Kurt Helin

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Pelicans’ Buddy Hield slowly starting to figure out NBA-style game

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LAS VEGAS — There have been moments the last couple of days when Buddy Hield looks like he’s figuring the NBA style of game out. Just like he did the college game at Oklahoma, it took some time but he got there. Sunday night against Utah, Hield hit four consecutive 3-pointers late to make it a one-point game. Monday night he got hot in the third quarter, using screens better, hitting from the midrange, and showing off his stepback, pushing the Pelicans into a lead they would never give up. He’s scored 44 points in his last two games.

But New Orleans’ No. 6 pick is still a combined 17-of-43 (39.5 percent) shooting in the two games, and he was 3-of-12 from three Monday. He struggled to create space to get off those shots at time. Simply put, 44 points on 43 shots is not efficient enough.

Why is it working sometimes and not others? What was the difference in that third quarter Monday when he was hitting after a rough first half?

“Coach told me if I don’t make a shot he’s gonna shoot me, so I was just more locked in and focused,” Hield said with a laugh.

“I said a little something to him, but he got the message,” Pelicans’ Summer League coach Robert Pack added.

Jokes aside, Hield is going through the adjustments every top rookie faces — the game is moving a lot faster for him, the players more athletic, and defenses are keying on him in ways he’s not used to seeing. In the first half Monday, Sacramento’s Malachi Richardson did a good job of taking away Hield’s space and denying him the ball. Hield seemed rushed. That’s when he struggles with his shot.

“When he starts to get sped up. Or when he’s trying to do a little too much with the ball,” Pack said of when Hield isn’t shooting like expected. “Sometimes as a shooter, he hasn’t really gotten in that rhythm, and he tries to find it, he hits a couple, then he gets where he needs to move it off him and get it back at a different time. He has to know how to differentiate between the times he needs to go, and when he needs to move it and get it back. I think he’s getting it, he’s gotten better every game.”

“(It’s slowing down) somewhat,” Hield said of the game after three outings in Summer League. “You still gotta play and they guarded me different, they top-sided me all day, it frustrated me a little bit. I’m used to Oklahoma when I would just go get the ball, but now the NBA’s all about spacing and you gotta make more smarter plays. I mishandled the ball a few times, but I’ll get better at that through.”

You could see him learning and adjusting over the course of the game. Coming off screens to get the ball was not something he had to do in Oklahoma, he’s just learning how to do that now. And how to deal with teams sending much longer, more physical defenders at him.

“Teams are coming and trying to put their hands on him, be aggressive, rough him up a little bit, and it’s going to be even more when we get in the regular season,” Pack said. “This is a good test for him to feel what the physicality is like at this level and to play through it and have some success.”

Welcome to the NBA. This is what it’s going to be like every night come October. And Hield is in a different role than he was in Oklahoma.

“I think this summer will give him a feel of how he needs to play in the league, and a test of playing hard, and being patient with his set ups,” Pack said. “In the season there will be more guys on the floor who can do things, so he’ll have help, but this will give him a good test of things he needs to work on before he gets to camp.”

Notes from Monday at Summer League: Thon Maker’s double-double included 10 fouls

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LAS VEGAS — There’s so much constant action going on at NBA Summer League you can’t take it all in (sort of like Vegas itself). Let me dump my notebook from my first day watching games at UNLV.

Thon Maker had a double-double Monday: 10 points and 10 fouls.

He’s far from the first guy to foul out of a Summer League game — Andrew Bogut and Larry Sanders both did it, for example — but it’s a continuation of a rough week for the Bucks first rounder.

The reasons the Bucks like Maker have been seen in flashes in Las Vegas: The length, the athleticism, the motor, the shooting stroke. However, you can’t understate how much he needs to work on his game awareness. And to get stronger. Bucks Summer League coach Sean Sweeney said it was a good thing for Maker to go against the physical Grizzlies because they also put him in multiple pick-and-rolls and forced him to defend multiple actions.

Maker just needs time on the court. A lot of it. Right now he floats through offensive sets with little intuitive feel, he’s slow to recognize his defensive rotations, and he’s just raw. He needs a long stint in the D-League, where he can get real run. We’re at least a year away from knowing if he can work out. I didn’t like the Bucks taking him this high in the draft, and after watching him, this pick feels more like a reach than I thought it was draft night.

• Toronto’s big man Jakob Poeltl has plenty to like — nice touch around the rim, good footwork — but he needs to get stronger. He clearly is still adjusting to the physicality of Summer League/NBA play.

“I think he has a really good feel for the game,” Raptors coach Jamal Mashburn said. “I had a conscious effort coming into this game, I wanted to post him up more today, not only can he score out of the post I think he can be a playmaker for us out of the post. As this tournament goes on we’re going to try to utilize him more on the block and let him be more of a playmaker.

“He has a great feel. Obviously, he can block shots, he’s in the right place defensively.”

• Memphis may have a rotation player in Wade Baldwin (17th pick out of Vanderbilt). He showed poise and played well. Plus he did this.

Jamal Murray dropped 29 today. He likes the ball in his hands, Denver coach Mike Malone is going to have to stagger him and Emmanuel Mudiay.

• One of the most fun battles of the day, Sacramento’s Malachi Richardson guarding the Pelicans’ Buddy Hield. Give Richardson credit — someone coming out of Syracuse can defend man. He did a good job closing out space and preventing Hield getting the ball where he wanted. But in the second half Hield did a better job using screens to get open, finding space, and using his step back to knock down shots.

• I don’t know if D. J. Stephens can play in the NBA, but the man can dunk.

• I could see Bucks’ second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon developing into a “3&D” wing off the bench.

• Remember when the Raptors took a first-round gamble on Bruno Caboclo? Watching him here, not sold he’s going to become an NBA player. Maybe I’m wrong, but just not that impressed. Doesn’t make the swing for the fences the wrong move, but sometimes those swings lead to strikeouts.

• “This is a learning experience for him as well,” Mavs summer-league head coach Jamahl Mosley said of second-year player Justin Anderson. “He’s got to learn when to push through fatigue, when to make the right pass, the right decision. It’s part of it. He did make some very good decisions passing the basketball, and there also were times he could have made one more pass, or made the easy pass. But again, this is part of his learning curve.”

Al Horford: “I think at the end Boston just felt it was the best fit for me”

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To hear Al Horford tell it to Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Al Horford wanted to stay in Atlanta. That was the plan. But then the Hawks wouldn’t give him the full five-year contract he wanted, he seriously considered other options.

And the Celtics impressed him.

“I think that in Atlanta I was hoping that things would have worked out. Once I saw that things weren’t going to work out, I saw what was going to be the best situation for me to try to win an NBA championship….

“When I took the meetings with the other teams, I met with Boston and other teams as well, when I sat with them I just saw the roster and their vision. There was a lot of impact on me with Danny Ainge and coach (Brad) Stevens. It was a very positive meeting. Two of their owners were in the meeting and three or four of their players were there too. They seemed like a very close group and were focused on what their goal was and they got my attention. I wasn’t sure in what direction I was going to go. But I knew in order to leave Atlanta it was going to take a very special situation.”

What exactly didn’t work out the Hawks?

“It was more from a financial standpoint.”

Horford was the first free agent of note the Celtics have signed since their championship years — not only does he make them better now, the Celtics also hope it opens the door to other signings in the future.

The Hawks will miss Horford and take a step back — Dwight Howard for Horford is not a trade any sane person would make. They will still be good, but the Hawks team that made it to the conference finals in 2015 seems very much a thing of the past now.

While Horford is in Boston with the team of the future.

Tech leaders urge Silver to consider moving NBA All-Star

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NEW YORK (AP) Technology industry leaders have urged NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to move the All-Star Game out of Charlotte unless a North Carolina law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people is repealed “in very short order.”

In a letter sent Friday and obtained by The Associated Press, the executives tell Silver that putting fans at risk of discrimination would “send a terrible message about who the NBA is and what it values as an organization, and set a dangerous precedent.”

“If the NBA holds events in North Carolina while HB2 remains law, players, employees, and fans will be at risk of discrimination – and that’s wrong,” the letter said.

The All-Star weekend is set for next February. Silver has made it clear the league needs changes to the HB2 law in order to stage the weekend there but has resisted setting any deadlines for when he might act, believing positive dialogue is ongoing.

However, he has said a decision probably would have to be made this summer.

The letter was sent by SV Angel founder and co-managing partner Ron Conway and includes signatures from executives from companies such as Google, Reddit, PayPal, Lyft and Pinterest. They ask the NBA to be a “strong ally to the LGBTQ community” and use “its considerable might to bring advocates into those conversations and press for full repeal of the law.”

“The NBA has nothing to lose by taking a stand alongside hundreds of other companies and showing support for its LGBTQ players, employees, and fans,” the letter said.

A number of entertainment acts have canceled North Carolina events because of the law, and Silver has already received calls for the NBA to do the same. The letter comes from some people who might be at All-Star weekend – the league holds a tech summit as part of the events.

“Discrimination is bad for the league, bad for people and bad for business and we hope you will join us in sending that message, loud and clear in North Carolina,” the letter said.

NBA owners are holding their annual offseason meeting this week in Las Vegas.

(PBT note from Las Vegas: The NBA rumor mill says if the game is moved it likely lands in Orlando.)

Rudy Gobert will join French national team in Rio Olympics

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France qualified for the Olympics by beating Canada on Sunday — then within 48 hours got a lot better.

Utah’s shot-blocking beast in the paint Rudy Gobert sat out Olympic qualifying but announced on Twitter he would join France in Brazil.

Translated: “It is with pleasure that I announce that I will be in Rio with my brothers to defend the colors of France!”

Apparently, he’s not going to wait to have a contract extension in hand before playing.

France had Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, and Olympic Qualifying Tournament MVP Nando De Colo on the roster already. After earning a berth in the Rio games the French coach said he would considering adding Gobert to help them in the paint. However, he did not want to change the guard rotation, which likely leaves Orlando’s Evan Fournier on the outside looking in.

The Olympic basketball tournament tips off Aug. 6. The heavy favorite USA squad is in France’s bracket and the two play on Aug. 14.