NBA PREVIEW

A.J. Hoffman: 5 thoughts on tonight's NBA Draft

Mo Bamba has drawn comparisons to Rudy Gobert. Chris Covatta/Getty Images

The NBA Draft is upon us, and while it doesn’t carry the appeal of the NFL Draft, there is still plenty to talk about here. It seems like DeAndre Ayton to the Suns at No. 1 is a lock, and it makes sense. He played his college ball at Arizona, and the Suns think pairing a dominant post player with Devin Booker will give them a solid foundation to build on. There are still plenty of questions beyond that pick though. Here are a few thoughts about the draft. 

1) Marvin Bagley III is the best player in this draft

Bagley has spent years leading up to today obsessing about being the No. 1 overall pick. While it’s becoming more apparent that he won’t hit that goal, it doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t. He has always reminded me of Kevin Garnett. He has the skills of an athletic center in the (slimmish) body of a forward. He hit on 40% of his 3-pointers at Duke, and has a nice touch at the rim. The lone knock on him is that he still needs some development on the defensive end, but he has the body and the work ethic to improve there. One thing going for him is that he seems to be the only top-end prospect willing to play in Sacramento (the Kings hold the 2nd pick), as Doncic and Bamba didn’t even submit medicals there. Bagley is a cornerstone player and I think the Suns (and any other team that passes on him) will end up regretting going a different direction. 

2) Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Mohamed Bamba are the perfect bigs in today’s NBA

The days of guys like Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing dominating the paint are long gone, at least for now. Today’s NBA wants a more versatile big man, who can score at the rim but also stretch the floor, all while providing rim protection on the defensive end. Jackson and Bamba both fit those molds to a T. Jackson is an odd prospect because he isn’t coming off a fantastic college season. He only played 22 minutes per game at Michigan State, so the stats aren’t mind-blowing, but his game checks a lot of boxes on both ends. On the offensive end, he is an efficient scorer around the rim who can play with his back to the basket or face-up. He can stretch the floor, hitting 39% from 3-point range (although his awkward shot is cause for concern at the next level) and he moves without the ball, which is not always easy to find in a big man. Defensively, he is a monster. He blocked 3 shots per game and is versatile enough to deal with forwards and bigger guards when he is switched on the perimeter. The glaring flaw in his game is that he tends to find himself in foul trouble, which partially contributed to his lack of playing time with the Spartans.

Bamba has been drawing comparisons to Rudy Gobert for a couple of years already, and defensively, he could be just that. Bamba has a 7’10” wingspan (Gobert’s is 7’8” 1/2) and a nose for shot blocking that should make him an instant impact player on that end. The questions with him come on the offensive end. He has been working tirelessly on that aspect of his game since Texas’ season ended, and reports say he has drastically improved in that area. He was a decent outside shooter for the Longhorns, and if he can continue to develop on the offensive end, he could end up being a steal if he falls outside the top 3. 

3) No, Trae Young IS NOT the next Steph Curry

Early last season we saw a lot of incredible things out of Young. Late last season we saw that those highs came with some extremely low lows. People see a playmaker. They see a solid shooter, and they instantly start to make unrealistic comparisons. To be fair, when Steph Curry came into the league, very few people imagined him becoming a two-time NBA MVP and winning three titles in his first eight seasons. Like Young, there were questions about Curry’s frame and defensive abilities. Lucky for Steph, he is the best shooter who has ever played basketball. Trae Young isn’t that. While there is a lot to like about his game, and he is the type of player who can explode for a big game every now and then, his defensive flaws and proclivity to turn the ball over and go into shooting droughts make him a guy that I would steer clear of on draft day. 

4) You want Mikal Bridges on your team

Bridges isn’t the sexiest player in the draft. He is the oldest projected lottery pick, and he was overshadowed by Jaylen Brunson on Villanova’s national championship team last year. That said, he is one of the most complete players in the draft. He perfectly fits the “3 and D” mold that basically every NBA team covets today.

Bridges is an excellent defender, particularly away from the ball. He is 6’7”, but has the wingspan of a player who is 6’11”. He has the versatility to defend multiple positions in the NBA. He is an efficient scorer, never finishing a season below 50% shooting from the field. He also took his 3-point % from 30% and a freshman to 43.5% this year, and has NBA range. The only knock I can see on him is physicality. He isn’t the biggest guy, and sometimes seems hesitant to go to the basket and create contact. If the 76ers aren’t going to land LeBron James, landing Bridges at number 10 would be a welcome consolation. 

5) Who will be the diamond in the rough?

Only 60 guys will get their name called on Thursday night, but there are a ton of players out there for whatever reason (off-court issues, small school, etc.) won’t be taken despite having the skillset to play in the NBA. Some of the guys I will be looking for to get a summer league invite are Texas A&M’s D.J. Hogg, San Diego State’s Malik Pope, Virginia’s Devon Hall, New Mexico State’s Jemerrio Jones, Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge, Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews, Murray State’s Johnathan Stark and Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett. 

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The Legacy Project has a long history in the city of Houston. Courtesy image.

Each year, the NCAA is committed to leaving a legacy in the Men’s and Women’s Final Four host cities to foster goodwill and sportsmanship. The Men’s Final Four Legacy Project presented by Unilever will select a community facility in Harris County and provide renovations in 2023. This will be the first time a Local Organizing Committee offers an open call for applications in order to select a project. Unilever, the Official Personal Care Partner of the NCAA, is in its twelfth year as an NCAA Corporate Partner and has been the presenting partner of the Legacy Project since 2018.

“One of the key roles that the Houston Local Organizing Committee plays is working with the NCAA to ensure that the impact of having an event like the Men’s Final Four in our city is felt long beyond the tournament’s conclusion. The Men’s Final Four Legacy Project presented by Unilever is one example of a community-focused project that will make a difference in our community for years to come,” says Rachel Quan, HLOC vice president of external operations.

The Legacy Project has a long history in the city of Houston. In 2011, the NCAA and HLOC worked to restore the basketball court and facilities at the MD Anderson Family YMCA. The renovation helped see a drastic increase in membership and enhanced the center’s ability to continue to reach neighborhood youth. In 2016, the Morefield Boys and Girls Club in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Houston received a refurbished basketball court thanks to the NCAA’s Legacy Project.

Working alongside the HLOC, the NCAA and corporate partner, Unilever, we will once again leave behind a legacy in the city by choosing and renovating another community facility in 2023.Applications are open to the public online through midnight on Monday, May 20, 2022.

To qualify, applicants must be located in Harris County. Applications awarded the highest score by community relations evaluators will earn the chance for the HLOC and NCAA to do a site visit to consider the project. A winner will be announced in the summer/fall of 2022 and unveiled in spring 2023, prior to the Men’s Final Four in April.

About the 2023 NCAA Men’s Final Four®

Houston will host the 2023 Men’s Final Four® from March 31 through April 3, 2023. Houston Baptist University, Rice University, Texas Southern University and the University of Houston will make history as the first quartet of institutions to host the Final Four. Games will be played on April 1 and 3 at NRG Stadium. The city of Houston is hosting the event for the fourth time, having previously crowned national champions in 1971, 2011 and 2016. For more information, visit https://www.ncaa.com/mens-final-four/.

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