Team USA going small ball, but how many bigs do they keep on the bench?

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LAS VEGAS — Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis.

For the second day in a row coach Mike Krzyzewski rolled out that five-some out as a unit for scrimmages at the end of the Team USA practice and it looked like the starting group. Behind that guys like Klay Thompson, James Harden, John Wall, Derrick Rose, Bradley Beal and a number of other guards and wing players seem to be getting long, hard looks. Chandler Parsons got run as a stretch four on Monday.

Team USA is going small. Three guard lineups with what would be an NBA three serving as an athletic stretch four.

“Everyone talks about match-ups (with big teams such as Spain), people have to match-up against us, too,” Krzyzewski said. “What you have to do is put your best 12 together and then make adjustments with the best 12. Obviously we’re not going to have 12 guards, but that’s what we’ve done. You try to get eight or nine guys that are going to be the core, then three or four guys who complement them. We’ll see how that works out.”

That small ball has worked out well the last four years with gold medals at the 2010 World Championships and the 2012 London Olympics. Remember on that London team LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were the primary power forwards, and they overwhelmed teams with athleticism and defensive pressure. Yet a lot of talk around Team USA seems to be about the guys not here, such as Kevin Love and Blake Griffin.

“The big men we lost are not centers. We’ve never really had… well in Beijing (2008 Olympics) we did, we had Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh (back when Bosh played more in the post),” Krzyzewski said. “But since then we had Tyson (Chandler) but he didn’t play large minutes. At both the World Championships and in London (2012 Olympics) we had LeBron, Carmelo, Kevin (Love), they were the four/fives. Actually in Istanbul (2010) it was Lamar Odom, who played great, Kevin (Durant), Rudy Gay, Tyson, Kevin Love as a young guy, as a 21 year old. We’re accustomed to (playing small).”

What Team USA is trying to figure out now is who the main rotation guys will be, USA Basketball President Jerry Colangelo told ProBasketballTalk. But at some point they need to think about the bigs.

“We talk about having a core group of players, and that number could vary depending on the people you’re working with, could be eight, could be nine, and then looking for individuals who are specialists, if you will,” Colangelo said. “High energy people, three point specialists, defenders, and that will really be determined by who ends up in our core of eight or nine players.

“This is a very deep roster. We don’t have a lot of bigs, we have a lot of perimeter players, terrific guards for sure. That structure, in our case, may be you carry an extra big or two, just because of our strengths — which will be wings, and the point and the two guard — but you need to protect yourself with a couple of bigs.”

DeMarcus Cousins seems to be getting a lot of run with the main units, but Andre Drummond is making plays and getting a lot of praise from Krzyzewski. The question is fit.

“DeMarcus brings a different big man than Anthony (Davis),” Krzyzewski said. “Just like (Andre) Drummond does. And we have to see how we might incorporate that into what we’re doing.”

What team USA wants is versatility — and that includes their big men, which is why Anthony Davis is a lock.

“What you would hope to have is a roster that would be adaptable and can play against whomever the opposition would be,” Colangelo said.

Kevin Garnett: Thon Maker “is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down.”

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Not to get to inside baseball on NBA journalism, but one fundamental truth is player trainers pump up their guys. There usually is some truth in what they say, but it is in their interest to spin the player the best way possible. On and off the record it happens. It’s like asking a political campaign manager about his candidate, you will only get the positive.

Kevin Garnett worked out and helped the Bucks’ Thon Maker this summer.

In just his second season, Thon Maker has been in and out of the starting lineup for the Bucks at center, and he’s struggled this season with a true shooting percentage of 48 getting him 4.5 points a game, and PER of 9.3. (Bucks fans are understandably disappointed, but this is a second-year player, some patience is required).

Garnett had Makers’ back in a Q&A with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams.

Thon Maker reminds me a lot of myself. He loves the game. He’s a young, exuberant athlete who has a lot of tools—he has touch; he has agility; he has really, good feet. He has a really good shot from three-point all the way up to 19 to 21 feet. He has very good bones, as we say.

Thon is going to be the MVP of the league one day. Mark it down. He has the bones. He has the appetite to be able to chase something like that.”

Garnett may have the wrong young-stud Buck with an MVP in his future.

Maker has gotten KG comparisons for years, he’s a very mobile and athletic but thin big who can shoot from the wing… but the physical similarities are not enough. Maker is no KG. Not yet. Maker showed promise against the Raptors last playoffs but has not taken a step forward off that progress this season, looking far more prone to fouling than defending. The effort is there, but the maturity of game has a long way to go to catch up.

Garnett is right that Maker has the tools, and he is just in his second NBA season so patience is required, but there were concerns around the league before the draft if he had the makeup to put it all together and become a quality NBA player. That question is still out there, let’s get past it before we heap on accolades.

LeBron James all good with Reggie Jackson’s free throw gamesmanship, “I’ve done it before”

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Let’s set the stage: Sunday night, the fast-rising Pistons led the fast-rising Timberwolves by three with  6.2 seconds left when Jimmy Butler drew a foul on a 3-pointer. Butler drained the first two free throws. Before the third, Reggie Jackson interrupted to talk to Stanley Johnson, who was in rebounding position. Butler missed the free throw, and Detroit held on to win 100-97. Here’s the play in question.

It was a bit of gamesmanship by Jackson.

LeBron James was asked about the move at Cavaliers shootaround and endorsed it with a smile on his face.

“I’ve done it before. I won a playoff series before doing that actually. So, I’m all for it.”

That series was in 2007, overtime of game 6 of a first-round playoff series against Washington, and the victim was the Hibachi, Gilbert Arenas. The Cavaliers were down 1, Arenas had two free throws, missed the first, then LeBron stepped in. Arenas missed the second, and the Cavs went on to get the win.

Is interrupting free throws about to become an NBA thing? If it works, players will do it.

Warriors pose for photos with Jahlil Okafor’s dad’s ‘FREE JAH’ shirt

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Jahlil Okafor‘s father has not been shy about speaking out on his son’s behalf. NBA players are advocating for the 76ers to grant Okafor, who’s out of the rotation and on an expiring contract, his desired trade or buyout.

When both join forces…

Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry appear to really enjoy Chukwudi Okafor’s shirt. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily calling on Philadelphia to do anything. But they hadn’t to know how it’d be perceived.

It’s easy to predict free agents will avoid the 76ers as a result of the Okafor situation, but few anticipate getting stuck similarly. Players overwhelmingly value money, winning, role and location. If Golden State’s stars are applying any external pressure, it shouldn’t really move Philadelphia more than anything that has already been said and done.

A couple of Lonzo Ball’s triple-double assists look dubious (video)

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Lonzo Ball draws outsized attention because his father, LaVar Ball, lures onlookers and because the rookie plays for the high-profile Los Angeles Lakers.

So, when Lonzo gets a triple-double – like his 11-points, 16-rebound, 11-assists game against the Nuggets yesterday – it draws scrutiny.

Mo Dakhil of The Jump Ball:

The NBA defines an assist as a “pass that directly leads to a basket. … An assist can be awarded for a basket scored after the ball has been dribbled if the player’s pass led to the field goal being made.”

I wouldn’t describe either of those passing as leading directly to a basket. Ball’s teammates each hold the ball for a moment after receiving the pass then take two dribbles against set defenses.

But assists are subjective, and the Lakers aren’t alone in offering a home-court scorekeeping advantage.

Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice

So, criticize/laugh at the Lakers. But your favorite team probably manipulates assists in its favor, too.