Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

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

U.S. Team gets started on Monday


VIDEO: GameTime: News And Notes

LAS VEGAS – The road to Spain for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team begins Monday on the campus of UNLV. Nineteen players have gathered for four days of practices and an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).

  • NBA TV will air Real Training Camp Live on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET.

At the end of the week, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo aims to cut the list down to 15. After that, the group will take 12 days off before reconvening on Aug. 14. They will play three exhibition games in Chicago and New York before heading abroad, cutting the roster down to 12 along the way.

USA Basketball summer schedule
Dates Description Location
July 28-Aug. 1 Training camp Las Vegas
Aug. 1 USAB Showcase Las Vegas
Aug. 14-16 Training camp Chicago
Aug. 16 USA vs. Brazil Chicago
Aug. 18-22 Training camp New York
Aug. 20 USA vs. Dom. Rep. New York
Aug. 22 USA vs. Puerto Rico New York
Aug. 24-26 Training camp Gran Canaria
Aug. 26 USA vs. Slovenia Gran Canaria
Aug. 30-Sept. 14 FIBA World Cup Spain
Aug. 30 USA vs. Finland Bilbao
Aug. 31 USA vs. Turkey Bilbao
Sept. 2 USA vs. New Zealand Bilbao
Sept. 3 USA vs. Dom. Rep. Bilbao
Sept. 4 USA vs. Ukraine Bilbao
Sept. 6 or 7 Round of 16 Barcelona
Sept. 9 Quarterfinal Barcelona
Sept. 11 Semifinal Barcelona
Sept. 14 Gold medal game Madrid

There’s a lot more to do than just forming a final roster. Only five of the 18 players have National Team experience, either for the 2010 team that won the World Championship in Turkey or the 2012 team that won Olympic gold in London. Most of the others were in a mini-camp last year, but there’s still a lot of adjusting and chemistry building to do.

The U.S. has won the last three major competitions and has a 36-game winning streak, but there have been some close calls along the way. In a single-elimination, 40-minute-game format, anything can happen.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will rely on what has been a successful formula over the last eight years. It’s built on aggressive defense, speed, shooting and, of course, star power.

Like he did in 2010 (averaging 22.8 points per game on an effective field goal percentage of 65 percent), Kevin Durant will provide the star power. There’s no one in the world that can match up with the reigning MVP, who is even more dangerous when shooting from a shorter 3-point distance.

But Durant will need help on both ends of the floor for the U.S. to win the World Cup, automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympics, and avoid having to play next summer. There are some locks for the roster (those who played in 2010 or 2012), but there will also be some interesting competitions for the remaining spots.

The U.S. also has had a pretty consistent template for its roster for the last three international competitions. It typically carries just three true big men, with both forward spots being manned by players that are nominal small forwards in the NBA, a group that includes Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Andre Iguodala and LeBron James.

Once again, point guard will be a position of strength, especially if Derrick Rose is close to 100 percent after recovering from knee surgery. Rose hasn’t played competitively since last November, so he’ll be the big story on Monday and a great reason to watch Real Training Camp on Tuesday.

As the starting point guard of the 2010 team, Rose should have the edge on the others in camp, meaning that All-Stars Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and John Wall could be competing for one or two roster spots, depending on whether USA brass sees Stephen Curry as point or shooting guard.

While the talent is strong in the backcourt, late decisions by Blake Griffin and Kevin Love to sit out the summer have left the U.S. thin up front. DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried and last-minute addition Paul Millsap should be competing for two roster spots behind 2012 returnee Anthony Davis.

Spain’s frontline of Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka could be waiting in the gold medal game on Sept. 14. But the hosts will have a tougher road to the World Cup final than the U.S., with Argentina, Brazil, France and Serbia all on their side of the bracket.

That’s more than a month away, though. For the U.S., the first step takes place on Monday.

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers visits China

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott | USAB roster vulnerable without Love? | Turner and Celtics find perfect fit in each other | Finding Gregg Popovich in the summer

No. 1: Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott: — It absolutely took forever for the Los Angeles Lakers to find what they feel is the best fit for their new coach. And there’s good reason for it. Had things played out differently in free agency, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony might have had a say (along with Kobe Bryant, of course) in who replaced Mike D’Antoni. That’s not saying it would not have been Byron Scott. But there is no guarantee. Ultimately, as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com points out, the Lakers got the right man for the job:

It was no secret that if they ended up pulling off a coup and landing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or both, they wanted to entice the superstars to come by letting them have a say in who would coach them.

All the while, however, they kept Scott in the loop, bringing him back for a second interview June 10 prior to free agency and then again for a third talk July 16 after the Anthony/James dream had died and L.A. instead filled up its roster with the likes of Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis.

Which brings us to the second question that needs to be asked: Why Byron?

It wasn’t just about his ties to the Showtime era, but that surely helped. It wasn’t just that he was around the team all last season as an analyst for the Lakers’ television station, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and had an intimate knowledge of what went down, but that helped too.

The Lakers franchise also wanted to establish a clear defensive identity after being atrocious on that end of the court last season, and Scott’s credentials include a strong defensive-minded reputation.

But really, the Scott hire comes down to one man: Kobe Bryant. L.A. invested close to $50 million in Bryant over the next two seasons when he’ll be 36 and a 19-year veteran and 37 and a 20-year veteran.

Despite all that’s gone wrong in Laker Land since Phil Jackson retired in 2011, Bryant still remains as a box office draw and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Whichever coach the Lakers decided on would have to mesh well personalitywise with Bryant first and foremost and, beyond that, play a system that would help Bryant continue to be productive even as Father Time is taking his toll.

It was no accident that Bryant publicly endorsed Scott for the job during his youth basketball camp in Santa Barbara, California, earlier this month.

“He was my rookie mentor when I first came into the league,” Bryant said. “So I had to do things like get his doughnuts and run errands for him and things like that. We’ve had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years. So, obviously I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well. I’ve always been a fan of his.”

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Top 10 stat lines of 2013-14

By Jon Hartzell, for NBA.com

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Look near the benches after an NBA game, and you’ll see the floor littered with stat sheets. These white pieces of paper usually show pretty unremarkable lines and instead are used to assess the team as a whole. But on some nights, individual stat lines stand out from the rest and allow us to see who is truly outstanding.

Here are the top 10 stat lines of the 2013-14 regular season:

10. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors


VIDEO: Terrence Ross drops 51 points in a loss to the Clippers

January 25, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 51 points (16-for-29 FG, 10-for-17 3PT FGA) and nine rebounds

No one expected Terrence Ross to score 51 points. No one expected him to score 40. Or 30. Going in to this game against the Clippers, the second-year guard’s career high was 26 points. He shattered this mark, connecting on 10 of 17 3-pointers, which is the second-most 3-pointers made in a 50-point game in NBA history (Stephen Curry - 11, 2013). Unfortunately for the sold-out Toronto crowd, the Raptors lost to the Clippers 126-118 despite the career night from Ross.

9. Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets


VIDEO: Denver’s Timofey Mozgov nabs a 20-20 game against the Warriors

April 10, 2014 vs. Golden State Warriors – 23 points (10-for-15 FG), 29 rebounds and three assists

Speaking of the unexpected … how about Timofey Mozgov? Prior to this game, Mozgov collected more than 15 rebounds just twice during his four-year career and scored more than 20 points only five times. He did both on this Thursday night to became just the third player to collect 23-plus points and rebounds and shoot 60 percent or better since 1985-86, joining distinguished big men Dikembe Mutombo and Charles Oakley. Mozgov’s career-night led the short-handed Nuggets to a 100-99 victory at Oracle Arena.

8. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder


VIDEO: Kevin Durant erupts for 51 points against the Raptors

March 21, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors – 51 points (15-for-32 FG, 7-for-12 3PT FGA), 12 rebounds and seven assists

Kevin Durant‘s fourth-career 50-point game came during a double-overtime thriller in Toronto. Durant rallied the Thunder (who lost Russell Westbrook to injury during the third quarter) and hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left in double-OT. This stat line marked his 34th straight game with 25 or more points and placed him in company with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as the only players to collect 50-plus points, 12-plus rebounds and seven-plus assists in a game since 1985-86 (Jordan, of course, did it twice). Durant scored 38 of those 51 points in the second half of OKC’s 119-118 win.

7. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves


VIDEO: A red-hot Kevin Love drops in 45 points against the Clippers

December 22, 2013 vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 45 points (15-for-23 FG, 13-for-15 FT), 19 rebounds and six assists

High-point, high-rebound games are nothing new for Kevin Love. The rebound machine has notched a game with 30 or more points and 15 or more rebounds 27 times in his career. This game is unique, though. His 45 points are the second-most he’s ever scored and he did it while shooting 65.2 percent. When you add in the 19 rebounds and six assists, this stat line becomes remarkable. Love is just the fourth player in the past 40 seasons to record 45-plus points, 19-plus rebounds and six-plus assists in a game and the first since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1996.  However, the Timberwolves lost 120-116 in L.A.

6. Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves


VIDEO: Corey Brewer has 51 points as the Wolves hold off the Rockets

April 11, 2014 vs. Houston Rockets – 51 points (19-for-30 FG, 2-for-6 3PT FGA) and six steals

Kevin Love wasn’t the only player in Minnesota putting up monster stat lines. Corey Brewer joined the party near the end of the season with an exceptional all-around game that saw him collect 51 points and six steals. Brewer certainly benefited from the lackluster defense of James Harden to score his 51 points. But no player in the NBA is bad enough on defense to allow 50-plus points simply because of their deficiencies. Scoring outbursts like that require impressive offensive displays, no matter the defender, and Brewer provided one. He joins Jordan, Allen Iverson and Rick Barry as the only players to gather 50-plus points and six-plus steals in a game since steals became an official statistic in 1973-74. The Timberwolves defeated the Rockets 112-110.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder


VIDEO: Kevin Durant crosses the 30-point plateau for the 10th straight game

January 25, 2014 vs. Philadelphia 76ers – 32 points (12-for-17 FG, 7-for-7 FT), 14 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals

The lone triple-double on this list was a special one for Durant. He was the first player since 1985-86 to collect 30-plus points, 14-plus rebounds, 10-plus assists and two-plus steals while shooting 70 percent or better. He did it against the hapless Sixers, yes. But this game marked Durant’s return from a shoulder injury and extended his streak of 30 or more points to 10 games. He continued this run for six more days before it was snapped against Brooklyn at 12 games. This streak is the fourth longest run of 30 or more points in NBA history and the longest since Tracy McGrady powered through 14 games in 2003. (Wilt Chamberlain‘s 65-game streak appears to be safe.) The Thunder defeated the Sixers 103-91.

4. LeBron James, Miami Heat


VIDEO: LeBron James torches the Bobcats (and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) for 61 points

March 3, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats – 61 points (22-for-33 FG, 8-for-10 3PT FGA), seven rebounds, four assists

LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world, arguably played the best game of his career on an early-March night in Miami against Charlotte. And he wore a mask. James collected 61 points against a defensively strong Bobcats (now Hornets) squad to set a career and Heat-franchise scoring record. He set career highs for points in a quarter (25) and FGs in a game (22) and tied his career-high for 3-pointers (8).  His field goal percentage (66.7) was the highest in a 60-point game since Shaquille O’Neal scored 60 points on 68.6 percent shooting in 2000. Think Miami will miss this guy? The Heat defeated the Bobcats 124-107.

3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony nets 62 points in a romp of the Bobcats

January 24, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats – 62 points (23-for-35 FG, 6-for-11 3PT FGA) and 13 rebounds

This is what happens when Carmelo Anthony is efficient. The talented scorer set a career-high, New York Knicks-high and Madison Square Garden-high with 62 points on an incredible 65.7 percent overall and 100 percent from the free-throw line. Anthony had 56 points after three quarters and added 13 rebounds just for kicks to join Jordan, Shaq, David Robinson and Karl Malone as the only players to collect 60-plus points and 13-plus rebounds since 1985-86. He also scored the most points without a turnover since turnovers were first recorded in 1977-78. Oh, and New York won 125-96.

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans


VIDEO: Anthony Davis puts up a 40-point, 21-rebound performance against the Celtics

March 16, 2014 vs. Boston Celtics – 40 points (14-for-22 FG, 12-for-12 FT), 21 rebounds and three blocks

Look at that stat line and remember, Anthony Davis is just 21. Granted, this game went into overtime, so Davis played a full 48 minutes. But Davis became the youngest player since O’Neal to record a 40-point, 20-rebound game and the fourth-youngest in history to accomplish the feat. Add in his 12-for-12 shooting from the free-throw line and three blocks and you have a stat line that has rarely been seen in NBA history. For good measure, the Pelicans won 121-120.

1. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers


VIDEO: Chris Paul dominates the Warriors with an epic performance

October 31, 2013 vs. Golden State Warriors – 42 points (12-for-20 FG, 16-for-17 FT), 15 assists and six steals

Apparently, no one told Chris Paul to save his best for last. The All-Star point guard erupted for this historic stat line on Halloween, during the Clippers’ second game of the season. He’s the first player to record at least 40 points, 15 assists and 5 steals in a game since steals were first recorded in 1973-74 and joins James and Iverson as the only players to collect 40 points and 15 assists in the past 20 seasons. This remarkable night for a remarkable player should go down as the best stat line of the 2013-14 season. (And, the Clippers won, 126-115.)

USA loses Love to trade uncertainty


VIDEO: Where might Kevin Love fit best next in the NBA?

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Kevin Love‘s desire to find a new team will have an effect on the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

USA Basketball announced Saturday morning that Love won’t be participating for the National Team this summer, because of “his current status.” It’s safe to assume that Love expects to be traded in the near future and doesn’t want to risk injury.

His decision leaves the USA with 18 players in training camp, which is set to begin Monday in Las Vegas. Among them are only four true big men: DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Kenneth Faried. Blake Griffin withdrew on Friday.

The U.S. carried just three true bigs on its gold-medal-winning rosters in 2008, ’10 and ’12. And they rarely had more than one on the floor at any time, with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant usually playing power forward. So, from a number-of-bodies standpoint, they’re still OK. But Love gave them an ability to put five 3-point shooters on the floor at one time. Davis’ mid-range game has improved quite a bit, but he isn’t the perimeter threat Love is.

The frontline will also be a concern for a potential gold-medal-game matchup with Spain. Barring a last-minute injury, the World Cup hosts will have NBA bigs Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Victor Claver on their roster.

Davis, who was the 12th man on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, now seems like a lock to be the starting center and, along with Durant, a team leader in minutes. Frontline depth is clearly an issue, as Drummond, Faried and Cousins all have no senior-level international experience. Unless Dwight Howard or Tyson Chandler come to the rescue, any last-minute additions to the roster would be similarly inexperienced.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said last week that he hopes to cut the roster down to “about 15″ players after next week’s camp in Las Vegas. If he feels like he needs to bring another big for exhibition games in Chicago and New York, he could dip into the Select Team roster, which includes Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee and Cody Zeller.

The situation is reminiscent of 2010, when, before the first day of training camp was over, three bigs were crossed off the list. Robin Lopez decided to continue rehabbing a back injury, the Knicks wouldn’t allow Amar’e Stoudemire (who had no insurance on his new contract) to participate, and David Lee was lost to a finger injury. Brook Lopez (recovering from mono) was later knocked out, and the U.S. went to Turkey with Chandler, Love and Lamar Odom as its bigs.

That year, the U.S. relied on defense, Durant, speed and shooting to win the World Championship. The formula should be the same this time around, but the last category took a hit on Saturday and the margin for error is now thinner than it was four years ago.

Top 10 playoff performances of 2014

 By Joe Boozell

Michael Jordan against the Jazz. Reggie Miller against the Knicks. Larry Bird against the Lakers. Magic Johnson against the Celtics.

The NBA playoffs are where legacies are formed. And while any true basketball fan enjoys a night of hoops in January, the playoffs are where the NBA lights shine brightest. Last year’s postseason was as entertaining as ever, as five of the eight first-round matchups went to a Game 7.

Those games — and others throughout the playoffs — featured their fair share of heroes.

As such, let’s look back on the 10 best individual performances from the 2014 playoffs.

10. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio spurs
Game 5, NBA Finals – 20 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s all-around play in Game 5 helps clinch the title for the Spurs

It’s almost as if the Spurs are above individual accolades, and by pure numbers alone, there were better postseason performances than Kawhi Leonard‘s Game 5 of The Finals. However, Leonard’s impact goes beyond the box score, as the rangy forward fits perfectly into San Antonio’s offense and happens to be one of the best guys in the league at stopping the best guy in the league, LeBron James. LeBron may have scored 28 points, but he was a team-worst minus -21 for Miami. Meanwhile, Leonard was a plus-23 for San Antonio and logged a team high 39 minutes.

9. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
Game 6, first round of the Western Conference playoffs – 25 points, 6 rebounds, 6-10 3FG


VIDEO: Relive Damian Lillard’s game-winning basket against the Rockets

Damian Lillard posted a solid stat line of 25 points and six rebounds in the Blazers’ Game 6 clincher against the Rockets, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. What the whole story would tell you, coincidentally, is that Lillard literally clinched the series for the Rockets with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The shot was the first since 1997 to end a playoff series (John Stockton accomplished the feat then — ironically against Houston, too), and thanks to the clutch factor, Lillard lands on our list.

8. LeBron James, Miami Heat
Game 2, NBA Finals – 35 points, 10 rebounds, 14-22 FG


VIDEO: The Starters discuss LeBron James’ monstrous Game 2 in The Finals

The only thing more painful than a LeBron James cramp is, well, what the opposing team has to endure following a rough night from The King. After his Game 1 cramping episode, James erupted for 35 points and 10 boards in Game 2 of The Finals. This proved to be the only game the Heat would win in the series against the daunting San Antonio Spurs, as the former MVP sunk all three triples he attempted in a 98-96 Miami victory.

7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 7, first round of the Western Conference playoffs - 27 points, 10 rebounds, 16 assists


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook dominates the Grizzlies in Game 7 of the first round

Questions about Russell Westbrook’s ability as a facilitator were silenced momentarily after Game 7 of the Thunder’s first-round series against the Grizzlies. Westbrook’s 16 assists tied a franchise playoff record set during the team’s Seattle days by Nate McMillan in 1987. It was also Westbrook’s second triple-double in a three game span.

6. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals - 39 points, 12 rebounds, 7-10 3FG

 
VIDEO: Paul George runs wild in Game 4 against the Wizards

After bursting onto the scene in the 2013 playoffs, Paul George flashed superstar potential in the 2014 playoffs. This was especially true in Game 4 against the Wizards, who watched George notch 39 points, 12 rebounds and sink seven 3-pointers. George also spent plenty of time guarding Washington speedster John Wall, holding him to a 4-for-11 shooting night. 

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals – 39 points, 16 assists, 5 assists


VIDEO: Kevin Durant pours in 39 points in a Game 6 West semifinals win

No, Kevin, YOU are the real MVP. Although Kevin Durant had an up and down postseason, he certainly had moments when he proved why he captured his first MVP award in 2013-14.  Durant was his usual efficient self as he sank more than half of his shot attempts, made all of his free throws  and was 5-for-8 from long range. KD also posted a game-high 16 rebounds to go with his 39 points.

4. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
Game 2, first round of the Western Conference playoffs – 43 points, 8 rebounds, 18-28 FG


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge dominates the Rockets in Game 2 of the Portland-Houston series

Going into their series against the Rockets, the Blazers were intent on guarding LaMarcus Aldridge with Terrance Jones, not wanting to bring rim-protector Dwight Howard away from the cup. That strategy ultimately sold Aldridge short, who ran rampant the first two games of the series by turning in two consecutive 40-point performances. Aldridge became the first player with consecutive 43-point games in the playoffs since Tracy McGrady did it in April 2003.

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 4 of the Western Conference finals – 40 points, 10 assists, 5 steals

 
VIDEO: Russell Westbrook does something that Michael Jordan last did in 1989

Perhaps he was rejuvenated by the improbable return of Serge Ibaka, or perhaps Russell Westbrook is simply one of the most talented players around. Either way, Westbrook had his way with Tony Parker in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, notching 40 points, 10 assists and five steals. He is the first player to accomplish that since Michael Jordan did it in the 1989 NBA playoffs as the Thunder cruised to a 105-92 win.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals – 49 points, 6 rebounds, 16-24 FG

 
VIDEO: LeBron James drops a 49-point effort on the Nets in Game 4 of the East semis

In typical LeBron James fashion, The King added to his already stacked playoff resume with a 49-point effort against the Nets. Unfortunately for Lebron, he missed a meaningless free throw in the waning seconds of Game 4 that left him one point shy of notching his first playoff game of 50-plus points. Barring another return to Miami, this game would go down as the highest scoring effort of James’ playoff career with the Heat. LeBron matched his playoff career-high of 49 points that he set in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals as a Cavalier.

1. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
Game 1, first round of the Western Conference playoffs – 46 points, 18 rebounds, 17-31 FG


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge pouts in 46 points in Game 1 of the Blazers-Rockets series

Aldridge seemed determined to single-handedly stifle the notion that the mid-range jumper is dead in today’s NBA, terrorizing the Rockets in Game 1 of their first round series with a flurry of long deuces. He went off for a franchise playoff-high 46 points and added 18 rebounds to an already impressive night. It was a career-high for Aldridge, who scored 16 of his 46 points on post ups. That total almost doubled his season average of 8.3 in that department. Despite fouling out in the extra session, the Blazers held on to beat the Rockets in a 122-120 overtime thriller.

An NBA in which everyone went ‘home’

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After four years in Miami, LeBron James decided in early July to return to Cleveland.

LeBron James warmed the hearts of Clevelanders, northeast Ohio residents and Moms everywhere when he announced his return to the Cavaliers and ‘fessed up to the lure of his Akron hometown, both for him and the young family he is raising.

Kevin Durant already has been identified by the Washington Wizards as a target in 2016 free agency, which provides context for the team’s recent decision to hire David Adkins, Durant’s old high school coach from Montrose Christian.

And naturally, it’s only a small leap – or click of some ruby-colored shoes – to go from the Wizards to “There’s no place like home,” Dorothy‘s mantra that eventually got her off the yellow-brick road and back to Kansas. That got some of us at the Hang Time HQ thinking about an NBA that tilted entirely toward hometowns and players’ roots.

Remember, in its infancy, the league conferred “territorial rights” on its teams so they could keep promising and already popular college players close to home, to piggyback on the local fame. Dick Garmaker, Tom Gola, Tom Heinsohn, Guy Rodgers, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBusschere and others all entered the league as territorial picks.

What would the NBA look like if rosters were filled only with hometown players? Well, as you might expect, teams in the major population centers – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago – would be fine. Some in smaller markets would wind up scraping for talent, even if their “borders” were artificially extended by another state or three. Then again, there would be a vast talent pool of free agents who weren’t born in proximity to any particular NBA franchise, most obviously those from other nations.

Here’s a glimpse at the starting lineups of a thoroughly “hometown” NBA (based on birth cities & states, via basketball-reference.com):

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTA
G – Jodie Meeks
G – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
F – Derrick Favors
F – Josh Smith
C – Dwight Howard

Notes: Some help off the bench, too, from Georgia-born players, including Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Singleton, Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas.

BOSTON
G – Michael Carter-Williams
G – Ricky Ledo
F – Jeff Adrien
F – ?
C – ?

Notes: Spread the net across New England and you only add Ledo to Carter-Williams and Adrien. (If we’re missing somebody for the Celtics or any other team, post your suggestions in the Comments.)

BROOKLYN
G – Lance Stephenson
G – A.J. Price
F – Kenneth Faried
F – Jason Thompson
C – Taj Gibson

Notes: The Nets’ turf for our purposes was defined as Brooklyn and New Jersey. Decent subs here too, including MarShon Brooks, Earl Clark, Gerald Henderson, Andrew Bynum, J.R. Smith, Chris Copeland and Randy Foye.

CHARLOTTE
G – John Wall
G – Chris Paul
F – P.J. Tucker
F – John Henson
C –Jermaine O’Neal

Notes: Tough to beat a Carolinas backcourt, what with Wall and Paul and Raymond Felton in reserve.

CHICAGO
G – Derrick Rose
G – Dwyane Wade
F – Andre Iguodala
F – Shawn Marion
C – Anthony Davis

Notes: Help in the backcourt could come from Patrick Beverley, Tony Allen, Shaun Livingston, Iman Shumpert and Evan Turner.

CLEVELAND
G – Trey Burke
G – Stephen Curry
F – LeBron James
F – Jared Sullinger
C – Kosta Koufos

Notes: It’s true – Steph Curry was born in Akron. Imagine if he felt the same tug from northeast Ohio that LeBron does.

DETROIT
G – Chris Douglas-Roberts
G – Jordan Crawford
F – Wilson Chandler
F – Draymond Green
C – JaVale McGee

Notes: Chris Kaman comes off the bench among players born in Michigan, and Shane Battier just missed this great honor.

INDIANA
G – Jeff Teague
G – Mike Conley
F – Zach Randolph
F – Gordon Hayward
C – Cody Zeller

Notes: Basketball’s influence in Indiana is evident in the depth here, which includes Eric Gordon, Josh McRoberts, George Hill, Courtney Lee, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Robbie Hummel and others.

MIAMI
G – Brandon Knight
G – Tim Hardaway Jr.
F – Trevor Ariza
F – Udonis Haslem
C – Larry Sanders

Notes: The Heat’s impact is apparent with Hardaway Jr. as well as Glen Rice Jr. We considered putting Dwyane Wade on this squad, based on his statement that “home is where the heart is” when he re-signed with Miami. But that wouldn’t have been fair to those who knew him when back in Robbins, Ill.

MILWAUKEE
G – Devin Harris
G – Dwight Buycks
F – Carl Landry
F – Caron Butler
C – Greg Stiemsma

Notes: This Wisconsin group is getting a little long in the tooth. It’s been a while since the Dairyland enjoyed its NBA sweet spot (Terry Porter, Latrell Sprewell, Nick Van Exel all debuting in the mid-1980s).

NEW YORK
G – Kemba Walker
G – Jimmer Fredette
F – Carmelo Anthony
F – Andre Drummond
C – Joakim Noah

Notes: Odd that most of the depth on a New York-born squad would be in the frontcourt (Tobias Harris, Ryan Kelly, Roy Hibbert, Andray Blatche, Charlie Villanueva, Channing Frye and so on). After all, the Big Apple was known for decades for the quality of its point guards.

ORLANDO
G – Nick Calathes
G – Chandler Parsons
F – Alonzo Gee
F – Amar’e Stoudemire
C – Marreese Speights

Notes: Florida required a split of the talent pool, with Miami drawing from South Florida and the Atlantic Coast and Orlando getting pretty much everything else.

PHILADELPHIA
G – Kyle Lowry
G – Kobe Bryant
F – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
F – Tyrke Evans
C – DeJuan Blair

Notes: And this still leaves the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, on the bench, alongside Dion Waiters, Lavoy Allen and veteran influence Jameer Nelson.

TORONTO
G – Steve Nash
G – Andrew Wiggins
F – Anthony Bennett
F – Tristan Thompson
C – Kelly Olynyk

Notes: OK, so we need an asterisk on Nash, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. But he’s so identified with the game in Canada, it seemed like an acceptable exception. If you want to be a stickler, substitute Cory Joseph for him.

WASHINGTON
G – Ty Lawson
G – Victor Oladipo
F – Kevin Durant
F – Rudy Gay
C – Patrick Patterson

Notes: Opening this up to Maryland and Virginia brought out numbers at the guard and forward spots (Gary Neal, Jarrett Jack, Delonte West, John Lucas III, Michael Beasley, Ed Davis), though we’d still have to go small in the middle.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

DALLAS
G – Phil Pressey
G – C.J. Miles
F – Mike Dunleavy Jr.
F – LaMarcus Aldridge
C – Chris Bosh

Notes: Texas is a big state, but there are three NBA teams to stock and fewer than 40 of the state’s all-time 138 league alumni are active. For distribution purposes, the Mavericks got Dallas and Fort Worth products, the Rockets got their metro area and east from which to draw and the Spurs got dibs on most of the rest.

DENVER
G – Chauncey Billups
G – ?
F – James Johnson
F – Jason Smith
C – ?

Notes: There have been only two NBA players born in Colorado since Jimmy Carter was in the White House – and Billups isn’t one of them (Smith and Nick Fazekas). We had to go to Wyoming to get Johnson.

GOLDEN STATE
G – Damian Lillard
G – Orlando Johnson
F – Paul Pierce
F – ?
C – Drew Gooden

Notes: California is like Texas, only more so. The NBA has had 346 Californians participate through the years but only about a fifth of them are active – and there are four teams to account for.

HOUSTON
G – Gerald Green
G – Jimmy Butler
F – Emeka Okafor
F – DeAndre Jordan
C – Kendrick Perkins

Notes: We took the liberty of the non-specified position slots to go without a point guard here. Could have tabbed Ben Uzoh, if pressed.

L.A. CLIPPERS
G – Russell Westbrook
G – Arron Afflalo
F – Kevin Love
F – Tayshaun Prince
C – Tyson Chandler

Notes: See Lakers notes.

L.A. LAKERS
G – James Harden
G – Klay Thompson
F – Kawhi Leonard
F – DeMar DeRozan
C – Brook Lopez

Notes: Compared to most of the other states/markets, southern California offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of NBA talent. We plugged in these guys randomly and still have a bunch of quality players in reserve, including Amir Johnson, Nick Young, Chris Andersen, Andre Miller, Brandon Jennings and more.

MEMPHIS
G – Rajon Rondo
G – Lou Williams
F – Corey Brewer
F – J.J. Redick
C – Brandan Wright

Notes: Opening this up to include Kentucky as well as Tennessee didn’t yield the expected number of NBA regulars.

MINNESOTA
G – Kirk Hinrich
G – Mike Miller
F – Alan Anderson
F – Harrison Barnes
C – Nick Collison

Notes: Talk about embarrassing – Hang Time opened up Minnesota’s domain to include the Dakotas and Iowa … and four of the five starting spots arguably belong to products of those states. Among the native Minnesotans in reserve: Nate Wolters, Jon Leuer, Cole Aldrich, Kris Humphries and Royce White.

NEW ORLEANS
G – D.J. Augustin
G – Marcus Thornton
F – Thaddeus Young
F – Paul Millsap
C – Greg Monroe

Notes: Not bad depth from down on the bayou, with a second-unit crew that includes Perry Jones, Brandon Bass, Robert Sacre, Garrett Temple, Donald Sloan and old head Danny Granger.

OKLAHOMA CITY
G – Earl Watson
G – Archie Goodwin
F – Joe Johnson
F – Blake Griffin
C – Ekpe Udoh

Notes: It took a sweep of four states, including Kansas, Nebraska and Arkansas, to pull together this starting five. Sorry, Seattle and the state of Washington were off-limits, given how many players that area already donated to OKC.

PHOENIX
G – Jerryd Bayless
G – Carrick Felix
F – Damion James
F – Andre Roberson
C – ?

Notes: Slim pickings even with New Mexico in the mix, which can be explained in part by how many folks settle in the American Southwest past their child-bearing years.

PORTLAND
G – Isaiah Thomas
G – Jamal Crawford
F – Marvin Williams
F – Terrence Jones
C – Spencer Hawes

Notes: This roster took on an entirely reinvigorated look when it was opened up beyond Oregon products to include those from Washington. Now it has a bench including Avery Bradley, Martell Webster, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Nate Robinson and Terrence Ross, among others.

SACRAMENTO
G – Quincy Pondexter
G – Paul George
F – Matt Barnes
F – Ryan Anderson
C – Tyler Zeller

Notes: It’s not easy being fourth among California’s four NBA teams, even if your turf is considered to be everything outside of the Bay Area and the greater L.A. metroplex.

SAN ANTONIO
G – ?
G – Wes Johnson
F – Wesley Matthews
F – Quincy Acy
C – Ivan Johnson

Notes: So we fudged it on Johnson (Corsicana) and Acy (Tyler), who were born closer to Dallas. San Antonio had a run of NBA role players a while back (Michael Doleac, Bo Outlaw, Jeff Foster, David Wesley) but might need the offspring of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to grow up fast.

UTAH
G – Luke Ridnour
G – C.J. Watson
F – ?
F – ?
C – ?

Notes: Talk about some serious gerrymandering. Watson is from Nevada, Ridnour is from Idaho and we fought off the temptation to go pluck Mario Chalmers from Alaska. There hasn’t been a Utah-born player in the NBA since 2010 (Devin Brown), nor any born there since February 1981.

 

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.

D.C. dreaming of Durant homecoming?


VIDEO: Kevin Durant sits down with NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James followed his heart back to Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony just couldn’t leave his native New York. And Dwyane Wade declared his love for his adopted hometown of Miami.

With all of the talk this summer of stars coming home, staying home and their teams and their cities, can you blame folks in Washington D.C. for daydreaming about a day and time when the NBA’s reigning MVP would consider doing the same?

No one represents for the Washington D.C. area harder or better than Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. And that might explain why folks in the DMV (the urban area encompassing D.C., Maryland and Virginia) are already buzzing about a Durant homecoming one day.

Even if it is just a pipe dream, one that Thunder fans want nothing to do with, it’s one that is being talked about two seasons before Durant becomes a free agent. Washington Wizards fans and observers are already daydreaming about what their up-and-coming team can do to lure Durant back home come the summer of 2017.

Former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer Gary Williams knows the area and it’s basketball DNA well. He’s convinced Durant will call the area home again one day and last week made his feelings clear on the topic to a local radio show (courtesy of Dan Steinberg‘s D.C. Sports Bog):

“One interesting thing on this LeBron going back to Cleveland, Durant’s watching that very close,” Williams said on ESPN 980 last week. “He’s seeing the adulation pouring out for LeBron James for coming home. And Durant loves this area. He does. He’s back every summer. He plays at Montrose [Christian] against their high school kids sometimes; he’s out there taking charges. He just loves to play basketball. He’s been over at Maryland, he plays with the players over there. He just wants to play. And these are where his ties are. I know one thing, when his career’s over, I’d be shocked if he didn’t live in this area.”

“I think you go in steps,” Williams later said. “I don’t think [Paul] Pierce comes here unless the Wizards did what they did in the playoffs this year. So now take that a step further. If they do make another really strong playoff run this coming year; now all of a sudden there’s somebody that good that’s out there, they have to look at the Wizards. Because I think all those guys – Durant included – are looking at if I go here, will they be good enough to win a championship? So if the Wizards can show that maybe they’re just missing a Durant to win a championship, I think they have a good chance, I really do.”

Williams also discussed former Maryland women’s assistant David Adkins, a one-time Montrose staffer whose hiring by the Wizards helped set off this latest round of intense speculation.

“I know Davis,” Williams said. “He’s Mr. Workout Man. In other words, he loves doing individual drills with players. He knew Durant from Montrose. … He worked with Greivis Vasquez. And he’s really good at what he does.

As easy as it is to dismiss these thoughts as the musings of wistful Wizards and area hoops fans who want to see a storybook homecoming play out in D.C. the way it did in Cleveland this summer, we’d probably be foolish to ignore this completely. Had someone told you three or four years ago that LeBron would leave town the way he did and then come riding back into town a hero this summer, you’d have called them crazy.

While he remains a cult hero in his native DMV, especially for kids who idolize him, Durant has adapted well to each and every environment he’s been in. He’s just as beloved in Oklahoma City as he is around the country and really around the globe. And he doesn’t appear to be homesick or stuck in the tractor beam that seems to be pulling so many of his peers home.

Durant left home as a teenager and spent a year in college at Texas before being drafted by Seattle and then moving to Oklahoma City when the franchise relocated there. He’s become an integral part of whatever community he’s lived in each and every time.

And who knows what goes on for Durant and the Thunder over the course of the next two seasons. If LeBron’s homecoming doesn’t result in any titles or even a trip to The Finals, the decision will be panned universally outside of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. A would-be trend could be over before it gets started.

That said, the Wizards, or any other team boasting the hometown connection, would be crazy not to at least dream about and explore the possibilities.

They’ll boast young stars in All-Star point guard John Wall and budding star shooting guard Bradley Beal that would be attractive running mates for any superstar on the championship hunt.

The tug of home could be powerful in 2016.

That daydream could become a reality … one that gives us flashbacks to the summer of 2014.

But in the meantime, Durant and Russell Westbrook have unfinished business in Oklahoma City …

Mavs double-down: Sign a forward and fall for 5-foot-7 Japanese PG Togashi

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The diminutive Yuki Tagashi has become a fan favorite with the Mavs in Summer League

LAS VEGAS —  The Dallas Mavericks may have double-downed in Summer League, potentially finding a depth forward for the big club and possibly an international sensation to play point guard for their nearby D-League team.

It’s rare for any team out here to offer an off-the-street free agent a contract, but the Mavs signed athletic, 6-foot-8 forward Eric Griffin on Friday just hours before the Dallas squad played its final game. Griffin closed out his strong summer with 20 points, three rebounds and three blocks in the 88-62 win over the Suns.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s a blessing at the same time,” Griffin said of signing the contract. “I’m just real happy to be part of a team that wants me.”

Griffin, cut from the Miami Heat last year after they signed Michael Beasley, played two seasons at San Jose State and finished his collegiate career with two years at Campbell in North Carolina. He played in Italy and then Venezuela last season. The contract doesn’t mean Griffin’s made it to the big leagues just yet, but it does reserve him a spot at training camp where he can fight for a spot on the 15-man roster.

Mavs assistant coach Kaleb Canales, who coached the summer team to a 3-3 record, texted Griffin the news Friday morning.

“It brought a big smile to my face,” Griffin said. “But more than anything, my mom was happy. She knows where I came from and how I started. It’s a big day for me.”

The other half of this dreams-can-come-true Mavs summer is 5-foot-7 Japanese point guard Yuki Togashi. The 20-year-old’s combo of stature, speed, instincts and fearlessness instantly made him a fan favorite over the past week, although not quite to the level of another Mavs Summer League point guard sensation a few years ago, a guy named Jeremy Lin.

Of course Togashi’s size, quick-twitch style and terrific ability to run the pick-and-roll is more similar to yet another great Dallas Summer League find, the diminutive J.J. Barea. Now with Minnesota, the 5-foot-9 Barea developed into a steady, change-of-pace backup point guard for the Mavs and even started in the 2011 NBA Finals.

Togashi’s dream is to play in the NBA and said Friday that he will follow that dream and enter the D-League draft in the fall. His other option is to return to Japan’s pro league and take home a much bigger paycheck.

“I played professionally for a year-and-a-half in Japan. I think I did a good job in Japan,” said Togashi, who took the BJ-league by storm last season and led it in assists. “To improve my skills I think I have to go overseas and play in the D-League.”

The D-League draft has 10 rounds. The early rounds are dominated by players on the edge of being good enough to make an NBA roster. Togashi is projected as a late-round pick so it’s quite possible the Mavs’ D-League team, the Texas Legends, co-owned by Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, will be able to select him.

Togashi idolized Allen Iverson as a kid and says he now watches a lot of Chris Paul. Interestingly, Togashi came to the United States for high school and attended Montrose Christian in Maryland, where a number of NBA players went, including Kevin Durant. When no Division I scholarships came, Togashi took his talents back home and began his professional career.

His agent steered him to Charlie Parker, a longtime assistant coach with the Mavs, who now works for the Legends. Parker has been training Togashi in Dallas for the last six weeks. Parker called his friends with the Mavs and told them they should consider putting the point guard on their summer team.

Obviously a part of his instant popularity here was initially due to his against-all-odds size. When he takes the court, he looks like one of the smaller kids on a youth team at the YMCA swimming in his oversized uniform. Then he gets the ball in his hands and the oohs and ahhs suggest he’s much more than a sideshow attraction.

“It is tough,” Togashi said of his height and 143-pound frame. “But I use my speed to be able to make plays.”

Togashi will return to Japan on Saturday morning and join the national team for practices in preparation for a tournament in Taiwan. If all works out, U.S. basketball fans will get their next look at the little man in the D-League.

Griffin’s pursuit of his NBA dream begins now. The high-flyer averaged 11.4 ppg and 2.8 rpg in Vegas. A Mavs scout described Griffin as raw offensively and depending on his athleticism. But he runs the floor with energy, finishes above the rim and Dallas coaches believe he can develop a perimeter jumper essential to making it as player who can switch between the two forward positions.

“His activity on both ends just makes things happen,” Canales said.

Griffin heads home with a list of improvements to work on — starting with “my dribbling and keep shooting” — before heading to Dallas in a few months as training camp approaches.

“It’s definitely not over,” Griffin said. “I’ve got to prove myself now to the team and organization.”


VIDEO: Eric Griffin executes perhaps the dunk of the summer