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.

VIDEO: Kansas State legend celebrates revenge on Kentucky 67 years in the making

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In 1951, Kansas State lost to Kentucky in the National Championship game.

Ernie Barrett, who eventually became the school’s athletic director and is known as “Mr. K-State“, played on that team.

He’s wanted to get revenge on Big Blue ever since.

On Thursday night, Kansas State did.

Ernie was there, and here was his reaction in the locker room:

Keenan Evans perseveres through toe injury as Texas Tech looks to get through the East Region

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BOSTON — It was a gut punch when they got the call.

After a dreadful 3-15 freshman season, Tubby Smith had turned Texas Tech around his sophomore year, when Keenan Evans had averaged 8.7 points and 2.9 assists, respectable enough given the role that Tubby asks his point guards to play. The core of that team — a sophomore class that also included Zach Smith, Justin Gray and Norense Odiase — were returning. Tubby was making some in-roads in Texas. Everything was pointing up.

And then the former Kentucky head coach left for Memphis, a job that would chew him up and spit him out within two years.

“As parents, we definitely thought about what his next step would be,” Kenny Evans said. Who would Texas Tech hire? What if they didn’t like him? What if he didn’t like Keenan? It didn’t help matters that the Evans family had a weird and unique bond with Tubby.

The Evans’ family is as athletic as athletic gets. Keenan’s basketball IQ and guile come from his mom, Shantell, who was an all-SWAC guard at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. His athleticism comes from his dad, Kenny, who was an Olympic high-jumper. He finished 13th in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, which also happened to be the Games where Tubby was an assistant coach for USA Basketball. Kenny, an Arkansas-native and high school basketball star, knew who Tubby Smith was; he was less than two years removed from winning a national title out of the same conference as his Razorbacks, and Kenny says he idolized Nolan Richardson and his Arkansas teams.

“You don’t see a lot of celebrities in Arkansas,” Kenny said, so when the Track & Field team was put next to the USA Basketball team, he did what any red-blooded American would do: He asked them for pictures.

One of those pictures was with Tubby — Kenny’s mother was a fan — and that picture ended up being displayed in the Evans house for years to come.

Suffice to say, Tubby’s name carried some weight with the family. It was part of what made Keenan decide to play at Texas Tech. And it’s one of the reasons why Keenan’s parents wanted to do their homework on the good ole’ boy Tech hired that was on his third job in three weeks, his sixth job in six seasons and a little more than four years removed from coaching in the ABA.

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Chris Beard’s roots run deep in Texas.

He went to high school just outside Houston. He was a manager at Texas during his time as a student. After graduating, he spent 14 of the next 16 seasons coaching in Texas, with one-year layovers at Junior Colleges in Kansas and Oklahoma along the way.

Throw in a one-year stay with the South Carolina Warriors and one season with Arkansas-Little Rock, and Beard lived outside Texas for just four years since childhood. And, as his assistant coach Chris Ogden puts it, “Beard’s a relationship guy.” He knows people all over the state, and when he got the job at Texas Tech — where he had previously been an Associate Head Coach under Bobby Knight — Kenny started getting calls from people vouching for him.

Give him a chance.

He may not have the national title-pedigree that Tubby does, but he’s got a shot at getting there one day.

Hear him out.

And Beard made sure they would have the chance to do so. Almost immediately after setting foot in Lubbock, the new Tech staff got to work trying to develop relationships with his new players and their families. Beard had a one-on-one meeting with every single member of the Texas Tech roster, which is not uncommon. He then took a flight to meet with the family of every member of his team. To sit down in front of them, look them in the eye and get to know them personally, as more than just the people that his players hear from when they go over their data plan or when those on-campus parking tickets start to add up.

“When I called them to let them know that Coach Beard said he was going to fly out to see [them], they were kind of shook,” Keenan said. “‘Wow, he’s really going to fly to everybody’s family around the country?’ They were really in shock and that stood out to them as well.”

“Not a lot of coaches do that. Fly to each person’s family, sit down and meet them, introduce himself. That played a big part in [my decision to stay] as well.”

The other part of it was that Keenan believed in the plan, in the vision that Beard had, for both the program and himself.

You see, the way Tubby uses his point guard is different than the way Beard does.

“Tubby is more old school,” Kenny explains. “He envisioned his point guards not shooting much and running the offense. Chris is new school. He recognizes you need to me more dynamic at the point guard spot. You gotta be a threat to score to get assists.”

And Beard knew he had the guy he needed in Keenan.

The staff was not unfamiliar with him when they took over. Ogden had recruited Keenan’s high school teammates, so he had seen him plenty. They knew what Keenan would be able to do when unleashed, and they knew what kind of a player and a worker they were inheriting.

“I just believed in his process, believed that he wanted to win at this level,” Evans said. “He believed in me, so I believed in him, and he gave me an opportunity. And he’s still doing that.”

“What I’m most appreciative of Keenan is he basically trusted me before he had to. He basically took me at my word,” Beard said. “He trusted me from day one, and I asked him to do a lot of things that he had never done before in his career.”

It paid off.

Tech struggled last season, but as a senior, Keenan morphed into one of college basketball’s best players. He’s averaging 17.8 points, 3.2 assists and 3.2 boards entering Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue, numbers that would have been more impressive in a year that could have truly been legendary if it wasn’t for an awkward landing after a jump shot that resulted in unfortunate toe injury that Keenan suffered at Baylor on February 17th.

Keenan did not play in the second half of that game. He did play at at Oklahoma State and against Kansas in the two subsequent games, but anyone watching knew that he wasn’t himself. He sat out a road trip to West Virginia.

Four straight losses.

Sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a home game left against Kansas and a grasp on Big 12 Player of the Year turned into just another victim of the Jayhawks’ 14-year reign over the conference.

And if you don’t think that was hard for Keenan to handle, you don’t know Keenan.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Keenan Evans has always picked up on things quickly.

Everyone has that one friend that is annoyingly good at everything, whether it’s pool, or bowling, or Fortnite. That’s Keenan, and that’s why Keenan’s mom — an all-conference basketball player herself — had to stop training him by the time he was in the fourth grade.

He was just getting too good, too quickly.

That can be a slippery slope. If you’re a natural, if things come too easily to you, work ethic might not be your forte. With Keenan, it worked the other way. When he got good at one thing, he wanted to perfect the next thing. The best are the best because they are addicted to improvement, and Keenan falls into that category.

“The Keenan Evans story is not me or Tubby,” Beard said. “It is Keenan Evans. This guy self-made himself into one of the best players in college basketball, and I can tell you how he’s done it. He’s done it with a lot of work. He’s in the gym every day. He’s in the film room a lot. He’s a guy that’s changed his body in the weight room.”

That’s what made this toe issue so devastating.

We’re talking about a guy that is known within the Texas Tech locker room as being their hardest work. Three-a-days in the gym. He’s made himself into a star. He earned his shot at getting a Big 12 title and a Player of the Year award, and it got taken away from him.

Because of a toe.

“Simply stated, a lot of guys wouldn’t even be playing on it right now,” Beard said. “Keenan is playing on it and playing at a high level. He’s just an absolute warrior.”

“I’ve never coached a tougher guy than Keenan Evans.”

“It was tough to overcome just because I felt like I was letting my team down in a way,” Keenan said. “It wasn’t my fault, but also [my toe’s] just not 100 percent, and I still battle with it every night.”

According to Kenny, the struggle was as much mental as physical.

“It was devastating for him,” he said. “He tried to be strong for his teammates. He could have shut it down and gotten ready for everything after college. But that’s not us, that’s not our family, that’s not Keenan.”

He does his best to stay off the foot when he’s not playing games. His time on the practice floor is limited. When media is granted access to the Texas Tech locker room, Keenan’s foot is in a big, yellow bucket full of ice water. He doesn’t have the same explosiveness. He can’t push off of it the way he did before the injury. And that’s before you get to the mental side of it, having the confidence in himself and his body to be able to try and do the things he’s been doing all season long.

And in this tournament, it’s worked.

Keenan has scored 45 points through two games, and 33 of those 45 points have come in the second half. He made every shot he took in the second half of a come-from-behind win over Stephen F. Austin in the opener. He hit the go-ahead three and threw a lob to Zhaire Smith for the clinching basket in the final two minutes of the win over Florida. All told, in his last five games, Evans is averaging 17 of his 21.2 points and shooting 26-for-37 from the floor after halftime.

He is Texas Tech’s closer, and with a date against No. 2-seed Purdue in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, Evans will likely be called upon to close once again.

Just the way Beard likes it.

“I just love coaching him,” he said. “I just don’t want it to end. I want to coach that guy another day. It is like when you go to a good movie and you know it’s getting towards the end, but you are loving the movie so much, you want it to go a little bit farther. Or you’ve got a good plate of enchiladas and you’re looking at it, and you only have two bites left, but it’s so good, you turn it into three bites.”

“I want it to keep lasting.”

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS