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Last installment of our preview of the Nba rookies e sophomores for the 2016/17 is the Pacific Division. If you need to catch up just follow the links for the Atlantic, Southeast, Central, Northwest and Southwest divisions
Golden State Warriors
Sophomore: Kevon Looney
Rookie: Patrick McCaw, Damian Jones
Kevon Looney entered the league with a hip injury that forced him to undergo surgery and lost most of his rookie season. Once his rehab was over he was assigned to the D-League to get back into rhythm, but he was favoring his non-injured leg, and that costed him another surgery. It is hard to predict his role this season, the Warriors bench is not as deep as the last couple of seasons and the team will not try to go for 74 wins, but there are plenty of forwards at roster. His best chance is that the team needs better rebounding, in which case he will get his minutes, but he will have to keep up on defense as well.
Damian Jones torn his right pectoral muscle during a workout in Orlando before the draft. The injury made him slip to the very end of the first round, where the Warrios picked him. It will likely cost him the whole season, – for reference, Al Horford, back when he was with the Atlanta Hawks, suffered the same injury, had surgery late December and missed the remainder of the season – but that is a lucky thing for the ex Vanderbilt. He can spend the year learning the system and the nuances of the Nba from afar, and next year he will be better prepared, considering he is right now the only non small-ball center signed beyond this season.
Plenty of experts wondered how could a player like McCaw still be available with the 38th pick. In McCaw the Golden State Warriors have the kind of 6-7 wing who can shoot, pass and switch every pick and roll, pretty much like every other wing at roster, and given the shortened rotation for the year, the Nevada product is carving himself a spot in the rotation.
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Los Angeles Clippers
Rookie: Brice Johnson, Diamond Stone, David Michineau
Brice Johnson, 25th pick for the Clippers last June, did not come into the league with a real chance to be in the rotation, first because the Clippers are a contending team and their frontcourt is deep enough to sustain the spare few minutes their starters will be on the bench, second because coach Doc Rivers has never been one to give rookies extended playing time. Then, he finished a preseason game against the Toronto Raptors with a herniated disk that will require surgery. He will be in D-League once the he is done with the rehab process and will likely never have minutes in the Nba.
Diamond Stone had quite a few surprising practices with the Clippers where he showcased his well developed offensive game, which includes a lot more than post moves. He can be effective with his range and might be able to stretch the floor all the way to the three-point line. He can be an interesting prospect for the future, the Clippers are in win-now mode and cannot afford to play a 19-year-old center. D-League will be the place where he can grow up and be closely monitored.
David Michineau has already agreed to being stashed in Europe.
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Sophomore: Willie Cauley-Stein, Lamar Patterson
Rookie: Georgios Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson, Skal Labissiere, Isaiah Cousins
The Kings are the poster-franchise for dysfunctional organizations, and they seem be keen to prove it every year. Last year Willie Cauley-Stein was supposed to be the frontcourt partner of DeMarcus Cousins, forming a duo of bruisers, one taking care of offense, the other of defense. It was not a perfect fit, WCS has no range and cannot stretch the floor for Cousins, but he ended up playing 21.4 minutes coming off the bench as a backup center and never found himself in a situation where his athleticism could excel. Their most used lineup included Rudy Gay as a stretch power-forward, their second most used had Omri Casspi in the same role, and both of them are still around, as well as all the other centers, and on top of that, the Kings had a perplexing draft night. When factoring into the equation that new coach Dave Joerger will install a slow paced offense that will allow Cousins to got to work in the post, Cauley-Stein’s role with the team is still up in the air.
Last June, the Kings swapped the 8th pick (Marquese Chriss) and a 2020 second rounder with Phoenix, who sent back the 13th (Papagiannis) and 28th (Labissiere) pick and the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic (who will stay in Europe).
Papagiannis has the physical tools and the potential to be a great addition in the future, projecting as a bruiser who lives in the paint but is not very agile or mobile. He is not ready to be in the Nba, he proved as much in Summer League and in preseason, and it unclear what his role with the team will be as long as Cousins is around. He was labeled “the great unknown” of the draft and the truth is nobody has any idea yet of what he can be. He might be the player fated to be great, as was promised when a 14-year-old Papagiannis played in the professional Greek league, or he might be a huge bust.
A future evaluation of Papagiannis will also depend on Chriss and Labissiere careers, the latter a player as raw as the Greek rookie, whose body is far from being Nba-ready. The talent is there, and it might pan out, but it is hard to project a development curve when so much depends on a franchise who proved over and over to be unable to develop any prospect beside Cousins, a generational talent of his own who might have developed anywhere. Labissiere will not play much, barring an unpredictable improvement or otherworldly accuracy from beyond the arc.
In such a disaster of a roster, Malachi Richardson might find himself on the court, despite the presence of two veteran guards ahead of him in the team’s hierarchy and a third (McLemore) who was supposed to be the shooting guard of the future for the Kings and nowadays just wants out. Richardson’s three-point shot is honest enough to keep defenses on edge, and that will be his calling card to find minutes off the bench, but he will have to adjust on defense, not just with the physicality and the speed of the Nba game but also to a new system, since he comes from Syracuse and is used to play zone.
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Sophomore: Devin Booker, Alan Williams
Rookie: Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis, Derrick Jones
Devin Booker was underestimated by too many teams on draft night, although the 2015 draft class was stacked with talent and the oversight might be justified. He is not the kind of generational talent that Towns is, but he showed the potential of a pure scorer who might be good enough to carry the offense of a whole team. He had the best season in 20 years for a Phoenix Suns rookie and had six 30+ point games. He will be a starter alongside Bledose, relegating Brandon Knight to a sixth-man role, despite Knight’s contract and the cost paid to acquire him (a top-3 protected Lakers pick which is likely due next June). Booker is projected to be a perennial All-Star and if he had to improve on defense he might be the next big thing at shooting guard in the league. And his offense is good enough that he might be anyway.
Alan Williams declared for the draft in 2015 but went undrafted. He played well in Summer League and preseason, but ended up being waved and played in China for a season, where he did well. When the Cba season was over he came back and accepted a couple of 10-day contracts before signing for two season, with the second one becoming guaranteed last September 1st. He will ride the pine and work in practice, be a positive presence in the locker room and celebrate for his teammates.
Dragan Bender was one of the hot topics in the weeks before the draft. He is a 7-1 forward who can handle the ball, move smoothly on the perimeter, pass the ball and shoot threes. But he is only 18 years old, and that comes with doubts. First of all, his body is not ready for the Nba. Yes, people used to say the same with Porzingis last year, but that’s the exception, not the rule. Secondly, there’s his role on the court. He models his game around Tony Kukoc, the ex Chicaco Bulls forward who would be a great stretch-four in the modern Nba, but he tends to gravitate too much on the perimeter, just like his role model. The Suns encouraged him to shoot it during summer and he did: out of 28 total shots in preseason, 17 were three-pointers and 14 of those clanked off the rim.
Marquese Chriss is the prize for the trade with the Kings previously discussed. He has the potential to be a two-way force who can play both inside and outside, overpowering opponents with his off-the-charts athleticism or punish them from distance. He is also a teenager, just like Bender, and both must be considered long term project who might play meaningful minutes off the bench this season, since the Suns have no expectations beside another trip to the lottery, but that time will serve to adjust to the league.
Tyler Ulis was another hot topic in June, mainly because coach Calipari said he is the best floor general he has ever coached and that if he was 4 inches taller he would have been the top pick in the draft. As far as talent goes, he was probably right, and the hype surrounding Isaiah Thomas might mislead the way little guys are judged, but the truth is, very few players with such a small frame make it into the league. The Suns have three guards who will eat most of the minutes available, but Bledsoe is an injury prone point-guard and might allow an opening for Ulis to shine and prove the hype surrounding him is not misplaced. And with Archie Goodwin now gone, competition just got weaker around him for the fourth-guard spot.
Derrick Jones made the final roster, and his journey to the Nba is quite unusual. Kentucky first offered than withdrew a scholarship, forcing him to move to Nevada… until he was declared ineligible because of a dispute on his ACT test. Up until then, Jones was averaging 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. Earl Watson, when asked about him, said he is the most athletic guy on the roster, even considering Chriss (a 6-10 version of Gerald Green, according to PJ Tucker). He will make the final roster, but he is unlikely to play, unless it’s garbage time and coach Watson is emptying the bench.
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Los angeles Lakers
Sophomore: D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr, Marcelo Huertas
Rookie: Ivica Zubac, Brandon Ingram
D’Angelo Russell had a season well below expectations, but we might consider it an asterisk season. That Byron Scott was not the coach to bring the Lakers back to relevance was obvious, and the Kobe Farewell Tour did not help either, since players just gave Kobe the ball whenever he was on the court and got out of the way. Was it that surprising that a 20-year-old kid ended up messing with Nick Young and social media? But now Kobe is out of the way and Luke Walton should install the kind of offense that can work to Russell’s strength as a scorer and passer. It is hard to project the kind of season he will have, but he will turn a few heads and surprise all of those who were quick to claim he was a bust. He might even reclaim his status as the second best prospect in his draft class.
Larry Nance Jr was one of the few positives last season. Everything that did not work in the Scott-Russell relationship worked with the rookie forward, who ran up and down the floor and threw himself on every loose balls and actually tried to play defense. Walton will have to give him some time on the floor, but the frontcourt has a deep rotation and minutes will have to be earned.
Brandon Ingram was the second pick last June and given his body and his shooting touch he was quickly compared to Durant, except he is no Durant. He has great upside and might become a two-way player once he bulks up and will be able to handle the Nba athleticism, but he will struggle in his first season. He will play behind Luol Deng but he will not see minutes as small-ball PF until his body improves. What he might be able to do is manage secondary pick-and-rolls, he has a quick first step and can attack closeouts or an already scrambled defense. The rest will include spotting up for D’Angelo Russell and work on the chemistry between the two players that will lead the Lakers back to relevance.
Zubac came into the league as an imposing big with good hands and feet who could play both post positions. He will come off the bench this season behind Mozgov, another center with a similar profile, and learn the system and the timing of the tens of combinations off a dribble-hand-off that are part of a motion offense in the Nba. The goal is to get him ready for a future role in the roster: he will not be a star, but he can become a solid starter who plays hard on defense and can keep the offense moving and allow the guards to play off the ball.
As for Huertas, it is better not talk about him, this sample images are enough to explain that he might be like this
but most often is like this
or like this.
And now, bring on the real games already.