USA Basketball

Hang Time Q&A: John Wall On ‘His Wizards,’ The Evolution Of His Game And RG III




VIDEO: John Wall and the Wizards topple the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — John Wall is far from a finished product. And he knows that better than anyone. 

The Washington Wizards’ point guard and one of the budding stars in a league filled with potential young stars, Wall is currently working through the process of handling responsibilities as the face of a franchise and a player capable of leading his team to the playoffs.

Wall’s off-the-court leadership has grown considerably the past couple of seasons and might be the most critical component for a Wizards franchise that has invested in him for the future to the tune of five-years and $80 million.

Wall reflected on his journey, his future, the Wizards’ playoff hopes, Robert Griffin III and much more in a recent sit down with NBA.com:

NBA.com: What is different about this vibe of this group as opposed to last year or the year before?

JOHN WALL: I think how we came back as a group when I returned from my injury and just playing with the guys, we all liked each other as a team, even though we weren’t winning as much, and enjoyed playing with each other. It’s a trust thing. It’s the first time I can honestly say in my three years playing here that we all enjoyed one another. Nobody cared who scared who scored. We were all committed to what coach wanted us to do defensively and that’s how we came into this season and knew how good we could be.

NBA.com: What about the consistency factor, you guys had so many names and faces come in and out of the lineup? There’s been a lot of movement, personnel wise, since you were drafted.

JW: Basically, the biggest thing was staying consistent in everything we do. Me, trying to get healthy and doing the same things to get better. Staying consistent and knowing what guys you would have on the team in a given year and that guys weren’t going to get traded. We’ve got a good core of guys that we know will be there and what we want to do with those guys. It helps when you are planning long term because a plan is in place and you know exactly what your roles are and what you need to do.

NBA.com: Guys always talk about that turning point or that moment when the light goes on for them. For you, was that moment sitting out the start of the 2012-13 season, learning, watching, processing what goes on from a different perspective other than being on the court?

JW: I think that was the biggest turning point for me, sitting out that long, even though I didn’t want to sit out. Just getting the chance to study the game better helped me. Watching my teammates and seeing what they were great at and then knowing how I could come back and make the situation better, is what helped me. I think those guys made it a lot easier for me. Having Nene and Emeka Okafor knock down shots and finish. Having Brad [Beal] and Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza playing as well as they played. It was the first time I had guys do that and trust in me to lead the team and be their point guard. It makes a difference.

NBA.com: When you came into the league the East was loaded with top teams from Boston, Miami and Chicago to Atlanta and even Orlando. Things have changed dramatically since then. The Eastern Conference is wide open. Is there a now or never feel to this season for you guys, sort of like the door is open and you better get through it now or else …?

JW: It’s a great opportunity. And if you fall short right now, you are basically not committed to getting to where you want to be in this league, whether it’s the playoffs or whatever. My first three years, everybody was loaded. Now there is like four or five teams rebuilding at the same time. And that’s rare in this league. You have to make sure you have a good understanding of where you are as a team and be ready to jump in there if it’s your time. And I think it’s our time right now.

NBA.com: You had an owner (Ted Leonsis) who wasn’t shy about putting the pressure on his shoulders and also yours in terms of bringing the franchise back to a playoff level. He’s banked on you being an elite player and a franchise player. Does that add any extra pressure when you are already the No. 1 pick in your Draft and get the huge contract extension?

JW: I could tell the difference last season when I came back from my injury, just by the type of conversations I was having with my coach (Randy Wittman) and the things we were talking about and my owner and the meetings we were having. It wasn’t just about me improving and getting better, it was about a vision we all had for me and what that means for this team and this franchise. Being in on the planning process and being there from the start makes it different. The general manager coming to me throughout the summer and letting me know this is my team and making sure I understand that I have to lead, that’s all a part of the plan now. And I think I’ve put in the work to do it.

NBA.com: People always talk about putting in the work, but how has your work ethic changed since you’ve been in the league?

JW: My rookie season I didn’t know what to expect coming in. My second year was kind of tough because it was the lockout year. I was working my tail off but I really didn’t know what to do, because there was so much uncertainty. Last year was my first year to really understand the NBA game and comprehend what it was I needed to do and what I needed to work on. Then I get diagnosed with the knee injury and everything went sideways. So this summer I came in early and made sure everything was right, made sure I was healthy. And learning how to change the pace of a game, working on my body and improving my jump shot, those were the things I worked hardest on. I’m constantly getting better in all facets of my game and I think I can keep getting better and better.

NBA.com: Has the leadership component, particularly the vocal part, been tough for you? You’re not an older guy and you certainly don’t strike me as a very talkative guy. How hard do you have to work to remind yourself to be a leader in that respect?

JW: Coach Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari] helped me work on that. I’ve always been a guy that led by example. The vocal part I worked really hard on at Kentucky. He basically said you have to learn how to talk to certain guys. And you can’t go out and try to fuss and cuss guys out. You have to respect each and every guy in your locker room as a man. So I think that’s something I improved in. It helped that when I came back last year my teammates trusted me to be that guy, both with the ball in my hands on the court and without the ball in my hands off the court. Talking to them helped me improve in that area.

NBA.com: You’re also a part of USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team group. When you’re out there with all of the other best young players, all of the other top young point guards, what changes in terms of how you handle yourself and compete in that environment as opposed to being the face of the franchise in Washington?

JW: The toughest thing with that is you get to thinking like high school, especially when all the top point guards are out there. You want to battle it out with those other guys. But you are ultimately out there for USA Basketball, and that’s bigger than your name or the franchise you represent. So you try and just go out there and just play the game and get better, but also show the people in charge at USA Basketball that you can do whatever is asked of you if you are lucky enough to get the call and get asked to play in one of the international competitions. So it’s not an ego thing when you are in that environment.

NBA.com: You seem so much more measured and relaxed about things these days. Is this the most comfortable you’ve been on and off the court since you’ve been in the league?

JW: Yeah, 100 percent. I’d say 120 percent, the most comfortable I’ve been just talking to anybody and going into games, being on the court, and just feeling confident knowing this is the old me. My first three years, I was always kind of searching, how do I present myself and how do I do this or that the right way? The uncertainty is gone. This is the hardest position in the league to me. Every night somebody is coming at you. Seriously. You get no breaks. People can look at the schedule and you see Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon and those guys aren’t always talked about, but some of the toughest challenges I have is against guys like that. Because you have to show them the same respect you do a Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook.

NBA.com: You have a unique dynamic in D.C. right now, being the young face of a franchise in a city where another player in similar position (the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III) is going through a similar stage of his career at the same time. How strange is it to watch that roller coaster from so close and comparing it your own evolution?

JW: I feel for him right now, I really do. There are some parallels, but then again it’s totally different. He started off hot, Rookie of the Year and all of that stuff. My first couple of years there was a learning curve, some stumbles and a lot of learning to do. Now I feel like I’m finally getting there now, hitting my stride and now he’s struggling. It’s tough and it’s also a reminder of why you have to stay humble and hungry no matter what’s going on around you. Take nothing away from him, he’s still that same guy and still humble and hungry. But you have to be mindful of the fan base and what type of support they’re going to show you. When you’re struggling it gets frustrating for the fans and even more frustrating for us, because you know what you want to do for your city, the things you want them to experience with you playing your heart out day after day. It’s the same for him and the Redskins as is it for us, we’ve got a lot of young talent and people want that to turn into winning. The fans do and so do we.

Barnes Bulks Up For Small Ball





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Harrison Barnes wore his layer of new muscle in Las Vegas last week like a superhero wears his costume. He tried to act natural, like nothing had changed since the last time we saw him. But it’s hard to hide the obvious, especially when it’s 10 to 15 pounds of new muscle.

Barnes has bulked up considerably since his breakout showing against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals. With the addition of Andre Iguodala this summer, Barnes knows that the time he spent working at power forward in the Warriors’ small ball lineup could be a more common occurrence during the 2013-14 season.

So he had no choice but to go to work on his physique. The gains were on display throughout USA Basketball’s mini-camp for the Men’s Senior National Team, and specifically in the Blue-White Showcase (just ask Ryan Anderson).

Warriors coach Mark Jackson will have to sort out his rotation and find creative ways to use Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Barnes and Iguodala in a way that capitalizes on all of their individual talents. That could mean a sixth man role for Barnes or a position switch and perhaps another move, possibly even trading David Lee or Andrew Bogut to create more time for that smaller lineup.

A key piece of the Warriors’ core group, Barnes is prepared for whatever comes his way.

“I’ve really been working hard this summer to get ready for that,” Barnes said. “I’ve really been working on my body. I need to get used to the toll it takes down low, boxing out and rebounding with the bigger guys. [Denver's] Kenneth Faried definitely served as an inspiration and great guy to help prepare me for what it takes to play that position when you are considered to be undersized by people. But it’s like I said, I’ve been preparing for that change all summer.”

Thompson participated in the mini-camp, too. He acknowledged that changes that will come with Iguodala’s addition, and not just offensively.

“He’s going to help make us a stronger unit defensively,” Thompson said. “I think that’s the first thing that jumps out at you when you add him to our mix. We’ll adjust offensively. Coach Jackson can get creative with what he wants to do in that regard. Everybody will just have to wait and see what he comes up with.”

Watching Barnes work throughout the mini-camp and in that Blue-White game should be required viewing before any decisions are made. He played inside and out, ran the floor as well as anyone, guarded on the perimeter and in the paint and held his ground routinely against bigger guys. He scored 18 points in the game without any designed scheme to get him involved, which might be his best trait. He can adapt his game to whatever style of play the Warriors decide to utilize.

“The [USA Basketball] experience is great for me,” Barnes said. “It’s different for sure. But it’s kind of fun at the same time because you don’t have expectations for yourself. I don’t get game reps a lot at the [four], so I got to come out and here and just go on the fly. It was great, though. I’ve only had the chance to rock the USA on my chest one time, and that was in high school. So to come out here and get a chance to play against so many great players was fantastic.”

Barnes said he’ll take a similar approach to Warriors training camp. Instead of worrying about what he’ll have to sacrifice with the arrival of another player who will chew up minutes at small forward, he continue to focus on the positives and what it takes for him to be effective in whatever role he’s asked to fill.

“I don’t think it takes long for us to figure it all out as players,” Barnes said. “The best thing about Andre is he’s a great passer. And he’s got plenty of experience playing small ball. In my mind, our versatility is what’s going to set us apart. The fact that we’ll be able to play multiple guys at multiple spots is what will make us so dangerous, whether it’s me at the four and David Lee at the five or whatever it is we do against certain teams. We’ll have the advantage a lot of nights because we can match up basically with anybody.”

That was certainly the Warriors’ plan.


Report: CP3 Considering Rio In 2016?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Chris Paul knows exactly what that chest-swelling experience is like when you represent your country in the Olympics and return home with gold around your neck.

That experience, twice, and a living coaching legend like Mike Krzyzewski have served as incentive for Paul to reconsider his future participation with USA Basketball, namely for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“If it had been another coach than Coach K, I was prepared to be done,” Paul told ESPN.com over the weekend.

A healthy dose of peer pressure probably didn’t hurt the cause. Pau’s teammates on the gold medal winning team from the 2012 London Olympics, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, officially signed on for next summer’s World Cup of Basketball in Spain and 2016 during last week’s USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas.

Paul reconsidering could have an impact on other veteran stars (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, etc.) who were ready to move on and leave coveted slots on the Men’s Senior National Team’s roster for both tournaments to younger stars.

There’s no shortage of talent, especially at point guard. Paul could be in competition with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and a host of others vying for a roster spot in 2016. There were eight point guards on the mini-camp roster last week in Las Vegas.

But Paul would seem to be a lock for 2016 given his relationship with Coach K and the fact that he’s already earned golds in Beijing in 2008 and in London last summer. Three years is plenty of time for Paul and any other members of that 2012 team to reconsider their options. Not all of them are expected to even consider the possibility of another run in 2016, but USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo made it clear last week that the door remains open for at least a handful of those stars to rejoin the player pool that will produce the 12-man roster for Rio.

And as of today, only Durant and Love are committed for both Spain next summer and Rio in 2016.

USA Camp Gives OSU’s Smart Separation From 2013 Draft Class

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp

Marcus Smart, a 6-foot-4 guard from Oklahoma State, was the youngest player to participate in Team USA’s mini-camp. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Their boot camp complete, the participants in the USA Basketball men’s national team mini-camp dispersed Friday, heading into what’s left of the offseason. Some have vacation plans, others have contractual obligations that will land them in exotic ports that only look like vacation destinations. Most will be back in the gym in a matter of weeks, if not days.

None will head to the NBA’s rookie orientation program.

Marcus Smart will head back to campus.

Maybe it’s not an indictment – yet another, one might say, considering the “weak” criticism leveled for the past few months – of the NBA’s 2013 Draft Class that none of the players selected participated in the week of USA Basketball workouts and scrimmages in Las Vegas. (Eight members of the 2012 Class were there, by the way.)

But it certainly was a credit to Smart, who earned his invitation with his play in FIBA’s U19 World Championships in Prague earlier this month. Smart was the youngest player at the camp this week and, with Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott, one of only two collegians. The 6-foot-4 Smart will be back at Oklahoma State this season, after his surprise decision to skip the Draft in favor of his sophomore year in college.

Looking down from an NBA vantage point, it looks to be a risky, poorly calculated choice. Beyond the 12 months he’ll wait before cashing in and the millions of dollars he might jeopardize with a serious injury, Smart’s stock might dip in a deeper 2014 talent pool compared to this year, when he might have gone in the top three.

But that half-empty approach isn’t Smart’s, who sees only good things coming from a return to Stillwater, strong runs through the Big 12 and the NCAA tournament and another season of development, particularly with hot prospect Andrew Wiggins providing constant motivation so close at Kansas. His freshman numbers — 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 40.4 field-goal percentage (29.0 from 3-point range) — surely can improve.

Then there’s the separation from the 2013 draft pack Smart got this week, playing on a court – with more than summer pick-up game intensity – against the likes of Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard and other young NBA bright lights. Neither Smart nor McDermott competed in the Blue-White Showcase Thursday night that was carried on NBA TV. But our NBA.com’s Siskel & Ebert of USA hoops, John Schuhmann and Sekou Smith, gave the Oklahoma State guard thumbs-up from his practice play.

So did Travis Ford, Smart’s OSU coach who attended the camp. The Cowboys coach isn’t exactly impartial but based on what he told Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman, Ford did like what he saw as Smart went against the aforementioned, as well as John Wall, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley and Kemba Walker.

“Oh, he was terrific. I think he was a little nervous at first, not knowing exactly what to expect and being one of only two college players and wanting to earn their respect. But he got out there and, man. They did a little practicing, a little bit of going through offenses and defenses early, but once they started playing, he was terrific. Just competing like he does with us every day and his strengths were the same. He was getting steals, physically imposing himself, competing, rebounding, defending, started out making a three. He more than fit in. I know I’m a little bias (laughs), but I thought he was one of the better players out there.”

By the way, there was a time here at HTB when underclass players were treated like George Carlin‘s Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. Redaction ruled, lest someone think the pros were warbling siren songs to the young guys. But Smart already has made it clear he’s submitting his name for the 2014 draft (“Nothing will change my mind on that. [Oklahoma State] understands. They didn’t figure I was coming back this year.”)

The Class of 2013 will have a year’s head start by the time Smart arrives. But given his skills, his thoughtful return for another year on campus and his USA Basketball opportunities this month, he won’t be a year behind.

USA Basketball: Roster Breakdown





LAS VEGAS – USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo needs more than four days and a 48-minute scrimmage to evaluate the players who are vying for the remaining spots on the Men’s National Team that will compete in next summer’s World Cup of Basketball in Spain.

But you have to start somewhere. And with anywhere from four to six members of the team that won gold at the London Olympics expected to reprise their roles (Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are already in), per Colangelo’s estimate, that leaves plenty of room for the players who participated in USA Basketball’s mini-camp at UNLV to make their respective cases for consideration.

With Colangelo, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski and the entire staff going over every detail and monitoring the players on and off the court, it was an intensive boot camp-style experience for many of the NBA and collegiate stars who were going through the process for the very first time.

This is only the beginning, of course. And that’s why we (NBA.com’s John Schuhmann is my partner in this CSI-style evaluation of the prospects who were in attendance this week) aren’t ready to close the door on any of these guys. Sure, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and Paul George appeared to separate themselves from the pack with their performances earlier in the week and in Thursday night’s Blue-White Showcase at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.

They weren’t the only ones, however, to walk away from the process feeling good about the work they put in.

“I thought I had a really good week, I thought I played well overall. And I learned a lot from the coaches,” said Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who was indeed another standout. “I learned some things watching these other point guards, too, as there were so many top guys here. It was great, just the whole experience and what it’s all about. A lot of people don’t get this opportunity, so I just tried to soak it all up. I feel like I left a great impression. They talked a lot about character and the type of people that it takes to be a part of something like this. And I think they all saw that I’m the type of person that can adapt to be a part of Team USA. And I can definitely do what I have to do on the floor to be a part of this team.”

Maybe.

No one knows what will happen between now and next summer.

It’s like Colangelo said, this was just another week in the life of this group. The evaluation process will continue throughout the course of the 2013-14 season and beyond.

In the meantime, we need to gauge where all of these guys stand after the first phase of this process. We broke it down based on the rosters for the Blue-White Showcase and also included the four players who did not participate in the Showcase (for various reasons):

WHITE TEAM

Ryan Anderson
Anderson didn’t shoot particularly well in early-week scrimmages, but drained all three of his 3-pointers in Thursday’s Showcase. As a stretch four, he’s a unique player among this group. He could probably hold his own underneath against most international opponents, but he got pushed around a bit by the stronger bigs in camp.

Mike Conley
Conley has an advantage, because the U.S. always wants to pressure the ball and he’s the best defender among the point guards in camp. He and Ty Lawson proved to be a cohesive combo in the Showcase, but he still may be a victim of the numbers game with so much talent — including guys that weren’t here this week — at his position.

Andre Drummond
Drummond is a physical specimen, a force on the offensive glass, and a matchup nightmare for almost any international opponent. But he’s still young and raw, and coaches need to trust that their players will make the right decisions on the floor. Obviously, his development over the first half of the NBA season will be a big part of how much consideration he gets in January.

Kenneth Faried
Every team needs energy and rebounding and Faried brings both in spades. If there’s enough scoring talent elsewhere on the roster, he could grab one of the last couple of spots. But he’s still a 6-foot-8 power forward who can’t shoot. The power forward position is typically played by stars like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, and a center needs to have size (Tyson Chandler) or a jump shot (Kevin Love). Still, his attitude and relentlessness could force the U.S. staff to think outside the box.

Paul George
Though he didn’t play great on Thursday, George is the best overall player (defense counts!) in this group and should be a lock to make next year’s World Cup roster. Forget what he brings offensively. As a lockdown defender, he’s the great complement to Durant at the other forward position, similar to Andre Iguodala in 2010. In fact, if Iguodala isn’t on next year’s roster, it’s probably because the staff believes they have a more complete player in George.

Jrue Holiday
Holiday is one of three All-Stars in camp, one of the better defenders among the point guard crop, and has the size to slide to the two. He didn’t really distinguish himself early in the week, but had a strong game on Thursday, playing alongside Irving.

Kyrie Irving
Irving was the star among the eight point guards in camp and among all 24 guys who saw the floor on Thursday. Obviously, he’s a clear favorite to make next year’s World Cup roster. It will be tougher to slice through international zones, but his offensive brilliance will still outweigh his defensive issues. And a season under Mike Brown should make a big difference when it comes to the D.

DeAndre Jordan
Jordan threw down some vicious dunks in camp, but is otherwise limited offensively. And like a couple of other players on this list, his defense needs to improve. He can block shots, but trusting him to defend a dozen Rubio/Gasol pick-and-rolls may be tough to do.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
MKG is athletic, will get after it defensively and make plays for his teammates. He was all over the place (in a good way) on Thursday, registering eight points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks in just 19 minutes. But his jump shot is brutal and opposing defenses will leave him alone on the perimeter, so it might be tough to include him on next year’s roster, especially if Russell Westbrook is there to provide similar energy and a better jumper.

Ty Lawson
Lawson’s quickness is an obvious asset, he has plenty of experience playing in an up-tempo system, and he dished out a game-high nine assists on Thursday. But again, there are so many point guards on this list, and most of them are better shooters.

Chandler Parsons
A versatile wing who can run, jump and shoot (though he was 0-for-3 from beyond the arc on Thursday). With his size (6-foot-9) and the lack of depth at the forward positions, he has a legit shot at one of the last spots on next year’s roster.

Tyler Zeller
Zeller has size and skills, but he’s another big who needs to get better defensively. He might actually be competing with younger brother Cody for a roster spot down the line.



BLUE TEAM

Harrison Barnes
An ideal fit as a combo forward, Barnes made plays at the rim and defended from the perimeter to the post throughout the mini-camp. He capped off his week with 18 points and the game’s best highlight on Thursday. That said, he could get squeezed in the numbers game at both positions when selections are made next summer for Spain.

DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins showed considerable improvement in his attitude and effort from his bumpy showing last summer and still had moments where everyone in attendance cringed. He has undeniable talent but is a questionable fit on a team where he will be asked to defend, rebound and block shots first instead of doing what he does best as a low-post scorer. He was a non-factor Thursday night.

Anthony Davis
Davis has Olympic experience that no one else in camp could boast of and it showed. He consistently stood out among the big men in camp, has clearly gotten stronger, and drained a few jumpers on his way to 22 points on Thursday. The minutes he played in London last summer give him an added advantage. An excellent shot blocker, Davis still has work to do as a position defender, but he’s ticketed for Spain barring some unforeseen issue.

DeMar DeRozan
An exceptional athlete and improved shooter, DeRozan didn’t shine in any particular area in a crowded field this week during scrimmages and struggled in limited minutes on Thursday. He will have a hard time creating space for himself with so many other shooting guards and small forwards in the mix who shoot it much better than he can.

Derrick Favors
Summer school tutor Karl Malone has added a noticeable edge to Favors’ game. He’s always been light on his feet and an eager defender, but he’s added a physicality to his game that was on display in scrimmages. He challenged forays to the rim with full force. He runs the floor extremely well and could blend well with whatever group is selected for Spain. One issue: He racked up four fouls in just eight minutes of action in Thursday’s Showcase.

Gordon Hayward
One of the true breakout performers during the mini-camp, if there was a 12-man group being selected this summer Hayward would no doubt be on the list. Listed at 210 pounds on the official roster, he seems much bigger and played like it in scrimmages. His best work might have been on the defensive end. His versatility could be the key to his chances of fighting for a roster spot next summer.

Damian Lillard
If Irving ranked No. 1 on the deep list of point guards in attendance, Lillard was 1-A. He’s bulked up a bit since claiming Rookie of the Year honors and his ease running the show and playing off the ball, a crucial aspect for every point guard in mini-camp, was evident. He’s still improving as a defender as well and showed off all facets of his game in the Showcase. He’s ready if needed.

Greg Monroe
An accomplished young big man whose best skills don’t necessarily shine through in a mini-camp setting, Monroe’s slow feet cost him defensively against a group of quicker and more athletic big men. But he was extremely effective in Thursday’s game, outplaying most of his frontcourt counterparts in the live setting.

Klay Thompson
Thompson ranked among the top five most impressive players during mini-camp, thanks to his ridiculous shooting stroke. That international 3-point line got a workout from Thompson Tuesday. But he shoots it well from all over the floor and is much sturdier and handles the ball better than some of the other “shooters” who were in attendance. There is always room for a specialist of his ilk on any U.S. roster headed for international play.

Dion Waiters
After a spotty showing with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Summer League team, Waiters was much more impressive early this week. He shot it well from the perimeter in scrimmages and showed off his handle while swinging between both guards spots. He even showed some impressive effort defensively. But he shot just 2-for-10 on Thursday and needs to show more consistency over the next 10 months to stay on the radar.

Kemba Walker
Another solid young player who got a bit lost in the deep pool of point guards in attendance. Walker’s a crafty but undersized point guard whose defensive liabilities will keep him from rising up the pecking order at his position.

John Wall
Wall could be the richest man in this group by Aug. 1, if that reported five-year, $80 million deal the Wizards are working on for him is agreed upon by then. Even with his shot still very much a work in progress, Wall’s athleticism and ability to play off the ball and defend at a high level should keep him in the mix. A strong 2013-14 season with the Wizards works wonders for his candidacy for next summer.



FOUR MORE …

Bradley Beal
Rehabbing a right fibula injury, Beal didn’t participate in scrimmages during camp or in Thursday’s Showcase. His jumper looked great on the side court though, and if he has a breakout season for the Wizards, he’s got an outside shot (pun intended) at making next year’s roster.

Larry Sanders
Sanders was the best rim protector in camp and a defense-first big would obviously complement Love well, so he’s got a chance at a trip to Spain next summer. But he turned his ankle during a scrimmage on Tuesday, knocking him out for the rest of camp.

Doug McDermott
The leading scorer from this summer’s World University Games squad, McDermott looked comfortable and shot the ball well in scrimmages on Monday and Tuesday. He’s older than six of the NBA players in camp, but just didn’t match up physically. He didn’t participate in Thursday’s showcase, but will return to Creighton for his junior year with some valuable NBA-level experience.

Marcus Smart
All indications are that Smart would have been selected in the Lottery if he stayed in this year’s Draft, and he showed why in the first two days of camp. He was the youngest player here, but has an NBA body and held his own against the vets. He didn’t participate in Thursday’s Showcase, but could certainly be on a national team roster in five or seven years.



Irving And Davis Make It Clear They’re The Future Of USA Basketball

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LAS VEGAS – Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis likely had spots on next year’s U.S. National Team roster locked up before Thursday night. And if there was any doubt, the two former No. 1 picks likely removed it after their performance in the USA Basketball Showcase, a 128-106 victory for Irving’s White Team.

Irving got out in transition and sliced through the blue defense to the tune of a game-high 23 points (on just eight shots) and seven assists. He was the best player on the floor and made it clear that he’s not only a future National Team member but a star to watch in the upcoming NBA season.

“It’s a pick-and-roll league,” Damian Lillard said afterward, “and he’s really good at breaking guys down one-on-one. So if he has a pick-and-roll, a lot of times he has a big man in front of him and can take advantage of situations. When he gets that screen and has that big man on an island, he’s going to get around him and he can finish at the rim. When you have that type of handle and you can finish at the rim, that’s deadly.”

“I wanted to separate myself, somehow, from this group,” Irving said, “and show what I can bring to the team for next year.”

Playing alongside some other talented bigs, Davis looked like more of a stretch four on Thursday, showing off his ability to step outside and knock down jump shots. That might not be the role he plays with the National Team going forward, but he led the Blue Team with 22 points and seven rebounds. And after earning a gold medal as the 12th man on last year’s Olympic Team, he looks ready to take on a larger role for USA Basketball.

“As good as he was last year,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game, “he’s just stepped it up another couple of levels. And that was exciting to see. He got better throughout the week and put on a heck of a performance tonight.”

This was not a great environment to evaluate anybody’s readiness for international basketball. The two teams played with the international 3-point line and with FIBA officials, but not in a hostile environment or against international defenses. The pace was ridiculously fast (more than 100 possessions each in 48 minutes), with no savvy international guards stopping the U.S. fast breaks with timely fouls. Playing Spain in Madrid for the World Cup gold medal next summer would be an entirely different experience.

So Krzyzewski and USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo won’t be putting extra emphasis on these 48 minutes when determining who will be in their pool of players for the next three years. In fact, what may be more important is what these young players learn from this week and bring to their NBA teams in the fall.

“This was just another day in the life of our group,” Colangelo said. “We’re going to have a lot of time to evaluate the entire week, the game included. And we’re going to be watching each and every one them during the course of the season, because we have a lot of time on our side before we go forward.”

Still, in addition to Irving and Davis, there were a few players who likely enhanced their stock on Thursday, most of them on the winning White Team. Kenneth Faried and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist used their endless energy to put up solid numbers in minimal minutes. Jrue Holiday filled the boxscore with 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. And Mike Conley and Ty Lawson proved to be a cohesive point-guard combo on the White Team’s second unit.

For the Blue Team, Harrison Barnes showed that he’s got the skills to be a small-ball (or international) four man, while Greg Monroe was solid inside with an ability to play off talented ball-handlers.

All of the above will certainly get serious consideration when Colangelo and Krzyzewski create a new pool of 25-28 players in January. From that pool, teams for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics will be selected, though names can always be added or removed from the list. The pool will be made up of players that participated in this week’s camp, USA Basketball veterans, and a few other players who couldn’t participate this week.

“It’s a very fluid pool,” Colangelo said. “Guys are going to keep developing.”

The experience they gained this week will surely help them do that.

Live From Las Vegas: It’s Showtime From USA Basketball’s Blue-White Showcase





LAS VEGAS – Over the course of three days, in countless drills and scrimmages, players are bound to have a few shining moments. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what has happened during USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team mini-camp.

All-Stars like Paul George, Kyrie Irving and Jrue Holiday have stood out, as have reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, Olympic gold medalist Anthony Davis and talented big man DeMarcus Cousins.

With 28 young stars from around the league gathered here for evaluations by USA Basketball’s brass, there have been plenty of pleasant surprises as well. Gordon Hayward, Klay Thompson, Derrick Favors, Kenneth Faried, Mike Conley, John Wall and others have stood out as USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski continue the vetting process for roster sports for the roster for next summer’s World Cup of Basketball next summer in Spain.

All-Stars and two-time gold medalists Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are already on board for 2014. (LeBron James, on the other hand, will not be around next summer and remains something of a mystery for 2016.)

Tonight’s Blue-White Showcase at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center (9 p.m. ET, NBA TV) will give us our first glimpse under the bright lights as to who might join Durant and Love in USA Basketball uniforms next summer and perhaps beyond.

Roster spots are limited. And no one game or performance will be used as the basis for any players’ candidacy. But is there a better way to gauge how these guys will perform under extreme circumstances than seeing them in game-like conditions?

We’ll have eyes on all of the action from courtside (four to be exact, mine and those of my main man and NBA.com’s John Schuhmann) from opening tip until the final buzzer.

We’ll share our thoughts of what’s going on and you need do the same below — (again, the action tips off at 9 p.m. ET on NBA TV)

FOURTH QUARTER

– White team shines through in the end with balance and superior energy and effort from their bigs in a 128-106 win. The USA Basketball talent pool is overflowing with talent these days. Kyrie thanks the fans at the end, which is fitting since this was his show tonight.

– If you’re looking for a player who changed his stock dramatically from scrimmages earlier in the week to tonight’s game, it has to be Kidd-Gilchrist and Holiday. They didn’t really distinguish themselves earlier in the week but they’ve both been really good in this Blue-White Showcase. I expected more from Cousins and would have loved to see more minutes for Favors, who was solid all week in scrimmages.

–  All five starters for the White team in double figures in scoring. Their balance has been impressive. Coach Monty Williams is aiming for bragging rights over Blue team coach Tom Thibodeau. Williams better get this one because his Pelicans will only get two cracks at the Thibodeau’s Bulls during the regular season. And I’m betting the Bulls will be favored in both of those contests.

–  We have to start talking MVP now with just under eight minutes to play. Kyrie is a no-brainer right now. He leads the White team with 20 points and six assists, and those numbers should climb in the next few minutes. He’s been a cut above the rest of the point guards in this game. Easy argument for him being the best player on the floor tonight.

White team is just too good in all the right spots. Blue team can’t stay in front of their point guards consistently enough to keep them from doing work with the dribble drive.

THIRD QUARTER

– By the way, White team lead stretched to 89-79 in the final minutes of the quarter with Conley-Lawson leading the way.

Harrison Barnes, who has looked really good tonight, highlights Anderson with a nasty smash while floating to his left through lane on his way to the basket. Still can’t see Barnes coming off the bench in Golden State this season. Mark Jackson is going to have to do some serious tinkering with his rotations with Barnes, Thompson, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala all in the mix at the same time. Once they get it down they’re going to be a monster crew on both ends of the floor.

– Tons of intriguing combinations on the floor tonight for both sides. White team has a Mike Conley-Ty Lawson backcourt that is doing work right now. Their mismatches have opened up the floor a bit for Ryan Anderson, who has knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers (and he’s 3-for-3 on the night so far). Blue team is countering with a John Wall-Kemba Walker backcourt that isn’t flowing at all. All eight of the point guards here this week were instructed to forget their normal designations and concentrate on just playing in the backcourt. Some of these guys have no problem doing that while others are continuing to struggle with the concept.

Dunk of the night goes to the Air Force (Nathaniel Mills of Douglasville, Ga.) who was honored with 5:05 to play in the third and showed off his hops by nailing a Dominique Wilkins-inspired windmill in full fatigues and combat boots. He got some post-dunk love from Carmelo, too.

Faried and Holiday have some nice chemistry working for the White team. Holiday has five assists and Faried 11 points and seven rebounds. Versatility kills in this type of environment. The fact that Holiday works efficiently with either hand and is a much better and more physical athlete than he appears to be on the hoof,  He just as good off the ball as he is with it in his hands, something that will come in handy this season in New Orleans.

I see you Monroe. He gets his shot blocked by Jordan on a flat-footed jumper from the wing. He got the ball back and spun baseline past Jordan for a smooth layup that draws oohs from the crowd. Monroe has been solid tonight, extremely solid for a guy who struggled a bit at times during the week.

– Schuhmann’s head is going to explode if Davis takes another 18-footer. Haha. I love his confidence and he absolutely needs that shot as a part of his repertoire going forward. He’s 6-for-8 from the floor right now and leads the Blue team with 12 points with 7 minutes to play in the third.

Proof that you just never know how these things will play out once the lights come on: George missed his first six shots of the night before draining a corner 3-pointer. He was clearly the best player on the floor during scrimmages earlier in the week. But tonight he’s struggled to get on track.

SECOND QUARTER 

Surge from the Blue team at the cuts the White team’s lead to just 53-51. We’ll have fireworks in the second half for certain.

Carmelo Anthony is in the crowd an gets a shoutout from the PA announcer and some jumbotron love. White team still in control with a 50-42 lead in the final three minutes of the first half.

– Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was sort of quiet during the scrimmages on Monday and Tuesday. But the things he does well (hustle, defend, find-the-ball instincts, etc.) are on full display as the White team takes control of things here in the second quarter. He’s the sort of utility player that comes in handy during international competition. You just wonder how long it’s going to take him to improve his shot to the point where won’t be a liability on offense?   

Pistons boss Joe Dumars is sitting behind the scorer’s table at midcourt with prized power forward Josh Smith as they watch Monroe and Drummond do work in the showcase. Nothing but smiles.

White team takes the lead 42-38 with 5:59 to play behind Kyrie doing the Blue team dirty off the dribble. He was clearly the best point guard here this week and arguably the best player in camp. This showing so far tonight is just validation of what we’ve seen all week. He leads all scorers with 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor.

– Kyrie is just ridiculous. He keeps blowing by his man and getting into the teeth of the defense. The fact that he can finish at the rim with either hand makes him even more dangerous. He’s the first man in double figures tonight with 13. He can get whatever he wants out here. Ridiculous.

Cousins is such an enigma. One second he’s blowing by Drummond with a great first step to the basket and drawing a foul. The next he’s pouting because he ran the floor and didn’t get the ball. A guy with his attitude issues is going to be a tough sell on any 12-man team selected to represent the U.S. in any international competition. There are too many guys in the program who can do similar things that don’t bring that extra stuff.

FIRST QUARTER

– Blue team is up 30-23 after the first 12 minutes. Davis leads the Blue team with 8 points. Lillard has 7. Irving the leads the White team with 8 points, Jordan has 6 and Faried 5.

 It took Faried all of nine minutes to grab six rebounds to go along with his five points. His motor runs in ways that these other guys just can’t match. Even when he seems physically overmatched he wins his individual battles around the rim on sheer hustle. Works the same way with FIBA rules as it does in the NBA.

 Klay Thompson is left open twice moments after entering the game and drains a step-in jumper and a 3-pointer off of a long rebound. Seriously, someone on the White teams needs to make sure he is not left open.

 Nice point guard battle shaping up here. Lillard drains a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer and Kyrie answers with a driving layup on the other end and the foul. These two guys could fight it out for a spot on the team next summer to go to Spain.

 Blue team opens the game on a 8-0 run while the White team turns it over time after time.

Greg Monroe’s work in the post is subtle but effective. He’s a smart big man who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

 White team starters are Irving, Holiday, George, Faried and Jordan. Blue team starters are Lillard, Waiters, Hayward, Monroe and Davis.

 Chris Paul, with Lil’ Chris by his side, is headed to the arena to see the action as well.

PREGAME

 George takes home top honors in the unofficial dunk contest during pregame warmups. He nailed his signature windmill cuff dunk three different times, each one better than its predecessor. Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Holiday   joined him on the White team’s spectacular warm up line with some crazy dunks of their own.

USA Basketball: It’s Too Early To Count LeBron James Out For The 2016 Olympics





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – As LeBron James said during the playoffs when asked about his potential participation in the 2016 Olympics, “that’s a long time from now.”‘

That’s three years from now to be exact, which is why it is far too early to count James out of competing in a fourth straight Olympics with the USA Basketball program he helped rebuild.

Despite reports to the contrary, James hasn’t informed anyone at USA Basketball about his intentions for 2016. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo made it clear during this week’s mini-camp that he will give James and the other veteran stars who have competed previously space between now and then, the door will remain open for the future.

James, who already owns two gold medals and one bronze, could play in his fourth Olympic games that summer. But that would be after three more rigorous years of trying to add to his championship haul in the NBA. James has led the Miami Heat to back-to-back titles, earning consecutive Finals MVP awards, and will have endured considerable wear and tear to his body if he continues on his current and torrid pace.

There is also the potential for an exhausting free agent summer after the 2013-14 season, provided James opts to test the market after next season.

But again, so much can go on between now and 2016 that it’s nearly impossible to speculate about who will or will not be willing, able and available in three years. No U.S. male has ever played on more than three Olympic teams ( LeBron is one of only three players to participate three times. Carmelo Anthony and David Robinson are the others.)

“I’m sure all of these guys think they know what’s coming down the line and what they’ll be doing,” said an Eastern Conference executive who is in town this week for USA Basketball’s mini-camp for the Men’s Senior National Team. “But they should know better. Derrick Rose is the cautionary tale for all of these guys. It all depends on where [LeBron] is that year. How healthy is he? How tired might he be from grinding his way through the playoffs? You just never know.”

Kevin Durant and Kevin Love have already committed to participate in the World Cup of Basketball next summer in Spain and will surely be a part of the pool for 2016, provided they are healthy. Durant said there are several other stars from the team that won gold at the London Olympics last summer, he mentioned Russell Westbrook and James Harden specifically, who are interested in joining them.

When asked specifically about James, he said he hadn’t spoken to him about it. “Those guys are older,” he said and then laughed. “Their time is precious.”

Colangelo’s declaration that Durant is the “face of the program going forward” was acknowledgement of the obvious; he’s just 24 and has a larger window than James or any of the other older and more established stars. It was not an indication that James, Anthony and any of the other veteran stars are done with USA Basketball.

In 2016 James could very well play a role similar to what Kobe Bryant played in London. Bryant served as the elder statesman of the group and its leader, while stepping aside offensively and allowing Durant, Anthony and James to serve as the catalysts on the floor.

In the immediate aftermath of last summer’s gold medal run, the rumblings about U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s run being over began percolating. Months later an announcement on his replacement was expected. But he had a change of heart and reaffirmed his commitment to the program and the process for the long-term. Simply put, things change. And Coach K’s influence on James in three years could be significant, if they decide his services are vital to the U.S. cause.

Plus, it’s hard to walk away or even take a step back when the U.S. is in the midst of reestablishing its dominance on the world stage. And the fact is, no one has a crystal ball. No one knows for sure who will be available for competition three years from now.

There is a ton of talent on display here this week and there will be even more NBA stars vying for spots on next summer’s team that will compete in Spain. There’s no doubt that the competition for roster spots will be fierce three years from now in an Olympic summer.

USA Basketball’s pool of talent should be as deep as its ever been, given the way the program has been reconstituted under Colangelo and Krzyzewski. New faces will pop onto the radar as more established ones move on or fade out of the program. There are All-Stars involved in the program that might never make a 12-man roster for a competition. But the surplus of talent will remain, with or without James included.

“The [three] things for all these guys; it’s contract, family and health. And any personal stuff is the reason we have the pool [of players],” Krzyzewski said. “Because anything that can happen human, can happen to Kevin Durant or Kevin Love. That’s why you need more than the main 12 guys. It’s worked well, it’s worked very well, so far.”

Young Stars Look To Make An Impression At USA Basketball Showcase

 

LAS VEGAS – Summer hoops continues Thursday on NBA TV (9 p.m. ET) with the USA Basketball Showcase, the culmination of a four-day mini-camp that brought 28 young players into the program that has won two straight Olympic gold medals and 50 straight games.

USA Basketball Showcase – Blue Team
No. Player Pos
46 Harrison Barnes SF
36 DeMarcus Cousins C
42 Anthony Davis PF
41 DeMar DeRozan SG
37 Derrick Favors PF
31 Gordon Hayward SG
22 Damian Lillard PG
62 Greg Monroe PF
34 Klay Thompson SG
51 Dion Waiters SG
26 Kemba Walker PG
50 John Wall PG

Twenty-four of the *28 players will take the floor at the Thomas & Mack Center on Thursday, split into two teams that will be coached by Men’s Senior National Team assistants Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams.

* Not participating: College players Doug McDermott and Marcus Smart, as well as the Bucks’ Larry Sanders (who turned his ankle in a scrimmage on Tuesday) and the Wizards’ Bradley Beal (who is rehabbing a right fibula injury and has only participated in drills).

With only 40 minutes of game action, the average player will see less than 17 minutes of playing time, which might make it tough for some to make a strong impression on USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will be watching courtside.

But Colangelo and Krzyzewski won’t be making any roster selections in the wake of this mini-camp. The next step in the process will be to create a pool of 25-35 players from which to select teams for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain *and the 2016 Olympics in Rio. That won’t happen until next Spring at the earliest and they will be keeping tabs on the entire group during the course of the 2013-14 NBA season.

* If the U.S. wins gold in Spain next summer, they automatically qualify for the Olympics and won’t need to send a team to the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament. If they don’t win gold next summer, they’ll need to field a team in 2015 and finish in the top two at the FIBA Americas tournament to qualify for the Olympics.

USA Basketball Showcase – White Team
No. Player Pos
24 Ryan Anderson PF
20 Mike Conley PG
25 Andre Drummond C
33 Kenneth Faried PF
29 Paul George SF
27 Jrue Holiday PG
23 Kyrie Irving PG
35 DeAndre Jordan C
32 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist SF
21 Ty Lawson PG
39 Chandler Parsons SF
28 Tyler Zeller C

That pool of 25-35 will be made up of USA Basketball veterans, players from this group and a few others that weren’t able to participate this week because of injuries. On Wednesday, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love — who each played in 2010 and 2012 — committed to playing next summer in Spain. And there will likely be other vets that join them.

So there are precious few roster spots available for the players at this camp. Many of them — though they’re stars with their NBA squads — will never play for the National Team. It’s a numbers game and Colangelo and Krzyzewski just have too much talent to choose from.

Of the 24 players who will see action on Thursday, three have the inside track to roster spots next summer. Paul George and Kyrie Irving are simply the best players in camp, while Anthony Davis has USA Basketball experience (at last year’s Olympics) and the skill set needed from U.S. bigs.

Seven of the 24, including Irving, are point guards, who could all be competing with Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams for roster spots down the line. Though point guards also play shooting guard in this system, the wings and bigs we see on Thursday certainly have a better shot of making it to Spain or Rio.

This is still a tremendous opportunity for everyone involved, including fans who want to see some high-quality, competitive hoops in the middle of the summer. There’s no better basketball being played in July and even if they aren’t eventually selected for the National Team, these players are making the most of their week in Vegas.

“You just try to take as much advantage of it as you possibly can,” Chandler Parsons said, “learn from it, take it back to your city and try to have a good season next year.”

Report: Wall, Wizards Close On Extension



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LAS VEGAS – John Wall is still in the formative stage of his NBA career but the Washington Wizards believe the best is certainly yet to come for their star point guard. The next step, of course, is working on a long-term extension for Wall, a process that has progressed rapidly.

The two sides are reportedly close to a deal for five years and $80 million. Wall, who is in town this week for USA Basketball’s Men’s National Team mini-camp,  and the Wizards could have the deal locked down by Aug. 1, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.

The sides have until Oct. 31 to come to an agreement on an extension or Wall would be a restricted free agent during a loaded summer of 2014. But that’s a scenario the Wizards are clearly trying to avoid by offering Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, a monster deal.

Wall, 22, dazzled the second half last season, returning from a knee injury to average 18.5 points, 7.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the final 49 games of the 2012-13 season. Wall is the linchpin to the Wizards’ franchise revival and the this sort of contract is proof that the Wizards are convinced that he is indeed the franchise player they thought he was when they drafted him.