Storyline: No. 1 pick

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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.”

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“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.”
3 weeks ago via ESPN

“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.

Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen said Duke star Zion Williamson has already proved himself enough at the college level and that it’s in the 18-year-old’s best interest to “shut it down” so he doesn’t risk an injury heading into his NBA career. “I think he’s done enough for college basketball, that it’s more about him personally now,” Pippen said Tuesday as an analyst during a segment on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I think for him as a young player (pauses), I would shut it down. I would stop playing, because I feel that he could risk a major injury that could really hurt his career.”

Pippen, a six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, said Williamson is “definitely going to be the No. 1 pick.” Mock draft boards either have Williamson or his Duke teammate R.J. Barrett going No. 1. On “The Jump” segment, co-analyst Tracy McGrady said that Barrett might be a better overall player but that Williamson’s unique 6-foot-7, 285-pound frame and highlight-reel capabilities “make him more exciting” and that “he’ll fill the seats” better.

The dunks against Eastern Michigan and Kentucky. The block against Princeton. The effort against Texas Tech. Williamson keeps providing these moments consistently which make it hard for the NBA entities stalking him to let that excitement peter out. Even as they try to keep their cool and remain unemotional about draft prospects like Zion, they find themselves getting lost in the highlights and possibilities. “A lot haven’t had the time to truly dig into the minutiae it takes (with evaluating one-and-done draft prospects),” a Western Conference executive told The Athletic. “But those highlights leave you daydreaming too often.”

All the while we’re left trying to figure out who he reminds us of on a daily basis. Is it Charles Barkley? Is it Larry Johnson? Is it Shawn Kemp? Is it LeBron James? Who is it? “If you’re saying he reminds you of somebody, you’re kind of making it up,” Bilas told me. “He’s 285! And he’s got a 45-inch vertical. There’s never been a suit warn in college basketball that Zion Williamson fits into.” His hype will continue to wear on some and feed others without the shame of gluttony in sight. He will continue to garner retweets and IG posts.

Furthermore, even if the Knicks finish with the league’s fifth-worst record, the revised lottery odds still give them a solid shot to land the No. 1 overall pick, and the chance to draft a Duke prodigy. According to the vast majority of mock drafts, the grand prize in 2019 is Duke’s insanely talented freshman wunderkind, Zion Williamson. If New York ends the season in fifth place in the reverse standings, they’ll have a 10.5% chance to win the lottery and a 42.1% chance at a top-four selection. In addition, the Knicks don’t need to end up with the league’s worst record to give themselves the best possible odds at the No. 1 overall pick. In this new format, the three teams that finish the year at the bottom of the standings each have the same exact odds: a 14% chance to win the lottery and a 52.1% of securing a top-four pick.

Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman was one of many watching the Duke-Kentucky game on Tuesday night. Only he did it in person. And what a show he witnessed. If the Cavs needed any kind of incentive to stay near the bottom of the standings and secure their 2019 first-round pick, Duke freshmen Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish provided it. Asking around the organization, there is an early split between Williamson and Barrett for the hypothetical first-overall pick. There are many games still left to be played. According to one member of the front office, “it will be a debate all year. But Cam is super talented as well.”

Bagley’s counterpart, dynamic Arizona center Deandre Ayton, appears all but a lock to the Suns. Yet Bagley, a Phoenix native, is a competitor by nature—you don’t average 13.1 rebounds per 40 minutes in the ACC by chance—and has yearned to be minted the NBA draft’s top overall selection since his youth. “To be able to play in Phoenix, to have it all come full circle, from where I started playing basketball to be there as a professional, it would be a dream come true,” Bagley says.

Sacramento is only a short flight away. And Bagley genuinely views the Kings at No. 2 as a terrific consolation prize. He smiles wide when being congratulated on his likely No. 2 selection. “Sacramento is a great place,” he says. “When I say I want to go No. 1, it’s not a knock on any other team in the draft. If I end up going two, I’ll love being in Sacramento. Being a part of that team and that franchise, that’s a big plus.” That enthusiasm is a primary reason why teams picking in the top 10 of Thursday’s draft view Bagley as the Kings’ likely selection. He was the only premier prospect to visit Sacramento during the pre-draft process.

Charles Barkley, however, isn’t convinced. The 11-time All-Star doesn’t consider Doncic to be something remotely special since he thinks that the MVP the Slovenian player has won simply show that he was playing “against sh**ty competition” “I don’t trust foreign competition,” Barkley said to Pollard. “I don’t have nothing against foreign players. I just don’t know what kind of a competition it is. They’re like at 18 years old he was the MVP. Well, that tells me he was playing against shi**y competition. Nobody at 18 should be dominating grown men. I don’t care how bad the grown men are. You go back and look at the NBA. I’ve been in the NBA for over 30 years. There’s only one 18 year old that you can go back and say ‘oh he’s the real deal’. That’s LeBron James. People forget, as great as Kobe Bryant was, he struggled for the first few years. Kevin Garnett? Struggled in his first few years. They keep telling Doncic won MVP at 18. He shouldn’t be dominating grown men at 18. For this kid dominating… I wouldn’t take him with the No. 1 or 2 pick in the NBA Draft”

ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla compared Ayton with Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. UA coach Sean Miller doesn’t understand why there’s a debate about the No. 1 pick, saying: “I look at the NBA as trying to figure out who they’re going to pick from No. 2 to 60. I think the No. 1 pick’s in. … There’s nobody like Deandre. Nobody.” Colorado coach Tad Boyle told NBA.com: “He’s a monster. I played (at Kansas) in the ’80s, and he’s the best player since Hakeem Olajuwon. He’s that kind of talent.”

Romar laughs when asked about Ayton’s personality. “Oh my goodness,” he said. “He’s a comedian. When he’s away from the court, just hanging around, oh my goodness, he’ll have you laughing.” But that desire to have a good time, Romar said, shouldn’t be misconstrued as Ayton not taking his craft seriously. It’s almost as if Ayton has, well, split personalities. Romar described his on-court persona as “fiery,” “emotional” and “so competitive.”

Several league sources told me they anticipate Suns general manager Ryan McDonough to probe a Leonard deal using the no. 1 pick. Phoenix explored Irving trades last summer but was reluctant to deal Josh Jackson, whom they selected with the fourth overall pick. Leonard is better than Irving, so perhaps it’s time for the Suns to strike now, when they’re armed with assets and an opportunity to trade for a transcendent player. There’s also a sense from league sources that the Suns presumed selection of Arizona big man Deandre Ayton at no. 1 isn’t a guarantee because of the outside possibility that they’ll get a good enough deal to trade down or out of the draft entirely. Now that Leonard reportedly wants out, anything is possible.

Bagley, on the other hand, said he will work out for the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks, the teams with the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, respectively. “Deandre, he’s going to do what he’s going to do. That’s his plan,” Bagley said. “All I can do is control what I can control and do what I love to do and just show different teams what I’m capable of doing. I can’t really worry about what other people are doing at this point. This is an important time in my life right now, something I’ve been working toward my whole basketball career.”

The head coach of the Phoenix Suns, Igor Kokoskov, spoke about Luka Doncic , one of the candidates to be chosen by the Arizona franchise in the draft, and had nothing but words of praise for the child Slovenian prodigy. “He is an extremely talented player. He’s probably the most talented player I’ve trained in 25 years in this business , “Kokoskov said in an interview for the Suns ‘ ‘The Outlet’ podcast . “He’s not the best player, but he’s the most talented .”

Kokoskov continued: “He did a lot for me as a coach and for the Slovenian national team. He played really well. I think as an organization we helped him to grow as a player. We gave him a role he never had before. He played for Real as a rotation player. He was young, he’s only 18. Playing for the national team he had a completely different role. It was different. And expectations were different. He was a go-to-guy, one of the main players. He found a way and handled that part well. He proved that he deserved that attention and everything we gave to him. I think the team helped him and he helped us. His stats and the way he contributed and helped the team win all the games. It’s unbelievable. Our relationship is good, and our memories are great. The last time I saw Luka was eight months ago. For a young player, eight months is a lot. He’s improved a lot. It was a fun time. I really enjoyed coaching Luka.”

In the days that followed, McDonough said the team would be open to trading that pick. But that seemed less likely when he described the criteria such a deal would have to entail. “It would have to be a young, proven star player with multiple years on his contract, multiple years of team control,” McDonough said. “Once you start whittling down the list, that list probably shrinks to a handful of players if not fewer players than that. So I think the overwhelming likelihood is that we keep the pick. However, we’re open, if those teams call us or we call them. But as of now obviously we’re planning on keeping it.”

The leading candidates for that No. 1 almost certainly will be worked out privately, with the exception of Luka Doncic, the European sensation who still is playing in Spain. “Obviously the agents have a lot of say,” McDonough said. “They have a strong voice in the process. They’re worried about injuries, which we understand is part of it. So we’d love them to come in and compete against the other top guys at their position. I think for the guys in the mix at No. 1 that’s going to be tough for us to put together.”

McDonough said Ayton “has a high-level feel for the game, especially on the offensive end of the court. And from my experience guys who have that at the offensive end of the floor usually, in time, are able to translate that to the defensive end of the court as well.” McDonough said he plans to try to get to Europe one more time to see Doncic. “We’ve seen him play a lot,” McDonough said. “I’ve personally seen him four or five times in the last seven or eight months, (assistant general manager) Pat Connelly’s seen him. Igor’s seen him more than anybody.”

On NBA draft prospect Luka Doncic… Dirk Nowitzki: “I’ve not talked to Holger about him. All I’ve seen was the little clips. I haven’t really seen one whole game. It seems like, to me, for a 19-year-old is really savvy. He’s already playing a great court game. He’s going to be a little challenged, I think, athletically if he plays the 1. He’s got enough size to play the 2, especially now with everybody going small anyways. I think he’d be okay. I mean, he’s got all the game. He’s got all the mid-range. He’s got the pull-ups. He’s got the step backs. He’s great with the ball. He can run pick-and-rolls – which would suit him great here now since it’s a pick-and-roll league now anyway. I think he’s going to be great. But it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up, how this whole draft is going to shake out. I guess everything – besides [DeAndre] Ayton, who I think is going to go No. 1 – I’m not really sure what’s going to happen.”

First, and probably most important, since 1995 the NBA has had a system set in place for first-round picks to receive four-year contracts, the first two years of which are guaranteed. The salaries are set on a sliding scale. The higher the pick, the higher the salary. For example, in this year’s draft the No. 1 pick will be slotted to earn $6,746,400 in his rookie year and $7,901,100 in his second year. The last pick of the first round will earn $1,338,900 and $1,568,000, respectively, in his first two years. Conversely, contracts are fully negotiable for second-round draft picks. The players are only entitled to the required tender offer, which is a non-guaranteed minimum contract, in which case salaries are paid on a pro-rata basis. That means a player drafted in the second round can be cut by a team at any time and without being paid any additional money. I hope that the risk of this scenario is obvious.

Potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 Draft Luka Doncic won the EuroBasket playing under a Serbian coach: Igor Kokoskov. Doncic thrived under the newly appointed Phoenix Suns head coach who isn’t the only Serbian that the Real Madrid star would play with/for. “Hard question… We all know who is Zeljko (Obradovic), and then there is Sasha Djordjevic. There are a lot of good coaches. And for Serbian players, I think (Bogdan) Bogdanovic. We are friends, he is a great player, I could learn a lot [from him],” Doncic said to Serbian website Telegraf.rs when asked if there are any Serbian coaches or players he’d choose to work with.

Potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 Draft Luka Doncic won the EuroBasket playing under a Serbian coach: Igor Kokoskov. The newly appointed Phoenix Suns head coach isn’t the only Serbian that the Real Madrid star would play with. “Hard question… We all know who is Zeljko (Obradovic), and then there is Sasha Djordjevic. There are a lot of good coaches. And for Serbian players, I think (Bogdan) Bogdanovic. We are friends, he is a great player, I could learn a lot [from him],” Doncic said to Serbian website Telegraf.rs when asked if there are any Serbian coaches or players he’d choose to work with.

The multi-awarded player told Eurohoops: “I have no words to describe how I feel. I’m happy to be here and I’m happy for winning the championship. I simply focus on how I will celebrate, nothing else. We can’t overdo it though, we have a game on Thursday [laughs]”. As for his future in the NBA and whether he’d like to be drafted at No. 1 or be chosen by a certain team, Luka mentioned that it’s not the right timing to discuss about it: “That’s not on me, the teams are the ones that select. As I said I’m focused on celebrating, I will say everything about my future later”.

Rudy Fernandez spoke to Eurohoops when the locker rooms opened to the press after the team’s celebrations and speaking about Luka Doncic, he admitted that this is expected to be his last season in Europe. “He is a special guy, we have to enjoy this year because we know”, said the two time EuroLeague champ with Real Madrid and former NBA player. “He has to play with the best players in the world, maybe in the next year we are going to miss him, but it’s normal. He is 19 years old and he deserves it”.

McDonough, in an interview on ESPN2’s NBA Draft Combine special on Friday, said the Suns haven’t ruled out the option of dealing away the No. 1 pick in June’s draft for a lower pick or even a worthy veteran. “We’re certainly open to that. We’ll consider it,” McDonough said. “Obviously, we’ll have more information closer to the draft than we do today, after we go through the workout process and the interview process and we get the medical physicals. So we’re open to that.”

Of special interest is the effect that newly hired Suns coach Igor Kokoskov will have on the decision. Kokoskov was the head coach of the Slovenian national team last year in its run to the gold medal in the EuroBasket tournament — which featured Doncic averaging 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in nine games. That’s led to speculation that Kokoskov would push the Suns to draft Doncic. But sources familiar with the Suns’ thinking told Sporting News on Thursday that’s just not the case.

In fact, look for Phoenix to insulate Kokoskov from the decision, and to put it squarely in the lap of GM Ryan McDonough. That’s not to say Kokoskov won’t have any input, but the Suns do not want to put pressure on their new head coach by leaving the impression that he lobbied for or against Doncic, an impression that could hamstring him even before he started on his new job. “He is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t,” one source said. “If he pushes for Doncic and they take him, then anything that happens with Doncic or Ayton from there is on him. No team wants to put their coach in that situation. No coach wants to be in that situation. They’re going to avoid that like the plague.”

McDonough said he’s not concerned that the Suns won’t be able to work out Doncic because he’ll be playing in the Liga ACB, the top professional basketball division of the Spanish basketball league, through June. The Suns already have seen Doncic play in person several times, and McDonough plans to head to Europe in the next few weeks to get another look at the Slovenian guard. “If anything, it makes it easier for us to evaluate him in real time against high-level competition,” McDonough said. “We view that as a benefit.”

Even in his absence, though, Doncic created a stir when he told reporters in Europe this week that he was not sure he would be playing his final games for Real Madrid. That led to speculation that Doncic, perhaps, would not play for the team that landed the No. 2 pick in the lottery on Tuesday, the Kings — but would, instead, opt to sign a new contract and stay in Spain unless he could steer his way to a team of his choosing. But Kings fans — and fans of any of the teams at the top of next month’s draft — can breathe easy. Doncic’s comments had nothing to do with Sacramento or an intention to use the threat of staying in Europe to pick his team. “Luka has stated no particular thought on any NBA teams,” his agent, Bill Duffy, told Sporting News on Thursday.

There will be plenty of time for assessment and evaluation, but both players would fit well with the talent the Suns have assembled. Devin Booker is already a franchise cornerstone and his ability to space the floor, coupled with Doncic’s potential as a stretch guard, is tantalizing. But the option to add Ayton, a physically imposing center who would immediately offer an inside-out presence to Booker, is intriguing as well. “Hopefully (the No. 1 pick) gives us another foundational player to build around,” McDonough said. “We feel like we have one in Devin Booker, we feel like Josh Jackson has the potential to be one. He certainly made strides over the second half of the past season. Usually in the NBA it takes three elite players to win at a high level.”
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March 18, 2019 | 12:46 pm EDT Update
Given Collin Sexton’s recent scoring binge, hitting the 20-point mark in five consecutive games — a feat not even reached by LeBron James during his rookie season — head coach Larry Drew’s “score-first point guard” label seems fitting. It’s also one that Sexton doesn’t mind. “I’m OK with it,” Sexton told cleveland.com. “But when it’s time for me to get into facilitating mode and I see Kevin (Love) and a few others haven’t touched the ball in a long time, have to make sure that I turn my scoring off and make sure I get them involved because we go as far as Kevin takes us. If Kevin is scoring then they have to play him and it opens up so much for everybody else.”
Veteran Channing Frye, who has been trying to mentor Sexton this season, agrees with Drew’s assessment. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” veteran Channing Frye said. “There’s only three or four pass-first guards in this league. For us it’s adjusting to that. For me, I played with a lot of pass-first guards and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. What (Collin) needs to do is understand that he is going to get around 20 shots a game. So listen, you don’t need to get all 20 in the first quarter, big fella. At the beginning, get your teammates involved and it’s going to make your job easier. If everyone’s focused on you, five people can guard one. If he’s guarded one-on-one, he’s pretty dang good. Just learning and evolving. At Alabama, ‘Here’s the ball, go win us the game.’ High school, ‘Here’s the ball, go win us the game.’ Now it’s like you’ve got some All-Stars, you’ve got some really good players. You’ve got to get them involved early, you’ve got to feed ‘em a little bit. Give ‘em a slice of the burger.”