2012 adidas Eurocamp preview

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The NBA’s pre-Draft camp in Chicago, which wrapped up on Friday, is the place where league front-office types get a combine-style look at U.S. college players. The equivalent for international players is adidas Eurocamp, a three-day event which kicks off June 10 in Treviso, Italy.

The camp is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, and adidas, who has been affiliated with it for the last three, is making sure it remains the premier place for NBA teams to view and interact with international prospects. Houston Rockets director of scouting Artūras Karnišovas is in his first year as the camp’s director, and Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach Bill Bayno is in his first year as the camp’s coaching director. Kevin McHale will be in attendance to hold a special clinic for bigs, and other familiar basketball names working the camp include Blazers head coach Kaleb Canales, Grizzlies assistant Dave Joerger, and Suns assistant Igor Kokoskov.

Chris Grancio, Head of Global Sports Marketing for adidas, gave me an overview of what the camp is all about, and explained how adidas is doing everything it can to continue to make it a success.

“We’ve really tried to focus on elevating all elements of the program,” he said. “As the official outfitter of the NBA, we’re very well-connected to the league, and we saw it not only as an opportunity, but a responsibility really to look at continuing to elevate and invest in this platform so it became better and better.

“Some specific examples — for us, it’s always about talent. We really focus on every year ensuring that we have the best players coming for the scouts that come over to watch them play. We focus on ensuring that we continue to develop and grow the content, so that the players that do come are getting the best possible basketball experience on the court, and a great experience off it as well. And then the last real objective that we set our eyes on in the recent past and immediate future, is really doing everything in our power to elevate the camp itself so that it becomes a true one-to-one experience compared to the Chicago pre-draft camp, which so many U.S. fans are used to seeing and hearing about.

“We’re also bringing Trajan Langdon over, to help really strengthen the coaching staff’s connection to the players. Trajan’s a little bit more of a younger guy, he had a fantastic career in Europe. He himself is an aspiring coach in the long-term, and it’s a great opportunity to bring somebody in that has a lot of similar, relevant experience to our players, and put him in a role where he can help connect, relate, and communicate with them over the course of the camp.”

The players’ experience seems just as important to adidas as ensuring that the practices, drills, and scrimmages showcasing them remain not only relevant to NBA teams, but consistent with the information they get on prospects from the states.

“We’ve made some big steps over the last year by including BAM (Basic Athletic Measurement) testing, which is the official biometric testing of the NBA,” Grancio said. “They partner with the league at the Chicago pre-draft camp to measure agility, jump height, quickness, and we’ve invested in bringing them into the Eurocamp environment so we can get the exact same metrics and readings off of all of the athletes that are participating. So if you’re a general manager, you can look at statistics that are absolutely identical, measured the same way, and certified by the same group of people to compare an athlete that might be coming from Slovenia, and a kid that’s coming from Kansas.”

In addition to skills testing (and unlike the Chicago camp where it is solely measurement and drill-based), the players have the opportunity to participate in games against one another. Some choose not to, of course, in favor of individual workouts where there is less downside and a player’s unique skill-set can be showcased.

The talent level at the camp, at least in terms of players who might make an immediate NBA impact next season, isn’t nearly as deep as in years past. Only one international player, shooting guard Evan Fournier of France, is projected as a possible late-first-round pick, while just a few others — Tomas Satoransky (combo guard, Czech Republic), Kostantinos Papanikolaou (small forward, Greece), Tornike Shengelia (power froward, Georgia), and Nihad Djedovic (wing, Bosnia) — are projected to possibly be taken in the second round.

As a comparison, last year’s camp had three top-10 2011 NBA draft picks attend — Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Veseley, and Bismack Biyombo. But the amount of NBA-ready talent is always going to fluctuate year over year, so the important thing for adidas is to do what they’ve been doing, which is to continue to put on the premier pre-draft camp for international players.

There are plans in the works to televise portions of the camp in the future, most likely through a partnership with NBATV. In the meantime, keep it here over the next few days as we bring you the latest news from Treviso.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.