Posts Tagged ‘Bradley Beal’

Summer Dreaming: Most Improved Player


VIDEO: Is Giannis Antetokounmpo primed to make an even bigger splash?

Pass the sunblock, turn up the music and bring some more ice for those cold drinks on these hottest days.

While we’re still making notes on our viewing calendar about the best match-ups to watch on the just released NBA schedule for the new season, the fantasy party goes on as we jump into the pool with our five Summer Dreaming candidates for Most Improved Player in 2015.

Send us your picks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — The word that best described the “Greek Freak” as a rookie last season was raw. He showed the length, the athleticism, all the physical gifts to one day take the step from bundle of potential to a bonafide star. He’s still young and has plenty of time to mature. But based on the commitment he says he’s willing to make and his performance at Summer League, there might not be anything holding back Antetokounmpo from making that jump quickly. He averaged 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and shot 37 percent from behind the arc in Las Vegas. Now that he’ll have Jabari Parker likely occupying the power forward spot in the Bucks lineup, he’ll be free to run the floor, attack the basket and fill it up from almost anywhere. The Freak Show could take off.


VIDEO: Bradley Beal discusses his breakthrough season and looks ahead to upcoming season

Bradley Beal, Wizards – The improvement from Year One to Year Two was already showing. Then Beal gave us a glimpse of what he can do at the next level when he stepped it up in the first round of the playoffs by averaging 19 points, five rebounds and five assists against the Bulls. Now he and backcourt partner John Wall not only have that valuable experience, but also the sting of being cut from Team USA tryouts this summer as added fuel to the fire. The loss of Trevor Ariza means that Beal will not only have to contribute more on offense, but also make a bigger commitment at the defensive end. A big step up for a breakout season could put the Wizards in the battle at the top of the Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis’ Top 10 plays of 2013-14

Anthony Davis, Pelicans – Here’s the scary one, because of the high level he’s already achieved, yet the potential is there for Davis to contend for Most Improved and Most Valuable Player at the same time. Turned loose last season by coach Monty Williams, he showed that there are few things he’s not capable of doing in a game, if he can stay healthy. The only real thing lacking was somebody to watch his back. Now the Pelicans have added center Omer Asik as a rim protector and fellow defensive force in the paint and that means Davis can be even freer to move out from the basket to wreak havoc. He’s only 22 years old and the party in the French Quarter has just begun.


VIDEO: Will All-Star weekend become a new home for Victor Oladipo?

Victor Oladipo, Magic — OK, end of the experiment. No more trying to hammer the square peg into the round hole. There will be times and situations when Oladipo can handle the point for short stints. But now that they’ve got rookie Elfrid Payton in the lineup, Orlando’s previous top draft pick can concentrate more on slashing and attacking the basket and doing all of the things that can make him a force. He put up decent numbers in his first year and his turnover rate was quite high. That’s because he was playing an uncomfortable role much of the time. Now you take off the handcuffs, turn him loose and let him fly.


VIDEO: Kemba Walker notches second career triple-double

Kemba Walker, Hornets – On one hand, a guy who averaged nearly 18 points a game last season might not seem a likely candidate for Most Improved. But the third year wasn’t quite the charm for Walker as he had to accommodate the arrival of big man Al Jefferson in the middle. His shooting suffered and there were far fewer times when his offense lit up the scoreboard. The arrival of free agent Lance Stephenson as a fierce defender and good playmaker will create more chances for Walker. The addition of P.J. Hairston, another good shooter from the perimeter, will give him more opportunities for assists, which have been steadily climbing.

After pocketing a free-agent payday, these players must prove their worth

Will Chandler Parsons run with a new, All-Star, crowd this season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You are what your salary says you are in the NBA.

There’s no way around it. All the stats, traditional and advanced, in the world won’t change that fact. An All-Star playing on a rookie contract is a bargain. That same player with a max contract, or something in that neighborhood, suddenly become overpaid and a burden on his team.

The expectations change when the compensation increases, even if the player’s game doesn’t change. With most of the dust settled from this summer’s free-agent frenzy, we can see a clear picture where the marquee players are concerned.

Guys like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were going to get max dollars wherever they decided to play. That was a given, just like the pressure that comes along with being at the top of the superstar food chain in the league.

It’s the other guys, those guys who are making the transition from bargains to paid handsomely for their services, who will be in the crosshairs as the 2014-15 season draws near.

Five free-agent pick ups who have to live up to the hype this season, now that they compensation and expectations have reached franchise-player levels:

Luol Deng, Miami Heat


VIDEO: Luol Deng talks with Heat.com about his goals in Miami

Chris Bosh got the No. 1 option money (five years, $118 million) from the Heat this summer, but it’s Deng who has the biggest shoes to fill. He’s the replacement in the starting line up for LeBron, an unenviable task if ever there was one. The Heat got Deng for a relative bargain (two years, $20 million), given the money that was flying around in free agency this summer. Deng, however, will not get a pass from anyone. Heat boss Pat Riley needs a player who can become an instant impact player and Heat fans, fair or not, are going to compare Deng’s immediate contributions to what James delivered the past four seasons. Deng has shown throughout his career that he’s more than capable of being a solid contributor, All-Star caliber even, on an elite team. So while Deng’s compensation hasn’t changed dramatically, the expectations have soared.

Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards


VIDEO: Marcin Gortat put on a show in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals

Gortat was the first big-money free agent to agree to terms this summer, signing on for five years and $60 million to anchor the middle for an up-and-coming Wizards team. He’s facing the crucible of increased individual expectations as he’s on a team that enters 2014-15 with an entirely new set of expectations. The Wizards have all the pieces in place for a continued ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ll need Gortat to play his part, though. He and Nene looked like a dynamic 1-2 big man punch in the 2014 playoffs. They’ll have to do it nightly with the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal drawing tons of attention from opposing teams from now on. There can be no off nights for Gortat now that he’s being paid like the elite big man he appears to be. (more…)

Colangelo, Krzyzewski downplay effects of George injury on USA Basketball


VIDEO: USAB Scrimmage Recap

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been just four days since Paul George‘s horrific injury at the USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas. But the National Team has no choice but to keep moving forward.

The next phase of training for the FIBA Basketball World Cup begins Aug. 14 in Chicago, with an exhibition against Brazil scheduled for Aug. 16 at the United Center. On Tuesday morning, USA Basketball announced the 16 players who will continue with the team for those three days of action and then five days of training (including two more exhibition games) in New York.

As was reported Monday night, Bradley Beal, Paul Millsap and John Wall are the three guys who were “cut,” though you’ll never hear USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo or coach Mike Krzyzewski use that word.

They did talk extensively on Tuesday afternoon. And, obviously, the aftermath of George’s injury was a big topic.

“We’ve been in communication with our players,” Colangelo said. “They are all on board. They recognize that injuries and sports go together, unfortunately. And we all have experiences that we could talk about, where players have been lost in practice, players have been lost in games and pick-up games for seasons. I personally have experienced that with my 45 years in the NBA.”

It wasn’t long after George broke his leg that people (rightfully) started to wonder how the injury — seen on national television — would affect the willingness of NBA players to play in international competitions in the summer. And we won’t really know if it will until 2016, when Colangelo calls on players for the Olympics in Brazil.

But he believes the pull of representing your country will overcome any risks players might see in playing competitively in the offseason.

“To be able to represent your country is what it’s all about,” Colangelo said. “It is about being patriotic. It is about selfless service. And our players get that. All you need to do is ask any of them who have been involved with us in our last three competitions and they would, to a man, say they feel they’re better people, better players, and felt a real warming within their soul to represent their country.”

NBA owners, of course, deserve a say in the matter. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has long been a critic of NBA guys playing for their country without compensation, continues to advocate for an international tournament run by the NBA.

“I think people need to read between the lines,” Colangelo said of Cuban’s comments. “He’s against international competition when he believes the beneficiary, being the IOC, is getting the money. So he’s basically saying it’s OK for our players to play internationally if the money goes to the NBA and to the team owners. That’s the difference.”

That’s a discussion for another day. Right now, there’s nothing Cuban or other owners can do.

“It’s pretty hard to keep players from playing the game,” Colangelo said. “That’s their core. They’re going to play pick-up games. They’re going to play any place they can. And injuries are a part of the whole process. That’s just part of the game. And we have to get by that. But who is to say what’s going to take place going forward. Right now, we’re dealing with the here and now, and that is one step at a time, Chicago, New York and Spain. We have a job to do and hopefully, we can accomplish our goal.”

What about short-term effects of George’s injury. Might the risks of playing competitively be in the back of the minds of the 16 guys left on the roster when they practice begins next Thursday? Krzyzewski didn’t sound concerned.

“I think our guys will go after it,” he said. “I don’t think there will be a lingering effect in that regard. In fact, I think it could be opposite. I think our guys might go after it even harder to honor Paul.”

USA Men’s National Team, remaining roster

Player Team POS Height Age NBA Exp. National team exp.
DeMarcus Cousins SAC C 6-11 24 4
Stephen Curry GSW PG-SG 6-3 26 5 2010
Anthony Davis NOP C 6-10 21 2 2012
DeMar DeRozan TOR SG-SF 6-7 25 5
Andre Drummond DET C 6-10 21 2
Kevin Durant OKC SF-PF 6-9 25 7 2010, 2012
Kenneth Faried DEN PF 6-8 24 3
James Harden HOU SG-SF 6-5 25 5 2012
Gordon Hayward UTA SG-SF 6-8 24 4
Kyrie Irving CLE PG 6-3 22 3
Kyle Korver ATL SG-SF 6-7 33 11
Damian Lillard POR PG-SG 6-3 24 2
Chandler Parsons DAL SF-PF 6-9 25 3
Mason Plumlee BKN C 6-11 24 1
Derrick Rose CHI PG 6-3 25 5 2010
Klay Thompson GSW SG-SF 6-7 24 3

USA roster reduced to 16

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On Tuesday, USA Basketball officially announced a reduced roster for its next phase of training, which begins Aug. 14 in Chicago. But Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski had the scoop first, reporting Monday night that Bradley Beal, Paul Millsap and John Wall won’t be on the 16-man list.

The departure of Wall – who was a late addition to the roster – leaves four point guards: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose. Curry and Rose are locks to make the final 12-man roster and Irving (more like Rose) should be the favorite to be the third point guard over Lillard (more like Curry).

Millsap was also a late addition to the roster. In fact, after hearing about the decisions of Blake Griffin and Kevin Love to withdraw, he and his agent volunteered the day before the first pre-camp meeting. With Millsap out, Kenneth Faried, whose energy and bounce have been impossible to ignore, is the only “small big” left on the roster.

Beal’s departure, along with Paul George‘s injury, leaves the U.S. five wings behind Kevin Durant and James Harden, with Durant likely to start at power forward. Four of those five will make the roster, with a spot likely to come down to a decision between DeMar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 16 points Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, and Gordon Hayward, who finished with seven points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals in just 15 minutes.

The most interesting roster decision remains at the back-up center spot. And it will come down to a question of talent vs. fit. DeMarcus Cousins, who recorded a double-double on Friday, has the talent. Mason Plumlee (10 points, four rebounds and four fouls) is the better fit for the U.S. Team’s successful, fast-paced style. Andre Drummond, who had some ugly offensive moments in the Showcase, is still in the picture.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski could go with all offense in his starting lineup, placing Curry and Harden between Rose, Durant and Anthony Davis. But if he wants more defense, he could call on Klay Thompson to start at the three.

Krzyzewski has some time to see what he likes. The U.S. will play four exhibition games before the FIBA Basketball World Cup begins, starting with a matchup against Brazil on Aug. 16 in Chicago.

USA Men’s National Team, remaining roster

Player Team POS Height Age NBA Exp. National team exp.
DeMarcus Cousins SAC C 6-11 24 4
Stephen Curry GSW PG-SG 6-3 26 5 2010
Anthony Davis NOP C 6-10 21 2 2012
DeMar DeRozan TOR SG-SF 6-7 25 5
Andre Drummond DET C 6-10 21 2
Kevin Durant OKC SF-PF 6-9 25 7 2010, 2012
Kenneth Faried DEN PF 6-8 24 3
James Harden HOU SG-SF 6-5 25 5 2012
Gordon Hayward UTA SG-SF 6-8 24 4
Kyrie Irving CLE PG 6-3 22 3
Kyle Korver ATL SG-SF 6-7 33 11
Damian Lillard POR PG-SG 6-3 24 2
Chandler Parsons DAL SF-PF 6-9 25 3
Mason Plumlee BKN C 6-11 24 1
Derrick Rose CHI PG 6-3 25 5 2010
Klay Thompson GSW SG-SF 6-7 24 3

USA Basketball Showcase big for roster hopefuls


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 3

LAS VEGAS – Thursday was a light, no-contact day at USA Basketball training camp. On the fourth day of preparations for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, the Select Team was gone and the Senior Team just went through drills and shooting.

This was to make sure everybody was fresh for Friday’s USA Basketball Showcase, an intra-squad scrimmage that could go a long way in determining who will still be with this team when it reconvenes in Chicago on Aug. 14 and who won’t.

“Tomorrow night,” USA managing director Jerry Colangelo said Thursday, “if somebody just knocks somebody out, in terms of performance, that’s big. That is a big factor. So, not to put pressure on anyone, but it’s one thing to practice, it’s another thing to play in games.”

Here are the rosters for the game, with the players’ potential positions for the National Team …

Pos Blue White
PG Derrick Rose Kyrie Irving
PG John Wall
1/2 Stephen Curry Damian Lillard
2/3 DeMar DeRozan Bradley Beal
2/3 Kyle Korver James Harden
2/3 Klay Thompson
3/4 Paul George Kevin Durant
3/4 Gordon Hayward Chandler Parsons
4 Kenneth Faried Paul Millsap
5 Anthony Davis DeMarcus Cousins
5 Mason Plumlee Andre Drummond

We won’t know the details of the roster reduction until Saturday at the earliest. Neither will the players, who’ve been left in the dark about their status all week. Colangelo, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and their staff will meet after the game, discuss and evaluate what they saw.

“This isn’t evaluating one individual and his game,” Krzyzewski said Thursday. “It’s about evaluating a group and how a group will go together. All these guys are outstanding players. It’s just a matter of how we feel they can mesh as a unit.”

The U.S. won’t necessarily cut the roster down to 12 when it departs for the Canary Islands (for four more days of training and an exhibition against Slovenia) on Aug. 23. They took extra bodies abroad in 2010 and could do so again.

“I’m not saying we are going to do that,” Krzyzewski said, “but we don’t have to have the 12 until the day before [the World Cup begins]. We’d rather have it done before, but we’ll see.”

Here’s how I believe the roster stands at this point …

The locks

There are six guys who, barring injury, will absolutely on the team as it opens pool play at the World Cup on Aug. 30. They are (in alphabetical order) …

Stephen Curry – Curry didn’t play big minutes on the 2010 team that won gold in Istanbul, but he’s blown up on the NBA level since. It looks like he’ll be the sixth man, though he could be a starter at either guard position.

Anthony Davis – The starting center and likely one of two guys who will play big minutes (around 30 per game, maybe more in the final). Though he barely played in 2012, his last-minute addition to that roster (due to a Blake Griffin injury) is turning out to be a blessing. That experience will go a long way.

“It’s one of those things,” Krzyzewski said Thursday, “where a really good thing happened even though something bad happened.”

Kevin Durant – Well, duh.

Paul George – The starting small forward alongside Durant. He’ll get the toughest perimeter defensive assignment.

James Harden – Likely the starting shooting guard, who will share playmaking responsibilities with Rose and Curry.

Derrick Rose – Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have been downright giddy about what they’ve seen from Rose this week. He’s looked strong and in control, and his jumper is better than ever. It would be a real surprise if he isn’t the starting point guard against Finland on Aug. 30.

The other point guard

Colangelo told USA Today on Wednesday that it would be hard to keep more than one “pure point” on the roster, and labeled Rose, Kyrie Irving and John Wall as the true points in camp.

So it seems clear that one roster spot will come down to Irving vs. Wall. Irving is the more dynamic one-on-one player, but Wall is the better passer and defender.

Also, while Irving (35.8 percent) was a slightly better 3-point shooter than Wall (35.1 percent) overall last season, Wall was much better on catch-and-shoot opportunities. Wall had a 3-point percentage of 43.1 percent and an effective field-goal percentage of 60.8 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers, while Irving’s numbers were just 32.1 percent and 46.0 percent. Opponents will pack the paint and hope the U.S. Team is having an off night from the perimeter, so catch-and-shoot skills should be more important than pull-up skills with this team.

The specialists

Colangelo has said that, beyond a core of seven or eight guys, you need specialists. Those specialists could be energy guys, defenders, shooters or big man insurance.

There are two guys that fit the bill better than anyone. And beyond the six locks above, I’d label them as the most likely to make the roster (though that doesn’t mean they’ll have big roles).

Kenneth Faried – He doesn’t seem to fit in international basketball, because he’s 6-8 and can’t shoot. But he has ridiculous energy and bounce, he can finish on the break and he will outwork guys on the glass. Krzyzewski can put Faried into the game for a few minutes at a time, tell him to wreak some havoc and be confident that he will make a positive impact.

Kyle Korver – You know why he’s here. But the league-leader in 3-point percentage won’t hurt you defensively. He’s improved quite a bit on that end of the floor over the years.

These guys have unique skills, and both can be trusted to happily accept a limited role.

The rest of the core

So, if there are six locks and a seven- or eight-man core, who makes up the rest of the core? Colangelo wouldn’t bite at that question, but said they’re pretty set on who it is.

“That’s been pretty consistent,” he said. “It just depends. Is the core group seven or is it eight?”

The best bet to be that seventh or eighth guy is Klay Thompson, a guy who can shoot and play a little D on the wing.

The other big

Oh boy. This tweet from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst really stirred up some stuff Thursday evening …

The DeMarcus Cousins/Mason Plumlee debate is fascinating, and it’s too early to say that any decision has been made regarding the two. In fact, it’s extremely likely that both Cousins and Plumlee (and all the other bigs) will continue with the team to Chicago and New York, so that the staff can see them against other teams.

“This is a camp that is a month long,” Colangelo said, “not five days.”

The stop in Chicago will include an exhibition against Brazil, which has the front line – Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao – that most closely resembles Spain, the team, if any, that the U.S. would plan for when building its roster.

But the U.S. doesn’t necessarily have to match up against the World Cup hosts. In fact, in the gold medal game of the 2012 Olympics, the three U.S. bigs – Kevin Love (19), Tyson Chandler (9) and Davis – combined to play just 29 minutes against Spain.

Davis could play that many himself this year. And if the U.S. does face Spain in another gold medal game, the hosts would worry about matching up with the Americans (namely Durant) as much as the opposite. The only difference between 2012 and this year is that the U.S. had bulkier forwards (LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony), who didn’t give up as much size to opposing bigs, while forcing them to try to guard them on the perimeter.

Back to Cousins/Plumlee, and back to Krzyzewski’s quote above about how the team will “mesh as a unit.”

Cousins’ advantages over other bigs are reduced when he’s not a focal point of the offense. And when he’s playing with the likes of Rose, Curry, Harden and Durant, he’s certainly not going to be that. He’s not getting 10 (or even three) post-ups as a back-up center on this team. And he doesn’t have the end-to-end speed to play the style that has been successful for the U.S. over the last several years.

“The style we play lends itself to what Anthony does,” Krzyzewski said, “or even what a Plumlee is doing. A little bit of [Andre] Drummond.

“DeMarcus’ game is different, so he has an adjustment to make and he’s trying to make it. But also, as he grows, we have to look and see ‘Is there something we can do to help in bringing something more out of his game?'”

For Colangelo, the Cousins/Plumlee decision is about continuity from the starters to the bench.

“If you want to play a certain style,” he said, “you need the personnel to play that way. Now, some guys don’t really fit that way, but if there’s enough reason to carry someone … we play differently when he’s in the game. You have to make an adjustment.”

Plumlee does what they like. He runs the floor, he’s active and vocal on defense, and he stays in his lane. He’s certainly not perfect – it could be bad news if he has to make decisions with the ball or shoot free throws – but his type is a better fit on this team, especially when you’re talking about a roster spot that will see limited playing time. And yes, Cousins’ temperament is always a factor.

Drummond is definitely still in the picture, so this could be a three-man race for that back-up center spot. And it’s a race that will likely go from Vegas to Chicago to New York.

“We’re going to take a long look at our bigs,” Krzyzewski said.

Paul Millsap is likely in competition with Faried for the smaller big man spot. Millsap offers better offensive skills and floor spacing, but in short bursts, it seems clear that Faried can make a more immediate impact. It should also be noted that Faried was on the original roster, while Millsap volunteered to come when Kevin Love dropped out.

The redundancies

In answering a question about Gordon Hayward on Thursday, Colangelo said, “We have a lot of redundancy at certain positions and body types and sizes,” and put Hayward in the same category with Chandler Parsons and DeMar DeRozan.

“This will be very competitive for a number of guys because of the redundancy,” Colangelo said. “You could go one way or another.”

If you go back to those catch-and-shoot numbers, Parsons (41.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes) was much better than DeRozan (34.0 percent) or Hayward (31.8 percent). He’s also a good playmaker, so give him the edge going into Friday night.

The other guards

Damian Lillard is thought of here as a one/two in the mold of Curry. And it’s hard to see them taking two of those. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he definitely won’t be in Chicago or that the staff doesn’t like him, but he seems the most likely to be done after Friday.

Bradley Beal has flown under the radar this week and is probably behind Thompson in the two/three consideration. But nobody should be eliminated from potentially being on the 15-man list before Friday’s Showcase.

The wild card

Colangelo told Chris Haynes of Comcast Sportsnet that it’s not impossible for Love to ultimately be on the World Cup roster. Love withdrew from camp because of trade uncertainty, but again, the roster doesn’t have to be set until Aug. 29.

Cavs No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded on Aug. 23. So, it’s possible that Love could be dealt to Cleveland and then decide to play at the World Cup.

That could obviously send a bad message – that you can skip training camp and still play – to other U.S. players. But if it comes down to a decision between Kevin Love and Mason Plumlee, it may be difficult not to compromise your principles.

Predictions

So here’s a guess of what the roster will look like after it’s reduced this weekend, in the order they were addressed above …

  1. Stephen Curry
  2. Anthony Davis
  3. Kevin Durant
  4. Paul George
  5. James Harden
  6. Derrick Rose
  7. Kyrie Irving or John Wall
  8. Kyle Korver
  9. Kenneth Faried
  10. Klay Thompson
  11. DeMarcus Cousins
  12. Andre Drummond
  13. Mason Plumlee
  14. Chandler Parsons
  15. Bradley Beal or Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap or Irving/Wall

No. 15 will depend on what the staff thinks it needs and who played well on Friday. And the number of players going to Chicago doesn’t necessarily have to be 15.

USA camp – Day 3 notes


VIDEO: Through the Lens: USA Basketball Practice, Day 2

LAS VEGAS – Media time after Day 3 of USA Basketball training camp went a little long, because everybody was watching an extended game of “King of the Hill” between Kevin Durant, Paul George and James Harden.

“King of the Hill” is a three-way game of one-on-one. Player 1 tries to score on Player 2. If he does, Player 2 steps off the floor and Player 3 comes in and to play defense. But if Player 2 gets the stop, he moves to offense and tries to score against Player 3. The game goes on until a player gets five buckets.

That shouldn’t take long, but the trio played the game from several different spots on the floor. (Here’s a vine of a couple of right-elbow possessions.) By the time they were done, they had gone for a good 20 minutes or so, drawing quite a crowd of media, USA teammates, coaches, and other onlookers. And this was after a full practice.

“It was intense,” George said afterward. “At the end of the day, we’re out here to get better. And there’s no better guys for me to go against, for myself to guard than KD and James. And James is quick and low to the ground and KD’s got the length, so it’s good for me, offensively, as well. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to get better and work hard. And I think we took it to another level.”

Yes, that was George giving credit to Harden’s defense. At one point, Harden blocked Durant’s seemingly unblockable shot, getting in some trash talk afterward.


VIDEO: James Harden, Kevin Durant and Paul George play a game of King of the Hill

***

Speaking of Durant and George, they’re the latest USA forward tandem that no other country that can match up with. And by putting them on the same team every day, the U.S. staff is making sure they get time to build some chemistry.

***

Harden and Durant, meanwhile, are two of only five players in camp with Senior National Team experience. But 12 of the other 15 were here last year for a four-day mini-camp.

The U.S. had no competition to play in last summer. By winning the 2012 Olympics, they automatically qualified for this year’s World Cup and had no reason to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament. But USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski brought 28 guys to Las Vegas, so they could get to know them and get them integrated into the system.

It was only four days and with so many guys in the gym, none of them got all that much playing time in the scrimmages. But it reduced the learning curve for the whole group and allowed them to hit the ground running on Monday.

“A big thing is their familiarity with me and the coaching staff,” Krzyzewski said Wednesday. “We spent a lot of time trying to get to know them. So, it lends for familiarity.”

And it has paid off.

“We have actually gotten more in in the first three days of this camp,” Krzyzewski said, “than we have our previous three camps.”

DeMar DeRozan was one of those guys here last year. (more…)

His own man, KD will make own decision

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Take a look at Kevin Durant and Team USA as they practice

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Here’s what we’ve learned about Kevin Durant through his first seven seasons in the league: He’s his own man, capable of independent thought and making intelligent, well-reasoned decisions.

He chose to sign a five-year extension in 2010 without demanding an option for an early out. To ensure maximum appeal as a corporate pitchman, he strategically didn’t tattoo areas of his body visible when in uniform. A few years ago a stunned public discovered that Durant’s uniform-covered torso resembles Allen Iverson.

He is the league’s reigning MVP coming off a grueling season in which he logged a league-high 3,121 regular-season minutes followed by a postseason-high 814 minutes (even though his Oklahoma City Thunder lost in six games in the Western Conference finals), yet he remained committed to Team USA, currently holding camp in Las Vegas. Remember, this squad will compete in the upcoming world championships in Spain (recast as the FIBA World Cup). This is not an Olympic year or even an Olympic-qualifying year. Durant doesn’t have to be here. He chose to be here.

And he’s a big story in Vegas. Everybody wants to know if, inspired by LeBron James‘ homecoming, he’ll leave the Thunder for his long-suffering hometown Washington Wizards in 2016 when he becomes a free agent.

In the NBA it’s never too early to spin theoretical free-agent story lines. Mostly because NBA front offices are actively planning for the Durant sweepstakes. Teams have to align contracts today to ensure available salary cap in two summers just to be in the chase. The NBA is a star-driven league and Durant (with potential 2015 free agent Kevin Love likely headed to Cleveland in a trade) is the next available fast track to contention.

And yes, the up-and-coming Wizards are preparing. Who wouldn’t love to add Durant to the promising backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal? Washington’s books are in line for summer ’16, and you might have heard they hired a new player development assistant, David Adkins. Adkins? He was an assistant at Durant’s alma mater Montrose Christian in Maryland, and is said to be close to Durant. The plot thickens.

Fine, but any insinuation that Northeast Ohio’s re-embracing of LeBron tugged Durant’s heartstrings toward D.C. is a reach. The Cavs drafted the locally loved Akron phenom out of high school. He elevated the hometown NBA franchise to a Finals appearance in 2007 and three years later stomped on the hearts of his faithful with the incredibly insensitive “Decision.” Four Finals runs and two championships with the Miami Heat later, LeBron, all grown up, decided it was time to mend fences. Great story.

It’s not Durant’s story. Durant did tell reporters Tuesday that he grew up taking the train to Georgetown games, although he left home to play college ball 1,300 miles away at Texas. He was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007 and the next season moved with the franchise to Oklahoma City, a close-knit town he’s professed his love for countless times, and as recently as his MVP speech for the ages.

The Thunder are perennial contenders. Durant holds close relationships with coach Scott Brooks, as well as teammates Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka and many others in the organization. Most of all, Durant willingly immersed himself in the community. When he won the MVP, the city declared him “OKC’s MVP.” The governor and state representatives attended the ceremony.

If he were to leave OKC, it’s not a stretch to suggest that community will be more devastated than D.C. will be elated. With Durant, 25, in a Thunder uniform, the championship window is open-ended.

But hey, a lot can happen in two years. The Thunder could win a championship. Or two. Or maybe they don’t and Durant’s patience runs thin, after all he’ll be nine years in by the summer of ’16. Maybe the Durant-Westbrook relationship sours. Maybe Brooks gets fired. Maybe Durant ultimately decides he wants to play for a billionaire owner more responsive to spending when the moment calls.

So maybe Durant does go home, even though the number of stars who have gone home pales to those who never do when given the chance. We’ve seen Durant don Washington NFL gear and — not sure if anybody’s pointed this out — he’s got a Washington Nationals logo tattooed above his belly button. Durant does love his D.C. sports.

So maybe he does go home. Or perhaps, as was speculated when Durant hired Jay-Z to represent him, he goes to the Knicks or Nets. They’ll all be in line (yep, even the Nets will be flush with cap space by then).

Yes, the script that has Durant riding a white horse into Washington, where the Wizards/Bullets haven’t won a title since a decade before Durant was born, is real. It could happen. Durant could also play 20 seasons in OKC.

“I’m going to do what’s best for me,” Durant told reporters in Vegas. “It’s hard to talk about that right now when I’ve got two years left in Oklahoma City. I’m just going to focus on that. I’m not going to make a decision based on what anybody else does.”

Durant might as well memorize those lines. He’ll need to cue them up over and over during these next two years.

But what we’ve learned of him over the last seven years is Kevin Durant is his own man.

USA camp – Day 2 notes


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Mike Krzyzewski Interview

LAS VEGAS – There was a surprise for the media when we walked into USA Basketball training camp on Tuesday. Mason Plumlee was playing with the Senior Team against the Select Team, instead of the other way around.

Plumlee’s promotion was about numbers, but also about his skills and performance. I wrote about him, the full crop of USA bigs, and the possibility of four of them being on the final World Cup roster here.

Scrimmaging was limited to just 10 minutes on Tuesday, with the addition of Plumlee allowing the Senior Team to split into two squads of 10 guys. The two squads simultaneously played against a portion of the Select Team.

Here were the lineups:
Blue 1: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Paul Millsap and Andre Drummond
Blue 2: Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Kenneth Faried and Plumlee
White 1: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
White 2: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins

And here are some more notes and quotes from the second day of camp…

  • White 1 built a 14-2 lead against its Select opponents, but then the group of Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Draymond Green and Cody Zeller came back against White 2 to win the 10-minute scrimmage, 22-21, with Oladipo hitting the scrimmage-winning three from the right wing with two seconds left off a Smart/Green pick-and-roll.
  • Fun little moment on the other floor: Millsap got the ball with a two-on-one opportunity with his Hawks teammate in transition. The defender pushed up on Millsap and Korver would have had an easy layup. But he flared out to the right corner instead of heading to the basket. Millsap hit him there for an open three.
  • Curry continues to play alongside another point guard. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo isn’t ready to say that Curry is strictly a two with this team, but had this to say about the point guard crop: “A couple of these guys are as much twos as they are ones. Curry is one and Damian Lillard is another. They’re one-twos, I think. Kyrie is more of a one, but he’s got a lot of two in him. Derrick is a one, there’s no question about that.”
  • Colangelo didn’t forget about Wall and said that the Wizards’ point guard made an impression in the first day of camp with “the look on his face, his pushing the ball up as well as he did, and defensively, he put a lot of pressure on the ball.”
  • Fans and the media weren’t the only ones who were curious about Rose. Both Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski told NBA TV that seeing what kind of shape Rose was in was the biggest thing about Monday. “It was like a performer who hadn’t been on the big stage for a while,” Krzyzewski said. “Yesterday, he belted out a song pretty darn good.”
  • Colangelo: “Derrick Rose was as good today as he was yesterday,” Colangelo said. So yeah, these guys are really excited about what they’ve seen from Rose.
  • This team is going to be aggressive defensively, but we saw some examples of them getting burned after bad gambles in the passing lanes on Tuesday. Good international teams will take advantage of defensive mistakes and there can be a fine line between making opposing offenses uncomfortable with your pressure and not staying in front of them because you’re too aggressive.

USA camp – Day 1 notes

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Kevin Durant and Team USA started training camp in Las Vegas on Monday.

LAS VEGAS – The big story on Day 1 of USA Basketball training camp was Derrick Rose. By all accounts, Rose looked good. And he certainly believes that he’s got the goods to be one of the best players in the world again.

But Rose was one of 31 players in the gym on Monday, and while he’s trying to get the rust off and get his wind back, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski have a team to put together for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which begins a month from Wednesday.

The media was let in for the final 15 minutes of Day 1 scrimmaging. Five minutes of that was a scrimmage against the Select Team, and the final 10 minutes was an intra-squad scrimmage between two groups of Senior Team guys.

Here are the lineups we saw…

1. Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kenneth Faried and DeMarcus Cousins
2. John Wall, Curry, Gordon Hayward, Faried and Cousins
3. Rose, James Harden, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
4. Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Durant and Andre Drummond
5. Irving, Bradley Beal, Thompson, Chandler Parsons and Paul Millsap
6. Lillard, Harden, George, Durant and Drummond
7. Wall, Curry, Hayward, Faried and Cousins

Some notes…

  • No. 3 above could certainly be a starting lineup when the U.S. plays its first exhibition game against Brazil on Aug. 16 or when it opens the World Cup against Finland two weeks later. It features four guys with National Team experience and George, who’s the obvious pick to start alongside Durant at the other forward spot (the Andre Iguodala role from 2010).
  • We only saw Curry playing the two, alongside either Irving or Wall. But afterward, he said he doesn’t see himself strictly as a two with this team. “I play both,” he said. “I’m obviously better equipped [than the others] to play the two, but I can push in transition and initiate the offense if I need to. I got to be able to do both and guard both positions as well.”
  • But if Curry is thought of as a two, that certainly changes the point guard competition, which should be the hottest in camp. “The competition is stiff,” Lillard said. “It’s one of those things where if you’re the guy that doesn’t happen to be chosen, you can’t be mad, because everybody here is worthy of being on the team.”
  • Lillard on what could make him stand out: “My ability to adapt. I think I could do a really good job of figuring out what this team needs me to do and do it great. That’s being able to knock down shots. With my time on the floor, I can really defend, if that’s what they need. Make plays. Find that role that they need me to play and play it to the best of my ability.” He added that “you can play defense much harder” when you’re only out there for four or five minutes at a time.
  • In a few lineups, we saw Faried and Cousins playing together. And yes, they controlled the glass.
  • In another, we saw Parsons and Millsap playing the four and five. This is a more standard U.S. lineup (only one true big on the floor), but Drummond pushed Millsap around a little bit.
  • Drummond still looks raw. He missed a couple of short jump hooks pretty badly.
  • It’s weird to imagine Cousins representing the U.S. in a hostile, international environment, but seeing him in this environment, you can see how he could make an impact.
  • He’s a beast, and there aren’t many players in the world that can match up with him, especially if he just plays off others as a roll man and finisher in the paint.
  • Defensively, with FIBA rules, Cousins can hang close to the basket and defend the rim. In the few minutes we saw him on Monday, he blocked or altered at least three shots.
  • Still, there will remain a fear that Cousins will lose his cool with international officiating or decide, in a big moment, to dribble the ball up the floor himself. If he wants to make the team, he has to prove that he can stay disciplined in more ways than one.
  • I tweeted out this roster-construction chart Monday morning. After Day 1, you can probably move Curry to the “2/3″ list.
  • This shouldn’t be any surprise if you’ve watched this team over the last several years, but we saw some half-court trapping on Monday. This team will try to force tempo as much with its defense as it does with its offense.


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Team USA’s opening practice from Las Vegas

Blogtable: Summer’s most intriguing team

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. impressed for the Wizards at Summer League

> You’ve seen the Draft. You’ve seen some Summer League. Outside of the Cavs, what team most intrigues you now? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m intrigued by Charlotte, with its addition of Lance Stephenson, along with pick-up Marvin Williams. There’s talent there, especially if Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh can rev up their frontline contributions, and it’s possible the Hornets push for a top-4 spot in the East playoffs. Steve Clifford should be able to prevent them from becoming The Lance Show (in the event Stephenson decides to start playing for his next contract right away). And let’s face it, if an NBA team can’t find a way to move on from the loss of Josh McRoberts, well, then Charlotte becomes watchable in an odd, case-study sort of way.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: In the East, and thank the basketball gods for this, there’s actually several teams of intrigue. Toronto kept its momentum going by re-signing so many of its own starting with Kyle Lowry. Washington is on the come and adding a big-brother figure in Paul Pierce should be great for John Wall and Bradley Beal. And, of course, Chicago with Pau Gasol in the mix and Derrick Rose coming back should be great fun to watch (yes, and post-LeBron Miami). In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are my choice. They missed out on Gasol, who would have been an absolute game-changer for that squad, and instead only came away with Sebastian Telfair, an end-of-bench addition, and Anthony Morrow, a 3-point specialist who could fit in quite well. I’m really curious to see how Russell Westbrook‘s game continues to evolve after his powerful postseason, how Kevin Durant comes off his first MVP season (but a bit of an individually disappointing postseason) and if Scott Brooks can add some new wrinkles to one of the most efficient (yet also most criticized) offenses over the last several years. If healthy the last two postseasons, this conversation could be totally different.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Washington Wizards, mostly because they have put together a quality offseason and have a clear path up the Eastern Conference food chain now that the entire field has been thinned out by LeBron’s departure for Cleveland. The Wizards will have an ideal blend of youthful energy and athleticism to go along with a seasoned supporting cast capable of pushing this team over the top a year after making that surprise run to the Eastern Conference semifinals. For whatever was lost in free agency (Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker), the Wizards more than made up for it by keeping Marcin Gortat and adding Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJaun Blair. Toss in a ready-to-go Otto Porter Jr. and the Samsung Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr., and the Wizards have every reason to believe that John Wall and Bradley Beal have a legitimate shot to lead this crew to the top of the Southeast Division and perhaps beyond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wizards have a chance to be one of the top two or three teams in the East. John Wall and Bradley Beal are getting better every season and could be the clear No. 1 backcourt in the conference by the start of 2015. Marcin Gortat has great pick-and-roll chemistry with Wall, Paul Pierce brings another element to the offense, and they have a ton of depth on their frontline. The only question is if they can maintain a top-10 defense with Pierce (who’s a better defender at the four than the three) replacing Trevor Ariza.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Washington. They kept Gortat, they did not overpay for Ariza, and then they managed to add Paul Pierce to that mix. Plus, after watching them in Summer League, it seemed clear that Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr (who was terrific in Vegas) are ready to add perimeter depth off the bench and give them the athleticism that Pierce lacks. Is Randy Wittman the right guy to take them to the next level? To me that’s the bigger question. But after a second-round run last season, all the pieces are in place for the Wiz to continue to grow what they’ve already started.