Zion Williamson

Draft Notes: Zion, Reddish, Smits, Whitt

Zion Williamson, unsurprisingly, remains at No. 1 in the latest mock draft from ESPN insiders Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz. As Schmitz explains, while Williamson was already considered a lock to stay in that top spot, his performance in last week’s ACC tournament was the “latest reminder of just how far ahead of his peers he is.” Schmitz adds that the Duke forward is “far and away the most impressive collegiate prospect I’ve ever evaluated.”

Further down the draft board, Schmitz’s describes Cam Reddish‘s ACC tournament performance as the “most alarming of his yearlong disappearing acts,” though Reddish still comes in at No. 6 overall.

Meanwhile, at No. 11 overall, UNC’s Coby White has emerged as the third-best point guard in the 2019 class behind Ja Morant and Darius Garland, Schmitz writes. Morant and Garland both come in as top-four selections in ESPN’s latest mock.

Here’s more on the 2019 NBA draft:

  • Valparaiso junior Derrik Smits confirmed on Monday that he plans to test the draft waters this spring, per Paul Oren of The Times of Northwest Indiana (Twitter link). The seven-footer, the son of longtime Pacers center Rik Smits, will transfer to another program if he decides to withdraw from the draft.
  • SMU guard Jimmy Whitt has announced (via Twitter) that he’s entering his name in the 2019 draft pool. Whitt, who began his college career at Arkansas, averaged 12.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG, and 4.0 APG in his junior year for SMU.
  • Ben Nadeau of Basketball Insiders identifies four prospects he believes will improve their stocks between now and draft day, starting with their performances in the NCAA tournament. Villanova’s Eric Paschall and Duke’s Tre Jones are among Nadeau’s picks.

No. 1 Prospect Zion Williamson Cleared To Return For Duke

After spraining his knee during an ACC showdown against North Carolina on February 20, top prospect Zion Williamson has missed the last three weeks of action. However, the star forward is set to return on Thursday for Duke’s game vs. Syracuse, the program announced today (via Twitter).

Following Williamson’s knee injury, which looked at first as if it might be worse than it was, there was speculation that the youngster – who is considered a lock to become the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft – might think about shutting it down and preparing to go pro. However, it appears that was never really a consideration.

Assuming he stays healthy going forward, Williamson is poised to rejoin the Blue Devils for the rest of the ACC Tournament and for March Madness later this month. While it will provide fans with another chance to watch the 18-year-old on a national stage, NBA teams probably don’t need to see much more from him at this point — no matter how he plays in Duke’s next few games, it’s hard to imagine Williamson not being the first player selected this June.

If Duke defeats Syracuse tonight, it would put the club on track for a rematch with North Carolina in the semfinals of the ACC Tournament on Friday, assuming UNC gets by Louisville.

Knicks Notes: Hezonja, Dolan, Scouting

Knicks head coach David Fizdale recently spoke about the challenges presented by having a roster packed with free-agents-to-be who might be tempted to focus on improving their stock for the summer rather than playing team-first ball. However, Mario Hezonja believes he’s been able to stick to Fizdale’s desired style of play despite his upcoming unrestricted free agency, as he tells Marc Berman of The New York Post.

“I don’t give a s–t that I’m a free agent,” Hezonja said. “I’m trying to help these guys as well. I don’t give a s–t about myself. I’ll be fine. Trust me. I’ll be fine. With my basketball skill, talent and abilities, I’ll always be fine. I just want to help these guys with stuff I’ve been through in my career in both Europe and here.

“I know it’s a very sensitive situation here with a lot of free agents and a lot of young guys I’m trying to help. If I see something in practice, I try to correct them. We have to continue to show togetherness and finish on a good note. A lot of teams don’t achieve playoffs they just give up.”

After playing well to finish the 2017/18 season, Hezonja turned down multiple two-year contract offers to join the Knicks on a one-year deal, but it has been a tough year for him in New York. He’s averaging 7.6 PPG with a career-low .277 3PT%, and the club has the worst record in the NBA. Nonetheless, the former fifth overall pick says he doesn’t regret his free agent decision, adding that he loves New York and hopes to extend his stay with the Knicks beyond this season.

“Even though it’s a bad, rough season individually and as a team, I feel I have [the] support of the city,” Hezonja said.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • James Dolan‘s latest public run-in with a fan – which saw the Knicks’ owner instruct MSG security to detain a customer who yelled at him to “sell the team” – is a reminder that Dolan is “thin-skinned and utterly clueless about the franchise he has run into the ground,” according to Frank Isola of The Athletic, who wonders whether Dolan’s baggage will have an impact on the team’s ability to attract star free agents.
  • Former Knick Charles Oakley is among those who would advise stars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to avoid the club in free agency, as he tells Dolan. “If you want to be in New York, look at the Nets. [GM] Sean Marks has done a great job. The Nets have better pieces,” Oakley said. “You come to the Knicks … it won’t be easy.”
  • After attending the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament to watch Murray State point guard Ja Morant, Knicks GM Scott Perry will be at this week’s ACC Tournament to get a look at Zion Williamson and other top prospects, a source tells Marc Berman of The New York Post. President of basketball operations Steve Mills will also likely be on hand at the tournament, which will feature players like R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Nassir Little as well.

Injury Updates: Zion, Anderson, Embiid, Kuzma

Duke star Zion Williamson appears unlikely to play in Saturday’s showdown vs. North Carolina, but fans hoping to watch Williamson during March Madness shouldn’t be worried. In fact, head coach Mike Krzyzewski believes Williamson could return before the NCAA Tournament, dismissing speculation that the forward might shut it down for the season after his recent knee injury.

“He’s getting more confidence, and we just have to get him in shape,” Krzyzewski said, per David M. Hale of ESPN.com. “I don’t think he’ll be ready for [UNC] … but I would be surprised if he wasn’t ready by the ACC tournament.”

As we wait to get another look at the player who will be selected first overall in 2019’s draft, here are a few more injury updates on guys who are already in the NBA:

  • Grizzlies forward Kyle Anderson will receive an anesthetic injection in the hopes of alleviating soreness in his right shoulder, the team announced in a press release. Anderson, who hasn’t played since January 30, will be re-evaluated in about two weeks.
  • Joel Embiid still isn’t quite ready to return to action for the Sixers. As Martin Frank of The Delaware News Journal relays, head coach Brett Brown is still hoping that Embiid will play this week, but the star center didn’t travel to Chicago for Wednesday’s game. “I believe there’s a chance that he may meet us in Houston (where the Sixers play on Friday),” Brown said of Embiid.
  • A precautionary MRI for Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma confirmed that he’s dealing with a minor ankle sprain, according to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, who tweets that Kuzma could be sidelined for up to a week.

Central Notes: Bledsoe, Pachulia, Love, Bucks

The final year of Eric Bledsoe’s $70MM contract extension with the Bucks has a $3.9MM partial guarantee in the final season, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. The extension became official on Monday.

Bledsoe’s $19.375MM salary that season would be fully guaranteed if he’s on the roster beyond June 30, 2022, Charania adds. The cap hits for the first three years of the extension are $15.62MM, $16.87MM and $18.12MM, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets.

Bledsoe, who is not eligible to be traded until September 4, will rank 13th in salary next season among point guards around the league, and that doesn’t include impending free agents Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving and D’Angelo Russell, Marks adds.

We have more news from around the Central Division:

  • Pistons reserve center Zaza Pachulia has been fined $25K by the league for confronting and verbally abusing a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner upon being ejected, according to an NBA press release. Pachulia was tossed against Toronto in the second quarter on Sunday after arguing a no-call and getting assessed two technicals.
  • Kevin Love has no regrets about signing an extension with the Cavaliers this summer but he wishes he could have been a bigger part of their season, as he explained to Jason Lloyd of The Athletic.  Love missed a chunk of the season after undergoing foot surgery and the Cavaliers soon went in rebuild mode. “There have been some bright spots in terms of younger guys getting better,” he said. “But it’s been tough, especially stepping into a leadership role and then you’re not out there for three months.” Love also weighed in on the Zion Williamson situation, saying the Duke star and likely No. 1 overall pick shouldn’t return this season from his knee sprain, “If I were him, I’d probably say, especially after a scare like this, I’d heavily consider telling the NCAA to pay us or else shutting it down and doing what’s best for his family,” Love said. “That kid is really an exceptional talent … I would lean toward not coming back.”
  • Bucks GM Jon Horst deserves more credit for the team’s success, Matt John of Basketball Insiders argues. Trades and free agent signings that brought in Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic greased the skids for Milwaukee’s rise to the top of the Eastern Conference. Horst also made other moves that improve the team’s salary-cap flexibility going forward, John adds.

Zion Williamson Day-To-Day With Grade 1 Knee Sprain

FEBRUARY 21, 5:06pm: Williamson sustained a Grade 1 right knee sprain and will be listed as day-to-day moving forward, the school announced. The injury news comes as a sigh of relief for Williamson, who exited the game shortly after suffering the injury on Wednesday.

FEBRUARY 20, 10:30pm: Duke — along with several NBA teams — received a scare when star forward Zion Williamson left tonight’s game with an injury in the opening minute. However, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the consensus No. 1 pick has been diagnosed with only a mild knee sprain, tweets AP basketball writer Tim Reynolds. He added that doctors found the knee to be stable, and more news is expected Thursday.

“We’re very concerned about Zion,” Krzyzewski said in a tweet sent out by the university. “It’s a mild knee sprain. We will know about length of time tomorrow. It’s stable. Obviously it has an impact. You lose the (National Player of the Year) on the first play.”

Williamson was hurt 36 seconds into a marquee matchup with North Carolina when his left shoe tore open, causing him to lose his balance. He left the court under his own power, but remained in the locker room for the rest of the game.

Several NBA players posted messages of support for Williamson on social media, relays ESPN. LeBron James and Spencer Dinwiddie both said they hoped Williamson would be OK, while Donovan Mitchell made a case that college athletes should be paid in a tweet that was supported by Trae Young.

Puma posted a message blaming the injury on Williamson’s Nike shoes, but later took it down (Twitter link from The Sporting News).

Latest Notes On Zion Williamson

As we wait for word on how long Zion Williamson‘s knee injury – described last night as a “mild” sprain – might sideline him, players around the NBA have been wishing him well and weighing in with their thoughts on the situation.

Of those players, DeMarcus Cousins had some of the strongest views, telling reporters, including Anthony Slater of The Athletic (video link), that he’d advise Williamson to shut it down for the season and turn his attention to the NBA.

“Knowing what I know, college basketball is bulls–t,” Cousins said. “My advice to him is do what’s best for you and your family. Obviously, college does nothing for you at this point. You’ve proven you’re the No. 1 pick, you’ve proven your talent. You’re ready for the next level.”

Here are several more Zion-related links in the wake of Wednesday night’s injury scare:

  • According to Darren Rovell of Action Network (Twitter link), Williamson has an $8MM loss-of-value insurance policy to protect himself against a major injury. However, he’d have to slip out of the top 16 in the draft to start collecting, per Rovell. It’s hard to imagine that even a more significant injury would result in that precipitous a drop in his stock.
  • After Williamson’s injury occurred in a game that cost thousands of dollars for many fans to attend, critics of the college basketball model have taken the opportunity to slam the NCAA for not paying its players. Dan Wolken of USA Today pushes back on that narrative to some extent, arguing that playing for the Blue Devils has benefited Williamson tremendously, since he wasn’t considered the consensus top prospect in the draft before this season. While that’s true, it’s hard to make a case that the relationship hasn’t more significantly benefited Duke.
  • Before Wednesday’s game, Williamson told Andy Katz (video link) that he would have wanted to play college basketball even if the NBA’s one-and-done rule didn’t exist, as Adam Zagoria of Forbes.com relays. “I always knew I would go to college,” Williamson said. “Even if they would’ve had the NBA rule, I still would’ve came to college. You’re never going to get this experience again. Once you go to the league it’s grown men, kids, families, it’s not just teenagers having fun. It’s business then.”
  • While scouts didn’t get a real look at Williamson during Wednesday’s ACC showdown, ESPN’s Mike Schmitz (Insider link) takes a look at how several of the other top NBA prospects involved in the game fared.

And-Ones: Iguodala, Gupta, Vesely, Williamson

Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala was elected First Vice President of the National Basketball Players Association, according to an NBPA press release. Iguodala has been on the Executive Committee since February 2013. He replaces LeBron James, whose four-year term has expired.

The BucksMalcolm Brogdon, the CelticsJaylen Brown and the HornetsBismack Biyombo were elected to serve as VPs on the Executive Committee. They replace Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry and Iguodala.

Chris Paul remains President of the committee with Anthony Tolliver, Pau Gasol, C.J. McCollum and Garrett Temple also serving on it.

We have more news from around the basketball world:

  • Pistons assistant GM Sachin Gupta never knew ESPN’s Trade Machine would become so popular when he created it in 2006, Rod Beard of the Detroit News reports. Gupta called it a “fun project” and took about a month to write the code for the Trade Machine when he worked for the network, Beard adds. “It’s not meant to replace common sense. It’s not meant to replace any GM’s job,” Gupta said. “It’s simply based on the rules and whether it works or not.”
  • Former NBA player Jan Vesely has signed an extension with Fenerbahce that keep him under contract until 2022, the Turkish team tweets. The 7-foot power forward was drafted by the Wizards with the sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft but only lasted three NBA seasons.
  • Stephen Curry is a fan of Duke’s Zion Williamson, considered the top prospect in this year’s draft, he said in an interview with The Undefeated and relayed by E. Jay Zarett of the Sporting News. “He’s unreal. We were talking about him the other day in our team room,” Curry said, via Justin Tinsley of the Undefeated. “He has a lot of hype around him and he’s unbelievably talented, but you can’t teach his passion and the way that … he plays. He plays hard every possession, and that’s an underrated skill that kids can kind of emulate.”

And-Ones: Keene, LeBron, Zion, Africa League, Tampering

The Memphis Hustle have bought out the contract of Marcus Keene, allowing Keene to sign overseas in South Korea with the Jeonju KCC Egis, a source told Hoops Rumors.

Keene traveled to South Korea on Sunday to join the team, a source said.

Keene, a former Central Michigan standout, averaged 8.2 points, 2.8 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game in 25 contests with the Hustle this season. He went undrafted in 2017 despite being the NCAA Division l scoring leader with Central Michigan, tallying an impressive 30 points per game.

The Jeonju KCC Egis play in the Korean Basketball League, which holds its regular season from October to April. It consists of 10 different teams that play 53 games each.

Here are some other odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • LeBron James lauded the overall game of Duke prospect Zion Williamson, praising him for his insane athleticism and quickness at his size, as relayed by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. “What strikes me? His agility and his quickness,” James said. “For his size, how strong he is, to be able to move like the way he moves, he’s very impressive. I mean, everybody can see the athleticism. That’s obviously, that’s ridiculous. But the speed and the quickness that he moves [with] at that size is very impressive.” James traveled to see Williamson play against the University of Virginia last week, insisting to the media that the trip wasn’t for recruiting.
  • The NBA and FIBA have announced plans to bring a new professional basketball league to Africa. The Basketball Africa League, which is set to have 12 unnamed teams in the competition, is expected to begin play in January of 2020. “As we’ve been talking about this concept over the last several months, there’s been a tremendous reception from several of our NBA team owners,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “Several of our partners have also expressed an interest to work with us in Africa.” Former President Barack Obama is also expected to have a hands-on role with the league, though the specifics of his job have yet to be determined.  This will mark the first time the NBA has ever been involved with a professional basketball league outside of North America.
  • NBA tampering and agent behavior are two deeply intertwined problems today, Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer writes. The representative for Anthony Davis, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, publicly announced that his client requested a trade from the Pelicans last month, causing a stir for some within the organization. Adam Silver has labeled the importance of tampering being held to a strict control, though Davis’ public trade request resulted in a tampering fine for Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry and prompted some observers to question whether the Lakers were tampering with Davis’ group.

Knicks Notes: Jordan, Matthews, Zion, Davis

DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews may not be with the Knicks very long, but coach David Fizdale is preparing to use them, tweets Ian Begley of ESPN. Acquired in the trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas, both players are veterans with expiring contracts who will be buyout candidates if they aren’t traded by Thursday’s deadline.

“What I want to try to do with them is get them minutes where they can start helping our guys understand defense,” Fizdale said. “DeAndre is going to be a guy that really helps Mitchell (Robinson) and I think having him be able to do it with demonstration and not just words, I think, is going to be important.

“Because DeAndre, he’s a veteran version of what Mitchell is hoping to become. And the same with Wesley. I think Wes is really going to be able to help Dot (Damyean Dotson) and Zo (Allonzo Trier), especially when it comes to defending. So I want to be able to find him some minutes out there so that he can demonstrate it while he’s doing it.”

There’s more from New York City:

  • Knicks fans aren’t the only ones dreaming about the possibility of having Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson in their lineup next season. The expected No. 1 pick told Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv he has considered it as well. “It would be dope to play with KD and Kyrie, but like I said I’m enjoying college and whichever team drafts me I’m going to be ready to play hard and work,” Williamson said Saturday after Duke defeated St. John’s. The Knicks hold the top spot in our latest Reverse Standings.
  • The prospect of bringing two elite free agents to New York suddenly seems feasible now that the Knicks project to have about $70MM in cap space, writes Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. Fans welcomed Irving to Madison Square Garden Friday night with a rousing ovation, followed by chants of “We want Kyrie.” However, if the Knicks don’t get their top targets, Vorkunov wonders if they will be content with another year of rebuilding or if they’ll throw that money at players such as Tobias Harris and Kemba Walker.
  • The Knicks may have a path to team up Durant, Irving and Anthony Davis, tweets salary cap expert Albert Nahmad. He explains that New York could agree to a deal with the Pelicans before the draft involving its lottery pick, young players and future selections. The Knicks would then take whomever New Orleans wants, add Durant and Irving with cap space and finalize the Davis trade 30 days after the draftee signs his contract (Twitter link).