Entries from blogs tagged with “NBA”

More Frank Mason III could be prescription for Sacramento success

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III, right, and Cleveland Cavaliers' Dwyane Wade battle for a loose ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III, right, and Cleveland Cavaliers' Dwyane Wade battle for a loose ball in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Arco Arena, the former home of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, had a notoriously noisy reputation, thanks to the cowbell-wielding fanatics who occupied its seats.

Brand-new Golden 1 Center, the Kings’ new permanent residence in California’s capital, hasn’t had the chance to become so renowned yet.

But you know some holdovers from the glory days of Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac are just dying to bust out those old noisemakers again.

And much like fictional music producer Bruce Dickinson famously demanded more cowbell during a Blue Oyster Cult recording session fabricated by Saturday Night Live years ago, Kings fans these days have to be clamoring to see more of a certain backup guard.

“Guess what! I’ve got a fever! And the only prescription … is more Frank Mason!”

A recent addition to Sacramento’s regular rotation, the rookie from Kansas continued to endear himself to his team’s fans — and likely teammates and coaches, as well — this week with further examples of his NBA-level merits.

The 23-year-old from Petersburg, Va, followed up an off night in Chicago (5 points, 1-for-6 shooting) this past Friday with consecutive strong showings: 13 points, 3 assists, 4-for-6 shooting at Milwaukee; and 15 points, 2 assists, 4-for-6 shooting at Cleveland.

A former KU All-American, Mason flashed incredible passing and finishing in Sacramento’s loss to Cleveland, while also draining jumpers over both Dwyane Wade and the NBA’s real king, LeBron James.

None by Sacramento Kings

None by Sacramento Kings

Sacramento (7-17), near the bottom of the Western Conference standings entering Friday’s game at New Orleans, isn’t winning. That’s hardly any fault of Mason, who is averaging 9.9 points and 3.9 assists in 20.5 minutes over his past 10 games — a stretch during which the 5-foot-11 reserve has shot 49.3% from the floor and nailed 60% of his 3-pointers. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and are in the early stages of their latest rebuild, still less than a year removed from trading away franchise player DeMarcus Cousins.

A second-round pick, Mason actually has proven to be a bright spot of late, helping the Kings’ bench lineups, as detailed by The Sacramento Bee’s Jason Jones.

“If not the same five (players), it’s been like the same three or four,” Mason told The Bee. “I think we’ve been playing pretty well together, first or second unit. We just have to keep doing that, cut out the transition points and take a lot more pride on the defensive end.”

According to the most recent data available from NBA.com, the five-man lineup in which Mason has most appeared for Sacramento puts him with Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kosta Koufos. That particular combination has a net rating of +7.9, while most of the team’s other frequently-used lineups have massive negative net ratings.

Jones recently argued in The Bee that the Kings need more Mason:

“Frank Mason III continues to show the moment is not too big for him and earns playing time in the fourth quarter of close games,” Jones wrote.

“De’Aaron Fox was drafted to be the face of the franchise, but Mason could prove to be a needed piece in this rebuilding project. His production and intangibles should not be underrated.”

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Joel Embiid actually thought he’d be a redshirt senior for Kansas

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

In some alternate reality where Joel Embiid wasn’t one of the more dangerous players in the NBA with the ball in his hands, the 7-foot-2 center from Cameroon would still be playing for Bill Self inside Allen Fieldhouse. Just ask him.

That idea seemed more realistic to Embiid when he arrived in Lawrence, in 2013, than his current existence. As the entertaining Philadelphia center detailed recently on The J.J. Redick Podcast for The Ringer (NSFW, so throw on some headphones), he played J.V. basketball during his junior year of high school, so a redshirt season at Kansas didn’t exactly fall into the category of absurd.

As we all know, though, Embiid’s basketball career arc instead took on an unthinkable path, making him a one-and-done big man who went No. 3 overall in the 2014 draft, far ahead of the 2017-18 KU basketball season, his would-be redshirt senior year.

Crazy as it may sound, the second-year pro who takes averages of 23.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.7 blocks for the 76ers into Monday’s game against Phoenix, still doesn’t feel as though he has made it in the NBA — even though he looked like he belonged from his very first game.

“I get to the league. I miss two years. I lose my brother (Arthur, who died in 2014), so I go through a lot,” Embiid explained to Redick. “And when that time came for me to come back on the court and play my first game — I think my first game I played like 24 minutes — and, mind you, in college I wasn’t a scorer. I was just rebounding the ball, blocking shots, pretty good defensively, offensively regular hook shot, like typical big man.

“My first game I think I scored 20 points in 24 minutes (actually 22). And that’s when I figured out, ‘Hey, it’s easy.’ It’s not easy to thrive in the league or score in the league,” Embiid clarified. “And I was playing against Steven Adams, a big dude, like really good defensively.”

Embiid has teamed with rookie Ben Simmons to get formerly woeful Philadelphia out to a 13-9 start — Redick referred to both young players as Philly’s “superstars.” The big man whose career took off at Kansas said he has not yet in the NBA experienced a moment where he feels like he’s “really ----ing good, like top-five player in the league.”

However, there are certain times on the court when Embiid pulls off, say, a Hakeem Olajuwon-worthy “Dream shake,” and he thinks “Did I just do this?” The 23-year-old phenom said those instances inspire him.

“That just shows me I’ve got so much more to work on and so much more to show,” he said.

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Redick asked his teammate why scoring a career-high 46 points a few weeks back against the Lakers didn’t make him feel as though he had arrived and whether it will take a championship to achieve that.

“I definitely want to win. I think everybody around me knows I’m competitive,” Embiid said, “and I play while I’m hurt, I play while I’m sick, I push myself just because I want to help the team win. The 46-point game, I wouldn’t consider that a big moment, because I didn’t feel like I was hot. I didn’t feel like I was just making shots all over the place. I was just playing basketball.”

The iso possessions, post-ups and “regular moves” Embiid pulled off that night, he explained, didn’t mean he was on fire.

“It wasn’t like I was Klay Thompson or Steph Curry.”

Embiid, of course, isn’t just known in the NBA for his incredible abilities or missing the first two seasons of his career due to injuries. Philadelphia’s outgoing big man also has turned into a social media king. Sometimes he even feels inspired to call out some opposing post player he just cooked on Twitter and/or Instagram.

“Usually I just want to go out there, have fun, play basketball and dominate. But guys usually have a tendency to have something against me, so they will be extra-physical or they will just like talking trash to me. And it just elevates my game even more and makes me want to dominate them,” Embiid said. “It makes me want to kick their ---. So I can go on social media later and basically talk ----.

“That’s what I did… It’s all fun. To me I’m just trying to have fun. But these guys, I guess, they get their feelings hurt and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Embiid added. “But at the end of the day it’s all fun and if you want to take it off the court and keep beefing that’s your problem.”

While centers such as Hassan Whiteside and Andre Drummond have fallen victim to Embiid’s on- and off-court exploits, the most infamous social media attack came against LaVar Ball, father of the Lakers’ rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, and notorious Big Baller Brand campaigner.

Embiid said he marked his calendar for the Sixers’ game at L.A., in which he went off for 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and seven blocks, after LaVar Ball went on the radio in Philadelphia and criticized Embiid and the 76ers organization. The Sixers center said he’s actually “a big fan” of Lonzo Ball but was inspired for more obvious reasons.

“I couldn’t wait to play, just to show the Lakers fans and LaVar that I can actually play. I don’t think he was at the game, but I’m sure he saw that I could actually play,” Embiid said. “I just had to take a shot after the game and — not call him out, but basically have fun.”

WHAT A NIGHT !!!!! #TheProcess

A post shared by Joel "The Process" Embiid (@joelembiid) on

WHAT A NIGHT !!!!! #TheProcess by joelembiid

As he likes to do, Embiid found a location on Instagram — Lavar, Fars, Iran — that referenced his prey after proving himself.

Redick had to ask his fun-loving teammate: is he a social media troll?

“Fans do it to us, so why not?” Embiid replied. “I feel like I can troll, too, so I’m going to do it.”

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Second-rounder Frank Mason III earning spot in Kings’ rotation

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III shoots against the Golden State Warriors during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III shoots against the Golden State Warriors during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The days of DNP’s and watching NBA games exclusively from the bench may be over for former Kansas All-American Frank Mason III.

A rookie second-round pick for Sacramento, Mason has experienced an escalation in opportunity of late, playing 20-plus minutes in six of the Kings’ seven previous games.

Though the 23-year-old point guard has only appeared in 14 of 21 contests entering Friday’s game at Chicago, Sacramento coach Dave Joerger has made Mason a regular member of his rotation off the bench the past couple weeks — even going as far at times as to play Mason over the team’s No. 5 overall draft pick, De’Aaron Fox, late in games.

Joerger referred to Mason as a “stud muffin” earlier this week, and that was before the backup guard from KU scored a career-high 14 points and dished 4 assists in the Kings’ surprising road win over Golden State (without Kevin Druant and Steph Curry).

"He's tough and he picks guys up. He gets in the lane and he makes plays,” Joerger said of Mason. “He can shoot it a little bit. ... I'm a big fan of his, and I look forward to coaching him for a long time, hopefully."

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As pointed out by Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com, in the Kings’ six most recent games, Mason has a net rating of +23.6, compared to a -25.6 net rating for Fox.

Since Mason became a regular contributor, over the past seven games the 5-foot-11 reserve has averaged 8.9 points, 4.3 assists and 1.7 turnovers in 21 minutes a game, while shooting 49% from the field, 6-for-8 on 3-pointers and 10-for-11 at the free-throw line.

It’s a far different role from the first few weeks of the season, when Mason didn’t even play a single second in seven of Sacramento’s first 12 games.

Mason recently told Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee the early portion of his rookie year wasn’t too different from his freshman season at Kansas.

“I played 15 minutes a game, and I thought I should be starting as a freshman but Coach (Bill Self) thought different,” Mason remembered. “So I just played the role of coming off the bench and I think I was pretty good. Sophomore year I adjusted and started.”

Sooner or later, Fox will become the point guard Sacramento envisioned when the organization took the 6-3 19-year-old from Kentucky as a lottery pick this past June. In the meantime, Mason has a chance to not only gain experience but prove to the Kings he belongs on the court just as much as Fox will.

Sacramento (6-15) is in the very early stages of a youth movement overhaul centered around Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield. It’s easy to project Mason as a key cog within that group moving forward.

KU fans witnessed how Mason’s methodical dedication made him supremely more effective over the years. That’s not to say he’ll be an NBA all-star in a few seasons, but Mason seems too quick, too good a shooter and too determined to be passed over — just as he’s shown in the first month and a half of his professional career.

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Multi-skilled Joel Embiid cooks Lakers for 46 points on career night

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in Los Angeles. The 76ers won 115-109. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in Los Angeles. The 76ers won 115-109. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Joel Embiid once again reminded the NBA of his massive potential Wednesday night in Los Angeles, where Philadelphia’s 7-foot-2 phenom cooked the Lakers for a a career-best performance.

Still in just his second season out of Kansas, Embiid’s new personal bests of 46 points, seven assists, seven blocks, 14 made field goals, 16 made free throws and 19 free-throw attempts — the do-it-all center grabbed 15 rebounds, too — fueled a 115-109 road win for the Sixers, who improved to 8-6 on the season.

“I was just playing basketball basically,” Embiid told The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. “They just kept throwing the ball to me in the post. And I kept finding new ways to score the ball and I went to the free-throw line. That’s where I was best at last year. I felt like today I did a great job.”

Added the confident 23-year-old: “And with me using different moves and attacking them, they didn’t really know what to do.”

Most teams fall into that category of getting lost trying to stop Embiid. According to Synergy Sports Technology, the multi-skilled big man, who also shot 2-for-3 from 3-point range versus the Lakers, is the league’s best post-up player. He averages 8.6 points a night on post-ups in a modern NBA moving away low-block one-on-ones as an offensive staple.

Per Synergy, Embiid shoots 60 percent when single-covered in the post.

In his post-game television interview — after stopping to show some love to Philadelphia’s smallest big fan, Kevin Hart — Embiid said staying assertive keyed his ridiculous production.

“I did the same thing against the Clippers,” Philly’s biggest big said, referencing a 32-point, 16-rebound night two days earlier in which the man known most for missing games due to injuries and having his playing time restricted tallied a career-high 36 minutes. “I just wanted to come out and get down low and be a beast down there.”

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Embiid, who had to spend the majority of his offseason resting and recovering from a knee injury said he still isn’t up to speed from a conditioning standpoint, and estimated he is at about 69 percent on that front a little more than a month into the season.

That’s a frightening idea for the rest of the league, considering what Embiid and likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons already are doing to teams.

“It’s just not us, you’ve got to put it on our teammates, too,” Embiid said, crediting Robert Covington and J.J. Redick, as well as coach Brett Brown and his staff.

The Sixers, so bad for so long throughout “The Process” that landed them Embiid, Simmons and currently injured No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, have won seven of their last nine games.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Embiid said.

The 23-year-old from Cameroon became the first NBA player with 40-plus points, seven-plus assists and seven-plus blocks in a game since another Sixers legend, Julius Erving, did it in 1982.

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Embiid, averaging 23.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 51.6-percent shooting this year, in 29.0 minutes, has played in just 43 games over the course of the past two seasons after missing his first two seasons due to injuries.

His health remains the biggest “if” in the NBA. But if Embiid can put those devastating injuries that sideline him for months behind him (everyone knock on the closest piece of wood you can find), he looks to be on a trajectory to become one of the league’s most dominating players.

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Andrew Wiggins goes glass at the buzzer for game-winning 3-pointer at OKC

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the game winning shot between Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) and guard Alex Abrines (8) in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. Minnesota won 115-113. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots the game winning shot between Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) and guard Alex Abrines (8) in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. Minnesota won 115-113. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Maybe that Andrew Wiggins guy will turn out to be worth every penny of his recently inked five-year, $148 million extension.

While most sports fans nationally were locked in to an NFL Sunday and those locally obsessed over the Kansas basketball team’s Border War exhibition victory, an off-the-radar NBA game between Minnesota and Oklahoma City showcased Wiggins’ still-bright longterm future.

Moments after the Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony hit a go-ahead 3-pointer, the T’wolves, scrambling with no timeouts to use, got the ball in bounds to Wiggins. One Karl-Anthony Towns back-court screen and four dribbles later, the 22-year-old Canadian wing was pulling up a good six feet behind the top of the arc to bank in the game-winner.

While you might call the successful buzzer-beater lucky, Wiggins did plenty leading up to the decisive shot to put his team in prime position for a valuable Western Conference road win.

The highlight-worthy 3 to beat the game clock to 0:00 capped a 27-point performance in which he shot 10-for-20 from the floor, grabbed seven rebounds, passed out four assists and came away with two steals. Wiggins’ 2-for-7 shooting from 3-point distance was the only part of his stat line that didn’t impress.

As for his second 3-point make that caught the rest of the league’s attention Sunday night, there is the matter of whether he called glass.

“No,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “I did not.”

Averaging 24.7 points and shooting 49.1 percent from the floor three games into his fourth season, Wiggins has helped Minnesota to a 2-1 start with quality victories over Utah and OKC. According to NBA.com, he’s the youngest player in Minnesota history to score 20-plus in the team’s first three games.

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None by ESPN Stats & Info

The Timberwolves are gunning for the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2003-04. They’ll rely on Wiggins’ scoring, for sure. But they’ll be in even better shape if he can help out on the boards, move the ball and try to become a lockdown defender, as well.

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this 2017-18 NBA season: Nos. 5-1

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, left, dunks the ball while Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, right, watches during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, in Washington, Sunday, April 16, 2017. The Wizards won 114-107. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, left, dunks the ball while Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore, right, watches during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, in Washington, Sunday, April 16, 2017. The Wizards won 114-107. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.

Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.

Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).

— Most interesting 'Hawks in the NBA: Nos. 10-6 —

— Most interesting 'Hawks in the NBA: Nos. 16-11 —

5. Markieff Morris

Now that he and twin brother Marcus have been acquitted of aggravated assault in a case dating back to their old F.O.E. stomping grounds in Phoenix, Markieff Morris can get back to plugging into one of the NBA’s most cohesive starting lineups, in Washington.

A hernia could have the Wizards’ Morris out for another month or so, and guards John Wall and Bradley Beal will be glad to have the 6-foot-10 forward back in the mix when he’s healthy again. In 2016-17, his sixth professional season and first full go-round with Washington, Morris put up 14.0 points on 45.7-percent shooting, and achieved career-highs with 71 3-pointers and 36.2-percent accuracy from downtown, as well as new personal bests of 6.5 rebounds per game and 83.7-percent shooting at the free-throw line.

Morris’ teammates love him for his diverse skill set, but also his toughness and trash-talking. They’ll miss all of those as he watches the first few weeks of the season from the bench. But Morris assured The Washington Post they’ll still hear from him while he rehabs his way back to full health.

“I’m a student of the game already, so I just want to give them input on what I see out there,” Morris said. “Still talk my lil’ [expletive] to the other team.”

4. Marcus Morris

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A crazy NBA offseason, filled with waves of transactions and trades, landed Marcus Morris with one of twin brother Markieff’s least favorite opponents, the Boston Celtics.

No, Marcus’s wonder-twin powers haven’t hampered him with hernia sympathy pains for Markieff, but like his brother the Celtics’ Morris begins the season on the mend. Knee soreness kept the former Rocket, Sun and Piston out of Boston’s lineup in its first two games.

It could be a week or two until Morris makes his Celtics debut, according to what coach Brad Stevens told ESPN. Because the Morris twins’ assault trial kept Marcus out for a chunk of training camp, Stevens said the team wants to effectively extend his preseason after the likely starting forward played in just one exhibition.

"I think we're going to be a better basketball team with Marcus available, but he's not," Stevens told ESPN. "We're going to need other people to step up."

Morris made a career-high 118 3-pointers in his final season with the Pistons, but made just 33.1 percent from deep. He averaged 14.0 points, 4.6 boards and 2.0 assists a year ago, and Boston will need even more production from him than expected after all-star Gordon Hayward suffered a horrific leg injury in the season-opener, dislocating his left ankle and fracturing his tibia.

3. Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins #22 and Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram #14 in actions during an NBA preseason basketball game between Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins #22 and Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram #14 in actions during an NBA preseason basketball game between Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Still just 22 years old with years of upside in front of him, former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins looks to be fixture in Minnesota’s bright future after signing a five-year, $148 million extension before the season started.

Despite averaging 23.6 points and 4.0 rebounds and making a career-best 35.6 percent of his 3-pointers in his third season, Wiggins often caught flack for not doing more than scoring. He was accused of falling far short of his defensive potential, as a 6-8 wing with the bounce and wingspan to become devastating on that end of the floor.

Now that Wiggins is in his second year in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system and has all-star wing Jimmy Butler to learn from, the young Canadian could be close to making a significant leap as a pro.

Wiggins looked like a surefire NBA-level defender in his one season playing for Bill Self at KU. So far he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. If/when he does and learns how to become a more active rebounder and willing passer, Minnesota will be thankful.

It’s not all going to come together overnight or even over the course of one season. But Wiggins still has the majority of his career ahead of him and the potential — and time — to develop into a special player.

2. Josh Jackson

Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) advances the ball up-court on a fast break as Utah Jazz forward Ekpe Udoh defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) advances the ball up-court on a fast break as Utah Jazz forward Ekpe Udoh defends during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

In a loaded rookie draft class, Josh Jackson was passed over by Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston. The 6-foot-8 forward might have been too much of a questionable shooter to go in the top three picks, but Jackson also possesses the type of personality that could enable him to spend the rest of his career making those teams regret their decisions.

After one particular preseason display, Phoenix head coach Earl Watson compared the 20-year-old Jackson to the rookie-year version one of the league’s most fiery competitors, now reigning MVP Russell Westbrook.

“Very exciting to watch,” Watson told AZCentral.com. “Shooting the ball great from (3-point range). We knew that would eventually would happen. It’s before we thought it would happen. And sometimes, like Russ, it leads to turnovers. Reminds me of Russ but his future is bright. We want to encourage him to see the game. He moves so fast. Just slow down and make decisions.”

To Watson’s point, Jackson averaged 4.8 turnovers per exhibition in the preseason with a turnover percentage of 27.4% according to RealGM.com. A mature basketball prospect aware of his flaws, Jackson told AZCentral.com he quickly has learned the NBA is “more of a thinking game” than what he encountered in the college ranks.

“A lot of my turnovers have come from not being able to read what the defense is doing and trying to force a play when it wasn’t there,” Jackson said. “You can still play fast while doing all those things at the same time.”

The Suns love Jackson’s awareness and potential, and envision him as a possible future star to pair with young 2-guard Devin Booker. Between his defense, floor vision and ability to create and finish, Jackson’s rookie season figures to be a blast for Phoenix fans to watch, even though his flashes will come on a young team destined to lose a ton of games.

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In his NBA debut Wednesday night, Jackson scored11 points on 4-for-10 shooting, to go with two rebounds. He didn’t record a turnover or an assist in a 124-76 home loss to Portland.

1. Joel Embiid

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) goes to the basket against Washington Wizards forward Jason Smith, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Washington. Smith was charged with a foul on the play.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) goes to the basket against Washington Wizards forward Jason Smith, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Washington. Smith was charged with a foul on the play.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

One of the most intriguing players in the league due to his checkered past of injuries and seemingly unlimited potential when he’s actually on the floor, Joel Embiid could be an all-star this year.

Or he could suffer another setback that makes him irrelevant to Philadelphia’s wins and losses. No one knows for sure and that’s a large part of what makes every step of the 7-foot-2 phenom’s story so fascinating.

The guy is a showman and as talented a center as the league may see for years to come. What’s more, even he is sick of the restrictions the 76ers have placed on his availability over the past year-plus as they try to protect their investment.

Prior to his team’s season-opener, with the organization expecting to play Embiid fewer than 20 minutes, the typically happy big called that idea “----ing b------t" a week removed from signing an extension with the Sixers.

Sure enough, Philadelphia trusted “The Process.” Embiid started versus Washington on opening night and played 27 minutes — still a restriction, for certain, but on par with his playing-time plan as a rookie, before his season ended at 31 games. The face of the franchise, in a 120-115 loss, shot 7-for-15 from the floor, scored 18 points, snatched 13 rebounds, dished three assists and blocked a shot.

If Philadelphia — and the NBA as a whole — is fortunate, Embiid will stay healthy enough over the next six months to continue to flourish and maybe even lead a long-suffering franchise back to the playoffs.

When he’s playing, Embiid qualifies as one of the league’s must-watch talents.

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this 2017-18 NBA season: Nos. 10-6

Houston Rockets forward Tarik Black (28) comes up with control of a loose ball against San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Houston Rockets forward Tarik Black (28) comes up with control of a loose ball against San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.

Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.

Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).

Most interesting 'Hawks in the NBA: Nos. 16-11

10. Tarik Black

While it’s entirely possible Tarik Black took on a cutback in playing time by signing this summer with Houston, the former Kansas big definitely found a better basketball situation with the Rockets than he experienced with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Houston, led by James Harden and Chris Paul, is positioned to be one of Golden State’s few challengers and one of the top seeds in the Western Conference.

If Tuesday night’s Rockets upset win on the Warriors’ championship ring night is any indication, Black might not experience much of the potential Houston-Golden State rivalry this season. His coach, Mike D’Antoni, only deployed one traditional post player, starting center Clint Capela, versus the perimeter-oriented defending champs.

Still, Black and Nene will be much more useful and playable against non super-teams. After two-plus seasons with the Lakers, Black might see his averages of 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 16.3 minutes from a year ago take a hit. But the broad-shouldered, 6-9 center is bound to experience far more victories.

9. Wayne Selden Jr.

Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Selden Jr. poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Selden Jr. poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Not that one Jayhawk would ever wish an injury on another, but Ben McLemore’s broken foot just might open the door for Wayne Selden Jr. to cement his spot in the Memphis rotation.

Selden, after going un-drafted in 2016, proved himself in the G-League (then known as the D-League) this past year and turned that success into a spot in the NBA. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard, though battling a quad injury of his own entering the season, now has another chance in front of him.

Selden should have numerous opportunities between now and McLemore’s return — possibly in November — to demonstrate to his teammates and coach David Fizdale he’s a trustworthy option on the perimeter. His numbers in 14 games as a rookie, first with New Orleans, then with the Grizzlies, weren’t impressive. Selden shot just 7-for-28 from 3-point range and 43.1 percent from the floor, while averaging 5.1 points and 1.1 rebounds in 16.9 minutes.

Still, he should find confidence easier now as a player with a two-year contract and a little experience. Selden shouldn’t have too much pressure on him as he and James Ennis battle for the starting 2-guard spot in McLemore’s absence. And the better he plays the more he will contribute once McLemore is back.

8. Frank Mason III

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III (10) looks to pass around San Antonio Spurs' Pau Gasol, of Spain during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

Sacramento Kings' Frank Mason III (10) looks to pass around San Antonio Spurs' Pau Gasol, of Spain during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

One of the more popular KU basketball players in recent memory, its not Frank Mason’s ability that kept him from cracking one of the top spot’s on this list. It’s the opportunity — or potential lack there of — awaiting him in Sacramento.

After the Kings selected a pair of point guards, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Mason, in the June draft, they also signed veteran point guard George Hill. Right or wrong, that leaves the recent National Player of the Year as the odd man out in Sacramento’s rotation.

The good news for Mason fans is any time one of those two point guards ahead of him gets in foul trouble or has to sit out a game here or there, Mason will be on the floor showing the NBA flashes of what made him great at Kansas, with his speed, 3-point shooting, play-making and toughness.

(And an occasional backflip.)

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Mason’s new coach, Dave Joerger, recently told The Sacramento Bee about what he expects from Mason:

“It’s a tough league and he’ll go out and you know what you’ll get from him is a guy who’ll compete his tail off and can make some shots, try to get up and guard you,” Joerger said. “Pretty tough dude and not afraid of taking shots at the end of the clock and certainly at the end of games.”

7. Mario Chalmers

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) drives between New Orleans Pelicans guard Jordan Crawford (27) and forward Cheick Diallo (13) in the second half of an NBA basketball preseason game Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) drives between New Orleans Pelicans guard Jordan Crawford (27) and forward Cheick Diallo (13) in the second half of an NBA basketball preseason game Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

The Memphis Grizzlies — otherwise known as every KU basketball fan’s new favorite NBA team — apparently love the Jayhawks.

Not only do McLemore and Selden play into their plans, but the organization liked the idea of keeping veteran Mario Chalmers around so much they waived 2016 first-round pick Wade Baldwin to make sure they had room on the roster for Chalmers, whom they signed this past summer to a partially-guaranteed deal.

One of the league’s many ultra-talented point guards, Mike Conley will continue to run the show in Memphis. But when he needs a break, the 31-year-old Chalmers will be there to take over.

The former Miami Heat guard missed the entire 2016-17 season after rupturing his right achilles in late 2016, during his first stint with the Grizzlies. During Chalmers’ year-plus out of the league, Memphis changed head coaches, bringing in former Heat assistant Fizdale, who knows Chalmers as well as any coach in the league.

It shapes up as an ideal situation for the 6-2, ninth-year vet, who has averaged 9.0 points and 3.3 assists with 35.8-percent 3-point shooting over the course of his career.

“A lot of players come back in 6-8 months and they use the season to try to get prepared for the next season,” Chalmers told The Commercial Appeal recently. “I feel like I’m ready. Physically, I feel better than before. I’m just trying to come in and stay solid. I want to be the guy they asked me to be and pick up where I left off.”

6. Kelly Oubre Jr.

Miami Heat's Justise Winslow (20) drives to the basket as Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) defends during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Miami. The Heat won 117-115. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami Heat's Justise Winslow (20) drives to the basket as Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) defends during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, in Miami. The Heat won 117-115. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Washington has one of the best-fitting starting lineups in the NBA. The Wizards’ bench? Not so much.

Somebody has to step up and give D.C. a legit presence as a sixth man.

[Generic professional wrestling announcer voice] My GOD! That’s Kelly Oubre Jr.!

None by Sports Illustrated

Oubre might be best known in the NBA at this juncture for his run at Kelly Olynyk during the 2017 playoffs. But that soon could change, with Washington set up to be one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, and Oubre a crucial role player on all-star John Wall’s squad.

In his second season in the league, Oubre quickly won over head coach Scott Brooks with his defensive ability. The 6-7 small forward’s 3-point shooting didn’t inspire much confidence, as he made 54 of 188 (28.7 percent) during the regular season. But Oubre at least picked it up in the playoffs, going 11-for-30 (36.7 percent).

Now entering Year No. 3 looking to improve upon his averages of 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 20.3 minutes a year ago, Oubre figures to be more involved than ever on both ends of the floor for Washington.

“I’m super excited, man," Oubre told CBSSports.com. "That's what I work hard for each and every day. I hone in on my handles and my playmaking ability. But my main deal is defense. [Brooks] also told me as long as I'm playing defense at a high level, playing smart, competitive defense, that I would be able to do things."

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this 2017-18 NBA season: Nos. 16-11

Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur drives to the basket as he is followed by Los Angeles Lakers' Luol Deng during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Ontario, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur drives to the basket as he is followed by Los Angeles Lakers' Luol Deng during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Ontario, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.

Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.

Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).

16. Darrell Arthur

Yes, you read that right. Darrell Arthur is still in the NBA. Gainfully employed by the Denver Nuggets, the ninth-year backup forward probably won’t play much while earning approximately $7.5 million. Sweet gig.

The 6-foot-10 Arthur averaged 6.4 points and 2.7 rebounds this past season, his fourth with Denver, but finds himself buried even deeper in the Nuggets’ frontcourt rotation with the free-agent signing of Paul Millsap. Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles and Kenneth Faried all figure to play larger roles than Arthur.

When (if?) Arthur does play, a Denver team hopeful to make the playoffs can count on the veteran big to play sound team defense and maybe even knock down some 3-pointers — he made a career-high 53 during the 2016-17 season while shooting 45.3 percent, also a personal best.

15. Cole Aldrich

The NBA’s summer spending spree of 2016 worked out well for Cole Aldrich, who made a homecoming signing with Minnesota. The 6-11 Aldrich remains a sturdy defender in the paint and a good-spirited guy who helps out in the community. But the Timberwolves and head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t have much use for Aldrich on the court.

The former KU big man played just 8.6 minutes a game in 62 appearances off the bench a year ago and averaged 1.7 points and 2.5 rebounds.

If you turn on the T-Wolves and Aldrich is playing, odds are the game is already a blowout or the frontcourt rotation is lacking one or more of Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson, Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica.

14. Nick Collison

There will be no farewell tour for Oklahoma City old head Nick Collison this season, but it very well may be the last go-round for the former KU star.

With 13 seasons of NBA mileage on his soon-to-be 37-year-old body, Collison won’t often hear Thunder head coach Billy Donovan call him up from the bench to direct him toward the scorer’s table.

Collison, who has played every game of his career for the same franchise, appeared in a career-low 20 games in 2016-17, leading to some minuscule averages, such as 6.4 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds. Those numbers might even decrease during his 14th professional season.

So why did Oklahoma City re-sign him to a one-year deal a few months back? Collison is a renowned locker-room presence and, honestly, even if the organization brought him back solely for the team’s annual Halloween party, it was worth it to see him as Woody Harrelson’s Billy Hoyle from “White Men Can’t Jump.”

None by The Crossover

Catch Collison on one of OKC’s 27 nationally-televised games this season if you can. You’ll want to witness the Russell Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony experiment anyway.

13. Jeff Withey

Milwaukee Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn (20) gets past Dallas Mavericks center Jeff Withey for a basket during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Milwaukee Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn (20) gets past Dallas Mavericks center Jeff Withey for a basket during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Through four NBA seasons with two different franchises, former KU shot-blocking specialist Jeff Withey has yet to become a key member of a team’s rotation. We’ll see if that changes with his new job as a Dallas backup center. His responsibilities with the Mavericks certainly have.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reports Withey’s new team likely will deploy him not only as a rebounder and defender, but also a — wait for it — 3-point shooter(?!).

"We like his length, shot-blocking ability," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Mark [Cuban] was really a key guy on this. He'd been studying him for a while. And he's shown that he can knock in some perimeter shots from time to time. Looking at his shooting technique on film, there may be a viability for him to become a 5-man who can shoot the ball from the perimeter. In certain situations, we have him popping. I understand it's going to be a process."

Keep in mind Withey’s career totals from beyond the arc are 0 makes — as in his next will be his first — on four attempts. This preseason, though, Withey drained three of eight from downtown. He’s definitely a better shooter than fellow backup pivot Nerlens Noel for those occasions when Carlisle wants to stretch the floor.

12. Cheick Diallo

Hey, remember Cheick Diallo? Good times. Good times.

The young big from Mali who only played 7.5 minutes a game for Bill Self at KU wasn’t exactly a staple of the New Orleans rotation as a rookie, but he did get 11.7 minutes of court time in his 17 appearances, averaging 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Early on this season, the 6-9 21-year-old could become far more involved. The Pelicans obviously will rely on two of the best big men in the league, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the vast majority of the time. But Diallo should be the first big off the bench — for now — with Alexis Ajinca (knee) and Omer Asik (illness) out of the lineup.

“This is my chance. This is my time. So I’ve gotta do whatever to try and make it,” Diallo said in a recent interview posted on the Pelicans’ website.

After spending much of his rookie season in the former D-League (now G-League), Diallo has a chance to make himself a more memorable player.

11. Ben McLemore

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ben McLemore poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ben McLemore poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Finally, after four seasons of basketball purgatory with the Sacramento Kings, Ben McLemore has a chance to experience NBA basketball with a stable franchise … eventually.

A month after signing a two-year contract with Memphis this summer, McLemore broke his right foot in a pick-up game. The Commercial Appeal reports the 6-5 shooting guard isn’t expected to return until sometime in November.

When McLemore gets back to 100 percent he should be able to win a starting spot in the Grizzlies’ backcourt alongside Mike Conley.

During his final year with the Kings, McLemore played a career-low 19.3 minutes, shot a career-best 38.2 percent from 3-point range and averaged 8.1 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Memphis isn’t exactly the playoff lock it used to be, but McLemore is in a much better situation and should get chances to show whether he is capable of becoming a more impactful NBA player than he was in Sacramento.

None by Memphis Grizzlies

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Joel Embiid inks massive extension with 76ers; Good move or bad move by Philly?

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By now, you surely all have heard about the massive contract signed by former Kansas center Joel Embiid, who on Monday inked a five-year, $148 million contract to stay with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Not bad for a guy who has played in just 31 NBA games since leaving Kansas as the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Granted, those 31 games produced some pretty impressive results — 20 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists per game — and nearly led to Embiid being named the rookie of the year last season despite the small sample size.

And those numbers, while solid, don’t even tell half of the story as the former KU standout whose college career ended early because of injury has rejuvenated an entire franchise and city and become a sort of cult hero across the country for his skills, confidence and never-ending social media presence that has provided some of the best NBA entertainment of the past three seasons.

But forget for a second about his game or the future. The big question now that Embiid has signed the deal is simple: Was he worth it?

The NBA world seems to be mixed in its response and who could blame anyone for questioning whether that kind of max deal, which, according to reports, could grow to as much as $178 million by the end of it, is the right move for an oft-injured player such as Embiid.

There’s no question that when he’s healthy and on the floor, Embiid is a game changer, the kind of player you can build a team around and ride to enormous heights.

But staying healthy has been a struggle and, with that frame and the way he uses such explosive movements to play the game, it’s certainly fair to question whether he will remain healthy and become the player the Sixers need him to and hope he will become.

With Embiid and the Sixers slated to be in Kansas City, Mo., for an exhibition game on Friday night, this topic certainly figures to be hot around this area for at least the next few days.

And while the Sixers did include some language in the contract that offers them some measure of protection against injury, it’s still a massive commitment for a player who, as of today, has to be considered at least somewhat of a question mark.

To that end, here’s my favorite recap of the Embiid situation, from Paul Flannery at SB Nation, who spells out the five appropriate responses to Embiid’s contract extension.

It seems as if Flannery covered all of the emotions and opinions that many had after hearing the news about the extension, but, knowing Embiid, it’s certainly possible that his career path will take us on an unexpected journey that nobody has talked about thus far. You know, like him playing point guard or becoming Philly’s player-coach.

Anything is possible with The Process.

Let's just hope that most of what we see during the next five years is Embiid on the court wowing the world with his skills and ability and earning every dime of that lucrative contract.

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Six former Kansas standouts entering free agency

Los Angeles Lakers forward Thomas Robinson, left, and Sacramento Kings guard Langston Galloway reach for a rebound during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 7, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 98-94. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers forward Thomas Robinson, left, and Sacramento Kings guard Langston Galloway reach for a rebound during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, April 7, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 98-94. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

It’s safe to assume NBA executives and head coaches won’t be jostling for position at the front doors of any former Kansas basketball players before the stroke of midnight Friday night, when it officially becomes July 1 and the league’s anticipated free agency period commences. But some of the biggest names in recent KU history will hit the open market this summer.

To get a sense of the demand — or lack there of — for the Jayhawks looking to sign new contracts, peruse Matt Moore’s list at CBSSports.com of the top 60 available free agents. You won’t find a single former Kansas player.

Still, six one-time KU stars whose college successes paved the way to lucrative careers in basketball figure to either re-up with their current employers or find new niches with other organizations as they ink new deals. Here’s a rundown of the available Jayhawks.

Thomas Robinson

Every time former KU All-American Thomas Robinson joins a different NBA team, it’s easy to think the change of scenery and/or playing for a new staff will help him achieve the breakout season that has eluded him since Sacramento made him the No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Five seasons and six teams into his career, though, the 6-foot-10 power forward has yet to emerge as a consistent contributor.

It took until September, just before training camps opened, for Robinson to sign with the Lakers in 2016, and some uncertainty likely awaits the explosively athletic 26-year-old again. After averaging 5.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in 11.7 minutes (48 appearances) for L.A., Robinson said following his end-of-season exit interview with Lakers brass they neither told him they wanted to re-sign him nor that they didn’t.

What he did learn, however, from Lakers president Magic Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Luke Walton was that Robinson, in his fifth season, began to pick up on the smaller nuances of the game. The free agent big said he used to overlook such details, and heard from Lakers brass those areas should be his focus this offseason.

“I plan to commit myself to getting better at the mental part of the game and seeing the game a little better,” Robinson said, adding he wants to reach the level of a grizzled veteran who knows it all. “I want to get that part of my game better, and I think that’ll take me to another level and also help me in helping the team.”

Which team that will be next season remains to be seen.

Ben McLemore

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, March 6, 2017, in Denver. The Nuggets won 108-96. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (23) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, March 6, 2017, in Denver. The Nuggets won 108-96. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

After four seasons of toiling with the Kings, Ben McLemore’s days in Sacramento are all but officially through. The organization declined to extend a qualifying offer to the shooting guard, making him an unrestricted free agent, capable of reaching terms with the franchise of his choice without the fear of the Kings having the right to match an offer and retain his services.

McLemore played a career-low 19.3 minutes a game this past season, when he averaged 8.1 points and shot 43 percent from the field (38.2 percent on 3-pointers).

At 24, the 6-foot-5 guard remains young and athletic enough for teams to take interest in him as a backup guard. The Kings’ poor reputation within the league means some decision-makers will give McLemore a pass on proven shortcomings with the plan to stimulate his career.

Jeff Withey

Utah Jazz's Jeff Withey (24) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Utah Jazz's Jeff Withey (24) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Another career NBA backup from KU, center Jeff Withey spent the past two seasons in a limited role for Utah. The 7-footer appeared in 51 games for the Jazz both years, but Withey only played 8.5 minutes a night in 2016-17, averaging 2.9 points and 2.4 rebounds.

Nonetheless, Withey recently told the Journal-World he’s open to re-signing with Utah, where he would continue to make cameo appearances, playing behind Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.

“Utah, in general, is just a great organization,” Withey said. “I love my time there.”

The 27-year-old big man likely would take on similar playing time for another franchise, should he sign elsewhere.

Brandon Rush

Minnesota Timberwolves' Brandon Rush plays during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Brandon Rush plays during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Looking to join up with a team to become a 10-year veteran in the league, Brandon Rush, who turns 32 in July, is in the latter stages of his career.

Even so, Rush is coming off a season in which he played 21.9 minutes a game for Minnesota — his highest average since the 2011-12 season — putting up 4.2 points and 2.1 rebounds.

That doesn’t mean the Timberwolves will bring Rush back as a bench wing capable of defending and knocking down an occasional 3-pointer (44-for-114 in his ninth year). The team already made a big offseason splash by trading for all-star Jimmy Butler, and free agency provides Minnesota with a chance to bring in another major contributor. In order to facilitate the cap space, though, role players such as Rush likely won’t be re-signed.

Nick Collison

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4) shoots a basket against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Los Angeles won 110-108. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4) shoots a basket against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Los Angeles won 110-108. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

With 13 NBA seasons behind him, veteran power forward Nick Collison won’t play much in Year 14, but the longtime Oklahoma City reserve plans to stick around for at least another season.

Considering Collison’s days with the franchise date back to before the Thunder relocated from Seattle, it would be strange to see him in another NBA uniform. The 6-foot-10 big who will turn 37 before the start of next season indicated following his OKC exit interview a couple months back he had a strong enough relationship with the front office that they should be honest with each other about their expectations once negotiations begin.

“I think both sides just have to find the best thing,” Collison said, “and we'll figure it out.”

Mario Chalmers

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) controls the ball against Los Angeles Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) controls the ball against Los Angeles Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Mario Chalmers missed the entire 2016-17 season as he rehabbed a torn Achilles tendon in his right foot. But the former KU star is only a little over a year removed from averaging 10.8 points a game for Memphis.

Back in Lawrence earlier this month to play with and against current and former Kansas players, Chalmers said he felt close to returning to the NBA this past spring as a late-season signing.

“But within myself I just wasn’t comfortable,” Chalmers added. “So I was the one who told my agent, ‘I’m going to shut it down for the year and just get healthy.’”

Any number of teams in search of a veteran guard would put a healthy Chalmers on their lists of possible targets. Now 31, the combo guard who made a name for himself with Miami and LeBron James, should resurface next season.

He said he’d be open to taking on a starting or reserve role, and will be searching for the best overall opportunity.

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Paul Pierce makes list of top 40 NBA players of past 40 seasons

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, center, dunks as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, and center Anderson Varejao of Brazil, right, watch during the second half of Game 4 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Boston. The Celtics won 97-87, tying the series at 2-2. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, center, dunks as Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, left, and center Anderson Varejao of Brazil, right, watch during the second half of Game 4 in a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Boston. The Celtics won 97-87, tying the series at 2-2. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Debating where basketball players rank in the annals of history is a time-honored tradition in the NBA — like Marv Albert yelling “Yes” on a broadcast or the Los Angeles Clippers failing to advance past the second round of the playoffs.

So you can imagine the arguments ignited by The Washington Post’s newly published list of The Top 40 players since the ABA/NBA merger, 40 years ago, as constructed by Tim Bontemps. The Michael Jordan-LeBron James disputes, of course, are inevitable. But so, too, are the “Why isn’t Player X on this list?” and “Who put THAT guy on here?” dissensions.

Although others might debate his inclusion, University of Kansas basketball fans will be glad to know the Jayhawks are represented among The Post’s top 40 of the past 40 seasons, with Paul Pierce coming in at No. 36 — even ahead of a pair of hall of famers, Kevin McHale and Reggie Miller.

A recent retiree and future hall of famer himself, Pierce averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals over the course of 19 seasons, after Boston made him the No. 10 pick in the 1998 draft. “The Truth” was a 10-time all-star, four-time member of one of the three tiers of all-NBA teams and the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.

Bontemps explains his place in NBA history:

“Pierce’s quiet end to his career with the Los Angeles Clippers shouldn’t diminish what was a remarkable run, largely with the Boston Celtics, where he partnered with (Kevin) Garnett and (Ray) Allen to usher in a new era in the sport. He also had the most duels with James, and came out on the winning end more times than just about anyone else, too.”

As referenced by Bontemps, Pierce and LeBron put up some classic battles before the former KU star hit the declining years of his career arc. Pierce and the Celtics knocked James and the Cavaliers (the pre-Miami, pre-Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love incarnation) out of the playoffs in both 2008 and 2010. And although LeBron’s Heat teams would later defeat Pierce and company in three other postseasons (once after Boston traded him to Brooklyn), giving “King James” a 3-2 advantage over Pierce in terms of playoff series won (17-13 in postseason games), this generation’s greatest talent, who has since won three titles, learned much from his early battles with “The Truth.”

"Obviously he gets a Cliff note or a couple notes in my book as far as guys that helped me get over the hump or kept me where I was at the time," James said in 2015 of Pierce. "I knew I had to become much better individually. He's one of those guys."

That praise, along with Pierce’s many accomplishments, some may — you know — argue, should be enough to rank Pierce higher than 36th on this compilation of all-time greats.

Check out The Post’s interactive top-40 graphic and decide for yourself.

Among the 40 players highlighted, Pierce ranks 26th in points, 27th in rebounding, 25th in assists, 24th in steals and 25th in blocks.

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Joel Embiid re-imagined as ‘Game of Thrones’ character in new video

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid reacts during the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 94-89. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid reacts during the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 94-89. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

If you ever wondered what former Kansas big man Joel Embiid would look like in George R. R. Martin’s fictional world of Westeros, you now have your answer — in cartoon form at least.

Finally, after four seasons worth of parodies, BleacherReport’s NBA-meets-“Game of Thrones” mash-up is trusting the process.

On the latest episode of “Game of Zones,” posted Thursday at BleacherReport.com, Embiid plays a central role as the popular online video series pokes fun at the Philadelphia 76ers’ run of tanking and selecting big man after big man near the top of the draft.

While Embiid missed most of his twice-delayed-by-a-year rookie season with more injury setbacks, he is expected to be back on the floor next season. If his ‘Game of Zones’ persona is true to life at all, some Shirley Temples should help speed up the 7-foot-2 prodigy’s latest recovery.

Embiid and the Sixers will find out at the league’s inaugural NBA Awards, on June 26, whether his 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in just 25.4 minutes a game (in only 31 games) was enough for him to win Rookie of the Year.

In the meantime, enjoy Embiid’s likeness in “Game of Zones.”

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Joel Embiid expects to be back playing basketball in 2-3 weeks

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia’s favorite 7-foot-2 Cameroonian is returning to the court soon. Even though the Sixers don’t have a game on their schedule for more than five months, any time Joel Embiid has good news on his basketball well being, it qualifies as a significant development for the potential franchise center.

Although he put up Rookie-of-the-Year numbers in his debut season, the former Kansas center remained a victim of the injury bug that already had cost him two entire NBA seasons. Embiid at times dominated offensively while playing 31 games for Philadelphia, but had his rookie season cut short in late January due to a meniscus tear in his left knee.

Embiid’s most recent rehab stint, at least, has gone well, he reported Tuesday, during an appearance in New York for ESPN.

“I’m doing great,” the 23-year-old big man told Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. “… I’m supposed to be back on the court in about two or three weeks. But I’m doing good. It’s been going good.”

In town to represent his franchise at the NBA Draft Lottery, in which the 76ers could end up with two choices near the top of the board, Embiid felt typically confident about serving as a lucky charm of sorts.

None by Philadelphia 76ers

But if he and the organization have their way, Philadelphia will break into the playoffs in 2018 and no longer have to count on the bounces of some Ping Pong balls when planning for their future.

“Hopefully this is the last time we’re gonna be doing this,” Embiid said. “I hate losing.”

Already an NBA social media superstar, despite his limited in-game chances to date, Embiid also explained why he stays authentic to himself when he posts on Twitter and Instagram.

“Social media is a way for me to connect with fans, and I love being on social media. I love being funny on there,” Embiid said. “… Especially in Philly they show me a lot of love, and it goes all over the world, too. So I love social media.”

On that front, Smith and Hill brought up Embiid’s longstanding aspirations to go on a date with music superstar Rihanna, and because singer Kelly Rowland also was in attendance for the event, asked him to make his case to Rihanna through her friend, Rowland.

“Why should Rihanna give you a shot?” Hill asked.

“I mean, look at myself,” a grinning Embiid responded. “… I’m 7-2. I’m good-looking. You know, women usually love my accent, because I’m from Cameroon, in Africa. And I’m pretty intelligent, too.”

Seriously, though, now nearly three years removed from becoming the No. 3 pick in the draft, Embiid, who averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Sixers in just 25.4 minutes a game, appears on schedule to return for the 2017-18 season. For him, that’s an even better development than Rihanna accepting his open invitation.

And — who knows — if the lottery shakes out the right way, Embiid might end up with another one-and-done KU prodigy as a 76ers teammates soon.

If Embiid is able to play a whole season for Philadelphia next year, along with 2016’s No. 1 pick, Ben Simmons, a run at a playoff berth and an end to the team’s spring lottery tradition just might be possible.

(Insert your own “Trust the Process” joke here.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEhuoga3BnE

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After watching last game at home, Kelly Oubre Jr. not anticipating welcoming crowd in Boston

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) jumps to dunk the ball while Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) and teammate Ersan Ilyasova (7) watch during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, in Washington, Sunday, April 16, 2017. The Wizards won 114-107. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) jumps to dunk the ball while Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) and teammate Ersan Ilyasova (7) watch during the first half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, in Washington, Sunday, April 16, 2017. The Wizards won 114-107. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Suspended for Game 4 of his team’s second-round playoff game on Sunday, Washington forward Kelly Oubre Jr. had to watch from afar — at his home, with his father — while his teammates handled Boston without him.

The former Kansas wing’s Game 3 run-and-shove retaliation on pesky Celtics screener Kelly Olynyk earned him a flagrant 2 foul, an ejection and a seat next to Kelly Oubre Sr., due to the NBA’s decision to suspend him.

The 21-year-old, second-year pro told CSN Mid-Atlantic his natural inclination was to enjoy viewing what turned out to be a 121-102 Wizards blowout. Good old dad had to keep junior in line when a big play had him “going crazy.”

"He wasn't in a bad mood,” Oubre Jr. said of senior, “but he would just constantly remind me if I was joking about something, he would be like, 'It would be easier if you said that on the court.' But that's my dad. That's my dad for you. It's tough love and I love it."

The 6-foot-7 backup forward will be a much more active participant in Game 5 of the Boston-Washington series, tied 2-2, on Wednesday night. Oubre anticipates Celtics fans not being as excited about his return as he is. During Game 4, in D.C., Wizards supporters, who also relentlessly booed Olynyk, chanted Oubre’s name during one dead stretch. Wisely, he’s expecting the opposite response from fans in Boston for his return.

"If a whole stadium full of people are chanting my name, that's a blessing,” Oubre told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I see what we did to Kelly Olynyk, so I'm not going to be surprised by anything."

"I've played in all the loudest arenas and against a lot of the best fans," Oubre added. "I just have to stay focused and lock in."

His coach, Scott Brooks, had some advice for Oubre, who scored 12 points apiece in his first two games at Boston this series:

"Oh jeez. Bring some ear plugs,” Brooks said. "They're definitely gonna let him have it."

Added Washington big man and fellow Jayhawk Markieff Morris:

"Man, I feel like we all should bring ear plugs. But if you ain't booing then you ain't doing something right, then. That's how I look at it."

As it turns out, Oubre said his time at Kansas prepared him for what awaits him in Boston.

"I went to Kansas University," he told Washington Post reporter Candace Buckner Wednesday, "so I'm used to all the booing."

Oubre identified a certain Big 12 arena in Manhattan as one place where he heard plenty of boos.

"Kansas State is the worst," he said. "They've got a whole student section that hates your guts."

In Oubre's opinion, K-State fans "want you dead."

"Shoutout to Kansas State, but rock chalk, man," he added.

None by Candace Buckner

None by Candace Buckner

None by Candace Buckner

Game 5 tips at 7 p.m. Wednesday, on TNT.

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Kelly Oubre Jr.: ‘I’m gonna keep raging on the court’

Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) and Markieff Morris (5) leave the court after the team's NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Washington. The Wizards won 123-108. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) and Markieff Morris (5) leave the court after the team's NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Washington. The Wizards won 123-108. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Kelly Oubre Jr. never has been the type of player who cares what people think about him or his game, and it doesn’t sound as if an on-court playoff altercation is about to change that.

A half-day removed from his Game 3 ejection, after he shoved Boston’s Kelly Olynyk to the floor, Oubre on Friday spoke with media in Washington, D.C., for the first time about what prompted such an outburst.

The second-year Washington forward said it wasn’t the first time Olynyk — called for an illegal screen while delivering an elbow to Oubre on the play that incited the squabble — and the former Kansas wing clashed.

“I’ve been hit in the head multiple times by the same person,” Oubre said in a video posted by The Washington Post’s Candace Buckner. “I’ve confronted him about it. But the last time it happened, I fell, I felt pain in my head and my jaw, and I got up and I ran to him and I bumped him. That’s all that happened.”

While Oubre, a key reserve for the Wizards, said that type of physical reaction with an opponent won’t happen again, because he learned his lesson and has to control himself, he also insisted that won’t change his hard-playing approach to the game.

“But I’m gonna keep raging on the court. I’m gonna keep screaming at everybody in the crowd and I’m gonna continue to do me,” Oubre said. “So nothing’s gonna change from this incident.”

Oubre, shooting 41.2% from the floor during his first NBA Playoffs, has made 10 of 25 3-pointers in the postseason and is averaging 6.3 points and 2.6 rebounds off Washington’s bench (17.4 minutes a game). After footage of his contact with Olynyk went viral on Twitter and Instagram, Oubre joked his financial adviser told him he got some inquiries from the NFL.

On a more serious note, his biggest concerns now are whether the NBA will suspend him for his actions. Oubre said he didn’t know what to expect on that front.

“Whatever the league does, they do,” he said, “but my job is to be here in Washington, and be with my team.”

Moving past the rush of fury he displayed served as the 21-year-old’s primary message during his media session.

“Whenever my head hurts or I get hit in the face, my initial reaction isn’t going to be pleasant. But I’m pretty mindful. I take my inner peace very seriously,” Oubre said. “When that happened, that’s something that’s very rare and it could only happen in a situation like that.”

Game 4 of Celtics-Wizards is 5:30 p.m. Sunday (TNT).

None by Candace Buckner

None by Candace Buckner

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Kelly Oubre Jr. ejected in Washington win for dead-ball flagrant foul

None by NBA Official

Second-year forward Kelly Oubre Jr. had his first big moment of the NBA Playoffs on Thursday night. But his name wasn’t on the fingertips of the NBA Twitterverse for a timely basket or steal.

The former Kansas wing, instead, grabbed everyone’s attention by trying to knock Boston’s Kelly Olynyk into next week. The altercation earned Oubre, a key reserve for Washington, a flagrant-2 foul from the officiating crew and a first-half ejection.

The 21-year-old’s outburst of court rage wasn’t completely unprompted. Oubre charged Olynyk and shoved him to the floor a moment after a hard screen — a play on which the Celtics’ big man extended an elbow into Oubre, drawing an offensive foul.

Oubre scored exactly 12 points in each of the previous two games in the series and played more than 25 minutes in both narrow D.C. losses. In Game 3 of what has been a heated and frequently chippy Eastern Conference semifinal, the Wizards easily took the victory in Oubre’s absence, though the 2015 first-round pick only played 5 minutes due to the ejection.

After Washington cut Boston’s series lead to 2-1, Wizards coach Scott Brooks addressed Oubre’s attack of Olynyk and, when asked if it was in retaliation, referenced the Celtics and Olynyk playing an overly physical style of basketball in the series.

“One, I think we’ve got to control our emotions. We can’t respond that way,” Brooks started off, in response, during his post-game press conference. “But when you get hit in the head a few times — I mean, we’re very competitive guys out there. Two teams are very competitive. You keep getting hit in the head, you might respond that way. I think that’s what he did. I’m not saying that was the right thing to do. We have to focus on playing basketball. We can’t control what they’re doing. We just have to control within our gameplan and stay focused.”

Brooks said at that point he hadn’t yet spoken with Oubre, but said he would let his player know he has to let the officials make those calls, and the referees got it right before Oubre lost his cool.

Asked about Oubre’s clash with Olynyk, Boston star Isaiah Thomas said, “I don’t know what he was doing. I mean, the screens we’ve been setting … for the most part, I feel like they’ve been legal. It’s just those guys fall and the refs call an offensive foul. I don’t know why (Oubre) reacted like that, especially to Kelly (Olynyk). Kelly’s not trying to make anybody mad — not to put anything on (Olynyk), but he’s just not like that. I guess you can pick and choose who you want to do that to.”

On NBA TV following the game, Stu Jackson, formerly the league’s vice-president of basketball operations, discussed Oubre’s flagrant-2 and automatic ejection. Jackson predicted the league offices would not suspend Oubre for Game 4 of the series, but anticipated a fine coming the second-year forward’s way.

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After injuring ankle, Markieff Morris vows to return for Game 2 vs. Boston

Boston Celtics' Avery Bradley (0) defends against Washington Wizards' Markieff Morris (5) during the first quarter of a second-round NBA playoff series basketball game, Sunday, April, 30, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Boston Celtics' Avery Bradley (0) defends against Washington Wizards' Markieff Morris (5) during the first quarter of a second-round NBA playoff series basketball game, Sunday, April, 30, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Markieff Morris’ first foray into the NBA Playoffs was going smoothly until he badly rolled his left ankle on Sunday, in Game 1 of Washington’s second-round series against Boston.

Morris, a former standout at Kansas, played a key role in the Wizards’ first-round victory over Atlanta, but only logged 11 minutes in his team’s opening game versus the Celtics, after rising up for a jumper and landing on Al Horford’s foot during the second quarter.

The sixth-year forward made the shot — and even remained on the court for a successful free throw after writhing in pain — before exiting the game for good due to the severity of the ankle roll, with his team up three points. In his absence, the Celtics went on to win, 123-111 to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

After the game, Morris told Candace Buckner of The Washington Post he feared he had broken his left ankle on the play.

“This was my worst one. I kind of tend to twist my ankles,” Morris told The Post. “That’s my injury. Ankle-twisters. This was by far the worst one.”

However, by Monday, Morris vowed to be back in the Wizards’ lineup for Game 2 at Boston, on Tuesday night.

“I’m playing tomorrow. It’s final,” Morris updated The Washington Post. “There’s nothing the doctors can say to me for me not to be able to play.”

According to Buckner’s report, Morris required “round-the-clock” treatment on his ankle since the injury. He answered questions from reporters with his ankle wrapped up and receiving electronic stimulation. Morris, who only was able to contribute 5 points and 3 rebounds in Game 1, was asked whether he thought Horford undercut him, with intentions of taking away his landing space.

“I’m not sure. I’m [going to] ask him though,” Morris told The Post. “I’ve looked at it a couple times,” he added of the replay footage of his injury. “It’s not really that pretty, so couldn’t really watch it too much.”

Meanwhile, Washington coach Scott Brooks wasn’t ready to throw his support behind Morris’ prediction that the starting power forward would be back on the floor two days after suffering a severe ankle injury.

“It’s a sprain and our medical team will all get together and do what’s best for him,” Brooks told The Post, “but right now he’s out until we see how he feels tomorrow.”

In the first round against Atlanta, Morris averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in 28.7 minutes a game during a 4-2 series win for the Wizards, which doubled as his playoffs debut. He shot 27-for-69 (39.1%) against the Hawks and only made 5 of 16 (31.3%) on 3-point tries, but Washington missed his 6-foot-10, 245-pound frame and versatility in the loss to Boston.

“He’s a matchup problem,” Brooks told Buckner. “He can score inside. He can score outside. He puts the ball on the floor. He gets six, seven, eight rebounds a game, but he blocks out. He knows how to play. He’s a smart basketball player. We definitely missed him, but I will tell the guys — there’s no excuse. We got beat.”

None by Candace Buckner

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Larry Bird happy former KU guard Kevin Pritchard replacing him as Pacers’ president

Kevin Pritchard, left, walks to the podium as Larry Bird leaves after speaking during a news conference Monday, May 1, 2017, in Indianapolis. Bird resigned from his position as Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations. Pritchard is assuming Bird's position. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Kevin Pritchard, left, walks to the podium as Larry Bird leaves after speaking during a news conference Monday, May 1, 2017, in Indianapolis. Bird resigned from his position as Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations. Pritchard is assuming Bird's position. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Before officially stepping down as the Indiana Pacers’ president of basketball operations, NBA legend Larry Bird on Monday left his replacement, former Kansas guard Kevin Pritchard, with a vote of confidence.

"I'm very happy Kevin is stepping in and glad another Hoosier is in line to take over this job,” Bird said of Pritchard, born in Bloomington, Ind., before going on to help KU win the 1988 national championship. “He has a lot of experience from the past five years as a GM and he's ready to step into a leading role. With us, he has had his own ideas on the draft, players, and now he gets an opportunity to push his basketball abilities to the forefront. His role will be no different than mine was. He will make all final decisions on all basketball-related matters. There can only be one voice, and it will be his."

Pritchard, 49, spent the past five seasons working under Bird, in various functions, most recently as vice president of basketball operations and general manager.

“What do you say to someone,” Pritchard asked during his introductory press conference, while thanking Bird, “who has absolutely given you the opportunity of a lifetime?”

According to Pritchard, he and Bird, who will remain a consultant to him, talk every day about the Pacers, and he has learned a lot about basketball from the former Boston Celtics great.

Still, Pritchard’s new job won’t be easy. He inherits a team that has a superstar in Paul George, who many think will leave in free agency in the summer of 2018 if the Pacers can’t convince him to sign an extension before then. Rumors of moving George out of Indiana dominated the NBA’s trade deadline this past February, and the first question Pritchard fielded Monday dealt with the franchise player’s future.

“I’ve been on the job two minutes now,” Pritchard joked, in response, looking down at his watch.

The Pacers’ new president went on to explain he had exit interviews with George and other players after the team was eliminated from the playoffs by defending champion Cleveland. Pritchard said George wants to win. It will be Pritchard’s job to prove the Pacers can do that, or else he might have to trade the face of the franchise this summer to make sure they don’t lose George and get nothing in return in July of 2018.

“I think you have to be bold in this position,” Pritchard said. “But the one thing I’ve learned from Larry is how important continuity is.”

Still, Indiana’s new president of basketball operations said he doesn’t mind being aggressive and making moves in the summer, particularly during the draft.

Since graduating from Kansas, Pritchard has spent most of his professional life involved in the NBA in one aspect or another. A second-round draft pick of Golden State in 1990, the point guard spent parts of four seasons in the league as a player, appearing in 94 games. After a stint in the ABA with the Kansas City Knights as a coach and G.M., Pritchard broke into the NBA ranks as a scout for San Antonio. That gig that landed him the title of director of player personnel in Portland, in 2004, and he eventually was promoted to general manager.

Fair or unfair, his time in Portland is associated for many with the Trail Blazers selecting Greg Oden with the No. 1 pick in 2007, instead of Kevin Durant.

Without addressing specifically the injury-shortened career of Oden, who only played 82 games for Portland, Pritchard alluded to it when asked if he learned anything about this job from his time in charge of the Blazers’ roster. He said he now better understands how valuable the opinions of team doctors can be.

“Sometimes you can get blinded by talent,” Pritchard said, “and you want it to work. But unless guys can play, you can’t play. So, I would say learn from your medical staff. And then I thought there were times that we got a little too active (with roster moves) and I felt another year with the same team or a similar team would’ve really benefited everybody else. It’s that age-old thing of balance. Do you make changes or do you buy into continuity? And I think it all depends on your timeline, too.”

Whatever the future holds for the Pacers as a franchise — be that a blockbuster deal that ships George out, or a re-tooled roster that helps George return to the conference finals or beyond as the team’s centerpiece — Pritchard will be the one who facilitates it.

From 1986 to 1990, Pritchard played four seasons at Kansas, averaging 14.5 points in each of his final two years, under Roy Williams. Of course, his first two seasons in Lawrence came under the tutelage of Larry Brown. After coaching Pritchard, Danny Manning and “The Miracles” to the 1988 title, Brown had a successful run in Indiana as the Pacers’ head coach.

“I feel like Larry Brown gave me a foundation of basketball,” Pritchard said. “The way it’s played the right way. You’ve heard Larry Brown say ‘the right way’ a million times. He’s tough, but I’m very grateful to have played for Coach Brown, as well.”

Danny Manning, left, Kevin Pritchard, center, and coach Larry Brown share a happy moment on the court with fans after a KU victory in Lincoln, Neb., during the 1988 NCAA Tournament's opening weekend.

Danny Manning, left, Kevin Pritchard, center, and coach Larry Brown share a happy moment on the court with fans after a KU victory in Lincoln, Neb., during the 1988 NCAA Tournament's opening weekend.

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‘I gave every ounce I could’: After 19 seasons, Paul Pierce retires

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, right, shoots as Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors defends during the second half in Game 7 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Jazz won 104-91. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, right, shoots as Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors defends during the second half in Game 7 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Los Angeles. The Jazz won 104-91. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The career of the best NBA player from Kansas since Wilt Chamberlain officially has come to a close.

After 19 seasons, 1,343 regular-season games, 14 playoff appearances, 10 All-Star games, four All-NBA selections, a championship ring and a Finals MVP trophy, Paul Pierce walked away from the game on Sunday, with the Los Angeles Clippers’ season-ending playoff-loss sending him into retirement.

For the 39-year-old forward, the finale — 6 points, 2-for-4 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 22 minutes versus Utah — was not reflective of what is bound to become a hall of fame career. “The Truth” as the high-scoring Inglewood, Calif., native came to be known in the NBA during his peak years with the Boston Celtics, averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals for his career. He shot 44.5% from the floor and made 2,143 of his 5,816 3-point attempts (36.8%).

Through an incredible 15-year run with the Celtics, who drafted him 10th overall in 1998, Pierce played in 136 playoff games, producing 20.9 points, 6.4 boards and 4.0 assists a game.

His revered veteran presence took him to Brooklyn, Washington and L.A., too, for the twilight years in the league, before it all finally ended in the first round of the 2017 playoffs, with a Game 7 defeat.

None by LA Clippers

“You know, it’s tough to come up short in your goals. Each and every year you set a goal to be champions,” Pierce said in a post-game interview with reporters posted at CBSSports.com. “And it’s a tough pill to swallow each and every year. I’ve been in the league 19 years, so I’ve had to swallow 18 tough pills. But at the end of the day, I was happy to be a part of this, compete with these guys and see the work everybody put in every day, and I appreciate the guys around me,” he said, before shaking his head in apparent disbelief. “It’s been a fun ride.”

The season obviously ended sooner than Pierce and his Clippers teammates hoped, but the new retiree was able to put it all in perspective.

“I’m happy at the end of the day with what I’ve been able to accomplish, what I’ve been able to do throughout my career,” Pierce said, “and I gave every ounce I could. Each and every day. I have no regrets. Even to the last day I’m in here a couple hours before the game, you know, giving my blood, sweat and tears to this game.”

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, center, gets a handshake from Alan Anderson, left, and a pat on the back from Wesley Johnson during the closing seconds Game 7 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz, Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Los Angeles. Pierce is scheduled to retire after the season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, center, gets a handshake from Alan Anderson, left, and a pat on the back from Wesley Johnson during the closing seconds Game 7 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz, Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Los Angeles. Pierce is scheduled to retire after the season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

After Pierce’s final NBA appearance, a number of former teammates and competitors showed their appreciation for his career with messages on social media.

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Likewise, in a video produced by The Players’ Tribune, many of those same stars and contemporaries shared their thoughts on what made Pierce special over the course of his many highlight-filled, shot-making years in The Association. And his college days weren’t overlooked, either, thanks to the help of his coach at Kansas, Roy Williams.

“He was a wonderful player to coach,” Williams said. “He’s a complete player, and I think that competitiveness made him become a compete player.”

His longtime friend and Celtics running mate Kevin Garnett described Pierce both as a “beast” and a “classic” player.

“One of the more clutch, if not calmer, beasts that I’ve met in my life,” Garnett said.

Between the regular season and playoffs since his professional debut in 1999, Pierce logged 47,873 minutes and scored 29,571 points. He retired as the 18th-leading scorer in NBA history (26,397 points).

“This game has meant everything for me,” Pierce said shortly after playing for the last time on Sunday. “And I’m happy from start to finish.”

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce shouts as he holds the MVP trophy as the Boston Celtics celebrate their 131-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA basketball Championship in Boston, Tuesday, June 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce shouts as he holds the MVP trophy as the Boston Celtics celebrate their 131-92 win over the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA basketball Championship in Boston, Tuesday, June 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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Nick Collison not ready to retire just yet

Oklahoma City Thunder's Enes Kanter, left, of Turkey, and Nick Collison confer during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Oklahoma City Thunder's Enes Kanter, left, of Turkey, and Nick Collison confer during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Thirteen-year NBA veteran Nick Collison isn’t going anywhere. Well, at least he doesn’t plan to call it a career just yet.

The former Kansas star said Wednesday, less than 24 hours removed from Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston, he doesn’t intend to retire — a scenario he previously said he at least would consider.

“I plan to play for sure. I wasn't sure going into the season how I would feel at the end of the year, but I still enjoy playing, and I enjoy being around the group. I enjoy being on the team, and I still think I have something to offer,” the 36-year-old post player said during exit interviews with Oklahoma media.

Now more of an unofficial assistant coach for the Thunder than a member of the rotation, Collison played in a career-low 20 games this season, leading to more uncharted small averages, such as 6.4 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds.

Every season as a rugged role player, Collison has suited up for the same organization, playing for the Seattle Super Sonics before the franchise relocated to OKC. His current deal expires this summer, but the veteran who mentors young bigs such as Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Domantas Sabonis for the Thunder indicated he’d like to continue his run of loyalty with the franchise.

“I’ve been treated great here, and I've had great experiences here, and it's been the best basketball years of my life, for sure, playing here,” Collison said. “… There's no answers today. Everyone has been focusing on this season, these playoffs, and today is the first day we start thinking about what comes next.”

As much as the 6-foot-10 reserve has experienced in the NBA since being selected 12th overall in 2003, uncertainty isn’t exactly an area of expertise. Collision said he knew before high school he would play for Iowa Falls and knew before college he would play for the Jayhawks, but the only other time he didn’t know what would come next was when he graduated from Kansas and had no way of predicting which team would take him in the rookie draft.

“It's a little different,” he said of the coming offseason. “I think about it, but I've got really good relationships with all the people here, so I think it'll be honest and fair, and we'll just — I think both sides just have to find the best thing, and we'll figure it out.”

It won’t be too long before the big man’s playing days are completely through. Collison said he has considered what he will do as a young retiree, but didn’t dive into the specifics or whether he would transition into a coaching or front-office position of some sort.

“I think I said it last year, things change a lot in a short amount of time, and people's mindset, my mindset changes over time, so I think it's best to just look at it as what's the next thing,” Collison said, “and I think that's always helped me as a player, to just say what's the next thing, and I'm going to keep doing that.”

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% ORB TRB AST STL BLK PTS
2004-0524SEA82417.02.34.3.537.000.5371.01.4.7031.94.60.40.40.65.6
2005-0625SEA662721.93.16.0.525.000.5251.21.7.6992.25.61.10.30.57.5
2006-0726SEA825629.03.97.8.500.000.5001.92.4.7742.88.11.00.60.89.6
2007-0827SEA783528.54.18.2.502.000.5021.62.1.7373.39.41.40.60.89.8
2008-0928OKC714025.83.46.0.568.000.5681.41.9.7212.56.90.90.70.78.2
2009-1029OKC75520.82.44.1.589.250.5911.01.4.6922.05.10.50.50.65.9
2010-1130OKC71221.51.93.4.566.5660.81.0.7531.74.51.00.60.44.6
2011-1231OKC63020.71.93.2.597.000.5970.71.0.7101.94.31.30.50.44.5
2012-1332OKC81219.52.23.7.595.000.5950.71.0.7691.54.11.50.60.45.1
2013-1433OKC81016.71.73.0.556.235.5640.81.1.7101.43.61.30.40.34.2
2014-1534OKC66216.71.63.8.419.267.4510.71.0.6921.43.81.40.50.44.1
2015-1635OKC59411.80.81.8.459.000.4590.40.6.6971.22.90.90.30.32.1
2016-1736OKC2006.40.71.2.609.000.6090.30.4.6250.51.50.60.10.11.7
Career89517720.72.54.6.533.208.5351.01.4.7262.05.21.00.50.56.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/26/2017.
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