game went to double overtime tied at 105-all.

Ironically, the Bucks guard redeemed himself with a clutch shot in the second overtime. His three-pointer with 19 seconds left in the second extra period tied the game at 112-all and ultimately sent the game to triple overtime.

Luckily for Milwaukee, it was able to pull out a victory eventually. The Bucks pulled out a 122-118 victory in triple overtime. Knight finished the game with 18 points, including two big free throws in the final seconds of the third overtime.

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