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Ahead of draft, Frank Mason III out to prove ‘it’s not all about size’ in NBA

Kansas' Frank Mason III participates in the standing vertical jump at the NBA basketball draft combine Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Kansas' Frank Mason III participates in the standing vertical jump at the NBA basketball draft combine Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

For the next month, in every NBA city he visits, Frank Mason III will answer questions about his lack of size and how that impacts his ability to translate his college success at Kansas to the next level.

On Monday, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound consensus National Player of the Year found himself in St. Francis, Wis., addressing queries on his dimensions following a workout with the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the 17th and 48th picks in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Mason’s relative lack of stature, in comparison to the long bodies occupying courts all over The Association, won’t always be a hindrance once he joins the ranks. The 23-year-old’s speed, strength and 41-inch vertical will allow him to use his proportions as an advantage at times.

“Just getting in the lane, play-making,” Mason began, when asked how a sub 6-foot guard could benefit from working with a vastly different frame than most of his competition. “Shooting the ball consistent and just doing what I do best — getting other guys involved, scoring the ball and focusing in on the defensive end.”

Although Milwaukee’s roster has become synonymous with length and wingspan — the Bucks at times played 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard — the team’s vice president of scouting, Billy McKinney, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Mason had the components necessary to play in the NBA.

“By the time he came back to Kansas his senior year, you could see his game had evolved to the point where he was a true leader for that ball club," McKinney said. "Tough as heck, gritty and started to make better decisions with the basketball, which is going to serve him well at the next level.”

During the 2016-17 regular season, only 18 players listed at 6-foot or shorter played in the NBA. Some, like Boston’s Isaiah Thomas (a favorite of Mason's) and the L.A. Clippers’ Chris Paul, were great. Others, such as Orlando’s D.J. Augustin and Denver’s Jameer Nelson, didn’t make much of an impact.

Still, thanks to the successes of small guards such as Thomas, Paul and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Mason thinks there is a role for players his size on basketball’s biggest stage.

“Shorter guys are getting in the NBA and still filling the stat sheet up, doing what the taller guys do,” Mason said. “So it’s not all about the size. It’s more about the heart and what do you do when you get out there.”

Thus far, Mason has worked out for Milwaukee and Orlando. Off the top of his head, he told reporters in Wisconsin he thinks he has “10 or 11” left before the June 22 draft, where he is expected to be a second-round pick.

The whole pre-draft experience, Mason said, feels unlike his four years of college basketball at Kansas.

“Just the travel and the experience with the NBA guys. I think everything is pretty different about it and it’s something I’ll always remember and something I’m just trying to enjoy,” Mason said.

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Frank Mason III not comparing himself to Isaiah Thomas, but rooting for similarly-sized guard

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts up a shot against Kentucky forward Derek Willis (35) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) puts up a shot against Kentucky forward Derek Willis (35) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

During his senior season at Kansas, point guard Frank Mason III seemed larger than life with the ball in his hands. But the consensus national player of the year’s relative lack of height has NBA decision-makers hesitant to take Mason, who averaged 20.9 points and shot 47.1% on his 3-pointers, before the late stages of the second round at next month’s draft.

The most recent predictions from Draft Express have Mason slotted as the 49th overall pick. Given the KU ball handler’s projected stock and the compact frame that belies his impact on the court, it’s not surprising Mason finds himself enjoying the exploits of an All-NBA guard who faced similar obstacles when he left college basketball behind.

During a recent interview with The Vertical’s Shams Charania, Mason didn’t try to say he was the next Isaiah Thomas — the 5-foot-9 point guard from Washington who has helped the Boston Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals — or even that he tried to model his game after the two-time all-star. But when the subject of the sparse number of players in The Association Mason’s size came up, the Big 12 Player of the Year couldn’t help but bring up his admiration for Thomas, the 60th and final selection in the 2011 draft.

“I really don’t model my game after anyone,” Mason told Charania and The Vertical. “But, you know, I always had confidence in myself, no matter who’s in the league. But I look at Isaiah Thomas and I really root for him, because people counted him out and said he couldn’t do the things that he’s doing now. So I have a lot of players in the league that I like, but I’m really rooting for Isaiah.”

Thomas, six seasons into an NBA career that has far exceeded the expectations of his critics, was named second-team all-league this season after averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists while helping Boston to the best record in the East. Had Thomas not completely blown up the past few years with the Celtics, many would be quick to compare Mason, a talented yet small guard, with the most recognizable vertically-challenged scorer in the league. Fortunately for Mason, who measured 5-11 without shoes at the NBA Draft Combine, he should be able to avoid any unrealistic parallels and simply keep Thomas in mind as proof that you don’t have to be 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan to make it at the highest level of basketball.

Mason — he of the 6-3.25 wingspan and 41-inch max vertical, by the way — also enters the youth- and upside-obsessed league as a 23-year-old, four-year college player. His accolades and statistics say that shouldn’t matter, but look at the complete mock draft at Draft Express and you’ll find zero seniors listed in the first round. Charania asked Mason what he thought about some teams potentially favoring younger prospects.

“I just let them know how much I improved through every year. Not only on the court, but as a young man off the court,” Mason said. “And I just tell them how tough I am, how much I’ve improved my shooting and how great of a play-maker I am and — most importantly — a good defender.”

Before the June 22 draft Mason said he plans to work out for somewhere between 12 and 13 teams. Earlier this week he was in Orlando to showcase his talents for the Magic. When he goes on these basketball job interviews, Mason told The Vertical he has a general objective.

“I think it’s more mental than physical, so I just really want to show them that I’m mentally tough as well as physically tough,” Mason said. “And I just want to go out there and be myself, be the player that I’ve been over the years and show them how much I’ve improved.”

No, he’s not the next Isaiah Thomas. But drafting Frank Mason III shouldn’t be a concern for teams in need of point guard depth, because guards listed at 6-feet and under have more space than ever in the modern NBA to maximize their strengths on the floor — as proven by the Celtics guard Mason finds himself rooting for during the playoffs.

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket past Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) during the second quarter of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, in Boston, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket past Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) during the second quarter of Game 5 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, in Boston, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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Philadelphia a likely destination for KU’s Josh Jackson

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a dunk against West Virginia during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at WVU Coliseum.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) elevates for a dunk against West Virginia during the second half, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at WVU Coliseum. by Nick Krug

In the five weeks between now and the 2017 NBA Draft, a lot can, and most likely will, change — particularly in the realm of opinions on the potential impact of the most sought-after incoming rookies.

For the moment, it seems the likeliest scenario for one-year Kansas star Josh Jackson is heading to Philadelphia as the No. 3 pick and teaming up with a young core built around one-time Jayhawks center Joel Embiid.

Most around The Association assume Washington’s Markelle Fultz will go No. 1 to Boston (or to some team that trades an all-star in exchange for that slot) and the Lakers will take UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick. That leaves the 76ers, a team lacking in the productive guard department, with the choice between Jackson and what’s left of what is considered a great crop of point guards.

In a lottery reaction episode of The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express was asked which player makes sense for Philadelphia if it’s not a lead guard.

“I think they really have to look at Josh Jackson,” Givony said, “and they have to bring him into their gym and figure out, ‘How far away is this guy from being a good shooter?’”

As those who followed KU’s 2016-17 season closely will recall, Jackson greatly improved his 3-point accuracy over the final few months of his brief time with the Jayhawks. The versatile 6-foot-8 forward from Detroit showed his biggest weakness wasn’t a completely lost cause by hitting 38.5% of his 3-pointers in January, 47.8% in February and 40% in March.

“If you can get him some good looks and you can continue to develop his stroke,” Givony said of why Jackson made sense for the Sixers, after referencing his late-season surge. “In the NBA not everybody comes in as a finished product.”

We have no way of knowing whether Philadelphia coach Brett Brown and his staff would take this route, but Givony wondered whether Jackson could be persuaded into changing up his shooting mechanics with the endgame of adding an effective NBA-range 3-point shot to his arsenal.

“People say great things about his work ethic. And he really does everything else,” Givony added. “He’s a phenomenal defender. He’s a great passer. He’s outstanding in transition. He can play a lot of different positions. You can play him off the ball — you can play him on the ball a little bit even. There’s a lot there with Josh Jackson. They need to look at him.”

Teams taking gambles in the NBA Draft is a June tradition, but selecting Jackson with the third overall pick wouldn’t qualify as a risk for the Sixers. The only unpredictability accompanying the 20-year-old prospect is his often-scrutinized jumper. No, it’s not a pure, fluid stroke — Jackson brings the ball down low and shows it a bit as he rises up on 3-pointers. But which is more likely: Jackson stinks from long range for his entire career or he works at it until it becomes a trusted part of his game?

Jackson is too competitive to take a complacent approach to owning a below-average 3-point shot, especially now that so many NBA teams value that real estate behind the arc more than ever. He’s not entering the league with a trustworthy 3-pointer, but I’d bet on him adapting into at least a serviceable long-distance threat sooner than later. Same goes for his 56.6% free-throw shooting as a college freshman.

Philadelphia would still have the ability via free agency or the trade market to go after the floor-balancing shooter it needs. No player available at No. 3 other than Jackson is entering the NBA with as complete a skill set. And a nucleus of Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Jackson with some to-be-determined guards (by the way: the Sixers get the Lakers’ pick next year, which is bound to be in the lottery) projects as one of the league’s up-and-coming teams, able to contend in the Eastern Conference for years to come.

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Why each NBA team with a top-5 pick would want to draft Josh Jackson

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, left, and Josh Jackson of Kansas respond to questions during an interview before the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 16, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins, left, and Josh Jackson of Kansas respond to questions during an interview before the NBA basketball draft lottery Tuesday, May 16, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Ping Pong balls have spoken, and a trio of the NBA’s classic franchises will decide between them which incoming rookies will occupy the top three picks in the 2017 draft.

Thanks to The Association’s annual lottery on Tuesday, one-and-done Kansas star Josh Jackson, a projected top-three pick, has a much better feel for what his future holds. And the versatile 6-foot-8 forward very well could end up the fresh young face in one of the league’s marquee markets.

Odds are Jackson won’t go first overall — that spot long has been associated with Washington point guard Markelle Fultz. But, most likely, Jackson won’t drop any farther than fifth, either. Two to four seem the safest bets for where Jackson lands. But since we’re here we might as well dive into some NBA lottery reaction and look at why each of the top five teams would be interested in kicking the shoes on Jackson to see if they want to add him to their roster.

No. 1 - Boston

This would be a fantastic spot for the rookie from KU to begin his professional career. But, at this point in time, it seems as if Boston is more likely to take Fultz or trade the pick for an established all-star.

But one never knows what Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is thinking. If, by June 22, Ainge were to shock everyone and decide upon taking Jackson, it likely would mean he’s too enamored with the team’s current backcourt rotation of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier to break it up with Fultz or Lonzo Ball. However, the current contracts for Thomas, Bradley and Smart expire in the summer of 2018, so it would make sense for Boston to take a young potential star guard on a rookie deal and move on from one of the more established members of the backcourt.

Don’t bet on seeing Jackson in Celtics green.

No. 2 - L.A. Lakers

Jackson has the personality and game to shine in L.A. However, this spot screams Big Baller Brand. If the Lakers are as crazy about UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball as his father, LaVar, is about the idea of his son joining one of the NBA’s storied franchises, then Jackson has no shot at wearing that classic purple and gold uniform.

Unless, that is, Lakers legend and current president of basketball operations Magic Johnson — long familiar with Jackson’s game due to his ties with his alma mater, Michigan State, and that program’s recruitment of the Detroit native — sees more overall potential in Jackson. L.A. does, after all, already have a couple of young point guards in Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. Then again, it wouldn’t be too difficult to part ways with one of them and hand the keys over to Ball, the local prodigy.

No. 3 - Philadelphia

This is where things really get interesting for Jackson. Many consider him the third-best prospect in a talented draft class. But the Sixers have a glut of young frontcourt players and no longterm answer in the backcourt. Philadelphia already plans on using 6-10 forward Ben Simmons as its primary ball-handler on offense. Would the organization comprise an even less traditional lineup and give Jackson guard minutes, too? If the Sixers took that route they could put a monstrously long lineup on the floor that few teams could match.

If the 76ers want to address needs instead of taking the best available player on the board, though, they could opt for one of the coveted Kentucky guards, De’Aaron Fox or Malik Monk, instead.

For those who follow KU, it would be intriguing to see Joel Embiid, another No. 3 pick from Kansas, team up with Jackson as part of a young core on course to blossom over the next several years and potentially turn into a force in the Eastern Conference.

No. 4 - Phoenix

If Jackson slipped out of the top three, the Suns would be thrilled to have him. Their two best players at this point are guards Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe. Adding a two-way wing such as Jackson, who also happens to be an adept passer and fierce finisher in the open floor, would make Phoenix a team to watch out West in the future.

The Suns had the second-best odds of landing a top-three pick before the lottery balls bounced out of their favor. One would think ownership and coaches would do backflips across the Sonoran Desert if Jackson fell into their laps.

Unless they think Duke’s Jayson Tatum is a better answer. [Scoffs inwardly.]

No. 5 - Sacramento

Look up and down the Kings’ roster and you’ll find a who’s who of “why him?” Sacramento will be thrilled with whomever it drafts fifth overall, because that young man instantly becomes the new centerpiece of the franchise. If the Kings know what’s good for them, they are gathering all their good-luck charms, opening doors for strangers, not cutting anyone off in traffic and praying to the basketball gods at all hours from now until draft night, in the hopes that four other franchises pass on Jackson.

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Stock watch: Could Josh Jackson break into the top 2 picks of the draft?

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) tips a shot in over Kentucky forward Derek Willis (35) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) tips a shot in over Kentucky forward Derek Willis (35) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

If you’ve kept up with Josh Jackson’s NBA Draft stock over the course of his one-and-done season at Kansas, you know his name often appears following those of Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball on “best available prospect” lists and mock draft scenarios. Sometimes, Jackson even slips out of the top three in the eyes of some evaluators.

And, if you’re like me and wonder why Jackson isn’t more often at least in the conversation as a top-two pick, one new 2017 draft breakdown will leave you nodding your head instead of shaking it.

The Ringer’s NBA Draft Guide ranks the top 60 rookie prospects for the June draft, and only the king of the mocks, 6-foot-4 Washington point guard Fultz, is thought of more highly than Jackson, a versatile 6-8 wing from Kansas who doesn’t have a $495 signature shoe coming out or a father intent on annoying the basketball community at large.

According to analysis from The Rigner’s staff, Jackson could turn into a player as lethal as Tracy McGrady or as versatile as Andre Iguodala. His prospect profile includes a list of his positives and negatives, as well as a telling shot chart, highlighting Jackson’s ability to finish inside (62.5% around the rim) and his favorite area from which to fire behind the arc — the right half of the floor (46.9% on 32 attempts).

Those who watched Jackson play his 35 games in a KU uniform are familiar with the pros and cons he brings to the hardwood. Some of the plus-side attributes referenced at The Ringer include Jackson’s explosiveness, feel for the game, ability as a perimeter/team defender, play-making and rebounding.

None by The Ringer

The aspects that give evaluators pause? Jackson’s “average” 6-10 wingspan, shooting mechanics and tendency to dwell on negative plays, to name a few.

Obviously even the most elite future pros can be dissected to find their flaws. The majority of the league’s top-three picks, year after year, never come close to transcending to the level of LeBron James or Michael Jordan. Jackson’s overall ability on both ends of the floor, along with his instinctive passing and willingness to defend make him a coveted player and a rare rookie who can compete and contribute immediately. It will be interesting to see if his stock fluctuates at all in the weeks ahead, as various teams invite him in for individual workouts, following Tuesday’s draft lottery.

Why no combine?

Jackson, who passed on attending the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, explained that part of his pre-draft strategy recently in an interview with Rebecca Grant.

“Normally, like the top 10 picks don’t go to that,” Jackson said. “There’s no benefit from it. You can only lose. They already know how good you are, and then if you go there and do bad it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe he’s not that good.’ So it just hurts your draft stock.”

During his Q&A with Grant, Jackson also detailed how his upbringing made him a tough player on the court. The 20-year-old millionaire-to-be said he used to battle his mother, Apples Jones, one-on-one.

“It would get so bad that sometimes I would cry that she would block my shot, take the ball from me,” Jackson said of his games as a youth against the former UTEP player, adding he didn’t defeat his mom at basketball until he was about 14 years old.

When Jackson hears his name called early at the 2017 draft, on June 22, you can bet Jones will have tears in her eyes as she watches what her son has accomplished, with her help.

None by Rebecca Grant

None by Rebecca Grant

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Ranking the 14 NBA teams Josh Jackson should (and shouldn’t) be rooting for on lottery night

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way after a UC Davis turnover during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way after a UC Davis turnover during the second half on Friday, March 17, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

Josh Jackson won’t know until late June exactly where he will go to begin his NBA career. But the one-and-done Kansas star should have a much better idea of his potential destinations within the week, following the 2017 draft lottery.

Only a handful of organizations will have a shot at adding Jackson, projected as a top-three pick (top-five at worst), to their roster. And while an incoming rookie would be glad to earn a hefty paycheck from any franchise, you know Jackson has to be covertly hoping the Ping Pong balls bounce certain ways during Tuesday’s lottery.

Fourteen teams have varying odds at winning the potentially franchise-altering game of chance. And Jackson’s career arc could take a significantly different path, depending on which teams are lucky enough to secure one of the top three slots.

Here’s a look at which NBA franchises Jackson should hope to see at the top of the draft board — listed from least-appealing to best-case scenario, accompanied by that team’s chances of securing a top-three pick.

SACRAMENTO (9.9%)

The Kings are the trainwrecking-est franchise the league has to offer. They haven’t posted a winning record since the 2005-06 season and moved their only all-league-level talent, DeMarcus Cousins, before this year’s in-season trade deadline. Playing in Sacramento means enduring a losing culture with a franchise whose front office has a track record of shooting itself in the foot.

There is good news for Jackson on this front, though. Through a previous deal, Philadelphia has the ability to swap picks with the Kings. So if Sacramento leapfrogs a number of teams, including the Sixers, into the top-three, Philadelphia could claim that choice as its own. The bad news? It’s not impossible for Philly and the Kings to both land in the top three.

ORLANDO (29.1%)

The Magic can’t match the prolonged futility of the Kings, but they appear to have got their hands on Sacramento’s blueprint. The team has hovered in the realm of mediocre to awful since head coach Stan Van Gundy left in 2012. While Orlando has a number of young players on its roster, none of them scream “all-star in the making.”

Jackson could end up as the face of the franchise if the Magic drafted him. But it also would be a very long time before his face showed up during NBA Playoffs broadcasts.

CHARLOTTE (2.9%)

Though the Hornets (the artists previously known as the Bobcats) have made the postseason two times in the last four years they’ve mostly operated as a middling team.

Maybe Jackson emerges as the star wing the franchise has lacked and he spearheads a turnaround with guard Kemba Walker. But that scenario seems more iffy than a certainty.

DETROIT (2.5%)

There aren’t many doomsday scenarios for a prospect as talented as Jackson, so we’re already venturing into “this ain’t so bad” territory with the possibility of him ending up as a key player for his hometown team, the Pistons. Truthfully, the trickiest part of this potential alliance is Detroit would have to part ways with or give up on at least one of its wings for Jackson to fully thrive. Small forwards Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Stanley Johnson are under contract for next season.

Suiting up for the Pistons as their primary wing would qualify as more appealing if the team’s highest-paid players — center Andre Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson — began meeting the organization’s expectations.

PHOENIX (55.8%)

The Suns have failed to win 25 games each of the past two years, but the future at least seems promising with 20-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker, a productive point guard in Eric Bledsoe and 19-year-old frontcourt lottery picks from 2016, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Add 20-year-old Jackson to the mix and you’ve got a youthful core with, at the very least, the kind of longterm upside to enliven a franchise that has missed the playoffs every spring since 2010.

MINNESOTA (18.3%)

Going to the Timberwolves would be near the top of Jackson’s ideal draft-day possibilities if we were just talking about him joining forces with Karl-Anthony Towns and head coach Tom Thibodeau. But Minnesota already has a perimeter forward from Kansas whom Jackson long has drawn comparisons to, Andrew Wiggins.

We know that Jackson and Wiggins have different strengths to their games, but if you put them together in the same lineup a Jackson-Wiggins combo might get a bit too redundant. If one were a 3-point marksman it would be perfect. But neither are, and Minnesota would be better off with the ability to space the floor and maximize the potential of superstar-to-be Towns.

L.A. LAKERS (46.9%)

In name, the Lakers are a glamorous NBA franchise. In reality, they lost at least 67% of their games each of the past four seasons. Picture Jackson wearing the purple and gold and it doesn’t take long to envision him becoming an instant fan favorite with his stylistic passing and vicious attacks of the rim. But are any of the Lakers’ recent lottery choices going to turn into all-stars at any point?

It could be years before the Lakers are back in the playoffs, let alone among the Western Conference’e elite.

NEW YORK (18.3%)

Why would Jackson want to play with the Knicks more than the Lakers? Glad you asked. Although a dysfunctional vibe has surrounded New York for years now, Jackson could turn out to be a vital part of a reboot. The team’s president, Phil Jackson, publicly floated the idea of trading away Carmelo Anthony this offseason. Plug Josh Jackson in his place and you have a vigorous one-two punch, with budding superstar Kristaps Porzingis and Jackson to build around for years to come.

The die-hard Knicks crowd at Madison Square Garden would fawn over Jackson because of his defense and versatility, and he would become an instant hit with New York media. This is sneakily a great outcome if everything were to line up correctly.

NEW ORLEANS (4%)

For the most part, the Pelicans’ roster is really unappealing. But when you look inside and see two of the league’s most dominant big men, the idea of Jackson in The Big Easy becomes highly intriguing. Anthony Davis and Cousins can only do so much for the team on their own. They need a capable wingman who can both set them up on offense and help them out defensively. Sounds like a job for Jackson.

Of note: The Pelicans better hope they sneak into the top three, because if they don’t they relinquish their pick to Sacramento, as agreed upon in the Cousins trade.

PHILADELPHIA (37.8%)

Sure, the Sixers have reeked for the past four years, but that was all part of the process. Jackson would be another young piece to add to a roster constructed to take off in the Eastern Conference within the next couple of years. Assuming former KU standout Joel Embiid and 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons can stay relatively healthy, Jackson joins them and Dario Saric to form a strong nucleus, all 23 or younger.

If the Ping Pong balls bounce Philly’s way, the Sixers could even end up with two high lottery picks, because Philadelphia gets the Lakers’ spot if it falls outside of the top three. Now you’re adding yet another coveted talent to the mix and the 76ers suddenly look destined for a profound transformation.

DENVER (2.2%)

Although the Nuggets have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, the organization has — without bottoming out — accumulated enough talent to be a player away from becoming a postseason regular. Denver is set up well for the future, because 22-year-old center Nikola Jokic is on pace to become an All-NBA big as soon as next season. The Nuggets will have salary cap flexibility this summer, too, which makes them a player in free agency, as well as a suitor in potential major trades.

If the team gets lucky enough to draft Jackson, Denver could accelerate its climb in the West.

DALLAS (6.1%)

Dirk Nowitzki will turn 39 this offseason, and the Mavericks are close to entering a new era as a franchise. Landing a player with Jackson’s potential would expedite a smooth transition. Although Dallas’ two most productive players not named Dirk — Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews — dabble in small forward, they, like Jackson, are versatile, so playing all three of them at once wouldn’t be impossible. In fact, Jackson’s play-making ability might actually make things easier for those two, Nowitzki and (restricted free agent) Nerlens Noel in the half-court and open floor.

The best part about playing for Dallas, though, would be Jackson knowing owner Mark Cuban is willing to spend the money necessary to chase after championships.

MIAMI (1.8%)

The odds are not in favor of the Heat jumping to the top of the lottery, because the team went 30-11 in the second half of the season and barely missed the playoffs. But any elite prospect would love to see Miami luck its way to a slot in the top three. The Heat has only missed the postseason five times since Pat Riley, now president, first joined the organization as a head coach in 1995. Because of his success and the franchise’s three NBA championships — fueled, of course, by the presence of historical talents Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — as well as Miami’s location, the Heat are always in the mix for top free agents, too.

Miami will be a projected playoff team next year regardless of how the lottery plays out. If the Heat added Jackson, its prospects could improve for years to come, and he would plug in nicely to a lineup with center Hassan Whiteside and point guard Goran Dragic.

BOSTON (64.3%)

The Celtics secured the No. 1 seed in the East this year and are one victory away from a spot in the conference finals. But thanks to a visionary trade in 2013, they also have the ability to swap picks in the 2017 draft with Brooklyn, which happened to own the NBA’s worst record during the regular season. In other words: Boston is in position to contend immediately and for the foreseeable future. Should Jackson end up with the Celtics, he would join all-star guard Isaiah Thomas and premier big Al Horford as offensive facilitators, capable of setting up the 3-point shots coach Brad Stevens’ offense counts on, while also giving Boston increased defensive versatility, with Jackson’s ability to switch and guard multiple positions.

What’s more, the Celtics have cap room this summer to land a top free agent or trade for another all-star. Boston figures to be near the top of the East for years to come, and a competitor such as Jackson would thrive in such circumstances.

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A look at Frank Mason III’s NBA Draft Combine competition at PG

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) gets in for a bucket past Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Various factors compel the NBA Draft’s projected top picks to skip this week’s combine in Chicago or merely attend without competing in five-on-five scrimmages.

While you and I would love to watch one-and-done Kansas star Josh Jackson, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball or Washington’s Markelle Fultz take on other elite college and international prospects in that setting, it’s not the safe route when millions of dollars are on the line.

It could be hazardous to your draft stock to play against someone like Frank Mason III.

Currently projected as the 59th overall pick — next-to-last overall — by DraftExpress.com, a less coveted NBA candidate such as Mason has all the incentive in the world to torch the man in front of him as often as possible.

Listed at 5-foot-11, Mason, no doubt, would love to go toe-to-toe with larger, longer, more highly regarded point guards like Fultz and Ball. But he’ll settle for whomever is on the floor trying to stop him. DraftExpress published the combine’s list of active participants, as well as the rosters for four teams.

It turns out none of the following point guards — in Chicago solely for measurements and interviews — will be competing against Mason, either, by choice or due to injury: Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans, Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss and Xavier’s Edmond Sumner.

Here are the point guards Mason, on the same team as Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Oregon’s Jordan Bell, Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu and others, will have a chance to compete against during combine scrimmages:

- Iowa State’s Monté Morris

- Texas’ Andrew Jones

- Arizona’s Kadeem Allen

- Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe

- Arizona’s Kobi Simmons

- Michigan’s Derrick Walton

- Duke’s Frank Jackson

Mason will have plenty of opportunities at the combine to impress NBA coaches, scouts and executives with his speed, strength, toughness and 3-point shooting. It’s just too bad — for them and us — they don’t get to see him play against the Balls and Fultzs of the draft, because that would be a show.

Still, Mason is an undaunted competitor. No one who watched him play at Kansas would be surprised to see the undersized point guard get his matchups with Ball and Fultz for years to come in the NBA. Mason can help make that possible starting this week at the combine, and in workouts with various franchises in the month-plus ahead, leading up to the June 22 NBA Draft.

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Graham can follow examples of Hield and Mason to upgrade NBA stock as senior

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drives against Purdue guard Ryan Cline (14) during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) drives against Purdue guard Ryan Cline (14) during the second half, Thursday, March 23, 2017 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

The likelihood of Kansas reaching the 2018 Final Four, in San Antonio, increased significantly when Devonte’ Graham decided to return for his senior season in Lawrence.

And while the offseason strength, conditioning and skill work Graham, a 6-foot-2 guard from Raleigh, N.C., will put in over the next several months is geared toward helping the Jayhawks reach college basketball’s national semifinals for the first time since 2012, for him that training will have as much to do with transforming himself into a player more NBA teams will want to draft.

Graham, who has to be a leading candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year next season, need look no further than the league’s last two P.O.Y-winners for examples of how a strong senior season can improve your draft stock.

Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield projected as a second-round pick before he set the college basketball world on fire as a senior, and eventually became the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Graham’s KU teammate, Frank Mason III, won’t go that high this coming June, but the tireless lead guard went from not even being considered by NBA types a year ago to a probable late second-round pick.

With more than a year to go before Graham’s draft day, in 2018, his post-junior year situation is closer to Hield’s than Mason’s. So Graham finds himself in a favorable starting point headed into his final season of college basketball.

DraftExpress.com currently ranks Graham as the No. 33 overall pick — third in the second round — in 2018. It’s hard envisioning his stock skyrocketing in duplicate fashion to Hield’s, unless the 22-year-old’s final year at KU is accompanied by a growth spurt. Held measured 6-5 in shoes with a wingspan of 6-9.3, after his days at OU concluded. His body type, coupled with his 25.0 points per game as a senior, made it easier for scouts, coaches and general managers to picture Hield excelling in a league where the world’s tallest, fastest, strongest and most-skilled basketball players make a living.

Not as many will believe the same about Graham, due to his 6-2 height, even if he turns out a Mason-esque senior year filled with 3-point marksmanship and regular scoring outputs of the 20-plus-points variety. But a dominant final run at KU for Graham easily could propel him into the first round, and a guaranteed contract, so that will be one of his numerous goals for the offseason months ahead.

Graham won’t be able to get into the lottery conversation with the likes of the nation’s best incoming freshmen — Missouri’s 6-foot-10 Michael Porter or Arizona’s 7-footer, DeAndre Ayton — or 18-year-old Real Madrid sensation Luka Doncic (6-8). Graham’s objective should be to become the best small guard (let’s say 6-4 or under for the purposes of this exercise) in his draft class.

Here’s a glance at Graham’s competition in that category, according to DraftExpress.com’s 2018 projections:

  • 6-3 PG Trevon Duval — undecided 5-star prospect; age: 18; DX projection: 11th pick

  • 6-4 SG Lonnie Walker — 5-star freshman-to-be at Miami; age: 18; DX projection: 12th pick

  • 6-3 SG Bruce Brown — averaged 11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists as freshman at Miami; age: 20; DX projection: 15th pick

  • 6-4 PG De’Anthony Melton — averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists as freshman at USC; age: 18; DX projection: 18th pick

  • 6-4 PG Andrew Jones — averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists as freshman at Texas; age: 19; DX projection: 20th pick

  • 6-4 PG Frank Jackson — averaged 10.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists as freshman at Duke; age: 19; DX projection: 21st pick

  • 6-4 SG Grayson Allen — averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists as junior at Duke; age: 21; DX projection: 27th pick

  • 6-1 PG Aaron Holiday — averaged 12.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists as sophomore at UCLA; age: 20; DX projection: 43rd pick

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans (1) during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) pulls up for a three over Oklahoma State guard Jawun Evans (1) during the first half, Saturday, March 4, 2017 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. by Nick Krug

At this point in time, Graham, who averaged 13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists for KU as a junior, is one of just nine guards listed at 6-4 or below in the mock draft. It’s safe to guess he would rank higher on this Draft Express list had his 3-point shooting as a junior — 94-for-242, 38.8% — resembled the next-level accuracy he displayed as a sophomore — 75-for-170, 44.1%.

If Graham wants to surpass all those other small guards in his way of becoming a mid-first-round pick next summer, showcasing his 3-point mastery as a senior would be his best bet. Long-range precision is more valued than ever in the NBA, and if you’re already smaller than most of your on-court competitors, owning expertise in some facet of the game is a must.

Kansas will need Graham’s 3-pointers as a weapon next season with Mason’s departure. If Graham is a deadeye shooter as a senior, it will benefit both his college program and his NBA chances.

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Stock watch: Josh Jackson’s versatility makes him best small forward in NBA Draft

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Still almost a month away from the May 16 NBA Draft Lottery and some real clarity about where one-and-done Kansas star Josh Jackson could land in the NBA, one factor in his stock is discernible: Jackson is the best small forward available.

For months, experts have raved about the 2017 draft class and its point guards, and Jackson’s name often comes up after Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball in terms of most-coveted prospects. But even with the buzz increasing around Duke freshman small forward Jason Tatum’s stock, Jackson’s versatile game and defensive approach make him the primary target for a team looking to add a wing.

A 6-foot-8 20-year-old from Detroit who finally officially turned pro earlier this week, Jackson’s name takes the No. 1 position on a big board of small forwards, according to a feature David Aldridge wrote for NBA.com.

Jackson, who averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists for Bill Self’s Jayhawks during his one season, ranked ahead of the aforementioned Tatum (easily his biggest non-point guard competition for a top spot in the draft), Florida State freshman Jonathan Issac and Indiana sophomore O.G. Anunoby.

In compiling the list, Aldridge, a veteran NBA reporter, ranked the college and foreign players based on who, in theory, would be best suited to step onto an NBA floor tonight and make the most significant impact. To do so, he used intel from general managers and coaches around The Association, as well as college coaches.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) floats in for a bucket over Michigan State forward Kenny Goins (25) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) floats in for a bucket over Michigan State forward Kenny Goins (25) during the second half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

While discussing who Jackson might be comparable to, Aldridge’s conversations led him to the names of two NBA Finals MVPs: all-league San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard and Golden State veteran Andre Iguodala.

“I freaking love him,” an executive of a team likely to have a high lottery pick told Aldridge. “This guy’s getting better as he goes, so I can’t see how he can’t be Iguodala — a guy who can defend and pass, and who’s becoming a better shooter. I know the Kansas people, and in terms of work and all that stuff … they were absolutely in love with him as a kid — not a little bit, a lot. He has (Andrew) Wiggins’ athleticism with character off the chain.”

Since Jackson decided to play at Kansas we’ve heard the Wiggins comparisons, but the Iguodala one is unique and intriguing. Casual fans may know the 6-foot-6 wing, now 33, as a phenomenal veteran role player for Golden State. But earlier in his career Iguodala gave his teams in Philadelphia and Denver those intangibles and so much more. Iguodala averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 2009-10 — arguably his best stat-stuffing season — for the Sixers.

The fascinating aspect of Jackson’s potential is that the Iguodala comparison is only the baseline. Jackson could turn into an even more devastating version of Iguodala, and that’s likely why someone invoked the name of MVP candidate Leonard. No one saw the Spurs’ 6-7 small forward turning into one of the best players on the planet before the 2011 draft, but evaluators look at Jackson’s skill set and competitive nature and envision greatness.

Leonard didn’t enter the league as a player anyone feared as a 3-point shooter, yet he has turned himself into a threat. During his just-completed sixth regular season, the former San Diego State stud shot 38.1% from long range while setting career-highs in makes (147) and attempts (386).

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts a shot over Michigan State guard Miles Bridges (22) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts a shot over Michigan State guard Miles Bridges (22) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

In order to one day become an all-league type of talent Jackson will need to follow a similar path. He arrived at KU with questions about his jump shot, but steadily improved throughout the season to finish at 37.8% on 3-pointers, after making less than 30% in both November and December.

Aldridge reported some wonder how the NBA’s deeper 3-point arc will impact Jackson’s shot-making from deep, but one Pacific Division executive didn’t seem too worried about it.

“There’s a lot less of a concern now than there was in the early part of the season, maybe the middle of the season,” the executive said. “He shot 40 percent the last month, month and a half of the year (Jackson shot 48.1 percent, 25 of 52, behind the arc the last seven weeks of the season). He’s been the best player in his class. He has that kind of pedigree. If he can consistently shoot from NBA range, he does so many other things well he’s going to be a good NBA player.”

— See David Aldridge’s SF big board for the 2017 NBA Draft: Kansas’ Josh Jackson sure thing in small forward group full of surprises

Team’s chances of winning the lottery

Boston (from Brooklyn) - 25%

Phoenix - 19.9%

L.A. Lakers - 15.6%

Philadelphia - 11.9%

Orlando - 8.8%

Minnesota - 5.3%

New York - 5.3%

Sacramento - 2.8%

Dallas - 1.7%

New Orleans - 1.1%

Charlotte - 0.8%

Detroit - 0.7%

Denver - 0.6%

Miami - 0.5%

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KU’s Frank Mason III discusses his pro potential on NBA TV, with Grant Hill

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) extends to the bucket past Michigan State forward Nick Ward (44) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) extends to the bucket past Michigan State forward Nick Ward (44) during the first half on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. by Nick Krug

The next time the public gets to watch national player of the year and Kansas great Frank Mason III play basketball, odds are it will double as Mason’s chance to prove he deserves a spot in the NBA, by playing in the summer league a few months from now.

His odds of pulling off the leap from college standout to trusted member of an NBA roster wasn’t a subject Mason had time for over the past several months, with his tunnel vision focused on getting the Jayhawks as far as he could in his final NCAA Tournament.

Now that the 23-year-old point guard’s KU playing days are through, he felt willing to look ahead to what’s next in an interview with Grant Hill for NBA TV’s “Inside Stuff,” which aired on Saturday.

“I dreamed of things like these,” Mason told Hill of appearing on the show almost three months ahead of the draft. “I’m just thankful for this opportunity, and it just shows you how much work I’ve put in over the years. And I’m just excited about everything and just ready to get started with this process.”

Mason, who said he didn’t consider his college career “great,” because he didn’t win a national championship, thought he had “a pretty good four years.” While, as Hill brought up in the one-on-one, NBA decision-makers have varying ideas about what kind of player Mason can become professionally, the Petersburg, Va., native envisions finding success at the highest level of basketball.

“I think I’m a really good play-maker,” said Mason, who scored 20.9 points a game as a Kansas senior and dished 5.2 assists. “I can shoot the ball, I can get others involved. I think I’ll just be an overall great teammate and good player.”

On NBA TV, Hill actually got Mason to crack a smile a few times, including when he asked the KU star which of the many great point guards in the league he’s looking forward to facing.

“Everyone’s good players in the NBA,” Mason said. “So I’m looking forward to competing with the best and just getting out there and playing against those guys and having the opportunity to be on the floor with them and competing against them.”

The most recent mock draft at DraftExpress.com projects Mason as the next-to-last pick, 59th overall, a spot currently occupied by San Antonio.

— Watch Mason’s complete interview with Hill below.

None by NBA TV

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