The Inbounds: NBA schmoe, International Superstar of Mystery

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If you’re a casual NBA fan, most of the players on the Olympic teams other than Team USA don’t ring any bells. You’ll recognize a few.

“Hey, that’s that point guard for the Canada team, right?”

“You mean, the Toronto Raptors?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said, the team in Canada.”

Or:

“Hey, didn’t that guy play for the Grizzlies one year?”

“Yes, he did, he’s actually..”

“Why didn’t he make it? He looks pretty good.”

Yet even to dedicated NBA fans, many of the players on these teams are unfamiliar, strange names and strange games. Dedicated fans of international ball, suddenly available in the internet age, are able to recite their names and games. But they remain a mystery to most U.S. fans. Yet even the players NBA fans know don’t resemble the players who run the floor for the A.

Jose Calderon? Veteran sharpshooter and dynamic offensive leader, not defensive sieve and spot-up shooter, as he is with the Raps. Juan Carlos Navarro was a small-minute reserve player for a single season for the Grizzlies. He’s one of the best players in Euroleague history with his Spanish team, FC Barcelona.

Maybe no player epitomizes the difference than Patty Mills, though. Mills is a fourth-string point guard for the Spurs, and a legitimate star for Australia. He was a big part of Australia hanging around with Team USA on Wednesday, hitting perimeter shots and driving inside.

So what’s the deal? How can these players look this different in international play relative to their performance in the indisputable best league in the world?

There’s  a line of thought that suggests that internationalf coaches just know how to get the best from these players. That, of course, is insane. To suggest coaches like Dwane Casey, Nate McMillan, and Gregg Popovich don’t know how to evaluate the talents of these players and acclimate them throws out everything we know about NBA coaches. There are bad NBA coaches. There are bad international coaches. But the differential in production has more to do with style of play than it does quality of coaches. No one in the NBA is “missing” on these players. There’s a qualitative difference in how the NBA is played, and that style can bring out the abilities of players, with the more wide open structure, and the kind of defense that’s played.

This isn’t about which level of competition is more difficult, the NBA or international ball (HINT: It’s the NBA). It’s about a difference in approach and execution that leaves us with a game that is played with the same rules as the NBA, but is vastly different. Well, except for goaltending. That’s different. And some other things. And the ball is different. But other than that, same game. But the stylistic approach is where it diverges.

So we shouldn’t be surprised by these performances, nor should we slough them off. Calderon, Mills, Timofey Mozgov are all playing excellent, and deserve credit for leading their teams. But at the same time, we shouldn’t assume they’re capable of this in the NBA night after night, nor that there’s something wrong with how the NBA operates that they’re not executing at that level. There’s a great number of players who have struggled with the style in international play. Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, are two to start with.

Paul’s size gives him issues and the amount of pressure allowed in international play outside (while inside might as well be a demilitarized zone — no touching!) creates problems. He’s still very good for Team USA, because he’s Chis Paul. But he’s never the dominant point guard he is in the league.

Dwight Howard, absent from the 2012 team due to his recovery from back surgery, has similar problems. His game just doesn’t translate with the kind of floor spacing that goes on in international play and he accumulates fouls at a rookie-type level.

Do you really want to say that Chris Paul and Dwight Howard aren’t really that good at basketball?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

There’s nothing artificial about the players’ production in these games. It’s legitimate and honestly, refreshing as opposed to the slog of the NBA at times. But it’s no mistake made by the NBA or its coaches that they can’t excel. They are who they are in the NBA, and that’s how they should be judged, because it’s the best league in the world.

Unless you’re not an NBA fan. Then you can believe the ACB is. Or Euroleague. Or South American play. Anything you want.

But to bring the idea of somehow these games being indicative of who they really are as player is as disingenuous as saying their American counterparts aren’t trying. The world’s caught up with the U.S.. Well, not really. But they’re closer, and that leads to these fascinating ripples. Let’s not try and establish which way is better, let’s just enjoy the exposure on a different way to play basketball.

Paul George scores 33 in Clippers debut, but it’s not enough to beat Pelicans

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Paul George expected to shoot well in his Clippers’ debut because his surgically repaired shoulders felt great.

It was the rest of his game – from ball handling to defense — that concerned him.

Jrue Holiday scored 36 points and stole the ball from George three times in the final minutes to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a 132-127 victory over Los Angeles on Thursday night.

“I thought I was terrible,” said George, who was limited to 24 minutes by early foul trouble but still scored 33 points.

“That’s the best my shoulders have felt in a really long time, so I knew coming into tonight shooting wouldn’t be a problem,” George added. “Just playing basketball is what I’m lacking right now.”

George was playing for the first time since signing as a free agent with the Clippers because he’d been recovering from procedures in May on his right shoulder and June on his left.

“A lot of breakdowns happened because of my lack of being out there with those guys,” George said. “I’m here to win games and I didn’t get a win. … We had a chance to win tonight and a couple bad possessions in a row that we have down the stretch and we lose. That’s what I gauge good games and bad games on.”

Holiday, who had six steals in all, intercepted of Lou Williams‘ attempted bounce pass in the final seconds to seal the victory. The play capped off a night in which Holiday scored 12 in the final 4:20, including a pair of pivotal 3s.

“It felt good,: said Holiday, who hadn’t scored as many as 20 points in any of his previous eight games. It’s all about timing and rhythm. I felt like I got a little bit of that back tonight.”

Derrick Favors, in his first season with New Orleans, had 20 points and a career-best 20 rebounds in the first 20-20 game of his 10-year career.

“I’m starting to get comfortable now and just try to keep it going throughout the year,” Favors said. “It was a great game for me, a great game for the team, and we came out and played hard, but we just have to stay consistent.”

Frank Jackson added 23 points in a reserve role.

The Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, who was being rested for the third time this season to ease stress on his sore knee after playing a night earlier in a loss at Houston. But the Pelicans were hardly sympathetic with starters Brandon Ingram (right knee) and Lonzo Ball (groin) sidelined, as well.

George’s 3 cut the Pelicans’ lead to 126-123 with 42 seconds left. But the Clippers left Jackson unguarded on the perimeter on the other end, and he took his time squaring up and connecting on his fourth 3 of the game to restore New Orleans’ six-point lead with 30 seconds left.

J.J. Reddick, who started and scored 19, hit two free throws with 11.4 seconds left to help wrap up just New Orleans’ third victory in 11 games this season.

Williams scored 31 points and Rodney McGruder 20 for the Clippers, who’ve dropped two straight.

 

Marcus Morris’ stepback three game-winner gives Knicks revenge in Kristaps Porzingis’ return

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The boos started during lay-up lines, grew deafening when he was introduced, and once the game got rolling “KP Sucks” chants echoed through Madison Square Garden.

Knicks fans wanted revenge on Kristaps Porzingis.

Marcus Morris — one of the guys New York spent all that cap space they got in the Porzingis trade on — gave it to them with a game-winning stepback three.

The Knicks beat the Mavericks 106-103.

Porzingis had 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting, plus 11 rebounds in his return to MSG. Not exactly a “you’re going to miss me” game to frustrate Knicks fans, but better than most of his games to start the season. After 20 months off, Porzingis is still shaking off the rust, and getting used to playing next to Luke Doncic (who had a triple-double of 33 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds). Still, he made some plays.

Morris had 20 for the Knicks leading a balanced attack. Julius Randle added 17.

From LeBron through Patrick Mahomes, everyone reacting to Carmelo Anthony return

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Carmelo Anthony is back in the NBA — he is signing with the Portland Trail Blazers.

While Anthony didn’t have a lot of love in NBA front offices, he remains wildly popular among other players and fans. Something obvious on NBA Twitter in the wake of the Anthony news breaking. Check out the reactions from other players.

It’s not just NBA players who were pumped about the return of ‘Melo.

There were also great fan and media reactions.

 

Portland reportedly signs Carmelo Anthony to non-guaranteed contract

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Off to an ugly 4-8 start this season — despite Damian Lillard tearing it up at an MVP level — the Portland Trail Blazers are desperate for any help in the frontcourt they can find, especially a four who can stretch the floor.

Enter Carmelo Anthony.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story.

He will join the team during its upcoming six-game road trip. Lillard is reportedly on board with this.

Portland visits Houston on Monday of that road trip — the last team that ‘Melo played for.

This is really a low-risk move by the Blazers thanks to the non-guaranteed contract. If it doesn’t work out, Portland just moves on.

Anthony has been searching for a path back into the NBA through most of last season — the Rockets let him go after just 10 games, deciding to part ways — and this past summer, with no takers until now. Two issues were holding teams back. First has been concern about his willingness to accept a role. ‘Melo is losing the race with Father Time and is no longer a top offensive option, yet he reportedly wanted to be treated like one — and get the touches of one. There were concerns he would be disruptive, something he (and the people around him) pushed back hard against.

The second issue was ‘Melo’s defense, which has gone from not good to dreadful. In an NBA where big men now have to cover more in space, Anthony has been exposed. And will be again.

Portland was in the right position to roll the dice on Anthony.

Portland has an elite backcourt led by Damian Lillard, who is averaging 30.5 points per game and carrying the offense. His backcourt partner CJ McCollum has struggled out of the gate, but Portland isn’t really worried about him finding his rhythm soon and getting back to being himself.

The frontcourt, however, has been a disaster. Jusuf Nurkic — their third-best player last season, and at points arguably their second-best — is out until likely after the All-Star break from a fractured leg that required surgery. The Blazers had hoped Zach Collins would take a step forward this season and fill that role both at the five and as a stretch four, but he is out four months following shoulder surgery. Pau Gasol was signed this summer but he has yet to step on the court and is battling a foot issue.

Hassan Whiteside was a big off-season signing, but he has played like he always has — sporadic effort and empty calorie stats. His inability to set a good pick has hurt the ability of Lillard and McCollum to find space. Beyond that, Anthony Tolliver and Skal Labissiere getting plenty of minutes.

In that context, adding Anthony to see if it can work out makes sense.

If not, the Blazers can just move on, but you know Anthony will be motivated to make this work.