2012 NBA Draft

Nuggets may have something in France’s Evan Fournier


LAS VEGAS — Denver has its starting two guard/swingman set for the next few years in Arron Afflalo, who can shoot the three and is one of the better wing defenders in the league. He turns 27 just before next season and they have him locked up through 2016.

But if you’re an NBA GM like Masai Ujiri in Denver, you have to be already thinking about who is next? Who can be an affordable backup now that we can groom into a future starter?

Jordan Hamilton looked like he might be that guy last season, but now Evan Fournier enters into the discussion.

Fournier was the best player hands down at adidas EuroCamp and the Nuggets picked him up at No. 20 last month in the NBA Draft. Saturday he got his first taste of pseudo-NBA action at Summer League in Las Vegas, and showed some promise.

Early in the first half he popped out off a screen, caught and showed a sweet stroke from three. A couple plays later he put the ball on the floor, got into the lane and drew the defense, absorbed the contact then found the open man for a jumper (he did that a few times). At the other end, he was tasked with guarding Klay Thompson most of the time. And Thompson is best player at Summer League this year. Fournier finished the afternoon with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting (1-5 from three).

“What I did today wasn’t bad, but I know I can do a lot better,” Fournier said. “That’s a new game for me I have to get used to, but I’ll be better.”

What he said he has to get used to is the athleticism of the NBA game — while France (where he played last year) is a quality league it doesn’t have the depth of athleticism the NBA does.

But you could see the potential. At least David Thorpe — the Executive Director of the Pro Training Center (where a number of guys at Summer League prepared for their pro debuts) and an ESPN analyst — sees it.

“I think he can score,” Thorpe said. “He’s got a great feel. He’s very thin, but he plays with toughness. You can tell he doesn’t really get knocked off the ball… Fournier looks to me like a guy who’s going to be able to take punishment (on his dribble drives).”

But it’s a matter of development. He’s skinny right now, and Fournier said after the game he knows he needs to get stronger. It’s about getting used to all the athletes at this level.

“I don’t think he’ll play much for the Nuggets next year,” Thorpe said. “I would guess he’ll see a lot of D-League action, try to get used to playing against quicker guys on a daily basis, get used to playing against very athletic players, and be part of the Nuggets culture on strength training, their strength training coach is as good as there is in the league, maybe the best.”

But back to what Masai Ujiri is thinking — he needs to have a backup for Afflalo and someone who maybe can step into that role as a starter. Jordan Hamilton could be that guy, he was with the team last year and had 18 points to lead the Nuggets in their Summer League opener (although it was not a jaw-dropping performance). But you can’t just have one plan.

“(Fournier) has got an upside as a scorer…” Thorpe said. “I think he’s a better basketball player than Hamilton. I think Hamilton is a naturally better shooter and maybe a better scorer. But long term he’s got Arron Afflalo who is still a young player, and he’s got two more wings behind Afflalo, and one of those two guys probably ends up being the guy. Masai has kind of increased the chances he’s got one future starter. Maybe it will be both, but they’ll compete against each other starting now.”

Starting at Summer League.

Kobe Bryant says his age 37 is not like Michael Jordan’s age 37

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Once again, Kobe Bryant‘s career arc is being compared to Michael Jordan’s.

There’s a lot of reason’s that’s flawed — starting with Kobe being drafted on to a Lakers team that had Shaquille O’Neal and was already considered NBA elite, as opposed to Jordan working to build a franchise up. That said, Kobe has invited the Jordan comparison at times and it has been a constant through is career. Fair or not.

Kobe is coming back this fall after seasons of injury to the NBA and those comparisons continue — now to the Wizards’ version of Jordan. And Kobe is not at all fond of that, as he told Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“This is uncharted territory,” he said. “My 37 (years old) isn’t MJ’s 37 (when he returned after taking two seasons off to play for the Washington Wizards), you know what I mean? Nor is it the same team or the same system that he was playing in. It’s much, much different. There’s really no barometer, no (precedent) for training physically, for recovery. It’s uncharted territory.”

Kobe is right, starting with Jordan was retired at age 37 (he came back at 38). Also, Jordan had four+ seasons off by the time he was 38 and was not coming off multiple major surgeries.

Kobe is entering his 20th NBA season and what any real basketball fan should wish for him is health. Let him play one full season (with limited minutes and nights off), let him get to the final game of this season next April and make his own decision on his future. Let him leave the game on his own terms.

That said, if Kobe can average Jordan’s numbers at that age — 22.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game — it will be a major accomplishment, and the Lakers will have a better record than many of us expect.

And Kobe may want to play a 21st season as well.

Celtics ease to 124-91 win at Olimpia Milano in Global Games

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MILAN (AP) — The Boston Celtics eased to a 124-91 victory over Olimpia Milano at the Mediolanum Forum on Tuesday, comfortably winning the first of a double-header in Europe as part of the NBA Global Games.

Isaiah Thomas led the way for the Celtics with 18 points, including nine in his first seven minutes after coming off the bench midway through the first quarter.

Jared Sullinger added 14 points, as did Avery Bradley, who also had four three-pointers, while David Lee weighed in with 13 as well as seven rebounds and three assists.

Alessandro Gentile – who is reportedly wanted by the Houston Rockets, who hold NBA rights to the 22-year-old – top scored for Milano, with 19 points.

Next up for the Celtics is Real Madrid in Spain on Thursday.