Posts Tagged ‘DeMar DeRozan’

Morning shootaround — Aug. 21



NEWS OF THE MORNING
Melo’s long journey | Meet salary cap guru | The Coach K Effect | Embiid’s progress | Whiteside’s new expectations
No. 1: Carmelo values gold above all — He’s gone from the bronze bust of the 2004 Olympics in Athens to the doorstep of a third straight gold medal in Rio and Carmelo Anthony told Michael Lee of The Vertical that he wouldn’t trade his experience growing into a leader of Team USA for anything:

“I wouldn’t trade, hopefully my three gold medals, in for nothing,” Anthony told The Vertical. “I hope I’m never put in that position. That’s a tough position. But I always say, ‘Winning is winning is winning.’ No matter what level you win on. Hopefully, I do get an NBA ring, but that’s two things. … I wouldn’t try to compare or force myself to make that comparison.”

Anthony has come to rely on his summers with USA Basketball to provide some balance for his complex career and stumbles in his personal life. When he started recruiting talent to fill out the country’s pool for international competitions, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told Anthony he would overlook any past mistakes and give him a clean slate. Anthony raised his hand as one of the first to commit to what would require him to sacrifice three consecutive summers. They have proven to be beneficial: He made his first All-Star team the season after participating in the 2006 world championships. He led Denver to the conference finals the season following the 2008 Olympics. And he led the Knicks to their first division title the season following the 2012 Olympics.

“We ask the guys for a commitment and selfless service,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But Carmelo is a perfect example of commitment for the Olympics. That’s his entire playing career and to devote that amount of time is remarkable really, and it’s not been done. He’s been such a good guy to coach.”

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Blogtable: Your level of concern for Team USA?

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: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?


> As we head into the quarterfinals in Rio, what’s the level of concern for Team USA? And who do you see as the biggest threat to snap the USA’s gold-medal streak?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I ultimately think Team USA’s biggest concern will be the apathy that they’ll generate by winning gold again but not dominating the way the Dream Team did in ’92 or (in people’s memories at least) other editions of this NBA star-studded national squad did. There are reasons for the closer scores, some owing to the competition, some to holes in the U.S. team. But I think there will be a healthy mixture of respect for foes and fear of failure now for Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony et al that will see them through. Biggest threat? It’s all relative, but give me Australia, which has some brassy NBA players in Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills; some healthy disrespect for a few of their pro peers, and a pesky defensive style that might already be in the U.S. stars’ heads.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It shocked me to read comments from Americans that essentially admitted surprise that many of the other teams are actually playing like teams, passing the ball, etc. If Team USA wants to stand around and play 1-on-1 “hero” ball, they could lose any game left to anybody. I wouldn’t have believed that before the Olympics began. I thought they had the proper mindset. But the team simply seems to have fallen back into many of the old, bad habits. Where the hell is the defense? Definitely looking more and more like time for a change. They could use a big dose of Gregg Popovich biting them in the butt right about now.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The level of concern is cool. Not warm or hot. Yes, there have been some relatively close calls and the ride a bit bumpy, but here in the money round I don’t see the US exposing much vulnerability. The biggest threat to snap Team USA’s streak is Team USA. Only a sloppy performance would leave the Americans open to being upset by an opportunistic country such as Spain.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The level of concern is high. The defense is the worst it’s been under Mike Krzyzewski and the Olympic field is stronger than ever, with all eight remaining teams having hopes for a medal. Still, Spain is once again the biggest threat to beat the U.S. After a sluggish first three games, Pau Gasol and his team have found their gear, crushing Lithuania on Saturday and beating Argentina handily on Monday. They have a tough test themselves in the quarterfinals, with a France team that beat them in Madrid two years ago. But if USA and Spain meet in the semis, it may be a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: My level of concern is significant. I hope it’s the same for the members of the team as they face a very real threat from Argentina first and foremost, and either France or Spain in the semifinal round. The U.S. is at its best when it treats every opponent like a credible threat, even the teams that we all know should not come close to touching the NBA stars. In London four years ago, that attitude was prevalent. That team attacked the opposition in a way that made clear that the U.S. would not leave the games without gold. There was always a feeling in the building that no matter how hard the other team played, they would ultimately come up short. I don’t know what it feels like inside the building this time around, but I know what it looks like from afar. And I haven’t seen that same sense of urgency in Rio.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The defense has been alarming. The USA has allowed 92 points over the last three games (equivalent to yielding 110 points over a 48-minute NBA game). Their opponents over the final three rounds – if the US gets that far – all know how to share the ball and move without it, beginning with the clever Argentines in the quarterfinal. The most dangerous opponent will emerge in the semis: France (Tony Parker) and Spain (Pau Gasol) each has the great player capable of leading and finishing the upset. For the Americans, assuming they can’t resolve their fundamental lapses on defense, the question comes down to which one or two of them is going to own this tournament in the way that LeBron James owned it in 2012. If they’re not capable of winning with fluid teamwork, then someone (Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and/or Kyrie Irving) is going to have to take on the responsibility of carrying them.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: We’re not supposed to be concerned, right? After all, all we’ve heard is what a strong defensive team this is, and we know that the Team USA brass had their pick of dozens of players before curating this particular dozen, so why should there be any concern? Oh wait, I know why! Because this team seems awkwardly constructed. Or because their defense has never come together, and because the default offense seems to be clearing out and going one-on-one. This group is clearly talented, but they just can’t seem to get on the same page. Even if they can’t get things figured out, they will probably still win gold. But to me, Team USA’s biggest threat is themselves.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Armstrong to LeBron: ‘Get rid of the comparisions’ | Turner has big goals in Indiana | DeRozan soaking up Team USA experience

No. 1: Former teammate of Jordan’s has words of caution for LeBron — In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James revealed that his lone goal in the league — after winning a title for his Cleveland Cavaliers — is chasing “the ghost” of six-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. B.J. Armstrong, who was a teammate of Jordan’s during the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat run from 1991-93, has words of caution for James regarding that pursuit, writes Chris Broussard of ESPN.com:

 

Armstrong, now a player agent who represents Derrick Rose, has some advice for James.

“Chasing a ghost is in make-believe land,” Armstrong told ESPN.com in a telephone conversation. “That’s far-out, that’s unattainable, that’s something you can’t achieve. This ain’t no ghost. If you want to do it, there’s a blueprint. It’s possible. There’s only one way to get there. It’s not possible for him to do what Jordan did because the circumstances are different, everything is different. What is possible for him is to be bigger than every situation that’s put in front of him, to dominate every situation that’s in front of him.”

“This is to LeBron James: If you want to be the best, get rid of the comparisons,” Armstrong said. “Get rid of all the comparisons that are out there. That’s what Michael Jordan did. Jordan realized that in order to be the best, you had to get rid of all the comparisons.

“When you compared Jordan to somebody else, it made him more and more upset. That was with guys who played before him, guys he was playing against and guys in the future. He got upset every time [the media] got on TV and started comparing him to other people. When you compared who is the best 2-guard — Jerry West or Michael Jordan — he was upset. When you talked about who was the best player in the NBA, he was upset. When you talked about who had the most championships, he was upset.

“I remember vividly him getting upset. He’s mad right now that somebody’s even thinking a guy can get to his level. Jordan tackled them all — Wilt [Chamberlain], everyone. Everyone from 1946 on, he went after them until there was no one left to compare him to. So my challenge to LeBron is: This ghost has a face to him. So get rid of all the comparisons because Jordan, unequivocally, did not want you to compare him to anyone.”

Jordan told ESPN.com on Tuesday that he had not read the Sports Illustrated article. When shown LeBron’s quotes, he said he would not comment because he had not seen the entire article.

When asked how James can eliminate the comparisons to other players, Armstrong said he has to be obsessed with dominating every moment he’s on the court, whether in practice, games or summer competition.

“Every time he steps on the floor, LeBron has to establish that he’s the best,” said Armstrong, who briefly worked in Chicago’s front office after retiring in 2000. “Every year is an opportunity for him to raise his level to the best of the best. When another player raises his level and has a great year, LeBron has to move his game to an even higher level. Jordan used every opportunity to establish who’s the best. He didn’t go to the Olympics to hang out. He went there to establish who was the best.

“I don’t know LeBron, but what I do know in watching today’s game is that Michael Jordan was a very unique character — not physically, but mentally. Jordan never stepped out on the court to have a good time. He stepped out there to establish that he was the best. Every great player he played against. he went after them — in practice, in games, in the 1984 Olympics, in summer league, in a workout, in the ’92 Olympics. He went after me every day in practice. He went after every player every day in practice. He went after every coach — until, when it was all said and done, there was no one left standing.'”

“I’m saying this because this next generation of young players, every time you step on the court, there needs to be a sense of urgency,” he said. “No joking around. Michael Jordan was the greatest practice player I’ve ever seen. He could go and play 40 minutes the night before and then go practice the next day like he was the rest of us — guys who didn’t play.

“I want these young kids to have that mentality. Jordan had phenomenal talent. He had phenomenal understanding. But he also had a mentality that I haven’t seen. He had a sense of urgency every time he stepped on the floor. These guys now need to take on that challenge. At the end, we’ll know whether LeBron did it or not when y’all stop comparing him to other players.”

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No. 2: Pacers’ Turner has big plans for next season — Pacers big Myles Turner was one of the surprises of the 2015 rookie class last season, averaging 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 22.2 minutes for an Indiana team that regained its place in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Turner also showed he could do more in the playoffs, upping his rebounding (6.4 rpg) and blocks (3.3 bpg) with an uptick in minutes (28.2 mpg). As Indiana readies for 2016-17 with its remodeled roster, Turner knows he can play a big role once again. BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy caught up with Turner recently, who has several things he hopes to accomplish this season:

Kennedy: From your first NBA game to your final postseason game, how much did you improve as a player?

Turner: “Oh wow, drastically. Dramatically. It’s so crazy how the improvement process goes because you don’t really improve body-wise or things like that. The game just starts to slow down for you and once that happens, everything is so much easier. When I came back from my injury midseason, I was able to take a step back and really see everything for what it was. I definitely got a lot better in the post, making defensive rotations, seeing plays before they happen. I dramatically improved over the course of the season.”

Kennedy: How would you describe your first playoff experience? And how can you build off of that momentum because you played really, really well in that series.

Turner: “I appreciate that, man. It’s definitely a lot different. The game is fast in the regular season, but in the postseason the game is a lot faster. The crowd is more into it. Every possession matters and it’s a nail-biter every other play. Really, in our series, things didn’t get interesting until the last couple games because the early games were blowouts – either they blew us out or we blew them out. But overall, it was a lot different and I can’t even describe the atmosphere. In Toronto, the atmosphere was unbelievable because that whole country was behind them. It was an incredible experience, and I see why people crave it and are determined to get back there and get further. I really enjoyed my playoff experience. The first game, I definitely had some jitters, but after that I was fine.”

Kennedy: One question kept coming up from Pacers fans: Because you are just 20 years old, what do you think your ceiling is? When you reach your prime, what kind of player do you see yourself being?

Turner: “I can see myself being a very dominant player in this league one day – and one day soon. I mean, I don’t know what my ceiling is. With my work ethic and my drive, I feel like there is no ceiling. I can always improve and get better at all facets of the game. Like I was saying, guys like KD and Draymond and everyone on Team USA, they’re upper-echelon players but they’re constantly striving for more and striving for more. I want to put myself in that same category as far as that mindset.”

Kennedy: This has been a busy offseason for you guys. What do you think of the additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, and how they fit with the current squad?

Turner: “I love those moves. I think Jeff is a very aggressive point guard and one that we need to make plays for us. With Big Al, his footwork is impeccable and I’ve watched him play over the years and he’s an incredible player. Thad brings a lot of energy. He’s that ‘do-the-dirty-work’ kind of player that we need, but he’s also more than that because he’s skilled at what he does. I’m curious to see how we’re going to fit together. I also like Jeremy Evans and Aaron Brooks too. Jeremy has always been a good athletic, energy guy. And Aaron, he was one of the toughest point guards I had to guard last year. He didn’t play a lot when we played them, but when he did, some of the plays he made were crazy. He’d finish around the rim and it’s just like, ‘Wait, how did he do that?’ I really love all of the moves.”

Kennedy: You and Big Al have different skill sets, but he’s obviously had a lot of success in this league. Have you guys talked at all yet and are you looking forward to picking his brain?

Turner: “I haven’t talked to him yet, but I love how poised he is. I can learn patience from him and I want to be able to read the game the way he does. And obviously I can learn a lot from him in the post and some of the things that he does with his touches. He’s a veteran who has been in the league for awhile too, so I’m sure he can teach me some off-the-court stuff as well. I think getting him is a great look for the organization and I’m excited to partner with him.”

Kennedy: What are your expectations for next season – as a team and then also individually?

Turner: “As a team, we want to finish top three in the East and I feel like we’re very capable of doing so. On paper, we’re very talented, but it’s about how we put stuff together. I do feel like the East will be a lot stronger next year with some of the moves that have been made in our conference, but I feel like we can go out there and get the job done and finish in the top three. That’s the goal, and then we want to go make a deep playoff run. And obviously, we’re all chasing rings and that’s a big goal of mine. I don’t see why we can’t do it next year. I know that ‘sounds good’ and anybody can just say that, but I’m a very confident player and with that confidence comes ambition. Individually, I feel like I can put up big numbers for this team and help in any way necessary. I’d like to see myself put up 15 to 20 points per game. That may seem like a long shot, but I feel like I’m very capable.”

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No. 3: DeRozan letting loose with Team USA — Toronto Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan has put in serious work over the last few seasons to become a more well-rounded scorer, and the numbers prove it has paid off. DeRozan, along with fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, has been the driving force behind Toronto’s ascent into the upper crust of the Eastern Conference over the past three seasons. As a free agent this summer, DeRozan didn’t leave Toronto after they rewarded his hard work with a five-year, $139 million deal. As a member of Team USA, DeRozan is more than enjoying himself and soaking up the moments with the team, writes Michael Lee of The Vertical:

On Team USA’s flight from Chicago to Houston, DeRozan captured the soulful stylings of Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving as they delivered a throaty rendition of Vanessa Carlton’s early 2000s hit single, “A Thousand Miles.” DeRozan then shifted his phone to find Kevin Durant admiring the sing-along while smothered, E.T. style, in a white comforter. And finally, fittingly, DeRozan ended the Facebook post by focusing on an unimpressed and disgusted Carmelo Anthony, looking as if he was prepared to kick the kids off his lawn.

Through the whole half-minute recording, DeRozan smiled into his phone, played a little air piano and spared viewers of his own “American Idol” audition.

“I don’t sing at all,” DeRozan told The Vertical this week with a laugh. “I knew it was going to go viral, but not like it did. When we’re not on the court, all we do is play, joke around, have fun. So, just to give people the insight of what we do, for 20 seconds, you know, that don’t add up to the amount of fun that we have during the rest of the day.”

The video was, in many ways, indicative of DeRozan’s career in that he had a prominent presence but was obscured by the other personalities.

Playing north of the border has contributed to DeRozan maintaining a low profile, though Vince Carter found a way tohurdle that obstacle as if it were Frederic Weis. DeRozan has also embraced being in the shadows with a low-key, no-nonsense approach that shunned publicity beyond what he did on the court.

“I think it just wasn’t in my personality at the time,” DeRozan told The Vertical. “I just always told myself, I wanted to establish myself as a basketball player, first. I want to be known as a helluva basketball player, before I jump out and try to do everything else. Now, at this point in my career, I’ve established enough to where I can show my personality a bit more. It’s going to be a lot more to come.”

Before this year, Toronto had a tradition of losing early in the postseason and losing its best players in their primes. Carter forced a trade that put him in the coveted New York media market. Chris Bosh bolted in free agency to form a super team with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, a one-man media circus, in Miami.

If DeRozan wanted a larger platform and more notoriety, his first dive into unrestricted free agency presented him with an incredible opportunity. DeRozan has worn Kobe Bryant’s signature sneakers for years and was rumored as the leading candidate to fill his retired idol’s shoes for the Compton, Calif., native’s hometown Los Angeles Lakers.

The speculation could’ve consumed him in a contract year but DeRozan always knew that a lucrative pay day was waiting for him, from Toronto or any other team, which is one of the reasons he told The Vertical last May that he had “nothing to worry about.” All along, DeRozan wanted to remain in his only basketball home, to see his name at or near the top of the most relevant Raptors franchise records. Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujuri didn’t let DeRozan test the market, nor did he have to.

“Knowing what you felt comfortable with, what made you happy, where you want to play, I just wanted to get it over with, in a sense, just get it out of the way,” DeRozan told The Vertical of how he handled the free-agency process. “Them wanting to get it done before anybody had a chance to talk to me says a lot.”

With his new contract and the Raptors coming off their most successful season in franchise history, DeRozan, along with friend and fellow Olympic team member Kyle Lowry will be expected to at least keep Toronto among the elites in a steadily improving Eastern Conference. But DeRozan won’t burden himself with any outside pressure.

“I really don’t pay no mind to it. Every year, I look at whatever we have to do as a big challenge and I just try to come back a better player than I was before, and do whatever I need for my team to win,” DeRozan said. “The beauty of playing basketball is being able to build yourself all the way up and then go back down and start all over again. It’s going to be a brand new challenge for us, with a couple of new guys and losing a couple of key players from last year. But starting the first day of training camp, it’s about laying that foundation of how great we can be, coming off the great season we had.”

Several stars skipped the festivities in Brazil but DeRozan recognized the benefits of training with and working with the best for an entire month. Along the way, DeRozan plans to bond with his teammates as they win and welcome fans in on the fun through social media. “A lot of guys don’t get this opportunity, to be around these talented guys, these talented coaches, to learn from, to mature, to become a better player to where you can carry on to your own team,” DeRozan told The Vertical. “It’s just something that you can look back on, 20, 30, 40 years from now, to say you were part of the 2016 Olympic team.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, former NBA lottery pick Jimmer Fredette has reached a deal to play for Yao Ming’s team in ChinaNumbers and notes to know about Team USA’s various lineups from exhibition play … ICYMI, the Milwaukee Bucks officially re-signed Miles Plumlee yesterday … Rasheed Wallace and Stephen Jackson deliver water to residents in Flint, Mich., … Jordan Clarkson‘s 3-point shot is looking pretty good, folks … NBPA executive director Michele Roberts is ‘optimistic’ a lockout will be averted

USA lineup numbers and notes

HANG TIME, N.J. — The United States Men’s National Team wasn’t tested on either end of the floor in its exhibition schedule leading into the Olympics. Four of the team’s five games were against the three worst teams going to Rio: China (twice), Venezuela and Nigeria. And both Venezuela and Nigeria were missing their only players that played in the NBA last season.

So there’s not much to be gleaned from the data coming out of those five games. The U.S. outscored its opponents by 43.0 points per game and 53.2 points per 100 possessions. The offense scored 127.5 points per 100 possessions (15.1 more than the Golden State Warriors scored last season) and the defense allowed just 74.4 (22.2 fewer than the San Antonio Spurs allowed last season).

The U.S. outscored its opponents by at least 41 points per 100 possessions with every player on the floor.

20160802_usa_on-court

Mixing and matching

With coach Mike Krzyzewski starting players in their NBA or home city, the U.S. used five different starting lineups in the five games, and all 12 players started at least once. In total, Krzyzewski used 83 different lineups on the exhibition tour. Only six of those lineups played in more than one game, and none played in more than two. No five-man unit got extended run together.

The USA’s three most used lineups all included Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. Still, what could be the starting lineup when pool play opens against China on Saturday — those three plus Klay Thompson and Carmelo Anthony — has only played 9:03 together so far.

The good news is that it outscored its opponents (Argentina and China), 25-5, in those nine minutes.

20160802_five-man

Small-ball for defense

If you look at the cumulative offensive statistics (pdf), Draymond Green was the United States’ worst player in the exhibitions. He shot 4-for-18 and led the team with 11 turnovers, even though only three players got fewer minutes than he did. Some of his shots and turnovers were downright ugly.

The U.S. centers, meanwhile, looked dominant against smaller frontlines. Cousins bullied opponents in the low post and DeAndre Jordan just jumped over them.

Yet, the U.S. was at its best with both Cousins and Jordan on the bench and with Green playing center. They outscored their opponents, 71-37, in just over 27 minutes with Green at the five.

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Less than 28 minutes against bad teams isn’t much to go on, but the positive impact that Green made on the U.S. defense was as clear as how out of synch he was offensively. How the U.S. plays with its different centers will be something to keep an eye on going forward.

One point guard at a time

This is the first time since 2006 that the U.S. is taking only two point guards on its roster. While we’ve seen a lot of two-point-guard lineups in past years, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry played just 1:36 together in the five exhibition games.

The U.S. played more than 28 minutes with neither on the floor, using Paul George as its third point guard until he injured his calf in the third game. With both George and Lowry out against Nigeria on Monday, Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan (and even Green) played the point in the 13 minutes that Lowry rested.

It’s doubtful that we’ll see many no-point-guard minutes against good teams in Rio. Irving was the MVP of the 2014 World Cup (scoring 26 points in the gold medal game) and hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history just six weeks ago. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been at its best defensively with Lowry on the floor.

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That may be because Lowry is defending the opponents’ reserves. But it’s also fair to wonder if Lowry better complements the other likely starting perimeter players (Thompson, Durant and Anthony), who are all as flammable as Irving.

Two-man data

With Irving and Lowry getting those 96 seconds together, the only two players who didn’t share the floor in the exhibitions were Cousins and Jordan. And it’s safe to guess that Krzyzewski won’t be playing any twin-tower lineups in Rio.

Other than Irving-Lowry, the only two-man unit that had a negative plus-minus was the combination of Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who were a minus-4 in 14.5 minutes together. With Barnes looking like the team’s 12th man, that combination probably won’t see any meaningful minutes together going forward.

Among the 30 two-man combinations that played at least 30 minutes together, the U.S. was at its best offensively (143.0 points scored per 100 possessions in 52.8 minutes) with Thompson and Durant on the floor. It was at its best defensively (54.2 points allowed per 100 possessions in 46.6 minutes) with Lowry and Green on the floor together.

More blowouts coming

Again, we’re looking at small sample sizes against mostly bad teams. But that’s all you get with the Olympics. And then suddenly, you’re playing a 40-minute elimination game against other NBA talent, and you have to know what’s going to work best.

It’ll be another week before the U.S. faces any more NBA players, because it will play its first two pool-play games against China and Venezuela. The competition will get stronger each game after that, as pool play wraps up with games against Australia, Serbia and France.

Beal turns down Olympic invitation

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski will have to keep digging deeper to fill out the roster for the Rio Olympics.

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal is the latest to turn down an invitation to play for a gold medal in August, saying he is dedicating the summer to getting in shape for the 2016-17 season.

According to multiple reports, Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Lowry and Klay Thompson have all committed to play and there is hope that Kyrie Irving will join in.

Colangelo is expected to name the 12-man roster sometime next week.

USA Basketball will begin training camp in Las Vegas from July 18-21, followed by a five-game exhibition tour beginning July 22 against Argentina and concluding Aug. 1 versus Nigeria.

Team USA will begin defense of its two consecutive Olympic gold medals on Aug. 6.

USA roster taking shape

HANG TIME, N.J. — Kawhi Leonard became the latest player to withdraw his name from consideration for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team this summer. Leonard joins a long list — LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, John Wall and Russell Westbrook — of players from the team’s pool of 31 names who won’t be going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Leonard made his decision official Thursday afternoon with a statement released by the Spurs. Jody Genessey of the Deseret News reports that Gordan Hayward has also declined an invite.

Reports from the AP, ESPN and Yahoo have 10 of the USA’s 12 roster spots taken by the following players …

Point guards: Kyle Lowry (TOR)
Wings: Jimmy Butler (CHI), DeMar DeRozan (TOR), Klay Thompson (GSW)
Forwards: Carmelo Anthony (NYK), Kevin Durant (OKC), Paul George (IND)
Bigs: DeMarcus Cousins (SAC), Draymond Green (GSW), DeAndre Jordan (LAC)

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have the other two spots if they want them. James indicated Wednesday that he’s likely to say “no,” but has yet to give a definitive answer.

Remaining players in the pool: Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love. Lowry was not in the pool of players released in January, but was needed with so many point guards unavailable.

The full roster is expected to be announced next week and training camp will open on July 18 in Las Vegas. The U.S. will play five exhibition games at various locations before traveling to Rio for the Olympics, which begin Aug. 6.

If James officially declines, Anthony would be the only player going for his third Olympic gold medal (and fourth Olympic medal overall). Of the 10 names on the list so far, Anthony (2004, 2008, 2012) and Durant (2012) are the only ones with Olympic experience. Cousins, DeRozan and Thompson won gold at the 2014 World Cup in Spain (with Irving), while Butler, George, Green, Jordan and Lowry will be making their debuts for the Senior National Team in international competition.

Report: Raptors, Casey agree on three-year contract extension

It looks like the Toronto Raptors are finally erasing the question mark over the head that seems to have lived over the head of the most successful coach in franchise history.

Dwane Casey is getting a new three-year contract worth $18 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

The Raptors held a team option for the 2016-17 season on Casey’s old contract, but will replace that with the new deal.

After back-to-back first-round eliminations in 2014 and 2015, it seemed that Casey was still having to prove himself even after Toronto won a franchise best 56 games this season. Never mind that he was the driving force behind the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan developing into an All-Star tandem. But evidently the run to the Eastern Conference finals, where the Raptors were eliminated 4-2 by the Cavaliers was enough to clinch a decision that should have been made some time ago.

Cavs could trap more in Game 5


VIDEO: Inside The NBA: Raptors-Cavaliers Game 5 Preview

HANG TIME, N.J. — The last time the Toronto Raptors’ offense had to worry about rim protection was early in the second quarter of Game 3 of the conference semifinals, right before the Miami Heat lost Hassan Whiteside to a knee injury.

After that, the Heat played the following players at “center”: Udonis Haslem (35 years old and ground-bound), Amar’e Stoudemire (one of the worst defensive big men of the last 10 years), Justise Winslow (a 6-foot-7 small forward), Luol Deng (another tweener forward) and Josh McRoberts (who blocked seven shots in the regular season).

The Raptors haven’t had to worry about rim protection in the conference finals, either. Their guards have taken the ball at Cleveland Cavaliers big men Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Channing Frye with little respect for their ability to block shots.

On the Raptors’ first possession of the third quarter of Game 4 on Monday, DeMar DeRozan drove right at Thompson and shot a 10-foot floater right in Thompson’s face, almost as if he wasn’t there at all. Love has been similarly invisible defensively.

But the key to the Raptors’ attacks has been the cushion that the Cleveland bigs have provided. It’s easier to put Love and Thompson on their heels when you have a running start.

So late in Game 4, the Cavs started defending pick-and-rolls differently, bringing their bigs out and trapping the Toronto guards in order to: 1. take the ball out of their hands and 2. keep them from attacking the basket with a running start.

The Raptors aren’t the Spurs or Warriors in regard to their ability to take advantage of traps and the ensuing 4-on-3 situations. And the Cavs’ first hard trap was a resounding success…

They trapped Kyle Lowry

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… putting the ball in the hands of Bismack Biyombo, with a 4-on-3…

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Biyombo hesitated before passing the ball to Patrick Patterson, who passed it back. Biyombo then tried to dribble his way to the basket, but the shot clock ran out before he got there.

Other Cleveland traps weren’t so successful. In fact, two of them (one and two) resulted in three-point plays from Lowry on the weak side of the floor, because the Cavs’ defense sprung leaks after the trap. And later, the Raptors started running guard/guard pick-and-rolls to get the one-on-one matchups they wanted.

Still, we can anticipate more trapping in Game 5 on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), which, at times, will put the ball in the hands of Biyombo — who’s not exactly Boris Diaw or Draymond Green when it comes to pick-and-roll playmaking — far from the basket.

The Raptors can adjust by using Patterson or James Johnson – guys who can put the ball on the floor – as screeners. Interestingly, when asked Tuesday about Jonas Valanciunas‘ possible return, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that Valanciunas might be a key to how the Raptors handle the traps.

“He’s going to be valuable for us if they’re blitzing,” Casey said, “because he’s an excellent passer and can make plays from the top of the key.”

Though it seemed like Love forgot to pack his offense for the trip to Toronto after Game 2, the bigger difference between the Cavs’ two wins and the Raptors’ two wins has been on Toronto’s end of the floor, where the Raptors scored 118 points per 100 possessions in Games 3 and 4 after scoring only 91 in Games 1 and 2.

Game 5 may depend on the Cavs’ ability to get the ball out of the hands of Lowry and DeRozan without springing a leak elsewhere. The guards’ willingness to move the ball quickly will be a key for the Raptors, who could use their three-guard lineup for more minutes. That will ensure that there’s always another ball-handler on the weak side to take advantage of the post-trap, defensive rotations.

As always, it’s about adjustments and execution.

Morning shootaround — May 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection | Toronto’s offense gets on track | Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 | Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek

No. 1: Raptors block Cleveland’s path to perfection The Cleveland Cavaliers had romped through the NBA Playoffs, winning their first 10 consecutive games this postseason to take a 2-0 lead over the Raptors into Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 3 in Toronto. But any hope the Cavs had of going undefeated on the road to a return trip to the NBA Finals came to an end in Canada, as the Raptors won 99-84. As our own Steve Aschburner writes, Toronto leaned not on All-Stars Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, but instead got a huge performance from back-up big man Bismack Biyombo

Near the end of the Toronto Raptors’ resilient and necessary 99-84 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Biyombo batted a rebound to a teammate to cap a memorable night for both the Raptors and himself. Then he got batted back when Cavs forward Dahntay Jones hit him in, well, a nether region that had the high-revving Raptors center dropping to his knee, then going fetal on the floor as the final seconds ticked away.

Jones said later the hit was inadvertent, just accidental contact delivered down under when he tried to do something in garbage time — box out Biyombo — that no other Cleveland player had managed through the first 47 minutes and change.

Biyombo encouraged the honchos at the league office to be the judges of that when they go to the videotape for their standard review.

What they’ll see on pretty much every other play involving Toronto’s 6-foot-9 defensive dervish is a game-defining and series-slowing performance. Biyombo set a franchise record with 26 rebounds — not just a playoff record, a Raptors all-time high — and blocked four shots.

Not only did he channel the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Dennis Rodman and Cleveland’s own Tristan Thompson, Biyombo swatted away any notions the Cavaliers, their fans or a bunch of experts around the league might have had that this would be done by Monday. Forget “fo’, fo’, fo’,” thanks to Biyombo’s “no, no, no!”

“He knows his role,” Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll said. “That’s the NBA. Everybody can’t be the Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Stephen Curry. You have to understand your role, your niche, and he understands it to a tee, and that’s a prime example of a true professional.”

Biyombo, 23, was reminiscent of several professionals Saturday, starting with Mutombo. Like the eight-time All-Star center who blocked 3,289 shots in 18 NBA seasons, Biyombo is a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He gives up five inches to his famous countryman and NBA ambassador, is less than half his age and is 2,713 regular-season swats behind. Yet he has adopted the finger-wag that Mutombo used to such great effect on those blocks (second all-time since the league began counting them in 1973) and in that recent GEICO insurance commercial.

When did that start? “After I got the license from Mutombo,” Biyombo said. “He’s like my big brother, and I’ve had several conversations with him, especially defensively, how he was able to impact the game.” Though shorter, Biyombo has way more quick-twitch muscle going for him, getting higher off the ground than the former Georgetown star.

Then there’s Rodman, a comparison volunteered by Biyombo’s coach, Dwane Casey, when Casey wasn’t busy lobbying from the podium for a fairer shake from the officials. “He knows where the ball is coming off,” the Raptors coach said, of his guy’s Rodmanesque tendencies. “He’s an active player. He’s a guy who’s always moving, moving his feet… He understand angles.”

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No. 2: Toronto’s offense gets on track Toronto’s Game 3 win wasn’t only about the big night from Biyombo — the Raptors also finally seemed to crack a Cleveland defense that had mostly been airtight throughout the postseason. As our own John Schuhmann writes from Toronto, the Raptors looked like the terrific offense they’d been during the regular season, in large part thanks to the performance they got from Cory Joseph

The way the Toronto Raptors played in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, you would think they were a top-five offensive team this year.

Oh yeah, they were.

You wouldn’t have known it from the Raptors’ first 16 games in these playoffs, in which they had strong offensive stretches here and there, rarely got big games from both of their All-Stars on the same night, and had scored less than a point per possession. While the other three teams still playing have scored at a rate at, near, or better than their regular-season marks, the Raptors had scored 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in going 56-26.

Their first 14 games were against very good defensive teams that needed to make things ugly to win. With their incredibly potent offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers have no such need. But the Raptors couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s defense beyond strong first quarters in Games 1 and 2.

In Game 3 on Saturday, it was if the Raptors’ realized that Cleveland has no rim protection and a handful of sub-par defenders in its rotation. The result was a lot more attempts at the rim than they had in either of the first two games, their second-most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs (99 points on 85 possessions) and an end to the Cavs’ 17-game winning streak in playoff games within the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors’ defense was important. After allowing 56 points in the paint in Game 1 and another 50 in Game 2, they surrendered only 20 on Saturday and were good enough on the perimeter to keep from getting hit with the Cleveland 3-point onslaught. But they took control of this game with a huge offensive first half, scoring 60 points on 43 possessions before halftime.

DeMar DeRozan had his mid-range jumper going again, but didn’t settle. Kyle Lowry hit a few 3s and got his team into early offense. And the biggest key was Cory Joseph keeping things going when Lowry got into foul trouble.

In Game 1, Joseph got a quick hook in the second quarter from Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey and played a season-low 5:21 before halftime. The back-up point guard, who was a huge key to the Raptors’ success in the regular season, had been struggling since the start of the conference semifinals.

But Saturday brought a breakthrough for Joseph, who was a plus-10 in a little less than 18 first-half minutes, never leaving the game after entering for Lowry midway through the first quarter.

“He did a much better job tonight of controlling the game,” Casey said, “running the offense, keeping things under control, not letting the defense speed him up.”

Joseph’s minutes have proven to be critical for the Raptors, who are now 7-0 in the playoffs when he’s registered a non-negative plus-minus and 2-8 when they’ve been outscored with him on the floor.

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No. 3: Thunder look to get physical versus Warriors in Game 3 — The Oklahoma City Thunder threw their Western Conference Finals series against the mighty Golden State Warriors into chaos by waltzing into Oakland and winning Game 1. After the Warriors evened things by taking Game 2, the series shifts to Oklahoma City tonight for Game 3, where as our Fran Blinebury writes, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka says the Thunder need to stand strong and not let the Warriors push them around

The numbers told the story. The best rebounding team in the NBA was hammered on the backboards in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. The bigger, taller, stronger Thunder were pushed around, dominated even.

“Of course, you take it personally,” OKC power forward Serge Ibaka said following Saturday’s practice. “It makes us feel like we’re soft, we’re weak, you know what I’m saying? … We have to do a better job next game and be aggressive, make sure if they’re going to score those baskets, that’s hurting them. They have to work hard to get us.

“Yes. It’s kind of weird, yes. It’s kind of weird, especially for us, playing bigs. They’re small. It’s kind of weird. But give them a lot of credit, because they’re the best team in the game. … It’s not going to be easy.”

The Thunder are 9-2 in the playoffs when they’ve out-rebounded their opponents. They were especially effective in the previous series against San Antonio by using a big lineup that kept 7-foot Steven Adams and 6-11 Enes Kanter on the court together. Adams was able to play his role as defensive stopper at one end, Kanter scored at the other and together they helped get the Thunder a bundle of second-chance points. However in the Warriors’ 118-91 runaway win in Game 2, they were the ones able to come up with 15 offensive rebounds.

“They are playing tougher than us,” Ibaka said. “You know, they were more aggressive than us, so I think that’s why. It’s more a game. We have to do a better job of starting aggressive, and just play our basketball.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan wasn’t as quick to hang the “soft” label on his team.

“I don’t know if I would necessarily fully agree with that,” he said. “They did a great job on the backboard. They were really physical. They come up with loose basketballs. They made those plays, and in Game 1 I thought we did a better job. They did a great job raising their level of play, and you’ve got to give them credit. So I think maybe Serge’s point is that when you’re getting beat like that, to loose balls or rebounds, it can certainly make you look that way.

“I feel like we need to do a better job rebounding the basketball than we did. They were quicker on loose basketballs. They came in from different angles to rebound. They kept balls alive on the glass. We got caught into some rotations a couple times where we didn’t have our block-out assignments lined up.”

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No. 4: Carmelo “looking forward” to playing under Hornacek After what seemed to be an interesting journey, Knicks president Phil Jackson has apparently settled on Jeff Hornacek as the next coach for the New York Knicks. And yesterday the Knicks’ biggest star, Carmelo Anthony, said he’s excited to get moving as a part of Hornacek’s offensive attack…

“I played against him a couple of times when he was the head coach out there in Phoenix,” Anthony said in an interview Saturday with WNBC-TV. “Everybody knows he likes to play an up-tempo pace of game, likes to get out in transition, likes to speed the game up a lot. So from that standpoint, I’ll definitely be looking forward to that.”

Anthony’s comments suggest that team president Phil Jackson has given Hornacek the freedom to tweak the triangle offense, as several reports have indicated. The Knicks ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in pace the past two seasons, when they ran the triangle. Hornacek ran a faster-paced offense with the Suns, who ranked in the top 10 in pace in each of his three seasons as coach.

Perhaps more importantly, Anthony said Saturday that he believes Hornacek gives the Knicks a chance to turn things around. The club has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

“It sets the stage for us to do that,” Anthony said. “[It’s a] new opportunity, something new to play with, something fresh, a clean plate. So hopefully we can build off of this momentum.”

Hornacek was offered the Knicks’ job by Jackson and general manager Steve Mills earlier this week, and negotiations on a contract with the club have begun, league sources said.

Interestingly, Anthony said he didn’t share his opinion on the coaching search with Jackson before Hornacek was offered the job.

“Whatever Phil did, he did on his own,” Anthony said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto coach Dwane Casey had a lot of thoughts about the officiating in not just Game 3, but the entire series against Cleveland … Former Cavs coach David Blatt says he will coach somewhere next seasonBrian Shaw is close to a deal to join Luke Walton‘s staff with the Lakers … The Houston Rockets will reportedly interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for their head coaching gig, as well as longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin … The Nets continue adding to their staffPaul Pierce got his daughter a llama for her birthday …

Numbers preview: Cavs-Raptors

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers have always been the clear favorite in the Eastern Conference. At any point in the season, you would have a hard time finding a neutral party who believed that any other East team could stop the Cavs from getting back to The Finals.

Still, the Cavs were always, at best, the third-best team in the league. They were never nearly as good offensively as the Golden State Warriors or nearly as good defensively as the San Antonio Spurs.

But Cleveland has found a new gear in the postseason. The Cavs’ haven’t been a great defensive team in the playoffs, but they haven’t needed to be, because they’ve scored a ridiculous 117 points per 100 possessions as they’ve swept through the first two rounds.

The Cavs have become the most prolific and the most proficient 3-point shooting team in the postseason. The Atlanta Hawks were the league’s best defensive team since Christmas, but couldn’t stop the Cavs’ onslaught in the conference semifinals.

The Toronto Raptors are seemingly just happy to be in the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. But there are reasons the Raptors won 56 games, including two of the three they played against the Cavs this season. They were a top-five offensive team with a much-improved defense. They’ve escaped the competitive bottom half of the East bracket and they played their most complete game of the postseason in Game 7 against the Miami Heat on Sunday.

The Cavs have the opportunity to be the first team to ever go 12-0 on its way to The Finals. To keep that from happening, the Raptors will have to find a way to slow down Cleveland’s potent offense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Eastern Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)

First round: Beat Detroit in four games.
Conf. semis: Beat Atlanta in four games.
Pace: 91.6 (14)
OffRtg: 117.0 (1)
DefRtg: 106.6 (11)
NetRtg: +10.4 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Cavs playoff notes:

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Toronto Raptors (56-26)

First round: Beat Indiana in seven games.
Conf. semis: Beat Miami in seven games.
Pace: 92.0 (12)
OffRtg: 99.4 (11)
DefRtg: 101.5 (6)
NetRtg: -2.1 (9)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Raptors playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 2-1 (Home team won all three games).
Nov. 25 – Raptors 103, Cavs 99
Jan. 4 – Cavs 122, Raptors 100
Feb. 26 – Raptors 99, Cavs 97

Pace: 89.6
CLE OffRtg: 119.7 (1st vs. TOR)
TOR OffRtg: 111.1 (5th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

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