Team USA trying to adjust to FIBA referees, one step at a time

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andre_iguodala_team_usa.pngIf the calls of NBA officials are curious, than those of FIBA referees are completely baffling; calls aren’t even consistent on a play-to-play basis, much less from game to game.

Though the members of Team USA have a few intrasquad scrimmages, a handful of exhibitions, and two preliminary games under their belts, all with FIBA officiating, the Americans are still struggling to adapt to the ever-changing interpretations of common basketball rules. The most notable rule in contention thus far? The traveling violation.

Traveling is very debatable at just about every level of basketball, and the liberal read and implementation of the ruling in the NBA has groomed players to move with the ball in a certain way. That doesn’t mean that FIBA referees are somehow more correct in their enforcement of the rule. In some ways, the interpretation is actually irrelevant. The bigger problem is the lack of officiating consensus. Regardless of how a particular referee might make sense of the traveling rule, there’s no FIBA-wide agreement on what constitutes a travel and what does not.

That’s made it incredibly difficult for the members of all national teams to adjust to the tournament’s constantly shifting standard. However, the members of Team USA seem to think that they have been uniquely victimized by the traveling calls thus far. From John Schuhmann of NBA.com:

The low point was a stretch of 25 offensive possessions spanning the
first and second quarters when the U.S. had twice as many turnovers
(12) as they did scores (six). Four of the 12 turnovers were
travelling calls. The whistle was quick to blow when a U.S.
ball-handler took a step or two before putting down a dribble after
receiving a pass, a call that is not made in the NBA and that will come
into play often for this team that wants to push the ball every chance
they get.

“It’s tough when you’re going full speed to catch the
ball, stop on a dime and dribble,” Andre Iguodala said afterward. “It’s
almost like you can’t catch it.” That travelling rule seems to be
officiated differently every night and is one that the U.S. was rarely
whistled for in the 2008 Olympics. In fact, after Sunday’s game,
Slovenian forward Bostjan Nachbar said that not enough of those
travelling calls were made against the U.S.

“Too many times, the refs don’t call that when Team USA’s on the floor,” Nachbar said.

Either way, it’s a call that this team will certainly have to adjust to
as this tournament goes on, because their margin for error will not be
as great in the medal rounds as it was on Sunday.

Consider Bostjan Nachbar’s statement to be the necessary counterpoint in all of this, and a nice reminder of how quotes to the media act as an extension of one’s agenda, even for ballplayers and coaches. Nachbar, along with every other player and coach in the World Championships, has a reputation to uphold and a team to support. So naturally, the Americans traveled a lot. And just as naturally, Andre Iguodala will tell you that they didn’t.

This is the game that we all have the fortune of playing along with. Yet in this particular situation, neither player is entirely wrong. Both have a right to complain about the officiating, in this game and likely in all of their remaining games. It’s that inconsistent, and though more refereeing complaints hardly makes for interesting theater, that doesn’t make the players’ claims any less legitimate.  

Report: Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, determined to become NBA head coach, offered Florida women’s job

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Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is the NBA’s first female full-time coach.

She could also become the next Florida women’s basketball coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is considering a lucrative offer to leave the NBA and become the University of Florida women’s basketball coach, league sources told The Vertical.

The financial offer would be a considerable raise, especially considering that she’s still a young, behind-the-bench assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff. Nevertheless, Hammon is grappling with the decision, because she has been determined to stay on course to become the NBA’s first female head coach, league sources said.

Hammon is blazing a trail in the NBA and might eventually become a head coach in the league. She has Gregg Popovich’s endorsement, praise from San Antonio players and success in limited opportunities.

But the path for a woman coach in men’s basketball is extremely narrow. It’s not fair, but Hammon faces hurdles others wouldn’t.

And the glass ceiling becomes exponentially thicker for a woman in women’s basketball who’s trying to jump to men’s basketball. Women’s college basketball is not a pipeline to the NBA, especially not for a woman. If Hammon goes to Florida, the paradigm changes. It would renew questions about her playing experience coming only in women’s basketball and her limited time with the Spurs.

Hammon wouldn’t be blackballed from the NBA, but she’d be setting up more obstacles for herself to clear to become a head coach in the league.

In one respect, I don’t envy her decision. However, she has positioned herself to choose between a promising path and an excellent job. Even if deciding is difficult, she’ll wind up in a good place.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.