Olympics Day 16 - Basketball

The Extra Pass: Ranking all 28 2016 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team candidatles

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Some names leaked yesterday for inclusion on the 2014-16 USA Basketball men’s national-team roster – the pool of players who will be considered for upcoming international events. That includes the World Cup of Basketball this summer, possibly 2015 Olympic qualifiers  – and, of course, the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Marc Stein of ESPN beat today’s official announcement with the full list:

Four years ago, USA Basketball added four more players to its pool a few months after the initial release, and the same could happen this cycle. John Wall, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, DeAndre Jordan and Michael Carter-Williams are among the players who would make sense as late additions. (Kobe Bryant, the lone 2012 Olympian not selected, has already announced his retirement from international play.)

Those 28(-plus?) will be parsed to 12 for each international event, but of course the biggest prize is a spot on the 2016 Olympic roster.

So, who has the best chance? Ignoring possible late additions to the expanded roster, some of whom would rank highly, here’s how the 28 already selected stack up for making the 2016 Olympic Team (age at the beginning of the Rio Games is listed in parentheses):

28. David Lee (33)

Lee was never good enough to make the Olympic team in his prime. He’s not getting there at age 33.

27. Tyson Chandler (33)

Chandler was an important piece of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, giving the Americans a center when they had no other decent option. He was likely aging out of contention anyway, but the emergence of other young centers really pushes out Chandler.

26. Deron Williams (32)

Another 2012 Olympian, Williams has already begun to look over the hill. Because he’s slipping from such a high peak, he’s still a helpful NBA player. But an Olympian now, let alone in two years? I don’t see it.

25. Andre Iguodala (32)

The third straight 2012 Olympian in these rankings – I’m sensing USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and crew picked a few players for the talent pool more to thank them for their previous service than in anticipation of 2016 – Iguodala was Team USA’s glue player in London. He’s a good passer and smart player, but too much of his game relies on athleticism to have a good chance of making the 2016 team.

24. Kyle Korver (35)

Korver clearly made the pool because of one skill: 3-point shooting. He’s a real wildcard, the only player on this list who wasn’t part of the 2010-12 U.S. Team or the 2013 minicamp (though, he did participate in the 2009 minicamp). That USA Basketball selected him anyway suggests they’re really intrigued by him. But he’s also the oldest player on this list. Even if outside shooting ages better than other skills, Korver still needs athleticism to run around screens and rise on his jumper. By the time he’s 35, I bet there are better shooters available – or at least similar ones with better complementary skills.

23. Kenneth Faried (26)

Once people got over Faried being a big steal in the draft thanks to his rebounding and offensive hustle, they began picking apart the holes in his game. Turns out, Faried is a pretty bad defender. He has a couple years to fix that major issue. Otherwise, Team USA won’t consider him strongly for a backup role.

22. Bradley Beal (23)

Beal is a good athlete with a smooth shooting stroke, making him a reasonable bet to grow into the type of player who fits at the end of the U.S.’s bench. But the second-youngest player selected to the pool, he might not be ready by 2016.

21. Klay Thompson (26)

Thompson is a better-developed Beal, a top-shelf 3-point shooter who doesn’t do anything else at a star level. Both belong on this list, because either could fit as a role player in Rio, but it’s unlikely either nudges out a deep group of stars, some of whom can shoot 3s themselves.

20. Gordon Hayward (26)

Hayward is a candidate to fill the Iguodala role. He’s a versatile offensive player, but his defense is lacking.

19. Kawhi Leonard (25)

Leonard is a better candidate to fill the Iguodala role. He’s an excellent spot-up shooter whose offensive game is expanding, and his perimeter defense is already remarkable. Depending when the Spurs hand over the reigns from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to Leonard, we could learn a lot more about the San Diego State product before the 2016 selections.

18. Andre Drummond (23)

Drummond is the youngest player on this list, and in a couple years, it might look foolish for him to be ranked so low. Just look how far his game has grown in the last two years, from the time he was underwhelming scouts at Connecticut to now. Drummond has the physical talent to skyrocket into the top three of this list. He’d just have to pass a deep crop of big men, including a few power forward who could play center internationally. Drummond’s size doesn’t separate him as much as it does in the NBA, and his defense needs major polish or else he’d be fouling out of every Olympic game.

17. DeMarcus Cousins (25)

Nobody doubts Cousins’ talent. The biggest question was his attitude, but Cousins making this list speaks volumes to how U.S. Basketball officials perceive him now. If Cousins keeps his nose clean, it’s going to be very hard to keep him off the team in 2016. He’s already elevated his game on the court, and even maintaining his current level of production might make him the NBA’s best center in two years as older players decline.

16. Carmelo Anthony (32)

Melo played well for the National Team, even when other stars weren’t meshing, and he could get a 2016 bid out loyalty. Or maybe he’ll just be deserving. For a player like him, 32 is hardly washed up. But either he will have expanded his repertoire to make a deep playoff run (increasing the odds he sits out the Olympics) or he’ll be the shoot-first scorer he’s always been (increasing the odds the committee chooses someone else).

15. Derrick Rose (27)

If it weren’t for injury, Rose would be a lock. For him to make it, obviously, he’ll have to be healthy in 2016. But let’s not ignore how much he struggled in his 10 games between injuries this season. That’s a small sample, yes, but there are a few excellent and younger point guards he’ll be competing with. Even if the slightest loss of athleticism could have Rose on the outside looking in.

14. LaMarcus Aldridge (31)

Aldridge might have the unfortunate timing of having his peak fall directly between 2012 and 2016. Consider him a lock for the World Cup of Basketball this summer in Spain, and maybe that builds up enough goodwill to warrant an Olympic spot two years later. After all, his mid-range offensive game should age well. But Aldridge is also currently a standout rebounder and quality defender, two traits likely won’t work in his favor in 2016.

13. Kyrie Irving (24)

Irving deserves his star status, but when compared to other stars, it’s hard to get over his defensive shortcomings. Plus, his frequent injuries lower his odds of making the Olympic team. Team USA has to catch him at the right – healthy – moment to include him on its 2016 roster.

12. Damian Lillard (26)

Slotting Irving and Lillard was difficult, but Lillard ultimately got the edge because he took such a big step forward from his rookie year. Irving has been running in place, admittedly at a high level, but Lillard seems to have more momentum.

11. Dwight Howard (30)

It’s a big deal that Howard is part of the American Basketball program again for the first time in six years. I suspect both sides are coming into this with the expectation Howard plays in Rio, but the best-laid plans often awry. There’s just no banking on a 30-year-old big man with back issues. Even if Howard can play, injury-related limits on him might make him less effective than Cousins or Drummond. Howard ranks so much higher than those two, though, because his trumpeted inclusion in the talent pool suggests he’ll get the benefit of the doubt.

10. Russell Westbrook (27)

Westbrook played well upon his brief return this season, separating himself from Rose in that regard, but two surgeries on the same knee for a player so reliant on his athleticism is concerning. I’d take the field of point guards behind Westbrook over him, but Westbrook has come up through the USA Basketball system and already reached the pinnacle with a gold medal in London. I think the mutual comfort will buy him a little leeway.

9. Chris Paul (31)

Paul will be old enough in 2016 to be concerned about his desire/ability to play, but not too old where it’s a real worry. He’s already won two Olympic gold medals and has probably earned a swan song.

8. LeBron James (31)

LeBron has a spot if he wants one. The only question is whether he wants one. Wade and Bosh aren’t in the running, at least right now, for a spot on in Rio, and any NBA team with LeBron is going to have a deep playoff run. Does he want to play those extra games without his Heat buddies?

7. Blake Griffin (27)

Griffin would have been an Olympian in 2012 if not for injury, and he’s clearly recovered just fine. Plus, Griffin has improved defensively and expanded his offensive moves. He’ll be an even stronger Olympic candidate in 2016 than when he was a de facto selection two years ago.

6. James Harden (26)

Best shooting guard in the NBA? Check. At least a few years younger than any other contender for the honor? Check. Even as Harden’s defensive issues become more exposed, it’s hard to find someone to bump him from the Olympic team.

5. Paul George (26)

In a medium sample this season, George has shown himself an increasingly good fit for the international style of play by protecting the ball better and polishing his jumper. But even if those improvements prove to be a fluke and he reverts to his previous levels, he’s still just too darn good to keep off the team.

4. Anthony Davis (23)

Davis was, by far, the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team, and he’s just kept impressing since. He should be a fixture on the American squad for the next two to three Games.

3. Kevin Love (27)

Love, a gifted passer and shooter for his size, is an ideal fit for international play. Plus, he’s young and already one of the NBA’s top players. The only question is how much international center he can play – not that it affects Love’s candidacy, but the ripples would be felt lower on this list.

2. Stephen Curry (28)

Curry played for the 2010 World Championships gold-medal team, and that didn’t even get him a spot among the 20 finalists for the 2012 London Games. USA Basketball can – happily – make up for that snub this time. Curry’s shooting makes him ideal for international play. Plus, he keeps toning up the weaker parts of his game as he enters his prime around 2016.

1. Kevin Durant (27)

Not only has he surpassed LeBron as MVP favorite this season, Durant will quite possibly be better in 2016. He’s the easiest pick of the bunch and maybe even the face of the American delegation in Rio.

-Dan Feldman

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Kevin Durant and Tony Parker put on a show:

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Bobcats 95, Clippers 91: The Bobcats may be six games below .500 in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but that’s good enough for the eighth playoff spot there, and Charlotte actually has one of the league’s better defenses. If teams like the Clippers continue to take them lightly on the road, outcomes like Wednesday’s will become predictable rather than surprising. The Bobcats are seventh in the league in defensive efficiency, and held L.A. to just 43.3 percent shooting. Al Jefferson led the way and finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, a more impressive feat than normal considering the matchup with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin inside. — Brett Pollakoff

Bulls 98, Cavaliers 87: The Bulls improved to 7-2 with this victory since trading Luol Deng to Cleveland, and Carlos Boozer sat out with a calf injury while Deng was an ineffective 2-of-11 from the field in almost 40 minutes of action with his new squad. D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson did the heavy lifting with 27 and 26 points respectively, and Joakim Noah was his usually-active self in finishing with 18 rebounds and six assists. — BP

Hawks 112, Magic 109: Atlanta led this game by 19 points in the third, before a furious Orlando comeback required the Hawks to focus once again to finish this one out. Paul Millsap (a likely All-Star reserve in the East, if you haven’t been paying attention) led Atlanta with 24 points, six rebounds, five assists, three steals, and five blocked shots. Victor Oladipo led the Magic with 24 points on 13 shots, to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. Jameer Nelson missed a deep, tough three-point shot that would have tied it as time expired. — BP

Raptors 93, Mavericks 85: Vince Carter returned to Toronto, which is apparently still a big deal for a franchise with nothing else to focus on all these years later. What Raptors fans should be concerned about is the fact that their team fell behind big once again, this time by 21 points before mustering the strength to come back and secure the victory against a Dallas team that was playing without Dirk Nowitzki. DeMar DeRozan poured in 40 points on 22 shots, but it really shouldn’t have taken that kind of effort to put away these Mavericks. — BP

Celtics 113, Wizards 111 (OT): Gerald Wallace drove for the game-winning layup to give the Celtics this victory, but his teammates gave him no more than cursory congratulations for his effort, largely due to the way Wallace has been shooting his mouth off all season long. On the Wizards side, they seem to have an aversion to getting over .500, and John Wall posted a triple double line of 28 points (on 29 shots), 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in the losing effort. Jeff Green poured in 39 points for the Celtics. — BP

Sixers 110, Knicks 106: This was yet another bad loss for the Knicks, but especially so considering both the state of the Sixers and the fact that this game was within reach in the fourth quarter. New York led by six with under nine and a half minutes remaining, but the team’s inability to get stops (which is seriously unacceptable, given Philadelphia is 29th in offensive efficiency) cost them down the stretch. Evan Turner led the way with 34 points and 11 rebounds for the Sixers, while the Knicks have now dropped five straight. — BP

Rockets 119, Kings 98: Rudy Gay went down in the first quarter with an Achilles injury. DeMarcus Cousins went down in the second quarter after rolling his left ankle. Hopefully neither of those turn out to be serious injuries (X-rays on Cousins were negative and he is day-to-day). Still, with them out the Kings could not hold off the Rockets, who went on a 14-5 first quarter run to take the lead and never looked back from there. Lots of Rockets players were putting up numbers: James Harden had 24 points and nine assists; Dwight Howard had 26 points and 13 rebounds; Omri Casspi had 20 points and 12 rebounds; and Chandler Parsons finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. — Kurt Helin

Bucks 104, Pistons 101: The Milwaukee Bucks were down 13 in the third quarter but mounted a come-from-behind win thanks to their bench, which was hot and coach Larry Drew rode through the fourth quarter. Caron Butler had 8 of his game-high 30 in the fourth quarter, although the real reason Milwaukee won is the Pistons shot 21.1 percent in the fourth (Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey combined to go 2-of-11 in the fourth). — KH

Thunder 111, Spurs 105: This is what makes me wonder about the Spurs in the playoffs — they struggle with athletic teams. Granted, once Kawhi Leonard had to leave the game with a broken hand the Spurs got less athletic, but this is not a new problem — Kevin Durant had 36 (that’s nine straight with at least 30 points) and guard Reggie Jackson slashed his way to 27 points on 17 shots. And the Thunder did that without Russell Westbrook. I don’t want to read much into one January regular season game, but the pattern of the past couple years leads me to think the Spurs can’t beat a healthy Thunder team in a seven game series. — KH

Suns 124, Pacers 100: You read that score right — the Suns dropped 124 on the best defense in the NBA. Let’s give the Suns some credit here, they started the game 10-of-15 from three, they got a strong game from former Pacer Gerald Green who had 23 points. Also, lets admit that this was just an off night on the road for Indiana — they played terrible defense. This is a team that has been marching through the West with little trouble but they didn’t get back in transition defense Wednesday and the Suns made them pay for it. — KH

LeBron James leads Cavaliers back to Finals doing it his way

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LeBron James is the first NBA star of the social media age, and with that has come a volume of criticism that the greats before him — Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan — never had to deal with.

Even these playoffs, there have been chattering voices knocking LeBron for how he worked more to set up teammates — particularly Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — more than seeking out his own shot. Some people have always wanted him to be more Jordan, when he was always more Magic. Or Oscar Robertson.

And this playoff he knew that he could carry his Cavaliers to the NBA Finals through a diluted East, but if he wanted a ring he was going to need those other players to be confident, ready, and believing in the team.

You could see that all come together for LeBron James in Game 6. He attacked early and set a tone, then got everyone involved on his way to 33 points and 11 assists in what became a 113-87 win sending Cleveland back to the NBA Finals.

“I just had to bring my game,” James said in his on-court postgame interview on ESPN. “I had to bring my game, I had to be in attack mode from the beginning, trust my shot, and once my shot start going I can get my teammates involved and they was able to carry me down the stretch.”

LeBron James was getting to the rim with those attacks, check out his shot chart:

LeBron shot chart

LeBron also keyed the fourth-quarter 22-7 run that put away the game.

“There is only one LeBron James, and he makes a difference on any team he plays on, and he’s proven that,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said postgame. “It’s six Finals (in a row for LeBron), to compare him to our team — and I love our players, I wouldn’t trade any of our players — but you put him on any team and he’s a difference maker.”

LeBron’s critics will not be silenced. The man has made six straight finals, a feat not accomplished by anyone since a few legendary Celtics of the 1950s-60s (Bill Russell’s teams). It speaks to LeBron’s focus, skill, durability, and ability to lead teams.

Critics will point to LeBron being 2-4 in the Finals. That misses the point — making it to six straight is an amazing accomplishment, and LeBron did it his way. Not trying to be MJ or Magic or Oscar, just being LeBron James.

We should savor watching this guy play while we still can.

James scores 33, Cavaliers reach second straight NBA Finals

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TORONTO — LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It’s the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it’s his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

“I had to bring my game,” he said. “I had to be in attack mode from the beginning.”

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith had 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday’s Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered “Let’s go, Raptors! Let’s go, Raptors!” throughout most of the final three minutes.

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland’s nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

TIP INS

Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. … Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

Reports: P.J. Carlesimo to join Sixers staff as Brett Brown’s lead assistant

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 02:  Head coach P.J. Carlesimo of the Brooklyn Nets watches as his team take on the Chicago Bulls in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 2, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nets defeated the Bulls 95-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Last season, when new president Jerry Colangelo started shaking things up in Philadelphia, he brought in Mike D’Antoni to be a lead assistant next to Brett Brown. This led to all kinds of speculation around the league that the Colangelos were trying to bring back the old Suns brain trust (especially when Jerry hired his son Bryan to be GM).

However, D’Antoni jumped ship to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets.

Enter, P.J. Carlesimo.

Carlesimo is a good fit, but that’s not going to quell the rumors that the Colangelos are not comfortable with Brown (despite giving him a contract extension). The Sixers need to give Brown a legitimate shot — he’s been like a contestant on Chopped the past few seasons, given a ridiculous basket of ingredients and told to turn Mango, octopus and graham crackers into a four-star meal. He’s gotten them to play defense (at times) and started to build a culture. He has earned the chance to show what he can do with a better lineup.

Which is what the Sixers will have next season.

Nuggets’ Jusuf Nurkic likes idea of two-bigs lineup with Nikola Jokic

DENVER, CO - APRIL 5:  Jusuf Nurkic #23 of the Denver Nuggets controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Pepsi Center on April 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Thunder defeated the Nuggets 124-102. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Late last season, Nuggets coach Mike Malone tried something out of the box the way the NBA is trending — playing two young bigs together. Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the latter of whom finished in third in the Rookie of the Year voting. Small ball may be in vogue, but going big has worked pretty well these playoffs for Oklahoma City with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter (and Serge Ibaka).

It didn’t work all that well for Denver — in just 92 minutes together the Nuggets were outscored by 7.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because the offense was terrible.

But Nurkic wants to try it again next season, he told the Nuggets’ official Web site.

“I’m happy about the big lineup [with Nikola]. “Basketball has kind of changed. The NBA has gone smaller because of [the] Golden State [Warriors]. In the [Western Conference] semi-finals, look at [Oklahoma City’s Steven] Adams, [Enes] Kanter, and [Serge] Ibaka. They played all those guys and they see the difference. Me and Nikola have great communication because we played in the same league, we played against each other.”

He’s referring to their time in the Serbian league where the two played before going to the NBA.

While it could only be used situationally, expect Malone to experiment with this lineup more. There are some serious defensive questions (neither is exactly fleet of foot), and there could be spacing issues. But if the league moves one way, the smart teams and coaches think about counters.