Kurt Helin

Oklahoma City Thunder v Orlando Magic

Ten Thunder players worked out together for a week in Los Angeles

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The Oklahoma City Thunder seem to be the forgotten contender out West. They’ve got Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka healthy, a strong set of role players, they should be in the mix. There are questions — can Billy Donovan elevate this team as the coach? — but they should not be left off the list.

In a good sign, Durant and Westbrook got 10 of the guys together in Los Angeles for a week of workouts. From Barry Trammel of the Oklahoman (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“It was really cool,” said the president of the fraternity, fellow by the name of Kevin Durant. “It was fun, good to see everybody. Haven’t seen all the guys since the end of the season.”

Durant chatted on the phone for a few minutes Thursday about the off-season workouts he and his pals put together this week. Ten Thunder players are working out together in an old gym on the UCLA campus. Working on their games. Connecting and reconnecting with teammates and coaches, new and old….

“Feels like we’re coming in at the same time,” Durant said. “We always want that tight-knit family atmosphere. We’ve had that (in the past). It can always get better. This week was a step in the right direction for us. We all enjoy being around each other. That was the best part of it.”

 

NBA players, sometimes teammates, getting together in a small group (maybe three) is not uncommon. Especially at UCLA, which has one of the best off-season runs going. However getting 10 teammates together, working out and bonding in July, is very rare.

It’s a good sign in you’re a Thunder fan.

The Thunder need to stay healthy after a season where they got more than their fair share of injuries. They need Donovan to bring a modern offense to the table. They need their defense to be elite. They need the Enes Kanter/Steven Adams center rotation to work. They need some breaks to go their way in a West stacked with contenders (the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, and Rockets are in the mix, too).

But 10 guys getting together in July? That’s a very good place to start.

 

Watch out Gregg Popovich, Dwyane Wade launches own wine label. In China.

New York Fashion Week: Men's S/S 2016 - Opening Event
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Gregg Popovich is an oenophile who’s got his own Pinot Noir. His love of wine is well known, but he is serious — he has a 3,000 bottle above-ground wine cellar in his home.

Now he has a little competition in the NBA wine game — Dwyane Wade has his own wine (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

Popovich makes a Pinot Noir, Wade a Cabernet. And suddenly I’m thinking of one of the monologue from “Sideways.”

(Pinot is) a hard grape to grow, as you know. It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. Pinot needs constant care and attention, and in fact it can only grow in these really specific little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it.

Pinot fits Popovich’s style perfectly.

You can decide of Wade really is Cab. Or is he more of a Merlot?

Gregg Popovich discusses three-point shot, changing roles for bigs in NBA

2014 NBA Global Games - Berlin
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It’s changed. Charles Barkley may not want to hear it, but the NBA has changed. Call it small ball, call them “jump shooting teams,” or define it how you want, the three-pointer has become a cornerstone part of a modern NBA offense. It’s an evolution, an adaptation in part due to changes in the game’s rules and how they’re enforced.

There’s no better example of that evolution than Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. When he and the Spurs won their first title in 1999, it was about getting the ball inside to Tim Duncan and David Robinson,. Those Spurs attempted 10.4 threes per game and hit just 33 percent of them. The 2014 title Spurs, on the other hand, attempted 21.4 threes per game and hit 39.7 percent of them. Duncan was still there, still the keystone to the arch, but the roster was loaded with guys like Danny Green and Marco Belinelli, who were there to knock down the three ball specifically (and Tony Parker, who is there to penetrate then kick out to those shooters).

Popovich did a rare 25-minute interview with former NBA player Tom Tolbert of KNBR, and Pop talked openly about the evolution of the game (hat tip to Uproxx for the transcription).

“You pay the price if you don’t make threes, and you pay the price if you don’t get those threes off. One way that big guys are gonna still be valuable is if you have a big guy that demands a double-team. If you have a big guy that you don’t have to double-team? You’re in trouble. But if you got a big guy, he better be somebody who is good enough that he commands a double so it can get kicked, and moved, and you can penetrate or pitch for the threes.

[The three-pointer] is so much more valuable than a two-pointer that you can’t ignore it. So, you try to have a balance between penetrating and [jump-shooting]. But when you penetrate you always think about kicking it to that uncontested three-point guy. So, what we’re doin’ now isn’t gonna change a whole lot across the league because of that three-point line.”

It took a few things for the three pointer to become this much more valuable in the NBA. The first part was to have more guys who could make the shot — when it was introduced in 1979 guys in the NBA had grown up getting yelled at by their coaches if they shot from that far away from the basket. Why reduce the odds of making the bucket when it counted the same as a shot that was closer? Today’s NBA is full of guys who grew up knowing that shot had value in an extra point if they could hit it, so they grew up practicing it and with coaches who encouraged it.

Then the NBA adapted their defensive rules to allow a zone to be played (although with a defensive three-second rule, unlike other levels of basketball). This reduced the advantage of just throwing the ball into the post to a big man because the double team could already be on him, not having to come at him from an angle he could see. Out of that grew the Tom Thibodeau overload (or whatever term you wish to use) defense, which put an extra defender on the strong side with the ball (usually a big man on the edge of the block), reducing the advantage of isolation basketball players on the wings because their path to the basket was clogged. One of the key counters to that is to quickly move the ball from strong to weak before the defense could react (or drive and draw the defense, and then kick out to the weak side), and if you could get the ball to the weakside and to a three point shooter, you had an extra point coming. (Another counter to the classic Thibodeau style defense is to attack from the top rather than the wings, think Golden State Warriors.)

Phil Jackson isn’t wrong in the sense that teams need to have penetration still to make and offense work, that things need to flow inside out to get good looks at threes. It’s just how you need to get those has evolved; you can’t just throw the rock into Shaq in the post and think he’ll be single-covered by Vlade Divac anymore. It’s an evolution (if you think it’s better or worse, that’s a value judgment you put on it, nothing more).

And nobody has evolved like Gregg Popovich.

Summer League standout Alan Williams signs to play in China next season

Milwaukee Bucks v Houston Rockets
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Reason 1,564,352 I’m not a scout: I saw Alan Williams of UC Santa Barbara a couple times live the last few seasons (I have Long Beach State season tickets — Go Beach!) and I was not blown away. He was good, but I never saw him and thought he looked NBA read. I was not alone, Williams went undrafted this past June.

But he looked fantastic in Las Vegas at the NBA Summer League, where he averaged 20.5 points per game on 50 percent shooting, plus he grabbed 11.5 rebounds a game for the Rockets. After that I thought an NBA team would give him a shot.

But no. Instead, he is taking the cash in China, reports Shams Charania of Real GM.

Never knock a man looking for the big paycheck.

It’s worth noting that the season in China ends in February or March (depending on how deep a team goes into the playoffs), meaning he could get picked up by a team and get some run in the NBA late next season. After he cashes some healthy checks from overseas.

Canada beats USA at Pan Am games; Kentucky-bound Jamal Murray looks good

Men's basketball, Semi final round action,
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First things first: Canada beat the USA in basketball at the Pan American games, 111-108 in overtime. This is not a big deal, both nations sent second or third tier squads to this event for some experience. The Canadians sent some NBA players — Andrew Nicholson (31 points against the USA) and Anthony Bennett (18). The USA’s best player has been Bobby Brown, who has spent a little time in the NBA but played last year in China.

Canada is closing the gap with the USA on the court, they sent the better team to this tournament, but they are still well back when both teams bring their A-listers.

The guy who has turned heads at the Pan Am Games for Canada is Kentucky bound Jamal Murray, who had 22 against the Americans. You can see his highlights above. Right now Draft Express has him as a bubble lottery pick, but don’t be shocked if he climbs that ladder higher by the time we get to the draft itself. Murray and Skal Labissiere will make the Wildcats title contenders once again (Rob Dauster at CollegeBasketballTalk has them No. 3 in his way-too-early poll for next season).