2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum, Duke lose as Josh Jackson thrives

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum, Duke lose as Josh Jackson thrives

The first week of the NCAA Tournament has come to a close and so have some college careers for the top players in this June's NBA draft. However, the best players were able to lead their teams to the Sweet 16 and potential glory lies ahead for those select few.

Here's a recap of a few of both, albeit a focus on the winners from this weekend who will be high up on draft boards and could be Sixers in just a few months.

Josh Jackson, forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Do you remember the beginning of the season when Jackson's jump shot looked crooked? It seems very long ago now. Jackson led all scorers on Sunday with 23 points in Kansas' 90-70 win over No. 9 Michigan State. The likely top five pick did just about everything in the Round of 32 win. He pulled up for jumpers and swished them, grabbed a few boards, played strong defense inside and even had a few blocks.

The Spartans' one hope was that fellow freshman Miles Bridges would be able to outplay Jackson, but Bridges played with little control at times and was simply outplayed, even though he had 22 points of his own. Jackson hit a few big jumpers in his face and was a force throughout whenever MSU cut into the Jayhawks' lead. Jackson may have some big things lying ahead for him in the Midwest Region and beyond. 

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
While Jackson led his team to glory Sunday, Tatum was not able to do the same later in the evening. In Duke's first round game, Tatum was able to run roughshod through No. 15 Troy's defense, scoring 18 points. He added 12 rebounds and four blocks and was simply the best player on the floor. The Trojans had no one who could stay in front of him, as so few teams in the NCAA do. 

But in what was essentially a road game against No. 7 South Carolina, Tatum was held in check in part by the Gamecocks' potent zone. He was also limited by foul trouble. He still had 15 points and made a few nice moves inside as well as some key rebounds. But he didn't rise to the moment like he did in the ACC Tournament. Again, a zone like South Carolina's eliminates his innate advantage against any one defender and the Gamecocks were able to prevent a dominant effort, upsetting Duke, 88-81.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
In UCLA's first game, Ball didn't quite look like himself. He played through a bruised hip and was clearly not his same explosive self. This came after he nursed a thumb injury during the Bruins' Pac 12 Tournament loss to Arizona. Despite any limitations, he still made 6 of 7 shots for 15 points, made two threes and dished out three assists in UCLA's 97-80 win over No. 14 Kent State. Not bad for someone who is supposed to be injured, right?

His first half against No. 6 Cincinnati wasn't remarkable by any means. But as he's done many times this season, he came alive with a thunderous stretch to key a UCLA win. The Bruins trailed 47-46 in the early second half when Ball shed his defender for a step-back three. Next possession, he ran into a trey in transition. A few minutes later, he dished out some pretty assists and put in a layup himself to give UCLA a double-digit lead. Many of his assists during the second half were of his other-worldly self, finding guys for alley-oops with beautiful feeds.

Ball finished with a near triple-double. He led both teams with 18 points (7 of 10 shooting, 4 of 7 from three) and nine assists. He also had seven rebounds and two steals in the Bruin victory.

De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, guards, Kentucky
Kentucky's freshman combo struggled Friday in an easy 79-70 win over No. 15 Northern Kentucky. Fox had 19 points and dished out three assists, although he had an unseemly six turnovers. Monk was off from the field, going 3 of 11 for 12 points. He missed all six of his threes. 

And for most of Sunday, they had similar struggles. Fox's jump shot, which isn't anywhere close to Monk's, was off. Monk was limited by a stout Wichita State defense. With that backcourt in a rut, the Shockers were poised to, well, shock. But as the best players do in March, Fox and Monk made winning plays. Monk made a key three with 2:10 left. Fox drove for a dunk on the next possession. And with the Wildcats up just one with 12 seconds left, Monk came up with a key block and hit two free throws.

Overall, Fox and Monk had 14 points each on 13 and 10 shots, respectively. That's not a very pretty line. But each was essential to the Wildcats' win, combining to score Kentucky's last 10 points and leading the team to see another day in the NCAA Tournament.

Quick hits
Florida St. forward Jonathan Isaac played what are likely the final games of his collegiate career. The freshman was efficient, making 9 of 15 shots for 25 points. While he had double-digit rebounds in both games, his Seminoles were blown out by Xavier on Saturday evening.

Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen may be the best player left in the West Region. In games against North Dakota and St. Mary's, Markkanen scored 36 points on just 18 shots, getting to the free throw line for 14 attempts. He also reeled in 17 rebounds and led the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.

South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell began the weekend with a thorough domination of No. 10 Marquette with 29 points, 11 rebounds, two assist, two blocks and three steals. The senior followed that up with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists while leading the high-profile upset of No. 2 Duke.

Best of NBA: Spurs smack Cavs from top of Eastern Conference

Best of NBA: Spurs smack Cavs from top of Eastern Conference

SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

In addition to scoring a season-low 17 points, Cavaliers superstar LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn't return to the game.

His status was not immediately known (see full recap).

Thunder use late run to surge past Mavs
DALLAS -- Russell Westbrook hit a pull-up jumper with seven seconds left and the Oklahoma City Thunder erased a 13-point deficit in the final four minutes to beat the Dallas Mavericks 92-91 on Monday night.

Westbrook scored 37 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, with 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his third straight triple-double and 37th of the season.

The Thunder finished on a 14-0 run, capped when they gained possession on a replay reversal with 13 seconds to go and Westbrook hit the decisive shot from just beyond the free throw line over Wesley Matthews. Westbrook scored 12 of the final 14 points.

Dallas didn't call a timeout, and Harrison Barnes missed a long 3-pointer just before the buzzer, clinching the first losing season for the Mavericks (31-42) since 1999-2000, the season that owner Mark Cuban bought the team with Dirk Nowitzki in his second year (see full recap).

DeRozan, Raptors notch 6th straight victory
TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February.

Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds (see full recap).

Report: Kings receive permission from Sixers to speak with Sam Hinkie

Report: Kings receive permission from Sixers to speak with Sam Hinkie

You can't make this stuff up.

After getting what is generally regarded as fleeced once upon a time by former Sixers general manager and president Sam Hinkie, the Sacramento Kings are reportedly interested in his services.

According to ESPN's Marc Stein and Zach Lowe on Monday, the Kings have expressed exploratory interest in Hinkie. Sources told ESPN that Kings owner Vivek Ranadive sought and received permission from Sixers owner Josh Harris to speak with Hinkie.

The Kings needed the Sixers' permission to speak with Hinkie because the executive is forced to sit out the entire 2016-17 season based on a non-compete clause in his contract that took effect when he resigned in April 2016.

The report states Hinkie's level of interest in the Kings or what his role would be alongside current president/GM Vlade Divac was not immediately known. It also says other undisclosed teams have sought permission to speak to Hinkie.

The Kings later released a statement denying the report: "The Kings are not hiring Sam Hinkie and have no plans to bring anyone in above Vlade."

Hinkie, hired prior to the 2012-13 season, engineered the Sixers' massive rebuild. The team struggled mightily during his three seasons at the helm as it finished with a 47-199 record. He stepped down on April 6 of last year and his role as team president was ultimately filled by Bryan Colangelo.

However, Hinkie set the Sixers up for the future by his continued flipping of players for assets. That includes perhaps his best deal, which involved the Kings.

In July 2015, Hinkie dealt the rights to Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic to Sacramento for Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson. More importantly, the Sixers also got the rights to swap first-round picks in the 2016 and 2017 NBA drafts and an unprotected first-rounder in 2019.

The Kings made moves to recoup some of those lost assets at this season's trade deadline when they shipped star big man DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi for 2016 No. 6 overall pick Buddy Hield along with veterans Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway and a 2017 second-round pick.

"But I believe we are going to be in a better position in two years," Divac said to the Sacramento Bee. "I want to hear again from these same people in two years. If I'm right, great. If I'm wrong, I'll step down. But if I go down, I'm going down my way."

Hinkie went down in Philadelphia on his own terms, too. Now his terms may involve working with Divac -- or even taking over his job.

Just remember, Vlade, trust the process.