Kurt Helin

Nemanja Bjelica of the Minnesota Timberwolves Press Conference

Minnesota forward Nemanja Bjelica’s nickname: “Professor Big Shots”

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He’s no Robert Horry yet, but that’s a good goal to set.

If you watched a lot of EuroBasket like we did, you got a good look at rookie Minnesota forward Nemanja Bjelica. The 2010 draft pick was the EuroLeague MVP last season and at EuroBasket led Serbia to a top four finish averaging a team-high 13.9 points a game on 56 percent shooting, and he hit 37.5 percent from three. But maybe what people remember best is the game-winner over Germany.

That earned him a nickname, reports Jerry Zgoda at the Star-Tribune (hat tip Ball Don’t Lie):

When it rolls off his tongue, it sounds something like, “Nem-en-ya Bee-a-lihzt-ah.” When others say it, it sounds like everything from “Nah-man-jah” to “Bah-jell-ah-kah.”

By any pronunciation, they know him as the 2015 Euroleague MVP and a star at the recently completed Eurobasket championships whom many called just “Professor Big Shots” because of its simplicity.

That is awesome.

But it’s one thing to be professor big shots in Europe, it’s another thing entirely to do it in the NBA. If he can live up to that, Minnesota will have another young stud to go with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Russell Westbrook notices more space to operate in Donovan’s offense

Russell Westbrook

Billy Donovan was not brought in to replace Scott Brooks as coach because he has better hair.

It was all about the offense. The sense had long been that Brooks ran a too-conservative, old-school offense that could be defended. Sure, the Thunder have had a top 10 NBA offense since 2008-09 (and the top rated offense in the NBA in 2012-13), but that was because of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and in spite of the sets, according to critics. It’s part of what led to playoff downfalls.

Is Donovan’s offense that different? Westbrook says yes, he can feel the space, he told Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman.

The Thunder are betting on Donovan to be Steve Kerr 2.0, although clearly Westbrook and Durant (and Serge Ibaka) just staying healthy is a big part of that. Donovan was brought in to show Durant the organization wants the best and is serious about winning — so please don’t leave. They want a more modern offense while keeping a focus on defense, just like Kerr provided in the Bay Area.

Kerr coached brilliantly last season, but he also had a lot of things — including health — break his way. Donovan should be so fortunate.

New-look Gordon Hayward ready to take next step for Jazz

Gordon Hayward
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) —  The Utah Jazz won’t look drastically different when the team plays its first preseason game against the Lakers on Sunday in Honolulu, but their best player might.

Gordon Hayward has had a different air about him in training camp. He looks bigger and said Thursday he considers himself “one of the best in the league” regardless of position. That statement in itself is very un-Hayward-like, but that’s exactly what the Jazz need.

The team didn’t sign a high-profile, big-money free agent over the summer and needs Hayward to play at an All-Star level to realize any playoff hopes.

“He’s just really assertive,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s attacking the rim. I think he’s getting more and more comfortable with himself as that player and that leader.”

One of the things Hayward has focused on is closing out games. The Jazz are talented enough to compete on a nightly basis and should be in a lot of close games. That’s where Hayward comes in.

“Sometimes you need to be able to go to a guy and just tell him to get a bucket,” he said. “It’s never going to be the same (in practice). There’s nothing like closing a game with 20,000 fans and everybody’s watching you. It’s hard to emulate, but you kind of have to envision it in your mind. It’s something that mentally you can just visualize and just continue to work on over and over and over.”

Hayward, who averaged a career-high 19.3 points last season, also worked on his post moves and is prepared to play small-ball for stretches.

The sixth-year player is clearly on a mission after a summer of growth that included the birth of his first child.

Other things to watch during the Jazz preseason:

FLEXIBLE FAVORS: Snyder said forward Derrick Favors has practiced harder than anyone so far. The 6-foot-10, 265-pounder has high expectations for himself after a summer dedicated to extending his range and becoming more of a playmaker. He’s developed additional post moves, wants to be an active passer from the mid-post and consistently hit jumpers from there and beyond – but not quite out to the 3-point line. Favors is also entering his sixth year and wants to play at an All-Star level after averaging 16.0 points and 8.2 rebounds last season.

“This is the year that I want to come out and really dominate,” Favors said.

REPLACING DANTE: Starting point guard Dante Exum is out after tearing his ACL playing for the Australian national team during the summer. There are concerns about how the team will adjust defensively. No other point guard on the roster has the length of the 6-6 Exum. Former first-round pick Trey Burke is expected to start and said he learned to be a true professional during the offseason and believes better habits on and off the court will translate to his best season. Brazilian rookie Raul Neto and former D-Leaguer Bryce Cotton are expected to be the other point guards on the roster.

BURKS BACK: General manager Dennis Lindsey considers forward Alec Burks the Jazz’s free agent addition. Burks missed most of the season following shoulder surgery after signing a four-year extension in 2014. He averaged 13.9 points last season and adds a scoring punch that was missed. The preseason should give an idea how Snyder plans to use Burks and second-year player Rodney Hood.

SHORT ON TIME: The Jazz held their first preseason practice Tuesday, per NBA rules, just five days before their first preseason game. By comparison, the NFL has about a month between the start of camp and preseason games. Snyder said he’d like to have three weeks, but the current setup means they have to make the most of their time.

“You have to prioritize,” Snyder said. “For us, it’s really me wanting to see how much slippage there’d been in certain aspects of our game.”

QUOTABLE: Snyder said the Hawaii trip presents some challenges, but he also hopes it provides some bonding moments.

“I’m not saying Gordon and Fav have to go for a long swim together to bond,” Snyder joked. “But I would like to see Alec hula.”

Pistons’ Steve Blake out with concussion

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers
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Steve Blake is going to have a role with the Pistons early in the season, backing up Reggie Jackson at the point. That role will shrink when Brandon Jennings returns, but we’re a ways away from that point, but that’s why the Pistons got him this summer — insurance..

We’re also a little bit away from seeing Blake on the court as he has been sidelined due to a concussion, reports Keith Langlois of Pistons.com.

The protocol has him being symptom free through increasing levels of physical activity, with the results reviewed by a league neurologist. In season, you might worry about a team trying to cut the corners, but during training camp, not so much.

Bake averaged 19 minutes a game off the bench in Portland last season, he’s still a threat from three but provides the kind of play you’d expect from a 35-year-old the rest of the time. The more you see of Blake, the more trouble the Pistons’ backcourt is in.

Report: Channing Frye available via trade. Cheap.

Orlando Magic Media Day

On paper, the Orlando Magic are counting on Channing Frye to stretch the floor, complement Aaron Gordon at that spot, and provide some of that veteran presence the Magic are counting on if they are going to make the playoffs.

The reality is he can be had in a trade. Cheap.

From Zach Lowe of Grantland, in a post about how Tristan Thompson gave up his leverage and the Cavaliers’ options.

The corpse of Brendan Haywood left behind a $10.5 million trade exception, and the Cavs can trade a future first-rounder that would almost certainly become a 2018 pick.3 That’s enough to start talks for someone like Davis once he becomes trade-eligible on December 15, or even Markieff Morris if he pipes up again. Sources around the league say Channing Frye is available now for very little, though Magic officials deny it. Other names will hit the market, but while the salary of someone like Kenneth Faried doesn’t quite fit the exception, how much would Denver really demand to dump J.J. Hickson into it?

The reality is Frye fits a role in the NBA, but mostly as a stretch five off the bench. He’s no starter at the four because he can’t defend that spot, but in a limited role off the bench — playing pick-and-pop near the top of the key where he can set up for his best shot — he has value.

Right now, no team has stepped forward to grab him. Just wait. Teams are an injury — or a dose of reality about a guy they thought was improving — from calling Orlando to gauge a price.

Keep Frye on your trade watch list.