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.

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.