Dan Feldman

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Kyle Lowry #7 of United States celebrates with teammates DeAndre Jordan #6 and Kevin Durant #5 during a Men's Preliminary Round Group A game between the United States and France on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Fretting about margin of victory is a distinctly American problem – but also a real one

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What’s wrong with Team USA?

The Americans aren’t losing. They’re 5-0 in the Rio Olympics and have won 22 straight Olympic games.

They’re not just winning close, either. The United States’ average margin of victory in Rio, 23.4, is by far the best in the 2016 Games.

The problem is twofold:

1. Expectations for Team USA are exceptionally high.

2. The Americans aren’t dominating the right teams.

Let’s start with the first issue. The U.S. has outscored opponents in Rio by 23.4 points per game. Second-best Australia (+15.2) is closer to fifth than first. Most countries would love to be the United States’ position – 5-0 with the best margin of victory.

But the United States isn’t most countries.

The Americans have posted 15 of the 17 best average margins of victories in Olympic men’s basketball history. No nation that still exists has topped 2016 Team USA’s +23.4, but that still ranks just 13th in U.S. history.

The best scoring margins in Olympic history:

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The 2016 U.S. team could even see its number fall as the level of competition presumably rises in the knockout stage (more on that later), but the Americans’ biggest problem is a lack of cohesiveness. They could improve significantly as they develop chemistry, even as they face better foes.

Want to take the field over Team USA in an eight-team single-elimination tournament? That’s fine.

It’s much harder to favor any single other team.

But it’s not impossible, which leads to the second issue.

The Americans built their formidable margin of victory by beating up on China (by 57 points) and Venezuela (44). China and Venezuela are now eliminated.

The U.S. fared much worse against teams that advanced to the knockout stage – beating Australia by 10, Serbia by three and France by three. Though there’s not necessarily equity between Group A and Group B, that’s a better representation of Team USA’s level of competition from here.

Narrowing the sample to games between teams that reached the knockout stage, margin of victory is far less less encouraging:

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Spain, which finished second in Group B, has the opposite issue of the U.S., which won Group A. Against teams that also advanced, Spain beat Lithuania by 50 and Argentina by 19 and lost to Croatia by just two. But the Spaniards also lost to Brazil and barely beat Nigeria, two teams already eliminated.

This is the ninth Olympiad where eight men’s basketball teams advance from group play to the knockout stage. In six of the previous eight, the team with the best scoring margin during group play against teams that advanced to the knockout stage also won the gold medal. The two exceptions – 1988 and 2004 – were the only years the U.S. didn’t win gold.

In 1988, the Soviet Union (+7.0 in group games against advancing teams) upset Team USA (+21.7) in the semifinals. In 2004, Argentina (+4.3) passed Spain (+14.7).

Neither instance featured as wide a gap between the United States (+5.3) and Spain (+22.3) this year.

Simply, when push has come to shove against the world’s top national teams so far, the U.S. has not been convincing. Those will be the only opponents the Americans see the rest of these Games.

If it beats Argentina tomorrow, the U.S. will face either Spain (which has dominated its best competition) or France (which played Team USA tight without Tony Parker). Neither matchup looks easy.

The Americans are strongly favored to win gold for good reason, but given their sky high expectations, the concerns are equally valid.

O.J. Mayo says he’s planning comeback after dismissal and disqualification

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 25:  O.J. Mayo #3 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts on the bench during the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics  at TD Garden on February 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Bucks 112-107.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The NBA dismissed and disqualified O.J. Mayo for a drug violation.

But the former Milwaukee Buck says he’s not done yet.

TMZ:

TMZ transcribed Mayo’s description of his appeal as “in the works.” Like James Herbert of CBSSports.com, I thought Mayo might have said “didn’t work.”

Either way, don’t expect Mayo back in the NBA within two years. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (emphasis mine):

Section 11. Dismissal and Disqualification. (a) A player who, under the terms of this Agreement, is “dismissed and disqualified from any association with the NBA or any of its Teams in accordance with the provisions of Section 11(a)” shall, without exception, immediately be so dismissed and disqualified for a period of not less than two (2) years, and such player’s Player Contract shall be rendered null and void and of no further force or effect (subject to the provisions of paragraph 8 of the Uniform Player Contract). Such dismissal and disqualification shall be mandatory and may not be rescinded or reduced by the player’s Team or the NBA.

Mayo will be 30 by the time he can return – and there’s no guarantee the NBA allows him back then. Per the CBA, “the reinstatement shall be granted only with the prior approval of both the NBA and the Players Association, which shall not be unreasonably withheld.” Considering Mayo also played terribly last season, he might struggle to draw suitors even if eligible.

Report: Trail Blazers signing Grant Jerrett

2013 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
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The Trail Blazers took off last season when they moved Al-Farouq Aminu to power forward. Stretch fours are especially valuable with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum running Terry Stotts’ offense.

So, Portland seeks another in Grant Jerrett.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

To attend training camp, a player must have a valid NBA contract. Presumably, Jerrett’s contract is just partially guaranteed.

The Trail Blazers have 14 players – one fewer than the regular-season roster limit – with fully guaranteed salaries. Jerrett will probably compete with Tim Quarterman ($75,000 guaranteed) and Luis Montero  (unguaranteed) for the final spot. Portland doesn’t have its own D-League affiliate, so this appears to be a genuine chance to for Jerrett to stick.

Jerrett was actually drafted by the Trail Blazers (No. 40 in 2013), but they were picking for the Thunder. He spent nearly all his first pro season in the D-League then split his rookie NBA year between Oklahoma City and Utah in 2014-15. The Jazz waived him entering last season despite his fully guaranteed salary.

Jerrett’s outside shooting stroke and 6-foot-10 frame offer intrigue. His athleticism was also a plus coming out of Arizona, though that’s more in question after multiple injuries. Jerrett will have to shoot a little better than he has or improve his complementary skills to make it in the NBA.

Andre Drummond resists underhanded free throws

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 24:  Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons works on free throws prior to playing the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 24, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Andre Drummond was “open” to shooting underhanded free throws, Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said.

Well, Drummond has found a technique he says works for him – and it apparently isn’t underhanded.

Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant:

Drummond continues to work on free throws, along with his footwork, though he dismisses any suggestion he should try shooting them underhand.

“I’m just really just continuing to work on back-to-the-basket stuff,” he said, “and working on getting better from the foul line. I’m going to stick with the formula I have now.”

Drummond has made 38% of his free throws in his four-year NBA career, never shooting better than 42% in a season. He has tweaked his form several times without ever finding sustained success.

Will this new method work? I doubt it. Drummond clearly faces major mental and mechanical issues at the line.

But it’s worth trying whatever he believes will work. If he’s not sold on underhanded free throws, those won’t work either. He needs to be confident in his plan – even if it’s not the one the curious public longs for him to try.

Report: Nuggets signing D.J. Kennedy, who just won $2 million The Basketball Tournament

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 30: D.J. Kennedy #1 of the St. John's Red Storm celebrates the win against the Duke Blue Devils  at Madison Square Garden on January 30, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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You know that open basketball tournament with a $2 million grand prize for the winning team?

The Nuggets apparently do.

Fresh off winning $174,000 in leading his team to its second straight The Basketball Tournament victory, D.J. Kennedy is headed to Denver.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Nuggets already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries plus JaKarr Sampson and Axel Toupane. That works against Kennedy sticking.

But Denver also lacks its own D-League affiliate. So, the Nuggets aren’t signing Kennedy just to waive him and assign his D-League rights. Maybe they’re considering deals that’d open a roster spot.

Kennedy, a strong wing, went undrafted out of St. John’s in 2011. He has played in the D-League and overseas since.

I’m not sure how he’d fit in Denver, which already has Danilo Gallinari, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Wilson Chandler, Mike Miller, Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley. But there’s a shortage of quality wings around the NBA as the league gets smaller. If he plays well in the preseason, Kennedy could draw interest from other teams.