Saturday, April 9, 2016

Peace out, ARCO

Sacramento's sports scene runs as part of the fabric of life as the son of Gary Gerould. My father was rooted in Sacramento television as KCRA's sports guy when I was born. My entire 48 years have been connected to sports and media in the 9-1-6. As such, Sleep Train Arena's last days offer an opportunity for reflection. 


Another commencement ceremony.
The last Sacramento Kings game at Sleep Train Arena is upon us. Mixed emotions hover around the finality of saying goodbye to this big inanimate object. There were good times, and life-lesson learning experiences that occurred in the Capitol City's sports and entertainment complex. 

I was among those that worked at the original ARCO Arena and I was a part of the transition from the old building to the new ARCO (now, Sleep Train) in 1988. At the time, I was employed by the Arena, working as an "audio engineer". Basically, I ran the mixing board that played the music inside and outside the arena. I was 20 years-old and I was in way over my head when representatives from Panasonic of Japan came to Sacramento to help Associated Sound install the mixing board at the new Arena. I didn't have any training in multi-channel audio mixing and it is a wonder patrons at Kings games ever heard anything. The board was massive! Super overkill for what we needed to actually accomplish. 

As a "board op" at the Arena I had to be in attendance for just about every event. Like many of you, I had family members that "walked" during graduation ceremonies held at ARCO Arena. How many times can you loop Pomp and Circumstance

In that way, the Arena touched the lives of thousands. My wife took part in two, herself. My nephew recently was a part of the Sac State graduating Class of 2015. 

Luke's Castle

When the new arena opened in 1988, among the requests (actually demands) was to have "castle music" playing on the outside speakers before all Kings games. The guys who ran the Arena, Mike Hyatt, Dutch Van Dusen, Mike Duncan, and others I worked with, all referred to the agenda as "Luke's Castle Music" (in reference to Gregg Luckenbill). It was a pain to have to check on the loop to make sure that the castle music was rolling as fans walked into the building from the parking lots. 

Ricky.

Part of my duties as ARCO Arena "audio engineer" were to set up the national anthem microphones, or any court-side mics that might be needed for Kings games. The ring announcer for boxing at the time was Big Jim Hall, a local country radio personality. Fred Anderson handled the Kings public address duties. 


Ricky Berry died before his sophomore season.
The Arena had hard-wired mic inputs at floor level. I would be running around court side well before the doors opened on a game night. That is how I became friends with Ricky Berry. Ricky, a Kings rookie first-round pick, would always have a comment about my haircut. We both went to a place called Crucial Cuts that had a Sacramento bred Rastafarian barber (James Adwa). Berry didn't know my real name so he just called me "Crucial". He would whoop me in short one-on-one games after I set up the microphones. 

We became good buddies and I spent a large chunk of time with him the summer before what was supposed to be his sophomore season. I was with Ricky hours before he took his own life. To say I was affected by his death would be an understatement. And inevitably the Arena is connected to my memories of Ricky. 

Boxing 

I saw some of the best boxing matches I've ever seen LIVE.  Tony Lopez and Loretto Garza never failed to put on a show. Although the first Lopez / Rocky Lockridge (one of the last events at the old ARCO) was better, the Lopez / Lockridge II at the new building in March 1989 was a great fight too! 

One cool thing about being the board operator was occasionally being able to play the role of "music supervisor". I recall Garza's camp liking my choice of "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" - by Prince as Garza's walk-in music. The kick drum is hyper and easy to clap along to. (listen!)

Arena related memories

I remember one day finding myself driving LaSalle Thompson's Merdedes Benz to the KFC on Northgate, not far from the Arena. As I recall it, I was bored at the Arena and without wheels for some reason so "Tank" gave me the keys to his car so I could run and get some fast food. As a then, 20 year-old, I felt some type of way, driving a car that fancy. 

Basketball memories and thoughts

Jason Kidd dazzled at ARCO as a high school baller. We witnessed his team winning back-to-back California State Championships. 

On the broadcasting side, I was fortunate to interview a young Shaquille O'Neal after a Lakers shoot-around that included Shaq break-dancing. I asked him about Kobe Bryant, who was a rookie that barely played at the time. Shaq said, "You mean, Showboat?" I don't recall what else Shaq said but his initial reaction with the unsanctioned, "Showboat" nickname for Kobe is just one of those things I remember. 


Mitch Richmond (photo at left) was a professional that always impressed with his love for basketball. Mitch was good because he worked continually at his craft. Having a chance to witness his willingness to "put in the work" left a lifelong impression on me. 

The Chris Webber era was all about the fantastic chemistry and skill that team had. Mike Bibby was fearless. Webber and Vlade Divac had assist-to-turnover ratios that rivaled good point guards. Peja Stojakovic was the best Kings shooter ever. 

Isaiah Thomas was/is someone my father admires. I've never met Isaiah but his combination of basketball skills and people skills are extraordinary. 

We took pride in seeing Michael "Yogi" Stewart dominating at Kennedy High School and then transferring those skills to the NBA hardwood at ARCO. Did you know Yogi had a nine-block game as a Kings player? 

Hustles connected to ARCO

Eventually I quit the Arena audio engineering gig to concentrate on finishing my communications degree from Sac State. I was still close to the Kings though, interning for Tim Roye at then, Kings flagship radio station KFBK. As a sports intern you are responsible for getting sound bites so I attended practices and "shoot arounds" at ARCO with regularity. 

Larry Heslin, the Kings equipment manager of the time, my then girlfriend (now wife) and I, became partners in promoting sports card shows in the Sacramento area. Through relationships built at the Arena we did card shows with Kings players as special guests signing free autographs. By far, the biggest show we promoted was at Kennedy High School where we had Lionel Simmons and Duane Causwell signing. We didn't have any cards of Duane Causwell so we hired Rocky Widner, the Kings photographer to make a photo handout of "Causy". We shot the photo around sunset near the Arena. 

Simmons' popularity in Sacramento was through the roof in his rookie season. I remember "Train" being annoyed at Larry and I because we never set a limit on how many autographs Lionel would have to sign. He was such a good dude with a big heart that he begrudgingly stayed longer than he should have and signed every last autograph that was requested. (We had over 900 attendees that rainy day.)  

We promoted shows for Anthony Bonner, Travis Mays, and Kenny "The Jet" Smith too. Simultaneously, I was getting experience behind the microphone acting as CO-host of the Jerry Reynolds Show on KSAC. Jerry and I did the radio talk show live from the KSAC studios in Old Sacramento. That gig helped me gain full-time employment with the Kings. 


Oct.1993, our view at wedding rehearsal dinner. 
Working for the Kings

After graduation I signed on as a part of the transition the Kings broadcast team was making. In 1994, the Kings decided to take their broadcast content "in-house". 

I spent two seasons doing pre and post game radio and even did a few games as the television sideline reporter (1994-1996). It was unbelievably cool to get a job with the Kings fresh out of college. 

In the best of times, I would be court side to do a pre-game radio talk show. I actually did two or three turns as the public address announcer when Fred Anderson had a conflict. My wife, Kim, and I actually had our wedding rehearsal dinner at ARCO Arena in 1993. Mike Duncan helped hook that up. 

To this second, the loudest ANYTHING I've heard in my lifetime, was the sustained ovation from the Kings fans when the team returned home for Game 3 of the 1996 Western Conference Playoffs against the Seattle Supersonics. We did the radio pre-game show from court level and it was so loud you couldn't hear yourself speak with headphones on. 

Another treasured memory is an interview I did with Connie Hawkins. He sat with me live, court side, and we talked about the Lakers and Celtics rivalries for a good half hour. To this day, I wish I had a tape of that interview. 

As the resident young person on the Kings broadcast staff, I was also "Emcee-Boy". I was used to host events such as the NBA Stay in School Jam, or the NBA Draft Party. I didn't know it at the time, but I shared the microphone with future international TV news superstar Lisa Ling at one of the Stay in School Jams at ARCO. 

Attending any Kings game is a truly social event. When you have access as a media member it is even more social. Some of the best times during my run with the Kings was just hanging before the games in the media dining room or out near the court just after the doors opened. Chatting with Jerry Reynolds, Marty McNeal, or the notorious keeper of realness, R.E. Graswich, never failed to enlighten or amuse me. Some nights you might talk with Jason Ross or Guss Armstead, or Anna in the Kings Family Room. 

For all intents and purposes I was fired at the Arena too. It happened in the offices that dwell between the lower bowl and upper deck on the third floor. I was told that the Kings chose to not renew the contracts of myself and Derrek Dickey. 

Being a part of the NBA, no matter how small your role is, is a lifelong dream for many. I learned the hard way how fleeting it can be. 

Music matters

The best concert I saw at ARCO was certainly the 1997 Prince, "Jam of the Year" tour stop. My wife, Kim, favors the U2 "Zoo-TV" show from April 1992. My wife and I were blown away by Sade's vocal power (Sade with Digable Planets July 1993).  

ARCO in concert trim
Meeting some of your idols is a cool life event too. Inside the frame of the Arena I shook hands for the first time with James Harris III, better known as Jimmy Jam. The five-time Grammy winner used to be such a fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves, he attended Kings-T-Wolves Playoffs games in Sacramento. The two other musicians I introduced myself to were a young production/writing duo that were in the band, The Deele. With free access in the Arena as an employee, I wasn't supposed to be back stage at concerts but somehow I weaseled my way behind the stage to give a salute to Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, and L.A. Reid. I recall Edmonds being shocked that I knew his real name. 

Meanwhile Raphael Saadiq was a regular at Kings games during the Mitch Richmond era. Saddiq, a crucial founding member of Tony! Toni! Tone'!, was close friends with Kings forward Brian Grant. 

While Wayman Tisdale was with the Kings, he too, was a friend in music. In my opinion, music was always Wayman's first love. He was a heck of a ball player too. Another friend in music I met was a security guard at ARCO by the name of Raymond Kennedy. Just less than a month ago we attended his funeral services.

Halftime talk

At halftime, for years, before they moved the radio broadcast vantage point upstairs, I would head into the Kings Family Room. My Dad would come back there during his break from calling the games and we would dissect the first half. It was not uncommon to have a short conversation with Wayne Cooper or his wife, Denise, two of my favorite people ever! 

Closing the Doors

We sit in section 115. Our family has had Kings season tickets since 1985. Team Dentist, Matt Campbell and his wife Irene sit right behind us, as do the Sheingold family. We made plans to sit near each other at the Golden 1 Center. 

I absolutely will not miss the narrow concourses at Sleep Train. The Arena just is not BIG enough for a large crowd at halftime or immediately following a game. I also will not miss the squeaky Locker Room door that is in perpetual need of WD40. (Listen carefully to interviews done near or in the Locker Room. You will hear that door!)

So, peace-out ARCO. Let's hope that the Golden 1 Center brings a new era of positive vibrations. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Centers to watch in the 2016 NCAA Tournament

The Centers we are watching most closely in the 2016 NCAA Tournament...

Poeltl, Pac-12 Player of  the Year. 
Jakob Poeltl - Utah 7'1" 240, soph. ...Poeltl was the Pac 12 Player of the Year for 2015-16. He averages 17.6 points and nine rebounds per game. He scored in double figures in all but four games this season. He is converting a staggering 67% of his field goal attempts (career). His defensive rating of 93.7 anchors the Utah defense. Poeltl is a good offensive rebounder and his free throw stroke is improved, up from just 45% as a freshman to 69% this season. He is showing a much better ability to pick and pop this season. He led the Pac 12 in True Shooting Percentage (.673). ...Poeltl has more turnovers than assists, and that part of his game needs improvement. Poeltl is originally from Vienna, Austria. Both his parents were members of Austrian national volleyball teams. You just don't see too many seven foot players with his ability to run the floor. I think he is potentially a top-tier BIG in the NBA at the height of his career. 

Diamond Stone - Maryland. 6'10" 250, frosh. ...Diamond Stone is a BIG freshman. He averages 12.9 points (56% FG), 5.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocked shots per game. He has the finesse to hit 76% of his free throws. He has good hands. Stone broke a Maryland freshman school record, scoring 39 points in a game against Penn State. Stone was also suspended by Coach Mark Turgeon for one game this season. He hit a Wisconsin player's head against the court to earn the suspension. Defensively, Stone has a slightly better defensive rating than the Maryland team. …His decision making and passing are a work in progress. He presently coughs up more than three turnovers for every one assist. Stone won four consecutive Wisconsin state championships in high school. He was a 2015 McDonald's All-America selection.

Thomas Bryant - Indiana. 6'11" 241, frosh. ...There is a reason that Indiana Basketball is back on the map. A lack of size in recent seasons was cured this year with the arrival of Thomas Bryant. Bryant has a 7'5" wingspan, and a standing reach of 9'3.5". He averages 11.6 points, and 5.8 rebounds per game in just 22 minutes per contest.  He led the Big Ten in True Shooting Percentage this season (.704). Bryant is decent at the foul line, connecting on 68.9%. Bryant scored a career high 23 points (in just 27 minutes) vs. Minnesota, January 30, 2016. ...Bryant has more turnovers than assists. He is just 18 years-old, and he won't turn 19 until July 31st.  Bryant was a 2015 McDonald's All-America selection. While Bryant may not be a star in the NBA, we think he can be a starter during his career.

The rest of the BIG men we will watch closely in the 2016 NCAA Tournament...

A.J. Hammons - Purdue. 7'0" 251, SR. 
Isaac Haas - Purdue. 7'2" 297, soph. 
Skal Labissiere - Kentucky. 7'0" 216, frosh.
Daniel Ochefu - Villanova. 6'11" 245, SR. 
Cameron Ridley - Texas. 6'10" 262, SR. 
Mike Tobey - Virginia. 6'11" 227. SR. 
Prince Ibeh - Texas. 6'10" 250, SR.
Amida Brimah - Connecticut. 7'0" 217, jr. 
Tonye Jekiri - Miami. 7'0" 244, SR.  

Power Forwards to watch in the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament

A good Power Forward can help a team to the winner's circle. Here are the "Fours" in the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament that we like best, from an NBA scouting perspective...

The sky is the limit for Davis.
Deyonta Davis - Michigan State. 6'10" 240, frosh. ...Davis is a traditional BIG that does not shoot the three-ball at all. He keeps his game close to the hoop and as a result he shoots 59% FG. He is strong on the offensive glass. As of today (03/16/16) Davis is the consensus 14th ranked player in the 2016 NBA Draft (using a combo of Draft Express, Chad Ford, and CBS). We like him to be selected much higher than that if he does enter the Draft after just one season at Michigan State. His Defensive Rating is really impressive, especially if you look at how much better his DEFRTG is (89.7) compared to the Michigan State team DEFRTG (94.1). Davis plays an average of just 18 minutes per game but has been able to post per-minute rebounding and scoring numbers that lead us to strongly believe he will really blossom if given more minutes. He averages 7.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocked shots per game. He blocked six shots in 22 minutes in a win over Northwestern earlier this season. He shoots 60% from the line. He has slightly more turnovers than assists. Davis was Mr. Basketball in the state of Michigan in 2015. He led his team in rebounding in the McDonald's All-American game (2015). 

Domantas Sabonis - Gonzaga. 6'10" 230, soph. ...In our opinion, "Domas" Sabonis is among the most underrated players in the mass media NBA Draft rankings. His consensus range is between the 16th and 26th player that will be selected, should he choose to enter the NBA Draft. He averages 17.4 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Sabonis is a fiery competitor with skill, size, and solid athleticism. He is shooting a remarkable 63% FG over the course of his two seasons in the NCAA. Sabonis also brings it on the defensive end. He led the West Coast Conference in defensive rating (90.8) as a freshman, and finished second in that category this season. He improved his free throw shooting this season to 76% (he was 66% FT as freshman). He needs to become a better decision maker with the ball. ...Domas is the son of international basketball superstar Arvydas Sabonis. Domas is just 19 years old. He was born in Portland, OR. but has citizenship in both the USA and in Lithuania. 

Brice dunks everything!
Brice Johnson - North Carolina. 6'9" 228, SR. ...Brice Johnson will make life easy for his NBA coach. He is exactly the kind of player that finds a way to be efficient without having any plays run for him. Johnson is simply more active, more energized, and better athletically than whatever forward he guards. Johnson's NBA athleticism shows itself in the form of spectacular offensive rebound dunks, and high-flying transition finishes. He averages 16.6 points, and 10.6 rebounds per game. Johnson improved his scoring and rebounding output each season at North Carolina. His Defensive Rating of 90.4 is significantly better than the North Carolina team DEFRTG of 98.5. ...Among all 2016 NCAA Tournament PF's in our database, Johnson ranks as the best in efficiency per-minute. He is elite in his ability to finish in transition.  ...Johnson has a thin frame that is beginning to fill out. The three-ball is not a part of Johnson's game at all (zero attempts from beyond the arc in four seasons).

The rest of the Power Forwards we are on alert for in the 2016 NCAA Tournament...

Ivan Rabb - Cal. 6'10" 215, frosh. 
Cheick Diallo - Kansas. 6'9" 220, frosh.
Chris Boucher - Oregon. 6'10" 200, jr.
Kennedy Meeks - North Carolina. 6'9" 260, jr. 
Carlton Bragg - Kansas. 6'9" 220, frosh. 
Jameel Warney - Stony Brook. 6'8", 260. SR.
Tyler Davis - Texas A&M. 6'10" 265, frosh. 
Mike Daum - South Dakota St. 6'9" 245, frosh. 
James Farr - Xavier. 6'10" 247, SR. 
Matt Costello - Michigan State. 6'9" 245, SR. 

Small Forwards to watch in the 2016 NCAA Tourament

Small forwards should have the ability to stretch the floor offensively by shooting the deep-ball with accuracy. We also like to find players who add versatility to a team by being able to make smart decisions, while holding their own as a scorer, defender, and rebounder. 

Here are the wing players we are keeping a close eye on during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament...

Silky J
Jarrod Uthoff - Iowa. 6'9" 210, SR. ...Uthoff has a unique combination of skill and length. He can make a 25 foot jump shot with a quick release unlike few before him. At the same time, Uthoff is nimble enough at 6'9" to give offensive opponents trouble. He blocks shots at a high rate. He led the Big Ten this season in blocked shots (80 total). Uthoff is averaging 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocked shots per game.  In his Iowa career (three seasons) he has slightly more assists than turnovers. He improved his scoring average each season, going from 7.6, to 12.4, to 18.9 ppg. Uthoff's Defensive Rating is significantly better than the Iowa team DEFRTG (that's a good thing). ...Uthoff is interesting because of his length and legitimate ability to accurately make deep shots. He looked uncomfortable on the big stage earlier this year in a loss at Maryland. Likewise he under whelmed in tournament play early this season (Iowa losses to Dayton and Notre Dame). I am interested to see how he handles being The Man for Iowa in the NCAA Tournament. 

Brandon Ingram - Duke. 6'9" 196, frosh. ...Ingram has upside for his upside. Many believe he will be either the first or second player selected in the 2016 NBA Draft. If that is the case, most of that selection will be based on what is to come for this versatile basketball player. Ingram is long and skilled. He averages 16.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He is shooting 41% from beyond the three point arc. He is a 68% free throw shooter. ...Ingram will need to improve his decision making to THRIVE in the NBA. His assist-to-turnover ratio is in negative territory in his freshman season. Ingram's Defensive Rating is slightly better than the Duke team DEFRTG. Ingram was a 2015 McDonald's All-American. He was recently named the ACC Rookie of the Year. 

Versatile Prince 
Taurean Prince - Baylor. 6'7" 215, SR. ...Prince averages 15.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He was fifth in Effective Field Goal Percentage in the Big 12 this season (.488). …Prince doesn’t wow you with offensive output. Instead, he plays team basketball that endears him to coaches. Prince is a 2016 All-Big 12 First Team selection (coaches). Prince is the only player in the Big 12’s top-15 in scoring (4th), rebounding (10th), steals (14th) and blocks (14th). Prince earned his career high in December against New Mexico State when he scored 34 points. He was Bleacher Report's Sixth Man of the Year award winner last year. Prince started every game for Team USA in 2015 Pan American Games, helping the squad to a bronze medal. I don't view Prince as a star at the next level but he may one day be a starter. The consensus on Prince is that he will be selected somewhere between 15th and 35th in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Gary Clark - Cincinnati. 6'7" 230, soph. ...Clark averages 10.7 points and nine rebounds per game. He was the highest ranked player in box score plus/minus this season in the AAC. He recently showed his toughness by playing on a severely sprained ankle in the championship contest of the AAC Tournament, a game that went into four overtimes! Clark led the AAC in Defensive Rating last season as a freshman. This season he was second in DEFRTG. ...The question for Clark is whether or not he can truly play SF in the NBA. He has shown the ability to hit the three point shot this season, although in limited fashion (just 25 attempts). He is a terrific decision maker with a healthy 1.58-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He shoots 66% at the free throw line. I like Clark's combination of skill and grit. 

The rest of the small forwards we will closely observe during the NCAA Tournament...

Shonn Miller - Connecticut. 6'7" 210, SR. 
Daniel Hamilton - Connecticut. 6'7" 180, soph. 
Georges Niang - Iowa State. 6'8" 236, SR. 
Tyler Lydon - Syracuse. 6'9" 205, frosh. 
Derek Willis - Kentucky. 6'9" 216, jr. 
OG Anunoby - Indiana. 6'8" 215, frosh. 
Anthony Lawrence Jr. - Miami. 6'7" 185, frosh. 
Nigel Hayes - Wisconsin. 6'8" 235, jr.
Michael Young - Pittsburgh. 6'9" 235, jr.  (See Micheal dunk!)

Read about the Point Guards to watch:
Read about the Shooting Guards to watch:

Shooting Guards to watch in the 2016 NCAA Tournament

The crop of potential NBA "two-guards" is never-ending. In our opinion, the shooting guard spot is the easiest to fill in the NBA. The trick is to fill it with players who not only score but also defend and share. With that criteria as a basis for evaluation, here are our favorite potential NBA shooting guards that are in the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament...

Hart has heart
Josh Hart - Villanova.  6'5" 202 jr. ...Hart is a high-energy two-way guard. He was named to the All Big East First Team with averages of 15.5 points, and 6.9 rebounds per game. Hart is shooting 50% FG for his three-year career (impressive!). He led the Big East in Effective Field Goal Percentage in 2015-16 (.576). ...Hart owns a 1.34-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is solid defensively. Hart hits 38% from three-point land, and he is a 70% foul shooter. I like Hart for a variety of reasons but mostly because he plays hard and he is a willing passer. He helps as a rebounder from the guard position. He received the Dave Gavitt Most Outstanding Player Award after scoring 15 points to help lead the Wildcats past Xavier in the 2015 Big East Tournament. Hart was ranked as the nation's No. 82 prospect in the class of 2013 in ESPN's Top 100. ...I believe Hart has the potential to be a starter at some point in the NBA if he continues to improve his shooting stroke. His ability to defend both guard spots is valuable. 

Buddy Hield - Oklahoma. 6'4" 208 SR. ...Hield is a skilled scorer that has the potential to step into the NBA and have a positive impact. He can score from the wing with the best of the best. Hield is an accurate shooter that is shooting a ridiculously good 46% from 3-pt. range and 89% from the free throw line. If he gets a clean look at the basket you have confidence he will nail the shot. Hield led the Big 12 in True Shooting Percentage this season (.662). ...Hield repeated in 2015-16 as the Big 12 Player of the Year. This season Buddy averages 25 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. He scored 46 points in a game at Kansas (01/04/16). Defensively, Hield is nothing to get excited about. His DEFRTG is worse than the Oklahoma team DEFRTG, which is never a good sign. My other nit-pick of Hield's game is that he has more turnovers than assists in his last two seasons. Hield was born in Freeport, Bahamas. 

The others we are watching closely: 

Jaylen Brown - Cal. 6'7" 222, frosh. 
Jamal Murray - Kentucky. 6'5" 201, frosh. 
Troy Williams - Indiana. 6'7" 206, jr. 
Malcolm Brogdon - Virginia. 6'5" 217, SR. 
Desi Rodriguez - Seton Hall. 6'6" 215, soph. 
Jaysean Paige - West Virginia. 6'2" 200, SR. 
Chris Flemmings - North Carolina Wilimington. 6'5" 175, jr. 
Grayson Allen - Duke. 6'4" 195, soph. 
Isaiah Whitehead - Seton Hall. 6'4" 210 soph. 
Kelan Martin - Butler. 6'6" 215, soph.
Dillon Brooks - Oregon. 6'5" 225, soph. 

Read the list of Point Guards to watch in the NCAA Tournament

Point guards to see in the 2016 NCAA Tournament

It is NCAA Tournament time! Annually, we dig deep into individual statistics of players we have scouted to comprise lists of guys we think should be watched most carefully. We break our "players to watch" into five lists (one for each position).  

Away we go! Starting with the Point Guard position as it relates to the NBA Draft... 

The Payton's are everything to Oregon State hoop
Gary Payton II - Oregon State. 6'3" 190, SR. ...There is a reason Oregon State is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990. In our opinion, the main reason is Gary Payton II. The game comes easy to him. "GP II" averages 15.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. His defensive instincts have earned him the seventh best career Defensive Rating in the Pac-12 (those stats first tracked in 1994). His shot is not broken by any means but his career 3-pt% is just .300, and he shoots 65% from the free throw line. He makes good decisions with the ball, posting a career 1.93-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is excellent at helping as a rebounder from the guard position. Payton II is left handed. He is an NBA caliber athlete. GP II played junior college ball prior to choosing Oregon State. He is already 23 years old, and some NBA teams may hold that against him, preferring to go with a younger prospect. Due to his potential as a two-way player, we view GP II as the best point guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft, all things considered. 

Denzel Valentine - Michigan State. 6'5" 220, SR. ...The undisputed floor-leader of the Spartans in 2016 is Denzel Valentine. He recently won Big Ten Player of the Year honors in a season where he averaged 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.6 assists per game. Valentine has two triple-doubles this season (games against Boston College, and Kansas). I like Valentine's 6'5" size as it projects to the next level. He is a smart ball-player that dissects opposing defenses with his ability to read and react. He owns a 2.02-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He is one of those players that is "all over the court". He has improved his three point shooting with each season, now converting at a 44% clip. He is a career 78% foul shooter. Valentine leads the NCAA in box score plus/minus. Michigan State is +17 (per game) with Valentine on the floor. While his athleticism is average at best, Valentine still projects as a potentially valuable starting NBA guard. 

Dunn has upside 
Kris Dunn - Providence. 6'3" 205, SR. ...Dunn recently earned his second Big East Player of the Year award. He averages 16 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 2.5 steals per contest. His assists and steals averages were tops in the Big East. Dunn is an acceptable three point shooter (33% career) but he would prefer to beat his man off the bounce. I would like to see his shot selection improve. He has the tools to be better than the 44% FG shooter he is (career). Likewise, his decision making is just okay for a point guard (1.71-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, career). Dunn is a career 69% free throw shooter. Dunn is a guy that immediately passes the eye test. However, if you really watch him, he has some aspects of his game that need to tighten up if he is to be the projected NBA starter many peg him to be. 

Melo Trimble - Maryland. 6'2" 175, soph. ...Trimble averages 14.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. He has a really nice shooting stroke (37% 3-pt, and 86% FT, career). In his second season as the Terps leader he sacrificed some scoring for being a better play-maker that sets up his teammates. This is a wise move by the heady guard who at 6'2" will be better suited to playing Point Guard as opposed to Two-Guard in the NBA. His career assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.57-to-1 (borderline for a PG). Trimble is excellent at drawing fouls on penetration. He led the Big Ten in free throw attempts in 2014-15, and was fifth in that category this season. Defensively, Trimble needs to improve. His defensive rating of 100.0 is slightly worse than the Maryland overall team DEFRTG of 98.2. ...We view Trimble, at this stage, to be a potential top-tier backup at the next level. 

Tyler Ulis - Kentucky. 5'9" 155, soph. ...The diminutive Point Guard was the SEC Player of the Year for 2015-16. Ulis is a "real" Point Guard with a 3.71-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. That kind of decision making ability is indeed rare in such a young player. Ulis averages 17.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. His 7.2 assists per game was best in the SEC. He shoots 37% from beyond the college arc, and he is a rock-solid 84% at the line. If there is a concern about Ulis in the NBA it is clearly his liability on defense. His DEFRTG numbers are significantly worse than the Kentucky team DEFRTG. As of today, we view Ulis as a potential tempo-changing backup in the NBA. 

The others specifically on our radar: 

Monte Morris - Iowa St. 6'2" 170, jr. 
Thomas Walkup - Stephen F. Austin. 6'4" 195, SR. 
Fred VanVleet - Wichita State. 6'0" 195, SR. 
Kadeem Allen - Arizona. 6'3" 180 jr. 
Lorenzo Bonam - Utah. 6'4" 215, jr. 
Luke Kennard - Duke. 6'5" 180, frosh. 
Frank Mason Jr. - Kansas. 5'11" 185, jr. 
Isaiah Taylor - Texas. 6'1" 170 jr. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Initial 2016 NBA Draft BIG board released

Ben Simmons is the clear #1
The first Hoop Obsession 2016 NBA Draft Board is now posted at BasslineSpin.com. Our initial board will change many times before the Draft is held in June. Presently, the rankings include ALL players (from freshman through Seniors, plus international players born from 1994 to 1997). In May 2016, our list will change to include only those who have declared for the draft or those that are automatically draft eligible (Seniors and 1994 born). 

This first listing is also more reliant on analytic information than "feel". The present consensus for the 2016 NBA Draft was factored in but weighted less than our own rankings of efficiency per-minute, defensive rating, and strength of schedule (or in international cases, strength of league). SEE the BasslineSpin.com / Hoop Obsession draft board.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The way we see it. Post D-League Showcase prospect report.

Another NBA D-League Showcase has come and gone. Each January, we intently focus on the NBA's direct feeder League for one week. Most of the players we are scouting have been seen several times already (either in college, international, or summer league play). However, there are always fresh talents to check out. This year, the D-League has a record 19 teams. Each team played two games during the 2016 Showcase which was held at Kaiser Permanente Arena in chilly Santa Cruz, California (January 6-10, 2016). 

The objective for players is simply to be noticed by the right people and possibly be one of the select few that will earn or continue to earn an NBA pay check. Some of the players know the luxury an NBA salary affords. Many of the 30 NBA teams assign their young prospects to D-League affiliates during Showcase week. Other players have lived the five-star NBA life at a previous point in their career and are now competing hard in an attempt to return. 

So who has a chance? The results of our D-League Stat audit and the physical observation of games gives us a feel for the players we think can play "rotation" minutes in the NBA. In our opinion, after years of study, D-League call-ups work best with guys who can simply fit in. A 'glue guy' is much more welcome as an NBA teammate than a guy who thinks he will continue to have a usage rate in the NBA similar to what he had in the D-League. By January of any NBA season, the roles of teams are mostly defined. It is extremely rare for a D-League player to be called up and suddenly be asked to be "the shot-taking man" on an NBA team. 

On the contrary, NBA teams are looking for a D-League prospect that can come in and run with the reserve unit, and possibly make their bench better. Which is not to say that making an NBA bench better is the limit a D-League prospect can contribute. Hassan Whiteside was the in the D-League 13 months ago and we all see him now as a vital starting Center for the Miami Heat. But Whiteside's case is rare. More likely for a D-Leaguer that earns a call-up is to get that foot in the door and hope to be like Seth Curry, JaMychal Green, Jonathon Simmons, and Willie Reed; all of which spent multiple years in the D-League and made NBA rosters this season through training camp. 

Two seasons ago, we hyped DeWayne Dedmon as a prospect in the D-League that should be in the big show. Last season, it was Clint Capela we were sure of. This year we think there are two players worthy of getting minutes during the second half of the NBA season. 

Jarnell Stokes and Jordan Mickey are two BIGs that have continually proven to me that they can play at a level of efficiency high enough to warrant further NBA exposure. 

Stokes is stronger than you
Jarnell Stokes - Stokes just turned 22 years-old. He is an incredibly strong, 6'7" 250 lb. traditional power forward on assignment from the Miami Heat. In D-League play in 2015-16 he is shooting a ridiculously good 67% FG! Stokes has been efficient at every level and the D-League is no different. Among players who have logged over 300 minutes, he is the most efficient per minute. Stokes played three seasons at Tennessee, displaying the footwork, rebounding ability, and honest defensive effort that allowed him to be the 35th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He seems to take the game seriously, and he is in incredible physical condition. I think Stokes is presently the best player in the D-League, all things considered. In my opinion, Miami would be better with Stokes in their rotation which would obviously lead to some difficult choices regarding Heat lifer, Udonis Haslem. Yes, Stokes is a 6'7" power forward. 6'7" is historically small for playing the position in the NBA. However, in THIS case, you throw that lack of height out of the window, and roll with Stokes because his strength is his strength. And what NBA team would not want to be stronger. (Watch Jarnell Stokes do his bully ball thing.)

Jordan Mickey has a legitimate NBA skill. He can block shots. Critics would say Mickey is too small to play Center. He stands a listed 6'8". But his impact on opponent's ability to score in the paint is undeniable. Mickey is just 21 years old, property of the Boston Celtics. He was the 33rd overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft. Mickey has a refreshing dis-interest in trying to do more than he should. As a bonus he is converting on 76% of his free throws (up from 66% FT at LSU). Mickey does not play in Boston mostly due to their crowded, talented, front-court that includes Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson, Kelly Oynyk, David Lee, and Tyler Zeller. It is our opinion that most NBA teams should be targeting Boston as place to acquire a quality BIG before the trade deadline. 
Hoop Obsession, Post D-League Showcase, Top Three at each position.

Point Guards

Elliot Williams - Williams, rightfully so, was picked up by the Memphis Grizzlies on a ten-day contract. We viewed him as the best guard in the D-League. Williams was the 22nd pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. 

Lorenzo Brown - The 52nd pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, Brown was recently signed to a ten-day contract by the Phoenix Suns. 

Erick Green - Green is standing out in the D-League. Playing for the high-octane Reno Bighorns, Green can shoot to his heart's content. He is scoring 27.7 points per game. His average to below-average athleticism remains his biggest hindrance to getting back to the NBA. Green was released in November 2015 by the Denver Nuggets. 

Shooting Guards:


Same Jimmer
Jimmer Fredette - Jimmer looked like the same guy to me. And we had plenty of opportunities to see him live during his time in Sacramento (2011-14). Perhaps his confidence is up a bit but Jimmer is still Jimmer. He will knock down a very high rate of open looks. He will also be a liability on defense, and his occasional over-penetration will result in a blocked shot igniting the opponent's fast break. We continue to maintain that Jimmer CAN work in the NBA but only on a team with both a shot blocker to help clean up the times Fredette gets beat, and a back-court mate that is at least 6'5" with defensive skill. 

D.J. Stephens - Stephens did not play at the Showcase. He was sitting out after suffering a concussion in a game December 29th vs. Sioux Falls. Stephens is a true 'freak athlete'. He has a 46" vertical! Stephens is so gifted, if he was called up to the NBA, he would be among the top-five percent of NBA athletes. His overall game continues to be a work in progress but Stephens can do some things on a court that some players can only dream of. 

Walter Lemon Jr. - Lemon is a 23 year-old that played four years at Bradley. He can really jump. More importantly, he has shown an ability to shoot accurately (50% FG, 41% 3-pt.) this season to-date. Lemon will need to be a better defender to sniff NBA action but he is now on our radar. 

Small Forwards

Coty Clarke - Clarke is 23 years old with an NBA body. He stands 6'7", weighs 235 lbs. If you make a checklist of what you would like a small forward to do, Clarke checks a lot of boxes. He shoots 35% 3-pt., has more assists than turnovers, makes his free throws (82.4%), and most importantly, he plays defense. Clarke's defensive rating is a full two points better than his Maine Red Claws team DEFRTG. 

Allen Durham - Durham is 27 years-old. He has been playing internationally following a four-year career at Grace Bible College (Wyoming, MI.). Durham plays D, makes shots when needed, and doesn't try to do more than he should. His defensive rating is significantly better than the Texas Legends team DEFRTG. 

Raphiael Putney - Putney is a skinny scorer that has enough athleticism to impact a game. He is averaging 20.3 points, and ten rebounds per game. He is 6'10" but only 185 lbs. His length and quick reactions allow him to block shots at a high rate. Putney is averaging 3.0 blocked shots per game (that is best in the D-League). 

Power Forwards:

Jarnell Stokes (see above)

Vince Hunter - The stretch-four craze has left a sizable pool of traditional power forwards treading water, hoping to get a chance to prove they belong. Vince Hunter would surely be in the NBA as an undersized FOUR if he were born 15 years earlier. He is currently third in the D-League in rebounds per game (12 rpg). Hunter is 6'7", 218 lbs. He runs the floor very well and beats opposing BIGs with his ability to out-quick them. Hunter is AVERAGING five offensive rebounds per game. 

Chris Walker - Walker clearly has the physical tools to be among NBA players. He is long (wingspan is 7' 2.5") and quick. Walker is shooting 62% FG this season in the D-League. That said, Walker's hoop IQ needs to be better. We watched him demonstrate what NOT to do in 'read and react' situations at the Showcase.

Centers:

Jordan Mickey - See above. 

Keith Benson - Like Earl Barron did last year, Keith Benson has a chance to earn a call up as a veteran BIG that could serve as a stop-gap for a team in need. Benson's decision making with the ball is still suspect but the rest of his game is solid. He is 27 years-old. 

Jordan Bachynski - Bachynski is a tall (7'2"), tough, 26 year-old, FIVE that has a chance to play in the NBA. He is improving. He was a career 61% free throw shooter in college. He is shooting 71% FT this season. 

Notes: Sean Kilpatrick was signed today to a ten-day contract by the Denver Nuggets. We thought there were better options. But good for Kilpatrick. In ten-days in the NBA, he will make roughly $49,000 which is about double what he would make playing an entire D-League season. 

The Charlotte Hornets will have a direct affiliate D-League team next season. The Greensboro Swarm will begin play in November 2016. Likewise, the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets will join in the fun for 2016-17, bringing the total number of teams to 22. Brooklyn's D-League team will play on Long Island. 

The city of Santa Cruz certainly gains community profits from the participation of 19 D-League Teams, the attendance of representatives from all 30 NBA teams, plus the international scouts, and media. Virtually everywhere I went in downtown Santa Cruz I saw someone connected to the Showcase. 
The Trophy

The Santa Cruz Warriors Team Store downtown doubles as their headquarters (front office). It was a cool treat to see the 2015 D-League Championship trophy on display. 

One thing not on display or for sale was any D-League Showcase souvenirs. A worker at the Santa Cruz Warriors mobile team shop said that last year the D-League Showcase apparel they had did not sell. Thus the decision was made to not offer any items in 2016. Bummer. 

Among the recognizable faces in attendance at games during the week: Sam Amick, Guss Armstead, B.J. Armstrong, Bernie Bickerstaff, Mike Bratz, Bubba Burrage, Doug Christie, Scott Howard-Cooper, Vlade Divac, Bobby Jackson, Bob Myers, Lute Olson, Jerry Sloan, John Stockton, and Peja Stojakovic. 

Scott Howard Cooper reported during the week that the NBA seems likely to move the D-League Showcase next year to a location in the eastern time zone. 

The D-League has stepped up in too many ways to comprehensively list. It does not go unnoticed that officials, off duty, are dressed professionally. If you envision a bunch of basketball scouts in sweatsuits and sneakers watching these games, that would be wrong. The NBA pedigree is evident at all turns. Many of the executives or scouts were wearing sport coats or otherwise dressed closer to G.Q. than Slam! 

...Jorge Gutierrez put up a triple-double at the Showcase. ...A fan made a half-court shot during a break on Thursday

Tweets:




Sunday, January 10, 2016

Melvin Johnson has himself a day. NBA D League Showcase, Saturday.

Melle Mel at work
Santa Cruz, CA. ...Melvin Johnson III was the most efficient player during day four action at the NBA D-League Showcase. The sharp-shooting 6'6" 170 lb. guard from Arkansas St. made ten of his 15 field goals (including six, three-pointers) en route to 26 points in 24 minutes (see video). However, the 25 year-old's team, Raptors 905, lost to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 125-119. Rio Grande Valley was led by K.J. McDaniels' 28 points (10-13 FG, 5-8 3-pt., 3-3 FT), and ten rebounds. 

Hoop Obsession All D-League Showcase Team (Jan. 9, 2016)

Starters:
Quinn Cook - Canton
K.J. McDaniels - Rio Grande Valley
J.J. O'Brien - Idaho
Jarnell Stokes - Sioux Falls
Joshua Smith - Rio Grande Valley

Reserves:
Verdell Jones - Santa Cruz
Melvin Johnson III - Raptors 905
C.J. Fair - Fort Wayne
Ronald Roberts - Raptors 905
Keith Benson - Sioux Falls
Ryan Kelly - Los Angeles 
Jorge Gutierrez - Canton

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Bachynski shows toughness on Day 3 of the D-League Showcase

Bachynski could find some NBA time. 
Santa Cruz, CA. ...Toughness is a trait that all NBA coaches covet. Jordan Bachynski displayed both toughness and skill Friday at the 2016 NBA D-League Showcase. The 7'2" Center from Arizona State played through a mangled and bleeding nose after taking a shot to the face that would have had some players out for a week. Bachynski scored 24 points (9-16 FG, 6-6 FT), grabbed 12 rebounds, and blocked six shots in 29 minutes. His Westchester Knicks defeated the Reno Bighorns 115-114 in the second of four games played on the day at Kaiser Permanente Arena. 

The Hoop Obsession All NBA D-League Showcase Team (Day Three 2016)

Starters: (click on highlighted name to see highlights if available). 
Spencer Dinwiddie - Grand Rapids (19 points, 5 assists, 5 steals in 26 mins.)
Erick Green - Reno (37 points (12-17 FG, 6-7 3-pt, 7-7 FT), 5 rebounds, 5 assists)
Darington Hobson - Santa Cruz (24 points, 18 rebounds, 8 assists)
Darion Atkins - Westchester
Jordan Bachynski - Westchester

Reserves:
Keith Appling - Erie (17 points, 11 assists,  6 rebounds, 6 steals)
Thanasis Antetokounmpo - Westchester (9 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals in 28 mins.)
DeShaun Thomas - Austin (15 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds in 24 mins.)
Vincent Hunter - Reno (23 points, 16 rebounds)
Alex Stepheson - Iowa (21 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks)
Talib Zanna - Oklahoma City (15 points, 10 rebounds)
Travis Trice - Westchester (20 points, 7 assists)


Friday, January 8, 2016

Putney puts on a show. Day two of D-League Showcase

Putney scored 38 Thursday.
Raphiael Putney dazzled in the opening game of day two at the 2016 NBA D-League Showcase. In front of NBA and international scouts, and children from local elementary schools, Putney scored 38 points (14-22 FG, 6-11 3-pt., 4-5 FT), and grabbed 18 rebounds in a win for his team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Vipers beat the Fort Wayne Mad Ants 111-99. 

Putney is a 6'10", 185 lb. forward from Massachusetts. He played a limited role on the Vipers last season but has emerged as a starter that plays heavy minutes in 2015-16. Putney went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft. He is 25 years old.  

Each day of the Showcase, we list a 12-man roster of the most efficient players. This is done mostly to help ingrain each name in my own memory and help me further my feel for the individuals' games.

The Hoop Obsession All D League Showcase Team for Day Two (Jan. 7, 2015)  

Starting Five: (Click on name to see highlights if available)

Xavier Mumford - Bakersfield 
Manny Harris - Texas 
Raphiael Putney - Rio Grande Valley
Jarnell Stokes - Sioux Falls
Michael Eric - Texas - 14 points (6-9 FG), 6 rebounds, 3 blocked shots in 24 minutes.

Reserves:

Terry Rozier - Maine
Allen Durham - Texas
Coty Clarke - Maine
Chris Walker - Rio Grande Valley
Greg Smith - 905
Brandon Ashley - Texas
Askia Booker - Bakersfield

Day One at the D-League Showcase

Dakari was great Wednesday.
Dakari Johnson stood out as the most efficient player (over 24 mins. played) on a winning team during the opening day of action (Wednesday January 6, 2016) at the NBA D-League Showcase. Johnson and the Oklahoma City Blue defeated the Delaware 87ers 119-114. Johnson, a 20 year-old, seven-footer, from Kentucky had 18 points (8-9 FG, 2-4 FT), seven rebounds, and six assists (with zero turnovers) in 27 minutes. 

We made a 12-man roster out of the best performers from day one as a way to highlight their exceptional exploits at the Showcase. Click on their name to see highlights (if available). 

Hoop Obsession Starting Five for Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Reserves: