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Suns rookie Josh Jackson welcomes Kawhi Leonard comparison

Phoenix Suns' Josh Jackson shoots in front of Sacramento Kings' Malachi Richardson, right, during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Phoenix Suns' Josh Jackson shoots in front of Sacramento Kings' Malachi Richardson, right, during the second half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

For every promising young rookie who enters the NBA, there’s always some inevitable player comparison slapped on him — fairly or unfairly — by those who have analyzed his skills, style, strengths and weaknesses.

Months before Josh Jackson became the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, the 20-year-old small forward’s defensive intensity and offensive potential had some observers equating Jackson’s longterm career path with that of All-Star San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard.

As it turns out, Jackson welcomes that demanding player analogy.

Appearing on NBA TV’s “The Starters” following a Phoenix Suns win at the the Las Vegas Summer League, Jackson said he, too, would compare his game to Leonard’s, and he hopes to model his career after the 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

“The way he just plays both ends of the floor, defense and offense,” Jackson said of how he wants to emulate Leonard. “He’s just a really good player, and in today’s NBA league it’s kind of hard to find a guy who plays so hard on both ends just all the time.”

Leonard, the 15th overall pick in 2011, wasn’t as touted then as Jackson is now. But the Spurs’ latest franchise player, a two-time member of the All-NBA team, currently finds himself in the running for MVP honors every season after entering the league as a supposed defensive specialist.

“Defense creates offense,” Jackson said.

A 6-foot-8 small forward, Jackson would like to establish himself as someone who can do that for Phoenix, in Las Vegas. Teaming up with other key members of the Suns’ very young core — such as bigs Dragan Bender (19) and Marquese Chriss (20) — has Jackson locked in months before the real season starts.

“I’m really excited. Especially playing in summer league with a few guys who are actually going to be asked to play major minutes this year,” Jackson said. “That’s why I think it’s just really important for us to come out and take this serious. It’s actually a lot more important (for us) than some other teams here, because, like I said, we are so young and we’ve got so many guys who are going to play major minutes for us this year on the team.”

That means it’s more likely than not Jackson’s fiery side will come out on the court before he leaves Vegas. He told “The Starters” he’s the best trash-talker in this year’s rookie class, but he only utilizes that strategy “here and there, when I want to.”

While he admitted he has taken trash talk a step too far in the heat of battle before, Jackson said the approach can be harnessed to his benefit, too.

“It gets me going. I try to get under other players’ skin,” he said. “But mostly it gets me going.”

Among the many topics Jackson dove into, he also touched on why he is wearing a No. 99 jersey for the Suns this summer. When he was a ninth-grader and coming up on the AAU circuit he wore that same unique basketball number on his chest and back.

“That was actually the last number I wore before I wore 11,” Jackson said, adding he can’t have the same digits that donned his Kansas jersey for Phoenix (guard Brandon Knight currently wears No. 11).

Through two exhibitions in Vegas, Jackson is averaging a summer league-high 36 minutes a game, while putting up 16.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks, and shooting .343 from the floor.

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Ben McLemore ready to grind with his new team, the Memphis Grizzlies

FILE — Former Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, who signed as a free agent with Memphis, before an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. The Kings won 129-104. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

FILE — Former Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, who signed as a free agent with Memphis, before an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. The Kings won 129-104. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Ben McLemore, no doubt, needed a change of scenery. Four seasons in Sacramento brought the former Kansas standout declining returns in terms of both his on-court production and his perceived value around the NBA.

Free agency offered McLemore a way out this summer, and now that he officially has signed with Memphis (reportedly for two years and $10.7 million), the 24-year-old shooting guard hopes he can start to live up to the potential that made him the 7th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

“So far it’s been great,” McLemore said in an interview for the Grizzlies’ website. “Memphis is going to be a great fit for me. (Agent Rich Paul and I) came up with that decision and now I’m here, a Memphis Grizzly.”

For the 6-foot-5 shooting guard, who started a career-low 26 games in his final season with the Kings, his greatest asset on the floor remains his explosiveness, and that’s what he referenced first when asked about the best aspects of his game and how he fits in with Memphis.

“My shooting ability, athleticism and the way that I run up and down the floor, and getting to the basket,” McLemore began. “And also playing both ends of the floor, being a two-way player for them, especially playing defense,” he added, saying he knows from facing the Grizzlies through the years they tend to be a “great” defensive team.

Memphis long has needed a wing capable of knocking down 3-pointers and playing a complementary role to its now primary pieces, point guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol. McLemore’s shooting ability is trending in a positive direction. During his fourth year he shot a career-best .382 from 3-point range, knocking in 65 of 170, while playing a career-low 19.3 minutes a game.

His plan, though, involves much more than spotting up for 3-pointers, considering he has a chance to play with Conley and Gasol, both willing passers.

“Me coming in, I definitely can adjust to that,” McLemore said, “running the floor for Mike and cutting to the basket for Marc.”

His first four seasons in the NBA haven’t gone nearly as well as the former college All-American would have hoped. But this might be McLemore’s chance to start anew and find ways to flourish.

“Now I can focus on myself and grind it out and continue to have the great summer that I’m having and get ready and prepare myself for next season,” he said of moving on with his career.

None by Kevin McLemore Ⓜ️

McLemore might be more likely to take on a sixth man role with Memphis, rather than become the team’s new starting shooting guard. The Grizzlies already have lost veterans Zach Randolph and Vince Carter through free agency during the past week and its possible fan favorite shooting guard Tony Allen could be the next to move on. But if Allen returns he could continue to start.

McLemore has more competition in the backcourt, including another Grizzlies free-agent addition, Tyreke Evans, as well as former KU guard Wayne Selden.

However it plays out, McLemore is embarking on a potentially career-defining season, and those who follow the Grizzlies are hopeful he finally will break through in 2017-18. Chris Vernon, who covers the organization for its website and hosts The NBA Show for The Ringer, thinks the inconsistency of Sacramento’s organization might have kept him from reaching his ceiling as a player.

“Sometimes people can roll their eyes at the idea of a player becoming something that they have not been yet,” Vernon said, referring to McLemore making a leap with the Grizzlies. “Clearly, you’re making an investment on Ben McLemore being better than what he has been in his first four years. It’s totally possible that Ben McLemore’s career so far has been affected in a very negative way by the situation he was in.”

Unfortunately for McLemore, Sacramento finally began to stabilize this offseason, just as he and the team that drafted him parted ways. Memphis might find it difficult to extend its streak of seven consecutive playoff appearances in the loaded Western Conference as it re-tools with a younger core. But it’s clear the young guard is excited about having a fresh start with an organization that hasn’t been the butt of jokes in NBA circles for years.

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Frank Mason and De’Aaron Fox renewing blue blood clash as Kings teammates

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) drives against Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox (0) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) drives against Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox (0) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

It wasn’t too long ago that Frank Mason and De’Aaron Fox were battling each other in primetime as the college basketball world watched to see whose team would prevail in a blue blood battle between Kansas and Kentucky.

The two dynamic point guards will now get to resume that clash behind the scenes — potentially for years to come — as teammates with the Sacramento Kings.

For two players who only squared off once, the duo knows each other fairly well. Fox, the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, revealed during a recent interview with Sacramento media that Mason actually hosted the speedy floor general when he visited the University of Kansas as a high school recruit. Fox opted for a starring role at Kentucky, instead, and when he next saw Mason, the senior outdid the freshman, leading the Jayhawks to a 79-73 win at UK’s Rupp Arena.

Mason went for 21 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals, while shooting 9-for-18 in a game that featured two of college basketball’s fastest open-court players. On a 5-for-12 night, Fox’s line read: 10 points, two assists, two rebounds, two steals.

“We had a good battle in college. I think it was a really good game. And not only with De’Aaron, I’m looking forward to getting out there and competing against everyone,” Mason said of renewing his matchup with Fox at Kings practices, beginning this week, as the two prepare for their Summer League debuts. “As the point guards of the team, we should always want to compete at a high level and make each other better for the franchise, so that’s what we will do.”

Fox, too, told reporters he looked forward to having Mason as a teammate/challenger.

“It’s going to be different. We played them one time this past year, and now you’re going to see him every day in practice,” Fox said of Mason. “But that’s great for us. We’re going at each other every day in practice and it’s going to do nothing but make us better.”

None by Sacramento Kings

When Sacramento first added Fox and Mason (second round, 34th pick overall) through the draft, the two were the only point guards on the roster. Although a veteran pick-up was sure to come, the possibility of Mason taking on back-up point guard duties for a young team in full-on rebuild mode seemed like a real possibility. However, the Kings reportedly agreed to a free-agent deal with vet George Hill, who averaged 16.9 points and 4.2 assists this past year with Utah. Hill is so good he might even allow Sacramento to bring Fox along slowly, in a sixth man role, even though the 19-year-old guard is clearly the new face of the franchise.

Mason will be Sacramento’s No. 3 point guard next season, which isn’t a bad gig. Obviously, Mason would prefer a more involved role because he’s that kind of competitor. But he should get his chances. The Kings, because they are so young (outside of free-agent signings Hill and Zach Randolph) are going to lose a lot of games and be blown out in a decent amount of them in the brutal Western Conference. So Mason figures to, at the very least, get his introduction to the real NBA in the fourth quarters of Kings losses during the 2017-18 season.

But Mason also will move up the depth chart any time Hill or Fox are unavailable. And Hill, now 31, has missed 30-plus games in two of the past three seasons. The Kings have a nice insurance policy in the form of college basketball’s reigning national player of the year.

Beginning Friday at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, Mason will get to show Sacramento’s staff what he’s made of, as he, Fox and many of the Kings’ young big men take on Josh Jackson and Phoenix. Mason told Sacramento media how he plans to complement his new frontcourt teammates.

“Just being a tough guard who gets my teammates involved,” the 23-year-old guard began, “and I feel like I can get them a lot of good touches, lobs, dump-offs to where they can just get easy baskets and finish.”

On a team mostly comprised of players under the age of 25, summer league, practices and every learning opportunity that comes along will be critical for the team’s development. With Fox and Mason in the mix, a downtrodden franchise has two young men capable of resetting the culture.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Fox said of working with Mason. “They drafted two great young point guards and we’re just gonna make each other better every day.”

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Free agent Thomas Robinson hopes to escape his nomadic path in NBA

Los Angeles Lakers forward Thomas Robinson (15) drives by New York Knicks center Willy Hernangomez (14), of Spain, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Knicks win 118-112. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Thomas Robinson (15) drives by New York Knicks center Willy Hernangomez (14), of Spain, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Knicks win 118-112. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Every NBA free agent in search of a new contract has a wish list of ideal scenarios he would like to fulfill with the help of his new employer. For former Kansas star Thomas Robinson, who already has played for Sacramento, Houston, Portland, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Lakers since entering the league in 2012, those cravings include landing a multi-year deal that would keep him with one franchise for more than one season.

In an extensive interview with Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype.com, Robinson said he thinks some stability would be a boon for his professional career.

“I want to be comfortable. I think every player is looking for that. If I have that, I feel like I can open up my game to another level and help a team even more,” said Robinson, who signed with the Lakers before the 2015-16 season, and told Hoops Hype he would like to re-sign with the organization. “I’ve been through a lot since I entered the league. Being in the same place for more than one year – with the same players, the same coaching staff, the same system – would only help me get better. It would allow me to be more comfortable. And if you let me get comfortable, there’s no telling what you’ll get from me.”

With career averages of 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in 13.4 minutes a game, the 26-year-old power forward wants to do far more in the NBA than he has previously, and said he promises the team that signs him this offseason won’t be let down.

“I just want a chance,” Robinson said. “I want to show an organization that I’m going to be mature, work well with the coaches, earn their confidence, get playing time and then do the right thing on the court when I get those minutes.”

Although he only played in 48 games for a rebuilding Lakers team in his fifth season, the 6-foot-10 reserve said he enjoyed playing for Luke Walton, because the young coach allowed him to grow and learn from his mistakes.

Robinson made it clear there is a comfort level for him with the Lakers, but Kennedy reported the athletic big also received some free-agent interest from Minnesota (though that might have cooled with the Timberwovles signing veteran Taj Gibson).

In the past several seasons, Robinson wasn’t as effective a scorer as you might expect from a high-energy player who takes most of his shots in the paint. But he converted on a career-best .536 from the floor for the Lakers, outperforming he previous best of .485 two years earlier, when he split time with Portland and Philadelphia.

His defense, meanwhile, hasn’t been at a high enough level to inspire his coaches to play him more. However, one part of Robinson’s game that will translate every time he steps on a court is his rebounding. Looking at his per-36 minutes numbers, Robinson would have averaged 14.3 rebounds a game this past season.

“Given the opportunity, I could easily be among the top-10 rebounders in the league. Easily,” Robinson told Hoops Hype. “Not only am I a better rebounder now than I was back in the day, I know what to do after I get the rebound. My basketball IQ and vision have improved, so now I realize that I don’t need to go up immediately every time I get an offensive rebound or try to start a fast break on my own when I get a defensive rebound.”

Watching Cleveland role player Tristan Thompson, Robinson added, has given him a blueprint to follow in terms of carving a niche and forcing a coach to play him by dominating the glass.

“What people love about him is he’ll get the rebound and then immediately look for one of his shooters or he’ll set up a dribble hand-off. I think that’s where I’ve improved the most – what I do after I grab the rebound,” Robinson said, adding he wants to have an impact similar to Thompson while continuing to mature and improve his all-around game.

Up to this point, Robinson never has spent two full seasons with the same team. That could change if the Lakers re-sign him for the multi-year contract Robinson is seeking. But L.A., which recently waived another former KU big, Tarik Black, currently has four bigs under contract — Brook Lopez, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac. And the Lakers drafted two more in Kyle Kuzma (Round 1, 27th pick) and Thomas Bryant (Round 2, No. 42).

A need for frontcourt depth almost always exists in the NBA. But there’s a chance Robinson might have to relocate yet again to find a team lacking in that area.

Read much more from Robinson at Hoops Hype: Robinson looking for opportunity, stability

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Josh Jackson hopes young Suns core can develop way Warriors once did

Kansas' Josh Jackson, right, hugs friends and relatives after being selected by the Phoenix Suns as the fourth pick overall during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Kansas' Josh Jackson, right, hugs friends and relatives after being selected by the Phoenix Suns as the fourth pick overall during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Some incoming rookies might have looked at the Phoenix Suns’ 24-58 record — last in the NBA’s Western Conference this past season — and began concocting ways to avoid getting drafted by an organization in the early stages of a rebuilding project.

Josh Jackson did the opposite.

The one-and-done wing out of Kansas and his management team instead sought out the desert as a destination.

“It’s definitely a place I’ve thought about being ever since the draft lottery,” Jackson said at his introductory press conference in Phoenix, after the Suns stole the multi-talented, 6-foot-8 wing at No. 4 in the 2017 draft. “I look at the team and I just really get excited. This team has so much promise and I think I fit in pretty well, so I’m more than happy to be here, and I can’t wait to see what we can do this year.”

The Suns have won less than 30 percent of their games in each of the previous two seasons. So what does Jackson envision that others don’t?

“I thought that one of the most special things about this team is the youth that we have,” he said, adding that the young core he is joining — which includes Devin Booker (20 years old), Marquese Chriss (19), Dragan Bender (19), T.J. Warren (23) and Eric Bledsoe (27) — would be able to grow together.

The Phoenix roster, as comprised entering the summer, doesn’t exactly scream playoff contender. And although Jackson didn’t make any claims about what the team could accomplish in his rookie season, it was clear that his fascination with joining the Suns had more to do with the longterm.

“I remember watching Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green when they were all young, and they didn’t seem to click as well” Jackson said, referring to three eventual stars drafted between 2009 and 2013 by the Golden State Warriors, winners of two of the last three NBA championships. “But as time went on and they got older they just had the best team chemistry. And now look at them.”

The hope in Phoenix is that Booker, Jackson and either one, or both, of their young power forwards from the 2016 draft — Chriss and Bender — and/or a to-be-determined 2018 lottery pick (spoiler alert: the Suns aren’t making the playoffs next season) will form a combination capable of developing into a stellar team in the future.

“When coach (Earl Watson) came and visited me and watched us work out that was one of his key points, just being able to give the young guys opportunity,” Jackson said. “He knows we’re not perfect, we’re gonna come out and mess up. But we have to have that opportunity to be able to come out and make mistakes so we can learn from them and get better.”

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, who no doubt also preached that opportunity concept to Jackson ahead of the draft, didn’t back off the Golden State ideal model referenced by Jackson. McDonough said he and his team studied how the Warriors and Oklahoma City turned around their franchises through the draft.

“It starts with the caliber of the player, in terms of the talent, in terms of their approach. Most teams with young players don’t win a lot of games — we get that part of it,” McDonough said. “But if the guys work hard, grow together and grow on the same timeline you can turn it pretty quickly and takeoff pretty quickly.”

No one looks at the current Phoenix core and sees a Curry-Green-Thompson trio or Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook/James Harden-type combo in the making. At least not yet. If Phoenix adds a top-three pick in a year or finds a way to trade for another up-and-coming talent this summer, it could be on its way to the kind of drastic turnaround Jackson envisions.

It might not work out that way, but Jackson will do everything within his power to restore the hopes of a franchise that has missed the playoffs seven consecutive years — and counting.

None by Phoenix Suns

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Immense opportunity awaits Perry Ellis at Las Vegas summer league

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) pulls back for a two-handed jam over Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) during the second half on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) pulls back for a two-handed jam over Kansas State guard Barry Brown (5) during the second half on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Four years worth of work with Kansas basketball wasn’t enough to get Perry Ellis drafted into the NBA. Now the 22-year-old forward has a few days in Las Vegas to secure a spot in the league the hard way.

A free agent playing for the Mavericks’ summer league entry beginning Saturday night, Ellis will try to convince the same coaches and executives who passed on him on draft night that he actually belongs on a regular-season roster.

Right now, the people Ellis needs to impress the most are Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle and owner Mark Cuban. The Mavs’ Vegas team will focus on the development of second-year wing Justin Anderson and second-round draft pick A.J. Hammons, a 7-foot center out of Purdue. However, while speaking to media members earlier this week, Cuban made it sound as if the other summertime Mavericks won’t be an afterthought for the organization.

“We’ve got a bunch of roster spots,” Cuban said Wednesday, in a video posted on the Mavs’ website. “We put our money where our mouth is in cap room, so there’s a lot of spots for guys to make, and they know if they do what we expect them to do, probably three guys, maybe four, from this group are gonna make the team.”

Cuban made that statement as Ellis and other Dallas hopefuls worked behind him. It has to be a strange dynamic for all the players except Anderson and Hammons. The rest are not only trying to play well, but also, in a sense, beat out the guys next to them for a coveted roster spot or training camp invite.

So who is Ellis playing with/competing against? Here’s a look at the rest of the Mavericks’ Vegas lineup, excluding the aforementioned Anderson and Hammons:

  • Chane Behanan, 6-6 forward from Louisville

  • Vander Blue, 6-4 guard from Marquette, who has played in 5 NBA games (none since the 2014-15 season)

  • Kyle Collinsworth, 6-6 guard from BYU

  • Dorian Finney-Smith, 6-8 forward from Florida

  • Jonathan Gibson, 6-2 guard from New Mexico

  • Isaiah Miles, 6-7 forward from St. Joseph’s

  • McKenzie Moore, 6-6 guard from UTEP

  • Giovan Oniangue, 6-6 forward from Congo

  • Satnam Singh, 7-2 center from India (Mavs’ Round 2 pick in 2015)

  • Jameel Warney, 6-8 forward from Stony Brook

Dallas hasn’t retained undrafted rookies from its summer teams of late, but if what Cuban said is true, this year could be different.

Ellis, a 6-foot-8 All-American who averaged 17 points and shot 53.2% from the field in his senior season at Kansas, surely understands the scope of what he could do for his professional career in the days ahed.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) works against UCLA forward Tony Parker (23) and UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015 at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis (34) works against UCLA forward Tony Parker (23) and UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton during the second half, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015 at Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Hawaii. by Nick Krug

“You know, I’m just going to come out here and play hard,” Ellis told the Mavs’ website. “It’s a great opportunity for me. You know, it’s an honor to be here, and I just want to go out here and just play my game and play with a high energy.”

It sounds as if Dallas expects Ellis to fit in nicely with this makeshift unit that spent the past few days practicing together. The Mavericks’ summer league head coach, Jamahl Mosely, hailed the Jayhawk’s college résumé as a strength that should help Ellis and the Vegas version of the Mavs.

“He’s played a great amount of basketball,” Mosley said on the team’s website. “I mean, he played four years in college, and he’s very experienced. He knows how to play the game, so I think that’s going to be a big key for us. He knows how to play, he’s in the right position, and he makes the simple and easy play.”

Regardless of what transpires on the floor in Vegas, the Mavs likely won’t need any of these free agents to play critical roles in their regular-season rotation. But Cuban appears more inclined to give one or more of them a roster spot than he has in the past.

“We want to have a good crew of young guns that we develop,” the Dallas owner said.

If Ellis fits in as seamlessly as Mosley suggested and goes on scoring tears like he did at KU, the Wichita native just might land a spot in the NBA next season after all. And Ellis knows how significant this business trip to Las Vegas will be for his future. His first game is Saturday night against Miami (9 p.m., NBA TV).

In typical Perry Ellis fashion, he said his main focus for his summer league experience will be to play well and play hard.

“We’ll go from there,” he added, “and see what happens.”

Reply 7 comments from Plasticjhawk The_muser Joseph Bullock Humpy Helsel Brett McCabe Creg Bohrer Glen

Making a case for Joel Embiid as the NBA’s 2017 Rookie of the Year

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, poses for photos with prospective NBA draft picks Buddy Hield, left, Kris Dunn, right, Ben Simmons, third from left, and Brandon Ingram, second from right, before the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, poses for photos with prospective NBA draft picks Buddy Hield, left, Kris Dunn, right, Ben Simmons, third from left, and Brandon Ingram, second from right, before the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

No offense, Ben Simmons. Sorry, Brandon Ingram. Nothing personal, Buddy Hield. Don’t get upset, Kris Dunn.

With all due respect to those lottery picks and the other big names from the 2016 NBA Draft class, if you asked me right now who I would pick to win Rookie of the Year in 2017, I’d lean toward a former Kansas basketball player, instead.

No, not second-round pick Cheick Diallo. Neither Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. nor Brannen Greene.

None of those former KU players are a threat to secure that trophy, which typically ends up in the hands of players who turn out to be all-stars or superstars. But there is one Jayhawk set to make his NBA debut next season who could easily become a force in the league for years to come.

True, Joel Embiid has not played basketball in more than two years due to injuries. But the man possesses undeniable talent.

Now reportedly 7-foot-2, the center at times during his freshman season at Kansas showed off footwork and shooting touch akin to a young Hakeem Olajuwon. So far, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft has been a disappointment for Philadelphia, but it will take only one spectacular, injury-free rookie season for all to be forgiven.

None by Joel Embiid

Bearing in mind Embiid’s checkered injury history — low-lighted by back trauma that robbed him from finishing his one-and-done season at KU and a fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot (which he later re-injured) keeping him sidelined since — obviously nothing about his future is guaranteed. However, the 22-year-old from Cameroon appears to be healthier now than he has been since he left Kansas.

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo told reporters Embiid, who will be held out of NBA Summer League games for precautionary reasons, has been cleared for five-on-five basketball.

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during warmups before his team plays the New York Knicks, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during warmups before his team plays the New York Knicks, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP) by Yong Kim | The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Let us assume the seemingly never-ending rehab is over, all goes to plan, and Embiid plays, say, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 regular-season games next season with Philadelphia. The big man, with his powerful finishing ability and shooting range, will be given the opportunity to put up big numbers for a rebuilding franchise coming off a woeful 10-72 season.

The Sixers have no established star or face of the franchise returning to feature offensively. That role is open to be filled. While the organization likely has to temper its expectations publicly regarding Embiid because of the uncertainty that accompanies his string of injuries, you get the sense the team’s decision-makers are as excited about the potential of their inexperienced center as they are 2016’s No. 1 overall pick, Simmons.

The upcoming rookie of the year race very well could come down to the Sixers’ duo of the future, Simmons and Embiid. According to Bovada, an online sportsbook, Simmons, a 6-foot-10 ball-handling forward out of LSU, is the early favorite with 13/4 odds. Embiid is listed seventh, at 14/1, behind New Orleans’ Hield (11/2), the Los Angeles Lakers’ Ingram (13/2), Minnesota’s Dunn (15/2), Denver’s Jamal Murray (12/1) and Chicago’s Denzel Valentine (12/1).

None by Keith Pompey

Simmons’ biggest asset at the next level might be his combination of passing ability and size. When he drives to create for teammates, the 19-year-old Australian will find a willing and able shooter and finisher in Embiid. As a matter of fact, the two even know each other a little bit. Now teammates in Philly, they once scrimmaged together as high schoolers in Florida, according to a story from The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.

"He has great footwork and can score inside," Simmons said of Embiid. "I know how to get the ball to bigger guys down low.”

Turnovers, defensive breakdowns and losses all are on the horizon for both Simmons and Embiid as featured first-year players on a bad team. But when you look at the history of NBA Rookies of the Year, winning the award basically comes down to individual scoring numbers, not wins and losses.

Here are the previous 10 winners:

  • 2015-16: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota, 18.3 points

  • 2014-15: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota, 16.9 points

  • 2013-14: Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia, 16.7 points

  • 2012-13: Damian Lillard, Portland, 19.0 points

  • 2011-12: Kyrie Irving, Cleveland, 18.5 points

  • 2010-11: Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers, 22.5 points

  • 2009-10: Tyreke Evans, Sacramento, 20.1 points

  • 2008-09: Derrick Rose, Chicago, 16.8 points

  • 2007-08: Kevin Durant, Seattle, 20.3 points

  • 2006-07: Brandon Roy, Portland, 16.8 points

Philadelphia’s other recent lottery big men, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, have been the subject of trade rumors, so you can figure the 76ers won’t mind featuring a healthy Embiid ahead of those two, should they both remain with the team.

Plus, Embiid is taller, more athletic and more versatile on both ends of the floor than Okafor, who averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks for Philly while playing just 53 games this past season. It’s not too difficult to envision Embiid replicating or surpassing that production in his first season in the league, putting him firmly in the mix for the NBA’s rookie hardware.

Embiid wouldn’t be the first behind-schedule rookie to bring home the honor, either. Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, missed the following season with the L.A. Clippers due to a broken left knee cap, only to return to the court in striking fashion a year later.

Can Embiid do the same after spending even more time away from competition? Can he out-shine his thoroughly hyped teammate, Simmons? Heck, can he just play an NBA game?

We’ll know soon enough. Personally, I’d answer yes to all of the above.

Reply 5 comments from Lee Washington Michael Lorraine Stupidmichael Andy Godwin

Waiting game: Joel Embiid unlikely to make 76ers debut at Summer League

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid of Cameroon in action prior to the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Bulls won 115-111 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid of Cameroon in action prior to the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Bulls won 115-111 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The NBA Summer League just got a whole lot less interesting.

The July games, which are designed to give rookies, young pros and free agents a chance to put in some needed work and/or impress coaches and front offices, aren’t exactly the height of basketball entertainment. But catching an early glimpse of an incoming lottery pick or seeing how a young player buried on an NBA bench performs when he actually gets some minutes provides fans and those who follow The Association with some offseason intrigue.

Sure, this year’s summer action most likely will include top picks Ben Simmons (LSU) and Brandon Ingram (Duke). However, even though the Sixers will end up with one of those potential stars, it’s a top-three pick from two years ago that many in Philadelphia have been clamoring to see.

Some hope existed that a recovering Joel Embiid finally would make his 76ers debut this summer. After two completely missed seasons and a recurring foot injury, it seemed Embiid’s rehab had gone well enough of late that you couldn’t rule out a summer preview of the former Kansas center. Until now.

Speaking with NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper on the state of the 76ers, Philadelphia’s new president of basketball operations, Bryan Colangelo, squashed the idea of the 7-footer running the floor in Las Vegas and reminding everyone why Embiid might have gone No. 1 overall — instead of KU teammate Andrew Wiggins — in the 2014 draft had he not suffered such a serious foot injury beforehand.

Colangelo told NBA.com “there’s no timeline” for Embiid’s return to five-on-five basketball. Next, he gave Philly fans a sliver of hope on the Embiid front before abruptly wheeling the other direction.

“But until I hear a doctor tell me, 'No summer league,' I will always say anything's open,” Colangelo began. “But the likelihood of him playing summer league is nil. I would only say that because of where he is in the progression right now.”

Although the team boss went on to concede if Embiid made enough progress and the doctors signed off on it, there would be no reason to keep the big man out of Summer League games, he went ahead and essentially shut the door on the matter.

“I would say it's a 99-percent chance, maybe a 100-percent chance, that he's not going to play,” Colangelo said. “We just don't want to put him in a situation where he hasn't been playing competitive basketball. We probably want to ease into that and that would mean sometime after Summer League. But if he is going to come into training camp you want him to have at least a little bit of flow and a little bit of rhythm and to be in a position where he could have tested the foot to the extent that he's ultimately going to be exposed in a training-camp environment."

Bummer. Still, this is actually good news for Embiid. The organization isn’t about to rush him back onto the court and risk the years and money they’ve already invested in a center they hope can play a starring role in the franchise’s turnaround.

So those of us who miss watching Embiid’s absurd agility and footwork in the paint will just have to wait until the regular season begins. Hopefully. I mean, the 22-year-old from Cameroon hasn’t played a game since the Jayhawks traveled to Oklahoma State in 2014.

In the meantime, there’s always Embiid’s hilarious Twitter account to keep us entertained.

None by Joel Embiid

Reply 2 comments from Philip  Bowman Humpy Helsel

Bill Self better off at Kansas than with home-state Oklahoma City Thunder

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets at his defense during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas head coach Bill Self gets at his defense during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

The Oklahoma City Thunder has a coaching vacancy.

Cue the wild speculation.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday afternoon the small-market NBA franchise not too far from Lawrence, Kansas, decided to get rid of head coach Scott Brooks.

So don’t be too surprised if rumors start swirling about the Thunder having interest in Kansas head coach Bill Self or vice versa.

According to Wojnarowski, Oklahoma City has strong interest in Florida coach Billy Donovan. If the two-time NCAA champion Gators coach wants to jump to the league, the job could be his for the taking.

Plus, UConn's Kevin Ollie, who played for OKC, could figure into the coaching search.

None by Adrian Wojnarowski

But KU fans long have feared Self would leave Allen Fieldhouse behind for a lucrative, appealing job in the professional ranks. Throw into the equation that Self grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma, and went to Oklahoma State, and one could easily infer the Jayhawks’ coach would listen if OKC gave him a call.

And any coach with a pulse would have to contemplate such an offer, because the Thunder have arguably two of the best five players in the NBA in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant is pictured with the MVP trophy during the news conference to announce that Durant is the winner of the 2013-14 Kia NBA Basketball Most Value Player Award in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant is pictured with the MVP trophy during the news conference to announce that Durant is the winner of the 2013-14 Kia NBA Basketball Most Value Player Award in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) by Sue Ogrocki

Here’s what we know:

• NBA teams have reached out to Self in the past. Just last year, Cleveland had some exploratory discussions with him about his interest.

• But Self told Gary Bedore last summer “not many” organizations have actually sought him out.

• As recently as last offseason, Self shot down the notion of leaving Kansas for an NBA job anytime soon.

“We’ve got so many good things going on right here,” Self told 610 radio in May of 2014. “You add the DeBruce Center (for Naismith rules and training table) and add the living quarters (new apartment complex to be built) to go along with the way we’ll be fed, from a recruiting standpoint we’ve done pretty well. I think we can even take a step up.”

The Thunder might not even have Self on their short list. It’s too early in the process to know either way. Whomever OKC goes after, expectations will be monumental. Injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka at various junctures left the Thunder out of the playoffs this year. And Oklahoma City has a championship-level roster when everyone is healthy.

The new guy, whether that’s Donovan, Ollie, a coach with NBA experience or someone else, will be expected to not only guide the Thunder back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012, but bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy to Oklahoma.

OKC general manager Sam Presti made that clear in a statement he released:

“We move forward with confidence in our foundation and embrace the persistence and responsibility that is required to contract an elite and enduring basketball organization capable of winning an NBA championship in Oklahoma City.”

Self operates at KU with those types of job requirements, and maintaining those is easier at the college level when you’re working at a name-brand program such as Kansas.

For all the talent the Thunder has, nothing in the NBA is guaranteed. Durant will be a free agent in 2016. Westbrook’s contract expires the following season. We might be two years away from Oklahoma City falling into irrelevancy.

You couldn’t say that about Kansas.

Are the Thunder interested in Bill Self? Who knows at this juncture.

Given Self’s situation, and contract with KU, it’s hard to imagine he would want to leave that behind to become the head coach of his home state’s pro team.

UPDATE — 5:30 p.m.

The Oklahoman’s Thunder beat writer, Anthony Slater, on Wednesday posted a long list of possible replacements for Brooks. Of course, Donovan and Ollie topped the lineup as favorites.

However, The Oklahoman also pointed to Self and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg as currently employed options. Slater wrote Self would be a “widely popular” hire in OKC:

“Self is from Edmond and is as charismatic as they come. Not sure he fits the Thunder mold or is even on the radar at all. But, man, is it a fun hire to think about. Particularly from a media perspective.”

Reply 42 comments from Joseph Leon Onlyoneuinkansas Erich Hartmann Michael Lorraine Benton Smith Robert  Brock Fred Whitehead Jr. Kingfisher Allison Steen Mike Ford and 17 others

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