Posts tagged with Ku Basketball

Undrafted Tarik Black exceeds expectations in rookie campaign

Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, left, and Los Angeles Lakers forward Tarik Black battle for a rebound as Clippers forward Matt Barnes grabs Blacks jersey during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 5, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, left, and Los Angeles Lakers forward Tarik Black battle for a rebound as Clippers forward Matt Barnes grabs Blacks jersey during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, April 5, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Given how the 2014 NBA Draft played out for Tarik Black, it’s hard to imagine his rookie season turning out any better than it did.

Sixty players — including two of his Kansas basketball teammates — heard their names called on draft night this past June, while Black went unpicked. The big man with little flash to his game would have to scrap his way into the professional ranks the hard way, by proving himself in the Summer League and earning a roster spot at a fall training camp.

And even though Houston, the organization that gave him a chance, ended up dumping him when veteran forward Josh Smith unexpectedly became available, that turned out just fine for Black.

A happy and productive member of the Los Angeles Lakers the final 38 games of his rookie season, Black said during his exit-interview press conference he went from a pick-setter and offensive rebounder in Houston to a situation that allowed him to flourish in L.A.

The lottery-bound Lakers, of course, needed him a lot more than the Rockets, the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Wearing the vaunted purple and gold, Black started 27 games and averaged 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 21.1 minutes a game, while making 58.9% of his field goals.

“I 100 percent feel like I found a home here,” Black said in an interview posted on the Lakers’ website. “It was a great opportunity and a great blessing.”

Been a pleasure but it's a wrap. Very thankful to the Laker fans and organization for affording me this opportunity. Until next year ✌️

Been a pleasure but it's a wrap. Very thankful to the Laker fans and organization for affording me this opportunity. Until next year ✌️ by tarikbblack

In Black’s own words, he was “not even a big name on the team” in his one season at KU, after transferring from Memphis. Once the entire league passed on him at the draft, he didn’t spend any time worrying about the guys who were selected and whether they were better than him. Instead, he successfully kept himself from over-analyzing any perceived misfortune. As it turned out, Black eventually landed in the right situation — and he admitted that doesn’t always happen for rookies.

“I’ve always felt that I had the potential,” the 23-year-old post player said, “and I had the talent that everyone else had.”

The Lakers gave Black a chance to make a name for himself, and upon his exit interview with coach Byron Scott and general manager Mitch Kupchak, he left encouraged by the praise he received.

According to Black, who played center for L.A. even though he says he is only 6-foot-9 while wearing sneakers (don’t trust those roster listings that put him at 6-11), the Lakers’ brass spoke highly of his potential. They said he can become an effective undersized presence in the paint, much like a Charles Barkley, for example. Black isn’t going to become an NBA MVP like Sir Charles, but the confident young man has high expectations for himself.

“I feel like I have the opportunity to be a great basketball player,” Black said. “How that’s been defined? Many greats have done many different things.”

Ideally, he’d like to play power forward in the league, instead of center. Black knows his rebounding is his biggest asset, and he wants to get to a point where he can defend an opposing 3, 4 or 5. He hopes his bulk, athleticism and footwork will allow him to turn this rookie-year success story into a long NBA career.

“I’m undersized as far as height goes,” he admitted, “but I’ve got some tools that I can play five, and that’s gonna make me more valuable at this level.”

Black’s contract with the Lakers isn’t guaranteed for the 2015-16 season, and his success these past few months isn’t going to stop him from continuing his development in the upcoming Summer League. After facing NBA big men for a season, he learned not only do they all have go-to post moves, they also know how to maneuver past screens and work on defense. All the greats, Black said, have perfected aspects of their games, and that’s what makes them unstoppable at times.

His summer plans also include returning to KU. Black said he is one course and a thesis away from completing his master’s degree in African-American studies. Not that he’s sweating the thesis. His mother used to work for the National Civil Rights Museum, in his hometown of Memphis.

“Whatever I decide to write it on,” Black shared, “I’m gonna knock it out. Trust me.”

Confidence carried him far in his first tour of the league. But black said faith proved huge for him, too, because so much of his life as a professional basketball player is out of his hands.

Still, there he sat at the season’s end, having accomplished more than the majority of the 60 players drafted last summer.

“A lot of those guys who were listed above me,” Black said, “I’m amongst them now.”


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Veteran Paul Pierce turns it on for postseason opener

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce plays against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce plays against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

That Paul Pierce from the 2014-15 regular season — you know, the one that looked every day of 37 years old, with 17 seasons of NBA games continuing to break down his body. That was a hoax. A con man.

At least that’s what the former Kansas star would have us believe after scoring a game-high 20 points Saturday at Toronto, helping Washington take a 1-0 lead in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

On the court for his post-game interview with ESPN, the sideline reporter pointed out Pierce hadn’t scored that much since an 18-point effort at Utah on March 18 — a month earlier.

Sure enough, Pierce only scored in double figures twice in his final 10 games.

“I was resting, I was resting for this moment right here,” Pierce responded, with a grin.

Now that the playoffs have arrived, maybe the real Paul Pierce will keep making appearances. “The Truth” lives for this stage. He now has 3,027 career postseason points — moving past Lakers great James Worthy to take 22nd place on the all-time NBA Playoffs scoring list.

Pierce, who said he felt good entering the postseason because coach Randy Wittman didn’t push him too hard down the stretch, spent some time as Washington’s stretch-4 to give Toronto issues in what turned out to be a 93-86 overtime road win for the Wizards.

He took over the game and scored half of his points in the second quarter, as Washington battled a raucous crowd that has gown to despise Pierce in particular after he knocked the Raptors out of the playoffs last season, when he played for Brooklyn.

“I don’t mind playing the role of underdog, villain or whatever you want to call it. I was just trying to help my team win, try to give us a mental edge,” Pierce said in Michael Lee’s writeup for The Washington Post. “If that’s the role I’m going to play, I just got to embrace it. It’s not that I’m a bad guy. Everybody knows I’m a good guy. I mean, off the court.”

He evidently didn’t mind a Toronto tabloid poking fun at his age, either, because he posted a photo of the back page graphic on his Instagram account.

Lol

Lol by paulpierce

Pierce, who opened OT by draining a 3-pointer that have D.C. the lead for good, said afterward the Raptors are down and the Wizards have to take advantage.

“We’re going to try to get greedy,” Pierce said in Jorge Catillo’s Washington Post story. “We didn’t come up here to try to get one game. We came up to take it one game at a time. We got Game 1, and now we’re trying to get Game 2.”

While Pierce hit 7 of 10 shots, 4 of 7 from deep and secured four rebounds, his teammate Drew Gooden, another former KU star, hauled in 10 rebounds, scored 6 points off the bench and helped protect the rim.

None by NBA

It never hurts to have savvy veterans this time of year — especially ones who saved their legs for the playoffs.

“As a unit, we’ve been here before,” the 33-year-old Gooden told The Washington Post. “It’s nothing new to us. We know it can be done. We got that first one from them and now we got to taste a little bit of blood.”

Game 2 in Toronto is Tuesday night (7 p.m., NBA TV).


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Joel Embiid wowing Sixers while working back into game shape

For the Philadelphia 76ers, next season can’t come soon enough.

As expected (and, let’s be honest, intended), 2014-15 has been a giant bust: Eighteen wins. Sixty-one losses. Three games left.

With another campaign of tanking coming to a close, what makes anyone within the Sixers organization optimistic next season will be any different? For one thing, they should finally have Joel Embiid in uniform and contributing.

In the past few days, interest in the rookie-to-be out of Kansas has grown. Still working his way back into shape after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot prior to being picked No. 3 in the NBA Draft, Embiid played two-on-two basketball for the first time earlier this week.

Bob Cooney of the Daily News reported the recovering young 7-footer also displayed his jump-shooting and post moves after a recent practice. Philly coach Brett Brown, of course, has seen far more. And he says Embiid has a long way to go.

"Physically, it's important that none of us get ahead of ourselves or expect something too quick, too soon, because that's not going to happen,” Brown said. “But when you see glimpses of his skill package, you can't help but say, 'Wow.' Just like we saw when we saw him play at Kansas. It's a two-way player and you're just seeing hints of some of the great players and all wrapped up into somebody that hasn't played basketball in a really long time.”

The work Embiid is putting in is impressing teammates, too. Fellow KU product Thomas Robinson said he would bet on the phenom from Cameroon soon becoming a productive NBA player.

"He's my teammate and a KU guy. He'll be great,” Robinson predicted. “I like that he's not a typical back-to-the-basket center. He is a little versatile. He can do a lot more than just stand in the post and shoot jumpers. He can handle the ball. I'm not saying he's going to do these things, but he has the package to use them if he has to. Later on in his career, once everything gets together, then he'll be a problem."

Kansas center Joel Embiid and Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy tangle for position during the first half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kansas center Joel Embiid and Oklahoma State forward Kamari Murphy tangle for position during the first half on Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

The next big step for the 21-year-old with monumental upside figured to be the NBA’s Summer League, his first chance to prove himself in live competition since his final game for the Jayhawks, a loss at Oklahoma State in which he had 13 points and 13 rebounds before re-injuring his back.

However, The Inquirer’s Marc Narducci reported the Sixers have yet to officially decide whether Embiid will play in the summer showcase for young, developing players and unaffiliated free agents.

Brown first wants to see the injury-plagued big man run up and down the court.

“When we get to that level,” the coach told The Inquirer, “then we are really cooking, and a hell of a lot closer than we are today to making better assessments and projecting him out as it relates to summer league."

Embiid, of course, can’t wait to be an active member of the 76ers. He recently suited up just to be on the floor for pre-game introductions.


Philadelphia plans to pair Embiid with 6-foot-11 rookie Nerlens Noel to form a dynamic, rim-protecting wall of “we dare you to come in here.” Noel, averaging 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, told Sixers.com he expects his fellow big man to be a welcome, game-altering addition.

“He takes up a lot of space. He is always going to draw attention. His shooting ability is definitely there,” Noel said. “He practices shooting the three. I don't know how much he will be doing that, but just having that ability is going to open up a lot of things."

Inquirer beat writer Keith Pompey recently posted some clips of Embiid working out on his Instagram account, and he’s definitely working on his inside game, too.

The Sixers just hope they get a chance to see even more out of their potential franchise cornerstone. And soon.


Embiid dancing on the bench while wearing a suit only provides so much entertainment value.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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NBA All-Stars gush about Andrew Wiggins’ potential

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) passes against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, in Miami, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. The Heat won 102-92. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) passes against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, in Miami, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014. The Heat won 102-92. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

With the 2014-15 NBA season quickly winding down, the Minnesota Timberwolves would like to remind you they have a future star in rookie Andrew Wiggins.

The T’Wolves (16-60 with with six games left) do this because it’s better to look far down the road than focus on the fact they have a legitimate shot to finish with the worst record in the league. Also, a little publicity never hurts as Wiggins figures to hold off late pushes from Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel and Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic for Rookie of the Year.

Minnesota recently posted a video on its website which features superstars and all-stars gushing about Wiggins’ athleticism and potential.

Check out what some of the best players in the NBA have said about the 20-year-old out of Kansas this season.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers:

“I remember being Andrew Wiggins. I remember playing against Michael (Jordan) my first year. And playing against (Wiggins) and seeing the baby face and the little footwork and technique things that he’s gonna be much, much sharper at as time goes on, it’s just looking at a reflection of myself, you know, 19 years ago. It’s pretty cool, man.”

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls:

“I think everybody knew he was gonna be a really special player in this league. He’s tough. He’s learning. There’s a learning curve for the kid, but he’s gonna make his mark and have a great career.”

James Harden, Houston Rockets:

“Obviously he’s a great talent. You know, he’s so athletic, so skilled and so long that offensively he’s getting a lot better, feeling more comfortable. I think that, as a rookie, the more comfortable you are the better off you’ll be.”

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers:

“He’s a great talent. Great talent. And I think he has a very, very good feel for the game. And that’s good to see. I think he’s grown each month this season.”

“I remember when I was a rookie, you know, I played against T-Mac (Tracy McGrady) on Christmas day. I played against Kobe, I played against A.I. (Allen Iverson) and all those guys that was shining in the league at that time. I remember how I got up to play those guys, so I know what he was feeling.”

Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks:

“It feels like he’s not even loading and he’s jumping at the top of the backboard. I don’t even know if he’s using all of his muscles. … He’s just like a pogo stick. He jumps up there, and he’s still really raw, but his potential is really amazing.

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers:

“You know, he’s gonna continue to evolve and he’ll get better as time goes on.”

Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat:

“Like I told him when we played them in Miami, ‘You know, man, the sky’s the limit for you.’ You know, if you want it and you put the work in, he has that talent. And he’s so young, man, he’s a raw talent right now, but the kid can be good. I see him getting better and more confident in his game.”

“To be 19 and come into this league, I give a lot of respect for all the guys that come in. I mean, six years from now my son’ll be 19. When you think about something like that, in the NBA? Living his own life? That’s crazy.”

The feature also includes some praises from NBA coaches, who probably look at young players with an even more critical eye.

Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks:

“He’s a tremendous young player that’s growing all the time. Very skilled, as you can tell by his three-point numbers. And he’s developing a really nice inside game to go with his outside game.”

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors:

“I don’t even know who else would be in the conversation. He’s gonna be an all-star. He’s a terrific player, a good talent and he’s figuring out the NBA game.”

Watch the video — which also includes plenty of slow-motion, highlight-reel jams, footage of Wiggins taking on the league’s top stars and more — at the Timberwolves’ website.

Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com took an informal poll of some voters last week and determined Wiggins has a significant lead in the Rookie of the Year race. But some media members said their vote could change before final ballots are in.

Those who dive into the advanced metrics might prefer Noel and the way his defense has made a terrible Philadelphia team competitive.

While the Timberwolves are even worse than the 76ers (18-60), Wiggins does put up numbers: 16.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 43.6% shooting, 32.2% on 3-pointers.

(Noel averages 10.0 points, 8.1 rebounds. 1.7 assists, 1.9 blocks, 1.8 steals and shoots 46.5% from the floor.)

Plus, Wiggins makes jaw-dropping plays, such as this soaring slam dunk that left broadcasters comparing him to Dr. J.

The race might be a little tighter than we originally thought when Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid became non-factors due to season-ending injuries, but Wiggins taking home the hardware remains a safe bet.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Tarik Black auditioning for his NBA future

Los Angeles Lakers' Tarik Black, center, goes up for a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Jazz 80-73. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles Lakers' Tarik Black, center, goes up for a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Thursday, March 19, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Jazz 80-73. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

In the grand scheme of things, the next couple of weeks are fairly meaningless for the Los Angeles Lakers.

At 20-54 with eight games left, the marquee franchise won’t come close to sniffing the playoffs this season. Really, the Lakers would be better off losing out to give themselves the best chance at retaining their 2015 lottery pick, which is top-five protected.

But you better believe the final games of the season mean the world to rookie big man Tarik Black. Undrafted out of Kansas, and waived by Houston in December, the powerful young big man now starts for one of the most storied franchises in pro sports.

That fact alone, however, guarantees Black nothing. As Mike Bresnahan wrote for the Los Angeles Times, the first-year post player currently finds himself in an ongoing audition for his future NBA livelihood.

Black’s contract for next season isn’t guaranteed, and though the Lakers would only have to pay him $850,000 in 2015-16 — we say only because this is the NBA, and most guys make millions upon millions annually — the wise-beyond-his-years 23-year-old told the L.A. Times he isn’t about to assume anything.

Black learned that the hard way, when Houston released him.

"Every article was the same — 'Tarik Black is a keeper, a surprise because nobody drafted him,'" Black told the L.A. Times. "Then a situation popped up where a star free agent came up (Josh Smith) and I ended up getting waived. It's why I tend not to think about tomorrow."

Since the second week of March, Black’s minutes have gone up, and he has responded with some solid outings, including double-doubles versus New York and Utah, and a career-high 16 points on Wednesday against New Orleans.

Between Houston and L.A., Black has averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in his first NBA campaign, while hitting 55.2% of his shots and playing just 18.2 minutes a game.

His numbers look even better in the past 13 games, while playing 24.4 minutes: 8.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 54.8% shooting.

The more opportunities Black gets to prove himself, the more he looks like a legitimate role player who could contribute on a winning team.

Whether that is the Lakers or some other organization next season, Black told the L.A. Times he can’t let that bother him.

"I'm very happy with the way I've been playing. I love this organization. I want to stay with the Lakers. But if I end up somewhere else, I'll just have to work hard there as well.”

Black’s season has gone so well, he actually is ranked 10th on the Rookie Ladder blog at NBA.com.

If he can do that after all 30 teams passed on him in the draft, you know his effort and attitude will take him far in The Association — in Los Angeles or elsewhere.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Marcus Morris making strides in Phoenix, too

Phoenix Suns' Marcus Morris (15) makes a shot over Orlando Magic's Andrew Nicholson (44) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Phoenix Suns' Marcus Morris (15) makes a shot over Orlando Magic's Andrew Nicholson (44) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Years from now, when people look back at Markieff Morris’s NBA career, the 2014-15 season just might stand out as the one in which he shed the label of role player and established himself as one of the more skilled big forwards in the Western Conference.

But his twin brother and Phoenix teammate Marcus is making serious strides this season, too.

2014-15 Morrii stats (through 74 games) PPG FG% 3% FT% RPG APG BPG SPG TOPG MPG
Markieff Morris 15.6 .466 .323 .757 6.0 2.2 0.5 1.3 2.1 31.4
Marcus Morris 10.6 .441 .368 .619 4.6 1.6 0.2 0.7 0.9 24.9

The real breakthrough game for Marcus — as referenced by Ben York at Suns.com — came back in February against Utah. Subbing in off the bench, he put up a career-high 34 points and a then-career-high 12 rebounds. Marcus converted 11 of his 17 field goal tries and nailed 5 of 7 3-pointers.

"He was unstoppable," proud brother Markieff said afterward.

It marked the first time a Suns player produced at least 30 points and 10 boards off the bench since Danny Manning — one of his coaches at Kansas — had 35 points and 10 rebounds in November of 1997.

York wrote the explosion served as a confirmation of what many thought about Marcus’s potential.

More recently, the less heralded Morrii has scored in double figures in 7 of his last 8 games, including 5 straight outings — a first for him this season. In that 8-game stretch, he’s averaging 15.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists, and shooting 44.4% from the floor and 32.7% from 3-point range (just 50% from the foul line).

His playing time has increased of late due to some injury problems for the Suns, and Marcus hasn’t forgotten that with his contributions.

“It’s not really about me,” Morris told Suns.com. “It’s about what coach needs and what the team needs. We have a lot of talent on this team and we’re fighting to get into the playoffs.

“We all have to step our game up and stick together.”

Phoenix (38-36), which lost a critical matchup with Oklahoma City (42-32) Sunday night, currently sits outside of the playoff picture in the West, in 10th place. The Suns have lost 3 straight games and have just 8 games left to try and surpass both New Orleans (39-34) and the Thunder for the final postseason berth available.

“He’s been big for us,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said of Marcus. “With some of the guys injured, we’ve needed that boost in scoring and energy. He’s hit some big shots and starting to find a rhythm. He’s been one of the more consistent guys the last couple weeks and we’ll need that in these final (eight) games.”

Clearly, Hornacek respects Marcus, even if they had an in-game disagreement earlier this season.

Do the Suns have a run in them? Well, their end-of-season schedule is pretty brutal, featuring at least seven playoff teams and both regular-season conference champions.

Phoenix's final regular-season games are: at Portland (47-25), at Golden State (60-13), vs. Utah (32-41), at Atlanta (55-18), at Dallas (45-29), at New Orleans (39-34), at San Antonio (47-26) and vs. the Los Angeles Clippers (49-25).

If the Suns squeeze into the playoffs after that, the Morris twins' reputations will continue taking off.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Cases being made against Andrew Wiggins winning Rookie of the Year (seriously)

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, left, races down court as Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gives chase in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, left, races down court as Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gives chase in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

We’ve seen his long arms, his spring-powered legs, the defense and the dunks. He even gets some jump shots to drop through the net every now and then. All of those signs seem to solidify Andrew Wiggins as the no-brainer choice for NBA Rookie of the Year.

Throw in the former Kansas standout’s season averages through 71 games — 16.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 43.7% shooting, 32.5% on 3-pointers — and the absence of well-known competition due to injuries to fellow top-three draft picks Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid, and the hardware seems all but guaranteed to reside in Wiggins’ trophy case.

However, with the season winding down, and award season approaching, a swell of anti-Wiggins arguments has appeared over the past couple of days.

First, the Rookie Ladder feature at NBA.com bumped Wiggins from the No. 1 spot this week.

Scott Howard-Cooper, who runs the rookie-tracking blog, instead bumped defensive-minded Philadelphia big man Nerlens Noel to the top of the list, citing the following:

  • Noel is 6th in the NBA in blocks — 2.0 a game

  • he’s 9th in steals (1.8 a game), despite playing fewer minutes than seven players ahead of him

  • the Sixers' big man leads rookies in rebounding — 8.0 a game (Wiggins is fifth among rookies who have played at least 50 games)

  • Noel is 6th in rookie scoring — 9.6 points a game (on a list that includes Milwaukee’s Parker, who played 25 games, and New York’s Langston Galloway, who has only played 35 games)

Wiggins had occupied the No. 1 slot since the first week of January, but Howard-Cooper pointed out the 20-year-old’s shooting touch has slipped in March.

Entering Friday’s game at Houston, the young Canadian had made 43% of his shots this month. That’s pretty close to his season average. But the glaring statistic is his 3-point shooting: 15.4%.

That’s almost bad enough to make you forget about his freakish athleticism.

Taking flight. The usual. #RisingWolves

Taking flight. The usual. #RisingWolves by mntimberwolves

Almost.

Then came this argument: Andrew Wiggins isn’t actually that great, he’s just putting up numbers on a bad team.

Credit writer Ben Detrick for backing that theory with some advanced statistical data. He questioned Wiggins’ impact by citing VORP (value over replacement player) — defined by basketball-reference.com as:

“a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player, translated to an average team and prorated to an 82-game season.”

Mumbo jumbo? Kind of. But this particular advanced metric ranks Wiggins as the sixth-most valuable rookie in his class — behind Noel, Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic, Boston’s Marcus Smart, Orlando’s Elfrid Payton and Denver’s Jusuf Nurkic.

None by Ben Detrick

None by Ben Detrick

Before you just dismiss this, at least take a look at the NBA’s top-10 players in VORP this season. It reads like a who’s who of impact players in 2014-15: Steph Curry (6.7), James Harden (6.7), Russell Westbrook (6.5), Chris Paul (5.7), LeBron James (5.2), Damian Lillard (4.8), Anthony Davis (4.7), Draymond Green (4.1), Marc Gasol (4.0) and DeAndre Jordan (3.8).

Really, no one you would want to build your NBA team around resides in the same neighborhood as Wiggins (-0.1).

Does this mean Wiggins won’t win Rookie of the Year? Probably not. Plenty of people around the league still love what they’ve seen from the youngster and realize even better days are ahead for him — which is kind of frightening when you consider the things he is doing on the court.

And, of course, he has plenty of time to improve his shooting, efficiency, ball-handling, basketball IQ and everything else.

If Wiggins still doesn’t have an impressive VORP five seasons from now, then he’s got a problem.

Just so you know: Kevin Durant’s rookie VORP was 0.4. That’s obviously better than where Wiggins is at now, but you get the idea. He has years to acclimate himself as a player and make an even more meaningful impact in the league.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Paul Pierce picks Kansas to beat Kentucky, win it all

Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick consoles former Kansas basketball
player Paul Pierce in this 1998 file photo.

Rhode Island coach Jim Harrick consoles former Kansas basketball player Paul Pierce in this 1998 file photo. by Earl Richardson/Journal-World Photo

No one can question Paul Pierce’s loyalty.

The 10-time NBA all-star hasn’t played for Kansas University since 1998, but when the longtime Celtic, one-year Net and current Wizard filled out his 2015 NCAA Tournament bracket, it was clear he still considers himself a Jayhawk.

Pierce posted his bracket on Instagram Wednesday morning.

Here's my bracket rock chalk

Here's my bracket rock chalk by paulpierce

The former KU star has the Jayhawks beating New Mexico State, Wichita State, Notre Dame, Kentucky (the same undefeated Wildcats team that smoked Kansas, 72-40, in November), Arizona and Virginia for the national championship.

A first-team All-American in 1997-98, Pierce gave the rest of the Big 12 some love, too. He put Iowa State in his Final Four, and has West Virginia in the Sweet 16.

He might not end up with a perfect bracket. But it’s not like he needs to win his bracket pool.

When Pierce played for Kansas under Roy Williams, his teams lost in the Elite Eight to Syracuse (1996), in the Sweet 16 to Arizona (1997) and to Rhode Island in the second round (1998).

Pierce likes his former Kansas coach making noise, as well. He has UNC reaching the Elite Eight before bowing out to Arizona.

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Joel Embiid suffers setback in injured right foot

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid chats up Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on the way to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-64 win over Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid chats up Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend on the way to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 74-64 win over Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

At this point in what would have been his rookie season, no one expected Philadelphia rookie Joel Embiid to actually put on a 76ers uniform and contribute in a game any time soon.

Not after the one-and-done Kansas product suffered a stress fracture in his right foot last summer. The Sixers snatched him up with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft for his long-term potential, and didn’t mind if an extended rehab process meant Embiid wouldn’t play a regular-season game until the start of the 2015-16 campaign.

Still, you got the sense the organization and the Philly fan base felt excited about what the future had in store for the young 7-footer, who turns 21 this month.

Putting in the work.

Putting in the work. by philadelphia76ers

It was just a few days ago that the clip of Embiid’s between-the-legs jam during a workout session blew up on social media. On Monday, though, came news of a possible hindrance to the talented prospect’s progress.

The Intelligencer’s Tom Moore reported Embiid suffered a “minor setback” in his right foot, and the center was back to wearing a protective walking boot.

What’s more, CSNPhilly.com’s Dei Lynam reported Embiid would be in Los Angeles Tuesday for a checkup on the troublesome foot — though it wasn’t clear at that juncture if this appointment had been scheduled before his recent setback or because of it.

Derek Bodner, who covers the 76ers for ESPN South Jersey and LibertyBallers.com, provided an update on that front, via Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

None by Derek Bodner

None by Derek Bodner

Bodner wrote about those comments and more for SB Nation. Philadelphia’s coach indicated Embiid might sometimes push things too far because he so badly wants to get back to playing.

"Sometimes when we turn our heads he'll go out there and take a shot or do that dunk (the viral between-the-legs one),” Brown continued. "But he gets it. He has been responsible with most of it. We just have to make sure that we continue to help put him in environments that will allow him to maximize his health.

"When he did experience some minor pain he brought it to our attention and we just wanted to stay on top of it.”

The silver lining here? Well, Bodner might have tweeted it best.

None by Derek Bodner

This might not mean anything for Embiid's future at all. He could very well show up in Philadelphia's starting lineup on opening night next fall. Just as planned.

Once Embiid finally reaches a point where he can contribute to the Sixers, Brown envisions the center defending the rim and paint on defense and playing more like a power forward on offense, alongside fellow young big man Nerlens Noel.

“I don’t see Joel guarding people on the perimeter,” Brown said in Moore’s report for The Intelligencer. “I think Nerlens’ athleticism where he can switch out on point guards, guard 4-men, I just think there’s a versatility and athleticism that we’re going to really enjoy tapping into.”

The experiment with a modern day twin towers should be fun to watch — assuming the Sixers can get their two young centerpieces healthy simultaneously.

And assuming Noel and Embiid are both still with the team next season if Philadelphia’s latest tankapalooza (the 76ers’ 14-49 record is second-worst to New York’s 12-50) results in the No. 1 pick of 2015. The Sixers might decide they can’t pass up on a chance to grab Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. And you don’t need your three best players all occupying the same position.

Twin towers? Sure. Triple towers? Let's not go crazy.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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Nomad Thomas Robinson not mad about his many moves

Philadelphia 76ers forward Thomas Robinson, center, grabs a rebound against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

Philadelphia 76ers forward Thomas Robinson, center, grabs a rebound against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)

One can’t help but wonder: Does Thomas Robinson just keep all of his things packed, just in case he has to move again?

Maybe now that he has landed in Philadelphia he can at least unpack a few go-to items for use in the next couple of months.

The often traded, once waived former lottery pick out of Kansas has endured quite the journey(s) since leaving KU following a run to the 2012 Final Four.

SI.com’s Chris Mannix caught up with the 6-foot-10 former King/Rocket/Trail Blazer (almost Nugget and Net) to discuss what kind of impact becoming a “roster filler” less than three years after entering the league as a top-five draft pick has had on him.

Already accustomed to being a man on the move, the recent NBA trade deadline in February brought about a bizarre few days for Robinson, who was:

In just his third season in the NBA, Robinson already has worn the jerseys of Sacramento (51 games), Houston (19 games), Portland (102 games) and now Philadelphia, bouncing from city to city on one long road trip.

“I could complain about it, but this is just my path,” Robinson told SI.com. “It’s the hand I have been dealt.”

In four games as a Sixer, Robinson has made the most of his limited playing time. Though he only averages 16.3 minutes since arriving in Philly, he is scoring 9.5 points and pulling down 7.3 rebounds, while making 46.9% of his shot attempts.

None by Keith Pompey

Monday night against Toronto (in another loss for the 13-47 Sixers, neck-deep in a long rebuilding overhaul), the high-energy power forward scored 13 points in 15 minutes.

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown, who saw management deal away some productive young players in Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels less than two weeks ago, likes the way the 23-year-old forward asserts himself, describing him to SI.com as “a bull.”

“He fits all the things we like when we identify keepers. It’s a look that we couldn’t pass up. He’s not going to have a better environment to have a legitimate chance to be a legitimate NBA player.”

That's a dub. #SIXERSWIN

That's a dub. #SIXERSWIN by philadelphia76ers

Robinson, in a story by Tom Moore for mccall.com, pointed to Brown as a reason the transition to his latest team has felt easier than one might think.

"I'm definitely more comfortable," Robinson said. "Like I said, all credit to coach. He's been talking to me every day since I've been here and just pretty much making me believe we're on the same page I and we think I am as a player."

The 76ers have 22 more games to play this season (and no playoffs). For Robinson, this qualifies as an open audition, because he becomes a free agent this summer.

“I know what I can do,” Robinson told SI.com. “I’m just keeping it simple here: rebound, defend, get to the open spots. Energy and toughness is my game. That’s who I am as a player right now.”

By the time the 2015-16 season begins, odds are Robinson could be in his fifth NBA uniform, far away from Philly. It’s easy to envision him as a complimentary role player on a solid playoff team that needs a rebounder who will get after it when his name is called.

Don’t forget, though, if Robinson does move on, there will be another KU product making an impact in the City of Brotherly Love next season.


Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.


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