Kurt Helin

Toronto Raptors v Washington Wizards - Game Four

Physical point guard Kyle Lowry talks weight loss

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Summer claims of NBA players’ weight loss/gain usually have the value of an inflatable tiger’s head. This is the time of year those claims start to pop up across the league as guys start to show up at team facilities for workouts, and most are pretty hollow.

But Kyle Lowry‘s weight loss — which has shown up on Instagram — turned some heads north of the border. A guy known for being a physical point guard got thinner, is that a good thing? Lowry talked about it with Stack.com (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“It started during [last] season, and even before that. I was talking to my wife, and she said “You were always your best at your college weight.” The saying is, the older you get, the lighter you’ve got to be. I thought Ray Allen did a great job of that, and Chauncey Billups too. I’m getting to the point where I’m a little bit older. I’m still young, but I’m a little bit older, and I can pick and choose how I want my body to look and feel.”

But can he still be physical?

“Who said I won’t be? I’m still lifting, still moving the same way I used to. So there’s no change in that. I’m going to play the best basketball I can play. I’ve always tried to be stronger than people and just a bigger bully. People are making a big deal out of something. I’ve always worked hard. This is just me changing up the way I do it, the way I dieted and the way I eat, the way I grind. I’ve always worked hard, it’s just now I’m smarter and older and I know how to work.”

Nobody should question Lowry’s desire or work ethic. What you can wonder about is if this give Lowry the desired results — keep him healthy through the season and into the playoffs. Last season Lowry averaged 3.5 points and 1.8 assists per game fewer after the All-Star break than he did before, and his shooting percentage fell to 37.3 percent for those final 17 games. He wasn’t the same guy. Early in the season, when he had to take on more offensive load (DeMar DeRozan was out), he was fantastic, but he faded as the season dragged on.

If Toronto is going to take a step forward and get out of the first round of the playoffs this season a few things have to happen. Bringing in DeMarre Carroll and focusing more on defense has to work. Jonas Valanciunas has to take a significant step forward (especially on defense). And Lowry has to be healthy and rested for the playoffs.

It sounds like Lowry is at least doing his part.

Top 5 plays from Day 2 of EuroBasket: Video proof Andrea Bargnani can play defense

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Andrea Bargnani plays defense? We have the video proof.

The top five plays of EuroBasket Day 2 — put together by FIBA — is an all NBA affair with a sweet pass from Sixers mystery man Dario Saric, Bargnani blocking a shot, and Tony Parker feeding Nicolas Batum for the alley-oop during the French rout of Bosnia.

Consider this a little summer fix as we move toward NBA training camps opening at the end of the month.

Rudy Gobert blocking shots, throwing down dunks for France (VIDEO)

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France had little trouble with Bosnia and Herzegovina at EuroBasket Sunday, going on a 21-0 run in the third quarter and winning 81-54. There were plenty of French highlights, and every French starter was at least +17 for the night.

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert made his presence felt inside with three blocks, the best of which you see above.

But he was also throwing down dunks (and was +21 on the night).

Jahlil Okafor says he’s ready for challenge of being Sixers’ franchise anchor

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
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As there are with all rookies, there were good and bad things we saw with Jahlil Okafor at Summer League. But one thing was clear:

He’s the franchise cornerstone kind of player GM Sam Hinkie has been looking for.

How other guys like Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid fit in with that remain to be seen, but Okafor is going to be the Sixers best player fast (if he isn’t already). He’s a franchise anchor kind of guy.

Is he ready for that? Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe asked.

“I am ready [for the challenge],” said Okafor. “I was the No. 1 player in high school so I went through that attention. I went to Duke University, one of the bigger schools in the country, and won a national championship. I’m used to attention and I think I’ll handle it fine.”

Duke is different from the NBA (although Shane Battier once told me he still got more hate from fans about being from Duke than he did as part of the LeBron James‘ Heat). But Okafor looks like the guy with the literally broad shoulders to handle it.

It’s going to be a rough rookie year with some hard lessons for Okafor — he hasn’t faced defenders like this, he hasn’t had defenses like this focus on him this way, and he hasn’t been pushed on the defensive end like this before. That said, he’s the likely frontrunner for Rookie of the Year for a reason — he’s going to battle through that better than most could. He appears to have the right attitude and focus.

And he’s going to grow into that franchise cornerstone. It’s just going to take a little bit to get there.

Minnesota rookie Nemanja Bjelica’s game-winning floater lifts Serbia over Germany at EuroBasket

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If you want to talk about NBA players who have looked good so far in the run-up then early stages of EuroBasket, Minnesota rookie Nemanja Bjelica‘s better come up.

Against powerhouse Spain in the opener he had 24 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Against Germany Sunday, he had 12 points, three rebounds, and three assists — plus he hit the floater game winner.

Bjelica was the EuroLeague MVP last season who signed a three-year deal with the Timberwolves. Bjelica is a forward — and the Timberwolves are loaded at the forward spots with Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Garnett, Shabazz Muhammad, Tayshaun Prince, but if Bjelica plays like this he is going to demand minutes.

Along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves have one of the must-watch young teams in the league this season.