Entries from blogs tagged with “basketball”
For the next month, in every NBA city he visits, Frank Mason III will answer questions about his lack of size and how that impacts his ability to translate his college success at Kansas to the next level.
On Monday, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound consensus National Player of the Year found himself in St. Francis, Wis., addressing queries on his dimensions following a workout with the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the 17th and 48th picks in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Mason’s relative lack of stature, in comparison to the long bodies occupying courts all over The Association, won’t always be a hindrance once he joins the ranks. The 23-year-old’s speed, strength and 41-inch vertical will allow him to use his proportions as an advantage at times.
“Just getting in the lane, play-making,” Mason began, when asked how a sub 6-foot guard could benefit from working with a vastly different frame than most of his competition. “Shooting the ball consistent and just doing what I do best — getting other guys involved, scoring the ball and focusing in on the defensive end.”
Although Milwaukee’s roster has become synonymous with length and wingspan — the Bucks at times played 6-foot-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard — the team’s vice president of scouting, Billy McKinney, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Mason had the components necessary to play in the NBA.
“By the time he came back to Kansas his senior year, you could see his game had evolved to the point where he was a true leader for that ball club," McKinney said. "Tough as heck, gritty and started to make better decisions with the basketball, which is going to serve him well at the next level.”
During the 2016-17 regular season, only 18 players listed at 6-foot or shorter played in the NBA. Some, like Boston’s Isaiah Thomas (a favorite of Mason's) and the L.A. Clippers’ Chris Paul, were great. Others, such as Orlando’s D.J. Augustin and Denver’s Jameer Nelson, didn’t make much of an impact.
Still, thanks to the successes of small guards such as Thomas, Paul and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Mason thinks there is a role for players his size on basketball’s biggest stage.
“Shorter guys are getting in the NBA and still filling the stat sheet up, doing what the taller guys do,” Mason said. “So it’s not all about the size. It’s more about the heart and what do you do when you get out there.”
Thus far, Mason has worked out for Milwaukee and Orlando. Off the top of his head, he told reporters in Wisconsin he thinks he has “10 or 11” left before the June 22 draft, where he is expected to be a second-round pick.
The whole pre-draft experience, Mason said, feels unlike his four years of college basketball at Kansas.
“Just the travel and the experience with the NBA guys. I think everything is pretty different about it and it’s something I’ll always remember and something I’m just trying to enjoy,” Mason said.
Now that Paul Pierce has retired from the NBA it's a good time to look at where Jayhawks stand compared to each other in terms of a few NBA statistical categories:
1 - Paul Pierce 1,343
2 - Wilt Chamberlain: 1,045
3 - Dave Robisch: 930
4 - Bill Bridges: 926
5 - Nick Collison: 895
6 - Danny Manning: 883
7 - Kirk Hinrich: 879
8 - Jo Jo White: 837
9 - Drew Gooden: 790
10 - Jacque Vaughn: 776
1 - Wilt Chamberlain: 31,419
2 - Paul Pierce: 26,397
3 - Jo Jo White: 14,399
4 - Danny Manning: 12,367
5 - Clyde Lovellette: 11,947
6 - Bill Bridges: 11,012
7 - Dave Robisch: 10,581
8 - Kirk Hinrich: 9,594
9 - Drew Gooden: 8,653
10 - Wayne Hightower: 6,568
11 - Raef LaFrentz: 5,690
12 - Darnell Valeninte: 5,400
13 - Markieff Morris: 5,338
14 - Nick Collison: 5,328
15 - Mario Chalmers: 5,236
16 - Walt Wesley: 5,002
17 - Andrew Wiggins: 4,995
18 - Ron Franz: 4,733
19 - Marcus Morris: 4,513
20 - Greg Ostertag: 3,512
1 - Wilt Chamberlain: 23,924
2 - Bill Bridges: 11,054
3 - Paul Pierce: 7,527
4 - Clyde Lovellette: 6,663
5 - Dave Robisch: 6,173
6 - Drew Gooden: 5,618
7 - Nick Collison: 4,680
8 - Danny Manning: 4,615
9 - Greg Ostertag: 4,145
10 - Wayne Hightower: 3,966
1 - Paul Pierce: 4,708
2 - Wilt Chamberlain: 4,643
3 - Kirk Hinrich: 4,245
4 - Jo Jo White: 4,095
5 - Darnell Valentine: 3,080
6 - Bill Bridges: 2,553
7 - Mario Chalmers: 2,215
8 - Danny Manning: 2,063
9 - Jacque Vaughn: 1,919
10 - Dave Robisch: 1,655
Mid-year Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe won't be eligible to play in games until mid-December, by which time he will have had a year in the program. All that practice time will make him more ready for games than a freshman would be and it will be interesting to see him work his way into the lineup.
A native of Seattle, will have to work even harder for minutes if Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk withdraws his name from the draft and returns for his senior season.
What can we expect to see from the 6-foot-6, 200-pound wing who shot .308 on 2-point shots and .405 on 3-pointers?
“He’s really, really athletic, really athletic, good shooter, doesn’t really know how to play yet without the ball, so the year (of practice) will definitely help him do that," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I think he’s going to be a really good college player, without question. I don’t know how soon he’ll have the impact. I see similarities that I saw with Lagerald (Vick) early in his career. He’s athletic like that.”
Cunliffe averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes in the 10 games he played for Arizona State before deciding to transfer.
Cunliffe has such an effortless look to his smooth, acrobatic dunks, as shown in the following video.
During his senior season at Kansas, point guard Frank Mason III seemed larger than life with the ball in his hands. But the consensus national player of the year’s relative lack of height has NBA decision-makers hesitant to take Mason, who averaged 20.9 points and shot 47.1% on his 3-pointers, before the late stages of the second round at next month’s draft.
The most recent predictions from Draft Express have Mason slotted as the 49th overall pick. Given the KU ball handler’s projected stock and the compact frame that belies his impact on the court, it’s not surprising Mason finds himself enjoying the exploits of an All-NBA guard who faced similar obstacles when he left college basketball behind.
During a recent interview with The Vertical’s Shams Charania, Mason didn’t try to say he was the next Isaiah Thomas — the 5-foot-9 point guard from Washington who has helped the Boston Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals — or even that he tried to model his game after the two-time all-star. But when the subject of the sparse number of players in The Association Mason’s size came up, the Big 12 Player of the Year couldn’t help but bring up his admiration for Thomas, the 60th and final selection in the 2011 draft.
“I really don’t model my game after anyone,” Mason told Charania and The Vertical. “But, you know, I always had confidence in myself, no matter who’s in the league. But I look at Isaiah Thomas and I really root for him, because people counted him out and said he couldn’t do the things that he’s doing now. So I have a lot of players in the league that I like, but I’m really rooting for Isaiah.”
Thomas, six seasons into an NBA career that has far exceeded the expectations of his critics, was named second-team all-league this season after averaging 28.9 points and 5.9 assists while helping Boston to the best record in the East. Had Thomas not completely blown up the past few years with the Celtics, many would be quick to compare Mason, a talented yet small guard, with the most recognizable vertically-challenged scorer in the league. Fortunately for Mason, who measured 5-11 without shoes at the NBA Draft Combine, he should be able to avoid any unrealistic parallels and simply keep Thomas in mind as proof that you don’t have to be 6-6 with a 7-foot wingspan to make it at the highest level of basketball.
Mason — he of the 6-3.25 wingspan and 41-inch max vertical, by the way — also enters the youth- and upside-obsessed league as a 23-year-old, four-year college player. His accolades and statistics say that shouldn’t matter, but look at the complete mock draft at Draft Express and you’ll find zero seniors listed in the first round. Charania asked Mason what he thought about some teams potentially favoring younger prospects.
“I just let them know how much I improved through every year. Not only on the court, but as a young man off the court,” Mason said. “And I just tell them how tough I am, how much I’ve improved my shooting and how great of a play-maker I am and — most importantly — a good defender.”
Before the June 22 draft Mason said he plans to work out for somewhere between 12 and 13 teams. Earlier this week he was in Orlando to showcase his talents for the Magic. When he goes on these basketball job interviews, Mason told The Vertical he has a general objective.
“I think it’s more mental than physical, so I just really want to show them that I’m mentally tough as well as physically tough,” Mason said. “And I just want to go out there and be myself, be the player that I’ve been over the years and show them how much I’ve improved.”
No, he’s not the next Isaiah Thomas. But drafting Frank Mason III shouldn’t be a concern for teams in need of point guard depth, because guards listed at 6-feet and under have more space than ever in the modern NBA to maximize their strengths on the floor — as proven by the Celtics guard Mason finds himself rooting for during the playoffs.
Joe Reitz, founder of Family Promise of Lawrence and retired University of Kansas business professor, sent me a text from Tuesday night’s Yankees-Royals game, marveling at the size of the Yankees.
“If this were football, it would be a huge mismatch,” Reitz wrote.
He then watched a huge baseball mismatch won by the Yankees, 7-1.
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to compare the size of the players in the Yankees’ lineup, including both the starting pitcher and designated hitter, to Saturday’s lineup fielded by the Kansas baseball team against Kansas State.
Brett Gardner LF, 5-11, 195………………Rudy Karre CF, 6-2, 180;
Gary Sanchez C, 6-2, 230………………..James Cosentino 2B, 5-10, 175;
Matt Holliday DH, 6-4, 240……………….Matt McLaughlin SS, 6-1, 190;
Starlin Castro 2B, 6-2, 230………………..Devin Foyle LF, 6-3, 185;
Aaron Judge RF, 6-7, 282……………..….Jaxx Groshans C, 6-0, 190;
Jacoby Ellsbury CF, 6-1, 195…………… Marcus Wheeler 1B, 6-0, 230;
Chase Headley 3B, 6-2, 215………………Brett Vosik RF, 6-4, 215;
Didi Gregorius SS, 6-3, 205………………. Benjamin Sems 3B, 6-2, 165;
Chris Carter 1B, 6-4, 245…………………..Tanner Gragg C, 6-1, 215;
C.C. Sabathia P, 6-6, 300…………………..Taylor Turski P, 5-9, 180;
Average Ht./Wt.: 6-3, 239………………………………………6-1, 193;
You would expect a major league baseball team stocked with older, stronger players, to outweigh a college lineup, but not by 46 pounds per man.
You wouldn’t expect the Yankees to come close to outweighing the most recent Kansas football team to take the field in a Big 12 game, so let’s look at the starting lineup for the Jayhawks against Kansas State in Manhattan last November and see how they measure up.
Kansas football 2016 offense
QB Carter Stanley, 6-2, 196;
RB Ke’aun Kinner, 5-9, 191;
LT Hakeem Adeniji 6-4, 265;
LG Jayson Rhodes 6-4, 307;
C Mesa Ribordy 6-4, 290;
RG Larry Hughes 6-7, 311;
RT D’Andre Banks 6-3, 305;
WR Luis Gonzalez 5-10, 176;
WR Tyler Patrick 6-0, 177;
WR Steven Sims 5-10, 176;
WR Shakier Barbel 6-3, 203.
Average Ht./Wt.: 6-2, 236.
The Yankees starting lineup from Tuesday night outweighed the Kansas starting 11 in the 2016 season finale by three pounds per man.
What does it all mean? It means the Kansas baseball team could benefit from a massive slugger and the football team could use bigger players. The Jayhawks have become faster on the football field and are working at becoming bigger in the weight room and on the recruiting trail.
Lavar Ball, father of UCLA star point guard prospect, has had a blast making outrageous statements.
He’s a laugh riot, provided you can laugh about a man blowing his son’s shot at a $20 million shoe contract because he started his own shoe company and came up with a $495 price tag for a pair of sneakers.
Anyway, one of Lavar’s headline statements came when he said that his son Lonzo would sign only with the Lakers. Sure enough, the lottery gave the Lakers the second pick and most mock drafts have them selecting the local prospect.
Not so fast.
If I’m the Lakers, I throw a wrench into that scenario and draft a player who brings such intense competitiveness and has such a well-rounded game that he could get to work at establishing a winning culture from Day 1 and do it with a smile and smoothness made for Hollywood.
Josh Jackson’s a smiling assassin, just as the man making the decisions for the Lakers now was during his playing days.
Magic Johnson has a great appreciation for basketball players who excel in all areas because that’s how he won championships. Ball does that too, although he doesn’t get after it defensively to the same extent as Jackson. Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, the draft’s quickest player, blew by him all day in the NCAA tournament.
Magic played at Michigan State and tried to get Jackson to do the same. He has known all about Jackson, his game, his fiery, competitive spirit and natural charisma for years. To know Jackson is to like him.
Magic's signature play was the no-look pass and now we're supposed to believe that now that everyone’s looking at Ball as the Lakers' obvious pick Magic’s going to telegraph a move for the first time in his life? Magicians, masters of illusion, don't let the rest of us behind the curtain.
Jackson would look great in purple and gold. His passes will remind Lakers fans of Magic's. His dunks will recall those of James Worthy. He'll defend the way Michael Cooper did. He'll play winning basketball in an unselfish way that will make veteran stars want to join him via free agency.
The draft isn’t until Thursday, June 22, by which time Lavar Ball might be planning to start a basketball league on Mars, one that charges $10,000 per ticket, excluding the cost of the roundball interplanetary roundtrip spaceship flight.
It will be a fascinating draft, especially if the Lakers pass on Ball and a few others do as well as the cameras zoom in on his father’s sweat beads.
In the five weeks between now and the 2017 NBA Draft, a lot can, and most likely will, change — particularly in the realm of opinions on the potential impact of the most sought-after incoming rookies.
For the moment, it seems the likeliest scenario for one-year Kansas star Josh Jackson is heading to Philadelphia as the No. 3 pick and teaming up with a young core built around one-time Jayhawks center Joel Embiid.
Most around The Association assume Washington’s Markelle Fultz will go No. 1 to Boston (or to some team that trades an all-star in exchange for that slot) and the Lakers will take UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick. That leaves the 76ers, a team lacking in the productive guard department, with the choice between Jackson and what’s left of what is considered a great crop of point guards.
In a lottery reaction episode of The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express was asked which player makes sense for Philadelphia if it’s not a lead guard.
“I think they really have to look at Josh Jackson,” Givony said, “and they have to bring him into their gym and figure out, ‘How far away is this guy from being a good shooter?’”
As those who followed KU’s 2016-17 season closely will recall, Jackson greatly improved his 3-point accuracy over the final few months of his brief time with the Jayhawks. The versatile 6-foot-8 forward from Detroit showed his biggest weakness wasn’t a completely lost cause by hitting 38.5% of his 3-pointers in January, 47.8% in February and 40% in March.
“If you can get him some good looks and you can continue to develop his stroke,” Givony said of why Jackson made sense for the Sixers, after referencing his late-season surge. “In the NBA not everybody comes in as a finished product.”
We have no way of knowing whether Philadelphia coach Brett Brown and his staff would take this route, but Givony wondered whether Jackson could be persuaded into changing up his shooting mechanics with the endgame of adding an effective NBA-range 3-point shot to his arsenal.
“People say great things about his work ethic. And he really does everything else,” Givony added. “He’s a phenomenal defender. He’s a great passer. He’s outstanding in transition. He can play a lot of different positions. You can play him off the ball — you can play him on the ball a little bit even. There’s a lot there with Josh Jackson. They need to look at him.”
Teams taking gambles in the NBA Draft is a June tradition, but selecting Jackson with the third overall pick wouldn’t qualify as a risk for the Sixers. The only unpredictability accompanying the 20-year-old prospect is his often-scrutinized jumper. No, it’s not a pure, fluid stroke — Jackson brings the ball down low and shows it a bit as he rises up on 3-pointers. But which is more likely: Jackson stinks from long range for his entire career or he works at it until it becomes a trusted part of his game?
Jackson is too competitive to take a complacent approach to owning a below-average 3-point shot, especially now that so many NBA teams value that real estate behind the arc more than ever. He’s not entering the league with a trustworthy 3-pointer, but I’d bet on him adapting into at least a serviceable long-distance threat sooner than later. Same goes for his 56.6% free-throw shooting as a college freshman.
Philadelphia would still have the ability via free agency or the trade market to go after the floor-balancing shooter it needs. No player available at No. 3 other than Jackson is entering the NBA with as complete a skill set. And a nucleus of Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Jackson with some to-be-determined guards (by the way: the Sixers get the Lakers’ pick next year, which is bound to be in the lottery) projects as one of the league’s up-and-coming teams, able to contend in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Before taking a look at where the hot-take NBA mock drafts have Josh Jackson going, consider a brilliant idea proferred by Andrew Perloff in a video on SI.com.
The NBA’s integrity took a huge hit with teams tanking left and right to improve their chances of moving up the lottery ranks. Such maneuvers make a mockery of the game and cheat fans who pay money to see teams compete, not to be used as pawns in a dastardly scheme.
Perloff suggests that the lottery expand from 14 to 20 with the bottom three playoff teams in each conference getting ping pong balls. Each of the 20 teams has an equal chance, which completely takes away the incentive to throw games.
“That way everyone is gunning for the postseason,” Perloff said. “You’re going to see no mid-level tanking at all.”
Now onto the mock drafts:
SI.com has Jackson going fourth to the Phoenix Suns, behind Fultz, Ball and Duke's Jayson Tatum.
ESPN.com’s Chad Ford also has Jackson going fourth to the Suns, behind Fultz, Ball and Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk.
“He’s a versatile two-way wing who is great in the open court, can lock down three positions and plays with an intensity reminiscent of Kevin Durant,” Ford wrote. “His jump shot is shaky, but the Suns have plenty of shooters.”
Reid Forgrave of CBSsports.com has Jackson going fifth to the Sacramento Kings, behind surprise No. 1 Jayson Tatum of Duke, Ball, Fultz and Kentucky point guard De'Aaron Fox.
Three Jayhawks at lottery
A case easily could be made that Jackson has the least natural ability of the three Jayhawks at the NBA lottery, ranking behind Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, but if I had to guess which player will have the most productive NBA career, my guess would be Embiid if healthy, Jackson if injuries prevent Embiid from having a long career.
The photo of Wiggins and Jackson together offered an interesting contrast in styles. Wiggins wore a flashy suit that called attention to himself. Jackson was dressed like a man ready to get down to the serious business of winning. Wiggins will score more points in the NBA, but Jackson will do all the things necessary to play winning basketball.
If I were the general manager of whichever team drafts Jackson and the Minnesota Timberwolves called offering Wiggins in exchange for him, I would instantly respond with four words: "No thanks. Anything else?"
The Ping Pong balls have spoken, and a trio of the NBA’s classic franchises will decide between them which incoming rookies will occupy the top three picks in the 2017 draft.
Thanks to The Association’s annual lottery on Tuesday, one-and-done Kansas star Josh Jackson, a projected top-three pick, has a much better feel for what his future holds. And the versatile 6-foot-8 forward very well could end up the fresh young face in one of the league’s marquee markets.
Odds are Jackson won’t go first overall — that spot long has been associated with Washington point guard Markelle Fultz. But, most likely, Jackson won’t drop any farther than fifth, either. Two to four seem the safest bets for where Jackson lands. But since we’re here we might as well dive into some NBA lottery reaction and look at why each of the top five teams would be interested in kicking the shoes on Jackson to see if they want to add him to their roster.
No. 1 - Boston
This would be a fantastic spot for the rookie from KU to begin his professional career. But, at this point in time, it seems as if Boston is more likely to take Fultz or trade the pick for an established all-star.
But one never knows what Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is thinking. If, by June 22, Ainge were to shock everyone and decide upon taking Jackson, it likely would mean he’s too enamored with the team’s current backcourt rotation of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier to break it up with Fultz or Lonzo Ball. However, the current contracts for Thomas, Bradley and Smart expire in the summer of 2018, so it would make sense for Boston to take a young potential star guard on a rookie deal and move on from one of the more established members of the backcourt.
Don’t bet on seeing Jackson in Celtics green.
No. 2 - L.A. Lakers
Jackson has the personality and game to shine in L.A. However, this spot screams Big Baller Brand. If the Lakers are as crazy about UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball as his father, LaVar, is about the idea of his son joining one of the NBA’s storied franchises, then Jackson has no shot at wearing that classic purple and gold uniform.
Unless, that is, Lakers legend and current president of basketball operations Magic Johnson — long familiar with Jackson’s game due to his ties with his alma mater, Michigan State, and that program’s recruitment of the Detroit native — sees more overall potential in Jackson. L.A. does, after all, already have a couple of young point guards in Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. Then again, it wouldn’t be too difficult to part ways with one of them and hand the keys over to Ball, the local prodigy.
No. 3 - Philadelphia
This is where things really get interesting for Jackson. Many consider him the third-best prospect in a talented draft class. But the Sixers have a glut of young frontcourt players and no longterm answer in the backcourt. Philadelphia already plans on using 6-10 forward Ben Simmons as its primary ball-handler on offense. Would the organization comprise an even less traditional lineup and give Jackson guard minutes, too? If the Sixers took that route they could put a monstrously long lineup on the floor that few teams could match.
If the 76ers want to address needs instead of taking the best available player on the board, though, they could opt for one of the coveted Kentucky guards, De’Aaron Fox or Malik Monk, instead.
For those who follow KU, it would be intriguing to see Joel Embiid, another No. 3 pick from Kansas, team up with Jackson as part of a young core on course to blossom over the next several years and potentially turn into a force in the Eastern Conference.
No. 4 - Phoenix
If Jackson slipped out of the top three, the Suns would be thrilled to have him. Their two best players at this point are guards Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe. Adding a two-way wing such as Jackson, who also happens to be an adept passer and fierce finisher in the open floor, would make Phoenix a team to watch out West in the future.
The Suns had the second-best odds of landing a top-three pick before the lottery balls bounced out of their favor. One would think ownership and coaches would do backflips across the Sonoran Desert if Jackson fell into their laps.
Unless they think Duke’s Jayson Tatum is a better answer. [Scoffs inwardly.]
No. 5 - Sacramento
Look up and down the Kings’ roster and you’ll find a who’s who of “why him?” Sacramento will be thrilled with whomever it drafts fifth overall, because that young man instantly becomes the new centerpiece of the franchise. If the Kings know what’s good for them, they are gathering all their good-luck charms, opening doors for strangers, not cutting anyone off in traffic and praying to the basketball gods at all hours from now until draft night, in the hopes that four other franchises pass on Jackson.
Nobody without an agenda disputes that the Big 12 is the top college baseball conference this season. At the moment, Kansas has an 11-10 record in conference play, good for a three-way tie for fourth place.
So an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament is a given, right?
Not so fast. This is the age of computer rankings, which in English means the age of selection committees covering their backsides by justifying omissions with cold numbers. Kansas ranks No. 59 in the dreaded RPI, moving down a spot after taking 2 of 3 from Kansas State last weekend at Hoglund Ballpark.
Meanwhile, Texas, which has a 9-11 Big 12 record is No. 23 in the RPI and therefore has nothing about which to worry. Tied with KU with 11-10 records are Baylor (No. 12 RPI) and West Virginia (No. 20) so they are locks.
Most of KU’s regulars are freshmen and sophomores. It took the freshmen awhile to adjust to the college game during the nonconference season.
The NCAA tournament selection committee has 34 at-large bids to name after 31 automatic spots are earned via mostly conference tournaments. If the committee wants to choose the 34 best at-large teams at the time the tournament starts, it would pick KU, but that would require the guts to go against the RPI, aka CYA.
KU’s RPI figures to climb this weekend because it plays at Texas Tech, No. 4 in the RPI. If the Jayhawks win a game or two in Lubbock, the spike could be a big one. The Big 12 tournament also offers a chance to improve the RPI because all the teams participating will have high rankings. The Big 12 has six schools ranked in the top 23 in the current RPI.
D.J. Haurin, assistant communications director for KU athletics, referred to as “my analytics guy” by baseball coach Ritch Price, used the case of Mercer to illustrate how computer rankings can frustrate bubble teams.
Mercer has a 48 RPI and has not played a single game against a team with a top 50 RPI, according to Haurin, who added that KU has played 21 such opponents.
Kansas earned at-large big in 2014 with a 44 RPI and did not get in with a 68 RPI in 2013.
If you’ve kept up with Josh Jackson’s NBA Draft stock over the course of his one-and-done season at Kansas, you know his name often appears following those of Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball on “best available prospect” lists and mock draft scenarios. Sometimes, Jackson even slips out of the top three in the eyes of some evaluators.
And, if you’re like me and wonder why Jackson isn’t more often at least in the conversation as a top-two pick, one new 2017 draft breakdown will leave you nodding your head instead of shaking it.
The Ringer’s NBA Draft Guide ranks the top 60 rookie prospects for the June draft, and only the king of the mocks, 6-foot-4 Washington point guard Fultz, is thought of more highly than Jackson, a versatile 6-8 wing from Kansas who doesn’t have a $495 signature shoe coming out or a father intent on annoying the basketball community at large.
According to analysis from The Rigner’s staff, Jackson could turn into a player as lethal as Tracy McGrady or as versatile as Andre Iguodala. His prospect profile includes a list of his positives and negatives, as well as a telling shot chart, highlighting Jackson’s ability to finish inside (62.5% around the rim) and his favorite area from which to fire behind the arc — the right half of the floor (46.9% on 32 attempts).
Those who watched Jackson play his 35 games in a KU uniform are familiar with the pros and cons he brings to the hardwood. Some of the plus-side attributes referenced at The Ringer include Jackson’s explosiveness, feel for the game, ability as a perimeter/team defender, play-making and rebounding.
The aspects that give evaluators pause? Jackson’s “average” 6-10 wingspan, shooting mechanics and tendency to dwell on negative plays, to name a few.
Obviously even the most elite future pros can be dissected to find their flaws. The majority of the league’s top-three picks, year after year, never come close to transcending to the level of LeBron James or Michael Jordan. Jackson’s overall ability on both ends of the floor, along with his instinctive passing and willingness to defend make him a coveted player and a rare rookie who can compete and contribute immediately. It will be interesting to see if his stock fluctuates at all in the weeks ahead, as various teams invite him in for individual workouts, following Tuesday’s draft lottery.
Why no combine?
Jackson, who passed on attending the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, explained that part of his pre-draft strategy recently in an interview with Rebecca Grant.
“Normally, like the top 10 picks don’t go to that,” Jackson said. “There’s no benefit from it. You can only lose. They already know how good you are, and then if you go there and do bad it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe he’s not that good.’ So it just hurts your draft stock.”
During his Q&A with Grant, Jackson also detailed how his upbringing made him a tough player on the court. The 20-year-old millionaire-to-be said he used to battle his mother, Apples Jones, one-on-one.
“It would get so bad that sometimes I would cry that she would block my shot, take the ball from me,” Jackson said of his games as a youth against the former UTEP player, adding he didn’t defeat his mom at basketball until he was about 14 years old.
When Jackson hears his name called early at the 2017 draft, on June 22, you can bet Jones will have tears in her eyes as she watches what her son has accomplished, with her help.
Dwight Coleby has one foot out the door, not officially gone but likely headed to another school to play his final season as a graduate transfer.
That solves the mystery of how Kansas can get to 13 scholarships in the event that Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk withdraws his name from the NBA Draft.
So let’s assume Coleby is gone and look at how minutes might be distributed with Svi back.
Point guard: Devonte’ Graham 33, Marcus Garrett 7.
Shooting guard: Malik Newman 30, Lagerald Vick 5, Garrett 5.
Small forward: Svi 20, Vick 20.
Power forward: Billy Preston 20, Jack Whitman 15, Svi 5.
Center: Udoka Azubuike 25, Mitch Lightfoot 10, Whitman 5.
Obviously, these are wild guesses that will fluctuate greatly, based on how quickly newcomers learn what coach Bill Self wants out of them in terms of effort, unselfish play and attention to detail.
If Preston competes well enough in practice to earn a starting spot along with Graham, Newman, Svi or Vick, and Azubuike, that would give KU four accomplished shooters playing with a stay-on-the-block center, a tough load for any defense to handle.
Azubuike's development will be the single biggest key to success, regardless of whether Svi completes the roster.
So much talent will be on the floor during practice, ideal circumstances for competitive athletes seeking to improve quickly to draw closer to earning money.
Transfers Charlie Moore (California) and Dedric and K.J. Lawson (forwards from Memphis) can't play in games, leaving the practice floor as the only outlet for their competitive juices.
Kansas head football coach David Beaty talks in superlatives about recruits on signing day but once they arrive on campus, he tries to bite his tongue so as to keep complacency at bay.
At least that’s how he approaches most players. Beaty knows Dorance Armstrong well enough to know that if complacency ever came near the rising junior defensive end’s space he would deliver it a punishing stiff arm, much like the one that flattened huge Texas running back D’Onta Foreman toward the end of Armstrong’s fumble return on which he changed directions with the smoothness of a polished running back.
Beaty doesn’t worry about Armstrong getting a big head because he knows how straight it’s screwed on and knows he is a relentless self-improvement hunter. So when ESPN.com interviewed Beaty about Armstrong during the offseason, the coach didn’t hold back.
“Dorance is a stud. The fact that he didn’t make All-American last year was shocking to me,” Beaty told ESPN.com. “He got robbed. (He) is unbelievable. He’s a freak. He is Myles Garrett, and Myles is a freak. This guy’s a beast.”
Beaty recruited Garrett, the first selection in last month’s NFL draft, to Texas A&M.
Garrett stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 271 pounds. Armstrong is 6-4, 246, so he might decide to use his senior year to get a little bigger and even stronger, or he might decide to enter the NFL draft after three seasons, as did Garrett. Armstrong has the perfect answer when asked about that potential decision. He says he wants to experience winning as a college football player before even thinking about that. And when he talks about the future, he talks about two seasons, not one.
"Everybody on this team knows that next year we’re going to be better and the next year after that we’re going to be even better than that,” Armstrong said.
If the Jayhawks were to open the season with victories against SEMO and a tough Central Michigan squad at home and then end its road losing streak against Ohio to start the season 3-0, it’s possible Memorial Stadium would be sold out for the Big 12 opener, Sept. 23.
And if Armstrong is a huge factor in the Jayhawks earning more victories in the opening three weeks of 2017 than it did in Beaty’s first two seasons, Beaty might not stop at talking about his All-American worthiness. Maybe he’ll hit the play button on the fumble recovery against Texas, freeze the frame that shows him sending Foreman off his feet with the stiff arm and then ask: “Does this remind you of any trophy?”
Defensive players seldom are mentioned in Heisman Trophy talk, but it's not absurd to think that Armstrong, should he make another big step forward, could merit mention.
Armstrong had 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season and became the first Jayhawk to earn unanimous first-team All-Big 12 honors. He came to Kansas weighing less than 215 pounds and has had no trouble putting on weight while maintaining his speed.
In contrast, sophomore Isaiah Bean has had trouble moving the needle on the scale and was listed at 6-4, 220 during the spring. He’s really quick, fast and explosive, but needs to exercise more discipline in several areas to fulfill all the requirements to practice, play, study and condition to maximize his potential the way Armstrong has.
Josh Ehambe has done well in all the areas where Bean needs to improve. A fourth-year junior, Ehambe is 6-3, 247 and has changed his body for the better. A former linebacker, he has made the adjustment to defensive end and emerged from the spring as a first-string player. Ehambe validated that status with a big spring game and has a shot at establishing himself as a two-year starter.
Depending on how well he makes the transition from junior college to the Big 12, Willie McCaleb (6-2, 240) could work his way onto the depth chart and hard-working, 6-3, 285, fifth-year senior Kellen Ash brings experience in reserve. Maciah Long, if he continues to develop, could fill the role played so well last season by Cameron Rosser.
This concludes the 10-part, position-by-position ranking of KU football. Links to stories on the rest of the positions:
Josh Jackson won’t know until late June exactly where he will go to begin his NBA career. But the one-and-done Kansas star should have a much better idea of his potential destinations within the week, following the 2017 draft lottery.
Only a handful of organizations will have a shot at adding Jackson, projected as a top-three pick (top-five at worst), to their roster. And while an incoming rookie would be glad to earn a hefty paycheck from any franchise, you know Jackson has to be covertly hoping the Ping Pong balls bounce certain ways during Tuesday’s lottery.
Fourteen teams have varying odds at winning the potentially franchise-altering game of chance. And Jackson’s career arc could take a significantly different path, depending on which teams are lucky enough to secure one of the top three slots.
Here’s a look at which NBA franchises Jackson should hope to see at the top of the draft board — listed from least-appealing to best-case scenario, accompanied by that team’s chances of securing a top-three pick.
The Kings are the trainwrecking-est franchise the league has to offer. They haven’t posted a winning record since the 2005-06 season and moved their only all-league-level talent, DeMarcus Cousins, before this year’s in-season trade deadline. Playing in Sacramento means enduring a losing culture with a franchise whose front office has a track record of shooting itself in the foot.
There is good news for Jackson on this front, though. Through a previous deal, Philadelphia has the ability to swap picks with the Kings. So if Sacramento leapfrogs a number of teams, including the Sixers, into the top-three, Philadelphia could claim that choice as its own. The bad news? It’s not impossible for Philly and the Kings to both land in the top three.
The Magic can’t match the prolonged futility of the Kings, but they appear to have got their hands on Sacramento’s blueprint. The team has hovered in the realm of mediocre to awful since head coach Stan Van Gundy left in 2012. While Orlando has a number of young players on its roster, none of them scream “all-star in the making.”
Jackson could end up as the face of the franchise if the Magic drafted him. But it also would be a very long time before his face showed up during NBA Playoffs broadcasts.
Though the Hornets (the artists previously known as the Bobcats) have made the postseason two times in the last four years they’ve mostly operated as a middling team.
Maybe Jackson emerges as the star wing the franchise has lacked and he spearheads a turnaround with guard Kemba Walker. But that scenario seems more iffy than a certainty.
There aren’t many doomsday scenarios for a prospect as talented as Jackson, so we’re already venturing into “this ain’t so bad” territory with the possibility of him ending up as a key player for his hometown team, the Pistons. Truthfully, the trickiest part of this potential alliance is Detroit would have to part ways with or give up on at least one of its wings for Jackson to fully thrive. Small forwards Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Stanley Johnson are under contract for next season.
Suiting up for the Pistons as their primary wing would qualify as more appealing if the team’s highest-paid players — center Andre Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson — began meeting the organization’s expectations.
The Suns have failed to win 25 games each of the past two years, but the future at least seems promising with 20-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker, a productive point guard in Eric Bledsoe and 19-year-old frontcourt lottery picks from 2016, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender. Add 20-year-old Jackson to the mix and you’ve got a youthful core with, at the very least, the kind of longterm upside to enliven a franchise that has missed the playoffs every spring since 2010.
Going to the Timberwolves would be near the top of Jackson’s ideal draft-day possibilities if we were just talking about him joining forces with Karl-Anthony Towns and head coach Tom Thibodeau. But Minnesota already has a perimeter forward from Kansas whom Jackson long has drawn comparisons to, Andrew Wiggins.
We know that Jackson and Wiggins have different strengths to their games, but if you put them together in the same lineup a Jackson-Wiggins combo might get a bit too redundant. If one were a 3-point marksman it would be perfect. But neither are, and Minnesota would be better off with the ability to space the floor and maximize the potential of superstar-to-be Towns.
L.A. LAKERS (46.9%)
In name, the Lakers are a glamorous NBA franchise. In reality, they lost at least 67% of their games each of the past four seasons. Picture Jackson wearing the purple and gold and it doesn’t take long to envision him becoming an instant fan favorite with his stylistic passing and vicious attacks of the rim. But are any of the Lakers’ recent lottery choices going to turn into all-stars at any point?
It could be years before the Lakers are back in the playoffs, let alone among the Western Conference’e elite.
NEW YORK (18.3%)
Why would Jackson want to play with the Knicks more than the Lakers? Glad you asked. Although a dysfunctional vibe has surrounded New York for years now, Jackson could turn out to be a vital part of a reboot. The team’s president, Phil Jackson, publicly floated the idea of trading away Carmelo Anthony this offseason. Plug Josh Jackson in his place and you have a vigorous one-two punch, with budding superstar Kristaps Porzingis and Jackson to build around for years to come.
The die-hard Knicks crowd at Madison Square Garden would fawn over Jackson because of his defense and versatility, and he would become an instant hit with New York media. This is sneakily a great outcome if everything were to line up correctly.
NEW ORLEANS (4%)
For the most part, the Pelicans’ roster is really unappealing. But when you look inside and see two of the league’s most dominant big men, the idea of Jackson in The Big Easy becomes highly intriguing. Anthony Davis and Cousins can only do so much for the team on their own. They need a capable wingman who can both set them up on offense and help them out defensively. Sounds like a job for Jackson.
Of note: The Pelicans better hope they sneak into the top three, because if they don’t they relinquish their pick to Sacramento, as agreed upon in the Cousins trade.
Sure, the Sixers have reeked for the past four years, but that was all part of the process. Jackson would be another young piece to add to a roster constructed to take off in the Eastern Conference within the next couple of years. Assuming former KU standout Joel Embiid and 2016 No. 1 pick Ben Simmons can stay relatively healthy, Jackson joins them and Dario Saric to form a strong nucleus, all 23 or younger.
If the Ping Pong balls bounce Philly’s way, the Sixers could even end up with two high lottery picks, because Philadelphia gets the Lakers’ spot if it falls outside of the top three. Now you’re adding yet another coveted talent to the mix and the 76ers suddenly look destined for a profound transformation.
Although the Nuggets have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons, the organization has — without bottoming out — accumulated enough talent to be a player away from becoming a postseason regular. Denver is set up well for the future, because 22-year-old center Nikola Jokic is on pace to become an All-NBA big as soon as next season. The Nuggets will have salary cap flexibility this summer, too, which makes them a player in free agency, as well as a suitor in potential major trades.
If the team gets lucky enough to draft Jackson, Denver could accelerate its climb in the West.
Dirk Nowitzki will turn 39 this offseason, and the Mavericks are close to entering a new era as a franchise. Landing a player with Jackson’s potential would expedite a smooth transition. Although Dallas’ two most productive players not named Dirk — Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews — dabble in small forward, they, like Jackson, are versatile, so playing all three of them at once wouldn’t be impossible. In fact, Jackson’s play-making ability might actually make things easier for those two, Nowitzki and (restricted free agent) Nerlens Noel in the half-court and open floor.
The best part about playing for Dallas, though, would be Jackson knowing owner Mark Cuban is willing to spend the money necessary to chase after championships.
The odds are not in favor of the Heat jumping to the top of the lottery, because the team went 30-11 in the second half of the season and barely missed the playoffs. But any elite prospect would love to see Miami luck its way to a slot in the top three. The Heat has only missed the postseason five times since Pat Riley, now president, first joined the organization as a head coach in 1995. Because of his success and the franchise’s three NBA championships — fueled, of course, by the presence of historical talents Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — as well as Miami’s location, the Heat are always in the mix for top free agents, too.
Miami will be a projected playoff team next year regardless of how the lottery plays out. If the Heat added Jackson, its prospects could improve for years to come, and he would plug in nicely to a lineup with center Hassan Whiteside and point guard Goran Dragic.
The Celtics secured the No. 1 seed in the East this year and are one victory away from a spot in the conference finals. But thanks to a visionary trade in 2013, they also have the ability to swap picks in the 2017 draft with Brooklyn, which happened to own the NBA’s worst record during the regular season. In other words: Boston is in position to contend immediately and for the foreseeable future. Should Jackson end up with the Celtics, he would join all-star guard Isaiah Thomas and premier big Al Horford as offensive facilitators, capable of setting up the 3-point shots coach Brad Stevens’ offense counts on, while also giving Boston increased defensive versatility, with Jackson’s ability to switch and guard multiple positions.
What’s more, the Celtics have cap room this summer to land a top free agent or trade for another all-star. Boston figures to be near the top of the East for years to come, and a competitor such as Jackson would thrive in such circumstances.
Over the past several months, as he trained for a future he hopes will include numerous seasons in the NFL, Fish Smithson looked forward to May 14. Like thousands of his University of Kansas classmates, Smithson couldn’t wait to finally walk down the hill at KU’s commencement ceremony and celebrate graduating on the same Memorial Stadium turf where he played the past three seasons.
KU’s former safety, though, is foregoing one dream this weekend to chase another. While his fellow graduates back in Lawrence commemorate their accomplishments as students on Sunday, Smithson will be in Virginia, at the Washington Redskins’ training facility, grinding away, attempting to attain his longterm goal.
He packed up his gear and left Kansas on Thursday to fly out to Washington D.C. Smithson, who called missing KU’s commencement “tough,” at least finds himself in the midst of a great alternative: participating in the Redskins’ three-day rookie mini-camp, which begins Friday.
The 5-foot-10, 201-pound defensive back, who signed with Washington as an un-drafted free agent, is headed back near his hometown of Baltimore, but admitted he didn’t care much for the Redskins growing up.
“Not at all,” Smithson said, laughing about how things turned out.
His father, Tony, always turned Baltimore games on in the Smithson residence, because he loved watching the Ravens’ star linebacker, Ray Lewis.
“When the games came on, he kicked us all out the living room and we couldn’t talk. We couldn’t do anything while the Ravens game was on,” Smithson said, explaining how he and his siblings, too, always preferred Baltimore’s NFL team to D.C.’s.
He would’ve been thrilled to try and make the roster with any organization, but Smithson admitted he’s excited about getting a chance to play close to home. Coincidentally, a few weeks before the draft, Fish’s sister, Tamicka, moved to D.C., and she lives basically across the street from FedExField.
“It’s crazy how that all worked out,” Smithson said. “She’s already talking about converting.”
Of course, for an un-drafted prospect such as Smithson, this weekend’s rookie camp is just the first stretch of what will be a formidable road to Washington’s 53-man, regular-season roster. The team currently lists seven other safeties on its active roster — not including un-signed late-round draft picks Montae Nicholson, from Michigan State, and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who played safety at Louisville but is listed as a linebacker. Smithson, whom the organization likes at free safety, plays the same position as veterans DJ Swearinger, DeAngelo Hall, Will Blackmon and Deshazor Everett.
Like many incoming rookies, Smithson doesn’t have to look far or hard to find inspirational fuel for this stage of his football career. Actually, one source can be found within his Twitter handle. Smithson didn’t have an account until April, but when he set it up he wanted it to remind him of his upbringing. As he explained it, @fannishthem both combines his name, Fish, with that of his grandmother, Ann, and incorporates a personalized acronym: family always need new income so help.
“Just my motivation that my grandmother is there with me,” Smithson said. “She gave me the name and my family always needs help, so help them.”
The three-year Kansas safety just might get that chance with the support of his NFL earnings one day. Chris Burke at SI.com recently identified Smithson as a sleeper for Washington.
“He brings the prerequisite versatility needed at safety,” Burke wrote for SI, “especially in coverage — he can play high or match up man-on-man in the slot. He may be a practice-squad guy as a rookie, or latch on elsewhere, but there’s NFL-caliber ability in his game.”
Although Smithson wishes he could don a cap and gown on Sunday in Lawrence, he’ll be right at home in a helmet and pads at Washington’s rookie camp.
Various factors compel the NBA Draft’s projected top picks to skip this week’s combine in Chicago or merely attend without competing in five-on-five scrimmages.
While you and I would love to watch one-and-done Kansas star Josh Jackson, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball or Washington’s Markelle Fultz take on other elite college and international prospects in that setting, it’s not the safe route when millions of dollars are on the line.
It could be hazardous to your draft stock to play against someone like Frank Mason III.
Currently projected as the 59th overall pick — next-to-last overall — by DraftExpress.com, a less coveted NBA candidate such as Mason has all the incentive in the world to torch the man in front of him as often as possible.
Listed at 5-foot-11, Mason, no doubt, would love to go toe-to-toe with larger, longer, more highly regarded point guards like Fultz and Ball. But he’ll settle for whomever is on the floor trying to stop him. DraftExpress published the combine’s list of active participants, as well as the rosters for four teams.
It turns out none of the following point guards — in Chicago solely for measurements and interviews — will be competing against Mason, either, by choice or due to injury: Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans, Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss and Xavier’s Edmond Sumner.
Here are the point guards Mason, on the same team as Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Oregon’s Jordan Bell, Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu and others, will have a chance to compete against during combine scrimmages:
- Iowa State’s Monté Morris
- Texas’ Andrew Jones
- Arizona’s Kadeem Allen
- Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe
- Arizona’s Kobi Simmons
- Michigan’s Derrick Walton
- Duke’s Frank Jackson
Mason will have plenty of opportunities at the combine to impress NBA coaches, scouts and executives with his speed, strength, toughness and 3-point shooting. It’s just too bad — for them and us — they don’t get to see him play against the Balls and Fultzs of the draft, because that would be a show.
Still, Mason is an undaunted competitor. No one who watched him play at Kansas would be surprised to see the undersized point guard get his matchups with Ball and Fultz for years to come in the NBA. Mason can help make that possible starting this week at the combine, and in workouts with various franchises in the month-plus ahead, leading up to the June 22 NBA Draft.
Not all that long ago, in 2012 to be precise, back when Kansas ran a pre-historic offense under Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks went the entire season without a single touchdown catch from a wide receiver.
In Weis’ second year on the job, no wide receiver caught more than one TD pass and just three caught one.
So in two seasons, the Jayhawks totaled three touchdowns from wide receivers, one apiece from Rodriguez Coleman, Andrew Turzilli and Justin McCay.
Three years after that forgettable stretch, Steven Sims had seven of the team’s 16 touchdown receptions, 13 by receivers.
Sims, a 5-foot-10, 176-pound receiver who has become faster since coming to Kansas, caught 72 passes for 859 years last season. That put him fifth all-time in single-season catches and ninth in single-season yardage.
He drew a good deal of the defense’s attention, but it will be a little more difficult for opponents to do that this year, thanks to the addition of Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot and emerging third-year sophomore Chase Harrell, both of whom hauled in difficult catches during the spring game.
Charlot, a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore from Patterson, La., disappointed Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban when he didn’t wait his turn at Alabama. Liking his potential as a receiver and punt returner, Saban tried to convince Charlot to stay.
KU coaches were impressed with his work ethic during his redshirt season and during spring football. His performance in the spring was inconsistent, but he had a big spring game, showed the ability to get open, to attack the football in traffic, and on one catch also did a terrific job of keeping a foot inbounds. He’s a big-time talent.
Harrell brings something to the outside receiver position that neither Sims nor Charlot does: size. At 6-4, 215, he’s a big target. And he’s a fast one. He had only five receptions last season, but two were for touchdowns. Look for him to be on the field a great deal more this season. Incoming freshman Travis Jordan, the first recruit from Louisiana landed by assistant coach Tony Hull, also will compete for time on the field, as will junior Jeremiah Booker.
Frank Mason III and Svi Mykhailiuk weren’t the only former Kansas players hoping to impress NBA decision-makers in Chicago this week.
Although their draft days came and went without the results for which they hoped, former KU forwards Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander continued pursuing their professional objectives the past couple of days at the 2017 NBA Development League Elite Mini Camp.
After going un-drafted in 2016, Sunflower State native Ellis relocated to North Carolina, where he played in 50 games for the D-League’s Greensboro Swarm. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 9.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 22.4 minutes a game. He shot 45.1% from the floor and hit 41 of 109 3-pointers (37.6%), while garnering enough interest with his offensive game to nab an invite to the minor league’s offseason showcase.
The D-League camp setup mirrored that of the draft combine, with body measurements, athletic tests and scrimmages. The 23-year-old Ellis measured 6-8 in shoes, at 221.4 pounds, with an 8-7.5 reach and 6-10.5 wingspan. The former KU standout displayed a 31.5-inch no-step vertical and 36-inch maximum vertical.
Mike Schmitz, who covered the D-League elite event for DraftExpress.com, reported Ellis’ measurements have been in that range since he was a 16-year-old prospect in Wichita.
“With that said, Ellis was excellent on the floor all camp long, scoring at least 17 points in all four games (20 and 25, respectively, Tuesday) on efficient shooting,” Schmitz wrote. “His footwork, ability to create with spin moves and straight-line drives from the perimeter, touch around the rim and improved 3-point shooting were evident in Chicago.”
Overall, Schmitz assessed Ellis helped his NBA prospects at the camp after a “fairly average rookie year” and compared him to Detroit’s Tobias Harris, as an undersized 4-man who can score.
In Ellis’ first scrimmage, he led his team with 18 points, shot 8-for-11 and made one of two 3-pointers. He was one of two players on the team without a turnover.
During his next outing, Ellis went 2-for-4 on 3-pointers and 6-for-12 overall, while putting up 17 points and five boards (three offensive).
As referenced at DraftExpress, Ellis really took of on Day 2, when he first connected on nine of 15 shots and four of six 3-pointers en route to 25 points — the most by any player in any of the eight games — and four rebounds.
Ellis closed out the scrimmage portion of the D-League camp once again leading his group in scoring, with 20 points, on 7-of-10 shooting, while collecting just one rebound.
Un-drafted in 2015, Alexander, still just 21 years old, played for both Erie and Long Island in the D-League over the past several months. Between his two stops, he played in 40 games, averaging 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks, while converting 51.7% of his shot attempts.
In his hometown of Chicago this week, Alexander measured 6-8.5 in shoes, with a 9-1 reach and 7-3.5 wingspan, and weighed 247.6 pounds. His no-step vertical leap reached 30.5 inches and he had a max vert of 37 inches.
Schmitz reported Alexander, whose 9-1 reach ranked second among the prospects, didn’t play in Tuesday scrimmages due to an injury.
“Measurements have never been Alexander's problem,” Schmitz wrote at DraftExpress, “… he'll have to play with a consistent motor and strong enough mentality to work his way back into the NBA. He posted the second-worst lane agility score at the camp, which doesn't bode well for his switch-ability at the NBA level, but isn't a deal-breaker, either.”
Alexander, who teamed with Ellis, shot 6-for-9 from the floor on his way to 13 points, and added a team-best eight rebounds in his first scrimmage appearance.
The big man was even more efficient scoring inside in his next showing, going 7-for-8, with 16 points and five rebounds.
Both Ellis and Alexander, like the 36 other players attending the mini camp, are unrestricted free agents, able to sign with any NBA team interested in them this offseason. As their former KU teammate Wayne Selden Jr. already has proven, playing in the D-League isn’t a death sentence for one’s NBA ambitions.
In order for a football team that doesn’t get to pick first in recruiting to turn from doormat status to competitive, lightly regarded prospects must develop into football players.
Kansas will always need a DeeIsaac Davis here and there to fill roster gaps by doing whatever possible to improve.
Late last season, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen explained how it was that Davis went from Eastern Arizona Community College non-prospect as a freshman to KU contributor at defensive tackle, with a year at Highland CC in between those two stops.
“He needed to change his body. Call it what it is. He was too heavy," Beaty said. "So in the offseason, (he changed it with) summer conditioning, the weight program, his diet. He had a little stiffness in his hips, so he needed to get more flexible. He’s always stretching. He’s always doing extra things. He really took all of his weaknesses and went to work on them and get better at that part of it.”
Davis needed to change more than his body.
“Just learning to play, learning you can’t just stand up and overpower people anymore,” Bowen said. “Those dudes are just as big as you are now. You have to use some fundamentals and he improved those.”
And that’s how the Wichita native who as a juco freshman had Hampton and Texas-San Antonio recruiting him became a credible Big 12 football player.
One year later, enter J.J. Holmes from Chipley, Fla., and Hutchinson Community College. Listed at 6-foot-3, 335 pounds, Holmes looked to be carrying more weight than that during spring football; too much weight. But nobody ever called this athlete blessed with considerable raw strength, quick feet and loud explosiveness a non-prospect.
Arizona, Arizona State, Florida State, Kansas State, Missouri and a slew of other schools were hot on Holmes’ trail, but after spending two years getting to know KU recruiting coordinator/cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry, Holmes couldn’t bring himself to say no to him. Perry has that all-important trait in recruiting.
On signing day, head coach David Beaty cited Holmes as the choice by several assistants as the “dark horse,” of the recruiting class.
“He is one of the better D-lineman in junior college,” Beaty said.
Isi Holani had trouble getting down to playing weight last season, his first at KU after a juco career, but also moved well for a man his size (listed at 6-3, 325) and emerged late in the season.
And then there is Daniel Wise, nothing short of the school’s best defensive tackle since James McClinton earned second-team All-America honors in 2007.
Wise, listed at 6-3, 290, will play at 300-plus pounds this coming season and projects as a first-team All-Big 12 selection. He’s quick enough to play defensive end at times, plays with great fire and emotion, and projects as an NFL player.
Defensive tackles need more rest than any position, making depth at the position essential. Senior Jacky Dezir, in his third season in the program, also will rotate in to lend breathers. This is a very well-stocked position. Defensive ends and linebackers make the plays that make crowds roar and D-tackles do the dirty work to make those plays possible, so there is no shortage of grateful D-ends and 'backers walking around the football complex.
It's tough to know how well a high school football player's statistics will translate to Big 12 competition, so it's wise to guard against reading too much into them. Yet, when you watch the highlight reel of running back Dominic Williams from Independence High in Frisco, Texas, and then look up his numbers, it's impossible not to grow excited about his prospects.
A shifty, 5-foot-9, 186-pound, four-star running back, Williams averaged 9.6 yards per rush, ran for 2,091 yards in 12 games (174.3 yards per game) and 29 touchdowns.
Nothing about the way Kansas head coach David Beaty talked about Williams on signing day did anything to dull the excitement about the prospect of watching Williams carry the football for Kansas.
"Dom has been committed to us for 16 months," Beaty said. "Man, there are so many great kids in this class. This one is the one I have to take my hat off to more than anyone because of what he’s done to build this class, to really draw attention to the Jayhawk Nation and what we’re trying to do here. And he stuck with us when people came knocking every day. Every day there was somebody big coming to knock on his door. But he believed in it. He saw the vision and he knows what’s going on here."
More than Williams' loyalty has Beaty jacked.
"Not only that, he’s dang good," Beaty said. "This dude can roll and he can run. He’s got terrific ball skills, but man, he is a true, true back who can do a lot of things, one of the most productive guys in the state of Texas this year in a very difficult league. This guy’s side-to-side movement and his acceleration are exceptional. Not only that, his ability to break tackles, he can do it in any and all ways. I love his vision. I love the way that he finds a way to get to the end zone."
Beaty then made a comparison to a great back, but made sure to douse the comparison with caution.
"He reminds me a little bit, a little bit, of the Cowboys' guy because of his ability to accelerate and get to the edge fast like when he sees a hole," he said, meaning Ezekiel Elliott. "He can get there (snaps his fingers) and that thing doesn’t close on him. The other thing he does is make effortless cuts. Not everybody can do that. This guy to me is going to be a guy who we will circle for a long time as maybe one of the stars of this class. . . . We’re going to be handing him the ball a lot. Fired up about that dude!”
Beaty also is fired up about Octavius Matthews, a 6-1, 200-pound signing day surprise. A teammate of quarterback Peyton Bender at Itawamamba Community College, Matthews will be used as a running back who sometimes motions out of the backfield and lines up split wide. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry for a two-season rushing total of 1,453 yards. He also caught 28 passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns. Auburn and Louisville offered him scholarships, but he decided to join his quarterback at Kansas.
Sophomore Khalil Herbert, a fast, shifty back who runs low to the ground, and junior Taylor Martin, starting to figure out how to use blockers in order to take advantage of his exceptional speed and good size, join the two talented newcomers.
It's difficult to say which of the four backs will lead the team in carries, but it's nice to have that many talented options, especially now that running backs are sidelined more often than ever because of increased awareness of concussions. All four backs make defenses account for their speed.
Senior Denzell Evans, in his second season at Kansas after a pair at Arkansas, was used sparingly last season and mostly as a short-yardage back and special teams player. He never hung his head about the lack of carries and took great pride in his special-teams contributions.