Cody Zeller looks comfortable, drops 23 in Summer League


LAS VEGAS — When the Bobcats have the ball next season, Al Jefferson is going to set up his own personal KOA Campground on the low block. When he is out of the camp and resting on the bench Bismack Biyombo will be in that same spot.

Which means rookie No. 4 pick Cody Zeller is going to be out on the perimeter more, not exactly what he did in Indiana last season. Scouts would tell you Zeller showed off a jumper in Indiana practices, but last season he averaged 0.7 jump shots a game for the Hoosiers and hit just 37.5 percent on them (stats via DraftExpress).

Summer League in Vegas was going to be about adjusting to that new role for Zeller — and so far so good.

That adjustment is pretty far along if his second Summer League game is any indication — 23 points and 13 rebounds in the Bobcats 86-80 win over Dallas. He was 2-of-5 shooting outside the paint but he showed skill and took advantage when opportunities presented themselves. It was a smart game.

“He did everything — he moved the ball, he made great decisions, his rebounding was great. He had 13, he had 11 defensive, but he went and got it,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “He played well.”

“I just let the game come to me, I was more comfortable,” Zeller said. “Just more patient, didn’t try to force anything, was glad at the outcome.”

Rather than establish himself on the block Zeller was playing almost like a three — he doesn’t have the range to be a true stretch four but he seemed fairly comfortable out in the thin air away from the basket. He also did a good job of attacking and still getting shots in the paint off cuts and moving without the ball.

“It’s not a huge adjustment for me I was doing it even some in practice in college, and in high school,” Zeller said of playing out on the perimeter and taking more jumpers. “It’s not a huge adjustment for me but it’s just a little bit different.”

The Bobcats strategy for teaching Zeller what they want is a different than most teams would take.

“I’ll be honest with you, what we’re doing with him is a little different than the other (rookies on the Bobcats’ Summer League roster). We’re just kind of letting him feel his way, because he is so smart and the roles are different and all that,” Clifford said. “So it’s not like we’re being as specific with him because: 1) you don’t want to limit him and; 2) he’s so bright, you can see every time at practice he figured something else out.”

Zeller is clearly still learning nuances of the NBA, such as consistently setting good picks (he doesn’t get squared up, although the guy with the ball was in part to blame for being impatient going early). But he also showed a deft passing touch on a couple plays and just a good sense of where the ball should be moved.

A lot of heads snapped when Bobcats GM Rich Cho took Zeller No. 4 — that was higher than Zeller was expected to go and people wondered if that was a Michael Jordan pick. It wasn’t, that was all Cho. We’ll see how it pans out, but so far he’s looked like a smart player quickly learning a new role. It’s a good sign.

Through unpredictable season for Spurs, Popovich remains steady

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Gregg Popovich is not changing how he coaches, not after 22 seasons leading the Spurs.

The NBA’s most tenured steward is always going to focus on defense. He’s always going to dismiss talk of his brilliance because “it’s just basketball.” And he’s not going to overwork his players even though an unprecedented rash of injuries has the Spurs battling for their playoff lives for the first time in two decades.

“At this point, he’s not changing,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s a formula that has worked quite well. They have great veteran leadership and they pass it along to the young guys. You see the young guys are growing. That’s why they’re so good.”

They’re not as good as they have been, but their impressive success this year is a testament to Popovich.

San Antonio has been without MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games this season and Tony Parker, Rudy Gay and Danny Green have all missed significant time with various injuries. In all, the Spurs have missed 165 games as a team while battling everything from sprained MCLs to fractured wrists.

The injuries haven’t dramatically altered how Popovich manages the 82-game regular season.

“I think Pop did a great job overall, it’s not easy,” Parker said. “It was a tough one for him this year. Since I’ve been here, we have never had that many injuries. So, Pop did the best he could and I think overall he did a good job.”

Aside from All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, no Spurs player is averaging more than 28 minutes per game and veterans Parker and Manu Ginobili are averaging 20 minutes per game. Popovich has also been able to sit Aldridge, Ginobili and Pau Gasol for rest during the season.

Popovich was among the first coaches to sit players for rest rather than injury. He opted to keep Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green at home rather than have them play at Miami on Nov. 30, 2012. The action resulted in a $250,000 fine and sharp rebuke from then NBA Commissioner David Stern. The NBA changed its rules to allow teams to rest its players, but only if they listed in a timely manner who would be resting on their injury reports.

Popovich doesn’t have the firepower to repeat that mass seating now.

“It was hard to rest guys, limit guys’ minutes,” Green said. “We had some guys come back from injuries, that’s when he limited some of the guys’ minutes.”

But Popovich still has made sure players received their needed rest.

The 40-year-old Ginobili has provided the Spurs with a needed lift this month after sitting out eight games to rest. In Wednesday’s victory over Washington, Ginobili outran 31-year-old Ramon Sessions to a loose ball and then dove on it to save the possession.

“It just tells you that nobody has an excuse not to do it,” 37-year-old center Pau Gasol said of Ginobili’s hustle. “A 40-year-old does it, what about a 25 or 30 or 35 or 37 year old?”

Parker has not sat out any games for rest, but he did miss the first 19 games of the season after recovering from left quadriceps tendon surgery. Even before he lost his starting position to Dejounte Murray, Parker has spent a lot of time on the bench. Not that Parker has enjoyed the time off the court.

“For me personally, I’m just trying to get back to 100 percent it was almost too much rest,” Parker said. “I wish I had played more games, but it is what it is. Other guys, I hope they feel fresher. We’re going to need it.”

While Parker may not enjoy the rest, it seems to be paying off.

The Spurs have won five straight after losing eight of 11 games to drop into 10th place in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. San Antonio was in sixth place, one-half game behind Oklahoma City.

The Spurs recently beat a short-handed Golden State team by 14 points. The Spurs played with energy that they haven’t shown since early in the season when they were third in the West.

That should help then down the stretch, and possibly into the playoffs. Being rested, healthy and playing good defense is a recipe that has yielded five championships in Popovich’s tenure and extended the careers of franchise stalwarts like Tim Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

“Everybody’s bringing the juice,” Murray said. “We’re playing together on offense. I just feel like there’s more juice on defense. As I always say, defense, we’ve all got to be on the same page and be hungry and greedy on `D.’ We’ve got to keep going, we can’t get comfortable.”


Giannis Antetokounmpo to tell his story on 60 Minutes this week (preview clip)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo grew up hocking wares — clothes, sunglasses, whatever — on the streets of Athens, Greece. He easily could still be living there, the tallest salesman in a poor part of a country with high unemployment and real challenges.

Instead, he is a multimillionaire living comfortably in the United States, and is one of the 10 best basketball players in the world — and still improving. In a few years we may well be saying he is the best player on the planet.

Antetokounmpo will be telling his story on the legendary television news magazine 60 Minutes this week, and the show released a clip. Check it out.

This is the best missed free throw to game winner you will ever see

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We’ve all seen this situation before at every level of basketball: A team down three points gets fouled in the final seconds and has two free throws, so the shooter aims to make the first free throw then miss the second and create a rebound he or a teammate can grab then throw back in to tie the game. It works about as often as an NFL Hail Mary — either the shooter makes the shot anyway or the defense gets the board — but what other choice is there?

Nobody has ever pulled it off as well as Paulinho Boracini of the Brazilian league team Cearense.

Intentional or not (and I lean not), he banked the second free throw off the rim toward the corner, ran it down himself and hit the game-winning three.

Damn. That’s impressive.

(If Boracini and Cearense sound familiar, you win the award for “watching too much Knicks preseason basketball” because they played New York in a 2015 exhibition.)

Giannis Antetokounmpo doubtful with ankle injury for Bulls game

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MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks say Giannis Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Friday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The All-Star forward got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.