Gustavo Ayon

BASKET-WC-2014-KOR-MEX

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

3 Comments

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.

Uninterested USA still beats Ukraine, now on to knockout round against Mexico

USA v Ukraine
7 Comments

Thursday’s game against the Ukraine literally didn’t mean a thing to the USA, they had already secured the top seed in Group C, their spot in the 16-team knockout round already was locked. This was basically another exhibition game for the Americans.

And it showed.

Once again Team USA came out slow, acting exactly like it was their third game in three days. Which it was. Combine that with a vintage Mike Fratello strategy (the former NBA head man coaches the Ukrainians) of bottling up the paint, slowing the game down and just making it ugly and you got the USA in a little trouble early. The Ukrainians were driving the lane, the Americans were not moving the ball and Team USA trailed 19-14 after one quarter.

Then things returned to normal. With the middle bottled up the USA guards started to knock down shots — James Harden led the way with 17, Stephen Curry had 14 including three three-pointers. Eventually the onslaught came (a 17-5 run to end the first half) and the USA eventually pulled away.

The final score was 95-71 USA.

The USA got a scare at the end of the game, when Kyrie Irving fell on his hip after going up for a shot with less than two minutes to go in the game. There was no twisting of a body part, but it was a hard landing. He limped back straight to the locker room. We are awaiting an update.

Next up for the USA is Mexico to start the round of 16, Saturday at 10 am ET (on ESPN 2). Mexico boasts a couple NBA players — Jorge Gutierrez, Gustavo Ayon — their level of talent is on the lower end of the teams the USA has faced so far. This should be another blowout win for the Americans.

When it gets down to the final 8 teams, things could get a little more challenging for the USA. (But really Spain in the gold medal game should be the only game Team USA could lose.)

If you’re looking for bright spots, the USA was out and running in the second half again and had six players in double digits — Harden and Curry we mentioned, plus Anthony Davis had a dozen and ran the floor well, Irving and DeMarcus Cousins each had 11, and Kenneth Faried had 10 points and 8 rebounds.

Derrick Rose moved well and made some nice plays (four assists) in his third game in three days. He seemed as fresh as the rest of the team. That said he still has not found his shot, going 2-of-9 for four points.

We could pick apart how the Ukrainians had success getting the ball inside early and scoring that way, plus keeping the Americans out of transition for stretches. But really it’s hard to judge a USA team just coasting to wins against opponents it can overwhelm. Maybe a team like Lithuania could give the Americans trouble by exploiting the lack of defensive focus and offensive ball movement. Maybe.

But really, as we head to the knockout round, all signs point to USA vs. Spain in the gold medal game in Madrid — and that one the Americans legitimately could lose. We’ll see how Team USA tightens up in the knockout round starting Saturday in Barcelona.

Report: Spurs working out free agent big man Earl Clark

Earl Clark
5 Comments

Earl Clark had his best professional season as a member of the Lakers in 2013, and while his averages of 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds may not seem all that exciting, he regularly exceeded those numbers in his 36 appearances in the team’s starting lineup.

It was enough to get Clark a free agent deal with the Cavaliers the following summer, but he underperformed in his short time there, before Cleveland sent him to the Sixers in the midseason deal for Spencer Hawes. Philadelphia subsequently waived Clark, who finished the year on a 10-day contract with the Knicks.

It’s far from how Clark expected things to go, just one year removed from performing so well in Los Angeles. He’ll likely have options next season, and the Spurs appear to be the first to take a long look at what Clark may still have to offer.

From Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

Free-agent forward Earl Clark, who followed up a breakthrough year with the Lakers by bouncing between the Cavaliers and Knicks last year, will be working out this week for the defending champion Spurs, a source told Sporting News. Clark is in San Antonio today and will be there through Wednesday. …

The Spurs potentially have open roster spots, depending on how they handle team options, and they are reportedly considering pursuing guard Ray Allen, who might retire.

The Spurs currently have 14 players signed to guaranteed contracts for next season, with Aron Baynes likely to be the 15th, though he is a restricted free agent.

In addition to Allen, San Antonio is looking at Gustavo Ayon, as well.

Clark is going to have to show not only that he can play, but also that he’s a right fit from a personality standpoint in order for the Spurs to bother with clearing a spot for him on the roster.

FIBA Word Cup Day 4 roundup: Australia picks up big win over Lithuania

BASKET-WC-2014-AUS-LTU
1 Comment

The FIBA World Cup rolls on in Spain, with the USA back in action. Because you have a job and can’t spend the day watching international basketball games — at least not all day, the boss keeps walking by so you have to hide the stream — here is a recap for you.

New Zealand’s Haka dance before the game was awesome. It may have been the best part of their day, because once the game started they were completely overmatched against Team USA. The USA didn’t even play a great game, there were things to pick apart, and it didn’t matter as the USA took the lead early and won 98-71. Anthony Davis (21 points, 9 rebounds) and Kenneth Faried (15 points, 11 rebounds) were the best players for Team USA — if the USA keeps getting great play in the paint they will be very tough to beat.

• Australia took a big step towards making it to the knockout round with the upset win of the day, a 82-75 victory over Lithuania. It started with Aron Baynes (of the Spurs last season) completely out playing Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, combine that with Joe Ingles (who is drawing interest from a number of NBA teams) just hitting everything and the Aussies were up by 19 at the break. Valanciunas and Houston’s Donatas Motiejunas sat much of the second half and were not part of the Lithuanian comeback, which got the game within three points. But Australia held off Lithuania. Both of these teams (along with Group D leader Slovenia) seem destined for the knockout round.

• The real battle in Group D may be between Mexico and Angola for the final spot to advance, and Mexico put themselves in position to be that team with a huge 79-55 win over Angola. Gustavo Ayon led Mexico with 17 points and 12 rebounds. If Mexico can grab the fourth spot in Group D their reward would be Team USA in the first knockout round game.

• In Group C (the USA’s group) Ukraine’s 64-58 win over Turkey on Tuesday has them looking like a team that will advance to the knockout round. Give coach Mike Fratello credit, and throw some to Olexandr Mishula who had 19 points in the win Tuesday. Omer Asik had 16 points and 20 rebounds in the loss. Turkey plays Finland on Wednesday and need a win (one they should get) to make sure they advance to the knockout phase.

• The other Group C team that should advance is the Dominican Republic, which beat Finland 74-68 on Tuesday. Eloy Vargas led the way for the Dominican with 18 points and 13 rebounds.

• In other action on Tuesday Slovenia beat Korea 89-72.

Record 45 current NBA players to compete in FIBA World Cup

Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol (R) watch as th
5 Comments

When Paul George went down with a season-ending injury during USA Basketball’s showcase in Las Vegas, many wondered how players would react, and whether or not they might choose to sit out international play in the future, foregoing the risk while saving themselves for the rigors of the NBA season instead.

Some may indeed consider things more carefully moving forward. But just about everyone who was already committed this summer decided to stick it out, and the result is a record number of current NBA players slated to compete in the FIBA World Cup which begins on Saturday.

From the official release:

A record 45 current NBA players will be featured on national team rosters for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, up from 44 in 2010.  The tournament features a record 75 players who have played in the NBA.

The World Cup will showcase 17 former NBA draftees whose rights are currently held by NBA teams, bringing the total number of current NBA players, former NBA players and NBA draftees participating in the tournament to a record 92.

Twenty-one of 24 national teams feature at least one current NBA player, former NBA player or NBA draftee, and 22 NBA teams are represented on national team rosters.

The stars of the league might decide to skip the Worlds in future seasons, but only a handful are good enough to be selected for the Olympics, and lesser events like these are the only chance for many players to represent their respective countries in international competition.

The entire list of players with NBA experience who (as of Aug. 29) are scheduled to compete in the FIBA World Cup is reprinted below.

The following is a complete list of current NBA players on 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup rosters: 

COUNTRY

NBA PLAYER

NBA TEAM

Argentina

Luis Scola

Indiana Pacers

Argentina

Pablo Prigioni

New York Knicks

Australia

Cameron Bairstow

Chicago Bulls

Australia

Matthew Dellavedova

Cleveland Cavaliers

Australia

Dante Exum

Utah Jazz

Australia

Brock Motum

Utah Jazz

Brazil

Anderson Varejao

Cleveland Cavaliers

Brazil

Tiago Splitter

San Antonio Spurs

Brazil

Nenê

Washington Wizards

Croatia

Bojan Bodgdanovic

Brooklyn Nets

Croatia

Damjan Rudez

Indiana Pacers

Dominican Republic

Francisco Garcia

Houston Rockets

Finland

Erik Murphy

Cleveland Cavaliers

France

Evan Fournier

Orlando Magic

France

Nicolas Batum

Portland Trail Blazers

France

Boris Diaw

San Antonio Spurs

France

Rudy Gobert

Utah Jazz

Greece

Kostas Papanikolaou

Houston Rockets

Greece

Nick Calathes

Memphis Grizzlies

Greece

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Milwaukee Bucks

Lithuania

Donatas Motiejunas

Houston Rockets

Lithuania

Jonas Valanciunas

Toronto Raptors

Mexico

Jorge Gutierrez

Brooklyn Nets

Puerto Rico

J.J. Barea

Minnesota Timberwolves

Senegal

Gorgui Dieng

Minnesota Timberwolves

Slovenia

Goran Dragić

Phoenix Suns

Spain

Pau Gasol

Chicago Bulls

Spain

Marc Gasol

Memphis Grizzlies

Spain

Ricky Rubio

Minnesota Timberwolves

Spain

José Calderon

New York Knicks

Spain

Serge Ibaka

Oklahoma City Thunder

Spain

Victor Claver

Portland Trail Blazers

Turkey

Omer Asik

New Orleans Pelicans

United States

Mason Plumlee

Brooklyn Nets

United States

Derrick Rose

Chicago Bulls

United States

Kyrie Irving

Cleveland Cavaliers

United States

Kenneth Faried

Denver Nuggets

United States

Andre Drummond

Detroit Pistons

United States

Stephen Curry

Golden State Warriors

United States

Klay Thompson

Golden State Warriors

United States

James Harden

Houston Rockets

United States

Anthony Davis

New Orleans Pelicans

United States

DeMarcus Cousins

Sacramento Kings

United States

Rudy Gay

Sacramento Kings

United States

DeMar DeRozan

Toronto Raptors

The following is a complete list of NBA free agents on 2014 FIBA World Cup rosters:

 

COUNTRY

NBA PLAYER

MOST RECENT NBA TEAM

Australia

Aron Baynes

San Antonio Spurs

Brazil

Leandro Barbosa

Phoenix Suns

Mexico

Gustavo Ayon

Atlanta Hawks

Philippines

Andray Blatche

Brooklyn Nets

Serbia

Miroslav Raduljica

Los Angeles Clippers

 

The following is a complete list of former NBA players on 2014 FIBA World Cup rosters*:

 

COUNTRY

NBA PLAYER

MOST RECENT NBA TEAM

Argentina

Walter Herrmann

Detroit Pistons

Argentina

Andres Nocioni

Philadelphia 76ers

Australia

David Andersen

New Orleans Hornets

Australia

Nathan Jawai

Minnesota Timberwolves

Brazil

Alex Garcia

New Orleans Hornets

Brazil

Marcus Vinicius

New Orleans Hornets

Croatia

Oliver Lafayette

Boston Celtics

Croatia

Damir Markota

Milwaukee Bucks

Croatia

Roko Ukic

Milwaukee Bucks

Finland

Hanno Möttölä

Atlanta Hawks

France

Mickael Gelabale

Minnesota Timberwolves

Greece

Andreas Glyniadakis

Seattle SuperSonics

Iran

Hamed Haddadi

Phoenix Suns

New Zealand

Kirk Penney

San Antonio Spurs

Puerto Rico

Carlos Arroyo

Boston Celtics

Puerto Rico

Renaldo Balkman

New York Knicks

Puerto Rico

Daniel Santiago

Milwaukee Bucks

Senegal

Hamady N’Diaye

Sacramento Kings

Serbia

Nenad Krstic

Boston Celtics

Slovenia

Uroš Slokar

Toronto Raptors

Spain

Rudy Fernandez

Denver Nuggets

Spain

Juan Carlos Navarro

Memphis Grizzlies

Spain

Sergio Rodriguez

New York Knicks

Ukraine

Pooh Jeter

Sacramento Kings

Ukraine

Slava Kravtsov

Phoenix Suns