Author: Kurt Helin

Dante Exum

Scout says World Cup shown Dante Exum not ready for NBA yet


Everyone loves the mystery man. It seemed those who had only seen YouTube clips of Dante Exum loved his game — nobody had seen much of him yet some fans were sold. As were some scouts. He was the No. 5 pick in the last draft and is a member of the Utah Jazz.

But as that mystery has been stripped away this summer Exum has looked like a project, a guy with a long way to go.

It started at the Las Vegas Summer League where there were certainly things to like — his loping, lull-you-to-sleep dribble followed by an explosive first step, plus some creative passes — but he had 15 turnovers to 14 assists and shot 30.8 percent. He struggled to find his way against a higher level of athleticism. That has continued at the World Cup, where Exum has played very limited minutes off the bench for Australia — until  Australia was trying to tank and lose, then he played 31 minutes against a weak Angola team. Exum scored a dozen but Angola won.

A scout who tracked Exum at the World Cup told Sean Deveney of the Sporting News that Exum simply is not NBA ready. What did we learn in Spain?

“Not much,” said an Eastern Conference scouting director, laughing. “He’s not ready for the NBA, that is for sure. But a lot of guys are not ready for the NBA and they have got to learn on the fly. He is no different. But he is not going to jump into the league and all of a sudden average 20 points a game. There’s just no way.”

It’s not all bad.

“He is really, really good in the pick-and-roll,” the scouting director said. “He knows how to take the pick and emerge with his head up and he sees the whole floor. He will get better with his decision-making as time goes on and he gets experience, but that ability to come off the pick like that, you know being able to see and process everything immediately with your head up, that is something you can’t teach.”

The challenge for coach Quin Snyder is that with no jumper to speak of and his pick-and-roll skills, Exum is a point guard. But the Jazz already have Trey Burke in that role and the plan had been to have Exum at the two. How long can you stick with that experiment?

Snyder was brought in because the Jazz are loaded with young players who need to develop — Exum, Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Rudy Gobert, Alec Burks — and Snyder is the player development guy. They need to grow these guys, see who first where with whom, and start taking steps toward the future. It’s time to start getting a little payoff and seeing some growth from all these quality picks.

Exum is one of those big challenges. Can he develop into a two guard? And if not, there are roster decisions to be made.

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.