Ball Draws Positive Reviews
Lonzo Ball might not have been in attendance during last week’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, but that doesn’t mean this year’s projected top-2 pick wasn’t a steady subject of conversation.
Two of Ball’s old UCLA teammates – Ike Anigbogu and T.J. Leaf, both of whom are expected to be selected in the first round of the draft – were among the event’s invitees. Each spoke glowingly about the freshman point guard, and the impact he had on the Bruins’ stacked 31-5 squad that reached the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament.
“He made my job easy,” said Anigbogu, who averaged 4.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 13.0 minutes per game. He credited Ball with having “the best vision I’ve probably seen in a player,” and praised the intangibles Ball brought to the court.
“He’s just an incredibly unselfish player, and I feel like he can dominate any game, just really lead a team without saying many words. He really steps up. He’s just a floor general.”
Ball concluded his lone collegiate campaign ranked first in the nation in assists per game (7.6), and total assists (274).
To no surprise, Leaf, another big man, and UCLA’s leading scorer at 16.3 points per game, said he “loved” suiting up alongside Ball, too.
“Me and Lonzo are really close off the court, and an on the court,” Leaf said. “It was a blast playing with him this year. We’re still very close, we talk all the time.”
Leaf added that not only is he tight with Ball, but Ball’s family. Ball’s father, LaVar, has been vocal and enthusiastic supporting his son, particularly in recent months.
“He has a great family,” said Leaf about the younger Ball. “Obviously, his dad is pretty bold in what he says, but it’s his father. He loves him, and at the end of the day, he wants what’s best for his son.”
In addition to Anigbogu and Leaf, Bruins center Thomas Welsh was the third member of the program to participate in the annual combine. Welsh finished the year with a slight edge over Leaf for the team’s best rebounding average of 8.7 boards per contest.
Bigs Understand Importance of Range
At this year’s combine, there seemed to be a widely-held belief among many of the top-rated big men that in order to win the affection of teams around the league, demonstrating a shooting touch will be imperative.
Gonzaga’s Zach Collins, Texas’ Jarrett Allen, and UCLA’s TJ Leaf – all of whom, at this stage, are receiving first-round draft grades – each referenced the matter separately during their respective combine media availabilities, well aware that these days, the tallest player on the floor needs to do more than just score down low.
Of the bunch, Leaf posted the best results from outside the arc this past season, burying 27 triples, and converting 46.6% of his 3-point attempts. He feels that having put up those numbers will only benefit his stock.
“I’m able to score on three levels, which a lot of bigs aren’t able to do,” Leaf said last Thursday at Quest MutliSport, which again served as the combine’s host venue. “I think I can do it consistently as well, and I think that’s becoming a premium now in the NBA.”
Allen, who spent last year at Texas, also believes that demonstrating proficiency from 3-point territory is pivotal for frontcourt players like himself. That’s why, after misfiring on all seven of his deep heaves as a freshman, he’s been working extensively on his perimeter game while preparing for the draft.
“I think it’s essential,” said the 19-year old, who expects to be drafted somewhere between the 10th and 20th slots of the first round. “The game’s starting to expand more. Bigs aren’t just traditional bigs.”
Exhibit Joel Embiid.
The multi-faceted skill set that the Sixers’ rookie center displayed in limited yet eye-opening action in 2016-2017 reinforced to Allen the importance of bigs being able to shoot with range.
“He came in, he only played a quarter of the season,” said Allen, like Embiid, a Big 12 product. “Still, every game he did, he played his hardest, and had an amazing season.”
Collins, who assumed a key back-up role for Gonzaga amidst its run to the NCAA national championship game, nailed 10 of 21 3-point tries. The 7-footer showed he was capable of making an impact at both the power forward and center spots. The latter position is where he ultimately considers himself most dominant.
“I think I’m a five, I grew up playing a five, but at Gonzaga, I also played at four,” Collins said. “At the NBA, everyone’s my size. I think it’s kind of cool I can play both.”
Watching the pros growing up, he found himself drawn to studying All-Stars like Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan, who, in their primes, not only managed to impose their will on the block, but other areas of the floor, too.
“I think I’ve always tried not to be just a big stiff and only can finish around the rim,” said Collins. “I think it’s always important to be able to shoot, be able to dribble, be just fundamentally sound everywhere no matter where you are on the court.
“I think how the game is played now, you don’t find a lot of guys having success in the NBA that are just big bulky guys that can only finish around the rim. You’ve got to be able to do multiple things, offensively and defensively.”
In Chicago, the take wasn’t an uncommon.
Australia Ties Held by Brown, Prospect
One of the more interesting stories told by a player at the combine – at least in the context of the 76ers – came from Terrance Ferguson, a Tulsa, Oklahoma native who opted to spend last season overseas. The 18-year old competed for Adelaide of Australia’s National Basketball League, the same league in which Brett Brown received the first substantive reps of his professional coaching career.
According to Ferguson, the connection that he and Brown share to the country definitely came up during his interview with the Sixers in Chicago.
“He’s been over there for 17 years, and has an Australian wife,” Ferguson said.
In 30 games with Adelaide, Ferguson, who originally flirted with the idea of attending either Alabama and Arizona, accounted for 4.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game, while connecting on a total of 21 3-pointers. He’s a former McDonald’s All-American, and was chosen in 2016 to represent the United States on the USA Junior Select Team.
Draft observers have Ferguson pegged to go in the latter stages of this year’s first round.
“Definitely had the best fans over in Australia,” said Ferguson, who believes he’ll benefit greatly from the physical style of play he was exposed to in his first year in the pros. “The atmosphere was crazy every game, every home game.”
Not going unnoticed by Ferguson was, from what he could tell, the most popular NBA jersey among Australians – the Sixers’ no. 25, which, of course, will be worn by native son Ben Simmons this coming season.
Korkmaz Closes Out Campaign Strong
Over the weekend, Furkan Korkmaz turned in another strong showing for Banvit BK, the Turkish Basketball Super League affiliate to which he was loaned earlier this year. The 19-year old shooting guard, whom the Sixers chose 26th overall last June, tallied 19 points on 7 for 8 shooting (including a 3 for 4 effort from behind the arc) in his club’s regular season finale.
Saturday’s performance was just the latest in a string of encouraging outings for Korkmaz, the recipient of the “Best Young Player” award in the inaugural Basketball Champions League competition, which wrapped up several weeks ago. He went off for career-highs of 28 points and 10 rebounds the game before last, giving him totals of 47 points, 6 3-pointers, 12 rebounds, and 6 dimes over his previous two tilts.
Korkmaz and Banvit concluded the campaign with a record of 21-9 in TBSL play, good for fifth-best overall. Sixers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo recently returned from a scouting trip to Europe during which he caught Korkmaz in action.