Triangle hoops stars meet their new NBA teams

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Saturday, June 24, 2017
NBA teams introduce their new draft picks
Triangle-area college stars meet their new NBA teams.


The Boston Celtics made the first move of this year's NBA draft days before it began when they traded the No. 1 overall pick to Philadelphia to build on an already rich cache of future selections.

On draft night, they still grabbed one of the most NBA-ready players available.

Boston selected Jayson Tatum with the No. 3 pick Thursday, adding a 6-foot-8 small forward who was a polished scoring threat during his lone season at Duke. The 19-year-old was a third-team All-ACC selection, averaging 16.8 points while shooting 45.2 percent from the field.

In the second round, the Celtics picked up forward Semi Ojeleye from SMU at No. 37, Arizona guard Kadeem Allen at No. 53 and Cal's Jabari Bird at No. 56.

It was the second straight year the Celtics have chosen third overall. Boston selected Jaylen Brown with its first-round pick in 2016.

Tatum said he feels fortunate to be joining a contender immediately.

"It's great," he said. "I think that I get to learn that much more, especially from a veteran team that knows what it takes to get there. I can't wait to go and learn from coach (Brad) Stevens and Isaiah Thomas and just everybody on that roster."

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he ultimately felt comfortable trading the top pick to the 76ers because he thought the player he planned to take at No. 1 would still be around at No. 3.

He turned out to be correct.

"The draft was very even we felt at the top," Ainge said.

Tatum gives the Celtics some immediate rotation flexibility, with the ability to play both forward spots and defend as many as four positions.

"I think that, in this kind of position-less league, those guys are really valuable," Stevens said.

It's probably the biggest reason they have been high on Tatum throughout the draft process and brought him in for a private workout late last week.

Tatum said he stayed in contact with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski throughout the draft process, and it was Coach K who encouraged him to take the Celtics up on their last-minute invitation.

"He was just ranting about how great of a person Brad Stevens is," Tatum said. "He really wanted me to go up there and work out for them. I was all for it. It worked out."

Tatum seemed the best fit for a team that's still in position to be a big player in free agency this summer.

"I think that he's a guy that we thought really highly of from Day One," Stevens said. "When I kind of got reintegrated into this process, right after the season was over, he was one of the guys that it was clear that we were targeting."

Tatum said he appreciated the faith Boston showed in taking him.

"That's a great compliment, especially with all the great guys in this class. The two guys that went ahead of me, they're great players, but I'm glad at how it worked out, so I'm happy," Tatum said of Fultz and Lonzo Ball.


North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. was still available when the Dallas Mavericks came up at No. 9 in the NBA draft - the same spot that led them to Dirk Nowitzki nearly 20 years ago.

Coach Rick Carlisle described "thunderous" applause in the Dallas draft room Thursday night. President of basketball operations Donnie Nelson may have lost count of the chest bumps.

"This is the guy that we were after," said Nelson, who said before the draft that point guard was the team's biggest need. "And if we would have drafted a lot higher, he was the guy that we had circled."

Carlisle projected Smith as a starter, with the obvious caveat that the job won't be handed to the 19-year-old who left the Wolfpack after his freshman season, barely a year removed from tearing a knee ligament as a high school senior.

If Smith does start, he'll be the rare case of a draft pick to do so in Dallas. Nowitzki did it for about half the season in 1998-99, after the Mavericks used the sixth pick to get Robert Traylor for Milwaukee and had the Bucks take the 7-foot German with the ninth choice. That's the last time Dallas entered the draft with a top 10 pick.

The addition of Smith means four of the five starting spots are filled, because if he doesn't start, he'll likely be behind Yogi Ferrell. The former Indiana guard had a dazzling debut in Dallas that earned the undrafted rookie a two-year deal after joining the team on a 10-day contract.

But the Mavericks believe Ferrell is a better fit as a backup, with veterans J.J. Barea and Devin Harris also available to play point. The other three starters under contract are Nowitzki, shooting guard Wesley Matthews and forward Harrison Barnes.

Dallas is likely to match offers for center Nerlens Noel, a restricted free agent. The Mavericks acquired him at the trading deadline last season when they were retooling the roster to get younger after a woeful start led to a 33-49 finish. It was just the second time in the past 17 seasons that Dallas has missed the playoffs.

"This is a historic night for us," Carlisle said. "Playmaking is an especially important part of the NBA game now, that having guys like Dennis Smith Jr. that can create simply on their own, and on pick and rolls, pick and rolls with Dirk, is a great blessing for us to have."

Smith enrolled early at NC State in January 2016 after the high school injury so he could play as a freshman. He's the only Atlantic Coast Conference player to record two triple-doubles in the same season, and he averaged 18.1 points per game. Smith led ACC freshmen in scoring, assists and steals.

His only season with the Wolfpack was challenging because of the in-season announcement that coach Mark Gottfried wouldn't return as the team struggled to a 15-17 finish. Nelson figures that's part of the reason Smith was still around when it was the Mavs' turn.

"I can use it as fuel to the fire," said Smith, who set NC State's freshman scoring record and was the school's first top 10 pick since Tom Gugliotta went sixth to Washington in 1992. "I've been underrated my whole life. That's perfectly line with me. I'm accustomed to it."

Carlisle said the Mavericks didn't bring in Smith for an individual workout because they didn't think he would be available. The club recently sent a couple of representatives to his pro day in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Smith had a video phone conversation with Nelson, Carlisle and former Dallas guard Michael Finley, now a member of the front office.

"This is one we had to get right and one what we had to get lucky with," Nelson said. "We feel both of those things kind of fell in place. You don't want to get too excited about players, but he's got all the right stuff."


Stan Van Gundy is thoroughly impressed with Luke Kennard's offensive ability.

That won't be enough to earn Detroit's first-round draft pick regular playing time.

"He's a mature offensive player, for his age coming in," said Van Gundy, the Pistons' coach and team president. "I would have no question putting him in the game offensively now, but defensively, I wouldn't put him in a game right now."

The Pistons drafted Kennard with the 12th overall pick Thursday night, and the 6-foot-6 guard from Duke certainly could fill a need. Detroit shot only 33 percent from 3-point range as a team last season, and Kennard was at 44 percent from beyond the arc in his sophomore season for the Blue Devils.

Kennard averaged 19.5 points a game in 2016-17, then turned pro . Van Gundy stressed that he is a good all-around player on offense and can contribute more than just outside shooting.

"His game is to play with the ball, come off screens, make plays," Van Gundy said. "I look at him as a playmaker, a scorer."

The question is whether he can defend well enough at the NBA level.

"I think one of the big things is strength," Kennard said. "I think if I become a bigger, or a stronger player physically, it will help me."

Detroit missed the playoffs last season after making it in 2016, and the tandem the Pistons have built around - Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson - has a lot to prove going forward.

Detroit is coming off a disappointing season as it prepares to move to a new downtown arena in 2017-18. This pick - near the back of the lottery - probably won't add too much buzz, but the Pistons could use a significant contribution from Kennard.

Kennard's shooting ability is enticing for a team that needs perimeter threats. Kennard, who turns 21 on Saturday, made at least one 3-pointer in 40 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in Duke history.

Van Gundy was almost gushing when he talked about Kennard's polished offensive game - and equally direct when discussing his defensive shortcomings.

"That's an area where he's just got to get a lot better, and quite honestly, he's got to, in my opinion, take a lot more pride in it than he did this past year," Van Gundy said. "Whether it was carrying the offensive load, or what it was, he's got to change his entire defensive approach."

Van Gundy did say Kennard wasn't alone in needing work at the defensive end. He says that's quite common among the top draft picks.

"The number of guys that are great offensive players in college that really apply themselves defensively is a very, very, very small number," Van Gundy said. "I mean, I can go from pick one on down, I've watched them all. This is a common theme, OK? It's not like, 'Wow, all these other guys really get after it defensively, so why did you take this guy who doesn't guard?'"

Van Gundy said he can sort of understand why defense may not have been a huge priority for players like Kennard.

"You're talking very young guys. He's one of the oldest ones, right? He played two years in college, so like, he's a veteran guy. But they're all young guys, and they came up as great offensive players, and to be fair, they carry great offensive loads at their schools," Van Gundy said. "Most of them don't have the responsibility at the defensive end of the floor. I mean, the top 20 guys - and I'm not going to get into names - from what I would expect, I thought there were two that defended."



The Sacramento Kings' rebuilding project is undergoing a youth movement.

The Kings filled a major void at point guard by drafting Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox with the fifth pick in the NBA draft and then traded their second lottery pick for two more first-round selections Thursday night in hopes of finding the pieces that will help end an 11-year playoff drought.

"I feel like we can grow together," Fox said. "Of course it will take some time. But every franchise takes time when they're hitting some bumps in the road."

Sacramento took North Carolina forward Justin Jackson and Duke big man Harry Giles with those picks. The Kings then took another point guard in the second round, selecting Kansas' Frank Mason III with the 34th overall pick.

Jackson, who played on an AAU team with Fox, gives the Kings a wing scorer to replace Rudy Gay, who declined his $14.3 million option to become an unrestricted free agent. Jackson averaged 18.3 points and 4.7 rebounds as a junior for NCAA champion North Carolina last season.

After shooting under 30 percent from 3-point range his first two years, Jackson opted to stay in school and worked at improving his outside shot and made 37 percent last season.

"I didn't feel I was ready maturity-wise last year and physically playing the game," Jackson said. "I think I matured a ton. I got a whole lot better in my basketball game. Hopefully I can come in right away and make a difference and help the team."

Giles was once one of the top prospects in his class before being hobbled by knee injuries. He played sparingly in his only season at Duke, missing the start of the season recovering from an injury and averaging just 11.5 minutes per game in his 26 contests. He averaged 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.

The Kings worked out Giles and were confident in his health.

"I'm so excited he was there for us," Divac said. "At 20, that kind of talent, you can't pass."


The New Orleans Pelicans traded up to the top of the second round in an attempt to bring in potential back-court help for a lineup featuring the All-Star tandem of power forward Anthony Davis and center DeMarcus Cousins.

The Pelicans acquired Frank Jackson from the Charlotte Hornets, who had taken the former Duke combo guard 31st overall on Thursday night.

"We thought if we waited until the 40th pick he might not be there," Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said.

In exchange for Jackson, New Orleans sent Charlotte cash and 40th overall draft choice Dwayne Bacon, a small forward out of Florida State.

The 6-foot-4 Jackson, who turned 19 last month, averaged 10.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists and shot 39.5 percent on 3-pointers as a part-time starter as a freshman at Duke last season. He scored 10 or more in a game 20 times.

"Frank is a complete player," Demps said. "He can play both guard spots. He can shoot and he can put the ball on the floor and create. We like his competitive spirit. He's a confident kid. He wants the moment."

Jackson, who couldn't work out for teams because of a surgery to fix a stress reaction in his foot in late May, said he didn't know he was going to New Orleans until "just minutes before the Hornets picked."

"I'm so grateful," Jackson said, "but (the Pelicans) weren't in my mind, to be honest."

Now his mind is occupied by the prospect of playing with Davis and Cousins.

"Those are two of the best bigs in the league. It's going to teach me a lot," Jackson said. "It's going to allow me to play with those guys and just learn."

Jackson joins a team facing some uncertainty in the back court. Starting point guard Jrue Holiday is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and New Orleans traded his backup, Tim Frazier, to Washington on Wednesday for the 52nd pick in the draft. However, New Orleans traded that pick to Indiana for cash and the Pacers got Xavier guard Edmond Sumner.

Jackson will be unable to play in the Summer League because of the foot surgery, but Demps said he expects him to be ready for the start of training camp.

Demps called Jackson a player with "huge upside," and Jackson asserted that he was "just as good as anyone in this draft class."

"I feel that way 100 percent," Jackson said. "I just can't wait to go out and prove it."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.