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Markieff Morris becomes the latest former Jayhawk to win an NBA title

The Los Angeles Lakers players and coaches celebrate after the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Markieff Morris is in the bottom left of the photo with a towel around his neck and his right hand grabbing his beard. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The Los Angeles Lakers players and coaches celebrate after the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Markieff Morris is in the bottom left of the photo with a towel around his neck and his right hand grabbing his beard. (AP Photo/John Raoux) by Matt Tait

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Add Markieff Morris’ name to the list of former Jayhawks who have won an NBA title.

His place as the 13th former Kansas basketball player to win a world championship became official Sunday night, when Morris and the Los Angeles Lakers knocked off the Miami Heat, 106-93, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Orlando.

Morris, who scored three points and grabbed two rebounds in Sunday’s lopsided victory, played a much bigger role throughout the rest of the series, averaging 7.5 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 40% from 3-point range in 21 minutes per game during the Finals.

He becomes the fifth Kansas player from the Bill Self era to win a title — joining Mario Chalmers, Sasha Kaun, Brandon Rush and Wayne Simien — and is the first since Kaun helped Cleveland win it all in 2016.

Kaun's title, of course, was with LeBron James on the squad. As were the two that Chalmers won in Miami.

In addition to joining KU’s all-time list of NBA champions, Morris now becomes part of the fun fact that Kansas fans like to throw around about James, who has won four titles with former Jayhawks on his roster and none without a Jayhawk on his team.

“The type of leaders that we have on this team is unreal,” Morris said in his postgame meeting with the media, speaking specifically about James. “I knew this moment was going to come with leaders like that, and it’s a dream come true.”

As he sat at the podium taking questions from reporters, Morris had a cigar in his left hand and a gold-plated bottle of champagne in his right.

Between puffs and sips, Morris was asked if winning an NBA title was everything he ever thought it would be. His answer was simple: “Yes it was, man.”

“We had a goal, and we knew that we were going to accomplish this goal,” he said. “And we played extremely hard (and) just went and took it tonight.”

KU coach Bill Self told the Journal-World on Monday afternoon that he exchanged text messages with Morris after the Lakers' victory, adding, "He was excited."

The feeling was mutual.

"It means a ton for our guys to be a part of championship teams," Self said. "He was a great pick-up for the Lakers and that was a special team playing (Sunday) night."

Jayhawks to win an NBA title

Clyde Lovellette – 1954 with Minneapolis and 1963 and 1964 with Boston

~ On Sunday, Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo joined Lovellette as the only two players in NBA history to win titles with Boston and Los Angeles ~

Maurice King – 1960 with Boston

Wilt Chamberlain – 1967 with Philadelphia and 1972 with the Los Angeles Lakers

Jo Jo White – 1974 and 1976 with Boston

Bill Bridges – 1975 with Golden State

Wayne Simien – 2006 with Miami

Jacque Vaughn – 2007 with San Antonio

Paul Pierce – 2008 with Boston

Scot Pollard – 2008 with Boston

Mario Chalmers – 2012 and 2013 with Miami

Brandon Rush – 2015 with Golden State

Sasha Kaun – 2016 with Cleveland

Markieff Morris – 2020 with the Los Angeles Lakers

Reply 4 comments from Shannon Gustafson Jhawkfan22 Brett McCabe Dane Pratt Njjayhawk

Markieff Morris helps pull the Los Angeles Lakers within 1 win of 2020 NBA title

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis, left, and forward Markieff Morris react during the second half in Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis, left, and forward Markieff Morris react during the second half in Game 4 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) by Matt Tait

For the second consecutive game in the NBA Finals, former Kansas forward Markieff Morris played a key role in the Los Angeles’ Lakers game plan.

Tuesday night, during the Lakers’ 102-96 win over Miami in Game 4 of the Finals, Morris topped the 20-minute mark for the second time in the series and also was on the floor for much of the fourth quarter and in crunch time.

As a result, Morris is now one win away from becoming the 13th former Jayhawk to win an NBA title.

Morris played a playoff-best 30 minutes off the bench in the win, scoring nine points on 2-of-8 shooting (2-of-7 from 3-point range) while knocking in three critical free throws on a heady play that drew a foul on an attempted 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter.

The Philadelphia native also added three rebounds and two assists in the victory.

For the second game in a row, Morris played far more minutes than starting big man Dwight Howard, who logged just eight minutes in Tuesday’s victory.

Morris was on the floor a lot of the time with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and his ability to live on the perimeter and spread the floor allowed the Lakers to have an additional offensive option without crowding the middle and taking room away from James and Davis to do what they do.

As a result, Morris and his teammates are now just one win shy of bringing home a world championship — the first for Morris, the fourth for James and the fourth with James teaming with a former Kansas star.

What a year it’s been for the Morris twins. In addition to Marcus Morris having his jersey retired at Allen Fieldhouse and joining the Los Angeles Clippers’ push for a playoff run midway through the season, Markieff Morris now sits one win away from bringing a ring to the family.

Not bad for a couple of NBA vets who started the 2019-20 season with the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons.

Game 5 is set for 8 p.m. Friday night in Orlando, Fla.

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Markieff Morris’ career night not enough for the Lakers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals

Los Angeles Lakers' Markieff Morris (88) dunks the ball against the Miami Heat during the first half in Game 3 of basketball's NBA Finals, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers' Markieff Morris (88) dunks the ball against the Miami Heat during the first half in Game 3 of basketball's NBA Finals, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) by Matt Tait

The Miami Heat cut the NBA Finals lead of the Los Angeles Lakers to 2 games to 1 with a 115-104 victory on Sunday night in Game 3.

But former Jayhawk Markieff Morris was not to blame for the Lakers failing to take control of the series.

In his best night in the NBA bubble, the 6-8 forward from Philadelphia delivered 19 points off the bench on 6-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-11 from 3-point range.

Morris’ 5-of-11 clip from behind the arc was a career best in the postseason, topping his previous high for 3-point makes in a game of four, which came twice in these playoffs during the Lakers’ 4-1 series victory over Houston.

Morris logged 25 minutes in Game 3 and also added 6 rebounds and 2 assists to his stat line, finishing as the second highest scoring Laker behind LeBron James.

Morris is now shooting 44.8% from 3-point range in the 2020 playoffs, including a ridiculous 47.4% from deep in the NBA Finals.

His minutes on Sunday were up from his postseason average of 16 largely because of the foul trouble that Lakers’ star Anthony Davis found himself in early in the game.

But Morris still logged more minutes than starting big man Dwight Howard (15) and played over fellow L.A. veteran Javale McGee entirely.

Morris’ ability to move on the perimeter and space the floor appears to be working better against the Heat’s lineup, and his ability to get hot from 3-point range has proven huge in helping the Lakers keep up with Miami’s 3-point attack.

The Lakers and Heat will play pivotal Game 4 on Tuesday night, with Morris’ team looking to go up 3-1 and Miami looking to even the series at two wins apiece.

Markieff Morris in the 2020 NBA Finals

• Morris tallies 8 points in 18 minutes in Game 1 win

• Former Jayhawk plays minor role in Game 2 victory

Reply 1 comment from Dane Pratt

Markieff Morris helps Lakers go up 2-0 in NBA Finals

Los Angeles Lakers forward Markieff Morris (88) makes a pass in front of Miami Heat's Kelly Olynyk (9) during the first half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Markieff Morris (88) makes a pass in front of Miami Heat's Kelly Olynyk (9) during the first half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) by Matt Tait

Former Kansas forward Markieff Morris filled his typical playoff role on Friday night in helping the Los Angeles Lakers build a 2-0 lead over Miami in the NBA Finals in Orlando.

In 16 minutes off the bench, the 6-foot-8 forward from Philadelphia scored 6 points on 2-of-5 shooting and grabbed 5 rebounds to go along with 2 assists and 3 fouls in the Lakers’ 124-114 win.

Morris has now played in all 17 of the Lakers playoff games. He is averaging just over 17 minutes per game and is vying to become the 13th former Jayhawks to win an NBA title.

The former lottery pick who was signed by Los Angeles in February after starting the season and playing 44 games with Detroit is shooting 49.3% from the floor and 44.7% from 3-point range in the playoffs.

The Lakers and Heat will tip off Game 3 of this year’s Finals at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, when Miami will look to make it a series and the Lakers will attempt to take total control.

Sunday’s game will be on ABC.

Reply 1 comment from Jessej421

Markieff Morris one step closer to becoming the next Jayhawk to win an NBA ring

Los Angeles Lakers' forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with Markieff Morris (88) during a timeout in the second half of an NBA conference final playoff basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers' forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with Markieff Morris (88) during a timeout in the second half of an NBA conference final playoff basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) by Matt Tait

The Los Angeles Lakers are now just three victories away from winning a world title and that means former Jayhawk Markieff Morris is closing in on becoming the 13th Kansas player to win an NBA ring.

Morris has delivered a mixed bag of moments throughout the Lakers’ run this postseason, putting together some big games at times and hardly being used at others.

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night, the former lottery pick played 18 minutes off the bench and tallied eight points, three rebounds and an assist in a Los Angeles blowout.

By now, most everyone knows the story of LeBron James’ connection to a couple of former Jayhawks.

The Lakers superstar, who is 3-6 in nine previous trips to the NBA Finals, has had a former KU player on his roster for each of the three titles he already has won — Mario Chalmers in 2012 and 2013 and Sasha Kaun in 2016.

If the Lakers finish the job against Miami, Morris would become the fourth and that no doubt would draw some national attention and probably another mention from James himself during one of the celebrations.

It was during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ parade in 2016 that James revealed that it was a text message from Chalmers that reminded him of the importance of Kansas Jayhawks in his championship runs.

There is still work to do, of course. And James himself said after Wednesday’s Game 1 win that he was not satisfied with the way his team played, particularly in the fourth quarter.

But the Lakers overpowered the Heat in the middle two quarters and appear to be well on their way to a fourth straight series win in these playoffs and the franchise’s 17th NBA title all-time, which would tie them with the Boston Celtics for the most ever.

For his part in the journey, Morris is now averaging 5.4 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in 16 appearances in this year’s playoffs.

In addition to averaging 17.1 minutes per game, the 6-foot-8 Philadelphia native is shooting 50% from the floor (33-for-66) and 45.2% from 3-point range (19-for-42) in the 2020 NBA playoffs.

Game 2 with the Heat is set for 8 p.m. Friday night.

Reply 1 comment from Dane Pratt

Just 1 Jayhawk still standing in the NBA’s bubble in Orlando

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (23) celebrates with teammate Markieff Morris (88) during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Houston Rockets Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James (23) celebrates with teammate Markieff Morris (88) during the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Houston Rockets Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) by Matt Tait

Nine former Jayhawks made their way into the NBA’s “bubble” in Orlando when the season resumed earlier this summer and just one is still standing.

With the NBA’s conference finals now set (Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver in the West and Boston vs. Miami in the East), it’s up to Lakers forward Markieff Morris to bring a championship ring to Jayhawk Nation this season.

His brother, Marcus, was eliminated from the postseason on Tuesday night, when the third-seeded Denver Nuggets completed their improbable comeback from down three games to one in the series with the second-seeded Los Angeles Clippers.

That ended the dream scenario of an all-LA, Morris-twins-flavored Western Conference Finals, and we’ll never know what would’ve happened if these two had squared off against one another with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.

As most Kansas fans know, there's some history connecting James' chase for the title and former Jayhawks. James won his first three rings with a Jayhawk on his roster — twice with Mario Chalmers in Miami and later with Sasha Kaun in Cleveland — and James made note of the connection during the parade in Cleveland a few years back, saying that Chalmers had sent him a text message pointing out KU's assistance.

As for the rest of the former KU players in the league, Frank Mason III and Milwaukee, along with Ben McLemore’s Houston Rockets were eliminated in Round 2 by the Miami Heat and Lakers, respectively, and Joel Embiid checked out in Round 1 after Philadelphia was swept by Boston.

Memphis’ Josh Jackson and Phoenix’s former Jayhawks, Cheick Diallo and the injured Kelly Oubre, creached the bubble but not the playoffs

And former KU point guard Jacque Vaughn, who led the Brooklyn Nets as the interim head coach in the bubble, saw his team knocked out to the Toronto Raptors in Round 1.

Here’s a quick look at how all eight former KU players fared in Orlando, starting with the one still standing.

Markieff Morris

Games played in the bubble: 16 (3 starts)

Notable stats: 6.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 16.9 minutes per game

Highlight: After falling to Houston in Game 1 of their second-round series, the Lakers bounced back with a win in Game 2, and Morris played a huge role. In just over 22 minutes, he hit 6 of 8 shots from the floor, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, prompting Lakers star LeBron James to proclaim, “Kieff was spectacular off the bench, giving us that instant offense with his grit. We love having him on the floor. He was unbelievable for us in that second quarter.”

Next: Morris and the top-seeded Lakers will open their series with Denver at 8 p.m. Friday night.

Marcus Morris

Games played in the bubble: 20 (all starts)

Notable stats: 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in 30 minutes per game

Highlight: Scored in double figures in 9 of the 13 playoff games he played in, including a 19-point effort in the Clippers’ playoff-opening win over Dallas on Aug. 17. Made three or more 3-pointers in six playoff games for the Clippers.

Joel Embiid

Games played in the bubble: 11 (all starts)

Notable stats: 23.7 points and 11.1 rebounds in 29.2 minutes per game

Highlight: Scored 41 points and grabbed 21 rebounds, with three blocks, in Philly’s first game in the bubble. “The Process” also recorded a double-double in all four of Philadelphia’s playoff games, reaching the 30-point mark in three of them.

Ben McLemore

Games played in the bubble: 19 (4 starts)

Notable stats: 7.4 points per game and 41.8% 3-point shooting (41 of 98) in 16.4 minutes.

Highlight: McLemore’s best basketball in the bubble came before the postseason started. He reached double digits in scoring four times in eight games before the playoffs began, including a stretch of three games in a row. Once the Rockets reached the playoffs, however, McLemore’s minutes went down and he reached double figures in scoring just once, scoring 14 points in Houston’s Game 1 win over Oklahoma City in Round 1.

Frank Mason III

Games played in the bubble: 5

Notable stats: 9.6 points and 3.6 assists in 13.6 minutes per game

Highlight: Mason was with the top-seeded Bucks in the bubble for the duration of their playoff run, but found himself inactive for 10 of Milwaukee’s 18 games after the restart. In the five games he did play, he scored 48 points and dished 18 assists. His playoff usage was limited to 2:05 over two games and the only stat he recorded in that time was an assist in Milwaukee’s Game 1 loss to Orlando in Round 1.

Josh Jackson

Games played in the bubble: 4

Notable stats: Hit all six of his free throw attempts (over two games) during his time in the bubble.

Highlight: Had by far his best game of the bubble in the Grizzlies’ bubble debut on July 31, scoring 8 points and grabbing 6 rebounds and 2 assists in 13 minutes of a loss to Portland. Did not play in the winner-take-all play-in game that the Grizzlies lost later in the bubble to Portland, ending Memphis’ season and sending the Trailblazers to the playoffs.

Cheick Diallo

Games played in the bubble: 3

Notable stats: Scored 8 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, with 1 steal and 2 turnovers, in just over 11 total minutes in the three games he played.

Highlight: Diallo was active for all eight of the Suns’ bubble games (all victories, by the way) but he played in just three of them. The former Jayhawk scored 6 points and hit 3 of 4 shots in 5:17 during Phoenix’s win over Dallas in the season finale.

Kelly Oubre Jr.

Games played in the bubble: None

Notable stats: N/A

Highlight: Oubre was injured before the season was halted in mid-March and did not suit up in Orlando, even though he traveled with the Suns and got an up-close-and-personal view of their amazing run to close the regular season and come this close to grabbing a playoff berth.

Reply 3 comments from Barry Weiss James Miller Forever2008

Kevin Durant the latest NBA superstar to heap praise on former KU point guard Devonte’ Graham

Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte' Graham reacts after scoring against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, March 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte' Graham reacts after scoring against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, March 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond) by Matt Tait

The hits just keep on coming for former University of Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham, who this week saw another NBA superstar sing his praises.

Roughly a month after Dallas guard Luka Doncic claimed that Graham deserved his spot on the list of finalists for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, injured Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant took it a step further, saying that Graham was on the path of becoming a force in the NBA.

The kind words came during Durant’s appearance on The Old Man and the Three podcast, co-hosted by NBA veteran JJ Redick and Tommy Alter, which might be the best-named podcast in the history of podcasts.

The question to Durant was simple: “Who are some of the young guys this year, when you’ve been watching, that maybe you have played against once or haven’t even played against at all that have just impressed you?”

The first name out of his mouth was Graham’s.

“Devonte’ Graham impressed me,” Durant said. “Just to see his ascent to where he is. I mean, I didn’t think he would be in the league, to be honest, when he was at Kansas. And to see where he is right now, he’s developing into a really nice player.”

Graham, of course, broke onto the NBA scene in his second season with the Charlotte Hornets by improving his numbers dramatically across the board and averaging 18.2 points, 7.5 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. He became a bona fide weapon and go-to scorer for the Hornets while starting 53 of 63 games during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.

Graham’s play earned him a role in the NBA’s All-Star Weekend and, last month, he also won the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic’s “Shooting for the Stars” 3-point shootout that featured 10 of the 12 best 3-point shooters in KU history.

Durant also mentioned Zach LaVine and Dallas big man Kristaps Porzingis as the two other lesser-known players who most impressed him during the 2020-21 season.

“Those three guys are dudes I’ve been following throughout the year,” Durant said. “And I have really been trying to watch their progression because they’re going to be some forces going forward.”

Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

An updated look at the draft stock of two former Jayhawks now that the 2020 NBA draft order is set

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, left, and Kansas guard Devon Dotson react after winning co-MVP of the tournament, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Kansas defeated Dayton in 90-84 in overtime. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, left, and Kansas guard Devon Dotson react after winning co-MVP of the tournament, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019, in Lahaina, Hawaii. Kansas defeated Dayton in 90-84 in overtime. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia) by Associated Press

The NBA held its annual drawing to determine the lottery order for this year’s draft on Thursday night.

And while the time and events leading up to the 2020 draft have been drastically different from the past, the unveiling of the draft order brings about a feeling of normalcy within the process.

While neither of them has any dreams about going No. 1 overall to Minnesota or even in the lottery later this year, former Jayhawks Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson now have a slightly better understanding of what their futures might hold and what teams might be interested in drafting them.

Throughout the past 18 months, Azubuike and Dotson have been on a wild ride up and down mock draft boards across the country.

At times, both have been projected as first-round picks by at least one prognosticator. At other times, mostly before their stellar 2019-20 seasons, both were buried deep in the second round. And still there were moments when neither player appeared in a handful of mock drafts out there.

That’s no longer the case, as the 2019-20 season and the work they’ve done since it ended has elevated both players into potential Top 40 status in the draft, which will take place in October this year instead of June because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No one knows exaclty what will happen on draft night, of course. And it’s still possible that both former Jayhawks could wind up as first-round picks or could both go in the second round.

But now that we have an order and we actually know what teams are picking where, the mock drafts start to carry a little more weight.

It remains to be seen if there will be any kind of pre-draft combine this year, virtual or otherwise. If there is, both Azubuike and Dotson will be a part of it. But even if there’s not, both players have done enough work to paint themselves in a favorable light for the NBA teams looking for their next immovable big man or lightning-quick point guard.

KU coach Bill Self said a couple of months ago that the lack of individual workouts and a pre-draft combine could benefit his two All-Americans as much or more than anybody in the country because it would force NBA teams to create their draft boards based on what they already knew and saw from these players before the pandemic arrived.

Whether that’s the way it plays out or not remains to be seen, but it certainly makes sense.

Neither player is a perfect prospect. If they were, we’d be talking about automatic lottery status instead of late first-round. Both have tremendous talent but they also have flaws. But regardless of what skills they do and don’t possess, it seems as if people are starting to see Azubuike and Dotson in a clearer light and looking at them more for what they bring to the table than what they’re lacking.

That has elevated their draft stock throughout the past several months and both could continue to see it rise as we move toward October.

For now, though, let’s take a quick look at some of the immediate reactions from the aftermath of Thursday’s draft lottery drawing.

We’ll start with Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz at ESPN, where the best mock draft in the world is housed.

I talked to Schmitz about both players in Maui last November and he’s come a long way on both of them from what he thought about their NBA futures last November.

Delivering a couple of All-American, No. 1 overall seed type seasons has a way of doing that.

Here’s part of a recent interview Schmitz did with Dotson about his jump to the NBA.

None by Mike Schmitz

Speaking of that mock draft, ESPN currently has Dotson going as the No. 35 overall pick — fifth pick of the second round — to the Sacramento Kings.

It’s not impossible to picture Dotson jumping up six spots and sneaking his way into the first-round between now and October. But this is the slot where he has been pretty consistently ranked since the end of his college career.

The Sporting News, however, has Dotson listed as the 24th best overall prospect in the 2020 draft, proving that anything is possible.

That’s not to say they’re projecting that he will be drafted No. 24 overall by Milwaukee, but they don’t see 24 better players than Dotson, regardless of team or needs.

Team needs play a big role in ESPN’s current projection for Azubuike.

Givony and Schmitz currently have Dok slotted at No. 30 overall to Boston, with the last pick of the first round.

The blurb on this pick reads: “When Al Horford walked, the Celtics experimented by turning to undersized Daniel Theis to start at center. Danny Ainge might look to add a different dimension to the frontcourt in Azubuike, a unique physical presence with at 270 pounds with a 7-foot-8 wingspan and 9-foot-4 standing reach.”

Azubuike’s age (20), legit size and ability to move, which he showed off better than ever during his senior season at Kansas, are all attractive traits for teams looking to add a player with the potential to dominate down low without being a liability on the perimeter.

The Sporting News lists Azubuike as the 39th best prospect available in this year’s draft, continuing to push that flip-flop reality that these two have faced throughout the past year.

They battled for team MVP and Big 12 Player of the Year honors. And they have seemed to be on opposite sides of the line in most mock drafts throughout the past several months, with one projected in the late first round and the other in the early second.

It will be interesting to see where they end up, and, of course, how they’re pro careers play out.

For what it’s worth, Thursday night or Friday morning mock drafts from CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports, Bleacher Report and Forbes did not have either former Jayhawk listed in the top 30.

The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie has Dotson plugged in at No. 43 overall, with a note saying he sees him going in the 25-45 range, and Azubuike going two picks earlier, at No. 41, to San Antonio.

As we move closer to the Oct. 16 NBA draft, it seems safe to say that their stock continues to rise in NBA circles.

Reply 1 comment from Maxhawk Adam Bengtson

Dallas star Luka Doncic dubs former Jayhawk Devonte’ Graham more deserving of spot among NBA’s Most Improved Player finalists

Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte' Graham brings the ball up court against the Chicago Bulls in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Charlotte won 126-125. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte' Graham brings the ball up court against the Chicago Bulls in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Charlotte won 126-125. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond) by Matt Tait

For months, former Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham had been touted as a possible, perhaps even likely, candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award this season.

But when the list of finalists came out last week, Graham’s name was not on it.

Instead, the list included three former lottery picks, — Brandon Ingram, Luka Doncic and Bam Adebayo — two of whom were selected in the top five of their respective drafts.

Now, there’s no stipulation that says that lottery picks can’t improve. They can and do all the time.

But most people tend to think of the winners of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award as guys who come out of nowhere a little bit and explode onto the scene the way Graham did for the Charlotte Hornets in his second season in the NBA.

Graham’s numbers were up across the board and he became a bona fide weapon and go-to scorer for the Hornets while starting 53 of 63 games during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season.

Doncic, who is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year and trending toward becoming one of the league’s best all-around players, certainly seems to fall in that camp who believes a player’s emergence from unexpected territory should put them on this list more easily than a star shining even brighter.

In an interview with Dallas Morning News beat writer Brad Townsend after the list came out, Doncic even lobbied for Graham. Townsend shared the brief exchange on Twitter.

“Who votes in this,” Doncic asked Townsend.

“Well, 100 of us, including me,” Townsend replied.

“Take me off the list and put Devonte’ Graham on there,” Doncic answered. “I don’t deserve to be on there.”

Whether that last part is true or not is up to Townsend and the 99 other voters for the award.

In the interest of full disclosure, Townsend revealed that he voted Doncic second on his MIP ballot, with Adebayo taking the top spot.

But there’s no denying that Doncic did improve. After one of the strongest rookie seasons in recent NBA history, the young star bumped his numbers up significantly in all three major statistical categories — from 21.2 to 29.0 points per game; from 7.8 to 9.4 rebounds per game; and from 6.0 to 8.8 assists per game.

Graham, meanwhile, saw his numbers jump from 4.7 points, 1.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game as a rookie to 18.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game in Year 2.

Put another way, Graham improved his scoring and assist totals by roughly 300% and his rebounding by nearly 150% while Doncic’s numbers jumped by 37% in scoring, 21% in rebounding and 47% in assists.

That’s not to say this debate should come down to which player is better or had the better year. Graham appears to be well on his way to carving out a nice career while Doncic appears to headed toward becoming one of the best players in the world.

But it was cool to see Doncic recognize and say what a lot of fans already believed about the award – that it should go to rising talents not mega superstars.

Here’s a quick look at the last five Most Improved Player award recipients:

2019 – Pascal Siakam, Toronto – The versatile forward more than doubled his scoring average and started 79 games for the world champions, one year after starting just five games in his second year in the league.

2018 – Victor Oladipo, Indiana – Started every game he played and led the league in steals per game while bumping his scoring from 16 points to 23 per game and improving his shooting percentages across the board.

2017 – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – In Year 4 of his career, the eventual NBA MVP averaged 23 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game for Milwaukee, showing improvement in all three categories for the fourth consecutive season.

2016 – CJ McCollum, Portland – His jump is the closest in recent years to what Graham did this season. McCollum pushed his scoring average from 6.8 points per game to 20.8 while averaging 4.3 assists per game, up from one per game the season before. He also became one of the better 3-point shooters in the league, knocking in 42% of his triples.

2015 – Jimmy Butler, Chicago – Led the league in minutes played (38.7 per game) while bumping his scoring average from 13 per game to 20 per game.

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Morris twins play their parts in NBA’s restart in Orlando

Los Angeles Clippers' Marcus Morris Sr. (31) shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP)

Los Angeles Clippers' Marcus Morris Sr. (31) shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP) by Matt Tait

Marcus Morris played the most minutes. But Markieff Morris got the victory.

The NBA is back and opening night of the league’s restart in Orlando on Thursday featured a matchup of former Jayhawks in the second game of a doubleheader on TNT.

While players named LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George may have gained more of the national attention, it was the Morris twins who Jayhawk fans were likely watching.

You had to be paying attention at just the right time to catch Markieff’s time on the court. The newest Lakers reserve played just three minutes and did not record a single stat in his team’s 103-101 victory.

That may change as things progress and Markieff gets more familiar with the Lakers’ system, personnel and coaching staff. But, at least right now, it looks as if he’s plugged in as quality insurance behind big men Javale McGee, who started and played 11 minutes, and Dwight Howard, who played 13 minutes off the bench.

Remember, the Lakers do still have Davis and James, who both can play multiple front court positions.

Marcus Morris, however, appears to be a bigger part of the Clippers’ puzzle. He started Thursday night and played 19 minutes while being one of just two Clippers players with a double-digit, positive plus/minus number (+10).

Foul trouble played some role in Marcus logging just 19 minutes, (he even recorded the first technical foul of the NBA's restart late in the first half) but he also was playing just his 13th game with the Clippers, so there’s still a bit of a feeling-out process going on there, as well.

Marcus missed all four shots he attempted — including an 0-of-3 clip from 3-point range — and grabbed three rebounds, dished one assist and turned it over twice in the loss.

Three more former Jayhawks will jump back into action today, when Josh Jackson and the Memphis Grizzlies face Portland at 3 p.m. (NBA TV), Cheick Diallo and the Phoenix Suns take on the Washington Wizards at 3 p.m. (no TV) and Ben McLemore and Houston square off with Dallas at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

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