Author: Kurt Helin


USA vs. Mexico World Cup preview: USA has flaws but Mexico can’t exploit them


As we enter the win-or-go-home, 16-team knockout stage of the FIBA world Cup starting Saturday, we need to be clear:

Team USA has serious flaws.

Ones that could keep it from the gold medal. Don’t let the 5-0 record with a 33.4 average margin of victory in group play fool you, that’s more about the weak competition, there are holes in Team USA. Their perimeter defenders get lost in the half court if you run their man off multiple screens, leading to wide open looks often close to the rim. The USA’s half-court offense is stagnant and often just a high-pick-and-roll with everyone else standing around. The USA’s ball movement has not been great at all. It hasn’t mattered so far because the USA’s athleticism just overwhelmed the lower-level opponents they have seen, turning the games into transition track meets and dunking exhibitions.

However those flaws could cost the USA in the knockout rounds…

Just not Saturday.

Mexico is first up for Team USA in the round of 16 (10 am ET Saturday, ESPN 2) and they do not have the tools to pick apart the USA’s flaws. If this were soccer I would be pumped for a good match, but on the basketball court is going to look like every other American game so far. A rout.

(Maybe no team can exploit the American’s flaws until the Gold Medal game Sept. 14 — so far Spain has looked like the best team in the tournament. Better than the USA.)

Mexico is led by Gustavo Ayon, the free agent NBA big man who played last season with the Hawks. He is averaging a team high 15.8 points a game on 62.5 percent shooting, plus has a team best 7.5 rebounds a game. He can make a few plays. Forward Hector Hernandez pitches in 11 points a game and is hitting 44 percent from three serving as a stretch four.

Neither of them is a match for USA big men Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried, who have been the best American players — Davis averages a team-high 15.8 points a game on 62 percent shooting, while Faried averages 13.8 points a game on 79 percent shooting, plus is grabbing 7.8 rebounds a night.

At the guard spot Mexico is led by Francisco Cruz, who averages 13.4 points and 3 assists a game, along with the Nets’ Jorge Gutierrez (9.6 points a game).

Both of them will be overwhelmed by the pressure of the USA. The Americans are once again just wildly more athletic than their Mexican opponents. Like every other USA game it could be tight for a stretch (the USA does the slow starts thing) but will eventually go on a run that will stretch the lead out to about 20, and then they will coast in.

For the USA, the guards to watch are Kyrie Irving, who will play after a nasty fall on his hip in the last game. He went through the full USA practice Friday and will start Saturday. Irving says he is good to go but we’ll keep an eye on him. That could mean more minutes for Derrick Rose, who has played in five games in six days for Team USA but still looks rusty with his shot (25 percent so far). There are flashes of the explosion we remember, but he’s just not finishing consistently like he did a couple of years ago. Which is to be expected at this point but can be a concern down the line.

Making it to the knockout round is a great result for Mexico basketball — you can argue they were the best team with a losing record in the tournament — and this is the first time the USA has played Mexico in the Olympics or World Cup since 1967. That is a nice bit of history.

But the game isn’t going to tell us if the USA has started to fix its flaws and bad habits. This will be another American blowout win.

Next week team USA starts to get real tests.

Lou Williams says he’s happy to be in Toronto where he’s wanted

Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks

Last season, Lou Williams was solid off the bench for the Hawks, but coming off an ACL surgery he wasn’t the attacking, aggressive Williams everyone remembers. He was taking a lot of threes (47 percent of his shots) and knocking down a decent 34 percent of them, but he struggled from the midrange and, as usual, wasn’t much good on the defensive end.

More than that, he said he didn’t really feel part of what Mike Budenholzer was building in Atlanta. Then during the playoffs he’d flip on the Raptors games from Toronto and see a crazed fan base and see something he wanted to be a part of.

Now he is — the Hawks moved the last year of his deal ($5.4 million) to Toronto this summer, and Williams told the Raptors Web site he is excited for a new start.

“I think one of the best benefits of it is being in a position where you feel wanted,” Williams said. “When they traded for me and had the conversation, they want me here. It wasn’t a money thing. It wasn’t just something to do. They felt they had a void they needed to fill coming off the bench and I’m excited to help. I feel wanted. I feel like I have a responsibility with this basketball team and that’s the best way I can operate.”

Williams will play behind the just re-signed Kyle Lowry. It often takes two years to really come back from a ACL surgery, which bodes well for him in Toronto this year. But he said he had to adjust his game.

“It changed the entire direction of my career when I got hurt,” he said. “I had to become a smarter player. I realized I wouldn’t be as fast as I once was. I couldn’t just rely on talent. I‘d have to work harder now. I had to prepare myself in a completely different way.”

Williams could be a boost to a Raptors team that is in that crowded second tier in the East with Washington, Brooklyn, Miami (maybe), Charlotte, Atlanta and maybe the Knicks. The Raptors could finish top four, have a playoff round at home and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001 (when it was the Vince Carter and Antonio Davis show).

If Williams finds his attacking form again, the fans north of the border will love him.

Michael Jordan’s 1984 Olympic gold medal game shoes go up for auction

courtesy Gran Flannel Auctions

Yes, Michael Jordan wore Converse.

That’s what the team wore when he was winning a national championship at North Carolina, and that’s what he wore as a college member of the 1984 USA Olympic Basketball team.

Now you can own the shoes Jordan wore in the USA’s Gold Medal game win over Spain (the USSR and it’s Eastern Bloc countries boycotted those games). Gray Flannel Auctions has put them on the block, as noted at NBC’s Olympic Talk and first reported by Darren Rovell at ESPN.

The shoes are white Converse, the brand Jordan wore at North Carolina, thanks to a $10,000 a year deal that was given to his coach, Dean Smith, at the time.

Grey Flannel’s Michael Russek said the auction house verified the chain of custody of the shoes by confirming that the consignor was indeed a ball boy and being presented with photos of him in the locker room in Los Angeles. He said that Jordan signed the shoes at the time before handing it to the consignor.

Those Olympics were Jordan’s coming out party — he led Team USA with 17.1 points a game, on a team that had Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, Sam Perkins, Steve Alford, Wayman Tisdale and Leon Wood among others. That was back when the USA still sent college players to the Olympics, Jordan would be part of the 1992 Dream Team that changed that.

Right after the 1984 Olympics, Jordan signed a shoe contract with Nike.

The Converse 1984 shoes will go on the auction block in October. Grey Flannel Auctions was in charge of the sale of Jordan’s “flu game” shoes last year, which netting $104,765. This likely doesn’t go for quite that much, but it will not go cheaply.

Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried threw it down on Ukraine (VIDEOS)

2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup - Day Four

After all the no-shows and injuries on paper Team USA looked like a perimeter-based team heading into the World Cup. Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried had another idea — they tore it up for Team USA in group play. Through five games Davis has led the Americans with 15.8 points a game on 62 percent shooting. Faried was a ball of energy averaging 13.8 points a game on 79 percent shooting, plus pulled down 7.8 rebounds a night.

What they have done better than anything else is just relentlessly run the floor.

That included against the Ukraine when both made big plays. Above Davis not only made the steal but took it the length and finished it.

Below Faried ran the floor in transition, took the pass and finished with authority.

Spain thought they would own the front court against the USA in their expected eventual gold medal meeting. That may not be the case.

Carmelo Anthony wants to be “the digital athlete”

Puerto Rico v United States

Carmelo Anthony stayed in New York for, among other reasons (I can think of 124 million of them) to be closer to his business interests.

What does that mean?

To him being a pioneer athlete in the tech world. Succeeding in that business world the way players like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan have in others.

Anthony spoke at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in New York this week and among the things he discussed was his desire to be the first star athlete to really take advantage of the digital age. The New York Post has the quotes.

“I want to brand myself as the digital athlete,” Anthony said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in Manhattan. “Nobody really took that place. There’ve been athletes that came before me that were doing what I’m doing and there are going to be people after me that are doing what I’m doing. But I really want to be the pioneer for that digital athlete, and when it comes to tech I want to be the face of that space…”

To that end, Anthony and business partner Stuart Goldfarb, former VP of NBC, launched Melo7 Tech Partners this summer. The company invests in startup firms specializing in digital media, Internet consumer ventures and technology-based operations.

“At the end of the day, we all know what’s my day job: basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s what my brand is built on, but I’m trying to take my brand to the next level, make it bigger, make it stronger.”

The company has already invested in a few projects such as “OrangeChef” for the smart kitchen, or SeatGeek ticket buying search engine. There are other investments as well.

Good for Anthony. I have no idea how well these investments work out, but good for Anthony for broadening himself beyond the court. We in American have a fascination with singularly minded, tunnel-vision people who focus on one things. We generally applaud those people.

But frankly that makes a dull person. Anthony and his family are better off with him having other interests. So long as the Knicks and his game remain a top priority (behind family). I don’t think that will be the Knicks problem.