Team USA experiments its way to blowout 113-59 win

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LAS VEGAS — Exhibition games should be about experimentation, about learning things to help you later. Unfortunately, you can’t learn too much from Team USA’s 113-59 throttling of the Dominican Republic in Las Vegas

We learned that teams are going to struggle with the athletes and pressure defense Team USA can bring. We learned that teams are going to pack the paint on the USA and give them jumpers (which they knocked down for a night). We learned that Kevin Durant can really score. We learned Carmelo Anthony is fun to watch when he works off the ball.

Those are things we all knew.

What we did start to learn was what kind of matchups and rotations we may see going forward and how Coach Mike Krzyzewski wants to use a versatile roster. He has a roster so deep the bench might beat the starters, and he used that. He spent the night trying everything. The USA Started Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, LeBron James and Chris Paul, bringing Durant off the bench. Durant thrived in that role, scoring a team high 24. After the game Krzyzewski said they plan to stick with that for at least another game.

Coach K went mad scientist experimenting matchup experiments all game. He had LeBron James at center for a stretch (guarding Al Horford in the post) with Andre Iguodala at the four. He went big for a stretch in the third with Tyson Chandler at center and Kevin Love at the four. Even just called up Anthony Davis (here because of the injury to Blake Griffin) played eight minutes.

“I thought Iguodala, Carmelo and LeBron and Kevin (Durant) all played big, they all covered fours and fives,” Krzyzewski said. “And we have to get comfortable with that.

“I thought Iguodala played a great game. He shot the ball well. (Sixers coach) Doug Collins was saying ‘why don’t you do that for us all the time?’”

Going small like that worked against an overmatched Dominican Republic, but Krzyzewski admitted it will be a better test against a big Brazil team next week in an exhibition in Washington D.C.

Iguodala said with this roster they shouldn’t worry about traditional positions as much.

“You see that when we have certain lineups in there,” Iguodala said. “One lineup we had LeBron and KD, and I was guarding the four and KD was guarding the three, but on the offensive end we’re interchangeable. We just play basketball.

“The really interesting thing is when anyone gets the rebound that turns it a break… it’s crazy when we’re coming at you and pretty hard to stop when we are executing the right way.”

What Coach K liked was the intensity on defense, the communication on switches, the pressuring the ball for 94 feet and wearing the Dominican Republic down. He found a lineup he likes doing that and you can bet you’ll see it again.

“I like when we have those guys off the bench — (Russell) Westbrook, Iguodala, (James) Harden, LeBron stays out there and Deron Williams, I like how we pressure the ball,” Krzyzewski said.

He added that Williams played very well and you can expect him to get more minutes. Chris Paul played only 8 minutes because he is recovering from a thumb injury.

Krzyzewski said you can expect some more mad scientist over the next couple weeks, but he hopes to have a pretty set rotation by the time Team USA gets to London.

Rudy Gay finally feels 100 percent after torn Achilles: ‘I feel athletic again’

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Rudy Gay, coming off a torn Achilles in 2017, was not quite his vintage self last season for the Spurs. In the 57 games he played he looked like a solid third option — 11.5 points per game, a surprisingly good defensive rating — but he played fewer minutes than ever before in his career, and he shot just 31.4 percent from three. In the playoffs he showed his importance — the Spurs were 9 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court — but he was never going to make up for what they lacked with Kawhi Leonard out.

Gay is preparing for his next season in San Antonio and told Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News that he is finally healthy.

Everything is clicking,” he said. “I feel athletic again.”

“I’ve been working hard, man,” Gay said at his boys’ high school basketball showcase for East Coast teams he hosts annually. “I lost about five pounds. Last year was a little bit of a struggle for me, so I tried to alleviate that by taking the weight off my feet by losing a couple of pounds through working out and eating better. It’s now or never right now for me.”

Gay is also close to new Spur DeMar DeRozan, and he sees potential there.

“That’s the thing about this whole team – everybody has a chip on his shoulder,” Gay said. “His is just more publicized. But, look, I’m healthy (and have something to prove), LaMarcus (Aldridge) always finds someway to have a chip on his shoulder. Jakob wants to prove he can be a great player. DJ (Dejounte Murray) has a chip on his shoulder because he wants to be known as one of the best at his position.”

The Spurs won 47 games last season essentially without Leonard, and now they sub an All-NBA player in DeRozan into the mix. If Gay is healthy and can be that third option, if the defense stays tight, if Gregg Popovich can work his magic, this is a dangerous playoff team. Not a contender, but are you going to bet against the Spurs making the playoffs?

Jordan Clarkson urges NBA to allow players to compete in more global events

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The NBA is trying to walk a fine line. On the one hand, the league and its owners want to globalize the NBA — it is the best, most watched basketball league on the globe and they want people in Europe and Asia to follow the NBA the way American soccer fans follow the Barclays’ Premiere League. That will make the owners more money, and never forget this is a business first, second, and third. With that, the owners allow players to compete for their native countries in major events, such as the FIBA World Cup or Olympics.

However, there is a “club vs. country” tug of war in the NBA. Players want to represent their countries — and sometimes are pressured to do so — while NBA teams see injury risk. They look at the story of Dante Exum blowing out his ACL playing for Australia as a cautionary tale.

So when the Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson wanted to play for the Philippines in the Asian Games (his mother is a native of that country, so he is allowed), the NBA shot it down at first saying this tournament was not part of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA that allows the league’s players to take part in major international events (the Olympics, the basketball World Cup, etc.). However, the league eventually flipped and allowed a “one-time exception” for Clarkson (plus Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanhuyang).

Now Clarkson says he wants the NBA to allow players to compete in more global events, he told Agence France-Presse at the Asian Games.

“After being told no so many times, I refused to give up. I kept fighting,” he said. “I’m here now, ready to compete.”

“I think they get the point — in Asia kids are picking up a basketball. I feel like the NBA is allowing us to do our thing.”

Basketball is a growing sport in Asia — it’s huge in the Philippines already, and it’s growing fast there and in countries such as China. The NBA wants its foot in the door there. It wants to be part of that market — the NBA plays exhibition games in China every year for a reason.

The Asian Games — the second largest multi-national sporting event in the world behind the Olympics — is a good exception to make. Clarkson and other NBA stars playing there — including in the future — is good for the NBA.

However, the league is going to face a challenge trying to find that line in future years between promoting the game and the NBA internationally and protecting its investments in its players.

Watch the top 60 blocked shots of last NBA season

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We love blocked shots. One player is attacking the rim, another gets in his way and rejects that shot. Frankly, we overestimate their importance on defense at points (because it’s a quantifiable stat in a world where defense is hard to quantify), but they matter.

And they are fun.

Check out the top 60 blocks from last season, as put together by NBA.com. It all starts with a chase down block by Kevin Durant (who has improved his rim protection in recent years) and ends with Anthony Davis showing why he is a beast.

It’s Sunday, and what else are you going to do? Watch preseason football?

Grizzlies expected to bring rookie Jaren Jackson along slowly

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Jaren Jackson was one of the standout rookies of Summer League. It started in Salt Lake City at the Jazz Summer League, where he looked like the future of the NBA five — knocking down threes, being athletic enough to run the court on the break, blocking shots, and being physical inside. In Utah, he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night.

Expect the Grizzlies to bring Jackson along slowly, however, once the regular season starts. Jackson likely will come off the bench behind the starting frontline of Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. That will not be popular with the fan base, but the Grizzlies want to trust their veterans and make a playoff push.

Look at what Grizzlies executive John Hollinger told the Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

I think whatever happens, we want it to happen organically, and not get ahead of ourselves, and make sure we’re taking all the right steps on him, and not getting too excited and skipping ahead….

“We don’t want to put him into overtly physical matchups yet because he’s 18 and his body is still filling out,” he said.

Strength is almost always the biggest challenge facing young big men in the NBA (and Jackson is still 18, he will turn 19 during training camp). These are grown men they are going against nightly, and while Jackson had plenty of strength to hang with the Summer League crowd, things are very different when the big boys come to play. Even in an NBA moving away from old-school power ball, it still matters.

While the Grizzlies will work to not rush Jackson, that plan is somewhat dependent on players with a history of injury issues staying healthy. Jackson is not going to get 30 minutes a night, he’s not going to get the touches that fellow rookies such as Trae Young and Luka Doncic will receive, and he may not be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. We’ll see how things shake out, but on a Grizzlies team looking to put itself in the playoff conversation, the coach likely will lean on veterans he trusts.

Where Jackson will rank in this draft class three years from now could be very different. He has the potential to be the star of this class (or at least one of a few breakouts, this is an interesting group).