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Multi-skilled Joel Embiid cooks Lakers for 46 points on career night

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in Los Angeles. The 76ers won 115-109. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in Los Angeles. The 76ers won 115-109. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Joel Embiid once again reminded the NBA of his massive potential Wednesday night in Los Angeles, where Philadelphia’s 7-foot-2 phenom cooked the Lakers for a a career-best performance.

Still in just his second season out of Kansas, Embiid’s new personal bests of 46 points, seven assists, seven blocks, 14 made field goals, 16 made free throws and 19 free-throw attempts — the do-it-all center grabbed 15 rebounds, too — fueled a 115-109 road win for the Sixers, who improved to 8-6 on the season.

“I was just playing basketball basically,” Embiid told The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. “They just kept throwing the ball to me in the post. And I kept finding new ways to score the ball and I went to the free-throw line. That’s where I was best at last year. I felt like today I did a great job.”

Added the confident 23-year-old: “And with me using different moves and attacking them, they didn’t really know what to do.”

Most teams fall into that category of getting lost trying to stop Embiid. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the multi-skilled big man, who also shot 2-for-3 from 3-point range versus the Lakers, is the league’s best post-up player. He averages 8.6 points a night on post-ups in a modern NBA moving away low-block one-on-ones as an offensive staple.

Per Synergy, Embiid shoots 60 percent when single-covered in the post.

In his post-game television interview — after stopping to show some love to Philadelphia’s smallest big fan, Kevin Hart — Embiid said staying assertive keyed his ridiculous production.

“I did the same thing against the Clippers,” Philly’s biggest big said, referencing a 32-point, 16-rebound night two days earlier in which the man known most for missing games due to injuries and having his playing time restricted tallied a career-high 36 minutes. “I just wanted to come out and get down low and be a beast down there.”

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Embiid, who had to spend the majority of his offseason resting and recovering from a knee injury said he still isn’t up to speed from a conditioning standpoint, and estimated he is at about 69 percent on that front a little more than a month into the season.

That’s a frightening idea for the rest of the league, considering what Embiid and likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons already are doing to teams.

“It’s just not us, you’ve got to put it on our teammates, too,” Embiid said, crediting Robert Covington and J.J. Redick, as well as coach Brett Brown and his staff.

The Sixers, so bad for so long throughout “The Process” that landed them Embiid, Simmons and currently injured No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, have won seven of their last nine games.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Embiid said.

The 23-year-old from Cameroon became the first NBA player with 40-plus points, seven-plus assists and seven-plus blocks in a game since another Sixers legend, Julius Erving, did it in 1982.

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Embiid, averaging 23.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 51.6-percent shooting this year, in 29.0 minutes, has played in just 43 games over the course of the past two seasons after missing his first two seasons due to injuries.

His health remains the biggest “if” in the NBA. But if Embiid can put those devastating injuries that sideline him for months behind him (everyone knock on the closest piece of wood you can find), he looks to be on a trajectory to become one of the league’s most dominating players.

Reply 10 comments from Kenneth Johnson Oddgirltoo David Friend Kevin Woods Barry Weiss Dannyboy4hawks Creg Bohrer Jmfitz85 Forever2008

Andrew Wiggins goes glass at the buzzer for game-winning 3-pointer at OKC

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the game winning shot between Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) and guard Alex Abrines (8) in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. Minnesota won 115-113. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the game winning shot between Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) and guard Alex Abrines (8) in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. Minnesota won 115-113. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Maybe that Andrew Wiggins guy will turn out to be worth every penny of his recently inked five-year, $148 million extension.

While most sports fans nationally were locked in to an NFL Sunday and those locally obsessed over the Kansas basketball team’s Border War exhibition victory, an off-the-radar NBA game between Minnesota and Oklahoma City showcased Wiggins’ still-bright longterm future.

Moments after the Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony hit a go-ahead 3-pointer, the T’wolves, scrambling with no timeouts to use, got the ball in bounds to Wiggins. One Karl-Anthony Towns back-court screen and four dribbles later, the 22-year-old Canadian wing was pulling up a good six feet behind the top of the arc to bank in the game-winner.

While you might call the successful buzzer-beater lucky, Wiggins did plenty leading up to the decisive shot to put his team in prime position for a valuable Western Conference road win.

The highlight-worthy 3 to beat the game clock to 0:00 capped a 27-point performance in which he shot 10-for-20 from the floor, grabbed seven rebounds, passed out four assists and came away with two steals. Wiggins’ 2-for-7 shooting from 3-point distance was the only part of his stat line that didn’t impress.

As for his second 3-point make that caught the rest of the league’s attention Sunday night, there is the matter of whether he called glass.

“No,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “I did not.”

Averaging 24.7 points and shooting 49.1 percent from the floor three games into his fourth season, Wiggins has helped Minnesota to a 2-1 start with quality victories over Utah and OKC. According to NBA.com, he’s the youngest player in Minnesota history to score 20-plus in the team’s first three games.

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The Timberwolves are gunning for the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2003-04. They’ll rely on Wiggins’ scoring, for sure. But they’ll be in even better shape if he can help out on the boards, move the ball and try to become a lockdown defender, as well.

Reply 4 comments from Plasticjhawk Kenneth Johnson Freddie Garza

Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this 2017-18 NBA season: Nos. 5-1

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, left, dunks the ball while Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, right, watches during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, in Washington, Sunday, April 16, 2017. The Wizards won 114-107. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, left, dunks the ball while Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, right, watches during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, in Washington, Sunday, April 16, 2017. The Wizards won 114-107. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.

Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.

Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).

— Most interesting 'Hawks in the NBA: Nos. 10-6 —

— Most interesting 'Hawks in the NBA: Nos. 16-11 —

5. Markieff Morris

Now that he and twin brother Marcus have been acquitted of aggravated assault in a case dating back to their old F.O.E. stomping grounds in Phoenix, Markieff Morris can get back to plugging into one of the NBA’s most cohesive starting lineups, in Washington.

A hernia could have the Wizards’ Morris out for another month or so, and guards John Wall and Bradley Beal will be glad to have the 6-foot-10 forward back in the mix when he’s healthy again. In 2016-17, his sixth professional season and first full go-round with Washington, Morris put up 14.0 points on 45.7-percent shooting, and achieved career-highs with 71 3-pointers and 36.2-percent accuracy from downtown, as well as new personal bests of 6.5 rebounds per game and 83.7-percent shooting at the free-throw line.

Morris’ teammates love him for his diverse skill set, but also his toughness and trash-talking. They’ll miss all of those as he watches the first few weeks of the season from the bench. But Morris assured The Washington Post they’ll still hear from him while he rehabs his way back to full health.

“I’m a student of the game already, so I just want to give them input on what I see out there,” Morris said. “Still talk my lil’ [expletive] to the other team.”

4. Marcus Morris

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A crazy NBA offseason, filled with waves of transactions and trades, landed Marcus Morris with one of twin brother Markieff’s least favorite opponents, the Boston Celtics.

No, Marcus’s wonder-twin powers haven’t hampered him with hernia sympathy pains for Markieff, but like his brother the Celtics’ Morris begins the season on the mend. Knee soreness kept the former Rocket, Sun and Piston out of Boston’s lineup in its first two games.

It could be a week or two until Morris makes his Celtics debut, according to what coach Brad Stevens told ESPN. Because the Morris twins’ assault trial kept Marcus out for a chunk of training camp, Stevens said the team wants to effectively extend his preseason after the likely starting forward played in just one exhibition.

"I think we're going to be a better basketball team with Marcus available, but he's not," Stevens told ESPN. "We're going to need other people to step up."

Morris made a career-high 118 3-pointers in his final season with the Pistons, but made just 33.1 percent from deep. He averaged 14.0 points, 4.6 boards and 2.0 assists a year ago, and Boston will need even more production from him than expected after all-star Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific leg injury in the season-opener, dislocating his left ankle and fracturing his tibia.

3. Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins #22 and Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram #14 in actions during an NBA preseason basketball game between Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins #22 and Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram #14 in actions during an NBA preseason basketball game between Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Still just 22 years old with years of upside in front of him, former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins looks to be fixture in Minnesota’s bright future after signing a five-year, $148 million extension before the season started.

Despite averaging 23.6 points and 4.0 rebounds and making a career-best 35.6 percent of his 3-pointers in his third season, Wiggins often caught flack for not doing more than scoring. He was accused of falling far short of his defensive potential, as a 6-8 wing with the bounce and wingspan to become devastating on that end of the floor.

Now that Wiggins is in his second year in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system and has all-star wing Jimmy Butler to learn from, the young Canadian could be close to making a significant leap as a pro.

Wiggins looked like a surefire NBA-level defender in his one season playing for Bill Self at KU. So far he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. If/when he does and learns how to become a more active rebounder and willing passer, Minnesota will be thankful.

It’s not all going to come together overnight or even over the course of one season. But Wiggins still has the majority of his career ahead of him and the potential — and time — to develop into a special player.

2. Josh Jackson

Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) advances the ball up-court on a fast break as Utah Jazz forward Ekpe Udoh defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) advances the ball up-court on a fast break as Utah Jazz forward Ekpe Udoh defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

In a loaded rookie draft class, Josh Jackson was passed over by Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston. The 6-foot-8 forward might have been too much of a questionable shooter to go in the top three picks, but Jackson also possesses the type of personality that could enable him to spend the rest of his career making those teams regret their decisions.

After one particular preseason display, Phoenix head coach Earl Watson compared the 20-year-old Jackson to the rookie-year version one of the league’s most fiery competitors, now reigning MVP Russell Westbrook.

“Very exciting to watch,” Watson told AZCentral.com. “Shooting the ball great from (3-point range). We knew that would eventually would happen. It’s before we thought it would happen. And sometimes, like Russ, it leads to turnovers. Reminds me of Russ but his future is bright. We want to encourage him to see the game. He moves so fast. Just slow down and make decisions.”

To Watson’s point, Jackson averaged 4.8 turnovers per exhibition in the preseason with a turnover percentage of 27.4% according to RealGM.com. A mature basketball prospect aware of his flaws, Jackson told AZCentral.com he quickly has learned the NBA is “more of a thinking game” than what he encountered in the college ranks.

“A lot of my turnovers have come from not being able to read what the defense is doing and trying to force a play when it wasn’t there,” Jackson said. “You can still play fast while doing all those things at the same time.”

The Suns love Jackson’s awareness and potential, and envision him as a possible future star to pair with young 2-guard Devin Booker. Between his defense, floor vision and ability to create and finish, Jackson’s rookie season figures to be a blast for Phoenix fans to watch, even though his flashes will come on a young team destined to lose a ton of games.

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In his NBA debut Wednesday night, Jackson scored11 points on 4-for-10 shooting, to go with two rebounds. He didn’t record a turnover or an assist in a 124-76 home loss to Portland.

1. Joel Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) goes to the basket against Washington Wizards forward Jason Smith, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Washington. Smith was charged with a foul on the play.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) goes to the basket against Washington Wizards forward Jason Smith, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Washington. Smith was charged with a foul on the play.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

One of the most intriguing players in the league due to his checkered past of injuries and seemingly unlimited potential when he’s actually on the floor, Joel Embiid could be an all-star this year.

Or he could suffer another setback that makes him irrelevant to Philadelphia’s wins and losses. No one knows for sure and that’s a large part of what makes every step of the 7-foot-2 phenom’s story so fascinating.

The guy is a showman and as talented a center as the league may see for years to come. What’s more, even he is sick of the restrictions the 76ers have placed on his availability over the past year-plus as they try to protect their investment.

Prior to his team’s season-opener, with the organization expecting to play Embiid fewer than 20 minutes, the typically happy big called that idea “----ing b------t" a week removed from signing an extension with the Sixers.

Sure enough, Philadelphia trusted “The Process.” Embiid started versus Washington on opening night and played 27 minutes — still a restriction, for certain, but on par with his playing-time plan as a rookie, before his season ended at 31 games. The face of the franchise, in a 120-115 loss, shot 7-for-15 from the floor, scored 18 points, snatched 13 rebounds, dished three assists and blocked a shot.

If Philadelphia — and the NBA as a whole — is fortunate, Embiid will stay healthy enough over the next six months to continue to flourish and maybe even lead a long-suffering franchise back to the playoffs.

When he’s playing, Embiid qualifies as one of the league’s must-watch talents.

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this 2017-18 NBA season: Nos. 10-6

Houston Rockets forward Tarik Black (28) comes up with control of a loose ball against San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Houston Rockets forward Tarik Black (28) comes up with control of a loose ball against San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.

Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.

Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).

Most interesting 'Hawks in the NBA: Nos. 16-11

10. Tarik Black

While it’s entirely possible Tarik Black took on a cutback in playing time by signing this summer with Houston, the former Kansas big definitely found a better basketball situation with the Rockets than he experienced with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Houston, led by James Harden and Chris Paul, is positioned to be one of Golden State’s few challengers and one of the top seeds in the Western Conference.

If Tuesday night’s Rockets upset win on the Warriors’ championship ring night is any indication, Black might not experience much of the potential Houston-Golden State rivalry this season. His coach, Mike D’Antoni, only deployed one traditional post player, starting center Clint Capela, versus the perimeter-oriented defending champs.

Still, Black and Nene will be much more useful and playable against non super-teams. After two-plus seasons with the Lakers, Black might see his averages of 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 16.3 minutes from a year ago take a hit. But the broad-shouldered, 6-9 center is bound to experience far more victories.

9. Wayne Selden Jr.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Selden Jr. poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Selden Jr. poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Not that one Jayhawk would ever wish an injury on another, but Ben McLemore’s broken foot just might open the door for Wayne Selden Jr. to cement his spot in the Memphis rotation.

Selden, after going un-drafted in 2016, proved himself in the G-League (then known as the D-League) this past year and turned that success into a spot in the NBA. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard, though battling a quad injury of his own entering the season, now has another chance in front of him.

Selden should have numerous opportunities between now and McLemore’s return — possibly in November — to demonstrate to his teammates and coach David Fizdale he’s a trustworthy option on the perimeter. His numbers in 14 games as a rookie, first with New Orleans, then with the Grizzlies, weren’t impressive. Selden shot just 7-for-28 from 3-point range and 43.1 percent from the floor, while averaging 5.1 points and 1.1 rebounds in 16.9 minutes.

Still, he should find confidence easier now as a player with a two-year contract and a little experience. Selden shouldn’t have too much pressure on him as he and James Ennis battle for the starting 2-guard spot in McLemore’s absence. And the better he plays the more he will contribute once McLemore is back.

8. Frank Mason III

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III (10) looks to pass around San Antonio Spurs' Pau Gasol, of Spain during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III (10) looks to pass around San Antonio Spurs' Pau Gasol, of Spain during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

One of the more popular KU basketball players in recent memory, its not Frank Mason’s ability that kept him from cracking one of the top spot’s on this list. It’s the opportunity — or potential lack there of — awaiting him in Sacramento.

After the Kings selected a pair of point guards, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Mason, in the June draft, they also signed veteran point guard George Hill. Right or wrong, that leaves the recent National Player of the Year as the odd man out in Sacramento’s rotation.

The good news for Mason fans is any time one of those two point guards ahead of him gets in foul trouble or has to sit out a game here or there, Mason will be on the floor showing the NBA flashes of what made him great at Kansas, with his speed, 3-point shooting, play-making and toughness.

(And an occasional backflip.)

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Mason’s new coach, Dave Joerger, recently told The Sacramento Bee about what he expects from Mason:

“It’s a tough league and he’ll go out and you know what you’ll get from him is a guy who’ll compete his tail off and can make some shots, try to get up and guard you,” Joerger said. “Pretty tough dude and not afraid of taking shots at the end of the clock and certainly at the end of games.”

7. Mario Chalmers

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) drives between New Orleans Pelicans guard Jordan Crawford (27) and forward Cheick Diallo (13) in the second half of an NBA basketball preseason game Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) drives between New Orleans Pelicans guard Jordan Crawford (27) and forward Cheick Diallo (13) in the second half of an NBA basketball preseason game Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

The Memphis Grizzlies — otherwise known as every KU basketball fan’s new favorite NBA team — apparently love the Jayhawks.

Not only do McLemore and Selden play into their plans, but the organization liked the idea of keeping veteran Mario Chalmers around so much they waived 2016 first-round pick Wade Baldwin to make sure they had room on the roster for Chalmers, whom they signed this past summer to a partially-guaranteed deal.

One of the league’s many ultra-talented point guards, Mike Conley will continue to run the show in Memphis. But when he needs a break, the 31-year-old Chalmers will be there to take over.

The former Miami Heat guard missed the entire 2016-17 season after rupturing his right achilles in late 2016, during his first stint with the Grizzlies. During Chalmers’ year-plus out of the league, Memphis changed head coaches, bringing in former Heat assistant Fizdale, who knows Chalmers as well as any coach in the league.

It shapes up as an ideal situation for the 6-2, ninth-year vet, who has averaged 9.0 points and 3.3 assists with 35.8-percent 3-point shooting over the course of his career.

“A lot of players come back in 6-8 months and they use the season to try to get prepared for the next season,” Chalmers told The Commercial Appeal recently. “I feel like I’m ready. Physically, I feel better than before. I’m just trying to come in and stay solid. I want to be the guy they asked me to be and pick up where I left off.”

6. Kelly Oubre Jr.

Miami Heat's Justise Winslow (20) drives to the basket as Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) defends during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Miami. The Heat won 117-115. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami Heat's Justise Winslow (20) drives to the basket as Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) defends during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Miami. The Heat won 117-115. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Washington has one of the best-fitting starting lineups in the NBA. The Wizards’ bench? Not so much.

Somebody has to step up and give D.C. a legit presence as a sixth man.

[Generic professional wrestling announcer voice] My GOD! That’s Kelly Oubre Jr.!

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Oubre might be best known in the NBA at this juncture for his run at Kelly Olynyk during the 2017 playoffs. But that soon could change, with Washington set up to be one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, and Oubre a crucial role player on all-star John Wall’s squad.

In his second season in the league, Oubre quickly won over head coach Scott Brooks with his defensive ability. The 6-7 small forward’s 3-point shooting didn’t inspire much confidence, as he made 54 of 188 (28.7 percent) during the regular season. But Oubre at least picked it up in the playoffs, going 11-for-30 (36.7 percent).

Now entering Year No. 3 looking to improve upon his averages of 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 20.3 minutes a year ago, Oubre figures to be more involved than ever on both ends of the floor for Washington.

“I’m super excited, man," Oubre told CBSSports.com. "That's what I work hard for each and every day. I hone in on my handles and my playmaking ability. But my main deal is defense. [Brooks] also told me as long as I'm playing defense at a high level, playing smart, competitive defense, that I would be able to do things."

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this 2017-18 NBA season: Nos. 16-11

Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur drives to the basket as he is followed by Los Angeles Lakers' Luol Deng during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Ontario, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur drives to the basket as he is followed by Los Angeles Lakers' Luol Deng during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Ontario, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.

Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.

Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).

16. Darrell Arthur

Yes, you read that right. Darrell Arthur is still in the NBA. Gainfully employed by the Denver Nuggets, the ninth-year backup forward probably won’t play much while earning approximately $7.5 million. Sweet gig.

The 6-foot-10 Arthur averaged 6.4 points and 2.7 rebounds this past season, his fourth with Denver, but finds himself buried even deeper in the Nuggets’ frontcourt rotation with the free-agent signing of Paul Millsap. Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles and Kenneth Faried all figure to play larger roles than Arthur.

When (if?) Arthur does play, a Denver team hopeful to make the playoffs can count on the veteran big to play sound team defense and maybe even knock down some 3-pointers — he made a career-high 53 during the 2016-17 season while shooting 45.3 percent, also a personal best.

15. Cole Aldrich

The NBA’s summer spending spree of 2016 worked out well for Cole Aldrich, who made a homecoming signing with Minnesota. The 6-11 Aldrich remains a sturdy defender in the paint and a good-spirited guy who helps out in the community. But the Timberwolves and head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t have much use for Aldrich on the court.

The former KU big man played just 8.6 minutes a game in 62 appearances off the bench a year ago and averaged 1.7 points and 2.5 rebounds.

If you turn on the T-Wolves and Aldrich is playing, odds are the game is already a blowout or the frontcourt rotation is lacking one or more of Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson, Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica.

14. Nick Collison

There will be no farewell tour for Oklahoma City old head Nick Collison this season, but it very well may be the last go-round for the former KU star.

With 13 seasons of NBA mileage on his soon-to-be 37-year-old body, Collison won’t often hear Thunder head coach Billy Donovan call him up from the bench to direct him toward the scorer’s table.

Collison, who has played every game of his career for the same franchise, appeared in a career-low 20 games in 2016-17, leading to some minuscule averages, such as 6.4 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds. Those numbers might even decrease during his 14th professional season.

So why did Oklahoma City re-sign him to a one-year deal a few months back? Collison is a renowned locker-room presence and, honestly, even if the organization brought him back solely for the team’s annual Halloween party, it was worth it to see him as Woody Harrelson’s Billy Hoyle from “White Men Can’t Jump.”

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Catch Collison on one of OKC’s 27 nationally-televised games this season if you can. You’ll want to witness the Russell Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony experiment anyway.

13. Jeff Withey

Milwaukee Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn (20) gets past Dallas Mavericks center Jeff Withey for a basket during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Milwaukee Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn (20) gets past Dallas Mavericks center Jeff Withey for a basket during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Through four NBA seasons with two different franchises, former KU shot-blocking specialist Jeff Withey has yet to become a key member of a team’s rotation. We’ll see if that changes with his new job as a Dallas backup center. His responsibilities with the Mavericks certainly have.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reports Withey’s new team likely will deploy him not only as a rebounder and defender, but also a — wait for it — 3-point shooter(?!).

"We like his length, shot-blocking ability," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Mark [Cuban] was really a key guy on this. He'd been studying him for a while. And he's shown that he can knock in some perimeter shots from time to time. Looking at his shooting technique on film, there may be a viability for him to become a 5-man who can shoot the ball from the perimeter. In certain situations, we have him popping. I understand it's going to be a process."

Keep in mind Withey’s career totals from beyond the arc are 0 makes — as in his next will be his first — on four attempts. This preseason, though, Withey drained three of eight from downtown. He’s definitely a better shooter than fellow backup pivot Nerlens Noel for those occasions when Carlisle wants to stretch the floor.

12. Cheick Diallo

Hey, remember Cheick Diallo? Good times. Good times.

The young big from Mali who only played 7.5 minutes a game for Bill Self at KU wasn’t exactly a staple of the New Orleans rotation as a rookie, but he did get 11.7 minutes of court time in his 17 appearances, averaging 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Early on this season, the 6-9 21-year-old could become far more involved. The Pelicans obviously will rely on two of the best big men in the league, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the vast majority of the time. But Diallo should be the first big off the bench — for now — with Alexis Ajinca (knee) and Omer Asik (illness) out of the lineup.

“This is my chance. This is my time. So I’ve gotta do whatever to try and make it,” Diallo said in a recent interview posted on the Pelicans’ website.

After spending much of his rookie season in the former D-League (now G-League), Diallo has a chance to make himself a more memorable player.

11. Ben McLemore

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ben McLemore poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ben McLemore poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Finally, after four seasons of basketball purgatory with the Sacramento Kings, Ben McLemore has a chance to experience NBA basketball with a stable franchise … eventually.

A month after signing a two-year contract with Memphis this summer, McLemore broke his right foot in a pick-up game. The Commercial Appeal reports the 6-5 shooting guard isn’t expected to return until sometime in November.

When McLemore gets back to 100 percent he should be able to win a starting spot in the Grizzlies’ backcourt alongside Mike Conley.

During his final year with the Kings, McLemore played a career-low 19.3 minutes, shot a career-best 38.2 percent from 3-point range and averaged 8.1 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Memphis isn’t exactly the playoff lock it used to be, but McLemore is in a much better situation and should get chances to show whether he is capable of becoming a more impactful NBA player than he was in Sacramento.

None by Memphis Grizzlies

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