LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the planet earth right now.
Kevin Durant is, in my opinion, the best pure scorer walking the planet right now.
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski is a smart man. He knows what an unstoppable force those two guys are — so he started playing them off each other.
I tweeted about this during the USA’s throttling of Spain: There is no way to really defend the two-man game Durant and LeBron have started to play. LeBron is the pick-setter and Durant comes off him, although unlike a classic pick-and-roll this is more LeBron with the ball out high and Durant coming off him and taking a handoff.
Our own Rob Mahoney wrote about the challenges this presents at the New York Times.
From the moment Durant curls around James’ screen and accepts the handoff, the defense is at an incredible disadvantage. James is a threat to flare, dive, or catch a pass and act as an intermediary, and yet opponents have no choice but to close the space that Durant now has at his disposal. Both players are threatening at every step in this sequence, giving it a sustained life that normal pick-and-roll scenarios lack.
This kind of arrangement adds potency to Team U.S.A. Each player on this roster can score in isolation, but the glory of this team’s construction isolation isn’t necessary. There’s too much potential such as the pick-and-roll above, and too many brilliant juxtapositions of talented players to succumb to inefficiency.
Mahoney’s point is that Team USA is a collection of talent but like any team improves the longer they play together. It’s one of the advantages that teams like Spain and Argentina have, where their national teams have largely played together in tournaments since they were teenagers — they have a comfort level we ask our guys to pick up on the fly. No sport works like that.
But the guys on Team USA are quick learners. The team that beat Spain in the final exhibition game was better than the one that played the Dominican Republic in Vegas a couple weeks before.
And the one in the gold medal game will be better still. And will need to be.
It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.
The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.
Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.
Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?
And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).
Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.
Want to see more dunks like this and this?
Watch the dunk contest during All-Star weekend.
Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:
Miles Bridges, the No. 12 pick in last year’s draft, has quickly proven himself as belonging in the Hornets’ rotation. He’s active, capable of getting to the rim and picks up defensive concepts quickly.
But like most rookies picked in the middle of the first round, he hasn’t yet earned a national profile.
The dunk contest will be his opportunity to change that.
Wendell Carter Jr. has had a strong rookie season in Chicago: 10.3 points a game, 7 rebounds, showing real strength and touch inside and getting 67 percent of his shot attempts in the paint. The advanced stats like him: He’s got an above average PER and Value over Replacement Player, something very rare for a rookie. He looks like a key part of the future in Chicago.
And he’s out for the next two-to-three months.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune first reported that Carter might have ligament damage in his left thumb requiring surgery, and that coach Jim Boylen said Carter was seeing a specialist. Shams Charania of The Athletic took it to the next step.
That’s a blow to his development but doesn’t really change the trajectory of a Bulls team that will pick high in next June’s draft.
This does not change the Bulls’ plans heading into the trade deadline — big man Robin Lopez is still available (but likely will end up a buyout candidate) reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Bobby Portis will get more run with Carter out.
The young Bulls have been hit hard by injuries this season. Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Portis have all missed time, and Denzel Valentine has yet to play a game for Chicago this season.
Before the season, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis stated his goals: 50 wins and the conference finals.
Washington is 19-26 and 11th in the Eastern Conference.
Time to shift priorities?
NBC Sports Washington:
Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:
The Wizards are too talented to tank right now. Led by Bradley Beal, they have a roster of capable veterans. They just traded for Trevor Ariza, making that even more true.
As bad as they’ve been, the Wizards are just 2.5 games and three teams out of playoff position. They will likely miss the postseason, but there’s no alternative better than trying to get there. They’re too far down the road toward winning now to simply pivot into a rebuilding.
But what about if the Wizards get eliminated from playoff contention with games left in the season? They won’t tank down the stretch to improve their draft position? What’s the point of that?
And what about future seasons? Washington will have a tough time building a satisfactory winner after signing John Wall to a super-max extension that kicks in next season. That difficult-to-move contract almost mandates the Wizards prioritize the present. A healthy Wall is good enough to ensure Washington can’t bottom out – for now.
Wall be 32 in the final year of that deal. The Wizards could be in ruins by then. Taking the option to tank off the table would be a mistake.
To be fair, I’m not totally sure Leonsis is doing that. Owners almost never admit to tanking. Most deny it.
But this goes a level beyond. This is far more forceful than Leonsis had to be, which makes me believe it’s actually his plan.
That’s fine right now. Eventually, it could make a futile situation far worse.