Ben Simmons, NCAA
(Photo: Derick E. Hingle – USA TODAY Sports)

The NCAA changed their coach-friendly rules concerning when players had to remove their name from NBA draft consideration this week. The previous rule, limiting the amount of time players had to gather information, was in place mainly to appease college coaches and minimize the amount of time their roster for the upcoming season was in flux.

The old ruling really only benefited college coaches by allowing them to make small tweaks by pursuing last minute transfers or late spring signing players depending on the early entry decisions of their players. UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman, Cal’s Ivan Rabb and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan are just a few names that signed late in the 2015 spring period showing that impact players are available. In practice, this impacted very few big decisions across the country as schools had to pursue big time players with available scholarships, not on the hope that one would open up. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be taken seriously by recruits.

This is a player-friendly decision by the NCAA, and a necessary one that should have been in place earlier. This ruling extends the amount of time players have to workout for NBA teams and obtain feedback about their draft status by a handful of weeks, from early April to mid-May. The short window often hurt the players as they were rushed into making an uniformed decision about their playing future. If the NCAA wants to be seen as supporting the ‘student-athletes’ they need to give them more time to make this major life decision and this is a big step in that direction.

Players can now participate in the draft combine and return to school if they feel they aren’t ready when compared to other players. This, combined with the chance to have a single NBA tryout, is a favorable move for players considering leaving early.

Players will still make mistakes and leave school before they are ready for the NBA, but this will hopefully allow the NBA teams and scouts to provide better and more timely feedback, limiting those mistakes that can damage a professional career. This is a great move by the NCAA to help their players as they look to embark on their professional career. Now to figure out that age limit conundrum.

Quincy Pondexter’s Season-Ending Surgery Slams Pelican’s Fading Playoff Hopes Shut

Quincy Pondexter, Pelicans
(Photo: Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports)

With the New Orleans Pelicans sitting at 13-26 and 12th in the conference race, they had a long road uphill to make the playoffs without any more setbacks. ESPN’s BPI playoff odds currently give them just a 9.4 percent chance to secure the eighth seed or better in the West. Those chances look even more remote after news broke that Quincy Pondexter will have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Acquired in a mid-season trade last season from the Memphis Grizzlies, Pondexter was a valuable three-and-D rotation player for the playoff Pelicans. After a procedure on his same knee in the off-season, Pondexter was expected to return after just a few weeks. He had yet to make his 2015-16 debut, and this announcement finally revealed that there were bigger problems with his knee then the team originally let on. Without him in the rotation, the Pelicans have been forced to play the offensively challenged Alonzo Gee and Dante Cunningham at the small forward position. Pondexter’s skill set was desperately missed, and it’s showing in the struggles of the team this season and their below average offense. This season-ending surgery is the final nail in the coffin for the playoff hopes for the Pelicans. It’s time for them to start planning for next season.

The expiring deals of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are nice assets that could net some future returns for the team. There have already been rumors of a Gordon for Rudy Gay swap and rumors surrounding Gordon, Anderson and even Tyreke Evans will continue to swirl over the upcoming months. They have one of the best building blocks in the league in Anthony Davis, and they need to make smarter moves to build a contender around him. The four-year contracts offered to Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca in the off-season doesn’t allow for much faith in the front office, and the franchise needs to recover from these mis-steps to not waste the upcoming prime of Davis.

The Pelicans are in the precarious position of wanting to win now after making the playoffs last season, and needing a year or two to regroup to turn into a legitimate title contender. Davis is under contract until 2020, which gives the franchise ample time to build around him. They should be searching for draft picks, and if they could net hometown star Ben Simmons through lottery luck, the Asik and Ajinca deals could be forgotten. More importantly, they need to identify young players to acquire and develop around Davis to build a competitive core. Tony Snell, Donatas Motiejunas, and Archie Goodwin are interesting targets that could likely be had in trades.

This Pondexter news is the breaking point for any last hope the Pelicans could hold on to for 2016. The season is definitely a disappointment after making the playoffs last year but it’s now time to move forward and build a team for 2017 and beyond.

Hassan Whiteside’s Up-And-Down Week

Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
(Photo: Steve Mitchell – USA TODAY Sports)

This is a guy who is going to get a max contract in the summer. And he’s absolutely not a Heat player…His style of play, his personality, the way he goes about his business is not congruent with the way the Heat normally go about themselves…The Heat have a decision to make: do you ride out the season with Whiteside or do you package him with Deng before the deadline.

That quote, paraphrased from Brian Windhorst’s Jan. 6 appearance on The Lowe Post podcast rang true this week. After a 104-90 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were visibly frustrated with Whiteside. Wade had a confrontation with him during the game for seemingly lackadaisical play, while Bosh questioned his effort and commitment to the team after Whiteside sat out a few games with knee issues. The Heat currently own the fourth best record in the East, but not all the vibes coming out of the locker room are positive.

Whiteside earned some level of redemption by recording a triple-double in Friday’s game with 19 points, 17 rebounds and 11 blocks in a three-point win over the Denver Nuggets. He earned some praise from Erik Spoelstra, who said to the Miami Herald that “it’s very clear to see when Hassan is absolutely locked in, not only from a focus standpoint but a multiple-effort standpoint, it absolutely changes the complexion of our defense.” This was a nice bounce back game after their tough mid week game and continues the Whiteside roller coaster the Heat have been on since he broke out last season.

Advanced stats don’t love Whiteside’s defensive impact as much as his box score stats would suggest. Whiteside has the looks of a strong rim protector, allowing opponents to shoot only 47 percent against him at the rim while blocking 10.8 percent of shots taken while he is on the floor. However, the Heat have a defense that allows 4.7 fewer points per 100 possessions when he is off the court, according to NBA.com. The team also has a better defensive rebounding rate when he is off the court, which is surprising considering Whiteside’s 30.6 percent defensive rebounding rate. But he can leave the team exposed when he tries to block every shot attempted near him, which could explain why it’s easier for teams to score against the Heat when he is on the court despite his presence at the rim.

Those on/off splits could just be noise; a function of his fit with the roster around him and the units he plays against in just over a third of the season so far. That’s why the Heat have a tough decision ahead of them. Whiteside will be a free agent this summer and the Heat don’t have Bird Rights, meaning they can’t go above the cap or offer him extra years to retain him. Whiteside has made just a hair over $2 million in his short career and is clearly looking for a monster pay day. Some team is going to offer him a contract worth upwards of $48 million, leaving the Heat in a tough position. Do they trade Whiteside now to get something in return, knowing they aren’t likely to re-sign him in the offseason? Or do they hold onto him and hope that he can be a key member of a deep playoff run?

This week showed all the highs and lows of Whiteside. He doesn’t seem to fit in with the culture of the Heat but he can fill up a box score when engaged. The Heat need to evaluate whether he gels with the team and can be a part of a playoff run. The decision whether to trade him or keep him before he enters unrestricted free agency this offseason is arguably the biggest decision a team has to make leading up to the trade deadline.

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Joshua Riddell

Josh is also a writer for DraftExpress and enjoys watching both college and professional basketball.

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