Daily Digest | Report: Cockburn agrees to deal with Utah Jazz; Big Ten’s big night

There’s a lot of news each day. Illini Inquirer will try to make it easier to digest each weekday morning with the Daily Digest.

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(Photo: Jeremy Werner)

Most experts didn’t project Kofi Cockburn to be drafted — and they were right. The Illinois star and two-time All-American center went undrafted, but he has agreed to a deal with the Utah Jazz, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

  • Tony Jones, who covers the Jazz for The Athletic, reports that Cockburn will sign an Exhibit 10 deal, which is a one-year, minimum salary NBA contract that usually is unguaranteed. So Cockburn will need to prove himself during training camp/summer league to earn a roster spot or two-way contract. More details on Exhibit 10 contracts.

How he fits: The Utah Jazz are one of the few teams that has employed more traditional, interior-based centers. Of course, all-world defender Rudy Gobert is getting mentioned in trade rumors this offseason, but the Jazz also had Hassan Whiteside last season and Udoka Azubuike — the latter to whom Cockburn often is compared.

Background: Cockburn (17.2 points, 9.6 rebounds career average) finished his Illini career as one of the greatest to ever wear the orange and blue and certainly the most dominant center in program history. He ranks No. 12 in program history in career points (1,546) and No. 3 in career rebounds (861) — both the highest totals for an Illini who played fewer than four seasons. He earned a slew of awards and honors at Illinois: consensus First Team All-American in 2022, consensus Second Team All-American in 2021, two-time All-Big Ten First Team (2021, 2022) and Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2020.

Why it matters: Illinois basketball hasn’t had players drafted in back-to-back years for the first time since 2005 (Deron Williams and Luther Head) and 2006 (james augustine and Dee Brown).

What it means: The NBA mostly has gone away from burly, physical centers like Kofi Cockburn toward quicker, more athletic, more versatile centers who can more adequately defend ball screens—and if the centers can hit some jump shots, all the better, though not required. Look no farther than the NBA Finals where Kevon Looney, Robert Williams and Al Horford were most effective at the five. Cockburn may have been a first-round pick 15 to 25 years ago. In the modern NBA, he has an uphill climb to find a team that prioritizes what he does so well (physically dominate on the interior) and overlook his flaws (slower defender and poor shooting outside of five feet).

What’s next: The Utah Jazz host and play summer league play from July 5-7 in Salt Lake City.

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(Picture: Getty)

The Big Ten had a big night in the NBA Draft on Thursday.

  • Nine Big Ten players were selected in the draft, the most of any conference in this year’s draft and tied for the most picks in a single draft for the league since 1990.
  • Three Big Ten players were taken in the top-10 of the draft, the most for the league since 2013.
  • Four Big Ten players went in the first round, the most for the league since 2018.

Big Ten picks (with my takes)

4) Sacramento Kings: F Keegan MurrayIowa — A bit of a surprise that Jaden Ivey wasn’t the highest-drafted Big Ten player, though Murray had a better season last year and should be a very fine pro. But the Kings did seem to draft based on need and fit rather — since it has De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell — than take the highest-upside talent available (Ivey), which arguably long has been the Kings’ problem. Still, Murray has length, skill and few holes in his game and should make an immediate impact on a team pushing to break its NBA all-time record playoff drought (16 seasons), and he should be in the league for a long time.

5) Detroit Pistons: G Jaden Ivey, Purdue — For the second year in a row, the Pistons added the highest-ranked guard in the draft. And Ivey and second-year star Cade Cunningham seem like perfect complements. Cunningham is built like a wing but is a true point guard. He is a leading scorer who also makes everyone else better as a true floor general. Ivey has never truly been a point guard, but he is a gifted lead scorer who due to his great acceleration, power and explosiveness is dangerous in pick-and-rolls. And he didn’t play with a great point guard at Purdue who can create opportunities for him like Cunningham, so his outside shooting could improve. Ivey must focus more on defense, but he has the potential to be as good as anyone in the draft, so the Pistons got great value.

10) Washington Wizards: G Johnny Davis — The Big Ten Player of the Year does a lot that translates to the NBA. On offense, he can create his own shot, excels in the midrange and gets to the free-throw line. He also is a tough defender and great rebounder for his size. He should complement Bradley Beal well, but his ceiling will depend on if he can overcome a lack of great athleticism and if he becomes a much-improved three-point shooter without having to carry the offensive load.

20) San Antonio Spurs: G Malaki Branham — A surprise Big Ten Freshman of the Year winner and a surprise one-and-done, Branham made the right decision after getting picked in the top-20 and going to a place that has recently developed some really good guards drafted in a similar range (Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, lonnie walker, Keldon Johnson). Branham doesn’t have elite physical traits, but he is a big-bodied bucket getter who can score at all three levels. He shouldn’t have pressure to play right away with a deep Spurs backcourt.

32) Orlando Magic: F Caleb HoustanMichigan — Orlando passed on one long shooter at Pick No. 1 — passing on Jabari Smith to take Paolo Banchero — but took a long shooter near the top of the second round. Some questioned Houstan’s decision to leave Michigan, but it worked out pretty well for him as he should have a good guaranteed deal.

35) Los Angeles Lakers: G Max ChristieMichigan State — Like Houstan, Christie didn’t have the freshman season he quite wanted — though it was still solid — but he still ends up with a likely guaranteed deal playing next to LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Not too bad. But Christie likely will need time to develop his body and his confidence.

40) Minnesota Timberwolves: G Bryce McGowens, Nebraska — The Big Ten Freshman of the Year runner-up has great upside given his athleticism and scoring ability. But he’s a high-volume scorer who hasn’t shown much impact defensively yet, though he has the talent to be good on that end.

41) New Orleans Pelicans: F EJ LiddellOhio State — The Illinois native had a disappointing but likely motivating fall into the second round, a la fellow Illinois native Ayo Dosunmu last year. Liddell reportedly didn’t work out all that well, but he’s just a good overall basketball player who can both stretch the floor and protect the rim who fits in today’s position-less NBA. This could be a steal for an increasingly interesting Pelicans team that has a core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum.

43) Los Angeles Clippers: F Moussa Diabate — The draft worked out for the Michigan guys. Some didn’t project Diabate to get drafted, but the long, athletic big man could be a Kevon Looney type who may be limited offensively but plays great defense, rebounds and gives great energy.

Notable undrafted Big Ten players

  • VS Kofi CockburnIllinois
  • VS Trevion WilliamsPurdue
  • F Ron Harper Jr.Rutgers — reportedly signed a two-way deal with the Toronto Raptors, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski
  • F Gabe BrownMichigan State
  • VS Marcus Bingham Jr.Michigan State — reportedly signed an exhibit 10 contract with the Dallas Mavericks, according to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes

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Have a great weekend! Heading to the zoo this Sunday. Go-to-exhibit?

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