Teams line up to snare stars of the future in NBA draft

Jay Asser 10:49 23/06/2016
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Top picks: Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram.

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram are in a tier of their own in this year’s NBA draft.

When the annual influx of college players commences on Thursday night (UAE: 04:00+1) at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Simmons and Ingram are likely to be the first two names off the board.

After finishing with the worst record in the league this season at 10-72, the Philadelphia 76ers hold the top selection as they search for a player capable of turning the floundering franchise around.

Philadelphia have drafted third in each of the past two drafts, much of it due to their own volition as former general manager and president of basketball operations Sam Hinkie chose a bottom-out rebuilding approach to gather as many high draft picks as possible.

Hinkie resigned in April, months after four-time Executive of the Year winner Jerry Colangelo was hired as the Sixers’ chairman of basketball operations in December.

Following Hinkie’s departure, Colangelo’s son, Bryan, filled the vacant role. With new leadership at the helm, Philadelphia are eager to get out of the dregs of the league and have the luxury of choosing between the top prospects in the draft, though they’ve supposedly made a promise to Simmons they’ll select him, according to reports.

Simmons was widely considered the runaway best talent in the class heading into his freshman year at Louisiana State University (LSU), but while the 19-year-old Australian put up stellar numbers, he failed to lead his team to the NCAA tournament as they struggled through a disappointing campaign.

That, coupled with question marks over his shooting – he attempted just three 3-pointers – has opened the door for Duke product Ingram to potentially leapfrog him.

The Los Angeles Lakers are expected to swipe the lanky 18-year-old at number two if the Sixers tab Simmons first overall.

Los Angeles are entering a new era following the retirement of Kobe Bryant.

With their desire to be consistent contenders, trading the second selection for a proven player is in play, as is swapping point guard D’Angelo Russell for a top-five pick, according to reports.

Behind the Lakers sit their longtime rivals the Boston Celtics, who once again head into the draft stocked with ammo to make a move. That means general manager Danny Ainge will take a hard look at trading the pick for an established player able to help a team that was tied for the seventh-best record in the league this season.

The Celtics have been linked with Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler, Utah Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward, Milwaukee Bucks sharpshooter Khris Middleton and Philadelphia big men Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

Boston’s offers to bring in a veteran have reportedly been rebuffed so far, but they also have the 16th, 23rd, 31st, 35th, 45th, 51st and 58th overall picks to work with, giving them the most selections of any team in the draft.

After the top tier of Simmons and Ingram, the draft could unfold in a number of ways. The top guards of the class are Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray, and they’re all expected to be drafted somewhere between the third and 10th pick.

Dunn is a point guard from Providence who could be the target of teams in search of a playmaker, either by drafting for him or trading up to nab him.

Hield and Murray, meanwhile, have been compared and contrasted leading up to the draft as they’re both scoring-minded players with exceptional shooting ability.

At Oklahoma, Hield earned the John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith Award for being the top college player this season, but was a four-year senior and is one of the oldest players in the draft at 22.

Murray’s age of 19 is in his favour, especially after showing an impressive offensive skillset in his lone year at Kentucky.

There’s also intrigue once again with a highly-touted international prospect as 18-year-old Croatian Dragan Bender is projected to be a top-10 pick.

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#360podcast: A look back at the NBA Finals

Sport360 staff 10:48 22/06/2016
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Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

James Piercy and Jay Asser bask in the glow of Cleveland’s historic championship, breaking down how the Cavs won and what went wrong for the Warriors; plus where do the two franchises go from here.

We also delve into Thursday’s NBA draft and where the next wave of talent mind land as Jay tries to contain his excitement at Boston owning the No3 pick.

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#360USA: Rose proving he’s no shrinking violet

Steve Brenner 09:25 21/06/2016
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Japanese media salutes Ichiro Suzuki's new record.

Pete Rose is a lot of things to a lot of people. Hit King. Legend. Cheat. Liar. The man with the record number of runs in MLB – 4,256 to be exact – divides opinion like no other baseball great.

His entrance into the Hall of Fame will be forever blocked following the shame of betting on games while managing and playing for the Cincinnati Reds.

Considering baseball bosses failed to expunge the records of convicted drug cheats like Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, the refusal to allow an old man a piece of redemption in his twilight years is double standards of the highest order.

So it was no surprise to watch a row brew after Miami Marlins batter Ichiro Suzuki passed his legendary record last week.

Or did he? When his total clicked past Rose’s in San Diego with an eighth inning double to right field, it was an undeniably proud moment for the evergreen Japanese star. The crowd rose to acclaim his achievement.

Has a new Hit King been born? In terms of pure numbers, perhaps. In reality? No way. Over a quarter of Suzuki’s hits – 1,278 – were bagged in NPB – Japan’s national league. Furthermore, if Rose’s 427 minor league hits are counted, there’s some way to go yet.

This is no slight on the game in Japan. Many players have come to North America from the Far East and prospered. The links between the two competitions remains strong.

Yet anyone trying to dethrone Rose are perhaps the types who’d use the goals Wayne Rooney scored as a 13-year-old in an ‘is he better than Pele?’ argument.

The NPB isn’t MLB. The standard is a level below. Stadia are smaller. There are fewer games. It’s basically not as good.

So you can perhaps understand Rose’s typically snarky riposte to anyone trying to shoot down his legend. “It sounds like in Japan they’re trying to make me the Hit Queen,” he sniped as the fear of a slump in sales of Hit King merchandise began to engulf him.

“I’m not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he’s had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they’ll be counting his high-school hits.”

Conversely, the argument to batter Rose’s character also stands firm. After all, his total in the majors still stands. There was no reason to diminish Ichiro, a fine player and a credit to baseball over the past 25 years.

The 42-year-old is no slouch. Indeed, once his career comes to an end he will surely revel in being named in the Hall of Fame both in the US and Japan, a serious feat indeed.

It should be noted that Ichiro led the majors in hits seven times compared to Rose’s three.

That said, he should still not be considered to have eclipsed the now 75-year-old Rose’s records.

Rose is the master in MLB. The best in all professional baseball? Ichiro has a decent case. “With all respect, this is the greatest league in the world,” piped up Rodriguez.

The fabled 3,000 run mark will soon be eclipsed and that too should be warmly recognised.

The fuss of it all says much about the perception of the outspoken, gregarious Rose than anything else – and how he can divide opinion.

People should just enjoy Ichiro’s accomplishment before getting lost in out of sync comparisons.

“You don’t have to rank anybody like that,” said Angels first baseman Albert Pujols. “Can you imagine if he were to come here right away? I think he would have easily broken Pete Rose’s record.

“Ichiro was the Pete Rose, pretty much, of baseball when he came up. You appreciate what both of the players did. Whether it’s in Japan or whether it’s here in America, 3,000 hits are a lot of hits. It doesn’t matter where you do it.”

Ultimately this all boils down to the general dislike of a loud-mouthed, legendary player.

Nevertheless, it would have just been nice for Rose to drop the nonsense for a split second and simply trot out a harmless ‘well done, Ichiro’.

But that just isn’t Pete Rose. And it never will be.

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