Tyler Smith

Northwest Notes: Conley, Blazers, Nuggets, Thunder

Seventeen-year NBA veteran and Timberwolves guard Mike Conley is the closest he’s ever been to the NBA Finals after winning Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, Andscape’s Marc J. Spears writes. The Wolves went down 3-0 to Dallas but held off elimination on Tuesday night with a 105-100 victory.

This is the biggest game I’ve had in my career,” Conley said after Game 4. “The next game is the biggest game I’ve had in my career. It’s the biggest win. Honestly, it is. If you look at the board and see the seven up there, that is how many games we have left to win. That is how many we are away from a ring.

On a roster with an average age under 27 years old and with a franchise star (Anthony Edwards) who was six years old when Conley entered the league, the point guard is the veteran presence who has played a key role in getting this team this deep into the postseason. Conley, whom head coach Chris Finch says “means everything” to the club, is averaging 11.9 points and 6.0 assists through 14 playoff games this season.

Conley also made the Western Conference Finals in 2013 with Memphis, but he and his team were swept by San Antonio. Tuesday’s win was his first career conference finals win. While Dallas holds a commanding 3-1 lead, Minnesota’s players and coaches continue exude confidence, Spears writes.

It’s one game. Game 5 is Game 7,” Conley said. “This is all we got. Keep our mentality like that. Don’t look at the circus that surrounds us and all the stuff you been hearing. Keep the faith more than anything. The testament with the guys tonight is that we truly didn’t believe this was our last game … This doesn’t come around very often. So, when you get this chance, give everything you got. Don’t be afraid to fail.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Trail Blazers hosted Louisiana Tech’s Isaiah Crawford, UConn’s Alex Karaban, Arizona’s Caleb Love, Boston College’s Quinten Post, Indiana’s Kel’el Ware and Tyler Smith of the G League Ignite for a pre-draft workout on Tuesday, according to Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (Twitter link). Portland holds picks Nos. 7, 14, 34 and 40. Since the time of the workout, Karaban withdrew from the draft and CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reports Love is doing the same (Twitter link). Of the players listed, Ware is the highest ranked on ESPN’s best available list (No. 25).
  • Speculating how the Trail Blazers will manage having four picks in this year’s class, Highkin observes in a mailbag (Substack link) that Portland has 14 players on guaranteed contracts next season. If the Blazers do use most or all of their picks, that would likely mean some combination of Malcolm Brogdon, Jerami Grant, Robert Williams III, Matisse Thybulle and Anfernee Simons are out the door, or at the very least, being shopped, Highkin writes. Highkin explains that recent Blazers second-rounders (Rayan Rupert, Jabari Walker) have earned standard contracts, complicating matters at picks 34 and 40. As for likely targets at No. 7, Cody Williams and Tidjane Salaun could be in play, according to Highkin. In the second part of his mailbag (Substack link), he further breaks down what the Blazers will do with their veterans this offseason.
  • The Nuggets don’t have much money to spend on outside free agents this offseason and may be limited to minimum-salary players. Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports analyzes 10 potential low-cost free agents who could make sense in Denver, including Utah’s Kris Dunn, Los Angeles’s Mason Plumlee and Philadelphia’s Kyle Lowry.
  • Thunder general manager Sam Presti emphasized during his end-of-season press conference that he’s focused on building around what he already has. This season showed Oklahoma City’s roster needs additional time to continue to grow more than it needs outside moves, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes. Presti also said he doesn’t regret not being more aggressive at the deadline and is pleased with where the roster stands. “I know this is not going to go over well for people,” Presti said “But what we have is an appearance … We have shown up to the postseason. We’ll arrive if we can replicate that. Because there’s a lot of teams that have gotten to the playoffs for one year and then they, for whatever reasons, may not be able to get back there. So the way I would look at that is you can either pick the lock or you can crack the code. Picking the lock, you’re stealing it. Cracking the code, you own it.

NBA Announces 78 Invitees For 2024 Draft Combine

The NBA announced today (via Twitter) that 78 prospects have been invited to attend this year’s draft combine, which will take place in Chicago from May 12-19.

In addition to those 78 players, a handful of standout players from the G League Elite Camp, which is also held in Chicago just before the combine begins, are expected to receive invites to stick around for the main event.

Not all of the prospects invited to the combine will end up remaining in the 2024 draft pool, since some are early entrants who are testing the waters while retaining their NCAA eligibility. College players must withdraw from the draft by the end of the day on May 29 if they wish to preserve that eligibility, while non-college players face a decision deadline of June 16. The feedback they receive from NBA teams at the combine may be a deciding factor for players who are on the fence.

Here’s the list of players who have been invited to the 2024 draft combine:

(Note: For players in international leagues, the country listed is where they had been playing, not necessarily where they’re from.)

  1. Michael Ajayi, F, Pepperdine (junior)
  2. Melvin Ajinca, G/F, France (born 2004)
  3. Trey Alexander, G, Creighton (junior)
  4. Izan Almansa, F, G League Ignite (born 2005)
  5. Reece Beekman, G, Virginia (senior)
  6. Adem Bona, F/C, UCLA (sophomore)
  7. Trevon Brazile, F, Arkansas (sophomore)
  8. Jalen Bridges, F, Baylor (senior)
  9. Matas Buzelis, F, G League Ignite (born 2004)
  10. Carlton Carrington, G, Pitt (freshman)
  11. Devin Carter, G, Providence (junior)
  12. Stephon Castle, G, UConn (freshman)
  13. Ulrich Chomche, C, NBA Academy Africa (born 2005)
  14. Cam Christie, G, Minnesota (freshman)
  15. Nique Clifford, G, Colorado State (senior)
  16. Donovan Clingan, C, UConn (sophomore)
  17. Isaiah Collier, G, USC (freshman)
  18. Tristan Da Silva, F, Colorado (senior)
  19. Pacome Dadiet, G/F, Germany (born 2005)
  20. N’Faly Dante, C, Oregon (super-senior)
  21. Rob Dillingham, G, Kentucky (freshman)
  22. Nikola Djurisic, G/F, Serbia (born 2004)
  23. Ryan Dunn, F, Virginia (sophomore)
  24. Zach Edey, C, Purdue (senior)
  25. Justin Edwards, G/F, Kentucky (freshman)
  26. Kyle Filipowski, F/C, Duke (sophomore)
  27. Trentyn Flowers, G/F, Australia (born 2005)
  28. Johnny Furphy, G/F, Kansas (freshman)
  29. Kyshawn George, G/F, Miami (FL) (freshman)
  30. Tyon Grant-Foster, G, Grand Canyon (senior)
  31. PJ Hall, C, Clemson (senior)
  32. Coleman Hawkins, F, Illinois (senior)
  33. Ron Holland, F, G League Ignite (born 2005)
  34. DaRon Holmes II, F, Dayton (junior)
  35. Ariel Hukporti, C, Germany (born 2002)
  36. Oso Ighodaro, F, Marquette (senior)
  37. Harrison Ingram, F, UNC (junior)
  38. Bronny James, G, USC (freshman)
  39. A.J. Johnson, G, Australia (born 2004)
  40. Keshad Johnson, F, Arizona (super-senior)
  41. David Jones, F, Memphis (senior)
  42. Dillon Jones, F, Weber State (senior)
  43. Ryan Kalkbrenner, C, Creighton (senior)
    • Note: Kalkbrenner indicated this week that he intends to return to school, so it’s unclear if he’ll continue to go through the pre-draft process.
  44. Alex Karaban, F, UConn (sophomore)
  45. Bobi Klintman, F, Australia (born 2003)
  46. Dalton Knecht, G, Tennessee (super-senior)
  47. Tyler Kolek, G, Marquette (senior)
  48. Pelle Larsson, G, Arizona (senior)
  49. Jared McCain, G, Duke (freshman)
  50. Kevin McCullar, G, Kansas (super-senior)
  51. Yves Missi, C, Baylor (freshman)
  52. Ajay Mitchell, G, UC Santa Barbara (junior)
  53. Jonathan Mogbo, F/C, San Francisco (senior)
  54. Tristen Newton, G, UConn (super-senior)
  55. Juan Nunez, G, Germany (born 2004)
  56. Quinten Post, F/C, Boston College (super-senior)
  57. Antonio Reeves, G, Kentucky (super-senior)
  58. Zaccharie Risacher, F, France (born 2005)
  59. Jaxson Robinson, G/F, BYU (senior)
  60. Tidjane Salaun, F, France (born 2005)
  61. Hunter Sallis, G, Wake Forest (junior)
  62. Payton Sandfort, G/F, Iowa (junior)
  63. Alexandre Sarr, F/C, Australia (born 2005)
  64. Baylor Scheierman, G/F, Creighton (super-senior)
  65. Mark Sears, G, Alabama (senior)
  66. Terrence Shannon, G, Illinois (super-senior)
  67. Jamal Shead, G, Houston (senior)
  68. Reed Sheppard, G, Kentucky (freshman)
  69. KJ Simpson, G, Colorado (junior)
  70. Tyler Smith, F, G League Ignite (born 2004)
  71. Cam Spencer, G, UConn (super-senior)
  72. Nikola Topic, G, Serbia (born 2005)
  73. JT Toppin, F, New Mexico (freshman)
  74. Jaylon Tyson, G, California (junior)
  75. Ja’Kobe Walter, G, Baylor (freshman)
  76. Kel’el Ware, C, Indiana (sophomore)
  77. Jamir Watkins, G/F, Florida State (junior)
  78. Cody Williams, F, Colorado (freshman)

It’s worth noting that the NBA and the NBPA agreed to a few combine-related changes in their latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here are a few of those changes:

  • A player who is invited to the draft combine and declines to attend without an excused absence will be ineligible to be drafted. He would become eligible the following year by attending the combine. There will be exceptions made for a player whose FIBA season is ongoing, who is injured, or who is dealing with a family matter (such as a tragedy or the birth of a child).
  • Players who attend the draft combine will be required to undergo physical exams, share medical history, participate in strength, agility, and performance testing, take part in shooting drills, receive anthropometric measurements, and conduct interviews with teams and the media. Scrimmages won’t be mandatory.
  • Medical results from the combine will be distributed to select teams based on where the player is projected to be drafted. Only teams drafting in the top 10 would get access to medical info for the projected No. 1 pick; teams in the top 15 would receive medical info for players in the 2-6 range, while teams in the top 25 would get access to info for the players in the 7-10 range.

Regarding that last point, Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Twitter link) has the details on the top 10 played out this year, noting that the composite ranking was generated based on a combination of publicly available rankings and feedback from a panel of experts, as well as a retained-scouting service.

Sarr is considered the No. 1 overall prospect, per Givony, so only teams drafting in the top 10 will get access to his medicals. Buzelis, Castle, Clingan, Risacher, and Topic are in the 2-6 range, while Dillingham, Holland, Knecht, and Sheppard round out the top 10.

Ignite’s Tyler Smith Entering 2024 NBA Draft

Tyler Smith, a 6’10” forward who spent the season with the G League Ignite, has decided to enter the 2024 NBA draft, he tells Jonathan Givony of ESPN.

Smith, who spent two years at Overtime Elite before joining the Ignite for the 2023/24 season, averaged 13.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 22.2 minutes per game across 43 appearances for the Ignite in the Showcase Cup and regular season, posting a shooting line of .474/.360/.732.

As Givony writes, Smith appeals to NBA teams due to his “positional size, scoring instincts, and shot-making prowess,” as well as his youth (he’s still just 19 years old). He ranks 21st overall on ESPN’s big board of 2024 prospects.

Jabari Smith, Kyle Kuzma, Michael Porter Jr.; those are the types of players I see myself playing like,” Smith said. “Big wings who can space the floor and also play as small-ball fives.”

In past years, Smith would have become automatically draft-eligible in the spring, but a tweak to the CBA means that he and his Ignite teammates must declare for the draft of their own accord. He’s the third Ignite player to do so this year, joining projected lottery picks Matas Buzelis and Ron Holland.

NBA Announces Player Pool For 2024 Rising Stars Event

The NBA has officially revealed the 11 rookies, 10 sophomores, and seven G League players who will take part in the Rising Stars event at All-Star weekend in Indianapolis next month.

The following players, as voted on by NBA coaching staffs, made the cut:

Rookies

Sophomores

G League Players

As was the case last season, the Rising Stars event will consist of four teams and three games. The seven G League players will comprise one team, coached by former NBA forward Detlef Schrempf. The other 21 players will be drafted to three squads coached by former NBA and WNBA stars Pau Gasol, Jalen Rose, and Tamika Catchings.

The four teams will be split into two first-round matchups and the winners of those two games will face one another for the Rising Stars championship. The two semifinals will be played to a target score of 40 points, while the final will be played to a target score of 25 points.

All three contests will take place on Friday, February 16 as part of All-Star weekend’s opening night.

NBA G League Announces Up Next Participants

A pool of 28 players has been selected for the NBA G League’s Up Next Game at All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis, the NBAGL announced in a press release.

According to the release, the event features “four teams of seven players competing in two semifinal games. The winner of each semifinal will face off in a Championship game.

“The teams will be made up of 28 NBA G League players, including 10 selected by a fan vote. The remaining 18 players will be selected by the NBA G League and will include eight members of NBA G League Ignite and at least one member of the Indiana Mad Ants, the G League affiliate of the All-Star hosting Indiana Pacers. Each team will be coached by a head coach from the NBA G League.”

Players marked with an asterisk (*) are on two-way contracts.

Fan vote:

Former Kentucky guard Hagans received the most votes.

NBAGL selections:

G League Ignite:

They aren’t currently on NBA teams, but it’s worth noting that Labissiere and Bazley are ineligible for two-way deals because they each hold four years of NBA experience. Weatherspoon (three years), Hagans (one) and Williams (one) also hold at least some NBA experience.

And-Ones: Team USA, Prospects, Load Management, Porter

It was reported earlier this week that LeBron James was recruiting stars for the 2024 Olympics, with several players planning on joining the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in Paris.

Kevin Pelton of ESPN (Insider link) recently crafted a 12-man roster for Team USA next summer by following three criteria: An ideal team, not necessarily the best individuals; prior success with USA Basketball; and young players who can continue with the national team in the future.

Pelton’s starting five features Stephen Curry, Devin Booker, James, Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid, with Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edwards, Mikal Bridges, Jayson Tatum, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo and Evan Mobley coming off the bench. Donovan Mitchell was “perhaps the single toughest cut” from Pelton’s ideal roster.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • John Hollinger of The Athletic attended the G League Fall Invitational between G League Ignite and the Perth Wildcats to scout prospects for the 2024 NBA draft and beyond. While next year’s class isn’t considered particularly strong, Hollinger writes that several players stood out at the event, including Ron Holland, Alexandre Sarr and Izan Almansa. Ignite forward Tyler Smith was another standout who may have moved up draft boards, according to Hollinger, who notes that Perth guard Ben Henshall will be closely monitored going forward as well, perhaps for 2025 or 2026.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver has a difficult balancing act when it comes to star players resting, with fans, revenue, and player health among the key factors to consider. But the new player participation policy is a step in the right direction, contends Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. Having more stars on the court should make for a more compelling regular season, and Silver said at his press conference he had been weighing the advice of retired players, Goodwill notes. “You know, a lot of older players — by that I mean now, at this point, retired players — when I first came in the league, used to believe that they were more likely to get injured if they took nights off, that they would get out of rhythm,” he said. “In some cases, maybe (they) played fewer minutes, but they played. That’s something we want to look at as well.”
  • Kevin Porter Jr. was arrested this week on felony charges of assault and strangulation, but he’s far from the first NBA player to be accused of domestic violence. If the horrific allegations are proven true, Porter’s career in the league could be over, considering his history of off-court incidents. Chris Herring of Sports Illustrated believes the NBA should have a zero-tolerance policy for violence against women, though he concedes it would be a challenging rule to implement and would likely take several years. According to Herring, since salaries are rising across the board, players should be held to “extremely high behavioral standards.”

And-Ones: Ignite, 2024 Draft, Unsuccessful Pairings, Eddy Curry

The G League Ignite’s impressive collection of talent was on display Wednesday night in Nevada, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. Six players who may be selected in next year’s draft were on the court for the Ignite, and a seventh, Thierry Darlan of France, missed the game against Perth, Australia, with an ankle injury.

The biggest attraction was guard Ron Holland, whom Hollinger considers the “betting favorite” to be the top pick in 2024. Hollinger adds that Holland isn’t a clear-cut No. 1 choice like Victor Wembanyama was this year, but he looked good in his first pro game, using a mix of explosiveness and ferocity to put up 23 points.

“Ron is very, very competitive” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “So now I’m wanting to channel it to where the opposition doesn’t know if you’re mad or you’re happy. I just told him to relax, calm down … I think he heard me. But that’s going to be a process because he’s so competitive, and I don’t want to take that from him. That’s his thing; he’s just has to learn how to use it.”

Matas Buzelis and Izan Almansa, who are projected to be top-10 picks, also showed off their skills, Hollinger adds, along with Tyler Smith, London Johnson and Perth prospects Alex Sarr and Ben Henshall. The teams will meet again on Friday.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

And-Ones: Overtime Elite, 2022 Draft, Worst Offseasons, Taxpayers

The new Overtime Elite league for teenage prospects has made another noteworthy addition, securing a commitment from five-star recruit Tyler Smith, writes ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. The 6’9″ Smith, who ranked No. 8 on ESPN’s list of 2023 recruits, said he signed a two-year “seven-figure” deal with Overtime Elite, per Givony.

“This is different and new,” he said. “I wanted to be a pro already, working on stuff that NBA players work on. In high school, you can’t work out as much as they do at OTE.”

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

  • Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report highlights five prospects projected to be part of the 2022 draft class who have generated buzz at the U19 World Cup and other recent events, including Michigan forward Caleb Houstan and G League Ignite guard Dyson Daniels.
  • In the first article in a three-part series, David Aldridge of The Athletic ranks the 10 teams that have – in his view – had the worst offseasons in 2021. The Trail Blazers (28th), Kings (29th), and Timberwolves (30th) occupy the bottom three spots on Aldridge’s list.
  • According to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report (Twitter links), teams that finished in the tax in 2020/21 had their taxable salary adjusted downward by 28.9% to account for lost revenue. For instance, the Warriors finished the season about $37MM above the tax line, but were treated like a team over the tax by approximately $26MM — Golden State paid about $69MM in tax penalties, says Pincus.