Five Things to Watch: New Orleans Pelicans

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Jrue HolidayA lot can change in just under five months. Just ask the basketball fans of New Orleans. They really needed change after what went on last season.

The 2012-2013 season was dark and gloomy for NOLA hoops. The team finished 14th in the Western Conference at 27-55, with an 11-30 road record that was also 14th in the conference. The team had trouble scoring (more on that later) and winning intraconference games. Its record against West teams was 15-37, good for – you guessed it – 14th in the West.

Promising Austin Rivers (more on him later) had a really bad rookie season, being outplayed by journeyman Roger Mason Jr. The depth wasn’t very strong. Although the team was in the top half of the league in scoring defense (14th overall) New Orleans allowed opponents to shoot 37.4 percent from three. That was 27th in the NBA and … 14th in the West.

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NBA Draft Profile: Jeff Withey

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Jeff WitheyJEFF WITHEY

7-0, 235 lbs.

School: Kansas

Class: Senior

Selected with 39th overall pick by Portland Trail Blazers

STRENGTHS: Withey was a monster in the paint defensively for Kansas, finishing second in the nation in blocked shots (3.9 per). He thoroughly dominated the interior, owning the paint and winning the National Defensive Player of the Year award. Withey is every bit of 7 feet tall, and uses all of his length on both ends of the floor. He’s got great timing on shots, and often comes up with possession after he blocks a shot, something lost on today’s big men. He’s also a decent athlete for a big man. He has a second gear that he can get to when he gets the ball in position to score. Offensively, he’s raw, but he was the most improved player on Kansas the past two years and put up 13.7 points per game. He’s also a good free throw shooter (71%).

WEAKNESSES: Like most big men prospects, he’s going to need to add some muscle. In his current state, he’d get pushed around down low. Withey can be awkward at times and doesn’t have a go-to offensive move that can work at the next level. He’s robotic in his motion at times and doesn’t run very well. There are questions as to whether or not he has the foot speed and athleticism to make it in the NBA.

BOTTOM LINE: Withey is a project on offense, but he can be an immediate difference maker on the defensive end of the floor. He improved so much in his time at Kansas that there is reason to believe his game can continue to grow. He won’t earn big minutes right off the bat, but in time there’s no question that Withey has the defensive talent and shot blocking skills to be a solid contributor in the league.

Bauman: A 44-inch vertical, plus other notes from NBA pre-draft camp

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13NBA_Draft_StateFarm_LogosheetCHICAGO — It was not a make or break situation, but when you walked into the gym for the NBA pre-draft camp on Chicago’s west side - filled with scouts, general managers, coaches, media and everyone in between – you could feel the intensity in the air.

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2013 NBA Draft: Top Centers

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Just four days ago, the 2013 NBA draft was turned upside down when Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel suffered a devastating knee injury.

Over the past month, Noel has separated himself from the pack to be projected as the top pick in June’s draft. Instantly, Twitter blew up with reaction from fans and journalists ranging from the injury to the gruesome images to his draft stock.

In the days following it was revealed that Noel suffered a torn ACL and is expected to have surgery in the next few weeks. He should be recovered in six to eight months.

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Kentucky-Duke preview, and NCAA stud watch update

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In an extremely loaded four-team preseason tournament, the Legends Classic in Atlanta tonight will place No. 7 Kansas against No. 14 Michigan State on one side of the bracket while the defending national champion No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats will face the No. 9 Duke Blue Devils.

Although Kentucky escaped its matchup with the Maryland Terrapins on Friday at the Barclays Center, it’s clear that this Kentucky team is a work in progress and will try to find itself as the season progresses.

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