Team USA, player-by-player and role-by-role (Part One)

2 Comments

Thumbnail image for Curry_Granger_USA.jpgNow that Team USA’s roster is finalized, it’s time to break down exactly what each of Team USA’s 12 players will be asked to do. Some members of Team USA are simply acting as an extension of their NBA selves, but others have seen their responsibilities shift due to the team’s needs, the overall makeup of the roster, and the nature of FIBA basketball. In this first installment, we’ll look at the likely reserve core.

Stephen Curry – With Team USA’s touch-and-go offense, having at least one designated shooter/scorer can be a tremendous asset. Curry is one such player. While Steph could definitely run the point if need be, thus far he’s come in with freedom to shoot and he’s exercised that freedom.

Curry has only played about 23 minutes in total, but he’s scored tremendously well in that limited run. His per-game numbers may not be all that impressive, but on a per-minute basis? Curry shines. Three games in, Steph is scoring at a rate of 25 points per 36 minutes, while shooting an even 50% from the field. Curry has incredible range, but he also has an innate feel for all-around scoring; if there was any doubt of Curry’s ability to perform on a FIBA stage, it’s been swiftly decimated.
 
Russell Westbrook – While Derrick Rose’s athleticism is appropriately designated as “pure” or simply “impressive,” Russell Westbrook’s athletic abilities are better termed as “unbridled.” There is some discipline in Westbrook’s game, but he’s at his most effective in bursts of unthinkable speed and power. Simply put, Westbrook has no delusions of being a finesse guard. He just wants to sprint up the court, jump a pass in transit, and throw it down over anyone that tries to stand in his way.

Team USA can use that. Westbrook is a bit of a wild card; he’s capable of playing both on and off the ball, scoring and distributing (and rebounding — Westbrook is a remarkably good positional rebounder), creating turnovers or gambling too much. He’ll have a rough game now and again, but Westbrook is a necessary do-it-all element on this squad, even if his position is probably redundant.
    
Rudy Gay – Rudy Gay has clearly worked into Mike Krzyzewski’s favor, though he did see his minutes drop in Team USA’s last exhibition against Spain. Regardless, Gay seems to function in the same capacity for Team USA that he always has for the Grizzlies. He’s dangerous in the open court, but far too complacent in a half-court setting. That’s all well and good when Rudy’s leaning, fadeaway jumpers are falling, but the majority of the time, when they aren’t? Not so fun.

Still, Gay has been a highly effective scorer in two of the three friendlies thus far, which counts for something. Better shot selection could mean a world of difference for a player of Gay’s skills, but it’s not meant to be. Not in Memphis, and certainly not in Turkey. The fact that he’s so impressive in spite of his lapses in judgment isn’t some intangible positive. It’s just worthy of a deep sigh, and a reminder of what could be if Gay’s mindset were just a bit different. Nevertheless, Team USA will take the status quo Rudy Gay, ill-advised jumpshooting warts and all.

Danny Granger – Danny Granger’s role on Team USA would seem to be clear: park him in the corner to keep the defense honest, and have him knock down a three every now and again, just to prove that he can. On a team lacking in knock-down shooters, Grangers’ ability to hit from both mid and long range is a useful asset against just about any defense Team USA will encounter at the FIBA World Championships.

But there seems to be some disconnect between that perceived role and Granger’s performance. Granger has yet to hit a three-pointer thus far in Team USA’s exhibition games. He’s only even attempted two. Maybe Granger’s too versatile to be strictly a spot-up shooter, but his minutes thus far haven’t brought any kind of scoring production whatsoever. That scoring is what will keep Granger on the floor, so it’s not all that surprising that after Granger failed to produce points-wise in the first two contests, he found himself benched against Spain.

Eric Gordon – It’s not easy to find minutes for Eric Gordon in such a loaded backcourt, but Mike Krzyzewski has managed to do it thus far. Though Gordon’s playing time was sliced in the Americans’ most recent exhibition (in which Coach K leaned more heavily on the big guns), he averaged about 13 minutes per game in the two exhibitions prior, and was fairly productive for Team USA on both ends.

He may not be as talented as Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, as lethal as Stephen Curry, or as precise as Chauncey Billups, but Gordon’s ability to hit the three, get to the line, and D up warrants consideration.

Kevin Love – Kevin Love is the last line of defense, even if he doesn’t play much of it.

Love won’t get much playing time on a regular basis, but if anything were to happen to Lamar Odom or Tyson Chandler, Krzyzewski would likely throw Love into the rotation to gobble up rebounds. He’s a pretty awful defender and a useful offensive player, but Love’s magnum opus is his rebounding. He’s an elite NBA player in that regard, and though Love hasn’t had much of an opportunity to hit the boards for Team USA, he could, if he were ever needed. In case of emergency, Love.

Yet as nice as it would be to see the often underappreciated Love get a nice opportunity for playing time with Team USA, Odom and Chandler are playing in front of him for a reason. Team USA needs their length and defense, and Love just can’t provide that.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
3 Comments

The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
1 Comment

2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.