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‘Hawks in the NBA: Morris twins ready to heat up Los Angeles

Markieff Morris, formerly with Detroit, talks with his brother, Marcus Morris Sr., who was then with the New York Knicks, after an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in Detroit. The Morris twins have since moved on to play for the NBA's two Los Angeles franchises. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Markieff Morris, formerly with Detroit, talks with his brother, Marcus Morris Sr., who was then with the New York Knicks, after an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in Detroit. The Morris twins have since moved on to play for the NBA's two Los Angeles franchises. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) by Matt Tait

Slated to begin on April 19, the 2020 NBA playoffs and the end of the 2019-20 NBA season were put on hold because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

League officials recently announced the approval of the NBA’s plan to restart play in July, leaving 22 teams still alive in the 2020 title chase. While we wait for the season to resume, it seemed like a good idea to spend some of this idle time looking back at the season that was for the former Kansas Jayhawks in the NBA.

Next up: Marcus Morris, Los Angeles Clippers & Markieff Morris, Los Angeles Lakers

The Morris twins have spent more time playing together in their lives than apart.

Throughout their youth on middle school teams, in rec leagues and on the AAU circuit — along with three seasons at Kansas and a couple in the NBA as well — KU fans’ favorite twins have been on the same side for a lot of games.

These days, however, the two NBA vets find themselves in the most unusual of positions — playing in the same building but on different teams.

That became the Morris twins’ reality midseason when they were both traded just before the season was put on hold.

Marcus went first, from New York to the Clippers, and a couple of weeks later, Markieff was picked up by the Los Angeles Lakers after being waived by Detroit. Talk about good fortune — from out of the playoffs on a couple of 20-win teams to the top of the Western Conference.

Now, the two forwards playing in their ninth NBA seasons appear to be on a collision course toward meeting in the Western Conference finals when the season picks back up.

A lot has to happen between now and then for that to happen. Both have to win a couple of series against tough West opponents. And, more than anything, the NBA experiment of playing out the season in Orlando has to go off without any COVID-related setbacks.

Assuming it does, the Clippers and Lakers enter the restart with the best two records in the West and the potential for one heck of a seven-game series.

Forget LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. In the eyes of KU fans, it’s the matchup of Morris twins that will grab the most attention.

Although the two continue to be slightly different players, who deliver for their teams in different ways, there’s little doubting that they would be matched up with one another at various points throughout that would-be series.

Talk about great television.

From the trash talk among siblings to the intimate knowledge of each others’ games and best moves, the matchup could play a big role in who wins and who loses each game.

Asked recently in a Bleacher Report video about that potential matchup, the twins, to no one’s surprise, had a little fun with their answers.

Who wins a Game 7 between the Lakers and Clippers, the interviewer asked.

“Clippers,” Marcus said. “Come on, now. You crazy?”

Marcus quickly gathered himself and conceded that the series would go seven games before adding that the Clippers would win Game 7 in a “blow out.”

Markieff wasn’t willing to let his brother have the last word.

“Let me be realistic with mine, too,” he said. “Lakers in four.”

It was clear in the video that the two were enjoying the banter. And you couldn’t help but wonder how many times conversations like these played out during their childhood, even though they spent so much time battling for the same team.

As for their current stats, Marcus quickly jumped into the Clippers’ starting lineup and is averaging 9.5 points and 4 rebounds per game in 28.3 minutes of action.

He said in February, when he was back at Allen Fieldhouse for his jersey retirement ceremony, that he was hoping to go out there and become the team’s missing piece toward its run to a championship.

For the season, Marcus is averaging 17.4 points and 5.1 rebounds in 31.4 minutes per game. So it may only be a matter of time before his numbers in L.A. jump a little.

Markieff, meanwhile, is coming off of the bench for the Lakers, averaging 4.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 14.8 minutes per game in his eight games with the team.

His season averages are slightly higher at 10.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game.

For their careers, the twins are averaging strikingly similar numbers, which fits their twin persona perfectly.

Marcus, the No. 14 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, is averaging 12.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game over 600 games. And Markieff, who was picked one spot before his twin brother, is averaging 11.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game over 631 games.

None by The Laker Files

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KU’s Bill Self says lack of pre-draft workout opportunities could benefit former Jayhawks Devon Dotson, Udoka Azubuike

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way as he and Kansas guard Devon Dotson (1) celebrate a UNC-Greensboro turnover during the second half, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is UNC-Greensboro forward James Dickey (21).

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) signals the ball going the Jayhawks' way as he and Kansas guard Devon Dotson (1) celebrate a UNC-Greensboro turnover during the second half, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. At right is UNC-Greensboro forward James Dickey (21). by Nick Krug

Toss Kansas basketball coach Bill Self into the camp of those who believe the absence of pre-draft workouts might actually help the two former Jayhawks eligible for this year’s NBA draft.

On a special edition of his “Hawk Talk” radio show on Tuesday night, Self said the fact that NBA scouts and general managers this year will have to rely more on college game film than in-person workouts could benefit both point guard Devon Dotson and center Udoka Azubuike.

The two KU All-Americans were among the best players in the country from start to finish during the 2019-20 season. And their consistency on both ends of the floor stood out throughout the season.

You’ve heard of top tier prospects from the past who have chosen to skip individual workouts to preserve their spot at the top of the draft board? Think of this as that but without Azubuike or Dotson choosing that route.

“So many times (teams) may get enamored by somebody you may not have seen as much, because they can wow you in one workout or something like (that),” Self said on Tuesday. “I really think when you can’t go workout for others, they’re going to rely on tape a lot. I think that helps both of their chances. I really do.”

Rather than viewing the odd schedule brought about by the pandemic as a negative, Self saw it as a positive for both players.

“If you’re a borderline first-round pick and you go to a workout and you shoot it bad, that may knock you out of being that with that particular team,” Self said. “There’s not going to be any of that (this year). Of course, you don’t get a chance to better yourself, but you certainly don’t get a chance to hurt yourself.”

Projected as fringe first-rounders who are all but assured of at least going early in the second round, Azubuike and Dotson both come with question marks.

For Dotson, it’s his lack of size and knock-down shooting ability that has scouts questioning how effective he can be at the NBA level. For Azubuike, it’s his status as a true center that has some putting a limit on how high he will be drafted and how big of a role he’ll have in the NBA.

But regardless of whether teams are interested in pulling the trigger on the two Jayhawks late in the first round or waiting until the second, Self said he liked both of their chances of making it.

“I think they both have a great chance to go first (round), but if they don’t, that doesn’t mean they haven’t made it,” Self said. “I mean, look at Devonte’ (Graham) and Svi (Mykhailiuk).”

Those two former Jayhawks were second round picks in the 2018 NBA draft and both found consistent roles with the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons during their second pro seasons.

“I do think that’s right there for them,” Self said of Dotson and Azubuike.

Originally scheduled for Thursday in Brooklyn, N.Y., the 2020 NBA draft has been moved to Oct. 16 because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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How former Jayhawks Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson could become factors when NBA season resumes in Orlando

Milwaukee Bucks guard Frank Mason III looks to the bench for a play as he takes to the court in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Monday, March 9, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Milwaukee Bucks guard Frank Mason III looks to the bench for a play as he takes to the court in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Monday, March 9, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) by Matt Tait

While the NBA continues to sort out the details of its 2019-20 season resumption in Orlando later this summer, one key decision sets up potential good news for a couple of former Jayhawks.

According to reports, the NBA rosters inside the Orlando bubble starting next month are expected to be expanded to 17 players instead of the usual limit of 15.

While that sounds like a lot of players to have on the bench of a team that can play just five guys at a time, just being there could open the door to bigger and better things for players like Frank Mason III in Milwaukee and Josh Jackson in Memphis.

Both former Jayhawks spent extensive time in the G League during the 2019-20 season leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mason played 23 games and Jackson 26. And neither player figures to be a key part of what either NBA team is doing when play resumes.

But there are a number of factors that quickly could change that, not the least of which is the pandemic itself.

Part of the reason the NBA is likely to expand the roster limit to 17 players is to provide franchises with insurance against the virus.

Because the season will resume in a unique environment, with players and league personnel being tested regularly and living inside the Orlando bubble for the remainder of the season, a team that gets hit hard by injuries or players testing positive could be decimated and forced to play with less than a full rotation. Having two extra players on-site already helps protect against that scenario and makes it much easier to plug them in immediately without having to wait for travel arrangements and testing of players brought in from the outside.

And that quickly turns Mason and Jackson from fringe NBA players into potentially important backup pieces.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Josh Jackson shoots in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Josh Jackson shoots in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons Monday, Feb. 3, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill) by Matt Tait

Both have proven they can play at the NBA level.

During his rookie season with Phoenix, Jackson, the former No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, averaged 13.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 25.4 minutes per game.

Mason, meanwhile, who was selected No. 34 overall by Sacramento in the same draft, played 90 games with the Kings during his first two NBA seasons, averaging 6.8 points, 2.6 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game.

Beyond that, both have been tearing up the G League this season, averaging more than 20 points per game with the Wisconsin Herd and Memphis Hustle. Their paths bear a striking resemblance to that of Devonte’ Graham from his rookie season, when the Charlotte guard routinely proved he was too good for the G League but not quite ready for a full-time role in the NBA.

Even if they don’t get a chance to show off the skills they’re lighting up the G League with — Mason leads the G League at 26.4 points per game and Jackson ranks 18th at 20.3 — or get to play big minutes in Orlando, just being on the inside is a big deal because it keeps them relevant within the league.

Mason signed a two-way contract with the Bucks last July, which guaranteed him a spot with the franchise but relegated him to mostly G League minutes. Two-way players are only allowed to spend 45 days with the NBA club.

Jackson, meanwhile, is in the last year of his rookie contract and is making $7 million this season despite the demotion to the G League. The Grizzlies did not pick up Jackson’s option for the 2020-21 season, so he will enter the offseason as a free agent and could very well be looking for his third team in four seasons.

That fact alone makes it less likely that Jackson will get any real playing time in Orlando. But, again, we’re talking about uncharted waters here and no one really knows how this thing is going to play out. Throw in the layoff and potential rust/improvement factor, and it’s easy to see how things could look dramatically different at the restart than they did in March.

The NBA, at least for now, is going to look a lot different from how it has looked for years, and that could extend all the way down to the way coaches stack their rotations and utilize the 17 players at their disposal.

Whether either player is given an opportunity to really help his current team remains to be seen. But even if they’re not, they could be auditioning for a spot somewhere else in the future. And being inside the bubble provides a much better networking opportunity than being on the outside.

Many of the details are still being worked out, and things should start to take shape next week. It is still unclear whether all 17 players will be eligible to play every game or if the two additional roster spots are truly just replacement players waiting in the wings.

The transaction window, which includes free agent signings, is expected to open Monday and run through early July. The season itself is slated to resume on July 30.

Those players not interested in participating — and there have been several who have indicated they might not play — have to let their teams know of their decision by Wednesday.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts his arm around teammate Frank Mason III (0) during a timeout in the first half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas.

Kansas guard Josh Jackson (11) puts his arm around teammate Frank Mason III (0) during a timeout in the first half, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. by Nick Krug

Reply 2 comments from Matt Tait David Friend

‘Hawks in the NBA: Kelly Oubre Jr. becomes a key piece in Phoenix

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) by Matt Tait

Slated to begin on April 19, the 2020 NBA playoffs and the end of the 2019-20 NBA season were put on hold because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

League officials recently announced the approval of the NBA’s plan to restart play in early July, leaving 22 teams still alive in the 2020 title chase. While we wait for July to arrive, it seemed like a good idea to spend some of this idle time looking back at the season that was for the former Kansas Jayhawks in the NBA.

Next up: Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix Suns.

He played just one season at Kansas and spent half of the 2014-15 season trying to figure it all out. But by the time his KU career ended, Oubre had shown flashes of his potential to be a bona fide star.

His NBA career has followed a similar path.

Quiet out of the gate after being the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Oubre made more starts (55) during the 2019-20 season with Phoenix than he did in his first four seasons in the league combined (44).

He also has delivered career scoring numbers, averaging 18.7 points per game in 56 games with the Suns this season.

Oubre made a name for himself in Washington, playing a valuable role on a couple of playoff teams with the Wizards. But the move to Phoenix has opened the door for him to become one of the key pieces of a franchise.

This season, Oubre’s shooting numbers are up almost across the board and he has hit a career-best 35.2% of his 3-point attempts and also registered the best effective field goal percentage of his career at 51.7%.

Overall, Oubre’s game has started to take on a more well-rounded look, as he has put an even greater emphasis on defense, rebounding and even assists during his time in Phoenix.

That production came at the right time, too, as the Suns signed Oubre to a 2-year $30 million deal last July.

Oubre ranks as the Suns’ third leading scorer at 18.7 points per game (behind Devin Booker at 26.1 ppg and DeAndre Ayton at 19.0), second leading rebounder at 6.4 boards per game and third on the team in steals per game.

For his career, Oubre now holds averages of 10.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. But the former Jayhawk, who is still just 24 years old, is trending in the direction of doubling those numbers before too long.

Oubre may still have time to add to his stellar 2019-20 numbers, too. According to the NBA’s latest proposal to resume play in Orlando, the Suns are one of 22 teams who would still be alive in the chase for a championship.

Although he was dealing with a knee injury heading into the shutdown — the former Jayhawk had surgery to repair a torn right meniscus on March 3 — Suns owner Robert Sarver recently said that Oubre should be good to go when the season resumes.

What’s more, Oubre posted a workout video to his Instagram account during quarantine that showed him moving with ease, dunking and attacking off the dribble, all without a brace.

June 17 Update:

According to NBA insider Shams Charania, Oubre is now out for the rest of the season because of the knee injury. Charania reports that, instead of playing, Oubre will continue to work on his rehab in hopes of a full return for the 2020-21 season. Oubre is expected to travel to Orlando with the Suns for the resumption of the 2019-20 season.

More 'Hawks in the NBA Updates:

• Joel Embiid

• Andrew Wiggins

• Devonte' Graham

• Svi Mykhailiuk

Reply 1 comment from West_virginia_hawk

Former KU point guard Devon Dotson starting to see his draft stock rise

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (1) celebrates a three pointer during the first half, Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (1) celebrates a three pointer during the first half, Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Under normal circumstances, former Kansas basketball All-Americans Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson would be closing in on one of the biggest days of their lives.

The NBA’s pre-draft combine would be behind them, the interviews over and individual workouts nearing their end.

Instead, KU’s two NBA draft hopefuls still have more than four months to prepare their minds, games and strategies for the 2020 draft, which is now slated to take place Oct. 15 instead of June 25.

What the world of sports will look like by then is anybody’s guess. But the unexpected delay may benefit Azubuike and Dotson.

Projected as fringe first-rounders throughout most of the 2019-20 college season, both now have a few extra months to find ways to entice NBA teams into picking them in the first round.

Even though it’s an election year, the two KU All-Americans won’t be hitting the campaign trail to do it. Instead, they’ll simply have more time to work out and get their bodies ready so they can put on the best show possible when teams are able to work out players again.

Asked recently by Langston Wertz Jr. of The Charlotte Observer if he thought his college game film and accolades speaking for him would give him an advantage over some of the lesser-known or international point guards in the draft, Dotson said the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have left everything up in the air.

“That’s what people are kind of hinting towards,” Dotson told Wertz of his status as more of a known commodity. “But you just never know. You could have a good workout, shoot it well and that could move you up. Kind of just waiting and seeing.”

In the meantime, in the world of draft prognostications, there also will be time for the Jayhawks to create a little buzz behind their names. And there already are indications that that is starting to happen with Dotson.

In CBS Sports’ most recent 2020 mock draft, which was released Thursday, Dotson is listed as the No. 24 overall pick, up 12 spots from their previous mock draft earlier this spring.

Not only is that firmly in the first round, but it also is closing in on being closer to the lottery than the second round.

That’s not to say Dotson has lottery potential. The highest he could probably be picked is somewhere around No. 20, which is still several picks outside of the top 14 selections that make up the lottery.

But the fact that he’s already slotted this high shows that people are starting to like what they hear and see about the KU point guard.

In fact, one publication — Dime Magazine — has Dotson rated as the No. 13 overall prospect in this year’s draft class. Most other mock drafts have him slated to go with one of the final picks in Round 1 or early in Round 2. The latest prediction from CBS Sports winds up splitting the difference between the two extremes.

The crazy thing about Dotson going to Utah at No. 24, if it were to happen, is that it would make him the eighth point guard taken in the 2020 draft’s first 24 picks.

Most draft gurus believe that this is as deep and strong of a point guard draft as we’ve seen in years, and the latest CBS mock draft backs that up. Most other years, Dotson’s skill set would make him a top three or four point guard option, which would only help his chances of going higher.

In 2019, just three point guards were taken in the first 23 picks. The year before that, there were four.

You have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a draft where so many point guards were taken in the first 23 picks. That year, when Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Steph Curry went at picks 5, 6 and 7, nine PGs were picked in the first 23 picks, including five in a row from picks 17-21.

This year, with the likes of LaMelo Ball, Cole Anthony, Tre Jones, Tyrese Haliburton and two talented lead guards from France all on the board, NBA teams looking for a player to run their offense have plenty of options and can choose from a variety of styles.

Dotson does things better than all of those guys. But each one them has a size advantage. The average height of the seven point guards projected ahead of the 6-foot-2 Dotson by CBS is 6-4, with three of the seven standing 6-5 or taller.

Dotson has overcome questions about his lack of size throughout his career and has the confidence to do it again in the NBA.

“The idea with Dotson is that he immediately slots into a part-time role as an attacking guard off the bench and then hopefully becomes a good enough shooter to start in time,” wrote Dime Magazine’s Brian Schroeder last month. “He’s fallen a bit between the cracks with all the other mid-level guards this year, but he was an excellent college basketball player who is still young and has great speed, which is something you always bank on.”

Reply 2 comments from Gerry Butler Scott MacWilliams

‘Hawks in the NBA: Svi Mykhailiuk takes big step forward in Detroit

Detroit Pistons guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk plays against the Brooklyn Nets in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Detroit, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Pistons guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk plays against the Brooklyn Nets in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Detroit, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) by Matt Tait

Slated to begin on April 19, the 2020 NBA playoffs and the end of the 2019-20 NBA season were put on hold because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

League officials last Thursday announced the approval of the NBA’s plan to restart play in early July, leaving 22 teams still alive in the 2020 title chase. While we wait for July to arrive, it seemed like a good idea to spend some of this idle time looking back at the season that was for the former Kansas Jayhawks in the NBA.

Next up: Svi Mykhailiuk, Detroit Pistons.

With just 22 teams advancing to Orlando for the restart of the 2019-20 NBA season, Svi Mykhailiuk’s second NBA season is officially over.

But the gunner from Ukraine, who turned 23 on Wednesday, made the most of his first full season in Detroit.

After starting his career with the Los Angeles Lakers, who drafted him 47th overall in the 2018 NBA draft, Mykhailiuk was moved to Detroit when L.A. was making its run at Anthony Davis and needed to clear as much cap room as possible to land him.

While that put a dent in Mykhailiuk’s hopes of winning an NBA title early in his career, it also opened up more of an opportunity to play.

In 39 games with the Lakers during the 2018-19 season, Svi averaged just 10.8 minutes per game and shot 31.8% from 3-point range while averaging 3.3 points per game.

Those numbers doubled in Detroit, where Mykhailiuk started 27 games this season and averaged 22.6 minutes in 56 of the Pistons’ 66 games. By January, he was a full-time starter.

The extended playing time pushed his points-per-game average up to 9. But, more importantly, it allowed him to get more comfortable from behind the arc and his 3-point percentage jumped to 40.9% during the 2019-20 season.

That mark came on an average of 5.1 3-point attempts per game and put him among the NBA’s Top 25 3-point shooters, ranking 22nd with a still-somewhat-limited sample size.

That single stat is enormous for Mykhailiuk’s future in the NBA. If he can continue to be a reliably dangerous shooter from distance, there will always be a team that’s looking for his services.

The Pistons might very well be that team long term.

In one entry of their recent “Reasons for Hope” series, the Detroit Free Press highlighted Mykhailiuk’s sharp shooting as a potential cornerstone of Detroit’s current rebuild.

The Free Press also hinted at Detroit head coach Dwane Casey being at least a little bit intrigued by Mykhailiuk’s potential as a part-time point guard while filling his role as a shooter the rest of the time.

“Mykhailiuk knows his strengths,” Free Press writer Omari Sankofa II said in the series. “He took 405 shots from the field, and 285 of those — 70.4% — were 3-pointers, one of the highest percentages in the league. He hit 39.5% of his non-corner 3s, 36.4% on 3s from the right corner and 46.7% on 3s from the left corner. Defenses always have to account for him, making him an important weapon in Casey’s offense.”

Svi made four or more triples in 17 games this season, including hitting five twice, in back-to-back games, in mid-January. What's more, he played in just eight games during which he failed to make at least one 3-pointer.

If he continues to progress at the rate he did this season, Mykhailiuk is a potential bargain for a Pistons team looking to attract free agent talent to aid its resurgence.

He made $1.49 million in 2018-19 and another $1.42 million last season. The Pistons have a team option for his $1.66 million 2020-21 contract and, assuming they pick it up, he would stand to become a restricted free agent a year from now.

The Free Press called Mykhailiuk “a strong runner up” for Detroit’s 2019-20 Most Improved Player award — just like his buddy, Devonte’ Graham on the league stage — and quoted Casey singing Svi’s praises.

“He is on track to be one of our core pieces as far as his shooting ability and his ability to make plays off the dribble,” Casey told the Free Press in late January.

Like Graham did with Charlotte's G League affiliate (Greensboro) a year ago, Svi found his footing during his own G League stints, in Grand Rapids, where he made plays and proved he could be counted of for a bigger role.

That eventually carried over to Detroit and he figures to head into the offseason and the 2020-21 season with the kind of confidence that can deliver a breakout season in Year 3.

Reply 2 comments from West_virginia_hawk Robin Smith

Where Wilt ranks: Sorting out former Jayhawk Wilt Chamberlain’s place among the game’s all-time greats

Wilt Chamberlain — Wilt “The Stilt” joined KU’s basketball team in 1955 and went on to a two-year career in which he averaged 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds per game. He also had a long, dominating career in the NBA.

Wilt Chamberlain — Wilt “The Stilt” joined KU’s basketball team in 1955 and went on to a two-year career in which he averaged 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds per game. He also had a long, dominating career in the NBA. by File Photo

ESPN’s recent Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” revived arguments among fans about who the greatest basketball player of all time really was.

Jordan, of course, is at the top of most lists, but there are four or five other NBA greats who routinely show up in the conversation.

One of them went to Kansas. And while Wilt Chamberlain’s college career was full of eye-popping numbers and made a larger-than-life impact on the sport, the stats Chamberlain put up in the NBA with the Philadelphia Warriors franchise and Los Angeles Lakers exceeded even those.

Numbers alone might not be enough to land The Big Dipper in the same class as Jordan and current Lakers superstar LeBron James. But they have to at least be considered when talking about the greatest players of all time.

Chamberlain finished his career with averages of 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. And during the 1967-68 season, he led the league in assists, averaging 8.6 per game to go along with 24.3 points and 23.8 rebounds.

It wasn’t until his eighth season in the NBA that Chamberlain averaged fewer than 30 points per game. That came during the 1966-67 season, when he averaged 24 points and 24 rebounds for Philadelphia.

Prior to that, Chamberlain’s season averages read more like field goal and 3-point percentages: 37.6, 38.4, 50.4, 44.8, 36.9, 34.7 and 33.5. In each of those first seven seasons, Chamberlain also averaged at least 22 rebounds per game.

In what many people consider to be his best season — his third year in the league in 1961-62 — Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points and 27.5 rebounds per game. But there's one statistic from that season that's even more impressive: The former Jayhawk played all 80 games without ever subbing out, averaging 48.5 minutes per game in a league that plays 48-minute games.

Blocked shots were not recorded as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season — Chamberlain’s first out of the NBA — but anyone who saw him play will tell you that the 7-foot-1, 275-pound center’s prowess as a defender extended far beyond cleaning up the defensive glass.

If Wilt wasn’t the best to ever play, he certainly has a strong case as the most dominant.

In this file photo from March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors holds a sign reading “100” in the dressing room in Hershey, Pa., after he scored 100 points as the Warriors defeated the New York Knickerbockers, 169-147.

In this file photo from March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors holds a sign reading “100” in the dressing room in Hershey, Pa., after he scored 100 points as the Warriors defeated the New York Knickerbockers, 169-147. by Associated Press

ESPN recently ranked the top 74 NBA players of all time, and Chamberlain got his due, coming in at No. 6. But for my money, the numbers alone make him a lock to be at least in the top five.

ESPN’s top five, in order, went: Jordan, James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson.

My top five, in order, would go: Jordan, James, Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant.

Perhaps the biggest knock on the former Jayhawk’s professional career is that it was not filled with championships.

ESPN.com’s Tim Bontemps wrote exactly that when ranking him at No. 6 overall on the site’s list: “Chamberlain was truly ahead of his time. His numbers are mythical. The only reason he doesn’t rank higher on lists of the all-time greats is he won 'only' two NBA championships.”

Jordan won six titles and was the MVP of every NBA Finals series in which he played. Russell won a whopping 11 titles during his days with the Boston Celtics dynasty. Abdul-Jabbar won six titles, one with Milwaukee as Lew Alcindor and five more in Los Angeles. Johnson and Bryant each won five during separate runs in L.A. And James sits on three championships and is still in pursuit of adding one or two more before calling it a career.

Chamberlain, meanwhile, reached the sport’s pinnacle just twice, in 1967 and 1972, and lost in the finals four other times.

All of the players mentioned above were multi-time all stars, all-NBA picks and all-defensive team honorees. And they each own a handful of records. So it makes sense for people to search for something that separates them. It makes even more sense that championships are that something. After all, no matter what sport you play or what era you’re in, winning is the name of the game.

So much of identifying the best player of all time depends on how you define that title. Is it solely about championships and rings? Is it about numbers? Is it about influence, impact and culture? Is it some kind of combination of all of those things?

Those requirements carry different weights with different people, which is why so many players have a legitimate case at the title of best ever and also why the debate often becomes so heated.

I’ve always looked at talent as the defining trait. Numbers are nice and certainly speak to one’s greatness. But titles are often a team accomplishment. Even Jordan could not have won the six he won with the Chicago Bulls without the right supporting cast around him.

That’s why my top five includes the five players it does and why Chamberlain is firmly in it. No one was more dominant or made a bigger impact on the game. The powers that be changed the rules because of Chamberlain and his numbers — including that oh-so-famous 100-point game — certainly stand up next to his impact and dominance.

I won’t argue with those who claim James is the best we’ve ever seen, but, at the same time, I also can’t let you say he was better than Jordan. While different in their physical traits and style of play, the two were insanely skilled, crazy competitive and willing to do whatever needed to be done to win, no matter who liked it or who didn’t.

If there’s an argument for James over MJ, it’s that he can legitimately play and defend all five positions on the floor. Jordan certainly would have been willing to tackle that task, but I’m not sure he would have been as successful. Still, no one is definitively better than Jordan. He may have one or two equals, but he’ll always be at the top of the list.

As far as Abdul-Jabbar, not only are his numbers incredible — records, statistics, awards and titles — but he was dominant in his own right, with his famed “sky hook” being one of the most unstoppable shots in the history of the game.

And then there’s Bryant, a player so talented that he came to the NBA right out of high school and had the whole league talking about him for the next 20 years. Bryant’s resume, though rock solid, is not the strongest of the bunch. But I’m not sure there’s a better pure scorer in the group, and none of them reinvented themselves the way Bryant did from Phase I of his career to Phase II.

I’m OK with most people not having Bryant in their top five. But he has to be in everybody’s top 10. Just like Chamberlain should be somewhere in everybody’s top five.

The return of Wilt Chamberlain, center, in 1998 was judged the No.
3 most memorable moment in Allen Fieldhouse history by KUSports.com
viewers.

The return of Wilt Chamberlain, center, in 1998 was judged the No. 3 most memorable moment in Allen Fieldhouse history by KUSports.com viewers. by AP Photo

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‘Hawks in the NBA: Graham enjoys breakout season in Charlotte

Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte' Graham gestures after making a 3-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. The Hornets won 125-100. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)

Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte' Graham gestures after making a 3-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic on Monday, Dec. 31, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. The Hornets won 125-100. (AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)

Slated to begin on April 19, the 2020 NBA playoffs and the end of the 2019-20 NBA season were put on hold because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

League officials last Thursday announced the approval of the NBA’s plan to restart play in early July, leaving 22 teams still alive in the 2020 title chase. While we wait for July to arrive, it seemed like a good idea to spend some of this idle time looking back at the season that was for the former Kansas Jayhawks in the NBA.

Next up: Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets.

Unless you were living under a rock for the past nine months, you already know what Graham did in the NBA this season.

Even if you’re not an NBA fan and don’t care about the professional league, you surely caught wind of the kind of season the former KU point guard was having.

In short, he became a bona fide breakout star in Charlotte and was one of the top 3-point shooters in the entire league. Beyond that, he delivered plenty of moments that showed that he can carve out a role as a regular contributor and clutch performer.

Big scoring nights. Buzzer-beaters to win the game. Assists to open teammates after attacking off the dribble. Like he did at Kansas during his stellar senior season, Graham did a little bit of everything for the Hornets this season.

The former KU All-American and Big 12 Player of the Year looked every bit like his old Kansas self this season, pulling up for jumpers with extreme confidence, shaking defenders with his handles and playing an aggressive, attacking style whenever the ball was in his hands.

At one point, he was one of just six players in the entire league averaging 20 points and 7.5 assists per game. The other five? Damian Lillard, LeBron James, James Harden, Luka Doncic and Trae Young. Also known as “decent company.”

That milestone came after Graham became just the fourth player in NBA history to have 50 3-point makes and 100 assists in the first 15 games of the season. The three others on that list were Steph Curry, James Harden and Baron Davis.

Graham’s breakout performance came on the heels of Charlotte watching All-Star Kemba Walker leave for Boston in free agency.

In an attempt to replace Walker, the Hornets signed former Celtics guard Terry Rozier to a three-year $58 million contract last offseason. But Rozier has yielded point guard duties to Graham about half the time and the two have proved they also can play well together for the Hornets, who were 23-42 at the time play stopped and in 10th place in the East, seven games out of the final playoff spot.

In 63 games during the 2019-20 season, Graham started 53 times and averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists while playing 35.1 minutes per night.

He averaged nearly four 3-point makes per game, on 37.3% shooting from behind the arc, and also hit 82% of his free throw attempts.

After playing in 46 games during his rookie season — with three starts — Graham’s big second year brought his career NBA averages to 12.5 points and 5.4 assists per game.

That’s a pretty good return on a second-round pick and puts Graham firmly in the running for the NBA's Most Improved Player award for the 2019-20 season.

Past Hawks in the NBA Updates:

• Joel Embiid, Philadelphia

• Andrew Wiggins, Golden State

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Report: 2020 NBA Draft set for Oct. 15, draft lottery to be drawn in August

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and Kansas guard Devon Dotson (1) have a quick meeting on the court after a timeout during the second half, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) and Kansas guard Devon Dotson (1) have a quick meeting on the court after a timeout during the second half, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Former KU All-Americans Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson now know when they will find out their NBA fate.

According to a report from ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowki, the NBA settled on two key dates for the 2020 draft process during its Thursday vote to restart the 2019-20 season.

Wojnarowski reported that sources told him that his year’s draft will be held Oct. 15 and that the order for the draft’s lottery will be drawn on Aug. 25.

It remains to be seen if the draft will be a live event or conducted online like the NFL did in late April.

The Oct. 15 draft date is roughly four months later than the draft typically takes place. This year’s draft was scheduled for June 25 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

The NBA has preserved its tradition of having the draft on a Thursday night.

The 2020 draft will follow an offseason that included the cancelation of the pre-draft combine and individual workouts in May because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There figures to be some sort of time frame in which teams will be able to host draft prospects for interviews and workouts, but those details have not yet been revealed.

Other than adding to the antsy vibe of having to wait even longer to find out where their basketball careers will take them next, the new dates do not figure to have a major impact on Azubuike and Dotson.

If anything, the extra time between the end of the 2019-20 college hoops season and Azubuike and Dotson’s auditions for the NBA will give their bodies time to fully recover and recharge from the grind of the season.

Azubuike has spent the past couple of months in Lawrence, working out on his own and waiting for the post-pandemic future to become clearer.

Dotson went back to Charlotte with his family shortly after the NCAA Tournament was canceled in March and has been working out on his own back home.

Both are projected to be selected in this year’s draft and, depending on who you talk to, each player has a shot of getting into the first round.

Jonathan Givony’s most recent mock draft at ESPN.com has Azubuike being picked with the No. 31 overall selection (first pick of the second round) and Dotson being taken one pick behind him at No. 32.

None by Adrian Wojnarowski

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‘Hawks in the NBA: Wiggins eyes fresh start with Golden State

Golden State Warriors guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots against the Miami Heat during an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Golden State Warriors guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots against the Miami Heat during an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) by Matt Tait

Slated to begin on April 19, the 2020 NBA playoffs and the end of the 2019-20 NBA season were put on hold because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

League officials continue to look at ways to resume play, but whether they’ll reach a point where the season is completed remains to be seen. In case it isn’t, or even if it is, it seemed like a good idea to spend some of this idle time looking back at the season that was for the former Kansas Jayhawks in the NBA.

Next up: Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors.

After being traded by Cleveland following the 2014 NBA Draft, the former Jayhawk and No. 1 overall pick spent six seasons in Minnesota, where he racked up scoring numbers and a monster contract but did not do much in the way of winning.

Just once during Wiggins’ time in Minnesota did the franchise win more than 40 games, despite having back to back Rookie of the Year winners in Wiggins (2014-15) and Karl-Anthony Towns (2015-16).

The Wolves averaged 32 wins per season in Wiggins’ first five seasons with the team and had just 15 wins with him this season before he was traded to Golden State before the COVID-19 health crisis put the season on hold.

He finished the 2019-20 regular season averaging 22 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game while starting all 54 games he played — 42 with Minnesota and his first 12 with Golden State.

His addition to the Warriors’ roster came at a time when GSW superstars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were injured. But former KU point guard Aaron Miles, who is on the Warriors’ coaching staff, said the organization was excited about seeing that trio could do together.

“I think he’s a perfect fit for what we do,” Miles said during KUsports.com’s “Meeting Bill Self” podcast series. “A perfect second or third option on the team that could eventually possibly be the No. 1 option in a couple years when it’s his turn.”

“We only had him for a short amount of time, but Steph had just got back healthy so we were going to get to see what those two would look like.”

Wiggins’ 2019-20 numbers were slightly higher than his career averages and, overall, he has been remarkably consistent in the areas of field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, scoring, rebounding and assists throughout his time in the NBA.

He holds career averages of 19.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, but exceeded those marks during the 2019-20 season, both with Minnesota and Golden State.

“I think he’s going to be great with us,” Miles said. “Everybody knows he’s a great person, very skilled, highly talented. I’m excited for him.”

Past Hawks in the NBA Updates:

• Joel Embiid, Philadelphia

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