Kurt Helin

Ioannis Bourousis (R) and Antonios Fotsi

Former No. 5 pick Nikoloz Tskitishvili wants an NBA comeback

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When you talk about skilled European big men who were drafted high then flamed out in the NBA, Nikoloz Tskitishvili is right near the top of the list. The No. 5 pick of the Denver Nuggets in 2002 and seen as a 7-foot project, but one that never panned out. He could never catch up with the speed and athleticism of the NBA game. Injuries slowed him. His skill never translated — he shot 30.4 percent overall for his career, 23 percent from three. In four years he was out of the NBA.

Now he wants another chance.

Speaking to the Denver Post, Tskitishvili talked about wanting another chance in the NBA.

“I just turned 32, but I’m better,” he said. “I’m better at this age. I got stronger. I’ve got confidence. I got smarter….

“I’m 100 times better than I was,” he said. “It’s just very difficult for teams to understand that, because they are looking at the number, the age. If you ask me, this is the best shape I’ve ever been in and the best I’ve been playing in my career.”

 

 

Tskitishvili is honest in his assessment of himself back in the day — he wasn’t physically or mentally ready for the NBA. He wishes he had done what many Europeans drafted do and stay a couple more seasons overseas to polish their skills

“You can blame me or you can find some reasons to blame,” he said. “When they draft you as a No. 5 pick, really I shouldn’t have taken it, and stayed in Europe a couple more years. But you can’t say no to the No. 5 pick. You might never come to the NBA.”

 

He played last season for Champville of the Lebanese Basketball League. That is a long way from the NBA. Never say never, but if an NBA team is going to take on a big to play limited minutes, they more likely take on a young player who could be with them longer at a lower price, plus likely be a better trade asset.

But could he be worth a camp invite?

 

John Wall doesn’t expect to make Team USA roster for Rio Olympics

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp
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John Wall was just at the Team USA mini-camp in Las Vegas. He is a top-five point guard in the NBA. He has developed into the point guard the Wizards hoped they would get when they selected him No. 1 in 2010.

But don’t expect to see him on the USA Basketball roster for the Rio Olympics next summer.

That’s not just my opinion — it’s what Wall himself told Ben Standig of CSNWashington.com.

“I’ll be out of the picture,” said Wall through a laugh and without any noticeable trace of resentment….

“I’m just being honest,” Wall continued. “Chris Paul has already won one (Olympic gold medal). Steph Curry had an amazing last year and just won the World Cup. Kyrie just won the World Cup. Russell will probably be on the team. They’ll use him as a two-guard. So, I probably won’t make it.”

It’s simply a numbers game.

The USA usually takes four or five guards, three of them point guards (James Harden and Klay Thompson likely are at the two guard spots, in my opinion). Stephen Curry is a lock. If Chris Paul wants to go, he is a lock. And then it comes down to the athletic freak and former Olympian that is Russell Westbrook (I think he makes the team), but if not him then it’s Kyrie Irving, who played for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and played well for Team USA last summer at the World Cup. Wall said he thinks Irving makes it.

If everyone’s healthy, Wall just misses the cut. Team USA needs three point guards and he’s fifth. Point guard is a ridiculously deep position for Team USA, which is a nice luxury to have, but some very good players just miss the cut.

 

Stan Van Gundy not worried about hack-a-Drummond strategy next season

Memphis Grizzlies v Detroit Pistons
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It happened to DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard seemingly every game. It happened to guys such as Josh Smith, although less often.

But when it came to the Pistons’ Andre Drummond, there was not a lot of hack-a-Drummond taking place. That despite the fact he shot just 38.7 percent from the free throw stripe last season.

The Pistons should be improved this season, and Drummond should be at the heart of it — he had 27 points and 16 rebounds in the Team USA exhibition last week. He’s going to draw more attention and it he’s shooting around 40 percent from the line there will be hacking.

His coach, Stan Van Gundy, told Zach Lowe of Grantland on his podcast that he’s not worried about it (hat tip to the Detroit Free Press).

 “We had teams do it,” said Van Gundy. “Quite honestly if we get better we’ll see it more. I had Dwight Howard and I also had Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) so I’ve been through this before. In terms of wins and losses it just hasn’t been that effective. It might be effective for a possession or two….

“I don’t think it’s hopeless,” said Van Gundy. “I think my hope would be that this year we could get him up over 50% and we could start pushing 60%. If you get him over 50% then it’s not really an effective strategy. If you get to 52% then you’re having a quality possession.”

The average NBA team averaged 1.025 points per possession last season, so you can see where Van Gundy is going here — even at 52 percent that’s well above average.

The Pistons are talking extension with Drummond, and they will give him the max (it is possible the sides decide to do what Kawhi Leonard did with the Spurs and wait to sign next summer, giving them more cap space to chase free agents). The Pistons are going to pay Drummond to be their future, their cornerstone.

Will free throws be his Achilles heel, or will he knock enough down to take that off the table?

Karl-Anthony Towns packed in phone booth with Kevin Spacey on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight show

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
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Francis Underwood would do exactly what Kevin Spacey does in this Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon skit — laugh and play along. Of course, Underwood would get some retribution later.

Spacey was on with Fallon playing “Phone Booth” — miss a question and another person joins you in the booth — and when Spacey missed one when Keegan-Michael Key was already in the booth, then Karl-Anthony Towns joined them. All 6’11”, 250 pounds of him. Spacey should be thankful it’s not a few years from now when Towns has packed on a little more muscle.

Fallon cannot play this game with Shaq.

Jonas Valanciunas tweaks hip playing for Lithuania, says it’s not serious

Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards - Game Four
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This is not the sight Toronto Raptors fans wanted to see in Jonas Valanciunas’ first game for Lithuania this summer — him grabbing his leg in pain after slipping on a wet part of the floor.

Fortunately, it turned out not to be serious according to Valanciunas himself, who was joking about the groin strain the next day.

According to the report in basketnews.lt, the coach was concerned, but the player himself was not (hat tip and translation via probballreport.com).

“He has a groin strain, while the injury heals long. This is not good,”  said (head coach Jonas) Kazlauskas after the match. “So far we do not know how many seriously injured Valanciunas is, we will know later. ”

Basketball player himself said that nothing serious happened.

“My first sting,” Valanciunas told journalists. “Nothing severe happened.”

The next day, Valanciunas was cracking jokes about it.

“I do not even remember how it happened, but I know I slipped and managed to stretch my hip flexors for the first time in my life,” the big man added jokingly.

It appears to be nothing, but this is why GMs hold their breath during international play. Valanciunas had 14 points and 10 boards in less than 20 minutes of action of the friendly with Austria. He will be playing for Lithuania in EuroBasket.

Valanciunas is someone to watch this upcoming NBA season for a couple of reasons.

First, he is in the class eligible for an extension of their rookie contracts before Nov. 1. The Raptors will likely try to get Valanciunas to agree to take a little less, but he’s going to look at the market next summer — when around 20 teams will have the money to offer a max extension — and decide he’ll wait for a max. If you don’t think he deserves a max you may be right, but the point is moot — big men get paid in the NBA, and Valanciunas is a solid scoring big man. He will land a max deal.

Second, watching him play with this new Raptors roster — and coach Dwane Casey wanting to go small more often — will be interesting. While he’s adept as a scorer, Valanciunas’ passing and defense are going to need to make leaps if Toronto is going to take a step forward. He will be key to a lot of what they want to do.

Also, he needs to stay healthy.