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.

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's return, signing Kyle Lowry?

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's return, signing Kyle Lowry?

This week I tweeted asking for questions for a Sixers mailbag, and the replies came pouring in. (Thanks, everyone!)

So we changed it up and in addition to answering the questions in these articles, we also discussed some of the topics on PST Extra. Read below and watch the video for the responses.

If you tweeted a question with #CSNSixersMailbag and don't see it on here, there will be plenty more answered leading up to the draft and free agency.

Both players are planning to return to the court during the offseason.

Joel Embiid recently said he intends to be ready for opening night and to play all 82 games next season. That would mean he has a lot of work to do before then. Embiid, who underwent knee surgery in March, has been pleased with his rehab and is scheduled for another scan. He has not been jumping and plans to be cleared for 5-on-5 this summer.

"Every day I go in and do some rehab on my knee, on my whole body basically," Embiid said last week at the draft lottery. "Then [I] get on the court, shoot a little bit flat-footed, and then lift. After lifting, I go in the pool and [on the] treadmill and then start running in the pool. Usually, I'm there for about four, five hours every day."

Covington underwent surgery for a right meniscus tear in mid-April. He actually began his rehab before the procedure, which doctors told him could cut down on his recovery time. Following the surgery, the Sixers announced Covington was expected to "resume basketball activities" this summer.

Training camp is still months away. The players will be closely watched during that period before their availability and minutes are determined for the start of the season.

Rye.

And for the non-question, I'll give that a reply too. I see this point of view: draft a young small forward and bring in an experienced guard. I could envision an opposite scenario, though.

The Sixers could bolster their perimeter play through free agency or a trade. They lacked depth at small forward last season. A player with years on his résumé could fill that void faster than a rookie who will need time to develop into an NBA player.

As for Lowry, there's no question he can improve any NBA team. As I noted a few weeks ago, he is at a different stage in his career than the Sixers are in their progress. The Sixers also have Jerryd Bayless on the books to provide that veteran leadership to Ben Simmons as he learns how to play the one spot.

If I had to go with adding experience at one position or the other, I'd lean toward small forward over point guard.

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

It never happened between Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics. Same for Michael Jordan and Karl Malone or Jerry West and Bill Russell.

While there have been 14 rematches in NBA Finals history, this year's meeting between LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors will be the first trilogy in league history.

After the Warriors beat the Cavs for their first title in 40 years in 2015, Cleveland got revenge last season with a comeback from 3-1 down to give the city its first major championship since 1964. Now they meet for the rubber match starting June 1 in Oakland.

While this may be unprecedented in the NBA, it has happened once before in the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball with matchups that included some of those sports' biggest stars.

There was Babe Ruth vs. Frankie Frisch in the 1920s and then a pair of memorable three-peat matchups in the 1950s featuring Otto Graham against Bobby Layne in the NFL and Gordie Howe against Maurice Richard in the NHL.

Warriors: Durant once team’s 2nd choice
Truth be told, Golden State's former coach wasn't sure the Warriors needed Kevin Durant.

The Warriors were already small-ball sensations, capable of piling up the points with their daring drives and sizzling shooting. So rather than add another scorer, Don Nelson figured Golden State might be better off getting a dominant man in the middle to shore up the defense in the 2007 NBA draft.

Nelson thought the Warriors needed Greg Oden.

That was 10 years ago, leading up to the heavily hyped draft in which the Oden-Durant debate raged throughout basketball. And now, as Durant leads the league's most potent team into the NBA Finals while Oden is long gone from the NBA spotlight, it's easy to forget that a lot of people agreed with Nelson.

"I think everyone felt that there were two players there that were going to be prominent players, but one thing you can't count on is injuries," Warriors executive Jerry West said. "So Greg really never had a chance to have a career, where Kevin's obviously been more than advertised."

Celtics: Thomas unsure if he’ll need surgery
Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas wanted to keep playing in the Eastern Conference finals, but team doctors and officials convinced him he needed to shut down his season for his long-term health.

"They had multiple people come in and talk to me about what's more important," Thomas said Friday, a day after the Celtics were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. "But I definitely wasn't trying to hear that at that point in time."

Thomas injured the hip in March and aggravated it in the second-round series against Washington. He played three halves against the Cavaliers before limping off the court in the middle of Game 2.

The Celtics lost that game by 44 points to fall behind 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, then announced the next day that Thomas was done for the season. Still, they beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland the next game before falling easily in Games 4 and 5.

"Eastern Conference finals, that's the biggest stage I've ever been on," Thomas said at the team's practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. "To not be able to go back out there in that second half and continue that series was painful. Like it hurt me."

Speaking for the first time since the end of his season, Thomas said he might need surgery but it's "not the No. 1 option right now." He will have to wait for more tests until the swelling goes down, he said (see full story).