NBA draftees at EuroBasket: Kanter looks good, Rubio not so much

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We tried to watch as much of EuroBasket as we could, and when the games were on our eyes were were drawn to recent NBA draftees who have not been in the league. Frankly, I know Pau Gasol is amazingly skilled. I know Joakim Noah can defend. I know Tony Parker is dangerous when he gets in the lane.

But I don’t know much about Enes Kanter (of the Jazz) or Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors), and the book was out on Ricky Rubio (Timberwolves)?

So what did I think?

Ricky Rubio (Spain): Rubio came off the bench for the eventual champions, shot 23 percent for the tournament and averaged 1.5 points and 2.3 assists per game. It’s safe to say he was unimpressive.

To be fare, part of that was the Spanish system — Rubio’s job was to feed the Gasol brothers inside, hit Juan Carlos Navarro curling off a screen and not do much else but stand as a jump shooting decoy nobody thought would get a pass back. The system called to slow it down and Rubio is built for transition (please take note of that Rick Adelman).

That said, there is reason for concern. Both last season with Barcelona and this summer his development seems to have stagnated, and he has to develop some kind of steady jumper to impact the NBA game. Things are not as bad as some T-Wolves fans fear — Rubio is a good defender, is 6’5” and still has crazy passing skills. But his game has got to develop and this should make the folks in Minnesota a little concerned.

Enes Kanter (Turkey): A Turkish assistant coach ripped him, but he didn’t look too bad to these eyes. It seemed to match up with the scouting report the wise Sebastian Pruitti put out there a while back — his one-one-one skills are impressive and show potential at both ends, but his recognition and reaction to team play are slow. He is not a great help defender, he doesn’t recognize and hit the open player on a pass out of the post as often or quickly as he should.

But he shot 59 percent and drew a lot of fouls. He looked like a guy who could develop into something impressive, a guy who could force the Jazz to see if Paul Millsap can play the three in a couple years. But that is another issue for another day.

Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania): Raptors fans should be smiling. Big smiles. The best proof is that in the first game of EuroBasket Valanciunas played only a handful of minutes at the end of a blowout win, but by the end he was playing key minutes for a veteran-heavy team. Valanciunas shot 66 percent for the tournament, can rebound and is a wicked finisher on the pick and roll.

There are issues — turnovers and the deer-in-headlights look when the double team arrived on the block — but there is a lot to like and a lot of potential in this 19-year-old. He may be the biggest steal of this draft (and he only fell to No. 5).

Lakers’ Anthony Davis expected to return Friday; Avery Bradley out 1-2 weeks with fracture

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Anthony Davis sat out Wednesday night’s comfortable Lakers win over Golden State, the star letting a sore shoulder and ribs heal.

Apparently, that’s all he’s sitting out. While nothing will be official until close to game time, Davis went through shootaround and looks to be a go Friday night against Sacramento at Staples Center. From Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Went through shootaround today,” Davis said Friday morning. “Felt good.”

Davis is averaging 26.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per game, anchoring a Lakers’ defense that has been best in the NBA this season. It goes without saying the Lakers are better when he is on the court.

Only Davis knows his body and how he feels, but he also has a history of missing games due to minor but nagging injuries. Should the Lakers consider giving Davis another night off to make sure he is fully healed, plus give the rest of his body some time to rest?

“What, like, load management? No,” Davis said…

“I want to play,” Davis said. “But obviously saying that, the training staff will probably be more reluctant to [let me play]. If it’s still bothering me a little bit, [they’ll] have me sit out. Or if it’s feeling good, I’m going to play. … Just to know that the way the team played when I sat out, I don’t have to be in a rush to get back.”

For some fans — and LeBron James (in a shrewd PR move with the team down the hall) — have pushed back on the idea of load management. Which has somehow become a dirty phrase around the NBA, despite the science showing it can help reduce injuries, improve performance, and lengthen careers.

Lakers fans buying into and parroting the anti-load management argument may want to go find a Toronto Raptors fan and ask if they would trade the 22 games Kawhi Leonard missed last regular season for that championship parade. Or, just wait until the Lakers do some of it later in the season (but, like all teams now, will mask it with “sore back” or some other minor ailment that could be played through, just to avoid the PR hit).

While Davis is back, the Lakers are going to miss Avery Bradley for at least a week with a hairline fracture in his leg. From the official Lakers’ press release:

An MRI last night revealed a hairline fracture in a non-weight bearing bone of Avery Bradley’s right leg (on the fibular head). Bradley will be re-evaluated in 1 to 2 weeks.

Bradley has started all 10 games he has played in for the Lakers, averaging 9.4 points a game and giving them an active perimeter defender. Fortunately, this doesn’t sound like it will sideline him for long.

Other teams reportedly eyeing Magic’s Aaron Gordon, Orlando not interested. Yet.

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Orlando’s offense is dreadful. In the past week it finally moved into scoring more than a point per possession — just barely — but they are ranked 29th in the league. They just can’t hit shots. The Magic have the worst team three-point percentage (28.5 percent) and the worst true shooting percentage. It’s not that they’re taking bad shots, they are just not making them.

When a team struggles, other teams start to look at what players they like and may be available in a trade. Other teams watching the Magic stumble to a 4-7 start have their eyes on Aaron Gordon, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic — and he adds the Magic are not going there.

Multiple teams are monitoring Magic forward Aaron Gordon with interest should an opportunity present itself, but the Magic have shown no interest in moving him, sources said. Orlando is 4-7 and working to turn the corner early this season. Gordon signed a four-year, $76 million deal to return to the Magic in 2018.

At least not yet.

The Magic reportedly have been interested in DeMar DeRozan, but Orlando would have to move a lot of salary to land him (DeRozan makes $27.7 million this season).

One thing that has been good for Orlando this young season is the emergence of Jonathan Isaac as a player — he is already outstanding defensively, and his offense is improving (but still has a long, long way to go). Sean Deveney notes at Forbes that Orlando could change its mind about trading Gordon because of concerns about how he fits with Isaac (the team is basically net neutral when they are paired this season).

The Magic could give up forward Aaron Gordon, because there are concerns that he might not fit well over the long term with forward Jonathan Isaac, but Orlando won’t trade away Gordon for a few months of renting DeRozan, who is hardly the guy to help fix the Magic’s 3-point shooting troubles.

Gordon has two fully guaranteed years left on his contract after this season, however, it declines in value (down to $16.4 million the final season) making it very tradable.

Deveney mentions another potential target: D'Angelo Russell of Golden State. Much like Gordon, the Warriors are not interested in talking Russell trades yet, but that could change depending upon how the season evolves.

It’s early. Teams are just in the first stages of assessing their team and thinking about potential players who can help. The Magic, and Gordon, are a team to watch, particularly if the offense doesn’t turn around.

 

 

The time Kendall Gill stayed out all night then led Hornets to early-afternoon win (video)

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In the great history of NBA party-then-play stories, 15-year-pro Kendall Gill has a new tale from his rookie year with the Hornets in 1991.

Gill on Off The Dribble:

We pulled into D.C. My cousin took me out. I was out until 6 in the morning. He brings me back to the hotel. My coach, Gene Littles, is sitting in the lobby. And as I walked in the door, he’s like, “What the hell are you doing out here, rook? Don’t you know we’ve got a game at 12 o’clock in the afternoon?” Well, turns out, I go and I score 28 points that day, the high for my rookie season. I scored 28 points. He comes to me after the game and says, “You can go out and hang out any time you want to until 6 in the morning – if you play like that.”

A couple details are off. Gill scored 24 points to lead Charlotte over the Washington Bullets on March 31, 1991. But that wasn’t his season high. He scored 28 a few days earlier in Phoenix. The Washington game also had a listed start of 1 p.m., not noon.

Still, this comes close enough on the verifiable facts. Besides, I want the fun parts of this story to be true, so I’ll choose to believe them, anyway.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

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Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.