Kurt Helin

Zach LaVine on Tom Thibodeau: “He is really strict and he’s ready to go”

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It’s one of the interesting questions heading into the NBA season: How much will the presence and drive of Tom Thibodeau push an already on-the-rise team in Minnesota? Just how good will the Timberwolves be, and how fast?

For the past few weeks, Thibodeau has been yelling at Team USA players about their defense (with varied results), but soon he will be in Minnesota ready to yell at Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and the rest of the Timberwolves.

What are LaVine’s impressions of Thibodeau? Here it is, from a Sports Illustrated interview.

Yeah I worked out with coach a couple of times now. He is really strict and he’s ready to go, so I like that. He’s going to push you and he’s very aggressive and he tells you how it is. It’s been a long summer, so were ready to get into the season.”

Maybe more interesting, LaVine has worked out a little with first-round draft pick Kris Dunn and threw this in almost unsolicited.

“Kris Dunn is a very athletic point guard. I met him twice I think, worked out with him once. He’s a going to be a great player, we saw what he can do in Summer League, so it’s going to be fun.”

Minnesota is a team to watch the next few years — in two or three seasons it could be the biggest threat to Golden State at the top of the West.

Quote of the Day: Jim Boeheim says coaching Team USA is “fantasy world” NBA

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“This is really different than the NBA. This is the best. This is getting the NBA players without agents, without anybody else telling them what they should do, with them willing to do exactly what we have to do to win. So it’s really not coaching in the NBA. It’s not even close. We know that. This is fantasy world.”

—Team USA assistant coach (and Syracuse head coach) Jim Boeheim on coaching USA Basketball vs. NBA. Via ESPN.

There are agendas around Team USA — hello Nike! — but since Mike Krzyzewski has come on as coach USA Basketball has done a fantastic job of getting elite NBA players to come to them and accept a role. The most obvious was when Kobe went to Coach K in 2008 before Beijing and said he simply wanted to be their defensive stopper. All-Star players are willing to come off the bench (and in some cases barely play) to be part of something bigger than themselves. To sacrifice minutes and numbers for gold. Things many would not and have not done during an NBA season.

The coaches know how lucky they are. And these players know they will go back to being “the man” in the NBA. But for a month or so, it is a fantasy world.

USA vs. Serbia gold medal game: Three things to watch.

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Right now, these are the two best teams in the world.

They met in the finals of the 2014 World Championships. Serbia came closer to knocking off the USA in the group stage than any other team.

Sunday they meet again with a gold medal on the line.

This is a winnable game for the Americans, but it is far from a pushover. Serbia can flat out play. Here are a few things to watch:

1) The USA must slow Milos Teodosic. Serbia has real talent on the roster — Denver big man Nikola Jokic had 25 points when these two met in group play. However, point guard Milos Teodosic is the key to the Serbian offense, and if he is allowed to run free penetrating, scoring and dishing, the USA will be in for a rough game. Teodosic had 18 points and six assists in the first meeting.

“They have great comradery; they’re an outstanding passing team; an outstanding defensive team as was shown in the Australia game; and they’re led by one of the all-time great players internationally in Teodosic,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said Saturday. “So they’ll be very, very difficult for us.”

The USA has struggled defensively at times against teams that move the ball and move off the ball. Serbia does that, and Teodosic is the fulcrum of it all.

Coach K watched Teodosic torch Kyrie Irving for much of the first meeting. That can’t happen again. The USA needs to put Klay Thompson on Teodosic to start, and make sure Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler — maybe even Paul George for a stretch — get their time on him and slow him down. If the USA can keep Teodosic from dominating, they can slow the Serbian offense.

2) Serbia is defending well, the USA offense needs to be sharp. In its semifinal game two days ago against Serbia, Australia scored just 5 points in the first quarter. Then 9 in the second. By that point the game was over.

Serbia is defending well now, better than they did in the group stage when the USA hung 94 on them. In that game the USA played a lot of isolation ball and hit some difficult shots — fall into the iso trap again and the Americans will be in trouble. They need to share the ball, as they did better against Spain, and the USA needs Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, or another shooter to step up and knock down threes. The USA has enough offensive firepower to score on anyone, so long as they don’t try to go mano-a-mano.

3) The USA has had big runs against Serbia, it could use another. When Serbia played the USA in the gold medal game of the 2014 World Championships, coach Mike Krzyzewski had to call a timeout during a sloppy first quarter by his team. After that, the USA went on a 30-11 run the rest of the quarter that essentially ended the game. When the USA played Serbia in the group stage, the Americans raced out to a 23-5 lead.

The USA’s ability to score and depth means they can make big runs on any team. They need one or two of those Sunday.

Then after the run, the USA can’t just relax. In the group stage, after that 23-5 run, the USA let up and was outscored 86-71 the rest of the way and almost lost the game — NBA-bound Bogdan Bogdanovic got a wide-open three to tie it at the buzzer, but the shot rimmed out. The USA cannot take their foot off the gas when ahead.

Saturday night fun: Watch the Top 50 blocks from last NBA season

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Like you have something better to do on a Saturday night than watch this video? Don’t lie to me, you know you don’t.

LeBron James, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and others are here swatting balls in the paint for your entertainment, the top 50 blocks from last season courtesy the fine folks at NBA.com.

Sit back and enjoy.

Jeremy Lin on his summer: “My number 1 priority by far is my jump shot”

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Jeremy Lin‘s game always has been about the pressure he can create on a defense in transition or coming off the pick-and-roll — he gets to the rim aggressively and can finish fairly well. However, make him a jump shooter and he struggles. Lin took 31 percent of his shots from three last season and hit a decent but not great 33 percent of them. He doesn’t shoot much better in the midrange — mid-30 percent from just about anywhere.

This lack of a consistent jumper isn’t a secret — to him or his defenders. However, it’s something Lin is trying to fix as he heads to the Nets next season as a primary ball handler at the point. From Lin’s personal blog:

So this summer, my number 1 priority by far is my jump shot. Working on all types of jump shots: catch-and-shoot 3’s, off-the-dribble 3’s, mid-range jumpers, iso jumpers. I’ve always had a knack for attacking the rim, finishing or getting to the free throw line, but if I am able to really consistently hit shots from the outside, it would take my game to a whole new level. I’ve changed my form, brought my release lower and made the motion smoother in hopes of making it more consistent, creating a quicker release and using less energy so on nights when I’m tired I can still shoot it well. I’ve also been working on my floaters and change of pace game because as I get older, I will rely less and less on my athleticism.

That’s a guy in the gym doing the right things.

Will it translate to the court? Good question. The number of players who say they gain/lose weight in the summer, improve their post game, or sharpen their jumper vs. the number of players who show that in the fall is a dramatic reduction. Lin has put in the work, but we need to see it to believe it.

If he did, the Nets got a steal this season and next.