Kurt Helin

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.

Doc Rivers says expect Paul Pierce to play the four — and get rest for playoffs

New York Knicks v Boston Celtics - Game Three
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The Clippers starting power forward spot is locked up — Blake Griffin is pretty good at his job.

But after a strong summer by Doc Rivers the GM adding needed depth to the roster, Doc Rivers the coach has options. That will include going small at times — play Griffin (or DeAndre Jordan) at the five and put Paul Pierce at the four. When the Wizards’ Randy Wittman finally put Pierce at the four more in the playoffs the Washington thrived, and Doc Rivers says he plans to do the same thing, as reported by Gary Washburn of the Washington Post.

But what he really plans to do is rest Pierce so he can run him out during the playoffs.

“Paul will be great,” Rivers said Wednesday. “I don’t want to overuse him, I know that. I don’t even know how we’re going to use him yet. I’m going to play him at [power forward] a lot, but what I want him to be is healthy in the playoffs. So however we can figure that out, that’s what I’m going to try to do. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Lack of depth did in the Clippers last playoffs. They had to play their starting five — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes (now gone), Griffin, and Jordan) crazy heavy minutes in the regular season. Then they had a knock-down, drag-out first-round series win against the Spurs. Next the Clippers were up 3-1 (and with a double-digit lead in the third quarter of Game 5) against Houston, but when the Rockets played with a new level of desperation the Clippers didn’t have anything left in the tank to match it. They lost three straight. This season Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, Cole Aldrich and others have been added to the roster to give the Clippers depth they need for that kind of challenge.

That depth also gives Rivers lineup options — just like having Pierce does. He likely starts at the three for the Clippers, and will see time at the four, but they can use Smith in there too with three guards (CP3, Redick and Jamal Crawford) or a host of other choices. Rivers is a good motivator and an underrated tactician who is in a strong position now.

The Clippers are legit title contenders thanks to Rivers the GM now. It’s just about Rivers the coach keeping his charges fresher than they were a year ago.

Report: Philippines still hopeful Jordan Clarkson will play for them at FIBA Asia

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers
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Jordan Clarkson‘s mother, Annette Davis, is Filipino. That means that the basketball-crazy Philippines can claim the young Laker guard as their own — legally in the eyes of FIBA. This isn’t like naturalizing Andray Blatche, Clarkson can step right in and play as a son of the Philippines.

Except he’s not expected to for FIBA Asia, the Olympic qualifying event that starts at the end of September. The main problem from the Lakers and Clarkson’s perspective is the tournament overlaps with the start of Lakers’ training camp. Still, officials from the Philippines are trying to convince the Lakers to change their mind, reports Philstar.com.

“It’s still a work in progress but with better clarity,” said SBP vice chairman Ricky Vargas after a meeting with Los Angeles Lakers team president Jeanie Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak in LA….

“They requested some time to talk to the Lakers coaches,” said Vargas.

The Lakers open training camp in Hawaii Sept. 29. The semi-finals of FIBA Asia is Oct. 1, the finals Oct. 3 — and the Philippines made the finals of the last such event. Playing likely means Clarkson misses at least the first three and maybe first five or six days of training camp. Good luck selling Byron Scott on that idea.

One other reason Clarkson may not play — money. The second round pick is set to make “just” $845,059 this season, which is pennies in NBA dollars. However, he will get a new contract extension next summer, one that is going to pay him a whole lot more that what he’s making now. While injuries can happen anywhere at any time, would Clarkson take the risk this fall?

The Philippines has until Sept. 8 (Tuesday) to submit their final roster for the tournament. We’ll know a definitive answer by then. Although, I think we already know it.