Posts tagged with Jayhawks

League-leading 3-point shooter Andrew Wiggins barely shoots from downtown on way to 47

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) drives to the basket and is fouled by Los Angeles Lakers center Timofey Mozgov (20) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) drives to the basket and is fouled by Los Angeles Lakers center Timofey Mozgov (20) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

You probably already knew former Kansas standout Andrew Wiggins was a better NBA player than many around the league. Take, I don’t know, every player who starts for the Los Angeles Lakers, for example. Wiggins is definitely better than Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, D’Angelo Russell and Nick “Swaggy P” Young, right?

As if we needed any confirmation of this fact, Wiggins provided it Sunday by scoring a new career-high 47 points — as many as the Lakers’ starting five combined.

The Timberwolves’ ever-improving wing would’ve reached 50 points — and outscored L.A’s starters by himself — had a late 3-pointer not misfired.

Minnesota’s home crowd, the Star Tribune reported, badly wanted Wiggins to hit 50.

“Not as bad as me,” Wiggins said afterward.

One of the crazy factors in the 6-foot-8 small forward’s massive night is he reached 47 points with just two of five 3-pointers falling through the net. Keep in mind: Wiggins actually leads the league in 3-point shooting (17-for-31) at 54.8%.

Wiggins quickly eclipsed his previous career high of 36 — set less than a week before against Brooklyn — by working the Lakers over with his jumper and getting to the paint, making 14 of 21 shots overall.

Andrew Wiggins' shot chart — 47 points vs. Lakers (Nov. 13, 2016)
[LA = league average | DST = shot distribution]

Andrew Wiggins' shot chart — 47 points vs. Lakers (Nov. 13, 2016) [LA = league average | DST = shot distribution]

Plus, he lived at the free-throw line, what with the Lakers’ inability to stop him offensively. Wiggins shot 17-for-22 at the charity stripe — both easily season highs — to improve his season free-throw shooting percentage to 74.1%.

The offensive explosion came on the second day of a back-to-back, after Wiggins attempted more shots (8-for-24) in a 22-point effort against L.A.’s far superior team, the Clippers.

“I shot 24 times yesterday and Coach Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) told me to be more aggressive,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “So I said, ‘All right,’ and I just went for it.”

There are still months to play in the season, but at this juncture Wiggins qualifies as one of the NBA’s better scorers. Averaging 26.3 points a game, he ranks ninth in the category. Still, Thibodeau sees even more potential in his 21-year-old wing.

“He’s smart. He’s driven,” the first-year T’wolves coach told the Star Tribune. “I think sometimes people mistakenly take it that he’s laid back. He’s competitive. He’s just scratching the surface. I think he can be a lot more. … I don’t want to put a lid on it. It’s what he wants it to be.”

Minnesota (3-6) has another future all-star in Karl-Anthony Towns, but the franchise could use an assertive Wiggins carrying much of the scoring load as the team tries to reach the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Though it seems inevitable, the Timberwolves still have quite a journey in front of them before they can reach the upper echelon of the Western Conference, and that day likely won’t come for a couple more seasons. Once they get there, though, games like this one from Wiggins will qualify as key milepost markers along that pilgrimage.

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Andrew Wiggins — Not just a dunker anymore?

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Justin Hamilton (41) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots over Brooklyn Nets center Justin Hamilton (41) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

With the growing buzz emanating from Philadelphia thanks to Joel Embiid, it’s become easy of late to overlook another former Kansas basketball player on his way to NBA stardom.

Also overshadowed on his own team by superstar-in-the-making Karl-Anthony Towns, perhaps Andrew Wiggins did enough in his first two years with Minnesota to ignore his progress the first few weeks of this season.

Big mistake. The Timberwolves (1-5) have yet to prove worthy of their preseason hype, but Wiggins looks even more assertive and impressive than a year ago, when he averaged 20.7 points a game.

In four of his six starts, Wiggins has scored 25 or more points. Tuesday night at Brooklyn, the 21-year-old Canadian sensation went for career-highs with 36 points and six 3-pointers.

Whether it’s just a hot start or a sign of things to come, Wiggins’ 3-point shooting in Year 3 has far exceeded what anyone could’ve envisioned for the hyper-athletic, 6-foot-8 wing. After making only 31% from downtown as a rookie and dipping to 30% in 2015-16, Wiggins has caught fire, draining 12 of 18 — 66.7% — on the young season. And while it is way too early to consider him the league’s newest marksman, the fact is Wiggins leads The Association in 3-point percentage, currently sharing that distinction with none other than Embiid (6-for-9).

If Wiggins can make defenders fear his outside touch consistently, the ferocious slasher and dunker could develop into quite a force on the perimeter.

On a career night, though, Wiggins told the Star Tribune following a nine-point road loss to the Nets he felt disappointed in his lack of production at the foul line, where he went 4-for-8. One of his biggest strengths on offense is driving to draw contact, but so far this season Wiggins is only making 68.9% of his free throws.

“I’ve been working on them,” he told the Star Tribune. “I’m shooting worse than last year (76.1%). I’ve just got to keep repetition, working on it in practice.”

Wiggins didn’t see any point in basking in his big individual success, either:

“I’d rather do less and we win. Winning is what we all want to do. Losing is never fun.”

The future all-star can be a pleasure to watch, though, especially on nights like that.

Wiggins and his young teammates are holding themselves to higher standards, but they are just getting started under a new head coach, Tom Thibodeau, and it’s hard to imagine the T’wolves continuing to lose at this rate. A couple weeks into an 82-game grind, Minnesota is in the middle of the pack in defensive rating (103.4, tied for 14th). That figures to improve under Thibodeau, and if the defense makes a jump in the right direction while Wiggins continues climbing toward significant offensive refinement, this could be the first of many successful seasons to come for the former No. 1 overall pick and the franchise.

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Joel Embiid instant fan favorite in Philly, where he scored 20 in debut

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, right, shoots the ball with Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, defending during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Thunder won 103-97. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, right, shoots the ball with Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams, left, defending during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Thunder won 103-97. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The future has arrived. Joel Embiid made his official NBA debut Wednesday night and did not disappoint.

After two full seasons of watching from the sidelines and rehabbing foot injuries, the 7-foot-2 phenom dazzled on his Philadelphia launch date, the 2016-17 regular-season home opener.

Embiid scored 20 points, grabbed, seven rebounds, blocked two shots — while playing just 22 minutes — and left the 76ers’ fans dreaming about the greatness ahead for the 22-year-old center, who heard chants of “Trust The Process” and “MVP” directed his way during a couple of trips to the free-throw line, where he went 7-for-8.

The young big man, who looked the part of a franchise centerpiece, did miss 10 shots, going 6-for-16. But remember: this was his very first real NBA game (no offense, preseason) and Embiid played on a minutes restriction. Sixers coach Brett Brown started him, but stuck to playing the former Kansas standout in four- to five-minute shifts — according to the organization’s strategy for easing their valuable young asset back onto the floor, in hope of avoiding another major injury setback. Between the newness of competing at that level, dealing with pesky Oklahoma City big man Steven Adams and frequently subbing out of the game, Embiid handled it all quite well.

"I try to make it a regular day," Embiid told The Inquirer before the game, during a session with reporters. "It's hard. You think what you've gone through the past two years, the loss of my brother and having to get another surgery and all of the ups and downs."

None of those factors appeared to bother him once the nationally televised game began. Fittingly, Embiid’s first pro bucket came on a move that highlighted his crafty footwork and soft shooting touch. After catching the ball at the top of the key, the big man dribbled toward the foul line, gave a shoulder fake one direction, pivoted away from his defender and drained a smooth fall-away jumper.

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Even though Philadelphia lost to Oklahoma City, 76ers fans fell in love with their new big, who showcased a borderline ludicrous face-up game for a man his size, blocked Russell Westbrook — like THE Russell Westbrook — on a drive to the rim and even knocked down a 3-pointer.

Afterward, Brown spoke glowingly of his center from Cameroon.

"For a city to be rewarded for a player that we all understand has special gifts," Brown said in The Inquirer’s recap, "and play like he played, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it."

And Thunder coach Billy Donovan didn’t hold back his praises of Embiid, either.

"He's hard to guard," Donovan said in Keith Pompey’s game story for The Inquirer. "He's herky-jerky. He's got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuwon in him."

Joel Embiid has arrived. And the scary thing for the rest of the NBA is he’s only going to get better.

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Counting Down the Most Interesting KU Players to Watch This NBA Season

— Part 1: Numbers 15 through 11

— Part 2: Numbers 10 through 6

— Part 3: Numbers 5 through 1

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this NBA season — Part 3

As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.

In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

We now arrive at the cream of the KU crop. You could argue where each of the following players would fall in the rankings, but these are the five most talented Jayhawks employed by the NBA right now. Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best, though. We’re talking about which players you’re going to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).

— Part 1: Numbers 15 through 11

— Part 2: Numbers 10 through 6

No. 5: Markieff Morris — Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards' Markieff Morris plays against the Cleveland Cavaliers during an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Washington Wizards' Markieff Morris plays against the Cleveland Cavaliers during an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

The starting power forward on a team expecting to make the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Markieff Morris seems poised for the best season of his NBA career.

Markieff (angrily) began 2015-16 playing for Phoenix, the organization that had just split him up from twin brother Marcus by trading his sibling away to Detroit. The Suns finally moved Markieff to Washington before the trade deadline this past February, but you got the sense he didn’t quite reach his full offensive capacity with the Wizards in the weeks that followed.

Upon arriving in D.C., Markieff certainly wasn’t bad. He averaged 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds and shot 46.7% from the floor (far better than his 39.7% in Phoenix in the 37 games leading up to the move). But it’s easy to see him improving upon all his numbers during his upcoming sixth pro season. He’s not entering a team late in a campaign. The Wizards have a new player-friendly head coach in Scott Brooks. Markieff now has a better feel for playing with all-star point guard John Wall and should help the Wizards stretch the floor while center Marcin Gortat plays in the post.

Washington advanced in the playoffs two straight springs before taking a step backward and missing the postseason in 2016. If Markieff makes them better by maximizing his talents he will gain the sort of league-wide respect he has yet to attain.

No. 4: Marcus Morris — Detroit Pistons

Detroit Pistons' Marcus Morris (13) tries to go to the basket against Toronto Raptors' DeMarre Carroll, center, and Jonas Valanciunas during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Detroit Pistons' Marcus Morris (13) tries to go to the basket against Toronto Raptors' DeMarre Carroll, center, and Jonas Valanciunas during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

You never know how a season will play out, but as 2016-17 begins, it seems Detroit, the team Marcus Morris plays for, is considered more of a sure thing in the East than Washington, current home of his brother, Markieff.

The twins play similar complimentary roles for their respective franchises but Marcus, unlike his bro, enters his sixth year in the league on the heels of his most impressive season since the duo left Kansas. A reserve the vast majority of his time in Phoenix, Marcus became a starter with the Pistons and responded by producing the best numbers of his career: 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists. He also shot 43.4% from the floor and made 108 3-pointers (36.2%).

Detroit point guard and leading scorer Reggie Jackson is out with an injury for a few weeks, so Detroit could start slowly, but some around the league think the Pistons could end up being one of the top three teams in the East not named Cleveland. Should Detroit pull that off, Morris’ role in that rise would be hard to ignore.

No. 3: Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, right, drives to the basket as Los Angeles Clippers guard Raymond Felton tries to fight through a screen during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. The Clippers won 92-89. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore, right, drives to the basket as Los Angeles Clippers guard Raymond Felton tries to fight through a screen during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. The Clippers won 92-89. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Both of the Morris twins are more accomplished in the NBA than Ben McLemore, but the fourth-year shooting guard is entering the most important season of his professional career.

McLemore’s name has come up in Sacramento trade rumors for the past year of so, and that’s a trend that figures to continue in the weeks and months ahead. The Kings, per usual, have a new head coach, Dave Joerger. Just how McLemore fits into Joerger’s plans remains to be seen.

Early signs indicate McLemore, who averaged a career-low 7.8 points in 2015-16, won’t start for Sacramento any more, with Arron Afflalo playing 2-guard on the first unit. Can McLemore thrive as scoring sixth man? Are the Kings just diminishing his role because they plan on trading him away at the first possible chance?

Once next July gets here, McLemore will be a restricted free agent — regardless of which team he suits up for to close the season. So now would be the ideal time to make a leap in production and 3-point shooting (34.6% for his career). Maybe a change in scenery would help him reach that untapped potential.

No. 2: Andrew Wiggins — Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Minnesota won 124-117 in overtime. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Minnesota won 124-117 in overtime. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Already a highlight Vine waiting to happen, third-year wing Andrew Wiggins’ career trajectory should make another explosive leap upward this year as a rising star for the league darling Minnesota Timberwolves.

In his second season, Wiggins broke the 20-point barrier for his scoring average, putting up 20.7 a night, while complimenting future superstar big man Karl-Anthony Towns. We shouldn’t expect him to take that average to 25 this year or anything crazy. But you’d like to see him improve his shooting percentages: 48.6% on 2-pointers last year, and 30% from behind the 3-point line.

Assuming Wiggins can help those numbers out himself through shot selection and just natural improvement through development — the man hasn’t even turned 22 yet — he’s going to become a more dangerous offensive player in Year 3.

Even more fascinating, though, will be the impact new T’wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has on Wiggins. A defensive guru, Thibodeau could transform the 6-foot-8, high-flying forward into a monster on defense. And the more stops Wiggins and company get on that end, the more chances Minnesota will have to get out in the open floor and finish fast breaks with Wiggins jams.

No. 1: Joel Embiid — Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid celebrates after scoring against the Miami Heat during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid celebrates after scoring against the Miami Heat during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Forget the qualification of Jayhawks in the league. Rookie center Joel Embiid is one of the most intriguing players in the NBA this season. Period. But you probably knew that before you clicked on this post.

For the love of all things basketball, injuries have deprived us all of watching Embiid’s crazy array of post moves and deft touch for more than two years. We’ve seen glimpses already in the preseason of the promise the big man from Cameroon showed in his abbreviated one-and-done season at Kansas.

Even though Philadelphia has limited Embiid’s minutes early on to make sure his foot problems don’t resurface, the early results have been spectacular.

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He’s 7-foot-2. He can handle the ball. He can knock down jumpers. He can protect the rim. He has moves in the post to score over his defender. The potential for Embiid seems limitless. Then again, he should’ve been a rookie two years ago but his body didn’t allow it.

Can Embiid make it through a full season without suffering another major injury setback? If he does, his overall game and confidence will only skyrocket.

The coming months will determine where the Embiid story goes next. If he stays relatively healthy, he has as legit a shot as anyone at winning Rookie of the Year. And the seasons to come just might include all-star appearances, all-NBA teams and carrying a declining franchise back to its former glory.

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this NBA season — Part 2

As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.

In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

We now move to Nos. 10-6. A couple of these former Kansas stars are entering the primes of their career and poised to make real impacts as key reserves.

Another’s days in The Association are numbered, one is attempting to finally establish himself and the other is just getting his feet wet in the NBA.

— Part 1: Numbers 15 through 11

— Part 3: Numbers 5 through 1

No. 10: Tarik Black — Los Angeles Lakers

New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) goes to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) goes to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

After he went undrafted in 2014, who would have thought Tarik Black would be in the league two years later, let alone playing a crucial reserve role for one of the most recognizable franchises on the planet?

True, this is not the Showtime Lakers of the glory 1980s nor the Shaq and Kobe Lakers of 15 years ago. At best, L.A. is a young team building toward what it hopes can become another era of title chases. Those days, if they return, are years away. For now Black will try and be a building block for the future, along with young recent lottery picks such as D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.

If you watched the 6-foot-9 center play at KU, you know his game: utilize that bulk in the paint to defend and rebound, work hard, finish strong. Those characteristics already have turned Black into a bit of a fan favorite and secured him a guaranteed contract for this season.

Black apparently wasn’t valued by former Lakers coach Byron Scott, who only played him 12.7 minutes a game last year, but Black seems to be in a better situation with Luke Walton taking over, and he’ll back up L.A.’s starting center, Timofey Mozgov.

No. 9: Paul Pierce — Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, right, takes the ball away from Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles, left, during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, right, takes the ball away from Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles, left, during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

This is it for Paul Pierce. His 19th NBA season will be his last. And, realistically, at 39 years old, there is only so much the former perennial all-star’s legs will allow him to do on the basketball court at this point.

We won’t see “The Truth” take over fourth quarters like he so often did for Boston in his 15 seasons with the Celtics. Last year with the Clippers, Pierce only played 18.1 minutes a game and scored 6.1 points — both by far career lows. Though a future hall of famer, Pierce has reached a point where the Clippers are better off playing guys such as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and, at times, Wesley Johnson at small forward in their otherwise superb starting lineup.

The intrigue in watching Pierce play this season comes from knowing it’s his last. What does he have left in that tank? Will he play better this year than last, knowing he can give it all and spend the rest of his life resting?

You know he’s going to have a night or two when he catches fire and looks like vintage Pierce for a stretch, and that will be fun to see, as will the tributes he gets from various organizations as he plays in visiting arenas for the final time.

Here’s one date you’ll want to mark on your calendar for the Clippers: Sunday, Feb. 5. It will be the final time Pierce plays in front of a Boston crowd that adores the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.

No. 8: Cole Aldrich — Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich (45) blocks a shot by Denver Nuggets forward Jarnell Stokes (12) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. The Minnesota Timberwolves won 105-88. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Minnesota Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich (45) blocks a shot by Denver Nuggets forward Jarnell Stokes (12) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. The Minnesota Timberwolves won 105-88. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Last season, while playing with Pierce in L.A., Cole Aldrich established himself as a valuable reserve center in the NBA. Even while playing only 13.3 minutes a game, the burly 6-foot-11 Aldrich routinely made a positive impact in the paint as a rebounder and rim protector and averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, while converting 59.6% of his shot attempts.

Aldrich’s best pro season to date came at an ideal time, too, with the big man hitting the free agent market this past summer. He signed with his hometown Timberwolves, one of the league’s up-and-coming franchises for three years and $22 million.

Now 27 years old, Aldrich gets to take his enforcer role to Minnesota’s second unit. When the team’s young star Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng aren’t in the game to control the paint, it will be up to Aldrich to make sure the T’wolves’ interior defense doesn’t experience much of a drop-off.

Minnesota is expected to become one of the more exciting teams in the league to follow, and for KU fans, there is no better bandwagon to hop onto, with Aldrich teaming up with fellow Jayhawks Brandon Rush and Andrew Wiggins.

No. 7: Thomas Robinson — Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers' Thomas Robinson, left, and Sacramento Kings' Skal Labissiere fight for a rebound during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. The Lakers won 103-84. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles Lakers' Thomas Robinson, left, and Sacramento Kings' Skal Labissiere fight for a rebound during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. The Lakers won 103-84. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

We don’t know how much — or how little — former KU star Thomas Robinson will play during his first season with the Lakers. Honestly, it seems another Jayahwk on this list, Black, will feature far more prominently in L.A.’s plans.

Robinson, playing on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, didn’t even know during the preseason whether he’d make the team’s roster. So he has a long way to go before breaking into the rotation. The months ahead seem intriguing for Robinson, though, because this is his sixth team in five seasons. Organization after organization has passed on retaining the backup power forward. Will the Lakers do the same? Will they even keep him around for the entire season?

The answers to those questions have a lot to do with how the 6-foot-10, 25-year-old Robinson approaches his place in the roster hierarchy. The Lakers have far more invested in bigs Julius Randle, Mozgov, Larry Nance Jr. and Black than Robinson. He’ll have to prove himself more deserving of playing time than one or two of his frontcourt teammates to feature prominently on this young team building for the future.

It might take an injury to one of those other post players for Robinson to get a long look from Walton and his staff. How will Robinson respond when his chance comes? That’s what will be compelling to observe. He has yet to live up to his position as a lottery pick — will this be the year he finally does?

No. 6: Kelly Oubre Jr. — Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) dunks during an NBA preseason basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) dunks during an NBA preseason basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

A year ago, appropriately, Kelly Oubre Jr. looked like a 20-year-old rookie not quite skilled enough to make a sustainable impact on an NBA floor.

Now in his second season with Washington, Oubre, who will turn 21 in December, is starting to fit in much better. Whether that’s the result of learning from his first-year struggles, the Wizards hiring a new head coach in Scott Brooks or a combination of the two, look for the 6-foot-7 lefty’s production to spike upward in Year 2.

Say goodbye to the days of Oubre playing only 10 minutes and averaging 3.7 points. Though still playing a reserve role, behind Otto Porter Jr., Oubre looked better suited to contribute during the preseason. He played 25.5 minutes a game for D.C. this past month in exhibitions, and scored 13.1 points while making 49.2% of his field goals.

To take the next step in his career, Oubre will have to develop a better 3-point shot. He only made 25 of 79 last season (31.6%). During the preseason, it didn’t appear a drastic improvement is coming in the months ahead, as Oubre shot 6-for-17 (35.3%) from downtown.

Still, it seems Washington is far more interested in utilizing Oubre's growing skill set now than when he was a rookie.

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this NBA season — Part 1

As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.

In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

We’ll start it off with Nos. 15-11. These former Kansas standouts probably aren’t going to begin trending on Twitter or make many headlines. Still, some will play key roles on playoff-caliber teams.

And one youngster will try to prove he belongs in the league.

— Part 2: Numbers 10 through 6

— Part 3: Numbers 5 through 1

No. 15: Darrell Arthur — Denver Nuggets

Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur poses for a photo during media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur poses for a photo during media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

If Darrell Arthur was a football player, he’d be an interior lineman whose name never gets called on a broadcast. The 6-foot-9 forward just executes his assignments without much flash or fuss, and to the delight of his coaches, rarely makes mistakes.

While the eighth-year veteran from KU is well respected for his reliability and demeanor, coming off the bench for Denver to grab rebounds and successfully defend pick-and-rolls on the perimeter isn’t the most glamorous role in the NBA, and it’s for those reasons that our list begins with Arthur.

At 28, he’s in the prime of his career, and coming off a season in which he produced 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds as a Nuggets reserve playing 21.7 minutes a game.

Arthur is a more valuable piece than some of the other Jayhawks in the league, but it’s just hard to envision fans stopping what they’re doing to tune in to a Denver game for the purposes of keeping up with his career.

No. 14: Nick Collison — Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison is pictured during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison is pictured during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Speaking of professionals, few veterans in the NBA are as respected for their dirty work as much as Nick Collison, aka Mr. Thunder. Entering his 13th season with the franchise, Collison’s gray beard hairs might bring him some grief from his much younger teammates, but the backup to Oklahoma City’s backup big men works so hard and knows the league so well that OKC likes to keep him around as a mentor and occasional fill-in.

The 35-year-old played a career-low 11.8 minutes a game last season, and when he does check into games we won’t see Collison do much more than compete for rebounds, takes some charges and dive on the floor. Still, OKC is embarking on its post-Kevin Durant era, and no player on the roster figures to influence how the Thunder go about handling the challenge ahead in the Western Conference, particularly behind the scenes, more than Russell Westbrook and Collison. Oklahoma City keeps Collison around because of what he brings to the locker room and the organization’s culture, but from a viewing standpoint it’s also entertaining to watch NBA old guys outcompete far superior athletes for a few minutes here and there.

No. 13: Jeff Withey — Utah Jazz

Utah Jazz center Jeff Withey (24) pulls away a rebound from Los Angeles Clippers center Marreese Speights (5) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. The Jazz won 96-94. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Utah Jazz center Jeff Withey (24) pulls away a rebound from Los Angeles Clippers center Marreese Speights (5) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. The Jazz won 96-94. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

The backup 7-footer isn’t expected to play a ton for Utah, a franchise with a sneaky-deep roster which some around the NBA think will propel the Jazz into the playoffs this season, but Jeff Withey could be poised to make more of an impact on the court this season than he has since he left KU in 2013.

Witney has averaged just 11.0 minutes a game in his three professional seasons, but enters the year as the primary backup for Jazz center Rudy Gobert. It should be interesting to see if Withey can make a leap in his production with more opportunities. Per 36 minutes in 2015-16, the reserve center averaged 11.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.

Don’t be surprised to see Withey swats or jams show up on social media or highlights shows, particularly when he plays a key part in the Jazz knocking off some of the more renowned teams in the league.

No. 12: Brandon Rush — Minnesota Timberwolves

Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shoots over Minnesota Timberwolves' Brandon Rush during the first quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Charlotte Hornets' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist shoots over Minnesota Timberwolves' Brandon Rush during the first quarter of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

A few years ago, going from Golden State to Minnesota would’ve seemed like a penthouse-to-outhouse move for Rush, a ninth-year guard. However, his free-agent signing with the Timberwolves this summer couldn’t have come at a better time. The franchise, built around young stars-in-the-making Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, added one of the league’s best coaches, Tom Thibodeau, as well, in the offseason. The perennial lottery team could jump into the playoffs by season’s end, and the organization should only see more progress from there.

Plus, as thrilling as it must’ve been for Rush to play for the back-to-back West champion Warriors, he could contribute a lot more to a young Minnesota roster than he ever would’ve got a chance to do on Golden State’s star-studded perimeter.

Rush played 21.9 minutes a game for the T’wolves during the preseason, averaged 7.1 points and made 12 of his 20 3-pointers. Between his defensive ability and knack for spotting up behind the arc, Rush projects as a solid complimentary bench player for Minnesota.

No. 11: Cheick Diallo — New Orleans Pelicans

Cheick Diallo of the New Orleans Pelicans keeps the ball away from Gary Payton II of the Houston Rockets during a preseasons NBA game in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Cheick Diallo of the New Orleans Pelicans keeps the ball away from Gary Payton II of the Houston Rockets during a preseasons NBA game in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The guy barely played at Kansas. How is he going to get any run in the NBA? Actually, that’s what makes Cheick Diallo’s rookie season so intriguing.

Odds are New Orleans, much like KU coach Bill Self, won’t have much use for the 20-year-old off the bat. The 6-foot-9 big is too raw to be relied upon within a rotation at this point. However, the Pelicans seem to like his energy and down-the-road potential. There will be plenty of nights when Diallo doesn’t even suit up for his new team. When he does get spot minutes, they’ll come late in blowouts most likely.

Without a doubt, Diallo is a longterm project. The months ahead will include the first steps he’ll take toward whatever his career becomes: high-energy role player in the paint, highly-rated prep prospect that never met his full potential or somewhere in between? We’ll have to wait a few years to learn the answer.

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Thomas Robinson trying to earn roster spot with Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers' Thomas Robinson shoots against Golden State Warriors' James Michael McAdoo during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Los Angeles Lakers' Thomas Robinson shoots against Golden State Warriors' James Michael McAdoo during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

No stranger to adversity, Thomas Robinson might be in for a few of the most stressful days of his professional career.

A bonafide college basketball star by the time he finished up at Kansas in 2012, Robinson months later became the No. 5 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Since then, though, the tough-nosed, explosive power forward has yet to carve out a niche for himself.

As of Tuesday morning, Robinson could call himself a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. However, there is no guarantee that will be the case when the regular season starts next week.

The Lakers have 17 players on their preseason roster. As reported by Mark Medina of The Orange County Register, L.A. has to trim that number to at least 15 before embarking on the quickly approaching 82-game grind.

Robinson is one of three Lakers on non-guaranteed training camp deals, along with the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, aka Metta World Peace, and center Yi Jianlian.

None by Mike Bresnahan

First-year NBA head coach Luke Walton told The Register that Robinson, a free agent this past summer, impressed the Lakers in workouts.

“The way he was working and the way he was winning, we thought we at least have to bring this guy to camp,” Walton said. “He looks great out here.”

The coach seems to like him, so that’s a positive for the 6-foot-10 25-year-old. Still, Robinson hasn’t played much off L.A.’s bench in the preseason:

- 7 minutes, 8 points, 7 rebounds vs. Sacramento

- 9 minutes, 0 points, 1 rebound vs. Denver

- 9 minutes, 1 point, 2 rebounds vs. Denver

- Did not play vs. Portland

- Did not play vs. Sacramento

- 7 minutes, 7 points, 4 rebounds vs. Golden State

In total, Robinson has produced 16 points and 14 rebounds in 30 preseason minutes, which doesn’t look too bad if you forget about the 8.1 minutes a game part of the equation. According to RealGM.com, Robinson’s preseason PER is 27.61. This of course is from a minimal sample size, but just to provide a reference point only five NBA players had a PER of 27 or higher last season.

Also helping Robinson’s cause, The Register reported he often wins drills at Lakers practices, getting his name atop what they call the “winner’s board.”

“I’m just trying to be who I am as a player,” Robinson said. “Those are exactly the things coach said.”

Drafted by Sacramento, Robinson also has played for Houston, Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. He hopes the 2016-17 season will be his fifth in the league for his seventh different franchise. He told The Register he learned quickly not to take personnel decisions the wrong way or look at teams that moved him or declined to retain him with any malice.

“It’s never been anything personal,” he said. “When you get older, things don’t bother you as much.”

Oddly enough, Robinson likely would have an easier time sticking with L.A. if not for the presence of another former Kansas big man, Tarik Black. The Lakers already have a backup big to crash the glass, play with energy and do other dirty work assignments in the paint. Black, who has played each of the past two seasons with the organization, is averaging 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 16.2 minutes this preseason, while shooting 59.1% from the floor.

Between Black, Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Larry Nance Jr., Timofey Mozgov and even early second-round pick Ivica Zubac, the Lakers have a lot of front court options. Robinson would have to leapfrog at least one or two of those players, as well as Yi, for L.A. to keep him around.

It seems the little things have held Robinson back through his years in the NBA. Take this example of JaVale McGee dunking on Robinson earlier this week. The former KU star deserves credit for rising up and contesting the jam. But he wouldn’t have been in that position had he stayed in the middle of the paint in proper help position, denying McGee the easiest route to the hoop in the first place.

None by B-Wobbit

Obviously, no defender is perfect and it sounds as if Walton sees Robinson’s redeeming qualities.

“He never takes plays off,” the L.A. coach said. “He’s a great guy. You want him around. He’s a monster on the offensive glass and has a great attitude with everything we’ve done.”

The Lakers have two more preseason games left before they play for real Wednesday, Oct. 26. We’ll know by then if Robinson will spend the months ahead in purple and gold or be forced to try and catch on with yet another franchise.

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Joel Embiid finally makes 76ers debut, two years after being drafted

Boston Celtics' Amir Johnson, right, guards Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Boston Celtics' Amir Johnson, right, guards Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Amherst, Mass. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Hey, everybody. Joel Embiid played basketball Tuesday night.

Big deal, right? Well, for the 22-year-old center from Cameroon it actually was.

Those familiar with Embiid know of his constant run of ailments dating back to his one-and-done season at Kansas. A back injury robbed the promising young big man of completing his freshman year on the court with the Jayhawks, and days before he became the third overall pick in the NBA Draft he fractured a bone in his right foot.

Before his preseason debut with Philadelphia, Embiid missed two consecutive seasons due to his foot issues. In total, he went 948 days without appearing in a game.

So, yeah, just playing in an otherwise meaningless exhibition seemed significant for Embiid and the 76ers.

"At the beginning, I was pretty nervous," Embiid told reporters after scoring 6 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and blocking 2 shots for the Sixers against Boston. "I think I had trouble breathing, so it was hard. But once I got the first bucket, everything started to slow down. I saw the game easier. I just felt like I was myself again."

None by Philadelphia 76ers

As chronicled by Keith Pompey of The Inquirer, Embiid started for Philadelphia but played on a minutes restriction as the organization eases him into his return to normal life as a basketball player. The big man missed his first three shot attempts before checking out for a breather.

When Embiid returned to the court, he showed off the footwork that so often wowed onlookers when he played for KU before knocking down a fadeaway jumper. Shortly after that, he denied Boston rookie Jaylen Brown at the rim.

"I thought I did better defensively," Embiid said after shooting 2-for-6 and turning the ball over three times. "Offensively, that's going to come. But defensively that was one of my goals, and I think I did better."

Sure to become a hit with the media, the gregarious 7-footer said it caught him by surprise when the Celtics’ defense focused on stopping him in the post.

"I was like, 'That's my first game. Second quarter,’” Embiid said. “‘Y’all really going to double-team, first game, second quarter?’”

The Sixers’ starting pivot said he planned to go back and review video from his debut and learn from the situations in which he felt uncomfortable. Head coach Brett Brown didn’t sound too worried about Embiid afterward.

“In Joel, you see a confidence and a swagger,” Brown said in a Courier Times story.

Brown and the Sixers’ brass limited Embiid to 12 minutes on his long-awaited launch date. The man who hadn’t played a game since KU traveled to Oklahoma State on March 1, 2014, left wanting more.

"Honestly, I thought the 12 minutes I was going to play I was going to score 40 points," Embiid joked (presumably).

None by Joel Embiid

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Cliff Alexander fighting to make Orlando’s roster

This is a 2016 photo of Cliff Alexander of the Orlando Magic basketball team. This image reflects the 2016 active roster as of Monday Sept. 26, 2016, in Orlando, Fla., when this photo was taken. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

This is a 2016 photo of Cliff Alexander of the Orlando Magic basketball team. This image reflects the 2016 active roster as of Monday Sept. 26, 2016, in Orlando, Fla., when this photo was taken. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

He went undrafted. In the offseason following his rookie year, he got cut. Cliff Alexander’s fight to make it in the NBA continues this month, as he plays in the preseason for Orlando.

For the time being, rosters league-wide are overflowing with options. Soon, though, that will change, as each franchise has to trim its list of on-court personnel to 15 for the regular season. What’s more, some organizations prefer to keep their rosters at 14 in order to provide some flexibility.

All of those factors make for a stressful October for players such as Alexander, working on a non-guaranteed contract.

Over at BasketballInsiders.com, Cody Taylor broke down Alexander’s chances of sticking with Orlando — a team that looks pretty set in the post, with Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.

Alexander, of course, never quite lived up to the hype of a top high school prospect during his one season at Kansas, when he averaged 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 17.6 minutes per game. Though Portland picked him up as an undrafted free agent before last season, Alexander played sparingly for the Western Conference playoff team. The 6-foot-8 power forward appeared in just 8 games and finished his rookie season with 10 points and 6 rebounds in 36 minutes, total.

Nevertheless, Basketball Insiders examined whether Alexander could be the training camp player to nab the Magic’s final available roster spot.

“The 6-8 power forward figures to be an option because of his ability to add toughness to the front court,” Taylor wrote. “New Magic head coach Frank Vogel has said in the past that toughness is something he wants to see more of from the team, and Alexander is a player who fits that mold.”

In a recent video interview with Basketball Insiders, Alexander discussed how he ended up with Orlando during the offseason.

“I mean, I didn’t make that decision. My agency made that decision for me,” Alexander said with a smile at the Magic’s media day.

As little as the 20-year-old played for the Trail Blazers last season, he stuck with the organization all year. Alexander said that experience helped him progress.

“I feel like I’m a much better player,” Alexander said of his status entering what he hopes to be his second NBA season, “got a lot more aggressive on the rebounds, working on my 15-, 18-foot jump shot and just running the floor and just being aggressive.”

According to the young big man, Orlando’s assistant GM recently sent him some video clips of Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and his current Magic teammate Biyombo, asking Alexander to study how aggressively they go after rebounds.

With so many established big men in Orlando’s front court, the former KU forward knows it could be difficult to earn a roster spot.

“Just battle, compete my ass off and just show these guys I ain’t no punk,” Alexander said of his approach. “I’m a young guy. That’s what they figure to realize and try to pick on me a little bit. But I’m from Chicago, I ain’t havin' none of that,” he added, laughing.

In his preseason debut Monday night against Memphis, Alexander only played six minutes off the bench. He connected on his only shot attempt and contributed one rebound, but missed a pair of free throws late in the game.

None by John Denton

Considering how little Vogel played him, you have to consider Alexander a very long shot to stick with Orlando. As pointed out by Basketball Insiders, most of the fringe preseason players the Magic has on the roster right now could end up in the D-League. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — particularly given Alexander’s youth and raw skill set.

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Paul Pierce announces coming season will be his last in NBA

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul Pierce, left, dribble against Milwaukee Bucks' Jabari Parker during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul Pierce, left, dribble against Milwaukee Bucks' Jabari Parker during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Some of the other biggest names of his generation have retired, but Paul Pierce will forge ahead and play one more NBA season.

After a summer of contemplation, the former Kansas star, entering his 19th season in the league, announced Monday on The Players’ Tribune his intentions to play this coming year with the Los Angeles Clippers — and then retire. Pierce’s decision comes in the same offseason that saw such legends as Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Pierce’s former Boston and Brooklyn teammate Kevin Garnett call it quits.

“You know, I’ve played a lot of years in this game. I’ve given this game all I’ve had all my life,” Pierce said in a recorded speech. “And just like any difficult decision that you’ve ever got to make in your life, I think you’ve really got to be at peace with yourself to make a decision like this. I realize that it’s time to move on from the game of basketball. It’s the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life, but this is it. This is my final season.”

As the 10-time all-star indicated on The Players’ Tribune post, Pierce remains hopeful the Clippers — led by younger stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin — can help the soon-to-be 39-year-old be a part of a championship level team in his final go-round through the NBA.

Pierce, of course, won a title with the Celtics in 2008, when he earned NBA Finals MVP honors.

For his career, “The Truth” has averaged 20.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists, while shooting 44.5% from the floor. But his numbers have been on a steady decline since Boston, the team that drafted him 10th overall in 1998, traded him away to start rebuilding.

This past season, Pierce’s first with L.A. after stints with the Nets and Washington, he averaged career lows in minutes (18.1), points (6.1), field goals attempted (5.8), field goals made (2.1), field-goal percentage (36.3%), rebounds (2.7), assists (1.0) and steals (0.5).

“I think I’ve had an illustrious career,” Pierce said in The Players’ Tribune video. “I’m very satisfied with the work that I’ve been able to do over the past 18 years, and I realize that you can’t play forever. You know, this is a young man’s game, and as I get older and not being able to be as efficient and do a lot of the things I do, you know, the signs, you know, they’re there. You can’t reach the goals that you put out there for yourself like you’ve done in the past and it gets harder as you get older and the players get better. And I feel like I have one more opportunity on a great team and something to give on and off the court.”

— Watch Pierce’s entire announcement video below:

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