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

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durant_team_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 second installment, we’ll look at the starting candidates for Team USA.

Derrick Rose – Rose started in Rondo’s stead during Sunday’s friendly against Spain, and figures to be Team USA’s starting point guard (at least, as much as this team really has one specific point guard) for most of the World Championships. Rose’s primary value is his scoring; though he can make plays off the dribble, it’s the threat of the drive and the mid-range jumper that could open things up for Team USA.

Rose isn’t a skilled three-point shooter, and that hurts him. When opposing defenses zone up or pack the paint, he’ll likely struggle to create shots for both himself and his teammates. Still, he’s smart enough to make the right plays and pick his spots, and he will. Rose is a weapon. He’s valuable and effective, even if he lacks Rondo’s abilities as a natural playmaker.
 
Chauncey Billups – Billups is both a veteran and scorer for Team USA, which badly needs his precision from the perimeter as well as his leadership. While the roster is certainly guard-heavy, most of those guards are resolved to win the day in a straight-line footrace. Billups is a bit more deliberate in his approach. A bit more methodical. He may ultimately succumb to the same vices (Chauncey is no stranger to the heat check), but the contrast between Billups and the other guards on the roster benefits Team USA all the same.

The Americans’ turnovers have been absolutely brutal thus far, but Billups — a slip-up against Lithuania aside — provides a calming influence on Team USA’s offense. He’s a prolific threat from deep (7-of-13 in the last three exhibition games, good for 53.8%), a strong defender, and unlikely to commit those facepalm-inducing turnovers that have become a Rose/Westbrook staple.

Andre Iguodala – Andre Iguodala will not be scoring much. He’s averaged just 3.7 points per game over USA’s last three exhibitions. No one should expect that to improve significantly.

However, Iguodala does have utility that goes beyond his defense. Iggy is easily Team USA’s top perimeter defender, but offensively, he moves the ball, is a decent spot-up option (just don’t ask him to shoot off the dribble…yeesh), and is a good positional rebounder. Iguodala’s just a dabbler. A little ball-handling, a little slashing, a lot of fast breaking, and a ton of fantastic defense.

Kevin Durant – Kevin Durant owns this team. He’s not renting it out while LeBron goes on vacation. He’s taken it and made it his own, for better or worse. Though Durant didn’t hand-pick his Team USA contemporaries, the roster was constructed with the hope that it would resemble KD. His versatility. His athleticism. His character. Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski clearly hoped that Durant’s nature would act as a thematic element for Team USA, and to an extent it has.

The only trouble is that no one on this year’s team has the talent to actually keep up with Durant, even if their commitment and intangibles follow through on the motif.

Durant hasn’t been the most consistent in his pre-Championship exhibitions, but he was in full effect against Spain, the United States’ most formidable foe. KD finished with 25 and 10 in that contest on 56.3% shooting, dropped a couple of threes, and picked up the game-saving block for good measure.

Durant is the only Team USA player that’s elite by NBA standards, and on this team his brilliance is crucial as both a driving force (KD will need to be fantastic against USA’s top opponents) and a beacon to his teammates. 
 
Tyson Chandler – Chandler is the only true center on the roster, which should be good enough to score him some regular playing time. However, as Krzyzewski proved in fiddling with Sunday’s starting lineup, Chandler’s positional standing in no way guarantees him a starting job. Coach K benched Rajon Rondo in favor of Derrick Rose, which was clearly a significant roster move. In the same game, he also brought Tyson Chandler off the bench to start Lamar Odom, who could very well tip-off at center for Team USA from this point on.

Regardless, Chandler will fulfill the same basic duties for the national team regardless of his starting status. He’s a quality rim protector, even if he doesn’t pick up a ton of blocks. His length and athleticism make him a quality all-around defender, even if he’s had some lapses in the exhibition games thus far. Overall, he’s the Americans best on-ball post defender, a good option to defend pick-and-roll bigs, and a solid defensive anchor, even if he’s something of an offensive liability.

Lamar Odom – The impact of Odom being a perimeter-oriented big is a bit overstated. Odom has never been anything more than a decent shooter from outside (he’s gone 0-fer in his first four attempts from deep for Team USA), and he really isn’t floating too much on the outside at present. And though Odom may initiate the offense frequently for the Lakers, that’s not his role on this team. Not with so many dynamic guards on the roster.

Instead, Odom is…oddly conventional in his capacity with Team USA. He screens-and-rolls, he plays nice help-side defense, and he rebounds well. It may not be the most creative way to utilize Odom’s unique skill set, but so far he’s been quite effective while masquerading as a traditional big. 

Three Things to Know: Who’s your MVP? James Harden drops 50-point triple-double on Lakers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) LeBron is your MVP? James Harden drops 50-point triple-double on Lakers. It’s early in the season, but the narratives for the race for MVP are taking shape, and right now LeBron James — having a season similar in many ways to the ones he had recently in Cleveland, just now doing it in a much brighter spotlight — is near the top of a lot of lists, with a compelling narrative around him that he has turned around the worst run of Lakers’ basketball in franchise history. (If the vote were taken today Giannis Antetokounmpo would win, but LeBron would be in the mix… just my sense talking to other voters and what one straw poll found.)

James Harden, who is the reigning MVP, has put up very similar offensive numbers to last season — 30.8 points, 8.3 assists, and 5.5 rebounds a game with a 61.8 true shooting percentage and a 27.3 PER — yet his name is not mentioned in the race.

Thursday night on TNT he threw his hat back in the ring with a 50-point triple-double (10 rebounds, and 11 assists) pushing the Rockets to a 126-111 win over the Lakers, the kind of win that makes you think maybe the Rockets can turn it around.

That was Harden’s fourth 50-point triple-double, an NBA regular season record (moving him past former teammate Russell Westbrook).

It was a vintage Harden performance — he only had 26 shot attempts to get to 50 points, and he got to the free throw line for 18 shots. Lakers coach Luke Walton joined the long list of coaches who picked up a technical foul yelling at the referees that Harden was getting all the calls while his team didn’t get those same whistles (Harden is the master and drawing contact, then when he feels it throwing back his head, flailing his arms, and essentially flopping for the call… it works). LeBron and Lonzo Ball actually tried defending with their hands behind their backs for a stretch, trying to make a point to the officials. But what Harden does is just smart and practiced — he’s the master at it, and if you don’t foul he’s good enough to still put up ridiculous numbers.

Harden’s offensive skills have never been in question. However, he’s not mentioned in the MVP race because of the other end of the court — Houston is 13-14 with the second worst defense in the NBA, and Harden is part of the problem on that end. Last season the Rockets were a top-10 defense and they switched everything with the hope that the other team would then try to exploit the mismatch of Harden (or Chris Paul) guarding a big man, post up said big up and let him go to work. Except, Harden is very strong, especially in the lower body, and it’s difficult to back him down in the post and go to work. Harden is a good post defender.

This season, teams have largely abandoned that approach, they are working to exploit Harden in space or his help defense, both of which are terrible. Again. Harden is playing defense this season like the meme-worthy guy of 2014-15. Harden is not the only problem on the Rockets’ defense (Clint Capela looks a step slower, as does Chris Paul, and they miss the switchable wings they let walk last season in free agency, the communication is lacking, and much more) but he is a part of the problem. And it’s obvious.

That said, if the Rockets start to turn it around, string together some wins, get into a playoff position in the West, and Harden keeps putting up these numbers, he’s going to get some MVP votes. For now, the Rockets need more games like this from Harden to get them back into the West playoffs.

2) Dirk Nowitzki is back on the court, but the Mavericks suffer an ugly loss to Phoenix. For the 21st season in a row, Dirk Nowitzki — the future Hall of Famer, the best European player in NBA history, the talisman of the franchise — was back on the court in a Mavericks uniform. He was limited, playing just 6 minutes and scoring only one bucket, but it was good to see (just ask Mark Cuban).

Nowitzki is not why this game was a national TNT broadcast on one of the league’s showcase nights: they wanted Deandre Ayton vs. Luka Doncic. A 2018 NBA Draft showdown.

This was not vintage Doncic (the current clear leader in the Rookie of the Year race), who had 13 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists but added 4 turnovers. A couple of reasons for that, but at the top of the list is something the league tries to avoid on Thursday night showcases: it was Dallas’s third game in four nights, the second night of a back-to-back, and Doncic looked dead-legged (as did all the Mavericks). Also, Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. seemed to take turns, trading off who would attack, rather than letting the more skilled Doncic just take over.

Ayton was not himself either, scoring 7 points on 3-of-13 shooting, matched up with the athletic veteran DeAndre Jordan. Ayton usually puts up good counting stats — he’s averaging 15.5 points and 10 rebounds a game — but his offense is limited, half his shots come right at the rim and 75 percent of his shots are set up by someone else, and his defense is dreadful. He’s got potential as an NBA big man, but he also has a lot of work to do to live up to being a No. 1 pick.

Phoenix snapped it’s 10-game losing streak with a 99-88 win.

3) The NBA tries to win over Mexico by sending them… Orlando and Chicago? If you’re an NBA fan living Mexico City fan and you get to see a couple of games in person a year, you can’t be faulted for thinking Nikola Vucevic is a legend.

The NBA put its best foot forward in Mexico City Thursday night… okay, it put a foot forward, giving them a regular season game between the Magic and Bulls. Vucevic, who is playing at an All-Star level for the Magic this season, was the best player on the court, dropping 20 points and 10 boards, leading the Magic to a 97-91 win.

The most interesting news out of Chicago is that Bulls new coach Jim Boylen will be allowed to so something Fred Hoiberg was not — bench Jabari Parker. Despite Chandler Hutchison being out, Parker got four first-half minutes and that’s it. He’s not going to be part of the regular rotation going forward. This was one of the front office’s big moves this summer, spending $20 million to bring in Parker (when no other team was offering near that much), but with Lauri Markkanen back there just shouldn’t be minutes for Parker. (Hoiberg didn’t really get to coach Markkanen this season due to injury, so he had to play Parker, even starting him a lot at the four.)

Bulls management has made some smart moves the past 18 months, but there have been a few head-scratchers, too. Parker is at the top of that list.

Report: Jabari Parker is ‘no longer expected to see regular minutes’ in Bulls’ rotation

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The Chicago Bulls inexplicably outbid everyone in the market this past offseason for Jabari Parker. Gar Forman and John Paxson decided to pay the Chicago native a whopping $20 million per season for two years when it didn’t appear anyone else was willing to go that high for a middling player coming off two ACL tears in the same knee.

Needless to say, it has not worked out.

Parker started the season inauspiciously by the saying that he wasn’t paid to play defense, and things devolved from there. Set aside all of the locker room issues in Chicago — Parker has simply not played well on the floor. Despite a potential bigger piece of the pie off offensively, Parker has seen his percentages dip and his advanced statistics are horrifying. Entering his fifth season in the league, Parker has a negative win share for the season, his 3-point shooting is down seven percent, and his turnovers rate has gone up by 36 percent despite having the same usage.

On Thursday, a report surfaced from ESPN before Chicago took on the Orlando Magic that said Parker would be taken out of the Bulls rotation, and that after the Magic game, Parker would “no longer see regular minutes”.

Just to reiterate, Parker is Chicago’s highest paid player.

The response online was immediate, and our compatriots over at NBC Sports Chicago had a particularly great reaction.

Via Twitter:

How soundly would Adam Silver sleep if Jerry Reinsdorf, Jim Dolan, and Robert Sarver all decided to simultaneously sell their teams? The NBA’s BRI since the lockout has continued to climb but if the Bulls and the Knicks were well-run organizations there’s no telling where the league could expand.

I don’t know where Chicago is headed, but it’s nowhere good.

Report: Lakers unwilling to give up youth in exchange for Trevor Ariza

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The Los Angeles Lakers would like to have Trevor Ariza back in the Forum blue and gold. However, it might not be that easy.

Ariza is due a significant amount of money from the Phoenix Suns this season, and in order to make a trade work the Lakers would need to get rid of some players of their own. Their preferred current roster member would be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, although several teams are reluctant to take him. Of course, teams want something in return if they are going to help facilitate any deal between the Lakers and the Suns, which has helped put a stop on any movement.

According to a recent report, the Lakers are unwilling to include any of their young core in a trade for a reason. That apparently means Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram are unavailable in a deal with Ariza as currently constructed.

Via LA Times:

The Lakers have informed teams that have called about trade proposals that they will not give up any of their young core unless it’s for a superstar player, one person said.

The Suns were turned down when they sought to get one of the Lakers’ young players in exchange for Ariza, and Phoenix also rejected a three-team deal that was discussed with the Lakers.

The Lakers and Suns have continued to pursue trade scenarios that make sense for both teams.

Phoenix and Los Angeles are still reportedly trying to get a deal done for Ariza, but nothing is imminent. It does make sense that LA wouldn’t want to give up some of their younger players for an aging Ariza, who would fit well next to LeBron James but whose value has declined as we’ve seen the variance in his play between last season with the Houston Rockets and this year with the Suns.

I would still put my money on Ariza playing as a member of the home team at Staples Center this season. Typically when LeBron wants to add a veteran he likes around him, a deal gets done. For right now, we don’t know what a potential trade might look like, unless someone decides to relent in their asking price.

Phoenix woman roasts Suns owner Robert Sarver at city council meeting, calls him “so tight he squeaks” (VIDEO)

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The Phoenix Suns aren’t going to move. Owner Robert Sarver made a poorly-calculated threat to relocate the team to either Seattle or Las Vegas this week, something that was quickly walked back.

On Wednesday the Phoenix city council decided to postpone a vote on whether to help renovate Talking Stick Resort Arena, where the Suns play. Sarver has been lobbying for the renovations for some time, and wants public funding to do it.

But this is 2018, and people are wary of that sort of thing. The public is less likely to fork over the kind of unfettered public funds that most owners want, and people want a better return for their tax dollar these days.

Greta Rogers, a local area resident, voiced her concerns Wednesday night to the city council about them dealing with and potentially bending to Sarver’s will. Rogers’ comments to the council quickly became the thing of legend, with her calling Sarver “so tight he squeaks when he walks”.

Via Twitter:

That’s the right call in today’s day and age. Owners have far too much sway, and their stewardship of a public trust like a sports team shouldn’t allow them to influence taxpayers in the manner Sarver is attempting. In fact, it should be much the opposite.

Thanks to TV deals, Big 4 sports franchises are basically a license to print money. People don’t even need to show up to the stadium anymore — just look at most MLB parks. Owner-favorable tax deals, at least on the scale most cities hand out, are just bad business at this point.

On Thursday Sarver issued a video via the team Twitter account that didn’t say much of anything, despite the intention. In it, Sarver said he was committed to keeping the Suns in downtown Phoenix, building a new practice facility, and renovating the stadium. He didn’t mention anything about paying for it himself, which you would think he could do with a rumored net worth of $400 million. Or the team could just do it, since it’s a billion-dollar enterprise that can take out loans like any other business. Because, you know, that’s how capital expenditures work.

Sarver’s clumsy attempt to bully money out of the city of Phoenix in a post-SuperSonics NBA was pretty laughable. Hopefully more folks like Greta Rogers keep the council’s feet to the fire.