Posts Tagged ‘Mike Conley’

Injuries Open Spots, But Picking All-Star Guards Won’t Be Easy


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook will be out until after the All-Star break

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kobe Bryant is going to win a starting job on the Western Conference All-Star team. A second round of returns has the Lakers star well ahead in votes among the West’s legion of worthy backcourt candidates. Bryant has played in just six games and although he could return from a fractured knee in time to play in the Feb. 16 All-Star Game at New Orleans, let’s assume that he will not play.

NBA All-Star 2014Oklahoma City’s injured point guard Russell Westbrook was well on his way to a fourth consecutive selection as one of seven reserves to be picked by Western Conference coaches until Friday’s stunning announcement that he underwent a third surgery on his troubled right knee. Westbrook will not be back in time for the All-Star Game.

That leaves (potentially) two backcourt spots up for grabs.

But first, ink Chris Paul in as the starter at point guard. He’s second in fan voting and in all likelihood won’t come close to relinquishing that spot as an automatic starter. Golden State’s Stephen Curry, last season’s sympathy case as the most notable snub, is third in fan voting and should start at shooting guard.

Now comes the difficult part for the West’s coaches: There’s so many worthy point guards — just point guards — that you could select an All-Point-Guard All-Star team even without Westbrook. Check this out:

PG: Paul

SG: Curry

SF: Damian Lillard

PF: Eric Bledsoe

C: Ricky Rubio

Bench: Tony Parker, Ty LawsonMike Conley, Jrue Holiday

OK, so it takes some of imagination there, but you get the idea how deep the West is at the quarterback position. Then you’ve got the shooting guards to consider. James Harden figures to be a lock for a second consecutive selection. And what about Klay Thompson, Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford, who felt he got dissed last year? Even 36-year-old Manu Ginobili can make a compelling case.

There’s plenty of basketball to go before fan voting ends on Jan. 20 (the starters will be announced on Jan. 23) and until the reserves are announced soon after, so selections could become more crystallized by then. But probably not.

So of five guards to get a 2014 All-Star nod, here’s my early locks: Paul and Curry as the starters with Harden as a reserve. That leaves two spots open.

Let’s begin with the power of elimination. As strong as they’ve been, apologies to Martin, Dragic, Matthews and Crawford. Holiday was an East All-Star last year and benefited from Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose being hurt, and even though he’s a hometown Pelican, I’m not seeing it. Rubio has gone from the magician everybody wants to see up close to standing in the back of the line.

Onto the rest. This is going to be tough and there could be not one, not two, not three … but even more deserving guards taking the snub.

Here’s a brief comparison of a few of the backcourt candidates that I don’t consider to be locks (in no particular order):

>Parker, Spurs – Scoring (17.8 ppg) and assists (6.0) are down, but he’s the irreplaceable team catalyst, San Antonio is rolling and it’s hard to see him not making it

>Lillard, Blazers – As clutch as any player going, the reigning Rookie of the Year is averaging 21.1 ppg, 5.8 apg and is shooting 43.1 percent on 3s for a team that’s taken the league by storm

>Bledsoe, Suns – A fearless competitor, has meshed beautifully with Dragic while averaging 18.4 ppg, 5.9 apg, 4.3 rpg and is shooting 49.2 percent overall for arguably the most surprising team in the league

>Ellis, Mavericks – He’s turned analytics on its head, averaging an efficient 20.7 ppg — highest since 2007-08 — and 5.8 apg, and he’s as exciting swooping to the cup as anyone

>Lawson, Nuggets – He’s slowed a bit as the team has struggled recently, but still putting up 17.5 ppg, 7.9 apg and 3.4 rpg in a new, slower-tempo system

>Thompson, Warriors – The other half of the Splash Brothers, he’s scoring 19.6 ppg on 43.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc, plus 2.7 apg and 3.3 rpg.

>Conley, Grizzlies – He’s been garnering greater respect for a few seasons now and while the team has struggled, especially without fellow All-Star Marc Gasol, Conley’s averaging 17.0 ppg, a career-best, and 6.2 apg

More Excuses Than Answers For Grizzlies

It's been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It’s been a rough go for Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It would be easy to blame all of the Grizzlies’ problems on the absence of center Marc Gasol, who is out with a sprained left knee.

It would be popular to blame them on CEO Jason Levien, who shoved Lionel Hollins, the best coach in franchise history, out the door and put David Joerger onto the hot seat.

It would be fun, just for old times sake, to blame Rudy Gay, who is already two teams down the road from his days as traditional whipping boy in Memphis.

Truth is, the Grizzlies have collectively been nothing but hound dogs since opening night of the 2013-14 season, showing little inclination to play with any of their former bark or bite.

“I wish I could pinpoint it,” said point guard Mike Conley. “I don’t want to make excuses for having a new coach or losing a coach. Obviously losing a guy that’s been here four or five years, it’s going to be tough on a lot of people. But us as players, we had to come back ready to play and with the mindset of wanting to get further than we did last year. Honestly, we didn’t do that, and so, here we are.”

That is sitting in last place in the Southwest Division, rubbing elbows with the Jazz and Kings at the bottom of the Western Conference standings instead of battling with playoff contenders.

The Grizzlies still labor to score points, especially from the perimeter. The No. 2 rated defense that used to have sharp claws and gave up 100.2 points per 100 possessions a year ago, is now ranked 24th in the NBA. In the last half-dozen games they have not guarded the 3-point line, allowing opponents to shoot 43.7 percent behind the arc. They often look clueless and toothless, even at home at the FedExForum, their beloved Grind House, where they’ll take a 5-9 record into tonight’s game against the Lakers (8 ET, League Pass).

“Really, I think we’ve got to establish our identity,” Conley said. “We have lost that in a sense. That’s defensively being a team that goes out and grinds out wins and finds a way to win. We’ve got to get back to that old motto of stopping each individual person, taking it upon ourselves to go out there and play defense and work hard.”

Though troubles have been magnified with seven losses in 10 games since Gasol was injured on Nov. 22, the Grizzlies were hardly ferocious before that. In opening the season a middling 7-6, the Grizz lost at home to the Pelicans and Raptors. After losing Gasol, they’ve lost at home to a Rockets team playing without James Harden and to the Nets minus Deron Williams and Paul Pierce. They lost on Friday night to the Pelicans without Anthony Davis.

“We started off slow because we were just thinking too much,” Conley said. “We were thinking too much about the new offense, the management changes, whatever it may be. There was just a lot of stuff that had nothing to do with what we were doing on the court. We needed to zone out and we started playing well for about a week or so and then the big fella got hurt and injuries started playing a role. It’s just been an up and down season so far and we’ve got to find a way bring everything in.”

The Grizzlies show little cohesion or conviction with what they are trying to do on the court. The latest round of rumors that they’re trying to move power forward Zach Randolph’s big salary may also be enervating. Though he has 13 double-doubles on the season and Memphis is 7-0 when he leads the team in scoring, Z-Bo’s production has dropped off lately. Without Gasol to attract attention inside, defenses are swarming Randolph in the paint and over the past 10 games he’s made half of his shots just once.

Conley has had to become much more of a distributor in the offense without Gasol passing out of the post and his assists are up. But it has cut into his offense on a team that has precious little to spare.

It’s created an atmosphere at home like a balloon with a slow leak. The Grind House has often become an echo chamber of empty seats in a town where the hard-earned fan loyalty of recent playoff success does not run deep.

“It’s been tough for us to show up at the Grind House and not deliver,” Conley said. “That’s an area where we have to improve. We’ve got to understand that having a bad year or a bad month or two can sway fans one way or another in Memphis. What we built can go away fast.

“You can’t just come back and say you’re a Western Conference finals team. I think that’s what we have to realize. We have to go out there and work back up to that point. I do think still we’re capable of getting ourselves back into that shape. But as of today, we’re just not that same team.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 140) Featuring Brevin Knight And Terry Stotts

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Seventeen games. That’s all it took for the first true sign of panic to show in Brooklyn. Nets coach Jason Kidd “reassigned” Lawrence Frank from his position as his top assistant and now we move on to Phase 2 of whatever this science project that things have turned into for one half of the league’s New York component.

The Knicks, enduring monumental struggles of their own, could be next. They’ve lost nine straight games and there are rumors swirling about Mike Woodson‘s job security. Beat Brooklyn Thursday night (7 p.m. ET, TNT) or else …

We’re only a little over a month into the 2013-14 season and already there are alarms going off in the Eastern Conference, where the peace sign represents the numbers of teams (Indiana and Miami) clear and free of the .500 mark on the young season. And that’s exactly where we come in on Episode 140 of the Hang Time Podcast.

Before catching up with Brevin Knight about the Memphis Grizzlies and Terry Stotts (culled from the Dec. 2 episode of The Beat on NBA TV) about the Portland Trail Blazers, Western Conference teams that are thriving here of late, we spend some time trying to figure out how these teams have gotten into the respective messes they currently inhabit. What does any of this have to do with Kobe Bryant‘s looming comeback (as early Friday night in Sacramento potentially)?

Let’s just say it’s all a bit complicated!

So go ahead and check out all we have to offer — Sounds of the Game, this week’s installment of Braggin’ Rights (did someone say undefeated?), Rick Fox‘s spirited cover of Michael Jackson‘s “Man In The Mirror” and so much more — on Episode 140 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Brevin Knight and Terry Stotts:

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

One Team, One Stat: Grizz Win With D, But Must Find More Shooting

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Memphis Grizzlies, who are looking to build on a trip to the Western Conference finals.

The basics
MEM Rank
W-L 56-26 t-5
Pace 91.1 29
OffRtg 101.7 18
DefRtg 97.4 2
NetRtg +4.2 8

The stat

94.3 - Points allowed per 100 possessions by the Grizzlies’ defense with Tony Allen on the floor.

The context

That’s the lowest on-court DefRtg of 263 players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season. There’s no doubt that Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Whether he’s the most important defender on his team is another question.

As the anchor of the Grizzlies’ No. 2 defense (and a great one at that), Marc Gasol was more important. The defense suffered a hair more when Gasol stepped off the floor than it did when Allen stepped off, and Gasol played about 700 more minutes than Allen did last season.

Mike Conley, Tayshaun Prince and even Zach Randolph played their roles in the Grizzlies’ defense too. When the post-trade starting lineup was on the floor, Memphis allowed a paltry 89.1 points per 100 possessions. Only one lineup — the Spurs’ starters — that played at least 200 minutes together was better defensively.

The lineup was particularly good at forcing turnovers. Overall, *the Grizzlies ranked second, forcing 16.9 turnovers per 100 possessions. With Allen and Conley on the floor together, they forced 18.4.

*The Clippers ranked first, forcing 17.2 turnovers per 100 possessions, but forced just 11.3 out of the Grizzlies in the playoffs.

Here some clips from a December game in which the Grizz forced the Mavericks — who had the third lowest turnover rate in the league — to cough it up 19 times in less than 34 minutes with Conley and Allen on the floor…


.

Offense, of course, is another story. The Grizz ranked 18th offensively in the regular season and scored just 93.4 points per 100 possessions in getting swept by the Spurs in the conference finals.

Gasol and Randolph are maybe the best high-low combination in the league and Conley is a water bug who can get to the basket, but Memphis has lacked the 3-point shooting needed for a top-10 offense. They ranked 24th in 3-point percentage and dead last in 3-pointers made last season.

Allen, who shot 56-for-193 (29 percent) from outside the paint last season, can be left alone on the perimeter. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Grizzlies were better offensively with Conley and Jerryd Bayless in the backcourt, but it’s amazing how much better they were offensively…

Grizzlies efficiency with Allen, Bayless and Conley

On the floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
All three 172 112.5 91.7 +20.7 +55
Only Allen & Conley 1,594 101.6 92.7 +8.9 +238
Only Bayless & Conley 472 109.4 103.5 +5.9 +95
Only Allen & Bayless 265 90.0 102.8 -12.8 -75

Of course the defense took a big step back in those minutes. And that’s why the Grizzlies couldn’t let Allen walk as a free agent this summer. He’s a huge part of their success and their grit-n-grind identity.

If the Grizz are to be a better team this season, they will have to find the right balance between more perimeter offense (from Mike Miller and Quincy Pondexter) and the defense that made them who they are.

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

New Coaches: Heat Is On Already

 

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s not very often that 13 different teams decide to change coaches during one offseason. It’s a sign of these impatient times in which we live, especially when six of those teams finished last season with winning records.

It used to be “what have you done for me lately?” Now it’s “what have you done in the last 10 minutes?”

Of course, not every new coaching situation is the same. No one expects a pair of newcomers like Brad Stevens in Boston and Brett Brown in Philly to perform water-into-wine miracles with stripped-down rosters.

Doc Rivers goes coast-to-coast to show a 56-win Clippers team how to take the next step while Mike Brown returns to Cleveland with a roster full of young talent ready to bloom.

However, not everybody gets to settle in comfortably. Here are the five new coaches who’ll find that seat warm from Day One:

Dave Joerger, Grizzlies – Sure, he’s paid his dues and learned his craft in the minor leagues and as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NBA. All he’s got to do now is take over a club that is coming off the best season in franchise history, including a run to the Western Conference finals. While that means the Grizzlies have a contending core in Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley and a supporting cast to repeat their feat, it also means that every decision, every move that Joerger makes from the first day of training camp through the end of the playoffs will be judged against his predecessor Lionel Hollins, who evidently could do everything except make his stat-driven bosses appreciate him. In a Western Conference that just keeps getting stronger, it will be tough enough survive, let alone thrive with a ghost on his shoulder.

Larry Drew, Bucks — After spending three seasons in Atlanta, where he always had a winning record but could never get the Hawks past the second round of the playoffs, Drew moves to a Bucks franchise that overachieves if it climbs into the No. 8 seed to play the role of punching bag for the big boys in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee has turned over its backcourt from an inconsistent pair of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis to a spotty trio of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has size, athleticism and a bundle of talent. But he’s only 18 years old and the question is whether Drew will be given the opportunity to stick around long enough to watch him grow. The Bucks are one of two teams with plenty of space under the salary cap, but have no real intention of spending it except to get to the mandated league minimum. This is a Bucks franchise that doesn’t have a sense of direction and that hardly bodes well for a coach. It’s not even a lateral move for Drew and could make getting the next job that much harder.

Brian Shaw, Nuggets – After waiting so long to finally get his opportunity to become a head coach, Shaw steps into a situation that is almost the opposite of Joerger. The Nuggets let 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl walk along with Masai Ujiri, the general manager who built the team, and then blew a gaping hole in the side of the 57-win, No. 3 seed in the West roster by letting Andre Iguodala get away, too. Shaw still has Ty Lawson as the fire-starter in the backcourt, but one of these seasons 37-year-old Andre Miller has got to run out of gas. As if the rookie coach didn’t have enough to juggle with the mercurial JaVale McGee, now he’s got Nate Robinson coming off his playoff heroics in Chicago with that ego taller than the Rockies. It’s never a good time to be stepping into a new job when management seems to be pulling back.

Steve Clifford, Bobcats – He’s another one of the longtime assistant coaches that has paid his dues and was ready to slide down the bench into the boss’s spot. But Charlotte? That’s more like the ejector seat in James Bond’s old Aston Martin. The Bobcats have had six coaches in the seven years that the iconic Michael Jordan has been head of basketball operations and then majority owner. From bad drafting (Adam Morrison) to bad trades (Ben Gordon, Corey Maggette), through constant changes of philosophy and direction, the Bobcats simply go through coaches faster than sneakers. Now it’s general manager Rich Cho calling the shots, but that didn’t stop the firing of Mike Dunlap after just one season. Clifford gets veteran big man Al Jefferson to anchor the middle of the lineup, but he’d better have his seat belt fastened tight and watch out for those fingers on the ejector button.

Mike Malone, Kings — Not that anyone expects Malone to be under immediate pressure in terms of wins and losses. What the Kings need now that they have a future in Sacramento is to re-establish a foundation on the court. Of course, the multi-million-dollar question is whether that base will include the talented and petulant DeMarcus Cousins. Everybody knows that he’s physically got what it takes to be a dominant force in the league. But the jury is still out when you’ve played three years in the league and you’re still getting suspended for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.” Paul Westphal and Keith Smart couldn’t get through to Cousins to make him somebody the Kings can rely on and were spat out. Now as the big man heads toward a summer where he could become a restricted free agent, the franchise needs to know if sinking big bucks in his future is an investment or a waste of time. That’s the intense heat on Malone and the clock will be ticking immediately.

West Guards Set Up For All-Star Snub

It could be harder for Steph Curry (left) or Ricky Rubio to get their a taste of the bright lights of All-Star selection.

It could be harder for Steph Curry (left) or Ricky Rubio to get a taste of the bright lights of All-Star selection.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Remember when Steph Curry got the All-Star snub? Charles Barkley was darn well hacked off: “For them to leave Steph Curry off that team, it’s a joke; it’s a flat-out joke.”

Curry’s coach Mark Jackson also wasn’t amused by “them,” his Western Conference peers who pick the reserves, even with Golden State Warriors forward David Lee getting the nod:

“We know who the jurors are,” Jackson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think you have to question the process. I’m not going to go all Dr. King on us, but you’ve got to stand for what’s right, man. These guys have changed this whole organization. They have led. They have sacrificed. They have defended. They have competed.”

West coaches really might need to take cover this year. Barring injuries or unforeseen awful seasons, those 15 coaches will be locked in a no-win pickle to select the backup “backcourt” players.

Maybe this year Lee gets the snub, or some other “frontcourt” player like Zach Randolph or Tim Duncan (everyone thought he was done after his 2012 omission anyway, right?) to make room for an extra guard or two because there is going to be an absolutely outrageously long list of sure-fire or close-to-it All-Star guards.

The 2013 All-Star team featured five guards on the 12-man roster: Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant as the fan-voted starters, with Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and first-timer James Harden as the coach-selected reserves.

Which one of those guys slides and doesn’t make the 2014 team? Kobe’s coming off Achilles surgery and his return date remains uncertain. Still, he’s expected back well before the All-Star Game and no matter how he fares it’s far-fetched to think fans won’t vote him in for a 16th consecutive start. Just go ahead and pencil in the L.A. boys as starters again.

Will Westbrook falter coming off his knee surgery? Doubtful. Could Parker, a five-time All-Star who has played his best ball over the last two seasons, slip? Possible, I suppose, if Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rests him from Christmas Day to MLK Day.

Here’s the thing: Even if one of those guys slide, the list of replacements is excessive, starting with the Warriors’ Curry, whose trajectory is just now starting to mirror that of the space shuttle upon liftoff. Seven of the West’s eight playoff teams from last season boast an All-Star-caliber point guard or shooting guard. Memphis point Mike Conley is gaining steam and it’s possible his 2012-13 numbers, a career-best of 14.6 pgg (and 2.2 spg, third overall) and 6.1 apg, could rise in a faster-paced offense under first-year coach Dave Joerger. Denver’s speed merchant Ty Lawson was a bubble guy in ’12, but he might be in for quite the transition with blow-it-out George Karl‘s departure probably ushering in more traditional sets under rookie coach Brian Shaw.

Still, the list rolls on…

Three West lottery teams offer undeniable candidates: Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio, who is poised for a breakout after last season’s tough return from ACL surgery; Portland’s Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who has reinforcements this year that should help him get even better; and West newcomer and Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, who, oh yeah, was a first-time All-Star last season in that other conference with the 76ers.

Want more? Eric Bledsoe, stashed behind CP3 these last two seasons in Clipperland, is primed to bust out in the Valley of the Suns; Andre Iguodala, a 2012 All-Star, can’t be counted out with the Warriors, unless sharpshooter Klay Thompson beats him out; and Monta Ellis, an All-Star in his own mind even if he’s yet to wear the uniform, could be in for a big year in Dallas feeding off 11-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki (who just might want his “frontcourt” spot back).

Oh wait, did I mention that eight-time All-Star Steve Nash, who turns 40 a week before the All-Star Game, made the team in 2008, ’10 and ’12?

Obviously he’s due in ’14. Right?

Best of luck, coaches. And be prepared to duck.

Wizards’ Wall Working With The Glove





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Dwight Howard and other big men around the NBA haven’t been shy about approaching Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon for tutoring in recent summers.

We haven’t heard much about the point guards finding a Hall of Famer to serve in a similar capacity, until now. And that’s one of the reasons why I have no problem with the Washington Wizards putting their faith in John Wall (to the tune of the reported five-year, $80 million extension he signed last week).

Wall plans on learning from one of the best in Hall of Famer Gary Payton, according to J. Michael of CSN Washington:

Wall still plans to hook up with Gary Payton, a Hall of Fame point guard who was one of the best of his generation, in Seattle before returning to train with the Wizards on Aug. 20. Plus, he had ample time to watch the nuances of Tony Parker as he led the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA finals and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Mike Conley, who helped his team advance to the Western Conference finals.

“Footwork also, just like catching the ball and working on pivots and stuff,” Wall said about what he has done this off-season in addition to refining jump shot. “Floaters. Watched a lot of Tony Parker throughout the playoffs and I see how Mike Conley added to his game after I went to two of his playoff series.”

Wall also is going to lobby coach Randy Wittman to allow him to do something else.

“Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to post up this year,” he said.

That’s where Payton, who also stood 6-4 and could be too physical for opposing point guards, could help most. Like Wall, he wasn’t the best jump shooter to start his career but became a solid one. By his fourth season, Payton shot better than 50% from the field. He only was a career 31.7% shooter from three.

If Wall’s career is on a similar trajectory  to Payton’s at the same stage, the confidence Wall and the Wizards are showing in each other right now won’t seem nearly as far-fetched as it sounds to some.

“My main thing as a person, I’m not a follower. I like to be a leader,” Wall said during his news conference last week. “I feel like I would have had the opportunity to go anywhere. I feel like I’d be a follower trying to build a legacy somewhere else. I feel like I’m a person who gives my word and my commitment to where I started and that’s where I’d like to finish.

“We haven’t been to the promised land of winning a championship for years. I know we’re a long way from there, but that’s my main goal before my career is done, to win one here.”

Again, those are ambitious words from a youngster who has never been an All-Star or even been to the playoffs. But the fact that Wall is going down this path, in theory and in practice, bodes well for the Wizards and their fans.

Lots of guys talk about being leaders, of doing things the right way. Wall is doing his best to live it, to embody the leadership traits that an elder like Payton did when he became one of the game’s all-time greats.


USA Basketball: Roster Breakdown





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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe.

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

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

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

WHITE TEAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



BLUE TEAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



FOUR MORE …

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memphis had claim on Miller’s NBA soul

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It’s only a matter of time before someone connects the dots between Mike Miller‘s decision to sign with the Memphis Grizzlies and LeBron James‘ prospects for heading back some day to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Miller, after all, didn’t make his post-amnesty decision in a vacuum. The other teams said to be interested in him – Oklahoma City, Houston, Denver – could offer various combinations of competitiveness, attractive locales, star teammates to do the heavy lifting and other factors to sway Miller’s choice. Money really wasn’t the issue, with the Miami Heat on the hook – per amnesty provisions of the collective bargaining agreement – for an estimated $12.9 million over the next two seasons.

So what clinched it for the Grizzlies over Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the potential of the Thunder? What nudged aside the excitement offered by the Rockets, with Dwight Howard to collapse defenses down from Miller’s preferred “let it fly” zones and James Harden to slice and kick?

Memphis was home. Or at least the closest thing to it, until Mitchell, S.D., lands an NBA franchise.

Sources close to Miller had said in the days before he made up his mind that the Grizzlies were the heavy favorites because he and his family so enjoyed living there during his stint from February 2003 to June 2008. He was traded there by Orlando on his 23rd birthday, stayed until he was 28 and essentially grew up in Memphis as an NBA professional and deep-threat brand name.

Miller was the league’s top rookie in 2001 for Orlando. He had a couple of knockaround seasons in Minnesota and Washington. He had a prime seat on the Heatles’ tour bus from the start, thanks to his five-year, $29 million deal to provide outside scoring over James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

But Miller never contributed as much to, or felt as big a part of, a team as he did with the Grizzlies. He was a integral part of the first real success in franchise history, their run of playoff berths in 2004, 2005 and 2006. In the second of those, no Memphis player scored more points (1,022). In the third, Miller was a runaway winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man award.

In 2006-07, the Grizzlies fell to 22-60 but Miller had his most productive season, posting career highs pretty much across the board, including scoring (18.5 ppg), assists (4.3) and 3-pointers made (202). He still holds the franchise marks for points in a game (45) and a half (27), and goes back ready to add to his 717 3-pointers for the Grizz on 1,778 attempts (a franchise-best 41.4 percent).

Guard Mike Conley was a rookie in Miller’s last Memphis season and he played alongside Marc Gasol‘s brother Pau. Apparently, he doesn’t blame the franchise for trading him on draft night in 2008 in the Kevin Love/O.J. Mayo deal, because it put him in motion to land in and win rings with Miami.

The player Memphis is getting isn’t the same guy who left. That one was healthier and, in an odd way, determined to prove to the Timberwolves and the Wizards that he was more than just a pretty 3-point specialist; he averaged career lows of 3.4 3FGAs per 36 minutes, though his assists bumped up while setting up inferior shooters. The past three seasons, Miller has been a limping, wincing M*A*S*H unit with a variety of ailments, missing 91 games.

Still, the winning, the rings and the notoriety send him back to the Grizzlies as a rejuvenated player. And a man in demand. Memphis ranked last in the NBA in 3-point attempts (1,107, 158 fewer than Chicago and 278 fewer than No. 28 Utah). It was 24th in 3-point accuracy (34.5 percent), which explains the reluctance to launch. Only 14.9 percent of Memphis’ points came on 3-pointers, which put too much burden on its No. 1-ranked defense while allowing its opponents to pack inside vs. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

So what does all this have to do with Miller’s former teammate, the MVP machine in Miami? Miller’s headed back to the place where he established himself, where he felt most at home. He has rings, so that particular pressure is off. There’s a chance to be part of something fresh with the Grizzlies that’s even bigger than what he knew in his first go-round there.

Plug James, the Cavaliers and Cleveland (or Akron, as far as the home base) into the above paragraph and a similar move in 2014 or thereafter, on a grander scale, starts to make sense.