Noel, Len atop NBA draft full of questions

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Noel, Len atop NBA draft full of questions

NEW YORK -- Nerlens Noel is coming off a major knee injury. Alex Len is in a walking boot.

One of them could be the No. 1 pick Thursday in an NBA draft that appears short on stardom, and neither looks ready to get his career off to a running start.

"This draft is really unpredictable, a lot of guys with injuries and you don't have any, like, LeBron James," Len said Wednesday. "So it's going to be interesting."

Ten years after James climbed on stage to start a draft that goes down as one of the best in recent memory, the No. 1 pick again belongs to Cleveland.

The Cavaliers won't find anyone who can play like James on the court -- if they keep the pick -- and even the climbing the stage part will be a challenge for the big men who opened their college seasons against each other and are competing again now.

Noel tore the ACL in his left knee on Feb. 12, ending his lone season at Kentucky. The 6-foot-11 freshman led the nation in shot blocking and his conference in rebounding, but hasn't been able to show the Cavaliers if his offensive game has grown.

The only basketball work he did during his visit to Cleveland was shooting some free throws. Perhaps the pants he wore with his sports jacket and orange tie were just too tight, but Noel was walking gingerly as he exited a hotel ballroom after meeting with the media Wednesday.

"I wanted to do more. Unfortunately I got hurt, but I mean I definitely felt right before I got injured I was really coming along as a player and just really coming into my own during that part of the season," Noel said. "But like I said, unfortunately I got hurt, so I wasn't able to show as much as I wanted to."

Nor has Len, but that hasn't stopped the 7-1 center from the Ukraine who spent two seasons at Maryland from climbing into the mix at No. 1. His left foot started bothering him around February, and he found out after the season that it was a stress fracture.

He was aware he was projected as a top-10 pick before the draft combine, but may go much higher even though his visits to teams have consisted of nothing more than interviews. He no longer needs crutches but will be in the boot for perhaps two more weeks.

So, with all these injury questions, what about playing it safe and picking a healthy guy?

"I mean, probably a lot of people wish it could be that easy," Kansas guard Ben McLemore said. "But it's a process for the teams, they've got to see what's available and what they really need. And like I said, this draft is up in the air and nobody knows what's going to happen, who's going to get drafted in which order."

Orlando has the No. 2 pick, followed by Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix.

McLemore, Indiana's Victor Oladipo, Georgetown forward Otto Porter and national player of the year Trey Burke of Michigan are among the other players who will hear their names called early at Barclays Center by NBA Commissioner David Stern in his final draft.

It's a class that won't draw any comparisons to the one that James led, which featured future Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, along with NBA scoring champion Carmelo Anthony among the first five picks.

Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King said a number of teams are trying to trade out of the draft and acquire extra picks for next year, which is expected to be a stronger class. But he doesn't know if there will be enough teams interested in being trade partners to get those deals done.

"There are good players in this draft, but right now, there are not impact players. What I mean by that is that there's no one you look at in this draft that within two years will be an All-Star, say like Kyrie Irving was, players like that," said Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders, referring to the guard Cleveland took with the No. 1 pick in 2011.

"And so in order for you to move up and dilute your talent pool and your roster, you've got to get an impact-type player, and I just don't believe ... there's good players, probably pretty good players in this league, but are they going to be that impact player who's going to be an All-Star or future Hall of Famer? That's what you don't see. And sometimes that's something you don't see for two or three years in a row."

McLemore has in some ways been hurt by healthy, since by being able to work out he's given teams something to nitpick. Noel and Len have been largely free of criticism while sitting on the sideline.

Instead, Len is hoping his first impression of the season is one that holds up, when he had a career-high 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks against Noel in Maryland's loss to Kentucky, right in the building where they will be Thursday.

"I did well against him. So, it's not up to me, it's up to teams," Len said of a team choosing between the two.

Neither player said he knows what the Cavs will do. There has been speculation they are open to dealing the pick, something teams rarely consider in a year with a clear-cut No. 1.

Noel said he had gotten no sense from the Cavs that they had concern about his knee, which could keep him off the court until early in the regular season. And in a draft full of questions, he believes selecting him is the right answer.

"I'm a good teammate, I definitely love to work," Noel said. "I want to get better. I want to be great, I want to reach my potential, be the best player I can be. I definitely do countless hours in the gym and I'm definitely working to get there."

AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Best of NBA: Lakers suffer worst loss in team history

Best of NBA: Lakers suffer worst loss in team history

DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks had something to prove on Sunday following two straight tough losses.

Coming off a three-point effort in an overtime loss on Friday, Nowitzki scored all 13 of his points in the first half and Dallas gave the Los Angeles Lakers the worst loss in their history, 122-73.

"We didn't show up to play," Lakers coach Luke Walton said. "It's embarrassing for us as a team and for us as an organization. The effort just wasn't there tonight, which I don't understand."

The 49-point defeat just edged Los Angeles' two previous worst losses at 48 points, most recently 123-75 at Utah on March 28, 2016.

The Mavericks' winning margin was the third-largest in their history.

It was Dallas' 13th straight win over the Lakers, who have lost six of their last seven games overall (see full recap).

Curry, Thompson each hit 7 3s, Warriors pull away from Magic
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each hit seven 3-pointers and the Golden State Warriors won their seventh straight game, beating the Orlando Magic 118-98 on Sunday.

Tied at the half, the Warriors woke up from West Coast time in the second half to pull away. This was the first Eastern time zone noon tip for them since 1995, when they lost by 34 points in Orlando.

Curry went 7 for 13 on 3s and scored 27 points while Thompson as 7 for 9 from behind the arc and had 21 points. The Warriors shot 19 of 42 overall from 3-point range while the Magic went 7 for 28.

After trailing by 11 in the first half and committing a dozen turnovers, the Warriors went into the break even at 50. Curry hit four 3s and had 14 points in the third quarter as the Warriors outscored the Magic 42-24 (see full recap).

Bledsoe's career day leads Suns over Raptors 115-103
TORONTO -- Eric Bledsoe scored a career-high 40 points and had 13 assists and the Phoenix Suns handed the Toronto Raptors their third straight loss, 115-103 on Sunday night.

Bledsoe was 11 of 17 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and Devin Booker added 20 points as the Suns won their second straight road game following Saturday's win at New York. The victory also completed a season sweep of the Raptors for the first time since 2013-14 and improved Phoenix to 11-6 against Eastern Conference teams this season.

DeMar DeRozan had 22 points for Toronto and Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 12 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season. It's the first time the Raptors have lost three straight since Nov. 6-10, 2015.

Kyle Lowry was ejected with 1:30 left after a flagrant-two foul following contact with the head of Brandon Knight. It capped a night to forget for Lowry, who had 15 points but shot just 5 of 17, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range (see full recap).

Towns carries Wolves past Nuggets, 111-108
MINNEAPOLIS -- Karl-Anthony Towns had 32 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists and hit the go-ahead shot with 42.5 seconds to play to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 111-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

Towns hit 13 of 19 shots and also had four blocks and Andrew Wiggins scored 24 points in Minnesota's fourth straight home win. Shabazz Muhammad scored 20 points off the bench and the Wolves rallied from nine points down midway through the fourth quarter for the win.

Gary Harris scored 22 points and Nikola Jokic had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back. Wilson Chandler and Jamal Murray added 17 points each for Denver, which played without Emmanuel Mudiay because of a sore back.

Kris Dunn had 10 points and nine assists for the Wolves while starting for Ricky Rubio, who missed the game to attend his grandmother's funeral (see full recap).

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

Two of the country's top prospects faced off in the Pac-12 this week while a top 10 forward saw his season come to a premature close. However, we begin this week with the breakout performance by Jonathan Isaac.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida State, 6-11/205
Isaac's potential had everyone in the basketball world's curiosity. Now his play on the court has their attention. The Seminoles hosted No. 15 Notre Dame, which had yet to lose in ACC play before the Wednesday game. 

The freshman forward dominated in the 83-80 win. He had 23 points on 7 for 9 shooting from the field. He made both his threes, all seven of his free throws and also had one assist. His other stats were also otherworldly. He picked up 10 rebounds and had seven(!) blocks, including one on a late Notre Dame shot to get back into the game after he'd put the Seminoles ahead with a three. All this was in just 25 minutes

He followed it up with a similar game against Louisville. In 28 minutes, he had 16 points on 4 for 7 shooting, making one three and, again, all seven free throws. Add in two assists and two blocks to aid in the 73-68 win. Isaac has shown himself to be an athletic freak, a potential stretch-four at the next level and one with tremendous defensive potential, displayed with his nine blocks this week.

OG Anunoby, forward, Indiana, 6-8/235
Anunoby has had an uneven season, but he, at the very least, showed flashes of the ability that make him a top player for this year's draft class. However, a knee injury suffered on Wednesday finished off Anunoby's season, forcing him to undergo surgery that will keep him off the court for the rest of Indiana's schedule.

This may knock him out of the 2017 draft entirely. As a freshman last year, his NCAA Tournament performance was enough to make him a lottery pick in an even weaker draft field than the upcoming one. He chose to remain in school and it isn't farfetched to believe he will return to Indiana for his junior year to get more seasoning, a better draft field and another year of education.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA, 6-6/190
There are going to be quite a few marquee matchups in the Pac-12. One of the first this year came in the form of UCLA-Arizona in Los Angeles on Saturday. The No. 3 Bruins lost, 96-85, but that had nothing to do with Ball's standout performance (more on the Wildcats below). He pushed the ball in transition, drove to the hole with ease and made 4 of 8 threes with his quirky shot. 

He had 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting and had eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. When you watch Ball score so naturally, it's easy to forget his potential as a point guard, but then he whips up beautiful assists as he did many times on Saturday. The freshman has everything you want in a point guard.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona, 7-0/225
The No. 14 Wildcats picked up their biggest win of the year, moving to 7-0 in conference play. As you can expect, Markkanen had a big game to push Arizona past UCLA. He had 18 points on 6 for 10 shooting, was 3 for 3 from three and made three free throws, all which grabbing seven boards. Like Isaac, he is a tantalizing talent as a stretch-four, hanging out around the perimeter and spotting up for threes well.

He now has 16 made threes in his last four games and has averaged over seven boards in that stretch. He's not unbelievably thin like many fours his age. The freshman really can battle down low and get his shot, and he justifies his prospect status on a game-by-game basis with his ability.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington, 6-4/195
Washington lost on Saturday, moving to 9-10 and 2-5 in conference. But it's worth talking about Fultz's standout Wednesday night. The freshman willed his team back from 17 points down with a 37-point performance en route to an 85-83 OT win over Colorado. In 43 minutes, he was 13 for 24 from the field and 11 for 15 from the free throw line.

Don't think he's just a scorer, though. He had eight assists, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks, doing it all for the Huskies as he usually does. The freshman sensation was 0 for 2 from three, but he is normally efficient from beyond the arc. He alone is the reason to watch the under .500 Huskies.

While the 9-10 Huskies are unlikely to make a late run towards March Madness, the strong Pac-12 should provide many marquee matchups for Fultz. He faces off vs. a stout Arizona team next Sunday afternoon. Six days later, the long awaited matchup between Fultz and Ball up in Seattle goes down with presumably many scouts in attendance.

Quick Hits

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky, 6-4/185
Twenty-seven points on 9 for 14 shooting, 4 for 7 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, two steals and four turnovers in an 85-69 win over No. 24 South Carolina.

Josh Jackson, guard/forward, Kansas, 6-8/203
Fifteen points on 6 for 14 shooting, 2 for 5 from three, 1 for 3 on free throws, five rebounds, two assists, four steals and six turnovers in a 79-67 win over Texas.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke, 6-8/204
Fourteen points on 4 for 9 shooting, 1 for 4 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, three turnovers and five fouls in a 70-58 win over Miami.