Storyline: No. 1 pick

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LaVar says he not only stands by his decisions to take LaMelo Ball out of high school in the United States (he went to Lithuania and Australia) … but says he’s convinced Melo will be the #1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Ball says his dream would be for the NY Knicks to hire Mark Jackson as the next head coach — who would then take Melo with their first pick. In fact, Ball says he sees a world in which all 3 of his sons sign with the Knicks and play in Madison Square Garden. He thinks his fam can save the franchise.

Matt Babcock, owner of Babcock Hoops and a former NBA agent, told The Commercial Appeal that Wiseman having to sit out one-third of Memphis’ regular season isn’t all that significant from an NBA draft standpoint. “It’s not like he’s a guy that just has a lot of upside with a lot of polishing to do. He’s ready to play in the NBA right now,” Babcock said. “Not that he doesn’t have room for growth. He does. (But) I think it’s more of just he’s being robbed of the experience.” Babcock believes Wiseman (who is tied with North Carolina’s Cole Anthony as FanDuel Sportsbook’s odds-on favorite to be picked first) is worthy of No. 1-pick status. But the games he will miss could also cost him the opportunity to cement himself as such.

While it’s clear Ball will end up an early selection in a relatively thin lottery, there are echoes of skepticism tied to his candidacy at No. 1. “[The No. 1 pick] shooting sub-40% from the field and sub-30% from three? That’s crazy,” one Western Conference executive emphasized. For all his highlight-caliber plays and big totals, Ball is shooting 38.9% from the field and just 27.9% on threes as of Monday, in addition to 70% on less than four free throw attempts per game. He shot 1-of-11 from three during Saturday’s triple-double against the Breakers and fellow projected lottery pick R.J. Hampton. Watch Ball play and you can tell he’s improved, but the greater statistical sample at the end of the season will tell a big part of the story.

An area in which there are still many questions, though, comes off the court. While the attachment to his father, LaVar, will always hang over him, it’s not the only area scouts and general managers have hesitations. In a piece on Sunday in which DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz discussed which prospect should top the 2020 NBA Draft big board, Givony talked about NBA teams being uncertain about whether they can trust Ball to lead the franchise. However, I believe that if the draft were held today, (Ball) probably would not be the No. 1 pick. Of course, that will heavily depend on the team that ends up winning the May lottery. But both Schmitz and I have just received a significant amount of blowback from NBA teams who say that they simply don’t trust Ball enough to hand him the keys to their franchise. They worry about what all the attention around him will do to their team culture, how strong his work ethic is and whether his father, LaVar, could become a distraction.

In a statement, NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said of interest in Wiseman: “Potentially, but it hasn’t even been a discussion yet. These decisions require a lot of due diligence on both sides to ensure it’s in everyone’s best interests. He’s exceptionally talented and of course we’d be interested, but honestly we haven’t even had a conversation with him or his family. I have no idea yet as to whether or not it would suit his plans, his personality or his aspirations.”
7 months ago via ESPN

Zion delivers amazing rim-rattling slams, but it’s his defensive versatility and willingness to work on that end that makes him the ideal modern big prospect, with the 1-through-5 switchability of Draymond Green. Williamson even produced a 7.2 defensive box plus-minus in his lone season at Duke — identical to Green’s defensive impact as a senior at Michigan State. In the NBA, Green has consistently ranked among the most effective stoppers in the league according to ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus despite his size.
7 months ago via ESPN

We’ve never seen a 285-pounder who can sky for dunks quite like Williamson, but Griffin (248 pounds as a 20-year-old) was a close replica. Like college Griffin (6-11 wingspan), Williamson is a power dunker set to tear down the rim on every attempt, doing so despite mediocre positional length. He seems to get just as much lift off one leg or two and is challenging for any shot-blocker to challenge when he gets to his launching pad. But it’s not just the dunks that make these two similar.

Williamson was the darling of college basketball last season with his high-flying dunks, underrated passing, dominating rebounding, diverse scoring and all-out effort at Duke. And word is that Williamson was excited and very much at home during his recent two-day trip to New Orleans to visit the Pelicans. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward, along with his parents, dined with Benson, Griffin, head coach Alvin Gentry and Saints and Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha at the world-renowned Commander’s Palace restaurant. The Pelicans loved his down-to-earth attitude and believed he was wholeheartedly interested in being there.

What were your thoughts when all of the stories popped up post-Draft Lottery about Zion not wanting to be in New Orleans and him potentially going back to Duke to avoid being there? Lee Sartor: I thought that didn’t make any sense. I know Zion and I know his heart and I know how hard he’s worked to put himself in position to be able to play in the NBA one day. Going backwards was never in his mindset. I know Zion is appreciative of the process and I believe no matter who drafts him that he would be happy and ready to go out and do what he can to help make that franchise better.

What do you think when people compare him to LeBron James? Lee Sartor: Everybody wants to be compared to someone, especially someone that’s great. But I believe Zion is one of those guys that transcends the game, one of those generational players. He has some attributes that are similar to LeBron and some other players, but when you watch him play, he does Zion Williamson stuff. That’s the only way to describe it. That’s what you really want to be as a player; you want to be your own person.

New team vice president David Griffin, who dealt with Paul when he was the general manager of the Cavaliers and LeBron James (Paul’s primary client) played in Cleveland, has tried to smooth things over with Klutch Sports and the Pels. His attempts at talking Davis into staying in New Orleans have more to do with resetting relations with Paul than it does with actually keeping Davis in town, which is a longshot. There are many within the Pelicans organization who are still embittered by the way Paul manipulated Davis last season, particularly coach Alvin Gentry, and having Williamson lined up with Paul would have opened wounds that are only recently healed. That won’t be a problem with CAA.

He’s arguably the most marketable star to enter the NBA since LeBron James in 2003, and his shoe deal has potential to set records for a draftee, according to sources around the league. His presence will help attendance, merchandise sales, and more, something that is important for the team that finished 25th in overall attendance this past season. I would expect the Pelicans to get an awful lot of nationally televised games, because Williamson will be one of the biggest on-court stories worth tracking in his first season in the NBA. That source of discussion will bring a genuine amount of cash flow into the Pelicans organization.

After the lottery, Griffin acknowledged to reporters that having the no. 1 pick affords the franchise more flexibility in the coming months. There’s less pressure to deal Davis now. The Pelicans can play it slow, going into the season with a core of AD, Zion, and Jrue Holiday, and see how things play out. If February 2020 rolls around and Davis still wants to leave, the team could trade him before the deadline for a haul. If Davis’s true reason for originally wanting out was to compete for a championship, how many teams can he now find with more long-term potential than the Pelicans? “He’s wanted to win this whole time and he felt compelled to try to win elsewhere. I think if you look at the totality of where this organization is and where we’re going, we feel very strongly that we’re going to be the environment he wants to be part of,” Griffin said. “And if we’re not, that’s fine; we can deal with it from there. But I’m looking at this, believing that there’s no reason he wouldn’t want to win with us, because that’s what we do. It’s who we are. And I think culturally we’re about all the same things.”

Knicks shipping top pick for AD?

Anthony Davis would certainly consider re-signing with the Knicks if he felt he could be successful in New York, per SNY sources familiar with the matter. And here’s how a Davis to New York trade could work: Since the goal would likely be to pair Davis with two other stars, the Knicks would first sign their two max free agents in early July, using nearly all of their $70-plus million in cap space. They would then have to send out roughly $21.6 million in salary to satisfy NBA trade rules in a swap for Davis, who is making $27 million in 2019.

The Knicks, Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns each have a 14 percent chance of landing the top pick on Tuesday night. All three clubs also have a 40 percent chance of landing a top-three pick and a 52 percent chance of landing a top-four pick. The Knicks will pick no lower than fifth since they finished with the league’s worst record (17-65). Perry on Monday said, no matter where the Knicks land, their meetings with individual draft prospects will play a key role in whom they decide to select.

There’s understandably a lot of buzz heading into the lottery to see which team secures the No. 1 pick and the right to choose Williamson, who is the most heralded draft prospect in years. But nothing compares to the drama of the 2003 lottery, when LeBron James was the ultimate prize and the Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the teams in the mix for the Akron, Ohio, native. “It’s not even close, even with social media today,” James’ former agent Aaron Goodwin told The Undefeated. “I can only imagine what it would have been like for James with social media because he was a game-changer.

Stu Jackson, who was NBA executive vice president of basketball operations at the time, remembers watching James during his senior year. “I said to myself that I have never seen anything like that from a player that young to be that dominant both physically and skillwise at that age,” Jackson said. “That is no reflection on my evaluation skills, because the great ones are easy to pick out. But this was a different level.” Joe Dumars, who was the president of the Detroit Pistons and had a particular interest in the lottery (more on that later), marveled at James’ maturity, body and athleticism. Simply put, “I saw a transcendent player,” Dumars said.

Boeheim said the “greatest thing’’ about Williamson is his defensive tenacity. But the coach wondered whether Williamson, who has an average 3-point shot and is a mediocre free-throw shooter, can be dominant in the NBA playoffs. The Knicks, a team Boeheim said he watches regularly, have a 14 percent chance of winning Tuesday’s lottery for the first pick in this year’s draft. Coach David Fizdale said the Knicks already “know’’ which player they will take if they get the No. 1 selection. “Over the course of the regular season, [Williamson will] be a hard guard to defend and handle,’’ said Boeheim, whose program, which has been in the ACC since 2013, faces Duke regularly. “I think when it comes to playoff basketball, he’s going to have to expand his game a little bit. There’s a lot of size in the NBA, people forget there’s a lot of big, strong guys in the NBA. In college, he was by far the strongest, toughest guy to me in college basketball.”

But he’s emphatic when asked about Duke freshman sensation Zion Williamson, whose knee injury renewed the heated debate over the NBA’s eligibility rules. “Why would you keep playing?” Drummond said Friday morning. “All the money that they making off this kid, why wouldn’t he just sit out? “He’s selling out arenas. People pay $10,000 to see him and he gets hurt and gets none of that money spent to see him play. You have to think about yourself because you could have a career-ending injury and that’s the rest of the story for him. I’d rather him take care of himself and get himself prepared. We all know he’s going to the draft so start working out and get yourself ready for a tough, grueling league.”

“Whatever he decides to do, he should be supported,” Griffin said following the Pistons’ 125-122 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. “If he didn’t want to play anymore, I get it. But if you do want to play, he plays basketball, he’s a basketball player. I also get that, too. You can’t live or play the game of basketball playing scared of injury or scared of things you can’t control. “It’s an individual decision. I made the decision (to return to OU for his sophomore season) to improve my game. I wanted to get stronger and be more ready for the league when a lot of people were telling me not to, get that guaranteed money. “He’s already made so money for that university, the NCAA, he doesn’t owe anybody anything.”

“We would never play a kid who’s not ready,” Krzyzewski said. “We would never play a youngster who didn’t want to play. It’s not about that. He wants to play. He loves being at Duke. He doesn’t like being injured. It’s an injury you can get over in a shorter period of time. There’s just a protocol that we have to go through to make sure he’s completely ready. We’re not rushing anything, so that’s why we said day-to-day because it’s literally day-to-day.”

First Coach: “I think he’s the No. 1 prospect, hands down. He’s a better basketball player than people realize, and I think he’s starting to show people that. There are some people who are still on the fence. Does he shoot it well enough, does he handle it well enough? All that. “When I first saw him, he was playing point guard on an AAU team with Ja Morant and Devontae Shuler. Zion’s athleticism didn’t take off until his junior year of high school. That’s when the viral sensation happened. But my point is, he passes it well because he has some point guard instincts. He doesn’t shoot it well. He needs to lift his shot.

Second coach: “Obviously, you watch him on TV and then you look at him up close, and it’s like, ‘damn.’ I used to see Larry Johnson around, and the only human I’ve seen like (Zion) is Larry. And that’s Larry when he was five or six years older. Zion’s physical appearance is staggering. He’s every bit of Larry Johnson, just eight years younger. Ridiculous fast twitch. Hardest playing guy on the court by far, which is a testament to him. There has to be a ton of guys around him saying he shouldn’t play anymore because he could hurt his status. And here he is, the opposite. Loose, balls, extra plays, rebounding. He’ll make Pete Rose-style dives head first to go after balls when they’re up 16, 18 points. He doesn’t need to do that, but he does. The motor is off the charts. The physical appearance is frightening.

Fifth Coach: “He’s a trend-setter player based off of his athleticism. He’ll have to do something with his game. He’ll have to develop a midrange (game). His shooting ability will have to get better. College is different from the pros, but we felt good with the scout we did. We knew he was going to spin back when he goes right. He loves to go left if he can. But with that being said, he’s going to have to develop a midrange shot, work on the midrange, and become a consistent shooter.
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January 24, 2020 | 2:36 am UTC Update
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He wishes the league would build out more streamable content in the offseason, like investing in The Basketball Tournament or the Big 3. “Right?” he says. “We should have NBA content year-round, but it’s beyond the definition of stupidity that we take our best players and we let them play for the Olympics, which is a commercial event.” In Cuban’s mind, basketball should be more like soccer. “What’s a bigger event, soccer in the Olympics, or the World Cup of soccer?” he asks. “Why can’t we do the same thing?”
January 24, 2020 | 2:28 am UTC Update
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Lonzo Ball’s per-game assist average was higher on the road than at home in his two seasons with the Lakers. In fact, his assist percentage has been higher on the road every season of his career. Once again, Ball isn’t unique in this phenomenon. Across the league, the home-court assist advantage—a consistent analytical assumption for decades, a staple of NBA scorekeeping—has all but disappeared.
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January 24, 2020 | 1:50 am UTC Update
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January 24, 2020 | 12:11 am UTC Update
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January 23, 2020 | 11:35 pm UTC Update
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