Kurt Helin

Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards 2015 - Arrivals

Carmelo Anthony goes to Cuba to talk soccer. And it’s worth watching.

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The USA and Cuba are normalizing relations, the borders to the island nation are opening up, and we are getting our first quality looks inside that country since “the revolution.” It’s a chance for us to start to understand a culture and its people, rather than simply watch politicians demonize them because of the ruler’s political system.

Carmelo Anthony has teamed up with VICE SPORTS for a series of videos — called “The Clubhouse,” looking at the intersection of sports and culture — and in the first one ‘Melo heads to Cuba to talk about how soccer has caught on with the youth of that nation. For years, when you thought of sports in Cuba you thought baseball and boxing, but a younger generation has started playing soccer in the streets, and the popularity is growing.

It’s a well done, interesting piece worth watching. We should warn you, there is a little NSFW language in it.

Will Miami make a run at Kevin Durant?

Kevin Durant
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Kevin Durant isn’t going to talk about the rumors swirling around his free agency, and he doesn’t want you to believe what “sources” say about his plans. That’s fair, Durant doesn’t know for sure what he will do next summer yet, why would anyone else?

But if you’re the GM of a team, especially one that has a semi-legitimate shot to land him, you have to plan for taking a run at Durant. There are only a handful of true franchise changing players in the league and when they become free agents — even if it is most likely they don’t move — you have to be ready. The reward is too great not to take the risk.

Enter Pat Riley and the Miami Heat.

They may be a long shot to land KD — would he want to follow LeBron James’ path? — but there is no better big game hunter in the league than Pat Riley. Zach Lowe at Grantland says expect Riley to at least take his best shot at Durant.

One star changes everything, and Riley gets stars. Next summer, Miami could open up nearly $40 million in cap room, and as much as $45 million if it moves McRoberts for extra cap space. That’s a ton, but if Whiteside has even a solid season, it’s not enough to bring back both Whiteside and Wade while signing an outside star; the Heat will not have full Bird rights on Whiteside, meaning they will have to dip into cap space to re-sign him.

Consider one example: Durant’s max salary for 2016-17 will be about $25 million, leaving $15 million or $20 million to split between Wade and Whiteside. That won’t do it, unless Wade takes a massive hometown discount. (By the way: Rail against the Durant rumor mill if you want, but you’re kidding yourselves if you don’t think Riley will set Miami up to make a run at him.)

Miami will be a fascinating team this season — they could be the second best team in the East, they could be sixth, they are hard to read — but they are not ready to compete with Cleveland. They need more talent. Obviously, Durant would be that guy.

Before the people from OKC start emailing/commenting, I’ll try to be clear once again — this does not mean Durant is going to the Heat, or even leaving the Thunder. It is just an example of how a number of teams — the Wizards, Lakers, Knicks, and the list goes on — are lining up to take a run at KD. That means some financial jockeying for some these squads.

Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson does his imitation of Kobe’s shot

Detroit Pistons v Los Angeles Lakers
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We’ve already seen D’Angelo Russell do a Kobe Bryant imitation, which was all about the fist pump.

But Jordan Clarkson has the whole Kobe shot process down.

The best part of this is the multiple pump fakes before just going to the fadeaway. It’s not a shot you want young players to grow up practicing, but with Kobe’s footwork it gets the job done.

We’re going to miss Kobe and these shots when he’s gone.

Hat tip Eye on Basketball.

Andre Drummond’s offensive rebounding trick: grabbing his own miss

Boston Celtics v Detroit Pistons
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Andre Drummond is a rebounding machine — he is the only player in the last 17 years to grab more than 100 offensive and 100 defensive rebounds in a month. Last season, Drummond grabbed 437 offensive rebounds, the most in the NBA by a wide margin (Rudy Gobert was second but 40 back). He grabbed a ridiculous 18.3 percent of the Pistons’ missed shots last season, also best in the NBA by a healthy range (DeAndre Jordan was second at 16.2). Drummond’s offensive rebound rate was 11th best in NBA history. He had 337 putback shots off misses last season. He’s a physical force of nature on the boards.

He’s also got a little trick, a little gift that helps him out — he gets a lot of his own misses.

This isn’t new news, look what Drummond told MLive last season when asked if he rushes shots knowing he might miss and grab his own board:

“Yeah, I’d say sometimes I do,” Drummond said, when asked if he indeed plots some misses directionally. “I’m not going to lie. I do sometimes. I know I can go get it and put it right back in.”

As noted in a great piece by Scott Rafferty at The Sporting News, this is an old Moses Malone trick and it’s not about racking up stats, it’s about practicality.

It’s not that Drummond deliberately misses shots for the sake of padding his rebounding numbers; He rushes them knowing his second jump is far quicker than most opponents. Malone did the same over the course of his career. As soon as the ball left his fingertips, he’d use his size and speed advantage to fight for positioning while his defender was still in the air.

Check out this video to get an example — Drummond hurries his shot but knows he can just move Gobert out-of-the-way and get his own board.

(Drummond gets fouled here, and as a guy who shot 38.9 percent from the stripe last year he can expect to see more of that. It’s a valid strategy against him.)

It will be interesting to see if Drummond can keep up these numbers as Stan Van Gundy brings in shooters — it’s not just that there may be fewer rebounds to grab, but the rebound of a missed three-point shot often caroms a long way out from where Drummond is around the rim.

But consider this something to watch next season. As the NBA trends smaller, Drummond is an old-school big man who can do this to a lot of teams.

Anthony Bennett has looked good playing for Canada. Will that carry over to NBA?

Men's basketball, Semi final round action,
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Canada opens its FIBA Americas play today (Tuesday) taking on Argentina, in what should be one of the more attractive Group B matches in the tournament. It’s a game of contrasts. Argentina is the old guard, they have had international success — gold at the 2004 Olympics — but their golden generation has aged out (Manu Ginobili isn’t playing for them, for example). Canada is the young team on the rise, a squad loaded with young NBA talent — Andrew Wiggins, Andrew Nicholson, Cory Joseph, Nik Stauskas, Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell, and…

Anthony Bennett.

The former No. 1 pick, a guy panned as a bust, has looked good for Canada in warmups for the tournament. He was a starter and key part of Canada winning the FIBA Americas’ tuneup event, the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup. Against Brazil, he scored 11 straight points and finished with 16 points in 15 minutes in that tournament.

He was asked about what is different after that win, as reported by Josh Lewenberg at TSN.

“[I’m] just playing with confidence, pretty much,” the 22-year-old forward responded. “Just going out there, playing defense, running the court. Just doing the little things first and trying to make offense come to me.”

“Anthony has been exemplary this summer,” said (Canada GM Steve) Nash, the two-time NBA MVP and future hall of fame point guard. “He’s had a tough first two years in the league but his attitude’s been amazing. His talent has never been in question but his attitude, willingness to learn and attention to detail… not that his attitude was ever an issue, but for him to come, to play in the Pan Am Games, to partake in a whole summer with us, it shows he has a real willingness to learn and get better and a want to be a great player.”

Bennett is also healthy, which has not happened a lot through his first two years in the NBA, and those injuries impacted his conditioning.

The question is, can Bennett bring this same level of play to Minnesota next season?

Bennett has had moments where he’s looked improved before — 2014 Summer League, for example — but it hasn’t translated once the NBA tipped off. Bennett was better last season in Minnesota than he was as a rookie, but he still needs to make strides to become a regular rotation player an improving Timberwolves team can count on.

That’s the ceiling for Bennett, it seem — solid rotation player. That’s nowhere near what is expected out of a No. 1 pick, but that anchor around him is more about Cleveland’s misread than it is Bennett’s game (notice the Cavs changed GMs). Bennett is what he is.

Canadian coach Jay Triano told Bennett to simplify the game — find a thing or two you’re good at and focus on doing those things exceptionally well. Crash the boards, run the floor. Everything else will fall into place.

If it falls into place for the Timberwolves, it will be one more piece in their puzzle.