Kobe Bufkin

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Nash, Fernandez, Raptors’ Draft, Simmons

James Harden‘s free agency will likely come down to re-signing with the Sixers or signing up for a second stint with the Rockets, Shams Charania of The Athletic said on the Ryan Russillo podcast (hat tip to RealGM). Harden is expected to decline his $35.64MM option.

“I really think he’s torn with the prospect of staying in Philadelphia or moving on to Houston potentially and returning back to his home,” Charania said. “That’s where his roots are and his family there, of course. They (the Rockets) have got upwards of $60 million [in cap space]. They can make even more money available. Close to $70 million in cap space.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • As of Monday, neither former Nets coach Steve Nash nor Kings associate head coach Jordi Fernandez had been invited for a second interview for the Raptors head coaching job, according to Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. However, the front office is taking its time on hiring Nick Nurse’s replacement, so they could eventually be called in for another interview. There’s no immediate need to fill the position, since assistant GM and VP of player personnel Dan Tolzman and his staff are handling draft preparations.
  • Speaking of the Raptors’ draft, they hold the No. 13 pick in the first round. Eric Koreen of The Athletic discusses a handful of candidates they could consider at that spot, with Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin and Kansas’ Gradey Dick being the best fits if they’re still available since the shooting guard position is in flux.
  • The Nets’ Ben Simmons posted a couple of workout images on social media, indicating that he has moved from rehab and recovery to getting back on the court, Nets Daily relays. Simmons didn’t play after Feb. 15 due to a nerve impingement in his back. He could be added to Australia’s roster for the FIBA World Cup if he’s healthy enough to play later this summer.

Southwest Notes: Williams, Bufkin, Spurs, Rockets

Grizzlies reserve small forward Ziaire Williams, a lottery pick in 2021, finished the 2022/23 NBA season out of Memphis’ rotation. Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal writes that a preseason injury seemed to derail the 6’8″ swingman’s second year as a pro, and he failed to evolve as a shooter or playmaker.

Though Williams has been solid when it comes to converting his looks around the rack and in the mid-range, Cole opines that the wing’s shot diet is weighted too heavily toward his poor three-point shooting, which is impacting his overall efficiency on offense.

In his 37 games with Memphis last year, Williams averaged 5.7 PPG on .429/.258/.773 shooting.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Michigan combo guard Kobe Bufkin could be a perfect fit for the Pelicans with the No. 14 draft pick next month, opines Christian Clark of NOLA.com. The athletic, positionally versatile lefty took a giant leap during his sophomore college season, and projects as a solid two-way contributor at the next level.
  • The Spurs have added San Antonio businesswoman Kimberly Lewis, founder of investment management group KSL Resources, to their ownership group, per Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “Kim Lewis’ business acumen and deep-rooted knowledge of our community brings immeasurable value to our organization,” managing partner Peter J. Holt said in a statement. “We look forward to learning from her as we strive to strengthen our organization and embark on our shared mission of enhancing community impact.”
  • Having likely missed out on the opportunity to select one of the consensus top three prospects in this year’s draft, the rebuilding Rockets may decide to expedite their rebuild and move on from their No. 4 pick in this year’s draft. Kelly Iko of The Athletic brainstorms some hypothetical deals that could benefit Houston. “The biggest thing is we now have certainty about the pick number,” general manager Rafael Stone told Iko. “This is a super busy month for us and the two times trades happen are around the trade deadline and the draft. We can start to evaluate various trade options, we can really think through free agency.” Iko considers deals for targets like Raptors swingman OG Anunoby and Hawks vets Dejounte Murray and John Collins, among others.

Draft Notes: Whitmore, Black, Bailey, Podziemski, Wembanyama, Morsell

Villanova forward Cam Whitmore is held in higher esteem by The Athletic’s John Hollinger than many other draft experts. Hollinger ranks Whitmore as the No. 3 prospect in the draft, one spot ahead of Alabama forward Brandon Miller.

Hollinger believes Whitmore’s level of athleticism and scoring ability as a wing makes him a top-three prospect. Arkansas point guard Anthony Black also makes Hollinger’s top five, while his top 10 includes a couple more surprises, including Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin.

We have more draft-related notes:

  • UCLA’s Amari Bailey helped himself at the draft combine in Chicago and now deserves first-round consideration, according to Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report. Another combo guard, Santa Clara’s Brandin Podziemski, may also have earned a first-round ticket. On the flip side, North Carolina State guard Terquavion Smith and Kansas forward Jalen Wilson were among the prospects who didn’t make favorable impressions in Chicago, per Wasserman.
  • Why is Victor Wembanyama considered the best prospect since LeBron James? The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie goes into great detail on that subject, concluding that Wembanyama has the upside to be the best player in the world at some point and the ability to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame when his career is over.
  • North Carolina State guard Casey Morsell is withdrawing from the draft and returning to the Wolfpack, CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein tweets. Morsell has one more year of eligibility remaining.

NBA Reveals Players Expected At 2023 Draft Combine

The NBA has announced 78 players that are expected to attend this year’s draft combine, scheduled for May 15-21 at in Chicago, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports tweets.

Additionally, a select number of standout players from the G League Elite Camp, which takes place May 13-14 in Chicago, will be invited to participate in the combine.

Players will have interviews with NBA teams and participate in five-on-five scrimmages, as well as shooting, strength and agility drills. Some top prospects opt out of the scrimmages.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected top pick, is not on the list. His French League season is still ongoing.

The list of invitees is as follows:

And-Ones: Grizzlies, Cavs, 2023 Draft, World Cup, More

The adage that defense wins NBA championships certainly didn’t prove true for the Grizzlies and Cavaliers, who were quickly eliminated from the playoffs after finishing the regular season with the best defensive ratings in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. As Hollinger points out, both teams actually played good defense in the first round but struggled on the other end of the floor, finishing ahead of only Brooklyn in offensive rating in round one.

The Grizzlies were hurt by playing multiple non-shooters – the Lakers gave plenty of space to Dillon Brooks and David Roddy – and missed the presence of Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, who could have grabbed offensive rebounds and generated second-chance points.

As for the Cavaliers, while Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland bore the brunt of the blame for the team’s offensive struggles, the team got very little from its frontcourt starters (each of whom averaged single-digit points per game) and from its reserves, Hollinger notes.

Hollinger explores ways in which the two teams could make roster upgrades this summer, suggesting that the Grizzlies will face a decision on whether to sacrifice some youth in order to acquire a reliable veteran or two. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, should have the cap flexibility to re-sign Caris LeVert and use their mid-level exception without surpassing the tax apron, and could shop Cedi Osman and/or Ricky Rubio for wing upgrades, Hollinger writes.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin Declares For NBA Draft

Michigan point guard Kobe Bufkin has announced that he is declaring for the 2023 NBA draft, according to the school (Twitter link).

“As a result of our collective dedication, I was able to fulfill my dream of attending and representing the University of Michigan,” he said in a statement.

“To my U of M family, it was been an amazing experience, being a part of such an iconic university,” Bufkin continued. “This is including the Ann Arbor community, the outstanding academic experience, and of course, my basketball brotherhood. A brotherhood that I will forever hold close to my heart.”

Bufkin is currently listed as the No. 23 prospect on ESPN’s big board.

The 6’4″ guard started all 33 of his games played during his sophomore season with the Wolverines in 2022/23. He averaged 14.0 PPG on .482/.355/.849 shooting splits, 4.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG and 0.7 BPG.

Michigan did not quality for the NCAA Tournament this season, but instead participated in the 2023 NIT competition as the third seed.

And-Ones: 2023 Draft, M. Leonard, TV Rights, Elam Ending

The latest installment of Jonathan Givony’s 2023 NBA draft stock watch at ESPN (Insider link) highlights a series of Duke prospects, with big man Kyle Filipowski coming in at No. 14 on Givony’s big board, followed by center Dereck Lively II at No. 24 and swingman Dariq Whitehead at No. 26.

Whitehead’s stock has slipped since the start of the season, according to Givony, who notes that the freshman has struggled to be effective when healthy and ranks dead last among ESPN’s top 100 prospects in two-point field goal percentage (39.7%).

Jeremy Woo of SI.com also takes stock of where a few 2023 draft prospects stand, writing that UCF forward Taylor Hendricks is solidifying his place as a first-rounder and identifying Michigan guard Kobe Bufkin as a possible sleeper.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Free agent center Meyers Leonard spoke to Jeremy Schaap of ESPN’s Outside the Lines about his efforts to make it back to the NBA, discussing the work he has done to educate himself about antisemitism since uttering a slur on a video game stream nearly two years ago. Leonard also said that he suffered nerve damage when he underwent ankle surgery in April 2021 and spent much of the last two seasons rehabbing shoulder and ankle injuries.
  • Bill Shea of The Athletic explores how the collapse of the regional sports network model will affect the NBA as it negotiates its next media rights deal. It’s safe to assume the NBA’s next agreement will include a major streaming element, according to Shea, who observes that other leagues like the NFL, MLS, and MLB have established partnerships with companies like Amazon and Apple in recent years.
  • With the “Elam Ending” gaining some momentum in the G League, Jake Uitti of HoopsHype spoke to the creator, Nick Elam, about why he believes in the idea and what it was like to see the NBA adopt the concept for its All-Star Game, beginning in 2020.