2016 NBA Draft: Five late first round picks with all-star potential

(AP Photo/Skip Rowland)

Cleveland won the NBA title last night thanks unreal performances out of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. LeBron, the No. 1 pick in 2003, put together the most dominant three-game stretch of basketball I can remember seeing, and Kyrie, the No. 1 pick in 2011, totally outplayed two-time MVP Stephen Curry over the course of the final five games of the series. Throw in Kevin Love, who the Cavs essentially obtained with the No. 1 pick in 2014 — aka Andrew Wiggins — and the Cleveland roster is essentially built with guys that were supposed to be this good.

The amazing thing about the Warriors is that their stars were never really supposed to be stars. Draymond Green was the 35th pick in the 2012 draft. Klay Thompson was the 11th pick in the 2011 draft. And Steph, who famously didn’t get any ACC scholarship offers coming out of high school, was the No. 7 pick in 2009 behind Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn and Ricky Rubio.

With the 2016 NBA Draft coming up on Thursday night, here are five players projected outside the top ten that could end up being all-stars one day:

Jamal Murray, Kentucky: OK, so I lied. Murray is almost assuredly going to get picked in the top ten — although he did fall outside of the top five in the latest mock on Draft Express! — but I wanted to mention him here because I think that, outside of the top two picks in this draft, Murray has the best chance to become one of the best players at his position in the NBA. The biggest reason for that? He’s already elite at one of the most valuable skills in the NBA these days: shooting the ball. He’s particularly dangerous when he’s asked to run off of screens, which is where he has an advantage over Buddy Hield right now. I think there’s a chance he’s only a year or two away from having the impact on an offense that J.J. Redick has on an offense.

The key for Murray is going to be how his body reacts to getting put into an NBA strength and conditioning program. Murray has the skills to be able to operate in the pick-and-roll and to be a playmaker off the dribble — he played point guard his entire life before getting to Kentucky — but he doesn’t have the physical tools to be able to turn the corner against NBA caliber athletes.

I don’t know if he’ll ever get there. It’s a lot harder to change a kid’s physical tools than it is to turn an athlete into a shooter.

But if he does, watch out.

Deandre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s: Bembry is exactly what NBA teams should be looking for in a draft like this. He’s a swiss army knife with the size and length of an NBA small forward. Offensively, he played basically every spot on the floor for St. Joe’s this past season, from point guard to post, and managed to put up 17.4 points, 7.8 boards and 4.5 assists. He has the physical tools to where he should be able to be an above average defender at his position as well as a guy that can switch onto point guards and small-ball fours fairly effectively.

The problem for Bembry right now is that he doesn’t have a skill that will be impactful at the NBA level in half court offense. He struggled shooting the ball as a junior and he’s never been great at creating for himself in isolation. Both of those flaws are fixable, however, and given the direction the NBA is heading, I can see Bembry eventually having quite a bit of value.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine did something as a senior that we have literally never seen done before in college basketball history: He averaged 19 points, seven assists and seven boards. Throw in the fact that he shot 44.4 percent from three while firing up 7.5 3PAs per game, and you have a player that, on paper, is a perfect fit for the direction the NBA is heading. The problem is that basketball isn’t played on paper, and Valentine lacks both the size and the quickness to truly be a position-less wing player. He’s an elite passer, but will he be able to get to the spots on the floor where he can actually take advantage of that passing ability? Is he quick enough to guard guards in the NBA or physical enough to guard the 6-foot-8 small forwards that populate every roster? Making the gamble all-the-more risky are reports that Valentine has a knee issue that could be degenerative. That’s why a lottery-level talent may end up falling to the back end of the first round.

Kay Felder, Oakland: Isaiah Thomas 2.0. I don’t know if Felder is ever going to have an impact on the defensive end of the floor in a basketball game. But what he almost assuredly will do is be able to make something happen offensively. Much of this is the product of the system that he played in at Oakland, but he averaged an absurd 24.4 points and 9.3 assists. He can do things on that end of the floor, just like Thomas, who was an all-star this past season, can. The question is whether or not he’ll actually get the chance to prove it.

Dejounte Murray, Washington: Murray’s flaws are evident to anyone that watched Washington play this season. He’s a bad jump shooter at this point in his career, he weighs 170 pounds soaking wet and he’s, at best, an apathetic defender. Those issues, however, are fixable, much the same way that his decision-making and point guard skills are; he’s a 19-year old lead guard that’s always been asked to be a scorer. What Murray does well are the things that can’t really be taught. A 6-foot-5 playmaker with a 6-foot-9.5 wingspan, Murray can seemingly get into the lane at will, has impressive body control and a knack for being able to finish tough floaters in traffic. He doesn’t take contact well and tends to be turnover prone, as he looks to shoot first and pass second, but those are parts of his game that can be coached away. His ceiling may only end up being Jamal Crawford — an elite-level bench scorer — but there is potential here.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies


SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.