The FIBA World Championships warning label, brought to you by Hamed Haddadi

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hamed_haddadi_iran_memphis_grizzlies.pngThough the FIBA World Championships provide refuge for basketball fans during the off-season, they are not the NBA. On a very basic level, basketball is basketball. Yet the differences in talent and style between the World Championships and the NBA are notable enough to significantly affect player performance. The product doesn’t just seem different. It is different.

That discrepancy can, in a sense, create a mirage for NBA GMs to chase. In the never-ending search for more talent, the World Championships would seem to provide a terrific look into how a particular prospect might fare against NBA-level competition. And, if that prospect happens to run into Team USA, how they might fare against NBA-style competition.

In a sense, it does. However, over the years, success in events like the World Championships and the Olympics have not been good indicators of future NBA performance for foreign prospects.

Hamed Haddadi is a fine example. Haddadi, a 7-foot-2 center, averaged 16.6 points and 11.2 rebounds in the 2008 Olympics while leading the games in blocked shots. He posted game totals of 21 and 9 against Lithuania,  21 and 16 against Argentina, and 17 and 15 against Croatia. On the strength of his 2008 Olympic run, Haddadi signed a three-year deal with Memphis, and well, he hasn’t done all that much since.

It’s not entirely fair to blame Haddadi. While he’s the clear-cut star of the Iranian national team, Haddadi has only played a total of 360 minutes (over two seasons) for the Grizz. There’s certainly a question of opportunity inherent in all of this, with utilization being a serious undertone. Maybe Memphis really is using Haddadi incorrectly, and he’s a shot-blocking force just waiting to be unleashed.

Or maybe it’s exactly what it looks like; Haddadi is a big that averages more fouls than rebounds, hasn’t managed to adjust to the NBA in the — albeit limited — time he’s been given, and thus far has yet to really make any significant impact whatsoever in Memphis. There are certainly factors working against him, but Haddadi didn’t exactly walk into the FedEx Forum a double-double machine, either.

Haddadi hasn’t looked good while playing in the faster NBA game. Though Haddadi could still probably have a long and illustrious career as a back-up, back-up center (he’s still a 25 year-old big, after all), he has yet to show any sign that he’ll really figure out the American pro game, or boast even a shade of the defensive impact he’s flashed on the international stage.

So performances like Haddadi’s 27-point and nine-rebound outing against Lithuania? 16 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks against Brazil? We’ve seen this room, we’ve walked this floor. We know what Haddadi is capable of against international competition, but he remains a remarkably unspectacular NBAer, nonetheless.

This happens. It’s part of the game. Darko Milicic looked great against Pau Gasol in the summer of 2006 (18 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks of good, to be exact), but it didn’t mean that Darko was threatening to bust the seams of his NBA role. He was still the same player he always was, just shone in a different hue. One that apparently doesn’t quite register in the States.

The production doesn’t always translate, and though there are plenty of players who have prospered on both stages, there are also many for whom the NBA just isn’t a great fit. It’s too early to say that Haddadi is one such player, but based on his NBA career thus far, it’s fair to question if the disparity may be too much for him.  

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.