2012 adidas Eurocamp: Day 1 recap

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Day one of adidas Eurocamp is in the books, and while several of the players showed flashes of ability throughout the opening session, the best player on the floor was Tomas Satoransky. The 6’7″ combo guard from the Czech Republic was consistent in his brilliance throughout the day, and showed off his excellent overall court vision and feel for the game in a variety of ways.

Satoransky ran the point and played off the ball equally well, and whipped the ball around the perimeter with confidence, always looking to create the best shot for his teammates. When it was his turn to score, he showcased a smooth stroke from the outside, and was able to put the ball on the floor and finish in traffic, as well. Satoransky is projected as a mid-second round pick, but that could change quickly if he continues to perform as he did on the camp’s first day.

Evan Fournier, who is the only international player projected to go in the first round of this year’s draft, did not participate in drills or any of the scrimmage games. Instead, he held a private workout in the afternoon, and looked great shooting the ball, finishing his session by draining five straight three-pointers from a good five feet beyond the NBA arc. When he was finished, Rockets director of scouting and camp director Arturas Karnisovas said with a smile, “OK, everyone. Show’s over.”

Fournier is expected to participate with the rest of the players in all activities on Monday.

*****

Jet lag may have been a factor for some of the team executives that made it into town from the states less than 24 hours before the start of Sundays morning’s camp opening, but there was no lag at all in the early session from any of the players. By all accounts, the energy level to start things off was better than expected, especially on the defensive end of the floor, where guys were hustling, fighting through screens, and denying the ball at every turn as the first drills of the day took place. Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach Bill Bayno, who is the camp’s coaching director and the one running the show, was pleased with the effort.

“The defense is ahead of the offense, which is good,” Bayno said, addressing the camp’s players at midcourt after the first workout, before offering some teaching advice. “How do we counteract that? We get that ball moving.”

Bayno then reminded the players that the scouts and front office personnel in attendance are looking not just for offensive or defensive skills, but for the whole package — including coachability, how players interact with their teammates, and most importantly, the ability to pay attention to the little things.

“It’s not just about scoring points,” he said. “Find the open man and play the right way.”

*****

Nihad Djedovic plays aggressively at both ends of the floor, and isn’t afraid to mix it up with the bigs inside. The term “fearless” is a good one to describe his style of play, though he took it to multiple defenders with no real plan on more than one occasion, perhaps trying to draw some contact, but with better options open at the time. His talent is evident, however he’s a little out of control at times, and would benefit by slowing his game down just a bit until things start to click for him more consistently.

Here’s an example of Djedovic’s aggressiveness — On one possession, he tried a veteran hold from behind on a center trying to get up for a rebound, and on another, while defending the ball handler who was trying to drive baseline, he tried a two-handed push when the two were in close to try to keep the point guard from getting to the paint. Neither play went unnoticed by the officials, however, as Djedovic was whistled for fouls on each — perhaps due to the not-so-subtle, extra-fuzzy mohawk that sits atop his head.

Djedovic is currently projected as a possible late-second-round pick.

*****

The last game of Day One featured a Eurocamp All-Star squad facing off against a U20 team from Russia, and it was by far the most competitive brand of basketball of the day. The speed and aggressiveness on both ends of the court from both teams made for an exciting game, and one that was low-scoring to begin. Eventually, however, the All-Star squad began to execute and pulled away for a 70-45 win, in large part thanks to the stellar play of Satoransky.

*****

Some final tidbits from Day One:

– Big man Jonas Bergstedt (Denmark) got off to a slow start in early morning drills, needing some extra coaching on defensive rotations and looking a little out of sorts offensively. Apparently he just needed to warm up, because as the day progressed, he began to look like a legitimate NBA big, who could both hold his own on the low block, as well as get out in transition once a rebound is secured.

– Andrew Albicy (France) displayed excellent speed and quickness from the point guard position, along with a good handle and an above-average basketball IQ. He was able to get into the lane multiple times, and then kick it out to the open man while still in traffic, often while surrounded by multiple defenders. He’s strong, but at a listed height of just 5’10”, he’s going to have to improve his skill set even more to compensate for the lack of size if he wants to play at the NBA level.

– Olek Czyz (Poland) went hard to the rack every time he had the ball, and was able to absorb contact while scoring inside. And when the defenders were nowhere in sight, he took it strong down the lane and dunked the ball with two hands. The 6’7″, 200-pound wing looks to have a physical and promising offensive skill set.

– Overall European style observation: Defenses seem to be told to prevent the fast break at all times, if at all possible, and at any cost. Just about every time a team looked to get out in transition and showed any numbers advantage in the backcourt, a defender would reach in and commit a foul to stop the play. This philosophy seemed to be so ingrained to most players that one even committed a clear path foul in this situation during a game, just for the sake of stopping a three-on-one break before it could get started.

– Danilo Gallinari is scheduled to speak to players at the camp on Day Three, but arrived on Sunday and got in a late afternoon private workout with Nuggets assistant coach Melvin Hunt. It went pretty much as you’d imagine, with Gallo draining threes effortlessly from every spot around the arc.

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.