NBA draftees at EuroBasket: Kanter looks good, Rubio not so much

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We tried to watch as much of EuroBasket as we could, and when the games were on our eyes were were drawn to recent NBA draftees who have not been in the league. Frankly, I know Pau Gasol is amazingly skilled. I know Joakim Noah can defend. I know Tony Parker is dangerous when he gets in the lane.

But I don’t know much about Enes Kanter (of the Jazz) or Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors), and the book was out on Ricky Rubio (Timberwolves)?

So what did I think?

Ricky Rubio (Spain): Rubio came off the bench for the eventual champions, shot 23 percent for the tournament and averaged 1.5 points and 2.3 assists per game. It’s safe to say he was unimpressive.

To be fare, part of that was the Spanish system — Rubio’s job was to feed the Gasol brothers inside, hit Juan Carlos Navarro curling off a screen and not do much else but stand as a jump shooting decoy nobody thought would get a pass back. The system called to slow it down and Rubio is built for transition (please take note of that Rick Adelman).

That said, there is reason for concern. Both last season with Barcelona and this summer his development seems to have stagnated, and he has to develop some kind of steady jumper to impact the NBA game. Things are not as bad as some T-Wolves fans fear — Rubio is a good defender, is 6’5” and still has crazy passing skills. But his game has got to develop and this should make the folks in Minnesota a little concerned.

Enes Kanter (Turkey): A Turkish assistant coach ripped him, but he didn’t look too bad to these eyes. It seemed to match up with the scouting report the wise Sebastian Pruitti put out there a while back — his one-one-one skills are impressive and show potential at both ends, but his recognition and reaction to team play are slow. He is not a great help defender, he doesn’t recognize and hit the open player on a pass out of the post as often or quickly as he should.

But he shot 59 percent and drew a lot of fouls. He looked like a guy who could develop into something impressive, a guy who could force the Jazz to see if Paul Millsap can play the three in a couple years. But that is another issue for another day.

Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania): Raptors fans should be smiling. Big smiles. The best proof is that in the first game of EuroBasket Valanciunas played only a handful of minutes at the end of a blowout win, but by the end he was playing key minutes for a veteran-heavy team. Valanciunas shot 66 percent for the tournament, can rebound and is a wicked finisher on the pick and roll.

There are issues — turnovers and the deer-in-headlights look when the double team arrived on the block — but there is a lot to like and a lot of potential in this 19-year-old. He may be the biggest steal of this draft (and he only fell to No. 5).

Gregg Popovich on Fox News pundit attacking LeBron James: “Unbelievable”

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Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham launched an attack at Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the NBA star voiced his opinion on Donald Trump. LeBron had done so many times before, alongside other notable NBA personalities like Kevin Durant and Steve Kerr.

This instance of LeBron speaking up apparently struck Ingraham in some type of way, enough to invoke a shot at James’ intelligence and speaking mannerisms in thinly-veiled comments. Ingraham told James to “shut up and dribble” which sparked the ire of many around the league. LeBron responded in kind, and most considered Ingraham’s racially-tinged tirade to be par for the course from that particular outlet.

Ingraham, who failed to do basic research on LeBron’s background, community leadership, and charitable contributions, also drew criticism from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Speaking before San Antonio’s game against the Cavaliers, Popovich told a crowd that Ingraham’s comments said more about her than about LeBron, and that he was happy the game had such a positive role model for young fans in James.

Via Twitter:

Shoutout to Popovich for continuing to be a voice from such a prominent position within sports and pop culture. Guys like him and LeBron haven’t exhausted themselves even though the discussion about what they say is undoubtedly tiring.

Jimmy Butler has surgery on right meniscus, no timetable for return

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The playoff picture in the Western Conference became much more opaque after Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler went down with a knee injury earlier in the week.

Reports out of Minnesota was that Butler had suffered a right meniscus injury, ducking what many had feared was an ACL tear. According to the team, Butler had successful surgery on his right meniscus this weekend.

As of Sunday morning they did not have a timetable for his return.

Via Twitter:

Minnesota currently stands third in the West but they will have a hard time fending off the rest of the playoff hopeful teams below them without their star player.

For his part, Butler is hoping he will be back in time for the playoffs. Early reports were that the team was thinking his recovery had a 4-to-6 week timeline, but again nothing has been set. Meniscus recovery times vary greatly depending on the issue at hand and the procedure done, neither of which we have details on at this time.

The Timberwolves have the 15th most difficult strength of schedule ahead of them according to Tankathon.com, with games against major Western Conference opponents ahead of them as well as bottom-dwellers like the Memphis Grizzlies.

Minnesota has been a good story all season long. No doubt many will bring up Tom Thibodeau’s workload once again with Butler injured, something compounded by Butler apparently requesting to rest during the 2018 All-Star Game.

Wolves fans have been waiting a long time for this. They don’t deserve this kind of punishment at this late a date, but the Basketball Gods are cruel and unceasingly unforgiving.

Isaiah Thomas on Cavaliers trade to Lakers: “They were in panic mode”

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It seems Isaiah Thomas is a thorn in the side of many in the NBA these days. The Los Angeles Lakers point guard reportedly was the source of some locker room conflict while he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although it appears that Dwyane Wade was the first to lead the charge against Kevin Love in the infamous player rap session.

Thomas is now a member of the Lakers after being part of the worst section of the season in Cleveland. The Cavaliers, with their revamped roster, have just one loss since the trade deadline. LeBron James & Co. have moved on, and Thomas appears set for free agency this summer and yet another team.

A move for the Cavaliers seemed inevitable, even if the return for Kyrie Irving from Boston — conveyed through consequent trades — was less than ideal. Meanwhile Thomas, who didn’t appear to enjoy his time in Ohio, has now said that he was surprised Dan Gilbert’s team bailed on him so quickly.

Via ESPN:

“I didn’t think they would pull the trigger that fast, 15 games,” Thomas told ESPN’s E:60 in an interview that will air March 11. “But again, it’s a business. And the Cavs were, I mean, they were in panic mode. We were losing — a lot. And I think they felt like they needed to make a move, and they, they basically cleared house.”

Thomas went on to say that he didn’t think he had enough time to find a rhythm not only coming back from a hip injury but on a new team in a new system. Thomas also mentioned that he harbored no ill feelings toward the Cavaliers.

We’ll see if that’s the case when the Lakers take on Cleveland on March 11 in LA.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.