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.

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.