Hawks may have steal of draft with Dennis Schroder at No. 17

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It is dangerous to read too much into an NBA Summer League performance — remember a year ago the co-MVPs were Damian Lillard and Josh Selby. They went on to have radically different NBA seasons.

But the one guy in Las Vegas who leapt out to me as a potential steal of a pick was 19-year-old German point guard Dennis Schroder of the Hawks, who was drafted at No. 17.

In the helter-skelter, pick-up style of the NBA Summer League Schroder showed a mature game, a patient and unhurried style that stood out — especially since he was one of the youngest players there.

“I think part of that is having experience playing in Europe,” Hawks Summer League coach Quin Snyder said of Schroder, who played two seasons professionally in Germany before entering the draft. “He was living the professional life in a lot of ways… the competition he’s playing with — he’s playing against men, players that have played professionally for eight, nine, 10 years some of them. When you see him play his game reflects that at some level.”

The thing that grabbed you first about Schroder was his defense — he got down in a low crouch and pressured the ball. Again he was mature, he wasn’t gambling he was counting on his quick feet and ridiculous wingspan to take away what the ball handler wanted to do. At 19 he was the best defensive point guard in Las Vegas.

“He’s got the quickness and the length to be very good on the ball,” Snyder told ProBasketballTalk. “I think the thing that stood out for us is that it’s very difficult to screen him. He gambles a little bit, but for the most part he’s just impacting the game by consistently applying pressure.

“Maybe the biggest is his ability to not be screened in the pick-and-roll. Pick-and-roll defense is an important thing.”

There were ups and downs over the course of Schroder’s play in Vegas — he shot just 34 percent overall and 29 percent from three, and while he dished out 5.6 assists a game he also had 3.4 turnovers. He showed a great feel for the game, but everything was not smooth. He was adjusting to the NBA game.

“I think everybody’s athletic here in America, in Germany it was a little bit different,” Schroder said.

“I know some of the things coach (Mike Budenholzer) has challenged him on, he can continue to shoot the ball, his focus on the court and really maintaining it, having an even keel mentally and really keeping his poise. Some of those things you just don’t work on on your own, you need to play, and I think the more he plays that will be good for him.

“He was in the gym while we were in Vegas working on his shot, so some of those things he needs to do to evolve as a player we’re going to see more as his competition increases.”

Schroder lands in a good spot in Atlanta — Jeff Teague is back as the starter and will get the bulk of the minutes, with Lou Williams coming off the bench and wanting the ball in his hands also. Shelvin Mack is also on the roster.

But what Schroder showed in Vegas was a guy ready to get some NBA minutes — he can come in off the bench, play good defense, set up some teammates and start to get a feel for the NBA game.

Watching him, I saw what could well be a quality NBA point guard down the line, a guy who can start and lead a team on both ends if he develops.

And that would be a real steal at No. 17.

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.