2017 NBA Draft Preview: Which potential lottery picks will be busts?

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Over the course of the last three weeks, we’ve been churning out NBA Draft Prospect Profiles of the best players in this loaded draft for the fellas at Pro Basketball Talk.

You can find them here:

You can also find the latest NBC Sports Mock Draft here.

Today, we’ll be going through some of the projected lottery picks to determine who from that group will be a bust in the NBA.

RELATED: Lottery Busts | First Round Values | Draft Sleepers

Jonathan Isaac, Florida State: To me, Jonathan Isaac may actually be the most interesting prospect in this draft simply because no one really knows quite what to expect from him.

What I mean is that every other player projected to go in the top ten is more or less a known quantity at this point. The projected top five picks all have all-star potential, either at the point (Fultz, Ball, Fox) or as a big wing with small-ball four potential (Jackson Tatum). Malik Monk is an undersized two with explosive scoring ability. Dennis Smith Jr.’s talent is outweighed only by the red flags that come along with him. Lauri Markkanen is a seven-footer that shoots it like Klay Thompson. Zach Collins, Donovan Mitchell, Luke Kennard. We basically know what their role is going to be at the next level.

What will Isaac be?

Well, that depends on who you ask.

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Let’s start with Isaac’s potential. He stands 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and the skills to play on the perimeter. He shot 34.8 percent from three, and his 78 percent free throw shooting makes it conceivable that is his floor as a shooter in the long-term, while blocking more than two shots per 40 minutes. There isn’t a pair of skills more valuable in the NBA these days than the ability to protect the rim and stretch the floor. That’s what makes Golden State’s lineup that features Kevin Durant and Draymond Green so difficult to deal with. Throw in Isaac’s ability to move his feet and play as a switchable, multi-positional defender, and what you have is a player with a floor that’s higher than your typical 6-foot-11, 205 pound project. What’s the worst case scenario, that he’s Andre Roberson but a couple of inches taller with the ability to make a three?

So why is he headlining this bust list?

Because of where he’s being projected in the draft.

It seems pretty clear at this point who the top five picks in this year’s draft are going to be — Fultz, Ball, Tatum, Jackson and Fox. Isaac appears to be a lock to go somewhere in the top ten with quite a few people projecting him to wind up as the No. 6 pick. NBA teams aren’t exactly expecting the No. 6 pick to turn into a franchise player, but anything less than a future starter with a shot to make a couple of all-star teams would be a disappointment with that pick, particularly in a year where the draft is as good as it is in 2017.

In theory, that’s what Isaac is, right? High floor with an incredibly high ceiling if it all comes together? I’m just not convinced there’s all that much of a chance that it “all comes together” for him. Perhaps the biggest concern with Isaac when it comes to his longterm development is whether or not he realizes just how good he has the potential to be. Part of the reason he wound up at Florida State is that he didn’t want to be in the spotlight that comes with playing at a school like Kentucky or Kansas. Part of the reason he played second-fiddle offensively to the likes of Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes is that he didn’t realize he could take over games at the college level.

You don’t have to do much projecting or guessing to see Isaac playing a role and doing it effectively in the NBA, but it would be disappointing if, with the sixth pick in this draft, Orlando ended up drafting a 6-foot-11 3-and-D forward that blocks shots, makes threes and plays on the perimeter on both ends of the floor that only turned into a role player.

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: If the NBA were to draft strictly based on talent, I think that Dennis Smith Jr. would have a chance to be a top three pick in this year’s draft. He’s that good. He may be the best athlete in this draft in the back court despite battling through a torn ACL he suffered two summers ago. He can operate in pick-and-rolls. He has three-point range. He has NBA point guard size. He has the total package.

But he also played on an N.C. State team that had absolutely no business being as bad as they were last year. The Wolfpack went 15-17 overall and just 4-14 in the ACC despite having a roster that was talented enough to get them to the Sweet 16. (Yeah, I said it. And I meant it.) They were disappointing enough that head coach Mark Gottfried got fired with two weeks left in the regular season, something that just does not happen in college basketball. After N.C. State lost by 30 points to a mediocre Wake Forest team, a Wake Forest player told the media that, “We knew if we got up early on them, they was going to quit.”

Does that sound like the kind of player that you want to be the face of your franchise at the point?

Point guards are supposed to be leaders, an extension of the coach on the floor, or so goes the cliché. That becomes even more true at the college level, particularly when you’re dealing with a point guard that is so much more talented than the players around him.

Smith is good enough to put up 32 points and six assists in Cameron Indoor Stadium in a win over Duke, one of the best individual performances we saw all season long, but that still wasn’t enough to make the Wolfpack anything close to relevant at any point during the season.

Smith is going to be a lottery pick, meaning he is going to be drafted by a franchise that is going to be bad and relying on him to make them good again. That franchise might be the Knicks or the Kings. They’re going to be asking him to do what N.C. State asked him to do, and we all saw how that worked out.

What makes you believe it’s going to be different when he’s cashing those NBA paychecks?

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Malik Monk, Kentucky: The concerns about Malik Monk are really quite simple: There is a reason that 6-foot-3, 180 pound shooting guards aren’t all that common in the NBA. Regardless of what he’s able to do as a shooter or just how athletic he is, the simple fact of the matter is that Monk is too small for his ideal position at the next level.

But you wouldn’t know that based on where some believe he is going to end up being picked or the hype that he had throughout his freshman season with the Wildcats. Monk is too good of a scorer not to find a way to carve out a role in the league, whether it’s as J.R. Smith as a floor-spacer, an instant-offense player off the bench a la Lou Williams or a small scoring guard on a team with a point forward like Kyrie Irving. His ability to shoot is elite, and in a league that prioritizes shooting the way the NBA prioritizes shooting, that has value.

That that value can only be capitalized on if Monk winds up in a situation that allows him to play the way he needs to play.

Justin Patton, Creighton: There are some things about Justin Patton that I really like. He’s a good athlete, he runs the floor hard, he finds himself in a good spot to catch lobs, he knows how to work as the roll-man in ball-screen actions, he’s shown off some potential as a stretch-five with flashes of perimeter skill.

What concerns me about Patton is how much his effectiveness fell off once Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton’s point guard that was having an all-american season, went down with a torn ACL. When Patton was not on the floor with an elite playmaker, he struggled to impact the game. He averaged just 9.6 boards per 40 minutes — not a good number for a 7-footer in the Big East — and while he blocked a few shots, he was often late on rotations, if he recognized them at all. I think he lacks some toughness and physicality, and he certainly needs to improve his awareness, attention to detail defensively and some of those pesky fundamentals.

Put another way, Patton’s total package includes some intriguing skills, but I’m not sure those skills fit the role he’ll need to play to last at the next level.

Jarrett Allen, Texas: Allen may have the best physical tools in this year’s draft. He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan, hands that look like baseball mits and enough athleticism to do things like this:

There’s no reason that he can’t find a way to be Tristan Thompson … unless he just doesn’t love playing basketball. That is a concern that NBA decision-makers have regarding Allen, which is part of the reason that a player with all of the attributes that I listed earlier may end up getting picked in the late teens or early 20s.

From the Top of the World to the Edge of a Dream: Kamaka Hepa’s journey from Alaska to Division I hoops

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Kamaka Hepa’s pursuit of becoming the first Inupiaq (Eskimo) to play in the NBA took him to Nike’s Peach Invitational last week, where he stepped on the court as a top 50 prospect being pursued by Shaka Smart, Mark Few and a dozen other coaches 3,700 miles from his hometown of Barrow, Alaska.

A town located 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle, the northernmost community in the United States, made up primarily of Inupiat.

A town that Hepa didn’t leave until tragedy struck.


Barrow, Alaska, is as unique as it is isolated.

Only accessible by plane, Barrow is as far North as you can get while remaining within the boundaries of the United States. When the thermostat cracks 50 degrees during the summer, it’s a scorcher. The temperatures during the winter months hover around -20 degrees and can drop as low as -50. The sun never sets in June and early July and residents go more than a month, from Thanksgiving through early February, without seeing the sun rise above the horizon.

One of eight villages that make up the North Slope region of Alaska, Barrow is steeped in the traditions of the native population. “The Inupiat people lived there for thousands of years,” said Roland Hepa, Kamaka’s father who is of Hawaiian and Filipino descent. “It’s their land.”

And the Inupiat live off of it.

It’s not easy, or cheap, to ship the processed food found at every grocery store in the Lower 48 states up to Barrow, meaning much of the population relies on subsistence hunting. It’s a means to survival in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.

“People attack our subsistence lifestyle because we kill animals,” Kamaka said. “It’s not something we do for game or just because. It’s how we survive.”

One of the animals that the Inupiat hunt is Bowhead Whales, a species that was nearly driven to extinction by intense commercial whaling in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whale hunts are local tradition, a cultural norm that is inextricably woven into the fabric of the community.

“It’s a really long process, like two or three weeks,” Kamaka explained. “There’s different crews, and a whole bunch of people that will go out onto the Arctic Ocean while it’s frozen and set up camp where the ice meets the water. They’ll set up camp there for however long they have to until they get a whale.”

“It can feed a whole community. Whenever there’s a whale caught, the crew that caught it will put a flag on top of their house and the whole community will come and get their share of the whale. Everybody can come and get some. It kind of goes quick, but because there are multiple crews, multiple whales are caught. It continues for a whole process. They’ll save some and have a big gathering, called Nalukataq. It’s basically where the whole community will gather in one area, and we’ll do different cultural things, like dancing and games, and different crews will serve on different days, the elders and their families. It will continue for a weekend. I miss it.”

Basketball in Barrow is unique as well. When the warmest summer temperatures still require jackets, kids aren’t exactly clamoring to play baseball or football. Basketball, however, is hugely popular, because, as Roland put it, “the kids would rather stay in the gym and play basketball.” Only about 225 kids attend Barrow High School, the only high school in the area, which makes traveling to games a logistical nightmare. The Whalers have to fly to every game in every sport, and they fly in opponents that play in Barrow, including the other three high schools in their conference — Nome, Bethel and Kotzebue.

To ease the burden of travel costs, whenever the Whalers would play games in their league, they would play on back-to-back nights, flying in on Thursday, playing on Friday and Saturday and returning to Barrow on Sunday. They also played in quite a few tournaments in bigger cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks during the season in order to fill out their schedule. The relative scarcity of home games and the fervor with which the community supports basketball creates a raucous environment whenever a team did make the trip up to Barrow.

“The games are crazy,” Kamaka said. “The whole community is there, supporting. It makes it easy for us to feel passionate about the game.”

That community support is part of the reason it took Kamaka so long to make the decision to pursue the sport at a higher level.


Alaskan high school basketball is better than you realize, but even then, Kamaka had likely outgrown it by the time he reached his sophomore season in high school. A 6-foot-9 stretch-four that needs to develop toughness, strength and the ability to finish through contact and over length is only going to get so far playing at that level. Kamaka began attending exposure events as early as sixth grade, and according to his father, offers to play in the Lower 48 were rolling in before he had even reached high school.

Everyone — Kamaka, his family, his community — knew that, eventually, he would leave. The family often talked about when the right time to move south would be, but actually making the decision to move away from the only place you’ve ever called home is not easy for anyone, let alone a 15-year old.

“Our high school boys basketball team had never won a state championship, but when him and his classmates became freshmen, they had a couple of really good players,” Roland said. “Our community expected us to win a state championship. Our whole town was counting on us. So we weren’t going to make him move his freshman year.”

“Our community would have probably disowned us,” he added with a laugh.

So Kamaka stayed.

He won a state title as a freshman.

And the discussions began anew.

“There were options out there,” Roland said, but Kamaka wasn’t yet ready to leave.

Kamaka Hepa, Jon Lopez/Nike

Then came November 23rd, 2015, when Kawika Hepa, Kamaka’s oldest brother, died unexpectedly in Anchorage. He was just 29-years old. The family did not want to discuss Kawika’s death, but the tragedy shook Kamaka. He was a teenager, invincible on the court and a hero in his community. He never realized how fleeting life can be.

“Before he passed away, my brother wanted me to get out of Alaska,” Kamaka said. “The competition’s not terrible, but we thought there was more out there for me. He was always a big factor in that. He wanted me to play against the best players I could and get my game as good as I can. He thought that by moving, I would be able to do that.”

“When he passed away, I just had to do that for him.”

Kawika died a few days before the start of Kamaka’s sophomore season. In early December, he received a call from Reggie Walker, the director of Portland Basketball Club, a Nike-affiliated team that plays on the EYBL circuit. In February, Kamaka visited a few high schools in Portland, and a week after winning his second straight state title in Alaska, Kamaka was en route to Oregon with his family.

It’s been nearly 16 months since the Hepa family made the move, and Kamaka is thriving. From a personal standpoint, the adjustment that comes with moving to a city from a village of less than 5,000 people in the Arctic has been relatively easy for him. Basketball has allowed him to travel constantly throughout his younger days, and he would often visit his father’s family in Hawai’i. The family has, for the most part, remained together — Kamaka’s two older sisters are both living on their own, and his mother commutes between Portland and Barrow — knowing that the sacrifice they are making is what is best for their son.

“The only thing we miss is the family. When [my wife]’s home alone, you start missing each other,” Roland said. “We have a lot of family up there as well. Growing up in a family atmosphere, all of a sudden we move to a city where you make new friends, which is fine, we can make new friends, but that’s just not the same when you have family. That’s the only area where we feel the sacrifice.”

“My oldest son, he went to a private school and when [Kamaka] was ready to travel, we decided it’s probably best that we move with them.”

From a basketball perspective, things are going even better. Kamaka’s played on the most competitive circuit in high school basketball, the EYBL, in the spring and summer the past two years. He enrolled at Jefferson High School in Portland and won the 2017 state championship, his third ring in three years. He’s been working out two and three times a day since moving south and has slowly been climbing up the recruiting rankings; 247 Sports currently has him as the No. 50 player in the composite Class of 2018 rankings.

Best I can tell,* he is on track to become the first Inupiaq to play Division I basketball and the first Native Alaskan to play since former Oral Roberts forward Damen Bell-Holter graduated in 2013-14. Bell-Holter spent some time with the Celtics after he graduated, but was waived before the season began. Kamaka, who has the talent to one day do so, would be the first of his people to reach the NBA, and to my knowledge, Bell-Holter is the only Native Alaskan to spend time on an NBA roster.

*(I cannot find anyone else in my research. If you know of anyone I am missing, please email or tweet me.)

But Kamaka is not worried about that right now.

He’s mostly worried about the rain.

“Snow is better than rain,” Kamaka, chuckling, said of his new digs. “I’d take snow over rain any day. It just changes the whole mood.”

Forward leaving Kansas program

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Kansas’ already thin frontline took a hit Wednesday night when it came to light that Jack Whitman will not suit up for the Jayhawks.

Whitman, a transfer from William & Mary, will leave the Kansas program, according to multiple reports.

The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season for the Tribe before deciding to graduate transfer, committing to the Jayhawks in May.

“I know I can play with these guys, contribute and help us win games this year,” Whitman told the Kansas City Star last month.

Instead, the Jayhawks will have to make due with a frontcourt that will be lacking much depth. Udoka Azubuike is back after missing most of last year with an injury while Billy Preston and Mitch Lightfoot will also be expected to be contributors. Whitman wasn’t expected to put up huge numbers for the Jayhawks, but his departure does leave them vulnerable should injury or foul trouble find the Kansas big men at some point.

As the KC Star points out, though, Kansas is in contention to land top recruit Marvin Bagley, who is considering classifying to 2017, a class in which Kansas now has an open scholarship that could conceivably go to the 6-foot-10 five-star prospect.

 

Duke’s Grayson Allen underwent offseason ankle surgery

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Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski went on a podcast with ESPN’s Seth Greenberg this week and casually mentioned that Grayson Allen, who was banged up for most of last season after entering the year as the Preseason National Player of the Year, underwent a procedure on his ankle.

“We had him away from basketball for about three months,” Krzyzewski said of Allen. “He had a minor operation on his ankle. He’s now fully recovered, so his athleticism is back. He’s happy, he’s in shape and he’s sharing that.”

Allen struggled with his confidence and his emotions last season, and that ankle issue never quite went away, bothering him from the start of the year throughout the season. Time away from basketball — and from the limelight, after a third tripping incident — was good for Allen, according to Krzyzewski.

“I’m really happy where Grayson is at emotionally, physically and he’s really excited about leading these guys.”

“Gary Trent, talking with him after a workout yesterday, I said, ‘What do you think?'” Coach K’s story continued. “He said, ‘Coach, I didn’t know G was that good.’ Well, he’s healthy. ‘You didn’t think he could shoot that well, did you?'”

Minnesota lands in-state 2018 forward

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Minnesota is building its frontcourt of the future in its 2018 class without even leaving the Twin Cities.

Jarvis Thomas, a four-star forward, committed to the Gophers on Tuesday evening, becoming the second in-state frontcourt player in Richard Pitino’s newest class.

The 6-foot-7 forward hails from the Minneapolis suburbs and joins another local product, four-star center Daniel Oturo, to forge a potentially formidable future frontcourt for Pitino and Co., who are coming off their first NCAA tournament appearance in four seasons at Minnesota. Both Thomas and Oturo play for the Howard Pulley program.

I’m headed to Minnesota & I picked them because it’s home. I have a good relationship with the staff. I’m just comfortable,” Thomas said, according to Ryan James of Gopher Illustrated. “I made a decision for myself, but Daniel was a plus to it. Me & Daniel room every tournament we play.We are always together.”

Landing two high-profile in-state recruits is a major development for Pitino after the Gophers went 0-for in the 2017 class despite offering numerous Minnesota prospects. In fact, Thomas’ commitment, presumably, sent Pitino to Twitter to celebrate with a Gopher GIF from ‘Caddyshack.’

While this is a strong tweet from a sitting head coach, the response it generated from Xavier assistant Luke Murray, son of ‘Caddyshack’ star Bill Murray, might have been just as good.

Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun assists cast in play about recruiting

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WATERFORD, Conn. (AP) — Actor Sam Kebede went to rehearsal hoping to get some insights about what it’s like to be recruited by a big-time college basketball coach. Hall-of-Famer Jim Calhoun was happy to assist.

The coach who led UConn to three national championships before retiring in 2012 is serving as a technical adviser on the production of a new play, “Exposure,” which is being put on this weekend at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford.

Kebede portrays a player experiencing the world of AAU basketball and the dark side of recruiting.

Playwright Steve DiUbaldo played Division I basketball at Winthrop under Gregg Marshall, now the coach at Wichita State. Director Wendy Goldberg grew up in Michigan and watched her friend, retired NBA star Chris Webber, deal with choosing a college before he wound up at Michigan.

But both sat in rapt fascination with the cast and crew for well over an hour prior to rehearsal Tuesday as Calhoun answered their questions and regaled them with stories, drawing on more than a half-century of experience in basketball. He offered insights and opinions on the NCAA, the recruiting process, shoe companies, players, parents, other coaches and even fans (“They love you, win or win,” he joked).

“It made it all a lot more real,” said Kebede. “He just put me in those shoes. He gave me a fuller idea of what it means to be a recruit.”

Calhoun talked about forming personal relationships with recruits and their families, showing them the formula he used to help players like Ray Allen and Kemba Walker fulfill their dreams. But he also addressed the games flaws.

Calhoun talked about the struggles the NCAA has governing institutions as diverse as Harvard and Alabama. He told the ensemble about coaches who thought they were doing things the right way by only giving players “used cars” and teenagers who feel entitled to fame and riches because they’ve “worked hard all their lives for it.”

“All your life? You’re 18,” he said.

“Have I ever been offered, ‘You give us this, and we’ll give you that?’ Yeah,” Calhoun told them. “I always said, ‘I’m never going to own a kid, but a kid is never going to own me. It was never worth it, ethically, morally or otherwise to do those things.”

Calhoun said he tried to get across that basketball can’t be portrayed in black-and-white terms — good guys and bad guys. It’s about human beings, relationships, mistakes and trying to do what’s right for the players and doing it the right way, he said. And, he said, there is a lot of gray area.

The vast majority of college basketball, he said, is great, “but in the midst of millions and millions of dollars, things happen.”

“Something that I found enlightening was how much he loved his kids and how much the game is at the base of basketball,” said DiUbaldo. “And amidst all this stuff that will make us cynical with the recruiting process and other things, at the end of the day we love the game and we love the kids that play it.”

DiUbaldo said he hopes all of that comes across in his play.

Calhoun, who sits on the board at the O’Neill Theater, said being involved in the production is exciting for him as a long-time fan of the performing arts. He said he marvels at the athleticism of dancers and the discipline it takes for actors to learn how to portray a character.

He also sees a lot of parallels to basketball — the ensemble feeling, the work ethic and the joy that comes from pulling off a great performance.

“I’ll come Saturday and Sunday nights to see it,” he said. “I want to see how they handle it.”

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Follow Pat Eaton-Robb on Twitter @peatonrobb