Team USA, player-by-player and role-by-role (Part One)

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Thumbnail image for Curry_Granger_USA.jpgNow that Team USA’s roster is finalized, it’s time to break down exactly what each of Team USA’s 12 players will be asked to do. Some members of Team USA are simply acting as an extension of their NBA selves, but others have seen their responsibilities shift due to the team’s needs, the overall makeup of the roster, and the nature of FIBA basketball. In this first installment, we’ll look at the likely reserve core.

Stephen Curry – With Team USA’s touch-and-go offense, having at least one designated shooter/scorer can be a tremendous asset. Curry is one such player. While Steph could definitely run the point if need be, thus far he’s come in with freedom to shoot and he’s exercised that freedom.

Curry has only played about 23 minutes in total, but he’s scored tremendously well in that limited run. His per-game numbers may not be all that impressive, but on a per-minute basis? Curry shines. Three games in, Steph is scoring at a rate of 25 points per 36 minutes, while shooting an even 50% from the field. Curry has incredible range, but he also has an innate feel for all-around scoring; if there was any doubt of Curry’s ability to perform on a FIBA stage, it’s been swiftly decimated.
 
Russell Westbrook – While Derrick Rose’s athleticism is appropriately designated as “pure” or simply “impressive,” Russell Westbrook’s athletic abilities are better termed as “unbridled.” There is some discipline in Westbrook’s game, but he’s at his most effective in bursts of unthinkable speed and power. Simply put, Westbrook has no delusions of being a finesse guard. He just wants to sprint up the court, jump a pass in transit, and throw it down over anyone that tries to stand in his way.

Team USA can use that. Westbrook is a bit of a wild card; he’s capable of playing both on and off the ball, scoring and distributing (and rebounding — Westbrook is a remarkably good positional rebounder), creating turnovers or gambling too much. He’ll have a rough game now and again, but Westbrook is a necessary do-it-all element on this squad, even if his position is probably redundant.
    
Rudy Gay – Rudy Gay has clearly worked into Mike Krzyzewski’s favor, though he did see his minutes drop in Team USA’s last exhibition against Spain. Regardless, Gay seems to function in the same capacity for Team USA that he always has for the Grizzlies. He’s dangerous in the open court, but far too complacent in a half-court setting. That’s all well and good when Rudy’s leaning, fadeaway jumpers are falling, but the majority of the time, when they aren’t? Not so fun.

Still, Gay has been a highly effective scorer in two of the three friendlies thus far, which counts for something. Better shot selection could mean a world of difference for a player of Gay’s skills, but it’s not meant to be. Not in Memphis, and certainly not in Turkey. The fact that he’s so impressive in spite of his lapses in judgment isn’t some intangible positive. It’s just worthy of a deep sigh, and a reminder of what could be if Gay’s mindset were just a bit different. Nevertheless, Team USA will take the status quo Rudy Gay, ill-advised jumpshooting warts and all.

Danny Granger – Danny Granger’s role on Team USA would seem to be clear: park him in the corner to keep the defense honest, and have him knock down a three every now and again, just to prove that he can. On a team lacking in knock-down shooters, Grangers’ ability to hit from both mid and long range is a useful asset against just about any defense Team USA will encounter at the FIBA World Championships.

But there seems to be some disconnect between that perceived role and Granger’s performance. Granger has yet to hit a three-pointer thus far in Team USA’s exhibition games. He’s only even attempted two. Maybe Granger’s too versatile to be strictly a spot-up shooter, but his minutes thus far haven’t brought any kind of scoring production whatsoever. That scoring is what will keep Granger on the floor, so it’s not all that surprising that after Granger failed to produce points-wise in the first two contests, he found himself benched against Spain.

Eric Gordon – It’s not easy to find minutes for Eric Gordon in such a loaded backcourt, but Mike Krzyzewski has managed to do it thus far. Though Gordon’s playing time was sliced in the Americans’ most recent exhibition (in which Coach K leaned more heavily on the big guns), he averaged about 13 minutes per game in the two exhibitions prior, and was fairly productive for Team USA on both ends.

He may not be as talented as Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, as lethal as Stephen Curry, or as precise as Chauncey Billups, but Gordon’s ability to hit the three, get to the line, and D up warrants consideration.

Kevin Love – Kevin Love is the last line of defense, even if he doesn’t play much of it.

Love won’t get much playing time on a regular basis, but if anything were to happen to Lamar Odom or Tyson Chandler, Krzyzewski would likely throw Love into the rotation to gobble up rebounds. He’s a pretty awful defender and a useful offensive player, but Love’s magnum opus is his rebounding. He’s an elite NBA player in that regard, and though Love hasn’t had much of an opportunity to hit the boards for Team USA, he could, if he were ever needed. In case of emergency, Love.

Yet as nice as it would be to see the often underappreciated Love get a nice opportunity for playing time with Team USA, Odom and Chandler are playing in front of him for a reason. Team USA needs their length and defense, and Love just can’t provide that.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard all worked out together at UCLA today

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The NBA rumor mill never stops, and all it takes is one photograph to send thousands to the trade machine to start working out deals they are convinced should happen.

A photograph like this one.

To answer your biggest question first, yes that is Cedi Osman on the left.

Oh, and Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard in there, having all just worked out together.

Let this be a reminder of just how large Leonard’s hands are.

I could try to explain that the NBA’s elite players work out together some pretty much every summer, and that the UCLA run is constantly stacked. I could try to tell you this isn’t wildly out of the ordinary.

But that would take all the fun out of the speculation to come, so have at it. Try to figure out how many of those players were recruiting Osman for when he hits free agency.

Corey Maggette named Big3 MVP, Nancy Lieberman Coach of Year

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When you see Corey Maggette — even in a suit when he is at Staples Center to help do Clippers’ pregame/postgame analysis — your first thought is, “that man looks like he can still play.” The “gun show” is still something to behold.

Turns out, he can still play. Very well.

Maggette suited up in the Big3 this season (he was injured in his first game last weekend), is the captain that led Power to the championship game this Friday night, averaged 16.9 points (fourth in the league), 3.1 assists (fourth in the league), and for that was named league MVP on Tuesday. He earned the award for his leadership as much as his production, and with that he also was named the Big3’s Captain of the Year.

He just beat out David Hawkins of Tri-State for MVP, who averaged 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

Power dominated the awards, with coach Nancy Lieberman winning Coach of the Year (in her first year with the league), and Chris “Birdman” Anderson won Defensive Player of the Year behind his 1.4 blocks per game and owning of the paint.

The “Too Hard to Gaurd” award went to Al Harrington, who led the Big3 averaging 18 points per game for Trilogy (last year’s champion). The man can still get buckets.

Biggest Trash Talker award went to Gary Payton of 3 Headed Monsters. We all should have seen that coming, but to win a trash talking award as a coach is still very impressive. He’s still got it.

4th Man of the Year went to Andre Emmet of 3’s Company. He has been the hottest player in the Big3 in recent weeks, averaging more than 20 points per game during the run, and if 3’s Company is going to upset Power in the championship game it will be because Emmet has another monster season.

The BIG Community Award went to Ricky Davis. Every Friday morning, in whatever city the Big3 was in that week, Davis (through the Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation) brought other players and coaches to visit homeless shelters and encampments throughout the city and deliver fresh produce and toiletries. It (along with the weekly youth programs the Big3 did weekly in each city) was a great bit of reaching out.

Just a reminder, the BIG3 championship night kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday night live on FOX, from Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. The championship game will see Power — led by Corey Maggette and Glen Big Baby Davis — taking on 3’s Company (led by Andre Emmett, the hottest player in the league right now) for the title.

Channing Frye says young Lakers may not ‘truly understand what it’s like to play with’ LeBron

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Channing Frye is in a unique position. He has played with LeBron James for years and helped bring a title to Cleveland with him. However, at the deadline he was sent to the rebuilding Lakers as part of the Larry Nance/Jordan Clarkson deal, so he also has played with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and the rest of the young Lakers’ core.

Those experiences inform Frye’s opinions when Erik García Gundersen of the USA Today’s LeBron Wire asked him how smoothly LeBron would fit with the Lakers.

“I’ll tell you this: (the young Lakers are) arguably the most talented group in the NBA. And I mean talented in terms of experience, years playing in the Western Conference and they’re overall position.

I think the thing they’re going to come to and I think a lot of guys are going to have to deal with this. There’s who you expect to be and then who you are when you play with LeBron. It’s two different things. I don’t know if they truly understand what it’s like to play with him because there is no room for mistakes. Because in all actuality, he could do it himself. He could lead a team to 40 wins by himself. I think for all of them they’re going to have to have a reality check, not only them but the people around them. There’s going to say, not a growing period, but a humility.”

Chris Bosh, Kevin Love and a host of other guys would be very happy to explain just how much players need to adapt to playing with LeBron. The Lakers established a style of play and a pecking order last season, and this summer that got blown up. It’s not starting from scratch, but it’s going to be an adjustment — and it can’t take too long in an unforgiving Western Conference.

The other thing Frye notes: The Lakers now have a target on their back. Last season they were interesting, this season teams will circle this game on their schedule. The Lakers are going to get the other team’s best shot every night. LeBron is used to this, for Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and the rest it will again be an adjustment.

The Lakers are an interesting experiment this season. It’s a one-season thing, they will go hard at other stars next summer (or at the trade deadline) and the roster will get shaken up again next summer. That doesn’t make this season any easier on the Lakers, their players, or Luke Walton. LeBron’s too good to let it all come apart, but the Meme team’s dynamic will be fascinating.

Kobe Bryant ‘definitely’ staying retired, not playing in Big3 next season

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When spoken words get transcribed — or just heard by people half-listening — context can be lost.

Take for example, the Big3 media conference call on Tuesday (which I was on). The executives of that league — co-founders Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz, plus Clyde Drexler and Amy Trask — have a fun, joking relationship that comes through when you speak to more than one of them at a time. They drop inside jokes, poke a little fun at each other, and sound more like you and your friends hanging out with a beer rather than some cold, staged PR event. It’s no secret Cube has tried to recruit Kobe Bryant for a while to the Big3, only to get shot down each time, and that led to this exchange when they were asked about Kobe coming to the league.

Ice Cube: “We have a list of people that we would love to see, I think the fans would love to see. The fans would love to see Kobe, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce. Anybody who still has the passion to play. We don’t want you if you don’t have the passion to play. If Kobe doesn’t have the passion to play at this level, then it’s better for him to watch on tv. If he has the passion, then here we are.”

Jeff Kwatinetz: “I did hear from a credible source that Kobe is going to be playing next year. That’s something, but it may be nothing.”

Ice Cube: “That would be amazing.”

Kwatinetz was joking with Ice Cube more than making a prediction, but that’s not how some read/heard it, the news got out on Twitter, and, well, Twitter is Twitter.

That forced Kobe’s marketing person to shoot the idea down publicly, just to be clear.

I’d like to say this is the kind of thing we see in the off-season when there are no games to write about, but we know better, this happens during the regular season, too.

Just to be clear, Kobe was probably as well prepared for life after basketball as anyone who has retired from the NBA, and he has moved on. He still works out with guys — Boston’s Jaylen Brown most recently — and does his video breakdown series for ESPN, but he’s got a lot of other things going on as well with his businesses. The man won an Oscar already, what more do you want? He has moved on.

Just a reminder, the BIG3 championship night kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday night live on FOX, from Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. The championship game will see Power — led by Corey Maggette and Glen Big Baby Davis — taking on 3’s Company (led by Andre Emmett, the hottest player in the league right now) for the title.