Posts Tagged ‘Nicolas Batum’

Offensive improvement in Charlotte


VIDEO: NBA Rooks: Frank Kaminsky — Taking Stock

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Charlotte Hornets have been the league’s most improved offensive team this season, having scored 6.8 points per 100 possessions more than they did last season. That’s a bigger jump than the Oklahoma City Thunder have made by getting more than twice as many games from Kevin Durant as they did last year.

The Hornets are the only team that has gone from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in offensive efficiency.

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There are two big factors in the Hornets’ improvement. First is the additions of Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin. Second is the improved shooting of Kemba Walker. And the two really go hand in hand.

Through his first four seasons, Walker had the lowest effective field goal percentage (44.0 percent) among 151 players who took at least 2,000 shots over that time. And he hadn’t shown much improvement from year to year.

This season, though, Walker is one of the league’s most improved shooters. Among 109 players who have taken at least 500 shots both last season and this season, only Kenneth Faried has seen a bigger jump in effective field goal percentage.

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The additions of Batum and Lin have certainly had an effect on Walker. In fact, Walker has an effective field goal percentage of 54.4 percent on passes from Batum or Lin, and just 46.2 percent on passes from any of his other teammates.

“They give me more space,” Walker said after the Hornets’ win in Brooklyn on Tuesday. “I’ve always been good at creating my own space and those guys just help me get extra space.”

It makes sense. With extra playmakers and better shooters, there’s less pressure on Walker to carry the offense. And when the initial action of a possession is taken away by the defense, there is somebody on the weak side who can better take advantage of a close-out.

What doesn’t necessarily correspond with the additions of Batum and Lin is that Walker is shooting off the dribble as much as he did last season. According to SportVU, 75 percent of his jump shots have been pull-up jumpers, a slight increase over last season (74 percent). Only 32 percent of his buckets have been assisted, down from 35 percent last season.

But Walker has shot a higher percentage of those pull-up jumpers from 3-point range, and and shot 32.0 percent on pull-up 3s. That’s still below the league average (35.3 percent), but is a big improvement from his pull-up 3-point percentage last season (25.6 percent). Walker isn’t exactly Stephen Curry or Damian Lillard, but he already has more than twice as many pull-up 3s in 2015-16 (70) as he had in 2014-15 (32).

“A lot of the credit does go to those guys for giving me the opportunity to get open shots,” Walker said. “But at the same time, I still got to make them.”

“He put in the work,” Al Jefferson added. “Playing with Nic and playing with Jeremy is one thing, but he’s still able to knock down shots and get his shots off.”

The Hornets have been a top-10 defensive team in each of Steve Clifford‘s three seasons in Charlotte. But in the Bobcats/Hornets’ first 11 seasons in the league, they never ranked better than 23rd in offensive efficiency. Now, with the league’s most improved offense, they’re one of only five teams (and one of only two in the Eastern Conference) that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor.

Those are the makings of a team that will be a tough out in the playoffs.

Blazers look to continue to follow lead of Lillard, McCollum


VIDEO: Taking a closer look at Damian Lillard’s recent hot streak

NEW YORK CITY — They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, but Broadway had nothing on the Portland Trail Blazers’ visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden last week. The Blazers made certain everything was illuminated pregame by setting up a battery of bright lights in the center of the room facing the lockers, which shined into the faces of the players as they prepped to play the Knicks. The lights were supposed to make sure the Portland players were wide-awake and energized for tip-off.

Whatever Portland is doing right now, it is clearly working. The Trail Blazers are 14-4 in their last 18 games, a run that has vaulted them from a team mostly overlooked in the heavyweight Western Conference to a 33-30 squad with a firm grip on a seventh seed. Portland will look to continue its winning play tonight at Detroit (6 ET, NBA TV), the Blazers’ last stop on a six-game road trip.

While Portland’s players and coaches are quick to credit improved play and recognition on the defensive end as a catalyst for this run, it’s tough to overlook the Blazers’ backcourt, which features the dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards have combined to average 46.7 points and 11.2 assists through Portland’s first 63 games, and have a lot in common: they’re both in their mid-twenties; both were four-year players at smaller colleges (Lillard at Weber State, McCollum at Lehigh); both were lottery picks by the Blazers.

“They’re both very mature guys,” says Portland coach Terry Stotts. “Not even talking in a basketball context, they’re both very mature. I think partly that’s who they are, but neither one of them had it easy — they had to work to get to this point. Not to say that other players don’t, but they had a different route. I think that helps with their maturity and their mental approach to their game and the team game.”

While Lillard made an impact right away, winning Rookie of the Year in 2013, McCollum’s arrival has occurred at a more measured pace. His first two seasons were hampered by injuries, and when he was healthy, it was hard to get playing time behind veterans such as Wesley Matthews. But with Matthews departed, as well as vets such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, McCollum has stepped into the leadership void and thrived, averaging 20.9 points in 61 starts this season.

“I always knew at some point I’d be an impact player at this level,” McCollum says, “I just didn’t know when. It was more about being healthy and having the right opportunity. Once it came I looked forward to it and I relished the opportunity to perform at a high level, and help my team each and every night. So I always knew there was going to be a time I was going to be able to do this, I just didn’t know when.”

McCollum credits some of his success this season to playing within the same system his entire career: “I know our offense, our schemes defensively, how we like to guard pick and rolls, our off ball screens, things like that. And just having a better understanding of our offense and having run the point, being able to direct guys and put guys in positions, and also to play the two and understand each and everybody’s role. I think as you play in this system under one coach for long periods of time, you begin to understand what they’re looking for.”

By now, it’s pretty clear what you’re going to get from Damian Lillard — over his first three seasons, the 6-foot-3 point guard averaged 20.2 points to go with 6.1 assists, and has been named an All-Star twice. Through his first 47 games this season, Lillard averaged 24.3 points, including back-to-back 30-point games before the All-Star break.

Lillard was not named a Western Conference All-Star this season, and while Lillard brushes off talk of a snub being a motivating factor, the numbers suggest otherwise: Since the All-Star break, Lillard has averaged 33.6 points in nine contests, including two games of at least 50 points (51 against Golden State, 50 against Toronto). Overall, Lillard has scored at least 30 in 10 of his last 12 games.

“From day one, he’s been a remarkably consistent player,” Stotts says of Lillard. “The only difference I would say is that he — and it’s not necessarily just during this stretch — is he’s accepted the mantle of leadership and being the best player and taking that responsibility. He’s continued to get better in that role. Obviously that stretch of 30-point games is pretty remarkable, but I can’t say he’s doing it differently that he’s done it before.”

“One thing I feel like other people are learning is that I’m always up for the challenge,” Lillard says. “Anything that’s put in front of me, I might not be great at it, I might not do the greatest job to begin with, but I’m going to come around. If I don’t do well at it, I’m going to say I didn’t do well at it, and I’ll be able to say I worked on it. So… just embracing challenges. I’ll stand up to whatever, and I think that’s what’s happened this season.”

For the Blazers to maintain their recent success, and perhaps even make some noise in the postseason, McCollum and Lillard will have to continue to lead the way. While they’re clearly in the conversation when it comes to the NBA’s best backcourts — the Splash Brothers in Golden State have a pretty good argument — McCollum notes they haven’t really had time to appreciate just how good they’ve been this season.

“I know we’re very competitive guys,” McCollum says, “and we’ve been playing well together, 50-60 games into the season, and now we’re establishing ourselves around the league. But we’re just doing what we always knew we were capable of doing. Now it’s just about getting better each day and you don’t take any steps back. Have we looked at it? Not really, because we’re still in season, we’re still trying to complete some of our goals. We’ll evaluate that more after the season.”

Though the Blazers have clearly unlocked a higher level of play over the last few weeks, Lillard believes now the task is to try and sustain this level of play the rest of the way. Houston and Utah are just a few losses behind Portland, meaning many of the young Blazers find themselves in their first playoff race. Lillard, the team’s veteran leader at all of 25 years old, says the Blazers “can’t even look that far ahead.” Instead, Lillard believes the Blazers simply need to continue to perform under the bright lights.

“The season is what, six, seven, eight months?” Lillard asks. “We’ve done it for a month and a half. I think the next step is to be able to sustain it for a longer period of time. At the start of the season we were 4-2 — we had four games we got after it, we did it for a short amount of time. Then we had a seven-game losing streak. Then we picked it up for one game. Then we had drop-offs. Now I think we figured out how to do it for a longer span of time. The next step is to learn how to permanently be this team. As of now, this is who we are.”

Analytics Art: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s Return Fueling Hornets Defense

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Former No. 2 overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist seemed poised for a breakout campaign ahead of his fourth professional season. The fourth-year leap is not uncommon, as Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls put on display last year by amalgamating everything together — making his first All-Star team and winning Most Improved Player.

Unfortunately for Hornets fans, Kidd-Gilchrist’s shot at emulating a similar jolt in production was put on hold when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder during the preseason opener. The injury required surgery, and he missed the first three months of the 2015-16 season as a result.

The 22-year-old was expected to be sidelined for six months, but he made his return well ahead of that timeline on Jan. 29 against the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s important to note that we’re dealing with a small sample size here (three games), but the Hornets have been a vastly improved defensive squad with MKG back in the lineup.

In the 98 minutes Charlotte has played with Kidd-Gilchrist thus far, opponents are scoring 94.2 points per 100 possessions on an effective field goal percentage of 44.3 percent. Compare that to the time spent competing without him (more than 2,200 minutes), in which the Hornets surrender an offensive rating of 105.3 to accompany an eFG% of 50.4 percent.

Again, the sample size is tiny — and the numbers benefit from a road dismantling of the lowly Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 31 — but a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday hints that the improvement with MKG is no fluke. His tenacity and raw skill on the defensive end sets the tone for coach Steve Clifford’s schemes.

Per Bill Kiser for the Charlotte Observer, Clifford was pleased to have the youngster back and playing at a high level.

“I knew how hard he had worked on his conditioning,” Clifford said leading up to the game against Cleveland. “To be honest, I was surprised at how long he was able to play. I just thought it would take him a while to play so well, but he’s worked so hard and it’s obviously showing.”

Through his first three games played in 2016, the former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging a double-double with 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Both of those marks would be career highs if sustained throughout the remainder of the season.

Not surprisingly, Kidd-Gilchrist’s player efficiency rating (PER) is also at a personal best.

The Hornets have been stung by the injury bug throughout the season. Obviously MKG has been out, but Al Jefferson has been sidelined 30 games and counting, Nic Batum missed time due to a toe injury and Kemba Walker was absent for the matchup against LeBron James and Co. nursing a sore left knee.

Despite all of those setbacks, Charlotte remains in the hunt for a playoff spot. The addition of Kidd-Gilchrist adds a big spark, but the Hornets still need to get healthy after the All-Star break. If they do, the Buzz could cobble together a stellar second half a la the Utah Jazz a season ago, who went 19-10 with the league’s best defensive rating. Stay tuned.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

One Team, One Stat: Bricks In Charlotte


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Charlotte Hornets

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Charlotte Hornets, who were the worst at what matters most.

The stat

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The context

20151016_cha_basicsShooting is the most important part of NBA basketball, and the Hornets were the worst shooting team in the league. From a straight make-or-miss perspective (FG%), the Hornets shot better than the Philadelphia 76ers. But the Sixers took a lot more 3s and, therefore, registered more points per shot.

The Hornets ranked 26th in regard to what percentage of their shots came from the restricted area and 24th in regard to what percentage of their shots came from 3-point range. That’s bad, because those are the best places on the floor to shoot from.

And to compound the problem of their shot selection, the Hornets were the first team since we started tracking shot locations in 1996-97 to rank last in both 3-point percentage and field goal percentage in the restricted area.

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Marvin Williams was the only Hornet to shoot at least 100 3-pointers at or above the league average percentage (35.0 percent), and he barely eclipsed it at 35.8 percent. The other seven Hornets to attempt at least 100 combined to shoot 358-for-1,188 (30.1 percent) from beyond the arc.

And of the six Hornets to attempt at least 150 shots in the restricted area, four ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in percentage. Among them was 7-footer Cody Zeller.

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The Hornets will be a better team just by losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (to injury) and Lance Stephenson, who combined to shoot 32 percent from outside the paint last season. Stephenson was the worst jump shooter in the league and Kidd-Gilchrist didn’t take a single 3-pointer.

Note: Kidd-Gilchrist will still be missed tremendously. He’s one of the best young defenders in the league and he was basically the only Hornet that looked to run the floor last season.

New addition Nicolas Batum had a down year from beyond the arc last season, but has been one of the league’s best finishers at the rim over the last two years.

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Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky give the Hornets shooting on the frontline, but Hawes shot 31 percent from beyond the arc last season and Kaminsky is a rookie. And Charlotte’s ability to improve offensively could depend on Jeremy Lamb, who takes Kidd-Gilchrist’s place in the rotation.

Lamb didn’t play much in Oklahoma City last season, but was in the rotation two years ago and shot a solid 35.6 percent from 3-point range. Of course, he probably won’t be as open in Charlotte as he was playing next to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

In their 11 seasons, the Hornets have never ranked higher than 23rd in offensive efficiency. If they hope to be better than that this year, they’ll have to shoot better, both inside and out.

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

Report: Hornets lose defensive ace Kidd-Gilchrist for 6 months


VIDEO: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffers shoulder injury vs. Magic

The Charlotte Hornets will be without the services of starting small forward and defensive stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the next six months after he undergoes shoulder surgery,  according to a report from Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.

Here’s more from Wojnarowski on the injury and Kidd-Gilchrist’s timeline:

Kidd-Gilchrist is expected to miss six months with the injury, which wouldn’t allow for a possible return until the final weeks of the season in April. It leaves little hope that Kidd-Gilchrist can return to the lineup this season.

Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a separated right shoulder in Saturday’s preseason victory over Orlando, and an MRI on Monday in Charlotte revealed the need for surgery.

Kidd-Gilchrist dislocated his right shoulder in the Hornets’ preseason win over Orlando Saturday. After being reevaluated today in Charlotte it was determined that he needs surgery and will miss the potentially the entire season, depending on his rehabilitation process.

His impact on the Hornets is undeniable. Their best perimeter defender, the Hornets were just 5-20 in the games he missed last season and 28-29 in the game he played. Kidd-Gilchrist signed a four-year, $52 million contract extension with the Hornets over the summer.

The Hornets will have to do some shuffling to replace him in the starting lineup. Veteran swingman Nicolas Batum, acquired in a summer trade with Portland, could shift from shooting guard to small forward as a fill in. Batum played small forward for the first sevens seasons of his NBA career with the Trail Blazers.


VIDEO: Hornets coach Steve Clifford discusses Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s injury

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 28


VIDEO: James Harden and the Houston Rockets are ready to roar after a banner 2014-15 season

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard ready to take control in Portland | Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott | Melo ready for end to long summer in New York | Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind

No. 1: Lillard ready to take control in Portland — The leadership mantle in Portland is now Damian Lillard‘s and Lillard’s alone, as he enters his first training camp with the Trail Blazers without LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum around to help shoulder the load. In preparation for his new role, Lillard made sure everyone understood that he was not only willing to take control and lead the way but ready to do so. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has the story …

One by one across the country, their phones lit up and vibrated, a text message arriving to members of the Portland Trail Blazers with an idea that could change their upcoming season.

For some, like Meyers Leonard in Portland, the number with the 510 area code was already programmed into his phone. Others, like rookie Pat Connaughton in Boston, were perplexed until they opened the message.

“Yo Pat, it’s Dame. We are going to San Diego to get the team together and to get ready for the season …”

The texts were from Damian Lillard, the lone starter remaining from a popular and successful Blazers team that disintegrated amid a summer of free agency and trades. Now, as the undisputed star of the team, Lillard was wading into his first wave of leadership.

It was August, and he wanted to get the young and unproven roster together before players started reporting to Portland in September. After some collaboration with teammates CJ McCollum and Leonard, Lillard settled on San Diego.

Soon, 11 Blazers – some complete strangers to each other– were booking flights and hotel reservations.

A Blazers player had never, in the franchise’s 45 years, attempted an off-season team-building event of this magnitude. Then again, this summer marked one of the biggest transitions in team’s history, a swift and purposeful dismantling of a talented squad in favor of a rebuild with cheaper and younger players.

Success this season won’t be judged wholey on wins and losses, but rather player development and growth. Among the more visible and tangible storylines is how and what kind of leader Lillard will be, and how much his influence could improve the team.

It’s why his August text could determine the course of this season.

***

No. 2: Kupchak reiterates support for Byron Scott — Byron Scott doesn’t have to look over his shoulder this season in Los Angeles. He has the full support of the front office, so says his boss, Mitch Kupchak. The general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers reiterated his support for Scott on the eve of what should be one of the most interesting training camps in recent memory for the franchise. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News has more …

For a franchise that usually evaluates itself on wins and losses, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has shifted his expectations.

Though Lakers coach Byron Scott oversaw the team going 21-61 last season in what marked the franchise’s worst record in its 67-year-old history, Kupchak has not wavered in his support for Scott. Kupchak remained mindful of the Lakers missing an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries and a roster filled with unproven talent.

“He has more to work with this year,” Kupchak said of Scott. “I would think he would agree to that. So I’m hoping he’s rewarded with more W’s. I don’t expect him to conduct training camp any differently than he did last year.”

That will begin Tuesday in Honolulu. The Lakers’ nine-day camps will include seven days of practices and two exhibitions. Scott has developed a strong reputation for running conditioning-heavy practices in training camp, the latest one including three two-a-day sessions.

That partly explains Kupchak’s support for Scott, who has three years remaining on his contract. Kupchak praised Scott for the steady flow of Lakers players visiting the practice facility this summer for workouts. Even amid the losses, Kupchak also argued Scott improved the team’s culture.

“Under really tough circumstances, I thought he kept the group together,” Kupchak said of Scott. “They played hard every game and every practice was organized. He was always upbeat. I never sensed a down moment. When he went home at night, it had to hurt. But I thought he did a great job.”

***

No. 3: Melo ready for end to long summer in New York — When your names is tossed around the way Carmelo Anthony‘s has been all offseason, the start of training camp and actual basketball is welcome respite from the drama. Anthony said the drama is in his rear view as he readies himself and his team for camp, writes Daniel Popper of the New York Daily News

Over the past several months, Carmelo Anthony has sent mixed signals – publicly and privately – about his thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason.

Anthony’s concerns stemmed from Phil Jackson missing out on a bonafide star in free agency and drafting a project in 19-year-old Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in June. But on Sunday, with Knicks training camp a day away, Anthony voiced support for the organization’s offseason moves.

“I was very excited about what we did this offseason. I liked the moves that we made,” Anthony said at his youth camp in Manhattan. “Was it any of the stars that we wanted to go after and go get? No. But the pieces that we got, I’m really intrigued.”

The Daily News reported in June that Anthony was unhappy with the Knicks’ decision to draft Porzingis, a pick that influenced Lamarcus Aldridge spurning the Knicks for the Spurs.

The Knicks wanted to play Aldridge at center to let Porzingis develop – something Aldridge was vehemently against. And at Team USA training camp in August, Anthony expressed frustration at how the entire situation unfolded, even saying he “threw” his headband when he found out the Knicks wanted Aldridge to change positions.

But now the offseason is in the past, and Anthony’s main concern will be returning from the season-ending knee surgery he underwent in February.

Anthony said Day 1 of training camp Monday will mark the end of a “long summer.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Anthony said. “Just glad that I can be in the position I’m in right now.”

***

No. 4: Grizzlies doubling down on grit and grind — Small ball? Not in Memphis, where the rugged Grizzlies are holding on tight to their grit and grind roots. The rest of the league is welcome to tinker with smaller lineups and the pace-and-space revolution. When you have Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchoring your middle, there is no need to stray. Griz coach Dave Joerger isn’t interested in tinkering with what’s worked in Memphis for years, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal …

Joerger’s mantra this summer has been for the already tough Griz to get “nasty,” doubling down on the grit-and-grind mentality that has made the team a perennial Western Conference contender.

The Griz remain committed to a bruising brand of basketball that’s served them well even as the rest of the NBA has become obsessed with 3-point shooting.

NBA.com recently wrote in a 2015-16 season-preview of the Griz: “They’d rather stay true to themselves and hope to be in position once again to scare the next NBA champion in the playoffs. That champion is unlikely to be Memphis, but the Grizzlies will be scary.”

That assessment might be selling the Grizzlies short. Despite the recurring theme of the need for long-range shooting, the Griz return with more versatility, the same expectation of winning 50-plus games and a place among the elite in the Western Conference.

There will, however, be challenges to work through during camp if the Griz are going to make good on their promise to contend:

1. Sorting out the wing positions: No one would ever accuse the Griz of lacking depth. They are deepest at the wing positions, meaning Joerger has a nice problem in determining who will get the bulk of the minutes at shooting guard and small forward. Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Vince Carter and Matt Barnes are veterans with meaningful careers. Last year, Joerger settled on starting the 6-5 Lee at shooting guard and the 6-4 Allen at small forward to start the season.

The coaching staff acknowledged concerns about such a small lineup given small forwards around the league typically stand 6-7 and taller. Green, 6-9, joined the roster around midseason. He played off the bench but was quickly inserted into the starting lineup and then went back to the bench. Green never found his footing and was inconsistent. With Green participating in a full camp, it’s conceivable that he will start at small forward. Joerger prefers the longer, more versatile Green. The question at camp will be who will start at shooting guard. Lee is a 3-point threat. Allen’s disruptive defense and infectious energy clearly make the Grizzlies “nasty.” As for second-year guard Jordan Adams? That’s a different topic.

.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors are ready to take a (minimum deal) gamble on former No. 1 overall pick and native son Anthony Bennett … Year 2 of the (Jason) Kidd experience in Milwaukee comes with great expectationsMarcus Morris is still taking shots at the Phoenix SunsKlay Thompson is already taking full advantage of Steve Nash in his role as the Golden State Warriors’ part-time player development consultantThe Thunder have hired an assistant coach, Royal Ivey, with deep ties to Kevin Durant

ICYMI: The best alley-oops from last season:


VIDEO: 2014-15 Top alley-oops

Spain comes back to beat France and earn spot in ’16 Olympics

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Eurobasket semifinal between France and Spain, with an Olympic bid on the line, lived up to the hype. Spain escaped with a 80-75, overtime victory to book its ticket to Rio, and France can only look back at a blown opportunity on its home floor.

France had been the better team all tournament and the better team through 34 minutes on Thursday. But it all came crashing down quickly.

The knockout round hosts led by nine with six minutes to go in regulation and by two late in overtime, but missed four free throws in the final 1:14 to blow their first chance at a trip to the Olympics.

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In the fourth period, Pau Gasol led a 14-2 Spain run to turn that nine-point deficit into a three-point lead. France survived with a Nicolas Batum 3-pointer with 14 seconds left. But with a chance to tie the game with three free throws with 15 seconds left in overtime, Batum missed the all three (the third intentionally) and a Gasol dunk gave Spain its five-point win.

Gasol finished with 40 points and 11 rebounds, with Spain running most of its late-game offense through him in the low post against Rudy Gobert. Batum (3-for-14 shooting) and Nando De Colo (6-for-12) each had 14 points for Spain. Tony Parker had a big bucket in overtime, but shot 4-for-17.

Not only did Spain earn an Olympic bid, but they avenged last year’s loss in the World Cup quarterfinals on their home floor. Spain is now 6-3 against France in major tournaments over the last seven years.

With how it went down at last year’s World Cup and with two early losses in this tournament, Spain looked like it had lost its grip on its status as the best national team outside of the United Stats. But it will now play for its third Eurobasket championship in the last seven years.

Spain will play the winner of Friday’s semifinal, Lithuania vs. Serbia, in the gold medal game on Sunday. France moves on to the bronze medal game and will still have a chance to qualify for next year’s Olympics. As a 3-7 finisher at Eurobasket, they’ll be entered into one of next year’s qualifying tournaments.

Earlier on Thursday, Greece beat Latvia and Italy beat the Czech Republic to earn bids to the qualifying tournaments. Latvia and the Czech Republic will play for seventh place and Europe’s final automatic bid to the qualifying tournaments on Friday.

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Morning Shootaround — Sept. 6



VIDEO: Day 1 Wrap: EuroBasket 2015

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Colangelo looks ahead to 2016 | Nowitzki, Schröder lead German win on Day One of EuroBasket 2015 | Bonner looking beyond basketball | Philippines still working to add Clarkson

No. 1: Colangelo looks ahead to 2016 The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are about a year away, but USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo understands that it’s never too early to look ahead. Speaking with the Boston Globe‘s Gary Washburn, Colangelo looked forward to some of the USA’s most likely competition for a gold medal in Rio…

“Well, first of all, there’s a wave — just like the NBA — there’s a continual wave of new young players. Generally speaking, that’s true internationally also,” Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “I think without question, you’d have to say Spain, if they get their players to perform and are healthy, despite the fact they are aging, they’re very formidable.

“Serbia is considered a very strong international team coming into this Olympic year. I think France is another team, age aside, there’s a lot of talent, and a big sleeper in the whole mix is Canada. Canada has some extraordinary, very good, fine young players and they’re going to be heard from. If it’s not ’16, it will be ’20.”

The Serbian team is led by Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica and Fenerbahce Ulker’s Bojan Bogdanovic. Depending on the status of Spurs guard Tony Parker for next year’s Games, France could be the stiffest competition with Nicolas Batum, Evan Fournier, Rudy Gobert, and Joffrey Lauvergne.

Team Canada is loaded with young prospects such as Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Andrew Nicholson, and Cory Joseph. The Canadians are currently vying to qualify for their first Olympic Games since 2000.

“If you’ve competed your whole life, you certainly understand that the wins yesterday are yesterday’s news,” Colangelo said. “All that matters is now. That’s a driver for all of us who are involved in USA Basketball. The culture that we’ve tried to build is very unique. We’re all very proud to represent our country.”

Colangelo, 75, has been the GM and owner of the Phoenix Suns, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and was critical in bringing the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in the 1990s.

“As Americans we’re taking a lot of heat around the world and when you have a chance to represent your country on the international stage we take that very seriously,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with a long career in sports and a lot of success, but at this stage of my life, to be able to lead an organization that is doing all of what I just said, makes it special for me.

“Back in ’04 as I watched where we were, USA Basketball, some of the other countries really had togetherness, like Argentina, like Spain. That was something I thought we needed to develop. So developing a national team concept, stating that we had to change our culture and to see where we are, it makes you feel very good. There was a plan. Right now we’re on a roll.”

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No. 2: Nowitzki, Schröder lead German win on Day One of EuroBasket 2015 EuroBasket 2015 tipped off yesterday in several cities across Europe, and in early action Germany froze Iceland behind 15-point games from both Dallas Mavericks’ forward Dirk Nowitzki and Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schröder. The Netherlands also made headlines as they knocked off Georgia on day one

Iceland outscored Germany 22-12 in the final quarter as Jon Steffansson topped all scorers with 23 points for the team considered an outsider in the tough Group B.

Nowitzki needed time to get into the game but also contributed seven rebounds. Schroder had six rebounds and four assists.

The group stage of the tournament is being played in four cities across the continent.

Poland beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 68-64 in Group A in Montpellier, France, the Netherlands stunned Georgia 73-72 in Group C in Zagreb, Croatia, and the Czech Republic routed Estonia 80-57 in Group D in Riga, Latvia.

Robin Smeulders sank a jumper with 18 seconds remaining to lift the Dutch to victory as they returned to the competition for the first time since 1989. Charlon Kloof led all scorers with 22 points. Georgia got 16 points from the Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia and Tomike Shengelia also added 16.

Jan Vesely led the Czech Republic with 16 points and eight rebounds.

Marcin Gortat, the Washington Wizards center, had 10 points and seven rebounds for Poland, while Adam Waczinski had 15 points. Andrija Stepanovic led Bosnia with 20.

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No. 3: Bonner looking beyond basketball Matt Bonner may not rate extensive playing time with the San Antonio Spurs, but the role player understands his job and has won a couple of rings during his tenure in Texas. Now, as he enters his twelfth season, the always-interesting Bonner is showing he understands what’s required to continue a career in basketball beyond just playing the game, as our own Ian Thomsen writes

“I don’t have a set number of years that I’m going to play,” said Bonner, looking ahead to his upcoming 10th season with the Spurs — which will be his 12th in the NBA overall. “I’m going to play as long as I can play. With my skill set, as long as I’m healthy, I think I can keep playing. And I’m fortunate to play for an organization that values recovery and keeping guys healthy and extending careers.”

Bonner is 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds with three-point range (41.4 percent for his career, which ranks No. 15 in the NBA all-time), enabling him to stand up to big men defensively and create mismatches at the other end of the floor — the same formula that has enabled Robert Horry and others like him to play into their late-30s. But Bonner also has recognized that long-term plans evolve quickly, and that the future arrives with the furious speed of these young players who were stampeding back and forth across the Summer League court in July.

When the Spurs’ season ended with a loss to the Clippers in the opening round — the first time in four years that San Antonio hadn’t played into June — Bonner tried to take advantage of the silver lining. At age 35, he signed on for two of the several hands-on courses in the NBPA’s career development program.

Bonner was in Las Vegas to investigate a potential career in an NBA front office. Even as he studied these young players who were dreaming of the same kind of playing career that he had made for himself, Bonner found himself looking beyond. He wasn’t going to be able to play basketball for another 30 years, and at the same time he was too young to retire.

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No. 4: Philippines still working to add Clarkson There are just a few weeks before FIBA Asia tips off, meaning time is running short for the Philippines to add Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson to their official roster, which would also require Clarkson missing some of Lakers training camp. But after meeting yesterday with Lakers execs Jeannie Buss and Mitch Kupchak, the Philippines officials feel like they have a better grasp on what’s needed to make it happen, writes Nelson Beltran in the Philippine Star

“It’s still a work in progress but with better clarity,” said SBP vice chairman Ricky Vargas after a meeting with Los Angeles Lakers team president Jeanie Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak in LA.

Vargas said the Lakers officials have no objection for Clarkson to play for the national team on a long-term program.

But a stint by Clarkson in the forthcoming Asian meet is subject to the approval of “the Lakers coaches” since it will run in conflict with the Lakers’ media day on Sept. 28 and the Lakers’ training camp in Hawaii on Sept. 29-Oct. 7.

In the Asian meet, Oct. 1-3 is set for the quarterfinals, semifinals and final.

“They requested some time to talk to the Lakers coaches,” said Vargas.

Accompanied by PBA board member Patrick Gregorio in a six-day whirlwind trip to Taipei, Hong Kong and the US, Vargas also announced a positive dinner meeting with the father of Jordan.

“(He’s) appreciative of reception his son received from the Filipino basketball fans and from Gilas Pilipinas team,” said Vargas of his talk with Mike Clarkson.

“They asked to review the arrangement and wanted assurance that we secure Lakers permission to allow him to skip three days of training camp,” Vargas also said.

“We go home tomorrow bringing with us a more positive feeling and a commitment from the Lakers and parents that Jordan will be part of Gilas program for the long term,” Vargas added.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Josh Powell is leaving his gig as an assistant with the Rockets to try and play for the Bucks next season … Nate Robinson is reportedly considering an offer from a team in ChinaSteph Curry says Riley Curry taught him how to dance

Blogtable: Can any team challenge the USA in Rio in 2016?

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: Remembering “Chocolate Thunder | Can anyone beat USA in 2016? |
Name your all-time, All Soviet Union/Russia NBA team


 

VIDEO: USA Basketball Showcase

>Qualifying for the Rio Summer Olympics continues this month with FIBA Americas and EuroBasket. Is there anybody out there who can truly challenge the USA in 2016?”

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com “Truly” challenge, as in stand toe-to-toe and slug it out with Team USA? No, I don’t think so. But as a squad capable of pulling off an upset, I wouldn’t want to sleep on Canada. The group of north-of-the-border NBA players is young – Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Cory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson – so 2020 might be a year in which Canada makes real Olympic noise, but even one year out is going to make a difference for a tight and budding squad.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:  With a full complement of elite players the United States is easily the class of the field. But a key to the success that Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have brought back to the USA Basketball is having respect for the field. You wouldn’t want to sleep on a Spanish team with Pau and Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez or France with Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, Nicolas Batum and Rudy Gobert.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:  Sure the U.S. can be challenged. The Olympics become a single-elimination tournament at some point, so anything is possible. And the rosters that have been together for years and play team ball are still dangerous. Spain is at the top of that list, while also noting that I like France’s possibilities as well. But it’s still Team USA’s gold to lose. The favorites before will be the favorites again.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThe short answer is no. Under Jerry Colangelo and Coach K, the USA has shaped up and restored order in the basketball world. That said, in the future I’d keep a watch out on Canada and Australia.The Canadians under Steve Nash and with Andrew Wiggins and Co. are building something special. And Down Under, gaining steam is a growing generation of teens who are the children of American professional players.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In no particular order, the next three best teams are France, Serbia and Spain. The U.S. has a huge advantage in regard to talent and depth, and they put Serbia away early in the gold medal game of last year’s World Cup. But both France and Spain – with more size, experience and athleticism – are better equipped to knock them off should they cross paths. The U.S. will be the heavy favorite in Rio next year, but a gold medal is never a given when it’s a single-elimination format with 40-minute games.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:  With all due respect to the competition, they all know they are going to Rio to fight for second place. That’s not American arrogance on display, it’s just reality. Even if there is a team capable of challenging the U.S. for a quarter or two, the group Jerry Colangelo and Coach K have assembled (whatever the 12-man roster) should prove too strong and too deep for Spain, France, Canada or any other crew eager to play hero. A true challenger is not on the radar right now and perhaps not anytime soon, provided the USA Basketball machine remains dialed in and well stocked.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The old contenders – Spain, France and Argentina – could still be hanging on, but the team to watch (pending its qualification for Rio) is going to be Canada. By 2020 the Canadians will be the main challengers to the US – and they may emerge as early as next summer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: At the risk of sounding overconfident, when Team USA is at their full-strength, I don’t think anyone can challenge them. A lineup of Steph Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant would be dynamic and destructive, and that doesn’t even factor in a bench (Westbrook! CP3! Blake!) that could provide Coach K all sorts of mix and match options. Oh, and sure, Kobe we could use you, too. I assume the USA will meet stiff opposition along the way, perhaps from teams such as France or Spain or a younger team like Canada. But if Team USA is playing at their full potential, I think it will be a dream in Rio.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 12


VIDEO: Steve Smith and Stu Jackson review the first day of Team USA mini-camp

Durant returns for Team USA | Lillard understands why Aldridge left Portland | Anthony a fan of Knicks’ offseason | Report: LeBron may participate in Wednesday’s practice | Markieff Morris wants trade from Suns

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No. 1: Durant returns for Team USA — Oklahoma City Thunder star and 2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant hasn’t played in a basketball game since Feb. 19 when he was shut down for the season as he needed foot surgery. But word circulated yesterday that Durant would take part in some drills as Team USA holds its ini-camp in Las Vegas this week. Durant spoke to reporters after Tuesday’s mini-camp opener and says he’s feeling good and just happy to be playing again, writes our Steve Aschburner

Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s All-Star forward and the NBA’s 2014 Kia Most Valuable Player, had been sidelined by a right foot fracture that required bone-graft surgery. He played his last game of the 2014-15 season on Feb. 19, limping into the sunset with more than a third of OKC’s schedule remaining.

While the Thunder sank in the standings and missed the playoffs, while head coach Scott Brooks got scapegoated and fired, while teammates Russell Westbrook won the scoring title and attracted MVP votes, Durant was left to recuperate, rehab and reflect on the game he loved and missed like never before.

“You remember Christmas as a kid? It’s like that,” Durant told reporters after Team USA’s first session Tuesday.

“I can go 100 percent. I’m not going to play 5-on-5 just yet, but everything else is no restrictions,” he said. “I’ve got to play against some guys to see. But I feel like I’m back to myself.

“I haven’t played since February. So of course, I’m human. I’ll go through a little bit of rust. But I think after two trips down, I’ll be all right.”

“You take it for granted a little bit,” he said of the game to which he’s devoted so many hours. “I missed the routine the most. Getting up, going to practice, getting my shots up before practice, I missed all that part. Hanging out with the guys in the locker room before the game, I think that’s what I missed the most. You can take that type of stuff for granted. I think I did and I learned my lesson.”

OKC trainer Joe Sharpe is one of three NBA trainers working with Team USA. That should reassure Thunder fans that Durant won’t overdo things even in this controlled environment. Besides, the 6-foot-10 forward doesn’t want to go re-setting his own recovery clock.

“It’s a long process, man,” Durant said. “I just tried to stay patient with it. … I have my days where I’m like, ‘Man, it’s not getting any better. I’m sick of working out. I’ve been working out for a year, I’m ready to play.’ … Feels good to stretch my legs a little bit.”

Durant, 26, said that his layoff has been made to feel even longer by the number of strangers or acquaintances who suddenly seemed interested — with him way less than 100 percent — in testing him.

“So many people been trying me though,” he said. “I walk down the street, everybody wants to play me 1-on-1. … The competitive juices are just boiling in my body and I’m just ready to play.”

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